Great Forever

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“I’m not ready.” That’s what he told me as we sat waiting for a table at J. Alexanders. We were surrounded by strangers who probably thought, “Ooh look at that couple.  They’re both crying…they must be fighting.”

We weren’t fighting.  We were instead facing a cold, stark fact. Bill’s dad was close to dying…we’d both just witnessed his current state, and we both knew he was to the point of no return.

Bill wasn’t ready to lose another parent, the second in ten short months. He wasn’t ready to face life without parents and grandparents. He wasn’t ready to let another loved one go.

We still aren’t eight days later.

But he did go. Very calmly and surrounded by a packed room of loved ones, he slipped away with a few last breaths. The very thing we all live in fear of, the very thing none of us will ever escape from, happened. Eight days later, it’s still hard to believe it happened.

The loss of one parent is excruciating. My mother passed suddenly when I was 35, and it left me empty inside. I wasn’t ready not to have a mother. Bill lost his mother in November, and I was thrust back into those emotions…even eleven years later. How do you live without a mother? I discovered quickly you can because you simply have no other choice.

But two parents? I’ve listened and watched, my wanna-be-writer’s mind that never ever really shuts down, absorbing the words of so many. Some say they felt like orphans when parents passed on, others stated it was a new feeling of responsibility when they were suddenly at the top of their living family tree. Others just nodded in understanding, having lived through it and understanding our weariness.

So now what? How does life continue in such an unwanted new fashion? Here’s all I can fathom:

-Life will continue, whether we really like it or not. Our job is to find the joy in the bad. Life is what you make it, that’s for sure.

-Cherish each day with your loved ones. (Don’t we hear that to the point that it almost becomes a weary cliché? Unfortunately, it’s blatantly true and nauseatingly hard to live with once the loved ones are gone. I learned that the hard way with my momma.)

-Enjoy today. Tomorrow may really kick you in the face.

-Life can suck. Life is gut-wrenchingly hard at times. But life is also wonderful and beautiful and warm.

-Find a great pair of big girl panties. You will need them often.

-Each loss makes me so thankful for what I have left. Each loss makes us grow (even when we’d rather stay babies and never grow up).

-This life is not forever. But there is a place that is forever. That gives me incredible hope.

I can’t help but think that all the loved ones that are gone…parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends…are just a step beyond what our human eyes can see, and they’re prodding us along. They’re nudging us into the next day, the next month or year. They’re that hidden strength that gets us through the hard times when we’d rather just pout or cry. They are our strength, and they’re waiting on us in the great forever.

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Jofis (Or Kindergartners are Kwazy!)

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She’s little, maybe comes to my hip. She’s blonde and giddy and very, very expressive. There’s a little speech impediment and a smile big enough to make you laugh for no reason.

“Jofis! Jofis,” she chants until the little boy (really named Joseph) looks at her. “You better be good! You hear me, Jofis?”

In the next nanosecond, she turns to me and exclaims, “Do you know Nancy (name changed to protect the innocent)…she is making me cwazy!”

“Who’s Nancy? Why is she making you crazy?”

“My sister, Mrs. Mawackawee!  And she…you know her?…she’s so mean to me!” She shakes her little blonde head and rolls her bright blue eyes. “She’s my fwiend but she’s so mean!”

These Kindergartners are a hoot. And their teachers are angels on earth. If you don’t believe me, come visit for awhile. I’ve always appreciated how hard they work (and always wondered how and why they stay with it year after year), but now after working with these little ones myself…all I can say is wow. These educators take on things we outsiders can’t even grasp. Tears, fear of toilets, angst and anxiety – and they are expected to take them from sad, I want my mommy little ones to ready to read first graders. My appreciation for these Kindergarten teachers has quadrupled. You guys are rock stars!

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Little Tiny Hands

More Kindergarten quotes…and mind you, these statements come at you like rockets, one after the other, sometimes with no breath in between…bam, bam, bam!

“I like tantelopes.” I say cantelopes. She says, “That’s what I said…tantelopes.”

“I’m a good listener.”  Little princess repeats this four times in a row before I even have a chance to nod. “A really good listener.”

“I might stink – I took a bath last night but I pwayed on the pwayground, so I might stink.”

“The tooth fairy comes to my house in some bubbles…”

“Hello, hello…,” she says to me, “Let me see your clock.” It’s the watch on my arm, and of course, I let her see it.

“Look, look, Gracie…Gracie…why, why, why? I don’t like lemon pie.”

