Janet Sheridan: The adolescent season

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Janet Sheridan

— I amuse myself by assigning personalities to the seasons: Spring reminds me of youthful rebels optimistically battling the weary veterans of winter. Summer becomes a revered athlete incapable of delivering the 100 percent perfect performance fans expect every outing, and winter is a polar bear magnificent in its power and beauty.

This fall, I decided that autumn is a temperamental adolescent.

Summer waned gracefully, luring me outside to enjoy its fading. While outdoors, I paid close attention to the subtle warnings autumn issued as it stealthily advanced, and I recognized some of the same peer-dominated, self-conscious behaviors I saw in my junior high school students as they transitioned from children to teenagers.

As I wandered our yard — inspecting, cutting back, and planning — I noticed a single, crimson leaf hidden among the multitude of Virginia Creeper leaves bordering our lawn, each a vivid green. With its fiery face, the exceptional leaf looked like an embarrassed teen ashamed of being different.

I remembered the red flush that spread across the face of a seventh-grade girl when she walked into my homeroom the first day of school carrying a Cinderella lunch box and heard a mocking call, “Hey, Alicia, nice lunch box. Your little sister lend it to you?”

Later, walking with a friend, I heard the honking chatter of geese at Loudy-Simpson Park as they lifted in flight and wheeled as one: alike in appearance and purpose, committed to their group. As I tilted my head to watch their flight, I pictured teenagers clustering before school, grouping at lunch and moving together through the halls. Secure and comfortable, surrounded by friends, they talked and laughed with an openness and freedom rarely displayed in classrooms where they participated and performed as individuals.

I also remembered the isolation and avoidance tactics of those who stood and walked alone.

In October, I rambled across town on various errands while an impulsive wind showed different personalities, as though trying to decide what it wanted to be when it grew up: Some days, it blustered, aloof and icy, making me hunch my shoulders and scurry to escape, and then by afternoon, it was warm and welcoming again, as if we were, and always would be, the best of friends.

The wind’s erratic behavior reminded me of my uncertainty about which students would show up in my classroom from day to day: The withdrawn girl I thought I had connected with suddenly would withdraw, refusing to engage, and then, five days later, stay after school to chat — nonstop and in depth.

An involved, successful student failed to hand in an assignment for three weeks, even those I watched him complete in class. When I inquired about his missing work, he offered no excuse or explanation but replied cheerfully, “Yeah, I know. I don’t know what’s going on.” Mystified, I called his mother, who said, “Yeah, I know. I don’t know what’s going on with that boy.”

Then one day, the assignments reappeared and were turned in on time the rest of the year.

The class that laughed and participated when I paired them up to juggle marshmallows as a brief break on a long day of testing, rolled their eyes and hung back when I invited them to join me as I did a bunny hop to emphasize the steady rhythm of “The Cremation of Sam McGee.” Although they refused to dance, they seemed to enjoy my hopping.

So I think of fall as an adolescent season: a time of random upheaval and flirtation with change, of tempestuousness and grudging growth and of a slow yielding to its inevitable transformation.

Janet Sheridan also blogs at www.auntbeulah.com on Tuesdays.

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