School

Stay Gold, Knights.

Stay gold.

 

 

 

To my very first students:

I’d like to leave you with a story. It’s a short and simple one.

Once upon a time, a great American poet named Robert Frost penned a poem.

Nothing Gold Can Stay
By Robert Frost

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Years later another great author named S.E. Hinton wrote a book titled The Outsiders, one of my favorite novels of all time. I never got a chance to talk to you about The Outsiders, just as I never got a chance to tell you a lot of other magical literary things I would have liked to stuff into our last two months of school. However, I do have high hopes that maybe you were introduced to this great American classic in junior high. To jog your memory it’s about a bunch of American boys stuck in the socially-constructed life of violence. Read the book. You won’t regret it. Then, watch the awesome movie.

In Chapter 9, while struggling to breathe (that’s all I will say because you know how I hate spoilers) Johnny turns to Pony Boy and admonishes, “Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold…” In his dying state, the one message Johnny has for Ponyboy is to “stay gold.” Here S.E. Hinton is making specific reference to Robert Frost’s poem. You should go back and read and analyze the poem to contrive so many meanings packed into these two words. Meanings such as:

  • Life is short.
  • Change is inevitable.
  • Carpe diem.
  • Accept what is.
  • Cherish the early experiences that shape you.
  • Shine to your fullest.
  • Everyone’s time will be up eventually.

My students, my last words to you are “stay gold.” Not just because I am Mrs. Gold, but because the message packed into the two words include everything I want you to know, everything I hope for you in  your lives.

Stay gold.

I love you. I love each and every one of you. Thanks for sharing your lives with me. Thanks for teaching me. Thanks for giving me one of your golden school years. I’ve loved almost every minute I’ve spent with each of you and the minutes that weren’t so hot, I still will cherish in my heart forever. You are all some of the best people that ever happened to me.

S.E. Hinton started writing The Outsiders when she was fifteen. That is younger than most of you. I challenge you to really think about that. Some of you might not bloom until later. I hope I can write just one mediocre novel before I die. I don’t know why some people can do things at fifteen that I am still working towards, but I will never stop trying to play catch up. And neither should any of you. You all have miracles to create of your very own. It might not be in writing. It might not even be in reading or speaking, but it will be from our three class principles: listening, learning, and loving. Your miracles will be something that comes from your heart. Teaching you all was a labor from my heart. I know I wasn’t perfect. In fact, I know I was far from perfect, but I am better because of each of you. Every one of you has shaped me into more of an S.E. Hinton than when I started as your brand new teacher. And, that is a miracle that I will never EVER forget. If any of us exist after this life, I will look for you. I will always be looking for you to tell you I love you and I believe in you, no matter what.

Stay gold.

The Riptide Otherwise Known as Teaching

sea turtleAs you all know, my blogging has taken a BIG back burner to my new adventure as a first-year high-school  English teacher. WOW. Do I have so many stories to tell someday! Like, only after I retire, so no one can sue me for privacy infringement. If I had to describe this year, I would say it’s been like learning to surf. So much sea-water has jammed its way down my throat into my digestive system that I lost count.

I’ve been sore on the daily from the mental and emotional anguish called teaching. I’ve laid in the shallow water with sand all up in all my body parts just rubbing me raw like I was some kind of beached whale — the bathing suit crotch pocket was loaded with at least two pounds of sand and rocks. Every. Single. Day. [If you don’t get this crotch-pocket reference, it’s because you’ve never been a female who lived on the beach.] Every day, as a teacher, I would show up at 7 AM hoping to learn to surf and pray to go home by 7 PM, but it rarely happened. The only thing I could ever count on was the water, the sun, and the sand. And, the only thing I couldn’t count on was actually riding a wave. I can say that surfing happened very rarely. Being a rookie teacher is a lot like being a novice surfer. It’s all work, and very very very little euphoria. In fact, this year, I had just a few rare moments of euphoria, but compared to the surfing experience I had in the 80’s with my former boyfriend, Travis Parker, teaching was much of the same: I never even was able to paddle out to the really good waves much less own a single newsworthy ride. I barely even got up for more than 20 seconds. Why? Because it was my first time! And teaching is as hard as hell. The kind of hell that only a teacher knows. Surfers don’t even know this kind of hell. Even after they’ve been bitten by a great white and lost an arm.

Teaching has a lot in common with the trauma I experienced just last November. You see, I went to Hawaii with my husband. On our last day of our 22-year-delayed honeymoon, before flying back home, I went out in the water to get one last snorkel session in. I was alone, and I knew the riptide was dangerous.  But, I thought I could handle it. I didn’t even take fins out. I think I had a mental lapse assuring myself that I could still swim as a native Californian. Except I haven’t lived in California since 1995. I planned to stay close to the shore, as my husband was napping. I knew there was no one around to save me.

