bonne année

New Year’s has always been emotional.

I remember watching the ball drop on television on New Year’s Eve 1989, and thinking, “Good-bye, 80s…..whatever that means.”  In the last moments of the year, the experiences of the year are still too close to understand what it means to bid the year farewell.  With the exception of a night of cocktails or network specials televised from some cold street far away, it is just another end to another day.

Except the world tells us it should be so much more.

Which makes me fearful.

I become afraid.

Will I slowly watch my life pass by, year by year, without ever really achieving all that I should or can?  Will I sit here, New Year’s to New Year’s, letting the world live lives better, more exciting, more accomplished, more fulfilled than my own?

Or, will I succumb to the pressure and find myself, once again, standing on a crowded sidewalk somewhere, freezing and cringing between strangers’ bodies, hoping this is going to make me happier in some earthly way?

And resolutions.  Oh, the resolutions.  The silent pressure of Day One-One, whispering in your ear, “This year will be different, but only if you promise.”

It’s fear talking.

That’s fear telling you that you need to change.  That your life isn’t good enough already.  Fear hisses in your ears, “You need to be better…now.”

But is this true?

Aren’t we all perfect just as we are?  And if so, perhaps the promises we should be making are to see this perfection in our souls every day.  We should promise to sing loudly over the whispers and screams of fear.  Sing a song of love.  Find the beauty and take a wild swim in it, letting it wet our eyes and fill our ears.  Taste its salt on our tongues.

So today, on this frightening Day One-One, I will take my fears in my embrace and kiss them.

I kiss the fear of living a life unfulfilled.  I kiss my fear of failure.  I kiss my fear of financial misfortune.  I kiss my fears of fading youth, insufficient beauty, failing health, lonely days and nights, and heartache.  I kiss my fears of losing loved ones, fast growing babies, and pain.  I kiss this nagging fear of empty words and rejected works.  I kiss my fear of judgment and disdain.

I kiss these fears and smother them in love, because love speaks louder than fear.  Always.

And tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, on the far less frightening days of the new year, I will remind myself of this promise of love.

May it be so with you, too.

à la prochaine et bonne année

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“…and other duties, as necessary.”

When I began my teaching career more than a decade ago, I remember this phrase buzzing between the seasoned teachers with whom I worked.  Whenever we found ourselves picking up the slack in a rat-tattered budget or completing tasks that — at the time — felt as though they were not best suited to the expertise of an educator, you could bank on someone muttering this token catch all clause.

“…And other duties, as necessary.”

It was this phrase, vague by design, that spoke volumes in describing the true nature of our roles.

Today, I look back on this past decade and feel as though I’m in the midst of my second career.  I’m still an elementary school teacher, but oh, how times have changed.  I owe much of this transition to my own professional relocation.  As an under-ripened professional, I worked in a small (by comparison), rural county.  Its leadership was very much a “good ol’boys”, fraternal pack.  My principals were in the twilight of their careers, and I was a wide-eyed, idealistic, childless young thing.

Now, I serve in a school more approximately three times the size of my previous schools.  Amidst a county as large and diverse as this, my school is a shining star.  We are a model of modern excellence in education — a feat we work HARD to maintain.  My instruction has been wholly transformed, and I never, ever want to go back.

Quite honestly though, the security on which I once thought I could bank indefinitely, has vanished.  Like rain in a dust bowl, nothing is for certain anymore.  Ten years ago, I would have said — unwaiveringly — that public education would WITHOUT FAIL be there for me and my children throughout my lifetime, and probably the lifetimes of my children.  Today?  I have my doubts, to say the least.

Which makes me think about those “other duties”.

Who — if not me — will help that boy get his teeth cleaned for the first time ever at the age of 11?

Who — if not us — will call his mother and beg her to take him to get the cavities filled, so he can stop crying each afternoon and start learning to read?

Who — if not me — will talk to parents about the trouble their child is having with friends on the playground, in the cafeteria, and in class?

Who — if not for a teacher — will help divorced parents get on the same page long enough to support their child academically?

Who will teach parents how they can help their children study?

Who — if not for me — will whisper in that child’s ear, “I want to see you do [this]….because I know you are smarter than this.”

