Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Where Memories Sit

After over 23 years our beloved 8 foot sofa with the pretty caning on the sides is falling apart. People sit down and find themselves sinking quickly. All those years ago, as we pinched pennies to furnish our new apartment, we had marveled over how my sister-in-law had found the sofa, two matching chairs, a table, and three lamps at a yard sale. We’d bought all those pieces for $100. The furniture was in great shape and served us well, even as children began crawling over it just a few years later.

The sofa, once clad in the striped green velvet fabric we’d purchased it in, is the one Sydney had napped on in her toddler years. The sofa is the one Emma had stood on to reach the doorknob to let her Dad in. It is the same sofa the girls had proudly sat upon with new brother Paul sleeping on their laps. Later when we reupholstered the sofa in red plaid fabric, when we moved it to our new family room, it became our favorite place to watch television and movies when friends and family came over. The kids’ friends crashed on the sofa during sleepovers and let it be known, Eric first invited the puppy up on it to cuddle as she adjusted to her new home.

So when Eric suggested we go shopping for a new sofa for our anniversary, being sentimental, I felt torn. I know it is indeed time to let the sofa go, for it isn’t even comfortable anymore, but the idea of seeing it hauled off to the dump seems wrong. Paul quickly suggested it be donated to his friend’s “mancave”. “MANCAVE?! A twelve year old with a mancave?!” No, I don’t think I could go for that. Someone then suggested it might be wanted soon by our college girl who might get her own apartment next year. But knowing the length of the sofa, it would take a relatively large room to house it, and again, it’s a matter of time before the bottom falls out completely.

Despite knowing the fate of the old sofa, Eric and I went shopping for a new sofa, a sectional that would be large enough to fit our family and company too. Within a half hour of shopping we’d spotted one we both liked and could afford. We bought it and before we knew it, the sofa had been delivered into our family room. The delivery men picked up the old 8 foot sofa with the pretty caning and placed it in the garage.

We’re enjoying the new sofa. It fits the room perfectly and provides us with comfortable support and elbow room as we all crawl on to enjoy tv together. But as I pass the old sofa still sitting in our garage I wonder, how long will I let it sit there before I let it go? And just where will it go? I suppose it doesn’t matter. The sofa doesn’t hold the memories that were created over the past twenty-three years. Those will forever have a most comfortable seat inside my heart.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Moving with Caution

Last night I went to bed in hopes of waking up with a strong back. Instead, I woke up repeatedly throughout the night wincing in pain. I had a rougher night than the one before and by the time my alarm went off, I knew I would once again have to call in to request a substitute.

Hearing my family leaving the house for the day I struggled to turn onto my side and placed a pillow between my legs, hoping for a little comfort, a little reprieve. I once again turned to prayer. I spoke of wanting my strength back so I could be there for my family and my teens at school. I ended my prayer with the words, “But as always let not my will but Your will be done”.

Throughout the day today I have moved slowly, cautiously, but I have moved. I have taken steps up and down the staircase. I have sat at the table to organize bills. I have rested on the couch and I have prepared myself supper. I sat the couch to correct some papers, and I have continued to gently stretch while continuing to take pain medication and while slathering on more Ben Gay or a Therma-Care heat wrap. And tonight I hit a marker of success when I felt strong enough to take the first shower I’ve taken in two days. Boy did it feel great.

I’m not back to normal, I can feel that. I still have tenderness on my left side. I still need to move cautiously. But I feel the strength returning. I have welcomed the reprieve from consistent intense pain today. Even if it returns overnight I know that my health will return with continued rest and attention. I will continue to ask God for help, but I will remember, as I did today, that He will help those who help themselves.

Once Upon Daytime TV

For Monday, November 28, 2011

With an aching back keeping me out of work today I managed to make it down the stairs from my bedroom to the couch in the family room. I tried to do some work but it felt awkward to hold papers up over my head in an attempt to read and mark them. So I put away the folders of papers and got hold of the television remote control. Flipping through the channels I had a difficult time finding a show that was worth watching. The choices were trashy, dark, or otherwise disturbing. On one channel there were people standing in a televised court room. On another people were showing up at a hoarder’s home with “Got Junk?” trucks in tow. Another pair of channels featured alcohol and drug interventions televised alongside a fashion police duo awarding $5000 to a woman whose crime appears to be a set of shoulder pads. I put the remote down and returned to my work.

When my children arrived home from school my daughter and I turned to our dvr taping of our favorite new series, a modern take on fairy tales, a show brimming with magic and make-believe. As we follow the tale’s twists and turns, Emma and I root for the good guys and mock the bad guys. We make predictions and guess at which fairy tales will weave themselves into the plot next.

Daytime TV leaves little to the imagination. It is true that the scenarios of true life are often stranger than fiction but I find it hard to be entertained by the frailties of fellow human beings as depicted on daytime tv. It’s true I watch several reality shows in the evening but the contestants on The Amazing Race or Survivor seem a bit more prepared for what will occur when the cameras are rolling than do the individuals who are battling emotional or mental issues on the shows that others deem to be entertaining.

Tomorrow, if I should have to take another day off from work, I think I’ll try a game show or two. Or better yet, a book.

Sit, Stand, Turn, Yelp

For Sunday, November 27, 2011

I admit, I take my health for granted. That isn’t a good thing because every once in awhile I am reminded that it can be taken from me at any time. I have had few unpleasantries in recent years--a few months of sciatic pain that had me begging God to let me walk normally into my workplace and fears that followed a few unclear breast cancer tests, but overall, I have lived a very healthy life. So when I suddenly felt a twinge in my back while preparing to sing at Sunday Mass this morning, I thought to myself, “Okay. Stay calm. This too shall pass”. The service was soon over, and after making my way home, managing to make one last home-cooked meal and seeing my daughter off as she returned to college after her Thanksgiving break, I dropped into the recliner. It became clear to me however, that this pain in my back was not going away without some serious rest, without some serious attention on my part.

I am a lot like my Dad. I bully through projects and chores despite being tired, despite needing a physical break. I also sacrifice sleep thinking I can catch up on it later and when I feel a pain in my body, I often dismiss it as I pop a couple of ibuprofen caplets and vow to be more sensible starting tomorrow. Today I saw another similarity between my Dad and I. Although we tend to self-sacrifice, we deal with our pain audibly yelling out when a sharp pain hits us. Today became a pattern of beats. Sit, stand, turn, yelp. Sit, stand, turn, yelp. Just when I thought I could change positions, I’d feel the stabbing in my back and I was once again humbled.

The yelps, despite my desire to repress them, proved to expose me when I most wanted to power through the pain with great stoicism. I wanted to push the pain aside, to be quiet in my efforts to ignore the excruciating jabs, but I soon realized that just as I cannot step away from being my father’s daughter (nor would I want to when it comes to other traits), neither can I step away from dealing with the pain of a pinched nerve or a tight back muscle. This proves to be yet another reminder that I am indeed in need of patience and humility as my otherwise healthy body continues to age.

Twenty-Three Years

For Saturday, November 26, 2011

Twenty-three years ago today I woke up at my parent’s home. It was my wedding day. I immediately looked outside and saw streaks of color on the horizon. I snapped a picture of the sunrise thinking, “This is what I saw first on the morning of my wedding day”. That image of the sky from my childhood bedroom window remains in my mind. I’ve seen prettier views perhaps, but there is something about the sight of the sun that morning that has forever stayed with me. It confirmed for me that it was going to be a beautiful day.

I remember being very calm the morning of my wedding. I had long heard stories of brides who became nervous wrecks and I had told myself I did not want to be anything but relaxed and happy on my wedding day, if at all possible. I knew it would be all up to me, mind over matter. So when I’d learned of the break down of the antique car that was to carry my new husband and I from the church to the reception hall, I barely batted an eye. I did not obsess over the details of the ceremony or the party I had planned with my Mom’s help. I’d done my best to make it a beautiful day and now I would focus on what was most important, marrying Eric.

My family and friends arrived at the house. I added final touches to my make-up and again I told myself as I unrolled the electric “bender” curlers from my hair, that I was not going to worry if my hair didn’t curl the right way or if something else went wrong with the superficial details of the day. We posed for pictures and when it came time to leave for the church, I remember my little flower girl Ashleigh and I going without any coats. The weather was very mild and they were not needed despite this being the end of November.

