Tuesday, December 20, 2011
So I'm done with class for three weeks. What a nice break, although I'm sure that halfway through our week of family togetherness I'll be wishing for 40 minutes alone in the car with some 90s east coast rhymes and a big mug of tea. But alas, that's what our escape to the City will be next week. We'll need to escape New Haven for a few hours. One day we will pile into the car--or train, not sure yet--and head into NY. I'm so overdue for that excursion. I cannot wait.
I'm really feelin' Christmas this year. It snuck up on me last weekend, as soon as class ended and I suddenly had the headspace to realize that the holiday was a week away. I have always loved Christmas, but this year there is something more to it, although I'm not sure what that actually is. Maybe it's a general sense of contentment? Anticipation? I'm excited about so many things: Seeing my cousin from out of town. Baking cookies with my BFF. Wrapping presents. Taking a week off. Seeing Sean and his BFF together as altar servers at Christmas Eve mass. Seeing Sean and Nolan put the baby Jesus in the cradle of Great Grandma's manger from the '20s. Christmas Eve appetizers with the in-laws. Christmas bandanas and bells on the dogs. A few more runs squeezed in between now and the holidays, to burn off those extra cookies. I have so many reasons to appreciate this season. And I will absolutely treasure the holiday with my family. I cannot wait for a quiet and lazy Christmas morning with Ian and the kids. And then later, my brother, sister, mom, two uncles and grandmother will join us for a nice fire and feast.
I will truly savor that family time this year. Grandma and Uncle John are getting old. Frail. And Grandma is back on chemo again for the umpteenth time in four years. It is miraculous that she has managed to live with cancer this long, going off chemo for months at a time because the tumor markers were so low. She still lives in the house where I grew up, where she's lived for more than 50 years. She still drives herself everywhere. But this round of chemo has not been kind to her. She's not feeling well. She's not hungry. And worse, she's becoming discouraged. This makes her angry, since it's not like her to be discouraged. So then she compounds it all by being hard on herself for being angry.
Hopefully she'll be feeling a bit better for Christmas. I know she will rise to the occasion, no matter what. She is excited to spend the holiday with close, immediate family. She will make the best of it , no matter how lousy she feels. She always has. She is a pillar of strength. But she's tired of being so strong for so long. I see that. My mother sees that. And sometimes, we want to look away.
I am lucky to still have my grandmother in my life, just as I was lucky to be 20 before her mother died at 98. I was close to Great Grandma, and I am exceptionally close to Grandma. A sixth-grade English teacher for 40 years and the daughter of a teacher, she is so supportive of my choice to enter the profession. She loves talking about my experiences in the certification program. Pedagogy. Time managment. Grading. Lesson planning. She is a font of experience and insight. I'm grateful that I can have these conversations with her. I am grateful that I can call her up on the phone and chat. I am grateful that I can swing by her house for a few minutes to check on her, rubbing her back to warm her up when the chemo gives her chills. I rub her back, water her plants, open Gatorade bottles and get the paper for her. I wrap the blankets snugly around her, hug her close, warm her up, and remind her that it will pass, praying that this time it really will. And then, something to read in hand, she sends me on my way, insisting that she will be fine. She will just rest. And read. And drink. And recover.
Merry Christmas. And if you don't celebrate Christmas, then a happy holiday season/winter solstice to you. And above all, may you and yours have a happy and healthy 2012.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
I'm so glad I jumped in with both feet and took the test in November rather than wait for the next round in March. The relief I feel is immense. My run was lighter and faster last night. Then I fell asleep early and slept late this morning. It's a brand-new day all over again. NowI just need to finish up this teaching certification program in May and, hopefully, find some gainful employment educating young minds.
Cue the Welcome Back, Kotter theme--again.
This weekend is our last blast of classes before a two-week holiday hiatus. There is a midterm feel to this Saturday, when our English cohort has to present 12-minute microlessons, complete with lesson plans and graphic organizers. What's more, we are going to be videotaped. GAH! Then we get to copy our videotaped session onto our flash drives, and go home and have our families make fun of us for how many times we say "uh".
Today, I'm still a workerbee for Corporate America, however. To that end, I will dutifully attend my 9:30 biweekly check-in with my boss. Then, relishing my current job's flexibility (since I won't have that when I'm teaching--hey, it's a trade-off), I will skip out for a couple of hours to chaperone my older son's field trip with his TAG group. TAG. Talented and Gifted. I love my boys. I am so proud of my oldest for being recommended for TAG and then swiftly and easily testing into the program. But I would love it even more if he was gifted enough to remember his backpack when leaving for school in the morning, or if he was talented enough to notice when his shirt is on backwards--which happens about 50% of the time. For real.
Later this week, I'll be practicing my microlesson with a willing victim/coworker acting as my "student". I'm hoping not to overshoot the 12 minutes by too much time. Worse, though, would be to finish the lesson too quickly. And timers are a no-no. We've been cautioned that they're a psych-out. They will cause us to focus on the time rather than our teaching. So I'll need to set my phone timer and leave it where I can't see it. When time's up, it's up. And hopefully I'm in the middle of the lesson's closure when that happens.
I am so grateful that I've come this far. A year ago, I had only the hope of being where I am right now. And next year, I hope that I will be teaching and able to look back and say, again, "A year ago, I had only the hope of being where I am right now." But before I can get there, I have to successfully complete my student teaching this March and April. Unfortunately, I'll have to put in several "regular job" hours while student teaching, which will be a huge challenge. I forsee many nights being up late correcting papers, tweaking lesson plans, all the while checking my work email and handling tasks for Corporate America. I'm confident I can handle it, though. I've handled a lot more than that so far in this beautiful, wacky life, and I've always been okay. Knock on wood.
Special props to the friends and family who have cheered me on thus far (you know who you are!). It means more than you could ever know.
Friday, December 9, 2011
Quickly, while my thoughts rolled out from under my eyelids and tried to collect themselves for the day ahead, 5:30 became 6:00--and then 6:15. Finally, swinging my legs over the side of the bed, I promised the dog we'd go running before class tonight. Afterward, I'll have just enough time to take a quick shower and wolf down some dinner before heading up to Hartford. It was an easy promise to make to myself: at 3:30pm there will be sunshine. At 6:00am there is no sunshine. The end.
While others are counting down the days until Christmas, I'm busy counting down the days (13) until they start getting longer again. For all of the long, dreary February days I've endured, the darkness of November and December is still the hardest for me to take. Thank God for the flicker and glow of candles and holiday lights. They are a promise.
Those lights have helped make my evening runs more cheerful the past couple of weeks, too. I love seeing the displays my neighbors have created. Some are busy and colorful; others (like my own) are more serene and white. Either way, they all amuse me and make me smile. Sometimes they even scare the dog, who started barking at some lawn reindeer the other day at dusk. The twilight played tricks on my old girl: Were they deer? Were they dogs? And why were they just standing there staring at her like that?
The darkness can be sweet, though, if you know where to look. Although I didn't have time to run last night, I did manage to get out for a 20 minute walk with the dog. The moon was bright, the sky was clear, the stars were all twinkly. It was so, so quiet. There is such peace in moments like that, even if it is kind of cold out there.
There is a reason that this season's holidays are festivals of light. We all need the promise of light in the darkness, right?
Maybe it's the one promise we can count on. Light. Our own truth. Our own efforts to be true to ourselves. For me, that also means being clear with others. I have been reminded more than once in this great life how important it is to let people know you love and value them. In some cases, we don't get a second chance to ever say it while they're alive. In other cases, it creates that second chance with them and that relationship--be it romantic, familiar, or whatever. Love is love. Love is light. At the end of the day, I've said what I've needed to say. I've said it without expectation, too. And thank God for that. Otherwise, I might have been sorely disappointed.
Anyway, this season is about giving, not receiving. In fact, every day of every season should really be about giving. This is just the time of year we celebrate that concept. So skip the trip to Walmart. Put down the pepper spray. And call--or email, if it's easier--someone just to say hi and let them know you care.
This concludes today's PSA.
In other news, I have a high school play and a few parties this weekend, in addition to class tonight and all day tomorrow. Sean's best buddy is having a baseball party on Sunday afternoon. His mom, Cindy, and I were talking about how ridiculously excited the grown-ups are for this party. Indoor baseball on a December night? Hell's yeah! Must remember wear my Cons and not my new Danskos to that party, so I can play. I've been living in these black patent Danksos for a week now. They were an early Christmas present from my mom, who knows I need them for my student-teaching gig this March. I have never owned more comfortable shoes in my life. Thanks, Mom!
In fact, I should probably call my mom...just to say hi.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
As I crossed the halfway point and headed toward home, Cee Cee tried to shake all of the water from her. I laughed out loud. "We are silly girls," I said to her. But I loved it. It just felt good. And I knew there was a nice reward in sight: Ian was home cooking up some fat burgers complete with pickles and munster cheese, with sweet potato fries on the side. Yes, please!
