Where my hope comes from

For the past ten days, my mind has been everywhere and nowhere. Sometimes I can barely keep thoughts in my head; driving I-75 today I blinked and was suddenly aware that I had traveled miles without really thinking. I’ve spoken to dozens of people and promised phone calls and emails, but unless I get reminders I’ll forget to make those calls or send those emails. I’m not really even capable of doing my favorite things… reading has been tough because I can’t concentrate on the words and I’m having a tough time putting even these words to paper.

At the same time, I’ve been doing a lot of doing. I’ve worked, gone to church, washed clothes, attended bible study, visited Cari’s school for open house, and registered Cari for soccer—all because life has to go on, even though my heart is broken.

My dad died on Wednesday, September 3, after a long battle with COPD.

We had spent the Saturday before together; Stu and I took Cari to see my mom and dad for swimming and a barbeque in honor of the Labor Day weekend. We got to their house in time to watch Virginia play a terrific game against UCLA (my dad even tolerated watching UVA because Louisville wasn’t on). We had a great time playing in the pool, I got some pictures of Cari with my dad, and we ate my favorite meal before we packed up the leftovers to come home.

By Monday, my dad wasn’t feeling well, so he and Mom called hospice for some additional medications. When he wasn’t feeling better by Tuesday, the hospice nurses decided he needed to be transported to the hospice center. I was in pretty regular contact with both my mom and dad on Tuesday, even getting on my dad’s case a little for not advocating for himself. Even though Dad tried to keep our conversation light, I sensed that this visit to the hospice center was different. I found myself crying over dinner with my husband, who seemed to know better what was ahead than I did. We prayed that the end of my dad’s life would be painless, that he wouldn’t suffer, wouldn’t gasp his last breaths, but we had no idea that it would be so soon.

I texted my mom on Wednesday, but didn’t get any response until I spoke to her at about one in the afternoon. She told me then that I needed to get to the hospice center. When I spoke to her again, at about two, she told me that Dad was gone. The nurses had given him some medicine to help him breathe easier, and he had died comfortably in his sleep.

The moment that my mom told me that my dad was gone was one of the hardest moments in my life. Instantly, heavily, I wept. I wept for the pain of losing my dad, for the heartbreak my mom was feeling, for the misery of being an hour away from my mom and knowing she was alone. I remember tearfully apologizing to my mom that we couldn’t be there sooner, that she was alone to deal with the first moments of her own grief.

But in the very next moment, I cried out to my Lord. And I saw the beautiful way that my precious savior had been orchestrating my life, knowing that I would face that moment.

I’ve never considered myself to be someone who was great at her faith. Frankly, my life isn’t very hard. I have a great husband, a beautiful, healthy daughter, a job, a home, and very little to really worry about. Of course there have been challenges, but I can’t recall a time when I’ve seen God reveal himself so powerfully while simultaneously providing intense comfort.

In those first 30 minutes after learning that my dad had died, I understood why I needed to give up teaching AP English this year, why I was only teaching two classes, why I needed to withdraw my name from an opportunity that would take me away from Hudson. God protected me from the stress and pressure I would have felt to endure this loss while trying to impact my students as little as possible. God ensured that I would be surrounded by friends at school who would do anything to help me.

Sometimes it is easy for me to do life by myself, to relegate God to prayer time in the car before work. But even though I’m trying to hang on to control of my own life—desperately but futilely—that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t have the control. He’s been beside me the whole time, and I imagine that he has been patiently waiting to reveal this truth: that I would find myself desperately out of control, but that He would protect me.

I cannot imagine how anyone endures this kind of loss without knowing Jesus. I am sad, heavy-hearted, and lonely for my biggest cheerleader, but I have hope because I know Jesus and know that my dad recommitted his life to Jesus in the months before his death. I have hope because even as my illusion of control was shattered, I learned that God would catch me. I have hope because I can see that God has ordained everything in my life, and even though sometimes things are painful, I am able to bring honor to Him. That is my prayer now… that God would find a way to use this sadness to bring honor to Himself, and that I would somehow be able to help someone else who feels this pain.

So as I grieve and heal over the next few days, weeks, and months, I have the comfort of knowing that my God is beside me, and that my dad is in Heaven, finally able to breathe free. I pray that those who are suffering from the loss of my dad can feel this comfort, too.

To my friends and family who are reading this, I say thank you. I’ve seen such an overwhelming outpouring of love in the last two weeks. I have had so many texts and messages that I haven’t been able to keep up with responding. Sweet (and tolerant) friends have helped with Cari with less than an hour’s notice. A great friend joined me for a pedicure and lots of laughs. My boss has been so patient with me not being my normal, hard working and kinda crazy self. Old, dear friends have called and messaged with sweet memories of my dad. Church friends made the drive all the way to Brandon to support me at Dad’s funeral, eating pimento cheese sandwiches and making me laugh. One of my mom’s oldest friends started a random dance party with Cari and me this afternoon. Plus, my sweet husband has done just about everything to make this easier for me; from making sure I eat to making sure the flowers were beautiful. Saying goodbye to my dad has been easier because I’ve felt so much love. Thank you all.

