Are you a dumbass? (Oh, pardon me, I meant a self-centered ignoramus of epic proportions)

When I was a girl I never swore. It was a matter of principle. My Mama had always said that swearing was a sign of ignorance. If you swore, it just meant that you were too stupid to come up with something better to say. And besides, I was a good Christian girl, and good Christian girls didn’t swear.

Blonde shocked woman holding anxiously the hand over mouth

It made sense to my young influential brain, so I didn’t question the logic, and I just didn’t do it.

But then I became an adult, and I came to realize the value of a well placed curse word. Sometimes, nothing says it better. It might say it with more intelligence, or even say it  more specifically, but not better.

As a writer, choosing the best word for a situation is very important, and so, I very frequently find myself swearing these days–much to my mother’s chagrin.

Case in point: the modern driving situation.

Sure, I could call the dumbass who is too busy texting at the green light (despite the line of cars behind him waiting for him to get the hell out of the way so they can go) a self-centered ignoramus of epic proportions, BUT when we are in the heat of the moment, sounding intelligent isn’t nearly as important as summing up the situation succinctly, and dumbass does that quickly and to the point.

dumbass

Yes, sir, you are a dumbass (and a self-centered ignoramus of epic proportions–but I digress).

In the heat of the moment, we want to call it as we see it, simply, and with alacrity. And, being that there are just so very many dumbasses on the road, that means that I swear like a sailor these days.

Every day, I get on the road, and I am confronted with the decline of the human race. No common courtesy. Just me, me me.

I must finish this text. Who cares who is behind me. You can all wait until I finish. Besides, I’ll still make the light, and that is what really counts.

texting and drivingThis call is important, never mind that I am going 20 miles under the speed limit and the long line of cars behind me would very much like to get to work on time…the world revolves around me.

I could write an entire commentary on their lack of intellect and common decency (I guess I kind of am), but on the road, they all categorically become dumbasses.

No need to expound. No need to prove my literary capabilities with witty word play. I do not need a well thought out simile or an analogy to help one understand what a dumbass textingis. Everyone knows what a dumbass is. It’s that car in front of you.

So, what do I want from you this fine, sunny day (at least here in the great state of Texas)? What is my call to action? (Yes, I very much have one)

Please, do not join this mass exodus of the mentally deficient. Join the small minority of the conscientious. Respect the other people on the road, and their schedules. Think of the person behind you. Recognize that, just because you are in no rush, others on the road might be.

Join me in the good old fashioned characteristic of doing unto others what you would like them to do unto you.

You are not more important than everyone else. You are just as important as everyone else.

A little common courtesy can go a long way. Besides, nobody wants to be a dumbass, do they?

 

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Even giants can have a shoe fetish you know!

tall girlMost of the time, I don’t feel like a giant.

There have been a few times when I have felt like one.

When I sprouted from a normal 5′ tall to a 5′ 8″ amazon height in the fifth grade . . . then I felt like a giant.

It probably didn’t help that my classmates called me Amazon Woman (the fragile female  adolescent ego doesn’t take that so well).

But, eventually the boys caught up, and I felt pretty much normal again. Tall, but not so tall that I felt like a freak.

giant girlWhen I went to Bangladesh, there I felt like a giant. I was very much the giant among the Lilliputians. I towered over many of the men, much less the women. I pretty much felt like a sideshow freak for most of my three months there. I was a novelty to them I’m sure, this big, white haired giant of a woman with the strange colored eyes.

They’re probably still talking about me today, twenty years later. “Do you remember when that giant girl who said she was young, but who must have been old, because she had white hair, came to visit? Do you remember her strange eyes . . . and so huge! Do you remember her feet!” and then they shudder at the outlandish freakishness of the memory. . .

Yep. I will become a myth passed on to their children. Maybe I’ll morph into and angel over the years, or maybe a vampire or a demon as the stories are re-told.

vampire girlThat could be kind of cool. The big white-haired freak will become their boogey man. I’ll keep their children from sneaking out of bed at night. I’ll be the tale to spook the little children into obedience. Awesome.

Perhaps I have a complex. Maybe it’s residual PTSD from the experience . . . I went to help, and instead I left pathologically warped. So much for karma!

Yep, definitely felt like a giant then!

But, for all of that, I am not so tall that I haven’t at times felt downright small.

(Okay. Maybe I should restate that. On one lone occasion I felt small. And maybe it doesn’t count. Standing next to a 6′ 7″ Scandinavian freak of nature probably isn’t fair to count . . . )

So, maybe the idea of feeling small is foreign to me, BUT I don’t usually feel like a freak outside of the aforementioned unique circumstances.

fit dammitAnd when I go shoe shopping.

Yep, shopping for shoes does it every time.

Look at me! The big ol’ giant with the ginormo feet!

