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May 2017 entries

Writing about One's Life

I am directing a show called "Other Desert Cities" at the Community Academy of Stage and Theatre in Williamsport, and we open this weekend.  There are many, many aspects of the script that appealed to me the first time I read it, and because the story is so compelling and well-written, different parts speak to me each time we run the show.  

One night, it was the line, "Everything in life is about being seen, or not seen," spoken by the daughter-writer, as she defends her decision to pen a memoir about the death of her Vietnam-War-protesting older brother.  Like most good writing, there is a universal application to this specific sentence.  Everything in life is about being seen or not seen, when you think about it. When we are striving for good, we want to be seen, to be noticed, to be appreciated, to be admired, to be valued, to be taken seriously.  When are not seen for who we are, it hurts.  Conversely, when we do wrong, we don't want it to be seen.  We don't want our flaws to tossed in our face, we don't want our selfishness to be exposed.  

Another night, it was a line describing the final moments of the actor-father's life, as he has a conversation with an imaginary director on his deathbed:  "He could do better.  He had another take in him."  Again, this refers to the "take" of a film set, but it applies to any life at its end.  We will regret our wrongs, we will regret the chances we didn't take, the words we didn't speak.  Many of us have the fear of Thoreau, to "come to the end of life and discover I had not lived."  But, spoiler alert:  we don't get "another take" when our time is up.  

Still another time, the line was, "Relationships are hard-earned things.  They have a reason and a logic to them."  The daughter goes on to tell her mother that their rocky position is "the relationship we have earned."  How true.  The relationships we find ourselves in are the ones we have earned, together.  No relationship is a one-sided endeavor.  

Last night, the line that hit me came again from the daughter-writer, when she asked, "Is there a blanket ban on writing about my life if it involves anyone else?"  I struggle with this all the time on this blog platform.  There are many things I would love to write about -- from the crazed woman who drives by my house on a regular basis to spy on me and my family to the complexities of co-parenting -- but I refrain from anything but wide-sweeping generalizations because that type of writing would "involve anyone else."  

Also, add the fact that I am a teacher and the situation is compounded.  I have been repeatedly personally attacked even this year, and I am unable to write about it or even defend myself because of my job.  In the "real world," I would actually have grounds to sue this person for slander.  

The mother in the show threatens to sue her daughter, actually.  But the idea is dismissed because it would add more of a splash to what they already fear will be a scandal when the book is published.  And, really, that is why I so often take the high road.  After all, as the mother also says, "The truth will out."  Everything is eventually seen, from hard-earned relationships to our final take.  

10 Signs of Toxic Behavior

Toxic behavior -- or emotional abuse -- can be difficult to prove because the perpetrator is often skilled enough to leave no visible marks, no tangible evidence.  To be true, even the person being affected by the toxic behavior isn't always able to recognize the signs or the impact on their own mind.  How can you tell when you are in a toxic relationship -- be it with a friend, a lover, a parent, a co-worker? I've given it some thought, and I offer my 10 signs of toxic behavior.

