Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Two Out of Three Ain't Bad

Skittles turns eight years old today.  Well, pretty close at least, since her little shelter puppy self had an estimated birthdate.  I told my class today that it was my dog’s birthday, and they asked how old she is.  When I answered, I found it a strange thought that my dog is almost as old as they are.  Where did that time go?” I thought.

When you don’t have children, it sometimes seems like time stands still.  People (strangers) always comment to Brent and me, “you’re still young” and we laugh, wondering at what age you are no longer a “young couple” just because you don’t have kids.  We like to tell ourselves that we, as adults, don’t change much from year to year, because compared to children, we don’t.  Dogs are pretty much on an even keel as well there for the middle years.  I’ve taken at least a thousand photos of my precious pup in the past eight years, but I couldn’t eyeball a single one of them and tell you if it was from last month or five years ago. 

Sometimes I don’t think about how long we’ve had Skittles because she has always looked the same.  Just like sometimes, I don’t think about how I’ve changed because (short of a few extra pounds) I look the same as I did eight years ago.  But truth be told, I have changed.  Eight years ago, I was still on track for the “perfect” life plan I’d had planned since I was about twelve: get married right out of college and get a dog a year later to prepare for the children we’d start having a couple of years after that.  Two out of three ain’t bad, right?  Funny how we think we’re in control of our own lives.

Nowadays, I realize it’s a lot more about how your life looks on the inside than how it looks on the outside.  It isn’t so much about keeping score and checking off boxes on life’s to-do list, but instead about growing as a person and in your relationships with whomever God HAS placed in your life.  Two out of three certainly hasn’t been so bad for me, especially since I lucked up tremendously on those first two.  In fact, my marriage is most definitely a gift from God rather than a stroke of good luck, and I’d even venture to say picking this particular puppy from the animal shelter website eight years back was more than just dumb luck. 

Skittles didn’t start out as the perfect puppy (though she was perfectly cute), but does the perfect puppy even exist?  Eventually, her constant chewing turned into nuzzles and kisses, her wild jaunts through the house slowed to a playful trot, and her curious, questioning eyes softened to reflect trust and love.   She is smart, loyal, gentle, and at least to Brent and me, even funny.   We get asked all the time what kind of dog she is; she’s one-of-a-kind since we have no idea.  But to us, she’s perfect. 

She gives me a reason to smile on the darkest days and she makes me feel needed in those moments when I feel useless.  She shows me unconditional love every single day.  And she reminds me that deep down, this is all that any of us want: companionship.  I don’t know if we’ll have Skittles for eight more months or eight more years (I’m hoping for the latter), but I do know one thing:  I’m grateful for the way she’s loved me through the ups and downs of these first eight. 

Happy Birthday, Skittles!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

It's Not About Me

I had decided not to write a Mother’s Day post this year.  Starting this blog has been a huge step for me in being more real, but I wasn’t sure I was ready for a Mother’s Day post.  That’s just too touchy, too painful, TOO real, and it would have to wait for next year.

So this week, like every second week of May for the past few years, I’ve tried to push all the thoughts and feelings surrounding Mother’s Day aside.  “It’s just another day,” I tell myself, “You don’t HAVE to feel this wayYou’re choosing to feel this way.”  But anyone who has ever been single on Valentine’s Day OR infertile on Mother’s Day knows it’s more complicated than that.  The idea of an entire day, and in this culture we all know it’s more like a week, dedicated to honoring something you want and can’t have is unsettling at the least and unnerving to most.

Nonetheless, this morning I let my guard down and read a post on someone else’s blog about the struggles that some of us face on Mother’s Day.  I found myself wiping tears and chastised myself for letting those feelings in that I’d been working all week to keep out.  But then, much to my surprise, it occurred to me that I actually felt better, not worse, at letting those feelings out and at reading the experiences of someone who understood exactly how I felt. 

That’s when the thought came to me: “It’s not about me.”  I’m not the only one struggling this weekend, I’m not the only one with a hole in my heart, I’m not the only one just going through the motions and pushing feelings aside.  There are so many reasons, besides infertility, that Mother’s Day can hurt.  There’s someone else who needs to know they aren’t alone, and by being afraid to post about how this feels, I was taking away that comfort that I had just felt from someone else.  So, here I am…

Simultaneously, it occurred to me that the same thought that struck me is a better coping mechanism for dealing with this issue than just pushing down the feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness.  It’s a good reminder for the weekend in general: “It’s not about me.”  There’s no denying that motherhood is a beautiful privilege, awe-inspiring responsibility, and gift to be celebrated.  If it weren’t, I wouldn’t be fighting these feelings of jealousy and despair in the first place. 

