Ode to My Students

By Nadine Kenney Johnstone

The night before the first class, I panicked.

What had I been thinking when I agreed to teach a workshop just five weeks after giving birth?

During pregnancy, I thought I'd actually be bored (yes, BORED) once Geo arrived. I imagined hours of nursing and cuddling, but I had also heard that babies sleep. A lot. So, I honestly envisioned an lot of thumb twirling happening on my end while Geo napped. I reasoned that there was no better weekly outing to plan for my new-mom self than Tuesday night classes--talking, not to a mute dog and baby, but to actual adults about things other than the mustard seediness of poop.

And then I had Geo, and I realized why new mothers don't eat or shower or change out of pajamas. Geo did sleep. A lot. But, he would only sleep on me. Attempts at putting him down in a swing or bassinette or anything, really, usually involved immediate high-pitched wails. Relentless wails. I learned to make lunch and fold laundry while wearing him in a Baby  Bijorn. I even mastered the art of getting dressed and brushing my teeth while holding him.

When I drove anywhere with Geo, I got used to checking the rearview mirror a million times to watch him in his car seat, in case case he...well, what, I'm not sure. But I needed to check on him. I drove with the music lower and became conscious of lyrics. I feared changing lanes and merging onto highways when my precious cargo was in the back seat.

The week before my Grub Street Jumpstart Class was due to run, I lesson prepped while Geo slept on me. I cradled him with one arm, and looked for prompts in Naming the World with the other. Just flipping through the pages rekindled an excitement I hadn't felt in weeks.

But there was one major fear I had besides leaving my son for the evening: I was afraid I had lost my teaching mojo. I hadn't spoken with writers about craft elements in almost two months, and I was afraid that my recent baby-only vocab would silence me.

Still, I gave it a shot and hoped for the best.

The drive into the city was blissful--I cranked the tunes, and zipped down the Mass Pike. I got to Grub and went to the bathroom when I wanted. I relished my time at the copy machine, looking over my handouts of pieces by Justin Torres, Truman Capote, and ZZ Packer.

But then I walked into the classroom, and the question arose again--could I get my sleep deprived brain to function and lead a stimulating writing workshop?

And then I met my eight students--all women--and their writing was so damn good, that any fear I had of forgetting how to teach went out the window.

Each of those six weeks, I looked forward, of course, to little things like Boloco, and giving my back a break from the Baby Bijorn, but, oh, how I looked forward to hearing the beautiful words of my students. Their words stuck with me, and still do. The week after class ended, I found myself on Tuesday night conjuring them in my mind and imagining what they might be writing about. So, to Mehreen, and Maura, and Lisa, and Deena, and Liz, and Emily, and Nichola, and Callie: Thank you.

About the Author See other articles by Nadine Kenney Johnstone
by Nadine Kenney Johnstone

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