Check-in time

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I stayed in a hotel by myself last night.  I felt like such a big girl 😉  This doesn’t feel like a monumental accomplishment, however my anxiety has been pretty bad lately.  In fact, staying at the hotel was a way to ease my travel anxiety.  I attended a two day training about an hour and a half away from my house and I knew there would be traffic on the drive home. I decided to stay overnight in the area to help alleviate the concern of getting stuck in traffic.  I actually was not nervous about staying alone overnight, but I wanted to take a drive to a neighboring, popular town I have never visited.  By the end of the first day of training, which included leaving my house at 6 am, navigating to the location I was unfamiliar with, sitting through the lecture-style format training which was SO boring, finding the hotel and checking in, I was emotionally exhausted.  I admit I took Xanax throughout the day, which I normally try to avoid, but it did help a little.  I was disappointed but decided to nix the drive to the other town and went to a restaurant as close to the hotel as possible.  It is funny- I do not really have as much anxiety about doing things alone. My friend who also suffers from anxiety said she would never be able to stay alone in a hotel overnight and my boyfriend feels really uncomfortable eating in a restaurant by himself.  Those things don’t bother me that much.  After I ate, it was still pretty early and it was post-rush hour traffic and I spontaneously decided to take the drive to the town I wanted to visit and I did! I felt those tingles of anxiety as I drove, but I really tried to fight through it and I did!

It is so easy to look back on this little two day excursion and focus on the negatives and failures.  I felt anxious pretty much the whole time I was in the car.  As soon as I arrived at the training, I wanted to turn around and immediately go home.  I felt disappointed with myself for deciding not to visit the other town. When I did go to the other town, it was raining a bit and so I never parked and explored.  I took more Xanax than I normally would.  “I want to go home” flitted through my brain about 200 times throughout the first day of training.  It is hard not to focus so much on the weaknesses I have and the things I feel like I can’t do.

But I am going to try to focus on the things I did do- the successes.  They may seem minor to other people.  I am sure most people would not congratulate themselves for driving an extra 20 minutes out of their way or staying at a hotel by themselves.  I am not patting myself on the back, but I do feel like I am often way too hard on myself and I need to be a better friend to myself instead of falling into the habit of being my own worst enemy.  I didn’t fly across the country, but I did break out of my comfort zone, so I am going to chalk that up as a win.

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Time flies…

When my sister was pregnant, so many people gave her the advice to enjoy every minute of the experience of motherhood. She heard the quote over and over, “the days are long, but the days are short.” Even being an aunt, I can see the truth behind this- in the blink of an eye, my niece is already one!

I can apply this to so many other parts of my life, too. Teaching, for one. This is the end of my 18th year being a teacher and it is hard to believe it! It seems like yesterday that I was finishing up my very first year. There are SO many days that feel endless, especially ones spent reading a novel with five classes filled with 28 teenagers, yet at the end of the year it always feels like it went so quickly. Here we are in June already- another graduation, another summer…

When I was a teenager myself I used to wish I was 30. In my mind, being a real grown up would mean having the ability to make my own choices. I would lie in bed at night listening to my parents argue and fantasize about having my own (very quiet) house and being “old”. And now I am almost 40…which is hard to wrap my head around. Of course the irony is that young people want to be older and older people miss being young.

When I was getting divorced, I lived minute my minute. The pain I felt seemed unending. I never thought I would get through it. Yet now, so many years later, it is like a distant memory. I guess time heals all wounds?

I already miss my niece being a little baby, but it is fun seeing her turn into a funny, happy (and sometimes stubborn!) toddler. I see her almost every day and marvel at all of the new things she learns. I wish it wouldn’t go so fast, but I remind myself it is better than it not happening at all!

Lucky

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By the time I was 12 years old, I had lived in four states.  The first two moves I do not really remember that much because I was too young.  The final move was to a new town 1,500 miles away and I was in middle school, so I do remember it pretty clearly.  I can recall a farewell party from my Girl Scout troop where everyone signed a white tshirt for me as a keepsake.  I remember saying goodbye to my best friend who lived across the street from me.  She walked me home and we hugged and cried in the driveway, but then I wanted to walk her home, where we hugged again, but then she wanted to make sure I got home…we ended up saying goodbye about 40 times.  One funny memory from that last move was that my family was upgraded to first class, but they only had three available seats for the four of us.  My mom volunteered to sit by herself, while my sister, my father and me enjoyed the luxury of mini travel pillows and ice cream sundaes.  At one point my dad gave me some snacks to sneak back to my mom and I found her crying.  Naively, I thought she was upset about having to sit by herself (only later did I realize she was mourning the loss of her old life).  Strangely, I do not remember being overly upset, I think mostly because my parents explained the move to my sister and me as an exciting, big adventure…brand new house, great bedrooms, new friends, etc.  Overall, I have a lot of memories of that move, down to what the moving truck looked like (I remember being so in awe of the fact that they fit all our boxes and furniture AND our minivan inside the truck!)

