Stairway to (not) heaven

My parent’s house is beautiful. It is very large- around 4,000+ square feet. I was very lucky to grow up in such a nice house. I had my own bedroom with a huge walk in closet. My younger sister and I shared a big bathroom and had our own separate living room, furnished with couches, a computer desk, a closet full of games, and a TV for us to watch MTV and play Nintendo. I had a very privileged upbringing and am grateful for that.

However, as my ex-husband used to sarcastically say about my family: “big house, no problems”. I have often jokingly referred to my childhood home as The House of Horrors (The Simpsons reference!). Hidden behind the three car garage and perfect landscaping were secrets. My dad was successful at a very well-paying job. My mom was able to stay home with us and was a volunteer at our school. Our McMansion gave the world the appearance of a perfect family. This was far from the truth.

My sister and I were talking about our childhood memories last night, which we seldom do. I wonder why we don’t talk about it more. My sister said something about just how truly traumatic it was for us. We talked about our nightly family dinners, without a doubt the worst part of every day. Our mother would make dinner and call my sister and me to to the kitchen. Then she would either get my dad or ask/force one of us to call him to the table. He always was drunk and he always was nasty. I feel like I have blocked a lot of this out, but my sister remembers it all so clearly. She said that I would eat as fast as possible, like I barely chewed my food. I did this so I could be excused from the table. I still eat so fast to this day. My parents would inevitably end up screaming at each other (mostly my dad yelling at my mom) and my father would throw things and leave the kitchen and before long my sister would be sitting alone at the table. She is admittedly an emotional overeater and she thinks it stemmed from this.

Where my sister vividly remembers these dinners, what I recall the most is the stairs in my parents house. There are actually two sets of stairs- the front and the back. The first is more grand, it starts in the entryway of the house and you see it as you walk in the front door. My sister and I were not allowed to use the front stairs because my parents wanted to keep them clean. We used the back stairs (I know this makes us sound like hired help lol). They were located on the side of the house and led from the garage door up to our playroom (which is the living room that belonged to us). Basically, you could walk in the front door, go up the front stairs, go down the hallways where the bedrooms were, end up at the playroom, go down the back stairs, go down the hallway into the kitchen and then turn down another hallway into the front foyer where the front staircase was. It was a giant loop. I’m explaining this in detail because completing this loop became part of my survival mode. When my father was drunk, he often chased us. That sounds really peculiar to write, but I am not sure how else to explain it. He would literally run after me and I 100% believed that if he caught me, I was going to be hurt. So if I talked back or ignored him or didn’t do exactly what I said I was going to do, he would quickly stand up from his spot on the couch in their living room, which was attached to the kitchen. That was my cue to run. I would take off towards one of the staircases, which provided a nice escape route through the house. He usually gave up very quickly, his point simply being made by the threat itself. He just wanted to instill fear and he was successful.

A lot of other memories involve the stairs. I remember my sister and me sitting at the top of the front stairs, listening to my parents fight. There were times the red and blue lights of a police car would illuminate the front foyer and we would “spy” on my mom answering the front door to convince the officers everything was fine.

One time we were all in the main family room and I told my dad I was going to go upstairs to get something from my bedroom and would be back in five minutes. Like a typical teenager, I must have gotten distracted by something and stayed in my room longer. When I returned, my father was angry and determined to teach me what “five minutes was”. He made me follow him to the back staircase, where I stood on the landing and faced the blank wall. He set a timer for five minutes.

There was the time my mother came home and found him lying on the tile floor at the bottom of the front stairs. He was very drunk and fell. I have always wondered if for one, terrible moment she believed he was dead and if she felt a fleeting sense of overwhelming relief. He was very alive, though.

Sometimes when my sister and I talk about these things or I write about them, I feel guilty. My dad has been sober for over two years and seems like a different person. His role as my niece’s “Papa” could not be more different than my experiences of him as a father. I have been struggling a lot about the past vs now. I am obviously glad that he is not drinking and is not the monster he used to be, but it is still hard to reconcile who he was when he did these terrible things to the gentle-ish giant he is now.

My sister and I talk a lot about my parents selling their house and how it is simply too large for them to live in alone, especially since they are in their 70s now. My sister said they need to find a home that is just one floor and my gut reaction was to think “how will mom get away from him without the staircases?!?!?” It is just so crazy how it has been so long since I lived in my childhood home and yet these memories feel so vivid in my mind.

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”!

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 😉

The tooth (and truth) hurts

My father has been having some dental issues lately and had to have a tooth pulled. We were talking about it the last time I saw him and I was empathizing with him, as I have had dental woes of my own. He then casually asked me if I had my wisdom teeth removed. I told him that I did have all four removed when I was a teenager, to which he responded, “I don’t remember that at all.” I was SHOCKED because although I do jot remember a lot from my childhood, it is one of my most vivid memories.

Let me take you back and set the scene…I was probably around 16 and it was over the summer. My dentist recommended I get all four wisdom teeth removed, as they were all impacted. When an oral surgeon performs that surgery, you have to be put under anesthesia. I was very nervous. I had never had any kind of surgery or anesthesia before. I don’t remember anything from the actual surgery (although my mom tells a funny story about how in a panic I thought the surgeon removed my tongue when I woke up and kept touching it to see if it was still there).

