Sunday, November 23, 2014

None of My Favorite Things

The last few weeks have been a challenge across the board.  I've been struggling since Beach 2 Battleship. 

 Even though it was just a ride for me, it was my longest ride of my life and a bit interesting because I knew a relay team needed me to do my part.  These bigger races always seem to have a let-down period that can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months (for me.  Not everyone is affected this way, I know.).  I was disappointed by the election in North Carolina.  Both of my children have struggled at school and home lately.

And I am turning 40 this Tuesday.  Lordy 40.  Mortified fortified.  Etc.

So.  The "reflection".  Well, let's see.  I spent high school enjoying the benefits of music, nerd classes, being a social defect and having permed hair.   College was pretty much the same but with beer and without permed hair. Kind of a lot of beer, though.  

My twenties.  I was briefly engaged to a man who was not very nice.  I lived in a few different places.  Struggled with finding my voice and finding my purpose.  Managed to turn 30 relatively unscathed but bruised, for sure.

Turning 30 - the event - was actually nice.  I had started teaching again, I was single.  I had learned to play poker and I felt like I was going to get a handle on life.  Then I was diagnosed with cervical cancer, stage 0, at age 32.  After the procedure to remove part of my cervix, the doctor told me if I already had children he would advise me to have a hysterectomy, just to be safe.  Instead he referred me to an oncologist that I saw every three months for testing.  A few times cells came back showing dysplasia, then tests were clean (and have been.  Fingers crossed).  That sucked.  Could have been much worse, but still sucked.  Every visit, every test, every wait for results.  For almost three years.

Then I met my now-husband.  Moved to North Carolina.  Taught at a great school, met awesome people.  Worried about the cancer/cervix thing and if we could ever have a child.  Then after our one-year anniversary - surprise!  Nine months later we had Alex.

Wanted to keep teaching.  Just didn't work.  That was heartbreaking.  I would not trade my life now for any other, but it was heartbreaking to walk away from my career.  It still kind of breaks my heart.

Lots of talks.  Alex started sleeping again.  Should we .... Well, there it is.  Moved into a bigger house, had Mads.  She's a character.  I love them both.

Started exercising a little.  Ran a half marathon.  Tried a few triathlons.  I like those.  Let's see if I can pretend to be a badass and complete 70.3 miles (in a row) of nonsense.  Will let you know how that goes next May.

Lordy lawdy look who's 40.  I once told Derek, during a "life reflection" chat, that I am no one's favorite anything.  Never was anyone's favorite teacher.  I really didn't try to be, I just tried to not suck and tried to get kids to try hard at life.  Teaching is trying.  (Those jokes also explain the "no one's favorite" thing, I know)  I never quite balanced doing that without being an asshole, so... never was anyone's fav. teach.

Never have been the kind of person people always ask to go out or hang out. I go through periods where I want to be more social and I either invite myself to hang at the fringe of activities/parties or just go to open social events.  But there aren't pictures of me at parties with people over the years.  *shrug* No one's favorite friend.

I know I am my parents' favorite daughter.  It helps I am the only one. :-) I love them so much.  They've never walked away from me.

But back to my conversation with my husband, "I am no one's favorite anything."  He didn't skip a beat, he reached out and held my hand and said, "you're my favorite."

"You're my favorite."  That was all he said out loud to me.  His eyes, his gentle hand on mine, told me a lot more.  I love you, bubs.

I have tried to change my health for the better the last few years.  I still struggle, I always will.  But I hope through triathlon and endurance athletics I can encourage someone else to see that life is what you make of it.  You just get the one shot.  Live it hard, live it furiously, live it thankfully.  Especially the thankful.

I made these two little people who call me mommy.  They're kind of ok.  They're polite, sweet, funny.  I love them.  I want to help them learn the world, to love and be kind to it all.  I'm probably not their favorite parent, but I think I'm their favorite lady-who-takes-care-of-them.

I don't play music enough, but I have made some pretty good stuff over the years, beer-eokee aside. I still teach a few awesome private students.  I love it.  That's a favorite part of *my* week.

I anger a lot of people with my politics and religion.  I furiously just want people to treat other people with compassion.  Even if that means taxes.  Even if that means putting your gun in your pants at Target.  Even if it means not using a racist word as a team name.  Even if it means accepting that other religions are ok.  Even if it means same sex marriage, even though someone told you to interpret the Bible differently, is just fine.  Even if I anger everyone I know by talking about animal rights, children refugees, the environment  - I will always stand up for those who need help.  I won't be their favorite.  To me, it's about what's right.  (To me)

If I have learned anything in 40 years, it's that I am no one's favorite (except the husband and being my folks' favorite daughter). And that's 100% fine.  I've also learned it's ok to feel sorry for yourself.  It's ok to be whiny.  It's ok to be a jerk sometimes.  It's ok to be sad and angry.  It's ok to want what other people have.  It's ok to dislike other people.

But then you MUST STOP.  After you feel the feelings, and be thankful.  Take one moment of each ungrateful hour to remember to be thankful.

Go to sleep being thankful.

Start the day being thankful.

Thankful for that moment, for that particular breath.  And then move on.

Those thankful moments - and all the things, people, memories, and ideas in them - are *my* favorite.  I hope they grow longer each day for as long as I am alive.

