Monday, February 28, 2011

Call Me Crazy

In the 22 years of our marriage, my husband and I have spent very few days or nights apart from one another. Sharing the same profession and working at the same school has allowed us the same schedule and the same vacations, including 8-10 weeks each summer. When we married I had no idea that I’d become a teacher like he had become, or that I’d end up getting a position at his place of work. But that’s what happened, and although I am sure there have been at least a few people over the years who have looked at our situation wondering how we could possibly be sane and say we enjoy spending this much time together, I can honestly say that I am happy it worked out this way for us and for our family. Call me crazy, but I actually love spending extensive time with my husband.

It certainly is amazing to think of how few times we have found ourselves separated. There have been a few trips to New York City that I’ve made with our daughters without him and he has been to Washington DC twice accompanying them on their 8th grade field trips. But other than those trips and a couple of overnight conferences for work here and there over the years, it’s pretty safe to say we have practically been joined at the hip since we were in our early 20s.

As he packed for a four day, three night trip half way across the country to attend an educational conference with fellow teachers from our school, I teased him about getting the bed to himself. I told him how he would not have anyone hogging the covers and no one pushing him to the edge of the mattress, practically knocking him off. I was going to be home with four children so I thought it’d be unlikely that I would get lonely and yet, right from the moment he learned of the trip he had told me, “I am going to miss you”. I smirked at him in response. I brushed off his words and although I think I might have politely said, “I’ll miss you too”, I have to admit that I looked forward to having our bed all to myself for a few nights. I did not anticipate truly missing him in return. Call me mean.

Oh I am very capable of tending to the needs of my four children without him here. I am very good at running the household and even juggling work with other responsibilities on my own. I have a multitude of interests to occupy my time and I have many friends and family members who keep me entertained. I have always known that I don’t need a husband who has the same schedule and the same vacations. I have always thought of how I would enjoy having my own big bed to sprawl out in at night. But I have also been quick to realize that I’m happier having him to push to the edge of the mattress and to steal the covers from. I have always believed that the two of us together make a good team and that we’re better together than we are separate from one another.

So, although I have been perfectly fine with this time apart, when he gets home and he takes a moment to tell me that he missed me, I’ll again smirk, but I’ll be sure to tell him I missed him too. And I’ll even mean it. Call me crazy.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Operation Rubber Chicken

When we arrived home yesterday afternoon, our internet connection was not working. Hoping it was a temporary problem, we tried getting online a few hours later. No luck. We began troubleshooting. We shut our computers down and restarted them. We fiddled with the airport box. We looked up diagnostics on our computers. But we could not figure out the issue. So we put away our computers and found other things to do with our time. However, I had one concern; how was I going to post my daily blog post?

Around 7:30pm, after writing my blog entry, I decided I would drive into town and get online at a local business. I mentioned my plan to one of my daughters who said, “Yes. You have to. I’ll go with you”. Another daughter asked, “Seriously?” I suppose I should have taken a moment to think about what I was doing. Was I was actually going to get into my car to find service to mooch off so as to meet my self-imposed daily challenge of posting an entry to my blog? But I didn’t even pause to consider her one worded question. The answer was simply, “Yes”.

Surprisingly, when I announced I was leaving, all three girls said they were coming with me. Two of the girls grabbed their own laptops. My son, away at a sleepover, would miss the impromptu trip to town. He would miss “Operation Blog”.

We parked and after deciding who was the least embarrassed to go inside to go buy milk, (three of the four of us were wearing pjs), Syd went in to buy a gallon, and three of us girls popped open our laptops to get online. The service was weak and for the first few minutes we were all having trouble logging on. We restarted our computers, anxious to see if we’d be successful or not. We screamed when only one of us got service. And we laughed. “I feel like a spy”, I said. “This is so intense”, my daughter giggled. “How do you spell freewheeling”, Noemi asked. We knew she was updating her Facebook status and looking for the word we’d taught her earlier in the day, “freeloading”. We began cracking up again as we spelled it out for her.

I was finally successful and logged onto my blog, signed in, and hit the “Create New Post” button. I uploaded my writing that I’d done at home, attached a few pictures, and after hitting “Preview”, I posted my entry before the internet service connection failed me. Mission accomplished!

We waited for Syd to get back with the milk. I browsed Facebook for a few minutes, uploaded the link to my blog, emailed my sister quickly to tell her of our evening’s adventure, and then Syd jumped back in the car. We hadn’t seen her coming and being the competent spies that we are, we all screamed when she opened the door. She got in, set down the gallon of milk, and began handing out presents she’d bought us: candy bars and a few gag gifts including a tiny rubber chicken. “Seriously?” I found myself thinking. Were we all now playing with a tiny rubber chicken? Were we now chowing down on candy bars after 8pm on a Saturday night? Did we seriously all pile in the car together to drive into town so I could mooch off the internet service of a local business and post my blog for the day? The answers to these questions were simple. “Yes”.

Operation Blog, no, rather, Operation Rubber Chicken, was a success. Over and out.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Back in Town

I remember stories of my sister going off to college. Considering our sixteen year age difference, I was only two years old at the time, so I do not remember her ever living at home. However my brothers surely noticed the difference when she left. My Mom says that one of my brothers exclaimed that “Now that Linda is gone, it’s like a morgue around here!” Yes, she had obviously been one to liven up a home and her absence resulted in, well, quieter accommodations for our family of seven.

I may not have felt or heard the difference back in September of 1970 however exactly 40 years later, I would finally understand the situation when my daughter moved to college.

It’s not that my eldest daughter was ever a loud individual. Although she was happy and content and could easily appreciate our family’s regular silliness, she was always rather serious in her thinking (much like her mother) and yes, a quiet child, relatively speaking. But she was the oldest and in that role she put herself in charge of getting her two younger siblings to goof around or to know when the house had been too quiet for too long. Without her around this past fall, things settled down a bit. Less frequent sibling squabbling. Fewer crazy chases of one another around the house. Oh we were still having fun and we all had our silly loud moments, but on a day-to-day basis, the house became quieter, more tame.

Indicative of her happiness at college, she has come home only four times in the six months she has been gone, busy with dance team and theater practices on weekends. But with each visit home, Sydney flies into the house and immediately launches into stories of campus life and of her academics. She is always quick to share her life with us all and we love that. Her big laugh and spontaneous hugs catch us by surprise and I once again hear odd voices of characters she creates or mimics to help us crack a smile. And then she grabs her guitar.

She impressively strums chords to several songs and sings the lyrics she’s masterfully memorized. It’s beautiful. I listen to her singing but after awhile I hear her sister yell to her, “That’s enough. I want to watch this show”. Sydney laughs and goes to put her guitar away for the time being. She plops down in the chair for some quiet time but then asks if there’s ice cream. “Look what I found! A big bucket of ice cream in the freezer down cellar!!” she exclaims. Okay, so much for the quiet time. Both girls then begin yelling knock knock jokes and for some reason Sydney runs upstairs to hit me in the face with three big bananas. (Don’t ask. I am no where close to understanding this but apparently they are both re-enacting the old Amanda Bynes show they watched as children).

This house will be nothing like a morgue for the next two weeks of spring break. Batten down the hatches, make sure there is ice cream in the freezer, and go find your quiet time elsewhere if you need it. Yep, the college girl is back in town.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Texts and Taxes

Ol’ man winter isn’t saying goodbye just yet. Despite a rather calm and sunny week, another big snow storm was in our forecast for the day. I would not have minded if it were not for the fact that my husband and daughter would be driving home in the awful weather. So much for the start of her spring break. Spring, it appears, will not get here for awhile. We made the decision that he'd drive north a day early so as to be there already when she was done with her morning exams.

Anticipating the next day, after he left I spent the day staying busy. I rarely sit when I am nervous and even though the storm wouldn’t arrive until the next day, my mind needed distraction. So I cleaned. I did laundry. I put clothes away. I organized the bill drawer. I got my son to organize his bureau. I packaged up clothes for Goodwill. I cleared off surfaces. I tackled the pantry. I even scrubbed the floor.

They left after her exams for what is usually a two and a half hour drive home. They called me to let me know they were getting on the highway. By then I had already baked cupcakes and I’d roasted a chicken. I’d done all the laundry and dishes were clean. When a friend alerted me that there were several cars off the road, I knew it was time to get serious. That’s when I tackled my taxes.

