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Never Say Never

As many of you may recall, I posted a (lengthy) post about a year ago on why I was leaving teaching, and one not too long ago about how I have used this past year to rest my mind and to figure things out.

Long story short: I’m teaching again. I wasn’t exactly looking for this opportunity, it fell into my lap with a message from a friend. When I read the description, I was intrigued and one thing led to another. I will hastily add, however, that I am not teaching in a traditional classroom. My students come from some pretty bad situations. They have a lot of issues and are not living with their parents for one reason or another, so they live at our facility until they can go home or into foster care. Sometimes they’re with us for weeks, sometimes for years and the people who work with them, my new coworkers, are some of the toughest, most caring individuals I have ever met in the short time I’ve been there.

I’m not looking at my new situation with rose-colored glasses, I know that there are going to be some grueling days ahead, but where I am, I can teach for the child, not for the parents or for a test. My job is to nurture and to teach these boys what they need, not push them to impress the state or to please an overbearing parent. My job is to help them trust, to provide boundaries, and a soft place to fall when they need it in addition to their academic lessons. Don’t other teachers do these same things? Absolutely, of course they do! There are teachers I know who have the biggest hearts for their kids, going above and beyond what’s required of them, but they also have those other pressures to deal with that I found unbearable.

There are tradeoffs where I am, though, too. We deal with daily behaviors that are cause for suspension at other schools, but somehow, I’m finding those a little easier on my psyche than the dread of sending home report cards or math tests.

Did I make the right choice? I think so. I’ve given up on thinking that my path through life is supposed to be a straight line. I’m starting to believe that I am put where I’m needed, where I can do some good for whatever length of time, and I hope that’s the case here. My goal is to make a positive difference in these boys’ lives, to be a safe person for them.

In the meantime, send some good thoughts and prayers to land on the boys and the workers who love and care for them, would you? They can always use a little more.

 

A Gift

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I bought a new pair of gloves today. It’s been overdue for a while. Obviously, the pair in the picture, the ones I have been wearing for the past eleven years, are pretty beat up and falling apart, but there’s a reason I’ve worn them for so long.

My grandpa gave them to me.

You see, for a while on my dad’s side of the family, the adults drew names for Christmas gifts because there were just too many of us to continue buying for everyone. The kids got, and still get, gifts from everyone until they, too, become adults. It got a little crazy with keeping it organized over time and we’ve since stopped drawing names, but it was fun for a while.

Grandpa got my name for Christmas of 2005. Along with our names to put into the drawing, we each had to make a short wish list in the price range, probably $25, but I don’t quite remember. I always wanted a pair of nice leather driving gloves, but for whatever reason, had never gotten myself a pair, so I put that on my list. Sure enough, Christmas Day, I opened the pair of gloves that you see above, only they looked much nicer.

“Are they okay? Is this what you wanted?” I remember him asking. Grandma shook her head.

“He picked them out all by himself and he’s been so worried that you wouldn’t like them.” There was no need to worry, they were exactly what I wanted. I’ve always hated big, bulky, poofy, winter gear and the streamlined leather gloves were perfect for me. (I do, however, concede defeat to the bulky stuff when the temperature gets into the single digits. My vanity goes out the window when it’s -5°,  as my friend Inez will tell you.)

I wore them immediately and often, getting them professionally cleaned every couple of years. Remarkably, I think it’s the only pair of gloves that I’ve ever had in my entire life where I haven’t lost one or both. They’ve traveled with me around the Midwest to various conferences and speaking engagements, always making it home safely. There was one time when I thought I had lost one and panicked, but it turned up on my classroom floor the next morning.

When Grandpa died, ten years ago this month, they became even more special. They’ve looked pretty bad for a few years now, but I’ve always resisted buying a new pair because he gave them to me and I want to keep him close. When the right thumb seam completely split this winter, the leather worn and frayed where I grip the steering wheel, I knew that it was time to put them to rest, but it’s still hard. Even going on Amazon to browse the (millions of) gloves felt funny, but I did eventually pick out a pair, which should arrive in the next couple of weeks. This pair will then go where most of my heartfelt keepsakes go, in my cedar chest along with other remembrances I want to keep forever. Hopefully one day when my kids and grandkids have to go through my stuff, they’ll remember this story and not toss them out, but I’ll understand if they do.