When shopping for shoes in Bangladesh, (the sandals I brought broke) I became a spectacle of enormous (catch the pun, haha, enormous, taheehee) proportions. When I, using halting Bangla, communicated what I was after, the shop attendants started staring at my feet (no no, that’s too polite, gawking would be more accurate), talking rapidly, all the while using great hand gestures to express their awe at my greatness (catch it, another pun . . . aren’t I hoot!).

bearded_ladyPicture it. The one blond head towering over them, and a crowd of little men beckoning other little men forward to stare at the anomaly, feet the size of . . .  well, I doubt they had a decent comparison! Quite literally, a crowd of people started jockeying for position, all to get a glance of these feet. I was the bearded lady. I was freakthe freak they didn’t need to pay to see.

And this is when I wore a size 10 shoe.

But then I got married, and had this wonderful idea that having a slew of little babies would be fantastic!

If someone had told me that my feet were going to get even bigger as a result, I think I may have changed my mind!

Who needs affection and cuddles when your feet are at stake!

Alas, no one warned me, and I got pregnant not once, but four times.

Little Serena did minimal damage. She was little. I stayed little. My feet stayed in the realm of . . .well, at least not obscenely huge by American standards.

But then I got pregnant with my son, all 9 pounds 13 ounces of him.

I turned into a whale.

My poor feet had to carry said whale around.

My feet, large though they were, were not made to carry around a whale.

Pacific Walrus hind feetIn protest, they spread. They morphed from feet into flippers.

Yes, I am now known as “she of the flipper feet.”

Thank you, Gavin.

I did not just go up a size. Oh, no.

I went up a size and a half. From an, “I can get shoes anywhere” 10, to an

“I’m sorry, we carry shoes not . . .whatever it is you call what you put on your feet” 11 1/2.

I don’t know where it is they expect us giants to shop. I sure haven’t figured it out.

Even places that used to carry shoes in my size, are no longer carrying them.

drizellaOut of desperation, I used to wear the cheap faux shoes at Payless, because at least I could make them fit (If I tried really, really hard . . .think Drizela from Cinderella–“They do fit . . . I tell you they do . . . ” as I force my foot into an obviously too small shoe . . .).

But these days I have about four choices at Payless.

Ugly, UGLY, UGLY-ASS and

grandma shoes“Dear God, would anyone be caught dead wearing those!”

Just because I have huge feet, does it mean I have to be completely lacking of any sense of style! I mean, seriously!? Grandma shoes! That’s what you’ve got for me? Really?! Nothing but, God awful, so ugly even my grandma wouldn’t wear them, shoes! Come on! I’m a girl too–if a giant one!

So, over the last few weeks, I went to store after store, and left deflated.

No shoes at the store for me (I felt like Mary being turned away from inn after inn–rejected, unwanted, marginalized!).

Finally, in desperation, I scoured the internet, and scoured some more. Finally (do you hear the chorus of angels singing?) I found shoes in my size.

So I bought some.

And I bought some more.

And, “Oh! Those boots are so cute! And they have them in my size?!” so I bought some more.

I went a tiny, tiny bit crazy.

My inner girl could finally, after a decade of plastic, too tight trendy shoes or comfortable ugly-ass grandma shoes, come out and not only play, but downright dance a jig.

So, yeah, I bought a few pairs of shoes. . .

And then my husband saw the bank statement . . . (damn it! The one day he beats me to the mail box!) and asked me why in the world I spent that much money on shoes without at least talking about it with him first (the audacity of him!).

So, I did what every girl cursed with flipper feet would do. I broke down in tears. I mean, I started balling. Full on, sobbing basket case.

Because: “You just have no idea how hard it is to be me! I’m a girl too! I want to have pretty shoes too!”

I think he was probably sorry he even asked.

My latent psychosis was definitely more than he had bargained for.

But finally, I too, have pretty shoes!

cute shoes

No more pencils. No more books. No more teachers’ dirty looks.

I came home last night to a distraught daughter. images

I wanted nothing more than to curl up in my leather recliner with a book, and disappear for a few minutes after my long day, but, instead, I found myself in that same chair, with my 8 year old third grader cradled in my lap, as she wept and wept.

Why, you ask was my little one crying? Did someone pick on her at school? Did she skin her knee? Is she the target of all the bullying we’ve heard so much about lately?

No, no and, no. But she is a victim.

She is a victim of expectations and perfectionism. She is a victim of standardized tests and insane expectations. She is a victim of a generation of extremes. Either the kids feel like they need to be perfect, driving themselves in their need to achieve: academics, athletics, community service–or, they go to the opposite extreme and skate by doing as little as they possibly can (except maybe in the athletics department), spending most of their time on their phones or playing video games.

sleepI see it everyday at school. Granted, my school is an extreme. The kids drive themselves to exhaustion in their effort to outrank each other. They give up their passions and they give up their sleep. They put their dreams on a shelf to get dusty, and, eventually, to become forgotten altogether. They forsake their childhood while still children, and exile the high school experience to the dusty corridors of “If I only had the time . . . ”

Or they do nothing. They exist. They come to class, do as little as possible, and spend every spare second on their phones. They feel like the very fact that they dragged their lazy bum out of bed, and sat that same bum into one of my chairs entitles them to a passing grade.

