Thursday, March 31, 2011

Tribal Yell

In the summer of 2000 a new television reality show hit the airwaves. The show details a game of physical and social challenges where a group of "castaways" both align with and plot against one another so as to become the "sole survivor" and the winner of a million dollars. For years afterward, it would generate numerous jokes of "getting voted off the island" or realizing that "the tribe has spoken". Anyone who knows me well knows that eleven years ago, Survivor quickly became my not-so-guilty weekly pleasure.

Now if you have begun rolling your eyes or thinking that you are so much cooler than me because you wouldn't be caught dead watching this kind of trash on television, if you are far too intellectual or otherwise "enlightened" to enjoy such drivel, then click out of this blog post now. I'm serious. Go away. Get off my island. There's no room for the sanctimonious here.

When my husband and I began watching the show, our children were young and we would not allow them to watch it with us. With its motto of "Outlast, Outwit, Outplay", we deemed the contestants' confessionals and the strategic plotting to be a bit too much for them. However, in the years to come, our kids began watching the show with us. Whether they were joining us for the show's relay games or puzzle challenges or simply to share in our conversations about the contestants, I am not completely sure. They haven't watched every season of course and they are certainly not as addicted to the show as their mother is, still, it's a regular ritual for us to all gather at the TV each week in hopes that our favorite contestant (currently veteran Survivor player Boston Rob) will make it through another week.

Years ago, the show became a source of inspiration for an impromtu game of Survivor at an extended family get-together at my folks' camp. Every 10 minutes the large group of adults began voting someone out of the living room. Banished to the back room where another party started, the silliness was spontaneous and hilarious. To this day it is one of my favorite memories of spending time with my brothers and their families. I also began designing Survivor-inspired activities within my classroom. My Drama class created a Survivor video spoof and we've created confessional-style monologues in Creative Writing.When I tell my students that I have watched the show since its first season, they are amused. Often I find a fellow fan of the show. I suppose it's safe to say that their English teacher is a bonafide Survivor junkie.

Each week I look forward to the 60 minutes of competition and scheming. It's all in good fun. It's now family entertainment; we all enjoy studying each contestant and making our prediction as to who will become the season's winner. If you're a fan of Survivor, you're bound to be the kind of person I'd enjoy sharing an island with. Not a fan? Have a problem with the show? Well, I'd love to think I could talk you into giving it another chance, but you know what? I'd rather not. Instead, I choose to vote you off the island. Go find your own guilty-pleasure. The tribe has spoken.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I Simply Walked Forward

When I was young, planning out my future life, I had big dreams. I wanted it all. I wanted to experience a number of careers, travel around the world, and have an array of differently styled houses. One would be a spacious loft in New York City; another would be a woodsy cabin; yet another would be a beach house at the ocean. I went back and forth between the idea of "going for it" and working to become an actress or a singer, or "playing it safe" and studying law, medicine, or entering some communication field such as advertising, broadcast journalism, or public relations. I played around also with the idea of becoming a writer. The truth is, I did not know how to go about choosing one "future life" over another. I was excited about my future. I was thrilled to have all these different options.

I wanted to go to college. I have always loved school. I love learning new things, being exposed to new ideas, being independent in my own research yet having the courage to look at the world through others' eyes. Having traveled with my parents, I considered going on exchange when I was in college. My family had once hosted a teen from England for a month and I'd heard all of her romantic stories about Oxford. She sent me an Oxford University shirt when she arrived home and that tee shirt was my favorite for decades. All worn and torn it is now, but it still has a spot in one of my drawers.

The summer after my freshman year of college however, I was presented with another dream. My then-boyfriend of several years proposed to me. Again. Wasn't I too young? What about going on exchange? What about becoming an actress in New York City? What did I want? I knew what I wanted most of all. And therefore, to his proposal I said "Yes". You see, even though I had all these various ideas on what I might do with my life, what careers I might want to try for or where I might end up living, the number one dream in my life had always been a rather old-fashioned one. I wanted to fall in love with my best friend, someone who would love me forever, someone who I could grow old with, and I wanted us to raise a family together. Of all the roles I could have played on Broadway (if I'd been so lucky to be thought of as having any real talent), the role I most wanted to play? Mama. I wanted to be the best possible mother I could be.

So, I accepted a marriage proposal at the tender age of 19. I got married four months before my 21st birthday. I finished college at the age of 22 having finally settled in on the idea of majoring in English with a minor in music. I then went to Graduate school and became a high school English teacher. Within four months of starting my first full time teaching job, I became a Mom. Three and a half years later I had our second child. Four and a half years later, I had our third child. And now, at the age of 43 I realize how little I have changed...at the core.

I still love to act and sing and I love to write. I make time for those passions of mine. I traded in the idea of having a multitude of houses in different settings to secure a warm comforting home with a babbling brook out front and a community of beautiful people who spread sunshine and who envelop me when I need them. I get to the ocean a few times each year but I don't travel much. Still, my husband and I say our time will come. Right now, I prefer to travel to dance recitals, basketball games, and play performances. I am in a profession which challenges me intellectually and emotionally. Becoming a teacher was never on my radar. I often say I "fell" into the career when, as a favor to one of my husband's coworkers, I accepted a job teaching summer school. It's a difficult career but I've always loved a good challenge. Besides, I truly feel teaching is my "calling".

Sometimes, despite one's plans or initial ideas, life finds you. I absolutely have no regrets. I am still a girl with big dreams. I continue to be excited about my future. The only difference is that now I know for sure what makes me happy. I know that what I want most of all in this world is to be a loving wife and a good Mom. It was never about choosing one life over another. I simply walked forward. I made my dreams come true by being open to what was in front of me, by "going for it" and at the same time, by "playing it safe". My life is just that, my life. And yes, indeed, I have it all.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Might As Well Dance

Another long day. I'm exhausted--physically, mentally, and emotionally. After working an 11 hour day today, I'm close to crashing. Why am I still up? That's easy. Dancing with the Stars is on. I'm re-energized!

Have you seen this show? The reality competition show pairs professional dancers with various celebrities. Together they practice a routine, choreographed by the professional, to be performed for a live audience. Each week a couple is eliminated for having received the lowest score, a combination of the judges' assessment and calls of support from the television audience. Each week I watch clips of the week's practices and I look forward to seeing the performances. Donned in glittery costumes, the dancers are fun to watch. I find myself quickly picking my favorites but I root for them all. I think of how amazing and yet how frightening I would find it to remember such seemingly complicated routines with that large an audience watching closely.

I wish I were a better dancer. If I were to share with you my five top wishes (of selfish persuasion), that would be one of them. When I was in high school and began auditioning for musicals I began to regret that I had never taken dance lessons. To this day I still remember being envious of the fabulous dance costumes that I knew dancers wore in recitals! I particularly wanted fringed arm sleeves and a fringed skirt too. But it wasn't all about the fashion. No, I wanted the talent. I wanted the romance and the passion. I wanted the joy of dancing.

It's no surprise that I quickly signed up my two daughters for dance lessons when they were just three years old. Each has danced for years. I admired their skill. Sydney auditioned for and made the dance team at her college this past fall. She also recently danced beautifully in a theatrical performance. Emma continues to dance at her dance school and on the stage as well. As for me, I've been lucky to be cast in roles that allow me to learn choreography for musicals despite my lack of training. A few years ago I even took a few weeks of dance classes before an illness shut me down. I was hoping to learn some basics but after a scary infection I then lost confidence thinking I'd missed so much. I did not return. I always think I'll return but in the meantime I have my show. And to be completely honest, I'll always have my kitchen. Over the years I may not have donned glittery costumes but I have danced. As the popular saying goes, I dance like no one is watching. And most of the time, no one is watching. However, like the stars on Dancing with the Stars, I have had amazing partners, namely my husband and each of our children.

I might not have the glittery costumes but I do not need fringed sleeves to be energized by dance. Whether in the audience or doing my best not to make a fool of myself on the stage or in my own kitchen, I find and experience the joy of dancing.