The beauty of shells

I’m blogging today from the seventh floor balcony of the Lido Beach Resort in Sarasota, Florida, where Cari and I are enjoying a relaxing evening while Stu does yearbook stuff. His annual yearbook camp has been in Orlando for the last two summers, and while I love Orlando, and let’s face it, any hotel, I’m thrilled to be here. On the beach. I’ve spent a good deal of my time so far right here, listening to the waves and letting the sun relax some of my anxiety and stress away. I should be doing a million other things, but I am here, reflecting on a lovely afternoon.

We arrived here today at about 11 am and spent a good hour getting our students, members of the Cobra de Capello Yearbook Staff, settled while we waited for our room. We peaked a bit at the pool and the beach, but until Stu was off to begin his first session with the kids, Cari and I just puttered around the room. Almost as soon as he had closed the door, Cari insisted that I put on my bathing suit so we could go swimming. I wasn’t opposed; the pool is spacious and mostly deserted, and I’ve been reading a book that I was interested in putting a dent into. But that wasn’t meant to be, and I’m glad for it. My iPad mini overheated… it actually produced a warning message saying that it would wait until it was a proper temperature before becoming operation again, thank you very much. So I decided to play it safe and return both my iPad and my iPhone to the room. Being digitally dark, as they say, made for a fantastic afternoon with my daughter.

When I returned to the pool, Cari was ready to go shelling. While we were waiting for our room, Cari found a coupon book in registration that featured an article about the shells that can be found in this area. Well, that was enough for Cari. She saw those beautiful shells and knew that she wanted to spend at least part of the afternoon shelling. I wanted to warn her that shells are sometimes hard to find, but she didn’t seem to mind as we made our way to the beach only steps away from the pool. Almost instantly, she was crouched the over colorful bits that dotted the sand and was storing her treasures into her borrowed bucket. We walked for thirty minutes or so at a snail’s pace, both watching the water carefully for the snake eye shell she really wanted. But what she found was what was really remarkable. I’ve been collecting shells since before I was her age from Cocoa Beach, where my grandmother lived and I visited nearly every summer. Cari, too, has been collecting shells since she was old enough to carry a bucket for herself. But what really struck me was how different the shells she picked up were from mine. Cari fell in love with broad, white clam shells, and didn’t seem to care that she had collected a dozen; every time she spotted another she would exclaim excitedly and drop the prize into her bucket. I was much more selective: I sought after the more classic shape of the scallop shell or any pattern or texture that was different. When she found a “twisty” shell, even though it was completely broken, she was positively ecstatic. “Look how beautiful, Mom!” she told me.

I wonder when it came to be that my own appreciation of beauty changed so dramatically. Really, the shell was beautiful. It was worn but still maintained strongly some of the structure that made it stand apart. But to be philosophical, it represented much more; the water rushing around our feet, the sand between our toes, the warmth of the sun on our backs, and the precious moment that we shared holding hands as we walked back to the hotel. I wonder how often we miss those moments.

Happy Summer, all…  Thanks for coming back to read this, even though I’m two weeks behind!

Do you have any shell collecting stories?  Or am I the only person who gets philosophical at the beach?

Getting an education

In 2006, when Stu started working on his undergrad again at PHCC and I started at Saint Leo, I had a sort of vague idea that I might, one day, want to leave the classroom to become an administrator.  I was brand new at Hudson, only teaching my second semester of classes when I was applying for graduate school.  I barely knew what it meant to be an administrator, but I probably thought I could do it easily.  I remember seeing my peers taking the classes and completing the projects required of the masters program, thinking that I could very successfully do the work they were being assigned.  So I entered the Masters in Education Leadership program at Saint Leo University.

I kept pace with Stu; as he was toiling away at the tedious prerequisites in math and science, I was taking one class at a time.  When he transferred his credits to Saint Leo, and started his Bachelors in Education program in earnest, driving to Saint Leo two or three nights a week on top of a full-time job and homework for several online classes, I plodded along as well, taking more classes online so I wasn’t out of the house any more than necessary.  We had Cari, after all, and she was still in daycare.