All was going well until that damn huge sea turtle. I was enamored. I followed it away out. I watched it in awe. Then I saw another. And another. Was I in heaven? How did I get so lucky? Then, before you  know it, I had a sickening realization — the coral was way too far underneath me. I pulled my head out of the water searching for the shoreline, and I almost died of an immediate panic attack. Or was it a heart attack? I’m not sure. I was probably at least half a mile from the deserted shore. I started paddling and kicking for my life. My CA girl instincts kicked in. “Go with the shore diagonally. Don’t try to go straight in. Don’t panic. Use the waves.” I got about halfway in, and my body that hadn’t had any serious exercise in years (unless you count childbirth) succumbed. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t do it. I started to scream. Louder than I have ever screamed. And, I’m a screamer. Just ask my kids. My entire life flashed before my eyes. I thought about my perplexed husband wondering why I never woke him for our missed flight home. My younger-year threats about trying out homelessness for the adventure would be ringing in his ears. Except I wouldn’t be homeless, I would be at home to whatever existence my spirit earned. My body would be devoured by sharks. My five children would go the rest of their lives wondering if I had been seduced by Jack Sparrow.  Yes, all these thoughts and 37 million more went through my head during that 45 seconds of screaming.

So, what am I really trying to say here? Back to teaching. Teaching is a B$#(^. The only people who sign up for the gig are 30% insane, 30% masochistic, and 40% passionate dreamers. The pay sucks. You all already know this. As an intern teacher this year, the pay was half of suck. I thought being 46 and having five kids would have prepared me to be a rock-star teacher. I thought being a recent college graduate with the latest theories and pedagogies stamped into me by some of the best college professors would make me 500 times better than any other new teachers. I thought being hired by one of the most prestigious high schools in the state of Utah with amazing capable colleagues would fill in the gaps. But, none of any of these things made my job easier. Every day, I was half out to sea with just myself to save me. This year, it felt like the only thing I had going for me was my willingness to show up day after day to be pounded. And, my sheer stubbornness that wasn’t going to let ANYONE (and by anyone I mean tyrannical teenagers) pull my dream of inspiring a generation out from under me. I mean, I might have lost the board many times every day, but lucky for me it was always tethered to my ankle. There was no way I would ever give up and untie the board. Also, lucky for me, I never drowned. “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.” And swim I did. I swam a lot, but I only got up on the board a few times. For less than twenty seconds. I might have done better than that. In fact, I probably did, but I was too tired to really notice or acknowledge it because another riptide was coming.

But, next year. Next year, I will get up on that board at least twice as much. And, in five more years, I expect to sign a contract as a Pro. I just have to make it that far. Did you know that 50% of teachers leave the profession in the first five years?

“Why do I plan to stay?” you ask. Because I broke up with Travis Parker before I ever learned how to really surf. And, I always wonder what could have been. With the surfing, not with Travis. {Hi Travis!! I still love you, but, you know, as well, as I do, that we weren’t meant to be. I hope you are loving your job as a more-seasoned teacher. Will you send me some advice if you get a second?}

So, back to the riptide. I kept swimming and kicking and praying. I would dead-man float every little bit and scream, but I couldn’t afford to scream long because the tide would pull me back out. After what seemed like the longest ten minutes of my life, a young girl appeared ashore. She was about twelve. The palm trees split and she arrived from the park on the other side with a lovely sun-shining conduit straight from heaven ushering her to the sand. I have never been so relieved to see another person in my entire life. She looked a lot like myself at twelve. She was overweight with a great tan and long dark hair. It was as if God was giving me a moment to observe myself as a totally unconfident but capable twelve-year-old watching my totally uncofindent but capable 46-year-old self. He was telling me that I was alright. Then. And now. Right as she waved and hollered asking if I needed help, I felt my feet hit the rocky bottom of the great Pacific. I rode a tiny wave in, and hugged the sand as the wave pulled my bathing suit off my top. I laid flat modestly only lifting my head and said, “Thank you so much. I’m okay. I’m okay.” She shook her head and shrugged her shoulders as if to say, “You idiot! What have you gotten yourself into now?” I was too tired to answer her, but a sentiment screamed from my cerebellum, “Aw. C’mon. Give me a break. I know I’m not a native, but I’m fine. I don’t need you anymore. I’ve got this totally under control. I made it this far, didn’t I?”

And then I went and woke my husband, drove to the airport, flew home, and went back to school the next day. I stood in front of that one class that was out to get me all year long and thought the same thoughts as they exchanged texts of ugly memes about me under their desks, “Aw. C’mon. Give me a break. I know I’m not a native, but I’m fine. I don’t need you anymore. I’ve got this totally under control. I made it this far didn’t I?” But, it felt like more of a lie than that silent conversation in Hawaii. I couldn’t feel my feet on the rocks. But, this lie was at least a little familiar. Why?  Because I had told myself the same thing daily for the last 200+ days. That lie was the only way to survive the humiliation of first-year teaching, the humiliation we call figuring things out as you go.

Here were some pieces of hope along the way. Straight from the sea turtles:

Mrs. Gold, I know I didn’t attend your class too often but I really wish I had. You are one of my favorite teachers for lots of reasons, you’re funny, you’re kind, and you were always willing to help me with whatever I needed… you made it a safe place for me…and I really really appreciate everything you have done for my family.

