Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Breakdown and Restart

This morning I walked into my classroom to find it colder than the hallway. After some chilly October days we’d all been delighted to have the heat come on, however, a few weeks later, something went wrong with my room's heating unit. A request was put in to get it fixed. I wore extra layers, drank hot cocoa, all in an attempt to adjust to the dropping temps. My students noticed the cooler air too but said, “It's chilly but it’s not TOO bad”. We were all being patient as we waited for some help to arrive. 

This morning, finding my room cold again, I walked down to the main office to calmly report the issue and the custodian wasted no time in coming up to fix it. He got the heat fan working and said he’d come back immediately to oil the mechanics of the darn thing if the gears seized up again. He's working on getting my heater a new motor. I thanked him. He said keeping the room warm would be his new priority today. He truly couldn’t have been nicer. 

But what I haven’t shared with you yet in this story is how, at 7:00am, feeling the cold air hit me as I walked into my room, I dissolved into tears. 

“I can’t do this", were the words that came out of my mouth, albeit in a hushed whisper. My tears may have been brought to the surface by some returning chilly temperatures, but this early morning heater breakdown had broken me. It revealed to me how sometimes, despite my attempts to patiently wait things out, or to adjust my sails in some rocky waters, I'm not as steadfast as I wish I could be. Are any of us consistently steadfast? Of course not, and that's okay. Like that old heater, I’ve been trying so hard to keep going, to keep my gears oiled with the completion of the tasks necessary for warmth--the running of my household and my five classes, but in my fatigue, I’ve stripped away my own gears. The busyness of my life has served me, but at what cost? Have I prolonged repair? What is the fix for my own motor?

May Sarton once said, "My own belief is that one regards oneself, if one is a serious writer, as an instrument for experiencing. Life--all of it--flows through this instrument and is distilled through it into works of art. How one lives as a private person is intimately bound into the work. And at some point, I believe, one has to stop holding back for fear of alienating...and come out with personal truth. If we are to understand the human condition, and if we are to accept ourselves in all complexity, self-doubt, extravagance of feeling, guilt, joy, the slow freeing of the self to its full capacity for action and creation, both as human being and as artist, we have to know..we have to be willing...(to write)". 

These words resonate with me. I've needed the distilling process that writing offers me and lately I've denied myself that. Perhaps I haven't wanted to admit how temporary and fragile all aspects of life can be. Perhaps I'm afraid others will read my writing and think me pessimistic or gloomy. Either way, I haven’t been accepting of myself...not fully. I need to stop waiting things out. I need to stop being so damn patient all the time. I need to be more forgiving of myself and I need to stop the constancy of distractions. 

So here’s a new pledge. When I feel the air chill, I’m going to do more than don an extra layer of clothing. It may have taken the breakdown of a heater to restart my own motor, but in any case it's time to free myself for the sake of full capacity. This girl is moving on. This girl is still going to do what's necessary to keep the gears running, but in the midst of this, come what may, she’s going to start writing again. 

Oh wait. She just did. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

My Cup Runneth Over




I am feeling a mix of emotions tonight as we prepare for our time at camp (my favorite place in the world). I'm also thinking back on this entire past year and where I was last July 15th...

My Dad had died one month earlier and I was in my hometown caring for my Mom for a two week stretch of time, my Mom's last two weeks in her home. We made only some day trips up to camp. I kept a journal, to preserve what we were sharing, and although I am grateful I recorded my days with her, I haven't had the courage to read my written entries. But I will...someday.

Tonight, Emma and I visited with my Mom in her new home---I recounted how Emma and I were caught in the rain this afternoon and Mom took my arms and exclaimed how cold they were before taking them both to warm in her hands. I stole a few extra hugs to last me a few weeks--hugging her is the same as it's always been--there is nothing in the world that can compare to a mother's embrace! I am so thankful that she is safe, content, and still so very sweet. My love for her...?! Well, my cup runneth over! I'm grateful that I've come so far in realizing and accepting that although she may not remember me as her daughter, or call me by name, the heart indeed has "muscle memory" and she lights up when she sees my face and she tells me, "I love you too" when I say it to her.

My time at camp will have me seeing and hearing both Mom and Dad at every turn. I will miss them there, just as I've missed them in other places---here in my own home, in the audience of performances--and at other locations and times. But I am so incredibly lucky to have had them both as parents and as wonderful grandparents for my three children. At camp I'll miss Dad's puttering and his pancakes and cribbage games and his taking us on the boat, pointing out all the various camps and visiting the boomhouse--and how I'd make him smile and laugh when I made fun of his skinny white legs after he finally found it warm enough to don shorts. I'll miss Mom telling me where to spot the loons she'd see on the water, and our talking about menus, the grandchildren, and the way we'd watch the weather coming at us from across the lake. I'll miss us all enjoying quiet evenings reading in our own books or occasionally playing a family board game all together at the kitchen table. I'll miss our goodnight hugs and kisses. I'll think about the special heart-to-heart talks Dad and I had on the dock and the way Mom scolded me just two summers ago when I unintentionally frightened her by coming in from kayaking past sunset. "Don't you ever do that again! I couldn't see you!"....I'll remember making them laugh by crawling in between them in their bed, decades after it was normal to do so, and I'll think of Dad telling me the stories of building the camp when Mom was expecting me. I'll miss seeing Dad return to Mom's recliner chair several times to kiss my Mom good morning after asking her, "Have I given you a kiss yet this morning?!" and hearing her giggle her answer, "No" or "Yes. And more...so much more...

So many memories. I was so SO loved...so very spoiled as some would say---I was so blessed to have had such a close relationship with my Mom and Dad for those 45+ years. And now, just as Dad said must happen, I'll go back to this beloved camp again with my husband and our children to continue the joy and the love of new memories in the making.


