I’ve been thinking about my children lately – a son ready to head off to college within a year and a half, a daughter trying to convince me that prom is okay for a freshman, and a 7th grade son holding his own with the 8th grade team. Now that my head is at least beginning to emerge from the grad-school cloud, I realize just how much time I have NOT spent with them – how much they have grown up. All of them know how to cook, clean, and take care of themselves – is that because I wanted them to learn to be good roommates and eventually spouses – or because I was too busy to do it for them and they learned to survive?
The answer is probably somewhere in the middle – because I did want them to know more than I did when I left home. My poor husband! I could bake cookies and cakes – but ask me to boil water and I didn’t even know where to begin. Then again – he basically raised his sisters and younger cousins – so he knew what to do even if I didn’t.
As I am looking over this time in my life, I am trying to do some things differently. First, I am rejoining my family as a full member of the family – I have chores again! Meaning I’m giving myself chores that help me step back into the reality of family life. Each load of laundry or sinkful of dishes overwhelms me with gratefulness that my family has done these things for the better part of 9 years with very little input from me. I made breakfast – on a week day – one day last week. We all had to be ready for school and work and in the car, but I made breakfast anyway – in time to be on time too. The kids were amazed.
“Mom! You made breakfast? Oh, Wow – I love you!”
Although they all came to eat at different times – this was the reaction that all of them had. I was so glad to be a part of their morning – it took about ten minutes before the thought hit – did they think I didn’t know how to do that? Should I be insulted? But that was quickly wiped away by the joy I felt by being part of their day in a way that I hadn’t for so long.
I’m also trying to start having more mother/daughter time with my girl-in-the-middle. She is beautiful and so smart. But, being raised between these two boys and without much guidance from me these last few years – there are some rough edges that could use some womanly softness. Not to change her but to refine her – make the diamond shine. She has few options for friends that I would even come close to approving of – our rural town has few options for entertainment and that leads some of the younger citizens to seek excitement in ways that our family just doesn’t condone. The whole idea of prom as a freshman – does not sit well with me – and apparently it doesn’t sit well with several other parents based on the number of hits you get when you type in “too young for prom.”
I was looking for something with statistics or proof that would back me up – what I found was a huge number of wishy-washy parents who were asking for advice from chat sites and their blog readers. Now, I love a good comment – but I am NOT asking people that I don’t know for advice on what I should do with my kids. There are a few very close and very trusted individuals that I go to when I need that – and they are trusted because I know their morals, their values, their character, and their kids.
There are two reactions that I have to the whole experience – 1) I’m appalled that so many parents don’t have any confidence in their own decisions, and 2) I’m buoyed by the fact that I do know what I want for my kids. We all need advice every now and then, but in this day of social media we need to remember that advice should come from those we believe to be wise – it isn’t an opinion poll. If you really need the collective opinion of random surfers to help you parent – then you have more issues that the one that sent you to the polls in the first place. I’m not trying to be harsh to anyone – and if you have read the entire entry – you’ve seen that I am so NOT a perfect parent – I’m not judging your desires for your children. I’m just saying that we, as parents, need to clearly define the desires we do have for our children. Part of what made it possible for me to go to grad school and allow my family to take care of themselves was that I knew what I wanted for them – and I knew with certainty when that was being accomplished and when it wasn’t. And there were definitely times I had to call in the reinforcements – spouses and grandparents are wonderful when you need help!
So – Make up your mind – make decisions – and determine whether you can handle them or whether you need help – but know without a doubt what the outcome is that you want. How do you know if you are on the right road if you don’t know where you are going?
I’ve been thinking a lot about what I wrote last night. This morning I was ready to write about what else? Myself. About my confusion regarding how I came to feel so worthless – who made me feel that way – why it was all their fault that I didn’t trust my own judgment anymore – blah bl-blah, bl-blah, blah, blah. But when I started the computer, I had an update from the blog written by my friend. You know, that upbeat, God-loving, counterpart at work that I had started to feel was so annoying? And then when I logged in here – what is the daily prompt? It’s about self love. Why do you and what is it that you love about yourself?
Hmmm. . . The stars are aligned, a confluence in the heavens is in full sway. So instead of blaming – I’m examining – me again. So I guess that is pride. Pride drives a lot of things. And yes, my friend is right – fear and low self-esteem are its side-kicks. Pride dares us to blame the people we love the most for all of our problems – to see them as less because they question our motives – for the sole purpose of making us feel better – falsely.
I told my husband – during that long talk we had yesterday – that there had to be a difference – a difference between feeling utterly worthless and knowing that there is nothing we can do in our own strength without God. Simply defined that otherness that I was trying to define – is humility. The enemy tempts us so often to believe that any good feeling about ourselves is pride – so we nix the good feeling. But there is such a fine line between the trick of the enemy and the conviction of true wrongfulness. How do we know the difference? How do we begin to trust ourselves to know it?