For those who knew us then, our family must have looked very scholarly, as if this intellectual pursuit was something so noble and pure.  We would stay after hours at school to complete our school assignments before picking up Cari.  Then I would take Cari home while Stu drove to Saint Leo for his three-hour classes, and I would grade papers at the kitchen table while Cari hung out in the other room.  Stu would finish up classes and nearly fall asleep on the long drive home along 52 because there isn’t anything to look at on 52 except cows and trees.  We managed this while serving as class sponsors and chaperones, attending football games on Friday nights or conducting fundraisers on Saturdays.  But the truth of our experience wasn’t nearly so noble.  When we were both in classes, Stu and I would bicker constantly, we really sucked as parents, and we allowed TV to parent Cari while we finished homework.  I have a sharp memory from this time: one Wednesday night, the night when discussions were due in every single class EVER, Stu sat in the bedroom struggling to complete an assignment, and I sat in the living room struggling to complete an assignment, while Cari cried and screamed hysterically from the bedroom.  I was certainly crying, too, blinking through my tears to focus my vision on a stupid, ridiculous, pointless, and meaningless discussion post before 11:59 so I could get the credit.

But in May 2010, at the same ceremony, Stu earned his bachelors degree in education, and I earned my masters degree in education leadership.  It was one of the proudest moments of my life.

Working through my masters program while my husband earned his bachelors revealed to me so much about what education really looks like for some people.  I thought, in my naiveté, that everyone’s college experience should be like mine.  I went to Mary Washington College, which I’ve mentioned here before, and experienced college in a stereotypical, but not very realistic, way.  I lived in the dorms for all four years.  I huddled into the library, pouring over thick, stinky books for obscure commentaries.  I wrote papers until the sun came up.  I worked impossibly hard, and I had the opportunity to delve deeply into Dickinson, Shakespeare, and Milton.  To this day I cannot recreate the level of analysis I was able to achieve in those days.  Lord, I was self-important!  But I never worked a job during college other than as a resident assistant or English Department assistant.  My only serious relationships were with my roommates and friends; I didn’t date seriously, and certainly didn’t have a child.  I had no idea what many, many others experience in getting their education.  But as a grown up, I was able to understand that just making it through was an accomplishment worthy of great praise, and one hell of a big party.

I consider myself lucky to have had both experiences: the stereotypical college experience and the adult learning experience.  As a stereotypical college student, I learned how to really, really work at something, content so challenging that I had to pick through it to understand every. single. word.  I learned how to speak with other smart people without making myself look like an idiot.  I learned how to operate under deadlines.  I learned how to BS like a pro, when necessary, and I learned that sometimes BS wasn’t going to cut it.  But as an adult going back to school, I learned to balance priorities that really count.  I learned how to support my husband selflessly.  I learned that sometimes Cari needs to see me work at something so she gets how important it is for her to work at something, too.  I learned that sometimes just getting something done was worth celebrating.  And I learned how to work impossibly hard, even when a million distractions are rattling around in my head fighting for attention.

So it isn’t only the content of my masters program that I will use one day as an administrator.  I will also use the grit and determination that I picked up while writing discussion posts while tears blurred my vision and my daughter cried in the other room.

Eight Things

Earlier this week, I messaged my friend Chayil for some inspiration about what to write this week.  She challenged me to write 8 things I love about myself and why.  If you know me outside of blogging, this is a real struggle for me, but I’m not afraid of a challenge.  So here goes…

  1. I love my eyebrows.  I’ll never be able to say that my eyebrows are low maintenance exactly, but I’ve always gotten compliments on this random feature of my face.  But they frame my otherwise boring brown eyes, and they are super expressive.  Plus, I don’t have to fill them in, and I’ve never plucked them to the point of needing damage control.
  2. I love that I love to create.  When I have down time from the business of teaching, I’m crafting unit plans, which totally counts as creating, or writing for this blog, or playing with Photoshop or Illustrator.  My second novel is rattling around in my head, waiting to get put on paper.  I love music and art.  It makes me feel whole and fulfilled.
  3. I love my drive to learn.  I take pride in the fact that even though I’ve been teaching for 13 years that I still love to learn more about the craft.  I’m not complacent…  I don’t just dig out my old handouts from the filing cabinet, or from the files on my computer, to teach from every year, but I always ask how what I’ve done in the past can be improved.
  4. I love that I love Jesus.  My relationship with Jesus has grown so much since I was saved in 2004, but I can look back to the person I was before I was saved and see how much my love for my savior has changed me, softened me, grown me.
  5. I love that I’m still moved to tears by experiences.  Perhaps this makes me too tender hearted, but I don’t EVER want to let go of the joy I feel to watch fireworks on the Fourth of July, or to stop crying at worship from the movement of the Holy Spirit, or to let go of the feelings I get when I read an incredible book.  Life would be so boring that way.
  6. I love my relationship with my parents.  It hasn’t always been easy, but I am so grateful to have built a strong, steady relationship with my parents.  I love that I can call them and it isn’t hard to just talk or share our days.
  7. I love that when I wear purple, my eyes look green.  Brown eyes are pretty boring, even though Van Morrison memorialized them pretty spectacularly.  But in my first year of teaching AP, a student asked me to look at her.  So I did.  And she looked back at me with such an intense stare that I was left to wonder if I had something in my nose.  When she finally looked away, I asked her what that look was all about.  She said, “Oh nothing.”  It turns out she was using me as the inspiration for a poem I had asked them to write, and she had complimented my hazel eyes (!)  What a nice compliment that was, and how random that I remember it even now.
  8. I love my naiveté.  Let’s face it, this one isn’t always a good thing.  But I’ve found myself blinded to a number of things this year, and when all was revealed, I realized how lucky I was to have missed the signs of something obvious.  As a result, I was less stressed about the possibility of something scary, and while I wasn’t thinking or stressing about it, I was able to be pretty relaxed.

