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Besides being a mom of three boys, I’m also a middle school teacher. And while I am of the persuasion that kids are precious and still learning and all of that, they can also be incredibly and deliberately cruel to one another. I hear it every day: taunts about weight, skin color, ancestry, hair, financial status. You name it, a middle school student has heard it either directed to them or to someone else. It’s really disturbing, sometimes, to hear what kids can say to each other. Girls are routinely called whores or bitches, boys are called pussies or girls as insults. Even eight- and nine-year-olds say these things. My school is a 4-8 and it still shocks me to hear a tiny 8-year-old tell another one to “shut the f- up.” This is even with all of the anti-bullying programs out there. By the way, this isn’t exclusive to my school, I’ve heard this my entire teaching career, including while subbing, at many different schools.

How we as adults deal with this behavior is really important. The thing is, a lot of times, when a child is subjected to these kinds of insults, adults either tell them to just ignore it or they turn the responsibility on the kid who was the target of the mean comment or action. They’re told to suck it up, “be a man” if they’re a boy (I absolutely DESPISE that term) instead of properly dealing with the situation. This sends the wrong message. I’ve heard boys say absolutely vile things to girls and when I’m confronting the boy, the girl will tell me that it’s okay, not wanting me to do something about it. The boy learns that he can get away with it and the girl learns to just let it happen. This teaches kids to not only expect but to tolerate verbal abuse, to accept it as a normal part of growing up when we should be teaching them to not say those things at all.

I’ve never been okay with that. When my boys would deliberately say or do something hurtful to one another, all most kids do, I tried my best to get them to understand exactly what they were doing, how words, especially, can hurt and for a very long time. I remember a lot of things said to me as a kid (as I’ve mentioned before, I was kind of an odd child by society standards) and I still feel a twinge of pain when I think of them. I wanted them to know that what they say in the heat of the moment can cut deeply. I wanted them to think before they spoke, to make a choice about what to do before repeating what someone else is passing around, and to put themselves in another’s position. Did it always work out in the real world? Honestly, I don’t know because I wasn’t with them 24/7 while they were at school or activities, but I do know that that kind of thing wasn’t tolerated in our house. I hope they remembered what we taught and what we tried to show them, even to this day.

I try to do the same thing when I hear students say these things. I pull them aside, if I can, one-on-one, and talk to them about what they said. Why did they say that? Do they even know what those words mean? Would they say that in front of their parents? (In some cases, the answer to that question is a heartbreaking, “Yes”.) What if someone said that to them? To their mother, father, siblings? In other words, I try to not only hold them accountable for their actions, but to do it in a way to make them think about why and to help them understand that there are consequences for their actions. Their brains are still growing and kids do dumb things when their bodies are changing and the hormones are flowing but that doesn’t mean that we can’t plant the seeds of being kind. It also means that we shouldn’t just dismiss it as “kids being kids” or, even worse, “boys being boys”. Shudder. And don’t be fooled, girls can be just as abusive, especially to each other, unfortunately.

Where do they learn it? It’s very simple. Us. The adults in their lives, either in their own homes or in the media, especially social media. Have you ever read the comments section? It’s a freaking scary place. Kids are left to roam online, unmonitored, uncensored, exposed to every racist, sexist, misogynistic thought out there. They are exposed to racism, porn of all kinds, not to mention incels and extremists. The internet is not a babysitter, but a lot of parents treat it that way. You don’t think your kid has seen anything? Don’t fool yourself. They’ve seen and heard more than you know. Even with the protections we took, our kids still managed to stumble on some crazy stuff. This is a scary time to be a parent.

What to do about it? Talk to your children. Learn about what’s going on their lives, who their friends are. Know where they’re going, not only physically, but online. Hold them accountable for their actions, teach them consequences without berating them and be consistent. Above all else, teach them to be kind and to treat others with respect in any situation and not just by telling them, by demonstrating it yourself. Treat others with kindness and respect and make sure your children see you do it, even if the waiter/waitress/customer service rep seems to be having a bad day and gets something wrong or the food is late. Don’t make disparaging remarks about women, men, other races or religions. Change your behavior if necessary and talk to your kids about it. Showing your kids that you can change is incredibly powerful. Be a good example.

