RIP Tony

I babysat my little nieces the other day and I asked the four year old if she wanted to FaceTime her grandmother. She replied, “Mama’s dying”. I couldn’t help but laugh. My mother had a stomach virus, so I’m sure she FELT like she was dying, but she certainly is very alive. I had to explain “exaggeration” to my niece. We then got ready to FaceTime my mom to say hi. Before I could finish setting it up, my niece continues with this:

“My uncle is dead.” I know my sister talks about my exboyfriend/her uncle/her godfather with her a lot and has explained death in a child appropriate way to her. Her paternal grandfather died before she was born, so they talk about him often.

“I know. Unc did die,” I responded, not really thinking too much about it. But then she continued, “Do you want to know how?” That stopped me in my tracks. “How?”, I asked, having no idea what her response was going to be. She confidently replied, “he drank too much alcohol.”

Now, obviously she was repeating this from my sister. My niece is four and does not even know what alcohol is. I was very shocked at her response and didn’t know what to say, but luckily the FaceTime call connected and she started talking to my mom, the conversation already forgotten (by her).

When my sister got home from work I told her about the conversation and we talked about it. First she seemed surprised too and thought maybe my niece overheard an adult conversation, but later she said that she does try to tell her the truth about questions she asks. I wasn’t mad or anything, more just surprised I guess.

My sister and I have had discussions about eventually talking to my two nieces about alcoholism and how much to actually tell them about our father. They LOVE my dad. They only know their Papa as a sober man. And I hate to admit this, but one of the driving forces in my breakup with M. before he died was not wanting my nieces growing up with an active alcoholic in their lives. I am so close with them and spend so much time with them, I just do not want them exposed to alcoholism as children. I am relieved that they do not have anyone in their lives now that drinks.

But I also know that there is a genetic element to alcoholism and it is important for them to know the dangers of addiction. I don’t think they necessarily need to know everything from our own childhood or about my dad being abusive. I feel like that would just be so damaging to them. Growing up, my paternal grandfather was one of my very favorite people. He passed away when I was 12 years old. Many years later, my mother confessed to me that my grandpa was very much like my father- that he was an alcoholic and very, very mean. Obviously he was able to control that when I was around him because I had no idea. I felt so hurt, betrayed, and angry when I found out and I think it marred his memory some. I hated thinking about him in a negative way. I am very appreciative that my sister involves me in these decisions, although I would obviously support her and I know that as their mother she has the right to make all of her own decisions when it comes to the girls.

Last night my sister called me, whispering into the phone. “Tony’s dead! What should I do? Should I go get another fish to replace him or do I just tell her?” Tony is (was?) my niece’s blue and red betta fish. She said she was going to talk to her husband when he got home and they would decide what to do. I quickly googled an article from a psychologist about what to say to children when pets that pass away and sent it to her. It said that most children can handle the loss of their pet and it is important for them to talk about it, feel sad, etc. It is a part of the circle of life.

When asked my personal opinion, I half jokingly said, “well if you can tell her the truth about her Uncle dying, I think you can do the same about her fish.” I guess it kind of bothered me more than I thought that she knew the circumstances of M’s death. But I think more than anything, I just still feel so sad. It’s still SO hard. And I am glad that they still talk about him and loved him so much. I want his memory to stay alive and for everyone to remember him. It is coming up on the one year anniversary of his death and it still feels so raw.

❤️ This post is in memory of Tony 😆 He was a really cool little fish 🐟

The choice is yours

My sister had a baby girl one week ago. I am so excited to be an auntie again and my new niece is absolutely beautiful 🙂

Of course my parents are also very happy and have been spending a lot of time at my sister’s house. However, my father has been really upsetting and annoying both my sister and me. My mother swears up and down that he is sober. I have my doubts. But even if he is, he definitely has some of the characteristics of a dry drunk. He has a tendency to snap in anger, he calls us derogatory names, he says inappropriate things and he talks INCESSANTLY. Like a full minute cannot go by without him hearing his own voice. It is incredibly irritating.

When my first niece was born, my mother would come down almost every day alone. My father was drinking heavily at the time so he would stay home. It was such a wonderful time for my sister and mother and me. We really bonded and enjoyed every minute with the baby. This time, my mother brings my father every time she visits or babysits my niece. I understand why she does- he doesn’t want to be alone and she is afraid he will drink.

