What a Lesson on Clouds Taught Me About Growing Up
My sixth-grade teacher brought me comfort and stability in ways she’ll never know
Everything I need to know about clouds I learned at 11 years old, lying on my back, gazing at the sky on a warm spring afternoon. My sixth grade teacher led our class to the field after lunch and instructed us to form a circle. Thick blades of grass tickled my back as I took my place among the dandelions, in a pinwheel of lanky bodies and tween angst.
Observing the nuances in the milky bursts of cumulus overhead, my teacher’s voice surrounded us like a protective blanket of reassuring facts. Her words provided universal truths we could rely on, unlike our changing bodies and minds, which — with each new wispy underarm hair, erratic mood swing, and unwelcome eruption of acne — we’d learned could turn on us at any second. Captivated, we floated questions into the air.
“What makes thunder?”
“How do they change shape?”
“If we can’t see clouds, are they gone?”
Without making eye contact or seeing one another, we learned about a vastness that both dwarfed and connected us.
During my years in elementary school, my parents divorced, my mother died of cancer, and my dad moved to Alaska. In a tumult of change, I sought comfort in the predictability of bell schedules and the bold Sharpie letters of my name on a tag claiming a desk and its contents — hardbound textbooks, pointy №2 pencils, an untouched rainbow of waxy crayons — just for me.
As my sixth-grade teacher described how water molecules could seemingly disappear into thin air, I don’t imagine she knew the extent of my worries about home, or how much her concrete explanation of the ever-changing universe brought me comfort. Neither of us knew then that I’d channel her enthusiasm decades later as I took my own squirrelly second graders onto the field to lie on their backs and discuss whimsical puffs of floating ice crystals suspended against a bright blue sky.
No longer a teacher, I’m now the mother of a recent elementary school graduate. As my son’s final year dwindled to mere days, we spent our evenings moving backward in time, recalling memories of the…