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January 2017 entries

Training Wheels: OFF

 

It's the third marking period of school already.  Yesterday, I reminded my juniors of my make-up work policy which has been in place since August, and this time, I told them that making up work will be their sole responsibility. We have an electronic grade portal which they (and their parents) have access to 24/7.  I will no longer remind students to take care of their missed assignments or to take tests/quizzes within a week after their absence.  I will not personally invite them to check the missed work folders when they return to class.  

In short, the training wheels are off. 

I've been laying the groundwork for this all year, whether they've realized it or not.  On one of the chalkboards in my room, I have the schedule for the week posted.  Every Monday, I have my students take out "their planners, their agendas, their calendars, wherever they keep their life organized" (a student said this in unison with me this week, so evidently, I say it a lot!).  We go over the plan for the week, and I instruct them to write down the homework in advance.  This information is all on my website as well. 

These students are 16 years old.  They are driving cars.  They have cell phones.  Many have jobs.  Many hold leadership positions in clubs and honors societies.  Most are heading to college in a year and a half.  It's time for less hand-holding. 

Because the mom in me can't resist, I also told my students that it's time for them to take more initiative in their personal lives as well as their academic ones.  Call the salon and book your own haircut.  Call the doctor and make your own appointment.  Do your own laundry.  Look around the house you live in and start helping out.  Become independent, productive members of your personal communities.  Appreciate what others do for you. 

Do you know why I tell teens these things?  Because I believe they are capable of so much more than our enabling and coddling expects of them.  Hell, my 10- and 12-year olds do their own laundry.  I am sure a 16-year-old can.  

Operate-a-smartphone

Teens are growing up in me-centered world.  Our technology, our social media, our parenting -- all of it contributes to a narcissistic culture of self-absorption. But that doesn't mean kids have to grow up to be self-centered jerks.  I find that many kids can be taught, can be told: "Look beyond yourself." One of the rules of acting I preach is "Make your scene partner look good."  Not "Make yourself look good."  It's about paying attention to others and doing your part as a responsible player.   It should start young, as most lessons should, but if it didn't, it's never too late.  

Who knows -- maybe something their English teacher says in a 3-minute lecture on responsibility may even sink in some day. 


Oh My Garth!

I really don't have time to do this past weekend justice on my blog, but I just have to share some pictures from our absolutely amazing trip to see Garth Brooks in Cincinnati!  We drove 8 hours (and by "we" I mean Gene drove and Adam and Michelle and I ate snacks, sang along to the radio, and napped) to see the concert and it was worth every single minute in the car!!!!  I cannot say enough about the talent of Garth and his entire band.  Trisha Yearwood joined him for a few numbers, which was adorable, and the entire arena was packed with screaming fans.  Garth truly loves his audience, and it shows.  It is really no surprise that he has been named Entertainer of the Year -- he was high-energy and amazing.  Ahhhhh!!!  I still can't believe I saw him live, and that our seats were so close to him.  

While we were in Cincinnati, we stayed at a Hilton (Michelle and Adam are awesome bargain hunters, and we scored fabulous rooms at reasonable prices!) and we went to an over-21 arcade where all the games were free as long as you were drinking.  They had cool themed drinks like the Cyndi Lauper and the Hulk Hogan.  It was a blast.  The weather was also incredible, and we spent a good amount of time walking around in the gorgeous sunshine.

We had an absolutely perfect time!!

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Weight a Minute

(I share this personal post not because I seek attention.  I actually hate talking about this topic.  But, I share it in case it speaks to anyone out there who also needs to shed negativity more than they need to shed pounds.)

It's Monday morning, and I step on the scale.  Those 3 numbers will determine how I feel the rest of the day.

Down 2 lbs.  Yes!  I am amazing, and life is amazing.  

Up 3 lbs.   Are you serious?  I ran 6 miles this weekend and I only ate salads.  I fail at everything I do.  

