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Traveling

I just got back from a wonderful few days in South Carolina. It was a solo trip for me, leaving the family at home in order to spend some quality girl time with my cousin and her kids in a condo by the sea. It was my first trip to South Carolina. I’ve visited all of the states around it, but somehow had missed this little, but awesome, state. Here are some observations I made this week.

  • In April, the trees are green in South Carolina. This may not seem like a big deal to some of you, but to those of us who live northward and have been craving something besides bare branches for the last five months, it was a welcome sight to see actual leaves.
  • It’s warm. That being said, warm is relative. The day I arrived, it was 82°. The next two days were in the mid 70s, and while the day I left was a chilly 55°, it was still better than what my family was dealing with in Michigan: cold, grey, and rainy. (Or in the case of Oldest Son at college, snow flakes.)
  • The ocean is, and always will be, awesome. If you can stand next to the ocean and not feel in awe of its power, there’s something wrong with you. Even on a tourist beach, with very few April tourists, the pounding of the waves and the sheer endlessness of it can make one feel very small. I adore the ocean. When my cousin dropped me at the airport and I went through security, the lady giving me the pat-down laughed because my jean cuffs were still damp from my goodbye visit to the water. (Just for the record, it wasn’t a creepy pat-down and the lady was very nice, which was good because it was my first airport pat-down.) For the first time, I went for a run on the beach and I’m pretty sure it was the most satisfying run of my life. The sound of the surf, the sunset, and even the whipping wind made it perfect.IMG_20170406_194334160.jpg
  • Jellyfish have death wishes. I’ve been to a lot of beaches in my life, but this was the first time that I have seen jellyfish committing mass suicide. Seriously, there were dozens of dead jellyfish lined up along the beach, in different places, since any part of the tide cycle is apparently a good time to wash up on the shore. Before this trip, I had no idea that this was a problem. Perhaps they need a support group, but then again, they don’t have brains, so what good would it do? I’m glad that I’m not a jellyfish.
  • There are a lot of things in South Carolina that can kill you. Enough said.IMG_20170406_124728604.jpg
  • Hearing a three-year-old say, “I yuv you”, with her tiny little voice will melt your heart, unless you don’t have one. No, that has nothing to so with the state of South Carolina, but that happened this week and I’m still floating about it.
  • Thunderstorms right next to the ocean are freaking awesome. I mean, the lightning alone was just incredible Wednesday night. Quite the light show. Highly recommended.
  • Myrtle Beach is deliciously touristy and I’m really glad that we were there during a non-peak time. If you ever have the chance to go, you absolutely have to stop by The Gay Dolphin Cove store. Just trust me on this.
  • Calabash-style shrimp is a thing. We did not know this beforehand, but I finally looked it up when I got home after seeing it on every other restaurant sign. I’m going to leave you wondering and to look it up for yourself.
  • Hushpuppies are actually good. I thought I hated them all these yeas because I had them at Long John Silvers and they were awful. Real hushpuppies, as I found out this past week, are little deep fried bits of heaven, which is why I can never eat them again.

Of course, there were a lot of other very cool things about South Carolina, such as Spanish moss, piers, and tons of mini golf, but I wanted to give you just a few of the highlights. Would I go again? In a minute. There’s a lot more I want to see, such as more of the Gullah culture, Charleston, and old plantations so South Carolina has now been added to the travel list that is on the refrigerator, joining other illustrious locales like the UK, Virginia, France, and Boston. I’m very thankful to my cousin for the invite and happy to satisfy my wanderlust a little.

Don’t just sit there, go somewhere new.

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Middle Child leaves for Europe this week. It’s the same kind of trip that Oldest Child took two years ago, a few days in France, a few days in Spain, but Middle Child will be going to different cities than his brother did. The same teacher is heading up the group and it’s a good, responsible, group of kids, so I’m not worried about logistics or crazy behavior. Of course, I am very jealous because I am a ridiculous Europhile, but I am genuinely glad that he’s getting this opportunity, the same as his brother did.

I had my first out-of-the-country experience when I was sixteen. Of course, I’d been to Canada several times before that, but as it is for any Detroiter, going to Canada was so not a big deal. No, I had the opportunity to go to Australia and Hawaii with the Michigan Lions All-State Band and it was a fabulous time. I’ve written about it before, so I won’t go on about it too much, but that trip was a pivotal time in my life. It was on that trip that he realization sunk in that the U.S. was not the only place in the world, that there were other realities for other people, and that the places where they lived were just as important to them as mine was to me. Granted, Australia isn’t shockingly different from the U.S., and Hawaii, while culturally different, is a state, but it was just enough to give me a hunger to see what else is out there, not just in my own backyard. This isn’t discounting anything that is here in the U.S., there are some pretty amazing places in my own country, but I think for people to have a balanced view of the world, they should see more of it with an open mind, not with the expectation that everyone should be like us.

That is what I hope Middle Child takes away from his experience. His first trip overseas will be different than mine, however, because it will be to two countries where English isn’t the first language, and he’s in for a real eye-opener. Even if you take the time beforehand to study the language, using the words around native speakers for the first time is a scary thing. Of course, in the big cities, many people do speak English because there are so many tourists, but I found out that even a little effort to try the native language is appreciated by most people. Middle Child hasn’t done a lot of studying, so he may be in for some surprises.

I said that I wasn’t worried, and I’m not, but there is that part of me that is nervous about letting my baby go for an extended period of time over the ocean without me. It has nothing to do with the threat of terrorism, that’s a risk that we take anywhere we are today, unfortunately, but more of the I’ve-taught-you-everything-I-can-now-you’re-on-your-own kind of thing. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a smart kid and he’s going to be just fine, but I think every mother would feel the same, at the least the first time. When Oldest Child went back to Europe this last summer for work study, I wasn’t concerned at all because he did so well when he went to France and Spain.

All in all, it’s another sign that my kids are growing up. They are moving on to make their own wonderful memories, and that’s a very, very, good thing. Middle Child leaves in just a few days and it’s taking a lot for me not to jump on that plane with him. Maybe sometime in the future, one of them will let me tag along.

 

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.