Overwhelmed

When I started this blog many, many years ago, I promised myself that I would write at least one time a month and I have. There have only been a few times where it has literally come down to the very last day of the month and I have not written a blog. However, this is one of those times.

I just feel really easily overwhelmed lately. Maybe it is because it is the end of the school year? I’m not sure. But I just feel like work and house stuff and personal obligations have piled up. I am very task oriented so it bothers me when there is a lot on my plate. And honestly, none of the things I need to do have any real urgency- it just feels like too many things at one time.

I have also noticed that I am a lot more overwhelmed after I have a super busy weekend. I guess I just need more down time and when I don’t have it, it throws me off.

I’m honestly writing this on my phone on my lunch break, with research papers that I need to grade stacked in front of me, simply because I need to take something off my list and this seemed like the easiest and fastest one to tackle. I feel disappointed because that isn’t the reason why I started this blog and I am kind of phoning it in this month.

I guess I should look at the bright side of things- I didn’t have anything crazy or dramatic or horrible to write about this month, so that’s something!!

Time

Dear M,

When I think of you now, so much relates to time. Even from the beginning of our relationship, time was a factor. How many days would pass before we saw each other? How many days until you moved in with me? And then…how many days were you sober, how many days were in the coma, how many days were you in the hospital? As an English teacher, it is ingrained in me to find symbolism. The object that would most symbolize you would be a wrist watch. Very fitting considering how much you loved your Omega.

But time is different now when it comes to you. It is no longer days. After you died, it became weeks and then months and then finally…a year. I was dreading February so much. November always was my least favorite month because of losing my grandparents and getting divorced. February tried to take that title over.

With the date you died looming, my emotions were all over the place. But, strangely, on that day I felt so little. I had grieved so much for so long, it felt anticlimactic. I slept a lot, which indicated I was sad, but I planned to look through my “M box”- a tote of things I had packed up when we broke up and then stuffed new things into after you passed away. I told myself all year long I would look at it on the anniversary of your death (there needs to be a better word than “anniversary” for something sad). I finally did open the box at night and looked at photos and items that belonged to the dog and so, so many cards. It was sweet and I felt nostalgic, but I was not overcome with sadness like I thought I would be. I talked with my therapist about it afterwards and she thinks because I finally got answers about how you died, I had more closure than I thought I had.

A week or so later, my sister and I went out to dinner for your birthday. You would have been 39. I took her to “our” restaurant, which I had not been to since we broke up. It actually felt like a celebration. Again, instead of feeling sad, I was happy to remember you and all the good memories of our life together. It really felt like turning a corner. Being able to think about you and focusing on your life instead of you being sick or drunk or dead. I really celebrated your life on your birthday and it felt…right.

I will ALWAYS be sad about you being gone. It is just a part of who I am now. But, February is almost over and it wasn’t what I thought it would be. I finally felt a sense of peace, of being able to move on, of being able to balance grieving your loss and remembering happier times with you.

There is a quote by Robert Frost that I always have up in my classroom: “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It goes on.” This past year, I have missed you, I have been depressed, I have been heartbroken, I have been SO angry, but my life has also gone on. I have been overjoyed, I have been happy, and I have fallen deeper in love with a wonderful man. I would like to think it is what you would have wanted for me.

Time out

I am taking a time out from my family. My sister had a garage sale last weekend and we all were there to help. My mother took care of the kids all day and my sister was running the sale. My father and I set up chairs on her lawn and just kind of oversaw everything. I spent all of Saturday with my laptop, grading my students’ essays. My father spent all of Saturday making lewd comments about women’s bodies. I chose to ignore him, mostly because he talks incessantly and I just tune him out. However, he crossed the line a few times. Like when a teenage neighbor came outside in her high school cheerleading uniform and my father made comments about her body. I yelled at him and told him how gross he was being. I teach teenagers and he has two daughters and two granddaughters. It was just so inappropriate and disgusting.

By the end of the day Saturday, I really had my fill of him. When he isn’t being offensive, he is still annoying. There are times he is funny, but those times are sandwiched between him being lewd and also being demanding. We were all going out to dinner afterwards and I secretly told everyone else that I would not sit next to him at the restaurant.