Monday, June 30, 2014

100 Happy Days


This morning I finished Kurt Vonnegut’s book, A Man Without A Country. I’m fascinated by Vonnegut, a man others have said was either the world’s most pessimistic optimist or most optimistic pessimist. I like Mr. Vonnegut’s story, Harrison Bergeron, a title I have my students read each year. I admire his wit, his honesty, his ferocious determination to work through the complexity of our human condition. In A Man Without a Country, I reread a passage I had heard the author speak of before in an interview I’d watched with my teens. Mr. Vonnegut spoke of his Uncle Alex whose principal complaint about other human beings was that they so seldom noticed it when they were happy. Vonnegut said that “one day when Uncle Alex and he were drinking lemonade under an apple tree in the summer, talking lazily about this and that, Uncle Alex suddenly interrupted and exclaimed, ‘If this isn’t nice. I don’t know what is’”. Vonnegut said he continued to do the same, to think that phrase from time to time, and got his kids and grandkids to do the same--to notice when they were happy and “to explain or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is’”. 

One hundred and one days ago I began a challenge I had learned about from Josh, a former student of mine. I’d scrolled through various pictures Josh had posted, pictures of delicious meals, projects accomplished, and places he’d explored. I loved his pictures for each one was capturing a positive reflection of his day. The photographs each had the same hashtag, #100happydays. Curious, I decided to Google this and I stumbled across the website, 100happydays.com, which boldly asked on its home page, “Can you be happy for 100 days in a row?” and then cleverly asked in a subtitle, “You don’t have time for this, right?”  The challenge issued was to snap a picture every day of something--a meet-up with a friend, a tasty meal, etc--that had made you happy. 

The webpage continues its hook by reminding that we live in times when “super-busy schedules have become something to boast about”. It suggests that we don’t stop to appreciate where we’re at in any particular moment and thus, we don’t recognize when we are happy. I was shocked at the site’s statistic that 71% of the people who tried to complete the challenge they were promoting would fail, quoting “lack of time as the main reason”. Do so many people truly believe they do not have time to be happy? I read of the benefits of successfully completing the challenge. People claimed to start noticing what makes them happy every day, were in better moods every day, were feeling lucky to have the life they have, and were becoming more optimistic. Some even claimed to have fallen in love during the challenge. So, yes. I was hooked. I chose two platforms to display my pictures--Instagram and Facebook--as was suggested by the web page to inspire others, and I began. 

On the first day of the challenge I snapped a picture of our dining room table, a maple shaker-style table which had been one of the first major purchases Eric and I had made back in 1992 when we moved into our new home. The table is full of scratches from twenty-two years of family dinners, school projects, the making of Valentine’s, pumpkin carvings, and Christmas present wrappings. The second day I posted a picture of my Dad’s Maine Maritime jacket that Paul had begun wearing. As the fourteen weeks passed, my pictures continued to document items, meals, people, experiences, books, unexpected gifts, notes, quotes, pets, memories, pictures, nature....you name it. 

Some days I found it hard to decide upon a particular picture to post. Either I’d had a rough day at school, a mundane day at home, or else I was feeling less than my best. But luckily, these days were far and few between. As the challenge continued, I often felt torn between various possibilities for the day’s post. There was an abundance of happy moments and reflections in my days! Was I just lucky or was this the result of my newly refreshed perspective? Either way, whether the day was blah or full of joy, the challenge accomplished its mission for me. I selected a particular moment and declared it as my days’ happy moments. 

As the 100 days came to an end, I received an unexpected surprise. Several people who had been following my posts over the last three and a half months wrote to me to express their appreciation of my “positive posts”. It seems that my daily pictures have been an inspiration for my friends and family. I’d begun the challenge thinking it was a good way to keep me focused on the joys of life, and it certainly was, but little did I think it would help others in their own perspectives of their days. I am humbled and yes, I am happy that this has been the result. 

Of course, even though the #100happydaysforanne challenge has come to an end, I am not so foolish as to believe that yesterday’s post was truly my last happy picture, or my last happy day. That’s ridiculous. But I do thank Josh for inspiring me to complete this challenge by sharing with me his own 100 happy days, and I thank those who have continued the rippling effect by beginning their own 100 happy days challenge, and I thank all the optimistic, hopeful, kind people in my life who continue to lift me up when my own wings get a little heavy and who will no doubt continue to inspire me to stand in the sun with great joy, peace, and love.

I told myself on the last day of the challenge, on the day I would post a picture of “Day 100”, that I would let the day come without any expectation of what I might have as my day’s post. As with any Sunday, we began the day getting up early, piling the three kids in the car, heading to St. Joseph’s Church, and singing with the choir. Sidenote: I had entered my pew unable to control my laughter after Emma and Paul and I had had a funny experience in the stairwell. So out of control, with tears rolling down my face, I actually had to whisper to my choir director that I was not crying but rather laughing! The Mass was beautiful with our choir singing an African song to honor our two priests from Nigeria, but as the final hymn began, I found myself getting choked up remembering my father singing “How Great Thou Art” in his signature voice. Emma touched my arm, fully aware of why I’d been unable to continue singing for a minute or two.  After church Eric and I drove over to visit with my beautiful Mom and I sat in the chair next to her, talking and giggling with her. After an hour or so, Eric and I drove to the ocean and spent a couple of hours at the beach. I started a book, Kurt Vonnegut’s A Man Without a Country, and I stopped to share several passages of the book with my husband. We then took in a movie, enjoying popcorn and MilkDuds, before driving home. I watched some tv with my daughter, waved to my other daughter as she left to meet a friend, and kissed my son goodnight before heading upstairs to read. My dog joined me in bed and after pausing to pull off my glasses, I fell asleep to the hum of the window fan.  The 100 happy days for Anne? These weren’t the first 100 days of their kind. They certainly won’t be the last. And so...

