Hallelujah Highway

Celebrating the Journey

Is It Time?~ Kristi

My daughter and I, as her greatest cheerleader and guide, entered third grade three weeks ago with a darling black and white stripped dress, a matching “I Heart Nerds” Hello Kitty lunchbox, and a new pencil box overflowing with mechanical pencils and crayons. We were filled with excitement and anticipation for the challenges of third grade, which is a transitional year for elementary students. The curriculum is moving away from learning to read to reading to learn. Math is complicated by multiplication and division. There is cursive, essays, and projects.

As my daughter skipped off through the front gates of her award winning elementary school, backpack bouncing behind her, I prayed. “Please, God, bless this year. Let this year mold my daughter into who you want and need her to be. Let me be a useful instrument for this transformation as I help her navigate the waters of public school system. Bless her teacher. Bless the support staff. Bless the administration. Most importantly, bless my little girl because her heart is big, her soul is deep, and her energy is high. Amen!” With that, off I went to open my classroom door for the 200+ high school students I would serve this year.

She came home as excited as she always does about school. Since she is a talker, she rambled off things about her day at a rate of about 20 thoughts per minute. I struggled to follow the unpredictable twists and turns of the conversation and answer the random questions that popped up as she reflected upon the events of the day.

My daughter is a good student academically. She is naturally curious, quick to ask questions if she is unclear or wants further knowledge, and can whip through most work with minimal effort. She longs to please people she respects. If given clear expectations for success, my daughter will work very hard at achieving them because she has a heart of gold and wants to do the right thing.

While my daughter’s academics are strong, her behavior is her challenge. She has too much energy for one little body to contain, which leaves her jumping, leaping, flinging, flopping, and fidgeting. Impulse control is more challenging as her brain is moving so fast that there is little to no time to think about a thought or action before it happens. She moves at a pace that exhausts most people, including me, and that leaves little room for sustained periods of focus. She is a natural leader and wants people to follow; therefore, she is in a constant battle for control. She needs to feel heard. If she doesn’t feel heard, she will get louder and repeat herself over and over and over until her opinion is at least acknowledged. 

The traditional school system punishes this type of behavior because classroom control is a top priority. There are too many kids and one teacher. Conforming to “sit down and be good” norms are rewarded with awards and ribbons because instruction is easy when students are sedentary and quiet. Bodies that need to move and be stimulated are punished and shamed because they are disruptive to the educational process.

My daughter has been punished by the school system’s clip charts, recess punishments, and detentions. I reinforce these punishments at school by scolding her, taking away privileges, and by putting her on restriction because that is what a “supportive” mother does. Conversely, I reward improvements through reward charts where she earns special outings or gifts. 

She and I have worked on her behavior since she started preschool, but the improvement is minimal. The root of the problem is still there—she moves too fast, has too much energy, doesn’t think behaviors through, and is unorganized. 

All of these traits are characteristics of Attention Deficit Disorder and/or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, which research shows that symptoms become more evident in the upper elementary school years.                 

This well-meaning mommy has to get really honest. My daughter might have ADD/ADHD and what I have done up to this point is not working. I cannot punish the behaviors out of her. I have tried all the tools I have in my toolbox.  The reality is medication might have to be an option. 

The war has begun in my head.

On one side is my hippy, granola-side who likes zen, eats organic food, does yoga, meditates, and limits harmful chemicals.  The thought of medication makes me feel like a failure. The pharmaceutical companies’ wallets grow fatter as more and more kids, including mine possibly, are placed on “focus-enhancing” drugs. What are the long-lasting effects of these drugs on the kids’ minds and bodies? Will the alternative therapies like bio feedback and diet restrictions help avoid medication?

The other side hears my daughter internalizing the shame and saying: “I am just a bad kid who can’t do anything right” or “Everyone just blames me for things I really didn’t mean to do.” I hear the chink in the self-esteem armor and that terrifies me. As a high school teacher, I have lost too many students to decisions made out of low self-esteem. I don’t want my daughter to be a statistic and if giving her some medication helps lessen the frequency of these shameful punishments and protect her self-worth, I am on board.

A part of me wants to go into denial where hope and wishful thinking reigns. There, I can hope that this teacher will work with me to get her to a point where her maturity helps her make better decisions and that she can run around at recess enough to burn off the excess energy so focusing is easier for her. I wish with all my might that I can find the magic solution that would lessen these challenges.

So, my daughter and I had a heart-to-heart conversation. I explained that her brain is the type of brain that will make her very, very successful as an adult. She will be able to work on many projects simultaneously because her brain moves so quickly and does so with great accuracy. But, the school system is not designed for brains like hers.  They want brains that are organized, controlled, and easy to conform. The system rewards students who play within the box. 

She looked me straight in the eyes and said, “But, Mom.  I am too big for that box.”

With tears streaming down my cheeks, I said, “Yes, I know you are too big for this box. You have to learn to play in the box though, baby, because you have to go to school. We don’t have any other options.”

A part of me died in that moment.  I told my talented, intelligent, kind baby to play small to fit into an institution I belong to and perpetuate, AND I might have to medicate her to do so. 

A very jagged pill to swallow as I question: is it is time?

The initial appointment with the pediatrician has been set for September 23rd.  