The most loving thing we can do for ourselves is to Trust Him. Acknowledge that we just really don’t get it – that we are utterly lost. (And I am not even talking about the spiritual mumbo-jumbo definition of lost that is really just a fear tactic.) I mean that true despair that we feel when we are at the bottom of our soulish selves and find hard cold ground – grey darkness – maybe some grit or gravel down there – a mournful wind or a hollow sound. But it’s pretty quiet down there. Once you get to that place – there are no voices, no stressful and confusing to-do lists, no pressures of any kind – because they just don’t ring true anymore anyway. Then – you know – somebody has to lead me out of here – that gravel came from all my failed attempts to climb or dig out of here – and all it has done is make the bottom even worse to land on – again. And don’t think it’s like the donkey story – the walls are too hard to scrape off enough gravel to step up onto. This requires true intervention from someone with hands big enough to pick me up like a two-year-old, but who makes himself small enough to come, hold me, let me feel his reality. And then – he waves his hand – the rocks obey, stairs slide out from what was once a solid wall, and he leads me – up and up. One step at a time.
So – the truth is – I don’t love myself – but I know someone who does. And I am trying to hear His voice as he tells me the truth.
Why is it that when you really want someone to be wrong the culprit turns out to be – you?
It seems that over the years I’ve developed quite a few insecurities – miraculously, writing isn’t one of them – all having to do with my deeply rooted sense that I’m not good enough. Especially when it comes to relationships. Now, don’t get me wrong; most relationship problems come from both sides to become a truly tangled mess, but at times my attempts to correct the issues – just make matters worse.
But every now and then, if I dig down far enough and am willing to admit my total lack of faith that I am worthy of human status, things turn out better than I imagine. Peace seeps in and restores my ability to breathe. I’m not a hyper-ventilator – I’m a hypo-ventilator – meaning I hold my breath when I’m nervous or afraid. And even though my son’s first grade teacher wrote him up for scaring her to death because she thought his particular shade of blue was startling, you cannot kill yourself simply by holding your breath. The (admittedly little) research I did on it after that indicated that the worst that would happen if a child held their breath long enough – is that they would pass out, their body would immediately restore involuntary actions including breathing and they would wake up relatively no worse for the wear. Now – my son, being an adventurous six-year-old, and somewhat the entrepreneur – had done this on a dare – a dare combined with a bet – money was involved and he figured he could hold his breath longer than anyone else. It was a competition – nothing more. However, he did turn blue. She wrote him up – really? She claimed that in her 30 years of teaching 1st grade that she had never had a child hold their breath. Excuse me? At the time I was only 34 – and I remembered having had breath-holding contests in grammar school too. Was this fascination with breath peculiar only to my family – surely not, since other children were involved and I also remembered boys in my middle school holding their breath for a dare. This is not a rare occurrence for children, but somehow – she had never, in 30 years – witnessed anything like it. (Her reaction to his Christmas list and picture of what he wanted to be when he grew up also gained her scrutiny – but those are stories for another day.)
So the idea is still fascinating to me. I didn’t realize I was doing it until I had a physical break down in the middle of my first year teaching. (I’ll eventually get around to that story too.) The doctor I spoke with after my collapse asked me several questions and I realized that not breathing made me feel invisible – and therefore unattackable. I began to realize how often I was doing it – how much taking a deep breath actually caused physical pain because the muscles around my lungs were so unused to doing it anymore. I had to practice breathing normally. Now – to be clear – holding my breath is not what caused my collapse at school that day – it was a combination of dangerous symptoms including an extreme drop in potassium levels. I am so blessed to be here. I realize God’s intervention for me – and yet – somehow don’t ever seem to remember that when I truly need to.
I noticed myself doing it again a couple of weeks ago. My husband was preparing for a change in his job – something that is a common thing for his line of work, but still causes trepidation every time. His stress was becoming my stress. I became hypersensitive to any questions – assuming my own deficiency was the cause of his needs. I couldn’t grade papers at school because I couldn’t focus – much less make any corrective feedback. I didn’t doubt my own writing ability – but began to doubt my ability to correctly notice grade-appropriate adjustments to student’s papers. I was paranoid that I would grade them like the undergrads I taught during the residency phase of my Ph.D. – which would be totally overwhelming and unfair to 8th graders. I began to feel like my co-workers were hiding things from me. My cheerful, upbeat, God-loving counterpart started to seem overbearing, sneaky – always meeting with a new administrator that I truly believe has problems with the fact that I have more education than he does. My ideas were scoffed at a meeting. I was asked to move back into a position I left years ago and didn’t want again (lots of writing material there – but maybe for a more professional area)- but I was given the choice and I stayed put. I snapped at students for asking off-topic questions.
Did you know that if you push the number 2 button on mine craft that your sword comes out and you regain your life points?