“If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is”.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Dear Nancy


Last July I received a letter from a woman who had come to see our LRCT performance of Gypsy on June 29th. Her name was Nancy. She wrote of loving the performance and of being "moved to send (me) fan mail". She spoke of living near Boston, vacationing in an old cottage in my Maine town, and how she'd grown up in New York City seeing Broadway shows in the '50s and '60s, including a 1959 Ethel Merman performance of Gypsy. She wrote "As soon as I saw you and heard you start to sing 'Some People', I new that everything was going to be fine! We have a good Rose!" She said she continued to be impressed with my command of the role, "every bit as persuasive as Ethel Merman's", and added that "in fact (she had) preferred the touch of vulnerability and tenderness" that I brought to the role. She called me "sensitive and stylish" in my depiction and said I'd put her in a "good mood for days" after seeing the show. 


It was clearly the most magnificent piece of fan mail I'd ever received. Wow.

I needed to write back to her, to tell her how very much her note had meant to me. Little did I know that it would take me nearly a year to respond. Shame on me. But the only way to attempt to make things right, is to apologize now and to make good on what should have been written last year. This letter will be mailed today, to a dear woman I've never met, but whose kind note lifted my spirits when I was missing my truest biggest fans of my lifetime, my Mom and Dad
.  

Dear Nancy, 

Please allow me to begin with an apology. I received your lovely note and donation to Lake Region Community Theater last summer. I then misplaced it all. It was tucked into a book I had been reading in July, one I did not open again for several months. Upon finding your letter, I sent the check off to our LRCT President, Janet VerPlank. It had been my intention to write back to you all along, but I failed to do so. I hope this note reaches you soon and that you’ll understand. 

I want to tell you what was going on with me and with the production of Gypsy last year. Rehearsals were in full swing and then our Gypsy Rose Lee fell ill. Although she returned to perform in the second weekend of shows, a last minute substitution was made and my daughter’s best friend, Savannah, stepped into the role with just a few days of practice. Savannah was remarkable--she is an intelligent and talented young woman and I am so very proud of her. She gave an incredible performance and it was a pleasure to be her Mama Rose on stage!

However, on the Saturday before opening night, our production was thrown another curveball that not many people in the audience were aware of. My father, an 85 years old, strong, intelligent, and industrious man, had a fatal heart attack. He had been caring for my 85 year old mother who has dementia. I was so very close to them both and I received the news of Dad’s death while at play practice that Saturday morning. My daughter Emma (who played my daughter June in the show) and I were devastated as were my husband and children Sydney and Paul.  

I went to my hometown immediately. On Monday night I returned for rehearsal. I then went back to sing at my Dad’s funeral on Thursday. I came to dress rehearsal that evening and the show opened the following night. The following Monday I was on my way to Rhode Island for Emma’s college orientation days. We returned in time to do our second weekend of Gypsy

My Dad and my Mom had long been my greatest fans. They came to every show of mine from childhood to adulthood. Their confidence and support of my passions always gave me the heart and determination to excel. My Dad had already expressed to me his sadness over not being able to make it to Emma’s high school graduation in early June and I knew it was unlikely he’d be able to attend our show two weeks later. I understood of course. But this was all on my mind. I thought I’d be seeing him in mid July at least. After June 15th, I was swimming in grief. 

But when it came time to perform, when I was in the lobby about to enter the auditorium for my first entrance, a little bird appeared in one of the classroom windows out in the hall. It fluttered its wings and I felt an enormous sense of peace wash over me. I was ready. Dad was indeed here to see the show. 

This role meant so very much to me and I gave it my all. To receive your beautiful letter out of the blue last July was an amazing gift. Thank you. I had worked hard to bring Rose to life in an authentic way. As a mother (who coincidentally has two performance loving daughters who majored in theater in college) and as a daughter who, unlike Rose, had a father who fully supported my every dream, I was determined to do right by the role. 

I now believe that my father’s death gave me the final bit of authenticity that I brought to the role. It may have taken me much too long to respond to your letter, but I think it has taken me this year to truly appreciate the grace God has bestowed on me, not only in the performance weekends of the show, but at all times, in all situations. 

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I humbly curtsy to your words. In my work as a high school English teacher (I’m finishing my 23rd of teaching this next week), I have asked my students to make time to write notes of kindness and gratitude. We need more of both in this world. I thank you for your kindness and gratitude and I hope my own expression of such to you is not too late. 


With Humble Gratitude, 


Anne

Monday, June 9, 2014

This Week is Hard


Okay. I need to admit this. I need to admit this to myself. 
So here I go. 

This week is hard. 

It’s not like it hasn’t been difficult already. But then the calendars changed to June. And then I saw the date. And then it was exactly one week away. And then it was the work week...six...five days before.

I told Eric I didn’t want to make a big deal of this. I told him I knew of its significance but that I didn’t want to feel pulled down by it. Because it is getting a little milder. I have grown stronger. I’m blessed. I’m still happy. I’m honoring it all by living well. I’m wiser now. Kinder. Better. 

But...This week is hard. 

I’m correcting senior finals. Just as I was doing at this time last year. I’m setting up for the final days of classes with my underclassmen. Just as I was doing last year. I’m thinking about packing away the items that will come home with me for the summer. I’m thinking of when I can start sorting papers and reorganizing my teaching binders. I’m thinking about those first few days of summer. 

Here it is. The undeniable wave. I try to push it away. I’ve got work to do. I don’t want to wallow. I’ve got to paddle my way through this. 

No. Don’t swim against it. Let it carry you. You’ll be okay. Don’t fight it. Let it wash over you and it’ll dissipate. 

This week is hard. 

Last year. Scenes upon scenes to memorize. Head swimming. Grades due. Get in the shower. Wait. The phone is for me. Hello? .........Okay.......Okay.....Click. Get dressed. Go to rehearsal. Texting John. There’s nothing I can do right now. Wait. Pray. Tell Eric

“Where are you going?!! Eric stammers at me .........You’re NOT going ANYWHERE”

Yes, I am. Going to rehearsal. There’s nothing I can do right now. I’ve got to go. Call Janet..... “Janet?....I’m coming. I think”. 

