It’s funny the moments that stand out clearly in one’s memory. I remember driving to work the first day of school, the first year I taught, ready to begin an adventure with first grade. The traffic reporter was waxing sentimental for a moment and told the greater DC commuting community that his daughter was heading off to her first day of first grade. In a very tangible way, I was reminded that every child in my class, faces yet to be learned, was someone’s precious first-grader.
By my calculations, that little girl is now about 33 years old. She might even have a first-grader of her own. That makes me old. On the other hand, this week, my five-year-old begins her kindergarten journey. That makes me young. Then again, my fourth child and first daughter begins her senior year of high school this week. That makes me old again. One last year to begin the schoolgirl journey with a child in pigtails. One last year to teach my first little girl everything I want her to know before she leaves home. Let’s do this right.
I’m glad that popular convention holds that September is the new January. For me, September has always been a “January” of sorts: fresh notebooks unblemished with rips or tears or the scars of backpacks and bus rides; new school shoes that squeak and make one self-conscious as if the whole world could hear; the wood and carbon smell of a “bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils” — a whole academic year unfurls before us, full of promise and opportunity. September is a hopeful month.
I am most hopeful that September will have very broad margins. Amidst the busyness of a new school year and all the new commitments that come with it, I appoint myself sentry over the broad margin. I entrust myself with guarding the time and space for relationship and connection. If we’re going to “do this right,” we are going to have to connect with one another in meaningful, intentional ways.
September always has a pulling-away quality about it when considered in the context of home. This September finds my eldest “child” celebrating his own birthday for the first time as a father. It finds the next two boys each in a different college town. Pulling away, there is always pulling away. For children still at home, well-considered activities and burgeoning friendships pull them from the house, broadening horizons and enriching experiences.
One of the essential lessons I want to impart to my big girl, even as she pencils calendar squares with academics and work and dance, is to highlight the margins in ink. The margins are where the soul work happens. And the margins are where rest, relationship and recollection make sense of the stuff of life.
There is a broad margin around the calendar entry that holds place for my kindergartener’s dance lesson. It’s an extra 20 minutes before the start time and another after the finish time. In that margin, we will walk hand-in-hand to and from dance, instead of driving up five minutes before the class begins and driving straight home afterward. During our walks, she will be filled with all the little observations she always makes when she moves slowly through her familiar world. And I will be filled with the lilting sound of her still babyish voice telling me all her very important “things.”
There is a broad margin at the end of the day, after children are tucked into bed and prayers are said. It is reserved for a FaceTime conversation if my husband is away — a chance to catch up on the day’s happenings and hold each other’s attention, complete with the nuances of inflection and expression that evade our too-often text messages. If he is at home, it is reserved for pillow talk, television silenced and cell phones far out of reach — all the better.
We fill our lives with many important things. The lessons and the appointments and the practices woven so carefully make up the fabric of our lives. But it is the warm, bright border that frames the fabric — the margin — that makes this a quilt of artistry and comfort, something in which we will wrap ourselves for a lifetime. So, here’s to a happy “new year,” one filled with setting firm foundations, making happy memories and loving well in the broad margins of our lives.
On Instagram, Kelli Sanders tagged this post with a variation of #smallstepsinwidemargins . I think she's nailed the prevailing philosophy for the fall. And maybe the whole year. Thanks, Kelli! I'm going to keep tagging with it and I hope you will too. Join us?