I actually do have one vivid memory of the previous move.  We were moving from Colorado to Texas and I was only about 7 or 8 years old.  All I remember is sitting on the front steps of the house with one of the movers.  My mom had made sandwiches for all the workers from the moving company and I sat outside eating mine with him.  His name was Lucky and while I do not recall what we talked about, I remember him being really, really nice and very encouraging about starting over in a new state.  He must have made a lasting impression on me because from that point forward, I named every pet and animal I saw after him…there have been Lucky bunnies, Lucky birds, Lucky hamsters, Lucky goldfish, etc.

I think moving several times and experiencing different states had a big influence on my childhood.  I don’t know if I would consider myself “lucky” to have moved around the country, but I do think it makes me more empathetic to my students who are new to our school.

 

Celebrate good times…come on!

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This past Sunday was my father’s birthday.  He had been in the hospital for the four days prior, so I was fairly confident that he would be sober (he had just been released the evening before).  I was very pleasantly surprised that we had SUCH a nice time.  It was just my sister, her 10 month old daughter, my parents and me.  It is rare these days that our whole family is together (all five of us lol).  It was really cute to see my dad with the baby- she’s their only grandchild.  My sister kept telling me to take videos and pictures of our father holding the baby and singing to her.  I think we always have the thought in the back of our minds that each time we see him could be the last.  I realize that is very morbid, but he is in bad health and still makes really bad choices.  Each time we have a day like this, we relish the new memories we made with him and the feeling of having a “normal family”. I know from lots and lots and lots of prior experiences not to take days like this for granted because my dad can easily erase the good feelings with one nasty email.

We have a lot of fun, celebratory events coming up, mostly all revolving around my niece…her Christening, her first birthday, her first birthday party.  My dad has always been able to keep it together for big events like this, which is always a relief.  However, he also has a tendency to cancel coming at the last minute. I never thought I would say this, but I really hope he comes to everything, because I am pretty sure they will be more good memories for our family, and we definitely could use more of those!

I am a teacher.

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When I started my teaching career 18 years ago, I knew that I would have a lot of different roles at my high school.  I have been a therapist, a cheerleader, a confidant, a maternal figure, a nurse, a role model, a disciplinarian, a mediator, a comedian…the list goes on and on.  I knew that being a teacher was going to involve more than just teaching.  I knew there would be amazing days, when lessons went perfectly and students were well-behaved and sweet and engaged.  I quickly learned there would be really hard days, where students were bored and disrespectful and rude.  After almost two decades, I can take the good with the bad.  I still love this job and can’t imagine doing anything else.

When I started teaching, it was only a few years after Columbine, which hit home for me because I lived in Littleton, CO at one point when I was young.  At the time, it seemed like that was the worst possible scenario that I could imagine happening in a public school.  I also naively believed it was a one time tragedy.  Obviously, sadly, I was very wrong about that.

For most of my career, I had to sit through (usually boring) teacher staff development seminars on standardized testing and curriculum standards.  But now we do active shooter training.  I should be learning about differentiated instruction methods or how to implement new technology into my lessons.  Instead, I am learning how to barricade my classroom door and what warning signs of violent behavior to watch out for in my students.

I’m sure this sounds immature, but it just isn’t fair.  Teachers and students should not have to feel scared in school.  Anytime I go to a different room in my school, I mentally plan an exit strategy.  When I have cafe duty, I run through the scenarios in my mind of where I can hide the students if they are in danger.  When I hear the “beep beep beep” of the loud speaker turn on, my body stiffens with instant anxiety, waiting for an announcement about a lockdown and when I hear the secretary page a teacher to the office, I feel a wave of relief.  I read about the teachers who died shielding their students and I wonder if I would have the courage to protect mine.  I have nightmares about one of my students exacting revenge because of my disciplining them or reporting them for cutting my class.  I scrutinize my students for any signs of bullying, loneliness, exclusion, depression, drug abuse, anxiety, etc.