Okay, so maybe that is a little unfair. After all, some kids do fall in the middle. Some kids have found the balance of the pendulum. But truly, the vast majority seem to fall into one extreme or the other. Over achieving or lazy bum.

I am not a stranger to perfectionism. I most certainly was a perfectionist in my youth. My class was very competitive and I wanted to compete, so I drove myself. I joined everything there was to join from choir and basketball to forensics and theater. I was big into community service. I was so busy competing that I forgot to play. I rushed through college in four years, testing out of whatever I could so that I could finish first. I rushed into adulthood and responsibility. I was that kid. The kid who was all work, all acievement– and no fun.

But today . . . today it seems so much worse.

My perfectionistic nature drove me to my perfectionism. My exceptionally gifted class drove me to my perfectionism. School itself did not drive me to this unhealthy balance. State testing was something we did, but no one paid a whole lot of attention to the results. I did not always feel as if I was compared to the others in my class. And, truthfully, there really wasn’t any feeling of expectation until middle school. Yes, we were encouraged to do well, but it was not a competition. We did well, so that we would learn what we needed to learn, so that, when it counted, we would be prepared.

cryingAs I listened to my daughter cry because she scored low on her reading istation test. As I listened to her weep, because she was “Terrible at spelling! Terrible!” As I listened to her tell me she wasn’t as smart as the other kids, I felt anger stir. I was indignant. I became livid.

My daughter is in third grade. She should be playing. She should be happy. She should be carefree.

She should not be weighed down by school. She should not feel like she is competing for her academic future. She should not even be thinking of her future in anything but abstracts term! School should be fun, a place of learning and growth–academic and social growth–not of stress and pressure.

She has hours of homework most nights. She has more homework than some of my high school students. She’s eight.

My daughter reads–without me having to remind her to do so. She loves to write–she is always writing stories. She practices her flash cards–because she likes to.  She is very bright–but she is worried, already, that she is not good enough.

I have a problem with this. I have a problem with my daughter who will likely be a straight A student all the way through her academic life already feeling the pressure of school. I have a problem with these standardized tests that expect all children, no matter their birthday, and no matter their developmental speed, to achieve the same levels at the same time. I have a problem with a system that makes these children feel not good enough, because a certain skill might take them a little longer than it takes someone else. With this, I have a problem.

It’s bad enough that, day in and day out, I see so many gifted students forsake their love of art or music in the name of success.

I found it so telling that, when I asked my students at the beginning of the year what they wanted to do with their lives, 90% of my honors kids said they wanted to do something in the medical field. Success means math and science to them.

As it did to me back in the day. It’s what the smart kids do. It’s what their parents tell them to do. What the counselors encourage them to do. It’s what society expects them to do.

I was going to be a doctor too . . . until I realized that I hated math. Until I acknowledged that, though I was good at it, I hated biology. Until I realized that, I would rather make less money doing something I loved, than make more money doing something that I hated.  Just because I was smart enough to be a doctor, did not mean that I was supposed to be a doctor.

easelIn a million ways I see my students’ love for the arts. I read of their love for music and dance. I hear of the artists with abandoned easels . . . the dancers who’ve retired their dancing shoes . . . the athletes who have abandoned the courts.

All in the name of success.

In the name of perfectionism.

To be the best.

Because they are smart enough to do it.

Even if they don’t want to do it.

Just because they can do it.

Almost daily, I tell my daughter that she does not need to be perfect. Every day, I tell her her best is good enough. Every day, I remind her that there are things more important than school.

Yes, I am a teacher, and I say this.

I lived this. I see so many of my students living this. I don’t want my daughter to live this.

ChildsDreamI don’t want her to give up her childhood while still a child. I’m not ready for her to stop dancing yet. I’m not ready for her to be anything, but who she wants to be. Not ever.

I don’t want her to take on the stress and pressure of unreasonable expectations. I want her to LIVE–not simply succeed.

I want her to play. I want her to dance. I want her to soar.

There is time enough for her feet to be firmly planted on the ground.

For today–for now–I want her to live in the clouds, in the land of dreams, where anything is possible, and where her best is good enough.

I want her days to be about friends and dolls. I want her childhood to be filled with songs and swings. I want her evenings to be filled with pretend worlds and wild imaginings–not with math and science. Not with spelling. Not with tears.

I look at my high school kids, and I wish that so many of them knew what I know now.

I wish that they knew that they need to forge their own path, not the path their parents think they should take.

I wish they knew that medicine is not the only road to success.

I wish they understood that there are more important things than money and success, and that all the money and success in the world are not enough to make them happy if they’re doing something they hate.

I wish they understood that high school is as much about memories and moments as it is about books and homework.