10 mile drive...somehow. Through the doors. Lew’s embrace. Warm, kind man. Hold it together. Pray. Focus on the lines. Dance. Sing. 

What was I doing? Did he see me? Did he smile? Was he proud? Yeah. I think so. 

Phone is ringing. “Hello?.....he didn’t make it....Okay...Okay...Okay”. Sit down. Sit down. Get your head around this. Pray. Pray.......PRAY. Where’s Emma?......... “Emma?!”

This week is hard. 

It's five days away from Saturday morning... June 15th, 2013. The day we lost you. And this year June 15th is on Father's Day. Of course it is. Of course. 

This week is hard. But it’s okay. It doesn’t have to be any other way. I don’t think it should be any other way. 

Deep breath. Itchy watery eyes. A solitary tear. Gratitude. Warmth. Finally...a smile. 
I’m okay. I’m okay. It's all going to be okay. 

I love you, Dad. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Yesterday

The "selfie" they sent me on their IB English exam day. <3
Dear Austin, Noah, Paul, Julia, Tyler, Silas, Josh, Bryce, Jaime, and Josie, 

I went back and forth on the idea of sharing my own "Say Something" final talk. On one hand, this is YOUR final. I've said enough already. I shouldn't add anything more. But at the risk of overkill, I felt the weight of the realization that after today, there will be no more 2B blocks spent with your sweet faces looking up at me from your seats there. So, forgive me. I'm taking a little extra time to speak with you, one last time. Here's my "Say Something" final exam. 

Yesterday, I was 18 years old, graduating from high school. Yesterday, I was 19 years old, telling my parents their baby was moving to NH for the summer to live with three of my best friends--I’d work retail and save money for college. Yeah right. I spent most of my paycheck on clothes thanks to my employee discount. I was the most fashionable sophomore on campus that fall! It was also the summer I finally accepted Mr. Walker's proposal and got engaged. Oh my God. No more flirting,  courting attention without intention. What was I thinking? I’d had such fun when he was away at college?! ha!  Well, I guess I knew a good man when I saw one. I needed to keep him around for the long haul. Best decision of my life right there. Best decision of his life too--after all, I'm "Freem the Dream"-- forever and always, right?!

Yesterday I was approaching my 21st birthday, walking down the aisle on my Dad’s arm, wearing my Mom's own wedding gown, smirking and suddenly feeling incredibly bashful--I suddenly couldn’t look up at Eric as we recited our vows. I’d been dating him for nearly six years--what was up with that?! 

Yesterday I was 22 years old, graduating from college and enrolling in grad school. Yesterday I started teaching at GNGHS. Yesterday I became a mom at age 23. Yesterday I gave birth to a second daughter at age 27 and then yesterday I had a son at age 31. Well, you get the idea. 

The truth is, it really does feel like yesterday. Nowadays I sometimes get up in the morning, make my way into the bathroom and I do a double take as I look into the mirror. WHO THE HELL IS THAT?!  I think. When did I get this old? I actually think I’m going to see my 18 year old self in the mirror. You can imagine the shock I get on a daily basis. I get kind of achey at times--a little sciatica in my back and legs, a little arthritis in my hands. And sometime after yesterday, maybe overnight, I'm not sure? I gained 40 pounds. I don’t know how that happened but I’m told it might have something to do with those three young adults who call me Mom. So, it’s a goal of mine to lose that weight by next June. Friend me on Facebook and scold me when you see me posting pictures of my homemade whoopie pies, okay?!

But in all seriousness, it’s a blessing to get older. It’s a privilege denied to too many. I know this for a fact. I’ve lost some former students to accidents, diseases, and most devastating to me, to suicide. I see those teens still--right in here--and I nod to them every once in awhile--they too were once so vibrantly alive. 

I don’t mean to turn morbid. I just want to emphasize to you all that we don’t know what the future holds for us--whether we’re 18, 22, 31 or 46. What matters most is that we live, truly live each day that we’re given. Like Tyler said, make those breaths count. Like Josie said, live authentically with the right attitude and most importantly, with awareness. Oh you're all so wise already with the words you've spoken this week in your own final talks--far more so than I was at 18, or so I think...so I remember. 

As you know, I lost my Dad last June. As Father’s day weekend approaches again, I’m trying very hard to remain calm and at peace. But I am constantly reminded of my Dad’s last words. After his heart attack he was being flown to a bigger hospital in one of those Life Flight helicopters when he suddenly opened his eyes, looked out the window to the bright blue sky and said, “It’s a beautiful day”. I know I’m still grieving his death--because, aww, I miss him so damn much--and I’m grieving the ongoing loss of my Mom to her dementia too, but I can also acknowledge that I have become a stronger person in the midst of these losses, especially since last year. I strive to find the beauty in each day. I laugh more heartily. I listen more intently. I’m a better person--more patient, more forgiving. I’ve got a much better perspective on everything nowadays. More faith too. It’s my way of honoring the life that my Mom and Dad gave me. Each day is a beautiful day--it doesn’t matter whether I’m correcting piles of papers or whether I’m outside playing basketball (badly) with my family. I’m more aware of my days. I’m more grateful for my life.

Yesterday, I welcomed 10 IB students into my classroom for the first time. And now, suddenly, (or as they tell me, it’s now two years later), it’s the last day before you all move on to college. Once again, a set of teens I’ve spent my days with will move on and I’ll remain in high school. But something tells me, this is where I’m meant to be. Because no matter what I see in the mirror each day, no matter what new aches and pains I feel, I’m still 18 at heart--yep, a bit immature for sure, but so very passionate and hopeful about the future. No matter the losses I face, each and every day is still a beautiful, BEAUTIFUL day. 

Thank you for being a part of my yesterdays for the past two years. I love you, all. 

Mrs. Walker

Saturday, May 17, 2014

I Quit My Job


I quit my job. 