I sit down at the table with my coffee and my journal.  Time to write my workout plan for the week.  I am going to get up every morning at 5 AM and hit the treadmill.  Sure, that is possible.  It looks good on paper, so it must be reasonable.  Fast forward a few days, and not only is the scale not doing what I want it to do, but I have also failed to get up and run more than once this week.  

I've failed again.  

Rinse and Repeat. 

For Years.

I can't accept that I am an actual failure, so what's my real problem?  

I am allowing an abstract number to influence how I see myself and how I feel.  And I am not alone in this.  For hundreds of years, women have been defined by their looks.  Victorian women cinched their corsets so tight that they broke their ribs.  Today's women starve themselves to wear those size 0 jeans.  We tell ourselves that the less space we take up, the more worth we have.  This is complete and utter bullshit.  Our bodies are miraculous.  We can bring new life into the world, for heaven's sake.  Our bodies allow us to work and care for others.  We deserve the space we take up.  

I am comparing myself to myself 10 years ago.  When I was 27, I weighed 20 lbs. less than I do right now.  I ran more often, sometimes to escape my personal problems.  I had only two children.  I had a younger metabolism.  Newsflash:  I am not 27 anymore.  I don't mean to suggest that once we are older, we just let ourselves go.  But, we need to realize that our bodies are changing organisms.  We would never judge our 10-year-old children by their 3-year-old selves.  Why do we do it ourselves?

Women's clothing and standards of beauty make no sense.  A friend told me she has two pairs of pants from Old Navy.  One is a size 2.  One is a size 8.  When she holds them up next to each other, the waists are exactly the same size.  And what the hell does "2" or "8" even mean?  When men shop for pants, they go by the length of the legs and the size of the waist.  In inches.  You know, in a standard unit of measure.  Women KNOW that our clothing sizes make no rational sense.  YET, we allow the size to affect how we feel.  This is also complete and utter bullshit.  

We also tell ourselves that it's men who expect us to be skinny, but that is not always the case.  Every single time I've complained to Gene that I'm feeling fat or frustrated with my progress, his response is, "What are you talking about?  You are gorgeous."  And here's the thing:  he actually means it.  If you have a partner in life who withholds love because of your size, you need to cut the dead weight of that toxic partner.  

More often than not, we place unrealistic expectations on ourselves based on how other women look or how we think we should look.  Oh, and the kicker is that the women we are wishing we look like . . . most likely hate how they look.  At the risk of sounding repetitive, this entire mindset is complete and utter bullshit.  

So, guess what I've decided?

  1.  I need to buy clothes that fit my current body.  Those jeans from 10 years ago need to go.  Those "someday" outfits aren't worth keeping around.  I never spend money on myself, but this investment will pay off in a positive mindset and a happier me.  Totally worth every penny!
  2. I need to throw my scale out.  I've thought about maybe just telling myself I'll step on it once a month, but I know myself.  That won't work.  It just needs to go.  If the number doesn't mean anything, why do I have it?  Does Ellie need it in the bathroom, judging her too?  No.  
  3. I need to listen to my body and act accordingly.  Life is far too short to completely deprive myself of everything good.  I love to run.  I also need to sleep.  I love salads.  I also love wine.  It's all about balance.  And not punishing myself for being human.  

It looks so easy, doesn't it?  I know changing my mindset isn't like flipping a switch.  This will take some time.  But, like every other change in my life recently, it will be worth it in the long run.  I have never been happier -- I love my relationship, I love my house, I love my family.  And it's high time I truly loved myself. 


True Colors Eventually Shine Through

I am a long-time fan of the high road.  

No, wait.  I should revise that.  When I was a teenager, and when I was in my early 20s, I followed my gut instinct with loud passion.  I spoke up for myself and for others who couldn't speak up for themselves.  At times, I did so and faced consequences of loss of friendship or punishment (like the time my chorus teacher told me I didn't need to root for every underdog I ever met).   Nevertheless, I kept on speaking up and speaking out.  And usually the result was that more drama was created in my attempts to make things better.  