Between phone calls and texts I was kept apprised of their location as were my friends online. I called out for everyone’s prayers. I knew they were taking it slow but you just never know what the other guy on the road is going to do. My friends delivered. Meanwhile, my cell phone sat next to W-2s, mortgage interest forms, and Goodwill receipts. They moved past Veazie. I printed off the 1040 form off the internet. There was a scary encounter in Pittsfield. I filled out Schedule A. They reached Waterville. I moved on to the Child and Dependent Care form. They made it to Lewiston. I had most of the numbers crunched. When they got off the highway I threw together a family favorite meal, chicken pot pie, so they’d have a warm meal to come home to.

And when they both came through the door, four and a half hours later, exhausted from a nasty drive home but safe and sound, I hugged them both tightly. Soon I’d crash and sleep soundly. Ol’ man winter can do what he wants now. My chicks are all safe and warm in the nest. And what do you know? The taxes are done too!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

My Soul Brother

My Dad whispered to me as I joined him in the pew. “Paul St. Peter is here”. I immediately started looking across the church where Dad had gestured. “He’s wearing red”, my Mom added. With butterflies in my stomach I scoured the other side of the church for what seemed to be an hour but for which was probably only 5 minutes. Then I saw him.

I immediately smiled. It’d been a long time since we’d run into one another here at St. Martin’s. Now, both back in our hometown at the same time, we’d made it to the same Mass. I couldn’t wait for it to be over. I whispered to my daughter, “My best guy friend from high school is here! See the tall guy over there with the red sweater?! That’s Paul !!” She smirked at me. I imagine it is pretty funny to see your Mom getting so excited to see an old friend. She knew of him. I’d long spoken of the several Pauls in my life who had been very special to me. Father Paul Stefanko, Eric’s grandfather Paul, and my dear friend Paul from high school. It’s no surprise that I’d been easily convinced to name my son Paul eleven years ago. It’s a very special name.

After Mass I couldn’t get out of my pew quickly enough. “Mom, just wave to him already”, Emma pushed. So I did. And then he saw me and the biggest, warmest smile came over his face. His eyes lit up just as I remember them doing back in high school. I didn’t have more than a second to wonder if our conversation would be awkward. It took only the time it took for him to meet me at the front of the church for him to envelop me in a big bear hug. Ahhh... Paul. How I love this guy.

We were never anything but close friends. Paul was my “Soul Brother”. We affectionately referred to one another that way, as “Soul Brother and Soul Sister”, undoubtedly because we were always at church together, but also because we had a certain closeness, a bond, that was so natural and so strong. I trusted him completely and I always felt safe with him around. I used to tell him that someday he was going to be an incredible husband to someone very special and a wonderful father too. I do believe I was right for I saw the way his two daughters looked at him when I spoke to them. “Your Dad was always so funny back in high school. I bet he’s still very funny, right?!” “Yeah. He is” was their unison response.

We talked for awhile. His beautiful Mom gave me a big hug and for a minute I remembered his Dad who had been an inspirational teacher of mine but who had died shortly before Paul had graduated from college. His Dad had always teased me when I’d drop in at his house to see if Paul was home. Paul and I had hung out on Stage Band trips. He’d taken me to the Christmas Dance my Senior year knowing my boyfriend was away at college. He was always there for me. My favorite memory of Paul and I were our car rides “past the underpass” to the new streets going in on the other side of town. We’d drive there after Jazz Band practices and talk and talk and talk. I thought of how lucky I was to have been friends with Paul and it wasn’t until he hugged me all these years later that I realized how much I had missed him and our friendship.

But my absolute BEST memory of Paul is of he and his Angie at their wedding. I had not met Angie before their wedding day. At the ceremony I remember little other than Paul giggling, just as he had always done since I’d first met him back in Middle School. And the best part was that Angie giggled too. The two of them giggled throughout the entire wedding ceremony. Their joy was so apparent. So beautiful. It was the happiest, most loving wedding I had ever witnessed. To this day, I don’t believe I have ever attended one more naturally beautiful.

After the wedding, Paul and I kept in touch through our annual Christmas cards and an occasional meeting at St. Martin’s. I watched his daughters grow from year to year. I heard of his life and I sent off news of my own. But it’s safe to say that life simply took us in different directions. That’s only normal. Still, no matter how many years have passed, we found one another at the front of St. Martin’s church last weekend. I should have known he’d have his arms around me within seconds. I should have known that with that embrace I’d feel just as close to him as I always had on our rides “past the underpass”. He wasn’t just a friend after all; he wasn’t “just the best guy friend I had in high school”. Paul was, and IS, my Soul Brother. Ahhh...Paul. How I love this guy.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Different Reality

Movies are dangerous. I am completely reeled into a good one and the music combined with the acting and dialogue can alter my thinking, at least for a short while. Today, we went to see Unknown. It was a good flick and once again, I became entranced by the action and the story’s premise. It would be a good hour before I would come out of the trance.

I am not sure why movies do this to me. A good song has a similar effect on me. Music and movies have a power over my emotions and my thinking, until I break away after a little time back in the real world.

In the movie today, there were some lines that stuck with me. In the film, the main character, Dr. Martin Harris, awakens from a four day coma, only to find that his identity has been stolen. Everyone is telling him that he is not who he thinks he is. He says to his doctor, “Do you know what it feels like to become insane? It’s a war between being told who you are and knowing who you are. Which do you think wins?”

Sometimes I think that the reason I sink so easily into a role I play onstage or the reason I lose myself in a good movie is because I find it simple to believe in the idea that a person can be told who they are, that our reality is as fragile as a leaf in autumn. Our hold on our lives can break with the slightest breeze. One day we can have everything. The next day we could lose it all. We believe we are who we are, but at some point we might be told or we might come to believe we are something else. If we do not have a strong grip, we could be easily persuaded to believe in a different reality.

I have sympathy for those who are struggling with keeping a handle on their present reality. Those who are aging, those who are troubled, those who are terribly insecure, those who may be facing addiction, all of these people are caught in their own wars, their own unscripted films. It is something that may be difficult to experience or perhaps even to witness, but the loss of grip may not be within their present control, and thus the only thing we can do as onlookers is to cushion their fall. And who’s to say that their travel is not without its own rewards? Who’s to say they will not become stronger in the end? Who is to say that we don't have much to learn from their journey?

I told you movies are dangerous.

"After the leaves have fallen, we return
To a plain sense of things. It is as if
We had come to an end of the imagination,
Inanimate in an inert savoir."

- Wallace Stevens, The Plain Sense of Things, 1952

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Strapping on My Oxygen Mask

After a very busy and active weekend away with the family, I was looking forward to just being home today, a day of puttering around and seeing where the day would take me. I got up and spent some time cleaning the kitchen. First I did dishes, then I tackled the paperwork on the island, and I cleaned off the dining room table. I did some laundry and folded clothes. I unpacked from our weekend and put the suitcase away. I cleared off the end table and decided I’d go sit and read a magazine. But then it happened.

I fell asleep...before noon...on the family room couch. It was glorious. It’s been much too long since I took time to nap like that. With the sun streaming in the window, I turned to face the sun and dozed off. The house was beautifully quiet. With just a fleece throw covering me, I had reacquainted myself with the couch. It was like spending time with an old friend. However, I did not even have to bother getting dressed.

When you have three, no wait, a foreign exchange student daughter makes four, children to take care of, and 100 teens to teach, not to mention numerous other family members to check in on, a household to keep running, and other personal responsibilities that grant you a very full life, it can be difficult to carve out private “ME” time. There’s always something that needs to be done or somewhere to go, but I have long believed that if one does not take care of oneself first, everything else will suffer. It’s the old “oxygen mask in an airplane” rule. In case of an emergency, strap on your own oxygen mask before assisting your loved ones.