Those gloves were bought and given with love by someone who thought that I was something special, who saw things in me that I still can’t see in myself, someone who called me his “princess” and did his best for me in all the ways that he knew how. He’s been gone for ten years now and I miss him every day. Putting the gloves away won’t change that, but I did like having that physical reminder of him for all of this time.

As for the new gloves, they’ll be pretty. Again, they’re black leather with lining and definitely not bulky; I’m a creature of habit. I’m sure they’ll be fine, but my favorite pair will always be the beat-up veterans in my cedar chest.

A presto.

Book Sale!!!

Okay, shameless plug here. My middle grade fantasy fiction book, Traveler, is on sale this week on Amazon for $0.99!!! The link is here:

It’s only a dollar and can be downloaded on any device, so even if you don’t like it, you’re only out a dollar. Give it a shot and send some sales my way. Please feel free to share.

Longer blog coming soon.

Perception

I am fortunate in my job to be able to distribute food in our food pantry to people who need it. I have four or five regulars who are there once or twice a month and the occasional stranger who comes by unexpectedly. We don’t have established hours for the pantry, except the office hours that I keep, so while a couple of our regulars are, well, regular, many times it’s an impromptu visit. All but one of my regulars has a home but just can’t afford to buy enough food that they need for the month, or for the two weeks. Over the last year, I’ve gotten to know these folks, to worry when they don’t show up for a while and, most importantly, I’ve learned so much from them. It’s easy to judge people who are in need from a TV screen and the comfort of a secure home, but putting faces to that need really makes one think about not only how blessed many of us are, but helps us to understand that those face could be any one of us at any time. Some of them need help because of past choices, some because of circumstances, but they all have a story to tell. I’m going to introduce you to a few of them here for the simple fact that everyone we meet wants to be understood, wants to be heard, not judged.

T (I’m only going to identify them by their first initials) is a kind, middle-aged man who stops by at the very end or the very beginning of the month. He has someone who helps him pay for an apartment, but sometimes the money doesn’t stretch for the entire month and he needs help with groceries. He very clearly has some issues, there are days when he’s clearer in his thoughts than others, but he is unfailingly polite and makes it a point to ask about my month, my holiday, whatever is in season. He keeps up on current events and tries to engage in conversation about them on occasion. He sometimes asks for magazines to read, so I save my old issues of Guideposts and Reader’s Digest for him to take when he asks. He doesn’t always pay attention to his hygiene, but he’s always very pleasant to talk to and I enjoy his visits.

D has kids. She’s young, Muslim, and usually calls before she comes by to make sure that I’m here or to see if there are new groceries. Her children sometimes come with her and they are all adorable and well-behaved. She makes sure that she sticks to coming only every two weeks and normally stretches it out longer. She looks for halal things that she can feed her family and likes it when we have had a Kroger card donated so that she can buy perishables or over-the-counter medicines that we don’t carry. As a mother, I can’t imagine what she must be going through, but it is so clear that her kids are her whole world. I don’t know her exact circumstances, but I can tell that it bothers her to have to come and ask for help.

K scares me a little, honestly. He’s gotten belligerent with me before and he is banned from many of the churches and businesses in the area because of his actions. I only let him return to our church if he promised to behave himself and made it clear that it was his one and only chance. Since then, he’s been on his best behavior, but I stay on my guard when he’s here and only let him in when I have someone else in the building with me. He’s been arrested several times, I saw it happen on my way home once, so it is sometimes months in between his visits. I’ve seen him sitting outside of restaurants on Michigan Avenue at times, but he never acknowledges me outside of the church. Whether it’s because he truly doesn’t recognize me (he has some substance issues, as well) or he just doesn’t want to associate with me, I don’t know, but I’ve chalked it up to just letting him be. As long as he keeps following the rules, as long as I feel safe, I’ll continue to let him get food because he is truly homeless and is hungry. He’s as thin as a rail and I can’t turn him away.