Leave a comment »

Purple Crush~ Kristi

Purple Crush“When we send our kids to play organized sports—football, soccer, swimming, whatever—for most of us, it is not because we’re desperate for them to learn the intricacies of the sport.  What we really want them to learn is far more important: teamwork, perseverance, sportsmanship, the value of hard work, an ability to deal with adversity.  This kind of indirect learning is what some of us like to call a “head fake….  [the] head fake… teaches people things they don’t realize they’re learning until well into the process.”  (39)  from The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

I have placed my daughter in sports since she was eighteen months old.  At first, sports practices were spent chasing her on the soccer field in the mommy-and-me soccer program.  Then, we moved into basketball through parks and recreation.  Her first season was spent twirling on the sidelines, climbing the miniature basketball hoops, and trying to scale the curtain that separated the courts.  She would dribble down the court, pass, and commence her signature “baller-ina” antics.  The next basketball season she came back with a vengeance and was the most aggressive player on the court.  She decided she was going to take down anyone—boy or girl, friend or foe—who had the ball.

Over the years we have progressed into AYSO (soccer) and NJB (basketball)—both are leagues that are competitive, but not too competitive.  For some reason, age ten is the magic number where it seems reasonable for more competitive leagues, like club.  At this point, I want her to: enjoy the challenge of sports, have fun while learning the fundamentals, make good friends, and to falling in love with the game(s).  I am committed to reminding her she doesn’t have to be perfect player and developing her into a well-rounded athlete as I am not willing to focus her to one sport despite the teammates that do.

Last winter, she decided that she wanted to play softball.  We signed up at the local grocery store, tried out, and were placed on a team—Purple Crush.  I found the $200 to buy the helmet, left-handed glove, ball, and bat.

The first practice was a shock.  At the end of the first practice, her coach asked the huddle of girls, “What sized trophy do you want?  BIG or little?”  The girls screamed, “BIG!”  I knew participation ribbons and guaranteed playing time was gone.  This was a more competitive league, and Jaylah was entering the sport later than the other sports she has played.

Her coach was intense.  He demanded a level of focus from his players that was not in my daughter’s bouncy, energy-everywhere repertoire.  In fact, I decided when she was in first grade that my job was to enforce “focus” in her seven hour school day and I vowed that I would not scream at her in the after school activities for focus.  Her coach did and it was a daunting task to hold the protective momma bear at bay, especially at the game where he ripped her out of right field and benched her for not paying attention.  Her lips and shoulders sagged in shame as she sat in the dugout.  As a former athlete, I knew this was a valuable lesson, but I wanted to run in to the dugout, hug her with arms of acceptance, and whisper how awesome she was in her ear.

Her U8 (under 8) team was young and inexperienced.  We had two six-year olds moved up from tee-ball and most of the girls were seven.  Almost half of the girls were rookies.  The girls’ practices in the beginning looked like a good blooper reel.  The coach reprimanded the girls for not getting in front of the ball, not putting their gloves in the dirt, for not putting their back foot on the chalk of the back of the batter box, for throws that were ten feet to the left or right.  The assistant coaches ran hitting stations while the coach ran fielding practice.  A mom or dad would catch the pitchers.   Everyone worked hard—parents included—two times a week for two hours.

During the season, we lost more games than we won.  The girls were humble and kept working.   Slowly the girls stopped hacking at pitches that were over their heads and swinging at pitches that were in the strike zone.  The outfielders, my daughter included, started backing up the bases so when the ball was overthrown, a girl was there to chase it down.  The pitchers threw more strikes than balls.  We were improving, but not winning consistently.

The last two games of the regular season the girls bats came alive and we won.  A mom leaned over and said, “This is the perfect time for the girls to peak.”  Despite our peak, playoffs started with a disappointment.  We lost.  In the team meeting after the game, the girls wanted their team cheer to be “Championship!”  The coach snarled, “Yeah, the championship from the loser’s bracket” and changed the cheer.  The parents laughed.

But then, we started winning.  Three games in one long, arduous week.  We gave team after team their second defeat, which knocked them out of the playoffs.  The girls would show up, warm up, hit, field, run the heck out of the bases, and cheer for each other.  We started thinking, “What if we were champions out of the loser’s bracket?”  We were getting closer and closer.

On a very warm, 95-degree Saturday morning, the girls showed up to play a six-inning championship game from the loser bracket.  Our team took an early lead.  4-1.  12-2.  Then, the other team started catching up.  At the bottom of the sixth inning, it was 12-11.  Bases were loaded and there were two outs.  The hitter hit and the girl playing second base caught the ball off the bounce and threw it to first base a few milliseconds before the runner hit the bag.  The throw was slightly off and the girl playing first base dropped it.  The other team won and crushed our ‘champions out of the loser’s bracket’ dreams.

At the team meeting after the game, the coaches and parents put on their sunglasses to hide the welled up tears of pride.  Our girls, huddled together in a circle of softball sisters, had improved so much.  My daughter learned how to throw a ball, which revealed an arm that could throw from right field to home plate with pretty good accuracy, and hold a bat that would not swing at pitches that were too high or too low.  Each girl had their little triumphs and improvements, which almost caused an upset.