So today, after seeing my daughters off to their day at the basketball tournament game and after saying goodbye to my husband who had to go in search of some sound equipment for work, my son and I briefly spent some time together. When he was happily occupied in his own personal pastime, I decided not to wait for an emergency. It seems the day of puttering took me where I most needed to go today, to a place where I could preserve my health and my happiness. I took to the couch, smiled up at the stream of sun entering the window, and said, “Job well done, Anne. Take a break. You deserve it”. And with that, I drifted off.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Next Generation

If there's one thing I love about my Dad, it's his honest connections with his children and grandchildren. I remember his talking to me about all of my various ideas about college and careers when I was in high school. After realizing that I was not going to go to his Alma mater, Maine Maritime Academy, he began suggesting various careers to me. He thought I should become a lawyer when he saw how much passion I had to be just and how much I enjoyed research. He thought my confidence on stage and with public speaking would serve me well in the courtroom. I am sure he was a little worried when I initially decided to major in theater. Yet, he did not do anything but support me. With each change of major when I was in college, from theater to communication to English, he'd ask questions and suggest new paths for me to take. So it came as no surprise when he began talking to my eldest daughter about college. He's still wondering what career path she will take and he continues to put in his two cents, but today he focused his attentions on my younger daughter.

I heard part of the discussion from downstairs. Emma's grandfather began asking her about her plans for the future. There was talk of Emma's passions for music, theater, and writing, and several questions about college. I smiled. I did not need to hear the entire conversation for I knew what each of them would say. As expected, Emma had solid control of the conversation, even when her Grampy started warning her of living in a big city. She spoke of her ideas for her future but admitted to still needing time to figure everything out. But she made one point clear, "I feel I have to at least try, Grampy. I can't give up before I try". That's my girl.

The conversation touched me on many levels. First, I was proud of my daughter who has a good head on her shoulders but who also has developed a confident spirit to guide her to those moments when it takes extra courage to leap to the unknown. At the age of 15 she is exactly where she should be, dreaming and thinking of all the possibilities for the future. There is plenty of time for her to solidify her plans later. Secondly, I smiled at my Dad's protectiveness. I inherited this quality from him, no doubt. But he's doing exactly what he should be doing, speaking logically and rationally about the risks and challenges of big city living to a young grand-daughter from a small town whom he wishes to keep safe. Finally, I appreciated what he said next. "Maybe you'll even do as your Mom did. She's passing on her talents to the next generation by being a teacher".

My daughters both know that I too contemplated a career in the fields they are presently exploring. But they also know why I changed my mind and ultimately became a teacher. My Dad knows these reasons too. For despite my passion to act and sing, what I wanted most in this life was to be a happy wife and a good mother. Sure, I am proud of having become a teacher also, and I continue to aspire to write and sing and act on stage in my spare time, but my greatest achievements will always be my marriage and my three children.

What do you want to do when you get older? I want to be like my Dad. (No, I don't wish to graduate from Maine Maritime Academy, be a midshipman, or retire from Great Northern Paper Company after many years as a Groundwood Superintendent). I want to continue taking care of my family as best I can by showing them honest concern and attention for the rest of my life. I want to be that parent, or someday grandparent, who slips a few bucks into their hands when they come visit, who invites them to play a game of pool so as to have opportunities to talk and play together, who sits down on the couch on with them and asks, "What do you want to do in your future?" Yes, I want to pass on my talents to the next generation, just like my Dad.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Bait Hole

I have long enjoyed winter activities, whether playing as a child or with a child making forts or snowmen, or going skating, snow shoeing, and cross-country skiing. I tried downhill skiing as a teen but it was not truly to my liking. I didn’t like the speed. I’ve long been better taking a slower pace.

As vacation drew near, my husband and I longed to return to the Bait Hole. A scenic series of woodsy cross-country trails in the shadows of Mount Katahdin, I’ve gone cross-country skiing at this spot in our hometown for many years with various friends and family members. My husband and I have frequented this skiing spot since our dating days in the 80’s, but it had been several seasons since our last jaunt there. So, knowing we’d be making a trip north to catch our daughter’s college play, we made plans to travel a bit farther so as to visit with my parents for a few days and to take our family back to the Bait Hole.

We rented five pairs of skis, boots, and poles at a local business. We headed out late morning, arriving at the Bait Hole within minutes, and helped the kids strap on their equipment. And then we were off ! It felt great to be back on the trails. It came back to us all quite quickly and, new to the sport, Noemi did well too.

But the trail conditions were not ideal. Icy from the week’s earlier freezing rain, the tracks were a bit slick. Still, we did fine despite the challenge of the slick spots. Well, that is until we approached the hills. As I went down one of the steeper hills, I tried hard to keep my nerves in check, but either out of fear or due to a loss of balance, I found myself falling back...and onto my backside. The next hill would bring the same result. I started to realize that I would be quite sore by nightfall. The kids and my husband each took their own spills on the trails, but not surprisingly, we all managed to have a good time anyway.

As I pop a few motrin tonight, I anticipate feeling some aches and pains tomorrow morning. Still, I am happy to have returned to our sentimental skiing venue. The months and years go by so quickly the older I get; the hills of life seem steeper, and as I fly down the other side I continue to work hard to keep my fears in check and my life balanced. I’ll continue to take some spills as we all will, and I’m sure to get bruised from time to time. But taking time to get back to the Bait Hole helps me remember the importance of moving at a slower pace when possible so as to fully appreciate the trails or the trials of those I love.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Home is Where the Heart Is

It was a blustery winter day in my hometown of Millinocket. Still, we braved the cold and headed to a family ice derby day at Jerry Pond. Meeting my brother, his wife, and two of their grandchildren there around lunchtime, we munched on free red hot dogs and drank hot cocoa. I’m not sure why but eating a hot dog when it’s freezing out is almost as enjoyable as having one at a ball park in the summertime.

We walked out to the pond and checked out the families who were ice fishing. Having never been ice fishing, we talked with a family about their experiences. My brother told me about the folks he knows who spend their days out on the ice. I suppose sitting on the ice for hours each day can be compared to my enjoying my time on the dock at camp. There’s a sense of peace that comes from that solitude on the water, whether it’s rippling or frozen solid. Although I’ll choose the dock in the summer, I can well understand the attraction of ice fishing. I truly can.

My brother gave us rides on his snowmobile. My son went first. Noemi went second. My daughter was next. I hadn’t been on a snowmobile since I was a child. As we zipped across the pond, I laughed with delight that I’d been brave enough to board the back of his sled too.

Later we socialized with some townspeople by the campfire. “Oh, we know your father! Oh, we know your grandfather!”, my children and I heard them exclaim. My daughters enjoyed their stories and in return, the group of elderly men enjoyed the company of a few sweet and pretty young ladies for a little while.

Before leaving, we laughed as we watched my great-nephew jump joyously from a big snowbank. As I took in the four year old’s happiness and saw him run excitedly to his grandfather for the snowmobile ride home, I found myself thinking. The people who say otherwise are so wrong. You can indeed go home again. Although I love being with family at camp in July and August, my hometown is a very heartwarming place to be, even on a blustery February day.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Let Vacation Begin

School vacation is almost here. Today is our last day before a nine day break. I am always amazed at how badly the students and staff need this time off in February, considering that we just had time off over the Christmas holiday. In January I am thinking, "we could do without February break". However, just a few weeks later, it cannot come quickly enough.

There's a good reason for that. I am sure there are many reasons for why this particular break is so key. Maybe it's the fact that for many, the holiday break in December allows very little downtime for students and teachers. There are Christmas preparations, travels to visit family, decorating, cleaning up decorations, and oh yes, all the parties. As fun as the week is however, there is no rest for the weary. Students come back in January and begin to fall ill. The absence rate is higher. No one is at the same place with their level of preparation for class. Then the teachers catch their germs and we too begin to break down.

There is also the push to finish the first semester, to prep for midterms, and to strongly begin the second semester in between snow days and other weather-related disruptions. Buses arrive at school tardy, licensed teens take more care on the roads (we'd like to think) and do not make it to classes on time. Meanwhile, the athletes are gearing up for their tournaments. The artists are traveling to festivals and competitions. Cupid arrives to remind everyone to spread a little love after the ground hog has told us that Spring is just around the corner. But all anyone seems to want to do is to dive into a warm bed to escape the cost of yet another oil delivery and the chill of the temperatures dropping.

