~by Christine Gough
Last Sunday our church kicked off the new Sunday School year. Public Schools began as well and the fall routines jump-started us all back to “reality.” Packing lunches. Afternoons of homework, reading logs and math facts. One day it’s ninety-five degrees and the kids are sweating like they were attending a Bikrum yoga class, not Third Grade. The next day, they are running around at soccer practice in the rain, mud caking their cleats and splattering on shin guards.
It’s a liminal time and space, despite the new beginning of the school year. The weather has a foot in the torrid weeks of summer but simultaneously is pushing to shorter days, chilly mornings and leaves on fire with the colors of autumn.
My students and my own children seem to feel this same liminality. The in between. The middle. Even at the start of something new, we look back to what was. We remember the way our classrooms felt as the previous year ended. Relational bonds felt strong, routines and procedures were engrained, the rhythm was second-nature, teachers were more than a Mr. or Mrs.–they were like another parent.
Looking ahead each September, there is opportunity, possibility and newness. Perfection seems attainable and even plausible. We set goals, review and practice rules, get new backpacks and lunch boxes. But underneath it all, there is a sense of disequilibrium, unsureness. If we are honest, we have a foot in two places. It’s the in between and nothing feels quite “right”.
In my youngest son’s Pre-K class, I heard about something that gave me some grounding in the midst of the newness. At our Back-to-School night, his teacher shared about their Free Art table. A place of potential, opportunity and creativity, but without a lot of rules and perfected, teacher-driven projects. The students won’t be forced to create a bat during Halloween week or a turkey made of their handprint. Rather, the Free Art table is a place to explore and innovate. There is a bulletin board to put their creations or they can take them home when they finish. There is freedom, options and few teacher-directed objectives other than creative expression.
When we are in the liminal space or embarking on a new beginning we crave order, rules, boundaries and a perfect model of what we should make or how to act. But sometimes, the way to move into the newness, out of the in between, is through freedom. During the unscripted moments, we force ourselves and our kids to dig deep and grow, discover and even develop new community.
If we hold too tightly to the past it is impossible to embrace the “next thing.” By it’s very nature, the in between times, the transitions, are fairly permeable. Malleable. Boundary-less. Just think of what can be created in those times though…. our own little moments to envision something new at our “Free Art Table.” Pick up the scissors, grab a googly eye or some glitter and get to work.
I walk by my former students in their new 4th grade classroom everyday and long to have them fill our desks again. To hear their reflections, read their words and watch them work through math problems. But then, the new faces of this year’s students grace our walls, their portraits smiling down under the banner “Class of 2025.” So many moments to share lie ahead. There will be stories to tell, connections to be made. We’ve already buried “I Can’t” and held its funeral. We wrote about our summers & set reading goals for the year ahead. We have high-fived and hand-shaked our way home each day and already shed tears and a lot of laughs together. And we are only nine days in….
I look at my own two boys and marvel at the ways they—along with kids in general—jump into newness, adapt and adjust to new classrooms and teachers, hoping I can try to do the same. Make my own creation at the Free Art table. Let go of the past a bit. Dream into the future knowing that the underlying grounding is a Creator that delights in seeing us embrace Freedom, wants us to get messy with extravagant Grace & explore the possibilities ahead. God is an innovator and yet stands with us in the in between too. May we seek to be the same for our children. Cheerleaders of their imperfect creations, celebrators of their new connection and generous dispensers of grace as they get messy and busy at the Free Art Table of growing up.