It's easy to run this time of year. The colder it is, the greater my lung capacity--at least it seems that way, anyway. As winter turns to spring, and then spring to summer, hopefully my running will have improved enough that I won't be too impacted by humidity and higher temps. Right now, my fall allergies (I'm mostly allergic to mildew, which is covering the leaves all over the ground) are quickly abated by a nice sinus-clearing run.
However, that's not the case for Sean in the springtime. This past spring was so bad for him, and Monday Sean went to the allergist to discuss a strategy for spring 2012. Unlike Sean's food allergy testing, which involves taking about five vials of blood from him, Monday's test was a simple skin prick. He was tested in about 16 spots up and down his arms. Fortunately, he was negative for dog dander, as well as all the allergies that plague his dear mother--mold/mildew, dust mites, and cat dander. But his allergies to pollen are through the roof. Like peanuts. And hazelnuts. And crabs. And all other tree nuts and shellfish. Jerk foods!
The allergist, for whom I have a ton of respect and who has been seeing Sean since he was only a year old, recommended Sean be put on Singulair in mid-March and started on Allegra a few weeks after that. Ian was the one who took Sean to the appointment, so when he came home and told me the recommendation about the Singulair, I balked.
Last year, as in past years, we've chased Sean's allergies in the springtime. We'd started the Allegra too late--once the symptoms had started. And every year, except last spring when pollen counts were at historic highs, Sean has required only a few puffs from his regular inhaler--if any. Two years ago, he didn't even take his inhaler during the spring. In fact, like his brother, Sean only requires his inhaler if he has a bad respiratory infection or virus.What's more, prior to last spring, he hadn't used his inhaler in a couple of years. Nolan is the one who requires it more often (again, only if sick; Nolan doesn't have any allergies whatsoever--knock on wood).
Yes, last spring was bad. But does that mean Sean has to be put on heavy duty Singulair this spring? I'm not convinced. I have a ton of questions for his pediatrician at his 10-year check up this January. I'd rather start the antihistamine in mid-March, and then see where the cards fall with the asthma. Last year was an exception, not the rule. I don't want to load up Sean with prescription drugs if he doesn't truly need them--especially prescription drugs known to cause severe mood changes in patients. The prednisone last year was bad enough.
I've also started giving Sean a few teaspoons of various local honeys that I've picked up at the farmers market. Every day, after he has his breakfast and vitamins, he has two or three teaspoons of the sweet stuff. It might not be a magic cure, but I've read several articles that indicate that consumption of local honey can improve an allergic person's tolerance to local pollen. If it takes the edge off even a little, I'll be happy. And Sean will be VERY happy. In the meantime, he enjoys his little honey regimen. It's like giving him a few teaspoons of sugar--except better.
Not sure I will manage my run tonight, as I need to feed my kids and then head out for a tour of our sleepy neighborhood firehouse with Nolan and his fellow scouts. But Friday morning I might do exactly what I did last Friday--head out for a run in the AM. Unlike last Friday, I'll take my little pacer dog with me. And I will cherish each clear breath I take. Never take your breath for granted. Never. Ever.
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
All of my expectations about how it would feel, based on past experience, have proved incorrect. For one, I enjoy running at night--something I didn't like in the past. Secondly, I enjoy the actual running, not just the feeling afterward. This is completely new and unexpected.
I eased into it, hopping out for my first jaunt on Thanksgiving morning. I took my dog with me, since she's been my one loyal partner through everything the past seven years. She's my walking buddy. My wintertime beach buddy. My snuggle buddy. My baby. So off we went, walking half of the two-mile route that first day out. The next day we walked about a third of the way. The day after that, we walked only about a quarter of the way. And finally, on the fourth day, we just ran.
Or jogged. Really. I'm hardly running at full speed.
And that's maybe what suprised me most about all of this: I have more endurance, but I'm a whole lot slower than in the past. Granted, I don't feel like I'm being chased by demons this time around, so that might have something to do with it. But my body feels different. I feel like I'm still easing into this routine. So I'm slower. I'm not timing myself, but I'm definitely pushing more of a 10 minute mile--at least. But the pace is good for me. I'm challenged, but I don't wear out. The one day I ran without the dog--last Friday morning--I paid for it. I started out way too fast and was winded halfway through my route. I guess my pup is really like my little pace car. A seven and half year old, mildly arthritic pace car.
The weather has certainly been conducive to this jogging business. Not too cold. Not too hot. Yesterday's rain put a damper on things, though. Due to the weather and my schedule, I haven't been able to run in two days, Tonight, rain or not, I'm going out there. I need to. Me and the dog, trotting through the neighorhood, wagging our tails.
Word of advice, though: Wait at least six or eight hours between eating a big Indian meal and heading out for a jog. Three hours isn't enough, unless you enjoy coughing up rice and eggplant.
Running's not the only thing I've rekindled in recent weeks, however. Sunday, in an effort to spend a little more one-on-one time with each of my kids, Sean and I headed to the ice rink.
This gets a real O. M. G. I had forgotten how much I absolutely LOVE to skate!
What freedom! It had been two years since I was last out on the rink, having taken the kids a few times that year. The kids get their requisite sledding and snowboarding in every year--and last year's heavy snowfalls made sure of that. But skating is more my thing than their dad's or stepdad's. If I don't suggest it, the kids won't either. They don't actually love it. Or at least, they think they don't.
That might have changed for Sean this past Sunday. Out on the ice, Sean found a new kind of confidence and happiness just skating around by himself. Sometimes we skated together and chatted; other times, we both wanted to be left alone to enjoy the meditative aspects of gliding in circles on the ice to the beat of some seriously 80's slow-dance songs. I quickly fell into the rhythm of skating zen, which I recalled vividly from my days at the rink in New Haven's Edgewood Park. That rink was where I spent my winters as a kid, with my mom, her teenage siblings--and their friends, and my grandfather. Like with swimming, I don't actually recall ever being taught to skate. It just seems like I've always known how to do it.
The rink was packed with tons of kids, many who were quite young and practicing their hockey skating in full gear, minus the sticks. It was fun to see so many four and five year old girls out on the ice with their dads, laced up and charging full-speed across the rink past the teenage boys and their hockey hair, skating backwards while holding their girlfriends tight. So. Freaking. Adorable.
That definitely brought back some memories. How could it not? I dated some hockey players in high school. They were mostly from Fairfield Prep, but I definitely gave chase to a few on Branford's team. My friend Lisa and I used to love to skate near her house at Branford Supply Pond, where occasionally we'd luck out and meet up with the BHS team. If we were really lucky, we'd get a few nicely-taped sticks tossed our way to join the fun--usually offensively, since Lisa and I weren't the best backward skaters. I'm still not. But it's never too late to learn, I suppose.
But all of those preppy boys and their smelly, mildewy hockey gear quickly receded to their well-worn and comfortable corners of my mind on Sunday. I was at the rink with my Seany, enjoying some much needed mother-son time, sometimes holding hands and sometimes waving to each other from opposite ends of the rink. After 45 minutes, he was beat and ready to warm up. By contrast, I felt like I was just getting started out there on the ice. I honestly had no desire to stop skating. When we dropped off our skates at the rental office on our way out, I vowed to buy myself a new (more comfortable) pair of my very own. Skating is a dirt-cheap, fun time. With kids or without, I need to make it to the rink more.
And I need to spend more one-on-one time with the boys, which is something that requires a lot more effort while I'm back in school on the weekends. Still, it's not impossible. Tomorrow night it's Nolan's turn, when I accompany his cub scout den on a tour of our sleepy neighborhood firehouse. Even just a few minutes together, alone in the car, goes a long way to maintain the bonds I have with my boys. I love those precious moments and the funny talks we have. In some cases, the funny conversation can turn downright serious--or reflective. On our way to the rink Sunday, Sean asked me, "Mom, do you ever think about what your passion is in life?"
"All the time, honey. That's why I'm back in school to become a teacher."
"Right. And I want to be an Air Force mechanic."
"You can be whatever you want to be. And you can always change your mind about that, too. Sometimes it takes a while to figure out exactly what we want to do. But remember you're never too old to learn something new or to give something a second chance. And it's never too late to try something different. We have one life to live in this world. Make the most of it."
"Yep. And I'm gonna."
A few minutes later, and two years after not being on the ice, Sean laced up and hopped out there. I was right behind him, and I quickly grabbed his hand.
"You can let go of my hand, Mom."
Later, he came along and grabbed onto my hand for one trip around the rink. And then he let go again and took off on his own, while I folded my hands at the small of my back and glided along, one foot in front of the other.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Then maybe I'll start running again. Apparently this 38-year-old body of mine has plateaued with its current yoga/walking regimen. I need to ramp things up if I want to see improvements. Running seems to be the only option.
I actually don't like running very much. While sometimes the actual process of running feels good, light and free, most times it feels labor-intensive. No matter how loose I keep my body and how much I breathe, I am always measuring the distance back to my house. Been doing that since I ran distance for my high school track team. But once I've finished my run, cooled down and had several glasses of water, I feel awesome. And that's why I used to run.
Well, that, and the fact that I was running away from myself.