However, just as we're about to say so long to our students for this little respite, I find some pretty amazing things occur when I stop for a few minutes to talk to my teens in the classroom. It seems we're on the same page more often than we are not. I admittedly have a nice group of students this year. We're all ready for these days off so as to relax our bodies and our brains for a bit, but we are getting to know one another better now that we've spent time together and for the most part, we're going to be excited to come back on that last day of February so we can dive into March with enthusiasm. (Okay. Maybe that’s a little exaggerated...) Still, as I head off to school this morning, I am going to be able to genuinely say, “Have a great vacation. I’ll look forward to seeing you the week after next!”

Thursday, February 17, 2011

What I Know

Although it is by no means an easy profession, there are numerous reasons why I love being a high school teacher; one big reason is that I am forever learning. There are, of course, various lessons to be learned in the day-to-day interactions with my students. I am regularly learning the better way to inspire and to motivate teenagers. But there are also continuous opportunities to read new material, new books. Increasingly, there are fresh studies in psychology, communication, research, and education to review and I find these all fascinating. In designing six new courses in just the last few years (AP Language and Composition, Creative Writing, Research in a Digital Age, Literature and Film, Horrific Tales, and Dystopian Literature), I have also thrown myself into additional fiction and non-fiction while altering tried and true material to fit redefined expectations.

This spring I am teaching a course I designed titled Dystopian Literature. A dystopia is an imaginary and futuristic setting in which oppressive societal control and the illusion of a perfect society are maintained through various controls, whether corporate, bureaucratic, technological, moral,social, or totalitarian in design. Although exaggerated stories, there are critical commentaries that can be made on our present and past worlds when holding them up to the settings in the novels. Inspired by my juniors' enjoyment of a unit I do with them on George Orwell's novels 1984 and Animal Farm, fourteen seniors signed up to read and discuss more books, short stories, and films centered on this theme. In the first four weeks of the new semester course, students have researched the early Western philosophers, Plato's Allegory of a Cave and The Republic, and have read Sir Thomas More's Utopia. We've discussed Ray Bradbury's short story, All Summer In a Day and Kurt Vonnegut Jr's Harrison Bergeron. We've read non-fiction articles exploring the reasons behind the recent plethora of dystopian young adult novels available to teens and we've pondered and even physically role played the "what ifs" of having our talents and abilities handicapped so as to live in a world where everyone is equal. Later we'll compare Orwell's novels to other classic dystopian books and we'll delve into the more contemporary stories and films too.

The class has been one of the highlights of my year. Students have embraced the assigned "Thinking Journal" kept online in a classroom blog. Students respond and theorize a few times a week and are able to talk digitally and enrich our classroom discussions through this tool. They are enthused to come in and discuss the latest story or article and when I told them this past Tuesday that at the end of the semester they would be designing their own “Utopian” society and explaining their individual philosophies behind its organization, I found myself laughing at their obvious excitement and immediate brainstorming.

It’s all about passion. Their passion for the next cool story or the next creative project is a direct result of the passion they are noticing within the writers whose works we’re studying. We all feed off of it and yes, my own animation and joy of learning in the classroom is probably contagious and is motivating them also. It all comes naturally. Whether it's this new course or any of the other classes I have taught for years, being a teacher allows me the challenge to inspire those I teach to be life long learners, to remain intellectually curious, to stretch and to grow. The more I learn, the more I realize how little I know. But one thing I do know is why I love being a teacher.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Life Gets Messy

Harmony is beautiful. Being orderly is comforting. The easier things are set, the better, right? Well, no. Not always. Life gets messy. And I've long been a proponent that it's more important to do what is right, not what is easy, even if in doing what is right will cause disorder, even if having integrity means the disharmony of life will make you cringe.

My poor children. They have grown up with a mother who always talked with them about her day at work. When they were little, I'd ask each of them about their day and then I coached them to ask me about mine. It was important to me that they learn to think of other people, that they practice empathy. It was adorable to hear a little voice in the car seat behind me asking, "Mama, how was YOUR day?" Most days I would say simply, "I had a really good day. Thank you for asking!" But as my children got older, we began having fuller and deeper conversations about our days, about our joys and struggles, about the people who lifted us up and the people who seemed to stomp on our hearts. We discussed interactions we witnessed between others and we became advocates for the underdogs. They learned early on that their mother released tension through tears. They developed my sense of justice and adopted my biases when ignorance, arrogance, or dishonesty got the upper hand.

I realize I am a serious and hard working individual but I also tried to model the importance of having silly spontaneous fun. When you can laugh with your loved ones at the end of a long hard day at work/school, it gives you strength for the next day. It also helps everyone to have a healthy perspective to better assess the challenges that will surely continue to surface in life.

A friend of mine and I have spoken often about the fine line between 1) allowing our children to be children and not burdening them with adult issues, sheltering their innocence if you will, and 2) gently and cautiously giving them an honest window into the world of adulthood, a place that can be quite disheartening at times. I am not sure what my children will think as they get older and go to make their own parenting decisions, but I can only say that I have followed both my heart and my head and in raising them all, I've tried to do what is right, not what is easy. I may not have always chosen the perfect paths, but I have tried to be honest with my children. That has caused things to get awfully messy at times but I'm okay with that. After all, it's often when life gets messy that we learn the most.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Keyless Entry

Last November our mini van needed expensive repairs to earn its inspection sticker. For months, we'd lived with having to reach to the left hand side of the door to manually unlock all the doors. We had lived with the heat only coming on when we turned the knob to its highest level. Yet we bit the bullet and decided that despite our hopes of getting through the year without another car payment, it was time to go shopping.

We made a rather quick decision after my husband checked out options at several southern Maine dealerships and I spent an afternoon browsing used models on a local dealership's website. By the time my husband arrived home, I had possible options narrowed down to five vehicles. We decided we'd go shopping locally the next day. We were probably the easiest of customers they had worked with all week. We had made our choice within 30 minutes.

Driving home--all of 10 or so miles--we were excited. Although we had not planned on getting the new van until the old one had pushed us to reconsider, we were enjoying the amenities of having a newer ride. As my son checked out all the cup holders and ceiling storage areas, my husband was thrilled about the stow-and-go seats which would do away with having to store the back seats of the van in the garage when we needed the extra room. Sure, I enjoyed the bells and whistles of the various changes to the newer van but truthfully I was most happy to have the chance, once again, to keep a clean car. The kids were older now. We'd all do better with clearing garbage, dirt, and other such things this time around.

However, another favorite part of the new van is something perhaps many people take for granted with their new cars, the keyless entry remote. Seriously, how did I ever live without this before? Not only can I unlock doors for everyone getting into the van with the click of a button but I can use it to have the lights flash, thus showing me the location of my van when I've forgotten which row I parked in at the grocery store! Oh sure, it would have been nice to have gotten heated leather seats that had been available in one of the models we looked at, but I guess it wasn't meant to be.

The only downside (besides the obvious monthly car payment) to the new van and its keyless entry remote, is that I am now quite unsatisfied that I have to use a key to unlock the door to my house. I find myself wanting only to push a button to enter, and I'm wishing also that my front door would open for me when my arms are full of groceries. I also want the refrigerator door to open with a remote as I go to put food away, and while we're at it, why can't the pantry doors open this way too?

That's the trouble with buying a new car, even a new "used" car, suddenly, nothing is good enough for me. I've been spoiled. One day, over the sound of the blower turned up high, I am in the driver's seat using sign language to talk to the person next to me and doing extreme yoga formations to unlock all the doors for the kids waiting outside in the cold, and the next I am locating my new van in a busy parking lot and unlocking it with a click of a button! Good Lord. I shiver at the thought of who I would have become had I gotten those heated leather seats.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Just Keep Swimming

It was a good weekend but I did not get enough rest and I did not get enough sleep. Note to self: During vacation, sleep at least 10 hours every night starting Friday the 18th until Saturday the 26th. Still, it was time to head back to work this morning. I dutifully got up and made lunches, packed my school bag, and headed to school. My classes went by quickly enough and the two hour session of professional development work began and ended. It was time to head home. After a quick stop for a few groceries on the way, my husband and I pulled into the garage. That's when it hit me. Grief.

I have to cut myself a break. I am tired--physically, emotionally, and mentally. I need to treat myself with a little compassion. It has been only five days since I lost my precious pup. But the funny thing is, it's been long enough to know that shedding tears at work is not appropriate. And I am pretty sure that it's time to end the chatter about feeling sad when I communicate with friends. I should probably put to rest the subject here on my blog too. Right?

