Childhood in Michigan
I loved the four seasons, and the way they provided a way of containerizing time. Each season had its own schedule and events. Easter ushered in spring time and led to anticipation of my birthday and the end of the school year. We could start spending more time riding bikes and playing croquet in the yard. Summer brought camping trips, swimming, badminton games, and bike rides. We spent more time outside than in, and the days just flowed one to another with time spent with friends in the neighborhood.
In the fall, the new school year was almost exciting, especially when it was accompanied by the slow-motion fireworks of the reds, golds, and yellows of the leaves as they changed color and drifted to the ground. The peak of autumn color is breathtaking, and the smell of autumn is amazing. The plum tree in our backyard would give up the rest of its fruit, and Halloween was just around the corner. The season concluded with Thanksgiving and pumpkin pies, before winter took up residence.
While Winter is my least favorite season, there was always something magical about the first snowfall. I also liked Christmas music and going shopping with my sister to buy little gifts for our parents and siblings. And who could argue with Christmas vacation! The tough part of winter showed up right after the first of the year. Going back to school wasn’t nearly as interesting as it had been in September. The days were cold, and sunshine didn’t stay around very long. The evenings were dark. Snow’s novelty had worn off; the only good that came of it now was the chance of a snow day. Luckily, most winters, that wish would be granted at least once.
Seasons of Adulthood
As I started my own family, the seasons continued in much the same way, the ebb and flow of activity meshing with the way I remembered things from childhood. Even though I worked in the summer instead of spending my days outdoors, I still enjoyed the daylight that extended far into the evening. Even though I had a job that often required me to work on holidays like Easter and Christmas, we found ways to modify our family celebrations to honor the contents of each season.
As the children started leaving the nest, the academic calendar still guided my experience of the season, first as I completed my B.A. as my daughter finished high school, and then during my time at graduate school. The seasons and the academic year coincided–the dreary winter days coming at the very time when focus and purpose seemed to be at their lowest. Autumn and spring were once again the friendliest seasons.
Two things changed when I came to Taiwan, but they were only external changes. First, the academic year is different. A case in point: here it is January 11, and this week’s tasks include grading final exams and posting grades on the computer system. In other words, classes and finals are over, and winter break has begun. I know this sounds weird to my colleagues in the States. A couple of the differences: Our semesters are 18 weeks long. We don’t have a break at Thanksgiving or even Christmas Day–as evidenced by the picture on the left. We do get New Year’s Day off, but we made up the extra Monday that came with it by teaching on Monday of exam week.
The second thing is the difference in the physical characteristics of the seasons. My students talk about Taiwan’s four seasons, but they don’t have snow. Their winter is cold (but not as cold as many parts of the US), often with days and days of rain. Spring is beautiful, sunny and pleasant. Summer is hot, hot, and hot with very high humidity. Luckily, I visit my family each summer back in the States. It takes until mid-October, though, for the temperatures to be reasonable. Classroom temperatures during September can be rather unpleasant. But once mid-October comes, it’s hard to argue with the great weather. And there are days of sweater weather even in December.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about seasonal containers. Vacations, holidays, the natural ebb and flow of the seasons, and what that means to my schedule. And unfortunately, I have to confess that the seasons and other seasonal breaks don’t make much of a difference in my life. My busyness has taken away my sense of the seasons as containers for specific types of activities. The days have become a list of tasks that spill over into the next day, and the next day, and the next week, the next month, the next season, the next year. Unfortunately, I got to the point where I saw no end in sight.
While others are planning activities and even trips for the CNY (Chinese New Year) before the next 18-week semester begins, I am trying to figure out how to catch up on the multitude of tasks and responsibilities that I have added to my schedule, often without thinking things through. It’s second nature for me to take on every project that comes to me. Hence the moratorium of December 28 was so essential for me if I am going to reclaim any sense of balance in my life.
In the days ahead, I’m going to be creating containers of time and space to begin clearing my schedule and opening my life to the cyclical nature of the seasons. Calendars, to-do lists, index cards, grids with tasks arranged by time, by category, by priority are the tools I am exploring as I try to see my way clear to a more considered life. Stay tuned as I find a new way to create space for myself and begin to appreciate the seasons again.