Parenting is really difficult sometimes and most of us do the best we can, but we can always learn and grow. Parents are the most important example and influence in their child’s life. They imitate us, whether they realize it or not. The culture won’t change until we do.

Let’s raise kids to be good humans.

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Marty and I attended a wedding for two of my theatre friends yesterday. What’s really cool is that I was in the show with both of them when they met and have been able to see their relationship begin and flourish, leading to the beautiful ceremony and reception yesterday. They are a magical couple and deserve all of the happiness in the world.

As I listened to them recite their vows that they wrote themselves and watched them try to hold back their happy tears, I held my own tears back and thought of my wedding day, almost twenty-three years ago now. I was so young and so unprepared for what marriage really takes, but at that moment, I didn’t care. I was excited and in love and I thought it would be all sunshine and rainbows. After all, we hadn’t even had a fight yet, at least not a real one. Boy, have I learned a lot since then!

I love my marriage but it has definitely not always been easy. Money woes, communication issues, being parents of three young boys, unemployment, HOUSE ISSUES (omg, this house…), a miscarriage, and my depression issues, meant that things were broken sometimes and forced us to think about what was really important and to work it out. We had to learn to be honest with each other about our feelings and truly listen to each other. For someone like me who was always “fine” (I wasn’t), this was extremely difficult. But, do you know what? Doing the hard work was worth it, especially when it would have been so easy to just walk away, but we didn’t want that. We’ve grown so much as a couple and a team over the last few years. I can honestly say that my husband is my best friend and that I am happy in our marriage. I recognize that that’s not true for a lot of people. I’m so happy and fortunate that I’m married to someone who doesn’t want to always be right (except during Jeopardy), he wants to work with me toward our goals as a couple and my individual goals, just like I want to work with him. He loves and accepts me, weirdness and all. We learned together. That’s what marriage is about.

Would I tell my young bride-self this if I could? Maybe, but she probably wouldn’t listen, silly, headstrong thing that she was. Experience is a good teacher and going through what we have, I really appreciate us now.

I thought about all of this yesterday during the wedding and reception. I squeezed Marty’s hand, more than once, and made him dance as much as I could. In my mind, not only was I celebrating the beautiful union between my friends, but also between us.

Feeling so very thankful with a full heart today.

 

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I got a new tattoo a couple of days ago, an early birthday present to myself. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I have been adding to my collection over the last five years.

I’m up to 6 now, including the one I had covered up two years ago, and I love, love, love, my body art; it’s an expression of me and who I am. I went back to a shop where I went two years ago that had been recommended by friends. The artist who did my cover-up then was super awesome and I wanted to have him do this new one. Unfortunately, what I wanted wasn’t his style so he referred to another artist in the shop. After viewing the new guy’s work on Instagram, I felt comfortable that he would get it right and set up an appointment.

The tattoo turned out fabulous, just what I wanted, but it was the conversation we had that has been sitting on my brain for the past two days. I won’t tell you all of it, but the gist was that his family had not been supportive of his art when he was growing up. As with a lot of families, though, his family didn’t consider anything having to do with art as a “real” job. Now, this guy is talented. I wouldn’t have let him put his art on my body if he wasn’t. He loves what he’s doing, but I wonder what would have happened if his family had supported his dream, if they had encouraged him to follow his passion rather than quash it. He’s making his own art now, not in the way he originally wanted to, but it fits him at the moment. Still, he has “what-if” moments.

I immediately identified with what he went through. In my first year of college, it was made very clear to me that my aspirations of going into theatre would not be supported and financial assistance was withdrawn. I eventually took the safe route, managed college myself, and got a “real” job, but I often think about how my life would be different if I had been allowed to pursue my dream. Now, I think that Marty and I would still have met and we would have had the same kids because we were meant to, but I might have been happier, less prone to the bouts of depression due to work frustration. I might not have been wishing my life away every year, counting the days until my next break. Is this a grass-is-greener situation? Maybe. I honestly don’t know what would have happened if I had majored in theatre and gone to New York like I had planned. I might not have made it very far in that world, but I would have at least tried. I wasn’t confident enough to really strike out on my own so I put my energy into getting a safe job. Plainly put, I was too afraid to try it by myself. I wish I had been braver.