My ex-husband, then regular ol' husband, used to tease me: "You're running from yourself!" If only he knew how right he was when he said that as I limbered up on the front steps of my old house before taking off for a sprint around the neighborhood. My time running was spent letting my thoughts crash like waves while I pounded pavement, beet-red and sweaty. I didn't know what to do with myself back then. So much was going on in my head, heart and home, and part of the process of figuring out the next step was simply to run through it--physically, mentally. Until I couldn't run anymore.
And then I really couldn't run anymore. My marriage was over. I was working full-time again. My morning routine of a run before my husband left for work was a thing of the past. Instead, I was feeding the dog and getting two kids and myself ready for the day, driving to daycare and then heading to my dull office job downtown until 5pm. Every day. I was no longer running from myself. I was running the routine. But I was good at it.
A few years later, when Ian and I bought a house together, and I embarked on Marriage #2, I once again had the support I needed to jump out the door for a run in the morning. But what I lacked was the ambition. I didn't feel the need to run. But I took it up again, briefly, when my friend Pat lay dying in the hospital. It was a primal need to run then. Maybe as it was in my first marriage. A primal need to run and run and run until I could accept the reality I would come home to: That people die. Relationships die. But that life goes on.
So in some ways, considering my historic motivations, it's a good thing that I've not felt inclined to run so much in recent years. But I miss it--not the actual running, but that feeling afterward. Runner's high? I don't know. More like a sustained level of mental clarity, especially when I was running at least four times a week. I felt good all over. And I could eat whatever the hell I wanted and not gain a pound.
I'm not expecting the latter from a new running routine. Back then, I had two small children who I shifted from one hip to the other all day, and one who still nursed. There were more reasons than running that helped me stay fit. Extreme stress in my marriage had something to do with it, too. I'll just be happy if I can manage a couple of miles a few times a week and see a few of these unwanted pounds come off. I don't need to lose a lot of weight; for that I'm grateful. But I'd sure like to shed a little bit of this muffin top. That's not going to happen if I maintain the status quo.
So that's the plan. I'm feeling pretty confident that I can sustain a new running routine that is strictly for myself, rather than because I'm afraid my brain will burst into flames if I don't go for a run. Those days are over (right?). So I'll have the pie. (Hell, I make the pie, and it's awesome. So I will absolutely eat the pie.) And I'll raise a glass this Thanksgiving to my life--this wonderful life I've created. A shell of my life cracked open six years ago, and nothing has been the same since. It is a beautiful thing. I have two wonderful, handsome and brilliant sons. A great husband. A wacky, loving family. Amazing friends. A nurturing neighborhood filled with good people. My mother. My siblings. My grandmother. My dogs. My teacher certification program and the new friends I've made there. My two legs that have carried me this far and will carry me through whatever comes next. Life is good. It's never guaranteed. It is way up and way down and way up again. And I'm grateful for every minute of it.
Happy Thanksgiving, all y'all.
And have pity on me when you see me huffing and puffing out there November 25th.
Thursday, November 10, 2011
But soon this page will be private and by invitation only, and I can only invite you to read my blog if I have your email address.
As a soon-to-be-teacher, this privacy step is a must. I can't have my students hopping on my blog and knowing all my business. Ditto for potential employers/districts. To that end, I also just 86'd the few minor friends I had on Facebook. There were only a few of them, and they were all children of friends. With the exception of my still-minor brother, they're all gone. Even if they're not in a district in which I anticipate working, they're gone because they should be gone. Teachers should not be friends with minors on FB. The End.
So if you're still interested in reading this, send me an email (you can do that through this blog thing). No one has to know you read this shlock! Your little secret is between you and me! ;) Or, if I'm already friends with you on FB (and therefore, in real life, since I'm really not friends with anyone on FB who I don't actually know), then send me a message there. I'll need your email address to invite you into my World of Blog.
To the many, many, many FB friends who read my blog and who comment on my blog post links on FB--I thank you. If you want to read more, just let me know. Otherwise, I'll just drivel away on my own. I"m good at that.
Or you can just start reading The Bloggess. She's way better, anyway. I heart her.
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
At 7AM the boys wheeled their red Radio Flyer wagon up the hill to our local voting station. The wagon boasted a Kerekes for Mayor sign. Inside the wagon was a blanket, some Halloween candy, a few drinks, and the kids' DS's. My boys were totally prepared to spend time working for Democracy.
The first half hour or so, the kids sat in the wagon playing Kirby and Super Mario and chowing on Tootsie Rolls (breakfast of champions!). After a while, though, Nolan hopped up to join me. My little shadow. My snuggle buddy. The tough guy who loves to be by mom's side. He asked for some palm cards and handed them to some cranky adults, and he wondered why the current mayor was still the mayor after 18 years.
"That's as long as Aunt Grace has been alive!" he marveled.
Oh honey, I know.
There were a few other Kerekes volunteers working this particular poll, while about 20 yards down the sidewalk a growing throng of men gathered in support of DeStefano. The first one I noticed was a New Haven firefighter--let's call him....Rich--who (along with 19 other firemen) sued the city of New Haven when their lieutenant exams were tossed out by the mayor on the basis that no minorities passed the exam. The suit went all the way up to the Supreme Court, and this guy and his 19 compadres won. The city must now pay them millions. (If you're so inclined, the 20 even have their own website about their case: http://www.newhaven20.com/).
So, to summarize: Twenty firefighters sued the city for millions and won. Now the city has to pay them. And yesterday, some of those 20 were campaigning on behalf of the mayor that they sued.
Stomach turning yet? This is local politics at its best.
Being a local girl, I have several childhood classmates who are now New Haven firefighters. Some of them--guys who don't even live in New Haven--showed up to campaign yesterday. Smile wide, eyelashes batty, I shouted down the sidewalk: "You guys are bringing in reinforcements from East Haven?"
They looked surprised that I said anything. I just kept smiling.
"East Haven. Milford. Wherever. Whatever it takes," Rich jabbed back.
A few minutes later, newly clad in a bright yellow "New Haven Firefighters for DeStefano" t-shirt, Rich walked over to me and put out his hand, introducing himself. I nodded, introduced myself, and then told him I knew exactly who he was. I explained that I once dated one of his "brothers", now deceased. He became very solemn and said he was sorry for my loss. Twice. Then he used that as a springboard to discuss "his" incumbent versus "my" candidate.
"So then you understand how imporant the department is, especially if you have children." The implication was that Kerekes wants to shutter some firehouses (not true), and that DeStefano would never let that happen (don't count on it).
I blinked and stared at him for a few beats before answering him. "I know how important the department is. I've had to call twice for my older son's anaphylaxis."
"Great. So you understand."
"Not great. And I understand that I called 911, not DeStefano."
He nodded and held up a t-shirt, then turned to my boys. "Hey, kids. You guys want a New Haven firefighters shirt?"
Sean chomped away on gum, bleep-blooping his way through Kirby, and didn't even look up. "Nah," he said.
Nolan was standing next to me, Tootsie Pop in his mouth.
"You want a firefirghters shirt?" Rich asked Nolan.
"You mean a 'Firefighters for DeStefano' shirt," I corrected him.
Nolan shook his head no.
Just then, my friend Mike, also a New Haven firefighter, pulled his car up along the sidewalk. His son, who is very close with my boys, was in the backseat. The boys ran to talk to him, while Rich and I took turns talking to Mike. As he and I were chatting about plans to get the boys together that afternoon, I heard Rich asking Nolan again if he wanted a shirt. I turned around, and did my best to sound good-natured when I said, "Don't you go behind my back to offer him that shirt again!"
Then I looked at Nolan and softened. "Seriously, honey, do you want the shirt? If you want the shirt, you can absolutely have it. It doesn't matter who Mommy is voting for. You can take it if you want."
He raised his eyebrows, lollipop firmly in place, and again shook his head no again.
Rich figured he would try one more time. "If you don't take the shirt, I won't let you climb on the firetruck next time I see you."
That did it. The kid was tired of this nonsense. Nolan shrugged, popped the Tootsie Pop out of his mouth with a loud smack, and said, "I've already been on lots of fire trucks."
Rich looked at me. Then he looked back at Nolan.
Nolan nodded, pop back in his mouth.
"How old are you?"
"Seven," he slurped through his lollipop.
Rich introduced himself, shook his hand, and walked away.
Nolan looked up at me and smiled. That smile I know so well. It's a lot like my smile. I know I was beaming it right back at him.
I might be worried about the current state of affairs. But I'm pretty confident the next generation will be able to handle whatever comes its way.
Monday, November 7, 2011
When I was 10 years old, I wrote a letter to President Ronald Reagan. I had just watched the movie The Day After, and I was scared that our world was going to be destroyed in a nuclear war. A few months later, I received a letter from the White House, stamped with the signature of a presidential secretary and assuring me that President Reagan was doing all he could to keep America safe and free. It didn't make me feel any better.
Twenty-eight years later I am writing to you, President Obama, because I am once again scared. I do not feel safe. And the enemy is not staring us down from the other end of an A-bomb. The enemy is right here, in our Corporate American Government.
While I know that I should not equate financial security with emotional security, there is no escaping the fact that, as a parent, I must be financially secure in order to provide for my family. It is not just about me. It is about my two children. It is about their security. I can give them all the love in the world, but what if I can't give them a roof over their heads?