We're fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance. ~Japanese Proverb

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Price You Pay

Growing up with parents who lived through the Great Depression certainly made its impact on me. Raising four children close in age (then having me a little later on), they learned the value of a dollar very early on in their lives.

Their penny-pinching tendencies are often on my mind too, even in the 21st century. I use every little bit of chicken on a roast, stretching the meat to fix several dishes afterward, and I typically make a soup with the carcass. I feel guilty when I don't. I scrape every last little bit of peanut butter from the jar or so I think, but I always imagine that if my Mom were next to me, she'd be scolding me for not doing it more thoroughly and then she'd demonstrate how she can get another two tablespoons of peanut butter with a little more attention. Old towels? I use them until they are threadbare then cut them into rags. And when pay day is a long way off, I make do with the food in the house by getting creative. No eggs? I find a cookie recipe that doesn't use eggs. No more sour cream? I use cottage cheese instead. I get every last drop of shampoo from the bottle and I am ridiculous about squeezing out every last little bit the toothpaste. I hear Mom's voice daily.

When something breaks or when I need to enlist someone's service, I hear Dad's voice. I am no where near as handy as he is, but I do my best to patch cracks in the furniture or to rebuild a drawer when it falls apart. I find it a challenge to re-purpose items and knowing how very organized he's always been with his bill records, I again chastise myself when my scribbles in a notebook get a little sloppy. How much am I paying for oil now? How much was I paying last year? I should know that. How much is gas this week? Why aren't I paying more attention to that? Where I falter, I vow to do better next time. I turn the heat down and put on a second sweater. I don't run the water too much when I wash my face. I remind my children to unplug their electronics and to turn off the lights in empty rooms.

I remember talking to my Mom one day in recent years, telling her how I often feel guilty for buying ready-to-eat snacks or prepackaged chips to throw into lunch bags each school day. I told her of the cut and pre-washed carrots I buy and of the expensive muffins I pick up at the grocery store's bakery. I tried to justify that it's easier to do this when I am working full time, but that in the summer I cut back on such convenience items. I thought I'd be flashed a look of disapproval or given a crisp reminder of my wastefulness, but instead she quickly joined me in saying how very busy I am as a working mom of three active children and she stressed that "time is money". Once again, she supported my adult decisions and made me realize I usually am doing the best I can.

Yet, for everything they did for me in my childhood and for everything they sacrificed so that we could have more, I honor my Mom and my Dad as best I can by cutting back, stretching groceries, and conserving energy. I cannot and will not ever be able to scrape the peanut butter jar without thinking of my Mom and I'll continue making homemade soups. I will never pay the oil bill without looking at the price of oil today and thinking of my Dad and his book-keeping logs of expenses. Waste not, want not. As if it were not already obvious, the lessons my Depression Era parents have taught me over the years are priceless.

"Waste neither time nor money, but make the best use of both. Without industry and frugality, nothing will do, and with them everything."
-- Benjamin Franklin

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Working Towards Forgiveness

I have been giving a lot of thought to the concept of forgiveness lately. People can be quick to say “I'm sorry” but despite the apology, some people return to the acts or to the behaviors they have expressed contrition for, time and time again. Didn't they say they were sorry? Didn't they mean what they said? Did they think that they just needed to spit out those words and that would be the end of it? Perhaps the apologies are given without sincerity or intention to change. Perhaps it's an expression of self-preservation or protection on their part. I don't know. What I do know is that it's up to me whether or not to give forgiveness despite the other. I cannot give sincere forgiveness with an expectation that the other person will be true to their apologies even if they make a promise to change.

In the recent past I have become wiser on the subject of forgiveness. I've learned through times of hurt and disappointment that I cannot control what another says or does. I can only control my own reaction. It's not easy to let go of the hurt and disappointment, but in order to move on and to be free of the pain, it's vital to give forgiveness. With that said however, I will not be played to be a fool. I have learned the difference between forgiving and doing what is necessary to continue protecting myself and my loved ones from future harm. People in my life have stolen from me, have conned me, have spread lies, and have mocked me. What they do not to me but to my loved ones pains me more. I remember my father suggesting to me years ago that I become a lawyer. He realized early on that I have a strong sense of justice and a desire to fight tooth and nail for the underdog. But I did not need to become a lawyer to stand up for others, or to stand up to others.

What I have tried to do to move closer to forgiving those who injure me or my friends or family is to try and understand the perpetrator's path towards the act or words of wrongdoing. Sometimes I can guess at what has brought the other person there. Other times I really have no clue. And to be honest, sometimes I really don't care to know. I just need to move on, away from that episode, away from that person. I can forgive while acting on my own impulse to protect myself or my loved ones. But sometimes forgiveness can not be given immediately. In some cases it may take weeks, months, even years before I can reach the point where I can forgive. I strive to offer it sooner rather than later, but forgiveness is often a process, and unlike one's insincere “I'm sorry”, my acknowledgment of forgiveness, often kept within my own heart or mind, must be sincerely offered. I will not stand for anything less for myself.

Lest I sound judgmental here, I should add that I have many conversations about this subject in prayer. When I begin to pray for the person who has wronged me, God begins to offer me new eyes to see and a new heart to care for that person. As I pray, I start to see that person as God sees them, I also see myself just as guilty of sin and failure as the other person. I too am in need of forgiveness. None of us is perfect after all. When I grow frustrated over wrongdoings or insincerity, I realize that it is God who is to deal with the injustices. It is not up to me to carry the anger.

Actions speak louder than words. I've always believed that to be true. Perhaps when I decide to forgive one who has injured me, my act will hopefully shout out to others that they might do the same, to forgive. Maybe then they'll move towards their own understanding of self and others. Perhaps they'll learn that the first person they need to forgive is the the one who has done them the most injury over time, the one they see in the mirror. It's something I push myself to do often.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Road Trip

I well remember my excitement as a teenager when my friends and I got our parents' permission one day to take the car and go on our first "road trip" ! We were not going all that far; we were making only a day trip to the coast and we'd be back in the evening. However, we were nonetheless going to make the most of it. Our day was filled with adventure and laughter. To this day I love looking back at photos taken that day--my favorite picture? An impromptu stop along the side of the road to pose with cows! It was a day of silly, spontaneous fun with my best girlfriends.

Fast forwarding 25 years, my husband and I got permission from our children yesterday to go on our own road trip. After being convinced that our 11 and 15 year old would be fine on their own for one night, we left after work yesterday to travel a few hours north to attend our college girl's newest theater performance.

I felt almost giddy jumping into our car as we left work. Alone on the highway we easily launched into a variety of conversations. It felt great to know we could talk without an interruption from our usual backseat companions. We went to dinner, and killed some time at a bookstore before the play. As we left the bookstore, my husband reached over and grabbed my hand. It was a small and a rather common gesture between us but for some reason, perhaps knowing we were "running away from home" for the night, I felt 15 years old again.

After the show and after a short visit with our daughter, we weren't sure whether we were going to try to head back home immediately or if we'd find a hotel room for the night and head home in the morning. We got on the road and drove for about an hour. Then we decided that yes, we'd go stay overnight. We felt a little strange leaving our children home alone for the night, but we were tired and the thought of driving another 90 minutes did not seem to be a wise idea.

After checking in with our kids at home, we settled in for the night and that's when it dawned on me. I already knew the road frees one from his/her daily responsibilities; it allows for real conversations, laughter, and adventure. But whether from your parents or from your children, it's a wonderful thing to get permission to go on a road trip with your best friend(s).

