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September 2016

August 2016 entries

Happy New Year!

You read that right -- Happy New Year!  As in school year, of course!  We are ending day 5 at MAHS today, and so far, we are off to an amazing start.  I have a great group of students, and I am already impressed with their writing and class discussion.

Each of my AP and Honors classes had a summer assignment, so we were able to hit the ground running.  My AP students (count 'em, 56 of them!) wrote 10 blog posts throughout the summer in addition to writing 10 journal entries about Jeannette Walls's memoir, The Glass Castle.  (Wait.  That means 56 x 20 = 1, 120 pieces of writing I've graded already . . . by day 5).  My honors students (I have 50 of those!) wrote 10 journal entries about the beautiful novel A Thousand Splendid Suns.  (We are up to 1, 620, for those of you keeping track at home.)

I am also teaching three drama classes, and the students are enthusiastic and genuine.  Tomorrow, I announce the theatre production season at our annual theatre arts club meeting.  These are truly exciting times!  There is nothing quite like the start of the school year, that's for sure!

As part of my first day festivities, I taught my students about the Six Word Memoir Project that is hosted by Smith Magazine.  Essentially, it's the life story of a person told in six words.  I had students write one for themselves after seeing a variety of examples.  I invited them to share their six-word memoirs on my classroom door.  Before school started, I asked teachers to contribute as well, so the result is a pretty interesting collection of our stories!

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What was mine?  "Starting over never felt so good." 

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Aidan, Ellie, and Liam are also off to an amazing start!  Aidan is in 6th grade, and he absolutely loves his teachers this year.  He misses his favorite chorus teacher who took a job at a different district, but otherwise, he's happy as a clam.  Ellie is top dog at the elementary school this year: my little 4th grader is a crossing guard!  She loves her teacher and is so happy having the responsibility that she does this year. And, while I can't truly fathom it, Liam started kindergarten this year!  He seemed to grow up instantly on his first day of school.  He walked to my classroom with Ellie, and despite the fact that his book bag is bigger than he is, Liam is a bona fide big kid. 

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This is the cutest thing ever:

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Gene's daughter is having a good start to her 11th grade year, too, except for the fact that her AP English teacher made her write 20 essays over the summer.  ;)

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The new year is also a new year of my life.  I have an end-of-summer birthday, and this one was one of the most special I've ever had.  I can't remember being so spoiled for my birthday in my adult life!  Gene took the kids shopping, and they showered me with presents.  And, evidently, Gene shouldn't be left unsupervised in a jewelry store.  I am beyond blessed and loved! 

When I returned to school, a special student gave me a necklace that came with this card:

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And THAT is precisely what I mean by Happy New Year!  Amazing things are indeed ahead! 

 


Making Memories

Well, if nothing else, we have closed summer out with a bang.  We hosted a really nice family cookout with Gene's kids and my kids.  We had a great time, the kids loved it, and we all came together without any bumps in the road at all.  It's like we have all just been family forever. 

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(I love how Liam is frowning in this picture, because I asked him to put his "Poke-dex" aside for a second!  ha!)

Next, we set out for Bethany Beach to meet up with my aunt and cousins.  I brought Gene's daughter along, and she had a great time, too.  We want to plan it out so that we have more time together next year.  We stayed at the house of a family friend, and we had maybe a 10 minute drive to the beach, so it was really a perfect set up.  The kids don't get to see each other nearly enough, and we hope to change that this year!  

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And when my family gets together, we have FUN!  I mean, look at this kid.  Does he look like an amateur to you?

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And Aunt Trish is beyond stylish . . .

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We packed lunches for everyone . . . and somehow, Cole knew exactly which sandwich was his! 

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I took a lot more photos, but more importantly, we made a lot more memories! 

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For some reason, Gabrielle has to lose a tooth on every vacation we've taken this summer as well!  I honestly don't know how she is still eating solid food at this point.  