I am grateful for the coaches who spent countless hours running drill after drill.  When one coach would yell at a girl, another would step in after, pull that girl aside, explain what they could have done differently, and build them back up.  I appreciate that the girls showed up to every practice and ran the same drills that reinforced the fundamentals with focus.  They played every game with heart and worked on implementing what they learned.  They supported one another with cheers and little dances.   I am thankful for the parents who drove 15-miles further to a field that would have room for all of the stations two to three times a week.  Each parent stepped up and had a job.  Some were snack bar moms and scorekeepers.  Some were team moms and some got the meaningful coaches gifts.  Some sat on a bucket and placed ball after ball on the tee.

This was the season that I have prayed for.  My daughter learned what it takes to be a part of a team with remarkable chemistry that never gave up, worked hard with focus, and had fun playing the game of softball.  Also, she felt the sting of a second place victory, but the satisfaction of knowing second place is an admirable place to be.  This team’s legacy will be the standard to which all other teams will be compared.  Congratulations on your 2nd place victory, Purple Crush!  I am beyond proud of you and your accomplishments.

IMAG0415

A softball sister hug with Coach Dan

Purple 2

Jaylah and her proud momma (after the championship game)

 

 

Leave a comment »

Daring Greatly~ Kristi

Oprah

Last summer, I read Daring Greatly by Dr. Brene Brown.  The words transformed me into a Daring Great action hero—shame: the nemesis; failure: the arch enemy; and my super power: vulnerability.  Life provided me the opportunity to do just that as the Advanced Placement World History* teacher at my high school accepted a teacher leadership position at a middle school.  I was approached to teach the class.  (Although I have been an English teacher for the last twelve years, I have a history credential too.)

This was my opportunity to ‘dare greatly’ and move into an extremely challenging teaching position that carries immense responsibility.  A few years ago, my school district was awarded “College Board AP District of the Year” for extraordinary test scores and AP class accessibility for a middle-sized school district.  Great test scores, which are defined as a 50% passage rate, are the expectation.  The students and their parents desire a passing score because it means units in college.  And, the formal College Board AP World History training was over for that year.

The stakes and expectations were high.  I could succeed.  Or… I could fail.

I strapped on my action hero cape of vulnerability, took a leap of faith, and said “yes.”  As expected, there were growing pains.  I taught differently than the previous, very effective teacher.  Students thought the class expectations were too high, and it was my fault.  Parents heard the students blaming me and became advocates.

Failure was the boisterous student sitting in the front row and shame was the class clown in the back corner.  Both were seeking my attention.  To combat these two vile characters, I became more militant and demanding, a contrast to my usual encouraging and upbeat demeanor.  When I was not getting my usual results, I realized I changed my style of teaching because I was afraid.  I needed to revert back to what worked.

So, I worked harder.  I was learning 6,000 years of world history and learning the nuisances of the AP World History test.  In every free moment, I worked on my AP classes.  Most mornings, I was up at 2:30 am working on lectures, developing assignments, or grading.  I would go to school, teach my classes, host tutoring/study sessions after school, take my daughter to her sport practices/games, go home, make dinner, and fall into bed.

Then, one lesson about the Triangle Trade shifted the currents of the class as we found synergy.  The culture of the class was shifting from a blame game to one where we all took responsibility for learning.  From that point on, we replicated the conditions that caused success and continued to learn from the failures.  Asking questions was not a sign of academic weakness, but a sign of engagement and inquiry.  The class was still extremely difficult, but the students and I were navigating the challenges together.

Dr. Brene Brown wrote in Daring Greatly, “Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat, it’s understanding the necessity of both; it’s engaging. Being all in. (2) Unfortunately, my students and I knew both victory and defeat.  We were engaged and working as hard as we could to get the best possible outcome.  Through my tears on the last day of school, I said, “There are some classes that a teacher will always remember.  You guys are one of them because of our experiences together.  I know this year had so many obstacles for you and me, but I am so proud of you because you didn’t give up.  You showed up every day and kept working.  You improved.  You trusted the process of this class and you did it.  I am so very, very proud of the effort and work you put in.  You inspire me.”

This previous school year gave me the best feeling ever—the feeling of accomplishment and success.  I am very proud of the work I did.  The year was not filled with the usual polished lessons that have been refined by years of experience, but the lessons had heart—like I had when I first started teaching.  It was nice to find that passion and to teach history, the other subject I love so much.

This year demonstrated the following Daring Greatly quote.  Theodore Roosevelt stated:

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again.

Because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…” (2)

 

Oh, yeah!  59% of the students who took the AP World History test passed.  We did it!

 

*Advanced Placement is a program sponsored by College Board where students take a college level course level in high school.  They can take a proficiency test in May, and if they pass, colleges will award them college units for the AP class.

Leave a comment »

Reprieve. Rest. Reflection. Revamping. ~ Kristi

Reprieve.

Rae and I went radio silent on Hallelujah Highway.  Not intentionally.  More of what Rae said: “I have a few pieces written, but I am not feeling them” and what I said: “I am so far up essay grading’s butt that I have nothing written.”

Then, the holidays hit.  We chose to be present with our families who get pushed to the back burner more times than we would like to admit as we juggle the responsibility of being working moms and writers.  We needed downtime to refuel because exhaustion gagged our muses.  We had no words.

Rest.

