Friday, December 27, 2013

That's not Normal

“Normal is not something to aspire to, it’s something to get away from.” – Jodie Foster

“That’s not normal.”

Have you ever heard someone say that? I hate it when I hear that.

Well, tell me what is normal. By all means, enlighten me.

Is there a blanket definition that is supposed to apply to every single person? Is it a state of mind? Or one of circumstance? Can your definition of ‘normal’ possibly apply to me, when you haven’t walked the path that I have, experienced the life I’ve lived, the choices I’ve made? The problem a lot of people have (including me) comes in that they compare their insides to everyone else’s outsides. Some people look so put together, so perfect and polished that we can’t help but admire them. We appreciate them from a distance and think, “Wow, they’re so normal.” And then we wonder what they know that we don’t. We wonder what the key is for their normalcy.

Let’s talk about this for a minute.

One morning in middle school, my best friend’s mom was driving us to school. Her mom’s hair was in curlers. She was still in her pajamas, windows rolled down, had a cup of coffee in one hand, cigarette in the other. My friend was so embarrassed she was hoping for one of those earth-opening-up-and-swallowing-her-whole moments. Sadly, they never happen when you want them to. When her mom pulled up to the curb, my friend said, “Mom, duck!” Her mom immediately started quacking. Loudly.

A friend I made in college (I was slightly less socially awkward then) used to have to roll the joints for his parents. He said the trick when you were licking the paper was not to use too much saliva because that made them hard to light. You had to use enough to get a good, tight stick, but not so much as to make them soggy. But they were such good parents that they made him go outside when they were smoking because they didn’t want him to see them doing drugs. This was his normal. Does it confuse anyone else, or am I the only one?

A female former student of mine (and I have permission to tell this) was not allowed to wear skirts or dresses. Her mother thought they were immodest because the wind could blow them up, or a frolic on the jungle-gym or monkey bars could reveal her underwear. Even worse, a boy could wriggle under them, as had once happened to her, and look up her skirt and see her underwear (although, according to the daughter, what apparently really scarred the mom in that case was that she wasn’t wearing underwear). When this student was in my class as a freshman in college, I hadn’t noticed that she wore dresses or skirts almost all the time until she wrote her memoir paper. Then I paid attention. She did wear jeans or shorts from time to time, but being on her own she could finally wear dresses.

She could redefine her own normal. She found the key.

Whatever you grew up with is normal for you. Just because you do something differently from someone else doesn’t make you (or them) abnormal. Now, there are things you may do that make you weird, but that’s an entirely different conversation (and for the record, weird is not a bad thing, either).

Normal is an illusion, people. It’s a perception. It doesn’t exist. It’s an overlay, a filter, that people often wish for in their own lives or assume someone else has in theirs. “Normal” is external. We like to classify people as “not normal” because in some sick or twisted way it must make us feel better about ourselves. It’s deflective: a pitiful attempt to shift the focus off of us and on to someone else, even for a moment.

The truth? We are all abnormal (or does that make us all normal?) because we are all weirdly skewed by the ways we were raised. We can’t piece out that definition and say it applies to some but not to others. You learn your own personal kind of normal when you’re young, but you can always change it. That’s what is so deliciously magic about it. It’s fluid, malleable.

When you’re young, its boundaries define who you are. But when you grow up, you define it with yours. Isn’t that incredible? So few things in life can we define on our terms. This is one. Seize it. Hold it tightly to you. No one can tell you how view the world around you anymore.

That magic now belongs to you.

That’s not normal? Good.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Who Invited Supermom?

“Yes, Mother. I can see you are flawed. You have not hidden it. That is your greatest gift to me.” – Alice Walker

There’s a lot of mom-bombing that goes on these days. The moms who stay at home get their feathers ruffled when their work at home is trivialized. The work-outside-of-the-home moms feel slighted when they feel they don’t get enough credit for raising a family and holding down a job. Who made this a contest? Is there someone to blame for this sniping? Damn right there is.


That bitch.

Supermom does it all, of course:
  • She packs healthy lunches.
  • She cooks perfect, healthy, delicious, organic dinners.
  • She always has her hair and nails done
  • She wears clothing made of organic fibers
  • Her gemstones are conflict-free (certified, natch)
  • Her children have the best manners and never have meltdowns in public.
  • She is the homeroom mom at her kids’ school.
  • She is PTA president.
  • She throws perfect parties.
  • …aaaaaand she also works outside the home.