OK, Dad…  I challenge you to do the same!

To my daughter, on her ninth birthday

We’ve had a big week for Cari this week. On Saturday, I got Cari all dolled up for her dance recital pictures (much easier this time than the four times before). I sat at the studio for a couple of hours while Cari posed for pictures for her two routines, then practiced her routines in costume. By the end if the day, we were exhausted and cranky, so the perfect solution was a nap.

Then on Sunday, we dressed up pretty for a Mommy and Me photo shoot in honor of Mother’s Day with our friend Stephanie Beaty of Lifeography. It was one of those experiences that caused me to have a glimpse of the future before me. I stood in the bathroom, behind my blond baby, who isn’t a baby at all anymore, and I saw us on her wedding day. We both wore white, and I just had a flash of her shiny blond hair spilling over the shoulders of her wedding gown. I didn’t see her face, or even mine, in that moment.  But I realized that I needed to be present. So I put on my makeup with extra care, because I didn’t want to waste any of that precious day worrying if I wasn’t pretty enough.  So Cari and I joined Stephanie at a treasure of a little park, called James E. Grey Preserve, a place I have lived minutes away from for years but never knew existed.  We drove down the little dirt road to the entrance, and Cari was a little moody.  She wouldn’t talk or give me a smile in the rearview mirror.  I realized that my girl isn’t so little anymore; she’s entered the pre-teen years with gusto.  Where she would happily preen for pictures a year ago, now she gives goofy grins that don’t capture what her real happiness looks like.  So we made a deal: when the pictures were over. we would stop at Dairy Queen on the way home for smoothies (obviously. I’m not above bribery).

Stephanie has never photographed us before, but I knew from seeing her work online that I trusted her vision, so I allowed her to direct us, even though it is in my nature to seek to control.  We had a number of model-moments, where we supposed to look moody and serious, but neither Cari nor I could manage it.  Cari gave her awkward little half smile, as if to say, “My mom wants us to be doing this, but I’m not entirely sure I care to be here.” Or, “Miss Stephanie wants me to laugh, but I don’t see how anything about this situation is funny.” Or, “Can’t we be done already? I want my smoothie.” My favorite moments were the ones that were real; when Cari would throw her arms around my neck, or when she sat on my lap like she has for the past 7 years, from when she wasn’t snuggled anymore in my arms, but when she would climb into my lap, belly to belly, with her legs dangling behind me. Stephanie captured some truly silly, but still perfectly US moments. I looked like I was in love with my kid. So pretty much they came out perfectly.

Then Cari celebrated her ninth birthday on Wednesday. In a flash of inspiration that any Pinterest parent would approve of, I decided to ask Cari some questions about her preferences today to commemorate the occasion.

  1. What is your favorite color? Blue
  2. What is your favorite toy? Woofie, of course
  3. What is your favorite fruit? Watermelon
  4. What is your favorite tv show? Liv and Maddie
  5. What is your favorite movie? Frozen
  6. What is your favorite thing to wear? Dresses
  7. What is your favorite animal? Bunnies
  8. What is your favorite song? Let It Go, or Problem from Arianna Grande
  9. What is your favorite book? Judy Moody
  10. Who is your best friend? Mommy
  11. What is your favorite snack? Cheese Its
  12. What is your favorite drink? Water
  13. What is your favorite breakfast? Waffles
  14. What is your favorite lunch? Macaroni and Cheese
  15. What is your favorite dinner? Chicken and Broccoli
  16. What is your favorite game? The Subway Surfers
  17. What is your favorite thing to play outside? Play in the playground
  18. What is your favorite holiday? Christmas
  19. What do you sleep with at night? Woofie and Bear Bear
  20. What do you want to be when you grow up? I don’t know, a teacher?