On our reprieve, I rested.  I numbed out on the couch watching reality TV while shoveling home baked Christmas goodies in my face.  I took nap after nap.  I read a book I actually wanted to read, not one I was required to read because it was a part of one of my classes.  I spent time with my extended family.  I was able to just be with them without writing, grading, or work deadlines looming.  I worked out.  I danced my butt off on New Year’s Eve.  I got a massage.  I visited friends and had deep, soul level conversations.  In other words, I turned off my computer and engaged with the world.  It was glorious.

Reflection.

As I rested, reflection summoned me to the summit of a figurative mountain.   If I looked behind me, I could see the journey of 2013.  There were places that were arduous, times I fell flat on my face, and many miraculous moments .  Mostly, I could see that despite the moment-to-moment grind of the climb, I had conquered the lessons of friendships that were fundamental to me changing, buying and moving into a new home, telling my daughter some hard, yet necessary truth about her life, daring to be more vulnerable and opening up to love—most radically, opening up to unprecedented level of self-love, choosing a new teaching assignment that has pushed me way out of my comfort zone, confronted some deep, deep fears and false beliefs, created a tribe of woman writers who have supported me and my writing, and prepared to say goodbye to the security of my second job.

Reflection asked me the hard questions.  How did I express love this year?  Did I forgive?  Did I stop—really stop—and enjoy life?  Did I seek out adventure and play?  How did I stretch myself to learn and grow? How did I share my good with the world?

Revamping.

As I figuratively stood at this summit and looked forward at 2014, I realized I didn’t want to make any resolutions.  I don’t want to be a slave to my goals or resolutions anymore.  I just want to enjoy the journey and enjoy the spaces between too many “have tos” and “musts.”

Our presence on the blog might be affected by the revamping.  Rae and I have decided to let our writing be more organic and less about making a Wednesday publication deadline.  For example, this post was almost complete last week, but I was helping a friend in crisis and didn’t have time to finish it.  This week I did, and here it is.  A week late.  [And the blog gods did not smite me!  LOL]

Hallelujah for the journey of 2014!

Leave a comment »

Rupture. Then, Resilience~ Kristi

Rupture 2

 

My last post chronicled Rupture—a profound, emotional shattering of my expectations for my next (unborn) baby.  Rupture caused a week of barely sleeping, which left too many hours stewing in intense emotions in the dark.  Rupture left me sobbing the cry that contorts my face into the most unbecoming positions one night after work.  My daughter tried to offer comfort by hugging my sobbing shoulders with a worried, what-can-I-do-to -help look in her eyes—a true moment of mothering vulnerability.   Rupture forced me to walk into work the next day with red, puffy eyes that left my team teacher and students asking, “What happened to you?”

Rupture didn’t care.  Rupture forced me out of my ego’s version of the pulled together woman and placed me in a space of bottomless pain, darkness, and sadness.  Rupture needed to burst the awesome bubble I keep in order to avoid facing things I am unwilling to process.  Rupture needed me to feel the feelings of longing that I had suppressed for a long time.  Rupture needed me to evaluate my actions and make sure they were in alignment with the vision I held for my life.  Rupture was here to push me out of my comfort zone and into a space where I had no control.  All I could do was surrender and be.  I had to let Rupture rip through my life and obliterate what it needed to.

Rupture was like an erupting volcano.  Explosive. Hot.  Transformative.

Rupture was ugly and messy.

Rupture was necessary.

I had to trust that God had sent Rupture for my evolution and that Resilience would follow.

Some of the friends who read my essay reached out.  They could feel the pain and wanted to help.  They wanted to know what they could do, but I didn’t know.

A friend sat with me in my classroom after school and we talked about Rupture.  He pointed out the blessings of my life—I have a beautiful daughter and a peaceful home, I get to affect and influence over 170 students on a daily basis, and I have an amazing family and supportive friends.  All true!  I know this on a deep, intimate level, but it brought me no solace.

Over the years, I have learned my friends have different strengths, which serve me in various ways.  But, Rupture exposed Truth about two types of friends I have:

One type of friend needs me to be happy, alright, and in a good place.  This kind of friend needs me to be in my awesome bubble because they know how to connect with me there.  This connection is co-dependent because we feed off of my happiness and light.  They leave our interaction a little more uplifted, and I leave our interaction thankful that I didn’t have to be vulnerable.  I could just project happiness and light and not expose that I battle my darkness too.

Then, I have friends who will climb down into the muck and mire of my shitty-swamp and sit.  They know that my muck and mire has nothing to do with them.  It is a creation of my darkness.  As they sit, they hold lanterns of light that help illuminate the path out of my darkness.  They hold up mirrors that reflect my brilliance back to me when I forget.  They hold space for me to grow and pray for my evolvement.  Most importantly, they trust me to return out of the muck and mire because they know that Resilience follows Rupture.  They trust that God is working in me and allow me my process even if that means allowing me the privilege of Rupture.

Henri J.M. Nouwen writes:

When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.

Resilience has beaconed me from my shitty-swamp.  Like a white lotus flower, a symbol of “in-light-I-was-meant” (enlightenment), I have budded out of the dark muck and mire and bloomed towards the light.  In a season of thanks-giving and gratitude, I am beyond appreciative of my friends who don’t need me to be happy all the time, who allow me to be with my uncomfortable feelings, and who trust me and Resilience.  It takes courage to allow a beloved friend to be authentic, real, and genuine and not every friend has that gift.

