A decade together,
seven years married.
After all of it we remain, but not as the same people we were before. I look back at wedding pictures and see our fresh faces--hopeful, naïve, unsure of what lay ahead. I look at our faces now and at first glance think "good Lord, what happened to us?!" But I know the answer to that: LIFE happened, in all its glorious ups and downs.
I see laugh lines from the joy,
creases from the pain,
and tired eyes from the journey.
But the trade-off is that behind our eyes there's a depth and richness now that wasn't there before. It's something I can't quite put words to but lies behind that look we give each other every now and then--a look we weren’t capable of giving each other back then. It feels like some combination of "I can't believe you're still here" and...
I can't believe I'M still here
look at everything we've made in this life together
I’m a little weary but a lot grateful."
We think when we're young that we'll get married, buy a house, have x number of kids…and then our dreams fast forward to when we’re old and gray together, skipping over the years in the messy middle. And that's where we are right now, riding through these not-so-glamorous years of hectic parenting and work life that seem to go by in a flash yet stretch on for miles. And in these long stretches between landmarks and milestones, if you’re not careful, you’ll start to pass each other by. These are the years where the scenery can become distracting and it's all too easy to simply throw on the cruise control and coast.
So you start to look at ways to make the journey fresh and exciting again and people tell you things like "make each other a priority" and "carve out time for date nights regularly". But I'm here to tell you after ten years and a five year-old together that ninety minutes at Carrabba's once a month isn't enough to keep the fire burning in a relationship. Sometimes you've got to do a little more; you've got to get out of your comfort zone and do something outside of your normal routine.
This picture you see here is us doing just that. We’re not doing anything crazy like bungee jumping or parachuting out of a plane; actually, we're just ON a plane. (Yes, for me, this in itself was a wild adventure!) This was me simply making good on a promise to put my fear of flying and leaving our boy aside for the sake of something greater--for the sake of reconnection. This was me, tired in so many ways. Yes, physically tired, but also tired of letting fear, stress, and the mundane always take the driver’s seat.
And that hand you see reaching through to grab mine as we took off? That's my husband's way of saying “thank you” and “I’m still here”. It’s the gentle, solid strength I fell in love with way back when. He could be so over my quirks and anxieties that, to him, probably seem frustrating and irrational. He could say "c'mon, suck it up", but he doesn't. Instead, he just quietly sneaks his hand up between the seats as the engines rev up to let me know he's got my back (like, literally).
Isn't it funny how quickly we forget, yet how quickly we're reminded?
When I say it takes more than the obligatory monthly date night to really reconnect, I don't mean "more" in terms of expense or frequency, just "more" in the sense of what it is you're really yearning for.
Whatever it is you're missing, go after it. Do something or go someplace that makes your forget for a second that you're parents and budget-keepers and remember that you were lovers first.
Shut off the cruise control and take a damn detour together.
Last week I attended a Montessori conference and had the pleasure of listening to Dr. Timothy Purnell, the Executive Director of the American Montessori Society. With the kind of energy that gets a guy walking through the aisles of an auditorium instead of standing behind a podium, he talked to us about the importance of connecting & sharing about Montessori through social media--a platform that has the capability of spreading good through its enormous reach. It's through connecting and relationship building, he reminded us, that we are part of a movement. But to be a part of something great--to be part of a movement--you have to stop keeping the good stuff to yourself and share with others.
In other words, you have to "get off your island".
This is always an enticing concept to me--sharing with others, talking about the things that we're passionate about, helping move something I believe in forward. Yet I notice that I often fail at getting the good stuff I know I have to share actually out there. I had to ask myself, when it comes to this topic, why does there always seem to be this gap between the things I desire to do and my actions?
Why do some of us (myself included) struggle so greatly with social media--heck, with all things social--while it seems to come so easily to others?
I don't think anyone holds back on connecting and sharing because they have an intention to withhold from others or because they dislike people (well, maybe a few, but not most of us). Instead, I think it boils down to the difference between extroverts and introverts.
It's not a difference so much in intention, but in how we get our "juice"--introverts get their juice through solitude and going inward, while extroverts thrive from putting themselves out there and connecting with others. The best example I can think of is a relationship I once had with your quintessential extrovert. After a long, stressful day he'd say "ugh, today was awful, I'm gonna call up my buddies and see what's going on", while I'd say "ugh, today was awful, I'm gonna curl up with a chick flick and a cozy blanket". (You can guess how that worked out...)
Most introverts want to be movers and shakers--contributors--just as many extroverts do, it's just that the process of putting ourselves out there is a greater struggle. For us, the amount of effort, time, and energy it takes to constantly get out of our comfort zone can be exhausting and, when we push forward for periods of time and do it anyway, we often feel the need to retreat and recover afterward.
This raises the question, why "get off our islands" when it's so cozy living there?
If putting ourselves out there is so uncomfortable, so exhausting...why do it?
I think the answer lies in another powerful message our speaker had: you have to define your WHY. You have to be clear about why you do what you do and how you desire to spend your time. My biggest reason for doing all I do is, like many others, my family. But my second biggest "why" is because making a contribution, making an impact in this life, matters to me and I feel I do that through teaching & writing. Well, not so much in writing per se, but in sharing my writing.
See, the reason it's critical for me to "feel the fear and do it anyway" is because sharing and connecting is key to my vision as a writer. Mostly, I write for myself--to make sense of life. But I share because there's just about no greater feeling than hearing someone say "Yes! This! You put words to what I was feeling but didn't know how to say." Networking, connecting, sharing, marketing--all the things that are uncomfortable and time consuming for me are, like it or not, the very things that will help connect my writing with more people and make my vision my reality.
So what's an introvert to do? Do we continue fighting the good fight for the sake of something greater or do we redefine our why and just surrender to our true nature?
I do know that the answer is NOT trying to become an extrovert--fighting who we authentically are never works out well or lasts very long. I think we introverts can be a part of something really great, it might just take us a little longer to get there (although, who really defines where "there" is anyway?).