As I left my twenties and as I grew as a mother and teacher, I realized that the small stuff really is just small stuff, and that I do not need to comment on everything I notice the moment I notice it.  This happens in class all the time.  A student might be on his phone during class.  I think, OK, maybe there is something going on that he needs to focus on today.  I'll ignore it.  Then it happens again the next day.  And the next.  So, I mention it.  I point out privately to the kid that his divided attention is not going to help him succeed in class.  I ask if there is anything bothering him, or anything I should know about.  I don't take it personally.  I don't throw a fit about it.  The results are usually much more effective than if I did.  

The same goes with my children.  I was often criticized for not discipling the kids enough, for not being strict enough, but I find that a rational conversation with a reasonable child who has taken some time to calm down in his room works much better than a shouting match ever will.  I found this out the hard way, and over time.  I won't ever say I did everything right.  I won't ever say I do everything right now.  But, I do reflect a lot and I try to adapt my parenting techniques as I go so that my children are able to respect me -- and therefore, they want to obey me.  

Now that I am in my mid-thirties (and yes, I realize more than anyone that I still have a lot of learning and growing to do!), I find myself a big fan of the high road.  I have discovered over time that there is no need to respond to every criticism, to every false accusation, to every irrational comment that is made about me.  I am the kind of person who puts myself out there, who tries new things, who fails at new things on occasion, who succeeds at new things on occasion.  This makes me a target for others who resent my extroverted, creative spirit.  

About 10 years ago, before I started teaching, I dealt with one of the most irrational women I have ever met in my life.  This woman wasn't just irrational.  She had wealth and power -- and she knew how to throw it around.  I sought out the advice of many wise people in my life, from my parents to friends to my priest, and I found that when I took the high road, the truth eventually came to light because that's how truth works.  The woman's accusations and rumors quickly died out because of her reputation for being vindictive and manipulative.  She tried to destroy my reputation, and she came away looking like a fool.  

My priest encouraged me to remain positive and thankful because most people don't go through those kind of difficult trials when they are 25, and he told me I would be better for it when the dust settled.  He was absolutely right.  I came away stronger and wiser, and I am not easily intimidated.  I couldn't see it at the time, but I did benefit from dealing with what was a horribly stressful situation. 

Since the divorce, and since my getting together with Gene, I have stuck to the high road like it's my job.  It's interesting how people who had no idea what your personal life was like won't allow that lack of knowledge prevent them from offering advice or judgment about it.  I haven't responded to the criticisms that have reached my ears.  They don't matter to me.  What does matter to me is my future and that of my children.  

The same goes for my relationship with Gene.  There are a few people who talk about me, even though they know what they are saying is not true.  I get it.  These people are hurt and they can't face reality.  These people are jealous that we are happy and normal.  These people would rather attempt to smear my name and his by spreading wild accusations about us.  It is what it is.   I wish that their healing process didn't involve spreading toxic lies, but that's out of my control.  What I can control is how I respond.  That is, how I don't respond.  Why don't I?  Because everyone I know and love knows the truth.  That's enough for me. 

Here's the best part: there is such a peace that comes with not responding.  The high road is a beautifully tranquil place.  When I don't allow the behavior of others to affect my mood -- whether it's the kid on the cell phone or the couple of people who tell lies about me as a hobby -- the result is amazing.  I am able to focus on my family, on my career, on my life.  

Now, you might be thinking, "Why don't you speak up for yourself? Why don't you confront people who lie about you?"  I don't want you to think I don't EVER do that.  There will come a time when I pushed beyond my limits, and I will speak out -- especially if I feel my children or Gene are being attacked beyond what is simply considered petty.  I will fight tooth and nail when I need to.  I just have a much clearer sense of when I really need to.  People's silly rumors aren't really worth my time.  

My favorite contemporary author, Elizabeth Gilbert, recently wrote a Facebook post about a relationship she is in, and I completely loved this part:  "The truth has legs; it always stands. When everything else in the room has blown up or dissolved away, the only thing left standing will always be the truth. Since that's where you're gonna end up anyway, you might as well just start there."

