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Posts Tagged ‘choices’

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.

 

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(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.

 

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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.

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My baby turns Thirteen tomorrow. He was almost two weeks late and beat the East Coast/Midwest Blackout by two hours. He was born purple, his umbilical cord tied in a knot and wrapped around his neck twice, but recovering immediately. He wanted his mama from the first moment and stays close to this day, but not too close. That would be completely uncool. I’m really not ready for this next stage, but it’s not my rodeo. Well, it kind of is. He is my son, after all, but the experience of becoming a teenager is his and his alone.

Thirteen has been seen as a rite of passage for a long time in many cultures, marked with parties, bar and bay mitzvahs, a step toward young adulthood, but also a time of confusion. Body changes, pressure to do well, and the desire to prove oneself can make turning thirteen more difficult than it needs to be.

I remember Thirteen and it wasn’t that great of a year, but then it was also a year where some exciting things happened. I remember being really jazzed to become a teenager. I have a late birthday and was always one of the youngest ones in my class, so turning thirteen and catching up with my friends was something that couldn’t come soon enough for me. I wish that I had had the gift of hindsight back then, to see that Thirteen was not all it’s cracked up to be. I still wasn’t an adult, much to my dismay, and I still had a LOT to learn.

It was during that year that I made the colossal mistake of calling one of my friends a bitch, and not even to her face, but in a note to a mutual friend. I wasn’t quite that brave and it was my first stab at speaking my mind. I didn’t even write out the whole word. If I remember correctly, I wrote, “B_T_H.”. In fairness, as I look back, she kind of deserved it, but that was not the best decision I ever made. Of course, I was ratted out by the mutual friend and popular opinion rained down on me for the rest of 8th grade, only letting up when we went to different high schools the next year. I learned a hard, valuable, lesson on social niceties and never wrote anything like that ever again.

Thirteen was also the year when I fell in love with the discipline and opportunities in marching band. I am a proud band geek, through and through. Thirteen was my first year of Band Camp, and it will be for Youngest Child, too, next summer. Band Camp was definitely a rite of passage. I had always loved music, I still do, but the late nights, early mornings, sweat, aches, heat, and sky-high diving platforms into the lake made me confident in my abilities. I met new, life-long friends (“Hi, I’m George.” “I’m Ringo.” “I’m Paul.” “I’m John. I’m dead.”) who knew nothing about the “bitch” incident and when they did find out, didn’t care. I found people who didn’t think I was weird, people who I fit in with. I was lucky that way. I loved everything about Band Camp and marching band and still do, even all these years later. I’m so glad that my boys have been through band and it makes me smile to see those friendships continue to grow.

Thirteen saw my first “real” boyfriend, whom I took to my first Homecoming Dance, and I am still friends with him to this day. I won’t elaborate too much, but it was an exciting time for me and that experience began teaching me how to gauge and handle future relationships in a good way. I always expected the respect that I was given with that first dating experience. I don’t like to think of Youngest Child dating at the moment, but the Italian mama in me does want him to find a nice girl someday.

Thirteen allows you to start forming the person that you will eventually be. That wonderful new ability to think abstractly makes you question ideas and beliefs that you’ve always had, in both good and bad ways. Boundaries are pushed, limits are tested, and while it drives parents crazy, it’s actually a good thing. It’s good practice for making adult decisions one day. As for parents, Thirteen means we can’t be with them every second, we shouldn’t be, and that we have to trust that they will make the good choices. Sometimes they won’t, and that part really sucks because we think we failed, but it helps to breathe deeply and to keep going. (A nice glass of wine at the end of the day doesn’t hurt, either.) Every day is a new day, a fresh day, and they need to know that. They need to know that they are loved, mistakes and all, and that we are the people they can count on, even if we overreact at first. We’re both going to screw up, parents and Thirteen, and if we understand that from the get-go, it’ll be easier to forgive ourselves and each other when it happens.

I hope that Thirteen is kind to my boy. He’s been through some storms this past year and I think we’re on the right track, but Thirteen can be tricky. I want him to be happy, but I want him to choose wisely. There’s  a reason why Thirteen was celebrated as a rite of passage; you’re not a little kid anymore and people really start to hold you responsible for your actions. People can eye teenagers with distaste and suspicion, myself included, and sometimes with good reason. Teenagers can be horribly obnoxious and even threatening. There’s something about the infusion of hormones, I think, that entices you to do stupid things sometimes. (Getting kicked out of JC Penney in Southland for jumping on the elevator rings a bell. Group mentality.) It isn’t fair, to be sure, especially to the kids who are amazing, like Oldest and Middle Children’s friends, but it remains and that’s something that Youngest Child will encounter as he turns Thirteen.

What do I wish for Youngest Child this year? I wish him wisdom. I wish him grace. I wish him some of the best memories he’ll ever make, and the friends to make them with. I wish him the fortitude to withstand peer pressure and to remember what we’ve taught him. I wish him love and acceptance. I wish him love. I wish him love. I wish him love.