I think the key might be in working with our true nature rather than against it. We need to allow ourselves those moments on the island because recharging is key to getting our creativity back when we're feeling depleted. But waiting until we're "ready" to rejoin the world won't work, just as waiting until I'm "ready" to workout or sit and prepare my taxes won't work either. There are simply things in life that we have to, at some point, make ourselves do for our own well-being.
When we've allowed ourselves a respite and we know it's time to jump back in and rejoin the conversation we'll inevitably feel resistance, but I think it's important for us not to view our resistance as an enemy we have to fight--you know that saying "what we resist persists." I think it may boil down to feeling the resistance come up, recognizing it, and then proceeding anyway.
And we can support each other. We can make each other accountable. Whether you're a fellow introvert yourself or an extrovert, when you notice your friend's been hanging out on the island for awhile, remind him or her that you miss their contribution. Remind them that the stuff they put out there, their voice, makes a difference and is missed. It might just be the little push they need.
This is my goal for 2019--to honor my true nature, but get off my island when I know it's time to come home. Because getting out of my own way is also part of honoring myself.
Now excuse me while I painstakingly read this over and over again, endlessly edit, and then contemplate for an hour whether or not to hit "publish". Oh and then spend tomorrow going through that whole process again trying to share on social.
Hey, it used to take me a week. It's called progress, people.
For the last few weeks I’ve suffered from a condition I can't quite name but seems to flare up from time to time, especially when a new year approaches. It impairs my ability to get words from my mind onto the actual page, to get my yoga pant-clad bottom to the place where the yoga actually happens.
You see, it’s not an issue of intention, it’s one of execution.
There’s fortunately nothing physically wrong with me—my right (write) hand isn’t paralyzed and I’m thankful to have the ability to exercise my body. I can’t claim writer’s block because the ideas are there, just as I can’t blame my procrastination around exercising on not knowing how to do it…it’s just that I come up with every excuse in the world to NOT ACTUALLY DO IT.
And this is where the shame comes in.
Because what kind of person is fortunate enough to have the health and ability to move her body, to be provided with people actually willing to read the things she writes, yet actively chooses to get in her own way? What kind of person actively participates in the sabotaging of her own forward progress?
The answer to that is, in my mind, a failure. Perhaps you think I’m being too harsh, but let me plead my case.
One of the distractions I’ve used lately to stall forward progress (unintentionally but still...) is the suddenly very urgent need to clean and declutter my house from top to bottom—something I’ve decided must come first before all other things. As I cleaned out from under my bed, I found the large Rubbermaid container I’ve used as a keepsake box over the years. I opened the lid for the first time in a long while and rummaged through, finding some old vision boards and journals. On the pages I found goals from four years ago and made a grim discovery: my goals then were no different than the ones I’m still chasing after today.
I haven’t written the book.
I haven’t lost the extra ten pounds (well, I have here and there, but seem to gain it back).
I haven’t gone all organic or sugar-free.
I still have debt.
It’s not to say I’ve made no forward progress--I’ve gone after those things and, for periods of time, been successful. I’ve started a blog and gained some readers, I’ve cut back on sweets at times, and I’ve made a good dent in my debt…but it hasn’t been ONE year folks, it’s been FOUR.
1,460 days wasn’t enough time to achieve my dreams?
I can try defending my inching, rather than sprinting, forward with the fact that I’m a full-time working mother of a young child, but at what point does that fact become an excuse? And, if it’s indeed a valid excuse, it raises the question:
is it a worthwhile endeavor then to dream at all?
The optimist in me says “of course—keep the hope!” but there’s another voice that says “if it hasn’t happened by now…will it ever?” I considered this question head-on as I tucked the vision boards and goal lists safely away. I decided it was time to face whether these goals were really coming to fruition—if my progress was indeed moving forward or just circular.
I checked my blog stats and the scale for the first time in months, numbers I normally try not to look at but I also know represent reality. Despite my efforts to clean up my diet lately, the number on the scale was exactly the same as where I was last year. And, as could be expected, my blog numbers were down from my procrastination around writing. Ahhh yes…confirmation, not in emotions or belief but in actual numbers, that I was indeed failing to meet goals I'd set long ago.
I didn’t do what you might expect--internalize that sense of failure and go eat a bunch of garbage or run up my credit card or sabotage myself by going after the things I’d been actively fighting against. But I did, on some level, check out. For the first time, I didn't see the point in trying to make forward progress if I would only eventually backslide. I decided this year I wouldn't sabotage or strive...just be, well, goalless.
For three days I continued to pour myself into the cleaning of every inch of my house, a pile of items to purge getting bigger by the front door. I wasn’t necessarily feeling depressed or hopeless, but a bit weary, like my heart was hardened a bit.
I needed something to listen to as I continued to sort through and scrub my house and stumbled upon a YouTube video of a speech given by the author Cheryl Strayed. She talked about how she had once sat down to write the “great American novel” but found every excuse not to do so—and that when she was finally given the perfect setting and opportunity to actually DO what she’d always dreamed she would, she ended up binge watching reality shows instead.
After much procrastination, she finally had to face the idea that she was failing at achieving her dream. She had to reckon with her own mediocrity and consider the idea that maybe her dreams weren’t a worthwhile pursuit after all.
What she realized after giving it some thought was that her dream of writing was TRUE and REAL—it was just that the goal of writing the “great American novel” had been too big and felt too heavy. So, rather than completely give up or swing in the other direction and try to achieve GREATness, she decided to do something in between: to surrender to her mediocrity and simply make good on her intentions.
She said, “when you surrender to your own mediocrity, what you’re doing is humbly acknowledging that the very best thing you have to give us is only what YOU have to offer.”
I wouldn’t go so far as to say her words changed my life, but, again, things don’t have to be so darn BIG. What her words did do was get me to open my laptop.
And, look, here I am writing again.
Friends, I don’t have the circumstances in place to try and write a book right now and I don’t know how to turn 1,000 followers into the 100,000 that book agents are looking for, but what I can do is share some words that speak to my heart when I’m willing to let it crack open a little. That’s all I have to offer right now.
