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 ūüėČ

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, ‚ÄúI don‚Äôt remember that at all.‚ÄĚ 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‚Äôt 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.

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

 

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.

 

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.

 

Remembering…

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This is going to sound incredibly weird and very morose and a little disturbing, but I created this blog to be completely honest with myself and with anyone¬†who happens to read it. ¬†Sometimes when I am in bed at night and I am having trouble falling asleep, I imagine writing and delivering my father’s eulogy. ¬†My father is still alive, yet I have been doing this for years. ¬†I just realized that I have never even told my therapist that I do this!

I picture myself looking out among the mourners who have gathered in a funeral home to say goodbye to my dad, with my mother and sister sitting in the front row. ¬†I imagine that I am up at a podium, dressed in all black. ¬†Every single time I picture this scenario, I begin¬†by saying, “My father was not a very good man…” ¬† I envision that the already quiet room goes completely still. ¬†Some people who are there do not know the whole truth about my father. ¬†The rest of the eulogy changes from time to time…different stories, different memories, but for the most part it goes like this:

“My father was not a very good man. ¬†As many of you know, my father struggled with alcoholism for the majority of his adult life. ¬†This impacted and complicated many of the relationships he had with those of you here, but mostly this had a horrible¬†effect on our family. ¬†My father did a lot of terrible, hurtful, unspeakable things to us. ¬†But I can stand here and tell you one thing with 100% certainty. ¬†My father loved me. ¬†He loved my mother and he loved my sister. ¬†He would have done anything in the world for us. ¬†I never have questioned this fact. ¬†And I- we- loved him, too. ¬†I know the irony of this statement, but I also remember the man my father was before he started drinking. ¬†So many of my happy childhood memories included him. ¬†He was the ‘fun’ dad…the one who would pile all the neighborhood kids into the wagon¬†of his tractor and pull¬†us up and down the street. ¬†He was the dad who would do an amazing cannonball into the pool and then would spend countless hours throwing my sister and I up into the air so we would splash into the water. ¬†He was the dad who impulsively bought a Porsche, but got the model with the tiny backseat, so my sister and I could squeeze in and go for rides with him. ¬†I have so many memories of being in that car, him blasting “Addicted to Love” by Robert Palmer and steering the wheel with his knee…”

This is about how far I normally get before I fall asleep. ¬†I have often wondered why I do this, but maybe it is just to remind myself that for all of the bad, there has been some good. ¬†I have a poor memory and often cannot remember my early childhood memories. ¬†Over the years, I have stopped trying to do so because so many of them are painful. ¬†Perhaps this is my way of recalling that life with my father has not been¬†all bad…and that some of it is worth remembering.

Memories…

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Now that my father has been sober for over a year and a half, sometimes I struggle with writing this blog. ¬†I started this in order to deal with the things that my dad currently did…the nasty emails, the horrible voicemails, the dreaded family holidays. ¬†I tapped into memories occasionally, but so much was still happening when I started writing this that I very much lived in (and had to deal with) the present. ¬†I find that now I have a tendency to think about and reflect on the past more often. ¬†Doing so has brought up events that I have not thought about in many years. ¬†There have been times when my sister and I talk about things that my father did when we were growing up and they just feel unreal…like hearing incredible stories from someone else’s life. ¬†It is almost like having to still deal with him protected me from having to remember the past and now that he isn’t actively doing anything all those memories are flooding back.

My dad was such a belligerent drunk. ¬†He was scary and threatening and violent and intimidating. ¬†He bullied and harassed and screamed and threw things. ¬†But when I think back to my childhood and teenage years, what I think about mostly is the psychological abuse he inflicted on us. ¬†He did such bizarre and strange things. He recorded phone conversations…I thought I was so cool to have my own phone number and phone in my bedroom as a teenager, until I realize that he had an extension of it also installed in his office, where he would listen to my calls. ¬†I don’t remember ever getting a piece of mail that was unopened. ¬†I have almost an obsessive need to check my mail now as an adult…like I have to get to it before someone else does. ¬†He followed my mother, sister and me. ¬†I remember coming out of school as a senior in high school and finding a note on my car that I was “parked crooked”. ¬†You know that song…”it always feeeeeels like somebody’s watching meeeee”…yea, that was my life. ¬†I told my boyfriend the other day how I had gotten into an argument with my dad and then stomped away, like a 16 year old girl will do, and locked myself in my bathroom to take a shower only to have my father kick down the door. ¬†There was just never any privacy. ¬†If we slammed our bedroom doors, he would take the doors off the hinges. ¬†If he was especially angry at night, he would remove the spark plugs from my car so I couldn’t leave for school in the morning. ¬†Even when he wasn’t home, it was like I was on constant high alert. ¬†I dreaded the sound of the garage door opening announcing he was home from work- I would get a pit in my stomach knowing he was home. ¬†Any semblance of peace in the house was gone as soon as he walked in. ¬†And on the days he was “normal” and didn’t drink, it was almost even worse, because I never knew what to expect. ¬†At least when he was drunk, I knew what was going to happen.

One of my most vivid memories was my mother, sister and I going to Costco on a weekend when I was about 17. ¬†My dad seemed fine when we left. ¬†When we came out of the store a couple hours later, my father was parked in his carnext to my mom’s car in the parking lot. ¬†At that time, Costco was almost an hour away. ¬†It was like he couldn’t stand to not be involved in whatever we were doing, or he didn’t believe that we were where we said we were. ¬†Obviously he was drunk, so he could not drive his car home. ¬†My mother initially asked me to drive him home. ¬†I had my license but there was no way I was driving alone with him for an hour. ¬†Eventually, she agreed to drive him home in his car and I would drive myself and my sister home in her car. ¬†I started to drive away and came to a red light to exit the parking lot. ¬†Unbeknownst to me, my father ran after the car and completely scared the hell out of my by opening the driver’s side door and pulling me out of the car. ¬†I screamed for my sister, who was 13 at the time, to get out of the car and quickly tried to open the back door to get my purse. ¬†My dad jumped in the driver’s seat and gunned the engine with me still leaning into the car. ¬†He then proceeded to pull out of the parking lot with the back door open and my frightened sister still in the passenger seat. ¬†I screamed and yelled and my mom tried to chase them on foot. ¬†Luckily, for some reason, my dad stopped after driving just a few feet and I was able to get back in the driver’s seat. ¬†I remember just leaving and not even caring what happened with my parents; I just wanted to protect my sister and get us out of there. ¬†I drove directly to my boyfriend’s house so we didn’t have to go home for a few hours. ¬†The weirdest part about this memory is I vividly remember seeing a police officer’s car in the parking lot and kept wondering why he didn’t help us. ¬†I even called my sister to ask her about this and she remembered it exactly the same (and mentioned it was one of her most vivid memories).

That is a more extreme depiction of what we dealt with growing up, but I have so many stories like that. ¬†It’s weird how the mind works- I had not thought about that in years, but memories like that keep coming back to me at random times. ¬†It is like now that my mind isn’t being violated by a constant barrage of daily crap from my dad it finally has a chance to recollect these old events. ¬†I’m not entirely certain that this is a good thing at all, but sometimes when I tell someone a story like this and they are incredulous about it, it makes me proud that my sister and I survived all that craziness and became the people we are today.