L is probably my favorite. She is disabled, having been hit by a woman in a beige minivan in 2015. August 2015, to be exact. She broke her femur and now has a leg full of metal rods and pins, requiring her to use a wheelchair. I’ve heard the story many times, almost every time she comes. She likes to stay awhile and talk, telling me the same things again and again. She tells me every single time, “I don’t drink, smoke, or do drugs like those people in the apartment next door.” Normally, she rides the bus from that small apartment in the next city over, the apartment that has holes in the walls where the mice come in. She puts bricks in front of the holes to help keep them out but it doesn’t always work. She’s also convinced that someone comes into her apartment and moves things when she isn’t there; her complaints are starting to get on the landlord’s nerves. I’ve driven her home a couple of times when she can’t get back to the bus and I’ve seen the outside of her apartment. It’s a little frightening, the area is bleak. She won’t allow me in because she’s afraid that her neighbors will harass me, even fussing when I insist on at least carrying her groceries to her front step. She will tell, on occasion, of her time in jail or about how she woke up one day (February 2015) and God told her that she didn’t need to do drugs anymore. She is there like clockwork every month, usually around the 20th, but when it’s cold, she has to wait until she gets a ride because walking to the bus stop is too difficult to manage with her wheelchair in bad weather.

She has issues, lots of issues, but there’s something about her that makes me feel that God is with her. She has a mystical quality that transfixes me, even during her rambling speeches. There are times when I am standing in the pantry holding a food bag for twenty minutes or more, just listening, as she gets out all that she needs to say before I even put in one box of cereal. In the midst of hearing about her relatives and the children that she doesn’t see (I’m not quite sure how many she has, but there’s at least one son), there are sometimes profound statements that find their way out and make me wonder. I look forward to seeing her every month and worry when she doesn’t show.

These folks remind me every day of not only how blessed I am, but that humanity comes in all forms; we’re not all the same. Some humans are more difficult to love or understand than others, all of us are at times. But if we at least try, if we take that minute to listen, then we learn; not only about that person, but about ourselves and the world as a whole. We learn humility. I’m not always good at that, but the people who I’ve told you about today have opened up new places in my heart that make me want to listen more. I’m working on it.

 

(This post will have absolutely nothing to do with anything political, of that I can assure you, so any readers who have previously disagreed with my political views have nothing to fear. Or to fight about. Not that my feelings have changed in any way, but it’s very soul-sucking to have to argue and defend all the time, especially after the Christmas craziness and play rehearsals kicking into high gear. I need a break. Just wanted you to know before you started reading.)

I was inspired by a meme on Facebook today. It asked the reader to judge the year based on the difference in where you were as a person at this time last year to where you are now. I know, I know, it’s a Facebook meme, but this one got my attention because I made a major life decision at the end of last year and I’ve been asked a lot about it recently this holiday season, mostly by people I haven’t seen in a long time. Having to answer these folks has made me think about the place I’m now, as compared to last year, and this is what I’ve come up with.

At this time last year, I was kind of a mess, mentally and emotionally. I was at the end of my rope as a teacher; depression and anxiety were a daily struggle that I was having a tougher time fighting as each day passed. I made the choice to take a pay cut, leave the profession that I had acquired several thousand dollars in student loans to go into, and went to work as the office administrator for my church. At the same point this year, I can say with certainty that leaving classroom teaching was one of the best decisions that I could have made for myself. There were parts that I loved: interacting with the kids one-on-one, light bulb moments for the kids, some silly moments, my teaching assistant and friend, Nicole, the hugs and pictures. But the bad had outweighed the good for me. There were plenty of times that I cried all the way home or in the shower from certain interactions or from work situations that seemed hopeless, all the while putting on a brave face during the school day so that I wouldn’t be seen as weak or soft. I was cranky at home, snapping at the kids for small, stupid things, constantly on edge. I was always defensive, feeling like I always had to be on my guard. I felt constantly defeated, that nothing would ever be happy again. I felt trapped.  I know it sounds pretty dark, and my thoughts did get fairly dark, but that is a very common depression symptom and it was true for me then. I want you to see the state of mind that I was in, how ugly it was.

