Teachers Make a Lasting Impact

During a 45 minute elementary classroom observation today, I was treated to a theatrical, energetic ELA teacher with an obvious love for what she does.

The children, 23 of them, were dissecting their recent chapter of Treasure Island while learning about character development, building imagery with words, prequels vs. sequels, and how the opinions of others often hold more clout in society than actual fact — such as when authors use a quote from another writer on the cover of their book to gain credibility. Book reports on Roald Dahl and other fantastic authors were also on the day’s agenda.

The teacher, an adept story teller, held these children’s attention remarkably well the entire period as they discussed various English language concepts by sprinkling in pop cultural comparisons the children would easily grasp – such as Star Wars and Harry Potter – and engaging them in laughter, wit, and stories about their own lives.

During a bunny trail discussion of word imagery and the pictures we build in our minds as we read, the teacher told the class a story of how her own Grandmother (a retired, veteran teacher) always encouraged her to read as a young girl.

“I was in elementary when the first Harry Potter book came out,” the teacher told the class. “My Grandmother would buy me the books. And she made sure I read them first before I could see the movie. And I loved reading! And picturing Harry and Ron and Hermione. When the final Harry Potter movie came out in theaters, I was in college, and refused to go see it with my group of friends. Because I wanted to be with my Grandma. It was our thing. What we did together. I finally did go with my Grandma! ….and my friends tagged along.”

Hats off to this beloved Teacher-turned-Grandma who is STILL making an impact in the classroom long after she’s put away her own grade book!

As the children stood for lunch a few minutes later, I hesitantly did too as I had another observation scheduled immediately afterwards. But I didn’t actually want to leave. Can I go back to 3rd grade? I’ll request this teacher.

The Rhinestone Cowboy

Yesterday I took a road trip to Augusta, GA, with my Mom and Dad. And the best part of a road trip with 70somethings? Decades old memories that arise. Especially as we were squeezing through some big rigs doing 80 down I-20.

DAD: “Hey you think those truckers still talk on CBs?”

ME: “Hrmm…. it’s not 1978 anymore, Dad. They probably have apps for that now.”

DAD: “I’m serious! I miss my days of talking on the CB!”

ME: “I….really don’t know if they do or not. Hey, why would a fence man have a CB? You weren’t a truck driver.”

MOM: “Oh CBs were so popular long before cell phones. We had a few of them. Dad use to talk on it every time we went down to Daytona. At first it would frustrate him because nobody would talk to him. THEN he became the Rhinestone Cowboy…. I came up with that handle by the way…. and after that, everyone from here to St. Augustine kept him on the line.

DAD: :::eyes glazing into the very distant past::: “Heyyyy Rhinestone, you got them ears on? Whats your 10-20? How about the Smokey report up there? ….Boys, we just passed a blue light special… wall to wall…. Kojak with a Kodak on the side…. Copy that…”

MOM: “The Rhinestone Cowboy would get so much chatter on the CB we would have to turn it off to take a break!”

RHINESTONE: “I sure miss that. Those were some good times. It was a great way to travel.”

10-4, Dad. 10-4.

Live Together, Love Together

It was 5:15 pm on a cold Friday in early November.
I had spent about 4 hours at the kids’ school that day (2 different trips), with ever present 3 year old Juli by my side.
Kevin had just arrived home from his shift with the power company. I hadn’t seen him since the night before as he is always gone before I wake up at 6:45 am.
All four kids were in the backseat singing along to pop tunes. I heard giggles.
We were on the way to five year old Caleb’s last normal t-ball practice before the playoffs begin next week. The traffic was backed up.
My brain was tired. All of it. I asked him if we had any plans for this weekend besides the homecoming service we were invited to at a local church and Caleb’s Tball game afterwards on Sunday. I couldn’t remember.
“I don’t think so. I was really hoping we could just sleep tomorrow and do nothing,” he said.
“You’re that tired?”
“Yes.” He asked me if I was going to Nina’s house for Moms’ Night Out with some of my dearest friends after practice. He remembered it was on our shared iOS calendar.
I’d been debating that question all day. “No….. let’s stay together. Why don’t we take the kids to the new noodle bar down from the house?”
“A nudie bar? I don’t think those are very family friendly,” he joked.
“Ha! NOOOOOODLE bar.”
“Ok. Sounds great to me.” And then he took my hand in his the rest of the ride.