Friday, March 25, 2011

At My Own Risk

The other day in class my students, who are presently reading George Orwell's novel 1984, and I were discussing a video created by the ACLU which portrays a man calling to order a pizza. The man places the call only to realize that the person taking his order is privy to an alarming array of personal information. The video opens an interesting discussion with the teenagers as they compare the man's invasion of privacy to that of Winston Smith, the protagonist in Orwell's book. To view the video, click on this link: http://www.aclu.org/pizza/images/screen.swf

Anyhow, as we talked, I thought of how just a few years ago I was very much opposed to the idea of my own privacy being invaded by the posting of pictures that were taken at a dinner my husband and I put on with his Drama Club teens at our home. Someone had snapped a picture of our upstairs bathroom, the “Rubber Ducky orange kids' bathroom” and posted the picture on Facebook. It is not that I was embarrassed as I'm rather pleased with how my children chose to decorate their bathroom years ago, but I was quite surprised when a student who was not at my home knew the details of how the bathroom was decorated!

Yet, here I am, just a few years later posting my own photos and status updates on Facebook, and composing memoir pieces here on my blog. What has changed? Quite simply, I have.

I have struggled between being cautious and being an open book my entire life. I understand the various boundaries of privacy and as an introvert I'm never so happy as when I am nestled in the solitude of the woods whether at home or at the lake. But wait a minute, I'm also never quite as free as when I am performing on stage for an audience. The conflict in self continues, but one thing is for sure, I have never been fond of secrets. I have been asked to keep secrets over my lifetime and although I can be trusted with them, they do nothing but eat at my soul. When I became an adult and started a family I started looking at the world anew. Teaching helped with my new perspective also. As I crossed over into my forties I began understanding that when a person chooses not to open themselves up to the world, the world makes their own conclusions about them, right or wrong. Privacy, at whatever level is to be preserved and protected; I believe in that strongly Mr. Orwell, and I will forever teach caution to my children and to my teens. I hear his words of warning and I believe in them. But as always, I suppose I want my own say in what I do, who I am, why I do the things I do, what I treasure most, and what I most want for myself and others. Of course, I also realize that actions speak louder than words. If what I do in my life doesn't measure up with what I say is important, then my words mean little.

So at the risk of “doing it all wrong”, of over sharing, being called a fool, or perhaps even horrifically yet unintentionally causing hurt, I continue to invite you in to this world of mine, this blog, this rubber ducky bathroom. I hope the act of putting myself out there does what I have always wanted, to provide a safe spot for others to land as they negotiate through the challenges of this world.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Three Rays of Sunshine

One of my most precious memories of my husband's grandmother Ann is of her explaining why she'd given me a particular Christmas gift one year. After years of having visited her at her home, we learned one day that she was moving to housing for the elderly. At her new place she had the chance to shop at various little functions they would host. It was at one of these events that she bought me a little plaque. On the little 3"x5" block was a sweet little poem about the power of a smile. "You're always smiling", Ann said to me, "I knew this gift was perfect for you". I remember thinking to myself, "Really? Do I smile that often?" Yes. In fact I do, or, at least, I smirk a great deal.

Not to be outdone, my husband's other grandmother, Evy, once presented to me a print with a poem that speaks of smudges on windows and toys strewn on the floor. The poem speaks to putting aside housework in order to take important time to play with one's children. It has been a poem I have made reference to often since receiving the gift. It's a print I look at for reassurance that my choices to neglect cleaning at times, in favor of spending time with my kids, have always been the correct way to go.

These two women may not have realized it, but these two gifts over the years have provided me with poignant reminders of having my priorities in proper order. The children and teenagers in my life have spoken Ann's words to me often over the years. "You're always smiling", they tell me. And I have always taken a proper breather and have joyfully neglected seemingly important chores or tasks at times to watch a movie with them or to sit down and simply talk.

Entering my classroom last Wednesday, I spotted a pot of tulips gracing my teacher desk. I think I even may have gasped. The flowers were beautiful and instantaneously, my work area was transformed. The amazing gift was from a new friend of mine, an incredibly sweet and dynamic young woman who is now teaching part time across the hall from me. We have gotten together only a few times in person to share lunch, but we've connected through various discussions, a few happening during teacher workshops and many occurring online. She and I have discovered we have much in common and although our friendship has just begun, there is a comforting level of trust and mutual respect between us. In the note she included with the flowers she referred to me as "a ray of sunshine". That's funny. That's exactly what she has been for me.

For days now I've found myself going past that pot of tulips, thinking that there is something about the bouquet that reminds me of Ann and Evy. Like Eric's grandmothers, my new friend offered me a small gift. Yet, I do not think she realizes how touched I was to receive it or how much I believe that particular present will remain with me in future years, long after the flower petals have fallen. I hope to plant the tulips bulbs in the yard to preserve the beauty of this gift, but more important than the flowers, Binaca's note and reference to me as a ray of sunshine was the most appreciated gift.

Two gifts given to me by elderly women, one presented to me by a young woman...a small plaque about the power of a smile, a print of poetic reminders to take time to enjoy our children, and a note recognizing positivity...these are three gifts I'll forever treasure. These are three gifts I'll refer back to often as I move forward in my life.

"A ray of sunshine, a balmy breeze are a gift from God above, and He also gives us faithful friends. To warm our hearts with love."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Writers Marathon

Today I boarded a school bus with 20 teenagers. For a third time in two years I took a class of creative writing students out of the classroom for a day of walking, writing, and sharing. It was a day filled with sunshine, artistry, and fine company.

We began with a walk down the city street. This group of small town teens immediately started commenting on everything they liked about the landscape. One chatted about the old buildings mixed in with the new. Another commented on the cobblestones at our feet. Yet another grew excited at the pulse of the city, so alive and energizing. I smiled and shared that I'd fallen in love with my husband exploring this city over 25 years ago. I well understood their feelings as they took in all the new sights and sounds.

We stopped at a city square to sit and look for inspiration. We took 15 minutes to write. Some teens sat near the big statue. Another appeared right at home on a bench. Yet another leaned to write against a concrete barrier. The sun was shining which was welcomed as the wind picked up, but after writing we took time to share a little of what had inspired us there. After each person shared we abided by the rule to say only two words in response, Thank you.

We moved to another city block; this one had views of a little church with red doors I noted. As I snapped pictures to record our day, again the teens continued with the process--to sit, to write, to share. They were committed to writing. It was beautiful. We moved on in our writing marathon, heading down to the waterfront. We stopped in at a small cafe and realized it was the one owned by an old friend we all knew, a former teacher at our school who had left teaching just a few years earlier. It was a beautiful and fun surprise to see him again. As we moved on, we met a lovely woman who warned us about being on the docks but who invited us onto the deck area of her business. She welcomed us to stay as long as we wished. This is the power of being a writer. People want to accommodate writers! We took time to write and to share again then we moved on to the art museum.

At the art museum we spent roughly 80 minutes exploring works of inspiration. The teens were free to browse at their own pace and took time to sit and to write again, being inspired by the art they were drawn to. The museum's Victorian house was a favorite spot for some of my teen writers. They wrote while sitting on the grand staircase; they wrote as they sat in the sunny window seats; and they found other nooks in which to write.

As we prepared to board our bus back to the school we took one final group picture. Because out of everything new and fresh to us on our field trip today, as exciting as it was to leave the classroom to venture out to the city for the day, amidst all the new sights and sounds of inspiration, I think we each realized where the greatest amounts of inspiration can be found...within ourselves and within each other.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spinning Plates

When I was little I used to love watching "The Mike Douglas Show". There are two particular acts that I remember vividly. One featured Eric Carmen singing his hit song, All By Myself. Unless I am inventing this memory, I recall him crying at the end of the song as he had just recently lost his mother. The second act from the show was one of a man spinning plates. Spinning plates is a circus art where a person spins flat bottomed bowls or plates on wooden poles, running from pole to pole in an attempt to keep all the plates spinning at one time without any crashing to the ground. I was always fascinated by this act when I'd catch it on tv. I would feel relief when the performer was successful and I would gasp if they were not.

I often think of these two acts from years back. I think of the vulnerability and emotional heartbreak of Eric Carmen on national television and I often liken my juggling of responsibilities to the fear, excitement, and sometimes horror of spinning plates. I don't wish to fail. I don't want to fall apart when things become too much to handle. I don't want any plates crashing to the ground because of my inability to see which plates were wobbling and needed attention.