Hi Mrs. Gold, I just wanted to say that I really appreciate all that you’ve done this year for us… As this was your first year of teaching, you did very well. If there was a rating system for teachers, I’d give you 10/10 for organization, 3/10 for staying on task (but that’s fine because it was mostly hilarious experiences that won’t be forgotten quickly), 10/10 for keeping teenagers entertained and interested, and finally 10/10 for being an amazing teacher overall. So, thank you for helping me with assignments when needed, thank you for making class a little more fun, and thank you for being a great teacher overall.

Hi Mrs Gold,  I just want to say thank you for being the most amazing teacher! You definitely were my favorite and always knew what to say to make everyone around you laughing, feel loved, and happy. Thank you for always listening to me and especially the one time when I walked into class and you just saw me and knew instantly to ask if I was okay after I had gone through a heartbreak. Thank you again, I will miss you very much!!

Gold, Thank you for all that you have done for me. You have helped me have a confidence I didn’t even know I had. The memories that we have made will be with me forever. I have never had a teacher I have been so close to. You are such an amazing teacher and NEVER forget that!! You are practically perfect in every way (haha stole mary poppins line). I am going to miss you so so so much as a teacher. I can honestly say that I have never enjoyed English as much as I did while you were my teacher.  HAHA you are hilarious and everyday I think of a joke or something you said, and I can’t help but laugh out loud!! I will always remember the things you have done for me and the big inspiration you have been. You are probably one of the biggest role models in my life. Thank you for supporting me in all the things that have happened in my life. You will be my twin forever. I love you!! …P.P.P.S MAMMA GOLDDD IN THE HOUSEEE WOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Gold, this year has been A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. All thanks to you. I remember the first day of your class I thought it was going to be the most fun adventure of my sophomore year….. and little did I know it would be so much more than that. From the very beginning you showed genuine care for each and every one of us. Each. And. Every. One. Through pushing your students, helping and caring, and opening your arms with love you have changed the lives of so many people this year. From the bottom of my heart I want to say thank you, thank you for being the best teacher on the planet, thank you for being yourself, thank you for loving, thank you for caring, thank you for lifting others up, thank you for hosting karaoke , and lunchtime parties, thank you for investing in what you love, thank you for showing dreams can come true and thank you for who you are.  I truly believe I will never forget the amazing memories. The finger twerking, the karaoke, the pencil throwing, the messages on the white board, the Rick Astley memes, the off-key songs, the random videos we played in your room… the burnt popcorn smell, the walks, the unimaginable love, the genuine care, and the strength you have given all of us.

thank you! imma miss you!
Hi Mrs. Gold!
How are you? I miss your class!
Mrs. Gold, I watched your video tonight and you seriously made me cry! I love you so much and I can’t thank you enough for putting up with me and teaching me all that I have learned in English this year! I will for sure miss you and hope to get in contact with you after I graduate! I just owe you the biggest thanks! So thank you for everything!!!
Mrs. Gold, I just wanted to send a short letter to tell you thank you so much for all of your hard work on our behalf.  Teaching is such a hard profession!  My son … has loved being in your class!  He says you are one of his favorite teachers he has ever had!  … says out of all his teachers, you are the one that cares about the students and works so hard to prepare fun lessons that are interesting!  Warmest thanks!
Hey Gold, I just want to thank you for all that you are doing for me and for all of your students, you really are a great teacher.

The sea turtles are the real reason we teachers teach. If you don’t believe me, just look around the country right now during COVID-19. Remember that the sea turtles that are in your homes driving you crazy are so enamoring to the few, the proud, the educators. We see them for what they are: majestic beings full of unlimited endless potential. We care that we don’t get paid anywhere near what we are worth, but like the surfers, we just take it for what it is because that HUGE wave and the Pro Surfing tour is waiting on us. And the sea turtles wouldn’t get to the front pages of National Geographic without the humans who see them for what they are.

Even if every night, usually in the dark, I had to paddle away from my sea turtles, back to a dirty house to make dinner for my own full home, do homework with my own kids, and clean the mess to be ready for another early morning, I always did so with the hopes that tomorrow I could reach the ones I was supposed to and ignore the ones that shook their heads and shrugged their shoulders.
And thanks to the sea turtles that I taught how to write, I think I didn’t end up doing so terrible. I mean, I didn’t drown or die of a heart attack. I at least made it back to the shore. But, next year. Next year, I will be in way better shape, and I am going to have a way better surf board.   Bring on more sea turtles.

Your Field Day

Field Day = life
Matt = you
Matt’s determination = your faith
The track = your life
Cerebal palsy = your personal battles
The spectators = also you

Sometimes we are the runner.
Sometimes we are the spectators.
Every field day should look like this.
Keep trying.
Keep encouraging.
Stop competing.
Everyone gets to finish.
It’s not about who wins.
It’s about who shows up,
and who loves each other.

He Gets Us Money

I was at Caroline’s school the other day and noticed this hanging outside  her classroom. If you can’t read it from the  photo it says,

My hero is my dad because he gets us money.