My sister is feeling very vulnerable after just giving birth. Her fiancé is at work all day and she is breastfeeding the baby. She confided in me that she feels uncomfortable doing so around my dad and wishes that my mom would just come visit on her own sometimes. It is not that we don’t ever want to see our father, but I know we both miss the time we used to have alone with my mom.

I mentioned this to my mother the other day and her reaction was kind of surprising. She basically stated that she can’t come down without inviting him (yet she goes shopping every Saturday with her friend while my father stays home alone). She basically said that they are a package deal.

I talked to my therapist about it and she suggested the reason this is so upsetting is because all throughout our childhood, my mother always “chose” my father over us. His needs always came first. And now she is doing that again. I understand that my sister is grown up, but she is still a girl who just wants her mom and my father cannot be adult enough to accept that. Instead, he would take it personally and be offended. Everything is always about him and revolves around his feelings.

Growing up, I never viewed my mom as part of the problem. I always thought about her as “one of us”…a victim of my father’s alcoholism and abuse. And although it is true she was, she was also the adult and we were just small children. We did not ever have a choice. Even if it would have been incredibly difficult, she did. And she still does, but now so do we. Last week my father called me a scumbag. Today he angrily called my mother a “bitch” in front of my three year old niece. My sister finally said to him that if he is going to get angry and use language like that, he shouldn’t come down anymore.

My sister and I are on the same page. We both do not trust my father. His sobriety is too new, too fragile. His past behavior proves that he cannot he trusted alone with a child. That makes me cringe just writing it, but it is true. Even if he physically does no harm, verbally he is constantly insulting people, mostly women. He is sexist and perverted and rude and misogynistic. My mother failed to protect us from him and although I do not carry the resentment I probably should for her, I will be damned before I let him repeat that cycle with my two innocent, precious nieces.

Lucky 21

Tomorrow begins my 21st year of teaching. I honestly do not know where the time went. This job is truly one of the loves of my life. I often say that it was more of a “calling” for me, because I never considered doing anything else. There have been A LOT of ups and downs throughout the years, but I love teaching as much as ever.

This is going to be a really difficult and unpredictable year. I pride myself on developing relationships with my students and it is going to be challenging to do so from behind a computer screen. I feel a lot of sadness…for the students who are missing out on a “normal” high school experience. For the kids who can’t play the sport they love or participate in the school musical. Several of my close teacher friends needed to work remotely from home, so it is depressing to think about going through a school day without seeing them, or really socializing with any of my colleagues. No more Friday night football games or happy hours or eating lunch in the teachers’ cafe or stopping in the office to chat with the secretaries. I feel like this is going to be a very isolating year. We are supposed to enter school, go directly to our classrooms, teach our classes and then go home.

On top of that, my niece is starting preschool and it is still kind of a shock every time I see a mask on her little face. It is so exciting that she is starting school, but I wish she was entering during a normal school year, so she could have recess and play and eat lunch with other kids her age.

No matter what, the show must go on and as a teacher one of the most important lessons I will teach this year is how to make the best of things. And I have a feeling I will be leaning a lot this year myself. Even on days where I might have to put in extra effort, I am going to try my hardest to be a positive influence on my new group of students. At the very minimum, they deserve that 🙂

Teaching a different kind of lesson

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I shared an article on my personal Facebook page the other day that really resonated with me (I will include the link below).  It was about how having schools closed right now for the purpose of social distancing is not a “vacation” for teachers.  Throughout my 20 year career teaching English, I have faced many difficult situations, but nothing prepared me- or any of us- for this.

Yes, I am home in the comfort of my own house, wearing pajamas for most of the day.  I do not have children of my own and I live by myself.  It does give me flexibility in my day to binge watch a show for a couple of hours or take a short nap, but I sincerely wish I was at work instead.  I miss my school, my colleagues, the routine and my classroom.  I truly miss my kids.  I have 120 11th graders that I am responsible for every day, not to mention my “formers” (the students I had last year, many of whom I see daily).

I work in a very diverse school district.  This means that many of my students struggle in many different ways- some financially, some with social anxieties or other mental health disorders, some with language barriers, some with difficult family situations, some with learning disabilities, some with food insecurity, etc.  My school is using distance learning and luckily our students were provided with Chromebooks before the virus began to spread and I have been in touch with the majority of them, whether through our class website or email.

