Saturday, March 30, 2013

Day 15: 50 Letter Challenge

To those who roll your eyes,

I get it. I’m right there with you at times. In my digital life, my digital self, I share a lot. Too much, I am sure, for the lot of you. But please, if it’s too much for you, find that button to unfriend me, or to hide me. I won’t be offended. In all honesty. I am 99% past the point where I worry whether or not everyone will like me. The 1% is reserved for those days when I am needy, oh so needy and insecure. (Okay, so maybe the actual percentage is higher than that. But that’s not the topic of my discussion today). In my non-digital life, I don’t walk on eggshells. There are a few I cannot spend too much time with. They irritate me and annoy me. So, if I am that to you here, online, please do yourself a favor and drop me. Move on with your life and be a happier person for it. If you choose to stay and continue rolling your eyes, well, go for it. Whatever trips your trigger. Floats your boat. Scrambles your eggs. Sizzles your bacon. Ices your cake. (I must be hungry...) Rocks your socks. Whatever. I’m happy to amuse you.

What you may or may not realize is that technology, in the form of emails, blog posts, and Facebook status updates, has helped me connect with others in new ways, in my own time, at my own pace. I have always been better with “wait time”, taking time to think through a response to a question, weighing how to articulate my ideas and my feelings. You see, I did that for years when I was little. I did not have siblings my own age and I spent a lot of time listening to adults talking together. I spent time observing those adults and living inside my own head. No, I was not neglected, but I learned how to be patient, how to find the right time to share. All that was a gift.

I had a good set of friends as a child and I grew up to be quite social in my teen years. But after so much activity, I sought out solitude in my college years. I worked hard in my studies and I went back to observing and listening intently. I wasn’t a complete hermit but pretty close. I was awfully proud of graduating Summa Cum Laude with an Honors status in my major, however, and getting an invite and a scholarship to get my Master's Degree by the age of 26. That’s what pulling away from sociability did for me. During those years of grad school though, I started a family and became a teacher, again surrounded by those who continue to keep me fully engaged in the "real world".

But here in my blog and on Facebook and through emails with family and friends who are NOT on Facebook, I put myself out there--to others who, on a regular basis, I would not otherwise have the chance to talk to, to learn from, to be entertained by, to love. I am living my best life--online and offline. I am still a bit awkward in both worlds, still that little girl who wonders when is the right time to share, but I have grown up to realize that technology has allowed me to launch myself into life 100%, to dig in, to be what I have always wanted to be, was meant to be. A lover of people. Technology has indeed been a tool that has allowed me an extension of my mental, emotional, and social self. It has allowed me more human connection and therefore, it has made me more human. Online and offline I am living in the real world. Sometimes I wonder, are you?

So roll your eyes (if you’re still here). I’ll still be smiling. And doesn’t the idea of that just hit your switch? Burst your bubble? Butter your biscuit? Flip your pancake?

Biscuits. Pancakes. I’m hungry. Time for breakfast. Have a good day.
Today's letter was inspired by a Ted Talk shown at the event I went to yesterday. It is worth checking out

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Dear Peter

Dear Peter,

I'm not altogether sure why I settled in on you for this note tonight. I think it is because I got thinking back to the years when we taught together--those years as I was approaching my 30th birthday. I was freaking out that my 20s were over and you'd laugh at me. Funny--I did not have much dread at all over turning 40. Funny--how every time you smiled at me, I felt younger and younger, more and more naive.

You laughed at me a lot in those years, but I found it fun. We worked hard to do right by our students and we made a good team, but there was another part of our friendship that wasn't always easy. You questioned me always--about my choices in life and you were the first to question my faith. You put it to the test. We discussed our separate beliefs with passion. You challenged me intensely and pushed my buttons fiercely. I fought back. Little did I realize what a huge service you were doing for me. You made me stronger--in my relationships with my students--and within my personal life, and in my relationship with my faith.

When you told me you were leaving teaching, I cried. I knew what a big loss it was going to be for our school and for our teens. And yes, for me. One of my colleagues saw my tears and mistakenly believed I had feelings for you. "Is he your soul mate, Anne?" she asked. I wanted to smack her. But well, I did have feelings for you. Just not like that. I simply knew that I was losing a friend who cared for me enough to be completely honest with me, even if the honesty hurt. I hadn't had a friend like that for a long time. I was losing someone who had looked deep into who I truly was. I was losing a friend who could be such a jerk (or so it seemed to many other people), but who believed so deeply in my abilities and in my nature.