$

I couldn’t help but notice the resemblance between the hubster and Wreck-It-Ralph in the picture. He’ll be so flattered. (Another embarrasing sidenote is that  when I read this, I automatically inserted new lyrics into the Golddigger song. Sing along:  “He gets us money, when we’re in need.”

It was a fun mom moment. It’s not every day you get to see inside of your six-year-old’s head. I should have taken more  time to  see what the rest of the class wrote. I’m not sure if they all have an understanding of the neecessity of their dad’s paycheck quite like Caroline.

I’ve been chuckling in my head for days over this art. I am grateful that across the hall was another art project that read

I am thankful for my family. I am thankful for my home. I am thankful for Jesus.

jesus

It looks like we’ve gotten past just plain old materialism. Phew.

So, with all of this circling around in my mind, our family had tithing settlement last week. I just had to come and write about what has happened since.

[ Read more here. Essentially, every member of our family pays ten percent of our income to our church. At the end of every year, we have an opportunity to go in and talk with the Bishop about what we’ve paid and tell him we’ve given a full tithe as well as get our tax statements.]

Most of the time paying tithing is easy. It’s just the first check we write every payday. Other times (like Christmas around the corner for five kids) it’s a little bit harder. But, we always do it. My entire married life (18 years and counting) we’ve given back to God 10% of what He has given us.  We have repeatedly tested His promise in Malachi 3:10 . He never fails us.

Now, we haven’t been given a mansion. In fact, we probably have a lot less than a lot of our fellow American tithe-payers, but we have been blessed over and over again. Since paying tithing last week we have gotten an unexpected rebate check in the mail, my mom and dad sent us some money, and today I got a one-time exception 40% discount at  Target for Christmas stuff I bought four days ago that happened to be on sale today only. Abigail got a job. My kitchen mixer keeps working despite its weird noises. A lady from church gave our girls some clothes. An old friend of mine brought us some clothes for Max. Another generous friend insisted on paying for my breakfast yesterday and when we ran to Costco for a few things before I dropped her off, she also insisted on paying half of my Costco bill.  A lost phone has been found TWICE.

Tithing isn’t just for material blessings, it’s for blessings of faith. Every time something has come down the pipe, I can’t help but exclaim, “Yes, God, I know you are there. You are always watching over us.”

I’ve heard a lot of crap from non-believing friends about tithing and the financial status of my church. People have told me how bad it is that my church spends so much on temples. (What do they think a house dedicated to God should look like?) I think temples are worth every penny. Look at this one just finished in Tijuana, Mexico. Tell me if you can find anything else as lovely in all of Tijuana. Temples bring heaven to earth.

Tijuana_Mexico_Temple

Other people have asked me if  my money couldn’t be used for better purposes? Again, I wonder. What is better than this?

Whenever I hear of suffering around the world. Anywhere. I know that my tithing will be utilized to alleviate it. Hurricane Andrew. Hurricane Katrina. Check and Check. Hurricane Sandy. Check. Chronic Homelessness. Check. Tsunami in Japan. Check.  Devestation on the Polynesian islands. Check. Phillipines typhoon. Check. Clean water and immunization worldwide. Check. The Ebola outbreak. Check. I could go on and on and on. Here is a great read.

I’m  not sharing this to brag. I also didn’t use any of my church’s newsroom links, but cited a variety of news sources above. I just want to show what tithing is capable of doing. It’s a trillion times more efficient than government because God directs its utilization.

It’s funny. I always dreamed of joining the Peace Corps. I never got to, but my money has been sent to the far corners of the earth. And I usually don’t take time to even think about it. I just consistenly give my 10% and every day my mite blesses people around the world in real need.

Anyhow, like my six-year-old, my hero is my dad. My heavenly one. He gets us money. Then we try to give Him some back, but He takes it and gives it back to us and a million other  people in need.  The system is flawless. Also like my Caroline, I’m so thankful for my family, my home, and my Jesus. I’d give everything I own for any one of them, but Jesus says my 10 percent is plenty. And I believe it is.

 

For the athletes on the bench

abigail one

My dearest Benchwarmer,

I hope you know how truly proud you should be of yourself.
We are extremely proud of you.
You have given your team all of your effort this year.
It has required a lot out of you.
Even though you received very little in return (as far as playing time is concerned)
you never quit fighting, and practicing, and learning.
You have had an amazing attitude.
Much better than any of us, that’s for sure.
Your parents whined about everything.
The two games every game day about killed us, and we weren’t even dressed out.
You only got to play on junior varsity,
but still had to commit an enermous amount of time to varsity, too.
And you did it gladly.
You have stayed positive.
Every day. Every second. Every grueling minute of game day.
This year’s goal was that you could hopefully improve.
And improve you did.
And miraculously, you were also our teacher while doing it.
Because in athleticism and life the improvement is what matters most.
Not the score, or the other players, or any glory.
Your glory came every time you knew you were better than yesterday.
Your victory came in the form of perfected humility
while just being there to give the starters someone to play against.
Day after day.
Week after week.
You have been there to cheer on your teammates.
You have been genuinely happy for them and proud of them.
You have gone above and beyond to follow the directions of your coach.
And honestly, all of those things are what the test of life is really about.
I wish that as your parents we could have given you more.
I wish we could have afforded all the fancy gear and coaching
that all the other girls on your team have had.
But, the way in which you outshine them in your heart makes me almost
glad that we weren’t able to give you more.
Because you, with no advantages at all, with just pure love of the game
and committed effort over ten years, made your dream of making varsity come true.
It doesn’t matter that you may never get to play in a game.
It doesn’t matter to me if your team takes that state title tomorrow.
What matters to me is that you are the best that you can be.
What matters to me is that you are happy and healthy.
What matters to me is that you are my most amazing kid.
If we leave the game tomorrow with victorious smiles,
or we (your dad and I) leave with just small ones that the season is finally over,
what you need to know is that YOU always make us smile.
YOU are the best thing that has ever happened to us.
And you are also an amazing athlete with incredible character.
Stand tall and proud, my child.
You make us so proud.