Shall we compare this to my list?
  • My kids get PB&J or a lunchable. Sometimes they buy their lunch.
  • I cook…ish
  • My hair and nails are usually clean.
  • My clothes are wash and wear.
  • Gemstones?
  • My children have good manners, when they remember to use them. Meltdowns? Yeah, they happen.
  • Homeroom mom…hahahahaha….that’s a good one.
  • I am a PTA member only because if everyone in my daughter’s class joined, then the class got an ice cream party.
  • I don’t throw parties.
  • …aaaaaand I work outside the home.

Clearly, we’re a little different.

Supermom is a reminder of how mediocre I am. If there were a coffee mug out there that said “World’s Okayest Mom”, well, that’s the one that I would deserve. My kids don’t need an Etch-A-Sketch. They have the dust that patiently coats the surface of the furniture in my home. Of course, once they’ve made their pretty pictures in the dust, what kind of hard-hearted Hannah would I be if I wiped them off? So you see why dusting is out. I have to preserve my children’s artwork.

I do like to cook, but I’ll be honest. There are many days when after teaching all day, the last thing I feel like doing is cooking dinner. Sometimes I’ll cook a bunch of food on Sunday and we’ll eat it through the week. Frozen pizza comes in handy. So does mac & cheese. And sometimes when we’re all tired we just have a bowl of cereal. Does that qualify me for the mom Hall of Shame? I hope not, but Supermom would be appalled.

I have raised my children to know that I am not their source of entertainment. I play with them, of course. We play games sometimes, or read together, but I taught my children from a young age how to entertain themselves. They don’t constantly hang on me whining, “M-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-m, play with me!” And, surprisingly to a lot of people, over summer vacations and holiday breaks, I don’t hear an excessive amount of “I’m bored”. Sure, Supermom would be there to lead them in some sort of arts-and-craft ready to go, complete with glitter glue and pipe cleaners, but my kids can do that themselves, and frankly it’s not my strength. We can have quality time together, not quantity.

Am I a bad mom for not wanting to spend every single minute with my children?

Sometimes I need a time out of my own. I know, know, Supermom never needs one. She’s perfect, after all. But despite the fact that I love my children more than I thought I could ever love anything in the world, and despite the fact that I would give my life for either one of them, I still crave time to myself. So when I feel that pull, when my temper is getting short and my responses are getting snappish, I just tell them that I need a time out. They know that concept. After all, they’ve been having time-outs since they were old enough to understand what “time out” meant. I explain that my attitude needs adjusting and I put myself in my room.

I know this is even harder for those moms who stay at home. I have intentionally avoided the phrase “don’t work” because if you have kids, you work. It gets wearisome after a time. And it doesn’t mean you don’t want your kids, or that you don’t love your kids, of course. It’s just mentally and physically exhausting. It’s work. And it’s work without a paycheck. Supermom never prepared us for that.

Being mentally sharp constantly wears you down faster than anything else. Whether you are at work or at home with the kids, you have to be on the ball. Let yourself zone out at work? Suddenly that project you were working on doesn’t get finished by the deadline and your job is on the line. Let yourself zone out at home taking care of the kids? Suddenly you’re on your way to the ER because little Timmy thought the hot glue gun was an ear thermometer. They both come with responsibilities. Both kinds of moms are a big, big deal. Both deserve to be celebrated. Neither deserve to be maligned or diminished. I’m looking at you, Supermom.

Supermom, if I may speak to you directly for a moment, you are no longer my mom idol. It’s time for you to pack up your DIYs and your homemades and hit the skids, sister. You spend too much time on shine and polish and not enough time on the therapy you obviously need. It’s time for the Stay at Home Moms and the 9-5 Moms to stand together, without your spectre of unattainable perfection holding us apart. We don’t mind a little grit. We don’t mind mixing our great-grandmother’s beef wellington from-scratch recipe with a bag of microwavable veggies, or that we use paper plates because we didn’t have time to wash the real ones. Our houses may be messy, but our kids are happy. And do you know what, Supermom? I’m okay with that.

After all, I am the world’s okayest mom.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Love, Bones

“Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day.” – unknown

My dog is eating my house. Really, he is. He is actually ingesting it. This is not a metaphor. But we’ll come back to this later.

At the beginning of summer vacation in 2013 we brought home a puppy. It was the perfect time: I wasn’t teaching during the summer so I would have all summer to train him, he would be with us all summer to train us, and the girls were also out of school to love on him to their hearts’ content. In fact, I brought him with me on the last day of school (the day I got him) to pick them up. They had no idea we were getting a dog, so this was an enormous surprise.