Lately, it seems I have had too many plates to keep track of. I don't often reach a point where I am overwhelmed by my responsibilities, but that has been the case these past few months. I used to pride myself in all that I was able to handle. Yet recently, like Eric Carmen I have cried while on the stage of my classroom. You can get away with that once in a while but of course, you need to have resiliency and the focus needs to be on the work of the day with the teens I teach. So crying on stage cannot happen again and again.

And now I am spinning plates and doing my utmost not to drop any. One plate is filled with my correcting of school papers. What needs to be scored first? When can I get this batch of work graded? Another plate is filled with my planning of the next day's classes. What do I need to read or research? Is the syllabus updated? Do I know what we're doing tomorrow? A third plate is filled with new initiatives I've been expected to lead at work. When am I being sent for training for this new course? When do I need to have the course outline written? A fourth plate is filled with home finances now that we have a daughter in college. How many more payments do I have to make? When are our taxes due? A fifth plate has my three children on it and a sixth plate carries our foreign exchange student. Where do they need to be for their activities? How are they doing? A seventh plate is loaded with concern for my aging parents. An eighth plate is filled with what I need to do to maintain my health. A ninth plate has my hopes and dreams for my marriage and family life. A tenth plate holds my unfulfilled personal goals. I could easily list additional plates but these ten are those which must be kept spinning at the current moment. Besides I'm already growing weary over this long list of ten plates.

When I read of some individuals who embark on a trip to other countries such as Elizabeth Gilbert's travels described in Eat, Pray, Love, I think to myself, "Wow, how incredibly self-indulgent"! Then I stop myself. I cannot judge another because I know that every single person has their own plates to keep spinning; it's all a matter of perspective after all. I have convincingly less serious concerns than someone battling a debilitating condition for example. I have my physical and mental health as does my husband and as do my children. That's huge. And I have a circle of friends and family members who love me and who support me. That's not to be taken for granted either.

I believe that I know what I need to do. I need to take a few dishes off the wooden poles and put them safely on the counter for a few days, wrapped in a protective cloth or some of that fun bubble wrap. I will not abandon them completely and I will not let them crash to the ground. But I do need to get control over them. I need to ask a few people to spin a few plates for me, temporarily. I'm sure they will be more than willing to help out. And I need to take a little time to cry, to relieve stress, and to strengthen my resolve to find better balance. I can relate to Eric Carmen crying after singing his song on national television. But unlike his song lyrics suggested, he was not all by himself. Thankfully, neither am I.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Drug of Choice

I tried kicking the habit a few years ago. I did pretty well too. I gave it up for about two months. Then I had one more and that was it. So much for the abstinence. I am weak.

I remember feeling bad about my addiction. I spoke to people about it. But a woman named Dawn did me in. "Seriously", she said. "What other vice do you have?" It did not take me long to answer. "None", I replied. "Look at all you do. Look at all you accomplish, all you are responsible for! You deserve this. Have it!! And enjoy it", she said. I swear, it never tasted quite as good as that day when she gave me absolution. Oh yeah, I suppose I should add that Dawn has probably kicked the habit herself now. I don't dare check in with her. Last I knew she was running marathons or same damn thing. I should have known she'd bury me. She seduced me with all that talk of the things we had in common, of how much alike we are. She said she needed the drug too. Well, you don't see ME training for some triathlon do you?! Dawn! You left me eating your dust!!

I have preached to my children to "Do as I say. Not as I do". I've been successful so far with two of the three. But I spot Sydney sneaking into my stash when she's home on break. She swears she doesn't touch the stuff when she's at school, but she sure makes up for it when she's home. I hope she'll learn from my checkered past and get clean while she's young.

My husband is little better than I. He sneaks it home himself. I see him coming in with it and I shake my head. Sometimes we even fight over it. It's a dirty, dirty habit. It causes you to get selfish. I've even hidden it from him when we're running low. And just when I think I can kick the habit, he buys me some. He thinks he's doing it out of love. I know better. He's trying to make sure I don't get clean. Misery loves company after all.

I know it's not good for me but it's my drug of choice. It's my coffee. It's my beer. Pizza isn't the same without it. But then again, neither are tacos, crackers and cheese, or an ordinary sandwich. Other vices come close but they never win me over completely. Raspberry lemonade in the summertime while out on the dock may tide me over for a little while, but during the school year at least, it's tough to stay sober. I just can't live without my drug of choice. I just can't live without my diet coke.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Memory Lane

Despite the ease of reconnecting with everyone you have ever met through social networking sites like Facebook, every so often someone from my past re-enters my life for just a little while. Sometimes it's a former colleague I see at the grocery store. Sometimes it's my child's caregiver from long ago. Sometimes it's even an old boyfriend. The "meet and greets" do not last but they happen long enough for me to think back on the person, sometimes for a few hours, sometimes for a few days. I recall the conversations we had, the times we spent together, the people we were back then.

When I ran into an old colleague of mine at the grocery store a few years back, he asked me if I was still teaching. When I said yes, he seemed almost disappointed. He'd left teaching after burning out; at least, that is my understanding of what happened. He had been an incredible source of support for me and I had learned a great deal from him, about teaching, about teens, about life, about myself. I remember crying so hard when he told me he was leaving. I think I was in my late 20s at the time. I swear the 20s are the strangest years--fuller with anxiety than the teens years, at least it seemed that way to me. In any case, I did not know how I was going to go on without him there. I'm a little embarrassed over how hard I took the news back then. I think of all the people who have left my school since then and I realize, he was just one of many people that shaped me as an educator. I think back on our many discussions when he was a colleague of mine and I realize his influence on me was significant yet it had run its course. I grew stronger after he left, personally and professionally. Still, I sometimes wish he could see me now. I think he'd be proud of me.

Occasionally in the years since my daughters left their care, I'd run into two dear people who for a number of years cared for my girls. An elderly couple, they have since moved into senior housing in another town and thus, I see them rarely. But every once in awhile I see Bob. Our eyes brighten when we spot one another, he tells me about how his wife is doing, and he never fails to ask about my family. I miss our conversations about the children, about their grandchildren, and about their time together but the influence he and his wife had on our family will never truly fade away. They both made imprints on our hearts that will forever stay.

A couple of years ago I received a surprise email from an old boyfriend. He wrote to wish me a happy birthday. We exchanged only a few emails afterward, enough to catch up on one another's families. But the emails made me think back to our friendship and flirtation when we were young teens. I smile at the memories and I also think of how very much we've each experienced since then and how much we've grown in our separate lives. The thirteen year old girl never could have imagined the idea of typing a note on a computer that with the simple hit of a button could reach a "first love" nearly 30 years later. And although it would be easy to keep in touch nowadays through social networking, sometimes when it comes to old flirtations, well, that's not meant to be.

Whether it's an old colleague, a treasured caregiver, or a first boyfriend, I've learned over the years that "To look backward for a while is to refresh the eye, to restore it, and to render it the more fit for its prime function of looking forward." Still, I'll continue to look for a few more surprise meetings from people in my past. After all, when the past pays me a visit in the present, there's always something valuable to learn for the future.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sibling Solidarity

A week ago, before leaving to return back to college after her two week spring break, Sydney remarked what a "cool younger brother" she has in Paul.

As my son's basketball season ended today he walked up to his older sister Emma to say "Thank you for coming to a lot of my games this year".

A few minutes ago, I heard Emma calling her older sister Sydney on Skype to ask her which outfit she should wear on her date tonight.

My three children have their squabbles of course, but their relationships with one another are incredibly strong. They have years worth of inside jokes and they continuously make each other laugh. They take time to listen to one another also, and in times of sadness, frustration, or stress, each is quick to lend support. What joy they bring to this house! What joy they bring to my husband and I.