Lotus

Resilience reminds me on a daily basis—if it is God’s Will, my next baby will be in God’s anointed time and not my appointed time.  I am not perfectly healed from Rupture as there is still heaviness on my heart from the thought of not having another child.  But, Rupture came to do what it was intended to do, which was to obliterate my expectations and Resilience is making room for God’s Will.

Leave a comment »

A Dream Deferred~ Kristi

I curse like a sailor.  Sometimes these are the only words that express the moment.  This piece contains “language.”   Being offensive is not my intention.  Being real and authentic is.

A Dream Deferred

by Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

~~~~~~

My thirty-fourth birthday is approaching.  Last year, I was clinging desperately to the concept of peace—not because every little detail in my life was peaceful, but I needed calmness amongst the storms of Holding Pattern after Holding Pattern.  My bad-ass, overachiever and I were used to making shit happen, but my thirty-third year taught me about letting things unfold in God’s time.  It was about trusting His plan and surrendering to His will.  It was about waiting as patiently as possible and in my case that was not patient at all.  My “patiently waiting” involved numerous freak outs, frantic phone calls to friends, and obsessively devising alternate plans to distract myself from the chaos of reality.

I am in the midst of an existential crisis because thirty-five is breathing down my neck and I am starting to panic.  I am not panicking about the fine lines that are present around my eyes from years of ear-to-ear grinning.  Nor am I worried about the permanent wrinkle that has formed between my eyebrows from over a decade of implementing one of my most effective classroom management strategies—the furrowed brow.

Age thirty-five scares the shit out of me because it is the deadline I gave myself on having another child.  I am freaking the fuck out because that is one year away.  My thirty-five-is-it baby deadline stems from logic’s pathetic attempt to rationalize my baby dream deferment.  When I am thirty-five, my daughter will be almost ten and that is an entirely different child rearing dimension—one full of sporting events, sleepovers, puberty, periods, boy band crushes, and braces.   Logic also tells me that ten is over halfway through and I have only eight more years until I can go and have “my life” back.  Logic reminds me that when she is eighteen and I am “done,” I can attend yoga classes and go out to dinner with friends without needing to come home and tend to spelling lists and bedtime routines.  I can travel and go see different parts of the world. I can retire earlier rather than later from teaching.  Logic screams if I had a child in my late thirties, then I will be putting a child through college into my early sixties.  Starting over with a new baby this late in the game just seems like logical nonsense.

My heart, which is not bound by the confines of age, yearns deeply for another child.  At my recent Vermont yoga and writing retreat, Jen Pastiloff, the “make-shit-happen” yoga instructor, asked the class to journal about what would we do if we were not afraid.  My head wrote some insignificant answers and my heart leap at the opportunity to answer.  My heart doesn’t get to speak much because the heart murmurs wisdom that requires extreme courage and can only be heard in the unpleasantness of vulnerability.  As we shared our entries (because when a group of people witnesses another’s deepest desire, the power of that prayer is heightened), my first attempt was weak and feeble.  Jen asked me to repeat it.  I tried saying it with greater conviction, but fear jumped up and made my voice crack in the middle of “I would have another baby.”  She looked me dead in the eye and repeated in affirmation, “You will have another baby.”  When our eyes locked, I could see my pain reflected back to me.  She had suffered an ectopic pregnancy a week or so before and she was grappling with her own baby dream deferment too.  A moment of intimacy between two women with similar longings.

My heart craved a family long before my daughter was conceived.  I purchased a house big enough to accommodate a rather large family, had a stable career that would allow summers off for family adventures, and established a strong village of family and friends willing to help me raise my family.  My heart ached for: little voices filling the rooms of the home; too many dirty dishes from a nourishing dinner still left in the kitchen sink; and a long list of practices and appointments to shuttle the children to in the mommy taxi.  These longings tormented me, so at age 25 I made a pact with God.  If by age 30 I hadn’t had a child yet, I would adopt or become a foster mom.  Because God has a tremendous sense of humor, my daughter was born at age 26.

Since the day my daughter was born, I wanted another child.  Ok, maybe not the day she was born because on that particular day, I felt like I had been ran over by a semi forty-two times.  But, with my swaddled, sleeping baby in my arms, I would tell anyone who would listen that if I had a husband, we would be trying for the next one.  I would half-heartedly joke that since my daughter’s father and I made such cute babies, all he had to do was give me the genetic material for my second baby and I would never ask him for anything again.

I try to disguise the all consuming jealousy of the women around me who are having their second or third child with happiness.  There is a part of me that is sincerely happy for them because babies are blessings.  But, that happiness is the sugary-sweet mask I wear to hide the part of me that is raging with venomous envy—the kind that rots life if given too much room, power, or clout.  At baby showers, I sit and watch women open the presents and oodle over the baby clothes, diapers, crib sheets, strollers, and bottles.  While I smile, oohh, and aahh my way through, my stomach is in knots and I fight for jealousy to not show up in my eyes.  In those moments, I pray my ass off.  “God, please hear me!  I wanted that to be me again.  Please, please, please let this be me.  When is it my turn?”

