Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Back-to-School Scaries

I dread the beginning of the school year.

Don’t get me wrong – I love teaching, for the most part. I love getting a new crop of students every year, getting a fresh start, getting to try something new and different, getting to attempt once again to stamp out ignorance.

But I dread the anxiety the beginning of the school year brings.

The anxious feelings start creeping into my mind when the first back-to-school ads come on TV or the displays go up in stores. As with most major events/holidays, these exhibitions happen earlier and earlier. When I notice them, I casually check the calendar and count the number of weeks left in summer vacation. 
I tell myself to stop, to live in the moment, but that end-of-relaxation date stays in the back of my mind.

Another dose of worry happens a few days before we teachers return for pre-school planning week. The cause is the dreaded letter from the principal. 

The message is always positive and encouraging, and when I was an ingĂ©nue, I got caught up in the excitement. This year will be my 37th in the classroom, so I’m totally able to control my enthusiasm. In addition to the “Welcome Back” message, the envelope contains the schedule for the week which usually consists of meeting after meeting after meeting. I have been in so many of these meetings for so long that I have seen the same this-is-the-thing-that-will-fix-education presented different ways and called different names at least three times.

Monday, I’ll begin again, which is the best thing about teaching. Not many professions allow a definite start/end date when you can try different strategies and materials with a whole new crop of mostly eager participants. I look at each year as my way to finally get it right, to have my best year yet.

Until Monday and for about two weeks after that, I’ll wake up at 2:00 a.m. and attempt to solve my imaginary classroom scenarios. I’ve tried everything to avoid this anxiety – exercise, no caffeine, peaceful bedtime routine, sleeping pills – but I’ve found nothing to conquer the Back-to-School Scaries.

I’ll let you know if those education experts have finally come up with that magical method that will fix education. Every year, I hope.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

She's Moving Out -- Again

Today I’m moving my 23-year-old daughter out of the house – again.

Like many young adults today, she moved out for college and moved back home after graduation. Her goal of graduate school in speech pathology didn’t go as she planned, so home she came.

That was two years ago.

Getting used to having her around again was difficult for us all. My then 10-year-old granddaughter who lives with me had taken over my daughter’s room which they now had to share. The house became more tense with a new schedule of comings and goings. My husband used to laugh and say that when my daughter was in the house, a cloud of tension descended. I had to worry about planning meals around someone else’s likes and dislikes, to listen to complaints of the filth left behind by the ones with whom she had to share the upstairs bathroom and to lose sleep over the every-now-and-then 2:00 a.m. homecomings. Her not getting into grad school was hard on her confidence and self-esteem, so I had to be a cheerleader and help her see that life doesn’t always go as we plan. Most of the time she didn’t want to hear my advice because this little blip in her agenda was all she focused on. In other words, she had no plan and felt that at age 21, she was supposed to have it all together.

During the next two years, she did a lot of childcare for quick money and also worked as a floater at a local non-profit for adults with disabilities and mental health disorders. The term floater means that she went where she was needed. If a staff member called in sick, she filled in. She mainly worked in personal care – feeding, changing, etc. those who couldn’t do it for themselves. At first, she was unsure that she wanted to be there. After all, she had a college degree from the University of Florida; she didn’t train to be a personal-care aide or to handle people with behavior outbursts. She could make a lot more money waiting tables or being a nanny. As she got to know the clients, though, she got excited about the work and became an advocate for this population.

Cards and art the clients and staff gave Kelsey on her last day at the non-profit program.

She was also at home during the last months of my husband’s life. She helped with doctor visits and chemo treatments. She even traveled with him on his last trip to our place in North Carolina. Just the two of them stayed together for a month in our RV. She got an ear full of his tales of his past life, of how he felt about certain people who pleased and disappointed him, and of his limited future. They both had a fascination with brain chemistry and psychology, and he told stories about his time in Germany when he oversaw a psychiatric unit of an Army hospital.

She was also at home when he died and was here to grieve with the rest of us. She was invaluable to me, helping with transportation of my son with Down syndrome and listening/advising her niece when I just couldn’t relate to the 6th grade daily drama. More importantly, she transitioned from being my child into being my friend. I’ve watched her mature and gain so much self-confidence. She has found her voice and isn’t afraid to use it. She is strong.