Cari is the best thing I have ever done in my life. She is sweet and silly; she loves to snuggle with either Stu or I, and she would eat chicken and broccoli as every meal if we let her. She is incredibly comfortable at Hudson, since she’s with us ALL THE TIME. For Take Your Child to Work Day, she left my classroom, and I assumed she was going to my husband’s classroom. But when I saw him 30 minutes later and he didn’t have Cari, I got a little concerned. Well, she went to the front office to hang out in our assistant principal’s office. Yeah, that’s my kid: fearless in social situations. Cari is like her mommy; when she’s tired, she doesn’t always know to rest. Instead, she gets really cranky until someone convinces her that she won’t miss anything if she takes a nap. She sings and talks to herself (technically, she speaks for her animals). She has a stuffed dog named Woofie that she loves to pieces. Literally pieces. Woofie has had more than one reconstruction surgery by my mom. Cari is tall and has big feet, like grown-up feet. She has her daddy’s blue eyes, and the most enviable hair EVER. Her least favorite chore/job: drying her hair. That’s a fight every night. She knows how to use the word ironically correctly. She doesn’t ask for a little brother or sister because I think she knows that we won’t have as much time for her. She keeps her room neater than we keep ours. She cleans the toilet and the sink for fun.

I know that every parent is crazy about their kid. I’m crazy about mine. She’s not perfect, and I’m so glad. I couldn’t bear it. But she’s a wonderful human being and I can’t wait to see what the next nine years will look like.

(Yikes. In another nine years, she’ll be 18 and going off to college. How’s that for a wakeup call?)

Careless comments

Last week, I received an email that had my blood boiling.  Perhaps it was just the end of a long week and I was stressed; perhaps I was just so tired of endless emails that I couldn’t help but get mad.  Whatever the reason, I took the email too personally, and this notorious author of offending emails had gotten under my skin.  My vision blurred a little on the edges until I managed to get myself under control, demonstrating enough restraint to not respond immediately with some snarky comment.  I taught the rest of my day, but when the final bell rang, I walked next door to my teaching partner-in-crime (a reader) to ask him to intervene on my behalf.

“You’re going to have to deal with this,” I said.  It wasn’t until I explained my request, that he speak with the author about her email transgressions, that I realized my mistake.  My partner-in-crime is guilty, too, and had gotten himself in trouble for a poorly timed suggestion sent to our department.

“You’re asking me to deal with this.  When I can’t avoid making people mad, either,” he said, smiling ironically.  “I just don’t read emails from that sender anymore.”

So I returned to my classroom, feeling little relief.  I’m too Type A to resort to auto-deleting emails from someone on the staff.  I was left to feel a little sad for my school.  By May, teachers are overwhelmed, tired, stressed, and very interested in catching up on TV they’ve missed over the last eight months.  So we’re abrupt, hurtful, and occasionally mean to one another, as if we’re not still on the same team.  There are moments in education (and I imagine in every profession) when the appropriate, professional solution to these issues is to take a deep breath and imagine that the offender didn’t mean to come across that way.  Perhaps she meant it as a joke? 

This isn’t the first time I’ve found myself hurt and disrespected by colleagues.  During the Homecoming dance two years ago, I found an unsigned note taped to the wall above the copy machine.  It asked, “If we’re so concerned about student achievement, why do we waste a week of school on Homecoming?”  Apparently, the note had been taped there nearly the whole week, but I was too busy running Homecoming—selling dance tickets, organizing lunch activities, taking questions from students and sponsors—to notice.  But I noticed it the night of the dance, when Stu and I had a school filled with more than 500 students at an event that had taken months to plan.  I was running on very little sleep, had spent every night until 10 or later at school at one event or another.  I didn’t make it to the front office before I was sobbing, snotty, hysterical sobbing.  Ironically, it was the hall monitor who I don’t like very much (he fusses at me for not writing passes) who caught my tears and sent my assistant principal to take care of me.  I was so hurt that one of my colleagues had so little respect for the hours of work by dozens of people for such an important event.  When I got my tears under enough control to tell my AP what had happened and why I was so hurt, my AP, in her wisdom, explained to me that some people would never “get it.”  Would never get how much work goes into these events, how much these memories mean to so many kids, how precious the relationships formed while decorating for the Homecoming dance are for some kids, and for some sponsors.  Those who don’t get it, she said, would never get it, no matter how we try to explain.  So that note wasn’t worth the energy or the tears.  It was probably an offhand comment, likely stemming from a moment of annoyance, perhaps his students weren’t paying enough attention in class, and the writer simply blurted the very first thing that came to mind without considering anyone else’s feelings. 