With 3 years 5 months between my first two children, and with Paul coming along 4 years and 5 months after Emma, perhaps the spacing between each child had something to do with their security in and their enjoyment of one another. I don't know. But I do know that my kids have always been close. They have been one another's best friends for much of their lives. I remember thinking that Sydney was the center of Emma's universe when she was a baby. And when Paul was little, Emma was his constant playmate and Sydney was his protector. Sydney as the oldest set the tone; she's been an amazing role model for the younger two. Yet Emma as the middle child has been flexible and loyal to each of her siblings. Paul the youngest, values each relationship he has with his two sisters. He has a maturity beyond his years which makes that easier.

The past several months have brought many unique challenges to our family. Yet despite the trials, the five of us have come to realize how incredibly strong and loving we are as a family and we've pulled one another closer. Tough times have taught us how very lucky we are to have had such peace in our household all these years. Knowing this is not the case for all families, I will never take that for granted.

Years ago people told me how very lucky I was to have my children getting along as well as they were. One woman told me, "That'll change as they get older. They'll grow apart. They'll stop playing with one another and their friendships with others will come between them". I don't think I had much of a response to that at the time. But I remember thinking, "We'll see. We'll see about that". Well, I am going to hold on to the memory of how tightly Paul hugged his sister when she came home for the holidays, and I am going to remember how proudly his sisters watched him play in his basketball games, and I am going to scoff at anyone who dares question the solidity of these three siblings.

There is nothing like living in a household of best friends.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Magazine Piles

The magazine piles are getting higher. I am ashamed to say that there's more than just one pile of magazines in my house. There is one on the end table near the couch in the family room, one near the recliner, and one on the floor near my bed. I do love magazines. They allow me to be quickly exposed to a variety of ideas on cooking, decorating, home organization, fashion, and parenting. Other magazines introduce me to inspiring people, exotic places, or creative hobbies. Some offer me a new perspective on a modern day issue. Seeing towering stacks magazines in my house isn't a good sign.

Last year I canceled my newspaper subscription. I didn't make a clean break, instead opting for the "Sunday paper only" option. But those too began to pile up and I knew it was time to call it quits. I felt so guilty. I almost called my brother Kevin to apologize. No, Kevin doesn't work for the newspaper. But years ago when I was a teen, he'd scold me for being completely disinterested in current events. A common occurrence at the dinner table was for my big brother to quiz me over what I did and did not know about the world. He found the game quite entertaining I do believe. I became a master of eye rolls. I always admired how in tune he was with the world, but he'd worked at it. I recall my parents saying he'd been reading the newspaper each day since he was a little boy. It showed.

He made his point back then and I took it to heart, even if I did not let on to him about that. I would never beat him in a trivia contest, however I eventually got my head out of the sand and started reading the newspaper. At one point I was even reading two newspapers a day. But alas, I could not make it work.

I did start following the news online and I watch the morning report and hear the radio updates, but it isn't the same. I miss reading the daily newspaper. And now my disappointment has grown. I've also abandoned magazines lately. This I will not stand for.

Piles of magazines say only one thing to me: "You're not taking time for yourself". In the summer it is easy. Piles of magazines accompany me to the dock at camp or to the back deck where I sit in the sun. In the fall I carry to bed magazines with articles about the holidays and I fall asleep just as one falls to the floor when my eyes close. In the winter however, the neglect begins. Instead of taking time to sit and read, my weary self tries to do too much.

I do continue to read books, even if they are titles for work, but those poor periodicals! They keep getting tossed to the heap. I will not let anyone throw them into the recycling bin. I am determined to make my way to them, hopefully before summer. Otherwise I'll need a U-Haul to carry them out to the dock come August.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Strength of Sisterhood

I was raised by two amazingly strong women. One is my Mom. The other is my sister. I truly had no choice but to become a strong woman myself. If you spent any time at all with either of these two, you know why I say this.

Each of these women have served as my confidant over the years. Beware old boyfriends, I was one of those girls who told her mother everything. Well, maybe not everything, but pretty darn close. She was always someone I could turn to and speak honestly to. She never judged me. She never told me what to do. Instead she wisely listened and gently guided me. As for my sister, she and I have a relationship which has evolved over time. In the last decade we have become best friends, but she was always a woman of great strength and I spent much of my life looking up to her.

I got thinking tonight of how many other incredibly strong women I have met in my lifetime. When I was just eight years old I met a classmate who to this day is still my best friend. Befriending Cheryl was meant to be. We challenged each other and butted heads off and on for years, but respected one another for the strong girls we always were. Another close friend of mine from my childhood is Ann Marie. She too has an independent nature and a stubborn streak but is a woman of great core values. And yes, I love her with all my heart. In college I met Sharon, another strong woman who taught me much about faith. And in graduate school there was Leslie and a professor named India who were unlike any other women I'd ever met before. When I first became a teacher I had Jean, Gail, Joanne, Michelle, Susan, and Sue by my side. A little of each of them shaped me in my professional career. Jeanna, another fellow teacher, is an amazing and generous friend. I'd be lost without her. And if I had more time, I could easily list a long record of all the students whose fortitude ended up teaching me greater lessons about life than I ever thought imaginable.

In recent years I have continued to find strong women. A few, like Jo, Shari, Dawn, Nancy, and Kate, I met at a summer writing institute. Some that I've gotten to know better in recent years are within my own family-- Lisa, Barbara, Michele, and Ashleigh. Others are from my community such as Wanda and more recently Binaca, or from my hometown as are Peggy and Gina. I could never list them all. I will forever be grateful to the women in my life. If it were not for them, I would not be who I am today.

My Mom used to warn me of wearing my heart on my sleeve. I have to chuckle over that now, for although I completely understand her concern, I don't wish to wear my heart anywhere else. All of the women in my life have taught me that women can be different yet complement one another perfectly. In the end our strength and our solidarity reward us. Without the women of my past I would not have had the strength, the wisdom, or the faith needed to raise my own two daughters to be the amazing souls that they are. So thank you to all you women out there. And to you men? I'll be addressing you another day; don't you worry about that. But in the meantime, thanks for loving us women. For as strong as we are, we still need you.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Driving in Heels

I've never been too disappointed with my short stature. At a bit under 5 feet 4 inches, I rather enjoy the fact that I am short. I can move myself through crowds rather easily and I always have plenty of leg room in the smallest of cars! Not to mention, I have a built-in excuse to ask a nice looking guy to help me reach whatever I need on a high shelf. Unlike my daughter who was quite sad to learn her short height would prevent her from ever being a Rockette, I never had any dreams of being tall. Still, from the time I was in middle school, I loved wearing heels.

I had one bad experience walking in them however. Back in the 7th grade, I strode past three male teachers who were on duty in the hallway. Just when I thought I was impressing them all with my brand new Candie's sandals giving me three extra inches and an abundance of preteen sophistication, I slipped and fell right in front of them; my skirt flew up, and my pride sank. I can still see the three of them chuckling while asking me if I was okay. So embarrassed and red faced at the time, I've never forgotten it.

However, by the time I reached high school, I was a professional wearing shoes that were ridiculously high. I had wedges and boots and sandals and pumps. I had them in every color imaginable too. But as I grew older, went off to college, got married, and began a family, heels became impractical. I traded in my Candie's for sneakers and cute ballet flats that allowed me to chase toddlers and runaway pets.

Yet in recent years I have found myself returning to high heels. Despite the ease of wearing flats, there is something about the way my legs look in heels and yes, the appearance of being a few inches taller makes me feel sophisticated, sensuous... sexy. Of course the fact that I may teeter on slippery floors like a baby giraffe just learning to stand makes me less attractive, I am sure, but after all, I no longer wear heels to impress the guys.

Well...that's not altogether honest. I still like to impress the guys. Just this morning in fact I thought I was impressing my son Paul when I came downstairs wearing my new open toe heels. Paul looked at me and said with a stern tone of voice, "Mom! Can you drive in heels?" I found myself smirking. I replied smugly, "Yes, Paul. We women are talented like that". But before I could enjoy my retort he added, "No Mom. I mean, is it LEGAL?!?!"