On Sunday, I was unpleasantly surprised that he and my mom decided to come to my sister’s house again, but I didn’t say anything because I know she needed the help. Again, I got stuck with my dad most of the day, but I after a couple of hours, I knew I needed a break. I went home for a few hours and returned later in the afternoon in time to help clean up.

When the garage sale ended, we all helped clean up and I retrieved a table I lent my sister and put it on the curb to put into my car later. My dad asked who the table belonged to. I told him it was mine and that I needed to get my car. He either didn’t listen or didn’t hear me because one minute later he asked again. I told him I already said it was mine. “Scumbag.” That was his response. I was like, “oh that’s nice. I’m a scumbag because I answered your question?” I went inside the house and left shortly afterwards.

I texted my sister later: “I’m upset and disgusted about how dad behaved and how he talked to me. And I’m upset that I’m upset about it.” She agreed and had heard lots of his vile comments throughout the weekend, too. The annoying thing is that my mom is very dismissive about what he says…he’s always “joking” or “is getting dementia” or whatever according to her. None of us ever hold him accountable. There is always an excuse for him. And to be honest, for most of my adult life, I just shrug off what he says. It is just how we have all handled him for so long and since he has been better lately, we don’t really rock the boat. It is how it has always been. I know that does not make it ok, though.

Afterwards, I tried to explain to my boyfriend how I felt. He has only known my father sober, but he knows about my childhood. It isn’t even ancient history- it has only been about two years since he stopped drinking. It is REALLY hard for me to reconcile the person my father is today with the man he was two years ago. And it is also really hard that everything just changed overnight. My dad was an abusive alcoholic whom I only saw once or twice a year. He was hospitalized in a coma, recovered and stopped drinking. All of a sudden he is a “pretty normal” person and I have dinner with my family like four nights a week. But NOTHING has ever been discussed. We make zero references to “before”. He hasn’t been held accountable for ANYTHING. I know I am part of the problem, but I just go along with it. It is easier for my mom, it is too uncomfortable to bring up, the past is in the past, appreciate having a normal family while you have it, he’s wonderful with his grandkids and I want my nieces to have that relationship, etc. Those are all the excuses I tell myself.

I don’t know why he bothered me so much over the weekend. I think it was because it was SO much time together. Normally I see him for an hour or two and my little nieces a are there main focus and are distracting. It’s not like I sit next to him on the couch for two hours straight. I spoke to my therapist about creating better boundaries for my family, but also about me needing to say no. I don’t need to go to my sister’s house for dinner every night I am by myself. I can say no and stay home and have time to myself at my house. I feel this weird sense of obligation to always be there unless I have other plans. It was weird to be home alone Tuesday and Wednesday night, but it was also a much needed break. It made me realize how unhealthy and dysfunctional my family still is, even though we have the appearance of a “nice, normal family”!

Renovations

Dear M,

I am making some renovations to my house. I finally had the front steps and walkway redone. I think about how you used to drive by the house after we broke up and I can’t help but think about how seeing these changes would have affected you. Would you have liked them or would you feel despondent, like I was moving on without you?

More so than the front of the house, I have been preparing the back deck in order to repaint it. I remember years ago when you painted it for the first time. I can’t even remember if it was before or after you moved in…I think it was after? Some of my fondest memories of you were just cool summer nights where we sat out on the deck together, listening to a baseball game, grilling, etc. I know that I was still teaching summer school at the time, because I would get home and change and help you with the deck. The freaking spindles took 1 million hours to painstakingly paint. It was not the most enjoyable job, but it looked great afterwards.

Over the past couple of years, the paint has been peeling and chipping off and I decided it was time to do some touch-ups (which naturally turned into a huge project where I am now repainting much of the deck). I feel guilty and sad. I don’t like having to re-do something you did because it makes me feel like I am replacing something that you worked hard on and took pride in. Since we broke up and you moved out and now especially since you passed away, each new thing I do without you feels like I am moving further away from you, but unfortunately that is inevitable as time moves on. I hope you know that me scraping away your old paint is not an attempt to erase you or your memory.