No – are you finished with your assignment?
Then go sit down and do it!
Do you know what the square root of pie is?
No. Nor do I care – I don’t teach math. Go write your essay and don’t get up again!
I did look up the square root of pie and promptly dashed it at the child when he opened his mouth to ask another random question.
Then I felt guilty about snapping off the string of numbers and was overly attentive to the child’s questions for the next three days. I think I’ll tell him he can only ask one off-topic question per day.
Anyway – the breath holding thing – I listen to my breath squish out of my body, don’t puff my cheeks or anything, just don’t allow air back in. There comes a point when I know air is a necessity – and I silently and with as little noise or motion as I can – gasp it up – trying to deny more than just the smallest bit of it into my lungs.
I would never make it to the shade of blue my son managed for the dare. Because I don’t really want to die – or even pass out – it isn’t fun. I just want to be as small and still as possible. I think it’s what forest animals do when they sense danger – hunker down, get as quiet and still as possible, and don’t move for a long time.
But the point is that I am breathing today. Because I had myself a good lazy day – it is 10:35 pm after all and I’ve never made it out of my bathrobe today – and a really good cry – and a long talk with my husband about what is wrong with me. Or rather – what isn’t really wrong with me, but what I am afraid is wrong with me. Which is simply that I’m not good enough for him. Which has never been the real truth, I know, but as Julia Roberts said in Pretty Woman – It is easier to believe the bad stuff.
So, I’m counting my breaths – seven counts in – seven counts out. I would probably be a junkie at an oxygen bar about now – but they don’t even have those within a hundred miles or more of here. Maybe I should go catch up on those papers from last week – all this oxygen is waking me up, calming me down, and making it hard to sleep. It’s a trade off.
So, I’m writing as a way to put all those random crazy stories in my head in one place. Started the blog yesterday. Named it something that not even my sister or my mother or my husband would think of – because sometimes – you just need that kind of freedom to think things through before they wind up under the scrutiny of the people that love you – and would therefore be the most offended by whatever you wrote.
Then it happened – I’m teaching Longfellow’s Paul Revere’s Ride – discussing whether the introductory statements, “Listen my children . . .” indicate that the poem is actually written in the elusive 2nd person or not – feet, meter, the randomness of the rhyme scheme the whole nine yards. (Which in and of itself is fairly amazing considering we are talking about 8th graders.) We bring in the potential allusion to Prometheus – which takes us into the parallels between Prometheus and Adam – and brought it back around to the lines in the poem about the spark igniting a flame and whether Revere was bringing knowledge – of good AND evil – just like the fruit in the Garden of Eden – I was enjoying my students.
We kicked it over to a supporting informational text to enhance our “Mythbusters” take on the poem. And they didn’t know what poetic license meant when they read that Longfellow had taken extra liberties with his. They actually thought it was a real license you had to have if you were going to write poetry – and some of them panicked because they didn’t have one. (The asynchronous development of children’s imaginations and their practical understanding of the world is amazing at times.) And we begin to discuss what a poetic license allows us to do as writers – make up new words, develop figurative language that makes our readers take the perspective we are crafting – all really great stuff for 8th grade – I mean really great. Then they started thinking of actual writers who may have used this crazy poetic license thing – Seuss of course came up – and the Jaberwocky – and then – then – from the back of the room comes – Yeah! The Mad Hatter!
Seriously – I never talk about Alice or her compatriots. I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow and I felt a strange sly grin spread across my face. They couldn’t know – could they – that their teacher has an alter ego. And ever since I’ve been wondering – how much of this latitude will I choose to take with the true events of my actual life as I wind it into and out of whatever I post here? Oh – because there already is quite a bit. You – know – because that amazing assignment – didn’t come home with my son – I gave that to my students three years ago – or maybe it was only two. But then again, the staring part is absolutely true. The fact that I dwell on that assignment in my mind more than anyone would ever know – that part is true too. Perhaps it is because my rendition of the Tell Tale Heart put one of the more adventurous boys in my class under a desk refusing to come out for the rest of the class period. His mother even called me to ask what I had done to scare him so. He was really freaked out. I’m not that good of an actress – but apparently, he didn’t want to come back to class because he was no longer sure I had all my marbles in one bag.
By the way – does anyone know how to make your computer NOT show every log in to G-mail you’ve ever used? Because someone could just possibly see the one I use for this thing – that could be a sticky wicket. Not really- but, then again – some people in this house are kind of OCD about knowing everything that goes on. Maybe that’s why I’m writing this – it’s thrilling to know that it’s just me – all personal – but there is just the slightest chance that you could be found out. Which, by the way again, is why Revere did NOT run through the streets shouting at the top of his lungs. This was a covert operation people! You don’t risk awakening the Loyalists – you just want the Patriots “to up and to arm”. And therein lies part of the myth/fact issue I want the students to understand – there is method in Longfellow’s madness – he really didn’t care about how Revere did it – he wanted us – those “children” in future generations – to be awake – to not silently slink into attitudes and comforts that would allow us to lose our liberty. Oh, dear – I feel the political soapbox rising – so, as my grandmother always said – I’d better close for today.