Love,
Your biggest fans

The 5 phases of moms’ back-to-school blues

Dear moms,

Whatever stage of parenting you are in, on the first day of school, know this:

You will survive.

You might not have five kids, like I do, to place your phases into neat little categories, but it only takes one time for us to share the back-to-school bond.

So, if today is your first time, read below, and cry away. If today is your third time, please enjoy it for me. If today is your 15th time, accept my deepest respect.

Most importantly, (and I’m saying this for myself as much as I am for you) all phases are perfectly acceptable.

We will survive.

Fotor_144000324557795

Phase 1:

On the first day of school, CHILD#1 was all dressed up in a perfect outfit selected just for the occasion. The brand-name pink dress matched her personalized pink backpack and chic brown leather boots.  The boots were adorned with flowers that were the same two pinks of her backpack and dress. The detailed accessorizing was absolutely necessary. Her “look” had to equal her worth. Perfection was the only option. Her long hair was styled in flawless pigtails with stationary bows; everything was doused with hairspray to perform their duty throughout the long school day. She couldn’t get to her classroom fast enough. As she walked into her kindergarten class she greeted her teacher with a handshake, a hand-made note communicating her excitement to learn, double school supplies, and a carefully wrapped teacher’s gift. She already knew how to read, write, and do simple math. She was just there to show off and tutor her new friends.

Her mom would sit stoic through the parent separation meeting where the teacher read “The Kissing Hand.” Her permanent squint barricaded the threatening waterfall of tears. She would go home and bawl while praying for her baby to be safe. This daily ritual would last all year.

Phase 2:

On the first day of school, CHILD #2 was in the outfit that her mom gently guided her to choose from the clearance rack at Target. She didn’t really like the red polo top, but her mom said it made her look smart, especially with her new glasses. Her jeans were gently worn, and her tennis shoes were double-knotted so that the teacher wouldn’t have to be bothered to help her re-tie them later. Her hair was cut short to make it easier in the mornings. Between the glasses and the headband it would hopefully stay out of her face for the rest of the day. She clenched her mom’s hand and was barely dragged along to her classroom. She greeted her teacher with a bowed head, a forced smile, and a backpack full of supplies that her mom hoped she wouldn’t be forced to share. She had a few extra boxes of Kleenex for her teacher. She could write her name, read a few words, and surely her puzzle mastery counted for the math. She was there because she wanted to be a big girl like her sister, but she was scared to death.

Her mom would not listen at all during the parent meeting because it was just easier that way. She willfully forced herself from the school dragging her large cement slab of worry to the car where she would sit and cry with the toddler in the back. The next day would be a little easier, but her aching would last all year.

Phase  3:

On the first day of school, CHILD#3 wore the outfit her sisters told her was the cutest at one of the fifty stores where they went back-to-school shopping. It was a plain combination of a shirt, skirt, and matching shoes. The clothes were new and she was ecstatic about owning something that no one else wore before her. Her shoes did not have shoelaces, but velcro fasteners. Even though her mom had always sworn her kids would know how to tie their shoes by kindergarten, she had changed her mind after a hundred unsuccessful demonstrations. Her hair was mid-length in two messy pigtails. She gladly skipped along side her mom. After all, this school was her second home. She was poised and familiar with her teacher: she’d known her for a year already. Inside her backpack was everything from the supply list except for the unnecessary things that her mom knew that the teacher had never gotten around to removing from the ancient list. Her mom carried a whole case of Kleenex as a gift for the teacher. Teachers never have enough tissues and this kid had an allergy-induced dependency on them. She could write her name and sit still for a story, but that was it. She gave her mom a tentative hug and told her to hurry and leave before she embarrassed her further.

Her mom left the parent meeting in a hurry. She had a date with the local bakery for breakfast. The freedom would last all year even though she occasionally worried for the sanity of her kids’ teachers. The only crying would happen that morning while eating her quiche: a single tear would roll down her cheek because of the touching plot-line of her book.