Isn't that fabulous and true and profound?  I take the high road because the truth will stand.  The truth will prevail.  It always does.  People's true colors eventually shine through.  All it takes is time and patience.  The hypocrite will trip up and be caught doing something she once condemned.  The liar won't be able to keep his stories straight.  The manipulator will be seen working an angle.  

And you will be there, loving your family and living your life, oblivious to it all.  See you on the high road! 


"No Regerts"

You've all seen that Milky Way commercial with the guy getting the tattoo that says "No Regerts," right?

Regerts

The concept is a joke, of course.  Why get worked up about a typo on a permanent ink tattoo when you can have a candy bar and relax?  

But, such a typo would be a pretty colossal mistake in real life.  And mistakes in real life do happen.  I was asked just yesterday if I regretted getting married, now that I am divorced.  

That's a big question, isn't it?  And it's a pretty timely one, considering 13 years ago today was my wedding.  

As weird as it may sound, I do not regret getting married, even though the marriage did not work out, even though my repeated attempts to fix it failed.  There are several reasons why, and since I tend to be a fan of numbered lists lately, here we go:

  1.  I have three beautiful children that would not exist had I not been married to their father.  I wouldn't trade my kids for the world.  They are the best thing that ever happened to me, and they continue to bring me such joy every single day.  They are growing into these amazing people who are bound to change the world in their own ways.  I can never regret anything that brought me those miracles!
  2. I learned a lot by being married, even if the marriage failed.  Actually, maybe especially because the marriage failed.  We learn a lot more from failure than we do instant success.  I have learned who I am, what I deserve, what I will tolerate and what I will not.  I have learned what a healthy relationship should be and what it is not.  I also learned when to call it quits and move on.  That was probably the biggest challenge of all, and it's a valuable lesson for sure. 
  3. All the twists and turns in my past brought me to the present.  Gene and I have often talked about the unpredictable paths that our lives took before we ended up together.  As cliche as it all sounds, it's true that everything in our past led us to the beautiful, healthy, loving place that we are now. 

So, how on earth can I regret any of it?  Do I wish I had made some better choices in the past?  Sure, who doesn't?  But "regret" -- no.  Regret is a waste of time and energy.  

We can't change the past; we can only learn from it.  And make our present what we want it to be so that our future becomes all that it can be.  


Hello, Monday!

It is a well-known fact that the speed of time increases on days off.  :)  Somehow, the weekends are able to fly by and Monday is here, with its 10 degree temperatures and rude alarm clock before we know it.  

Absolutely no one at my house wanted to get up this morning.  I've been getting up and running in the morning (on the treadmill -- there is NO way I would go for a run outside at 5 AM in January!), but I had already counted today as a rest day because I did two speed-intensive sessions this weekend, so I had no intention of getting up early.  The kids were all piled in my room, as is their norm after a weekend away from home, and when the alarm went off, a collective groan went up from the bed.  

Even after the humans got themselves moving, Gingersnap stayed huddled under the covers, avoiding Monday.  

Now, before I sound like one of those grouchy I-don't-do-mornings people, I should admit that:

  1.  I like mornings. 
  2.  I actually like the fresh start that Mondays bring. 

But that:

3.  I hate being cold.  (Despite the fact that I complain when Gene's wood stove makes his house 83 degrees -- ha!)

Once we got ourselves moving (and the coffee made), I think we were all ready to face the week.  Aidan rode his new bike to school, eager to try out his new bike lock and test the warmth of the jacket I bought him on Saturday.  Ellie is a social butterfly who loves school, so she was ready to start a new week.  Even Liam, who is the least likely to want to get up on any given morning, seemed to be looking forward to the day (and his new coat and mittens).  