I remember making it down the aisle and joining hands with Eric. I remember suddenly feeling shy and finding it hard to meet his eyes. He kept whispering to me and I could only smile and look downward. I was trying hard to be penitent and reverent. I remember offering up many prayers to God, asking him to bless us as a couple and making promises that I would forever do my best to be a good wife and someday, a good mother. I remember passing my bouquet to my maid of honor and best friend Cheryl when it came time for us to make our vows. I remember offering the sign of peace to everyone and how Eric accidentally stepped on my wedding dress. Everyone gasped thinking it had ripped. It became a funny memory but in truth, I think I would have been more surprised if he hadn’t stepped on it that day.

I remember walking back up the aisle as man and wife, of shaking hands with everyone at the back of the church, and of then slipping into my parents' car to be chauffeured to the reception by Scott, Eric’s best man, and his wife Paula. Antique car this was not, but when Scott made a surprise turn into the McDonald’s Drive-Thru, we all began to laugh and I knew then that I would not have had such a memorable drive to the reception had things not worked out the way they had.

Twenty-three years ago I woke up and knew that before the day was out, I would be getting married. I married Eric, this cute guy who made me laugh, who made me feel beautiful and smart and funny, who made me feel safe and happy and confident and secure. I took a leap of faith despite my young age and at the same time, I was so sure it was the right thing to do. It was indeed a beautiful day the day I married my best friend, the future father of my three children, and the love of my life. But as with the early sunrise of Saturday, November 26, 1988, there would be many more days of beauty awaiting me over the next twenty-three years...and with God's blessing, in the next twenty-three years to come.

MahnaMana!

For Friday, November 25, 2011

I grew up with muppets. First there were the ones I met on Sesame Street. Spending television time with Bert, Ernie, Cookie Monster, Grover, the Count, and Oscar the Grouch was fun and when newscaster Kermit-the-Frog began his own show as host of The Muppet Show, I was a loyal follower. The show was silly, innocent, and full of laughs but the characters on the show also were quite endearing.

The Muppets created a few movies over the years. I went to see The Muppet Movie with my sister Linda on one of our summer adventures and it was clear to me then that The Muppets were enjoyable for adults as well as children. When my first child was born, I instinctively chose a Bert and Ernie Christmas decoration as her first ornament and a few years later bought The Muppet Christmas Carol to watch with her and her siblings.

So, when I first saw the previews for the new Muppet movie, I wanted to go. But with my children grown, I knew getting the near 20 year old, 16 and 12 year old to the cinema to watch Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzy Bear, The Swedish Chef, and Rolf might be a challenge. But as fate would have it, my nephew, his wife, and two young children planned a trip to our home today. “Might you like to go see The Muppet Movie?” I quickly asked them. YES! They were on board. The four of them and the five of us all decided to catch the 4:30pm matinee. My husband made a face but I was not dissuaded. We arrived at the theater and discovered much of our community had made the same decision. The nine of us looked into a very full theater and saw nine available seats in the front row. We took them without hesitation.

The next hour and a half I sat laughing in great competition with the children in the cinema. I loved the references to the old show, the old movies, and the array of characters introduced over the years. I loved the retention of the simplicity, sweetness, and innocence. I adored the faithfulness and loyalty to Jim Henson’s friends as they always were. Best of all, I was grateful to see my three children enjoying the movie too--the cameo celebrity appearances were especially fun for them. As the credits rolled to the tune of MahnaMana, I couldn’t stop smiling. It was just what I had needed this Thanksgiving weekend, a return to the past taken with the children and the muppets who continue to enrich my life today.

Friday, November 25, 2011

At My Dining Room Table

For Thursday, November 24, 2011

I often think back on my childhood and the number of times I sat at the dining room table surrounded by my large family. I still see the crowd of people sitting there talking with food being passed around. The youngest of five children with a distance of 10-16 years between me and my siblings, I was the quiet little girl who sat in the middle of a sea of adults. I felt safe and protected by them. And later when my nephew came along, I began finding my role in entertaining the little guy who was always seated next to me. One thing I wish I could do however is to go back and see clearly the expression on my Mom’s face as she looked around the table watching everyone enjoying the meal she had prepared.

For the past twenty years, I have hosted Thanksgiving at my own home. It was important to me to have our own family traditions once our first child was born, so in 1992 Eric and I stopped traveling to our parents’ houses for the holidays. We were lucky to have understanding Moms and Dads who never balked at this. Of course, quite noticeably, my own dining room table is much smaller than my parents’. Yet, somehow, each Thanksgiving, I manage to squeeze in a fairly large group of 8-10. I often wish I had a larger room for these events but I suppose it’s okay the way it is. Our accommodations are cozy. What’s more important is the way in which we all come together. For years we have hosted my parents and Eric’s Mom and Dad, and often Eric’s brother Joel too. The company is always enjoyable and with my three children relatively close in age, the conversations often erupt into laughter during our meals.

The food used to magically appear on the dining room table of my childhood. Nowadays I understand how the magic works. But I love to cook and bake so I never see entertaining as a chore. The dining room of my childhood was away from the kitchen where the piles of dirty dishes stood. At my house, I try to take a seat with my back to the kitchen counters so I can pretend they don’t exist. But in truth, it’s a rare day when doing the dishes is something I don’t see as being a normal part of the routine of entertaining. There is something quite comforting actually in putting away the leftover foods and loading the dishwasher. The time it takes to clean up allows more opportunity for a family to work together and to talk. That wasn’t something I recognized when I was a child.

Tonight after the Thanksgiving meal had been cooked, eaten, and put away, I sat down in the family room surrounded by my children, husband, and brother-in-law. My husband’s parents had left and my son and his uncle were in a heated game of football on the wii. As I pulled a woolen throw over myself, balancing a piece of pie, I took a deep breath and smiled. It is a blessing to be the Mom who hosts Thanksgiving dinner. I suppose I don’t really need to go back in time for that chance to see my Mom’s face as everyone gathered around her dining room table. I am pretty sure she wore the same expression I wore today. This Mom is happy.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Jumping Into Mom and Dad's Bed

For Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I cannot imagine a nicer way to start the day than to wake up after a good night’s sleep knowing that there is nothing pressing that demands I get up right away, and to have my three children and a happy puppy jump into bed with me.

My children have always slept in their own beds, except for the nights when a nightmare or fever would have them finding comfort next to me, but come morning, our bed was always where morning hugs, snuggles, and giggles could be found. With each child jockeying for space and position, “I want to be in the middle”, having a bed full was always a measure of happiness and affection. Of course children do get older, and the times when they find their way to Mom and Dad’s bed in the mornings are fewer and fewer. That’s only to be expected. So when it happened this morning, I knew to treasure it and to hold those few moments tightly.

I remember sneaking into my own parents’ bed when I was little. Sometimes it was after a nightmare. On those nights I always wanted to be on the edge near Mom’s side of the bed. I never chose the middle as I hated feeling “squooshed”, but I well recall Mom’s arms around me securing my spot. There were also mornings when I’d join Mom and Dad as they rested in bed talking. I kept this tradition going even as I grew older. When I was a teenager my Dad would teasingly joke, “Are you ever going to outgrow this? Are you going to be married bringing your children into bed with you someday?” He would soon learn THAT was what I had planned all along. I was easily into my twenties with at least two of my three children in tow when we’d sneak into their bedroom on occasion while visiting at camp. I remember my Dad sighing with feigned exasperation and my Mom laughing as both of them quickly made room for us all.

There is little that offers more comfort and security than the warmth and love found within a parent’s bed. I am grateful that at ages 12, 16, and 19, my children still occasionally find their way to me at the start of the day. It may not happen as often as it did when they were small but it still happens, and when it does, everything seems right with the world.

"Stop Saying That!"

For Tuesday, November 22, 2011

There is a word that is being used repeatedly at my workplace. Its use is irritating me to no end. It’s been gaining momentum for two years now. It was once being used by one man, but I’ve noticed lately that others are using it too. It’s a good word, and I have most likely used the word within this blog, don’t get me wrong, but any word that becomes overused and disengaging to the ear needs to be retired, at least for awhile. And so, I am going to announce my own personal boycott. I will never utter the word “mindful” again.

“We must be mindful of how this will affect the situation”. “Let’s be mindful of our responsibilities”. “We need to work mindfully”. Seriously?! If someone is not acting mindfully by one person’s interpretation, that could be seen as quite an insult. For if a brain is not full, it must be lacking. I don’t think the insults are intentional, however could we please have a little variety?! The word means well, but its users have turned it into a buzz word, a cliche, a feel-good marketing strategy. I’ve become more than numb to the word; I’ve become repulsed by it. I’ve begun counting the number of times it’ll be used in a single meeting and when I find myself growing weary, I toy with the idea of using it in every sentence I utter for the rest of the day as some form of passive aggressive rebellion. But not wanting to perpetuate its use, I refrain.