There is time enough to be adults. They don’t need to let their childhood go so quickly. They never need to let go of their dreams. Nothing is worth that. Not even success.

growing_up

 

Evil Tree Spirits…If I promise to knock on wood next time, will you give me a break . . . Please?!

I’m starting to become superstitious. I think our ancestors knew something that we don’t. They warned us that bad things happen in threes. They warned us to knock on wood (have you ever wondered where that came from? I have. So I consulted my trusty friend google and it told me that it is to keep the evil spirits that live in trees from hearing, lest they take away our good luck or to keep the tree gods from hearing and thinking that our pridefulness needs to be brought down a peg or two) to prevent our good luck from souring into bad. They warned us not to jinx ourselves.

tree spirits

But what did they know? They’re just old fashioned and unenlightened. We, being so much more advanced, don’t believe in such archaic myths. We are beyond that. Smarter than that. They’re just primitive–and more importantly–wrong.

Or are they?

I know that I feel like I have a great big cosmic bullseye affixed to the front of my “Sons of Anarchy” t-shirt (yes, I am dressed like Gemma from that hit show to portray them and their drug smuggling, gun toting ways as villains for spirit week here at my high school. How many of your high school teachers dressed up like biker babes?! I think I should score a few cool factor points on this one.). I must have forgotten to knock on wood when I shared how much better I am enjoying this school year teaching my Sophomore classes. I must have forgotten to ward against jinxes when I shared how much better my son was doing at school. I must have forgotten to not allow my contentedness with life to be too obvious. The tree spirits heard, and they retaliated.

tree spirit attack

Both of our water heaters broke at the same time last week. Not too big of a deal unless you live in a place like, oh, let’s say Texas– where the flood plane is too high, and where there is too much clay in the soil, and where flash floods are so common, that we can’t have basements.

Where do you put water heaters if you can’t put them in a basement because you don’t have one? The attic, of course! Duh! Silly you! We don’t want anyone to see them after all. No one will see them up there. It’s the perfect place!

Ummm, okay architect genius who came up with that idea . . . did you not take into account the fact that water heaters have a shelf life and are prone to start leaking when they corrode, and by the very nature of being out of sight, they often leak without detection, until they leak so badly that it, quite literally, starts pouring from the ceiling?!?!?!?!?

Yes, that’s right. Pouring from the ceiling. That is what my children came home to on Friday. Ceilings that had actually collapsed from the water pouring down, beautiful wood floors that were already warping, and carpets that squished when you walked. Fun times!

ceiling

Thank God for insurance companies! They set us up in a hotel for a week until they could dry things out. They even insisted on a hotel with a kitchenette for our convenience. But then it came time to check out, and, oops! They hadn’t quite remembered to send that check on time so, “Sorry! You’ll just have to cover that on your own for now! We’ll reimburse you!”

Ummm . . . $1000 hotel bill plus a $1500 bill for a newly installed water heater . . . I don’t know about you, but we don’t have that kind of cash lying around so financial crisis ensues. Ho–ly–Crap!!!

Being a silver lining kind of girl, I take my best friend up on a girl’s night out to take my mind off of it all. This will be good. I’ll get to see a preview of the movie “Gone Girl” with one of my favorite people. Just what I need.

Where is that damn wood when I need it! If only I had had some to knock on!

lurking

Just as I tried to leave my school to head to the Angelika, the heavens opened and burst. My drought dry land was all of a sudden Venice. I think I could have gotten there faster on foot. Even running to the car with my head covered, I still managed to get sopping wet, and then I had to sit in traffic for a good 2+ hours only to arrive at the wrong location (thank you GPS). By the time I finally got to the theater, it was too late to eat, so we had to make a dinner of popcorn. I love popcorn and all, but not really what I had in mind for dinner!

But all’s good. I was with my awesome friend who I hadn’t seen in far too long, and I was getting to see one of the most anticipated movie screenings of the year. Lucky me!

WHERE is that damn wood when I need to knock on it!

Great friend, great movie, feeling better . . . and then the lady sitting next to me got up. She got up and quite literally dumped an entire coke in my just finally dried from the spontaneous flood lap. From shoulder to foot, I was covered with cold, wet, sticky coke.

The fitting end, to a fitting week. So apt. Almost poetic really. How could I be upset? It was the epitomy, the concrete portrayal, of my week–quite literally getting dumped on. It couldn’t have been penned better.

Surely, it’s over. At last. It’s a fitting ending, so that means it’s the end, right?

Dammit! Where is that wood!

Excuse me, while I take this phone call . . .

