Sooner … or Later

When I was a child, my mother had a habit that seemed endearing.  When life was “just too much,” when there were too many things to sort through, she’d “put a few things in a box for later.”  She always paid bills on time, and she handled crises as they arose … or, more frequently, planned ahead to keep any crises from arising.  She was the kind of person who sat down on New Year’s Day and put recurring “stuff” for the year into her fresh, new calendar.  “Scrub shower tiles,” says the entry for the day she died, because that’s what she did on the last Saturday of every month.

But my mother hated filing stuff … and yet she also hated throwing things away if they needed to be kept.  I suppose those boxes for later were a compromise.

It turned out that later was a person, not a time … and the person was the person writing this sentence!  When my mother died, the boxes for later were still there, waiting to be sorted and purged.

I’m trying to change my name to sooner, but old habits sometimes die hard!  Over the past few years, when I was going through some rough, painful places, I developed a few stacks for later and even a box for later myself.  But unlike my mother, I won’t be leaving those for The Girl or The Boy to deal with.  I’m writing this post a bit later than usual because I spent the morning dealing with the stacks and boxes, transforming later into now and, by the time I sat down to write this, done.

It’s a good feeling, and it didn’t take as long as I’d feared.  To be fair, there’s still one lingering pile for later in our bonus room / home office … but it may turn out to be like some of my mother’s boxes for later.  Some of them just needed to be opened, scanned, and dumped into a recycling bin.  “J – Preschool Art – Box 1” … we were scared, but we never did find Box 2.

I’ll be taking a trip to the recycling center this afternoon, the car full but not quite overflowing with what I’d saved for later.  I feel unexpectedly light and happy, and both The Dog and The Cat seem relieved, too.

Boxes for later … there’s something about factory-model thinking, or command-and-control thinking, that encourages Ms. X and Mr. Y to keep them, I think.  “I’ve got to cover my butt,” One Ms. X used to say half defensively, half proudly.  “There’s too much to do and not enough time,” One Mr. Y said as he sorted through papers on the Very Last Day … and sometimes the Day After That.  Fear of losing something can cause you to hold on too tightly, but fear of looking bad can make you want to hide that tightly-held things.  Boxes for later are a survival strategy when you live in a world like that.

Another Ms. X doesn’t seem to make boxes, but she makes notebooks for later … and they’re beautiful notebooks, too, all organized and tab-divided and full of the pretty reports you can print from the Shiny New Student Information System.  I have a collection of similar notebooks, full of neatly-organized lesson plans and materials from Back In The Day, and another collection, in chronological order, with notes and handouts from long-forgotten workshops, conferences, and professional development sessions.  “I love my notebooks!” That Ms. X said on the Very Last Day, as folks were gathering in the school library for the retirement celebration.  “Have you seen this beautiful hole punch?”  And I must confess, as a person who’s awfully fond of office supplies, that my heart was gladdened by Ms. X’s beautiful hole punch … but I didn’t buy one.

I’m slowly learning to let go of those boxes for later and notebooks for later myself.  Do I really need to keep that? I’m asking myself about the paid bill, the thank-you card from the student, the holiday greeting card from the Local Merchant.  Old habits die hard, of course, and there are still some boxes for later that sit, undisturbed, where they’ve sat for nine or ten years.  But letting go and embracing sooner, embracing now … that’s an unexpectedly invigorating challenge over the past few days!

There’s one box for later that will be traveling with me this week as I go up to the American Classical League Institute … or maybe it’s actually a box for now.  It’s a collection of student work samples to use in our Pre-Institute Workshop, a collection I put together at the end of the school year when (much to my surprise) I really had time to go through things thoughtfully.  On their Very Last Day, the Latin Family helped me with that; each class went through a set of work samples, making piles to keep and piles to discard, and then each subsequent class went back through the piles to keep to reconfirm the quality of what was there.  That seemed like a good, reflective way to end the school year, especially when we talked and reminisced about the products and the circumstances that surrounded them.

Sooner … and later.  Keeping … and purging.  All are important in a joyful learning community, especially when that community has been around for a while and has started to develop its own procedures, rituals, routines, and traditions.  What should we keep? we ask ourselves.  What should we discard?  And what should we put away for later, to reexamine when circumstances change as they certainly will?

The answers are less important than the questions.  But on this day when sooner and later came together, I wonder what other new discoveries and insights await as our processes continue.


Published in: on June 24, 2014 at 3:06 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. It is a difficult question, what to keep and what to release. I am moving to a new room next year from one that has been “The Latin Classroom” for over three decades. I am thankful that I have no emotional connection to the outdated books, old student work, and materials of questionable value. I asked myself: “Will I use this next year?” If the answer was “probably not,” then I tossed it.

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