Anyone who knows me, even remotely, knows I love a good Target run! And anecdotally I know I am not the only one. In fact, I think I vaguely remember seeing someone wearing a t-shirt that said something to that effect recently. There is something about pushing that big red cart around the various sections of the store, scouring through the clearance, and checking each of the end caps looking for deals that brings peace, and maybe even a sense of victory or accomplishment. (“Look! I got this for $xx on clearance”). I even recall years ago (nearly 20 years now) when my youngest was merely months old, I escaped to Target, leaving her and her toddler brother in their father’s care. I’m confident I looked like some wayward woman as I slowly sauntered through each aisle unshowered, with a glossed over stare and in my sweatpants and slippers (I didn’t even have the wherewithal to put on shoes!). Regardless of how untethered I appeared (was) I remember the feeling of freedom and renewal I felt being ALONE in that store. It was (is) a safe haven. It’s a go-to when I need a get-away. (Each trip costs about the same as a vacation…not really, but I typically don’t leave there for less than $75. So, I have to be planful and careful.)
Thus, it came as no surprise to many when I recently began joking that I was going to leave my current employment and begin anew at Target. I had just come off the typical flurry of back-to-school professional development events and travel. Things settled down during the first week of school which provides me and my colleagues time to catch up on actual work before things get rolling again. And boy did they get rolling again. That next week it was off to the races. I believe this is due in part to the large amount of funding being offered to schools to support the mental health needs of staff and students. The need is great and the desire to meet that need is equally great. I’m delighted and impressed by the commitment of so many school leaders to prioritize this important (essential) contributor to school success. Considering all the learning loss that has occurred over the last couple of years, it would be easy to solely focus on academics and pushing to make up for lost time. However, embracing the whole child and remembering the humanity of each person in the building will only ensure greater achievements.
Because of that realigned commitment, things are busy for this school mental health consultant and her small but mighty group of colleagues. There were meetings on top of meetings, often overlapping one another. There were days we were left with our heads spinning and our to do list growing. You could feel things getting heavier as the week progressed. In times like that, when it feels like there is a fine line between laughter and tears, I attempt to find the laughter. It’s a coping strategy for me, to lighten the mood with humor. So, I started sharing my fantasy about working in the stockroom at Target. I imagine the quiet bliss of counting inventory alone in the back. “We have 57 pairs of black flats, 63 pairs of taupe ones.” Putting clearance stickers on out of season clothing, to bring others joy when they find the deal of the day, sounds heavenly. (Please note, my daughter works in retail, so I am very clear it is not all sunshine and rainbows). But the idea of hiding in the backroom with merchandise sounds good to me on days like that. We all got a chuckle out of that image and others shared what their dream escape job would be. Some agreed about Target or other retailers, others said working in a flower shop or a library. As committed as we are to the work we do, it was fun to step away for a moment and imagine a different type of living.
What I loved the most was when someone from a regional district, who I don’t work with daily, texted me after work one night and said “Today was definitely a day that I thought about hanging it up and going to work at Target. Thank you for the reminder that it’s OK to have these thoughts and then start over the next day. It’s an important message in this dysfunctional education machine, we just have to keep trying.” Friends, the work we do is hard. It’s invaluable but also draining and exhausting. It’s ok to call that out. To be honest and vulnerable. Look for the humor, find your people to cry and/or laugh with and then keep on trying. We have a dream job, helping each other stay strong while molding the next generation to become all they are meant to be. And when you need a break, know it’s OK, and I’ll be happy to meet you at Target!