  1.  You often think, "This is will make so-and-so upset," and the "this" is something reasonable.  When you are constantly on alert to prevent another person from getting angry, you may be in a relationship with a toxic person.  When you are parenting with your spouse, and you find yourself telling the kids to stop acting like kids because they will get in trouble, or when you are hyper-aware of your words and actions so as not to "start a fight" with the other person -- then you are not in a reasonable and balanced situation.  Sure, it's not right to run around, doing whatever you want without caring if you offend anyone.  That's not what I am talking about here.  I am talking about normal, everyday actions or words that provoke an irrationally angry response.  
  2. You are consistently criticized and get the message that you are not good enough.  This is a common form of emotional abuse and control.  When you are ignored or criticized, you get the message that you are not enough -- not good enough, not smart enough, not attractive enough, not funny enough, just plain not enough.  And because this message becomes engrained in your head, you end up prolonging the relationship because you erroneously believe you aren't enough to do any better or to break free.  
  3. You aren't "allowed" to spend time with other people.  The narcissist craves your full attention.  They don't want you to have other friends or to talk to anyone else, at times, even your family.  If you do have other friends, you are made to feel guilty for betraying them in some way.  Toxic parents do this especially in divorce scenarios:  "Why don't you text me the way you text your mom all the time?  Why do you have more fun there?" For the toxic person, you are a piece of property to be owned and controlled. 
  4. You aren't "allowed" to spend time alone, either.  Let's say you are overwhelmed by your day and you write out your thoughts in a journal.  The emotional abuser doesn't want a written record of wrongs.  They may read your private writings or even destroy your work as a way to further control your story and your experience.  If you want to be alone, your toxic friend may be offended that you don't want to go out, or if you want to go for a bike ride, your toxic spouse may say you are neglecting your responsibilities.  Again, this all comes down to control. 
  5. The things that matter to you, don't matter to them.  Your important events or values aren't shared.  Your birthday isn't nearly as important as theirs.  Your goals aren't a factor unless they benefit from you achieving them.  Your performances, concerts, races -- whatever projects you do or go to -- are not a priority to them.  They may make it if they don't have anything else to do, and when they do come, they are critical of the quality of the presentation or organization, etc. 
  6. Your efforts aren't noticed, and you do more than your fair share of the work.  Whether it is the work of the relationship or the work of the house or the work of the office, you find yourself busting your butt, and the toxic person never seems to notice, never seems to appreciate it.  You rarely hear the words "thank you," and all you get in return are defensive excuses when you point about the disparity.  You are simply expected to do more, every single time. 
  7. The toxic person lies on a regular basis.  And, when they are caught in a lie, they either deny it angrily or somehow make it out to be acceptable that they lied, because of something you have done wrong.  The lying is part of the toxic person's manipulative personality, part of the effort to control others.  
  8. You are never sure who you are going to get.  There is a nice version of this toxic person.  That's why you are in the relationship to begin with.  They have positive qualities that drew you to them.  But the toxic person can only maintain that facade, that false persona for so long.  The effort to sustain the nice version of themselves is exhausting, and their true colors eventually show.  They become unpredictable -- will your nice boss be at work today, or the angry one?  The lack of consistency adds to your stress and anxiety. 
  9. The toxic person takes no responsibility for their actions.  Everything is always someone else's fault.  The toxic person doesn't apologize, because they never do anything wrong.  And if they do something wrong, it's probably because you (or someone else) made them do it, directly or indirectly. 
  10. The general public admires the toxic person.  Most toxic people are "marvelous pretenders," to borrow a line from Arthur Miller's The Crucible.  This comes full circle to the difficulty of proving emotional abuse is happening.  In front of others, the toxic person says the right things, does the right things.  Behind closed doors -- away from clients, away from a crowd, away from the other parents -- there is a whole other person, a whole other experience.  Because the toxic person appears to be so convincing, you refrain from reaching out for help.  You stay where you are, mired in poison. 

Staying in a toxic relationship is the worst thing you can do for your soul.  No, it is not easy to break free; the toxic person won't simply let you go.  Even if you don't speak publicly about your situation, your leaving suggests failure on their part.  But, there must come a time when you stand up for yourself and demand more out of life.  

Why?  Because you are enough.  


The Freshest of Starts

Is there anything more miraculous than the birth of a baby?  The anxiety that comes along with what is a truly herculean physical process of labor and delivery; the excitement that builds as everyone waits to see the new child; the sheer joy that wraps itself in the words, "The baby is here!"; the immense gratitude that fills the heart when baby and mother are healthy and well.  

Every time I am around a pregnant woman or around mothers when birth stories come up, memories come flooding back -- the pain, the joy, the fear, the love.  What I think I love most about each of my own birth stories is the overpowering feeling of possibility that each child brings into the world. 

Emerson said that with each child is "the beginning of a revolution," the beginning of "the perpetual romance of new life, the invasion of God into the old dead world, when he sends into quiet houses a young soul with a thought which is not yet met."  Each child is born with an immeasurable amount of potential, with a blank book in his hands which awaits for the chapters to be written. 