I don’t have the budget this year to completely pay off my student loans AND mortgage AND credit cards, but I can make my payments just a little bigger than the minimum and pay them on time every. single. month. That is what I can afford to do right now.
I can’t speak for how I’ll navigate my tricky relationship with sugar next month or next week or even tomorrow, but I can make choices that feel good for my body today, one breath and bite at a time. And I can move in some way each day, not for a number on the scale, but for my health and because I just feel better when I do. All I can commit to is the next right choice for my body, on this day.
I guess it’s no longer true that I don’t have goals for 2019 because I do have one: this year, I won’t try and make myself or my life over. I won’t commit to things that feel too big or too heavy. Instead, my goal this year is to surrender to my own mediocrity...
to give only what I have to offer...
to make good on my intentions.
That I can do.
And, to answer my previous question, yes…I do believe dreaming is a worthwhile endeavor—it keeps us growing and retains our sense of hope. But the scope and scale of those dreams is going to change year to year depending on our circumstances. If your career, love life, and financial circumstances are thriving, you might be in a position to pursue big, shiny, sparkly kinds of goals, and that’s terrific. That's the juice we get during the up times of life that serves as fuel to keep going during the down times, with hope that they'll come around again.
But I also know this: that if everything was stripped from you this year and you could give a hoot about big, sparkly dreams and you’re just trying to SURVIVE with the few things you’ve got left—the types of things that can’t be taken from you when all else is
like your will,
and your tenacious love for those weathering the storm alongside you...
real, gritty, salt of the earth kinds of dreams rather than sparkly ones...
well, here’s the good news I’d like to whisper into your heart, reminding you of what you already know:
in this year ahead, you'll be okay...because these are the only things you ever really need anyway.
"You're so sensitive."
Three little words I've heard over and over again throughout my life. In Kindergarten I cried every time the teacher reprimanded the class because I thought she was surely talking directly to me. Kids in school said I didn't know how to take a joke. Boyfriends accused me of being overly sensitive when we fought. Believe me, I've been told on way more than one occasion that I need to lighten up or toughen up.
Do something to stop being "too much"--too sensitive, too anxious, too nice.
I spent thirty-some years being ashamed of my sensitive nature, trying to put on a front that things didn't really bother me when they did, acting as if I had a thick skin when I didn't, pretending jokes rolled off my back when they stuck to me like glue.
Then, as I approached my mid-thirties, I had a child. And my sensitive self was so overwhelmed with it all--the love, the stress, the complete upside down flip of my life that it wasn't even possible to pretend I wasn't feeling all that I was. I called it postpartum anxiety just to give it a name, but really I wasn't quite sure how to name what I was feeling--I just felt oversaturated with and overwhelmed by the love. I wondered, is it possible to love something so much that it doesn't feel, well...good?
Then one day, when he was a couple months old, I brought him in to introduce him to my coworkers and one of them said something I'll never forget--she put words to exactly what I'd been feeling. She said, "doesn't having a child feel like you're walking around with your heart outside your body?"
OMG. Yes! That's exactly what it feels like.
And then, three years later, I began to fall in love like that all over again, except this time it couldn't last. And that heartbreak felt equally overwhelming, but different. This time I was able to put words to how I was feeling: if having a baby felt like walking around with my heart outside my body, losing one felt like walking around completely inside out, every nerve raw and exposed.
People's well-intentioned but poorly delivered words didn't just fail to "roll off", they felt like knives cutting an already open wound. Edgy and irritable became my default on a good day but most days my patience felt so paper thin, you could say the wrong thing and break it clean in half. Grief took up residence as an ever-present lump in my throat, a dam holding back a flood of tears just waiting for the slightest trigger to release it.
There's no use trying to put on fronts or a thick skin living inside out--I didn't care to and, even if I did, they wouldn't have stuck. So I had no choice but to start owning living inside out. And that's where I am now, as I close out my 30's.
Those of us living life inside out--we may be overly sensitive, we may overreact, but with that comes great passion for the things we do and people we love.
We may take things harder, but at least we're not hardened.
We're far from carefree but we're not care-free...our empathy is something the world desperately needs.
We're sometimes perceived as the Black Sheep or the Oddballs, but we're really just, as Glennon Doyle says, "not a mess, but a deeply feeling person living in a messy world."
Living life inside out means I might not be the social butterfly at the party but I can write a piece like this. It means I have boxes of journals because I've always written stuff like this.
But owning living inside out means that now you're reading it.
Because living life inside out is no longer something I'm ashamed of--it simply means I'm no longer pretending not to feel deeply when the reality is that I do. It means I'm finally making my outsides match my insides.
I may be "too much" of something, maybe everything...but you can never be too REAL.
I walk toward the doors of my son's classroom after a long day in my own, my shoulders tight and my soul yearning for an afternoon coffee. This is the brightest spot of any given day--that moment after walking through the doors of my son's classroom when I spot him, he spots me, and he comes running, arms wide open and joy all over his face. My tired and tense is replaced with a sudden burst of pure joy that floods my body as his 4 year-old arms wrap around my neck. We exchange hugs and kisses and I take in every detail he wants to tell me about his day as we gather his things and walk together toward the car.
The end of the workday, for most people, is a welcome relief but, for me, the ride home from school is my least favorite part of the day--not because I'm unhappy to head home and be with my family, but because this is the time of day when I'm least mentally and physically settled. I feel a little like a soda bottle that's been shaken up and sat down, struggling to transition from swirling to settling. There just seems to be so much noise--both literally and figuratively. The noise of the radio, the sounds of traffic that surround me, my son's stories now stretching into twenty-minute monologues that I'm trying my best to actively listen to.
But the loudest, most distracting noise is that going through my head: the attempt to try and process all that I've taken in that day at school while simultaneously trying to let it go, to try and remember what didn't get done so those items can carry over onto tomorrow's to-do list, and the flood of to-do's that are yet to come when I step into the door of my own home. The reality is that home is not where I rest after an already full and tiring day--it's where the second half of my day begins: weekday evenings of a relaxing dinner and 8 o'clock sitcom were at some point replaced as just prep for the next day. To muster up the energy, I pull into Starbucks before tackling the grocery store.