It wasn’t an impulse buy. For months I researched the kind of dog I wanted: a Dogue de Bordeaux, also known as a French Mastiff, and known to the world at large as the lovable scamp of a dog Hooch in the movie Turner and Hooch. In fact, after we brought him home, I made the girls sit and watch that movie as a cautionary tale. “This is why we need to train him now,” I stressed. “He’s going to get big.”

He was seven weeks old and already weighed 14 pounds.

Look at that face!
He had the sweetest face I had ever seen and eyes that just looked right into my soul. I knew when I saw him that he was the one.

We named him Bones.

He is our boy; he is our baby. And we are his people.

During the summer, there were many accidents in the house. It was easy to forget how young he was because he grew so large so quickly. He doesn’t whimper or cry, so to my kids, he doesn’t ‘speak’. He uses his eyes to communicate; they are extraordinarily expressive, but very quiet. So there were accidents. I think every inch of my carpet has been cleaned with Resolve…twice.

He’s also stubborn.
"Nope...not gonna do any more..."

When he’s done with something, he’s done, and that’s it. He sits down, looks at me with those big eyes, and won’t budge no matter what I demand he do. I have to remember that just as we don’t expect our kids to be perfect carbon copies of us because they have their own personalities, he has his own personality too. Once I allowed room for that in our training, it went much more smoothly.

He became an instant part of the family and has always loved to play.
The problem? Bones doesn’t know how big and heavy he is. Right now, at eight months old, he weighs 83 pounds, and he thinks he’s a lapdog. When he gets excited, he doesn’t jump (good training…) but he does have a tendency to run head first into our legs. My guess is I have about 12 tiny stress fractures in my legs at any given time (I might be exaggerating a little). He’s solid bone; his head is like a boulder. I always have bruises on my legs because when we play, he steps on me. His paws are almost the size of my hands.
"Of course she wants me on her lap. Why wouldn't she?"

He loves us unconditionally. We have his trust. Every day when we leave, when it’s cold or yucky outside, or (because this is Texas) if it’s face-meltingly hot outside, Bones goes (mostly) willingly into his crate. He stays there for hours. When we get home and let him out, he is so happy to see us that he head-butts our legs, runs in crazy circles around the den, and gives us hugs with his paws. He isn’t mad at us for leaving him in his crate all day. There is no cold shoulder, no frosty silence. The happiness just pours out of him. If you locked someone you love away for hours each day, or even simply ignored them for hours at a time (with no locking away, because –really– that’s wrong) that person would be angry. Dogs don’t get that way.

Somehow, they know something that we humans don’t. They know how to automatically forgive.

Sometimes Bones stops by the couch, puts his front two feet up on it, and leans his head into me, sort of like a drive-by hugging. Other times he sits next to me, sags against the sofa, sighs, and offers me his paw. He just wants me to hold it. When Emma is feeling ill, and laying on the couch, he sits with her until she feels better. He is her best friend, and she can whisper all her secrets in his floppy ears. He likes to lay on our feet so we can’t move without him knowing it. We are his people. He is our dog.

Bones just sat there with Emma, for hours. His tiny friend was sick and he had to stand (sit?) guard.
Sharing secrets is one of the best parts of having a best friend. Here it looks like Bones is thinking, "No she di-int!"

But into this paragon of heroic canine-wonder comes his fatal flaw: he’s a chewer, which brings us back to the fact that he is actually consuming my home. Have you heard the saying “he’s eating me out of house and home?” In this case it’s the literal truth. Bones eats a lot, but despite the full belly, and the abundance of chew toys he loves, he has decided to chew the house itself.

Exhibit A

The chair. This chair was in perfect condition before Bones decided it had a lovely flavor. You may wonder why I didn’t notice for a while that he was eating it. He didn’t leave much evidence. He wasn’t simply chewing on it and letting the bits fall to the floor. He was eating it, then hoovering the floor for bits he missed.

Exhibit B

The back doors. No, I don’t live in a condemned building (ignore the dogs’ nose art on the windows, please…I haven’t cleaned it off in a while). But looking at these doors, you’d think this building was about to collapse. Again, he’s eating them. It’s hard to tell in this picture, but he’s almost completely removed the wooden framing from the glass panes on the outside. He’s destroying the wooden bit that separates the two doors (I have no idea what that’s called). Again, very little evidence is left lying around.

Exhibit C

Finally, he’s removing the little strip that seals the space between the doors. See? There’s a visible gap between the doors now. Oh my God. I don’t even know how he got ahold of that in the first place.

