for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations
I am leaving my day job at an extraordinary early childhood center on June 30.
Plenty of people think I am “retiring.” But if you’re reading this, you probably could guess that I’m not retiring at all. I’m beginning my full-time career as a writer.
At last. I’ve written and taught about transitions much of my life as a clinical social worker and still struggle with how to convey these vulnerable, beautiful, painful yet joyful, times in our lives.
Because they are difficult.
We feel the need for different or new or next; we feel the need to take a turn on our personal or professional journeys (or both). We feel a yearning. A longing to move forward. An excitement and curiosity about what the new direction will offer us – or what we will make of it.
But we also feel the pull back towards that which we want, or are ready to leave, toward the comfort, familiarity, certainty of the place, the experience, the days we are almost leaving behind.
I love coming to work and being at work in a place that feels like a second home. I love the use of many skills and strengths I was pretty sure I owned, but had not had the opportunity to use. I love the children who have passed through my life with their extraordinary desire to explore their world and the powerful capacity to connect to others. I love my boss and friend; and I love the teachers who with seeming endless amounts of energy, create small communities of friends and classrooms of explorers, scientists, artists, technicians, builders, and more.
I took on my day job when I was in the process of winding down the career that ran parallel to my dreams of being a writer – that of a clinical social worker specializing in women’s and eating/body issues and building emotional resilience.
But it’s time for me to stop getting up at 4:30 in the morning to write for an hour and a half before getting reading. I also need time to exercise before I am exhausted from eight hours of a very busy, though wonderful, day. And I want to spend time with my husband when I am not falling asleep because I need to get up at 4:30 in the morning to write.
This beautiful place I’ve had the honor to work is integrally interwoven with my life as a children’s author.
I met the woman who has been my boss and friend for 24 years in the library of my son’s school. He had been coming home each week on the day his class visited the library, sharing the excitement of what they had done that day with “the best teacher in the world.”
I decided I wanted to meet this teacher, and went in on a Tuesday, when I had no clients in my private practice. A fabulous children’s library sprawled through the big open space (along with two floor-to-almost-ceiling robots and a marble-counting machine that counted the books each child read) and the welcoming teacher invited me to take home whatever books I wanted.
I dived into picture books and middle grade novels as though I’d been starving to read. My own middle-grade life was peppered with some wonderful classics like Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series, but not anything like what I found to read now – Jerry Spinelli, Karen Cushman, Mildred Taylor, Sharon Creech, Richard Peck, Gail Carson Levine, and more and more and more…and more.
I wanted to write this.
I began volunteering one day a week in the library, and kept on for eighteen years. When the K-5 school closed, and my private practice was winding down, I accepted an offer to be the office administrator at the early childhood center.
Every step of my journey as a children’s writer, I’ve had the encouragement and support of this master educator my son introduced me to so long ago.
During the days of volunteering, I often felt like Peter Pan sitting on the windowsill as I listened to her teaching, learned about extending the books into classroom discussions and projects, learned how to read a story to children.
I could say 30 or 40 more things about what the kind of encouragement I received means, but if you’re reading this, you’ll understand when I say that the foundation of her support and encouragement is the fact that she believed in my stories, and believed in me.
And that’s an extraordinary gift.
I’ve had the opportunity to observe hundreds of transitions during my time at this early childhood center, from children so ready to run into the classroom that a parent is left open-mouthed at the door, to those who struggle for days with “missing feelings” that are soothed by loving teachers.
I’m somewhere in the middle. I always have been, I guess. I wean myself gently.
I will miss every adult and every child at my “day job” terribly…and yet I can’t wait to explore my open days.
But of course, I’ll be back in September, volunteering to read stories to eager little listeners.
Carol Coven Grannick writes poetry and picture books.
Her middle grade novel-in-verse manuscript, "Reeni's Turn," addresses body image issues for the younger audience, and won an Honorable Mention in the 2018 Sydney Taylor Manuscript competition. It also was a finalist for the Katherine Paterson Award from Hunger Mountain.
Carol chronicles the writer’s inner journey with a focus on resilience for Cynsations and the Illinois SCBWI Prairie Wind.
See her previous posts: Let's Make a Plan: Reminders from Early Childhood Education; Life, Writing & A Word In Praise of Emotional Safety; "Into the Scary for the Sake of Joy;" Does Expecting the Worst Make You a Pessimist? Confessions of a Learned Optimist.