I try to avoid early evening trips to the store by doing my shopping over the weekend--a nearly $200 bill for the week ahead seems like it should be enough, yet it's Thursday and somehow we've blown through most of it and there's nothing for dinner. Plus, it's my son's turn to bring snack for his class and my students have that project that I need marshmallows for. The caffeine boost helps me get through the aisles more quickly. The bill at the register is shocking as always and I do a quick mental scramble to make sure there's enough in the account on this day before payday. The cashier asks if I'd like to donate to help our local schools get the supplies they need. I think "girrrl, please" but politely tell her no thanks, not today, I've already donated toward the cause. As I push the cart through the parking lot, I laugh and joke with my boy and tell both him and myself "we're almost home".
I approach the door to my own home with as many grocery bags as I can carry in my left hand and a teacher cart wheeling behind me in my right, pleading with my four year-old to stop chasing lizards and pick up the grocery bag he dropped so we can get into the house. My shoulders feel tighter now as I balance bags on my leg and fumble with the key. When I walk in it feels like a mixture of relief and dread. I'm happy to be home, yet there's mess as far as the eye can see. Like my attempt at proactive weekend grocery shopping, my weekend cleaning now seems like a futile effort. I can't say it's all my son or husband's doing, I left out my own dinner plate from last night and the contents of my make up bag are strewn across the bathroom sink, not to mention our dog has knocked his food all over the floor. It's nobody's fault really, we're all busy and doing the best we can but somehow it just gets out of control so quickly.
My husband walks in the door and there's a second burst of parent/child joy. "Heyyy, boy!" my husband calls out as my son runs full speed into his arms. He probably feels dirty and tired after his own long day but looks like construction-clad perfection to me in his Carhartt jeans and work boots. He hugs and kisses me and we trade trite how was your day's, and fines. Both of us know the other is genuinely interested but that neither of us has the time or mental energy at the moment to hear genuine answers. Perhaps in a quiet restaurant with a bottle of wine, but not right now. We'll get there later.
As my son and husband commence some sort of weird wrestling/growling session I don't quite understand, I pop in my headphones to escape yet more noise. I pour my one glass of wine for the night and turn on my guilty pleasure podcast as I run through my mental to-do list of what needs to get done in the next two hours. As I pour the wine, I tell myself I should be popping in my headphones to go for a run instead before the sun goes down, but my tired body rejects that idea. Plus, that wouldn't leave enough time for everything else. I spend the next hour and a half in a whirlwind of packing lunches, picking up messes, switching over a load of laundry, and giving baths as my husband showers and helps with dinner. My son pleads with me a few times to play dinosaurs with him. "I want to buddy, I do...just give me ten more minutes."
Eventually the noise settles down and so do we, the three of us crammed into our bed to read a few books before my son goes off to his own. I let him lay with us because I feel guilty about having worked all day and most of the evening rather than connecting with him. My husband opens his laptop and I try my best to feign interest and keep my eyes open as I read Ten Thousand Facts About Reptiles yet again, but I'll read it over and over because I know someday soon he'll be able to just read it himself. On fact twenty-eight, my son nudges me and says "moooom...keep going!" because I doze off slightly. It's not even 8:30. I tell him that's enough for tonight and toss the books aside. We say our prayers and my son requests his nightly bedtime back tickle. As I tickle his tiny, soft back, I take in his precious face and relish in the quiet.
I now feel settled and satisfied, but it's tinged with a little guilt.
I wish I'd made more time for me. I could stay up and take a hot bath or watch my favorite show but my eyes are too heavy.
I wish I'd said more than five sentences to my husband and I wish they'd been something fun, not a reminder that he has a dentist appointment tomorrow.
I wish I'd gotten just one of the papers from my Bag of Good Intentions graded.
My wish list is interrupted by the sound of my phone going off--the familiar ding of a work e-mail coming through. It's now a little past 8:50. I take a glance and notice it's a message from a parent. I sigh and silently wish I taught in 1989 when I would receive a handwritten note at 8:50 in the morning instead.
Against my better judgment, I open the e-mail because the curiosity wins out over my desire to set boundaries. The message is in response to an activity I've arranged for the class to participate in next week. It reads "thank you for doing this for our kids. You are an awesome role model and teacher...you're like a second parent to him. Our son is lucky to have you."
I take a breath and put the phone back down on the nightstand. I needed that tonight. Because, while I'm exhausted, this reminds me that my efforts aren't in vain--that my time and energy that day meant something to someone. I kiss my husband and my son one more time. My husband's "I love you, baby" is sincere and, with my son's arms wrapped around my neck, I am again reminded that the tired and the hustle for my family is also worthwhile--that it's contributing toward something that matters.
Look, I probably won't die rich or well-known by many or having been able to say I traveled the world. I probably won't look back and see a very glamorous life. But I do believe in the things I'm working so hard for. I do believe I'll be able to think back on the hundreds of students I connected with, my marriage, and my relationship with my son and feel I've lived a life worth living--a life that meant something in the grand scheme of things. And that's what keeps me going.
That and the lattes, of course.
She was my 4th grade teacher and one of my all-time favorites--a bubbly, brunette, thirty-something woman with dimples that made learning fun and always wore the cutest high heels that perfectly matched her dress. She handed out Star Student certificates every Friday, signed in perfect cursive, to students who showed good behavior and boy, did I aim to please. That was my main goal at 9 years old really--to gain friends and the teacher's favor by laying low and being good at all costs. I was conscientious, polite, and on-task ALWAYS—a model student.
Until one day, when I made an uncharacteristically bad choice: when I thought no one was looking, I took a Sharpie to the head cheerleader’s jacket.