Mama’s Backpack

She giggles and calls herself “Mama’s Backpack”, happy to hop on and tag along wherever I go.
She never complains. Seldom cries. I can count on two hands the number of meltdowns she’s ever had. She’s obedient to the point that it’s humorous. And a tad frightening. Perhaps the universe just took mercy on me after Caleb.
Today is her 3rd year well visit at the doctor.
Tomorrow she has to have a cavity filled at the dentist. First kid cavity of my motherhood experience. I’m not looking forward to it.

Hugs Every Morning

The clock on the microwave read 7:23 am.

Three year old Juli, wearing bedhead and a night tee, walked up and whimpered “Somssing…hurt…me.”
She tried to crawl in my lap. Then stopped.

Dressed in a night shirt, I was rummaging around an overflowing laundry basket hunting pants for my 7 year old because she grew three feet overnight and the khaki pants she’d already selected were too tight. Jack, my scrawny 9 year old beanpole, was yelling that his blue jeans were missing the adjustable waist straps. So he too needed different pants. Caleb, the 5 year old, was begging for school snack while digging for ziplock bags in the pantry. From the top shelf. Somehow. At least he was dressed. The dog was whining to go out and pee. Thank God I don’t have to dress him too.

I was alone.
Funny how “alone” alone feels in a house filled with four kids, a pooch, and a hamster.

I glared at her.

She was in my way! She was taking up precious time! She was preventing us from getting ready for school! She always had to touch me! She never lets me get any work done! She was every reason we were going to be late, the kitchen wasn’t clean, the pants were missing, the bathroom needed scrubbing and toys lay scattered in the hall.

And….she’s only 3. She’s a sweet, tiny little piece of innocence in a mad, mad world we all love to hate on social media. She’s every potential hope we all have when we think about the future of society.

So I took a breath, stopped and pulled her into me.

“Hey mum mum” she whispered, snuggling into me.

So we sat there.
She and I.
And we snuggled.
And we breathed together.
And I rocked her like the baby she still is. She’s taken to rubbing my face lately so her hand went to my cheek for a brief moment. Then she snuggled deeper. She sighed. And I sang her special song to her. The one I made up the day she was born.

By 8 am, they were all settled in school. Dressed. On time. Everything worked out fine.

And it strikes me how differently this sweet memory from this morning could have played out.

When You Give a Mom a Hug

Ten years ago today I was a new SAHM, nine weeks pregnant with my first baby, Jack. I have no idea what I did on Oct. 18, 2007. Probably went to the fair. Wrote a blog post. Cooked baked spaghetti. All of the “firsts” of pregnancy and early motherhood were ahead. It was exhilarating. And terrifying. Especially the giving birth part. (And yeh, birth hurts. If another woman ever tells me it doesn’t and it’s just pressure, four natural births provide me the confidence to argue. Laugh outright even.) The future was a blank slate. All I knew was that we wanted to have four children – boy girl boy girl. Not sure how we were gifted that wish.

Now I’m sitting here with my last precious girl, age 3, asleep in her blue monkey covered footie jammies, sprawled on my chest. And I’m watching all of the “lasts” of early motherhood dissolve day by day.

I think of Andrea Yates and Susan Smith and the pregnant mom who drove her mini van into Daytona Beach and other mothers who crack wide open and fall apart at the seams, committing horrific acts. And I get their breakdowns. I get the darkness that lies dormant when the days are never ending and the nights unyielding. When you haven’t showered in 38.3 days and the laundry pile is old enough to drive. The sudden wish to run away from such depth of responsibility and find somewhere….to just breathe. And then the guilt that encases us for letting such thoughts creep.