This is not a vacation for me.  I am worried about my students- now and in the future.  Are they nervous, scared, anxious, worried, confused, alone, eating, sleeping, healthy…?  I am a junior class advisor and planned the prom for April.  I am waiting for the directive to cancel that.  It makes me sad that students will miss out on milestone events in their high school experience.  I know a school dance is not important at all right now in the bigger scope of things going on in the world, but to a 16 year old, it kind of still is.

There is so much uncertainty right now and as an adult, I am overwhelmed by the fears and anxieties and stress I feel.  I can’t imagine being a child right now.  For some of my students, school is the only stability they have in their lives.  I worry what kind of lasting effect this will have on their mental health, their future economy, the world moving forward.

Yesterday, we found out the gender of my sister’s baby- a girl!  It was so wonderful for ten minutes to celebrate something, to forget about all of the urgent news alerts constantly lighting up our phones.  But then it was back to reality…my sister is twelve weeks pregnant during a pandemic and my niece is only two and a half and my father has compromised health and my mother is over 70 and my brother in law was laid off yesterday and I am struggling with agoraphobia and there’s no toilet paper and *deep breath*….

Every opportunity I have to interact with my students I am trying to be as positive as possible.  I made funny memes to make them laugh (or at least roll their eyes).  I sent a picture of my niece opening the box with bright pink balloons popping out at the gender reveal.  I tell them how I am doing with my new “coworkers”, who sometimes annoy me and step on my computer (aka my two cats).  I tell them I am here for them…anytime. I reassure them that we are all doing the best we can do right now and that things will be okay.  I am doing this for them, but also for myself.  I also need to be reminded that this “new norm” will not last forever, that things will go back to the way they were, that we will be okay.  It is much harder to convince myself, though.

Here is the article I mentioned above: boredteachers.com/…/covid-19-quarantine-isnt-a-vacation-for-teachers

 

20 Questions

1. Do you have any regrets?

Not seeing each of my grandparents one more time before they each passed away. My travel anxiety held me back from visit them and I will always wish I had one final chance to see them.

2. How would you like to be remembered?

As being kind, thoughtful, caring and funny. A good sister, daughter, aunt and friend. An inspiring teacher.

3. Have you ever broken a promise to someone?

Yes, myself. I swore to myself that I would never date or marry an alcoholic because of my father. I feel like a cliche that I did, but I am also relieved that I broke the cycle.

4. Was there one event that changed your life and the way you think?

When I was in elementary school, I saw a documentary on children in third world countries, specifically Ethiopia. I had never seen images like that before and I remember being shocked that there were kids starving in the world. It taught me to appreciate the life I had and I have thought of it often.

5. Would you sacrifice everything for love?

No. I have learned the hard way (twice) that love is not enough.

6. Are you afraid of dying?

I rarely think about dying myself; rather I fear losing someone that I love. Now that my parents are older, I am afraid of my mother dying more than anything.

7. Have you ever been abused?

Yes. My father was/is physically, emotionally, verbally and psychologically abusive. He is still very verbally abusive, but I think the psychological abuse affected me the most, even more so than anything physical.

8. Have you ever been in love?

Yes, I would say three times. In college, I had my “first love”- where you love so naively and hopelessly. I loved my ex husband and I love (present tense) my ex boyfriend. With both my husband and boyfriend, it wasn’t because of not loving them that the relationships ended, hence my answer to #5. I think the true love of my life/soul mate is my ex boyfriend, but there are very logical reasons we are not together.

9. Are you happy with who you are?

Yes. I definitely have my flaws, but I think I am a good person. I care about other people and always try to do what I think is right.

10. Would you ever give up your life to save someone else’s?

Yes, definitely my sister or my niece…without even a second thought.

11. Have you changed at all in the last year?

This last year has been life changing. I experienced my boyfriend being in a coma…I don’t think I will ever be the same. He was so close to death. I am so, so grateful he survived, but I lost him anyway.

12. What is something most people don’t know about you?

That I suffer from agoraphobia and at one point years ago it was so bad that I didn’t even want to leave the house to check the mail or go to the grocery store. I just recently told someone about this and they didn’t believe me. I guess that’s a weird compliment in a way.

13. Do you like being alone?

I really do. I need time to decompress and just think. Sometimes I just lay on the couch without turning on the tv, just to be in silence.

14. Is there something you would never do?

Get married again. I felt very trapped. I definitely did not grow up with a good role model of what marriage should be and I stayed with my ex husband far longer than I should have simply because I felt like I had to try everything to make it work because we were married. I want to be with someone by complete choice and I want the ability to walk away if it isn’t the right relationship for me or if the person changes.