A little while later Mrs. S. called me out into the hallway. My stomach was fluttery and I felt a lump forming in my throat--she knew. When we were outside, just the two of us, she said “Krissy, I couldn't believe it when another student told me, but is it true that you were the one who damaged Ashley's jacket?” I silently shook my head yes as tears of shame filled my eyes. My teacher knelt down and her voice lowered. “I guess you’ve probably been frustrated with her for some time now, huh? Calling you names and joking to the other girls as you pass by?”
She knew?! I couldn’t believe it; I had no idea anyone knew. I thought I'd been successful in going unnoticed. I nodded as the tears started rolling down my face.
“Krissy, what you did today was very wrong and you will need to apologize—you should’ve used your words with Ashley. But next time, don’t wait until you’re this frustrated to speak up for yourself. Because what you did today, that’s not who you want to be.”
She was right. That was the thing about Mrs. S.—while I tried my best to be hidden, to blend in at all costs, she tried her best to allow me to be seen for who I really was.
One morning a few weeks later Mrs. S. came in smiling, saying she had some exciting news to share: she was expecting a baby in the summer and we would be having a substitute when the time came closer. I was so happy for her. But no more than a few weeks later, I walked into class to find the principal at the front of the room, saying she had something important to tell us.
“Unfortunately, Mrs. Shaw has learned she is no longer expecting a baby. A substitute will be filling in for her for a while until she can return.”
Not quite understanding how it all worked, one of the students raised her hand and asked what we were all thinking: “why will we have a substitute just because she’s not having a baby anymore?” The principal paused and then answered,
“well...because she’s just too sad to be here”.
Her words were like a brick in my stomach. Too sad to be here? I had heard of people too sick to go to school….but too sad? I wasn’t sure I’d ever seen anyone that sad before in my whole life. My heart ached picturing our bubbly, smiling teacher so distraught.
Later that day a group of us plotted in a small huddle on the playground to problem-solve Mrs. S's sadness. One girl said she knew where she lived and suggested that maybe we could all visit her at home and bring her things to make her happy, like chocolate or coffee. Another insisted that we go to her and remind her that school is where she is happy and refuse to leave until she comes back with us—a kidnapping essentially. We brainstormed all the ways we could think of to fix her sadness and bring her back to us.
Eventually the day came when I walked in to class and found Mrs. S. behind the teacher’s desk once again. Finally, she’s back! I thought. But I quickly noticed something was different. Rather than jumping up to greet each of us as we came in, she nodded half-smile hellos from behind her desk and then looked back down at her work. Her bright high-heels were replaced with black flats and her eyes seemed to always look tired. When I would ask her a question she would sometimes snap at me for reasons I couldn’t figure out. Our teacher was back, but she was different somehow. I wondered if maybe we should’ve gone to her house to cheer her up after all.
Almost 30 years later I found myself standing in the same shoes Mrs. S. had stood in all those years before, unlocking my own classroom door after being out for a week, wondering how I’d face the students who’d learned I was no longer expecting.
I thought about Mrs. S. and how badly I'd wanted to fix her sadness,
how desperately I’d wanted her to just be her old self again,
how I was too young to understand that the change in her had nothing to do with us.
I remembered how I’d analyzed her demeanor, her clothes, her tone of voice in an effort to see just how worried we should be about her. I’d better put on a smile, I thought.
But then I remembered something else Mrs. S. had taught me all those years ago during our talk out in the hallway: how I don’t have to be “good” or “perfect” all the time, just honest about how I feel…before it all builds up and comes out in ways that aren’t me; ways I don’t want to be. And I wanted my girls to hear that from me, too.
My usually talkative class was somber and silent as they arrived that morning and slowly walked to their seats and settled in. I could feel them studying my face just as I had studied Mrs. Shaw’s, trying to measure my sadness.
I asked them to come gather with me down on the rug and said “I know you all have heard that my family’s received some sad news.” I felt the lump rise in my throat and took a breath. “The truth is, I AM sad. I might be sad about this for a little while or a long while, I don’t know. But I also want you to know my sadness has nothing to do with you. In fact, being here with you all, and teaching….this is where I want to be because teaching you all makes me happy. So, even though I may feel sad, I’m choosing to be here.”
Their bodies relaxed and their faces softened. A few of them mumbled that they were glad to have me back, too.
Twenty or thirty years from now it would be fun to be remembered as the lively teacher with the cute shoes and snazzy certificates in perfect cursive--the way I remembered Mrs. S. for all those years.
But the reality is that every one of the girls sitting in my classroom will one day face their own great sadness, whatever it is, and I hope in those moments they remember me less for my shoes and more for those “hallway conversations”. Because, in my own moment of sorrow, that's when I remembered the things Mrs. S. taught me that really mattered.
How she pushed for me to be seen when all I wanted to do was hide in the background.
The way she encouraged me to be real about how I was feeling rather than stuff it down.
And her guidance to take the high road rather than lowering myself when I feel beaten down.
I think of Mrs. Shaw often and wonder if she ever started wearing her cute shoes again...if she ever went back to that old bubbly self I once loved. I hope at least a part of that spark came back, not just for her students but for herself. Because, while it's good in the sad times to let ourselves fully feel what we feel, it's also important to eventually let yourself allow the joy in again—to put your smile and your cute shoes back on, to get your zest for life back.
I can remember in my own shock of grief thinking “I’ll never smile or laugh again” simply out of respect for the love I’d lost. But I eventually learned that allowing in happiness doesn't take away from the gravity of the loss or dishonor the one you're grieving for in any way. You don’t leave them behind when you move forward, you carry them with you.
That’s what’s so amazing about the strength of a woman—she can carry her smile, her obligations, her losses, all of it along with her everyday, everywhere she goes.
Even in cute high heels.
Addiction, in one form or another, has played a role throughout my life. Not because I've struggled with it so much myself, but because many of the people around me over the years have and, in turn, it's affected my life in a multitude of ways. Alcohol, drugs, food, spending...these addictions have all impacted my life in some way, whether it be through relationships with friends, family members, or romantic partners.