“What? My daughter ran into the door on her way into school this morning? Did you say concussion watch?! What the *&%^$#@#@@#$$%!”

knockonwood

That’s it. Our ancestors KNEW something. Bad things come in threes (or tens) and I am never again going to forget to knock on wood. Jeez already! I learned my lesson now back the *&%$ off! 😉

Blueberries . . . Yum! The taste of summer

I love summer–for so very many reasons! I get the summer off (well at least as “off” as a mother of three can get!). I get to laze by my pool in one of my various lovely sun hats (which I adore but get so few opportunities to wear!) lounging with a good book drinking hard lemonade under a brilliant blue sky. At least until mid-July that is, when the Texas summer hits its scorching intensity at which point I load up my kiddos and trek up North to visit my adorable little nephews and the craziest three year old in the whole world, all of whom I adore and don’t get to see nearly enough (and of course, my mom and dad and brother/sister and brother/sister-in-laws, grandmas, grandpas and the various multitude of other relatives . . . 😉 ). All of this and the many other things–picnics, visits to Six Flags, Water Parks, and various festivals, family game nights/movie nights, the list is endless–that summer entails make it the time I look forward to the most every year.

041
One of the things I love that you might not think about right away is fruit. I love fruit, all kinds of fruit, and almost all of it is in season–bowls full of melon, pancakes smothered in strawberries, nectarines, and whipped cream, and blueberries in every way, shape and form I can construe. . . it makes me hungry just thinking about it! Yum!!

One of the things I look forward to every summer is when the price of blueberries takes a nose dive. I make blueberry pancakes, homemade blueberry streusel muffins, and my mom’s amazing Blueberry Buckle. I make blueberry everything. We gorge on blueberries. It’s fantastic!

Blueberry Buckle in particular, especially warm from the oven, is a bit like heaven for your mouth–and it’s so easy to make! My mom, who is a bit like Martha Stewart, only a much nicer, non-prison visiting version, introduced me to this recipe and every year I wait with anticipation for the chance to make it again.

So, now, when blueberries can be bought for a song and a smile, give it a try and let me know what you think! I don’t think you will regret it!

blueberry buckle

Mom’s Blueberry Buckle

1/4 C. butter, softened

3/4 C. sugar

1 egg

1/2 C. milk

2 C. flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

2 C. fresh blueberries

Topping

2/3 C. brown sugar

1/2 C. flour

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/3 C. cold butter

Pre-heat oven to 375. Mix wet ingredients together. Add dry ingredients. Fold in blueberries carefully (you don’t want to mush them or you want have your big, plump berries). Batter will be thick. Spread evenly in a greased 9×13 pan. Mix together topping ingredients. Make sure the butter is cool, you want the topping crumbly, not clumped. Sprinkle evenly over cake batter. Bake for 40-45 minutes.

 

Enjoy!

(It makes a scrumptious breakfast with a bowl of fruit on the side 🙂 )

I made a right turn at love, a left turn at happily ever after, and ended up in Oz

Sometimes lately, I feel like I’ve made my way into someone else’s story. There’s nothing wrong with this story; it’s just not my own. It feels like some great cosmic trickster picked me up and dropped me into a life I never planned on living, and yet, here I am–going through the motions.

Have you ever watched a movie and drifted off for a couple of scenes and when you woke up, nothing made sense? You weren’t really sure how the characters got there or what it all meant? That’s what my life feels like. Like I drifted off for a while and when I woke up, I found myself in a world not of my own choosing, one that I never planned to live–an alternate reality of sorts.

It’s kind of surreal. Like I’m on a cosmic caoursel that just keeps moving, turning and turning, never slowing down, never stopping. Around and around I go . . . no chance to get off and to get on the ride I’m supposed to be on. And yet, all my choices led me here. . . Or have they?

carousel

 

We all set out with a destination in mind. When we’re young, the world is wide open, our minds are full of dreams. There are things we know we want–marriage, children–at least sometime down the road. Some things, we think we want–but when it really comes down to it–we don’t really want them at all. Others, we want, we pursue–but then life gets in the way. These are our dreams deferred, delayed, and sometimes, our dreams forgotten and lost forever. They drift into the land of “should have been,” “could have been,” and “if only.”

When I set out on this journey called “life on my own,” adulthood, or whatever you want to call it, I had it all plotted out. I knew what I wanted: where I wanted to go, who I wanted to become, the lifestyle I wanted to live. I saw it all as a story, and I was the heroine. My life was progressing from one logical chapter to the next logical chapter, and it all looked just how I wanted it to be.

outline

But then I met my husband.

He was part of my story, the story I wanted, the one I had planned. He was, but still he changed it–my story veered, turned, took a side road. The destination appeared to be the same, but it took a different route. He rode in with his charm and his own story–and a pile full of plans and dreams of his own, and so, he changed my story forever.

He was one of the characters I wanted, one I dreamed about, but the thing about life that is so different from a story is that it’s not written by the mind of one, but the mind and wishes and plans of many. Even though our dreams seemed to be in alignment, I was no longer making choices based only on myself–and so the story changed.