On your last day, you came to talk to me one last time. You told me that my eyes never lit up more than when I was teaching what I loved. You were trying your hardest to lift me and to embolden me. You challenged me one last time, leaving with the words, "Take care of the teens". That was the day I stopped thinking, "I teach English". I started believing instead, "I teach teens". It's made all the difference.

You checked in on me a few times over the next couple of years. You made subtle and not so subtle remarks to me to remind me of my dreams and my power to achieve them. It's been several years since we've run into one another, but I still carry some of those remarks with me still. I "get on the treadmill to get off the treadmill". I "don't fall in a rut". And, I "laugh and find the humor in all the craziness". The last time you saw me you seemed a little disappointed that I was still teaching. "Really?" you asked me, "Still at the same school?" But that's when I finally realized the strength in all that I'd become in the years since you'd left our school and the profession of teaching. I won't fault you for leaving, for that was your personal choice and one I can understand. But I didn't need to leave to change for the better. Teaching for me evolved from a job to a career to a calling. I know that I am meant to teach teens. I am good for them and they are good for me. I truly believe that.

Thank you for taking me under your wing, for truly taking the time to give me a chance, for getting to know the real me, and for challenging EVERYTHING I ever believed in. You pushed and you prodded and you shook me up and it was exactly what I needed at that point in my life. You made me stronger. You made me see the real reason I do what I do. You humbled me while boosting my confidence. You were a very good friend.

I wish you could see how much I have grown. I think you'd be quite proud of me. I still miss you every so often. I only wish that I had paid more attention to you. I know I thought I was listening and I was honest with you in reply, but it has nagged at me that maybe I read you incorrectly at times when you most needed someone to understand you. But I did try. I was just young and caught up in myself. Oh and one final note? Despite how you might feel about this, I still keep you in my prayers. I won't harass you about your lack of faith anymore. You'll come around, someday. And if you don't, and things get really serious,  I'll come get you. No one as good as you are, despite how hard you tried to hide it, can possibly stray far from God for too long, no matter what you think.

I love you, Peter.


Monday, March 18, 2013


Dear Barbara,

I thought of you for the second time today as I was fixing dinner. I reached into the fridge to grab the mustard, ketchup, and dill pickles and I suddenly I was hit with a wave of nostalgia. I always associate BBQs with being at your house. It's not that we haven't enjoyed such dinners at other places, but it was so nice to regularly swing over to your place for dinner in the summertime. We did that a lot--a swim in the lake or the pool and an easy meal. It was fun. It was delicious (especially your potato salad!). It was comforting. So tonight as I looked over to the bag of hamburger rolls on the counter and thought of how I had my first "ungrilled" roll while at your house years back, I dropped a couple of tears.

I said up above that it was the second time today that I'd thought of you. The first time was when Eric and I were driving home from the gym together. I'd just read an email from my Dad, and Eric and I were talking about our Moms. We spoke of how quickly we lost you last fall and I thought again of how it's only been four months since. Sometimes it feels like you've been gone for a longer time. Why is that? I think that maybe it's because so much has happened in those four months--holidays, birthdays, vacations, travels, college acceptances for Emma, Paul's basketball season--and maybe I'm thinking that we're just "one quick trip over to your house" and one BBQ away from having you back. That I can share what's been happening lately and answer your questions when you ask, "How's your Mom doing?". I know that you're not there to visit anymore or to talk with and that saddens me. But I don't want to end this note on a sad note. I want you to know that we're doing okay. I'm watching over your boys and your girl. We talk of you, think of you, drop a few tears, but I am very sure we're all very happy that you are no longer in pain, no longer suffering.

I know you already know this, but I am so glad I had you in my life for as long as I did. Thank you for that beautiful son of yours, for taking me in as another daughter, and for all the love you extended to our children. I learned so much from you over the years. I'll expand on those lessons at a future date. But for today, I'm enjoying our cheeseburgers and I'd like to think you're smiling as you take note that I didn't grill the buns.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Hey Mom

March 15, 2013

Hey Mom.

It’s my birthday. I’m 45. I’ve been thinking all week about that number. I haven’t fretted over the actual age, instead I’ve been thinking about how when you were turning 45 years old you had me following you around, a four year old child, your youngest of five children. My youngest is 13. I’ll be 50 when Paul graduates from high school. You were 59 when I graduated from Stearns High School. But you always said to other people that I kept you young. Those people were commenting on how they knew you’d had Linda, Bill, John, and Kevin long before giving birth to me, and you’d laugh and call me “A Happy Afterthought” in reference to the 10-16 year age difference. Oh, your laugh. It has always been one of my favorite things about you.

