Today, Katie threw a tantrum. Complete with loud cries and a finale of flinging herself onto the floor. Her screams could surely be heard by every neighbor within a mile radius. I'd refused to give her what she wanted--agreeing to hair extensions or a weave for Homecoming. Nope, this was not the cry of a terrible two year old, but a terrible teen (16 to be exact), and one who has obviously been given a bit too much latitude lately.
Let me rewind a bit, Katie is the middle child--textbook middle child. She claims the world has wronged her and her vengance is to disrupt and agitate the lives of everyone else. No one understands her except her daddy, sometimes, when she bats her long lashes and lays on the charm. She has no emotions and every emotion. You get the picture, right. You surely know a Katie.
"You don't understand me! You never listen to me! I wish I could talk to Nina. She understood me," Katie bellowed before slamming my door, then her own (which because I'm in parent mode is technically still my door) and face planted into her bed. Nina is what my children and my nephews and niece called my mother who passed away on June 7th. Nina could relate to Katie even if she really couldn't relate to Katie. She had a way of helping Katie see her own absurdity and revealing too much of my own teenage rebellion to make Katie feel like whatever she'd done she still had not totally fallen too far off the side of the cliff (even if in my estimation she'd done a swan dive).
Until the Katie tornado blew through with that statement, I thought I'd experienced every aspect of loss related to my mother. I missed talking to her, laughing with her, getting advice from her, sharing with her, but Katie's hell storm of fury revealed another thing I will miss about my mother--her ability to calm the storm and be a confidant and influencer of my children.
Marcus, the other teenager in the house, came in my bedroom 10 minutes after the tantrum choking out these words through his tears, "I really miss Nina,too." Katie had struck a nerve with him as well. Who could he turn to when he wanted to talk? Who would tell him he was right and wrong in the same breath?
I thought I was at a point in the grieving process where I knew what to expect and knew all I'd lost. I am not. As Katie hurled herself onto her bed, I hurled myself onto mine and threw my own tantrum. And mine was justified.
t h u m p,
t h u m p.
The heart slows
And without skipping a beat
A backstory is invented
Ice cold and hard
The blood thirsty
Roar to attack
And then silence
The low groans of pain
from hearts still beating
With similar backstories
Constructed but not real
To fit a mold
But really untold
With no sheet or blanket or love
The underserved and never protected
combine to create
A bleeding red
Lately, people have been telling me constantly to "Be Strong." It has been so constant, in fact, I started to resent the statement. Truthfully, I'd been repeating it to myself for the past few months, so as others joined the fray it just got to be too much. I thought "Be Strong" is B.S.
What is strength?
What does it mean to "be strong"?
I really don't know. What I do know is that strength is relative. I am strong enough physically to fight with the best of them--believe that! I am strong enough to carry my mother when she is weak--know that! Physically, there is no doubt but that I am strong. I can feel my physical strength and measure it.
Emotional strength, well, that is a different story altogether. I can't feel this strength and, as a result, I am struggling to define and categorize it, and to really know what people are asking of me.
I keep questioning myself trying to grasp the concept:
Is just putting one foot in front of the other strength?
Is it moving when your body is so tired and you seem to be functioning on autopilot?
Is strength pretending to understand the incomprehensible?
Is it smiling when all you want to do is go curl up in ball and retreat, scream, cry and curse?
Is sitting watching being strong? Is trying to maintain a routine being strong?
Is it silence?
Somedays these simple things take all the strength I have.
I'm just not sure any of these things are being strong. I am not sure I am adhering to the advisement of my friends, family or myself because strength is so abstract for me in this life's moment.
So for right now, be strong is B.S. because I can't even conceive it!
Walking into my son's school for a parent teacher conference, I am greeted by rows of tables stacked with overflowing blue bins filled with hats, lonely gloves, sweatshirts, pants and glasses. I wonder: How do kids leave school without their pants? How do you not know your eye glasses are missing? 'Kids are so frivolous,' I think as I work my way through the pseudo swap meet looking to reunite my son with any of his belongings. And as I sift through the dozens of neon colored Under Armour sweatshirts, I start to equate my life to a lost and found.
I am always in one of these states either I've lost my patience with one of my kids (usually the same one) or I've found I'm stronger than I think. I stopped to think about what I've lost and found recently.
*Desire to work for someone else
*Desire to please people/ Need to prove myself to others
*Caring what people think about me
*Patience with most entitled and uneducated Americans
*Respect for Christian Conservatives who judge people under the guise of Christ
*Judgement of others without true introspection
*Need to shield myself from some pain
*Family IS the most important thing
*Acceptance/Peace with myself
*It's okay to be selfish sometimes
*New passions and goals
*A new depth of love, compassion and understanding
*Nothing in this realm lasts forever
*Failure is relative
It is so important in life to lose somethings and find others. It's a process of true growth.
I never found any of my son's belongings at the school swap meet, but all hope is not lost that half his wardrobe will resurface in time.
I love Langston Hughes.
Lately, as life has thrown me a FOUL ball, the words of his Mother to Son poem keep invading my thoughts.