So, my dog, at eight months old has demonstrated that he can eat a house. But out of everything else he has demonstrated, this is the thing I care about the least.


He is always ridiculously happy to see us. Always. How many beings in your life can you say that about? He is never upset that we came home. He is a constant source of recognition. Our arrival never goes unnoticed or unheralded. The joy of our return seems to make his day.

He is unafraid to show he loves us. People often withhold their affection until another person shows it first. How absurd. He isn’t afraid of looking foolish or needy. I wish more people were like that.

He has no agenda. Bones doesn’t loves us in order to get something. Dogs don’t think, “I’ll love my people if they do this,” or “I’ll stop loving them if they do that.” No. He doesn’t hug us so we’ll pet him. He just “is”, with no ulterior motive. Of course, he won’t turn down a treat when it’s offered, either.

He teaches my children a new way of communication and to pay attention. I tell my kids they have to listen to what Bones is telling them and they look at me like I’m insane. Slowly, though, they are learning what that means. His body language, the tilt of his head, his eyes…all of these things communicate. It isn’t verbal speech, but it is how he ‘talks’.

He holds no grudges. Of course he gets his feelings hurt sometimes if I have to tell him ‘no’, but he forgives quickly. Holding grudges takes so much energy and effort. Dogs live so much in the present. Those 8 hours spent in the crate? Forgiven and forgotten the moment we let him out and he gets to be with us again.

These things are so much more important than physical things that can be replaced. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m upset about the doors. I can’t afford to replace them yet, but when I do, they won’t be made of wood.)

I want my kids to have good role models. I worry that they will look to certain celebrities for how to behave, how to perceive relationships, or how to look. To try to forestall that, I talk to them -a lot- about what things are important to emulate, about what makes a person good. Unconditional love and support is at the top of the list. Amazingly enough, my kids get to see an example of that all the time in Bones. My hope is the generosity of spirit they see so freely given will leave a lasting impact on them.

Love, affection, and kindness: they mean the most no matter what species you are.

Monday, December 16, 2013

I Didn't Change the World Today

"As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others." - Audrey Hepburn

I didn’t change the world today. I didn’t give millions to fund medical research, start a scholarship fund to see future scholars through their collegiate careers, or develop a self-sustainable food crop to end world hunger.

No, I didn’t change the world today.

Instead, I went to Denny’s.

You see, my youngest has hearing problems and is currently recovering from her second major ear surgery. Today was her first post-op check-up since surgery #2. We see a “super-specialist” in Dallas (about 2 hours away from us). It’s a long drive for a little kid (God bless the inventor of the portable DVD player), and it has become a tradition that either on the way to the appointment or on the way home we stop at the Denny’s on Belt Line Rd. to eat.

There were several tables occupied when my daughter and I sat down, but the one I noticed the most was a young couple with a baby. They were seated on the other side of the room. There was really no particular reason I noticed them. The baby was quiet, the adults just talked to each other. But they just looked so happy to be together. Emma and I followed our normal routine, made our usual orders, and took turns coloring the kid’s menu until our food arrived.

Then the man took out his wallet to (I believe) pay for their food. He took some bills from his wallet and looked a little concerned. The young lady tried to hand him her purse, but he shook his head, unwilling to accept. (I am presuming the emotions, basing it solely on what I saw, as I could not hear what they said.) He looked around, and I tried not to let him see that I’d been watching them.

Again, I can’t say what was drawing me to them. Except…

…I know what it is to be broke. I remember having to make the choice between buying milk or laundry detergent.

…I know what it feels like to need to get out of the house for just one meal even if you can barely afford it. The walls close in after a while.

…I know how life is living from paycheck to paycheck, not knowing if you’ll be able to pay all your bills this month. Even now, some months get very tight, but I can pay my bills. And that’s a good feeling. But I remember.

I have a wonderful fantasy that I win the lottery, and I think of all the good deeds I could do with those mega-millions. The college-funds I could establish, the debts I could pay off for people, the burdens I could ease. Oh, what a blessing I could be. Oh, but, hmmm… Here’s the flaw in that plan: I never remember to play the lottery.

So as my heart broke just a bit watching that man consider those dollar bills underneath the table top I made a decision.

Our waitress brought the food for the table beside us and I beckoned her over. “That couple with the baby, are they your table?” They were. Good that made it much easier. I asked her to put their bill on my ticket, but please not to tell them until we left.