But seeing that this is MY blog, I will continue to go where my heart and mind take me when I sit down to write. And today, I'm thinking about what a struggle it is to remain upright and on top of things. I feel like I am losing my hold on everything. I am thinking about how badly I miss her. I am thinking of how I need to find my way past this grief and this sorrow, but I also know that taking time to feel the pain is a natural part of the process.

But falling apart when you have three children who need you at home, and 100 teens who need you at school, is not really an option. Today when I got choked up at the realization that no, Charlie did not need to be let out now that we were home, that no, there was no longer a need for me to keep that tin of treats in the bottom of the pantry, that no, I didn't have my girl beside me to throw a piece of chicken to or following me up the stairs to go to bed, I found myself thinking of a little blue fish named Dory.

In the Disney movie Finding Nemo, a father fish named Marlin meets a little blue fish with short term memory loss. Amusingly voiced by comedienne Ellen Degeneres, the little blue fish named Dory is the animated film's comic relief. While looking for his lost son Nemo, Marlin is in great despair. Dory offers him a little advice:

Dory: When life gets you down do you wanna know what you've gotta do?
Marlin: No I don't wanna know.
Dory: [singing] Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. What do we do? We swim, swim.

I realize it is up to me to work through this grief. Time will ease the pain, of this I am sure. In the meantime I need to let the waves of tears ebb and flow as they need to. I have found myself hearing Dory's advice in my head for a couple of weeks now. It seems to be good advice for life must go on and there's much for me to do and many for me to care for. However, I have to admit; my fins are getting tired.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

To Blog or Not to Blog...Every Day

My folks and I attended Syd's play together today. Before the doors to the auditorium opened we sat talking in the lobby. "I didn't see you put up a new blog post yesterday", Dad said. "Well, I did write one", I replied, "In fact I posted it at 11:58pm!" "You did?", my Dad asked incredulously. "You know", he continued, "You shouldn't write one every day. Do it once a week instead". I teased him by saying, "Dad, you don't have to read it every day. You don't even have to read it once a week if you don't want to".

But I knew what he was saying. Dad was trying to tell me that it would be okay for me not to write a new blog post every day. I'd have more time perhaps to do other things or to simply sit and relax more if I did a weekly entry only. He was suggesting that I am putting undue pressure on myself to post a new View from the Dock every day. But I told Dad (and Mom who listened in too), that I find these daily blog entries personally therapeutic to write each day. I never even know for sure, if at all, what I am going to write about when I sit down to write them. "You don't?" Dad asked in disbelief. No, I find it fun to see where my head and heart take me when I begin a new one. Sometimes I do think about possible topics on my way home from work. Some days I think of something and go looking for a picture. Other days I look at pictures for inspiration. There's no set strategy. I enjoy the serendipity of it all.

Each day I look forward to writing one of these blog posts. I enjoy the challenge I have set upon myself to see how long I can continue this daily writing and posting streak. Last night was especially fun. We arrived back at our hotel at 11:30pm. I felt a surge of adrenaline hit me. Could I manage to write a blog and get it posted before the next half hour?! Would tonight be the night my record was broken? I needed to at least TRY to succeed. I think my husband was quietly cheering me on to finish it before the stroke of midnight. He fell asleep but woke up long enough to ask if I'd made it. When I posted with just two minutes to spare, it was like breaking that ribbon at the finish line of a race. I smirked to myself. Personal satisfaction. Sure, it's silly. There's no reason for me to post a new blog entry each day, other than I'm having fun doing this. I am curious as to how far I can take it.

I think of my New Year's Day mantra, the one I shared with Charlie when we went for what would be our last snowshoeing trek together; No Expectations. No Fear. Let's Just See What Happens. I don't know from one day to the next whether I'll be able to post a new blog entry. But I've been writing a new one each day since December 28, 2010 and this creative outlet and this personal challenge of my own design has been so rewarding these past 47 days. No, I don't need to write every day. Maybe I should not write every day. But I WANT to write every day. So that's it. Until a day when I cannot or will not, I'll meet you back here on the dock. No expectations. No Fear. Let's just see what happens.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Pirates & Pancakes

After traveling to Hauck Auditorium to see Sydney in her first college musical, we were more than excited. The orchestra began to play. They were impressive.We had butterflies as the curtain began to rise.

The lights came up and a pirate ship sailed across to center stage. The costumes were gorgeous. The pirates began to sing. Strong voices. Articulate diction. It had been only thirty seconds and I was already smiling.

It would be fifteen minutes or so into the show, perhaps more, before the girls would come on the stage. Sydney as Isabel entered from upstage left. There she was, adorned in a full length gown, petticoat, hat, and curls. "She is beautiful", Noemi whispered to me. Yes, she is.

She had only a few spoken lines this first time but her voice was strong in the ensembles; I could hear the rich alto harmonies. Her face was expressive and she never was out of character. By intermission my mouth was glad to have the break from smiling. To say I was proud of my girl is an understatement.

The Pirates of Penzance was a thrill to see tonight. A funny and wry Gilbert & Sullivan musical, the cast and crew did a beautiful job. We'll return tomorrow for the Sunday matinee and next Friday to see the show a third and final time.

After greeting our actress daughter, we walked to her dorm. I felt great pride as I took in how comfortable and happy she is. She quickly packed a bag to join us back at our hotel for the night.

We made one more stop at Denny's for a late snack. Over pancakes, eggs, sausages, and desserts, we listened to her stories of the production and of her happiness with her new theater friends. We heard tales of each aspect of the show and got the bios on all the actors.

As I watched and listened to my college girl, I felt great satisfaction. She is happy in her choices. She is confident and secure. The butterflies I felt tonight as the curtain began to rise will probably be there tomorrow afternoon and next Friday evening also. I know this because the excitement and pride I feel for my girl is a constant. She is indeed beautiful. But it is not because of her costume, her curled hair, or her make-up adorned face. Her beauty stems from something deep inside. It doesn't take the lights on stage to make my girl shine. The light of who she is and what she can do can be seen in her beautiful blue eyes. I am excited for her future. I am proud to be her mom.

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Gray Tooth Day

There are days when I don't think I am doing a good job. There are days when I don't think I am doing anything right. I question myself as a daughter, as a sister, as a wife, as a friend, as a teacher, and as a mom.

One such day that stands out most in my mind began on a day much like today. We were rushing to get out of the house in the morning and we were running late. Paul was little and I ran upstairs to go help him brush his teeth. That's when I noticed. He had a GRAY TOOTH ! I was shocked. I was in disbelief. How long had he had a gray tooth? Had it just happened? How had it happened? What was going to happen to that tooth? Would it fall out? Would it remain gray? I wanted to call the dentist right away but it was only 6:30am. I would have to drop him off at his caregiver's, head to work, and call in a few hours.

I got to school and felt shaky. I tried to put Paul's gray tooth out of my mind as my teens poured into my classroom at the bell. I started to greet them with the morning's agenda and suddenly my words got caught in my throat. I took a deep breath but the tears were already there. The room grew silent. I felt 16 pairs of eyes looking at me with confusion.

As I have done for most of my 20 years of teaching, I took a chance and spoke with honesty. I slowly told them about the start to my day. I quickly told them about Paul's gray tooth and of my insecurities as a working mom. It did not take long before I started laughing through my tears. Luckily, my students laughed too. I'm sure several thought I was a basket-case but that never had stopped me from sharing stories in the classroom before. I wrapped up my story and we moved on with the day's lesson. I'd learn later that day that Paul's gray tooth had most likely been caused by a bump to his mouth. The dentist was not concerned and said it would most likely fade back to its normal white color. It did.

Several weeks, if not months, later I had another rough day. I was moving about my classroom, trying to push aside my feelings to focus on work, but I had someone watching me closely. I forget what had happened to cause my distress but I do remember Danielle, one of my students who had been present the teary time before. Mrs. Walker? she asked smartly, Is this another gray tooth day? I immediately started nodding and laughing. Again, my class joined in and we all laughed. Nothing more needed to be said.