 

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On the way home, we stopped at an Italian restaurant, and this has to be shared:

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We took "Kale" to her house, and when we came home, we discovered that Gene, who had been on "Feeding the Goldfish While We Have Fun at the Beach and You Go to Work Duty" had a surprise waiting for us! 

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He put roses all over the house!  The kids loved finding them, and they said, "Wow, Mom, I think he really, really likes you."  I think they might just be right about that!

Of course, Ellie wasn't left out (neither was Kale!). 

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As we head into the last official weekend of summer vacation, I'd say we definitely had the perfect summer, filled with love and good memories.  

 


Toxicity

I was talking to a friend the other day about a particularly toxic relationship she had found herself in.  You know the kind -- the person fakes caring about you, they really only care about what they can get from you.  They gossip about you, especially when you are at your lowest point and are in need of a helping hand and not a stab in the back.  They seem to thrive on passive aggression.   Sadly, my friend's toxic person was once in her inner circle.  

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I am blessed with an amazing family.  My family members have my back time and time again.  I truly wouldn't know what I would do without the loving family I have.  But, the sad fact is that sometimes people abuse the vulnerability and closeness that comes with family and friend relationships.  This is what has been happening to my friend.  

I did my best to counsel her to distance herself from this person.  She was feeling exposed and mistreated.  Believe me, I have been there.  In fact, I am still the topic of some conversations among people whose opinions don't matter to me.  Some whisperings of gossip and silly behavior have reached my ears, and when I'm done laughing at the unsuccessful attempts to smear my name, I find myself left with two emotions:  pity and relief. 

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I feel pity, first of all, because I can't imagine how sad a person's life must be in order to talk about me.  Like, get a Netflix subscription, am I right?  And depending on the reason that someone would want to talk to me -- I feel pity that they aren't ready to deal with their own problems and choose to blame me for them instead; or I feel pity that they can't just move on with their lives and stay out of what doesn't concern them.  

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And mostly, I feel relief.  The best way to deal with a toxic person is to not engage with them at all, and to cut ties with them all together.  Just because a person offers you a negative worldview, it doesn't mean that you have to accept that worldview.  At the risk of sounding cliche, life is far too short to accept a toxic viewpoint.  It's not easy to let go of a toxic person when they are close to or even related to you.   But, once the break is made, the relief is overwhelming.  

What will happen to my friend?  Well, I hope she can find the strength to cut the toxic personality from her life.  It may sound harsh -- but, perhaps being cut from someone's life is enough to make that person rethink their choices.  Ultimately, we can't be responsible for anyone else's choices.  We can only thoughtfully consider our own options and proceed in the best way we can.  

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The End, The Beginning

It's August 15, for those of you who may have lost track.  (The kids and I have a running joke that during the summer, we don't know what day it is, nor do we care!)  This means that summer is coming to a close, and that a new school year is about to begin.

As a lifelong nerd, I love the beginning of a new school year: the fresh notebooks, the new pencils, the blank calendars.  The first day of school is my New Year's Day.  I get a fresh crop of students, and a fresh chance to guide them in my classroom.  

Can I tell you a secret?  Every single year, I wonder if I am really cut out to be a teacher.  Do I really have what it takes? Am I any good at this job?  And I won't be able to sleep the night before.  And then, the kids come into my room.  And I connect with them and start doing what I was born to do, and I realize -- yeah, I am right where I need to be.  

This year, I am really sad to see summer go.  Summer was a chance for my kids and I to restore ourselves after so many changes and stresses of the school year.  Summer was a chance for me to take inventory of my life and the direction it was going in.  Summer brought so many beautiful memories and experiences.  But, there is a time for everything, and a season for everything under heaven.  So, Summer must go for now.  Turn, turn, turn. 

With that ending, comes a new beginning -- not only of a new school year, but also of a new chapter in my life.  I am truly at peace with the past and moving toward the future with joy.  I watch my kids -- selling lemonade at their homestead stand, painting their own Pokeballs, running in the yard with our dog -- and I know that their lives are filled with joy as well.  Knowing that our allotted time on this planet is a guess at best, I am so glad to see their smiles, to know they are happy.  