Who — if not me — will tell that child that I’ve been there too — it’s going to be OK — we can get through this together.

Who will tell them they’re beautiful?

Who will read to them with all the right voices, just like the character sounds in their heads?

Who will cry in all the sad parts and ask them for a tissue?

Who will help them lie in their stories — I mean REALLY lie, let’s make it a whopper of a tale — because Writers have PERMISSION to lie?

Who will squeeze them and get all teary-eyed looking at their baby pictures, as though it was their own baby standing so grown beside them today?

Who else is going to fuss at them like a Mama, hug them when they get hurt, worry about them at night, and pray/hope/wish/dream for their futures?

Ten years ago, I was Carly’s first grade teacher.  Carly was six.  As I dismissed my class each day, I stood at my door and gave every child a hug or a high five (you know — for the ones that were already “too cool” to hug the teacher each day).  Carly, prepared as always, was most often one of the first out the door….but Carly was ALWAYS the last to leave.  She stood, leaning from the weight of a backpack as big as her, waiting patiently for me to close the door behind me.  Every single day, for 180 days, she took my hand in hers and we walked together to the car line.  Every single day, she waved good-bye to me and I watched her little sandy blonde ponytail bee-bop to and fro as she bounced her way back to her mother.

I still love my little Carly.

Rashard.  Jasmine.  Joseph — who wrote his name with a “Flying J”.  Monique.  Dakota.  Jesus — who looked like a little Mexican Buddha, just as cute as he could be.

And Paul.  I taught Paul in first grade, and again in third.  Every Christmas, I hang the ornament on my tree that he, with the help of his mother, sewed for me with his six year-old hands.  He cut out rocking horses from fabric and glued them to the hand-stitched miniature pillow.  I hang it by the little red ribbon he carefully attached.  I remember how proud I felt to see him growing into such a little man.  He was such a good big brother to his baby sister.  He was such a smart little guy, and good to the bone.

Who will carry these memories with them forever, if not for teachers like me?

These are the duties we are charged with.  The loving of and caring for children.

And now, I feel kicked and beaten.  I feel abused and undermined.  We are taken for granted and belittled.

And on top of it all, now I’m crying for my own children, too.  Who will love them?  Who will carry them in their hearts forever, when all of the good ones are gone?

Together, We Are Me

The Ballroom

Ever wonder what it would be like to have a “Me” convention?

Imagine if everyone that ever knew you in your life were gathered into the same hotel ballroom.  All the feet that walked beside you through all the various stages of your life would mill around on the very same field of paisley carpet.  All the voices that ever filled your ears — whisperers of secrets, promisers of love, bearers of betrayal, midnight gigglers, comforting shooshers, hateful adolescent teasers, scornful superiors.  All the faces to which you’ve smiled, smirked, sneered, batted eyelashes, and silently stared.  All of the hands you’ve held, hugs you’ve welcomed, slaps you’ve suffered, kisses you’ve cherished, and shoulders you’ve felt coldly turn.  All of these reflections of you would stand, beneath one garish, over-sized chandelier, together.

Have you ever wondered what would they think?  What would they say to each other in those moments before you enter the room, revealing their connection?

What if that girl from your college classes described “you” to your old grade school boyfriend?  Would he believe it was the same you?

What if your boss listened to your lab partner from high school chemistry class?  Would they ever recognize the person being described?

What if your best friend told all your old secrets to your partner at work?  Would they still sit quietly at their desk, sipping their Starbucks and checking email with you on Monday morning?

What if your child’s teacher talked about you to your brother?  Would he smile silently and think, “I know that girl, too”?

Have you ever been the fly on the wall, watching yourself morph from the intelligent professional, pushing herself to grow and improve; to the harried mother, toting groceries and wrangling children; to the wily woman, wielding herself through the world with skill and daring?  Have you ever observed these transformations and marveled at your versatility?

How could it be that I can have so many selves?  Is one more “me” than the other?

This is not to be confused with the id, the ego, and the superego.  Nor are these various selves just stages…I laugh at my picky eater who, in one moment skoffs at cheese, and the next is scooping handfuls to top her chili.  I chuckle when my fickle babe swears off long skirts, only to raid her sister’s closet in search of that very thing.  This, though, of which I speak… is much more than that.