There is not one single day that passes that I do not think about a school shooting at some point.  Unfortunately, this is the new reality of being a teacher in this country.

Follow the Leader

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Since I was a young girl, I have always been a follower.  I moved across the country when I was in 6th grade.  Middle school is notoriously difficult, so add being the “new girl” on top of that…not fun.  Then throw into the mix that this is also when my father really started drinking heavily.  My new best friend that I met in my new school had a VERY strong personality and naturally took the lead.  I was happy to stay in her shadow because she was popular and by association, I became popular too.  One time when we were in 7th grade, she got mad at me about something and because she wasn’t talking to me, neither did anyone else (she was quite the little queen bee!).  I was completely ostracized at school.  For the duration of that fight, I was sick…like physically ill- not eating, crying, etc.  I remember staying home from school several days in a row and sleeping in my mom’s bed, as she worriedly questioned me about what was going on at school.  The next week, when my friend decided she wasn’t mad at me anymore and things went back to normal, I had an instantaneous and complete recovery.

I remained a “follower” for most of my adolescence and into my adult years.  Presently, in my late 30s, I still have these tendencies.  At the high school where I teach, I am a co-adviser of a club with another teacher, who happens to also be my closest friend.  The other day we were selling tickets to an event and reached our minimum goal.  I asked her if she wanted to add on an additional day and she said no.  So, when the students asked me about it, I told them no, much to their confusion and disappointment.  It was only when I was talking to my sister and she asked me why we couldn’t keep selling tickets (the more the merrier, right?) and I told her I wanted to, but my friend said no.  My sister and I had a whole conversation about it and it really made me think about how I constantly defer to other people.  Even though I thought having another day was a good idea, I ASKED her for her permission and then ACCEPTED her saying no, even though we are supposed to be equals.  I told my sister that I think a big reason why I always defer to other people is that I am afraid of them getting angry with me.  In fact, THIS is the root of the problem…I used to bend over backwards to make my exhusband happy because I lived in fear of making him mad. The idea of someone being mad at me makes me so upset and anxious that I regress into that 12 year old girl hiding in my mom’s bed.

The irony is that when I was chatting on the phone a day or so later with my friend, I mentioned I thought it might be a good idea to add another day to ticket sales and she immediately said, “Ok! Let’s do it then”.  All my worrying, all my biting my tongue, all my anxiety usually turns out to be for naught.  If I had just been honest and said this from the beginning, I could have avoided a lot of inner turmoil.  In a lot of ways, I am my own worst enemy when it comes to this and I know I need to have more confidence in myself and my decisions.  I need to remind myself that I am not the same person I was when I was a teenager, but that I can use those painful memories to realize when I am regressing into that same behavior.

 

A Christmas Miracle

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For most of my life, I have been envious of other people’s families during Christmas.  Don’t get me wrong…even as dysfunctional as it is, I love my family, but there always felt like there was something missing.  I think it was a combination of having an alcoholic father and an incredibly small family.  Growing up, Christmas was always just my mom and dad, my younger sister and myself.  We had no relatives who lived anywhere near us and I have a grand total of three cousins spread across the country.  Many of my friends had big families, with their aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc. all living nearby.  Their holiday family gatherings seemed so lively and festive and I always wished I had that, too.

Now in my 30s, most of my friends have children.  I think for most families, many holidays really revolve around children…Easter bunny egg hunts, Trick or Treating on Halloween, Santa pictures for Christmas, etc.  Even though I was pretty sure I was not going to have kids of my own, I still felt a sadness when I would see all the fun things other families did for the holidays.  My small family of four had our traditions, but they were very low key, quiet and often stressful based on whether or not my dad would be drunk.

My sister had a baby girl this year who turned seven months old right before Christmas.  My niece is the sweetest, most adorable, happiest baby in the world (*slight bias!)  This year, the holidays were ALL about her…her first Halloween, where we all made matching costumes…her first Thanksgiving, when she had her very first bite of “real” food…and of course, her first Christmas.  It was awesome- my favorite Christmas ever!  This is the first year I didn’t look through my Facebook feed feeling that twinge of longing for what other people were doing with their families.  That actually just occurred to me for the first time as I am writing this!