But, let's not get the cart ahead of the horse, shall we?  The kids and I still have a few days at the beach coming up this week with my aunt and cousins before we strike the set on Summer.  We come back and then it is back to work for me.  And, let the record forever show that Aidan told me, "I am ready for school to start, Mom.  I miss my friends and I miss learning at school."  What a teacher's kid.

I guess I'm not the only one ready for a new beginning after all! 

 


What about Wendy? Or, "What Makes the Brave Girl Brave?"

Disclaimer:  I am certain that many, many people have analyzed the story of Peter Pan over the years.  I offer only my  observations based on seeing the junior musical version of the story.  Take them or leave them.  :)

Last night, as we traveled home from Aidan's third performance of Peter Pan, Jr. at the community theatre, I initiated one of my classic Teacher-Mom Minivan Discussions.  (My kids are really great sports about this, actually.  They either like deep conversations or they humor me enthusiastically.)

I asked Aidan what he thought Peter Pan was about.  He admitted, "That is really tough to say," but went on to explain, "It's about not forgetting to have fun in life.  Yes, we have to grow up and take care of the things adults have to take care of, but that doesn't mean life can't be fun anymore."

Ellie offered, "I think it's also about showing people what you believe in, instead of telling them.  You don't have to tell people what you believe; they should just be able to tell by the things you do and say." 

Aidan added, "Yeah, and that adults can learn from kids.  No offense, Mom, but our childhoods are different.  Things are different now than they were when you were a kid.  And I am not trying to say we know more now or that we are smarter than you were.  Do you know what I mean?"

I assured Aidan that yes, I did know what he meant.  And he's right: the world is different.  Information is waiting to be accessed at the touch of a finger; kids are expected to grow up and leave the nursery even sooner than Wendy.  

I asked the kids what they thought the point of the story-in-a-story was.  That is to say, what about the Darling family (even the name suggests idyllic quintessence)?  We all decided that the parents, especially the father, had forgotten to have fun.  The dad fixates on his cuff links and dinner attire (the stuffed shirt, as it were); the mom tries to smooth things over with the kids after the dad leaves, "Your father loves you, children." 

This reminded me of the movie Rise of the Guardians, and the scene in which Jack Frost asks Santa Claus, "When was the last time you actually hung out with children?"  Father Christmas replies, "We are too busy bringing joy to children to have time for children."  

How often do parents get caught up in working to pay the bills to provide for their children's every need and want that they forget to live in the moment with their children?  That they dismiss the stories and play of their children as foolishness instead of something to be cherished?  

That's what happens to poor Wendy -- who I consider the often neglected heroine of Peter Pan.  The story's impetus comes from the father telling Wendy this is her last night as a child in the nursery, and the impending loss of her innocence is what inspires Peter to whisk her --and her wonderful stories -- off to Neverland, far from the responsibility of growing up and far from her domineering father.  

In one of my favorite scenes, Wendy later confronts male arrogance in the form of Peter Pan stealing the credit for rescuing Tiger Lilly.  She can't confront her father in real life, but she stands up to Peter in Neverland, with the confidence boost from Tiger Lilly's solo about brave girls:  "No one can make you feel small unless you agree to feel small." Having stood up to the childishly conceited Peter Pan and finally the menacingly elegant Captain Hook (often played by the same actor as Mr. Darling, further reinforcing the patriarchal symbolism), Wendy finds herself able to face adulthood and growing up with new-found courage:  "The lost boys weren't ready.  That's why they never grew up.  But I am.  I am ready."

Much like when Jack Frost takes his vow as a Guardian saying, "I vow to watch over the children of the world because they are all there is and all there ever will be," we are left with the assurance that Wendy will not repeat the mistakes of the adults who have gone before her.  She will remember the children, remember the stories, remember the fun.  

We also leave with a sense of hope for the rest of the Darlings.  I asked the kids what they thought the next scene of the show would be, after the ending.  What does life look like for the family?  "I think the dad is going to be a more understanding father," Aidan said,  "because he remembers Peter Pan and Neverland at the end of the show."  