Let’s face it, this descriptor for using our brain to its fullest capacity isn’t the only way to describe being attentive. With respect to thesaurus.com, we could instead be aware, alert, careful, cautious, conscientious, conscious, or heedful. We could know the ins and outs, be knowledgeable, observant, on one's toes, on the ball, on the job, on to, plugged in, regardful, respectful, sensible, solicitous, thoughtful, tuned in, vigilant, wary, watchful, or have our eyes peeled.

Writer Tom Terez writes, “All of us are guilty of using the occasional buzzword, cliché, slogan or TLA (three-letter acronym, of course). They're harmless in small quantities. It's when they're voiced again and again -- when they define our vocabulary -- that we should worry. That's because buzz-terms are brief and snappy, roll off the tongue easily, and can fool us into thinking that we know what we're talking about.

"It's dangerous when they're used as a substitute for thought," Geiger says. "People sometimes come up with terms to sound like they're in the know -- when in fact they're just parroting a shorthand version of a complex set of ideas. They're not being mindful of what they're saying."


Oh Tom. You had me until you wrote “mindful”....

We must continue to work to be aware of our use of these snappy buzz words. If we’re not careful, using them will work as effectively as Orwell’s Newspeak.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Smiling Brightly

Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born. - Anais Nin

A year ago, at a teacher workshop day before Thanksgiving, I took a seat next to a new teacher at our school. Although I had exchanged pleasantries with her over the past few months and had offered her my assistance as she began her new job, this was the first time we’d had a real chance to get to know one another. Both partial to scribbling notes as to make sense of these professional development discussions, Binaca and I struck up conversations discussing everything from work to our families and our Thanksgiving To-Do lists. When we met I had just made the decision to take in a foreign exchange student who needed a new host family and knowing she was moving in over the holiday, my To-Do list was especially large. She listened to me as I excitedly told her of my plans for this new addition to our family and she helped me troubleshoot how to make room for the teenage girl in my home.

At one point, the two of us began discussing blogs. I had been thinking of starting my own blog but I had no idea what to do or where to start. Binaca enthusiastically began jotting down suggestions on where to begin and her support of my ideas was immediate. I remember leaving that day thinking, “Wow. I could actually make this happen...” A month later I began this blog. I credit Binaca’s encouragement for the reason I took a step out of my comfort zone in setting it up.

We became friends on Facebook and started sharing our lives outside of school with one another. A bit cautious with friendships at work, knowing a few have not been true in the past, I knew I was taking another leap of faith here. But if you have ever met Binaca, you know that this young woman’s level of compassion and altruistic ways lead even a hesitant soul like me to a place of trust. It felt good to be able to talk and not second guess myself. It felt nice to have someone speak so positively about my efforts with teens. A beautiful person inside and out, Binaca has offered me much more than a few gallons of water when I was without power at my home or chocolates (or cheese doodles?!) when I needed them most this past year. She has given me the precious gift of a trusted friendship at work without asking or expecting anything in return.

Still, it's important that I make some small gesture as repayment for her generosity and friendship. So this morning as we both made the connection that today was the first year anniversary of our friendship, I gave Binaca heads up that I felt “a blog post coming on”. And in realizing we had not yet taken a picture together, the two of us plopped down in front of my laptop camera and smiled brightly.

There’s a particular quote that comes to mind when I think of my new friend: "A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words”. These words from Bernard Meltzer are most fitting.

Binaca, thank you for the laughs and the smiles we’ve shared, for the support you’ve offered and for lifting my spirit when I grow overwhelmed and tired. It is no coincidence that we found one another last year, a few days before Thanksgiving. There is perhaps no better time for me to have made a new friend, one I am most grateful to have in my life. I know you will be a friend for life, in and out of the workplace. I am truly blessed.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Important Strides

A few days ago Emma and I had the opportunity to visit a variety of sightseeing spots as we took a bus tour with her dance school group in New York City. Ready for anything but not expecting anything extraordinary, having done a bus tour a few years earlier, we made our way onto the coach outside our hotel.

First we headed to Central Park West and visited the Imagine mosaic at Strawberry Fields. We saw John Lennon’s apartment building including the shutters that Yoko Ono closed and never reopened after his assassination. We visited Ground Zero where thousands of people went to work that fateful day 10 years ago, completely unaware of course that they would not be making their way home again. At Battery Park, we overlooked the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island and were reminded of the masses of people who made their way into the harbor in hopes of a better life in America.

Our next stop was at the United Nations headquarters. Here, we went on a guided tour and learned of the various efforts of the UN, from the work of the delegates to that of the peacekeepers and all others who uphold the pillars of the United Nations--Human Rights, Development, and Security. Karen, our guide, was Austrian. She spoke passionately of the various ways that we can influence the ongoing changes that are needed to make this world a more peaceful place. Learning as much as I did on the tour I felt great pride remembering how Emma whispered to me at the start of the tour that working for the UN in some capacity was a dream of consideration for her. This thought, coming from my musical-theater driven daughter, caught me a little off-guard. I found myself thinking of the direction my own career had taken me in my life. I thought of my work as a high school teacher and my own efforts to make a difference in this world.

On a trip to NYC where our focus is often on seeing great shows and shopping, it was humbling to visit Strawberry Fields, Ground Zero, Battery Park, and The United Nations headquarters. Emma and I carried the important messages of our bus tour travels with us for the remainder of our trip. I saw this the next day when Emma stopped to help out a young woman who had purchased the wrong subway tickets. As Emma reached into her own purse to find five dollars to bring over to the young woman who was noticeably anxious, I flashed forward to the sight of Emma planting seeds for a better world in her future. It won’t matter whether my daughter ends up working at the UN or on the stages of Broadway; she’ll still make an incredible difference in this world. Of this I have no doubt. Raising my three children and educating the numerous teens I have in my career I've made important strides too. Still I think, what more can I do?

Billy Blue Eyes

For Saturday, November 19, 2011

I woke up with the butterflies of a teenage girl. Twenty-five years had passed since I had last seen him. Two years behind me in school, Billy and I had shared a love of music and theater and had been cast together in many shows over the years including Neil Simon's Plaza Suite where we portrayed a middle aged married couple. Having reconnected a few years earlier through Facebook, it had felt good to see where life had taken him. Online we’d shared many memories and laughs. So, knowing we were coming to NYC where Billy now resides, we made quick plans to get together.

Emma and I made our way to Jersey City on the PATH subway. Foolishly getting out one stop too early, we stopped at a couple places to secure directions to Wayne Street where we would take in Billy’s children’s play. We found the theater inside an old white house, the Barrow Mansion. In the hall, I stopped to ask Emma how my hair looked. “Why am I so nervous?” I whispered. Hearing people in the next room, we took a step inside and then I saw him. He turned and I saw those beautiful blue eyes and immediately, I felt at ease.

It was such fun to watch him in his element as he guided in a busload of children and parents. I felt like a proud big sister as Billy stepped to the front of the theater to introduce the show and to explain the afternoon’s program. Emma and I took seats at the back and laughed at the antics of the young crowd. I loved it when Billy, seeing the toddlers getting restless, quickly changed things up suggesting the children join the cast in playing Simon Says, and when he attentively checked in on us while dashing here and there to keep his audience engaged.

After the show we waited for Billy to clean up the stage and chatted with a couple members of his cast. One woman originally from Massachusettes admitted that she had never been to Maine and told us Billy was full of “great stories” and that we’d easily have a good time that afternoon. I somehow already knew this to be true.

Hopping into his silver jeep, we made our way back to NYC and after trying unsuccessfully to park, we decided to park in the theater district and took the subway to explore Soho. After browsing through the luxurious shops, we stopped for a pretzel and a soda. We walked to Washington Park to rest our feet and we listened to a pianist play as we discussed performing arts schools. Then, noting the time, we made our way back.

We met Eddie for dinner and were treated to a delicious meal. Emma and I thoroughly enjoyed our time with each of them and our walk to the theater to see Phantom of the Opera was almost as entertaining as the show itself. Eddie was such fun and Emma and I couldn't stop giggling. After the show we stopped for cheesecake before calling it a night.