You’ve always laughed easily. I’ve been thinking of my own laughter lately. Eric said to me a few years ago that I laugh more heartily these days. I caught him looking at me and smiling all goofy one night as I was watching tv. “You laugh harder now”, he said. “I love that”. And it’s true. For years I was quite self-conscious about my laugh. I’d smile and shake my head, had smirking down to a science, but it took such a long time for me to really let go and laugh as easily as I do now. Although, like you, over the years I’ve had times when I have laughed so hard that I’ve lost control. You used to do that too. Something would strike you funny and all of a sudden, we’d notice you were laughing uncontrollably with tears running down your face and you couldn’t stop. We’d all start laughing with you, and we’d gasp, “Mom’s lost it again” and you’d laugh even harder. I think of you every time I hear my children say, “Mom’s losing it”, such as when I couldn’t place an order at the drive-thru at Arby’s one time. The fact that the guy inside the restaurant couldn’t understand my words made me laugh even harder and the kids and Eric were laughing too. “Pepsi” I finally spit out to the microphone, but it came out as just a squeak and then another wave of hysterical laughing came again.

The best memory of you and I laughing together however was in Stockholm, Sweden when we ordered and received, “The Big Salad”, a salad so huge that we took one look at it and then turned to one another with our big eyes. In astonishment, I don’t think we said a thing at that moment. We just started laughing and within seconds we were both out of control; we could hardly breathe. I got up to go to the bathroom to calm down, for I was growing embarrassed, and later you admonished me for leaving you there laughing by yourself. For years, this has been one of my favorite memories of not only our trip to Sweden, but of you in general. You are such a fun Mom.

You’ve always smiled and laughed with people in town, maybe it’s even been a bit of a nervous laugh, but people have always said what a beautiful woman you are and I know that the joy you exude through your smiles and your laughter is part of that beauty. But you’ve also been a serious Mom, a mom who could make her children and grandchildren behave with one stern look from across the room. I mastered that look myself when I became a mom. Even my kids at school know “the look”. Through your example I learned to command respect naturally and warmly by mixing fun with high, consistent expectations. Throughout my life, you’d been a Mom I could talk honestly with. You not only knew and understood me, you respected me and gave me room to learn and figure out this world and myself. Thank you for that.

You have always been someone I have wanted to please. But over the years I learned that no matter what I did, or what I said, or what I wanted in my own life, you were my biggest fan, my biggest supporter. You calmed me when I met with challenges that unnerved me. And you have always been such a good listener. You didn’t share your feelings with me as readily as I share mine with my children, but you taught me about life through your stories--of your past, of your relationships with your own parents and friends, teachers, employers, and community members. You were always generous with your time doing volunteer work too, but you always said, “Charity begins at home” and that is a mantra that has shaped my own life with my family.

Thank you for being a fun playmate when I was little, for making time to play dolls and Barbies with me. Thank you for being such a cool Mom in my preteen and teenage years when together we threw the best parties for my friends. Thank you for telling me during those peer pressure years that I could always blame you if I needed a way to duck out of an uncomfortable situation such as an undesired date or other invite. Thank you for standing up for me when someone hurt me with words that showed they didn’t know me as well as they thought, and for showing me how feisty a Mom can and should be when someone threatens her young. Thank you for believing in me when I talked to you about getting married at the young age of 20, for knowing that I was always trustworthy, for defending my choice to be a working Mom and for understanding my torn feelings about leaving each of my children at the end of my maternity leaves. Thank you for being such a loving and fun grandmother to Sydney, Emma, and Paul, and for listening to me vent about the hard days when I wasn’t sure I could continue being a teacher.

Thank you for teaching me how to cook, how to shop the specials, how to make a house a home, how to build comforting traditions, how to do my taxes, manage my money, and how to defend myself against others who think I ought to be doing more or doing less. People, at times, do too much comparing and not enough supporting. “It takes all types” you’d say when I needed reminding that people are unique individuals, and “No man is an island” when I forgot that asking for help is okay. You have taught me greatly about being patient with other people, yet you’ve given me the confidence and the wisdom to stand up and defend myself when it is time to do so. To this day I hear your voice in my head when I momentarily forget to do what is right. “What would Mom say?” I find myself thinking. And what is beautiful about that, is that I know exactly what you would say.

