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Archive for December, 2014

Another new year is only a few days away and the thought of the dreaded New Year’s resolutions has begun to been bandied about on morning talk shows. That got to me to wondering about resolutions. How many people make them, as a rule? How many people keep them? Of course, there are the common ones that so many aspire to, losing weight being the biggest (No pun intended. Well, maybe.), then quitting smoking, paying off credit cards, the list could go on for miles.

I haven’t ever really made any hard or fast resolutions, at least not that would start January 1. I’ve made changes in my life at times: drink lots of water, exercise every morning, learn to dance, go to therapy. Some of them were fun, some were not. Water, as boring as it is, has made me feel a lot better. I even crave it in the morning now. I used to drink only coffee and 3-5 cans of Diet Pepsi a day, until I started reading all of the research on the chemicals in diet soda and the effect they have on the body. Since I began drinking more water, I feel less sluggish, I have more energy, and those debilitating muscle spasms I used to get hardly ever rear their ugly heads anymore. I still have an occasional diet soda, I can’t stand to drink my calories, because it tastes good but only once or twice a week. Water was a good, albeit not very exciting, choice.

So was dancing. A good choice and exciting! I wasn’t allowed to take dance when I was little so I’m doing it for myself now. I can be an absolute dunce when it comes to learning steps for the first time, but once they finally sink through my thick skull, they stay in there pretty well. I love how patient my teacher is and how supportive everyone else in the class is. Plus, it’s a total blast. I’ll keep it up.

I hate exercising every morning, really, really, hate it. I don’t work out like crazy, but while the shower warms up, I can do squats, crunches, and stretch a bit. Then it’s done and I don’t have to think so much about it. On nice days, when it’s light outside after supper, I like to powerwalk up to the corner store to get a newspaper and a Mega Millions ticket. The round trip is a little less than two miles and takes me about 20 minutes, all cardio. Again, I would much rather dance instead, but tapping all of that time on our hardwood floors really isn’t fair to Marty’s poor ears. Still, I’m healthier than I have been in a long time, so, again, a good choice.

Therapy was a good choice, too. It still is. Thanks to insurance, that’s an open-ended outlet for me for as long as I feel I need it. I think the stigma should be shed and more people should take advantage of it, honestly. It’s good for the soul. Not so fun, maybe, but worthwhile.

I don’t know exactly what I want to change this year. I have some ideas, but some of them are left to fate. I would like to take my career in a new direction, and I will try, but there are a lot of variables in that equation. I would like to be more toned and fit before I leave for Italy in June, but that is all up to me. I would like to clear my basement of all of its junk. I would like to replace our very old water pipes and to get rid of the ugly, temperamental, PINK, ugly, toilet in the upstairs bathroom. I would like to make a dent in my student debt. I would like to be more brave in my decisions. I would like to fix the broken, leaky, gutter.

None of these things are effective on January 1, but they’re all in the foreseeable future. I’ll have to see where the year takes me. In the meantime, what resolutions have you made? Maybe not for New Year’s Day, but in the future. What things do you want to change, accomplish, quit? Post in the comments below and spread around some inspiration. Until then, have a blessed, prosperous, and safe new year.

“For auld lang syne, my dears, for auld lang syne.”

We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet for auld lang syne

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First things first; I’m not the type of teacher who passionately loves all of my students. I try, I really do, but it’s really hard work to love some of them. I’ll do whatever I can for any of my students, I’m fair in my treatment of them, but I’m not a saint. There are students who every teacher loves: respectful, kind, and who finish their assignments without complaining. Those are the easy ones to love. At the end of every school year, I get emotional about my class leaving, but there are a few students who, when they walk out the door for the final time, I breathe a sigh of relief. I do feel at bit guilty about it, but I think that there are plenty of teachers who feel the same way.

There are those students, however, who stay with you, who touched you in some deep way that you don’t even realize it until later. I remember those kids, as clearly as if they were in my class right now. There was the boy who, at twelve years old, was still in the 5th grade and slept all day. He had such a difficult home life that he would just shut down at school. He was slightly mentally challenged, had significant health problems, and didn’t have a filter when it came to saying what was on his mind, which didn’t endear him to the other children. I worried about him endlessly, especially when he would tell me things that went on at home. One day, at the end of the year, a week passed without him in class. He had frequent absences, but none that had stretched that far. When we finally reached someone at home, we were told that he’d had a heart attack after being left alone all day. A heart attack. At twelve years old. I haven’t seen him for several years, but I still pray for him. I hope he’s still alive.