My favorite memory of the entire day was of something that happened during the middle of Phantom of the Opera. I sat mesmerized by the music and the sets until out of the corner of my eye I spotted Billy looking my way, popping his head around Eddie who was sitting next to me. I looked to the side to catch his glance but by then he was seated back in his chair. Then he did it again. I looked again and missed him once more. I started to laugh. He was checking in on me. So sweet. Yes Billy, I was having a great time. Yes, Billy, I was in awe. But the show, although fantastic, wasn’t the only reason why. Thank you for spending the day with us. Thank you for your generosity and your attentiveness. Thank Eddie for me too. It may have been twenty-five years since we’d last been together but the entire day had proven this to be a perfect reunion. I am in awe of all that...and of how easily those years melted away when I saw your beautiful blue eyes.

As the Wind Picks Up

For Friday, November 18, 2011

After arriving in New York City, Emma and I take only a few minutes to hang up a few dresses in our hotel room’s closet before leaving for Times Square. Just a block away, we are there in seconds.

It’s my fourth trip to The Big Apple and Emma’s third. It’s amazing how quickly we acclimate ourselves despite being from Maine. As we duck into one store to another, the two of us smile and pose for one another as we snap pictures. Our cameras no doubt identify us as tourists but we are shameless in wanting to capture what we can in pictures we can turn to when we return home.

We stop for a quick appetizer dinner then return to the hotel to quickly change into dresses for The Rockette’s Christmas Spectacular show that evening. Making our way to Radio City Music Hall, we are practically skipping. The show is fun as always. On our way out we ditch our group and instinctively walk arm in arm back to Times Square.

This girl and I are good for one another. We giggle easily, laugh at the same silly things, see the same beauty, feel the same excitement...and I can’t help but realize that this is what we have been needing. Adventure. Joy. Serendipity. Silliness. Laughter. At times, it’s been a tough year for each of us, much too serious and stressful for a sixteen year old. Much too serious and stressful for a sixteen year old’s mom. But all that stress melts away as we take in the bright lights of Broadway.

We hold one another tighter as the wind picks up. This is what we must remember to do when we return home.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Planes, Trains, Automobiles, Busses...and an Ipod

Normally, when I travel I am either in the driver’s seat or else I am helping with directions and passing fast food meals to my kids in the back seat. I enjoy driving for the most part. I like the act of driving, the maneuvering of the machine that goes where I instruct it to go with a simple push on the gas pedal or the turn of the steering wheel. When I was in college and had my first car, I loved zooming down city streets, beating other cars off the line, and challenging myself to make it to class a minute or two earlier than the day before. Nowadays, I take back roads to work. I don’t rush my commute, realizing a little caution is best, and I welcome the 30 minute commute that I have each day and the times when I occasionally make a solo trip across state to pick my daughter up for a college break. I sometimes drive in silence but more often than naught, I lose myself to the music on the stereo. I like my music loud so that it fills the entire car and pulsates my heart.

I don’t need to drive however, I often prefer to have another drive on long trips so I can relax my eyes and my head without the focus required for the road. Occasionally I have an opportunity to travel with a complete stranger at the helm. This summer my daughters and I traveled by train to a concert in Boston. Then this fall I got back on a plane for the first time in nearly 20 years to fly to Texas for a conference. Now today I am riding on a coach bus to New York City. On these trips I am not in the driver’s seat of course. But that is more than okay with me. I have anticipated today’s road trip all week; I am grateful to have an opportunity to sit and simply be.

I am still losing myself to music today though. With my headphones on, I am staring outside watching the trees fly past me in this window seat. My eyes close for awhile and the songs transport me away from this bus filled with 45 other passengers to my own place of complete solitude. The rumble of the bus lulls me to sleep, but as I begin to drift off, once again, my music is here with me.

There’s a freedom I feel as I hear only music, when I feel the sensation of flying as I watch the world go quickly past my window. My fingers turn up the volume and I soar higher as I drift off to sleep.

Haunted by Song

For Wednesday, November 16, 2011

This past year I came across an artist I’d never listened to before. The music grabbed at me forcefully like music often does. The sound and the lyrics of this band were haunting and I had to wonder why I was suddenly listening to these rather dark songs so obsessively. It became common for me to play a song over and over. I’d then move to the next song by the same artist only to sit hitting replay again with that song too. What was it about this music? It seemed each song was seductively speaking to a piece of me, a part of something I am, something I think on, something I want, or maybe something I fear.

Not knowing the artist, I did a quick google search. I suddenly began realizing that this was probably a band more popular with a younger group, and I suddenly thought to myself, “Am I too old for this music?” There was something about the music that made me question myself. To think that music could do that is strange, but for me it did. I suppose I’ve long been taken in by a passionate performance. I suppose I am an easy target in that regard.

I don’t often try to explain my attraction to music. A love for music simply is. But still I think...Is it the angst in the singer’s voice? Is it his use of whispers followed by passionate acclamations? Is it the use of certain images and themes? Is it the use of repetition in phrases of notes and lyrics? Is it the overall tone? Is it simply that the music is different and new to me in its sound? Does it remind me of something else I’ve forgotten?

Do any of these questions matter? Maybe. Maybe not. But I do find it rather odd that I can’t bring myself to name the artist or the music with which I’ve become obsessed. Am I actually afraid of being judged perhaps by someone who does not hear the music in quite the same way that I do? In case someone does attempt to do that...

Honest to God I will break your heart. Tear you to pieces and rip you apart.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Why I Write--Part 1

The other day I shared with a friend of mine that my writing of this blog has not always been met with 100% support. There’s at least one of my loved ones (that I know of) who would much rather that I write in a private journal rather than to publish memoir pieces which expose my feelings, my struggles, my day-to-day happenings, my dreams, my LIFE in this way for all of cyber space to stumble across. I’m also pretty sure that there are some people who have read a post of mine out of curiosity perhaps only to be disappointed, or who may have rolled their eyes at my stories, reflections, or the writing itself.

Back in college I was enrolled in a public speaking course. One day I presented a speech on the subject, “Why Writers Write”. I’ve often thought about my own motivations for writing and it’s a subject I revisit often in my classroom. When writers begin to share their writing, or to even move towards publication, the discussion may seem to become more complicated. There are numerous writers who have delved into this topic of conversation. George Orwell and Joan Didion are just two of a slew of writers who have written essays answering “Why I Write”, and today I stumbled upon a website which shares a collection of similar essays. Visit http://whywewriteseries.wordpress.com/ if you are curious. I don’t want to attempt to explain the ins and outs of why I continue to write and post on this blog nearly every day. I don’t feel like justifying my choice to share my writing by adding a link to my blog entries on Facebook for my friends to see. Maybe I’ll come back to this later, but for now I like and agree with what I read in Natasha Costa’s essay, “I write because I am human”.

When I reached out to my friend mentioned above, a dear old friend from my “teenhood”, a man who I have not visited or spoken face-to-face with in over 28 years, I did so knowing he’s a writer too. But I also knew that he is very grounded and wise, and someone whose values greatly resemble my own. Reading his response comforted me. In part, he wrote, “Writers must expect a certain maturity from the reader. If we continue to feed the reader only nursery rhymes or iambic pentameter we are saying "You can't handle the harder things of life..." Some of life's rhymes are obtuse, a lot of life is more Grimm than Mother Goose. Let the reader decide what they want to read, the writer must write”.

As if on cue, I went to Mass on Sunday and the gospel reading was “The Parable of the Talents” (Again, visit this link to know more: http://www.esvbible.org/Matthew+25.14-30/). I couldn’t help but believe there was a reason this story was shared that day. I don’t want to bury my writing. I want its seeds to sprout.

And then tonight, as if the words above were not quite enough, a former student of mine read my most recent blog post. Within minutes of my posting it, this message was left on my Facebook wall: “Needed this. I cried reading it”.

At the top of my blog are the words, “Inquiries, insights, and imaginings from a small town girl who wants to do some good in this life”. Thank you Gerard and Megan and Esther and Gina and all others who have reinforced that gut feeling I have that my writing, even if it's not being published in traditional, perhaps more “acceptable” ways, is somehow making a positive difference to an audience, however small.

And thank you dear one who worries over me and my privacy. I know your heart is in the right place. But to anyone else who scoffs or rolls his/her eyes at my stories, reflections, or my writing itself? Well, go elsewhere to read what you want to read. Perhaps there is nothing here for you and that is okay. I write because I am a writer and this is what I do.