Once again, my sophistication took a flying leap. It was as though I'd fallen right on my rump in front of those three male teachers again. The only difference this time around however, is that this time, I was the one chuckling.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

No Crying in the Classroom

In the 1992 movie, A League of Their Own, Tom Hanks' character, Jimmy, catches one of his female baseball players crying. Are you crying? Are you crying?, Jimmy asks. ARE YOU CRYING? There's no crying! THERE'S NO CRYING IN BASEBALL!

The quote has been repeated over time. Martha Stewart uttered the words, "There is no crying in business" once or twice when she hosted The Apprentice television show. And one time a friend of mine at work told me, "Crying? There's no crying in the classroom!" I just laughed at her. Maybe there is no crying in HER classroom, but there is certainly a tradition of crying in mine. And the one who cries, on an average of once or twice a year, is me.

It happens. You can judge me if you like. I wouldn't blame you if you did. It certainly makes me sound like a complete flake to admit that I have cried in front of my classes almost every year. But I know why it happens and I've long accepted the fact that I am a crier. When I get stressed, I cry. When I am sad, I cry. When I am angry, I cry. Although some would surely see my lack of composure as a lack of professionalism, when I cry in the classroom, it's because I have found it necessary to put on the breaks with a group of kids. I put aside the academics for just a day to take a risk in connecting with my students on a more personal level. I trust my instincts and follow my gut. Once a year I seem to reach a point where I cry. Sometimes I share something I have written with my teens and that makes me tear up, either because what I have written is sad, or because I am nervous over sharing with them. Other times I start sharing with them my concerns over how they are doing or how I am feeling about the dynamics within the group. Sometimes I shed just a tear before I manage to pull myself together. Other times however, I try speaking and I have to pause several times to be able to finish my sentences.

Today was one of those days. I did not plan to cry. But I felt something telling me to put the academics aside for a bit and to share a few things with my students--simply about how I'd been feeling "in a funk" lately--recent losses and work piling up, and of how I've been stressed. It was your average "This is what's been going on with me lately" conversation. Still, it's always a huge risk to show your vulnerable side in the classroom. But I believe that if I cannot be human when I teach, then perhaps I shouldn't be a teacher. I remember a former student once telling me that the day I cried in front of her was the day she woke up and realized that we teachers do care deeply for our students. She felt awful and apologized for not thinking of our humanity before the tears.

After sharing a little and crying today, I invited my students to share with me. I told them they certainly were not required to do so, but that I wanted to give them a chance to tell me how THEY were doing. I wanted to give them a chance to be heard. They all took out a piece of paper and for a good 15 minutes or so, they wrote silently.

Tonight I read a pile of notes written by those who decided to share with me. The notes were truly beautiful. Once again I am feeling very humbled. Yes, I took a big risk today but the rewards of showing my humanity in the classroom was worth the risk. My tears in the classroom, however controversial, give us all a chance...to be honest, to share, to care. Once again I was reminded of how I love these teens that I teach. They are such good people. Most people prove to be as such when you give them a chance.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Make Mudpies

It isn't easy but each day I work towards optimism. I challenge myself to find beauty in mud. Although I frequently tear up, I don't let myself cry too much. Maybe I am afraid. Afraid I won't stop, that I won't get back up if I lose control and crumble completely. Or maybe I just realize that it's important to maintain perspective.

Several years ago I read Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees. A beautifully written novel, there are fabulous characters that I fell in love with, but none perhaps quite as much as the character of May Boatwright. This sensitive creature is prone to emotional breakdowns. Her sisters build her a wailing wall in their back yard so she has a place to go to when she needs to cry. I remember reading the book for the first time and being able to relate to May. Although I am far stronger than she was, the idea of feeling the weight of the world upon my shoulders or the heaviness within my heart sometimes causes me to feel distress that is hard to shake.

The past few months have been hard...for me personally but also for many other people. My hardships have been nothing that can be avoided as we go through life. I'm blessed and thus, I work hard to shake the "Woe is Me" feelings I sometimes have. The latest tragedy in Japan has been yet another reminder of the continuing pain that we face on this earth. And yet, the resiliency of the Japanese people in the aftermath of this horrific event has been uplifting. Despite the devastation, the strength of the human spirit remains.

When I was a little girl my friend Suzanne and I spent hours in her back yard making mudpies. Covered from head to toe by the end of the day, I returned home happy. I'd made something from nothing. I'd seen beauty in mud. Call it innocence perhaps, but there are lessons to be learned from those days of our childhood. As adults we forget many things. It's important to work towards optimism. So jump in puddles. Tread gently. Soothe your soul. Sleep soundly. For in the morning the world will be counting on us to regain perspective. It needs us.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

What, Me Worry?

Hello. My name is Anne. I am a worrier.

I know worrying is useless but I come by worrying quite naturally. I know it only adds to my To Do list and it's not only pointless, it is exhausting and can be damaging too. Worrying is a habit. It is within our control to stop, however difficult that may seem to be. Worriers are told to face their fears, to keep things in perspective, and to not take themselves so seriously. But as easy as it may be to understand the futile act of worrying, the habit can be hard to break. This afternoon, curious on the subject and looking for inspiration, I decided to google, "Famous Worriers".

I learned that "throughout the ages kings, nations, potentates and the powerful and rich have used the power of force of their armies to invade, conquer and control; to eliminate, destroy enemies or force their will upon them, be they individuals or nations; and to change the course of history by bestowing power upon others or eliminating those that don't agree with them. The greatest armies and their leaders have become infamous and immortal as a result of the great victories they achieved; their bravery, perseverance, determination, cunning, tactics, sacrifices and fortitude have written the stories of their battles and their names on the sand of time. History is kind and forgiving to the victor, but forgetful and blind to those defeated, for it is the victor who is seen as right and just and who will write history to suit their own cause" (stevenredhead.com).

Uh huh. You see, when I googled "Famous Worriers", Google assumed I was searching for "Famous Warriors" and 1,490,000 recommended sites came up ready to assist me. I decided not to put up a fight. Who was I to argue today? After all, the difference between a worrier and a warrior is a matter of just two vowels, right? So I took time to read the above information.

But I returned to the Google search page and told Google to go back and to give me what I'd asked for originally, information on famous worriers. It didn't listen to me completely but it brought me to a Non-Worriers Hall of Fame. The list includes the "What Me Worry" icon Alfred E. Newman, "Don't Worry Be Happy" Bobby McFerrin, Timon and Puumba, singers of "Hakuna Matata", and Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is not often placed in the company of these other figures, however Jesus taught his disciples not to worry about food, drink, clothing--the basic necessities of life. Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? (Luke 12:25-26) His disciples were worrying about having enough to get by. In contrast we worry about what to do with all the stuff we have. This is worth thinking about.

I am taking the advice that was put on my cyberspace doorstep today. I choose to bestow power on myself. I don't need to be victorious tonight, but I will continue to work on this worrying habit of mine. I'll say an extra prayer for strength and maybe hum a few bars of the songs made famous by Mr. McFerrin or The Lion King. I will choose to work harder on this worrying habit of mine. I choose to be a warrior.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

One of the Good Guys

Mom? Could we please leave at noon today so we can get there in time?

Paul's game was not until 12:45pm. It only takes 10 minutes at the most to get to the Middle School where his 5th grade team plays. Still, I did my best to get his cheering section out of the house in time so he'd be there early. He didn't want to be late. He wanted to make sure he was there in plenty of time for his team.

It's fun to watch his basketball games. Seeing him enjoying his team and growing more confident as a player, I'm happy to be there in the bleachers supporting him each Saturday. He's happy to have as many family members as possible there watching him each week. Today with his Dad and a sister away at theater activities, his fans were fewer in number, but we took in his hustle on the court and his solid defensive plays. We snapped pictures and clapped as he took a few shots. He's quick to run to get open but he is also apt to pass the ball to others, so we followed his coach in encouraging him to shoot himself. He did. It didn't go in today but he does okay most days, landing a basket or two. He's not one to rack up the points though.