I've done enough self-reflection and Al-Anon meetings to understand that, in most cases, it was my codependent nature--my tendency to feel empathy for others, to want to help them--that attracted these people into my life. Just as an addict is never "cured" but forever in recovery, a person like me, whose tendency is codependency, has to take it one day at a time and be very conscious of how we interact with the people who continually impact our lives with their demons.
I might've bowed out of actively participating in the addiction game awhile ago but, as those of you who've been in my shoes know, you can leave the game (no longer enable, keep your distance, love from afar) but sometimes still never fully get out. For instance, a mother may no longer enable her addicted child, but she's never able to fully step away from that relationship. Instead, you carry on with life as best you can and witness the heartbreaking game go on from the sidelines.
Here's the interesting thing about being the one watching from the sidelines though--
there's a lot of talk about the pain the addict feels
there's a lot of talk about the enmeshment the co-dependent feels
but there's not a lot of talk about how the loved ones living life from a distance on the sidelines feel.
So I write this today for you, because I know it's not an easy place to live. Life lived on the sidelines of addiction puts you in a precarious situation: you keep your distance enough to protect yourself, yet you never feel totally free as long as someone you care about is struggling. Life as a recovering codependent means always staying aware of not getting sucked back into the game. It’s a daily commitment to somehow learn how to love from afar without detaching completely. We live life somewhere in an undefined middle.
For the addict willing to admit they’re powerless, willing to get help—let me say I have immense respect and compassion for you. But as I live longer and grow wiser, watching the game from the sidelines for years—in some cases even decades—my patience and sympathy for the addict living in denial lessens. I can understand on an intellectual level the real reason why they won’t take the first step: fear. But my heart feels less compassionate—it feels like it’s coated with a build-up of frustration and weariness, hardened for reasons I can’t even name.
Maybe it’s for the massive amount of time and energy over the years spent in vain...
maybe it’s from watching wake-up call after wake-up call go ignored...
maybe it’s for the terribly insulting game they play where they look person after person in the eye time and again and exclaim “problem?! What problem?” as if we can’t see what’s going on in our own lives with 20/20 vision. As if we can’t trust our own wisdom.
Maybe it’s for all those years that it was us, not them, doing the work--attending the meetings, going to counseling, reading the books--while they continued to sit smugly on their throne of denial, looking down, watching the destruction around them. Watching those they love in pain, pleading with them to get help, scrambling to clean up the messes they’ve made...all the while attempting to convince those around them that things are not what they seem--all so they can remain in the comfort of their denial, their hiding place from pain.
I know it's got to be hard as hell to make the decision to give up that seat, but it's also hard as hell on everyone around them living in the wake of their destruction.
The nice thing about moving from the field to the sidelines is that you begin to find your inner strength, your truth, your voice. And I’m sure the truth I’m sharing here isn’t going to sit well with everyone reading, especially those who, deep down, recognize themselves in the addict-in-denial I’m describing. If that’s the case for you, I’d tell you that my intention in writing this is not to insult you, it’s to give a voice to those on the sidelines. But if I did indeed insult you, the question is—at the risk of sounding harsh—should I care? Where has the regard ever been for how we feel, for how your addiction has affected our lives? This isn’t about shaming you, it’s about shining light on the unfiltered truth of how we feel—those of us who have been impacted by your choices. Because, if we’re not honest about those feelings, that doesn’t mean they’re not there, they’re just hidden in the dark. And, as we know, addiction thrives in the dark.
It needs light—truth—in order to be exposed and healed.
It takes a tremendous amount of bravery to admit you have a problem, but it also takes bravery to make the decision to move from the field to the sidelines and do the work involved to stay there—to witness our loved ones slowly self-destruct, yet not have the luxury of a hiding place to run to from the pain of it all. The addict in denial gets something we on the sidelines don't: they get to numb the pain of life while the loved ones around them are left to feel the effects of their destruction unanesthetized. When life gets stressful for us--when the bills pile up, when a loved one dies, when s**t gets REAL--we do the most grueling work of all: dealing with it, feeling it. Not tapping out. That takes courage.
And yet, with all this being said—all these complicated emotions felt—we remain on the sidelines. We remain there because we're not done with YOU, we're just done with your disease. Yes, we may be resentful or bitter, but we’re also strong and faithful. We may no longer be willing to participate in your game, and we may carry on with our lives, but we are forever on the sidelines, checking over now and then to see if you’ll meet us halfway. Praying we’ll get the call that the game is over because you’ve called time on it, not because you’ve been defeated.
I was just reading yet another article painting Millenials in a negative light (seems to be the thing right now) and I wondered to myself "what generation am I considered a member of anyway?" At 38, I seem a little too old to be a Millenial, but a little too young to be a member of Generation X. I looked it up and, sure enough, my birth year of 1980 lands right on the cusp. As one site puts it, 38 years of age is the "oldest possible Millenial", like I'm some kind of rare relic still roaming the Earth, yet also young enough to be considered at least snowflake-light. In other words, the best of both worlds.
Regardless of the title (and I'm sure like those that came before), I love my generation. We got to grow up in a more innocent, simpler time when parents held the reigns but not too tight. We had access to the emerging technology of the early 80's but not enough to become obsessed with it. When I look back, it feels like a time when there was a nice balance between too much and not enough.
When I think about a time of not enough, I think of a generation of years past when there wasn't enough in a very literal sense, but, also in terms of affection in parenting--this belief that withholding love and affection from children somehow "toughened them up" to face a tough world. But when I think of my son's and my students' generation, it sometimes feels like too much. Too much stimulation. Too many options. Too much hovering over. Too much anxiety. Kids today (ugh listen to me..."kids today") have a cornucopia of choices at every turn and I'm not sure that's always a positive thing.
Want to watch TV? Here are 5,000 channels to choose from.
Want something fun to do after school? Here’s a different extracurricular to do each day of the week. Why choose one? Take them all on!
Options are great, but with too many options comes a degree of anxiety. You've probably experienced option anxiety if you've ever tried choosing one thing from the Cheesecake Factory novel (ahem...menu). Or if you've ever tried to find a movie to watch but you spend the two hours you have available flipping through choices, trying to make a decision...then second-guessing your choice until you fall asleep from the exhaustion of it all (I suppose that's the "chill" part of the "Netflix & Chill" experience).