Point of Impasse

For Monday, November 14, 2011

Last week I was feeling defeated over a particular situation in my life. I have been trying so hard to fix what may not be able to be fixed. I’ve grown exhausted having beaten myself up over what I can not accomplish so last week I gave up. Well, I did not exactly give up; that’s not exactly easy for me to do, being as stubborn as I am, but let’s just say I “let go”. And when I did, a wave of relief came over me. I felt myself unburdened by the chains that were binding me and I felt free. In that moment, I knew what to do. I wrote a letter to a friend. I wasn’t sure I was finding the right words but I wrote from the heart. But before hitting “send” on the email, I found myself reading over what I’d written, hitting “delete”, and writing again. I chose my words carefully. It was important for me to be honest but I also had to be sensitive to the letter’s recipient. I did this writing and rewriting of my email message for over an hour, but then the letter did make its way through cyber space. In minutes came a reply. The conversation continued, back and forth, for the rest of the evening. And when I finally closed the lid on my lap top, I realized it had happened again. Every once in awhile, when I think I’ve reached an impasse, I remember the importance of the expression that has always served me well, “Let go. Let God”.

I’ve written on this theme before. I recognize the fact that it is difficult to admit to needing help when I pride myself in being independent and self-sufficient. I like to think that I am capable of doing what needs to be done in almost any situation that I find myself in. But we all know that is not realistic, and it’s rather arrogant of me to think that I can always find the solution to problems on my own.

I need to remember to have faith when things look bleak. I need to stop worrying over the worst case scenario and turn to the power of prayer. I am not expected to have all the answers, to do all the right things, to find every necessary word that needs to be spoken. Sometimes there are no right words. And when I insist on trying and reach only sadness and frustration, I need to find solace where I know it will always be for me, with God.

Life is tough. There are many joys and many wondrous blessings but this world is not perfect. There will be tears and there will be sadness. There will be turmoil and there will be pain. There will also be regret. There’s no escaping all that. But there is also forgiveness, especially of one’s self. And when we admit to needing it, that’s when we find ourselves being lifted.

I’ll be here again, at this point of impasse. No doubt, I’ll forget what I’ve said here and I’ll go back to my stubborn ways of trying to bully my way through impossible situations all by myself. But I am going to try very hard not to be afraid when I screw up. I am going to try to remember that nothing is impossible with God.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

On a Sunday

This morning, after realizing the necessity of taking two cars to church, I headed there with Emma so as to get her to her Sunday school classroom by 8:50am. Having recently begun teaching, she headed to classroom while I went to fill up my gas tank before returning for choir practice. Eric went in his car to first pick up Paul who had spent the night at a friend’s house before meeting us at St. Joe’s. After Mass, Eric took the two kids and headed home. He would soon leave again to take Paul to a nearby college where his youth group was meeting for an afternoon of rock climbing and swimming. Emma headed to her matinee performance at the high school and I went grocery shopping before heading home to a quiet house. It was a day where everyone went in separate directions, a strange occurrence for a Sunday in our house.

I love our usual Sundays. We make it out of the house and into one car and get to church in time for choir practice. We are greeted by parishioners who have watched over our family for years. Some ask how Sydney is doing at college and others comment on how tall Paul is growing after saying how they remember his baptism day nearly 12 years ago. Emma is complimented on her singing and Eric and I smile proudly. After grabbing a donut and a cup of hot cocoa downstairs after Mass, the kids wave goodbye to friends and we head over to the grocery store to do our weekly shopping. The kids often opt to stay in the van while Eric and I strive to make it quick, but we still arrive home at the same time each week. We unload groceries, usually turning on music or the football game as we do. I prep dinner and before long, everyone is doing schoolwork or vowing to do it later when procrastination sets in. The day ends with us in the family room watching Amazing Race on tv before bed.

When I was a child, my parents and I usually went to Mass on Saturday afternoon so as to sleep in on Sunday morning. Instead, I would awake to Dad’s classical music playing on the stereo and spotting both of my parents reading the Sunday newspaper, I would often grab the comics or the Parade Magazine section and sprawl out on the living room carpet to read. Mom would prepare a nice dinner which we’d eat around the dining room table with one of my brothers dropping in to join us. Sometimes we’d make a trip up to camp in the afternoon or Dad would suggest we go cross country skiing or skating. Other times Dad would work outside and I’d spend the afternoon swinging at the top of the back hill or if there was snow, sliding down the banking when Dad would make me a path with his snowshoes. Mom would bake cookies and at night the sound of a stopwatch ticking would get my attention as the next episode of Sixty Minutes would come on the tv. I was too young to be interested in that show then but sometimes The Wonderful World of Disney would be on and we’d watch shows like Peter Pan or The Shaggy Dog.

As I got older I too began using Sundays as homework days or else I’d practice piano and flute. It wasn’t necessarily a family only day as my friends would sometimes come over or else we’d meet for a bike ride, but looking back, it is the time with family that I most remember about this day of the week. Dad’s classical music playing is the strongest memory for me.

So today, with my family gone away from our usual Sunday routine, it was only natural that I would turn to the stereo. With music filling up the otherwise empty house, I took a few minutes to dance, much to the amusement of my puppy, and then I got down to work. I put away the groceries, cleaned up the kitchen, got my schoolwork done, and began prepping dinner for when my family would return home. Arriving home late after her play and her own youth group meeting, Emma missed out on Amazing Race tonight, but we all ended the day together under the same roof.

I hope when my children have families of their own that they will think back on our Sundays together. I hope the music comes on the stereo by mid-day in their own homes, and that they’ll end the weekend with a simple prayer thanking God for the love of family that carries each of us through the week.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Sticks and Stones

Years back my husband and I experienced a very scary situation. It is still something that I have trouble talking about in fear that I could somehow trigger a return of a man who, in the words of a lawyer, “went ballistic” on me. I apologize for sounding cryptic and for not going into more detail, but let me simply say here that in trying to protect my family from harm, and after trying diligently to rectify a situation fairly and peacefully, I felt in my gut that I needed to act decisively and swiftly. So when I felt threatened, I got a lawyer and a policeman’s best advice and became the mother bear that I needed to be. I was shaking the entire time but nothing was stopping me. And in hindsight nearly a decade later, yes, I did the right thing.

One of the nicest things someone has ever said to me was spoken a few days after I had enlisted others’ help. A colleague of mine who found himself strangely involved in the situation pulled me aside. After asking me if I was okay, Tim said, “That guy did not know who he was dealing with, did he?!”

Tim’s words, spoken at a time when I was still trembling, were just what I needed. Never before had I been in such a situation. I had naively thought that nothing like that could ever happen to me. But I had been tested. My views on the world, on my security and that of my family’s would never be the same again. Yet, I had proven myself to be a fierce opponent. I was brave. I was strong. I was intelligent. I was resourceful. I was powerful.

Not everyone agreed however. When I went in to speak to another coworker to explain what had happened, he expressed how the situation could have been handled more easily, in a different way. Having only met this colleague a few days earlier, I realized right then and there that he and I were very different people. “You don’t know me yet”, I said to him. “But you’ll soon realize that I strive to do what is right, not what is easy”.

It’s amazing how people’s words stick with us, the good and the bad. I can recall several things said to me by another colleague of mine in the first few years of my teaching. She once said in response to my excitement over a lesson that went beautifully in my classroom, “I wonder if you’ll have such a good rapport with your students years from now when you are no longer young and pretty”. I had no response to that at the time. Another time she told me that I reminded her of a television character, a young mother who had great conflict with her teenage daughter because the mother was acting up and seemingly competing with her child. “I wonder if Sydney will grow to resent you someday for the way you still put yourself out there on the stage, the way you are larger than life at times”. OUCH! But I later came to realize this woman’s bitterness sprang from a place of insecurity and I learned not to take her words to heart. Still, I have not forgotten her words. In fact, having long ago shared them with Sydney and later Emma, we sometimes get laughing and tussle with one another playfully, yelling “I’m the star! Don’t steal my thunder! Don’t make me resent you!” What can I say? I use honesty and humor as weapons. Rarely do they let me down.

It’s yet another way I have battled against those who threaten me and my cubs. Listen to Tim. Know who you are dealing with, world. I am brave. I am strong. I am intelligent. I am resourceful. I am powerful.