Phase  4:

On the first day of school, CHILD#4 wore something.  It may not have matched because if her mom told her it didn’t and she insisted that was what she wanted to wear, her mom relented. The clothes may have been from the rack at the thrift-store or from a bag of hand-me-downs in the garage.  Either way they were new to her and she felt fancy. She was the first one in the family to wear sandals on the first day of school. It was warm enough, and her mom figured the easiest way for her to learn that she didn’t want sod trapped between her toes at recess was to get the experience over with. Her hair was brushed. She didn’t need her mom to walk her to her class. School was exciting, but not nearly as thrilling as Disneyland. Her mom insisted on walking her to the front door of the school and then again insisted on a hug before letting her sisters walk her the rest of the way. Inside her backpack was nothing but an emergency change of clothes in a ziplock bag. They’d get the supplies later. For the teacher there was a gift-card to Wal-mart, but it hadn’t been purchased yet. She knew how to write her name, but the “a” was always backwards.

If there was a parent meeting, mom hadn’t heard about it. She waddled from the school and hurried home for a nap.  She only had ’til noon to pick her kindergartner back up, and there was only two weeks before her next baby would be born. The noon pick up would remain her largest source of frustration for the rest of the year especially when she had to wake up the baby from his nap. Some days she would cry about it.

Phase  5:

On the first day of school, CHILD#5 wore a t-shirt, some cotton pants, and a dry diaper. He was lucky she hadn’t left his pajamas on. He was shoe-less. He didn’t walk. His hair was brushed with some baby lotion to mask the musky baby boy scent. He sat in the stroller waving at all the energetic kids lining up outside the school. They would occasionally wave back when his sister pointed him out. School was a place where mom would take him from time to time. He and mom both waved to sister as she hugged her teacher and walked inside, but she didn’t turn around or wave back. His mom threw caution to the wind that morning and had brought him to the school without a bottle or a diaper. Really, she was just in a hurry. He couldn’t write his name. He couldn’t even say his name.

Mom conducted a parent meeting as she walked back to her car. She hurried the stroller past the other moms in her running clothes saying: “I was almost free. Lucky for me, this guy is going to keep me company for another five years.”  After her run, when she got home, she refused to cry. She plopped the baby in the highchair with some cheerios and opened up her laptop.

A Writer’s World

I had to write an emergence myth for my Wilderness Writing class. I’ve struggled with it all semester. My professor is all about the process of writing, so he doesn’t just take our assignments, grade them, and hand them back. He gives feedback, workshops, and hopes for his students to grow and evolve. As a black/white enthusiast this has been beyond difficult for me. The class is finished in two weeks and I have not even a hint at my earned grade. I’ve had to work on multiple projects at once. I’ve hit a lot of walls. I’ve vacillated between utter despair and overpowering revelation. This was the perfect class to initiate me back to school. I’m glad I stuck with it.

Here is my Emergence Myth, A Writer’s World. This emerged after five weeks of inner turmoil. I’m proud of it. It is the most personally powerful piece I have ever written. I hope it will be followed by many more that are nothing like it.

Her name was Nobody. All she wanted was to be a Somebody. Somebodies were better. Somebodies were happier. Somebodies were successful. So, she signed up for Somebody school. She left her stifling dreary brown Nobody world without looking back and happily entered the newest Somebody classroom with glass walls. Holding a pen and paper in her hand, surrounded by Somebodies and other people learning to be Somebodies, she felt happier. She thought only of Somebody ways. She tried to learn their words. She studied their beliefs. She liked the Somebodies. And they liked her. But when she went to sleep at night staring at the books in her lap, she felt like she was living a lie. She didn’t know how to write Somebody stories, even though that is all she ever wanted to do. So she read all of the great Somebody myths. She pondered Somebody tradition and she tried harder to copy the Somebodies. But everything felt like it was wrong.

Nobody was persistent and brave. She would not give up without a fight. She stopped talking as much and started to listen. She found better tools and used them to build new ideas. After a lot of hard work she surprised herself when she started questioning the ways of Somebodies. She couldn’t believe that along the journey she was somehow convinced that Somebodies weren’t always right. What happened to that Nobody girl that worshipped all the Somebodies? She had changed her own mind. Somebodies didn’t do it. She did it. She realized that Nobodies could be good and happy and successful too. In fact, the only difference between Nobodies and Somebodies was their names. She didn’t need to be a Somebody any more. She could be a Nobody. That was perfectly acceptable. She felt liberated.

She started to think about going back to Nobody world until she had a rude awakening. The only reason she believed Nobodies were good now was because Somebodies had taught her so. Now what? She was still a Nobody, but was also a Somebody. Where would she fit in? The answer wasn’t with the Somebodies. Desperate, she allowed herself to look through the glass walls back out to Nobody world. Mountains had emerged. The skies were every color of the rainbow with clouds of all shapes and sizes. The vegetation was magnificently varied. The animals seemed to holler at her to tell their story. Nobodies never saw those things. She was no longer a Nobody.