No. Not the teaching gig. I rather like that one. The truth is, you can’t (or shouldn’t) quit something that makes you a better person. And teaching does that for me. No. I quit the job I acquired a few months ago when a local realtor asked me to write a weekly blog post for her business’s web page. I have never enjoyed quitting a job as much as I did this one. 

But let me explain. First, it wasn’t as it might sound. To quit I had to reconcile a few truths. 1) It’s okay to admit you can’t do something 2) It’s okay to admit you don’t want to do something 3) It’s okay to quit the job that was the first to give you a paycheck for writing. 

I wrote six blog posts and was paid 10 cents a word. I could have continued, at least for a little while longer, but I needed to quit. “It wasn’t my thing” is the simplest way to put it. The assignment didn’t feel right and although I tried, I felt stress because I was trying to make something fit when it wasn’t designed to. But I made enough money on those posts to purchase a bright yellow chair which will remain in my bedroom as a happy reminder of achieving one of my life’s goals and my Dad’s hope that I’d “someday get paid for (my) writing”. 

To quit the job I met my employer for the first time. I had not pursued the job but my name had been passed onto her by a mutual friend. She had hired me after one phone conversation. We’d exchanged a few emails during the months I wrote for her. She gave me some tips on how to better advertise her business and we discussed a fair rate for the work I was doing. But when it came time to part ways, I needed to meet her face-to-face. 

We met at her office last Wednesday. The business of the meeting was over after just a minute, I think. In the hours before our appointment, I had mentally prepared myself to walk out of her office having quit the job. I was still questioning myself a little though. I am quitting a writing job, a writing job that is paying me to write?! I was a little afraid I’d relent, be too eager to please, and agree to work with her to craft more posts. So the second I heard myself saying to her that I’d come to tell her I did not want to write for her blog anymore, I felt relieved. And she smiled and felt relieved too, I think. She understood completely. She was complimentary of my writing but knew what I knew, that her blog is not the audience for my writing. Despite the efficiency of our agreement, we continued to talk for an hour or so. We shared stories of our families, our struggles and our joys. I told her about my Dad and of his hope for me. I showed her a picture of my happy yellow chair. It could not have been a more comfortable situation, nor a more beautiful meeting of two kindred souls. As I stood to leave, we hugged. 

Walking back to my car I felt free. I felt strong and I felt good. I’d tried something new, given it my best shot, been rewarded for trying, and had let it go. As a friend at school said to me, “You checked it off your bucket list”. I did, but I don’t think that is all that this is about. I believe that opportunities and (more importantly) people come into our lives for a reason. 

A few minutes ago, my husband Eric came upstairs to our bedroom with a basket of folded laundry. 

"I thought you were going to get out of bed to come down and have some dinner?!", he said.
"Dinner? It's that late already?", I chuckled. 
"Well, it's almost noon. Well, no. It's 10 o'clock actually", he admitted. 
“I'm writing for the first time in forever”, I said.
"Oh! Well, GOOD for you! Write on then, baby! Write on!". This is why I love him. Well, it's reason #4893202 out of infinity. 

So here I am. Writing on. It’s nice to be back. 

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Sweetness and Respect


My day today was governed by the sweetness of one of my students, an 18 year old young man, a student I’ve worked with for nearly two years now, who appeared in my classroom at 7:15am. He wanted to talk to me. 

He was stressed. He was feeling very overwhelmed by his “To Do” list of homework, scholarship applications, financial aid applications, and the necessary decision of selecting his college by tomorrow. He knew he had work he owed me for his absence on Monday and work that is due by Friday. He acknowledged big tests coming up early next week. Surely, the weight of the world is on his shoulders this week. He did not come in for counsel, nor did he come in to make any excuses or to ask any favors. He did not come in to complain or to blame; In fact, he was quick to acknowledge how his own recklessness and procrastination had led to his present condition. He came in to see me only to explain to me why he would not be attending my class today. He didn’t want me to get the wrong idea. He wanted me to know the full story. When I realized he had come in out of respect for me, I was touched. 

I listened. Then I told him what he had missed when he had skipped my class (for the very same reasons) two days earlier, and what he was going to be missing today. I asked him about his day’s schedule. What was his plan? He told me of his end of the day study halls and of his sports practice late afternoon. He told me he’d skipped that practice too, earlier in the week, to work on his applications.

I shared with him how I understood what he was feeling. I recounted to him the business of my last few days--handling insurance claim paperwork for Emma’s stolen laptop, the last minute notice of a scholarship deadline, and how I was helping my daughter get the paperwork needed to make tomorrow’s due date for that local award. I told him I surely could relate, and that I also knew that he knows that these stressful days will come and go, not only in his final semester of high school but throughout his life. And then I said, “But then, you’ll catch your breath. This will all pass and you’ll be enjoying the warm sunshine, happy and excited to know you got through this and that everything is okay and wonderful again”. 

He nodded and thanked me. “I don’t know what I’m going to do, Mrs. Walker”, he said. I told him not to worry. That I’d either see him in class second period or I wouldn’t. And that if he was not there, I’d know why. I told him to take care.

Two hours later I welcomed in my second period class. Guess who was there in attendance, sitting at his desk? 

On this last day of April, an 18 year old young man reminded me why I do what I do. And no matter what he gets done today, tomorrow, or the next day, no matter which scholarships he receives, which school he ends up attending...that sweet young man is going to be just fine. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

His Grandfather's Jacket



“The jacket is lost” he said to me. 
“I have no idea where it could be”. 
The jacket I so painstakingly sought?
“All that work to find a jacket?! It’s all gone to rot?!”

It may have been left on the bus or at school. 
It may have been stolen. Oh this is too cruel.
It’s gone. All that’s left is his poor mother’s dread. 
“I don’t have the funds to replace it”, I said. 

To the closet I went to see what was there. 
Surely there would be nothing this teen boy would wear. 
And then I spied it, the jacket. Navy blue. Warmly lined.
Maine Maritime Academy. Class of 1949. 