15. What makes you uncomfortable?

Confrontation. Although I have gotten much better at standing up for myself lately. I felt like I had to be an advocate for both myself and my ex boyfriend through his illness and it severed the relationship I had with his friends and family.

16. What is the meanest thing anyone has ever said to you?

My dad says so many mean things pretty much daily, but excluding him, after I got divorced, my ex husband wrote me an email saying he was sorry he couldn’t “fix me”.

17. What is the nicest thing anyone has ever said to you?

I can’t pick just one thing because any time I get a compliment from a student or they tell me I inspired them in some way, it is the best feeling. Recently, a student wrote me a letter saying that through my actions, I taught her how to be a stronger person and that meant a lot to me.

18. What is your prized possession?

A green diamond ring from my maternal grandmother. My sister and I used to try on all of my mama’s jewelry and we each had a favorite ring of hers. It was a joke in our family that she would leave them to us in her will. During one visit, my sister and I were parading around with our rings on and when we went to give them back to her, she handed us the empty boxes and said she wanted us to keep the rings so we would have the memory of her giving them to us, rather than it being a sad time when we inherited them. That is also one of my favorite memories.

19. What is something weird or unusual that you do?

Every year when I decorate my Christmas tree, I watch the movie, “The Wolf of Wall Street”. I have no idea why there is a connection, but it has become a weird tradition. I love that movie 🤷🏼‍♀️

20. What is your favorite quote?

“Education is not preparation for life; Education is life itself.” -John Dewey

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.

Auntie Bear

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Ever since my niece was born, I more clearly understand the concept of being a “Mama Bear”.  I do not have children of my own and she is the absolute best thing that has ever happened to me.  I would do ANYTHING to protect her.  She is only four months old, but it is already frightening to think about all the things in the world that could hurt her- both physically and emotionally.

Growing up, I was super protective of my younger sister.  It was always just the two of us and having an alcoholic father made us incredibly close.  She is only three and a half years younger than me, but a lot of the time I felt partly responsible for her.  And now she has this beautiful, innocent daughter of her own.  Our childhood was so painful and traumatic…I just want my niece’s childhood to be a happy one.  I want her to look forward to holidays instead of dreading them.  I want her to be excited to spend time with her family rather than hating every second of it.  I want her to be able to look back on her childhood as an adult and be full of happy, fun memories.

Today, my sister brought the baby to my parent’s house.  My dad has only seen his granddaughter a handful of times since she has been born, although my parents only live 45 minutes away.  My mom and sister were out together and my mom convinced my sister to bring the baby inside.  Dropping by my parent’s house unexpectedly has always been a wildcard and it is something that is generally always avoided.  It is just too much of a risk, not knowing if my father is going to be drunk or not.  Long story short, against her gut instincts, my sister reluctantly agreed to go inside and my dad was indeed drunk. While she was pregnant, my sister told my mom she was not going to have the baby around my father if he had been drinking.  My mom tried to convince my sister to stay and even wanted to placate my father by letting him hold the baby for a few minutes. Luckily, my sister did not have to stay at the house long and was able to make a quick escape before anything bad happened.  My dad was sloppy and yelled as she was leaving, but it obviously could have been worse.

On her way home she called me and was upset with herself that she allowed my dad to see the baby after he had been drinking.  We both agreed that my mom put her in an awkward spot, which made me recollect a lot of times my mother did that throughout our childhood.  Strangely, I have never really held a lot of resentment towards my mom and she, my sister and I are very close.  I think I always thought of my mother as a victim, too.  However, there are memories I have where she should have protected us more.  My sister has made the point that my mother “sacrificed” us- making us bring my dad dinner so she didn’t have to or forcing us to confront him about his drinking.

I hate thinking about my baby niece in that situation.  I don’t want her life being influenced in any way by alcoholism or addiction.  I also know that I can’t control that 100% or prevent other bad things from happening in her life.  I am just incredibly grateful that I am able to be a part of her life (and am able to spoil her!) and I will always do whatever I can to make sure her childhood is as happy as possible.

#aunt

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My sister had her baby in the middle of May and I. am. in. love!  My niece is only 6 weeks old and I think I have taken like 800 pictures and videos of her.  I am clearly biased, but she is the sweetest, most beautiful baby ever.  Luckily, my sister only lives 2 miles from me, so I have seen her almost every day since she was born.