And after marriage, of course, come the children. That’s when you really start seeing the unfamilar territory. Road blocks, no outlet, detours. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t get rid of a single one of them (well, at least most days!). They are my joy, but, though we know in theory how much those little people are going to change our lives, the reality is so much more than we can understand until we live it. Nothing in our world is ever the same. It’s not the same story–we’re not even the hero anymore. We become a supporting character so that our children can be the hero or heroine in their own story.

The reality is that we can plot out our lives and outline our story, but life doesn’t work like that. It doesn’t follow our plans, and it certainly doesn’t consult us. Life is messy. Chaotic. Life is filled with the unexpected–disappointments, doors closing and doors opening. It is filled with heartbreak and loss, new birth and growth–and change.

life map

We think we choose our paths in life, but, in so many ways, we really don’t. It chooses us. In the past, they attributed it to fate or the cosmos. Today we sometimes say it is God or maybe mere chance–luck or unluckiness. Whichever way you want to term it, the reality is, so often our choices are few, and sometimes, even when we think we are choosing, our choices are really being chosen for us.

I recently read Lauren Oliver’s trilogy because my students are reading her book Delerium for my class. (I loved that book, btw! So much better than I expected!) In her final book  of the trilogy, “Requiem,” she makes a statement that puts it so well.

“They wanted the power to feel, to think, to choose for themselves. They couldn’t have known that even this was a lie–that we never really choose, not entirely. We are always being pushed and squeezed down one road or another. We have no choice but to step forward, and then forward again, and then forward again; suddenly we find ourselves on a road we haven’t chosen at all. But maybe happiness isn’t in the choosing. Maybe it’s in the fiction, in the pretending; that wherever we have ended up is where we intended to be all along.”

We start out choosing, but so often those very choices are dictated by the pushing and squeezing of fate and the cosmos. So few of us really end up where we intended at all. We come to terms with where we are. We might even love where we are, but it is not where we set out to go in the beginning.

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Maybe this is where I was meant to be all along, even though it’s not where I intended to go. Maybe I ended up here because of random chance and a good dose of both luck and unluckiness. Maybe it doesn’t feel like the life I was supposed to live, but it is the life I am living.

Maybe I’m just having an early mid-life crisis and no one else has every felt this way or knows what I am talking about at all . . . 😉

Or maybe, life is about rolling with the punches, accepting the role of fate and making the most of the choices that God–life–fate–the universe–allow us to make.

What are we doing? Technology: the curse of this generation

When I was a kid and I got to school early, I hung out with friends. I talked. If I was in an anti-social mood, maybe I read. If I was in a waiting room at the doctor’s office and there was no one to talk to and I was surrounded by dull magazines, I thought. I thought about the world and my place in it. I thought about God, who he was and what I believed. I thought of the future and who I wanted to become. I rifled through my past mistakes and thought about what I might do differently next time.

Of course, that was in the age before cell phones and the brainless activity that is always at the tips of our fingers these days. You know, eons ago before this new technological age. At least, that is what it seems like to so many of my students. How in the world did we do without technology?!

I teach Freshmen. I think there are few who are so in touch with the trends of culture and the shifts of our youth as a high school teacher. And what I see lately disturbs me greatly.

When my students get to school early, the vast majority don’t hang out with their friends, and even if they do, they aren’t talking to them. They are too busy texting the friends who aren’t there or tweeting about some inane something or playing a game or . . . well you get the idea. Too often, when my first hour class comes in, I will have 20 kids all sitting their quietly with cell phones out in their own little worlds. They are disconnected from their peers. They are losing their ability to communicate effectively, and, so many of them, as a result, feel isolated and alone.

Group Of Teenage Students Sitting Outside On College Steps Using Mobile Phone

When this generation (and so many of us in the Gen X generation as well as Millennials are falling into this as well) has down time, out come the phones. No small talk with strangers that teaches how to interact and learn from others. No self-reflection so that they grow as individuals and wrestle with the higher concepts of the world and their place in it. When I ask my students to reflect or write an essay about what they think, so many of them don’t even know how to reflect and have never even thought about these philosophical or existential concepts. All great thought and great deeds come from moments of reflection. What are we doing to our future?

We started “The Odyssey” in my classes a couple of weeks ago. Along with it, the kids need to read a modern epic. It was horrifying to hear the number of my students who asked if their book could be found on spark notes and when I said that, no, I didn’t think any of these would be on spark notes, they followed up by asking if there was a movie made from the book. When the answer was no, the kids panicked. “Mrs. Graham! What are we supposed to do?”

I gave them a blank look and responded, “What you are supposed to be doing– you read it.”

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They were flabbergasted. They don’t read. They hate reading. There has to be an easier way. Can’t I just let them pass without making them read? Why do they have to do anything at all? The number of students who seem to think that just sucking air should be all they need to do to pass is staggering. If there is not a short cut provided through some technological means or another, they simply don’t want to do it anymore.