These past two years gave her a new goal, too. She decided that she didn’t want to be a speech pathologist anymore. The experiences she had as a floater and with helping her stepdad allowed her to see where she will be most effective and happy – as a nurse, specifically as a psychiatric nurse.  
She investigated the requirements to obtain a BSN, took the required classes at the local community college, and applied to three universities for their accelerated programs which would allow her to complete the degree in a little over a year. She was accepted at two of the three. The one she chose had 600 applicants and she was one of the 32 chosen. How’s that for a confidence builder?

So today, she’s leaving again. She’s only three hours away, but her life will be moving at warp speed and she won’t be able to come home much. After she finishes the program, she has a plan for the rest of her life that she will work toward; however, because of her experiences of the past two years, I’m confident that she will be able to deal with life if her plans go awry.

I am one proud mama.

I advised Kelsey to watch One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest so when someone refers to her as Nurse Ratched, she'll understand.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A Random Act of Evil

When I was about seven years old, I watched an old black-and-white movie called The Bad Seed. It is about a pretty little girl, Rhoda, who is a sociopath. She can be as sweet and smooth as honey but turns into a cold-blooded killer if she doesn’t get what she wants. She kills a classmate who wins the penmanship award that Rhoda wants and kills the gardener because he discovers Rhoda’s secret.

I thought about this movie for years after seeing it. It’s the first time I remember thinking that true evil can exist, no matter the age of the person, and it can be anywhere, even living next door.

Many years have passed since I watched a scary movie or read a horror novel. I’ve seen and heard of more than enough real-life acts of violence, and like most people, I wonder why some people are evil and some aren’t. Can a person be a bad seed? Is it the nature/nurture thing? How can someone not have a sense of right and wrong or not feel guilt and remorse?

A few years ago, I taught a young man who was on a fast-track to prison. I knew it when he was in the ninth grade. He wasn’t like the kid who is naughty in school but has some redeeming qualities. This boy was cruel to classmates, disrespectful to teachers and cheated on everything. His home life wasn’t great – parents divorced, overindulgent dad, absent mom, raised by elderly grandparents – but his life was typical of many others. At age 16, this young man was expelled from school for drugs. When he was 18, he committed a felony and served five years in prison. He was out of prison for only a few months when, during a planned robbery, he brutally murdered two young men and their dog.

What makes a person like my former student commit such evil acts? Sometimes villains commit terrible deeds because of mental illness or acts of passion. Addiction also causes people to become totally opposite of the person he/she once was. But are we just giving evil a way out, an excuse that it’s ok for this person to display violent behavior because he is schizophrenic, on drugs or angry?

Does the evil-doer ever consider the effect on the victim? I don’t think he thinks about anything except himself and his wants. After a random act of violence occurs, the lives of the victims and their families are changed forever. Anger and disbelief take the place of the feelings of safety and innocence they once had. I’m not sure if I could ever fully recover from an attack on my family or friends.

This post really has no clear point. Lately, I’ve been thinking about how terrible some people are. This week, a person attacked and killed my friend’s mom during a home invasion. This woman was an elementary school music teacher who would have soon retired to enjoy her grandchildren.

I don’t know why some people carry out evil plots. Maybe it is the way the person is born or maybe it’s his environment. I heard once that the genes load the gun and the environment pulls the trigger. My pastor explained that at these times, the devil takes control. In the age-old fight between evil and good, evil wins during intentional acts of violence.

I wish I had a way to rid the world of evil, but I don’t. There are too many bad seeds scattered all over, and no matter how vigilant we are, evil can find us.


Friday, March 17, 2017

I'm All In!

The older I get, the more I seem to slow down.

I don’t mean the slowdown that comes with age. I mean the leisureliness that allows me to evaluate my life.

In my younger years, I rushed through everything, moving mostly on auto-pilot. While at home, I worried about work and at work, I worried about home. I was anxious about my kids all the time and about my ability, or rather inability, to be a decent mother. My children are grown and happy, my granddaughter is approaching her teens, and I’m not moving at such a hectic pace. I work part time and have my afternoons free to complete tasks or to just sit and think about important issues or useless junk.