My boyfriend has been very stressed out lately with work and has also been struggling with bad depression.  I am so happy that he is very taken with the baby too and is a great uncle to her.  Last week, after a particularly crazy work day for him, he saw the baby at night and was holding her and made a comment that he felt so much less stressed out just watching her sleep in his arms.  It was such a sweet thing to say, but it made me think about the effect that having her around has had on all of us.  I look at this little baby and I just want her to have the best life possible.  I teach The Great Gatsby to my 11th graders and in one scene Daisy says about her young daughter, “I hope she’ll be a fool- that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”  I always thought this was a cruel wish for a mother to make, but now I sort of understand more what Daisy meant.  I certainly want my niece to be very smart and very well-educated, but what Daisy really meant is that she wanted her daughter’s life to be EASY.  I know things will not always be “easy” for my niece, that is unrealistic, but I want things to be better for her than they were for my sister and me growing up.  We suffered through so much trauma and I want my niece to have a wonderful, happy childhood.

A super embarrassing thing about me is that I still suck my thumb.  I am 38 years old.  It is my one true vice and I have done it all my life.  I saw my baby niece put her thumb in her mouth the other day and I was like, “noooooo!”  I know babies do that when they are hungry or for self-soothing, but I don’t want her to have that- or any- bad habit.

It will be amazing to watch her grow and learn and see the person she becomes and I hope to be a very positive influence in her life.  I don’t want her to be afraid of things the way I am.  I want her to be confident and strong…and maybe someday be a teacher (lol!).

It’s so hard to say goodbye…

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My supervisor is retiring at the end of this school year.  I have known him since the beginning of my career, which is about 17 years now.  He is one of the kindest, most genuine, and caring people I have ever known.  My first year teaching I accepted a position to teach 8th grade at a middle school in my school district, even though I had my heart set on teaching high school.  I had just turned 22 years old the month before school started (in retrospect, it was probably a good thing I didn’t start off teaching 17 year olds when I was so young!) Within the first month of the school year, I had already contacted the supervisor at the high school and set up a meeting with him.  When we met, we talked for over two hours.  When I was leaving his office, he told me he was confident that he would be able to transfer me to the high school for the next school year.  I was excited at the prospect, but also learned to love my middle school in the meantime.  In June, he contacted me to inform me that the district had a hiring freeze and no high school positions were being added.  He promised me that he would try again the following year. With mixed emotions, I signed my contract to stay at the middle school.  In August, he called me at home to tell me a teacher unexpectedly retired and her position was mine if I wanted it.  I was so torn, but felt like I could not do that to my middle school administration.  With a heavy heart, I declined the transfer.  I hung up the phone and bawled my eyes out.  I was certain that I ruined my chances to ever be moved to the high school.  To my surprise, he contacted me again in September and said that he would do everything he could to get me to the high school the next year.  Rather than being put off by my rejection, he was impressed that I was dedicated and loyal to the obligation I made.  Sure enough, true to his word, he offered me a position in the spring of that year.  I began my third year of teaching at the high school and I have been there ever since!  I love my job and I owe so much to him.  He is so supportive of the teachers in my department.  He has always encouraged me and built my confidence so much when I was a young teacher.  Every time I see him, he takes a minute to say a kind word, to tell me how special I am and what I gift I have for this profession.  It is hard to believe that I will be starting my 18th year teaching next year without him.  It brings tears to my eyes every time I think about it and I am finding it hard to find a way to thank him that truly shows him how much he has meant to me- as a mentor, a boss and as a man.  It is hard to explain, but growing up with an alcoholic father, I was always looking for male role models.  My paternal grandfather died when I was 12, right around the time my dad started drinking heavily.  I was very close with my maternal grandfather, but he lived far away.  I did not grow up with any uncles.  When I was in college, I dated a guy for a few years and grew very close with his family.  I had a wonderful relationship with his father and actually kept in touch with his parents for years after we broke up.  When I was married, I did not have a good relationship with my father-in-law, as he was a difficult man.  Currently, I have a great relationship with my boyfriend’s dad, which has filled a void in my life.  Unfortunately, he lives several states away and we do not see him often. When I really stop and think about it, I have had very few relationships with positive “father figures”.  My supervisor is the epitome of a family man, always telling us stories about his wife and adult children.  When I was getting divorced, he was incredibly supportive. Now, he takes every opportunity to tell me how glad he is that I am happy and have moved on.  I feel so sad that not only am I losing a wonderful boss, but one of the primary male role models I have ever had in my life.