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.

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 🙂

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

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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

 

Breaking the cycle

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My soul and my heart have been CRAVING to write a blog entry…my brain on the other hand, has been getting in the way.  Every time I sit down to begin writing, I just feel so overwhelmed.

Ironically, leading up to the one year “anniversary” (can’t there be a different word for acknowledging a date that is bad???!!) of my ex-boyfriend being put into a coma, I was doing pretty okay.  March 15th loomed, but I felt like I was in a good place.  I decided rather than allowing myself to wallow in nostalgia, that I instead would try remind myself of how far I had come during the past 365 days.  And I really have come so far.  I currently have virtually no contact with him.  Even better, since my father has been released from the hospital, he has maintained sobriety.  It is crazy to think that I have no active alcoholics in my day to day life, and although I know that can change when it comes to my dad, I am enjoying it while I can.

I am also so in love.  It is still really hard for me to write about him…I don’t feel ready to share him with the “virtual world”, especially since our relationship is pretty private in “real life”.  I know as time goes on, I will write about him more and more, but for now all I can say is he is absolutely wonderful and treats me so amazingly well.  I am so happy with him being a part of my life.  I was fully prepared to be single for a very, very long time after going through what I did with my ex, but I guess it is true what people say about finding love when you are not looking for it and least expect it.

What did make March 15th a sad day for me was knowing how much my ex is still suffering and struggling.  After everything he went through, he is still not doing well.  I last heard from him a couple of months ago via text and he is dealing with a lot of mental health issues, as well as continuing to drink.  I honestly can say I do not feel any responsibility for him at all, but that does not mean I do not want him to be okay.  I will always worry about him and I truly want the best for him.  Looking back, his hospitalization, infidelity and alcoholism was the hardest thing I have ever had to go through, but the fact of the matter is that I did get through it.  I did and finally broke the cycle of codependency in my life.  I won’t turn out like my mother and although it took me eight years to do it, I am proud of myself that I did.

So, things were pretty calm…and then this virus and quarantine happened.  Luckily, everyone I know is healthy, which I am so thankful for considering my sister is twelve weeks pregnant and my father’s health is very compromised.  The high school school where I work has shut down for two weeks (and I assume it will end up being longer), and I am doing distance teaching with my 11th grade English students.  It has only been a couple of days, but so far so good.  I am trying to be very optimistic for them, because this is such a scary time for all of us.  I worry that being quarantined and not really being able to go anywhere is going to trigger an agoraphobic episode for me, especially living alone.  I am trying to be proactive by staying busy around the house, walking, and doing schoolwork.  The only place I go is my sister’s house, which is two miles away.  This makes me feel like kind of a bad person in a way, but I am so relieved not to be stuck in the house with my ex-boyfriend during this time.  It is hard at times being alone, but I cannot imagine how stressful it would have been still living with him, confined to the house, with him drinking and behaving the way he was.

This is just so unprecedented and frightening, I keep thinking I am going to wake up tomorrow and will be able to go back to school and teach like normal. I am just going to do what everyone else is doing and take things as they come.  It is not easy to live that way when you struggle with an anxiety disorder, but this is a good lesson for me about not being able to control everything.  In fact, I think that is what this year taught me the most…that no matter how hard I try, most things are out of my control.

Meh.

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We had parent conferences at my high school last night.  Of the parents who came, there was a common reason as to why all of their children are failing my class: apathy.  Unfortunately, I have a lot of students who just don’t care about their grades.  Ten or fifteen years ago, if a student did not complete an assignment, there would be begging, pleading, tears, etc. for them to make it up.  Now, even in my honors classes, if a student gets a zero, they have little to no reaction.  They just accept it.  They do not seem to care.  Luckily, most of my students really do want to do well, but it is a recurring problem I have experienced and it is increasing each year.

I am experiencing a form of this in my own life right now when it comes to my relationship.  My therapist mentioned it a few weeks ago as an observation.  She said that I am in a “state of apathy” and I have thought about it a lot since then.  And I agree.  When I was getting divorced, I cried and cried and cried.  I cried until I literally could not cry anymore.  I was pure emotion and very little logic.  I lived in fear, uncertainty, sadness.