Can’t Never Could

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Where has the time gone??  Six weeks since I last posted. Of course I know where really…it happened when the big change occurred in my life.  When I last posted, I had just gotten a new position at work, and since then, that change has consumed my life (but in a joyful way).

This past week, I finally began to interact with my new students. Being an interventionist, I serve small groups of students at a time, helping with certain skills. So far I love it. I love the one-on-one time…I actually have time to talk to them about the process of learning. Early in the week, I did a welcome-back-to-school activity while we were testing. It was very simple…they had to write the word can and decorate it. The word correlates to the “I can do it” poem I say with students who come my way.

Most of the kids smiled and quickly completed the task but one little boy balked. I told them that in my room we don’t say can’t, only can. He frowned at me, a very confused scowl on his face, and said, “But…but some days you have to say can’t.  Some days you just have to.”

I said, “We’re going to work really hard in here and try not to say can’t.”

“But…,” he shook his head, “No…no.”

This is the same child who within five minutes of meeting him, told me that his mom and dad don’t live together, his brother is being bullied every night, and his sisters are in heaven.

No wonder he knows the word can’t.

Can’t never could…maybe it’s hard to believe that when your home life is in shambles. Maybe it’s hard to believe that you can succeed when everything around you is crumbling. And believe me, he’s not the only child in our building whose home life is far from ideal.

I definitely look at him in a different light now.  Even though I may be expected to treat all students the same, how can you when you catch glimpses of their souls? Each one of them needs something different, something unique. Our job as educators is to figure out what that one thing is.

Can’t never could…I’ll be repeating that statement to myself often next week. I begin working with Kindergarten students…something I haven’t done since my first two years out of college. A part of me is excited, the other is terrified. They’re young, needy, sometimes very emotional, but so stinking cute. Should be interesting!

Love my new space…


 

 

Time For A Change

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Change is hard…especially for people like me. People who like patterns and lists, people who believe in schedules and the comfort of sameness. I rarely move around the furniture in my house. I find a brand of make-up I like and stick with it for years. Changing cars or hairdressers or considering joining a new group at church can bring on an incredible, almost silly amount of discomfort.

Often reluctance to change equals doing nothing new. I recently read, “Doing nothing is an option.” You can choose to do absolutely nothing…that is a viable choice in life. Keep the status quo and rock on. Many times it’s a good alternative.

For me, I found that doing nothing was no longer an option. I’ve felt it coming for years, this need to mix up my career. After lots of prayers and a deep whisper in my heart that begged for something new, I knew it was time. So this spring, I began looking in earnest for a new position. With the backing and steady prodding of my friends and family, I sent letters of declaration, delivered applications, and even interviewed for the first time since I was 22 years old!  (Talk about leaving my comfort zone.)

Last week, and with great excitement, I was offered and accepted an interventionist position at my current school! For the first time in 22 (working) years, I will not have a homeroom. I know the work load will be different and heavy, but I am thrilled for the opportunity. With more excitement than fear, with more joy than nerves, I am ready for this. I know the time is right…it’s time to embrace a change.

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Mackinac Island Girls Trip 

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Sparkling blue water surrounded our tiny, plastic boats.  We bobbed on the waves while pockets of teal twinkled from the lake floor.  The sun was warm, a gentle wind blew.  It was a perfect snatch of time.

Anthony, our competent and utterly patient kayak guide, stayed close to me. I consistently brought up the rear in our group, and he made sure I was never left behind. During our conversations, he asked me why I kept returning to Mackinac Island…he wanted to know what brought me back to a place I live 746 miles from. I tried to explain…it was the calmness, the silence, the cleanliness of the cool air.  I told him I was just sort of drawn to it…that it stirs my soul like no other place I’ve ever known. Anthony grinned a knowing grin as he nodded and told me he understood those stirrings.

Arch Rock in the background.

I was lucky enough to get to visit my special place this summer with my sister and daughter. I introduced sis to an automobile free, lilac filled place with lots of bikes, horses and fudge (we especially loved that part). Daughter has been there before and already loves it like I do.  We biked, we ate and then ate some more.  We picnicked on the beach and we shopped.  We gawked at massive summer homes and took in the panoramic views.  But mostly, we were just together.


The only downside to our trip was when my car, Brown Betty, bit the dust in Indianapolis (all of my cars are named Betty with the corresponding color word)…and she bit it hard. There were no injuries so all is well. A sweet girl asked, “Did it ruin your trip?” The answer was a resounding no. Yes, it was a scary moment but it will not erase the fun we had.  I’ll not let it mar the special memories we made together. I’m blessed to have spent time with two women who mean the world to me. We shared a special time, one I know we’ll never forget. Bumps in the road only make me realize (even more) how blessed I am to have them in my life each and every day.