In my 45 years I have lived a full life. Although, I have many more dreams and plans, I have what I most wanted as a child. I wanted to be many things in those years when I dreamed without any limitation. I wanted to be an actress, a singer, a paleontologist, even a Catholic priest. But in all of those dreams of a future career, what I held onto the tightest was my dream of being married and becoming a mom. My dreams came true. No, I chose to become a high school English and Drama teacher instead of changing the rules of the Vatican, but I married a good man who loves me as much as Dad loves you and I have three children who I love most dearly. Raising them has been an honor. They are smart and fun and kind-hearted and I am so proud of each of them, just as you are proud of your five children. My life is so very rich.

Mom, I’ve really missed you these past several years. I get up to Millinocket to see you when I can manage to do so, around the children’s schedules, but it’s not as often as I would like. It’s harder for us to talk on the phone these days and you don’t get down to the computer often to email anymore. But I have been working really hard to treasure my time with you. Last November I came up to see you and Dad and I was single on this trip, without my family in tow. We went to Mass together and I remember taking your hand into mine, and you and I quietly compared our hands, our fingers, our rings. I made myself take a mental picture of us, sitting in the pew together that day. I ordered myself to, “Remember this moment!”, because too often I focus on our past together and not our present. And although you have taught me so much in my 45 years as your daughter--so many unforgettable lessons about the importance of being the woman I have always wanted to be, the woman I have worked to become, you have so much more to teach me now. I am paying attention. I am listening. I am watching. I continue to be guided by your example, your courage, your humor, your grace, your honesty, your love, by all that is YOU.

So today is my birthday.  Mom, I didn’t know you when you were in your 20s, your 30s, but I’ve heard some great stories. Yet I have been around for 45 years and so I have witnessed the second half of your life. You are amazing in all that you have been and in all that you are, and I have such hope for my own second half. With you on my side forever and always, it’s going to be great.

I love you, Mom. Happy Birthday to me but thank you for my life.

Friday, March 8, 2013

It's Time

As a Mom with three children, all at different ages and stages in their lives, there is a constant reminder of my need to “let go”. The degree and circumstances of releasing my hold on each of them, however is varied. My eldest turned 21 in January, a milestone age in and of itself, and as she finishes her third year of college, she is busy looking for summer employment. Internships across the country, possible apartment searches, and budgeting realities face her now. It’s all very exciting for her. I am happy for her too, yet I catch myself saying, “Of course if you live here this summer, you’d be saving more money”. Then my husband chimes in, “Anne. Where were you when you were 21? Weren’t you married?” Sydney adds her two cents: “Mom wants me home this summer but keeps saying that after graduation I’d better be prepared to work at a job, move out on my own, and learn to become independent. Hmm...” Okay. Points taken. Go where you want, Syd. Do what you want to do. I’ll continue to work at letting go. It’s time.

The 17 year old is a senior. She has heard back from five of seven colleges and is waiting for news from another two. Her father and I have accompanied her to auditions, have listened to application essays, and have felt butterflies in our own stomachs as she tears open envelopes from various schools. For weeks she has weighed the pros and cons of going to a school that will require a plane ticket or the sacrifice of an entire day driving north to south. I am proud of the contemplating she has done. She’s mature, responsible, insightful. I’m torn in my thinking of where I think she should go. I have a say since I’m helping to foot the bill, but I’m reminding myself to allow her to make the decision for her own future. I envision the possibilities of where she’ll be in just six months’ time. Go where you want, Emma. Do what you want to do. I’ll continue to work at letting go. It’s time.

My youngest, at 13, is growing up too. Sure, I have him for another five years, but letting go so as to have him learn, to work from his own conscience, wants and needs, is also a challenge. Do I say yes or no to some of his questions or do I let him make a decision on his own after I put forth different options and perspectives? When do I exercise my own rightful responsibility to decide for him, and when is deciding for him the kinder thing to do for him? After all, if Mom is the bad guy, it relieves his own teenage stress and pressure with his peers. So, Paul. Sometimes I’ll let you go where you want and do what you want to do. But don’t think this will happen every day. Because we’re not there yet. It’s not quite time.

