non sibi

This is an older piece, I share it from my other blog because of mothers day and all the funny things that brings into my mind about regrets for not having done as well as I wanted, ambition and hope, and having kids in my life.

        Last night I dreamed that dream again, the one of a wet and windy evening of the first day at school where I am back at Exeter as a new student, looking around at other faces in the dim lit Assembly with my blood running fast and knowing that this time, this time I will do it right. I will really know this time how to be here. I woke up thinking it, still charged with the excitement — if I had this fresh chance — if I could re-turn the clock, what might I make of it?

            I read while I wait for the children to come home, and it so happens that the piece I read has been written about Frank A. Weil in Non Sibi. “I was among those who were slow getting going,” he said, about his experiences at Exeter, and felt “certain that his Exeter teachers would have described” him as ‘hopeless’. Now he has endowed the first prizes for ‘most improved’; a wonderful concept, but not one I would have ever merited while at Exeter, even though I too was certain that my teachers must have shaken their heads in despair in the beginning and called me hopeless. My fear was that they never stopped.

            I hear the children in the passageway as I finish reading the piece. Manuel thumping his eleven year old one hundred and eighty pound self against the wall as he peels off his sneakers, the high excited voice of my own daughter Theo as she bumps into either Amanda, Emilia or Leyla in the narrow way where all of them are supposed to leave their shoes. Hanna will be later than the rest since she has an orthodontist appointment.

            Slow starters, fast starters, stumblers and sprinters; I have them all here on Tuesdays to work together on schoolwork and homework. Some days we touch on everything from current events to the cross tides of religious influence. Others we just grind away at math. And when I think of math I always think of my teachers at Exeter; Brown, Kilgore, Clark, and how they struggled to make me possible. I heard a rumor of Mr. Clark in my senior year telling my advisor Mr. Tremallo, ‘Finally I can stop giving quizzes; Robin’s going to pass.’ Now I have my motley crew and I tell them about fractions and decimals, go delving in books to find out all we can about agnathans and try to make stories that will help us remember history and where in the world we are.

            They tumble in, straight to the cookies hot from the oven and crumbly with oatmeal and cinnamon. I chivvy them to seats and pencils, scratch paper and pads and try to find out the assignment range. I think of assignments, of the long standing one from Ms. Kendrick who told us to reread J. Alfred Prufrock when we had our thirtieth birthdays in the then inconceivable future. Have I missed a year since then of reading it and thinking of the slow curling smile on her face and the sleepy certainty of her hooded eyes? And all that algebra I struggled through, have I ever been able to stop fighting towards a better grasp of it in these twenty eight years since? What of all the assignments I have given myself, to find out what I did not know nor easily understand?            

 Maybe doing it right is here, at my crowded diningroom table with five kids and a sixth coming in the door soon, only one of them technically mine, and crumbs and scribbled paper everywhere. Questions about Shay’s Rebellion and why a compound isn’t the same as a molecule and why fractions work the way they do. What do you know and how do you know? Simple stuff.

            Maybe the dreams aren’t even dreams. Eric F. said to me years ago that the trick to happiness was knowing when you had some. Well, now I know.   


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