Now, Youngest Child wants to be a jazz musician. He’s excellent, really, a very good musician, and that’s not just mom-bias talking. I see me-as-the-artist in him, except he’s more confident in his abilities, more proactive in following his path. We are supporting his decision. He’s making contacts that will help him in the future, taking as many private lessons as we can comfortably provide for, and I’m driving him all over the metro area. Is it a lot? Sometimes, but you know what? When I pick him up from a performance or a lesson, he’s happy. He’s doing what he loves to do, he’s challenged, and he’s driven. As a mom, that’s the best outcome I can hope for. Will he make it professionally? I hope so, but if not, at least he will have had the chances and opportunities. (I have a sneaking suspicion that he’ll do well, though.) We made it clear that he will have to support himself as an adult, but he’ll figure it out. We’ll be here for advice if he needs it.

Society tends to look down on kids who want to go into the arts, but, ironically, we pay billions of dollars into the entertainment industry every year. The arts are so important: music, theatre, painting, sculpting, these things all take an enormous amount of talent, yet parents discourage their kids from going into them full-time. I get it, it’s hard to get insurance or job security in the early days, not to mention a retirement plan, when one is paying their dues, but is that more important than being happy with life? Some people are willing to work a job that isn’t their passion and deal with it fine and then there are the rest of us who find it difficult to fit into that mold.

What is the point of all of this? If you have a kid who is interested in going into the arts, let them try. If they’re terrible at it, that will be evident soon enough and they’ll try something else. Relax and be supportive of their dreams even if you don’t think they have a snowball’s chance in hell of making a living at it. Don’t make them wonder, “what if?” later on because you squelched their ambition. They may not get there, but they will have the memory that you supported them and believed in what they wanted to do and that, my friends, is worth a whole lot more. You might be surprised at what happens next.

 

 

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Two nights ago, I had a talk with God. Well, not so much a talk as it was a depression-fueled temper tantrum on my part. It’s been a long school year so far (already!) and the frustration with work and where I am in my life has been steadily building. Thursday was a horrible day: disrespectful kids, strangers giving stupid feedback in my classroom, no prep time due to meetings, and no prospect of things getting better. Remember what I’ve written about depression? When it kicks in, you literally can’t see a way out at that moment. Combine that with being sick all week and normal teenage stuff at home and it becomes a recipe for a major depressive hole.

By bedtime, my chest felt like it would explode with frustration and I could barely keep the tears in. In the bathroom, I let it all out at God. Why wouldn’t He help me? Why was I getting thwarted and blocked at every turn when I was trying to help myself? Was this all there was going to be of my life, feeling trapped and miserable? There were other things, too, but that was the gist of it. It didn’t last very long, I was exhausted, and I went to bed dreading the puffy eyes in the morning that come from late-night tear fests.

The next day (yesterday), I walked back into my classroom after cleaning up broken shards of a cologne bottle in the hallway. I can still smell it on my hands this morning, despite repeated washings. Ugh. My clock caught my attention at 10:23. That doesn’t surprise me. Those numbers, my birthday numbers, always seem to appear when my attention is required for spiritual things. This has happened throughout my entire life. I know that a lot of people, especially those skeptical or dismissive of such things would bleat that it’s no big deal, it’s 10:23 twice a day every day. No kidding, but experience has taught me that when my attention is specifically being drawn to the clock at that time, the universe and God mean business. Whether you believe it or not is your own business, but I know what’s true for me.

Anyway, as soon as I had registered the time, a voice popped into my head. “For I know the plans I have for you…”, it said. I stopped in my tracks. Now, I know a lot about the Bible, but I’m not one to memorize and quote verses, so this was a surprise. And I had the feeling, the feeling I get when something spiritual is happening. I knew the verse, I had heard it before, but hadn’t thought about it recently, even remotely. I immediately went to my computer to look it up: “For I know the plans I have for you”, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)¬† Well. I knew then, I knew, that this was the answer to my outburst last night. It felt good, it felt right. I don’t know how else to explain it. After months of pleading and trying to get an answer about my life and what I should be doing, I had a clear communication. Not a direction about where my life is going, exactly, but at that moment, I had peace about it. I still do, today, twenty-four hours later.