Maybe, even if it’s just for today, it will bring a sense of relief to that little family. And someday in the future, they might remember how it felt to be young and struggling, and they might see the opportunity to help someone else. Then that someone helps someone else. How many ripples can one drop of water make?

Maybe I did change the world, after all. At least for someone.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Silver Linings

“If you look for the bad in mankind expecting to find it, you surely will find it.” – David Swift

There have been many days in my adulthood where I wanted to surrender: fly my white flag, hand over my grown-up card, and go back to my fort where I could just eat cereal and watch Saturday-morning cartoons all the time. Being an adult just didn’t live up to all the propaganda.

After my first husband left, I found myself a single mom of two little babies. And I mean little. Violet* was only 16 months old, Sam was three months old. Less than a month later, really before I even began to get my feet under me, Sam – my beautiful, perfect, precious boy – died in his sleep. I was rocked to my core.

I buried my child. No parent should ever have to do that.

I’ve been broken ever since the night that Sam died. On the outside I can put on a good show, but inside things just have never been the same. I’m not supposed to say that. Sam died in 2003. I’m supposed to have “moved on” by now, but I don’t know what that means.

I still had Violet, though, and I can credit her and the rest of my family with saving my life. Had it not been for them, grief would have completely consumed me largely because I felt like I wasn’t supposed to talk about it. “My baby is dead.” Of course, nobody wants to hear those words. Nothing will stop a conversation faster, right?

A year later, I married the most wonderful man in the world. Then at Christmas in 2004 we discovered we were going to have a baby. The joy was overwhelming. But in February 2005, my love died of a lethal combination of over-medication and pneumonia after back surgery. I was three months pregnant, mother to Violet, and now a widow.

The gaping chasm of grief was beckoning, promising the comfort of darkness and insanity.

I couldn’t lose myself in it, though. I had to keep functioning. I had to. Violet was three now. She was a mirror to my emotions. I came up with what I call the Silver Linings Campaign. Because of her youth, I had to make it very simple for her to understand, but sometimes the simple way is the best way.

“If you look for the bad in mankind expecting to find it, you surely will find it.” – David Swift

It certainly seems like a lot of people spend a lot of time complaining about things. “This weather is terrible!” “This has been the worst day ever!” “I hate people!” It’s a very negative outlook. There’s a certain expectation that things are going to be bad, so naturally they find the bad things in their day. Negativity gets to be a habit. It repeats, ultimately dragging down not only you, but all those around you. It’s exhausting always having to buoy someone up. Eventually, you just get too tired to fight that negativity all the time. You have to let that person go.

I felt for a while like God had painted a target on me and was sending as many horrific events my way as possible: my first husband left, my son died, my second husband died. But I knew this was a poisonous way of thinking. I had a new life inside me and I didn’t want my negative vibes to taint its energy.

I needed to make a change.

The Silver Linings Campaign

As difficult as it was to pull myself back from that abyss of grief, I managed. On the day my husband died I created the Silver Linings Campaign while driving to pick up my daughter from pre-school.

It’s a very simple premise: no matter what happens, we will find something positive in that situation. It might be the tiniest, most ridiculous or absurd thing to be positive about, but there is always something to be positive about in any situation.

When I collected Violet from school, I sat her on a bench outside and explained what happened. She cried immediately. I cried to see her pain in losing another father-figure. We held each other and cried some more. Then I explained in very simple terms about the Silver Linings. And I said, “Can you think of any good things at all? Even tiny ones?”

She thought very hard, for quite a while, before she said, “No more earplugs at night?”

Of all the things she could have said, this one made me actually laugh on that hideous day. She was right. Curt snored. I had to wear earplugs at night to be able to sleep. It was a bittersweet realization that I wouldn’t need them anymore.

She understood.

Over the years we’ve encountered big problems, but we focus on those silver linings. And the longer we look, the more of them we can find. It’s true that if you look for the bad you are certain to find it, but you know what? If you look for the good, you are certain to find that, too.

*My eldest daughter has asked that I not use her real name on this blog. She chose the one I use here.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Things We Think but Do not Say

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

Have you ever heard that one? I did. I grew up saying it; in fact, in middle school it became something of a mantra for me. And I tried so hard to believe it. “Their words won’t hurt me.” But those words did hurt me…a lot. The mean words, the shoves into lockers, the jokes about my clothes: they all hurt. I didn’t care that my clothes came from low-end stores, but for some reason my classmates did.