Well, son (daughter), I'll tell you:
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
It's had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor --
But all the time
I'se been a-climbin' on,
And reachin' landin's,
And turnin' corners,
And sometimes goin' in the dark
Where there ain't been no light.
So boy, don't you turn back.
Don't you set down on the steps
'Cause you finds it's kinder hard.
Don't you fall now --
For I'se still goin', honey,
I'se still climbin',
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
Yep, sometimes life ain't no crystal stair. Hell, sometimes there aren't any stairs at all to climb out of your despair. There are just barren places filled with nothing --- no carbon, no dioxide, no oxygen --just times that you don't know how you will even take your next breath because life's blow hit you so hard all the air seems to have escaped you. I'm in one of the those stairless places. Not knowing how I will climb out and sometimes not wanting to. Ready to freeze this frame and not think about "it" or anything. If only I could erase the questions spiraling out of control during my waking and dreaming hours, then I could breathe and continue on. What is beyond the void?
Mother to Daughter
Then I think of Langston's last lines, and I think of what she wants of me and I grasp for the little air I have left. And I trudge forward into the dark where there ain't no light. 'Cause while she's still climbin', so must I.
And when she can't climb anymore, I know, I must carry her on.
I don't do the resolutions thing anymore. After years of disappointment, I decided to ditch them. They'd become sore reminders of my failure, so to the moon, Alice they went! Last year, I wrote affirmations, instead, which I really liked. In my mind's eye, they were the exact opposite of resolutions: positive and never demanding unreasonable things of me--who can lose 50 pounds or go the gym EVERYDAY or read the Bible every night WITHOUT falling asleep after the first few lines--IMPOSSIBLE! My affirmations really changed my view of myself and my world. This year I am trying Ali Edwards' One Little Word approach in addition to my affirmations.
Directions: Pick one word that will be your driving force for 2016. Hear it, say it, meditate on it. Let the word become a part of your lexicon and lifeicon.
Drum roll please ... My one little word is not little at all--it's big; it's huge really. It's LOVE.
Why? I could use more. I'm sure you could use more. Don't we all need some more love? I want to transform. What is more transformative than love?
Reflecting on 2015, it was abundantly clear that love could have made my crooked places straight and mend the wrongs around our world. It is the easiest and hardest thing to give and receive, and yet I want to challenge myself to do just that!
In the words of one of my favorite music groups, a little bit of love is all it takes! Rock on with me as you listen to the music below and spread a little love yourself.
No build up just straight to the point: being comfortable is dangerous--PERIOD.
Comfort - feeling of relief; ease
Like you can finally exhale after a long day or the joy of knowing you have pedaled uphill and can coast on the way down, those moments are comforting but more importantly they are fleeting. Try to hold onto them and you’ll see what I mean. They will quickly slide through your fingers and dissolve.
Real life comfort I’ve learned means, for me, that I am unaware and lax. Hear me out before you beat the keys in the comment section. Lately, I have been inundated with people who I thought had comfortable lives and marriages--not in the social media fake lives constructed and edited sort of way, but face to face in my living room or across the table at a restaurant or at a party and I thought you had your shit together sort of way. Then boom--they drop the news of divorce or we're losing our home or business. WTH? Didn’t we just talk about how comfortable they were in their marriage of umpteen years or how well their business was doing?
OR your kids are getting bigger and you are finally comfortable in your role as a parent. Comfort in parenting is truly a ticking time bomb. You are always a ten second countdown away from a major explosion no matter how awesome your darlings are! Trust me as soon as you think you have them figured out; they grow and change.
OR in the workplace. Is there ever comfort in the workplace? As soon as you are comfortable, you’re toast either you lose that loving feeling for the job you once dreamed about or your employer moves in a different direction (and that seems to happen every other month). Comfort on the job means devaluation.
OR with yourself and your personal growth. You can stop exercising as much because you are just relieved that you’re not where you were. Maybe, it’s as simple as you are comfortable existing on an island or existing in a mob. You are comfortable living without a savings or without giving. You are comfortable in unfulfilling relationships.
All of these statements/situations require almost daily examination that comfort often times negates. Why am I only comfortable when there are throngs of people around? Why have I lost that loving feeling for my job? What is making this marriage tick? Why don’t I give abundantly when I have more than enough?
Don’t mistake me. I am not advocating a constant mental or physical grind. I wholeheartedly believe in rest which is very different than comfort. Rest means to refresh and recover strength and to provide support for something. Rest is fruitful. I know it will propel me while comfort has no end game. It often time keeps you stagnant.
It’s dangerous to ease off the throttle of life. I am not saying be in constant acceleration mode because that too presents its problems, but rev the engine often and zoom out of your comfort zone!
Thank you to some of my most favorite teachers! Because of these educators, I am live my dream of becoming a professional student (which is what most teachers truly are)!
I honor the following teachers:
My 6th grade teacher, Ms. Sczapanik, at St. Bride's pushed me to be better and loved us with tender, tough love. I remember her sitting next to me and talking me through math problems that looked like Chinese to me. I will never forget the test she gave the class and in the directions it said do not do any problem on this test. I learned to always read the directions and now as a teacher I totally understand her motive and how it informed her instruction.