I have many conversations with myself – not the crazy kind where I verbally ask and answer my own questions (cue Sally Field in Sybil). I have these internal dialogues going on that I don’t remember having up until about a year ago. I’m a widow and there’s no one at home to listen to me verbalize thoughts, but I also think I’m able to focus more because I have decelerated.

One internal conversation that plays is the “what if” one. What if I don’t lose weight? What if I run out of money? What if my kids don’t succeed? This little two-word phrase can drive a person nuts! Now when I’m having the “what ifs,” I intentionally change my thoughts. Instead, I focus on what I’m getting out of or learning from the experience or the thought. By doing this, I believe I’m becoming a more positive person. I’m not tiptoeing through the tulips, but I’m not drowning in worry or negativity either. Maybe I’ve achieved a small balance in life.

I tend to be more grateful, too, and I divide this gratitude into smaller increments. I focus on today and how my life is at this moment. Mindfulness – being present in the moment – is a big buzz word in psychology now. I know this as a fact because Pinterest has all kinds of boards on how to do it. The key to mindfulness is that your thoughts should not dwell on past mistakes or on worry about the future. All these Pinterest people should realize that mindfulness isn’t a new thing: the Bible has instructed people to do this for centuries.

Frequently throughout the day, I stop to consider how the day is going and how those around me are faring. I say a prayer of gratitude for my blessings because I truly am thankful for all I have right now. Maybe it’s because I’ve experienced a lot of bad events that I’m now very grateful for small, happy moments. If I don’t consciously consider these events, I might jinx the flow of goodness. 

Even with my trying to live in the moment, I still get impatient. I’ve figured out that the impatience comes from this little control problem I have. My chosen career is to blame for a big part of this problem; I must be in control in the classroom or anarchy happens. Often, I want things to happen right now, and I want them to happen my way. This is especially true when I see events happen to my children which make them unhappy or knock them down a notch in their life’s plan. I used to be a huge enabler and fix problems so that my kids didn’t have to do it. Enabling is one of my biggest mistakes in parenting because I didn’t let my kids suffer the consequences of their choices. Now instead of rushing in to fix things, I help them focus on their choices and on what they can learn from the experiences. It’s hard for me to admit, but they are actually doing ok without my attempts at control.

So, cheers to life right now! I can’t change the zillions of bad decisions in my past, bring back people I’d love to have around me or direct the course of the future. I can, however, focus on this moment, and I’m all in.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Mentally Strong in 13 Steps

"Good habits are important, but it's often our bad habits that prevent us from reaching our full potential." -- Amy Morin, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do

Over the past year, I’ve been working on making myself a better person.

My earlier posts tell my journey to better physical health by following Weight Watchers and exercising. I’m pleased that I’ve been very successful in that area and at age 59, I’m in the best health of my life.

My physical health is easy compared to my mental health. It seems like the more I want to improve my brain, the more it goes to mush. Supposedly, people my age are destined to have a sloppy brain at times, but I’m not ready for my mind to become porridge. Going back to work after a year of retirement forced my brain to get into shape. A teacher must have a pretty sharp brain to keep up with teenagers.

I also decided to focus on a positive attitude. I’ve listened to many podcasts and read several books on this topic. One book that I liked is 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do by Amy Morin.

I don’t remember how I found out about this book, whether it was suggested in a magazine or online. However, I’m glad I did find it. I wouldn’t say that it’s a life-changing book for me because I knew about these ways to stay focused on happiness and to stay strong minded. After all, I read Dr. Phil’s books back when he wasn’t so into shocking his audience for ratings (example: "cash me outside how bout dah").

What I like about the book:

1.  It takes a different approach to handling problems. Instead of telling me what I should do to make life better, it tells what I shouldn’t do.

2.  Morin gives examples of everyday people who have come to her for therapy sessions as well as stories of well-known people’s struggles. In Chapter 7 “They Don’t Dwell on the Past,” Morin writes about 55-year-old Gloria whose adult daughter kept moving back home after short-term, failed relationships. Gloria felt guilty because she had not provided a stable childhood for her daughter and was presently allowing her daughter to take advantage of her. Trying to right the past was keeping Gloria from being a good parent in the present.

