By Elena Dolores Solano
August is the sweetest month. There are no holidays, there is only the hot Michigan sun and what feels like endless summer days and long summer nights. Students, teachers and counselors are free for the summer, each group going on about their lives for a few short weeks before school resumes. But August has a timeline of its own, muggy nights and sun-splashed days and asphalt that buckles and melts in the heat. Time lingers. It is when tomatoes pop off the vine and chili arbol is harvested with gusto.
August is also when educators prepare to return to their buildings and classrooms. It is when students and educators realize summer is fading and moving quickly. Educators are planners and givers, and a combination of saints and imperfect human beings. I am an educator and I learned many years ago that educators have daunting jobs. Detroit educators are no exception. We deal with the hardest circumstances and manage heartbreaking scenarios on a daily basis. We help students find solutions to unbearable problems, believing they can and will succeed.
It is well documented that spontaneous play heals children from trauma. It leads to cooperation and creativity and connections in the brain. It helps children learn to problem solve and communicate. Summer months are critical for free play and important for healing.
August is the hottest month in Michigan. We swelter and sweat. We swat flies and mosquitoes. We gather tomatoes and flowers we have planted and grown over the summer. We
soak in the sunlight that goes on for hours. We lay quietly, motionless in the moonlight, and in the cool of the evening breeze, waiting for relief from the sweltering heat.
When I was a child my brother Dan and I ran to fields close to our house on 17th Street. Urban decay was already winding its way through Detroit. It bit our neighborhood hard, and like a snake it consumed houses and left empty lots. Pebbled walkways were still in place and large trees dotted former yards. We traipsed through overgrown weeds and looked for bees and hornets’ nests. We stared at the clouds and saw bears and mountains and dragons breathing fire in the hot summer sky. We collected fireflies in glass jars.
August is a heavy month. It is ripe with life and death and the beginning and the end. It is a month of healing and of time that moves so slow you can feel your body let go and your muscles unwind. It is a month of catching your breath and letting all things be as they are. It is a month of catching fireflies with your best friend.
August is a sacred month. It is made up of festivals at Clark Park, carnivals and trips to Belle Isle, and Up North if you’re really lucky. It is running under water sprinklers and open fire hydrants, watching fireworks, running around with sparklers and taking a cool bath before bed. It is everything and nothing all at once. August is filled with magic. Throughout the school year I see teachers and counselors do magic and become dragons in the best sense of the word. I love my students, just as I love my children, and I will breathe fire to protect them. August gives us strength to give our best.
My strongest asset at work is that I believe. I believe. I believe in the power of love and hope, of books, writing and a solid education. I believe in a river that runs along the heart of Detroit that carries a thousand stories. I believe in each and every one of my students to be all they can be, to do what their heart says they can do.
Educators often leave the school year empty and exhausted. We are givers. In the slow days of summer, I remember who I am, a woman, a child of Detroit, Mexican American, a mother, a daughter, sister and friend. I am a human being, and I too must heal.
It is the magic of August, of the heat in the moonlight and waiting for a cool breeze and being still in the night that makes me whole. I lay quietly in the dark and wait for dragons and stars to emerge from the darkened sky. It is where hope is grown and belief is resown, ready to be harvested for the following year. It is time to heal.
I would be useless without August. These are the days I let my heart fly and dare to believe, and remember who I am.
Elena Dolores Solano 2022