Last week was Homecoming Week at my school. Not only the school I teach at, but the school I went to. It was my first Homecoming since, well, coming home. They even threw a parade in my honor! Oh wait, they do that every year… The week was filled with excitement and silly themed days. I was reminded that next year I need to find a P.E. teacher for Twin Day so that I have an excuse to wear sweatpants to work. I was inevitably scheduled for a routine meeting with my principal on Pajama Day. If you think that would stop me from wearing my favorite flannel pants and Nama-stay in bed t-shirt, you clearly don’t know me very well. In between the chaotic moments of Homecoming week, I thought about who I was the last time I was here, and the journey that led me back.
Last January, I found myself in the ER on a snowy Wisconsin Sunday with a broken tailbone and a nasty concussion. Once I was released, I was under doctor orders to take some time off work, refrain from using screens, and avoid doing anything that required me to use my brain. So basically I had to sit around and do nothing. But please do remember that my butt was also broken so sitting was not a pleasant experience. I had wished for a snow day and this was a prime example to be very careful what you wish for. I kind of got my wish, but it was much more painful than the cozy snowed in Netflix binge I was hoping for. It also involved being yelled at by the ER doctor when he caught me on my phone sending sub plans after he specifically told me my scrambled egg brains needed to stay far away from screens. I joked that maybe nine years of Wisconsin winters were enough for me, maybe it was time to leave. Except after making the joke, I realized that maybe there was something to that thought. Not so much avoiding winter, but the leaving part. If I could survive the Snowpocalypse of 2010, the 2014 Polar Vortex, and a snow induced knee injury in college (spent some quality time in the ER with that one, as well), I could handle anything Wisconsin winter threw my way. But I couldn’t help but feel like maybe I was supposed to be elsewhere. I just wasn’t so sure where elsewhere was. I was surrounded by great people. I had a job that both challenged and fulfilled me. I had coworkers and students who made me excited to go to work each day. I had more access to cheese than I ever could have imagined. I had a great apartment, access to awesome food and live music, and my yoga studio just up the street. I was on a first name basis with all of the employees at nearby takeout places. What more could I want? Then it started creeping into my concussed head. What if it was home that I wanted?
I didn’t mention these thoughts to anyone at first. After all, I had been told to not make any major decisions until headache, fatigue, and confusion subsided. I had always said I would never go back home (but I’m pretty sure that a lot of people say that because they think that is what they are supposed to say). I decided I would give it some time and hope that the universe would give me a sign.
Since I wasn’t allowed to look at screens but suddenly had a lot of time on my hands, I decided to put a show on Netflix that I had seen so that I didn’t have to actually watch. I could just listen. I settled on Parks and Recreation and giggled while staring at my ceiling. There came an episode where Ron Swanson was giving Leslie Knope some wisdom about Pawnee being her home. She was debating whether or not she made the right choice by staying in Pawnee, when good ol’ Ron told her, “You’ll get a lot of job offers in your life, but you only have one hometown.” I may or may not have gotten a little emotional. It is important to note, however, that I was experiencing severe mood swings with my brain injury. I may or may not have also cried for no reason three times throughout the same day.
I was back at work (and teaching with the lights on because fluorescent lights no longer made me feel like my brain might explode!) when the thoughts started creeping into my head again. I did a quick search during lunch one day about job openings near where I grew up. I checked in to see if my Illinois teaching license was still up to date. I still didn’t tell a soul what I was thinking. I was driving home from work and pondering what the future might hold for me, really wishing I had a crystal ball. When I parked, I looked at my phone and had a message from a former English teacher. My old school would be posting a position for a math teacher, and I should be ready to apply. This isn’t the first time I had been notified of a position in my hometown. It was the first time I didn’t respond with an “lol, nope, never, thanks for thinking of me though!” I had been looking for a sign, and this was one that couldn’t be ignored. I looked at what I needed to have ready to apply. I updated my résumé. I told a few people that I was thinking about it so I could say the words out loud. I asked for letters of recommendation, swearing everyone to secrecy.
Soon after all of my materials were submitted, my phone started to give me a sign. My phone will display a “Next Destination.” Usually it would tell me how long it would take to get to work Monday-Friday, to get to my apartment, to get to my regular yoga classes, and my favorite take-out places. Then suddenly, my phone constantly told me how long it would take to drive to good ol’ Washington, Illinois. It did not matter the time of day or where my usual routine would have taken me. Three hours and fourteen minutes to home.
Soon I did follow my phone’s lead and head home for a job interview and apartment hunting. All of the pieces started falling in to place. I had to have really tough goodbyes and lots of exciting hellos. I eventually packed up a classroom and an apartment and headed home. It was a long time coming.
I believe so firmly in the timing of our lives. The time I spent away made me the person who was ready to come back. It was the right decision at the right time. I taught in two very different environments that both helped shape me into the teacher I am today. I encountered so many people who shared a piece of themselves with me and shaped me into who I am. I made a life for myself in new and unfamiliar places. I learned a lot. I will carry those things with me always and they will influence all I am and all I do, no matter where I am.
Since returning home, a lot of people ask what it is like being back. Well, it sure feels a lot like coming home. When I first moved to Wisconsin, my mom printed out MapQuest directions (for any youngin’ reading this, MapQuest was a website that we used to get directions before smartphones and Google Maps existed) that took me from the door of my dorm building to my family’s home. She wrote “HOW TO GET HOME” at the top in her beautiful handwriting and tucked it away in the glove compartment of my car. I dug it out the first few times, but eventually they got buried under registration forms and receipts. I always knew it was in there though, and found a sense of comfort in knowing that, even if I no longer needed the turn by turn directions. By the time I got a new car and cleaned out that glove compartment, I had a smartphone that told me how to get anywhere, but I still tucked them away into my new glove compartment, just in case. Deep down in my heart I think I always knew that I didn’t need a map to get me back, but rather that life would lead the way. Well that, and my iPhone.