Morin tells of Milton Hershey’s struggles with his candy career in the chapter “They Don’t Make the Same Mistakes Over and Over.” After several failed attempts at establishing a candy business, Hershey changed strategies but stayed focused on success and not on his failed attempts. In the end, he owned the world’s biggest chocolate company.

3.  Amy Morin writes of many personal experiences to which I can relate. The introduction describes several heartbreaks she experienced due to deaths in her family. Tragically, Morin’s mother and husband died suddenly within three years of each other. She describes grief as “an emotionally, mentally and physically exhausting process.” Amen to that! When dealing with the impending death of her father-in-law from cancer, Morin came up with her list of 13 Things.

4.  The book doesn’t have to be read in its entirety to get its essence. Each chapter is helpful in its own way. I have re-read the chapters “They Don’t Give Up After the First Failure” and “They Don’t Expect Immediate Results” to keep me focused on my weight-loss journey.

When Amazon came out with Kindle e-reader, I got one. Some may consider it strange that an English teacher would rather have a digital book than the real thing; most bibliophiles want the feel of paper and the smell of a new book. The truth is that I was tired of storing real books. I had shelves and shelves of books I had read or were planning to read, and I was tired of dusting them. The Kindle allowed me to give away my books and get rid of some clutter. I don’t have to dust an e-book. However, some books I buy in hardback format because I want to loan to them to friends. 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do is such a book.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Oh, What a Night to Shine!

Drew and his best friend Michael dance and hang out with friends at Night to Shine Tallahassee.

My son Drew has always been up for a good time. He loves to eat, dance and hang out with his friends – and believe me, he has LOTS of friends. Recently, he got to dress up and party with many of his friends at the annual TimTebow Foundation’s Night to Shine prom.

Night to Shine is a prom for people 14 and older with special needs. Tebow started Night to Shine three years ago, and this year, 75,000 people with disabilities in 375 locations in 50 states and 11 countries attended.

Local churches hosted and organized the event, and this year, it took 150,000 volunteers to make the night a success. For months leading up to the prom, the church committees collected prom attire and accessories from the community and then hosted a day when prom-goers picked out a dress or tux. They made sure that security and medical care were on hand the night of the prom and that each attendee had a buddy to hang out with during the night. The buddies passed a background check and participated in a training workshop. I sponsored the high school prom once and it was a piece of cake compared to everything that these Night to Shine committees did.

Genesis Church hosted the Night to Shine prom in Tallahassee.

Volunteer buddies wait to cheer prom-goers as they walk the red carpet at Night to Shine Tallahassee.
Everyone enjoyed the karaoke room!

Tim Tebow is quite an interesting young man. His parents were missionaries in the Philippines where Tebow lived during his childhood. He played college football at the University of Florida where he led the team to two national championships. He was awarded the Heisman Trophy, was drafted by the NFL and played a few years. Currently, he is a college football analyst for the SEC Network and playing baseball with the New York Mets organization. 

Tebow established his foundation in 2010 with the “mission to bring Faith, Hope and Love to those needing a brighter day in their darkest hour of need.” In addition to Night to Shine, the foundation aids in adoption of special needs children from 3rd world countries, provides playrooms in pediatric hospitals, and operates a pediatric orthopedic hospital in the Philippines.

Tim Tebow escorts a Night to Shine prom-goer into the event.
“From a very early age, my parents instilled in me the importance of God’s word, the salvation we have in His Son Jesus and the responsibility we have to give back to others. That’s why in 2010, I was so excited to create the Tim Tebow Foundation with a mission to bring Faith, Hope and Love to those needing a brighter day in their darkest hour of need.” – Tim Tebow

Many professional athletes have foundations for charitable causes. Being a cynical person, I always considered them just a tax write-off.  These people are paid exorbitant salaries, and they must find a way to keep the IRS from taking most of the money. However, I was never exposed to one of these foundations directly until Night to Shine. 

This night was so special to so many people, and their memories of the event won’t fade quickly. Drew loves looking at pictures and talking about the great time he had with his friends. My daughter works at an adult day program for many of those who attended the prom. She said that the week after the event, many of the attendees wore their crowns each day. One man couldn’t tell her about the night without crying because he was still so excited.

Each prom-goer received a crown or tiara to wear at Night to Shine prom.