In the meantime, I now have three teenagers and will appreciate all prayers and good thoughts.

Happy Birthday, Youngest Child. It’s gonna be great.

 

178

 

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It’s that time of year again: graduation season. My FB newsfeed is full of announcements, plans, invitations to graduation parties, and happy pictures. I remember Oldest Child going through this last year and next June, we’ll go through it again with Middle Child. It’s a wonderful, exciting (expensive!), time for the grads and their families and I really can’t wait for my other two boys to experience it, even if my bank account can.

As anyone who has graduated from anything knows, it can be daunting and overwhelming. It seems like everyone has such high expectations of you, but you might not know what comes next. Now, Oldest Child knows exactly what he wants to do and he’s set about it with admirable tenacity. Middle Child is thinking about it, but he’s undecided at the moment and that’s okay. There’s time to figure it out. Youngest Child bounces from being an FBI agent to working with animals in some capacity, but he has quite a while yet. We don’t put pressure on them to be one thing or another, but we do make it clear that they are expected to be able to support themselves after college, not as easy of a prospect today as it was fifty years ago. I want their college years to be good, to be well-spent, to help them into a fulfilling career, but most of all, to do something that they love.

It’s tough, though, this growing up business. College or work? What to study? How to pay for it? Community college or university? Commute or live on campus? Drink or don’t drink? Do what your parents want you to do or follow your heart? Focus and study, or party? High school graduates have so many options and possibilities, including ones that they haven’t opened themselves up to yet. I look at all of the happy pictures and wonder what’s ahead for these kids, these young adults who have their whole lives to live. This is the time that they can make adult decisions, sometimes affecting a single evening, sometimes affecting their whole lives. Good choices and bad, they will all contribute to the adult that they will become.

Me? I really didn’t know what I wanted to do when I graduated from high school. I was overwhelmed in my first year of college and didn’t do very well, except for my theatre classes, which I loved. I had skated through the high school honors program with no problem, but my first year of college was a wake-up call. I didn’t know how to do anything for myself. A couple of years later, I started back to community college part-time, class by class, honestly applying myself this time, using up my savings bonds and acquiring (many, many, many) student loans. I decided on teaching because that’s what everyone told me I should do. Even though it turned out to not be the right decision for me, I was proud that I graduated from college even though it took me 15 years. Would I do it all over again that way? Not in a million years, which is why I’m trying to make sure that my boys are prepared.

In the end, though, each graduate has to decide what they’re going to do. They’re going to make mistakes. They’re going to screw up royally sometimes, some more than others. At this age, they’re very smart and savvy about certain things, but they really don’t understand what’s ahead. They don’t know how fast circumstances can change, how even though they think they have life figured out, they don’t. When that reality hits, it hurts, not only them, but their parents as well. We can’t just kiss the boo-boo anymore, they have to live with their decisions.

I remember, as I’m sure many of you do, those feelings of insecurity, but also of invincibility. It’s that feeling that contributes to the risky behavior that teens are famous for, although to different degrees for each individual. Some teenagers are just more mature than others. Brain studies show that the decision-making part of the brain isn’t finished growing until around twenty-one years of age and with some kids, that’s easy to see. I am definitely worried about the group of boys I saw in Kroger yesterday. Obnoxious in the store, reckless in the parking lot, their actions put other people at risk but they didn’t see that. They were only concerned with having a good time. I’m sure that if they would have hit someone with their cart or while fooling around in the parking lot, they would have felt terrible, but that regard for others was obviously not in their heads. I feel for these kids, although that kind of behavior is exactly why I did not want to teach high school and why I walk the other way from a group of teenagers unless I know them personally. Part of what makes me cringe is that I remember acting like a teenager and, as an adult, it embarrasses me. That’s one thing I would wish for our graduates: Try and understand how your actions affect others. If someone had told me that back then, though, I don’t know if it would have sunk in.

There are other kids, though, that seem to be light years ahead of the others in maturity and I feel for them, too. It’s tough to see what your peers are doing and make the choice to take the high road. I commend those kids, but I’d also like them to know that it’s okay to screw up once in a while, that even adults screw up a lot. That’s how we learn and as long as we know enough to not make those mistakes again, we’re doing all right..

Graduating high school is an achievement. Becoming an adult is really hard. I would love to tell our grads, my own included, that life, real life, for them is just beginning. This is one of the most exciting times of their lives, but they might not realize it until later on. Don’t waste it, don’t study something you hate or are ambivalent to because people tell you that you should. Don’t spend these years in a haze of intoxication or laziness. DO something to make your mark on the world in a good way. Be a force of light in the world. You are the next generation. What will you do to make life better?

A presto.

 

 

 

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You can disagree with someone and not call them names.

You can disagree with someone, not understand their position at all, and not call them names.