11-11 and 11-11 on 11-11-11

For Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Day. 11-11-11 Day. A day for remembrance of those honorable men and women who have served our country and apparently a day when wishes are to be made. Until I had children I never realized we were to make wishes on digital clocks. I’d long made wishes on the first star I’d spotted at night or on a birthday cake or a fallen eyelash, but never when I spotted the clock turn to the time of my birthday or at 11:11am and pm!

Not taking the date or the time too seriously, I was cleaning the kitchen at 11:11am today and it was 11:14am when my daughter and I realized we’d missed our first opportunity for wish making. Having finished in the kitchen I had gone upstairs to retrieve my laptop when I spotted Emma on my bed with hers. I sprawled out next to her.

“Whoops.. I missed 11:11”, she said. “Oh.. me too”, I replied. “Well, that's a bummer”, sighed Emma. “Yup. Never gonna get that back”, I said, and we both started giggling. Our day continued. It was a good lazy day. Having been so stressed with a hectic workload over the past few weeks, I thoroughly enjoyed watching tv with my husband and children during the afternoon until it was time to get ready for Emma’s play that evening. My husband drove Emma to the theater while I jumped in the shower to end my “PJ day”. Eric’s parents arrived and we headed off. We sat a few rows from the front of the stage and enjoyed Emma’s performance. Talking Eric into picking up Chinese food for our very late dinner, I took the kids home. Before long we were piling our plates full of chicken lo mein and teriyaki and watching a show on tv together.

On Facebook we were reminded by other wish-makers that we had another opportunity for a 11:11 wish come evening. I thought of that as Emma headed to bed around 10:20pm and again when I did some writing before bed, but again I missed the time on the clock. It simply was not meant to be. But I suppose, when you’re giggling on your bed with your daughter at 11:14 in the morning, spending the afternoon and evening relaxing with your family, or when you’re the last one to get to bed past 11:30 at night and when you know your children and husband are sleeping peacefully, safe and sound, you realize there is nothing more you could possibly wish for anyhow.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Extended Family

For Thursday, November 10, 2011

Tonight we teachers stayed at school for an extra six hours after our usual day of classes. It was parent-teacher conference day and from 2:00-8:30pm we were available for parents to come and meet with us to discuss their children’s progress during the first quarter of the school year.

Having spoken with numerous parents already via email during the first two months of school, I had only the parents of nine students scheduled during those six hours. I began my conferences speaking with the proud parents of one of my creative writing students and next I met the mom of one of my strongest AP English teens. Over the course of the next several hours I would meet a variety of people whose children are taking one of my five different courses. We discussed student study habits, curriculum, and goal setting, but more important than any of these items, we discussed the teens themselves.

I met moms and dads and a few siblings of the young adults I spend my days with. I giggled as I saw one girl cringe at how embarrassing her dad was as he joked around with me, and I felt my heart warm as she later forgot herself and joined in laughing too. I grew excited to see the joy in a mom’s face when she spoke of her daughter’s memoir project and as we agreed that her daughter is a confident and secure young lady. I laughed with another mom as we discussed the differences in siblings and I watched the pride in the eyes of a few fathers as they spoke of their sons.

I used to be easily intimidated by these conferences when I was a new teacher. I was so afraid of saying the wrong thing or coming off poorly when I’d meet parents. How time changes things! Nowadays I greet each new set of parents with a genuine smile. I am excited to meet my students’ parents. I am as honest as can be as we sit and discuss their child’s strengths and weaknesses. I offer advice easily and share my understanding of the challenges of parenting and teaching a teen.

Tonight, one of the parents took a seat and immediately asked me one question, “So what do you think of my son?” I immediately smiled. In my head I knew this mother was looking for one thing, whether or not I understood her son--his intelligence, his personality, his strengths and his challenges. So for a good five minutes I found myself talking about what I knew of her son. I shared what I see, hear, and believe, and I told her what I am going to do next in working with him. When I finished talking the mother grabbed my arm gently but firmly. “I am so happy I came tonight”, she said. “I knew the first few minutes you started talking, “Oh, she’s good. She knows, really knows him. I feel very good about what this year will be for him. Thank you”.

I smiled and as I walked her to the door I told her that meeting her had been the highlight of my day. There’s nothing like having your observations, your ideas, your work validated by those so important. There is nothing quite like having the approval of your students’ parents.

As the evening came to a close and I packed up my things I thought of how tonight had felt like a gathering of extended family. I may not be my teens’ mother, but I do feel as though they are my children, and it is a good feeling to know the people who raised them and who love them so much. I am lucky to have the chance to be a part of their lives, if only for 10 short months. It feels good to have all this in my life.

Commanding Attention

For Wednesday, November 9, 2011

I saw the most beautiful sunset on the way home from work today. The sky was painted in dark harvest colored hues and the ball of the sun itself was a reddish orange. I drove over the crest of the hill with it to my left and I knew that it would be just a few seconds before the big ball would sink below the horizon. I felt mesmerized by the beauty and I whispered, “Thank you”.

I’d worked late the day before and had come home in the dark. I knew the next day would bring another evening trip home, so I was grateful to have caught the sun for even just a few minutes on my commute.

It had been a tough day. I’d worked hard. The last hour of my day had given me a headache, despite my best attempts to push one aside. As I drove out of the parking lot to begin my trek home, I replayed the tape of “What am I doing? Why am I trying so hard?” and listed answers that I knew would get me to return the next day. It is a traditional Wednesday occurrence. Headaches come on this day of the week more than any other day. When the US Postal Service announced the possibility of ending Saturday deliveries, I remember thinking, “If only I had the option to cut out one of my work days! If only I could pick Wednesdays”.

But every once in awhile, when I think nothing good can come out of a Wednesday afternoon, I am mistaken. I am shown immeasurable beauty and I am ashamed of having previously wished to dismiss the day altogether. Today’s sunset served to remind me that it’s not the amount of time I have before the sun sinks below the horizon, rather it’s how transfixed I allow myself to be when I stop and appreciate the beauty of what’s there commanding my attention, demanding my awe.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

To Feel Right Again

For Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Several years ago, a friend of mine lost his mom. My friend cried...he cried nearly every day for months. One day he wrote me a letter. It came out of the blue, but I remember reading it and feeling very blessed that he had trusted me with his emotions, with his grief. I felt a huge responsibility to say the right things but I was pretty sure I was not going to find words of true comfort. I remember writing back to him, expressing my sorrow for his loss, sharing with him how another friend of mine had also recently lost her mom, and offering to be there for him if he ever wanted to talk in person. He thanked me for my letter but he did not come talk to me about his loss nor did he ever write to me about his feelings ever again. I remember wondering if he had finally found peace with his loss. Or did he perhaps think that his grief displayed in front of others had gone on long enough? Was he embarrassed or was he on the path to recovery? Did he find healing or had he been driven into hiding?

When one experiences a loss, people come together to support one another through the difficult time. Bereavement days are taken so that the family can gather and participate in the standard occasions of memorials or other means of closure which take place over a week or so. Of course grief will often surpass a wake, funeral, or memorial service but as family and friends return to their day-to-day lives, people are aware of the loss and speak and act appropriately. But how does one cope with an ongoing grief, long after everyone has returned to their regular lives? I’ve often heard of the expression, “to wallow in one’s grief”. But what exactly is the definition of wallowing? Is it defined by an amount of time, by the measurement of tears, by what one displays of their grief in public or in private?

I know I do not have many answers on the subject, but I do know that I have learned a great deal about this subject in recent years. For one thing, I know that grief is ongoing. It ebbs and flows. There are good days and bad days. There are times when the world is dark and there are days when the blessings we have around us bring to our eyes tears of joy and appreciation. And there are those who know of our internal conflict and those who do not. We fight with the voices in our heads--the ones that dare us to lose ourselves in sorrow and the ones that tell us to soak in and to appreciate the time we have on this earth. “Live for today. Make good memories now. Time is short”.

I also know that grief is uniquely personal. There are those who grieve who cry every day for months and there are those who grieve who smile and put on happy faces and making pleasant conversation, who go on with their daily routines but who are somehow wiser now. There are those who find comfort by writing to a friend and those who turn to prayer. And then maybe, there are those like me. I seem to be trying a little of everything. I cry. I smile. I pretend. I write. I sing and dance. I hold my loved ones a little tighter. And Lord knows, I think way too much. I admit to needing some help. I’m just trying to figure out how to make things feel right again.