I am gainfully employed, fortunately. As is my husband and my ex-husband. So we have three parents contributing to my children's security. But it's not enough.
I live in New Haven, CT, where the mill rate for the 2010 grand list is 43.9. I pay in excess of $7,000 a year in property taxes, and that doesn't include my car taxes, which amount to more than $1,200 annually for our household. My house is worth $40k less than what I paid for it just three years ago. And I haven't had more than a 25-cent raise at my corporate office manager job in the past four years, because for a while there we had a wage freeze. And then, well, we just had corporate greed. I am not paid enough to fully meet the cost of living for southern Connecticut. Despite two paychecks and a child support check, my husband and I barely squeak by every month. Our bills are paid in full and on time, however. As a result, we have precious little reserves for an emergency. Vacations and special purchases (a new appliance, or a necessary household repair) are usually not an option.
Yet I know we are fortunate that we have this much when compared to the less fortunate in our country and around the world. But this isn't all we have.
We also have foreclosure. While our house has a solid mortgage with no lates, my husband's previous home, a multifamily which he kept with the intention of renting and eventually selling at a profit some day, became an albatross. We had a situation with one tenant who did not pay his share for a while, and boom! It didn't take much to end up on the slippery slope toward foreclosure. In an effort to stave off foreclosure, my husband listed the house for sale and eventually accepted an offer that would put him in a short sale situation. But GMAC, the mortgage company, gave my husband big balls--I can use this term with you, can't I, Mr. President? I mean, we're speaking frankly here--over the short sale, and instead forced the home into foreclosure. After a year the buyers are still hanging on, waiting for the bank to finish its foreclosure proceedings.
At least we hope they're hanging on. They might not be, now that the vacant three-family house in New Haven has been broken into on more than one occasion. Stained-glass windows have been stolen, as have two refrigerators. In fact, someone even removed the "For Sale" sign from the front of the house and put up a bogus "For Rent" sign with a number to call. My husband called the number, and sure enough some guy offered to meet him at the house--his house--and to show him an apartment for rent (and presumably swindle him out of deposit money). Instead, my husband chose to meet one of New Haven's finest at the house, who told him that he had very little recourse as far as pressing charges was concerned. What's more, the cop marveled that more--radiators, piping--hadn't been stolen from the house.
The cop also muttered a lot of profanities about New Haven. I can't blame him, though. It's not like the NHPD has had good leadership in the past decade. Add to that 29 homicides this year, and you've got disillusioned people on every corner of this city, in blue or not.
So tonight, my husband will be putting new, expensive locks on the doors of the foreclosed house, in the hopes of deterring any more break-ins. After all, he is still liable for the property. But the truth is, if people want to break in, they'll break in. When he lived there years ago, his dog was stolen from the back yard and his car was stolen from the driveway. No one is living there now, so it's open season on the place.
Despite the foreclosure, we are still the lucky ones. Many people have lost homes to foreclosure, and they didn't have another home to fall back on like we do. My husband basically lost an investment property, but the damage the situation has done to his credit and our financial security is immense.
What a slap in the face to a good American. My husband worked as a bartender for 13 years, and in all of that time he claimed his earnings and filed taxes, rather than cheat the system. Last year, he was picked to serve on the jury in a notorious murder trial in New Haven. What's more, he was picked to be foreman during the penalty phase, in which the ultimate sentence was death. My husband is a good man. An honest man. A hard worker. As repayment, he gets his balls broken by the bank, and he has his credit ruined.
And yet, I know we'll be okay. While I don't have much of a future at my current job, at least I have a job. And beyond that, I'm currently enrolled in a teacher certification program with the plan to begin teaching English (7-12) next fall--hopefully in a New Haven high school. Of course, I'll have to take a pay cut when I leave my current job to teach. Despite the fact that my current paycheck is barely enough to make ends meet, first year teachers' paychecks are even less. But I want to teach. I want to make a difference. I want to work with the youth of our city.
With all of our resources, my husband and I still find ourselves struggling. So I am scared, very scared, for the rest of my fellow Americans (and their families) who are less fortunate. And that is why I am writing to you today. What can you do to help us and millions of others who are far worse off than we are?
We are the working poor. We are the 99%, Mr. President.
Friday, November 4, 2011
I was happy to get home safely Saturday, jump into my yoga pants, light a fire, and curl up on the couch. But I'm just as happy to head back out on the highway in a couple of hours and trek back up to class. This past week a few things came up that really illustrated just how committed I am to this program and just how much I want to teach for the sake of teaching. Yes, I'll be very happy to make the transition out of this job. But more than anything, I want to teach. The schedule is tiring at times, though, and I'm definitely looking forward to falling back and gaining an hour this weekend.
But it will be dark when I head out for my early evening walks with the dog. The last few weeks, I've enjoyed rounding the corner near my house just in time to hear the Coast Guard bugler sound First Call during Evening Colors. I've been lucky to catch a glimpse of the flag being lowered against the backdrop of a great sunset. (All sunsets are great on our side of town.) Sean and his scout troop were able to participate in an Evening Colors ceremony this past spring, in the rain, and it was a moving experience. And some nights, especially in the summer, the bugle's call can be heard from our front porch just as the sun dips out of view. But seeing it--and hearing it--when I least expect it always gives me goosebumps. No matter how bad our economy is, no matter how jaded fellow New Haveners are, and no matter how bleak the global economic forecasts might be, I'm still very happy to be an American. And eventually, I'll proudly lead the Pledge of Allegience for my homeroom.
Of course, I won't have a choice. By contrast, though, the students can choose whether or not to say it.
I love that about this country, too.
Friday, October 28, 2011
Tonight's trip up and back to the captial city shouldn't be too bad. Tomorrow's the commute that will likely have many of my classmates on edge. Some of them commute from as far away as Greenwich and Stonington. If the weather is as lousy as predicted for Saturday afternoon, those classmates' long rides home are going to be a whole lot longer. Most of them already have a plan to stay over in Hartford on Friday nights, since the commute home Friday at 9PM and back up to Hartford for Saturday's 8AM class is really unappealing, even unreasonable, if you're more than 45 minutes away. This weekend's storm exercise will likely have some of them planning an extra night in the city, just in case. It's something most of us have already planned for the winter, one way or the other. For now, I should be fine with Sparky, my "spark-silver" AWD Subaru. Love that car.
But before I get in the car and drive, I hope to once again squeeze in a fast walk with the dog. I can't just sit all day at work, then sit for the drive up to Hartford, then sit in class until 9PM, and then sit on the drive home afterward. I'm squirrely by nature. I need to expend some energy every day, otherwise I'm irritable and do not sleep well. (In fact, I cannot wait to teach so I can be on my feet all day. That will help me justify a couple of new pairs of Danskos when I land my first teaching job, too. Ha! Can I write them off? Hmmm...) I CANNOT STAND SITTING AT A DESK ALL DAY. Humans were not made for that kind of work. So I'll work it out with the dog. The daily two-mile trek with the pooch will be faster than usual tonight, just like last Friday. And then I'll have to dig through the garage to find the ice scraper for my car. Sigh.
Snow in October. Hilarious. I can't remember the last time this happened. The BFF and I went downtown for some Indian last night to celebrate her recent engagement (!!!!!!!!YAY!!!!!!!!), and on the ride home we were both squealing like little girls totally in awe of--and mystified by--the snow that was falling. We clearly have not grown much since we first became friends in sixth grade.
Her: "It's just sleet!"
Me: "No, that's snow!"
Her: "It CANNOT be snow. It's not even Halloween!"
Me: "Um, that's snow, girlfriend."
Her: "OH MY GOD!"
So now there is even more escapism to be had in planning a seaside mid-summer wedding. And even more walking to do, too. I need to rock the wedding party attire next July!
Friday, October 21, 2011
I had a moment of panic last week when I realized--like, actually admitted to myself--that my cherished "free" Friday nights and Saturdays are a thing of the past until next spring. But, feeling my stomach tighten while looking that far ahead, I told Ian that I have only one way of looking at it if I want to stay sane: "My class time is still my time. And my downtime will be...well...Wednesday nights." Or Sundays. Or whenever I can squeeze it in. I'll still get in my requisite quiet time for nail polish, magazines and card games with the kids. I'll still get my walks and time to do yoga and hula hoop. I may even get some sewing or other craftiness done. I just won't be doing as much of those things, and that will take some getting used to--no matter how happy I am to be in school.
And am I ever happy. Last week's experience shadowing one of New Haven's magnet high schools was one of the best days I've ever had. It also made coming back to the office on Monday very, very hard. The kids I met last Friday were a riot. They were sassy, smart and dying to be heard. The rapport my friend, the teacher I shadowed, has with them is admirable and inspirational. It's also essential if she wants to get through to some of these kids, many of whom had some rough experiences and/or stories from their neighborhoods to relate to some of the moral themes found in Ethan Frome, which they had just begun reading.