What I do remember was how uncomfortable I was afterwards. I had stitches in four parts of my mouth, which was also packed with cotton. I had to take both antibiotics and codeine. When I got home, all I wanted to do was go to bed. My father, however, had different plans. He was incredibly drunk and a few hours later he began arguing with my mother. He told her, my sister, and me that we had to leave the house and forced us out of the front door, along with our dog. At that point the combination of anesthesia, painkillers and anxiety kicked in and I spent the next half hour vomiting into our front bushes. In case you ever wondered (although I doubt you have), throwing up with a mouth full of bloody cotton is absolutely disgusting.

Eventually, he must have allowed us to come back into the house, because I don’t really remember much else from that day or night. The bushes part is my most vivid memory.

Back to present day…I spent the whole rest of the night thinking about what my father said. I truly do believe that he honestly did not remember that night. It made me wonder how many other incidents that I remember, many of which scarred my childhood, he simply does not even remember.

For the past 30 years, there’s only been two times when my father was sober. One time was after he had a stroke and did not drink from October of 2013 to October of 2015 and the other time has been since December of 2019. During the first span, I remember having a conversation with him and mentioning a few of the things that he had done while he was drunk. It was clear that he was appalled and did not even believe that he was capable of doing those things. And I really didn’t even tell him any of the truly terrible things he did.

The immature part of me wants to stomp my foot and say that it’s not fair. If I have to live with all of these bad memories, he should be riddled with guilt and tormented by them also. Another part of me feels slightly comforted by the fact that because he does not remember doing these things, it was not really my dad doing them, rather it was this drunk monster that took over his body.

My mouth has long since healed and the memory of that experience has faded. Although I have to admit it did hurt a little to have him admit that he didn’t remember that day- added a little insult to injury.

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

Goodbye, old friend

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Up until recently, my life has only been affected by suicide through other people’s losses.  In high school, a good friend’s mother took her own life.  I was young enough to understand the tragic impact, but was far enough removed from the long lasting effects.  As a teacher, I have had students whose parents or siblings have committed suicide. That is very difficult because I always want to be sensitive to their emotions with the literature I teach.  All of these untimely deaths affected me in that I felt sympathy for the families and tried to support my friend and students the best I could at the time.
A good friend of mine, who was also a colleague, recently committed suicide.  He and I were VERY close about ten years ago.  I considered him one of my best friends at that time and we joked that I was his “work wife”.  After my divorce, we had a very short-lived romantic affair, but ultimately decided we were better off as friends.  Over the years, he got married and I got involved in a long-term relationship.  He was moved to another classroom on the other side of the school and we just gradually grew apart.  But, it was always fun to run into him in the hallway from time to time (we have a VERY large school building).  We always maintained a funny, flirty friendship.  He was the most self-deprecating person I ever met.  He was by far the most hilarious person I have ever known.  He also had a very sweet side.  After getting divorced, I was crying to him about never going on a date again because I didn’t know “how” to date.  He said, “I will pick you up tomorrow at 7:00pm”.  He arrived at my house, all dressed up, with flowers, and took me out to dinner.  He opened the car door for me, he treated me to a meal and then he drove me home.  Afterwards, he walked me to my front door, kissed my cheek like a gentleman and said, “now you don’t need to be nervous because you know what a date is like.”  This will always be my favorite memory of him.
A few months ago he was out of work for several weeks.  At first I didn’t even know because I do not see him at school regularly.  Then other teachers started asking me if he was okay.  I texted him and got no response.  Overlapping his absence, I was out for three weeks on FMLA when my boyfriend was in ICU.  During my last week out of work, he returned to school and texted me.  He said he heard I was out and asked if I needed anything.  This led to a lengthy text conversation about what we both had been going through.  Looking back on it now, I realize he was lying to me about why the reason he was out, but it doesn’t matter because I will always be grateful for that last communication we had.  Once I returned to work, I was so busy getting caught up, I never had an opportunity to go see him in his classroom.
I awoke on a Sunday morning to a mass email to all of the teachers from our principal.  He stated we had suddenly and tragically lost a member of our staff and I had to read it over and over to make sure that I was seeing the name correctly.  I immediately felt sick to my stomach.  How? How could he be gone? The email was very vague and did not mention the cause of death, but I just instinctively knew it was suicide.  I contacted his best friend, another colleague, who confirmed this to be true.
The loss was overwhelming.  He was so full of life.  But he was always a sad clown…he used humor to cover up anything that hurt him.  When he got divorced years after I did, he even acted like it was a joke.  I tried to get him to talk seriously about it, but it was his form of a coping mechanism.
I think when someone commits suicide, the first thing people do is think about what they “could have done”.  I know that there was probably nothing I could have done to save him.  I didn’t even really know how bad things were for him.  I just wish I had seen him one more time.  One more hug.  One more joke.
Something weird has been happening to me.  I will be walking in the hall and I will think I see him out of the corner of my eye.  I will jerk my head to look and instead it is a tall, lanky student.  Or I will be pulling out of the parking lot and will see a small, white car and will glance at the driver to see if it’s him.  I am just so heartbroken- for myself and his other friends and colleagues, for his family, for his exwife and current fiancee, and for his students.  We had a memorial at school and it was so nice to hear former students explain how much he impacted their lives.  I wish there was a way for him to have known how much he would be missed and how many people would grieve for him.  I know he must have been in so much pain- that’s the most heartbreaking part of it.  His particular method of suicide was so devastating…I just cannot imagine how hopeless and helpless he must have felt.
I still feel frightened that my exboyfriend could make the same tragic, horrible decision.  My world was turned upside down when my friend died- I did not see it coming at all.  Everyone, including my therapist, tells me that I am not responsible for what my ex does, but that is easy for people to say.  If he ever did something to hurt himself, I don’t know what I would do.

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

Lone Sheep

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.