It’s time. It’s not quite time. What IS this thing called time? For the past few nights I have been reading Mitch Albom’s book, The Time Keeper. The tale of the first time keeper and the dangers of wanting to control time make for an interesting story, but the invitation for readers to reconsider our own notions of time and to appreciate how precious time is apparent. Reading the book has reminded me of an important universality. Like everyone else, I cannot, should not grow obsessed with hours, days, weeks, months, and years. I cannot allow sorrow over lost time to become a permanent hole in my heart. I cannot wish for more time, cannot fret over inefficient days or worry constantly over how much longer I have to be with my loved ones. Because counting life’s moments leads to counting them down. Instead, I need to mark stages of my life differently, by looking back and looking forward with joy and with faith that everything is as it should be.

My hesitancy to let go of my children will not dissolve completely. It never will. It never should. But I will enjoy watching each of my children grow in the new experiences that come to them. And I will always be here when they look over their shoulders to catch my eye. Yes, I’ll be watching, even as they practice their own lessons in letting go.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Secret Benefactors

In this fast paced society it is easy to lose track of the important things, to set aside long held personal beliefs or goals for our purposes, thinking we don’t have time. We even, at times, neglect people around us. There is so much clutter in our lives that it is often hard to concentrate on anything else. Daily life routines begin to control our lives before we realize it. Constantly stressing over school work, dating relationships, mistakes made with friendships or with family members, commitments to a job, chores, or extra-curricular activities creates anxiety and turns our perspective inward. If we’re not careful, we can forget who we truly are and/or who we want to be: caring, selfless, giving, generous men and women who not only feel for other people, but who work to make this world a better place. If we’re not diligent and vigilant, our personalities might even transform into those which are not our own and we then can become frustrated with school, with people, with life.

As I walk the halls at school where I teach, I observe the interactions of a variety of people. Too many young people are insecure and develop many misconceptions about their peers. Some attempt to form opinions on those around them without enough real insight of who that person truly is. Most forget that others have issues outside. And note, I am not only talking about the teens I see in the hallways, but the adults as well. We’re all human after all. It takes effort to not be consumed with our own burdens, our own “clutter”, our own issues. But it is not only noble to stop and think of our fellow man, it is essential.

Several weeks ago, I introduced a task to my Honors Freshmen English class. We were reading Charles Dickens’ novel, Great Expectations. Students had reached the part of the classic book where poor Pip, a young boy being raised by an abusive older sister had just been told he has a secret benefactor, someone who will make a huge difference in Pip’s future by lifting him from his home and having him educated to live as a gentleman. I invited students to become “secret benefactors” to one of their English class peers. I randomly selected someone for each student to “take care of” in the form of supportive “presents”. The presents were to be of minimum cost or handmade--a pack of gum, a granola bar, a note with a bright and cheerful message, a funny picture or cartoon. Their benefactor identities were to remain in the strictest of confidences.

I served as “Jaggers”, the observant lawyer in the novel who is the middle-man for Pip’s benefactor, the one who doles out Pip’s allowance until the time when the benefactor’s identity is revealed to Pip. For two weeks prior to February vacation and for two weeks after, students came in with gifts for their assigned peer. Sneaking up to my desk and quietly whispering the name of the recipient as they passed the pop tarts, hand lotions, jelly beans, colorful signs, and homemade cookies behind their backs into my waiting hands, the four weeks of “giving” made for amusing class beginnings each day. I asked everyone to abide by the rules Pip had been given in the novel. Keeping the secret of who was whose benefactor was key. Students were not to make any inquiries or to speculate on who their benefactors might be. I asked everyone to be as discreet as possible.

Was this class of thirteen 14-15 year olds to be successful in this challenge? Were students lifted by the attention of their benefactors? Did people enjoy the chance to give presents to a random peer? Did students recognize the opportunity they were given to practice selfless generosity and did they take any time to reflect on the bigger picture of what this experiment was all about?

I hope so. I’ll get back to you on this. The experiment is not yet complete. At the end of the four weeks of giving on Friday, March 8th, I will tell students it is now time to reveal their identity as the secret benefactor they each have been to one of their classmates. Just as Magwitch the convict revealed himself to Pip, students will now have the chance to talk with the one to whom they have given gifts to. The students then will be asked to craft an essay discussing and describing the experience they’ve had in being both a benefactor and recipient of another benefactor’s generosity. I hope that students will believe that this exercise and their gift giving was designed to be a well-placed reminder of our purpose as human beings—to befriend each other, and to share our kindness generously. Most of all, I hope that as we all continue our walks down the halls of our school, that we’ll work harder to set aside the clutter and personal anxieties to extend a hand to the human beings who walk the halls with us each day.