What impresses me the most however in watching my eleven year old boy play basketball is how very aware he is of others on his team who have not yet handled the ball. He seeks them out, stalling long enough for them to get into position so he can pass them the ball and give them a shot. It fills my heart with such pride that he is more interested in seeing to it that everyone gets their chance.

At one game a few months back, a group of his peers were in the bleachers waiting for their own team to play the next game. One boy who I did not know suddenly started talking about my son to his friends. "See #11?" the boy asked, "That's Paul. Paul is awesome!! He's really AWESOME!" There was a sincere tone of respect in the boy's voice. My daughter and I looked at one another and smiled. This is a common happening. Paul is often spoken of as being "awesome". And I know that despite his steady improvement as a basketball player as well as a soccer player, it's his conduct on and off the court or field that makes his peers say this. Paul is genuine, one of those people that the boys consider a "guy's guy", and a boy that the girls like too. Despite his young age, at 11 he has already established himself as one of the good guys.

After his game today we made a quick trip to the store. Looking over tee shirts I saw one that read "Nothing but net" on the front. "Paul? Do you like this?" I asked. He took a look, crinkled up his nose in disgust and told me straight out, "Mom, I don't like shirts that say, Oh! Look at me! I'm awesome!" I had to laugh. No, I should have known better. The awesome ones don't want shirts like that. The awesome ones are those who have what my son has. Humility.

Friday, March 11, 2011

March Madness

Each year I have all I can do to get through the month of March. I refer to the unsettling emotions of the month as my own personal "March Madness". Ironically, my birthday is smack dab in the middle, on March 15th, the Ides of March. Prior to each birthday I feel overtired, physically and mentally spent, and even sad that in the rush of our daily lives my day might not be as special as I would like it to be. It is not that my family and friends do not send appropriate notes of cheer or shower me with loving presents, (for they most certainly treat me as a princess, much to my delight!) but I myself feel overburdened each March by the pressures of time. Part of it is the timing, pun intended. With the end of third quarter at school approaching, there is an overwhelming amount of correcting I have to do, and my schedule and those of my children seem busier than ever.

This year, however, has brought more poignant reminders of the passing of time. After several weeks of declining health, Charlie, my beloved dog of nearly 17 years, passed away on February 9th. Understanding that grief is a process, I try to be patient with myself as I wake up feeling out of sorts after yet another dream about her. As a dear friend pointed out, the death of a family pet can mean so much as it marks the end of one phase of life and serves as a reminder of another beginning.

A few weeks after Charlie was gone, I was alerted to the death of a student of mine who lost his life due to illness. He had graduated from high school only this past June. A sweet boy who was just at the start of his adult life, he'd been in two of my classes over the past two years. His class and I had gone on a writing marathon trip to the ocean almost one year ago and I can still bring to mind his exact smile and his sense of humor as it's all displayed in the photographs I took that day. Losing Jordan reminds me of how precious our time is. We never know when our time is up and we never know when life will take a sudden turn and take away someone quite younger than us.

And then last week I received word that my Mom's best friend had died. With her own birthday in March, she was nearly 86 years old. Friends for over 60 years, our families had been close. Traveling to that funeral in my hometown took me back to my childhood and seeing the way in which the families have grown and yet still remain connected spoke to those core values in my life that I hang onto dearly. Time does not dissolve who we are and what we treasure.

I grow a little Mad in March due to my tendency to reflect and find meaning in each day's events. As each birthday approaches, especially this year after having experienced these three deaths in such a short period, I recognize that time is fleeting. I am sure I think far too much than is good for me, but then again, I like the fact that my contemplation slows life down for me; I have the ability to push the pause button and ponder the scene of each day as I want to, or need to.

A favorite author of mine, Anna Quindlen, once wrote, "You are the only person alive who has sole custody of your life. Your particular life. Your entire life. Not just your life at a desk, or your life on the bus, or in the car, or at the computer. Not just the life of your mind, but the life of your heart. Not just your bank account, but your soul". On Tuesday, I am going to give myself the best possible birthday gift I could give myself. I am going to push the pause button several times during the day, no matter where I am or what I am in the midst of doing, whether at home or at school with my students, whether at my desk, in the hallway of the school, or on the road back home. I am going to take life and celebrate, more exuberantly, the special moments of my own. Happy Birthday to Me !

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Pool Shark

Yes, I know the real reason why I had so many boys over to my house when I was a teenage girl. I had something incredibly special that very few girls had, after all; I had a pool table. My husband says, "Nah, you were just pretty". I won't argue with him. He can think that. That's what I like about him.

But yes, having a beautiful pool table didn't hurt. The table, purchased by my Dad when he was just 15 years old, has long been a favorite. I've always enjoyed the stories of how my Dad and his friends would play pool and how when they needed the ball to travel just a wee bit further to fall into a pocket, they'd jump on the floor in the barn to get the table to tilt just slightly to sink the ball. When we lived in my first childhood home, the table was down in our basement which as I remember was a pretty cool place for teens to hang out. I recall there being painted stones on the walls and wooden benches and scores and scores of my siblings' friends hanging out. The scene was so fascinating to me, the baby sister, that I used to sneak into the coat closet in the living room where there was a small floor grate that allowed me to spy on their fun down cellar!

When we moved across town to a different house, there was much discussion of where the pool table should be positioned. It finally found its home in the family room but there's been much debate over the fact that one particular corner of the pool table is a challenge due to the laundry area. To this day stories of how the pool table should have altered the layout of the room are brought up and discussed.

I always loved to play pool and in addition to playing with Dad I used to love to show off my skill to my friends and boyfriends. Although it's been years since I've played regularly, I've learned in recent trips to visit my folks that I haven't lost my touch. It's been fun to watch my son improve his skills too under my Dad's direction. Dad, who has been a pool shark for years, teaches him the same way he taught me decades ago.

On recent visits, we've played several games. It's been a lot of fun shooting pool with Dad, my son, and my husband. But I have to admit that when I see my husband watching me play, I realize that I'm still that girl that often had the boys over for a game or two. For I am still trying to impress the guys with my pool playing skills. They seem to be dazzled too. Well, either that or they just think I'm pretty.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ashes

Years ago, after school on Ash Wednesday, a group of my friends and I would head to Mass with our families for the distribution of ashes. We'd proudly wear our ashes on our foreheads until it was time to go to bed at night. In fact, I remember sneaking to bed several times without washing them off.

But times have sadly changed as far as Ash Wednesday goes. Today I could not take all of my children to Mass because there was a math meet, an obligation my daughter had due to her Honors math course. Years ago, no one would think to schedule a school event on the first day of Lent. But gone are the days when school is let out early on days like today. And sadly, there are few school children even recognizing the start of Lent, let alone heading to Mass to have ashes placed upon their foreheads.

What are you doing for Lent?, Father Paul asked us at Mass today. He encouraged everyone in attendance to ask one another. My son smiled up at me, raised his eyebrows, and whispered the question to me smirking as we'd just had this conversation a few minutes earlier on the ride to church. I had told him I was going to read in my Daily Devotions book each day and that I was also going to take at least 10 minutes each day to go outside to either walk or to at least stare up at the sky. When he asked me why I was going to do this, I told him that I need to remind myself that there are more important things than what I am limited to seeing inside my home or workplace each day. I told him that I thought those 10 minutes spent outside each day would give me time to offer up a prayer or to perhaps listen to what I may be needing to hear...from nature or God Himself.

I have another Lenten sacrifice that I will keep to myself. But today at Mass I began asking God for the strength to honor that sacrificial pledge of mine. It will not be easy but nothing worth having ever is easy obtained. Unlike the ashes upon our foreheads tonight, my Lenten resolve will not easily wash away at the end of the day or fade into my pillow as I fall to sleep.