At the most recent baby shower, it was present time.  My daughter stood in front of my chair and watched the very pregnant, very glowing, and very excited mother-to-be.  In a nostalgic moment, I watched my daughter and remembered my pregnancy—how I used to lay my hand on my belly in moments of connection with this beautiful little girl who now stands before me.  At the beginning of present opening, my daughter’s disposition was upbeat and bouncy.  In an instant, it changed.  Her shoulders sagged and hunched forward as if to hide the heavy load on her heart.  Her lips, which were originally turned up in a smile, grew heavy and hung lifeless.  Her eyes, which usually ooze love, bulged with an uncharacteristic intensity that I knew so well.  I leaned over and whispered, “Are you jealous?”  She turned to me, gave me that mommy-you-know-me-so-well look, and climbed up in my lap as if my giant hug would ease her discomfort.  Her not-so-little-anymore head burrowed into my bosom and her almost five-foot body clung to me.  My daughter.  My mirror.  These longings in my daughter create indescribable pressure and my ego tells me it is my fault.  This makes me cry out in frustration and sorrow.  Fuck, what do I have to do in order to make this better?

During the last eight years, I have vacillating between the stages of mourning as I struggle to grieve and accept that not having another child might be my lot in life.  My default mode of operation is to bury my head in the sand and deny, deny, deny.  I tell myself that I must have unwavering faith, like a mustard seed, that it will happen.  I stay in my “awesome bubble” where everything is “great” and “wonderful” and “happy” and “tranquil” and “serene” to avoid feeling the rage I have about not finding my husband and not being able to have the family for which my heart longs.   I try to regain control of the situation by bargaining, bartering, and haggling with God and the universe.  My most recent negotiation with my daughter and God: if I am not on the marriage track by age 35, I will look into becoming a foster mother.

Sometimes, I get depressed and I let the tears of devastation flow—like the day I broke down as I gave away my daughter’s baby stuff for the second time.  I tried to give the stuff away the first time, but that attempt caused so much anguish that I ended up holding onto the stuff until my daughter was five-years old.  I felt like if I gave the stuff away, I was giving away the possibility of my next baby.  My maternal instinct clung to the stuff because I felt the need to be prepared.  My best friend pried my fingers from the stuff and coaxed me through the release.  In her infinite best friend wisdom, she assured me that when I do have my next baby, she would throw me a beautiful shower where I would get bigger and better baby stuff.  Plus, she reminded me that the single mom receiving my baby stuff needed it far more than the bottom of my daughter’s closet where it was stacked in a disheveled, disorganized mess.

When I was in my twenties, I told myself that if the next baby hadn’t happened by age 35—an age that seemed SO far away—I would force myself into acceptance and move on to Alternate Plan B.  To fill the void of my unborn children, I would proceed with going back to school for my doctorate and move up in my career.  As I approach my thirty-fourth birthday, doing so does not look as attractive as it once did.

For example, I applied for a teacher on special assignment position this past summer—the type of position for which I have groomed my resume.  But, as the interview approached, I grew more and more anxious.  Did I really want to leave the classroom?  Would I have the same impact if I left the classroom?  What would be the consequences on my family if I took a position like this?  I kept praying and praying for signs.  Former students came out of the woodworks in droves.  The gay student I mentored last year was moving to an online school and he was terrified of the change.  Would he be accepted?  Would he be motivated enough to complete the work on his own?  Could he graduate?  Through email, we walked through the enrollment process and the fears.  He was accepted and he is doing well.  I had several old students find me on Facebook and share with me how much I impacted them as a teacher almost ten years ago.  These were my signs.  It was not time to move on.  Thankfully, I did not get the job.

I am not ruling out the fact that a baby might come after the age 35.  God has shown me time and time again that my plans are no match for His perfect plan.  Nor I am ruling out the fact that Alternate Plan B may occur, but not at this time because if I activated Alternate Plan B now, it would be out of a need to fill a void.

So, what happens to my dream deferred?  Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?  Does it fester like a sore?  Or, does it exploded.

1 Comment »

A Tribute to a Halloween Gobblin’~ Kristi

It’s that time. HALLOWEEN! The time of black cats and bats. Ghosts and goblins. Kids in costumes. Trick or Treating. Truck and Treats. Pumpkin preparations. Truly, it is a ghostly good time.

There is one very, very frightening apparition that comes out to play every year. I try to shield myself from its ghoulish ways. I tell myself that this wicked presence cannot and will not possess me. I must resist. Somehow. Someway. But, my powers are no match. This goblin gets me gobblin’ every time.

The Halloween candy becomes this witch’s cauldron of choice! It bewitches me with all of its evil powers. It summons me with an invocation of the perfect sugar rush that awakens me from my normal exhausted, zombie-like state.

I promise myself I will not to be a candy vampire! I will not break into the candy stashed away for the sweet, innocent children in their guises, nor will I break into my daughter’s trick-or-treating loot. It’s like taking candy from a baby.

But, the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups cast their malevolent spells and charm me with milk chocolate and peanut butter.

The Kit Kats cackle their “Give me a break. Give me a break. Break me off a piece of that Kit Kat bar!” I am utterly defenseless to these Sirens.

The Twix bars prank me into consuming frightful levels of caramel and chocolate.

The Skittles’ mesmerize me into submission and leave me wanting to taste the rainbow over and over and over again.

The Almond Joys drive me nuts. Mounds don’t. Just kidding. Little pieces of chocolate heaven, GET IN MY BELLY!

brachs-candy-corn-web