It’s not that any of my classmates didn’t cheat when I was growing up. Many of them did. It’s the fact that the number is rising incredibly because of the ease of cheating. Plagiarism actually took some thought and effort in my day (and I’m not that old btw!!). Now every kid has a computer or access to one and all they need to do is google spark notes or some other comparable website and, bam! They don’t need to think at all; someone has already done the thinking for them. If a student wanted to plagiarize when I was in school they had to go to the library or even a bookstore to hunt down spark notes or something comparable–now it’s at the tips of our fingers and so many of the kids don’t see anything wrong with that at all.

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I can’t help but wonder what this is going to mean as this generation hits maturity. They are the generation of entitlement. They are used to not being held accountable. They are used to doing the bare minimum to get by and when it’s not enough to get by, too often, we simply lower the bar to accomodate them.

Obviously, not all of them fall into this. There are many great kids out there who are hard workers. There just aren’t as many as there used to be and the number of kids who want to coast through life playing video games, watching youtube videos or pretending that life is just one big party, well, there are just SO MANY of them. If the few strong ones have to support the rest of them, well . . . quite frankly, we’ll go belly up.

What’s the answer? I don’t know. Technology is wonderful in so many ways, but as with so much in life, anything out of balance can become destructive.

My 2nd and 4th grade children are continually complaining because all they have is a flip phone between them (for emergencies only) and all their friends have iphones (I don’t even have an iphone!) and ipads, kindles and nooks (again, I don’t even have one of these!).

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They can complain away, because I’m just no willing to go there. I want them to talk and play, use their imaginations and think about life. I don’t want them glued to a glowing screen. I know I can’t keep them from it forever, but first, I want to teach them to use their minds, to enjoy a good book, and how to make friends–and keep them–real friends, not just the text variety that seems to be so in these days. It would be easier to give them the phone, but, well, isn’t that the problem right there? The best is rarely the easiest.

I think I might be a bit pathological . . .

It would likely not come as any real surprise to any who know me that I tend to be a bit compulsive. I mean, why do anything part way when you can jump off the deep end? If you’re going to do something, you may as well do it right, right? So why buy one new outfit when you can make it a mission and get the whole summer wardrobe updated in one fell swoop. Why tackle one room in your house when you can tackle them all (and drive yourself crazy in the process)? That’s kind of my approach to life and it definitely is a bit pathological!

Most of the time, despite the obvious pathological nature of this “all or nothing” way of life, it doesn’t rock my boat all that much. Sure it means that periodically I find it necessary to hole myself away in my bedroom, feed my family pizza and carry-out while I re-read every single Sookie Stackhouse book before the finale is released (only to be as thoroughly disappointed as I have ever been in any book I have anticipated I might add!),  but hey! Even a mom needs to indulge her pathology once in a while, right?

Most of my life, this has worked without any real negative side effects. Yes, I’m a crazy person until I can mark that task (say decorating my entire house within the first year after moving in) off of my to-do list, but by golly! I get it done! And usually in record time. Lately, however, the boat has started rocking and what once seemed like little more than a quirk, seems like a somewhat bigger problem and often ends up being an impossibility.

So, can I just back off and go about it normally, you know, like just watch the new season of Game of Thrones without having to re-watch every bloody episode (pun intended) that came before first? Nope! It just loses the full affect! So, here I sit, somewhere in the third season unable to jump in and watch tonight’s episode–all because I’m neurotic.

So, I’m wondering how many of you are as crazy as me and have to re-read every book or re-watch the whole series before jumping into the latest installment of your favorite show/book?  Am I alone in this, or are some of you just as nuts as I am?

 

 

Sometimes less truly is more . . .

This has been a year full of change. After four years of being a stay at home mom, we decided that it was time for me to go back to work. Lily, my youngest was four and she is a very social little girl. She was ready for school and I was ready for work.

Some moms seem to thrive in their stay-at-home status. I was not one of those moms. Financially, it made sense for me to stay at home, and honestly, I felt compelled to stay at home, but it was a constant struggle for me. I adore my children. I love savoring the moments with them, filling up my jar of precious memories. I love the changes but mourn the amazing moments that growth leaves behind. I love spending time with my children above all else, but, I did not like me as I struggled to conform to this role I seemed to be so ill-suited for.super_hero_mom_poster-rb00ac9d631604ce3822afbae9898c56d_wad_8byvr_216

For years I have struggled with a sense of guilt. Being a loving, consistent mother is the most important thing I’ve ever done in my life. Shouldn’t that be “enough” for me? I would look at some of my friends who seemed so content or even blissful in that role, and I wondered why I was so unhappy. A good mother would be content in that role, right?

I was full of trepidation when I accepted the contract to go back to teaching. Would my children suffer? Would I be able to balance everything? Was I doing the right thing?

It didn’t take me long to realize that the decision we had made was the right one for us. I am such a better person with the challenge and mental stimulation that teaching gives me! I am happier, and, I believe that I am also a better mother.