I like middle schoolers, too. But I think I'm leaning towards high school as my preferred teaching gig. Really, I just want a job when I'm done with my certification. But if I had to choose, high school--preferrably one in New Haven--would be it.
Until then, I've got a lot of driving to do up to Hartford and back every weekend. Up and back, up and back, Friday nights and Saturdays. I have friends I can stay with in the area if the weather is bad, but most of the time I'd rather make the 45 minute drive home on Friday nights, to my own warm bed and snuggly dogs, for a short sleep before being back up and sitting in class by 8AM Saturdays. My biggest challenge on Friday nights will be to drive at a reasonable speed to get home and go to bed. I can be a leadfoot on the highway, especially on stretches of 91 that are wide open and mostly empty. But in the interest of getting home to my children (and to my life) in one piece, I think I'll keep it around 75. I guess there are reasons beyond gas mileage and car taxes why Ian doesn't encourage me to ever get an A6, 5 series or C-class. Those aren't teacher cars anyway. Subarus, though? Yeah, I fit right in with one of those.
I'm so psyched for this chapter of my life. I'm so grateful that Ian is so supportive and willing to pick up an awful lot of slack while I commit to this program for the next seven months. And I'm extra grateful for my children, who always inspire me to think outside of myself.
Case in point: Sean has struggled in the past year or so with acceptance of his food allergies. He has had several crying jags over the fact that they suck, and who can blame him? They do suck. But they are still manageable. Then, this past week at bedtime--the time of day when the kids always slay me with their insight and sweetness--Sean said, "I've decided my food allergies aren't really a problem. As long as I'm careful, it's like they're not even there. Some people aren't as lucky as that with stuff they have to deal with."
My little almost-10-year-old! So wise! So empathetic! And so addicted, like I am, to Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. There is very little "reality" TV that we watch in our house (unless baseball, AFV and Antiques Roadshow count), but that show is one me and the boys love. "Oh, no! Mommy's gonna cry again!" they say when we sit down to every episode. While watching that show, I think Sean has seen so many families facing real challenges that it put his allergies into perspective for him. Whatever the inspiration, I am grateful for it. I am grateful to him. And to Nolan. For being them. For always reminding me to slow down, savor, notice and change perspective--or even change course--in order to find my way, our way, and maybe even help others along the way.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
So today, while pushing papers for Corporate America, I put together a new mix for the kids. They both have a soft spot for punk rock, but they sure do loves them some hip-hop. I shouldn't be surprised. They're Cove kids, after all. They prefer BMX riding to skateboarding, baseball to soccer, and athletic pants to anything remotely khaki, unless camo is invovled. At least they keep their baseball hats on right (read: not sideways) and prefer rounded brims to flat ones. Otherwise, I'd have to start taking away privileges for violating basic sensibilities.
Anyway, the mix was fun to put together. From the McCoys to the Chili Peppers and Gorillaz to Jay-Z & Alicia Keys (who doesn't love "Empire State of Mind"? I mean, come on. Get over yourself and get outta your chair and dance a little!), with some Green Day, Tinie Tempah and Florence and the Machine, the kids have a nice new little mix of Top 40 hits and deeper cuts to rock out to. In athletic pants. With headphones on. While Mommy writes her papers for school.
So far, I've managed to get through three and a half of the five assignments due next week, including three papers. One of them was a monster. No matter how much I've written here, in this space, it had been a long time since I had been assigned a topic and instructed to write a few thousand words on it. And forget my days as a journalist--that was easy. Those stories practically wrote themselves with quotes, stats and other data. Writing a paper comparing six differing philosophies of education? It was a crash-course in what it means to be back in school again. It's work. It's staring a blank screen and rewriting lead sentences for 15 minutes. It's highlighters and scribbled margins and three-ring binders that try to catch my fingers.
It's all so worth it, too, as one of my assignments has reminded me (as if I had forgotten). As part of the pre-program assignments, I have to shadow two classes--one in junior high and one in high school--in my subject area. Fortunately, I'm blessed to have several friends who teach, and many of those friends go way back to my plaid skirt-wearin' days of all-girls Catholic high school. Through the power of social networking, we've all managed to stay in touch after 20 years. (!) I'm happy, because so many of those girls grew up to be some pretty awesome and dynamic women, and I'm proud to know them.
And so it was with great happiness that I recently shadowed one of these friends at a local junior high just north of the New Haven border. The school is enormous, holding just under 1,000 seventh and eighth graders. And if these young kids were daunted by learning about figurative language by way of a Ray Bradbury short story, they sure didn't show it. It was so much fun to be around young teens, watching them interact and figure out their place in the world. It was even more fun to be allowed to assist the students in their lessons on metaphor and simile. And it was most fun to be told by one student, after helping him, "You're going to be a great teacher". Sniff! Sob! I could have hugged him.
This week I'll be shadowing again, this time at a New Haven high school where another good friend teaches English. The experience should be somewhat of a 180 from the middle school. While the population of the school is huge, there are fewer, but longer periods during the day (much like the college-prep model I had in high school, with only four periods a day). And unlike the middle school classes I shadowed, all of the classes I'll be visiting this week are honors classes, so theoretically the students will be more motivated as a whole. Theoretically. They are teenagers, and I'll be shadowing their classes on a Friday. Do the math.
I'm grateful to my friends for helping to make this part of the pre-program requirements an easy one. If I'm lucky, maybe I'll even be working alongside them one day in the near future. Until then, it's crunch time. Just when I had exhaled after plowing through several hundred pages of pre-program reading, the program director emailed all of her students documents to be printed and read by the end of next week. Enough to fill a three-inch binder. Really, the picture doesn't do it any justice. This baby is big.
So if you're looking for me between now and the 21st, you can find me on my couch, porch rocker or bed, orange highligher in hand, busily reading and preparing for The Next Great Phase in my life, while the kids (and me) rock out.
I love this song. If it had been around during my divorce, I probably would have played it non-stop. It still resonates with me on that level. Especially since just this week I plucked the diamond out of my old engagement ring, so I can get some cash for the platinum bands. I had not counted on how emotional that would make me, despite being "so over" the marriage. Selling the bands is sad, because that marriage, like any other, didn't begin with the intention of blowing up. But it did, for so many reasons. And we both lived to tell about it. And even laugh about it. And even hang out with each other together with our significant others from time to time. It's not always easy, but it's always okay.
Mommy's all right. Daddy's all right.
Anyway, the diamond I'll keep to make a solitare necklace. I mean, I had two beautiful children as a result of that marriage, so the diamond means something. A lot of something. But the platinum? It's just metal. I've got a guy who is going to get me the best price for it, and that may mean waiting a bit for the market to improve before I sell it. The guy is our office electrician, a coin dealer, dirty old man and retired New Haven firefighter. There is great irony in the fact that he's hawking my old wedding ring for me.
Besides, I need the money. I have a plan for it: It will buy me a small, antique china hutch for the dining room, since I gave up all that furniture when I ran screaming, practically on fire, from my first marriage. I need a place to put Great Grandma's china, which Grandma gave me when I married Ian a whopping two and a half years ago. It's a small, blue and white lustreware set from 1927. Back when Great Grandma gave up her teaching career so she could get married, since women couldn't do both back then. Uh-huh. Full circle.
The dog days are over, Great Grandma!
Monday, September 26, 2011
Oh, but it felt so good! It felt so good to have a new mission, a new sense of purpose that fits well with who I am. It was wonderful to have some time alone to myself in the car, too. I never get that anymore, as my commute is blissfully short. But I miss it, and so it was a treat to listen to NPR's All Things Considered and be alone with the jumble of thoughts leapfrogging inside my head.
It was nice to meet so many new people, too. The average age of students in the program is definitely at least 40, with some weighing in far older than that, and some fresh out of grad school. These are the people I will be spending the next seven months with, each Friday night and all day Saturday. And in the end, I will hopefully have a new career. At the very least, I should be certified.
The schedule is hectic for sure--I have five assignments due our first class, October 21--but so worth it. And as much as I know the commute to class and the workload will get old and tiring at times, I'm going to do my best to enjoy it for what it is: An opportunity and an adventure.
The kids love that I'm in school again. They think it's neat that Mom has homework, too. And they LOVE that I'm going to be a teacher. In many ways, they're my best supporters. To them, there are no downsides, no drawbacks, no limitations. To them, there's nothing Mom can't do...except maybe reach the stuff on the top shelf in the cabinet.
Halfway Cookies (fom thekitchn.com)
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cup brown sugar, separated
2 eggs, separated
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon vanilla
12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips or chunks
9x13 baking dish
parchment or wax paper
1. Preheat the Oven and Prepare the Pan: Preheat the oven to 350°. Cut two pieces of aluminum foil and fold them to match the width of the pan. Press one piece into the pan lengthwise and the other into the pan crosswise with the ends hanging over the sides of the pan, like this. This makes it easy to lift the bars out of the pan once they're cooled. Spray the foil with nonstick coating.
2. Make the Cookie Dough: Whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder in a small bowl and set aside. Using a standing mixer, a hand mixer, or by hand, cream together the butter, the granulated sugar and just 1/2 cup of the brown sugar until this looks like smooth frosting.