I live in the middle of Florida State University fanatics, and it's hard for many of them to find anything positive to say about the University of Florida. However, one of these die-hard Seminoles who volunteered at Night to Shine said, "I'm certainly not a Gator fan, but Tebow's foundation really does a great job!" My daughter, who is a UF alumna, said that it's because Tebow is part of the "Gator Good." Personally, I believe that his goodness has much more to do with his faith than with being a Gator, but then again, I don't like football.

So thank you Tim Tebow Foundation and all the host churches and volunteers. I’d have to say the Night to Shine was a success!

"I genuinely believe, from the bottom of my heart, that statistics will never motivate you; a specific story will motivate you. If one person realizes that God loves them, that’s enough." - Tim Tebow

Friday, February 10, 2017

I'm Back ... or at Least I'm Trying

haven’t been a good blog-keeper for over a year, having written only five posts since January 2016. My audience tells me they miss reading my thoughts. That previous sentence makes it sound like my audience is in the thousands. That’s hardly true, but I so appreciate anyone who has read in the past.

Why haven’t I been writing? I’ve thought a lot about how to answer this question because I loved writing and sharing with you. I couldn’t figure out why I didn’t want to keep up the pace. After a lot of deep thinking, I came up with a few reasons.

The biggest reason is that my whole life has done, as they say in racing circles, a 180. The course I had planned in 2015 – retire, spend time with my husband, family and friends, write – did not go as I thought. I did retire, but when Richard died, I didn’t have the desire to write. He was my muse, my inspiration for this blog and many of the posts. I didn’t have my editor anymore and didn’t feel confident in my thoughts or writing. 

Also, I didn’t have anything I wanted to write about. My world had become so small while caring for Richard, and I didn’t want to let anyone inside. Writing a post about grieving would be too sad, for me and for you. Often, I considered writing about news events but why? The election wore me out, and I stopped watching national news. I, like many people I know, now focus on my small world, accepting that there’s not much I can change about the big picture.

Instead of writing, I became physically active, mainly to become exhausted so I could sleep at night. I worked in my yard, pushing my old-school lawnmower, chopping shrubs and vines and even cutting down trees with an ax. I set a daily goal of reaching at least 10k steps on my Fitbit but also of having at least I hour of active minutes. I walked 1.5 miles every morning and again every evening. 

Along the way, I rejoined Weight Watchers which led to healthy eating. Since March 2016, I have lost 58 pounds. I began working with a personal trainer weekly which helps build muscle and protect my old bones. My appearance has changed so much that people I haven’t seen in a while don’t recognize me. It’s awkward when we meet because we must get the "new" Pam out of the way. Often, someone will say, “Oh, you’re so skinny” which bothers me. Before, did they want to say, “Oh, you’re so fat” when they met me? Body image, especially when you focus on your own body, is difficult.

May 2015 and November 2016

In August 2016, I returned to the school where I had taught prior to retirement to teach part time. I have the best job in the world! For three periods each day, I teach super kids who are taking dual-enrolled English. These kids chose to be in the class and had to jump through several hoops to be allowed in; therefore, they are committed to the work. They are receiving high school as well as six hours of college credit which is sometimes demanding, but I am well pleased with their work ethic.

I love my part-time gig, especially the part about being finished at 11:15 every day. Now, I have time to plan thoroughly and to keep ahead of my grading. I am willing to try new strategies because I’m not stressed of having to plan and grade for two other classes. If you are one of my former students and you thought I was a pretty good teacher then, you should know that you were cheated. I’m 100% better now. I wish every teacher could enjoy teaching part time, but alas, the money isn’t enough. Fortunately, I have my retirement income as well.  

So much about my life has changed over the past year. My wise friend Jo often said, “Something good always comes from change. You just have to wait long enough to see it.” I am grateful every day for all the blessings I receive – good health, financial independence, great working environment, family, etc. I still have those negative pictures of worst-case scenarios that pop up in my head, but I’m working on mindfulness, living in the moment. I’m getting used to the new me by spending time alone, exercising and saying yes to most invitations to events.

Sometimes I want to plan the rest of my life, but if the last year is any indication of how well I plan, it’ll all go "to hell in a handbasket," as my mom always says. I’ll try to write more often because I hate to see the blog go away forever. Why don’t you send me some topics you’d like for me to write about? Obviously, I need ideas.