Today is my 39th birthday. Last year, I was less than three weeks from a bilateral mastectomy and reeling from the unexpected discovery of ER+ cancer in my lymph nodes. I wondered if I would live to see 39.
I’m 39 today.
It’s been one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had. It’s been a really good day. Friends and family texted and called. A went all out and cooked a from scratch breakfast for dinner. The thought that went into the things people have done for me today has been incredible. A student brought me a bouquet of fuchsia carnations. At lunch, a bouquet of purple flowers, different types and shades, arrived at school sent by A. One of my precious coworkers left a glittery teal bag on my desk containing the biggest Snickers I’ve ever seen (and the sight of it made S and AJ’s night…they know I’ll share it). After school, my seniors brought in a poster that said “Happy birthday Mrs. V” in purple and blue. With it came an envelope containing heart shaped birthday cards from at least twenty of my seniors. I couldn’t read them. I knew it would make me cry. I thought I’d get through my workday without crying, but as I stood in the commons area at the front of my school doing after school duty, my interim principal made me cry.
Mr. H saw me and made a “come here” motion, and my first thought was, “Uhoh, what’d I do?” I’m wired to expect the worst, so when an administrator asks me to come see them, I’m convinced I’ve done something wrong. So, I walked away from the two teachers I was talking to and went to him. He congratulated me. I thought that was a really strange way of saying happy birthday, but heck, I survived another year, so maybe congratulations are in order! Still, I must have had a really confused look on my face. Then he said I needed to keep an eye on my email and to let him know if I needed any help, and as he kept talking, my face must have looked even more confused because he stopped and said, “You have no idea what I’m talking about, do you?”
Nope. I shook my head.
He sighed, laughed, and said, “Ms. G was supposed to talk to you. You’re our Teacher of the Year, and we’ve nominated you as the district secondary Teacher of the Year.”
I’ve been a campus Teacher of the Year nominee five times, but I’ve never been Teacher of the Year. I hugged him, and then, I asked him to follow me back into the office where there are plaques for every Teacher of the Year the school has had since its opening. I pointed to the 1995-1996 Teacher of the Year and said, “That’s my mom.”
My name will go on the plaque two across from hers. Twenty-one years apart. Second generation of my family to teach at this school. Second generation English teacher at this school. Second generation Teacher of the Year at this school.
That’s some awesome continuity.
I told my parents tonight when they came over for dinner and cake. My parents are proud of me no matter what, but when I told them and both realized my name would go on the wall next to my mom’s, both had that look of stunned pride.
I love what I do so damned much. Teacher of the Year is an incredible honor. I’ll sit on the stage at graduation, and this graduating class is special to me. These are the kids who got me through last year. They were understanding, flexible, and all around amazing as were their parents. Being able to sit up there and see each of them graduate, to see their pride and happiness and joy, will be a privilege…and require waterproof mascara.
I’m happy. I’m content. My cancer may come back. It may not. I think I’ve reached the point of acceptance. I’ve had 39 years on this mortal coil. I’ve had 21 years with A. I’ve taught for 17 years. I’ve been a mother to S for 11 years and to AJ for almost 9. No, I don’t want to leave them, but I can honestly say this: if the cancer comes back, if for some reason, I don’t see 40, I can say I’m happy with the life I’ve led. I really hope I see 40, though. I’m sure my friends and family will come up with something embarrassing and amazing to celebrate that Over-the-Hill day. Until then, if then, at least I can say that today, because of my family, friends, students, and coworkers, I’ve had one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had.