There was a girl, a sweet, intelligent, little thing, who confided to me that she was being abused at home. I had never had to make a CPS report before, but I learned how helpless the system can make you feel when you’re sending a child home to an unsafe environment every day. I have no doubt that those hard-working folks are overloaded with cases even worse than the one I was sending them, but it didn’t help my anxiety. I wanted her to be safe RIGHT NOW and the system just doesn’t work that way. She was a smart cookie, so I hope that she’s going to go far, especially with her kind nature and drive to do well.

There are many others: the boy who had attended 5 different elementary schools in as many years but made friends easily, the girl who seemed to have no motivation to do anything other than breathe, the kids who want to be more than what they are expected to be, the ones who are so angry at the world that they lash out at everyone, the ones who are so used to going about unnoticed that it takes a while to build their trust. One child I had used to throw chairs across the room. Another kicked books like a football when he was angry.These are the children we see every day, some whole, many broken.

I have one in the breaking process right now. He’s a sensitive little soul who doesn’t speak up much. It took a long time to earn his trust and now he’s going through a new, tough, situation at home. He writes notes for me when he’s having a bad day, writes about his feelings in his daily journal, and he just desperately wants things to be the way they used to be. He just wants what any kid does: to be loved and to feel secure in his world. Rich, poor, black, white, no matter what the differences, all children need those things.

Some of these kids tugged at my heart the whole time I had them. For others, it took the benefit of hindsight for me to see them as they really are. Behavior issues and the stress of trying to give 20-30 kids everything they need on a daily basis can be draining and, inevitably, we teachers can’t give every child everything that they need. We can provide stability, boundaries, encouragement, and hugs, but what they go home to every day has the biggest effect on their lives. Legislators need to look at that when they wonder why our kids don’t have high test scores. How can you study when you’re hungry, or when you don’t know where you will sleep at night? Food for thought.

I guess what brought all of this on was when I was checking journals today. That sensitive little boy who I mentioned? He wrote something that tore my heart in two. I won’t disclose what he wrote, it was in confidence to me, but suffice it to say that it made me want to swoop him up in a huge hug and tell him that no matter how bleak it seems right now, it will get better. I know it doesn’t seem like it right now, but it will. It made me hug my kids tighter tonight, to be more understanding, to be more compassionate. It reminded me, yet again, that these are children, not test scores. We can’t ever forget that they’re children and they see everything that we do. We are the examples.

Our kids need love at home. Our kids need stability at home. We need to grow up and give it to them. Maybe then, our world will be a better place.

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One of the things that I look forward to during the holiday season (now that Thanksgiving has passed and it has officially begun) is when It’s a Wonderful Life plays on television. For those who have never seen the film, which takes place in the 1930s and 40s, here it is in a nutshell. It’s kind of a big nutshell, since this is a three hour movie, but it is sooooo worth it.

Small-town Bedford Falls man, George Bailey, unwillingly inherits the Bailey Building and Loan when his father suddenly dies. Instead of studying to be an architect and seeing the world, George is suddenly trapped in the responsibility of carrying on the family business and taking care of his mother while his younger brother, Harry, is able to go off to college to follow his dreams. George marries a local girl, Mary, and they soon have four children. (“George Bailey lassos stork!”) The going is tough, but for a while, he seems to accept his fate. He’s a family man who becomes a pillar of the community. Because he is excluded from the draft for World War II on account of his being deaf in one ear, he helps out on the home front, leading scrap drives, rubber drives, and air raid drills. All the while, faithful Mary is at his side helping with the business and raising the four children. His nemesis, a miser named Mr. Potter, owns most of the town and has schemed to get the Bailey Building and Loan for years, but George always manages to stay one step ahead of him. Of course, this infuriates Mr. Potter, leaving him a “warped, frustrated, old man”.

One Christmas Eve, just when his brother has received the Congressional Medal of Honor from the President of the United States, George’s Uncle Billy, a lovable alcoholic, takes a deposit of $8000 to the bank. Upon arriving, he can’t resist taunting Mr. Potter with Harry’s success, and mistakenly gives him a newspaper with the money wrapped inside. Once at the bank window, he can’t find the money and panic ensues. Meanwhile, Mr. Potter opens the paper, realizes the mistake, but does nothing to give the money back. At last, it seems, he holds the key to the Baileys’ undoing. Of course, this is also the day that the bank examiner has arrived to go over the books, making the Baileys’ situation seem hopeless.