Our 5 year old crawls in the bed with us at night. But our 9 and 7 year old stopped a long time ago. When did they stop? I didn’t even take note. It just happened. So we welcome our 5 year old with open arms. At 3 am. Because we understand now that his time too is limited.

I stop and give Juli piggy back rides every time she asks for one now. Because somehow in the past couple years I gave Jack his very last piggy back ride and didn’t take note. He’s almost as tall as I am now.

Time in any adventure is limited.
So so limited.

Mama friends still in the trenches, please know it gets better. I am breathing again. You will too.

And everyone else, if you can, go hug a mom today.
She needs it.

I Regretted Being a Stay at Home Mom

Beyond grief, jealousy may be the darkest emotion to stumble upon. And with furious fighting, faster bleeds the wound.

Sept. 30, 2007: CSD, a national deaf communications non-profit, finalized SC layoffs. The next few days were spent packing up equipment alongside Juli, my boss. “GA to SKSK” she joked, spouting insider slang. Snapping one last photo cheek to cheek, we bid goodbye to a place we’d loved several years. Severance package in hand and baby in tummy, dreams of impacting the world through a career woke to life as a “Stay at Home Mom.”

Four babies & ten years later I reflect on that crossroad.

It was trial by fire. Ongoing isolation stirred unanticipated regret. The corporate world grew foreign as IKEA instructions. Earning power, assurance of a better life for my kids, evaporated as my employment gap widened. As a lineman’s wife, widowhood baring four babies haunted my sleep. Daycare alone cost more than I could net solo. “M I S T A K E” flashed like a neon bar sign at last call, and the rise of Facebook set it abuzz like hornets. As time crept, I felt less than and foolish scrolling The Feed of Female Success. Who would ever hire ME? I was an American Failure.

Life blurred into a Sesame Street parody, brought to you by the letters…N and O. NO perks. NO shopping. NO kid-free travel. NO business networking. NO 5 o’clock relief. NO access. NO gain. NO indication if past choices were right ones. Selfishness battled Guilt in civil war while currency from a Big Boss gave way to time with Little Bosses who pooped on me.

(Dang, raising kids is hard as heck, y’all.)

Thankfully, time spins its own gold.

Hindsight shows the honor of tending a childhood moment by moment. What a gift to be hugged at 3 pm pickup and curled upon at 3 am by trusting souls who know me only as “Mama”! I love them so! They are the only ones to whom my presence matters. And Kevin, my best friend and most amazing father in the galaxy, has been lock step this entire way.

All four babies were healthy and nursed well, snuggling against my breast all day and snoozing by my side all night. I joined a million playgroups. Reading Circle at 9 am, child on my lap. Art in the Park at noon, paint on my nose. Riverwalk at 4 pm, big hand on small. Witnessed every new tooth and every midnight fear. Caught every puke. Dried every tear. Present for all doctor and dentist appointments. Morning drop off? Afternoon carline? Evening practice and weekend games? Been there.

Because, Time.

And lessons taught long ago draw full circle. They are compassionate and respectful. Their smiles, sincere. Their affection, authentic. They receive compliments in restaurants and they behave at school. Intentional memories, family dinners and impromptu talks on tough issues bond us. During a six month 25 hour weekend stint at Uhaul my absence weakened everyone under our roof. The experience reassured I could be who I once was. But at what cost? It was a powerful reality check nicking the core of who I am.

At 14, I began work.
At 24, I left. A baby.
I am 34 now. Still a baby. Just grayer hair.

Today, Sept. 30, 2017, finds me with no regrets. My last baby turns 3 years old today. The next few days will be spent picking up toys alongside Juli, my daughter. Our final box of Luvs lay as empty as the trenches of early motherhood I leave behind. Bring on the next ten (adolescent charged) years! Because I can finally say…. I’m happy with this path. It was certainly the right road for us.