You can be screaming in your head at the position of another person in an argument, voice your disagreement respectfully, and still not call them names.

You can disagree with someone politically and still be their friend.

You can disagree with someone politically and still love them.

You can feel yourself getting angry during a disagreement, online or in person, and walk away to calm down because you don’t think as clearly when you’re upset.

You can wait to type a response to an inflammatory remark until you calm down or choose to ignore it because that relationship is important to you.

You can make your stand and let your opinion be known without looking like a jerk.

You can ask the other person why they feel the way they do to try and understand their position. It doesn’t mean that you need to change your mind; it’s to gain a better understanding of where the other person is coming from. Sometimes it’s a crap reason, other times will surprise you. Listen and learn.

Check your facts before spouting them. Don’t get riled up before you do your research. It just makes you look silly. We’ve all done it.

Don’t hurt other people on purpose.

Love one another, whether you’re liberal, conservative, religious, non-religious, a religion different from yours, gay, straight, Wal-Mart shopper, farmers market shopper, recycler or hoarder.

Self righteousness doesn’t look good on anyone.

Change the world for the better today.

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“I’ve long since retired, and my son’s moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind.”
He said, “I’d love to, dad, if I could find the time
You see, my new job’s a hassle, and the kid’s got the flu
But it’s sure nice talking to you, dad
It’s been sure nice talking to you.”
And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me
My boy was just like me” ~ Henry Chapin, “Cat’s in the Cradle”. 1974

Ouch.

I love this song for the very fact that it’s sad. I’m a sucker for sad songs. It oozes regret, a topic that is responsible for selling millions of albums, books, and plays, something that we can all identify with. Who hasn’t felt regret at one time or another over any variety of things: a breakup, a harsh word, a missed opportunity? But one often hears celebrities (usually the loud and brash ones) announcing to the world that they have no regrets, or that everyone should live their lives with no regrets. Easier said than done, I say.

I’m just going to come out with it: I think people who say they have no regrets are either lying or deluding themselves. Let’s think about it for a minute. I’d be willing to bet money on the fact that every person reading this has, at one time or another, said something to hurt someone else, either purposely or accidently. If you have a soul, that’s something that would register as a regret. I have many of those. Words spoken in anger or frustration, little (and not so little) white lies that pop out without thinking, a passive aggressive move. I’ve caused hurt in my life. It’s not something I’m proud of, but something I need to be honest about in order to be a better person. The never-ending quest.

Now, I do believe that there are choices that we may regret temporarily, but in the long run, those choices led us to a happier place in our lives. For example, I sometimes think that I regret not finishing college all at once when I was in my late teens/early twenties. I didn’t have anyone to pay for me, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and I went to cosmetology school while working three jobs instead. As a result, I didn’t end up finishing college until I was 33 years old, which really kind of sucked professionally. On the other side of that coin though, graduating cosmetology school and going to work at Greenfield Village meant that I met my husband, we had our three amazing boys, I turned period hair into a business, and I met lifelong friends and business contacts. (If anyone wants a book on period hairstyles, please let me know!) Looking back now, I wouldn’t trade one for the other. That part of my life, while not the norm for college-bound students, worked out the way it was supposed to.

Old lovers are another thing that one can regret at the time, but later one realizes that it was all for the best. I don’t think that there will ever be a shortage of songs about that. “Unanswered Prayers” by Garth Brooks or “Bless the Broken Road” by Rascal Flatts are great examples. Looking back as an adult, I sometimes have serious questions about what my younger self was thinking about some of those old boyfriends. I may have needed a slap upside the head. Of course, those can also be attributed to a learning experience. If I say it enough, I might convince myself that one or two of those really set me on the right path. (Disclaimer: I will never tell which ones they were.)

Then, there are those regrets that will probably sting forever. The time I didn’t spend with grandparents before they passed. The friends I let slip away because I didn’t communicate. Not calling the police on the step-monster. Not answering the phone when my friend, Moe, called to tell me that KISS was at the radio station and I needed to get my butt down there. Well, you get the idea. There are things that we can’t fix. We can’t go back in time and change it up, but what we can do is learn from the mistakes. We can spend time with those we love, think before we speak to our children, call that friend back. Wake up and answer the damn phone.

There are the hard decisions that I don’t regret: leaving teaching, staying home with my babies when they were little, starting therapy, deciding to write on the side. The writing thing opens me up to rejection, which is a scary, scary thing, but I have a therapist to help me with that.

In a nutshell, maybe there is something to the sentiment that one should live life with no regrets. Maybe, instead of boldly stating that we have no regrets at all, we should live with the aim of not being able to regret anything. Will we be successful? Not in a million years, but maybe we’ll think a little more, care a little more, love our neighbor a little more. What will matter on our deathbed: the date we got our college degrees or did our kids know that we loved them? That we had a big house or that we made a difference in a life?

Things to think about. What do you regret?

 

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