I asked my students to select and write about a quote about life that was meaningful to them. I shared with them the Robert Frost quote that has been in my classroom for years and years: “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” I have always liked this quote and I used to interpret it to mean that even when life is difficult and you feel hopeless, you have to persevere.  After losing you, I interpret it differently.  Now when I read it, I think about death and how when someone’s life ends, the world doesn’t stop.  You may want it to because you are grieving for the person you lost, but the world around you keeps spinning, other people keep living their lives, and you just have to accept that even though there is sadness and loss, you cannot just sink down into it…you have to keep going.

It is hard at times to try to “move on”. I hate that phrase- I do not think I will ever, nor do I really want to ever, move on. Moving on sounds like another way of saying “get over it” and that is impossible. I will never move on or get over your death, rather I think it will just become a part of me. A new sidewalk and a fresh coat of paint do not change the structure of the house, just the cosmetic appearance. The tiny cracks in the foundation are still there, deep underneath what the eye can see. That is just what happens to an old home…things are replaced and repaired…it is a never-ending cycle. And that is like life- every loss and traumatic experience adds a little crack to your heart, but that doesn’t mean the whole of the person is damaged. There is a Carley Simon song that has a lyric that really resonates with me…

“So don’t mind if I fall apart, there’s more room in a broken heart.”

Sixty seconds

Recently, I saw a post on Reddit that asked the question: if you could go back in time and had ONE MINUTE to give advice to your past self, what would you say?

I have to admit that I have spent way, way more than a minute thinking about this question. Part of me rejects doing this because I know everything I have gone through made me who I am today. But then I think, fuck that cliche…why not tell myself all the things that will help “past me” be able to avoid pain, heartbreak, rejection, loss, and negative experiences???

So, here is what I would tell my younger self in sixty seconds:

“Listen to your gut. When your gut is telling you to run, run. When it tells you, don’t marry him: DON’T. MARRY. HIM. Don’t lie to cover other people’s mistakes or behavior. You think that you are protecting them, but you are really just hiding the truth, from the world and yourself.

Don’t settle. EVER. Forget having to kiss frogs and all that dumb shit. Kiss the frogs for fun, but when it comes to relationships, don’t settle for less than you deserve. Please, please do not be with someone who drinks. Promise yourself this and then DO NOT BREAK that promise. You cannot save anyone who doesn’t want to be saved. Don’t ever put yourself in a situation where you put someone else’s needs above your own. Don’t lose yourself in someone else. And always, always have an exit strategy.

Be nice to everyone. It isn’t a weakness. You never know what someone else is going through. When you think to yourself that you should call or text someone to check on them or see if they are okay, don’t assume you will always have the time or chance to do it.

No one has a perfect family or perfect life. Make the best of what you have. If you focus all your energy on the bad things, you will miss out on enjoying the good things. Forgive people, especially your dad, who don’t deserve it, even if they never apologized. Try to be the bigger person as often as possible.” *

*Okay, I literally timed myself reading that aloud. And I did not go back and edit it because I wanted it to be as authentic as possible. At first, this seemed really easy to do, but it much more difficult than I thought it would be, because how do you sum up twenty years of advice and lessons learned into one little minute? It is an impossible task. And really, how much do young people really listen to anyway? Lol! I teach 11th grade (so mostly kids that are 16 and 17 years old) and as much as I would like to think they hang on my pearls of wisdom, I know that they will have go out into the world and learn life lessons the hard way, just like all of us did- I guess that is a rite of passage. But really, why didn’t anyone stress to 16 year old me the importance of not settling…that would have been REALLY helpful 😉

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 🙂

“I’m proud of you.”

My boyfriend and I were watching TV today when his thirteen year old son texted him warning him that his twelve year old brother was upset. My boyfriend called his younger son to see what was wrong. At first his son seemed upset and angry, but after talking to his dad for a few minutes, he seemed to calm down. I guess he has a tendency to have emotional reactions and outbursts.

As they were hanging up, my boyfriend said, “I’m glad we talked about it and that you feel better. I’m proud of you.” I had to hide my tears when he hung up and looked at me.

