Saturday, July 3, 2021

Closing Night

Tonight will be closing night for my kitchen table classroom. The latest word from my school is that we will be teaching in person next semester, in our regular classrooms with the regular number of students. So, I will strike this set. I will pack up the books, papers, RBG and Kamala Harris action figures and bring them back to my “real” office in the next few weeks. I’ll store the mesh metal inbox and pen holder (that my nephew left behind when he finished college and didn’t want to drag back them to his home abroad) in the basement. I’ll unpack my box of “Zoom worthy” earrings and return the contents to my bedroom jewelry box. I don’t know what I will do with laptop stand, because I already had one in my office, but I’m sure I’ll find a place for it that will escape me when I need to find it again.

In the past 15+ months of this pandemic, I have used this table as my classroom, my desk, the venue for our Thanksgiving dinner (once) and our Passover seders (twice). I have shared this table with my adult daughter as she worked at one end while I taught my classes at the other. She even did a cameo of me on April Fool’s Day before she headed back home (she does a dead-on imitation of my Zoom classroom patter). I cleared space for my younger daughter to finish her college exams this spring when they were sent home a few days early because of an uptick in positivity. I watched my son literally crawl behind me (numerous times) to get to the refrigerator during my class so he wouldn’t be seen. I wasn’t going to tell him that I had a virtual background on-or that we were in breakout rooms. We all needed more laughs. As the seasons changed, I learned how the light shifts in this space and how to avoid looking like an old detective show’s interrogation subject on Zoom during winter faculty meetings.

As the lights on this run begin to dim, I have been Googling dining tables and chairs because I just don’t want to look at this table anymore. I think it is ready to retire after 25 years, three children and over a year of being a classroom/home office. And yet, I hesitate to replace it just yet, because maybe it will look different when it isn’t doing so many jobs. Maybe, once this table is just (to very loosely paraphrase Freud) a table, I’ll be able to see it with new eyes. Maybe, I’d even miss it.

In the fall, I might miss having food, Coke Zero and coffee immediately available, or a bathroom that does not require a key. Will I miss the cat snoozing just outside of camera range or my dog punctuating my most important points (that coincided with mail or package delivery)? I don’t think I will miss the chaos of people walking through my classroom/office making noise or slamming doors. I don’t think I will miss my ritual morning clean-up of this space because in my “real” office, the only person who might leave debris on my desk would be me. Will I enjoy being alone in a quiet space after over a year of knowing where everyone in my immediate family is and what they are doing? Will people judge me if I sit at my desk and watch Gilmore Girls while I eat lunch at the office? And, to be utterly cliched, nothing beats the commute or current dress code. Change, even good change, is hard.

As part of my cleaning this morning, I pulled out my Swiffer. As I swabbed under the table, I realized that the chair that I had been sitting in all this time has left four distinct worn spots on the wooden floor. A scar left by the pandemic. I immediately started to google how to best erase or cover the spots but then I stopped. Like the ghost light left on after the theater is dark for the night, these spots need to stay.

(Elizabeth Stillman - Guest Blogger)

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