I came from a happy two-parent home. No, we did not have a lot of money. There were five children in my family, so there were a lot of expenses. Buying the Izod shirt with the alligator or the perfect Colors by Benetton sweater, the real Keds shoes or Guess jeans was simply out of the question. I wore a lot of hand-me-downs, clothes from K-mart, and clothes from Target, shoes from Payless. I was a Weasley in a school full of Malfoys. My clothes were imitations of those coveted items.

We didn’t discuss problems at home. We have never been a communicative family. Ignore it, that was our motto, and we were good at it. Turn a blind eye. Live in a bubble. So when I began having these problems in middle school, it never occurred to me to talk to anyone about them. Why would I?

Confessions of a Middle-School Loser

1. “Friendship pins” (safety pins + beads) were all the rage in school. While kids were exchanging them and were positively dripping in friendship pin chains and decorating their shoes, no one ever gave one to me. I had to make my own so no one would see how friendless I was.

2. The girls’ PE locker room door opened outward. As I was opening it to enter for class, I bumped a boy on his way to wherever he was going. “Watch out, ya fat cow” are words forever burned into my brain, snarled at me by this wretched boy.

3. The crazy boy in school decided he like-liked me (we probably don’t use that word now…we’d use something like “mentally ill”…but trust me, he was crazy). Word of this quickly spread and everyone somehow “knew” we were “going together”. He would call my house and say, “Hello, Karen. You know who this is.” That’s it. He wouldn’t say anything else, just sit on the line and breathe. It was creepy as shit.

4. There was a boy on the bus we rode who would touch me. When I wore shorts or a skirt/dress, he’d rub my legs “to see if they had stubble”. Occasionally, he’d grab other places, just because he could. I asked him to stop, but no one made him stop because he was a popular kid. I missed the bus on purpose a few times because I knew he was on it. I’ve never told anyone that before.

5. In 8th grade history, one of our in-class projects was to have a partner trace our silhouettes off the overhead projector (we then would complete the project at home in some sort of creative fashion. I’m sure this had a purpose…). Although “partner” implies 2, and there was an even number of people in the class, I had no partner. The soc’s clumped up together until one of them took pity on me and whipped me out an outline of my head.

6. The “soc” boys nicknamed me K-Mart in the 6th grade because of my clothes. The nickname lasted throughout middle school. It was not a term of endearment.

School was torturous. Despite the fact that I had always been a good student, I dreaded going to school. What was someone going to say today? Was he going to be on the bus? I never told anyone about any of these things. No one had ever told me that I was allowed to say the things that bothered me, that I was allowed to talk about my problems. Maybe that’s some kind of common sense that I was supposed to know, but I didn’t. When you grow up with a certain model, that is what you learn. I learned to keep quiet.

A High-School Revelation

In high school, I learned I have a voice. This was brand new information for me. My freshman English teacher, Diane Skelton, changed my life. She not only taught us English, she gave us ownership of ourselves. It was absolutely astounding. I had many things to say, and suddenly I knew that I was allowed to say them. If someone bothered me, I could (I could!) tell him to stop. And I learned that I knew how to write. My love of the written word has been unceasing. People often talk about “that” teacher, that one teacher who taught them something specific, or who saved them from doing something stupid. Mrs. Skelton was both of those things for me.

A Career Defined, A Voice Uplifted

I’m an English professor now. I get to wallow to my heart’s content in the written word for a living. The absolute best part of my job is letting my students know that they own every experience in their lives. It doesn’t matter if sometime in the past someone said, “don’t tell.” Forget that. It is their life, their experience. Good or bad, it belongs to them and they can write about it, talk about it, or act it out in interpretive dance if they want to. They have a voice and it deserves to be heard. Everyone has a story to tell.

We have to get over this idea that we shouldn’t talk about our problems, that we have to just “suck it up”. When we talk about them, we realize that there are others who have the same problems. It’s often the loneliness and the isolation that cause our problems to balloon. When we find someone to share them with, they become far more manageable. My eldest daughter is in the seventh grade this year. It’s tough. Thankfully, she knows she can come to me with her problems. Some have been doozies, while others have been small that-crap-is-still-going-on? pettiness. The point is, she knows she can talk to me. She knows she has a voice.

 I’ve been reliving my nightmare middle school years lately because I've been helping my daughter swim those waters. She's realizing how twisted middle-school relationships become (is this person really my friend? Or only when I'm looking at her?) and it's so hard to watch that happen. I didn't realize that when your kids go through middle school that means you have to go through it all again too. It's not easier the second time. I know more words now - and some really good ones - but I'm still not allowed to use them on those little pishers who hurt my daughter.