One thing about my boyfriend that I never expected to feel is admiration for his parenting style. To be honest, I really was against dating someone with children. I do not have my own and that kind of “baggage” seemed daunting to me. I love hearing him on the phone with his sons- he is so sweet and caring.

My tears, though, were not from the surge in my heart I felt for him in that moment (although I did), but rather from those four simple words that he so casually said to his child: I’m proud of you.

Do nothing taker.

Liar, cheater, stealer.

Scumbag daughter.

You’re a LOSER.

I’m so disappointed. Again.

Selfish. You don’t care about anyone but yourself.

You’re a joke.

Why do I waste my time with you?

Those are just a few of the many, many insults and negative things my father has said to my face or on the phone or via email over the years. Although there were incidents of physical abusive, he was always SO verbally abusive.

I was (and still am) a good daughter. I am a public school educator. I own my own house and car and am financially independent. I have a Master’s Degree. I have found the strength to leave two very bad relationships and completely start over. I help my sister. I spoil my niece. I have won several teaching awards throughout my career. I have never done drugs or excessively drank. I was not (or only a little lol) promiscuous. I have taught as an adjunct professor at two universities. I’m not writing all this to brag, but rather that I have had some worthwhile and important accomplishments in my life. I am a good person, a good friend, a respectable member of society. Yet, I can’t remember a single time my father has said to me “I’m proud of you.”

I have said this before and I genuinely mean it: I know my father loves me. He tells me this every time we get off the phone or say goodbye in person. He actually writes it at the bottom of every email, even the ones belittling me. I guess that might be part of the reason I have such a convoluted concept if what love really means.

My boyfriend and I were having a conversation last night about the idea of love and our previous relationships. I have told him much about my failed marriage and how my ex husband treated me. I said, “getting divorced was so difficult because I still did love him.” And my boyfriend responded with, “after how he treated you and the things he did…why? Why did you still love him?”

The question hung in the air for a few minutes while I thought about it- to be fair, that is something I have always just said, but never thought deeply about. “I don’t know why. I guess because he was my husband?” I realize how ridiculous that sounds now. Having a “title” or a certain role in someone’s life doesn’t mean anything. At the time, I felt as if I owed him love because I was his wife and he was my husband. And I feel the same way about my dad…I love him because he is my father (it kind of makes more sense to say I love him in spite of him being my father).

Hearing my boyfriend so effortlessly say those magic words to his son, with no agenda and with sincerity, was bittersweet. I love that he is the kind of man who talks to his children and helps them see value in themselves. I saw a quote recently: “when you criticize your child, you don’t make them hate you, you make them hate themselves.” I’m over 40 years old now. It took time (and therapy!), but I know my worth and am pleased with my accomplishments. I no longer need my father’s approval. But I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t freaking love to just once hear him say, “I’m proud of you.”

Nice.

As an English teacher, I often stress to my students the importance of using creative words. Instead of the word “bad”, use “terrible”. Instead of the word “pretty”, use “gorgeous”. One of the biggest offenders when it comes to nondescript words is “nice”. The dictionary defines it as fine and satisfactory…not exactly the most flattering or sophisticated adjective.

I remember when I was in my 20s, I met a guy through a mutual friend. Afterwards, she asked him what he thought of me and his response was that he thought I was “nice”. I remember being offended by this and over analyzing it- “What does that MEAN…nice?!??” I thought it indicated that he wasn’t really interested in me. It felt like an insult.

I didn’t realize the significance of this simplistic, four letter word until I was 30. To put it bluntly, my ex husband was mean. After getting divorced, I remember saying to my sister that all I cared about when it came to meeting someone new was that they were nice. After experiencing my dad not being nice and my husband not being nice, that word took on a new, deeper meaning. I am very happy to say that my new boyfriend is truly nice. It took being with some unkind men for me to appreciate someone who is genuinely a good, kindhearted person.

I can honestly say that I am a nice person. I strive to be. I try to do things to make other people happy. I am thoughtful. It is kind of weird to write this because I feel like I am bragging (and trust me that I have many flaws). During the time my coworkers were teaching from home during quarantine, I mailed out 70 cards, just to say hi and keep in touch. I also sent congratulatory letters to the 120 graduating seniors who were my students from last year. This is one of the ways I know how to show love and appreciation.