 

That is not to say that this year has been an easy one. For seven months we made the grueling commute from home in south Dallas, to our jobs in north Dallas. (Anyone who has ever driven in Dallas during rush hour knows how awful that was!) Now imagine that same commute cooped up with three bored children . . . in the car with you . . . for the entire commute! Yeah! That has become my vision of what hell must be like! My littlest, literally, seemed unable to stop talking. Imagine the running commentary of a four year old at 6:30 in the morning before you’ve had your first cup of coffee . . .059

 

In fact, it was so bad, that we decided to move to North Dallas in the middle of the school year! Crazy I know, but such a good decision! My son is like a whole new kid (I won’t even get into the troubles we had with him this year! :S) since we moved. It’s amazing what a difference having time to play after school can make!

So, what’s the point of all of this? I guess what I want to say is that no one can know what is right for you and your family. I stayed at home because I needed to, and I don’t regret the time I spent at home with the kids. I just wish I had spent less of it feeling guilty for not being who I thought I was supposed to be!

Being a parent requires such balance. It is easy to lose ourselves in caring for our children. It is also easy to be a crappy parent because we are too focused on what we need and not focused on what is best for our children. Being a good parent means putting our children in front of ourselves. But it also means, being able to tell the kids to go watch a show or play in their rooms for a bit so that you can keep a sense of your own identity in the midst of this crazy thing we call parenting.

Yes, you could take the time to work on your child’s reading or to play another game with them, but sometimes, the best thing we can do for our children is to make sure that we don’t lose ourselves, because, after all, that is what makes us the best parent of all!

Ready! Set! ROAD TRIP!!

So, I’ve been a bit silent on the blog front. It was one crazy summer!!  You forget how nice and peaceful (at least comparatively) it is to have your older children at school leaving only one at home . . .  until summer break rolls around and the inevitable rounds of bickering, tattle-tailing and sound barrier breaking games begin and remind you that the stress of the school year is more like butterflies floating around and birds singing than the stress that is now your life.

There were days when I felt completely shell-shocked by the time my husband came home. All I could do was stare at him blankly. It’s what I like to call MAJOR stimulation overload! This partial introvert starts to report an error signal in such moments. It’s as if my brain starts shouting, “MALFUNCTION!! Must stop! Shutting down now!” And just like your computer when it shuts down, forcing closed any running programs and becoming unresponsive, well, that’s pretty much me. My face is like a black screen with one little blinking light that does not respond to any of your commands. It just . . .stares back at you . . . blankly . . . blinking . . . but not responding. Yep. That’s pretty much me this summer!

So, what do you do when your kids are driving you crazy?? What do you do to bring sanity back to the chaotic cacophony of a mother’s summer? You plan a cross country trip of course!

Did I mention that said cross country trip is all by yourself with said children?!

Okay. So maybe that wasn’t my brightest move ever! But children overload was trumped by the desire to flee the debilitating heat of a Texas summer. So, yes, I piled my three children into our little PT Cruiser and the kids and I hit the road for our annual trek from Texas to Wisconsin. Yes, I drive it by myself, and yes, we do it all in one day without stopping. Maybe I’m a bit crazy. Yeah . . . I suppose I kind of am . . .

This year, might have been enough to have given this “I can do anything . . . I am woman hear me roar . . . power Mama” a dose of very much needed sanity! You see, somewhere in the middle of Missouri, our overly helpful bank decided to put a hold on our check card due to these unusual out of state purchases. After all, they wanted to protect us!

 Normally, though it might have been frustrating, it wouldn’t have been cataclysmic. However, in the chaos of getting me and my three heat-weary, sibling overloaded children packed and out the door, I had forgotten to take my typical trip to the ATM for the “just in case” cash I usually bring. Yep. All I had was that frozen bank card and a twenty at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon . . . well besides my three cranky, bored children who had already been cooped up in that little car for almost 12 hours! 

Yep, Mama lost it! Tears, drama, and I have to admit, some fairly bad (okay, VERY bad!) language came pouring out of me all at the same time. I think I called my husband about thirty times in a half hour trying to get to him before the bank closed, and failing to get a hold of him, I called my poor mother and poured out my tale of woe to her regardless of the fact that she was 1000 miles away and unable to do a thing for us except worry. Not exactly fair for her, but I was desperate!

Luckily, my husband finally received my frantic SOS and skipped out on work to high tail it over to the bank and play the hero, which he has to do way too often to suit this independent, strong-minded woman of the modern world! I’m so glad that my husband isn’t averse to playing the knight in shining armor to my damsel in distress. (The truth is, I kind of like knowing that I have a knight in the back ground who can come and “fix it” when I can’t do it myself.  While you’re at, feel free to hold the door open for me . . . whichever feminist decided to throw THAT baby out with the bath water  . . . let me tell you . . . !)

Needless to say, next year, when that colossal road trip rolls around, I might have to rethink doing it by myself, or at least consider not doing it all in one day . . . And I will DEFINITELY have cash as well as my bank card . . . and maybe a credit card too . . . just in case . . .