The assignment was brilliant. But my son came home ranting about his teacher and the stupid essay he had to write. After a slice of buttered bread (why he likes this I do not know) and a few moments of discussion, he was calmer, ready to talk in tones that were understandable to the human eardrum. It seemed, on the surface, simple enough. Five paragraphs (like anyone ever only writes five paragraphs except in school), compare/contrast structure, two short stories, in answer to a question. So what? Isn’t that what most school essays entail?
Well, yeah, Mom! But – this question – it’s just so – ugh!
So . . . what is it?
We have to decide whether or not we would trust the narrator of The Tell Tale Heart or the guy in The Hitchhiker more!
Interesting – finally – a teacher with some pizzazz. Except the five paragraphs – how lame is that? But then again, isn’t that how we all learned – a starting place, formulaic, boring, but more than we were used to in elementary school? Okay, so I can get past the five paragraph thing. And – nice stories – it was October after all. Apparently this woman had read The Tell Tale Heart to them in class – in character no less – and scared the begeebers out of them. Then they were assigned parts to read from the script of The Hitchhiker and scared themselves even more. And then – this woman – asked them who they would trust more. Whaaat?
I knew my son’s friends well – all a bit screwy, gifted, weird, yet somehow normal kids. His description of the discussion that ensued was interesting fare for this kind of mother/son repartee. They questioned the wisdom of trusting either character – a known homicidal maniac and a guy who may or may not be dead, a ghost, separated from his own soul – who knew? Some of them decided the possibly dead guy since he seemed really normal otherwise. Some of them chose the murderer – because at least he was a known factor.
And what did my son choose? I became distracted as I noticed a strange woman standing in my back yard. Her jacket seemed to have raindrops splattered across it. She just calmly stood there, looking directly at me through the window. Not smiling, nor frowning, but looking.
You were doing it again.
You know – that thing you do – staring or whatever.
Oh – sorry. What did you say?
I said I think I’ll go with the Tell Tale Heart guy – ’cause he actually tells you what he’s about to do – you know he . . .
She was just standing there. Between the rose bush and the bird feeder.
You know – he is at least honest. He doesn’t try to hide the fact that he hates that old man’s eye and stuff.
Right, son. That seems like a wise choice.
Geez, Mom! Why do have to check out like that! Really – “a wise choice” – you aren’t even listening to me.
He was telling the truth. I wasn’t hearing him. I’m sure I’ve left out half of what he said even now. They didn’t have ADD or ADHD when I was growing up. But they did have staring. I’ve been doing it all my life. My mother told me that my kindergarten teacher worried about it because I would just stare off into space sometimes. My beautiful mother informed her that if the pre-school would actually challenge the five-year-old class instead of teaching us the ABC’s for the third year in a row, perhaps I wouldn’t feel the need to stare off into what was certainly a more interesting place in my mind.
I zone out – a lot. I don’t think I have ADD or ADHD – I’m not hyper and I can concentrate on stuff for hours – I’m a horrible multi-tasker. I have to focus – I just focus selectively. So – when something loses my interest – staring. It also happens when I just don’t like where I am. Or who I’m with. Well – not who I’m with – what they’re doing I guess.
Why it had just happened with my son – I didn’t know. I love my son – he is amazing – and one of the most engaging people I know. Maybe the concept of the essay was just so interesting – but how could it be? It’s a five-paragraph essay. I’m a Ph.D. level researcher. Five paragraphs – I can do that in my sleep (and have literally typed at least that much while on complete auto pilot).
So, Mom, do you think that’s a pretty good start?
I had no idea what he had just said. So I said, Yes, son. But I want to hear more about your supporting statements – why did you chose that one?
Oh, okay – it’s because of what it says right here when he’s talking to the detectives.
Whew – edged that one. He picked the Tell Tale Heart alright. His support had to do with the fact that, even though he was a murderer – you always knew where you stood with him. He told you what he was doing. So I asked him whether he thought the old man would agree.
Wow! I hadn’t thought about it from that angle, Mom. I guess he wouldn’t, because he didn’t know where he stood. He thought everything was okay – until the guy killed him. So, does that mean you think I should change my claim?
No, son. I think your claim is sound. Just make sure you address the opposing argument – acknowledge that the old man didn’t know and counter that with why you think he’s still the more trustworthy of the two.
I glanced out of the window. She wasn’t there – just a squirrel trying to get the last few pieces of bird-feed from the feeder. I sighed. I didn’t know if I were relieved or disappointed.