Having a "gray tooth day" would become a traditional expression in my classroom for many years afterward. Just when I think a class is not aware of the expression, I am surprised to find someone who remembers my story about Paul, a story I find myself retelling whenever I'm feeling out of sorts. Yesterday Ian used the expression and it caught me off guard. Ian smirked at me. I remember you telling us about this two years ago he said. Suddenly a few more students who I'd had as freshmen nodded in agreement. So the story was retold to their classmates who did not know. I do believe this tale will live on indefinitely.

There's nothing like a gray tooth day to remind me that my connections with my students, as well as my parents, my sister, my brothers, my husband, my friends, and my children, are real and have been built by taking chances with honesty. A good gray tooth day serves to show me that I am doing right by the people in my life. The insecurities will come and go but yes, I am doing just fine.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Breathe in. Breathe out.

It was tough to fall asleep last night. I stayed up as late as I could justify but knowing that I had to get up for work this morning I headed upstairs and was trying hard not to look over to the corner where she would no longer be. Losing a beloved pet is incredibly heart-wrenching. Time heals all wounds they say but that's small comfort on the first evening without your furry loved one. For nearly 17 years she'd slept on the floor at my side of the bed. How was I to move on without her? Still, dutifully, I crawled into bed, took a deep breath, and tried to relax.

My husband had gone to bed much earlier. It had been an exhausting day for us all so I understood his reasons for turning in for the night a few hours before I did. I heard him sleeping. I heard him slowly breathe in and breathe out. "I wish I could turn off my brain", I thought. Just stop thinking...just stop thinking...relax.

I pulled up my pillows, switched sides, and sighed again. This is going to be a long night, I thought. And then I felt Eric's arms envelop me and pull me close. My head went naturally to his chest. He kissed my head. He rubbed my back. I began to drift. A few minutes later I fell asleep in his arms.

I try to be strong. I am strong. I am sometimes too strong. But a simple embrace, even one that comes in sleep, reminds me I can let go. My husband's arms and his gentle kiss remind me I can be vulnerable yet remain safe and protected. I can let my burdens fall away for a few hours at least.

How will I move on without her? Slowly. Tearfully. One step at a time. But I will move forward. And I will honor her by returning to my happy self. But for now I may be taking two steps forward and in the evenings, one step back. Grief is a process. Distractions that busy the mind help during the day but when the world is quieted and it's time to rest, my imagination will race and my heart will continue to ache. That's when I'll tell myself to breathe in and breathe out. That's when I'll find myself gravitating once again to those arms that will pull me close to the one who never leaves my side.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Dear Charlie

The oil truck came today. It’s been awhile since you were able to hear the sound of it backing up into our driveway, just as you were no longer able to hear the plow truck coming in the middle of the night these past two years, but I still thought of you racing to the window, jumping up on the sill to bark frantically at the regular, yet unknown, seeming-to-be-threats to our home. I’ll smile whenever I spot those claw marks now.

I took a nap today, several small ones actually. Each time I’d imagine you over on your blanket near my bed. You always stayed by my side when I’d stay home sick from school, following me from room to room, making sure you never lost sight of me. I remembered how one time two summers ago we thought we were going to lose you, of how you battled back after your arthritis kicked in. I was sure that was it that day when I woke up to hear you panting, unable to walk. But you always were a fighter. You gave us all another 19 months of happiness. Thank you for that.

I drove Daddy’s car to the hospital today. I had to carry you to the back knowing you weren’t able to make it on your own but I thought of how much you always loved riding in the car. I forever hated how your fur would go everywhere and would stick to my clothes for weeks after I’d relent and take you for a ride, but it was of course worth it to see your joy at being invited to hang your head out the window and to feel the wind in your face. I loved how you’d pop your head back inside to come nuzzle my arm as I steered the car.

I looked out at the snow today. I thought of our many walks in the neighborhood and of our treks as I snowshoed out back, making trips to the cabin. Oh how I loved watching you throw yourself into the snow, happily wriggling on your back, your paws dancing in the air. I smiled at the memory of you, my snow dog.

I couldn’t find my slippers today. I thought of how you used to greet me at the door when I’d come home. You always brought us a present as you met us. You’d pick up my slipper or a Lego or a dirty sock, anything you could find. You were always so happy to see us coming home to you. I was always so comforted to see your loving face when I’d come through the door.

I picked up some clothes off the floor today. I remembered how you’d always find whatever clothes, blanket, or towel had been dropped and make it your bed. I thought of how in recent years we’d carry your blanket to the kennel on those few times we traveled out of town for an extended period. I remembered how much you were loved by the kennel owners and of how sad they’ll be to hear. I remembered how special you were to so many friends and family, how Danielle always treated you so well when she’d pet sit, or how touched Meme and Grampy would be to see how excited you were to be told of their arrival in our driveway, of how you’d run circles around the house at the sound of their names.

I haven’t gone to the kitchen yet today. I know I’m going to have to go in there to fix myself something to eat and to get myself something to drink, but I’m going to miss you standing at my side waiting for a piece of food to drop onto the floor. You will forever be my favorite sous chef. I’ll forever remember having you at my feet as we ate around the dinner table, or having to tell you to “go lay down” when you’d get too close to my tv tray when I’d eat supper in the family room.

I couldn’t bring myself to look at the photo albums today. I will do that often in future days I am sure. But I don’t need photos to remember your sweet little face from the time we took you home at 8 weeks of age. I still remember picking you from the litter at that Casco woman’s house and how you’d never spent time inside until we brought you home. You were so nervous and jumped at the study window trying to get back outside. You would spend the rest of your nearly 17 years anxious to be let back inside after going out. You never wanted to be away from us for too long.

I remember all the mischief you got into, stealing the Maker maid’s shoes from their garage, running away only to be thrilled to see our car coming to retrieve you, destroying Sydney’s rag doll, barbies, and brand new skiis. I remember the one time we brought you to camp as you were just a puppy and how Daddy and Grampy had to repair all those water floats that you bit into. I remember all the bulbs you dug up after Daddy had spent an entire afternoon planting them, and I remember how much you disliked certain people, such as that teacher friend of mine and a certain handyman. You always were a good judge of character.

I remember the football throwing and catching, the toy monkey and later the duck you loved to carry around--if it squeaked it was even better--and how much you loved pig ears and other treats from the pantry. I remember you loving your spot in the dining room, soaking in the sun’s rays, and how the cat would swat your face for no reason other than because you were there.

I remember our dances when your legs were strong to hold you up, how the children would laugh to see you and I paw-in-hand dancing to the music on the stereo. I remember your playfulness with the children, your stance as you’d challenge us all to run around the house chasing you, and how you’d bark and we’d giggle with glee at the chase. I remember our little “fights”, our little “boxing matches”, how you’d playfully bark and “talk” and I’d gently push your face back and forth to “egg you on”. You were always such fun and yet always so gentle.

I cried for you today as I’ve cried for you often these last two weeks. I think I did right by you though sweet girl. I prayed over you. I asked God to help me know what to do. He did. I gave you hours of whispers and head rubs overnight. I gave you days to make the transition. I gave you weeks of understanding and patience as your body failed you. I gave you months of special loving care when you had a hard time finding your way. I gave you years and years of my heart. But you did so much more for me my dear Charlie. I thank you for trying so very hard to hang on. I know you know it was time for us to part. I know you love me and Daddy and Sydney, Emma, and Paul. And I know you know how my heart is breaking today because I love you. So so so much.

I’ll be seeing you in all the most familiar places, that this heart of mine embraces all day through...I’ll be seeing you in every lovely summer’s day, in everything that’s light and gay, I’ll always think of you that way. I’ll find you in the mornin’ sun and when the night is new. I’ll be looking at the moon, but I’ll be seeing you.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Taco Dip

One day when my firstborn was just a few years old, when we were in my hometown visiting family, my brother made some taco dip. We had never had it before. We tried it and were instantly hooked. I even think, after our first taste, we devoured the whole plate for breakfast! Little Sydney was probably the most fervent taco dip lover; my husband and I remember asking her to please come up for air as her little hands grabbed for more chips to scoop up the seasoned cream cheese adorned with lettuce, tomatoes, and cheddar cheese.