Happy almost-birthday to me.  Lawdy forty.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Be still, my bleeding heart

I was 23-years-old when I started teaching music in the Greensburg, Indiana schools. Right out of college, a self-proclaimed hippie who enjoyed jazz, parties, funk music and being laid back. I am only going to take a job if it falls into my lap, I said. I had entered my resume into the database hosted by Indiana University's School of Education, and GCS called me for an interview. I was offered the job on the spot.

I accepted the position, fell into a routine and did everything by the book. Had lunch in the teachers' lounge, longing to make friends. I discovered this is where the teachers complained about their students. I'm sorry, I mean they "vented their frustrations with our education system."

No, they complained about their students.  About the students' families.  About... everything.

I did, too. I complained about how the kids wouldn't listen in General Music - a required class for students who did not take chorus or band. I complained about their attitudes, behavior. I took NO BS whatsoever from my students. I was a first year teacher, the first woman band director in the history of this small, rural city of 13,000 people (at the time) and I was letting them know that I WAS THE BOSS.  DAMN IT.

Then I met Kim.

Kim's daughter was in my band class. I quickly knew Kim to be the nicest person I had ever met, and definitely one of the nicest I would ever meet. She was the librarian's assistant, and she loved each and every student. She had that sweet southern Indiana drawl, and would often sit next to students in the library, helping with their homework. I knew sometimes she actually finished their work for them. Kim was born and raised in Greensburg, married her high school sweetheart, had three kids (middle school and high school) and she knew everyone. Through conversations with Kim, one of the secretaries, and the guidance counselor - I started to meet some incredibly *nice* women. 

I started to listen to her responses, not excuses, but responses to my complaints about the students, like,  "Matt just doesn't even pay attention to anything in my class.  It's like he's asleep."

"Yeah - probably doesn't get a lot of rest with his father's illness.  They spend a lot of time working around his chemo schedule."

I started to spend more time with Kim and the secretary, having lunches out instead of in the teacher's lounge. We would sometimes eat in the cafeteria with the kids, where the counselor always had lunch.  I started to know these kids I taught. I no longer wanted to hear the teacher gossip. Not at all.

Still, I had a few "challenging" kids in one of my general music classes. One of them, Carl, was particularly difficult. He never spoke. He was a textbook passive-aggressive child. He did nothing and nothing bothered him. It frustrated me to no end. I asked the guidance counselor about him because I wanted to understand.  It was then I learned that

no one from his family, literally no one, had ever graduated from high school. 

Everyone in the family had issues with drugs. The kids were always in and out of the home, but ultimately it was as though child services just didn't know what to do with them anymore. So, if the kids showed up to school, they were considered, "ok." 

I looked at Carl one particular day, it was November-ish in 1998. His red hair was long and covered his freckled face. He was small, bone-thin - wearing a fading 'metal band' t-shirt and ripped-up jeans. Sneakers that were filthy. He sat in his chair, "Carl" was sloppily written where his paper said "Name", but nothing else was marked. I asked the kids to share answers with their neighbors at their seats. I started to talk to groups of children and I walked around, eventually I made my way over to Carl - where he sat silent, talking to no one.

Do you listen to music, I asked?


Does anyone in your family, or at your house, listen to music?

Not really.

Is there a song or a band that you could name, right now?

Silence for a moment, and a muttered "Marcy Playgroud?"

Marcy Playground was indeed a band, mostly featured at the time on the "NOW That's What I Call Music" CDs that used to advertise on television. Regardless, he knew a band, he knew of some music.

That was how I initially bonded with Carl. It was one of the questions on the paper, and he wrote down the answer, "Marcy Playground." I circled two other questions on the paper, and softly said, "just finish these two, that's all I am asking you to do today, and that will be full credit." That was the first time I really saw Carl's eyes, and perhaps a small smile.

A few weeks later the students had a different assignment. Again, I walked around the classroom and circled just a handful of questions for Carl to complete (as I did for a few other students as required by their IEPs.  Carl didn't have an IEP. I think because his parents - and the system - just didn't care anymore.).  It was time to go over the questions. I read the second question and waited for the students to raise their hands so I could call on someone.

Carl's hand slowly lifted off his desk.

I called on him and he answered the question - correctly. "That's right," I said. Class continued normally and ended. The students left for their next classes and I followed them out the door. I ran down the main hallway toward the guidance counselor's office, tears burning at my eyes. I burst into her office:  "DEB!  DEB!!!! CARL RAISED HIS HAND IN MY CLASS!" She put her hand over her mouth, made a fist pump and gave me the biggest hug. We happily cried together for a few minutes.

It was the first time in his life, at the age of 12, he had ever raised his hand in a class.


I wish I had a happy ending to this story. I don't think anyone else ever really cared about this kid, not in the classes that "mattered," at least. He was in my class for just the one semester, and while I would say hello to him in the hallway the next year - I never had him again as a student. I left Greensburg for California, eventually lost touch with my Greensburg friends (this was before Facebook). But, thanks to Google I learned that Carl, like everyone else in his family, never did graduate from high school, and two years ago was arrested with four other people - including his father - for manufacturing and selling methamphetamine. 

The saddest part of the story, was that they found the drug paraphernalia next to birthday party supplies for his little girl.

And so it goes. And so it goes.