If I’m honest with myself, I realize that I’m not innocent: I sat in a meeting this week and explained, with little compassion, that their plan was wrong, only realizing afterward that I was a *little* harsh.  I’ve made kids cry every year that I’ve taught.  I told a kid who seriously struggles with my class that under no circumstances would I allow him to videotape a speech to ease some of his stress over public speaking.  I have been impatient with people who don’t do their jobs as well as I expect them to.  I’m quick to take offense, but fail to realize when I’m being unsympathetic or cruel.  That’s a tough pill to swallow. 

The lesson, I guess, is that we’re destined to hurt one another, whether we mean to or not.  But we do control our reactions.  I don’t need to get twisted over a careless email; it doesn’t do me any good.  Nor will it change someone’s behavior.

Has anyone’s careless comment ever made you spittin’ mad?  Ever made you cry?

This is the end?

I made it!

This month of blogging has been enlightening and energizing.  I’ve so appreciated having an outlet for some of the thoughts that have been rattling around in my head.  But I’ve discovered that it isn’t really that tough to engage in the practice of writing when I make it a priority.  While I’ve been blogging this month, I haven’t been watching TV (though I still do watch plenty of YouTube).  I haven’t been folding laundry (sorry Stu).  I haven’t been sleeping as much (well, that’s a given).  I have been more observational.  I’ve practiced the craft of writing in such a way that should make my work as a teacher easier, and should help me write novel #2 with some flair.

But 22 posts is child’s play.

I’ve decided to keep it going.  For now, and for the foreseeable future, I’ll be blogging on a more relaxed schedule (I’m thinking Tuesday and Friday).  I hope to blog more photos eventually, once I get better at photography, or once I have less to say.

Thank you ALL for reading.  Thank you to my most loyal commenters (Dad, I’m talking to you).  Thank you to my friends at school who have encouraged me by telling me you think I’m doing a good job.  Thank you for my silent followers who never comment but read everything anyways.  Thank you Stu and Cari for being patient with this endeavor.  Thank you Stu for suggesting that I could be the next Ree Drummond (shows me how much you believe in me).

Click here to check out an infographic I created from this experience (do it!  Click!  It’s really cool!)


 

In honor of this last day of Camp NaNoWriMo, I thought I’d offer some superlatives for this blogging experience:

Post I’m most proud of: I loved writing and thinking through Thinking about inspiration, because it made me feel scholarly and erudite.  But I’m also really like You may not know because it was just fun (and easy).

Most popular post: A beginning got the most likes, followed closely by Daddy’s girl.  Sure does help that my dad’s followers are some of MY most loyal followers!

My most dedicated follower: My dad.  I’m so lucky to have a dad who loves to support me and my work.  Thank you, Dad.

Best comment: I got an incredibly thoughtful text from a parent when I posted We’ve got spirit, yes we do!  I never set out to get support or validation from this blog, but it has been a happy surprise to hear the wonderful things my friends, colleagues, and followers have to say about what I’ve written.  But that text.  Wow.  Worth the whole month of blogging.

Weakest post: It’s Easter, y’all.  At some point in the future I’d like to write a post about my relationship with Jesus, and I started that post with the intention of doing that relationship more justice.  But it turned out weak.  I’ll do better.  Soon.

Most awkward post: I learned when I posted If I leave, a response to The Daily Post, that I should perhaps warn Stu about my posts, or at least be sensitive to his needs when I post about personal stuff.  He was blindsided by my thoughts in that moment about leaving, or being reluctant to leave Florida.

Anyways, thank you ALL for reading.  Thank you for your support, for your comments in the hallway, for your comments on Facebook and Twitter, for following my blog.  This has been an incredible, enlightening experience.

To share, or over share?

I realize that it seems a little late to consider the question of over sharing. I’ve spent the last month hoping people would read this blog despite the vomit stories. I get a little surge of pleasure to watch as I get more views on my stats page, and I’m thrilled when I get comments and likes.  But I’ve been going through something lately that I very much want to write about, if only to work out how I feel, but I can’t share here. If you were all faceless readers, perhaps… But I know, in real life, several of my readers, and that gives me pause.

That’s the thing with social media today… In the interest of openness, we sometimes often manage to over share. I follow lots of my students on Twitter, and all the time I see stuff there that I would never, EVER want or need to know. One of my former students posted a picture of her fake ID. Another posted a picture of a friend pooping. A friend that was also a former student. I’ve seen pictures of fights, of illicit drinking, of entirely too much skin.  Facebook isn’t any better: I see (and, let’s face it, post) endless status updates about family and work drama, pictures of meals, comments about politicians or athletes.  But do those status updates, pictures, or comments replace real talk, real relationships?  We comment on our friends’s Facebook posts or like their pictures, but we so rarely speak to people. It’s like we only want to communicate with people in our own time, under circumstances that make sense to us, without thinking about the needs of the people we seek to communicate with.