“How about this?”, I said to my son. 
“Yeah, I could wear that”. He said, a bit stunned. 
I tried not to say it, I tried through and through. 
But I faltered, “Please oh please, don’t lose this one too”. 

It’s been a week now since he took my Dad’s coat. 
He grabs it with care, zips it up to his throat. 
He wears it each day, for each chilly bus ride. 
His grandfather’s jacket. The warmth of Paul’s pride. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

From Her Winged-Back Chair


As I left the Campus Drive facility of Maine Medical Center, I made the decision to drop in on Mom at her assisted living home which is just up the road. I knew I wouldn’t be sharing the great news of my ultrasound’s clean report or that I’d been told by my doctor that I’d finally “graduated back” to regular mammograms, but on some level, I wanted my Mom to reassure me that it was okay to breathe again. That everything was indeed going to be okay. 

I pulled onto the drive and the usual butterflies returned. They didn’t flutter the way they had when I’d pulled into the town of Millinocket in all those years of visiting Mom and Dad, but the excitement and anxiousness to see my Mom again was still inside me. I parked my car and I walked towards the glass lobby of the big beautiful white building. Would she be there in the lobby again? Most likely. She is happy in her perch. Her sitting spot gives her a window to the outside drive, but more importantly, she is able to see the comings and the goings of residents, staff, and visitors. I remember one day I brought to her attention that they were going to be showing a movie upstairs in the little theater room. She nodded sweetly and said, “Yes. But someone has to be here to welcome the company”. 

Sure enough, as I stepped into the little vestibule where the hand sanitizer station stands, along with signs requesting that visitors come on another day if they’re feeling ill, there she was. Mom excitedly began waving to me from her winged-back chair in the lobby of the assisted living facility. 

I’d stay for about an hour. I am learning so much about the variables of time lately, and of the paradox of how time doesn’t matter and how nothing else matters. I’d visited Mom  the previous week too. But as she saw me this time, she stood right up and smiled and said, “Oh my Goodness! I haven’t seen you in forever!”. I smile each time she says this. Gone are the days when I bemoan the fact that she cannot remember my frequent visits. I’m just grateful she is happy to see me, and that the love she has for me remains constant. Her reaction in seeing me, the hugs we share, the subsequent visits and repeated discussions about all things big and small, is all that is needed to reassure me that yes, everything is going to be okay. It’s perfectly okay to breathe.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Kick to the Surface


These past two weeks I have been struggling to catch my breath as yet another huge wave of grief hits me. Just when I think I am successfully learning to tread water as the waves ebb and flow, out of nowhere I am smacked in the face and knocked over. Weak at the knees, submerging below the surface, this is when I feel my indomitable spirit. I kick off the bottom once again and rise to the surface. It’s exhausting. I just awoke from an extra four hours of sleep on this blessed snow day off from school.

But truth be told, my work as a teacher is a much appreciated distraction. It is when I am preparing for class, immersed in research, correcting, composition of materials, or working with teens that I feel invincible. Well, until yesterday. 

In my first period prep I took time to write what I believed would be a short piece to share with my Advanced Creative Writing class. However my writing took me to an unexpected place and I felt the tears stinging my eyes once again. I would have been fine, would have willed the tears back inside, if not for the interruption of one of my teenage students. Popping inside my door, Abby asked if I could help her with an assignment and then she noticed my red eyes. “Are you okay, Mrs. Walker?” she asked sweetly. That was all it took. That little display of kindness, of sympathy, touched me. Despite my attempt to brush off the question to give her the help she was looking for, I instead shook my head and dissolved into tears for a short moment. I knew I owed her an explanation. I’d only sputtered out, “I’m sorry” and the beautiful girl had shaken her head and had quickly pulled up a chair near my desk to ask, “Do you want to talk about it?”

“I’m missing my Dad”, I said simply. “My birthday is on Saturday and it’s going to be the first birthday I’ve had without him”. 

“The first one?” she asked. I saw her eyes flicker as she made the connection. “Oh. Wow”, Abby said. 

“He always made a big deal out of my birthday. My Mom did too”, I said. 

“Even when you got older?” Abby asked. 

“Yes, even as I grew older”, I confirmed.

I told Abby I had taken a few minutes to write and had been hit by this thought, that I realized now why the past week or two had me out of sorts, that I’d been pushing the thought away thinking I was fine with it, that it wasn’t going to suck me under the surface. But my subconscious had been working overtime. Dad will have been gone exactly nine months on Saturday, March 15th, my 46th birthday. 

I thanked Abby, apologized once again, made a joke, and then we got back to what she had needed when she’d walked in on this teacher crying at her desk in the empty classroom. She wished me a happy birthday and we both laughed. I pushed my writing away after she left, shook my head and pulled out some correcting work. 

But this morning, after sleeping for an extra period of time, I woke up and found the letter Dad had sent me last year on my birthday. He and Mom had once again enclosed $100 for me to spend on myself. This year there will be no birthday letter from my Dad. And yes, that reality, as childish as it may appear--for surely at the age of 46 I should not need anything for my birthday--has me feeling sorry for myself. 

But sinking below the water is okay, as long as I do not submerge for too long. I’m already planning that kick to the surface, to the bright sky above. I’ll have two of my three children home for the day. We’ll go watch some basketball, go out for dinner, and I’d like to drop in to visit my Mom, bringing her a little birthday cake we can all share after I blow out a candle. I then want to stop to walk along the ocean and then go bowling or go play laser tag or do something else that’s fun. I can let those waves hit me when they must because I know that my parents instilled in me a great confidence in all that I am and all that I will be as the years pass. I may not be unshakable, but I am unconquerable. I just need to take a little time to let the tears fall, to feel all that there is to feel, before I rise above and swim on. 