Does that verse solve my problems? No. Will my frustration disappear? No, but yesterday went a long way in restoring part of my faith. I’ve been struggling for a while, a long while, actually, and I needed something like that. I debated about posting this, as I usually do when I experience spiritual/metaphysical things, knowing that there are people who don’t believe or who won’t think I’m the “right” kind of Christian and will definitely think I’m on the train to Crazy Town, but you know what? I really don’t care anymore. Actually, I think that’s a part of what I’m supposed to be doing now, writing more about things like this, being more open about things about God and other things that we can’t explain. We’ll see what the future holds.

In the meantime, I wish you all the peace that I’m feeling today.

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I just closed another show yesterday and it was a good one. If you ever get the chance to see You Can’t Take It With You by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman, do it. Written in 1937, the message is still relevant today. I won’t got through the whole play for you (but you should!), but I wanted to share with you something that resonated with me. When I say resonated, it hit me right in the gut the first time I heard it. Hard. It coincides with what I’m going through right now, life decisions that I’m making. Here’s a little speech from Grandpa Vanderhoff in Act III to help you understand. He’s speaking to Mr. Kirby, a businessman with indigestion and anxiety whose son wants to marry Grandpa’s granddaughter. Mr. Kirby is against the match because Grandpa’s family, the Sycamores, are not the typical family. They don’t hold regular jobs and happiness is their main goal rather than the “American Dream” of making money. They’re not rich, but they’re really a happy family. Grandpa understands that Mr. Kirby is unhappy with his life, even though he is incredibly successful, but Mr. Kirby won’t see it. After learning that Mr. Kirby had originally aspired to be a trapeze artist and a saxophone player as a young man but put those dreams away when his father “knocked it out of him”, Grandpa tells him this:

“Where does the fun come in? Don’t you think there ought to be something more, Mr. Kirby? You must have wanted more than that when you started out. We haven’t got too much time you know- any of us.

“How many of us would be willing to settle when we’re young for what we eventually get? All those plans we make… what happens to them? It’s only a handful of the lucky ones that can look back and say that they even came close. So… before they clean out that closet, Mr. Kirby, I think I’d get in a few good hours on that saxophone.” (Hart and Kaufman)

I’m at the point in my life where I need the few good hours on my proverbial saxophone. I need the fun. I need to not wish my life away. I feel like I’m on the brink of change, I just don’t know what it is.

Maybe you don’t know either. Maybe you recognize that your life isn’t going the way you want it. It doesn’t mean that you’re not grateful for being employed or whatever, just that¬† you recognize that you need to make some changes in your life because it’s not your path.

I’m working on my path.

I’m curious. Are you happy? Or have you realized that you’ve been sacrificing your happiness for something else? Share if you’d like, support is good. Comments are welcome.

Much love to you all.

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I’m struggling mightily tonight with the thought of the work week ahead, but I’m trying so very hard to stay positive. Here are my positive thoughts to focus on:

  • Tomorrow is the first day of my favorite season: AUTUMN!!!
  • My husband is an amazing guy who I love coming home to and who completely accepts my weirdness.
  • I’m not taking a college class this semester.
  • I still have another show weekend to go.
  • Two of my favorite people got engaged today.
  • My potential agent has still not said, “no”.
  • I have approximately one million new books on English history from a dear friend.
  • I saw all of my boys and the adorable lovely girlfriend yesterday.
  • I don’t have to cook Tuesday, Thursday, or Friday.
  • The leaves and temperature are changing.
  • I’m working on my next books.
  • SOMETHING WONDERFUL COULD POTENTIALLY HAPPEN (PLEASE, GOD).

Okay, those are my focus points. Do you have yours?

Image result for monday encouraging memes

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The more I learn about God, the less I know. I listen. I study. I have so many questions.

I don’t think of God in the same way as I did when I was a kid. I believe that there are a lot more components to what I was taught while growing up, many more facets to what is spiritually acceptable and what is not.

It’s a little frightening to think this way. Hellfire for stepping over the human-drawn line is always lurking in my subconscious, but I’m learning to let my God-given intuition lead me rather than spoon-fed religion that made me paranoid and anxious. I’m learning to trust that voice within.

I’m giving myself the freedom to learn who I am, spiritually and metaphysically. I am a Christian, that has not changed one bit. What has changed is that I’m going to accept what I’ve been given, what I’ve known since I was small, to explore my potential without fear or restriction. I’m going to stop fighting it. What I learn leads to more questions, but it’s a delicious treasure hunt.

Amen.

 

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