For several years the taco dip became a staple at our hometown visits. We'd wait for my brother to make it and we'd all gather around the kitchen island stuffing our mouths and teasing the one who seemed to be eating it faster than everyone else. If some of us were on the dock when John arrived, we'd be lucky to hear someone yell down, "The taco dip is here!" and a good third of the dip would already be consumed before that notice was given to us dock dwellers. I'd eventually ask for the simple recipe. We began making it ourselves at home and for our own visitors. It became a favorite at summertime parties and at BBQ get-togethers.

Tonight I returned from an emotional day at work, only to find more on my plate for me to do at home. One child was sick. Another was having a rough day. The dog needed attention too. A phone call needed to be made. Dinner didn't get made before I headed out to an evening event, leaving the kids to pour bowls of cereal for supper. I made it to the event at what I thought was the designated time only to discover that once again I had arrived at the wrong time. I was too late. When I made it home, just 8 hours before I'd have to get up for another long day, I was starving. It took only a minute for me to remember what was in the fridge, left over from the Super Bowl party we'd had two days earlier.

I didn't take any time to yell down to the dock dwellers today. Sometimes a girl has to get selfish. Sometimes a girl just needs her taco dip.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Wild Life

Every once in awhile I get a few hours to myself on a weeknight, a few hours when no one else is home, when no one needs to be picked up within 20 minutes of my arrival home from work, a few hours when even the pets are resting and don't need my attention. Today isn't exactly one of those days; my daughter needed to stay home from school as she isn't feeling well; but it's pretty close. The two of us got the pets fed and they are now resting. My daughter is watching a marathon of her favorite tv show and I have snuck away into the back room where it's warm and quiet and dark. I figure I have about an hour before I have to pick up her brother and sister from their ski program. I have about an hour to rest and to write.

Every stage of my children's lives has brought new schedules and new demands. When they were babies, I'd rest when they rested, enjoying a little solitude in between diaper changes, feedings, and general playtime. When they were toddlers, we'd arrive home together after a day of work or childcare and we'd fix supper together and take time to snuggle. When they started school, we'd shop for school supplies for their newest project and we'd empty lunch boxes together. I'd sign off on their daily homework and we'd often take time to play a board game or to make a puzzle. And now that my children are quite independent with their school responsibilities, my afternoons after work are usually spent taxiing them to their activities and back home again. I still prep dinner and help with the shopping of school supplies, but an important focus of the pre-teen and teen years is carving out time to talk, or rather time to listen, to "check in" with each child before he or she slips out again to the next activity.

I sometimes think about my colleagues at work who do not go home to children at the end of a long school day. I know that I too will experience that "wildlife" some day and I have big plans. I'll come home and read, paint, do more house projects, and perhaps even volunteer more. I'll schedule more massages, go shopping, go out for dinner with friends, and maybe even take a few naps. It all seems luxurious...

But for now I'll savor today's hour in the comfort of my family room at the back of the house. Sure, I can hear my daughter's tv show playing and I know I need to start thinking about what to feed everyone for dinner, and I now have only about 30 minutes before I have to go pick up the skiers. It's a different wild life I lead being the mom around here, but those massages and books can wait awhile longer. I'm living the good life.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Football Sundays

There is something incredibly comforting about football season. I'm not really a fan of the game; I don't really understand how it's played, but having the game on in the other room, knowing my husband is enjoying his Sunday afternoon relaxing on the couch, hooting and hollering in support of his team, always makes me smile, just as it used to when my Dad and my brothers watched the games within earshot of me years ago.

I've never been one of those women who call themselves "football widows". Perhaps it's because I am a homebody, but I have no desire to do anything other than hang out on a Sunday afternoon during football season. As my husband watches the game I bake or read or do schoolwork. I'm content. It helps also to know that if there was something I wanted to do on a Sunday afternoon during "the game", my husband probably wouldn't mind taping the game or giving it up altogether, since a request like that would be a rare occurrence.

On Super Bowl Sunday it's custom to invite my cousins over; we make several snacks and watch the game or at least the commercials together. Over veggies and dip or a bowl full of chili, we'll share a few hours and simply enjoy one another's company.

So what if I don't care too much for the game itself? Football Sundays have never been about the games for me. Hearing the sound of the game being watched and enjoyed by those who do care has always been enough for me.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Let Go, Let God

When I get tense I clench my teeth and I get quiet. This happens frequently when I am driving in messy wintry weather. If I am alone, I talk to myself and then I talk to God. "Okay God, I just want to make it down this road without sliding into the car in front of me, okay? Can you help me with that please? I just don't want to hit that car..." I bet God is getting a little weary of our conversations this week. Is she talking to me AGAIN?! What's wrong now?! It's not even snowing! She's not even in the car! Yes, these conversations have occurred daily as of late. Several times a day in fact. It seems I've been awfully needy lately.

If others are around when I am tense, they'll see my jaw tense up--if they are looking over at me--and they'll have a hard time starting a conversation with me. Again, that's because I am talking to myself and talking to God...only I have the conversations inside my head, lest people think I'm losing it.

Each day brings its share of challenges, but the past few months have brought many more than I am used to. My struggles have been new and unique. I know that God will not give me any more than I can handle, but as the joke goes, I sure wish He would not trust me to handle so much! The challenges have been consistent and just when I think I am getting a reprieve for a few hours, something else happens. The challenges have rocked my patience and my confidence, my peace of mind and my happiness. But they have not rocked my faith.

My Dad sent me the simplest of emails this morning. He reminded me to "Let go, Let God". He knows I have had these four words taped to my bathroom mirror for years. Now before I get serious I have to admit that I do NOT think of this mantra when I'm on the road. As much as I like Carrie Underwood's song, I am not about to let "Jesus Take the Wheel" in a literal sense. "God helps those who help themselves" seems more sensible in this situation. But in most other situations, letting go and letting God reminds me that I only have so much control.

So after yet another trying day of clenching my teeth and talking to myself and to God, I beg pardon for being so needy and I vow to return the favor of God's grace when the stress subsides. For like the wintry mix that makes the road slick to drive on, these troubles will soon melt away also. Spring will come and I'll start to sing and steer myself to easier paths. In the meantime, I'll put my car safely in the garage and then let Jesus Take the Wheel.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Nurturing the Fun of Friendship

Most days I am very happy to be an adult. I am not someone that wishes to return to their "Glory Days", whatever the heck that is supposed to mean. Don't get me wrong. I LOVED being a child and I ADORED being a teenager. I realize that the teen years are difficult for many but well, I had a ball. In fact, I think the reason I have enjoyed teaching high school for 20 years is partially because I am completely comfortable and energized when I'm with teens. I find their fun FUN. I find them incredibly amusing and I love to witness their journey towards maturity as they approach adulthood. I try my best to be there for them, to offer them a different perspective than they may have on a variety of subjects or experiences. I enjoy challenging them and getting them to realize their potential. It's exciting to be part of their world as they get ready to spread their wings. But I also know that I get as much out of the time I spend with them as they do, if not more. I think back to those adults who spent time with me when I was a teen and I now understand why they enjoyed me and my friends. We were real. We were unpretentious, we were simply soaking in everything around us, and we were FUN.

I had my teenage years and despite fabulous memories of friends, dating, school activities, and family fun, I have no desire to relive them. I am content to be the dutiful parent, teacher, wife, and citizen. I also know that growing up doesn't mean that you stop having fun. Sure, you do become considerably less selfish and there's some very grown-up responsibilities to juggle, but there's also a relaxed sense of purpose and an inner happiness that met me in my adult years. Fun isn't elusive when you're adult, not if you don't take yourself too seriously. It can be found with spontaneity easily enough; at least that's true for the adults in this household. It doesn't take much for us to have fun. So no, I would not want to trade ages with any of the teens I work with or live with. Adulthood suits me just fine.

With that being said however, I do wish I could find more opportunities to get out with my friends more often than I do. It can be difficult to orchestrate such plans and let's be honest, some days after a long stretch of work and family demands, the most attractive option for a Friday night is to make friends with the recliner. But this past week I made more of an effort to make plans with friends. Cathy and I will gather our spouses and our kids together for a few hours of Super Bowl fun this Sunday night. Jeanna and I will enjoy a girls' night out and go for dinner and a show. It's a start. I hope more plans will follow this spring and summer.