Let’s not talk about the numerous bags of candy corns I have bought in hopes of creating that really cute Pinterest-inspired centerpiece for my kitchen table. I start out with the best of intentions—I decide I won’t open the bag until it’s time to make the centerpiece. Then, the delicious little blend of yellow, orange, and white howl at me like a werewolf in the moonlight. I decide eating only one will not hurt… and eating one more won’t hurt… Then, I end up eating the entire bag, which leaves me lying on the couch like a victim in a horror film.

This annual hair-raising Halloween ritual leaves my pant seams shrieking in pain and agony as my “healthy lifestyle” becomes a phantom of the past. I know it will require many, many tricks on the elliptical to usher the newly acquired calories to a “Dead Man’s Party.” I know. I know. The Halloween candy’s devilish ways should rest in peace, but this “Monster’s Mash” is no match for the “Thriller” of Halloween’s confection glory. Until next year vile Halloween candy…

Leave a comment »

Surrender to a Weighty Teacher~ Kristi

I have battled my weight for too long.  Just like I did with loneliness, I made my weight my biggest teacher.  If my poor eating habits have endured for decades, I needed to ask myself: what are these poor habits here to teach me?  I know the sweet taste of weight loss victory as I lost 50 pounds this time last year.  But, I also know the bitter taste of self-sabotage as I allowed myself to eat some of those pounds back.

These are just the beginning of the lessons I have learned as I surrender to another great teacher: my weight.

I must:

1.)    Be present.

I am good at setting a goal and doing whatever it takes to reach it.  Fitness gurus and magazines suggest using this strategy for weight loss.  At this point in my life, I cannot use this mentality.  It activates my overachiever, and she creates too much expectation.  If I don’t live up to these expectations, shame creeps in and shame feeds the critical voice in my head.  That ends with me eating an entire bag of chips to numb out from the ugliness of shame.  Instead, I have decided that I will just show up and do work.  I don’t try to control how the one workout will affect the overall outcomes.  I show up, trust the workout process, and wait for the organic results to manifest.

2.)    Think I am worth it and ask for help.

My default setting in life is martyr.  I am great at putting everyone needs first.  I am more than willing to put my responsibilities before taking care of me.  I am horrible (and by horrible, I mean atrocious) at asking for help.  My ego has a very hard time admitting that I don’t have it all handled and that I cannot do it all on my own.  The hardest admission ever:  “Ok.  Ok!  I admit it.  I need help.”  I need someone to come in and help me make time to work out because I am working on knowing I am worth it.   Sometimes that help comes in the form of going out to dinner instead of cooking or hiring a housekeeper/gardener.  Sometimes it means asking the 16-year old down the street to come babysit so I can have a few minutes to go to the gym.  I am not saying that doing so is easy.  It isn’t.  It is just necessary and I must honor this need of mine.

3.)    Understand that my weight is a symptom of my overall health.

If I am emotionally stable, I eat better.  If I am in a good mental space, making good choices is easier.  If I am spiritually connected to God, I want to take care of His body temple.  My eating and workout schedule reflect the other aspects of my life.  Therefore, I seek moderation, which is nowhere in my gene pool or in my repertoire of life tools.  I admire the people who can eat just two Oreos.  That’s not me as I can eat two rows of Oreos in record time.  Moderation, or finding middle ground, takes work and extreme awareness.

4.)    Stay in my lane and not compete with others.

In the summer Olympics in London, Sanya Richards-Ross, a gold medalist in the women’s 400m, said something about winning the bronze in Beijing that stuck with me.  As ESPN.com reports Richards-Ross saying: “I think what I did four years ago incorrectly was I didn’t stay in my lane and run my race,” she said. “I’ve had four years to think about it, and I’m not going to make that same mistake tomorrow.”  I have learned it is not about competing with the people around me as we all have different demands on our time, levels of commitment, and motivations.  It is about doing my best.  Sometimes just getting changed and getting in the car is my best; sometimes my best is a surprisingly strong performance.  If I compare myself to everyone around me, I will never feel successful, especially in a Crossfit gym where girls pump off pull-ups like they are as easy as eating bon-bons.   I compete with the voice in my head that tells me to stop and with the part of me that loves to be sedentary.  So, when I start to compare myself to others, I hear, “Stay in your lane.  Stay in your lane.  Stay in your lane.”

5.)     Celebrate the little victories.

Previously, it has been hard for me to celebrate the positive things I do because I don’t want inflate my ego and get a big head.  I think being humble is a very, very important quality in life.  But, I have learned that diminishing the good I do doesn’t serve me either.  I have learned I must celebrate the series of small victories along my road as celebrating the small victories are my way of honoring the work I have done, which is important.  In order to stay humble, I have learned it is about celebrating your achievement in that moment and then moving on.  My achievements do not define me—my character does.

Being healthy physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally will be my life’s work—not losing weight.  I know the number on the scale doesn’t define me and the size of my jeans doesn’t determine my beauty.  This process of getting healthy is really about being the best me I can be in that moment.  It is a process of finding my happiness, forgiving myself for failing, not holding myself to the standard of perfection, and breaking behavior patterns that are not for my best and highest good.

Weight

2 Comments »

Empty the Cup~ Kristi

Cup

 