Monday, November 7, 2011

In Love with Literature

“I am really enjoying Hamlet! When we first got these books I told my Mom that we were reading Hamlet and she said, “Oh my God. Don’t turn to me for help!” but now that we’re on Act Four I am really starting to understand it on my own. I like it when we read it together in class because you help us understand it better but I am actually getting to the point where I can read it all by myself. And I really like it!”

This comment from one of my students today made my morning. I watched Rosalee’s excitement and smiled at her sincerity and genuine pride. We talked for a few minutes about the character of Hamlet and others chimed in too, adding their own ideas on whether or not the man is over-the-top in his grief, or whether it is justified. We talked about other Shakespeare plays and other “crazy characters”. These are the times when I know I am indeed the woman for this job. I am genuinely in love with having teens fall in love with literature.

The funny thing is, I never truly appreciated Shakespeare myself until I entered the classroom as a teacher. I never read Hamlet until I began teaching seniors last year. I may have read Macbeth when I was in high school but I am not altogether sure because I know we did not read it or discuss it the way I do now with my classes. Maybe my memory has faded but to my best recollection, there were no witch cackles, no psychological studies of whether Lady Macbeth was an introvert or an extrovert, and no exclamations of “OH MY GOD. WHO IS THIS MADMAN KILLING NOW?!”

Okay, so I tend to get a little dramatic when I teach literature, especially the literature of “the olden days” that my students don’t think will be much fun. But I suppose I strive to make it a memorable experience for these teens. I want them to remember the crazy Miss Havisham from Dickens' Great Expectations. I want them to agonize over the fact that had Romeo only waited five more minutes before drinking that poison, Juliet would have woken up and they could have taken off together. I want them to remember the way we wrote our own “Gielps”, boasting of our accomplishments as we stood on the desks, preparing to be as bold as Beowulf was when he came to announce he would defeat Grendel. I want them to recall their own description of Room 101 when they think back on Winston Smith and his fear of rats in Orwell's 1984.

Sure, I love the literature but more importantly, I love the way literature makes us question ourselves and our world. I love the way that we can work to assess a man’s sanity when he is distraught with grief or the way we can empathize when the young innocent girl feels she has no one to turn to. As we troubleshoot the alternatives these characters had but did not see within their own stories, we begin to see our own options when we are so challenged by life. We begin to be emboldened by Beowulf’s courage to slay the monster and we fight rebelliously against those who say we are doomed again all hope. It is then that we begin to write our own tales, our own stories, our own lives.

No Time for a Tantrum

For Sunday, November 6, 2011

I pride myself for being calm under pressure. I do not often feel any need to yell and I know when to walk away when I am upset and need time to settle myself before confronting an issue or a person that has me steamed. But I do recall one time when I completely lost it. Years ago, when I was preparing my Master’s of Education portfolio for a presentation due the next day, the house went dark. As I typed away, the power went off in the room where I was working and I lost roughly six hours of work. These were the days before computers automatically saved your work or recovered documents. Tired and overwhelmed at the realization I had to start over at 2:00am, I simply lost it. I sobbed, I screamed, I threw myself to the floor. I did not throw blame at anyone but myself. I hated myself for not hitting “SAVE” and I hated myself for having procrastinated on this portfolio in the first place. But after about a half hour of letting out my emotions, I picked myself up and I got back to work. I completed what I had to get done and turned in my work the next morning at 8:00am. On time.

I thought of this day from the early 1990s when I sat down to write tonight. Once again I am under pressure of a deadline. Grades are due on Wednesday and although I have worked steadily all quarter long, I still have a stack of essays, a pile of projects, and several portfolios left to assess before I can cross First Quarter grades off my list. I am tired after, in addition to teaching and planning work, I graded two groups of projects, a batch of quizzes, and a folder of reading guide questions already today. I want to give up and go to bed. I want to stop. I am negotiating in my mind how much time I will have tomorrow and on Wednesday to complete my grades. I know I will make it. I know I will succeed. I don’t allow myself any other options. But in order to make my deadline, I have to push aside other things that are draining me mentally and emotionally. And that is a challenge.

I often hit a wall when I am preparing a blog post. Some days my mind goes blank as I think of something to write about. “Did I do anything today that warrants a closer examination?” It’s a challenge that I usually enjoy for writing allows me a chance to find wonder in the little moments, or to seek the unique details of a life that is lived at the same place with the same people day in and day out. Then there are days when I know what I want to say but I stop before I exhaust myself. It seems that putting on a brave face day after day is a noble way to live, but truth be known, I long for a day I can fall apart, when I can just FEEL what I feel and not have to keep pretending that I am okay.

I empathize with those who are grieving or for those who have a loved one who is sick. I feel for those who are scared of the future or who are haunted by the past, or those who long for a different present. I nod in understanding of those who keep sweeping their emotions under the rug so they can maintain a steady pace moving forward. I understand that it is not easy to keep up the charade. It takes a great amount of energy to continue being so selfless, for doing what is right for those around you, for not adding to the work or the emotional turmoil of others. But hey. Maybe someday I can give myself the freedom to throw that tantrum in a safe room where no one will judge me. I can sob, scream, and throw myself to the floor one more time. Then perhaps I can begin to heal on the inside. For now, I need to continue to smile. I need to appear that I’m all right. Too many people are depending on me today and tomorrow and the next day....and next week....and next month...and next year. The tantrum will just have to wait.

Odd Girl Out

For Saturday, November 5, 2011

I was admittedly a little concerned today knowing that not only would I spend the entire day with only my husband and our 11 year old son, but the three of us had plans to go shopping. Although I think we all would have appreciated a lazy day at home, believe it or not, my two boys felt the need to head into the city to do a little shopping. My husband wanted us to go looking for a much needed sofa to replace ours that is falling apart. My son needed new pants to get him through the cold winter months. He’d have been happy to live in basketball shorts all winter long if I would have let him, but since that is not an option, he knew he needed to get some new jeans. So off we went. I had a feeling that I was going to be “the odd girl out”, the one who would have to sacrifice going to any of my favorite stores. We would take the day’s shopping list and shop for the items as quickly as we could, as is the way of my two men. Realizing I was the only girl heading out shopping with two boys, I accepted this and hoped for the best.

My son was in the mood for Chinese food. My husband just wanted to go somewhere for lunch that would be quick as he was hungry. A Chinese buffet restaurant proved to be the solution. As we filled our plates, we began to plot out which stores to go to so that we could be as efficient as possible in our shopping. After dinner, having done a bit of homework, we began at the furniture store. We scoured the showroom, asked questions, compared choices and believe it or not, within one hour, we had purchased a new sofa. It occurred so quickly that I was almost unsure it had happened. Next, it was time to buy pants.

At the department store, I helped my son find the style jeans he wanted--not too blue, not too skinny a leg, nothing fancy. We picked out four pair for him to try on and grabbed a few shirts too as he headed to the dressing room. My husband sighed about the prices, remembering that discount store that was selling jeans for five bucks a pair, but knowing my son’s concerns for what he likes to wear, I shooed Eric away and waited for Paul to try on his jeans. Within twenty minutes we were headed to the register with new apparel. Our trip had been 100% successful and it was only 3:00pm! Oh sure, I had not purchased any new dress nor had I looked at any boots, but my two men were happy.

A celebration was in order. So off to the movies we went. Inside the cinema I sat between my two men, negotiating a pair of glasses for my son who had forgotten his at home, and holding onto the bag of popcorn. As I giggled with Paul over something silly, my husband leaned over and whispered, “I feel like a third wheel”. The comment made me laugh. It appears this only girl, the one who thought she was the “odd girl out” was in high demand today. That’s a pretty cool place to be.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Three Majors, Two Degrees, and Three Babies Later

For Friday, November 4, 2011

When I first went to college I declared a Theater major. I had an obvious interest in the Performing Arts, however I had no idea what I wanted to study or what I wanted to do for a career. It was a pretty common belief however that undergraduates who did not declare a major would be seen as being “less serious” students than those of us who did. So I went with Theater and I took my first scenework course. I enjoyed the class and I continued taking theater courses along with my general core classes. But I didn’t stick with the Theater major. In my late teens I had so many different interests. I needed to explore my options. I switched my major to Communication and took courses like “Small Group Communication” and “Family Communication”, amongst others. I truly enjoyed all of those classes and I learned a great deal. But then I felt something wasn’t right. Another major shift was on the horizon; I could feel it.