And perhaps there is hope for the rest of us as well.  We can learn from our childhood experiences and carry them with us into adulthood like Wendy.  We can keep Neverland in our hearts, even as we work to pay the bills and clean the house.  

What did Liam think Peter Pan was about?  "I am not really sure.  I am tired."   Fair enough! 

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Keep It Classy

There has been a little bit of social media commotion since Gene and I made our relationship public, especially to people on the very popular Facebook site.  I had so many people reaching out to me, congratulating me in both real life and online.  To be honest, it was so sweet to hear how many people were happy for me and for Gene.  

And to continue to be honest, it's because the road to happiness isn't always easy.  I have also said that I do not parade intimate details of my personal life (or the personal lives of others) on this blog.  Further proof of that is the fact that I received a couple of private messages from friends who don't live where I do, saying things like, "I had no idea you weren't still married.  Is everything OK?  It looks like you are so happy now.  Just wanted to let you know I am here for you if you need me."  

Another such message read, "I have to give you props for having extreme class and not airing the end of your last relationship on social media . . . that happens far too often."

Ain't.  That.  The.  Truth.  

Seriously, people.  I've written about the role of Facebook on this blog before, in terms of how people tend to judge their whole life's movie by someone else's highlight reel.  But, it's also true that far too often, people use social media to vent about their problems -- from infections to financial woes to break ups.  I use social media so that my extended family can see what my family is up to; so that I can promote events and activities that my students and children are involved in; so that I can communicate with people I don't get to see on a regular basis.  

I believe that the ugly, painful, raw, soul-wrenching details of one's life are not for public consumption -- whether it's that awkward moment when you hear a couple fighting when you are at the grocery store, or that uncomfortable rant on Facebook that shares way too much with the world.  I knew that if I were going to maintain this blog (and I hope to do that for many more years to come) that I couldn't ignore my divorce.  But I also couldn't violate my privacy or the privacy of my ex-spouse and our children.  I have far too much respect for the relationship that brought me those wonderful children to do that.  

So, climb on up to the high road the next time you are tempted to vague-post or carry on a conversation that is better suited for behind closed doors.  You will be glad you did.  I can't think of a time when I ever said, "I regret not sharing more personal information in public," can you?  


Theatre Camp and a Milestone!

This week has been crazy!  I am teaching two theatre camps a day:  the first camp is for kids going into kindergarten and first grade; the second camp is for kids going into second and third grades.  And it's quite the family affair:  Liam is in my first camp, a reprise of the Rainbow Fish camp I taught a few weeks back.  Ellie started a camp last week which continues through tomorrow, and Aidan is in his last week of the Peter Pan, Jr. camp, with shows this weekend.  I even have Gene's daughter helping me.  

Each camp is 3 hours long, and I hereby formally invite anyone who thinks teachers are overpaid to teach even just one day of theatre camp with 5 and 6 year-old students. 

As a high school teacher, I enjoy the challenge of teaching younger children:  not only do I feel pushed to be creative and to be able to explain concepts on a simpler level, but I also end the week feeling secure in my vocation to secondary education.  I think I do pretty well teaching young kids, but I know my wheelhouse is at the high school (and hopefully one day college) level. 

Today's Rainbow Fish camp had a big slice of excitement . . . when Liam lost his very first tooth in the middle of an activity.  He was definitely a rock star for a minute there!

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Right now, as I type this, he is clinging to the small container we put his tooth in (after re-losing it twice...) because he wants to be "the first person in the world to see the tooth fairy."  Did I ever tell you that Liam is going to be the one to challenge everything we've ever known?  And that I adore him for it?

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"Fly to Who You Are" & a Very Important Conversation

One of Aidan's favorite songs from Peter Pan, Jr. has these lyrics:

"Fly to who you are, 

Climb upon your star.

You'll believe you will find your wings, 

Fly to your heart."