This year, instead of receiving my annual birthday card or letter from Mom and Dad, I’m going to write my own. Or maybe, I just did.  Love Ya, Dad. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

About Time


It's Valentine's Day. After giving Eric a present of candy and a movie, I prepared him Belgian waffles and festively dressed them up with a little whipped cream, strawberries, and chocolate chips. A snowstorm gave us the day off from school and so in the afternoon we sat down to watch the movie I'd bought, About Time. In the film, the main character has the ability to travel back in time, to make different decisions or to redo a moment. I've always been a sucker for movies with a time-traveling plot device and had heard some excellent reviews. Without giving too much of the movie away, because I, too, highly recommend it to everyone, I will share that the film presents the secret formula for happiness: "Part one of the two part plan (is to) just get on with ordinary life, living it day by day, like anyone else. But...part two is to live every day again almost exactly the same. The first time with all the tensions and worries that stop us noticing how sweet the world can be, but the second time noticing". Of course, none of us have that time traveling ability and therefore we must learn instead, "to live every day as if (we) deliberately came back to this one day, to enjoy it, as if it was the full final day of (our) extraordinary, ordinary (lives)". 

The movie was witty, charming, and incredibly sweet, so sweet that my eyes were full of tears by the end. It's a movie with depth that tugs at one's heart. It is also a movie that makes you want a second chance to go back to particular days in the past. If I had this power, I'd choose the days of last year's February vacation.

Once out for school vacation in February of  2013, we traveled to Millinocket to visit with my Mom and Dad. We shared laughs and silliness and had serious discussions, one I remember was about why I should get a Subaru the next time around. I had told Dad of once again needing to call for a tow truck to pull me out of my troublesome curvy and slippery snowy driveway. It'd happened several times over the past few years. I also told Dad all about the trip I'd taken with Emma, her first flight ever and her audition at the college "down south". He teased Emma about what might happen if she moved "so far away", but he was serious too, stressing that where children begin their lives might be where they end up, and pushing forward the point that we as parents will want to continue being in our childrens' lives. Over a few days' time we hung out, continuing to talk, taking a few pictures, and enjoying paninis. Oh how he loved those paninis! I'd gotten a grill for Christmas and had brought it to Millinocket to use with Dad. He talked about the "warm crusty sandwiches" for months after that visit, and bought himself a panini press at the local thrift store the second he found one there. 

One night during our visit that week, in the midst of a snowstorm, Eric and I walked to the store a few streets away to buy milk. I remember feeling it was a beautiful night. As we returned and approached my Mom and Dad's house, with its lights shining through the windows, I felt at peace. I can still remember walking in the front door, shaking off the snow from my parka, kicking off my boots and setting them near the front door before I climbed up the stairs to the living room, yelling, "We're back!" so Mom would know we'd come in, hearing Dad exclaim about the snow. When it was time to head back to our home four hours away, I remember giving both Mom and Dad each a hug goodbye. And once again, getting teary-eyed as we pulled away. Oh how I wish I could go back, just for a little more time. 

It's been a year since I last saw my Dad. There. I said it. It's not easy for me to say. I have regret that I did not see him in March or in April, May, or June. I was working full time. The kids were busy with their activities. Emma had many senior year obligations. I had gotten the lead in a local theater production and Emma too was involved, playing the part of my daughter in the show. With her heading to college, it would be the last chance we'd have to be on stage together. I wondered if Dad would make it down to see the show. I hoped someone would stay with Mom and allow him to come for either Emma's high school graduation or for our production, both happening in June. Dad and I did talk on the phone. I made a special point of calling him on the morning of Emma's graduation brunch, telling him how I'd called so he'd be a part of her day, and as always, I told him I loved him before I passed the phone over to Emma. I stayed in the room to listen in and to watch Emma's sweet face as she shared her excitement with her grandfather. A few days later, Dad passed away from a heart attack. I never had the chance to say goodbye. I felt cheated. I was just three weeks from being with him again. 

So, on this first day of our 2014 February vacation, Eric and I watched that tender movie, and biting my lip as the main character returned to the past to visit his father, I had the chance to fantasize about returning to visit my Dad. I once again acknowledged my often too present concern that time is continuously passing me by so quickly. I am full of beautiful memories but my Dad is now gone, my Mom has Alzheimer's, my two daughters are in college, my baby is 14 years old, just four years from having his own college plans mapped out, and Eric and I just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. And in just a couple of hours, this beautiful movie had come to an end. But hey, that's life. "We're all traveling through time together, every day of our lives. All we can do is do our best to relish this remarkable ride".

I promise you. I'm doing my best, my very best. I don't have the ability to go back in time and I think that's probably the way it should be. I don't know what tomorrow will bring, so I'm living each day deliberately, taking it all in. Everything ordinary is extraordinary. And I don't want to miss a thing. Isn't it about time we all live this way?

How sweet the world can be.

Friday, February 7, 2014

A Letter To My 10 Year Old Self


Dear my sweet 10 year old Anne, 

This has been a tough year for you, I know. Last year Mom and Dad moved you to a new home across town. You didn’t want to move away from Katahdin Avenue, away from a neighborhood where you knew every worn path, every mark on each picket fence. They underestimated your attachment to that house, its memories of your earliest years. In your new home you’ve cried at how tough it is to start new at a different school where suddenly even the color of your hair or your “smart girl ways” aren’t being accepted. You've gone quickly from being well liked to well, disliked. And sometimes the biggest pain we receive comes unexpectedly, like that sucker punch to the stomach you were given by a friend’s friend last week. What was THAT about?! You certainly learned the meaning of having your breath taken away, didn’t you? Wow. But you refused to let that girl see you cry. I noted that. You have to believe me when I tell you that the struggles you are experiencing now are only adding to the strength of your spirit. And this 45 year old is incredibly grateful for how determined you’re remaining in the face of ridicule and intimidation. Your courage taught me some important life-long lessons. Hang on. It gets better. So much better. 