So why not just celebrate IT for what it is instead of dreading it for what I’m not?  Why not give a nod of respect and a word of encouragement to the amazing mothers in my life (I’ve certainly been blessed by the influence of many, including my own) and stop wallowing in my own self-pity?  If there’s anything I’ve learned in the past few years, it is that no baby is an accident- God’s hand is in the making of every one.  In the same way, His hand has been in the making of every mother and who am I to overlook or discount that?  That same hand has guided my life at every turn, even when it hasn’t turned the way I’d planned. 

The beauty of motherhood is deserving of the honor and respect that this day brings, and for this one day, it’s simply not about me.  But that doesn’t mean He doesn’t have a divine plan for my life as well.  No need to despair.  He always has a perfect plan that will bring glory to HIS name, if we’ll just stop focusing on ourselves.  It was never about us anyway.  

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Way to Make a Heart Feel Good

I love this time of the school year.  Sure, testing is coming up and the students aren’t getting along so well…at this point, they’re more like siblings than classmates.  But if you can overlook the pressure of the upcoming tests and tune out the bickering at the lunch table, it’s the best part of the year.  It’s the time of year when we’re no longer just a class; we’re a family.

It’s the time of year when I finally start to let go with the students, maybe a little more than I should sometimes.  Things that I would never let slide in October are suddenly acceptable and things that I never would have said or done before Christmas break slip out before I even think about it.  We laugh more, we share our thoughts and feelings, and we reach a level of “real” that just can’t be found until the magic of fourth quarter. 

For example, one day last week a student told me he had hiccups and asked how to get rid of them.  I told him to either a) hold his breath, b) go get some water or c) let someone scare him.  He held his breath, but the hiccups persisted so a few minutes later, in the dead silence of kids concentrating on their own work (the kind of scene that a teacher usually strives to achieve), I ran up beside him, poked him in the sides and yelled, “BOO!”  He fell out of his chair (for dramatic effect- I promise I didn’t push him) and the class erupted in giggles.  What was I thinking?” I wondered fifteen minutes later when they were STILL giggling on and off, but then I reminded myself that they’d remember that moment way longer than they’d remember the work on their desks.

Most years by now, I’ve started a countdown to the end of school and I’m focusing on that “number” of days left almost constantly.  But this year has been different.  Maybe it’s me, at this point in my life, or maybe it’s these particular kids, but for whatever reason, I’m not at all looking forward to seeing this class go.  At the risk of sounding cliché, I’d say they’ve taught me a lot more than I’ve taught them.  So with Teacher Appreciation Week rolling by, I’ve found myself feeling appreciative as well as appreciated. 

For the first 150 days of school, we’ve held firm to our rules and procedures.  I’ve kept them on track when they’ve tried to veer a class discussion, I’ve told them to sit down when they come up to my desk to tell that third story during morning work, and I’ve bitten my tongue on at least half the funny comments that I’d like to share with them during the day.  For these last 30 or so days (I’m truly not counting), I want to veer off track a little, listen to that third story, and laugh with them more than I lecture them. 

Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  My challenge to myself, as well as my teacher friends, is to keep that in mind these last few weeks.  If there’s something you want to tell them, a life lesson that won’t be on that test in three weeks but most definitely will matter in three, and maybe even thirty, years – don’t miss the opportunity.  Time is ticking fast, and those are the moments that really matter. 

We watched the movie Shiloh after reading the book recently, and the ending is a real tearjerker.  Every time I’ve shown the movie I’ve had at least one kid bawl, and I will admit I teared up the first five or six times I saw it.  But, sometimes, our emotions affect us in the opposite way.  As the credits rolled last Friday, one of my students looked up at me and said, “That’s the way to make a heart feel good!” with the biggest grin on his face.  Him saying that made MY heart feel good, and I’ve kept that line as a prayer in my heart ever since.  May we all leave this school year with our hearts feeling good, and may we as teachers set the stage for that to happen.