George certainly thinks so and soon his world is crashing down around his ears. He goes to Mr. Potter for help only to be told that he’s worth more dead than alive. He gets drunk and drives (this is the 1940s, remember) to a high bridge over a river and contemplates jumping in to end it all. At the last minute, an angel (second class) named Clarence jumps in the churning water himself, forcing George to rescue him and thereby saving himself. Clarence is trying to earn his wings and sees George as the perfect way to do it. In order to prove to George that his life means something, Clarence, with permission from Heaven, grants George the gift of being able to see what the world would be like if he had never been born. George returns to town to find out that Bedford Falls is now Potterville. Strip clubs, gambling dens, and chaos now reign in the formerly family-friendly streets. No one knows who George is, including his wife, Mary who is now a spinster librarian. (Why are librarians always spinsters in old movies?) Even George’s own mother has no idea who he is and turns him away. By the time George understands what an impact he has made on so many people, Clarence in tow, he is desperate for his old life back. He manages to cause a scene in town and ends up being shot at before running back to the bridge and praying for God to make him live again. Miraculously, he does, everyone knows him, and he’s soon back at home where the bank examiner and the sheriff are waiting to arrest him for Uncle Billy’s mistake. George is so happy at being back that he doesn’t care. Moments later, the house is flooded with townspeople who George has helped over the years, all contributing money to make up for that $8000 deficit, including the sour-puss bank examiner, and telling George exactly what he means to them. To top it all off, Harry-the-war-hero comes in, having flown through a snowstorm to get there and declares his brother, George, “the richest man in town”, followed by everyone singing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “Auld Lang Syne”. During the excitement of it all, a bell ornament on the Christmas tree rings and George and Mary’s daughter, Zuzu, says, “Look, Daddy! Teacher says every time a bell rings, an angel get his wings!”, which means that Clarence has accomplished his goal of earning his wings, thorough George. Mr. Potter’s is defeated yet again and tears ensue, as always.

Of course there’s much more to it, a lot that I’ve left out, but you’ll have to watch the movie for that. I saw bits and pieces of it growing up, but couldn’t be bothered to sit through the whole thing until after I attended an It’s a Wonderful Life-themed Christmas party at my boss’s house, almost twenty years ago. I remember being floored, absolutely floored by the message. If you follow this blog, you know that I struggle with self-image and self-esteem, just like many other people. There have been times in my life when I have thought that it would have been better if I had never been born, especially after I make a wrong choice that ends up hurting someone, as we all do from time to time. When I feel that way, a quote from Clarence always hits home. “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

It’s very true, akin to the butterfly effect. Think about it. What would the world be like if you had never been born, if you received the George Bailey gift and had the opportunity to see the world as he did? What seemingly small events in your life would have never happened, perhaps changing the world for the worse, or preventing a particularly wonderful thing from happening?

If you have children, they wouldn’t exist. Wow. Let that sink in for a minute. You would not be a child of your parents. Would that have changed their lives in some way? Most definitely. Parents rearrange their entire lives, usually for the better, for their kids and without you, what track might they have taken? Have you helped anyone along the way? Did you let someone in your lane during heavy traffic? Maybe that person arrived on time for an appointment that changed his or her life. Did you make a point to be kind to someone? Maybe that made all the difference in that person’s day and enabled them to pass kindness on to others who needed it. Our lives are so very meshed with countless others, many that we don’t even realize and never will, which is the message, and the beauty, of the film. This isn’t a film about rich, powerful, or beautiful people, it’s about us, the normal everyday folks who struggle with lost dreams and self-doubt all the time.

When it begins to dawn on George that he is, indeed, in a world where he was never born, Clarence tells him that he has been given a wonderful gift, a chance to see what the world would be like without him. George sees all of the people in his life that he has touched and what would have happened had he not been there as a husband, an understanding loan manager, a loving son, a supportive brother. It shows us that no matter how small or insignificant we feel, especially when we compare ourselves to our friends and relatives that appear to lead big, exciting lives (Sam Wainwright, Harry Bailey), we do make a difference, especially to the people who matter most. It’s a message that sometimes gets lost in the crush of ambition.

Do yourself a favor this Christmas season; watch it’s a Wonderful Life in its entirety, whether it’s on television or downloaded from Netflix. Be open to the message. Have the tissues ready. Merry Christmas.

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