As a result, we don’t know HOW to communicate. I think about the world of Pride and Prejudice sometimes, where people were forced to build relationships, in all their awkwardness, through conversation. And they couldn’t even share for real… They had to talk about the weather or state of the roads. They couldn’t hide behind their cell phones, and yet relationships flourished.  And those characters valued conversation.  Elizabeth Bennet “perfectly remembered everything that had passed in conversation between Wickham and herself, in their first evening at Mr. Phillips’s. Many of his expressions were still fresh in her memory.”  I’ve often wondered at Elizabeth’s perfect memory, but she can’t help it.  She doesn’t have nearly as much to remember.  Any interaction was a significant one.

Instead of relishing in the significance of conversation, we would rather do just about ANYTHING than speak with people that we don’t already know.  My students are notoriously guilty: I made the mistake of NOT changing seats in my AP Literature class for nearly a quarter, so today, when I wanted them to work with DIFFERENT people, there was nearly a mutiny.  The activity was needlessly challenging because they didn’t know how to express their own ideas without feeling insecure, and didn’t know how to express when they didn’t like how another person expressed a common idea.  I’ve had students come to me to address a problem with another student so minor I couldn’t believe they couldn’t handle it by themselves.  They are juniors and seniors in high school, and I have to ask them if they’re tattling.  So often a simple conversation will resolve all of the drama these students are experiencing, but my students would rather be mistrustful, skeptical, and wary.  I can be better at this communication than my students are, but I get awkward and nervous sometimes in speaking to people who are unfamiliar, or in handling conflict.  I struggle with building relationships beyond the early “Hey, how’s it going?” or “What do you do for a living?” questions.  As a result, I do most of my serious talking with a very few people, and find myself asking “Does that make sense?” because I don’t trust myself to communicate effectively.

I’ve been struggling with this since before college, but one of the best things that ever happened to me was going to Mary Washington College and rooming with two of the best girls in the world.  Chrissi, Casey, and I, along with Kim (who lived down the hall) forged relationships through chats that kept us up nearly all night.  We talked about silly things, about serious things, about hurts and high school, about boys and love and religion and school and favorite foods and everything.  I still value those relationships over almost all of the relationships I have made since, even though we don’t talk near enough and it’s been years since I’ve seen them and they have babies that I haven’t met yet.  Those are real relationships, but even those can suffer for lack of conversation.

This current embargo on talking has led me to feel a little alone and so hungry for real relationships, not the (sometimes) superficial relationships cultivated by Facebook and Twitter.

What you see when you’re actually looking

A few years ago, some family from Virginia came to visit Stu, Cari, and me in Florida, and we went to Downtown Disney for dinner and browsing.  Our rich meal didn’t agree with all of the members of our party: one of our visitors (who will remain nameless) was pretty uncomfortable, pained, and, most notably, pretty gassy that night.  Fortunately, in that group, she wasn’t embarrassed, and made a joke of her predicament.  In one of the high end shops that sells art glass and figurines, she sidled up to me, feigning interest in a piece I was looking at before leaving a ridiculously stinky fart behind without any warning.  I covered my nose and complained loudly while getting clear of the fumes, and she was delighted in my irritation.  Later, as we walked past a similar family group walking in the opposite direction, she delivered an epically deadly but silent fart that has become legend in our family.  We knew it happened because her step quickened and laughter started shaking her shoulders in the same way she had tormented me earlier in the evening.  But when one of the women in the family we passed said “Oh my god” in a voice that was audible to us even as the distance between us widened, our whole group erupted into spontaneous peals of hysterical laughter.  We couldn’t help it.  I’ve often wondered at how observers of our family interpreted that moment.  For us, it was the culmination of a whole lot of little jokes that had happened all evening long.  It was an example of how free we felt together, comfortable enough to fart in front of one another, and comfortable enough to laugh at one another about it.  But I can only guess at what the crowds around us saw in that brief moment, if they were even looking.

I caught a similar moment today: driving through Pass-a-Grille, I lifted my eyes to watch the beautiful houses for a moment when I watched a woman walking behind another woman and a child brush her fingers past her face, grimacing in the obvious reaction to something stinky.  I couldn’t help chuckling to myself.  I had witnessed such an awkward moment, on the same level as turning to the car next to you to observe a 40 year-old man singing passionately to some Taylor Swift.  A private moment that most people wouldn’t be pleased to know someone else had observed.

It occurred to me in that moment that I had opportunities to see plenty if I would only pay attention, but I hadn’t been–I had my nose buried in my cell phone.  In that moment, though, I decided to watch more carefully.  As a result, I spent the rest of the evening seeing silly and striking things.

