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How Well Do We Say Farewell?

I’ve been having a hard time dealing with this, so, like everything else I have a hard time dealing with, I’m just going to talk about it in the local newspaper, okay? Here it goes: My family and I are moving. To Rhode Island. Next month.

I know, I know. I’ll give you a minute to process.

Long story short, last October, my husband, Brett, got a job at CVS Caremark, which is headquartered in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. Brett’s whole family lives in the smallest state in the nation, so we visit frequently and really do like it there.

The move will be fine. It may even be wonderful.

But right now, seven weeks before departure from the ‘dale, I’m kind of on the verge of a meltdown.

Why? Well, for one, I have never left home quite in the way I am about to. Sure, after I graduated from Edgemont High School, my parents moved to the city and I went off to Union college in Schenectady….New York. And then, after college, I moved to the West Village and then the East Village, and then all the way to Brooklyn with Brett. And then we moved to Edgewood and then to Fox Meadow.

I have only ever possessed a New York State driver’s license.

And, oh, because I have lived here with my family for the past 13 years, I know just about everyone in town. From the shop owners to the parking meter lady who used to work at Vaccarro’s. You know what I mean? I’m deeply imbedded.

Leaving home has made me think about a wonderful former English teacher from Long Island named Ross Burkhardt, who founded the New York State Middle School Association and whom I have always admired. He lectured all over the state (and beyond! Perhaps even as far away as Rhode Island!) and then wrote a book about meaningful classroom practice and thoughtful writing activities for English teachers like me and their students. “How well do we say hello?” He asked in September. And, in June, he asked, “How well do we say farewell?”

As children prepare to leave middle school (or high school, too, for that matter), Burkhardt pointed out, the adults around them spend a lot of time planning parties and finding ways to mark the occasion, through graduation or moving up ceremonies. But what about the kids? How do they say goodbye to their school, to the world they have inhabited for several years? Each 8th grade students, he argued, should be asked to write a letter of appreciation and acknowledgement to an adult of their choice who made a difference in their time at school. A coach, a math teacher, a guidance counselor, the principal.

When I did this with my 8th graders on Long Island, they had trouble. Not with the assignment, but with choosing whom should receive the letter. They kept asking permission to write more than one thank you. And so I gave them time to reflect, and dig deep, and write their hearts out, and find the words.

Many of the students chose to share their letters with the whole community, decorating and posting them along the hallway leading to graduation in the school gym.

Ross Burkhardt calls these gifts of writing.

I don’t think there can ever be too many of these gifts in the world, and I’m trying to find the words to write my own.

Leaving also made me think of something my mother-in-law once said. She was dying of cancer, and, before she began taking the morphine that would take her away before she was really gone, I wanted to say something meaningful to her, something true. We had never spoken of her death, but, for me, it was time to acknowledge that the end was near. And, I don’t know, I guess maybe I hoped she would say something meaningful to me in return. I wanted to have a moment. A farewell. And so I said to her, “I am going to miss you.”

And she sort of laughed, and quickly replied, “I’m going to miss me too.”

It’s not what I thought she would say, of course. But, in retrospect, it was the perfect thing for her to say.

Because she was angry, and because it was too soon, and because I would still be here and she would not, and because, well, it was true! We really do see the world through our own eyes. Hopefully not all the time, but perhaps a little narcissism on your deathbed is okay.

Not to mention, it’s kind of become one of those quotable lines that Brett and I share and joke about.

What a great final statement, right?

And so, when people discover that I am leaving Scarsdale and they say, “I will miss you,” I have been tempted to respond as my mother-in-law did, because, quite frankly, I’m going to miss me too.

Scarsdale, I am going to miss the me that you allowed me to be, the me that you welcomed into your community so enthusiastically.

I will miss the Scarsdale middle school teacher that I was, with a decade of former students greeting me around the village and offering to babysit my kids. I will miss the me that volunteered for the PTA and complained about volunteering for the PTA. It won’t be the same to complain about the PTA in Barrington, RI, because in Rhode Island it’s called the PTO. See? Everything will be different without you.

I will miss the me that goes to SoulCycle several times a week and knows the instructors and feels motivated by their words and wears the unofficial uniform of the stay-at-home mom. There is no SoulCycle in the entire state of Rhode Island.

There isn’t even a Flywheel.

I will miss the me that was your friend, and your neighbor, and the person you could call at a moment’s notice to have lunch with you at the Metro. (Egg white omelet, well done please, with spinach and feta.) I will miss the me that you ran up to at school pick up, asking for great book recommendations for both yourself and your entire fourth grade parent-child book club. (My answer right now is The Husband’s Secret and Three Times Lucky.)

I will miss the me that joined you on decorator-shopping expeditions to the furniture galleries in Stamford, and the me that told you where to get your hair cut and colored. (Continental in Bronxville, Mark for cut and Marcy for color. Tell ‘em I sent you.)

I will miss the me that got the opportunity to write this column and find my voice and share it all with you.

Thank you. Thank you, Scarsdale, for inviting me into your lives and letting me be myself. And, if you come up to me over the next weeks to say that you will miss me, rest assured that I will tell you – probably over blubbery tears; it won’t be pretty! – that I will miss you too.

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