And so, on May 11, at 8:38 PM, Lincoln Kyle Clark entered this world. 


Full of possibility and surrounded by love, little Lincoln began his beautiful journey on this planet, with all 6 lbs, 12 oz. of him rearing to go.  His parents adore him; his aunts and uncles are ready to spoil him; his grandparents are thankful for all that he symbolizes: hope, love, faith.  Kyle is a man devoted to his fiancee and his step-daughters -- and now their son.  The smile didn't come off his face the entire time they were at the hospital.  Lincoln seems to have inherited his easy-going temperament, and it seems certain that the two are destined to be thick as thieves, with a multitude of adventures in store.  Brittney bravely endured more labor than the three of my children combined, and she too is clearly in love with their little man.  



It's moments like these, when a baby is born, that I am reminded of all that is really right in the world.  Gene and I have a beautiful family, and with the addition of Lincoln, our tribe expanded in love.  On Mother's Day, Gene's younger son Kody gave me a card that said, "Families can be complicated," and boy, if that isn't the truth for us!  But, love isn't complicated, Kody continued as he thanked me for opening my doors and my heart to him and the rest of his family.  

Just last night, Gabrielle had her final chorus concert of her elementary school career, and we took a silly selfie together on the lawn (Kaylea was at her voice lesson; Kody was at work).  


Gene's sister paid me an incredible compliment on Facebook: "Denise, you make Gene whole again" -- and while I am honored, the truth is that we make each other -- and our diverse brood -- whole.  Each one of our kids -- and grandkids! -- are filled with potential, and I can't wait to see where life takes each of them.  

Welcome to the world -- and our family! -- Lincoln Kyle! 


Just a Glimpse

At our crazy lives!  We've been to NYC, met two Broadway stars, been on several bike rides, attended Aidan's Chorus concert (with two more concerts this month to come!), made progress on the house renovations, and probably 25 other things I am forgetting at the moment.  Here are some pictures, without any helpful captions whatsoever.  ha!









Friday Musings

Happy Rainy Friday, my friends!  It's "Senior Skip Day," and it's all supposed to be a grand secret kept by the senior class, but we teachers have been down this road before.  It's the Friday before prom.  We know students are going to skip.  Heck, my first class is all juniors and only 9 of them are here (to be fair, some are decorating for the dance).  Needless to say, this is going to be an easy day. 

That means I have some time during my lunch period to write, which I haven't had much of lately.  After this post, I'll share some pictures of what has been keeping me so busy, but for now, I offer some random musings.  Enjoy!

** Have you ever noticed how a liar gets nervous when two people he's lied to are in the same room, talking to each other?  The anxiety is palpable as he wonders how quickly they may compare notes.  When only one of those people know about his lies, and he's still in the process of hoodwinking the other, he nervously hovers, trying to control the informational flow.  I found myself in this position just yesterday, and I found it greatly amusing.  Oh, I should clarify -- I wasn't the liar, or the hoodwinked.  I can safely say amusement isn't for either of those two roles.  

** I have been avoiding a conflict for the sake of other people I care dearly about, and I realize I really should not do that any more.  By avoiding this conflict, I have also allowed someone to get social credit for being someone they are not.  I've allowed this person to shirk responsibility for far too long, especially since this person caused the strife to begin with.  I have decided that this needs to stop.  I realize I am being vague here, and I am sorry.  I am sharing this in case it speaks to anyone else reading this -- are you allowing someone to take advantage of you?  Then stop.  I have allowed it for far too long, and while what's to come is certainly going to be challenging, I know it's the right thing to do.  I am sick of being walked all over, simply because it is assumed that I won't do anything about it.  

** I've also decided to do something very big!  I have applied to begin my Doctorate in Educational Leadership.  A friend went through the same program and recommended it to me.  I went to an interest meeting, I talked it over with Gene, and based on his encouragement, I have decided to apply!  Obviously, I still have to be accepted, but I feel fairly confident about my chances.  My principals know (they wrote me reference letters, after all), and they are very supportive.   I have always wanted my doctorate, and I haven't pursued it because my children are little and I refuse to commute to Penn State several times a week right now.  So, this program is absolutely perfect for where I am in life right now, and I hope it works out.  