She decide she had to stay at Somebody school, even if she didn’t want to give up her Nobody parts. She didn’t know what she would become. Maybe she should just be a writer? Maybe she could tell Somebody stories and Nobody stories? Maybe the best stories would be about Somebody and Nobody together? She looked at her paper, her new world was in it. It was totally blank, but she was not scared. She started to fill it, one letter at a time. She made Nobody words. She made Somebody sentences. She changed them all around and rearranged voraciously. Over and over and over again. She deleted some and added some others. The paper took the form of a glass building surrounded by a bounteous earth. Sometimes there was a Somebody inside, sometimes a Nobody outside, but neither would ever be confined again. Her new world was in the paper and it would be whatever she imagined.

The Input

inputAs you all know, I started back to college last month. It’s an exciting time for me personally because I am finally pursuing a life-long dream of becoming a better writer and a teacher.

Problematic to the ideal, however, is the fact that I am almost forty-two years old and smack-dab in the middle of my life as well as my motherhood. My life was already not for sissies before I started school. I have five kids and although I don’t have a “career”, my brain is already on the verge of explosion a good majority of the time.

“Mom, where is my bathing suit?”
“Mom, can I go to Wyoming with my boyfriend in July to pick up fireworks?”
“Mom, I need toilet paper.”
“Mom, stop lecturing me.”
“waaaa.”

That is what it sounds like around here at all times.

Then add in the hubby…well, we won’t even go there. On Tuesday, he came home with horrific tooth pain and was laying on the couch in extreme discomfort. I was the one to call the endodontist to insist that the man not wait another three days to be seen. It’s just what I do. Like LG’s paycheck, everyone expects what I get done around here.

Starting school was a really scary venture for me in my delicate psychiatric capacity. From the get-go I was having an extremely hard time processing all of the new information at school. Yes, I have a boatload going on at home, but the mom stuff is an old hat. The problem is the old hat doesn’t just jump down to make way for the new one. I feel like the Berenstein Bear in Old Hat, New Hat. I wanted to just run back home to my old comfortable hat and forget about the limitless possibilities they constantly explore at the university level. Lucky for me, if motherhood teaches anyone anything it is that YOU JUST CAN’T  QUIT.  So, I’ve stuck in there. I’m not a star pupil, but I’m a pupil.

My biggest problem with school is that it is making me feel like an awful writer. It has scared me so bad that I don’t even want to write anymore. It isn’t fun when it’s all just technicality-centered. My professor is a good guy and a really smart talented dude, but his emphasis is on work-shopping, which has just left me feeling like I can’t do anything right. Trust me when I say this, everything anyone writes can always be better. And everything of mine really seems to need to work. I know it does, that is why I wanted to go back to school, to learn, but still it is hard to keep trying when it feels like I’ll never be a “great”.

So, today, I come to the blog to vent…to get back to the place in writing that I love, baring my soul. Sometimes I just have to write without thinking about the noun to verb ratio and whether or not my syntax is going to be subjectively admired. Sometimes I just need to write…to write…and for no other reason than to organize my brain with way too much input. Honestly, I am trying really hard to believe my professor that all good writing is not random. I personally believe it is only defined as “good” by the readers and that one thing can be total crap to one person and the same thing can be a masterpiece to another.

I feel better already. This is why I love to write. It organizes the craziness in my mind. Constantly, I have too much going on in there, and if I can leave it on paper, I can move on…and only then.

Writing is my output. What is yours? Maybe I can convert…because this might not work out for me. Ha.

It’s About Who’s Waiting For Us in the End.

Come with me back to a high school track meet. It happened two weeks ago. I sat in the stands watching my teenage daughter and hundreds of other high-schoolers, all vying for their own personal records, hoping to beat out all the other competitors. Unlike the athletes, I, however, had a completely opposing mantra for myself. “Let it go, Alice.” “Let it go.” The Sunday before, my track-star daughter, my husband, and I had a heart-to-heart. Come to find out, I have always put undue pressure on the poor girl in all areas of her life, but especially when it comes to sports and grades. Yeah, I’m not proud. What can I say? She’s my firstborn? That doesn’t really cut it. You’ll be relieved to know that I am working on it. I have specific goals, one of which is not being result-obsessed.

So, my daughter had just run her 100m. Unlike her past track experiences, she’s not typically in the Top 3 this year. She’s running at the middle of the pack. Thus the mantra. “Let it go, Alice.” I was pep-talking myself, “This is about your daughter, not about you. Abigail is having fun. Abigail is getting exercise. Just because you want her to be in first place, it doesn’t mean that is where she needs to be. Be happy. Love your girl. Let it go.”

Then an amazing thing happened.

the end

It was the boy’s mile. The mile takes forever. As my thoughts were repeating in circles, I haphazardly watched the male athletes going round and around. I watched while I wrestled with my only baby boy and started imagining his future. I wondered to myself if I could master being a better mother by the time he takes to the track. I hoped I would never put too much pressure on him, too. I questioned whether or not he will even be an athlete and silently wished I will be able to embrace whatever it is he decides to love, even if he only loves it with mediocrity.

The race was over….or so I thought. My mind moved on. Then, right in front of me, I saw some super energetic young man rally his whole school to their feet. He hooted, hollered, jumped, cajoled, begged, and demanded full participation. I silently hoped, “Oh, I don’t wish that for Max. Please let him be an athlete, instead of a cheerleader.” Stay with me. My mind was abruptly changed.