The Grand Hotel porch

Our bikes

Mommy – Daughter

The Grand Hotel – the day started off cold but by early afternoon we were changing into shorts.

Since there are no cars on the island, bikes are used for lots of things. This one belonged to a home repair crew.

Everywhere you looked, flowers bloomed.  Still springtime there, irises stood tall, tulips had just begun to fade away, and peony blossoms were seconds away from bursting open.  The wildflowers lining the roads were incredible…every flower, no matter the color, was incredible. 

 

Summer So Far

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“What have you been doing so far this summer?” they ask gleefully. I know I’m supposed to answer just as happily – something like, “Oh you know, getting massages and pedis, sleeping til noon (not).” The truth is I’ve been doing stuff like this…

Dealing with a bathroom remodel (that is going to be awesome when it’s done)…

And a new puppy who was very sick at first and now needs potty training…

And this…having the downstairs shower tiled…

And this…an unhealthy unit that wants to freeze up at night…

Taking care of my flowers…

But mostly this…counting down the days until vacation! 

An unusual summer so far but honestly, is there any kind of bad summer break? Not for me! (And I bet not for anybody lucky enough to have summers off.) So how’s your summer going so far? Same as usual, busy, nutty or a little mixture of it all?  

Goodbye Little Ones

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Another year over, another year of school in the books.  I’m proud to say we all survived the year with no broken bones, very little wha-whaing, and hopefully some growth.  I know they grew in all the ways that matter…self-control, kindness, love – and maybe if we’re lucky and the stars aligned just right, some academic growth too.

I’ll miss this bunch, no doubt.  Quirky, smart, little math whizzes, and funny, so funny.  Best of all, they always followed rule number 6 – keep your teacher happy!  I’ll miss their eagerness and numerous hugs. 

And yes, sometimes I raise my voice. Bless him that he never noticed!

One more funny to start off summer break.  Little bit was writing about whales and how to protect them…not sure what she was going for.  Sometimes you just have to roll with it!

Children and Mothers

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A day at the park.  A day watching 150 first graders crawl, run, shimmy over equipment. Your eyes never stop scanning.  Your heart never stops praying that no one breaks an arm. And a symphony of teacher voices churn, “Please don’t crawl on the outside of the slide. Don’t blow bubbles in someone’s face.  Get out of the ants!  Pick up your own trash when you drop it.  Please be nice and play with everyone.  If you don’t have something nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.  Have a seat under that tree until you can control yourself.”

I watch the kids as they play.  I study how some play with everyone while others are loners.  Even the loners have fun and smile.  They all play well, relishing the freedom of being out of the classroom for the day.  They relish the freedom of being out from under my hovering thumb.

I study these children knowing some are neglected, some are spoiled beyond anything that’s healthy or normal. I see little faces that have no problem being alone because that’s all they know, and then there are others that need my reassurance from time to time.  Too much freedom leaves them feeling detached and disconnected.  They run up for a hug and then are back off into the fray.

I see my own children in the mix, my two babies who are no longer babies, who are now young adults.  I wonder as I study the needy and spoiled…did I do that to my own?  Did I cripple them?  Make them believe they were the only children on the planet?  Or were my children the ones who ran with unabandoned freedom over every square inch of the park? Were my children the ones who played nicely, including others, or were mine the loners who needed only nature and a swing as their friend?

Raising people is the hardest job on Earth.  Every parent knows this. Raising a child is scary and tough and full of so many ways to screw up another human.  During my tenure in teaching, I’ve met every kind of parent there is…the smothers who watch every second, the disconnected who use electronics as babysitters, the neglectful, the devoted, the ‘I’m doing my best but this hard…can you help me?’

I’ve seen glimpses of myself in all of them.  Every parent, even the best or the worst parent, can fall into or climb out of each scenario.  It’s a given that we’re all going to fail at times, but it’s also a given that we all have the capability to stand back up and keep on loving our children even when we’re tired, or mad at them, or when our hearts hurt so bad we think we can’t do another day of this thing called child rearing.

A wise woman told me once…never give up, never quit loving your kids, never think this moment in time will define them for the rest of their lives.  So I’ve never given up, and I try not to spoil too much, I try to show them that this world is a huge, wonderful place and they are not the center of that world.  I try to teach them to be kind, to be fair.