At the end of my sophomore year of college I took a look at my transcript. I was doing very well in my courses but I did not feel enough of a challenge. Unsure of my now-second major, I wanted to make another change, however I had it in my head that I also wanted to be out of college in another two years. I looked over the credits I had accrued and noticed that along with Theater and Communication courses, I had been steadily signing up for classes in Writing. I had always enjoyed writing but had never seriously considered majoring in English. To tell you the truth, I didn’t think I could do it. It was true that I loved writing, but I felt quite limited in my knowledge of literature. I’d done well in high school English courses but had never read any classic novels. I remember my Mom saying just that as I’d come home with different assignments. “I wish you’d had Mrs. Bartley”, she’d say. “Then you would have been exposed to all these classic novels. It’s a shame she retired before you had her”. I’d just smile and think how lucky I was to have the chance to do different units. But now, facing the dilemma of selecting a new major, I felt insecure. I knew that opting to major in English was going to mean tackling a bunch of classic novels. What if I couldn’t understand the texts? What if I failed? I’d read books throughout school but none that were overly difficult to understand. I examined the course catalogue book and saw the requirements for an English major. “It’ll be tough but you can do it”, I heard a voice inside of me say. So off I went to the Registrar’s office again. At the start of my junior year of college, I officially became an English major.

I have never regretted that decision. My classes were tough. They provided me with the challenging academic atmosphere that I had felt I needed. I took a course on Shakespeare and one on Chaucer. Never having been exposed to literature such as The Canterbury Tales before, I annotated the texts and examined every footnote in my textbook. I took a course on Linguistics which had us studying Native American stories and I examined "Writers from Maine" with Professor Jacques who became one of my favorite professors. I took courses in a variety of genres, studied poetry and modern criticism and hit the books so hard that I realized how little I had studied beforehand. I felt proud of myself for daring to take on what I had first feared. When I graduated summa cum laude in 1990 I still had no idea what I wanted for a career but I knew one thing, I had made myself very proud.

As my own children make decisions around college the courses of study they wish to pursue I share with them my own experience. I tell them that it is okay not to have any of it figured out when you’re only eighteen years old. It’s okay to change your mind a few times and that most of all, it’s important to do what feels right. As much as I love Theater, the major didn’t feel right for me at the time, and as much as I enjoyed my Communication classes, I was right in realizing that another course of study more appropriate for me was out there for me to explore. My first two years of college were spent exploring fields of study. Then I gave myself the challenge of becoming an English major and graduating with all the courses I needed in just four semesters so I could meet my personal goal of getting my undergraduate degree in four years’ time. When I succeeded, I carried that win into other areas of my life. If that isn’t what college is all about, finding what it is that makes us know we now have whatever is needed to take on the world, then I have college all wrong.

After graduating in May I returned to school in late August to enter a graduate initiative called the Teachers of Secondary Schools Program. I really had no idea if I even wanted to be a high school English teacher when I applied for the program but as luck would have it, after graduation, I was hired to teach summer school English at a nearby high school. The rest is history. I fell in love with teaching teens. I got my teaching certificate and got a full time teaching job at that same school that had taken a chance on me the summer before. I then won a scholarship and earned my Master’s Degree in Education within the next two years, and along the way I became a parent. And as we all know, that’s when my real education began.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

How Are YOU...Really?

People amaze me...every day. I remember how, years ago, I was told that a freshman student of mine had lost his mother over the summer. I watched this young man for weeks thinking he would start having academic or emotional issues. I waited for him to crash, not realizing at the time that he would instead become the model of resiliency for me. Jason not only survived in spite of his loss, but because of his faith and his strong family ties, he thrived. I know he must have had his share of dark days and I surely would not have blamed him for faltering, but he grew to be one of those students whose character and personality would forever stay with me, long after he graduated from high school. I thought of him often over the years, wondering how he was doing in his adult life. Not too long ago we reconnected. Seeing pictures of him with his wife and child warm my heart.

I meet many students like Jason each year. Students who have incredible burdens to carry yet who, for whatever reason, are most admirable for their strength and perseverance. Some share with me their challenges and others choose not to, perhaps thinking I am unaware of what they wish to keep private. Sometimes I do not hear of a student’s situation until they are almost ready to leave my classroom at the end of the term. And sometimes a student never thinks to mention their personal story, thinking it’s nothing worth mentioning or out of a desire to be seen as being no different than their peers.

But today as I corrected a batch of papers I came across the writings of two of my students, two students who each recently lost a parent. The students are very different from one another and although I am not a psychologist, the professional educator or maybe the Mom I am sees that they need very different things right now, in terms of what I can do or can provide for them as their teacher. One needs me to be fair and understanding with deadlines but also needs me to stay the course, to keep the ball rolling so he can have that healthy distraction of his academics. I find I have connected with this student in the smallest of gestures, such as the card I slipped him when no one was looking or the subtle whisper of, “You can take a few extra days to complete this if you want. Do what you need to do. I trust you”. He smiles and nods “Thanks” to me and there is a look of appreciation in his eyes when he does. I am pretty sure he knows I’m pulling for him. In contrast, the other student needs me to hear her grief, to read of her journey without her mom, to offer words of empathy and consolation. She can’t move on without the regular discussion of her pain and I well understand that. As I read her stories, memoir pieces, poems, and essays, I witness her grief and I reassure her that I am indeed listening. I push her forward gently but firmly, and today I found myself writing her a note, sharing with her my own personal challenge this year, one quite similar to hers. Tears sprung to my eyes as I crafted the note but it felt right to reach out to her in this way. Life can be tough enough without having to face your high school graduation knowing your mom won’t be there to see you in your cap and gown. I wanted her to feel a mother’s love today, even if it’s from a surrogate who is just taking a little time to say, “Hey. Hang in there kiddo. You will get through this. Good times and the fun of life await you”.

I am amazed by people...every day. There is such strength within others that come and go in and out of our lives. Everyone we meet has his or her own burdens to carry. We rarely get the chance to truly know what those burdens are, and it seems even more rare an event that we get an opportunity to be of aid. But maybe, if we can manage to stop more often and take note of what people aren’t saying when we ask them, “How are you?” and they answer “Good. How are you?”, we could be of greater service. I vow to watch more closely and to listen more intently. And I continue to pray that I will do right by others, and know how to help lessen the weight they carry. “How are YOU..really? Can I be of any help? Will you please let me know. I’m here...ready to listen.”

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Circle of Life

Today is a beautiful sunny day. The snow from Saturday’s storm is slowly melting from the rooftops and the leaves on the trees are glistening. The colors of gold, green, orange, and brown are pretty against the blue skies and a pair of rain boots to walk through the wet fallen foliage and leftover snow is all that is needed for a walk outside.Taking a stroll through the backyard has me thinking of the past summer when I’d walk barefoot on the grass before pulling up a lawn chair to read in the sun. I think of the months to come when snow will be piled to the back windows. I love the snow though and I’ll enjoy the stillness of a cold winter day, almost as much as I will appreciate the way the sun warms my body next July when I return to sit on the back deck again.

It’s true what they say; that the older we get, the more quickly time seems to pass. I now write in a room that was added to our home in 2003, eight years ago when my youngest son was just three and a half years old. I look at the couch I am sitting on; it is the first piece of furniture my husband and I purchased (from a yard sale), back in 1988 when we were married, twenty-three years ago. I was just twenty years old at the time. My eldest child will turn twenty herself in January. It doesn’t seem possible that we moved into this house when she was just one week old. Skimming the perimeter of the room is a construction paper chain, each link identifying a book that someone in our family has read. The chain has almost made it around the entire room, a large room, but it’s been quite some time since any of us added a link. Yet, being the bookworms we all are, new links or not, we’ve all been reading. If we had kept up with this chain, we easily could have circled the room by now, and we probably could have done it twice. But I am comforted by the fact that the links have stopped the chain, that there’s still another ten feet of wall before the chain will meet the beginning links. My husband thinks we’re crazy for keeping this chain in the room. The colors of the paper have faded and it’s probably not something Martha Stewart would approve of as a stylish piece of home decor. But the kids and I would be appalled to have it taken down before it has had a chance to be finished.

I’m struck by how quickly each season passes, how summer turns to fall then to winter. I stop to soak in the magic of each season, thinking these pauses to appreciate will prolong each one, but no, the clock keeps ticking just as fast as it does when I am almost too busy to look away from my work. There is no secret to making time go more slowly. If there is, I have not learned the trick. Whether we cut a strip of paper to record our life’s chapters or not, the chain links continue to be added and the chain is lengthened. I just hope that when the final link is added, that I’ll have the chance to circle around again.