There are teachers who deal with those circumstances just fine, Mr. Marty Man being one of them. He can leave work at work, talk down any outraged parent, and deal with horrible behavior without so much as an eyebrow twitch. My parents-in-law were good at that, too. I’m just not built that way. I internalize the criticism, take it home with me, dwell on what was said, and dread having to deal with the situation again. Like for days and even weeks. Parent-teacher conferences and report cards were a nightmare. While I always gave the grade that the student earned, I knew which ones would turn into a big deal and what would be blamed on me with personal attacks on my personality and teaching ability, even though I always felt that I did my best, but it didn’t matter.

On the other hand, there were absolutely fantastic kids, parents, and extended families, some who still stay in touch. There were some good times, really good times. When I first started student teaching, and then for a long-term sub assignment in the same school (6 months!), I loved it. My cooperating teacher was amazing and the school had a close supportive staff. I enjoyed teaching for that first year and if it had kept going that way, I may have stayed in. For whatever reason, the circumstances changed and it all began to fall apart after that. I know that I was able to reach some kids, that there were kids I could help, but ultimately, I felt that I wasn’t an effective teacher. It’s a horrible feeling. Kids deserve the best, even if they’re obnoxious and difficult to like. I do believe that, from the bottom of my heart, but I found it really hard to put into practice another reason to leave the profession. I’m not good with sassy and difficult. Kids deserve a teacher who can see past that and there are some children who aren’t as easy to love as others. I hate typing this, admitting it to the world, but it’s true. Difficult kids need love, too, and being a classroom teacher isn’t for everyone.

My family has noticed the changes since I left teaching, my kids especially. Mama has a much longer fuse than she used to, the snappiness is much reduced, and I’m much calmer, less prone to black depression holes. The depression holes aren’t gone, but I have more energy stores to deal with them than I did before. They don’t last as long.  I’ve been spending a lot of time with my beloved theatre this year and not feeling torn in five different directions with all of the work at home hours. There is a lot of guilt, I do admit, about the decrease in pay and I’m not sure quite how that’s going to pan out in the long run, but for this moment, this very moment, I’m okay where I am. Why is that a good thing? Because I hadn’t felt that way in several years.

So, on the occasion of this New Year, I toast to change. I toast to scary, freaking difficult decisions, and I toast to dreams that turn into goals.

Saluti.

 

I’m finding it difficult to get in the Christmas spirit this year. Actually, it’s been this way for the past few years, so I don’t blame any particular event of 2016. I still find the story beautiful and meaningful, the lights pretty, the cards welcome. I’ve done all the shopping, all of the wrapping (almost), and made a respectable amount of cookies. I’ve sung the songs and felt my heart stir with the beauty of the melodies and lyrics, but yet… I don’t feel it. The magic hasn’t been there.

I will love spending time with my family on Christmas Day, chaotic as it can be. I want to see my nieces and nephews in their joy, and even their eventual crankiness, with all of the excitement. I want to see my brothers and sisters (including the brother- and sister-cousins), parents, aunts, and in-laws that I don’t spend nearly enough time with. I will grumble when making dinner, as I always do, but it will be good-natured. I will drink too much wine, laugh too much, and get all of the dishes done Christmas night because I don’t want to wake up to a mess. I’ll crash into bed around midnight and sleep in the next day until 8:00 or so. (My younger self would have thought that pathetic, but she didn’t have kids.)

I know a lot of people feel the Christmas magic every year, but the last time I remember having the “magic” was sometime when my kids were smaller. I have such fabulous memories of dancing with Oldest and Middle Child around the living room to Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”, watching them rock out over and over again in their Pull-Ups as Clarence Clemons belted out the saxophone part. They will disown me for sharing this memory, by the way, but it’s worth it. I miss the astonishment on Youngest Child’s face when Santa KNEW HIS NAME!!! I miss the looks of awe of all three of their faces when it was finally time to go downstairs and see what Santa had left on Christmas morning. I miss the absolute reverence of them putting Baby Jesus in the manger. They still do take turns putting him in, but that sweetness has left with their baby chubbiness. Decorating the tree was a BIG DEAL when they were small, now they’re doing me a favor. Their excitement fueled my own and as they got older, it’s still lovely, but not quite the same.