Separate the eggs, reserving the whites. Mix the yolks into the butter-sugar mixture one at a time until they are completely absorbed, then mix in the water and vanilla. With the mixer at a low speed, add the flour mixture and beat gently until all the flour has been absorbed and the dough looks crumbly.
3. Add the Cookie Layer: Press the cookie dough gently into the pan with your hands, making sure the surface is even.
4. Add the Chocolate Layer: Sprinkle the chocolate chips on top of the cookie dough and use your palms to press them slightly into the dough. This will help keep them from moving when you add the meringue.
5. Make the Meringue: Using a stand or hand mixer with a clean bowl and a clean whisk attachment, start whisking the egg whites. Gradually increase your speed to medium-high. When the egg whites are very frothy and look like loose foam, start adding the remaining cup of brown sugar a little at a time. Continue increasing your speed to the highest setting. When all the sugar has been added, continue whipping the meringue until it holds a soft peak. It should look like glossy, soft-serve ice cream.
6. Spread the Meringue on Top: Scoop the meringue down the middle of the pan. It will be very sticky! Use a spatula to gently spread the meringue from the middle to the edges. We found it helpful to skim meringue from the top and gradually push it outward.
7. Bake the Bars: Lightly press a piece of parchment or wax paper on the top of the meringue (this makes an even layer and protects the meringue from scorching). Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the parchment. Continue baking for an additional 5-10 minutes, until the edges look toasted and are pulling away from the sides of the pan.
8. Allow to Cool: Wait until the pan is completely cook before lifting out the bars and cutting them into pieces.
• To make a crunchier meringue layer, use granulated white sugar instead of brown sugar and beat the meringue until it forms firm peaks.
• You can also reduce the amount of sugar in the meringue down to 1/2 cup (minimum) if desired.
• Other ingredients can be used in place of or in addition to the chocolate chip layer! Consider things like butterscotch chips, nuts*, toffee bits, dried fruit, and fruit preserves.
(*Nuts are so not going to happen in my house, but you do what you like... - M.).
Monday, September 19, 2011
Colds don't scare me. But you know what? Cancer scares me. It scares the bejeezus outta me. And just last week, New Haven lost one of its own--a dad, a husband, a friend to many--to that evil disease. He was in his mid-30s. He had started to feel better. But the cancer spread. And that was that. I didn't know him all that well, but Ian sure did.
So cancer scares me. Accidents and mishaps scare me, too. And addictions really scare and upset me (some people I know in recovery describe alcoholism as being beaten to death by bunnyrabbits). Basically, I'm a kind of afraid of all progressive and/or terminal illness in anyone under the age of, oh, 80. It scares me because THERE IS SO MUCH LIFE TO LIVE. It seems cruel and unfair that some of us get a bigger slice of the pie when it comes to longevity in this awesome world. But then again, some people live eight or nine decades and spend most of that time complaining. While others are given far less and yet enjoy it so much more.
But a parent leaving too soon? Or a parent out-living a child? These things just seem so cruel. And so unfair. And scary. Because we don't know what the future holds. That uncertainty, that mystery is both frightening and exhilarating. It's what makes life...Life. It inspires us to live while we can (or at least it hopefully inspires that in people). There are no guarantees. And while logically I know that and, for the most part, celebrate it--for that's what makes life such an adventure--I also have a hard time accepting it. Maybe I'm just a control freak. But I just don't like the fact that human life is so, so fragile. I don't like the fact that at some point I'll have to go, and I will miss out on the next smiles and laughter of loved ones. I will miss the next baseball season, the next summer of sand and surf, the next fall of apple picking and baking, the next Christmas, the next spring and its promise of rebirth.
But I guess that uncertainty is what motivates most of us to get all Carpe Diem on life, right? Rage, rage against the dying of the light! To be truthful--not morbid, just realistic--that light is dying for all of us. So instead of cowering in the face of darkness, celebrate the light. Live in it. Don't just exist.
When I was a kid, I had this obviously misguided idea that once I was an adult, things would go my way. I would carve out the life I wanted to live, and I would live it. And nothing would get in the way of that, and I would be happy. Nothing could make me sad. Life would take its course, I would have used my talents to the best of my ability, and then when it was Time, I'd head up to that Big Cloud Party with St. Peter.
Hint: That's not the way it works. I didn't count on the times I'd be disappointed or that I'd disppoint others--and myself. I didn't count on losing friendships, and I definitely didn't count on burying some people so soon.
But guess what else I didn't count on? How resilient I would be in the face of change and uncertainty. I also didn't count on how self-reliant I would prove to be. I didn't expect to accept the loss and sadness that steamrolled my way for a little while there, but I did. I accepted it. Because the only way around stuff is through it, right? It's the only way we grow. It's uncomfortable and icky. But we are always stronger for it.
If we curl up in a ball on the couch and lament all the things that have gone wrong, rather than look at how we've perservered though those things, we'll become depressed. If we curl up in a ball on the couch and lament all the things that CAN go wrong rather than look at all the life there is to live despite the inherent risks in living, well, then we'll become anxious. And if we're depressed or anxious, we'll miss out on Living. I don't want to miss out on anything.
This week there is a memorial service for our friend who just lost his battle with cancer. Also this week there is a family picnic at my children's school, my first night of classes for my teacher certification program, my 20th high school reunion, a wedding, and a birthday party. It's almost comical the range of emotion and celebration of life's stages we can go through in a single week--or even in a day.
And it doesn't end there. Next month, there is a fundraiser for my next-door neighbors and good friends, the Kellehers. Jimmy, Mary's husband and father of two young boys, was diagnosed with MSA last year. The financial and emotional toll that diagnosis has taken on the family is pretty brutal. And yet, they smile through it. Why? Because every day is still a new day.
The day after that, we're participating in an Alzheimer's fundraising walk with our next-door neighbors on the other side of our house. Florence, who is 82 and my beloved neighbor, was just moved to a home that can adequately care for and manage her disease. Her daughter and son-in-law, who also live next to me, did all they can and then some for a few years. So together, we'll walk. Mary's going to join us. And at some point that same weekend, we'll celebrate my little brother's 15th birthday.
The ups and downs of life are more easily navigated with a little reassurance from faith, at least for me. Yesterday at Mass, Deacon Marty--former NHFD Chief and current professor at University of New Haven--said the following: "Whether God calls us early or calls us late, He still calls us." We have to trust that when our time is up, it's up. And that it is all good because it is God's plan.
As I get older, I am increasingly grateful for my faith. Truth is, I wasn't always there for it, but it was always there for me. My mother made sure I had the foundation I needed. If I walked away from it, at the very least I would walk away intelligently, with basis for a difference of opinion. But just as easily as I can walk away from it, I can come back to it. And, dogmatic differences aside, I came back to it.
Tonight, I'll gather my first-grade CCD class in a circle on the rug in the center of the classroom. We'll start the class with a Hail Mary. Then we'll go around the room and each describe one thing we saw or experienced today that reminded us of God's love. And then we'll talk about the changing leaves on the trees and the cycle of seasons, all illustrative of cycle and beauty of Life.
There is no better way to honor our own lives or the memory of others who have gone before than to savor every moment, to recognize it all as a gift. So unwrap it. Tear into the box. Play with it until there's nothing left.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Speaking of philosophy and classics, I'm neck-deep in a book on the philosophy of education right now. It's required "pre-reading" for my teacher certifcation program. A paper on it is due the first night of class next month. I was so excited for the book. I tore it out of Amazon's packaging when it arrived on my doorstep earlier this week. Alas, the dense 10-point text immediately burned my eyeballs. But once I sat down with the beast, I got into it. After everyone was in bed last night--kids, dogs, and husband (who's nursing a nasty cold), I settled into the couch with the book and nothing but the mantle clock and backyard crickets to keep me company. Always the crickets.
An hour of reading about Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and Augustine passed quickly. I was completely taken by the subject--even the introduction, for God's sake. I must be ready to go back to school. The new issue of Real Simple, also delivered to my mailbox this week, has sat untouched on the coffee table, while beside it new textbooks and Praxis II study guides are already marked up and dog-eared.
I expect the next eight months I'll be spending a lot of nights up late, alone and with a book to keep my lap warm. And no doubt I'll need to give my big eyes and little brain a rest with late-night TV once in a while, something I long ago got out of the habit of doing. Maybe I'll be lucky one night and catch Point Break before bed. The original. As if there could be anything else.
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
I used to fight the end of summer. Seriously. I used to dread it. But the past couple of years I've had a greater acceptance of the cycle of seasons. I've had a greater acceptance of a lot of things, actually. But the whole summer's-gotta-end thing was always a tough one for me to swallow.
I've also come to conclude that big change often happens anticlimactically. Like fall foliage, the really big changes in my life were all somewhat unsurprising and relatively slow to progress in their own way. From divorce to going back to school this fall, most of my major life events took their own sweet time to evolve. The same holds true even for my old ways of thinking--and even feeling. Eventually, many of the thoughts that don't serve me found their way onto the sidelines. While they still crop up from time to time, they don't have the importance I once attached to them. In short, I've gotten over the fact that things don't always go my way.
