Back to Nightmares

I taught for seven years seven years ago.

I still have back-to-school nightmares.

It’s the first day of school.  My new charges have entered the room, sitting wherever they want, class begins and they won’t stop talking.  I try all the little tricks in my arsenal.  Waiting silently in the front of the room, a glaring sentinel.  Looking at the clock.  Greeting them in my let’s-get-to-business tone.  Finally resorting to screaming at the top of my lungs while the party continues and I go red in the face.

What kind of year will this be if I can’t make them quiet down in the first minutes?

Now, I have this dream randomly whenever I’m experiencing a stressful time or approaching any event or new beginning with anxiety.  Seven years out and this is still my psyche’s go-to when it needs an exemplar of anxiety.

Last night, though, it changed.  I’m sure I had some flavor of the back-to-school dream because I’m anticipating my daughters’ return to school next week (any nerves they might have with the unknown of a new year and my own worries about the onslaught of morning rushes, homework duty, adhering to schedules).  And the start of my baby’s preschool, which I suddenly was wracked with guilt for last night (i.e. Shouldn’t I just keep her home with me?).  But it was different.  Decidedly so.

I’d gone to a school event with a colleague with whom I still keep in touch regularly.  Groups of kids ranged around a large space, seated at tables with staff interspersed.  They seemed to be grouped by their team designations.  The main event was food.  It was some sort of eating contest, as in who could eat the fastest or the most or something like that.  I bounced from table to table with no real spot to land.  At one point, I found myself in front of a turkey dinner, but quickly abandoned that when I found not one, but four consecutive strands of hair in it.  I asked if I got extra points for eating the hair.  Yes, this is the point at which I got increasingly snarky.

My former colleagues kibitzed together or mixed with their students in a way I could not as I no longer belonged to that club.  I didn’t know the students; I didn’t know the ins and outs of their day or of the school building at large.  I was no longer privy to the culture of the school and tenor of its staff.

I ended up extremely cranky and ornery, off to the side by myself under a tree.  Yes, the setting had morphed outside.  And the game had changed.  Apparently now it was some sort of role-playing game.  And I got to watch as my husband mock-proposed to another woman.

My psyche just threw me under the bus!  It went for the insecure jugular of losing connections, people I care for and who care for me.  My close ties.  My sense of belonging and acceptance.

It was no mistake that my subconscious served up this dream on the eve of another school year.  As my career and profession, teaching was (and still is) a large part of my identity.  At a time when structure is supposed to ramp up, I float listless.  Yes, mothering is a vocation.  But my charges are headed off to something other than them and me while I sit at home.

I need to find something new on the menu – other than hairy turkey dinner.


Leave a comment


  1. I still have nightmares about math. I dream that I need to get a certain grade on a final test to pass the class…but I don’t study and I fail the test. I always wake up from this dream completely stressed out and it takes me a couple minutes to realize it was just a dream.

    Sorry about your dream! Hope you find something other than a hairy turkey dinner!


    • Jennifer Butler Basile

       /  August 27, 2013

      Yes, sometimes I’m the student, too. I run around like a nut trying desperately to get ready for school, but usually end up missing the bus and walking there in whatever inappropriate outfit I managed to scrape together.

      Apparently school has always inspired lots of anxiety on my part! That, and I don’t get enough sleep to work through my latent fears during REM!


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