The funny thing is, we don’t count on our childhood selves to preserve the strength we’ll need as adults when times get tough. This past year of my adult life has taught me so much. Despite my passion for learning, if I had ever been given a choice however, I’d have remained blissfully ignorant. Although I won’t share with you what has brought me pain, before I take another step forward, I am going to try and list some of the lessons the past several months have taught me.  I’m sure it’ll be a little tough for your young self to understand what has brought me to this new understanding, but that’s okay. You just keep sharing your days with Mom and Dad and I’ll think of you as I continue this list. 
  • Love never ends, it doesn’t matter how few or how many miles we travel. It’ll remain.
  • It’s okay to feel broken. Change has to happen, and it’s okay to cry when it does.
  • Change, pain, and love all work to strengthen us. My strength amazes me every day.
  • Because of hardship, we become more patient, accepting, forgiving, compassionate, understanding, and intuitive than ever.
  • I am also accepting and proud of my continued vulnerability. It is who I am. 
  •  No one, not even another who has suffered the very same things, has the right to judge another’s journey. We all travel our own paths and that’s perfectly okay and how it needs to be. 
  • I am not alone, even if it sometimes feels that way. There are good people in the world who have my back. 
  • It hurts to keep pain inside, but it’s sometimes necessary to do for self-preservation’s sake. But when too many days of holding it in come to pass, be ready for a trigger and the tears to hit out of the blue, at the most inconvenient times. But that’s okay too. 
  • People who are hurting can still choose to be happy. I do and I am. 
  • God never abandons us. His gifts are everywhere. We just need to be open to seeing them. 
  • It helps to keep talking to our loved ones. 
  • Our biggest challenges define who we are and who we want to be. 
  • My eyes have seen so much and perhaps have never been more red, but they have also never been more beautiful and never more open.
  • Sometimes you have to take a time out from the world, from daily responsibilities, from anything or anyone who gets in the way of your healing. Listening to your soul is important work too. 
  • I am fiercely protective of others who are hurting and nothing pisses me off more lately than having one’s pain complicated by the ignorance, insensitivity, or denial within others. I will never stop trying to help others.
  • It is important to get extra rest and to loaf to refuel. 
  • It is important to eat healthily and to get daily exercise, even if it’s only a ten minute walk outside. Look up at the sky. Go to the woods. Find water. Feel the air.
  • Sorrow affects our hearts, our souls, our minds, and our bodies. Each will ache even when we’re not conscious of the source. 
  • You're what they call an "old soul", incredibly spiritual and emotional with a philosophical outlook on life. Old souls are a unique people. But you are who you are. Own that. God makes no mistakes.
What an incredibly lucky young girl you are, Anne. Thank you for working so hard to remain true to yourself in spite of the challenges you’re facing. And remember, in another couple of years, this 4th grade pain will all be behind you. Your middle school and high school years are going to be incredibly happy. You’re going to shine! And although I don’t want to ruin the story for you, let me tell you that the 45 year old woman writing this letter to you knows for sure that you are going to live a rich life filled with honest and genuine love, respect, warmth, adventure, romance, friendship, laughter, and fun. You are on your way to becoming an amazingly fierce young woman whose dreams will indeed come true. And something tells me that as you approach your 46th birthday, you are going to be filled with confidence that your next 46 years will be full of moments that take your breath away, without the sucker punch to the gut. 

And hey, enjoy the attention from the guys. Those awkward boys who are now looking rather silly in their polyester pants? They are going to make some great boyfriends in the future. Trust me. They'll all serve to help you better understand, appreciate, and love the men who will be there for you in your adult life. 

Hang on girl. You’re amazing. Then and now. 

I love you. 

Anne

Wool Socks and Snowshoes


Here is a copy of my first post at http://www.mainerealestate.me published a few days ago ! I'm excited to receive my first paycheck as a freelance writer!

Each school day I’m up at 5:00am, and we’re out the door at 6:15am. My son and I hop in the van and drive down the hill to his bus stop. The month’s freezing temperatures have dipped into the single digits again and we’re impatient for the dashboard heat to hit us. “Mom! You always blast the fan before the heat is there. It’s not the season for the air conditioner! Oh, I really don’t like winter”, he says shivering. I laugh, for he’s right about the way I blast the fan before the car’s even warm, and I find myself needing to reassure him that the Maine winters can indeed be enjoyed, but that means getting ourselves out into the snow and onto the ice: “You love to ski downhill.You enjoyed going skating the other day. Remember when we all went sliding together? We ought to go snowshoeing this weekend. Or we could go cross country skiing and bring along a thermos of hot cocoa and a lunch”. 

“Listen to you!” my son teases. He begins to mock my string of winter activities, doing his best impersonation of my “Mom voice”.  

He wasn’t buying it, but I know that it’s tough to raise the spirit or the temperature of a 14 year old boy who could use a little extra sleep in his warm bed these days. The conversation took me back to when I used to hear my own mother explain to me how important it is for we Mainers to get out and enjoy the winter weather, otherwise it’s an extremely long trek to spring. To this day, my brother struggles with winter and I am sure he is ready to go to Florida any day now, once he reaches his retirement. But would I want to do that? No, I’ve always echoed my Mom who says she loves the four seasons, and I cannot imagine what it’d be like to forgo the snow falling outside my window or to miss out on the series of weather-related cancellations that grant me an excuse to cozy up by the fireplace reading a good novel for an entire day. 

To “hunker down” in a storm would be one thing I would truly miss if I were to leave Maine. I also don’t think avoiding the cold elsewhere could ever come close to appreciating the beauty of the first buds on the trees, witnessing the way in which they quickly fill in by Memorial Day weekend, or simply catching my breath after a beautiful trek on the snowshoe and snowmobile trails outside my door. 

So, I agree, I ought to warm up my car a little earlier before my son and I get in there each morning. And perhaps it’s time for me to make good on my preaching that the best way to enjoy a Maine winter is to put yourself out there in its elements. Because truth be told, I’ve seen enough movies this winter. I’m ready for some real adventure. With the temperature rising this weekend to a balmy 36 degrees, my son heads to Shawnee Peak for some night skiing, and I vow to begin tomorrow by finding a good pair of wool socks and strapping on those snowshoes.