I don’t know if it’s “normal” to feel this way or not, but I don’t like it. I miss the magic. I want that feeling back. I don’t know if you have to be a kid or have a kid who believes for that to happen, but I want to feel Christmas again. Is it lack of time? Is it extreme busyness? Have I grown up too much, God forbid? Maybe it will come back when I don’t have so much to do, when I can focus on the mystery of the season. I told Mr. Marty Man that one year, I wanted to spend Christmas in Europe, just visiting ancient cathedrals, participating in local traditions, soaking in the feels. He’s not on board yet, but I’m working on it.

In the meantime, even without the magic, I will enjoy the next few days. I hope that all of my readers have a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza, Happy New Year, or whatever it is that you celebrate. I wish you love and a prosperous 2017. Thanks for reading.

Salute.

 

I Choose Love

The ugliness has begun. Threats and assaults have increased towards mosques, non-European-looking Americans, LGTBQ folks, and women in general since the election; many incidents invoke Trump’s name. It’s exactly what we were headed toward, yet here we are.

I’m not playing a sore loser card, the Electoral College has spoken. Not the will of the people according to the popular vote, but according to the rules of our system. That’s how it’s written and that’s not the issue I’m taking on. Now is the time to deal with what we have and go from there.

I voted against that man, not against a party, not for a party, not for Hillary Clinton in particular. I voted against vulgarity, hate, and intolerance. I voted so that my gay family and friends wouldn’t have to worry about their marriages being dissolved. I voted to show my nieces that women should never have to put up with sexual harassment or assault, especially from men in power. I voted so that survivors of sexual assault and abuse, myself included, wouldn’t be triggered by the President of the United States. I voted to show my amazing boys that the behavior exhibited by Donald Trump is reprehensible and wrong. I voted so that my Muslim and Jewish friends can freely practice their beliefs without having to worry about being harassed and threatened because the freedom of religion, a Constitutionally protected right, is one that we should hold dear. I voted so that my Mexican friends know that I stand behind them. I voted against a billionaire who has never known a layoff or a hungry day in his life, but told the working class that he could relate to them.

Donald Trump won the election. God, help us. Those of you who know me know that I don’t take God’s name lightly. This is my actual prayer: God, help us. We are now seeing the very worst of many people in our country on both sides and so far, it’s not getting any better.

So what to do about it? For starters, I began wearing a safety pin soon after the election. In case you’ve been living under a rock, a safety pin is a sign that the person wearing it will stand up for you if you are being harassed by hateful actions. Thankfully, I have not had the occasion to do that yet, but I am prepared, even though confrontation makes me queasy. I will do it because I will be a part of the solution. I will do it because I am a Christian and we are called to love our neighbors. I will do it because this onslaught of sickening, disgusting, venom frightens me and I will stand up to it. It’s something small that I can do.

Not everyone is on board with the safety pin thing, though. There was a meme going around on social media recently that irritated me. It is a picture of that brave officer who shot the attacker at Ohio State this past Monday. It says, “Your safety pin didn’t save anyone, this cop with a gun did.” Well, yeah, and those two things have nothing to do with each other. A knife-wielding maniac is a job for police officers and I am so very thankful that we have dedicated, wonderful people to protect us in these situations. Our police officers and other first-responders deserve our respect. The pin that I wear is not a means of defense, it’s a sign that I will help you, however I can. What makes me angry about a meme like that is that it insinuates that wearing a pin equals weakness. It absolutely does not. Inserting oneself into a potentially hostile situation with the intent to diffuse it takes a lot of courage, the very opposite of weakness. There is nothing weak about standing up to bullies. The more people that stand up to the recent ugly events will make them happen less and less, whether they wear a pin or not.

What else can I do, besides wearing a pin? I can write letters to my representatives, I can donate to organizations that work for equality, I can blog. I can hope that people who voted for Trump also actively work to quell the bad things that are happening.

In short, I choose to deal with the outcome of this election with love. Will it make a difference? I hope so. I hope I’m strong enough to help my family, friends, and neighbors who may need it in the coming months and years. I hope that we, as a country, make it clear that hate is not tolerated, no matter who we voted for.

So, I choose to respond with love.

I choose love.