Last night was a gorgeous September evening. After the year's first CCD classes spilled out in the parking lot of our local parish, the neighborhood kids and classmates ran circles around their parents, playing tag while the parents chatted about the new school year and other things. We smiled and waved to the ones we didn't get a chance to catch up with. The school year brings the kids together again, for sure. But it also brings the adults together, too. We need that connection just as much as our kids.
Or at least some of us do. And we're lucky we have it. While out on a walk last weekend with two girlfriends, both parents at the same school my children go to, one of them noted how lucky we were to be part of our little New Haven neighborhood. So many of us are friends brought together by our children's school or parish. But we remain friends because we truly enjoy one another's company. For better or for worse. We don't try to pretend we're something we're not. We know many of each other's secrets and darker sides to our life stories. And we accept one another for who we are in a way that I've honestly never felt anywhere else but here. Home.
So fall, I welcome you and all the change you've got up your sleeve. My life is almost unrecognizable from six or seven years ago. When I first ventured away from that life, I was terrified. I thought I would never find the kind of happiness I had, at least to some extent, enjoyed. Who knew something better was in store? It slowly unfolded before me. And now I can look out from my neighborhood to the great space between our city's East and West Rocks, and I no longer feel like I'm looking back on anything wistfully or longingly. Instead, I'm just taking it all in and enjoying the breeze from the water on my side of town.
Thursday, September 8, 2011
I'm thrilled. Also nervous, psyched and eager to start. In all honesty, I hadn't paid too much attention to the competitiveness of the program when I was applying. I knew it wasn't "easy" to get in, but I'm glad I never really took to heart the whole "30%-50% acceptance rate" when I was putting together my application. It would have been a major psych-out. Instead, I blissfully aced the Praxis I, requested my college transcripts, wrote essays, licked envelopes, stuck stamps, submitted references, and the rest was up to the Big Guy--and the admissions board.
So here I am. Poised for a major life change. I couldn't be more ready, not that I haven't already had my fair share of change in just the past 11 years. Since 2000, I've been married, bought a house, had a child, quit my job as a magazine writer to be a full-time mama, had another child, worked as a freelance writer, had my first panic attack, taught myself to crochet, separated, "went back to work" as an admin, became a certified yoga teacher, divorced, started raising two boys on my own, hit the icky dating scene, went through a rough break up, unexpectedly began dating and fell in love with Ian (a friend who I had known for years), got a different job, sold the house, rented an apartment, taught myself to sew, became engaged to Ian, got laid off, got a new job, bought a new house, made it official with the new husband, (and a month later) buried someone dear to me, became a CCD teacher, taught myself to knit, supported my husband as he served as a juror (and foreman) of a grisly murder trial, dealt with the likes of Anderson Cooper calling my house when the trial ended (GO AWAY!), managed my older son's severe food allergies, coped with my grandmother's ongoing battle with cancer, and decided that I should cut my bangs again.
Bangs. I mean, really. If I can handle that kind of change, I can handle anything.
My current job has been good to me. It pays well, it's flexible, and it's a stone's throw from my neighborhood. Blah, blah, blah. But it's not my calling. Teaching is my calling. But for a long time--like, a couple of decades--I ignored it. I figured my future was destined to be waaaaaay more fabulous than that of a teacher. (For the punchline to that joke, refer to third paragraph.)
I'm on the brink of another major life change all because of some fancy-pants "calling".
What IS a calling anyway? I ask this because not everyone seems to have one, so I'm curious as to what motivates us to act upon certain impulses (or instincts?) especially when it comes to our careers.
I think the call to give back is a mixed-blessing sometimes. In my house, it was unavoidable. I grew up, as I love to point out, in a noisy Irish-Catholic household that talked about Bobby Kennedy as if he were an accomplished first cousin. The Kennedy's, religion, charitable work, literature, art, music and politics were pretty much all that was ever discussed at the dinner table. Or at the breakfast table. Or on rides in my grandfather's old Impala full of cigarette smoke, while I slid from one end of the backseat to the other on every sharp corner as we drove to the beach.
I come from generations of people who had given back. My great-grandfather was a beloved New Haven pediatrician who blew the family's money because he refused payment from so many patients--especially those war brides. My great-grandmother was a schoolteacher who refused to marry until well into her 30s so she could keep teaching, since married women were typically not allowed to teach back in the 20s. My grandmother was an English teacher for 40 years, retiring only a few years ago when she was diagnosed with cancer. My grandfather was part of the civil rights movement, before it was the civil rights movement, in the 1940s. My aunt is a social worker. My mother founded a non-profit shelter for homeless women and children when she was still in her 20s.
I've had it instilled in me from a very young age that you give back. Even if your day-job isn't your life's calling, you find ways to give back. You volunteer. You offer your time and talents to help others. Whether you're helping animals, hungry homeless men or saving wetlands from development, you work for something greater than yourself and one that improves the quality of life for others. It's that simple.
Or is it? I struggled with it, my own charitable efforts ebbing or flowing depending on the year. I desperately wanted my career to match my desire to give back, but I resisted the call to teach because, frankly, it had been done before. I wanted to be different from my family. I didn't want to be just another teacher. I considered pursuing a JD in public health. But that was cost- and time-prohibitive as a single mom, so I then considered nursing school. I think I'd make a great nurse, but I know in my heart I wouldn't be able to turn it off at the end of the day. I cry over roadkill sometimes, for God's sake. I can't handle patients DYING on me. And while I struggled with what I should do professionally, I was teaching yoga and, later, catechism, in my spare time. And so it was that teaching slowly reintroduced itself to me. After one year of teaching CCD to first-graders, I was hooked. I wanted to do this for a living, despite the salary cut. Despite the time it would take to get certified. This is it. I have nothing to prove anymore to my family or to myself. I can be just like them, and that's okay.
I want to be an English teacher. And for the first time in many, many years, I feel like I've reconnected with some kind of truth within myself. Some sense of identity I haven't felt in a long time.
So there you have it.
I sometimes wonder if the call to give back is especially rampant among Catholics. Something driven by...guilt?...that motivates us to work in a field that gives back. I'd love to see a census of the amount of nurses, cops, firemen and teachers who are Catholic, at least here in the Northeast. Of course, not everyone who goes into those professions is motivated to give back. Sometimes they're in it for other reasons, like nepotism, pension, or salary: Their dad was a fireman or cop; Union benefits were, for a while, really good; Nurses now make some pretty rockin' money; Teachers get "all that time off".
Not exactly. As I child, I used to go with my grandmother to set up her sixth-grade English classroom every August. I'd help staple corrugated borders of leaves and acorns to bulletin boards and tack up world maps and quotes from authors. At night, every night, when my homework was finished, Grandma would still be busy correcting papers, entering grades into her gradebook, and preparing the next day's lessons. It seemed Grandma was always working. She was always finding articles, books, field trips and plays to incorporate into the curriculum. She wanted to instill in her students a love of learning. And if she couldn't accomplish that, well then at least she could teach them what they needed to know.
For me, I have a hard time working a desk job for a Fortune 500 company, pushing around papers for the benefit of some executive I've never met. If I can make a living another way, by giving back in some capacity, I'd like to try. I'm not yet 40--I have a couple of years before I get there. It's my goal to have made the switch into teaching by then. God-willing, there will be some jobs available when I'm done with the program in May 2012. There will be 200+ graduates from my program, with just 16 of us certified to teach English. All of us hold Bachelors degrees, many hold Masters degrees, and all of us have worked in a capacity related to our undergraduate degree (I was an English major who wrote professionally for several years). We are qualified out of the gate, and we'll be certified on top of it. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I will be teaching by this time next year.
I can't wait for orientation. I can't wait to buy my very own new school supplies after taking such delight in purchasing them a few weeks ago for my boys, who couldn't have cared less about them. It's going to be a major sacrifice of time for the next eight months, but that's nothing. The return on this investment of time and money is immeasurable.
And once I'm certified and gainfully employed as a teacher, I'll go back for my Masters.
I've accepted that I want to teach, and that it's not the glamorous life I had once envisioned for myself. I've accepted that I'm going to be a student in some capacity for the next several years. I've accepted that I'm going to take a pay cut in order to become a teacher, but that it's worth it if I'm happy and if I can make a difference in just one student's life.
I've accepted that life is changing yet again. But I guess that's how I roll. Evolve or die, right?
Here's to evolution.
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Suffice to say, the tomatoes are ripening. The moonflowers and morning glories have taken over parts of my yard. We survived the Tropical Storm/Hurricane Irene intact. We had a great few days in Philly. Sean had a nice long conversation with Bernie Williams. There were boat rides and bike rides and kayaking and lake, pool and ocean swimming. There were carnivals and amusement parks, where Sean indulged his obsession with riding the loopiest rollercoasters. There was beach yoga and sunburns and seaglass to be found. Ian broke out the motorcycle again, while I fell in love with the Fiat 500. On steamy afternoons I enjoyed cool lunches on Grandma's back porch. And overall, summer was fun and hot, and it flew by as usual.