But still…I look at the little ones swarming the park like ants and I can’t help but wonder…did I do all I could?  What could I have done to stop the mistakes?  But then those mistakes are life, those mistakes remind me that the world is not all about me and my comfort.  I am a mother, and being a mother is hard.  I will keep on being a mother until my last breath because for good, bad or ugly, that’s what a mother is supposed to do.

To my children…I will never stay out of your business, not really. I will love you no matter what, even if I have to kick your bootie while I’m doing it.  I will never give up on you, even when I’m mad and my heart hurts.  I’m sorry for the screw-ups and unfortunately, I’ll probably screw up again. But most of all, I will never quit praying for you. I will pray every day for guidance, for you to find your path in this world, for you to yearn for God as He yearns for you.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms in the world, to all the dads and grannys and aunts who are filling that role. Happy Mother’s Day to my mothers in heaven…you all are missed every single day.

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July 1990

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Mother’s Day 1999

 

Purple Rain

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If losing Glenn Frey from the Eagles was losing a piece of the soundtrack of my youth, then losing Prince is losing a piece of the soundtrack of my adolescence.  And what an adolescence it was.  We came into age in the 80’s…a time of pop music, tight-rolled jeans, neon colors, jelly shoes and hot cars with t-tops.  We had really big hair and really long mullets, high-top Reeboks and Coca-Cola shirts.  There were no cellphones and no internet…we instead spent time with our friends, riding around, gathering in fields, going to ballgames, listening to music.  And Prince was there with us all providing the musical backdrop.

I discovered Prince in middle school…and to be honest, I had no idea what the lyrics of some of his songs really meant.  A friend of mine explained the lyrics of Little Red Corvette.  At 13, I was still really naive.  Prince’s lyrics could be racy and raw but his songs could also be an anthem, beautiful and moving. Either way, they ushered in the realities of the world for many of us.

Throughout middle school and high school, Prince always had popular music on the radio, and there weren’t many of us who didn’t listen to it.  As in over and over. We had cassettes…cassettes we would flip over to the other side or rewind to just the right spot to hear our favorite songs.

Somewhere around 1985, I fell head over heels in love.  My boyfriend and I spent so many hours riding around in his bright blue Firebird, t-tops out, music loud.  Prince had just released the Around the World in a Day album (very different from Purple Rain, by the way). We found the song Raspberry Beret and it became ours.  My sister said, “When I heard Prince died, I thought of you and Bill and summertime.”  That was us in that Firebird…me, Bill, summertime and Prince.

It’s hard losing a chunk of my life’s soundtrack.  With each song, each piece of rhythm or scream of the guitar, a memory is attached…sudden, clear, vivid memories.  As odd as it may seem to some, it’s very emotional and it makes me really sad to lose the author of the music.  And I know other soundtrack providers will follow.  Loverboy can’t stay young forever…Def Leopard won’t live on for infinity…and it’s only a matter of time before Stevie Nicks, Janet Jackson, Lionel Richie, Blondie, Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, and Madonna, just to name a few, slip away.

I told my daughter, “Prince was a bad-ass.”  (She’s 22 and old enough to hear it.)  At the moment, there was no other way for me to sum him up.  There weren’t enough words for me to express and explain just who he was.  Prince was cool, talented, beautiful, a bad-ass…and he will be missed.

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Messy Days

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“Mrs. Rackley…I was getting water and my shirt came up and he said the ‘s’ word to me.” “Shut up?” I ask hopefully.  “No…it’s a word from one of those romantic movies.”  Eek…not good, not good.  I finally ask what the word was.  “Sexy,” she whispers with disdain and a snarl of the nose.

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Our house is in an uproar these days.  The upstairs bathroom has been gutted.  Goodbye faded yellow tile and moldy porcelain tub.  Goodbye 5 foot high shower head (kind of hard for a 6’1″ boy to wash the hair).  In a few weeks time, we’ll have new stuff – so excited!

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Before…

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and after the yellow is gone.

We’re also having our driveway completely redone.  Because we waited so long to address it, they had to take it back down to gravel.  It’s a mess, and I found out today, that it is senseless to wash your car until the mess it gone.

All the mess and chaos sent my baby Layla into an utter meltdown.  In her bouts of freaking out, my dog somehow threw her back out.  Yes…seriously, she threw her back out attacking the workers.  Please remember she’s only 12 pounds, granted 12 pounds of rolling thunder, but she has the anxiety level of a full-grown human.  The vet gave her a cortisone shot and a muscle relaxer.  He tried to reassure me all small dogs can get like this…I have a feeling he was just trying to make a worried dog owner feel better!