Last Musing for Now . . . 

** It's amazing the difference being in a positive and loving relationship can make on one's life.  The past few weeks have been insanely busy and slightly stressful for our family.  Between renovating the house, moving, my directing a play, his being swamped at work, not to mention the various activities of the kids' -- theatre classes, concerts, voice lessons, track, prom -- Gene and I have often found ourselves overwhelmed by it all.  BUT, here's the beautiful thing:  instead of taking it out on each other, instead of resenting each other, we just talk about how to divide and conquer the to-do list.  We just talk about which things we might want to cut back on so as to make our lives less frantic.  We just talk about how much we are going to miss our crazy busy life when the kids are grown and off on their own.  We both come from completely opposite relationships than the one we have now, and honestly, those bad experiences help us to appreciate what we have now.  

Not bad for a rainy Friday! 

Sing a New Song

Gabrielle was selected to attend the PMEA Elementary Chorus Fest this year, just as Aidan was selected in the past.  And, just like I did when it was Aidan's turn, I took a personal day to chaperone the trip.  This year, the festival was held at Loyalsock, so it wasn't far at all.  


Gabrielle did an amazing job and she is filled with so much joy whenever she sings.  I love how much my kids love music! 


And the music kids -- not surprisingly! -- are fun and creative and welcoming people.  I can only hope they stay that way! 


Little Liam isn't so Little

Somehow, it's May 1st, and my kindergartener is about a month away from being a first grader.  While the year hasn't been without its challenges, I am really proud of the way Liam has grown in maturity this year.  He has been doing really well in soccer and other activities as well. 


He has also become quite the comedian lately as well.  Just last night, I was trying to get Gene to try the strawberry/spinach/feta salad I made, and when Gene said that he was skeptical of fruits in salad because "lettuce, strawberries, and onion don't even grow in the same garden," Liam looked over at me and Kaylea, shook his head and said, "Clueless!" in this singsong way that made us bust up laughing for a good five minutes.  He then proceeded to tell Gene that he had to have a "try-me bite" of the salad (my term for the bite Liam has to try when he says he doesn't like what I've cooked) because Gene is a "growner" and is "all grown up."  There are a dozen stories like this every week.  Liam is just such a joyful, funny, enthusiastic kid.  

And boy does he love his dog Gingersnap!  The other morning, Liam woke up early to see what the tooth fairy had left under his pillow...


(Answers to your questions:  $1, and yes, I still keep my kids' teeth.  And no, I still have no idea what I am supposed to do with them.)

Once the excitement was over, Liam had some time to kill on his hands, so he snuggled up with Ginger and they couldn't have been happier. 



While "Little Liam" is less and less little every day, he won't stop being my baby . . . even when he's a growner.  

Off-Road with my Parents

A few weekends back, Gene and I went four-wheel riding through Snow Shoe, PA, with my parents.  Out of respect for my mother's upcoming birthday, I won't tell you how old my parents are.  I'll just tell you that I am almost 37, and that my parents were 33 when they had me.  You figure out the rest. 





Part of our mission was to test out the new side-by-side by parents just bought for our four-wheeler vacation this summer.  This was their solution to how all the kids could go riding when we are in West Virginia.  

There are many, many things I love about the people who raised me.  As we drove all over the mountains together, two of their admirable qualities came to my attention: my parents live their life to the fullest, and they have their priorities in line. 

My dad jokes about how he's not leaving any of his money behind, because he worked hard his life so that he can enjoy it -- and I love that mentality.  If I were in need, my dad would never tell me, "Too bad, Denise, I need to buy a new four-wheeler," but at the same time, he's not agonizing over the stock market and pinching pennies so that he achieves some status through his wealth.  He balances perfectly between generosity and enjoyment.  My parents aren't irresponsible by any means, but they also believe they are on this earth to live and love each other and their families. 

I can only hope that Gene and I will have the health and ability to run around, splashing through mud puddles with our kids and grandkids when we are 70.  Oops, I mean, when we are older...