My boyfriend has been struggling with work, his alcoholism, his depression and it has been affecting our relationship and me more than I have really been willing to admit.  It is really hard to watch the person you love just self-destruct.  I feel helpless and oftentimes I feel like his caretaker, not his girlfriend.  I feel like because I don’t know what to do (even though deep down I know what I need to do), I have just gotten to a place where I feel like I don’t care.  He sleeps all day…whatever.  He drinks…I just leave the room and watch tv by myself.  I don’t cry, I don’t even really get mad anymore.  I just feel…nothing a lot of the time.  I don’t know if it is a self-defense mechanism to help me cope with it or if my feelings have truly changed.  Naively, like most other people, I keep  thinking (hoping, waiting) that things will get better.  But it has literally been years and I think I have sort of given up.

I don’t know what’s worse, being upset all the time or just putting a wall around my heart to not feel anything?

Atelophobia

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I just recently turned 40 and am currently in my 19th year of teaching.  It just struck me that I have now been an educator for almost half of my life!  I knew I wanted to be a teacher since I was a little girl and every decision I made about my future was a step towards achieving that dream.  I never even considered any other career and I have never regretted it for a minute.  There have been amazing moments and really, really difficult days, but I truly have a passion for my job and consider myself so lucky to love what I do.

On Friday, my principal came to see me personally to tell me I was nominated for a very prestigious award.  I was so in shock, so honored, so flattered, so overwhelmed.  But, I didn’t want to tell anyone, even though the majority of my best friends are teachers at my same school.  I was almost embarrassed and didn’t want to seem like I was bragging.  I called my mom (who acted like I won an Academy Award- she was so excited) and she told me I was being silly not to share the good news with my friends.  I am also not the type to shout good (or bad) news from the mountaintop.  I did end up sending a group text and they all congratulated me, which was very sweet.

I have felt like a failure a lot in my personal life, from my dysfunctional childhood to my strained relationship with my dad to my struggles with anxiety to my marriage and subsequent divorce, I feel like I suck at life sometimes.  The one area where I have always succeeded and felt confident is in my career.  I have won other local teaching awards and I know I am respected in my school.  But honestly, underneath all the excitement of this amazing nomination, there was a thought in the back of my mind..”why me?”…”I don’t deserve that”…”I won’t win that”.  I know I work hard and I care SO much about teaching, but I still felt…undeserving.

I wrote a blog around the time of my 40th birthday where I reflected on my fear that no one would come to my birthday party (which of course they all did).  I shared that fear with my sister and she said to me, “you do nice things for everyone else and are so thoughtful and generous, why do you think no one wants to do that for you?” and it is because I felt…undeserving. Why would anyone want to celebrate ME? I don’t have really low self-esteem, but I think there is some aspect of my childhood that is tucked deep into my brain that makes me feel like I am not good enough.  I guess that is common for children of alcoholics.  Maybe my 12 year old self felt like if I was good enough maybe my dad wouldn’t drink?

I am very excited and honored about this nomination and I am going to really try to push those negative feelings away and focus on being happy about it, because deep down under those thoughts of not being good enough, I KNOW I am a good teacher who truly cares about her students.

 

Thankful

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It is SO easy to dwell on negative feelings and problems.  I have had a very difficult couple of weeks lately .  My dad’s drinking has been out of control, my boyfriend is severely depressed and I just found out my ex-husband is having a baby.  I really want to try to stay positive, so I decided to make a list of some of the things I am thankful for to remind myself of how lucky I am.  So in no particular order:

  1. My 18 month old niece…the love of my life
  2. My pets, who always make me so happy
  3. My job- I truly love teaching and feel like I make a difference
  4. My close relationships with my mom and sister
  5. My Hyundai Tucson- it’s my favorite car I have ever had
  6. My friends- who are always there for me, no matter what
  7. The Office…best show ever (“that’s what she said”)
  8. My house- I am proud of owning my own house
  9. Being financially stable and having a savings account
  10. My heated blanket- it’s so awesome
  11. Being able to spoil my niece as much as I want
  12. My boyfriend- we have stood by each other through thick and thin
  13. My health and being able to afford a personal trainer
  14. Being in therapy with a psychologist that I really trust
  15. Decorating my house for fall, Thanksgiving and Christmas
  16. Getting a card in the mail (or sending a card to a friend)
  17. Having a good relationship with my boyfriend’s parents
  18. Loving to read and having access to good books
  19. All of my cherished memories with my grandparents
  20. Cardigan sweaters- my wardrobe staple

Happy Thanksgiving 🙂