Ten years from now, I will only be 44.
My youngest? High school.

Time is funny like that.

Now, for the first time in forever, I feel AMAZING. Letting go is incredible. (Hey! That’s what the Disney song tells us!) To mark the occasion here are acutely personal, and downright painful, Life™ Lesson summaries pulled from my diary of private writings. I’m thankful for rear view mirrors revealing a purpose far more sovereign than our own.

Maybe my babies will read this someday and know me as more than Mama. And perhaps… those who battle the dark side too won’t feel so alone. Because you can survive whatever you face.
And you will.

————————————

DEAR JACK, MAGGIE, CALEB, & JULI:

Time beside those you love is never a mistake.

Choices today mark you tomorrow.

Don’t fear human touch. The world aches to be hugged. Start with the person beside you.

Handshakes speak volumes. Be the first to extend a hand. Last to let go.

Touch isn’t by hand alone. Eye contact is the most potent touch of all.

We all have three dimensional lives with multilayered subplots.

Facebook is fun. But it is not real.

The opinion of one person can’t define you.

Relationships are organic. Some crash & burn. If mending fails, honor good memories and move on.

Moving on sucks. Not always possible.

A friendship’s end doesn’t make it a failure.

Ghosting hurts both parties.

Seek out people who seek out you.

Those who like you will respond to effort. It’s what us humans do.

Someone speaks directly to you? Acknowledge their words. This includes text, email and PM.

Pass someone you know in public? Acknowledge their presence. Always.

Intentional Face to Face time bonds us.

At the end of life, a few best friends will put you ahead of the game. Your spouse MUST be one of those.

Initiative is the first step to success. Showing up the second.

Wherever you land, act like you’ve been there. No one will know any different.

Accepting who you are is nearly as potent as acknowledging who you’ll never be.

Make commitments. Keep them yesterday.

Head up, shoulders back. Feet know what to do without eyes micromanaging.

Smile. Broadly. Note people’s response.

Superficialness sucks. Screw that garbage.

Your words must contain authenticity and sincerity.

World peace calls for individuals who are at peace. With friends. With spouses. With themselves.

Real love determines if someone’s issues are tolerable.

Most conflicts are Good vs. Good.

Apologize sincerely. State your wrongs. Using “if” or “but” voids attempt.

Don’t guess someone’s private thoughts. You’re likely wrong.

No one gets shot for saying “I was wrong.”

Examine motives. Forgive readily.

Integrity still matters.

Defend yourself. But avoid belligerence, respecting the human before you.

Defend others. Silence as someone weeps degrades all.

Words breed life or death. Communicate well.

Make original mistakes. Not same old ones.

Don’t speak ill of yourself. People will believe you.

Existence doesn’t justify likability. So offer value.

Feed that baby. Bottle. Breast. Who cares. Just feed that baby. Not in the bathroom stall.

Also, hold that baby. You get three seconds before they outgrow your arms.

Baking homemade treats together is the tesla of childhood.

It’s ok to change. Consider it leveling up.

Improve your craft.

State what you want.

Appreciate others daily.

Complaints without solutions attached make you look petty.

Avoid Topper Traps. No one cares who has it hardest.

“Yes” and “no” is law of average. Aim for high volume, you’ll get both.

Ignore “Team No”. There’s always a way.

When given a secret, keep it.

Hold your heroes to a higher standard.
But apply it to yourself.

If upset when typing, stop. Delete. Rewrite. Delete. Rinse & repeat until anger washes away.

Confidence notes it’s ok to fumble. Just stand back up.

Private assumptions breed raw emotion. Don’t screw up reality crying over misperception.

Unearth hidden expectations. Burn ’em.

Write your own eulogy. Revise daily.

Say what you need to say.

Sob when you need to.

Breathe. Deeper.

Say I love you.
Now show it.