I'll catch up at some point here. I've got a few blogs that might be worth putting together, as well as at least one book review and some awesome recipes worth sharing.
But all I can say right now is that I have new jeans, cardigans and lipstick to greet fall. The new season of SOA starts tonight. The Yanks are back in the number one spot. And Mack the Knife was my song this summer. It was in heavy rotation in my car. I fall asleep with it in my head. I probably dream about it, when I'm not dreaming about long-dead dogs of mine, pets who have come to say hello and roll over for belly rubs while I sleep.
It was a good summer. Again.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
I'm a little jealous.
Not that they're moving to LA, per se. I'm envious of their ability--their willingness--to just pick up and move the hell on outta here. I wish I could do that. Or maybe I wish I wanted to do that.
I love the idea of picking up, ditching everything that's not necessary and starting over in a new place. A new town. New everything. I love the idea of reinventing myself just by relocating. Of discovering new things about myself and my place in the world simply by changing my personal pinpoint on a map.
But... "You'd be miserable," said The Husband.
And he's right.
After the novelty of a move wore off, I'd be terribly homesick. Not because I absolutely adore the crime and high taxes of New Haven. But because I'd miss home. I'd miss being close to family and the friends I've had forever. I'd miss favorite landmarks, watering holes, restaurants, parks and beaches that have helped define my life thus far. I'd deeply miss the culture of my city, a town that is as synonymous with Yale as it is independent of it. I'd miss my mom stopping by on her way home from a meeting downtown. I'd miss summertime lunches on Grandma's back porch. I'd miss running into my BFF in East Shore Park. I'd miss running in to all the friends I see everywhere I go, reminding me of the things I like most about New Haven and myself. I'd miss all of my roots, which go back generations, in this city that struggles to keep its own identity amidst Yale's ferocious appetite for ever-more tax-free city property.
Yes there would be a lot to love about a new place to call home. But this is home. Every chance I've had to make a fresh start has been right here, right where I already am. In my own skin. With the same people around me. Being stuck--er, living--here has reinforced the concept that change really does come from within. Or something like that.
The only time I've lived elsewhere was when I spent three years in Fairfield, back in the late 90's. It was...nice. I was right on the Gold Coast, so how couldn't it be nice? I shopped in Westport on the weekends. I hopped onto the courts and smacked a tennis ball around with my then-fiance (eventual ex-husband) alongside some extremely wealthy people. I enjoyed seersucker-drenched clam bakes on the town beach. But when it came time to put down real roots, to buy a house, I went home. I couldn't afford Fairfield, anyway. And besides, I was having a baby. I wanted to be home. And six years later, when my divorce was final, I moved back to the side of town I grew up in. I never needed to be home more than then. And the high tides and harbor breezes were like open arms.
So home is where I've been, for better or for worse. While I wish I could pack up my things and start anew somewhere completely different from anything I've ever known, I couldn't--especially because I would never take my children that far from their father.
"You just need a vacation," Ian said. "Anything more than that would drive you crazy."
Maybe. As the kids get older, maybe I'll feel more free to move. But certainly not to LA. Maybe somewhere a whole lot better than that. Like... Rome? The kids would like Italy. Nolan would dig the architecture and history of the city, and Sean could hop into Switzerland any time to snowboard.
That thought crossed my mind as I pumped gas into my Subaru at lunch today. It was at least 90 degrees out there on the blacktop, while I daydreamed about a Fiat 500 and wondered much cheaper it would be to just drive a Vespa to work. In Italy.
"If I'd known it was you, I would've pumped the gas for ya", I heard a voice say as I screwed the gas cap back on to my car. Coach Anthony, the adorable Italian mama's boy who coached the boys' little league team last year, enveloped me in a huge hug.
"How are those awesome kids of yours doin'?"
"Good. Season's still not over. See you in the playoffs in two weeks?"
"Not if I see you first." Wink. Smile. Nod, chin-up. He climbed back into his big box truck for work. I climbed back into my little Subaru and headed on back to the office, passing Grandma's house along the way.
Monday, July 11, 2011
So asked Mary after the crash, when sirens and flashing lights lit up the edge of our block.
"No, I don't have it on. I heard the crash though." I was on the sidewalk in front of her house, pushing a wheelbarrel back to Andrew and Madelin's, next to Mary's. In preparation for a major home renovation, Madelin and Andrew are digging up their perennials and sharing them with a few lucky neighbors. They had surprised me yesterday afternoon with four variegated weigelas, and then they basically let me shop from their yard for more goodies. "I'll take this, and this, and..."
I was filthy and sweaty, but loving the early evening gabfest that happens most nights on our block, while the kids blasted each other with Super Soakers and other water guns.
"What happened?" asked Nolan, when he heard me mention "the crash". He nervously eyed the flashing lights at the top of the block.
"There was a car crash, honey. Don't worry. We're all safe. And no ambulance has left with its siren on, so the people in the cars are probably okay, too." Then, because I'm such a mom, I added, "But just watch it while you guys are playing out here. Lots of cars are cutting down our block rather than deal with the traffic on the corner. So don't go into the street right now--for anything."
Minutes later, our local fire engine threw on its siren, left the scene of the accident and screamed its way toward Lighthouse Park, which is at the end of our little seaside city neighborhood. At least one ambulance followed. And then another. And several cop cars.
"Big crash, huh?" Ian asked me through the screen of the back door, as I hosed the newly-planted weigelas.
I shook my head slowly and kept the hose on "shower".
This time, I had my scanner on. "They just told Engine 16 to drive right up on the beach," I said. "Sounds like they have an adult swimmer in distress."
"Summer in the Cove!"
Ian's silhouette disappeared from the door. It was just me, the hose, some mosquitoes, and my iPhone crackling with codes by the light of the setting sun.
My oldest, dearest, nearest, bff Renee had sold me on the scanner app at least a year or more ago, after discovering that it would actually let us follow what was happening in the neighborhood when sirens went roaring by. While our neighborhood is comparatively quiet to other city neighboroods, it explodes with emergency vehicles in the summer. Most of the calls seem to head toward Lighthouse Park or other neighborhood parks, piers and, of course, miserable intersections.
So a year or more ago, I downloaded the app, and then deleted it less than a week later. It made me anxious. I didn't actually like hearing the play-by-plays from cops or firemen handling life-or-death 911 calls from my neighbors. I didn't like hearing cops and firemen in danger, either. But a few months ago, after one particularly raucous night in the neighborhood, I downloaded the app again. Curiosity got the best of me. I wanted to know what the hell was going on.
The kids are fascinated by the app. Sean thinks it's amazing that anybody can listen in on emergency calls from all over the country. He also thinks it's creepy. "I feel like I'm spying on people," he said when he first used it. "I don't like it. Turn it off."
Nolan, on the other hand, couldn't get enough of it when he discovered it. "Put on the police scanner!" he pleaded, pressing the phone to his ear to better hear the cops discuss how their response time was going to be slow to a call on Hubinger Street, since it was hailing. [Insert cop joke >here<.] He was riveted. Meanwhile, Sean sat down at the piano bench and banged away on some keys, drowning out the sounds of distress from the other side of the bridge.
I took the phone back from Nolan. "Only mommy or Ian uses this, okay?" Nolan frowned. "Honey," I explained, "You could turn this on and hear something that might really scare you. You might hear about people who are really sick or who are really hurt, or you might hear about a store being robbed. It's real stuff and it's scary stuff, and just because we can listen to it doesn't mean we should. So always ask me first and then we'll listen together, just for a few minutes, okay?"
I'm so fun.
But I remember Jimmy Carroll's scanner. Jimmy and his wife lived across the street from my grandmother when I was growing up. Since I lived in Grandma's house for the first decade of my life, and since Grandma's neighborhood was as much of a little hamlet as my current 'hood, I was at the Carroll's all the time, playing with their grandkids and swimming in their pool. Jimmy, a retired fire chief from one of the shoreline towns, had the scanner on All The Time. And sometimes, while me and the other kids played, I'd see his eyebrows raise at whatever the hurried voices on the radio were telling him. And then he'd walk over and shut it off. "Nothing you kids need to hear," he would say. And that would be that.
I had moved on from hosing down the plants to hosing down the dog last night when Nolan walked into the backyard. An ambulance came blazing back from Lighthouse Park on its way to the hospital. I reached into my pocket to pull out my iPhone and shut off the scanner. As I did, I heard "Engine 16, 63". Then the response: "99. Engine 16, 63." They were done with the call. And so was I. I had already said my Hail Mary for the distressed swimmer. Listening in to his plight wasn't going to help anyone.
I won't delete the app. It's good to have, especially when six or seven cops go flying by with their sirens on. I don't mind having a window into what that's all about. But medical calls? They're too private. People get sick. People die. I don't feel like I have much right to listen in on that and hear it unfold, sometimes before their families even know what's happening.
Still, before writing this, today I threw on the police scanner just for fun, just to see what kind of calls New Haven's Finest were dealing with on a Monday morning. I immediately heard a cop radio for EMS assistance, since they found "a guy passed out clutching a Listerine bottle".
I turned it off and tossed my phone into my purse.