We ended up at a restaurant called The Moon Under Water where Stu, Cari, and I were seated on the porch between the bar and the hostess table.  There was a 30 minute wait for a table, so most patrons gave the hostess their names and walked past us to the bar where they would pass the next thirty minutes drinking (mostly) large pints of beer.  It is a pub after all.  After a few minutes, Stu caught on to my game, and we watched the passing customers with great interest.  There was first date couple, two very fashionable young people who tried to navigate the awkwardness of making small talk before settling into the comfort of a table with a menu to discuss.  Then there was the older woman who incongruously double fisted two enormous handled jugs glasses of beer.  Or the woman who applied her pink lipstick to her entire face as she walked from the restaurant.  Or the woman who put on her scarf with such determination that she hit her companion in the face.

I managed to observe some pretty impressive beauty in St. Petersburg, too.  I am still struck by how the trees of Vinoy Park grow so elegantly, romantically.  The boats on the water were proud and graceful, their sails snapping a little in the wind that made my hair fly all around my face.  Then there were people captured in beautiful moments. I caught a very intense conversation between a father and his teenaged son: the father seemed sympathetic and kind toward his son, but his son just looked away.  There was a family much like ours that decided to treat their young daughter to a ride in the Cinderella-style horse drawn carriage, providing the girl with the princess treatment, complete with beauty queen waves to her loving subjects.  And there was incredibly thoughtful trolly driver who told us about the best restaurants in the area and drove us to USF St. Pete (outside of his normal route) because I said I had taken a class there.

There wasn’t anything especially remarkable about tonight.  My family decided to take a drive to St. Petersburg, walk around a bit, share a meal, and take a ride in the trolly.  But because I had managed to take off my blinders for a little while, I managed to see more of the world around me.

I’m so guilty of distraction that makes me lose focus of what’s happening around me.  For the whole year that Stu had an iPhone before I did, I complained incessantly that he couldn’t get his nose out of his phone.  Now, I’m pretty certain that I’m even worse than he was.  I troll Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, commenting on the lives my friends have instead of living in my own.  I guess the lesson is that sometimes it’s important for me to disconnect from the things that distract and force myself to engage in the present.  When I do, I’m never disappointed.  Facebook can wait.

Showdown.

In an average day, I encounter conflict pretty regularly.  Conflict, as in “an incompatibility between two or more opinions, principles, and interests.”  My opinion, for example, is that the students in my third period class should NOT use their cell phones during my recent lesson introducing The Crucible.  Their opinion, on the other hand, is that they should.  Thus, an incompatibility.  But I rarely allow my temper to flare in those moments; I don’t escalate arguments with kids.  I’ve learned that with high school students, a teacher shouldn’t ever cop an attitude that she wouldn’t want a kid to respond with.  So I calmly ask them to put their phones away, and while they may grumble, they *mostly* do as I say.

This is a pretty significant departure from how I responded to conflict when I was younger.  In those days, my parents would demand that I do something, and I would storm off, my vision blurring a little on the edges until I was out of earshot, and I would explode, picking up some laundry and throwing it against the wall.  I was never dumb enough to actually throw something that could cause damage.  Or I would scream into a pillow.  Lord, I got so mad.  The memories of those moments are clear as day…  I see the laundry area of the house I grew up in in Alexandria, I see the wooden stairs, I see the linoleum floors, but I don’t remember what made me so mad.  How is that?  I certainly had a lot of anger, but I always knew better than to explode at my parents.

But the conflict in my life is a much bigger deal now.  If I have conflict in my classroom, I make a hostile work environment for myself and my students.  I have to see them too often for that.  Plus, I really do love my job, and I wouldn’t want to HATE going there.  If I have conflict with Cari, as I often do because she’s sassy and I’m surly, I try to control my temper.  Sometimes I succeed, but other times, I fail miserably.  I’ve responded to her telling me “No” with ugliness I’m not proud of.  But I try to apologize if I’ve done that, mostly so she knows that I love her even when I’m not being loving.  If I have conflict in my marriage, I feel like a piece of my life is askew.  I can’t stand to be in conflict with Stu for long.  That means I apologize a lot sooner than I would like to because I know someone has to make the first move, and Stu has the most forgiving wife on the planet.  Stu would probably disagree.  While I’m getting my emotions out, I can be panicked, loud, irrational, even cruel.  He will shut down and refuse to talk to me.  We go to our separate corners, and calm down.  I often extend the olive branch to start up the conversation again, this time more peacefully.  I only mind a little that I’m often the first one to budge.  Winning an argument is a whole lot less important than being on good terms with my best friend.

How do you approach conflict?  Do you blow up?  Do you shut down?  Are you an eye roller?  Do you use the Hate word?

This post is in response to the Daily Post.