It so happened that there was one runner left. He was way behind the pack. He belonged to this crazy make-shift athlete turned cheerleader’s school. This runner was a runt. He was slow. He was in last place. Yet. Yet, as he slowly made his way to the finish line in front of the crowd, his school was cheering for him like he was an Olympic gold medalist. All because of the efforts of his crazy encouraging teammate (that he hadn’t even seen rally the crowd) his stride quickened. His chin lifted up in pride. There was a wide smile on his face. The finish of this race is one he will never forget. Neither will I.

I hid my face in shame for being such a proud person. And because I was bawling my eyes out. I whispered to Max, “You don’t have to be an athlete, but please be a make-shift cheerleader wherever you go.”

Then I ran over to tell Abigail that she did awesome in that 100m.

The following Sunday, while I was driving to church, this song came on the radio. It took me hours to find it but it was worth every search effort.

Enjoy.

It’s not about how fast we get there, it’s about who’s waiting for us in the end.

Who knew her homework would by my payday?

imageHours upon hours I’ve spent hovering over my children making sure they were getting their homework done. I never dreamed this duty of mine would eventually pay off in a big old payday of personal validation.

But it did.

Before Christmas break Abigail wrote her 49 page autobiography for her 10th grade Honors history class. She did a bang up job.

We won’t mention how her dad had to take her to work at 4:30 a.m. to print it the morning it was due. Two hours later he then took an emergency trip to FedEx Office to get it bound. – dang ADHD! I was the lucky one in bed recovering from surgery. When LG got home with the finished work in hand, I was actually awake enough to read it over before Abigail took it to school to turn it in.

Reading my little girl’s grown-up account of her life was one of the most beautiful moments. The thing was jam-packed full of many of her most cherished memories. Without intending to include me, I was personally interwoven into every page. Yes, I was there for most of it. I saw her playing in the yard in TN all the time. I put away the toys all over the driveway when they just HAD to play Boxcar Children for the 55th time. I was the one who introduced her to “The Boxcar Children” in the first place! Yes, I was. (What a super proud book-loving mom moment to read that her favorite game to play as a kid was boxcar children!) I know her favorite food is lasagna and her favorite movie is “She’s the Man.” I didn’t know that her friend Courtney gifting her a stuffed sheep when she was four-years-old had meant so much to her but I am so glad that she shared about it. And, yes, I take as much pride as she does that the staff of her elementary school referred to her as Harvard Girl…even at five, she was her own little Elle Woods in the making….beautiful and smart. And, she, by some miracle of heaven belonged to little old me then and still does today.

Her teacher enjoyed the part about The Boxcar Children game too.

image

As shown above, her teacher, like me, also enjoyed the part of the paper Abigail wrote about me. Although I am positive she couldn’t have appreciated it as much as I did.

I am not trying to brag here. In fact, when I asked Abigail about why my part was just so sweet, she said, “Oh mom, that was so easy to write. I just wrote everything I felt about you and twisted any negative to positive. That’s why you sound so cool.” Ha ha.  I didn’t care. I had bawled my eyes out at every single word. It meant everything to me to know that my daughter “gets” me. She knows me intimately. And, most of all, she still loves me, no matter what.

Like Julie Andrews sings in Sound of Music, I felt, “I must have done something good.” When reading Abigail’s words, every single crappy parenting moment dissolved. The one time I found Sophia with poop smeared everywhere in her crib, on her body, in her mouth….gone. The time I force-fed Abigail oatmeal when she was 2. A distant memory. All the nights I cried myself to sleep wondering how I could ever face another day, only to still be crying when everyone woke up….totally worth every second that seemed like an eternity at the time. All the instances where my kids have told me what I suck at and how I need to improve…they didn’t matter. I was loved, gosh dangit. I mattered to my daughter.

I know you are all dying to read it now. It won’t mean to you what it means to me, but here it is for all eternity. I will try to remember to come back here from time to time. Maybe the next time one of my spawn hollers that they hate me.

“My mother is a very eccentric person. She has a wonderful colorful personality. She is a crazy, fun, human being with little to no tact. That is only the beginning of my mother. She grew up with six brothers and sisters who are all just as crazy and loud as her. I love my mom so much and don’t know what I would do without her. She works so hard in my family to keep our house clean and orderly. She is probably the coolest person ever. She is always cracking jokes and gets along with my friends so well. I know I can talk to her about anything and I can count on her to understand me. She has a giving heart and wants to give to everyone around her. She does so much for me and I don’t even ask her to. My favorite thing I do with my mom is when she knows I’m having a hard time, she sends me a card and a little treat. Like once I was stressed and we had just gotten in a fight about something. The next morning, she dropped off a card and a Kneaders breakfast and said we would go shopping later that day. My mom is such an inspiration to me. She always goes after what she wants and doesn’t let anyone tell her she can’t which can be difficult sometimes, but I love her just the same.”

Now, tell me I’m not the luckiest mom in the whole wide world!!

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