Because although family comes first, and happily so, I do sometimes miss those carefree days of making one quick call to get a group of friends together, to do little more than hang out, play a game of pool, laugh, watch a movie, or pig out on pizza and brownies. The trick is to continue working to nurture our friendships. After all, I want the fun of my friends forever, not only in my Glory Days but in my Golden Years as well.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Smuggling CareNotes

I'm calling the vet tomorrow. I thought this was something I could work through on my own. It turns out I am wrong. I don't know what asking for help will bring, whether I'll feel any comfort or whether it'll be something which will bring me more pain, but I have come to the decision that this is the right thing to do. I am afraid of being told something I am not ready or able to hear, but that's selfish of me. It cannot be about me. It needs to be about Charlie.

Charlie has had cataracts for a few years. Her hearing has deteriorated. She's lame and she's lost a lot of weight. But for the past few weeks my sweet 16 1/2 year old pup has also become increasingly restless. She paces around and around the house. She has trouble relaxing long enough to rest her weary bones. She is now getting herself stuck in corners of the house. She continues to have accidents and is having trouble negotiating the stairs. It's not that she can't climb them, rather it's as though she has forgotten how. The worst of it is, she doesn't seem to care whether or not we're even around her anymore. She stares into space, ignores our attention, and when we bring her outside, she doesn't seem to know what to do. I don't know what to do either.

Last Sunday I was at church. I was feeling restless too. I could not let go of the grief I felt for not only Charlie, but for a few dear people in my life who are also aging. I made it through the priest's homily but I knew I could not sing the offertory song. I decided I needed to take a walk downstairs.

In the church basement there is a shelf with CareNotes, little pamphlets of literature published by Abby Press which provide messages of hope to those who suffer. I found myself grabbing every pamphlet there was on the subject of grief. I even took duplicate copies of a few of them, thinking I could pass them on to a few people I know who are going through anticipatory grief like I am. After grabbing several pamphlets I went to the restroom. In that "room for one" I locked the door, slumped to the floor, read the first two pages of one pamphlet, and cried. Everything I was reading was relatable. I sat crying on the floor of the basement bathroom for a good 10 minutes. Then I pulled myself up, stuffed the pamphlets into my sweater (because for some reason I was embarrassed to carry the stack of them up for all to see), and I returned to the congregation upstairs.

This week has been emotionally tough as I have watched Charlie failing. Each day I have watched her pace and I have retrieved her from another corner. I have led her to her food and tonight I carried her upstairs. Earlier this evening I did some research online, and I came across an article on Canine Cognitive Disorder. Charlie seems to have all of the symptoms. Maybe the vet will suggest some medication. Maybe there is hope to bring Charlie back to normal or to at least bring her greater comfort. As for me, I'll continue reading my CareNotes. They reassure me that I'm not alone in my sorrow and in my fear and uncertainty of what the future will bring.

If you ever need a similar reminder, visit this website or ask me to snag a few of the CareNotes for you at church. I know where they are. And I'm good at smuggling them in my sweater without detection. Trust me. I'm calling the vet tomorrow. Wish me luck. No, wait. Save the luck for Charlie.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Pitching In

We got walloped by another snow storm today. The children have missed several days of school this past month for these winter weather conditions and although the novelty of seeing their school district's number pop up on the cancellations list has not worn off, they realize that although they may indeed have time off now, these days at home in January will lead to more days in school come June. Still, knowing we do not have any control over that fact, we might as well make the most of these surprise days off.

Snow days at our home are spent together. That's one bonus of being teachers; my husband and I can most often spend these days with our children when our district follows theirs in canceling school. We all enjoy sleeping in and then our day begins. The kids get up and enjoy television or the wii while getting bowls of cereal. I prepare myself a couple of eggs and some toast, a luxury breakfast I like when I have time. Today I spent an hour or so balancing the checkbook and paying bills. I put the kids on dish duty and my husband headed outside to do some initial shoveling.

By noontime we were donning our snowpants, hats, and gloves. With weekly storms as of late our family room roof needed shoveling. Four of us made the climb up the ladder and got in a wintry 90 minute workout which ended with a few jumps off the roof into the big snow piles. When the fifth member of our family got out of bed, we put her on duty cleaning the kids' bathroom and assigned her the job of shoveling out the front steps.
The afternoon brought us all to the family room couch for a movie. And by the time that had ended we all knew it was time to face the reality of heading back to school come morning. After doing a few more dishes and another batch of laundry, we headed back to our school work for a few hours before we'd once again meet to watch a show on tv before bedtime.

Tomorrow will bring us back to our separate school lives. But for several hours today we were together. We did some laundry, some dishes, some shoveling, and some cleaning but we also slowed our pace a bit and enjoyed one another's company. There is always work to be done when you own a house and/or have a family. The nice thing is, if you raise your children to understand that being part of a family means pitching in when there's work to be done, a house becomes a home, a home that is as nice and as warm as snuggling under a blanket together to watch a movie on a stormy winter day.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

In-Law Jokes

Over the years I have heard many jokes made about in-laws. I've read articles about the horrors of invasive relatives and I've watched movies where marriages are tested by the words or actions of an outspoken mother-in-law or other challenging members of a spouse's family. I never felt that my in-laws were anything but wonderful. Perhaps I am the one being made the butt of THEIR jokes; I've seen that happen in movies too, but if I am, I am happy to be kept in the dark on that.

I married into my husband's family when I was just four months shy of my 21st birthday. To be that young and to suddenly have a whole new family available to me was a little daunting. However, I knew my father-in-law very well as he'd been my high school music and theater director. We spent many hours talking about various things when I was a teen as he'd been a true mentor of mine. I'd been in band and jazz band with my husband's sister but regrettably I did not get to know her much at all. We were both quite shy. She was a year behind me and she was quiet when I was around; that's all that I really knew. In fact the whole family, with the exception of my father-in-law, was quiet around me. I wondered for quite some time if they liked me. I wasn't sure. But I liked them all from the start. My in-laws were quite different from my family, or so it seemed, and as much as I loved my own family, I enjoyed the differences.

I loved the relationship my husband displayed he had with his Mom. After giving her a big bear hug, he would get her giggling quietly with some comment or question, and her eyes would sparkle as she'd half-scold him for his jokes or banter. His closeness with his sister and his brother was equally special. Happy to be lovingly teased if it gave them all a way to laugh, my husband would stir up memories of their childhood days. In fact, many of our times together continue to work this way. My husband enters his folks' house with open displays of affection and then the joking and the teasing over silly memories begins. My Mom-in-law's eyes still sparkle when my husband is near her. His siblings still tease him and my husband always sets himself up for their jokes. Time with my in-laws is never short on laughter and silliness. It is wonderful and comforting to experience.

When we had children, my husband's family was incredibly proud of each child. This is when I found our relationships evolving. My in-laws were no longer quiet around me for they were openly playing and enjoying the kids. We began swapping stories and sharing laughs more easily. I loosened up. I was growing up. Aunt Lisa and Uncle Joel were incredibly well loved by my children. And Grampy and Meme were too. I realized I was indeed accepted and loved by my in-laws for I was the mother of Eric's children. I was also the woman who made their Eric happy.

Over the years I have learned many valuable lessons from my in-laws. My time with my Mom and Dad-in-law, my sister and brother-in-law has shaped me in my adult years. I have a fuller perspective on family dynamics and I have a more balanced view on life thanks to my relationships with them. My own parents and siblings gave me my foundation but my in-laws helped add to that blueprint of how my husband and I work together to raise our own family.

Although the affection and the laughter shared at family gatherings will always be what I most treasure and remember about my in-laws, it's the overwhelming feeling of unconditional love and understanding that has given me greater strength as a wife and a mom. Over the years my in-laws have taken time to express their feelings towards my husband and I or towards our children. They've given voice to more serious matters showing that underneath the playfulness, there's an amazing core of love, respect, and pride. I saw those qualities in Eric's grandparents too. But that's a story for another day. Let it suffice to say that the roots of my in-laws' family tree are hardy.

I continue to hear all the jokes made about in-laws. I can pretend to understand all the punchlines and maybe I'll snicker at a few of them. I've always loved a good joke but thankfully, I'm not able to add to that type of comedic material. My in-laws make me laugh but only in their own originality and in the most beautiful and loving of ways.