"Face your sins...track them down to the places they have hidden, drag them into the light, and with God’s help, drive them away". ---David Mills

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Hanging with the Girls

I am such a girl. I love a good pair of sneakers but I feel prettier in heels. I love feeling fresh faced but I don’t like to go out in public without some make-up on. I enjoy wearing jeans and a tee shirt but some days I have to wear a skirt. I don’t feel completely dressed unless I am wearing my rings. And when I am down, a good hour visiting Darcy my hairdresser is enough to lift my spirits.

Today was a rough day. It was a day when I felt ridiculous for even trying to make a difference at work. I got through the day as best I could and did have a couple of nice moments but I was hanging by a thread. On my way home I tried to shake it off but then, in the half hour I was at home before leaving again to pick up my two daughters, I fell into a funk again.

By the time I picked up Emma I was teary. Observant and caring as always, she was quick to notice. She asked what was wrong and I told her. She was sweet and we had a nice albeit brief 10 minute conversation before we picked up Sydney from work. Sydney jumped in the car and began talking about her day with the group of toddlers she cares for at a local day care center. She seemed a little tired but happy. The three of us took off and headed to Darcy’s, a good 40 minutes away. We were all getting our hair done this afternoon. We’d been looking forward to this time together for awhile.

I could easily find people closer to home to do my hair however there is nothing like visiting Darcy several times a year. Working out of a studio which is at her home, going to see Darcy, my hairdresser since July of 1993, is always a treat. She not only does a great job making me feel stylish again, but my time with her is always full of conversation and laughter. If it’s not the number of animals she often is taking care of as a foster-parent for a nearby shelter, it’s her decorating style that is fun. She’s wonderfully down-to-earth, smart, and has a wonderful sense of humor. She is simply, very cool. My girls enjoy her too. It’s always nice when your children come to appreciate the same things, the same people you do. It doesn’t always happen of course, but it’s awfully special when it does.

As the girls and I said goodbye to Darcy and happily headed out to the car in our freshly styled hair, I felt renewed. What had been a rough day was smoothed over by a little pampering. Of course it wasn’t all about the new hair. It was the reward of hanging out with the girls. As my daughters and I drove to enjoy dinner at our favorite spot, I saw them checking out their new looks in the car mirrors and I thought, "We are ALL such girls". Thank God for that.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Teacher Tissues

Every once in a while I am reminded of how the simplest of gestures can mean so much.

This morning I found an envelope addressed to me in my teacher mailbox at work. Attached to the envelope was a small package of decorated tissues with this note, “For winter’s residual tears, or new outbursts of spring joy!” I did not have to open the envelope to know who this little gift was from. I recognized the handwriting right away. The note inside was lovely also, but the gift of the tissues along with the brief caption would have been enough.

When you’re a teacher it is quite easy to let hours, if not days, go by without interacting with another adult. There are piles of papers to correct, grades to record, research to do, and lessons to plan. Of course I do take significant time most days to email parents, send notes to members of the Guidance Department, and touch base with administrators. I attend regular staff meetings and I also make a point to take time to talk to various secretaries and custodians in the morning when I first get to work, even if it’s only for a short time while making ourselves a quick cup of cocoa. I make a point to eat lunch in the teacher’s room whenever possible too. Yet, it’s easy to feel the isolation of the career. Despite my election and preference to work independently, it can be exhausting to interact with 100 teens a day without hearing from fellow adults that they too are experiencing what I am going through.

But today a fellow teacher took some time to let me know that there are people who care. There are others who know of how challenging a start to 2011 this has been for me, of how hard it is to forge ahead with positivity and strength, of how hard I work, of how hard I try.

If we’re lucky we find we have at least a few coworkers who see us beyond that position or role we have on the job. Over the years they take time to get to know us as parents, as children, as siblings, as spouses, as friends. These few wish us well and mean it. These few know us and they might even love us. These few mean so much.

A simple pack of tissues placed in a teacher’s mailbox was enough to remind me today of how nice it is to have people you work with who care. It's time that I return the favor and reach out to another who just might need a similar reminder.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Meet Me at the Movies

Last night I gave myself a challenge. I was determined to get our new Wii console connected to Netflix so we could once again watch movies instantly on our television. After reading directions online, I realized the task wasn’t all that difficult. With a few clicks of the remote and one code entered online, I was successful. Bring on the movies!

My husband and I love movies. We always have. We go to the cinema as often as we can and we enjoy renting movies to watch at home. The days of browsing the shelves of the local video store are over and now we go online to update our que. We love when the red and white envelopes arrive in our mailboxes with our requested films.

Ordinarily, our schedules are jam packed with activities, either those of our children or of our own. This weekend was different. After just a couple of Saturday morning commitments, our schedule for the rest of the weekend cleared. So today, after having gone to see a movie yesterday afternoon with our son and daughter, and after having watched one of our rented movies last evening, we both decided that the pouring rain outside this afternoon made conditions perfect for another flick. We browsed the extensive options available instantly through Netflix and we chose one. With a click of the button, we were watching...a really bad movie.

We tried to give it a chance but within 10 minutes we’d had enough. We were both rather grateful to see each other’s face, knowing we both felt the same way. Laughing, we reached for the remote and clicked it off. Back to the movie menu. We tried another. This one we were happy with. Not the best movie perhaps, but enjoyable.

There is nothing like a weekend that opens up allowing a movie marathon to begin. There is nothing quite like a couple of lazy rainy afternoons spent watching movies. Sharing an impromtu ride to catch a matinee at the cinema with the kids and sharing the couch with my movie loving husband at my side was the best way to spend this weekend. If only I could click rewind on the remote and do it all over again.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Fighting Fear

It is very difficult to write about fear. It is as though writing of frightening times will somehow bring the horrors forward again. In my life there have been two days when I experienced intense fear. That is not to say that I have not been afraid at other times in my life, but those two days, two days apart from one another, were unlike any others. They shook me to the core.

On September 11, 2001 the world was in shock. However the following day presented a scary situation even closer to home. This was one of the two days I experienced great fear. There isn't a need to talk about the exact details but let me say that in a public place there was an announced lock-down as we began to hear sirens. Given the terror of the day before, we were extremely on edge. I remember thinking of all the possibilities. Had the tragedies of the previous day continued? How was I going to reach my children who were thirty miles away? I did not even have a cell phone. (I bought my first one soon after). For the first time in my life I felt completely helpless. My fear centered around how I could get to my kids. That is all I selfishly wanted to do.

The situation was eventually resolved without incident but for about 45 minutes I felt I had no control. Despite my fear, I learned that I take it upon myself to keep people’s emotions in check. I hid my fear with humor and allowed the group of people I was with to remain calm. The people I was with recognized my leadership and yet they immediately wanted to protect me from harm in return.

The second day I experienced intense fear was two years later in the fall of 2003. Of this day I cannot say much without bringing the emotions back. For now I will simply say that a person of some trust proved to be otherwise. Within hours of discovering that this person was a con man, the security of my family was in great risk. I acted so quickly to protect us that a coworker remarked, “That guy did not know who he was dealing with, did he!?” Again I learned that when pushed to the test, I take charge. No one messes with me when my family is involved. However, it was on this day that I realized that no matter how much you try to live a good life, being honest and true, no matter how hard you work to stay away from evil, it can sometimes find you. A family’s safety and well being can be shaken. However, I ultimately learned that day that when you strive to be a decent person, you are surrounded by numerous good people who truly will have your back.

Although I am not so naive to believe that I will not have any more days like these two in my future, I don’t wish to see another anytime soon. I do not wish any day of such fear on anyone. But I do believe that things happen for a reason and if I may guess to find reason here, I do think these two days served to show me that I do have solid quantities of courage and wisdom to fight any fears that may come my way. And I have good people around me who jump quickly to help protect me. I only have so much control in this world and I can accept that, but I’ll do battle when I must. Win or lose, I’ll confront fear. I’ll even write about it...a little.

“I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars.” --Og Mandino