So why aren't a multitude of options always a good thing? Because there's comfort in a little bit of restriction, some boundaries. Some degree of limitation feels safe and wards off the dreaded FOMO. And guys...we're ADULTS. It's no wonder so many children today feel anxious.
Growing up in a small town in West Virginia, we didn’t have tons of options for things to do around town, but I didn't know any different and I'm not sure any different would've been any better. My best memories were the simple, little things like playing school, walking with my sister to the convenience store a block away to buy Slush Puppies and Fireballs, or playing Spotlight and catching fireflies on summer evenings. These might seem boring or mundane to kids today, but there was a little magic in the mundane then.
I think because none of those things involved instant gratification or a ton of other options, so I wasn't distracted thinking about my next, possibly better, alternative.
Besides the instant gratification factor is the multitude of commitments & activities kids take on and the result that comes from dipping a toe into many pools rather than diving deep into one. The one extracurricular activity I had regularly, my dance lessons, were a commitment and everything that came with it—the costumes, the ballet slippers—they were like GOLD...they meant something. Most likely because I saw my mom take the cash from babysitting and selling Avon and put it in a little envelope that was then handed to my dance teacher. I wonder what message I'm sending about the connection between hard work and money and "things" when all my son sees is me swiping a card.
I know many kids today, including my own, still do the simpler things and appreciate them, but I can see how even small doses of option overwhelm and cyber stimulation show themselves in subtle ways. I notice it in the expectation to have a response or request fulfilled instantly, the shortening attention span, the general pace of talking, moving, and just b e i n g. And it's not just showing up in the kids, it's in the adults they are watching, too.
I see it in my son and I see it in myself.
When I was growing up, long before the days of Google, if I wanted answers my mom would have me seek out the solution myself. When I came to her asking if the "Legend of the Shooting Star" was true because I wanted a free bag of candy, she had me write a letter to Tootsie Roll Industries. When I told her how Paula Abdul's album was changing my ten year-old life, she said "ooh...you should tell her!" When I couldn't wait for the next Baby-Sitters Club book to drop and kept asking her when it was coming out, she said "I don't know, ask the author!" Tootsie Roll wrote me back, Paula Abdul did not, and Ann M. Martin sent me both the release date AND a BSC t-shirt (omg!)
When my mother had me write the letters myself to get the answers or write to these people I admired, the unspoken messages were powerful, whether she realized it or not:
You are capable.
You are important and your voice matters.
When someone's art touches you, tell them, even if they seem untouchable or larger than life.
Don't get me wrong, I think there are things that are really great about growing up in today's world and, believe me, when I was a kid I would've wished for everything my son and my students have today: the phones, the laptops, access to any activity or shiny, sparkly thing under the sun. Every year for Christmas and my birthday, I'd beg for a Nintendo and, every year, my parents would say "no". I'm sure it would've been easier to give in to my relentless nagging but I'm so glad they stood their ground. Because, if they'd given in, I wonder...
~if I'd had video games to turn to when I was bored (or, in today's terms, a phone), would I have explored my curiosity? It was out of boredom that I’d grab a piece of chalk, line up my stuffed animal students, and use the back of my bedroom door as a chalkboard. That was my clue that I wanted to be a teacher. It was out of boredom that I created stories...that's how I knew I loved to make sense of the world by writing about it.
~if I'd had Google to get my answers from, would I have learned the virtues that came from finding them out for myself? If I could've simply looked up the release date of the Baby Sitters Club book instead of writing to the author, would I have learned patience and delayed gratification by waiting for a response each day? Would that T-shirt have meant so much coming from a store as it did coming from her?
~if I’d had a multitude of extracurriculars to choose from, would I have poured my heart & soul into that one thing, dance? Would I have learned about commitment and the concept of working for the "extras" in life?
Maybe it wasn’t so much a generational thing but a parenting thing. Thank God I had parents whose goal wasn’t just to keep me busy, but to keep me curious. Who valued using imagination over "things" and helped me find the magic in the mundane. Who weren’t afraid of letting me be bored every once in a while.
Because it's in
that we are able to hear the clues our soul whispers about who we want to be.
I wonder, will our children be able to hear their whispers in all the noise? In all the distraction?
I believe they will. Because we did.
The generation before us worried that we wouldn't hear the whispers over the computers and Nintendos, but we still did. The generation before them worried they wouldn't hear the whispers over the new loud rock music and new television sets, but they did. The shiny, loud, distracting things have changed, but what doesn't change are those three things that always remain: faith, hope, and love.
Every generation's love for the way they grew up.
Every generation's faith that there IS a whisper, a call, meant only for them.
And every generation's hope that the one that comes next will find a way to drown out the noise enough to hear that call.
A few years back I was going through a box of old photos and came across some pictures of my college sweetheart. They weren't photos of us--they were photos of him as a young boy with his mom. We were together for a good while in my early 20's, so I guess at some point a few of his things had gotten mixed up with mine. Looking at them fifteen years later, having a young son of my own now, I saw them differently than I would’ve back then—I saw them through the eyes of a mother. I recognized the look his mom was giving him in the picture of them on an amusement park ride together, his toddler hair blowing in the wind and his mouth gaped open with joy. That look on his mom's face is one I'm all too familiar with now--it's the look of a kind of happiness that doesn't come from your own joy but of witnessing your child's: the deepest kind of happiness.
I knew as I looked at these pictures of precious moments that they were not mine to keep--that these somehow needed to get back to her. I tried looking her up every which way I knew how with no luck. So, though I felt a little uncomfortable doing so, I thought I would try private messaging him to see what he'd like me to do with the photos. I sent a short but cordial message inquiring about the pictures but did not hear back. That is until yesterday, four years after I sent the message.