My HPCA science teacher Ms. Blakely was small but mighty and ruled with an iron fist--no excuses. Students with other teachers were dropping Biology like flies complaining about it being too hard. It was SINCERELY hard, but you dared not drop Ms. Blakely's class for fear she would find you even in your dreams and hunt you down and teach Biology to you still. True passion!
My EMPEHI English teacher Ms. Perkins talked and walked with an air of knowledge and she wanted all her students to meet her standards and we did. I imagined she lived in a loft downtown facing the lake. She surely had afternoon tea with girlfriends as they talked about art and literature. I saw her out in the store one day in my neighborhood (probably on her way to her downtown loft that NO Chicago Public teacher could ever afford) and I freaked out. It was like she was a celebrity, but really she was to me!
My Creighton University theater professor whose name I can't remember but his face, his words, his insistence will forever be in my heart extolled my theatrical ability and gave me confidence to try anything. He forced me to try out for Madame Butterfly and coerced me to do a theatrical evening reading performance of Leaves of Grass. I became obsessed with Walt Whitman and had the courage to try out for the University of Illinois School of Theatrical Acts (as a transfer students with TWO open slots) and GET IN! Never would I have had the gusts to do this without his insistence that I had the ability to a theatrical great--my family always says now that the Emmy goes to me, so my teacher was right. I love that I get perform for an audience everyday.
And my favorite, Dr. Laura Tanner, my Boston College English professor who made me believe that I was a gifted student with untold potential. Her unwavering belief in me MADE me NEVER want to disappoint her or myself. I remember her stopping class several times and staring at me and asking my peers to take a moment and consider my statement. She picked apart my first paper like you would not believe and her comment at the end (as I was scared to look because I was sure based on all her comments throughout would be terrible with an F) was BRILLIANT. Who me? The antithesis of a BC students. A young black girl from the South Side of Chicago who goes picks up her daughter on the way home to her tiny apartment. Brilliant was not an adjective I heard often until Dr. Tanner.
Teachers make the world go round! #worldteachersday
My ode to the poetic greats and myself. Don't know why I have been thinking a lot of Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes and Paul Laurence Dunbar, maybe because their contributions shaped me and my inner poet. They have been a part of every time period of my life. When I was young, my mother instilled a love of Paul Laurence Dunbar teaching me how to recite his words and act them out. I can still recite with vigor his poem 'In the Morning.' In high school, I fell in love with the social justice poetry of Langston Hughes: his words, to me, smooth, but sharp. In college, I performed a dramatic reading of parts of 'Leaves of Grass' with a poetry group. I will forever remember the synergy of that experience.
Today, all those memories flooded back to me and I was overwhelmed and overjoyed. I could only write in response. This poem features my soul and some of the words of my poetic heroes.
I celebrate myself and sing
as the fallen leaves
give rise to a symphony of time revealed.
Life in various hues converge
laughs on grape and vine
remembering a childhood that drags black
festering like a sore, but never shall I forget
wearing the masks of grins and lies
where songs are loud but low
memories are sweet and change like
Tree firmed planted
seeds of a new song
of audacity and hope and awareness
The song of myself
inconceivable for some. Bold and brilliant!
speaking bliss to me.
I believe in you, my soul--the other I am
creator and being wrapped into one
healing ancient wounds still open to the flesh
Lover of me. Protector and provider.
wrapping me in the melodies of an eternal
Arose today bloomed.
You and I celebrate myself in all the golden hues of fallen,
It's my cardinal rule, sad but true--never, EVER, read the comments. Have you ever noticed that all the crazies, especially on Yahoo News, expose their lunacy in the comment section?
I tell myself 'don't even look; it's not worth the pain.' Yet, I broke my own rule yesterday. I thought it was safe when I clicked a beloved facebook page's comment section. The post was about teacher solidarity after all. I was sure the comments would be a rallying cry for educators, students and the community supporting the striking teachers in Seattle.
Enter Jeff's comments:
Punched in the gut. Wow! Are there people who truly still believe teachers are mere servants, sans the prefix public, who think "striking is a great way to avoid the struggle ...Your strike is taking up police resources. Hope the kids who are at home unsupervised don't need any assistance from police."
How much you wanna bet Mr. Jeff has never volunteered in a school to see some of the hardest working professionals in action: teaching, learning, consoling, grading, meeting, healing, hugging, loving, scolding, etc.
How much you wanna bet Mr. Jeff doesn't have teacher friends who always have to cancel dinner dates or decline party invites because they have too much work to do: always work.
How much you wanna bet Mr. Jeff can remember at least one of his teachers who inspired him through words or actions: real heroes.
Like many of the comment section regulars, he must live in an alternate reality. He does not understand the breadth of our work or our current educational challenges, but he thinks he gets it and that's dangerous.
I wish everyone was a supporter of education or educated themselves before they espoused erroneous beliefs, but alas all I can do is affect my little world and hopefully teach my students to be thinkers unlike poor Jeff.
Comments welcomed here:)
Documenting my evolution by filling in space and matter one word at a time.