Tonight, the kids and I had a very important conversation with a very important person who has come to mean a lot to me.  I know I said I wasn't ready to date anyone a while back, but someone has come along who has made me rethink all of that.  And, I decided it was time to talk to my kids about it.  

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Gene has been a good friend for five years, and neither one of us would have ever believed it if someone told us we would be where we are today.  I will spare the personal details because that is not the purpose of this blog, but suffice it to say that we found ourselves in similar situations after our individual marriages ended, and our friendship has grown into a relationship which has made us both ridiculously happy.  

You know when you are out in public and see those people that are so clearly in love with each other that you just can't help but being a little jealous of how happy they are?  I can honestly say we are now those people.  Gene treats me like I am the most important person in the entire world: he opens doors, he listens to what I have to say, he does thoughtful things, he sends me thoughtful messages, he truly cares about every aspect of my life.  

And, he completely understands that I am a package deal (he has three children of his own, though they are older than mine), and when we talked about my children and how to talk to them about our relationship, he told me that he had intended to ask them for permission to date their mother when the time was right because "you and your wonderful kids are worth waiting to do this right."  

(I'll wait while you all swoon over how amazing that is.)

Recently, as we realized our relationship was growing more serious, we did a few things as families getting together: 4th of July fireworks, swimming, going for ice cream, etc.  And I dropped a few hints about how I thought maybe Gene liked me, and what did the kids think of that.  Because my kids have known Gene for a long time, they easily accepted him and his children (especially his daughter) into our social lives.  The kids and I had some really frank discussions about what it means for their mother to have a boyfriend (side note -- I don't know how I feel about that word . . . it makes me sound 16, but it is what is. I am working on that new normal!), and what they would want and not want from such a person being part of their lives.  All we needed was the right time to talk to them together.  

And tonight was the night.  First of all, Gene told me he was nervous about talking to the kids.  (Again, that alone says so much about the kind of person he is.)  He came over to our house, dressed up, with a dozen red roses for me, and a single pink rose for Gabrielle. Why?  Because "you can't bring one pretty girl roses and not bring one for the other pretty girl."

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 He sat with the kids, and after asking about their days at theatre camp, he told them that he came over to talk to them.  Aidan, who is 11 going on 25, said with a smile, "I know why you are here, and it's fine with me."

(HA.  This is totally Aidan in a nutshell, by the way.  He had figured out a while ago that Gene liked me and he decided he was fine with Gene being part of my/our life.)  

Gene continued, "I wanted to talk to you because I would like your permission to date your mother."

Ellie and Liam both agreed with Aidan, that they like him and they are fine with him dating their mom.  I told the kids that they didn't have to just say that, that this was an opportunity to tell us how they feel, and they all assured us that they really were good, and we moved on with playing in the yard and baking brownies for theatre camp the next day.

As the kids played, Gene and I looked at each other and said, "OK, so that was easy."  And truly, that is how our relationship has been -- easy and effortless.  We, clearly, know that some day we will have a disagreement, and that not every relationship is easy and effortless every single day.  But we both agree that how we handle those bumps in the road is really what matters.  We care about each other, we have great respect for each other, we are honest with each other -- and that will manifest itself in the way we handle  our lives together.  

And tonight was just one important step in a series of important steps.  I know his children, and I care a lot about them.  I've met one of his sisters, and I was the same nervous wreck he was tonight, worried that she and her husband wouldn't like me. (They did, thank goodness!)  He still needs to meet the rest of my family, and I have more people to meet.  But, now that my children know and have granted us permission to date, those other introductions will happen naturally. 

The kids and I talked a bit after Gene left, and I assured them that no one will ever, ever replace their father in their lives, and that no one will ever, ever replace them in my heart. The kids and I are very close, and we talk about anything and everything.  I intend to keep it that way.  After the tumultuous year the kids have had, I believe that taking things slowly is truly the best for everyone involved.  I believe that as long as I keep the lines of communication open, and as long as Gene and I continue to put our children first in our lives, the rest will work out as it is meant to.  

In the meantime, we will all strive to "fly to who we are," as we navigate these new waters together.    

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