He seemed most concerned not with the pictures, but with letting me know that he had somehow missed the message and wouldn't have intentionally not responded, thanking me for reaching out. He congratulated me on my beautiful family and shared that he had a few kids of his own now. Like my message, it was short but sweet, as it should be. There was an unspoken understanding that we're both exactly where we should be and that connecting to say a quick hello and "hope all is well" doesn't have to have any ulterior motives behind it. And it got me to thinking about how strange it is that it should ever be otherwise.
In our female friendships, we spend time and make precious memories together and it's expected that these times will not only be cherished, but that we'll be loyal to them forever. Yet, in romantic partnerships, it's very different. In fact, it’s often considered disrespectful to the new partner to keep any contact with a former one or, in some cases, to acknowledge this person ever existed— even if you spent many years of your life together. Don't get me wrong, I get it on a respect level and, believe me, I'm not yearning for my husband to be in contact with his former flames. But it is interesting how we can go from loving someone we spent years of our lives with to pretending they never existed. It’s as if we prove the strength of our current relationship by diminishing any that came before.
Despite the strong connection I have with my husband and a happy marriage, I don't believe for a second that those who came before me never cross his mind. My husband and I didn't meet until we were 29 and 34, so accepting that he not only had loves before me but actually made some really great memories with them doesn't diminish our own love in any way, it's just our reality. He'd never admit it for fear of hurting my feelings, but I wouldn't doubt for a minute that a song's come on that made him think of her...or a certain smell...or an old movie we put on that used to be their favorite. And that one or all of those memories might feel special to him still.
And you know what? Even though it’s tough to think about, I'm okay with it. Shutting those memories out or downplaying them doesn't elevate the strength of our bond. Loving my husband means loving who he is today, and that was undoubtedly shaped by the love, heartache, and lessons learned from women who came before me. There’s a line in one of my favorite songs that says “I don't care if I'm your first love, but I'd love to be your last." I think that’s pretty fitting for us.
Yes, the relationship I have with my husband far outshines any I had before him by a long shot. But to downplay the three loves I had before my husband as “the frogs before my prince” is to greatly diminish them and the influence they had on who I am now. They were a part of my training ground for the marriage I have today—they helped me to refine the qualities I was looking for in a partner and to refine myself. At times, they were a mirror showing me things about myself I wasn't able or willing to see. That’s helped me bring a better self to my marriage, and for that, I'm very thankful.
It’s tempting to want to wrap up all our past failed relationships in a neat little box with a pretty bow and label them as the “Mr. Wrongs” that brought us to our “Mr. Right”, but in reality human relationships just aren’t that simple to reduce down to all good or all bad—whether it’s a relationship that didn’t work out or one we’re still committed to working out daily, love is a complex, beautiful mixture of both the sour and and the sweet.
My high school sweetheart taught me to value sensitivity and creativity. He is the sweet memory of the first flowers I ever received from a boy and handwritten letters in the mailbox over summers because he was grounded but "still wanted to make it work." He was first car rides with friends at 16 and late-night concerts and other kinds of innocence. But his sensitivity also made him feel life a little too much and that took some of my innocence, and eventually his life.
My college sweetheart was long distance and off-and-on as we muddled through our early twenties, trying to figure out what future life would look like and the unspoken wondering if the other would be in it. He was good laughs and loyalty and integrity but we were a little too much like sister and brother. There was no dramatic ending--he simply looked me in the eye and gently said the hard thing that had needed to be said for some time: “Don't move here. I love you and you love me but I don't think we're in love." He was right. It felt like sadness and respect and relief all rolled together.
My last love before my husband taught me that I'd taken the loyalty in the previous two for granted--and that it should be highly valued. He was talks and laughs on the front porch over drinks until the sun came up. He grabbed my hand and took me out of my comfort zone again and again. He was passion and adventure and mind games and heartbreak. He opened my eyes and toughened me up.
And my current love? Our love is too rich and layered and complex to simply call my "happy ending". We are works in progress that have an appreciation for each other that comes from past loves that didn't work. He is secure enough in himself and in us that he's okay with me writing a piece like this, allowing me to be me. We are the deep, rich kind of love born from the bittersweet and complicated...
the kisses nearly a decade later that are just as passionate as the first one
the fights I wasn't sure we'd come back from
the glances exchanged when our son does something that makes our hearts burst and I know we're both thinking "how'd we get so lucky?"
the strength with which we locked eyes and held hands when I wasn't sure I'd make it through his birth, and the way he showed up with the same level of strength when the doctor couldn’t find our second son’s heartbeat anymore
still wanting to do this thing after seeing the worst parts of each other in all their glory...
we may not be each other’s first bittersweet and complicated, but I’d love for this to be our last.
For my teacher friends here in South Florida...can you believe it's our LAST week of summer break?!
This can be a time of mixed emotions, especially for those who are also mommas--we're excited for a new school year, to meet the new kiddos and see the smiles of the familiar ones. But working a job that requires so much time and energy, it can also be hard to part with having that extra time and space to catch up on the other areas of our life, make memories with our kids, and finish a cup of coffee in the morning ;) Because of that mix of feelings, it's easy to put off preparing to return (mentally, emotionally, and literally) and then be left scrambling, making the return feel overwhelming rather than enjoyable. And that just leaves us entering the new year on the wrong foot.
If you've been teaching long enough, you'll probably agree that a great school year doesn't happen by accident--it happens intentionally. With that in mind, I created a video to hopefully ease the transition and give you some tools to start the school year off on the right foot. Nothing fancy or formal--just sharing, from my experience, some tools & practices that have helped me (and will hopefully help you) to create your best year yet.
It's about 40 minutes long so here are some points you may want to skip to to find specific content:
2:30~What to do if you're feeling resistance about returning
14:00~How creating a visual of your vision/philosophy can serve as your anchor when the seas get rough (they will!)
16:00~Help with creating a peaceful, yet structured, classroom environment
22:30~A non-negotiable that will make your year so much easier
31:30~What authentic power looks like in the classroom & how to get more respect from your students this year
37:30~Where to find more information about the T.E.A.C.H. framework
If you've found this helpful at all, please share with a teacher-friend. Wishing you all a peaceful transition and your best school year yet!