March 15 is the Ides of March. The phrase ‘Beware the Ides of March’ is yet another Shakespeare quote still in our lives, made famous as a fortune teller’s warning to Julius Caesar about his impending death. I’ve been in a hilarious email exchange this week with about 20 high school classmates, reminiscing about our days in Latin class. Our teacher was a larger-than-life man who had very strict rules for all assigned work, a low tolerance for annoying noises mysteriously coming from the class, a strong slap to the face (or the occasional double-whammy if it was deserved) for those of us who made his life difficult, and, especially for a Catholic priest, an odd fascination with Julius Caesar. He even made us bow our heads for a moment of silence on the Ides of March, the day of Caesar’s death. I was not the best-behaved student in that class (I may or may not have been slapped a few times), but I emerged with stories that still matter. Over forty years later, my friends and I still share stories of antics from that class and how we all bonded from the experience.
But lately, the Ides of March has been nothing compared to March 13 (the Ides Minus Two), which happens to be my birthday. Let’s review my last three birthdays, shall we? At least Caesar was warned something bad was coming.
March 13, 2020. As the clock struck midnight and I turned 58 years old, my leadership team and I were meeting in my office. COVID was all everyone was talking about, there was news of cases in our community, and fear was high among our parents and employees. I am a big fan of keeping schools open, and the state was making it clear that our district would lose money if we decided to close, but there was just too much unknown. Around 1 AM, we decided to close the schools and move to remote learning. When I met with the management team later that morning, they asked me how long I thought we would be closed. Being the great future teller that I am, I boldly predicted two weeks. They still laugh at me for that one, and for every other prediction they asked me to make. They should have stopped asking me, but they took great pleasure in watching me try yet again. My birthday that year was a tough day that required tough decisions, and like all decisions I made over the next 15 months, I pleased some people with it.
March 13, 2021. My team and I were trying to work miracles in order to safely get our students back to in-person school. By this time, we had already brought back our most impacted students with disabilities, high school athletics (just training, not practicing), elementary school students, and middle school students in grade 6. But we still had to figure out how to safely move students from class to class in grades 7-12 while abiding by all health department rules. It seemed like the health department had completely forgotten how high schools work. I’m pretty sure they all went to high school, but we were constantly saying to DPH, “People! That is not how high schools work!” We were working beyond our physical (and emotional) limits, and we just kept going. I withstood the slings and arrows from those who “knew” we were moving too slow or too fast, and I was bolstered by all of the people who took the time to say thank you. Never underestimate the power of gratitude in how it energizes those who need it. Those were days when almost every minute at home was spent on email or the phone, and there was simply no time to celebrate a birthday. I look back and I am so proud of what our team accomplished, but as far as birthdays go, well, I was proud of what all of us in the district accomplished.
This will irk some people, but here’s a pet peeve. If your birthday falls on a work day, GO TO WORK! You went to school when you were a kid on your birthday. Go to work as an adult. Sorry. Where was I?
March 13, 2022. A warning I should have considered was that Daylight Savings Time started on my birthday this year. I love Daylight Savings Time, and I really don’t mind losing an hour, as it turns me from a ridiculously early riser to just an early riser. But most reasonable people loathe losing that hour. They get angry and cranky about it. And this year, because it was on my birthday, it was therefore my fault. You’re welcome, people. Back to my birthday. Finally, this was the year to celebrate. I was turning 60, and as you know, I’m not working! This was the year when I got the birthday I deserved.
We had invited a few people from the neighborhood invited to join us for a back yard bbq, where I planned to cook way more food than the attendees could possibly eat in three dinners. It was fun planning it, but then, the Ides Minus Two struck. As the week leading up to my birthday started, Jill and I learned that we had both been exposed to COVID by a friend who is highly responsible but who still tested positive. What the hell? COVID is practically gone! The rules are minimal, and I still abide by all of them. I have always abided by the rules (well, not in Latin class), and I still was living my life according to DPH guidelines, but NOW, when no one has it, I might get it? So we followed the rules and quarantined. Admittedly, in spite of Jill’s best efforts, I did so with a bit of an attitude. At first, we had no symptoms, then both Jill and I started a slight fever and a sore throat. The next day, we both tested positive and it was game-on from there. We both had extremely sore throats that made it difficult to sleep. My symptoms went away after a few days, while Jill’s got considerably worse before they finally went away.
This was the first sickness I had experienced in over four years. I keep track of my colds/flus in Evernote. I used to keep track of Jill’s too. I thought I was being very helpful when I would say, “You know, this is your third cold this year. Maybe you should work on some healthier habits.” Surprisingly, she did not think it was as helpful, and in an effort to keep our marriage happy and healthy, I have stopped the public service announcements I was giving her. But I still keep track, and it has been over four years for me!
Suffice it to say, the BBQ has been postponed indefinitely. The highlights of my birthday were phone calls with friends and family (my brother Bill said, “From a little baby turkey to an old crusty gobbler, you have been a great big brother!” Sweet, right?), Facebook good wishes (my first time for that – it’s quite nice!), some outstanding email messages, and my neighborhood friends walking up the street and safely singing happy birthday from the middle of the street. At first it felt like they were singing, “Happy F’ing Birthday to You.” Then, I gave myself a well-deserved mental slap (a lesson learned from my Latin days), and truly appreciated it. It was a wonderful neighborhood moment, and I was grateful, but I still would rather have been with them in the back yard, eating food, playing backyard games, and doing what you should do on birthdays.
I spent time on March 13 doing what I recommended in last week’s blog – writing down what I’m grateful for. It’s a long, long list. Truth be told, I think birthday celebrations are overrated. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to solve big problems with bright and caring people over my past few birthdays, and I’ll take the bad with the good. Usually, the bad just turns into yet another life story to share. I think we get in trouble when we think that life owes us anything. Maya Angelou said, “Living well is an art that can be developed: a love of life and ability to take great pleasure from small offerings and assurance that the world owes you nothing, and that every gift is exactly that, a gift.”
But as I said. Beware the Ides of March, minus two.
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