How is it possible that we can carry on entire relationships with hundreds of various people, and each of them can create their own version of you?  While, yes, it is true that, in part, they have designer’s rights and sculpt the “You” that they know like putty in their mind.  But it is not entirely a result of their perception.  In so many ways, you teach them how to define you.

I’m believing more and more that we choose friends and acquaintances by what pieces of us we see in their eyes.

With you, I am smart.

With you, I am bold.

With you, I am funny.

With you, I am kind.

With you, I am charming.

With you, I am eloquent.

With you, I am an achiever.

With you, I am safe.

With you, I’m desirable.

With you, I’m strong.

 

With you, I am me.

I suppose this is what we’re hoping for.  One true, complete reflection.  Like mirrors stacked upon mirrors.

 

This is not a quest for self.  This is a quest for reflection of self.  This is the pursuit of complexity.  This is me, wearing white gloves as I handle my “self”, so as not to tarnish the sheen.

 

Buzzing

It’s a mess in there.

But, it’s a necessary part of life.

I wake up (or rather, lie awake) with a hypnotizing buzz in my mind.  I race from petal to petal, gather tiny golden specks, send messages to other workers, and always return home.

At times, I wonder how long this pace can be maintained.  I realize the answer: as long as I want. Which leads me to a grand admission: I like it.

It is my right to choose this life.  It is my obligation to choose to be me.

While I toil away, I smile at the steady hum of my life.

I am needed.

I am valued.

I am useful.

I am challenged.

At this thought, the weight of my burden lightens under my wings.  I am no longer the worker, but the queen.

Coming back.

Remember the sound of dial-up modems?   That familiar sound of a digital dial, loud staticky racket, pingy noises and mysterious clanging?  That’s where I am tonight.  Dialing up.  Patiently waiting with my fingertips hovering above the mouse and keyboard…waiting to reconnect.

I have no plan, really.  But do we ever?

As I walk back into this virtual world, I know I don’t want to be the same person I was.  I don’t want to be defined easily…because I am not defined easily.

This evening, as I prepared a strata for the morning, I noticed a mole on my right hand.  A tiny little brown spot, probably more aptly named a freckle than a mole.  I’ve never noticed it before.  Is this a new discovery or a new addition, I pondered.

I have a white birthmark on the inside of my left thigh.  It’s oblong and a little smaller than my thumb.  It used to be much more pronounced than it is now.  Conversely, the small gathering of white splotchy birthmarks on my chest, is more pronounced in my adult years than it ever was in my youth.  One of the larger white spots looks like a sea star with a pale caramel-colored freckle right in the middle of it.

My eyes are ambiguous.  Some say they’re blue.  Some say gray.  A few have even called them green.  My pupils are large and deep.  The whites of my eyes are much less white than they used to be…these damn non-allergies have pinkened them up substantially over the past few years.

I’ve been told I look like Elizabeth Taylor, Brooke Shields, Kelly Preston, my mother – despite the fact that she is blonde, and my grandmother on my father’s side.  I don’t see the resemblances at all, except perhaps if I squint really hard.  To me, I look like me.

I try hard and fail daily.  I don’t know what my life will look like in twenty years, or ten, or five, or even a few months from now.  I know today.  I know the feel of these keys beneath my fingers and the stinging in my tired eyes.  I know last night I drank red wine and sang Miley Cyrus into a hairbrush as I danced in the bathroom while my daughters bathed.  I know I will sleep alone in my bed tonight, with two beloved doggies to keep me warm.   I know tomorrow I will hit snooze more than I care to admit, bake a strata, change my clothes at least three times before making up my mind (and that’s an underestimate), rush out the door late again, and welcome my students into our room with a song or a cheerful “bonjour”.  Throughout the day, I will crack my whip and sprinkle sugar as needed.  I will look forward to kissing my BigGirl in the lobby and welcome the feel of my soft, cool sheets as I set my alarm with good intentions for an early rise, knowing quite well that odds are stacked against that.  Tomorrow again, I will try hard and fail plenty.

It’s going to be OK, though.  I’m going to be OK.  I’m tweaking and growing and working and thinking and pushing and reflecting everyday.  Every single day.

I’m changing.

And I like who I’m becoming….

Ready or not, here I come.