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.

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.

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 🙂

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.