As for me, my week looks promising.  My students are researching a college major/career path for their midterm speeches, and it's one of my favorite projects of the year.  As juniors, they are easily overwhelmed by the college search and SATs and major choices.  I start with the guidance counselor coming in to talk to them in small groups about the plans they should start making  ("The senior year is a doing year, not a planning year.  You need to plan now.")  and then we spend some time in the library, researching the three components of the speech: Required Coursework; College Choices; and Job Market.  

Next week, they present their findings to the class in a speech.  They explain what their college major is and what it entails; they discuss options and admissions requirements at three different colleges; and they present the job market outlook for their career path.  

Oh, and I make them dress up to do it.  (This portion inspires the most questions about the assignment, by the way!)

Every year, students say that at first the project was intimidating and anxiety-producing, but that by the time they presented, they felt ready and were ultimately glad that they did the research and speech.  

I continue to do this project for those reasons, and because it requires students to put into practice what we have been studying about the rhetorical triangle (the relationship between the speaker, the audience, and the subject) and compositional choices (how does an author make decisions in writing so as to be the most effective for the intended audience?).  The fact that they get to research a high-interest topic with practical application is only icing on the cake. 

So, in all, Monday is looking pretty good on us.  After my school day, I will get to hear about the adventures of my kids and make dinner and plan out the rest of our week (including a trip to see "Hidden Figures," dance class, and a weekend with the kids home).  Life is good.  No, wait.  Let me revise: Life is great.  


Happiness is a State of Mind

I've been listening to a TedTalk podcast about Happiness, and something one of the speakers said stuck with me: Happiness can be real or synthetic.  What does that mean, exactly?  Well, it means that we can be happy as a result of our circumstances, or we can be happy because of what we make of our circumstances.  Both are genuine; it's only the origin that differs.  

The ability to make the best out of the worst is what makes human beings remarkable, miraculous creatures.  We all know people who have been through tragedy -- divorce, loss of a loved one, illness, unemployment -- and yet, they rise above those circumstances and find happiness in their lives, in the everyday blessings. 

That leaves one question -- 

How?

  • For starters, when we are at our lowest, we tend to see with greater clarity our good fortune.  That is to say, we realize how lucky we are to have what we do have when things or people are taken from us.  We appreciate more when what we have is in danger or in a state of loss.  That appreciate grows into a determination to make the most of each day, each moment. 

 

  • We rely on the day-to-day routine to force us through the motions.  What's the phrase?  Fake it until you make it?  Yes, there is some truth to that.  When we have a job to report to, kids to take care of, bills to pay, assignments to complete -- then we force ourselves to get out of bed and put on some pants and make things happen.  Whether our heart is truly in it on not, we do it because we have to.  And the more days we get up and put on pants, the closer we get to our heart being in whatever we are doing.  We slowly rebuild our own happiness.  

 

  • And, after terrible loss or challenge in life, when good things happen, we appreciate them all the more.  When we land an interview after being let go, we understand the true value of the opportunity.  When we find love after surviving a terrible relationship, we understand the impact of having a true partner in life.  As my aunt would say, "Been there, done that, got the t-shirt."  We know how bad it can get, so when it's good, we know it's good.  

 

  • We don't allow the negative voices in the world to narrate our existence.  This is not easy, not by any means.  Too often we fall prey to those toxic voices that tell us we aren't good enough, not smart enough, not thin enough, not pretty enough.  Sadly, those voices even come from people in our lives who are supposed to care about us.  We allow these negative people to rent space in our head.  Just the other day, a student I am close to came to me, upset over some stupid comments other kids made about her outfit.  Even though these people weren't her friends, it was so difficult for the student to let their words roll off her.  It doesn't get any better when we are older.  Sometimes, the smallest comment can feel like a judgment of our character, of our choices, of our selves.  It is when we consciously decide to dismiss these negative voices that we gain strides toward happiness.  

That's synthetic happiness, isn't it?  Making the best of the worst that comes our way.  Even though the word "synthetic" implies a falseness, this kind of happiness is anything but fake.  Actually, when you think about it, this type of happiness might be even better than the "real" kind that simply comes from good circumstance.