Today, I gave my mailman a card and a $10 Dunkin Donuts gift card because tomorrow is National Postal Workers Day and clearly I love mail (who knew?!?!) My boyfriend was saw me do this and said, “you are SO nice. You’re the nicest person I have ever known.” I just smiled and accepted it for the lovely compliment it was. There are far more creative and glamorous synonyms that can be used, but I now understand the simple beauty of being nice.

Oh Deer

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This might be the hardest month yet to write a blog post for me.  I have never missed a month without writing at least one entry.  It has been hard to find a topic during this horrible time…with the coronavirus and people being ill and losing family members and being unemployed.  I don’t want to complain because I am healthy and getting a paycheck.  I have racked my brain to find something to write about that is not negative or offensive or insensitive and I finally thought of a topic…deer skulls.

In the northeast region of our country, it is very common to see deer everywhere.  Just on my two mile drive home from my sister’s house last night I think I counted 8 of them.  Some people think of deer as a nuisance because they cause car accidents, while others appreciate their beauty.  When I think of deer, I think of a specific memory with my father.  It was a singular moment so insignificant in my life, I am surprised I even remember it at all.

One day, we were exploring some trails in the woods behind my childhood house.  My father and I were walking ahead of my mother and my sister and my dad was pointing out various wildlife and plants.  A squirrel would skitter along the path and he would shout “squirrel!”.  He warned me not to touch poison ivy and explained how to identify it (a skill I still find useful as I am VERY allergic).

“Whoa! Check that out!” My dad pointed to something round and whitish on the ground a few feet in front of us.  As we got closer, I realized that it was a skull of unknown origin.  A dead person! was the first thought I had until I realized the shape and size of it could not be a human.  My father, in true dad fashion, leaned down and plucked it off the ground with his bare hands.  He turned to me with a sly smile and then reached his arm out to try to touch me with it.  I jumped a mile and screamed, “groooooosssss!”.

My father carried the skull all the way home and by the time we arrived, he had determined it was from a deer, even though there were no antlers attached.  By this point, my initial shock faded and I was pretty interested in the skull, with its gaping eye sockets and teeth still attached to the jaw bone.  He soaked the skull in soapy water and cleaned it, while my mother disapprovingly kept asking, “what are you going to DO with that thing?” After the skull was clean, I was so fascinated with it that my father gave it to me.  This is most likely the strangest “gift” I have received. I sat for a half hour just wiggling the teeth, until one popped out into my hand.  I was able to put it back into place with much satisfaction.

I kept that deer skull on my bookshelf for many years.  Once I got my own apartment, I decided that it did not really fit with my decor scheme and that it was weird to have to explain to people why I had a deer skull in my home.  I gave it to a science teacher at the high school where I teach English and he gladly displayed it in a case in his classroom.  Over the years, once in a while, I would pop into his room to look at the deer skull, the memory of that day running through my mind.

Children remember the strangest and most random things.  My niece is only three years old and probably won’t remember anything from this time in her life.  Or maybe she will? My sister and brother-in-law are both unemployed and home with her all day now.  Maybe she will remember making tents out of all the couch pillows, baking cookies with my sister, or helping her dad rake sticks in the backyard?  I have a very poor memory and cannot recall much from my childhood.  And unfortunately, by the time I turned twelve years old, my father was a full blown abusive alcoholic, so there were not many happy memories made during my teenage years. Yet, there are these random moments, burned into my memory, that I fondly remember.  My dad was fun (and cool!) at one point during my childhood and now that he is sober, I hope that my niece will make memories with him that she can look back on someday to remember her grandfather.

My deer skull still is on display in the science lab classroom.  I am sure over the years, many students have seen it and assumed it came from a school supply magazine or they really do not think much of it at all.  Some of them are my students as well and they have NO idea that they are looking at a piece of my childhood…a tangible, albeit very odd, reminder of a happy memory with my father.

Teaching a different kind of lesson

born-to-inspire

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