Last week instead of the typical staff meeting, we had some professional development.  Dr. Ernie Mendes presented some principles from his book, Empty the Cup Before You Fill It Up.  One of the cornerstone concepts is simple:  in order for a teacher to teach a student, especially a teenager, he or she must understand that students are like a cup—full of raging hormones, overwhelming life experiences, and unprocessed emotions.  If an adult tries to pour knowledge or wisdom into a student’s already full cup, then it overflows and nothing is gained, which is completely counterproductive.  In order to educate a student, a teacher must give students a moment to release some of the feelings or emotions that keep their cups full.

I set out to experiment with this principle and let life prove or disprove its authority.  Over the last week, life has proved it overwhelmingly:

  • I was at a parent-teacher-counselor meeting and the mother mentioned that the student behaves and performs better at school whiles she is in counseling.  Why?  Because the counseling empties the student’s cup.
  • I recently took over some classes from a teacher who was promoted.  I could feel the overachievers’ anxiety about me taking over.  I teach differently.  I relate to them in a different way.  I graded differently.  My lesson plans dictated that I try to cram more information into their notes, but I could not get past the resistance I felt as it was like teaching to a brick wall.  I decided to talk to them.   I wanted to give them an opportunity to tell me about how they were adjusting and what they needed from me.  It was an opportunity for them to empty their cups.
  • I was sitting down with my team teacher and we were going to hash out our lesson plans.  We spent 30-45 minutes talking about events in our lives before we even got started.  We had to empty our cups.
  • My grade level team had a release day for collaboration and we spent a good chunk of time talking about what is working and not working professionally and our concerns with the transition to Common Core standards and assessment—another example of emptying the cup.
  • It was a night where exhaustion from the back-to-school cold reigned.  My daughter craved attention and connection.  Her solution to my coughing and hacking existence was a warm cup of tea.  She and I sat on my couch with our cups of tea and talked.  She told me about her dreams and the highlights of her day.  I did the same.  It was a moment of emptying our cups—figuratively and literally.

After observing life since the professional development, I venture to hypothesize that teenagers are not the only ones who benefit from emptying the cup—everybody does.

Let me clarify: Emptying the cup is not spewing personal drama into the world to seek redemption, validation, or attention.  (We may know someone who makes conversations about his or her drama all the time or we may see individuals on Facebook oversharing too much information.)  It is about slowing down the hustle and bustle of life, connecting with our feelings, finding a safe space and medium to express them, and being vulnerable enough to share.  Emptying the cup is about fostering connection, which humans crave because it is a basic human need, and intimacy, or into-me-you-see.

While this concept was applied to the classroom by Dr. Mendes, it has direct application to friendships, relatives, marriages and relationships, workplace interactions, and just the everyday connections we make with strangers.

My prayer for everyone today is:  May you experience a moment of grace where you feel safe to share your emotions, hopes, and desires with another.  May you courageously choose to be vulnerable and empty your cup.  If someone else chooses to empty theirs with you, may you reach out with empathy, compassion, and understanding.  May these small gestures make the world more connected, open, and a better place to just be.  Amen!

 

2 Comments »

In the Weeds~ Kristi

Weeds2

My best friend, who was a waitress all through college, taught me the saying “in the weeds.”  Servers use that expression when they are overwhelmed, falling behind, and serving too many people at one time.

Rae and I are in the weeds right now.  Rae’s doing the job of three people and I just took a new teaching assignment.   We are blessed, but we are scrambling to get caught up.

Today, I want to share with you the morsels my soul is chewing on because sharing is caring.

1.)    Daring Greatly by Dr. Brene Brown: This powerfully transformative book has been revolutionary for me personally and professionally.  It has encouraged me to be vulnerable by acknowledging the grip unconscious shame has on me.  It has framed some of the classroom discussions I have had with my honors students about success and the shame of failure, which lead to a student asking these profound questions:

Student #1: Tell me a time when you felt the most vulnerable.  When did you feel like you were going to fail? How did this moment help you and what did you learn?

Student #2: If you achieved your life’s purpose at 22- years-old, what are you doing now?

If you do not have the time or energy to commit to reading this book, she has an amazing TED talks on shame and the power of vulnerability.

(I went to pull my sheets out of the washer and wondered what was so heavy in the pocket of the fitted sheet.  It was Daring Greatly.  I have decided to frame this travesty as symbolism that I am washing myself of shame.)

2.)    Oprah’s Lifeclass on OWN with Bishop TD Jakes stated, “1 in 3 kids are raised in America without fathers.”  I am raising one and I teach them.  Fathers play such a vital role in the home and their absence is devastating.  It hurts the absent dads because they know they have failed their son(s) or daughter(s); the single moms who struggle to fill the hole in the soul the size of the absent dad; and the kids who internalize the absence and make it their fault.  When I close my eyes, I feel my daughter’s heart bleeding… and my students… and the kids around the country.  All these babies carrying wounds of the heart that forever changes them.  This makes me fall to my knees and pray for one big, ol’ miracle.  We, as a nation, have to change this epidemic.

3.)    Momastery is a blog I have written about on Hallelujah Highway.  One of Glennon’s posts recently gave me a new insight on three levels of people.  It is well worth the read!  Additionally, she posted on the Momastery Facebook page this picture of a post-it note her husband wrote a week or two ago.   It still haunts me because I could do better…

Post-it

4.)    Lastly, this YouTube video.  Full circle moment of giving.  Breathtakingly beautiful!

 

Leave a comment »

%d bloggers like this: