I've recently been hurled into empty nesthood, and in my latest vlog I share how I've been trying to adjust. If you have your own empty nest experience, please share on the YouTube page!
**If you are viewing this post in an email, you may have to navigate to my website to access YouTube video.
Back pain kept me home from work this past week, and it's not an uncommon occurrence. According to the American Chiropractic Association, "back pain accounts for more than 264 million lost work days in one year." Yikes!
Anyway, in my latest YouTube post I share some of the back pain remedies that are lying around the Hickman home. Maybe you could share some of your own.
**If you're reading this in the newsletter, you may have to navigate to the webpage to access the YouTube video.
It's been four years since I published my last book, and I've come to the conclusion that another one's probably not in the cards. At least for now. I've been telling myself I really ought to get in front of the computer and start typing away at something new, but the motivation just hasn't been there. It may be because the past couple of years I've been spending a lot of time learning new content in my teaching career, and I just don't have the mental energy to devote to an entire book these days. Looking back now, I'm not sure how I did it.
However, I am the type of person who needs a creative outlet, an interest outside of my job. So, I thought I'd give the YouTube thing a go. I'm not quite sure what I'm doing with it just yet, but I'd like to create a channel aimed at people in midlife, particularly women.
I've already created three videos, and realized I never used the blog to let people know! So this is me doing that now. (Better late than never.)
I know I have a lot to learn about YouTube, branding, making eye catching thumbnails, etc., etc., but I'm excited and look forward to exploring this new interest, and hope people will find the videos engaging.
Have a peek, and if you think my channel might be up your alley, please subscribe!
It has been just over two months since my dad died, and I’ve been trying to find ways to navigate through my grief.
In the days immediately following his death, I had several experiences that made me believe he was communicating with me. This is an experience many people claim to have had, and I have always wondered if such occurrences are something we create in our minds because we need them so desperately, or if they are indeed real. Ultimately, my opinion has always been that it doesn’t really matter. If it brings us comfort to believe that they’re real, then they’re real. End of story.
I made up my mind to stay open to signs from him. The manner of his death was so unexpected, so painful, I felt that if I could just receive a sign (or better yet, signs) that he wasn’t really gone, I could make my way through this horrendous loss.
The first few signs were songs that caught my attention while in public places, two with lyrics I didn’t already know. That alone made me feel as if maybe it wasn’t all in my mind. Then another tune came along one day at work. The school where I teach plays music over the loudspeakers each morning before the bell, and this particular morning Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” was the selection. I didn’t give it much thought at the time, but the following morning I woke with the song in my head. Aside from the chorus, I didn’t know any of the words so figured I’d better look them up.
After having a listen, it was hard not to believe that was Dad telling me he is more than okay.
As I mentioned in my last post, Dad was an avid reader of history, philosophy, and religion and had quite the collection of books. A few days after he passed, I randomly chose a few from his shelves to read at home. Then several days later, Mom found some notes he had left me. I would have been around ten years old at the time he wrote them, and in them he recommended six books for me to read as an adult, thinking I would find them useful. He listed them in the order he felt they should be read, Bhagavad Gita being first on the list.
Bhagavad Gita was one of the five books I plucked from his shelves only days before, shelves that hold well over two hundred titles, maybe more, and it was the first book I had already started reading.
But here is the downside. What happens when you think you’re receiving all these communications from your dearly departed, and then they stop? What then?
Well, if you’re me, you question whether those previous “signs” were real. After all, if that was really Dad, why would he suddenly stop speaking to me? Especially when I keep asking him where the hell he went?
It’s been nothing but damn crickets. Or have I just stopped paying attention already?
I’ve been doing a lot of self-help reading, listening to podcasts, which I guess is what some of us tend to do when we’re in crisis. At least that’s always been my MO. I did the same when my daughter was going through chemo, and for some time after she died. When things are going smoothly, why do I need to read such stuff? Life is too busy, after all. But when life gets rocky, I seem to find the time.
One idea I can’t seem to shake is that each time something tragic happens in my life – or even if it isn’t tragic but simply a rough patch - it’s a push for me to grow as a person. But recently, I saw a meme that stated, “I don’t want to go through things that don’t kill me but make me stronger anymore!!” This is exactly where my mind goes on days when my little philosophy of “growth” isn’t quite cutting it for me.
But back to my reading. A theme I’ve come across time and again – one that’s also the main gist of Bhagavad Gita – is that we humans are horrible at accepting the impermanence of the things of this world. And the minute we can truly know that what makes us… us, never really dies, we will find peace. Unfortunately, the majority of us will never really know this until we die ourselves, so what do we do in the meantime?
I miss hearing, “Hey Shel, it’s Dad,” through the telephone line. I miss his corny jokes I’ve heard a million times. I miss his laughter when he was enjoying a good comedy. I miss watching him savor a good meal and say how it was “to die for.” I miss catching him wander a few steps off his path to hand the homeless person a couple bucks.
How do we get to that place where we stop clinging to all those impermanent experiences and know - not just believe - that our loved one is still with us?
Whenever we’d have family discussions about events happening in this world that made us frustrated, angry, or just sad and hopeless, Dad would sometimes say, “You gotta be stoic about these things.”
Don’t get me wrong. Dad had a quick temper and wasn’t always the best at being stoic about matters over which he had no control, but despite being unable to follow his own advice, he said this because he knew it was the best way to endure life’s heartaches. I think it was a reminder to himself as much as it was to the rest of us.
So Dad, I’m doing my very best to be stoic about your absence. Instead of dwelling on what I’ve lost, I’m working each day to be grateful for the years we had. I’ll keep reading your books, paying special attention to your notes in the margins, in hopes of receiving some of the lessons you learned during your life on this planet, and maybe even some of the lessons you’re learning now.
Update 8/2/19: When my daughter Sydney died, I was in such unbearable grief that I don't think I was able to receive signs that she was still with me. After conversations with a dear friend (Cissy), I decided I'm going to be open to messages from Dad, and I am convinced he has been talking to me these past couple of days. I will continue to watch and listen for him, and hopefully share some of those messages in a future post. :)
Recently, I attended the perfect storybook wedding. It had all the right ingredients. The adorable flower girl giggling with joy as she ran down the aisle, flinging rose petals in her path. The bride and groom gazing lovingly into each other’s misty eyes as they professed their love for one another. A heartfelt mother/son dance followed by a lively choreographed performance by father and daughter as guests cheered them on.
Several poignant toasts were made by family and friends that made it abundantly clear how important these two people are to those who love them. But it was when the father shared the story of how the couple met that I was especially stricken with emotion.
A few years ago, the bride had complications from surgery, and things became pretty dire. There was a stretch of time when my friends thought they might lose their precious girl. As it turns out, the mother of the bride was first to meet the groom. He worked at the pharmacy, and when mom would come to pick up her daughter’s prescriptions, he would always ask, “How is Lily?” I couldn’t figure out why, but that part of the story starts me crying even as I write this.
I remember how frail Lily had become. She and her mom came over for a girls’ night, and Lily was quite literally skin and bones. But she always had a smile, a spunkiness… a light. During his toast, Dad went on to say what a fighter Lily has always been.
That got me too, but I still wasn’t sure why.
Thankfully Lily recovered. She eventually met the young man from the pharmacy who had often asked about her, and they fell in love. I guess in a strange way, you could say if she hadn’t been through her trial they may have never met.
The day after the wedding I had lunch with a friend. We only get together about twice a year, but we have a special connection. We have both lost a daughter. We were friends before either of our losses, but our relationship understandably strengthened afterwards. Sometimes it comes up in our conversations and sometimes it doesn’t. Though the circumstances of their deaths were very different, we are both what one might consider "veteran" bereaved parents – 19 years for me and 14 for her. And because we are veterans, we can usually discuss it without tears.
The subject of the wedding came up, and I shared with her how that story got to me and I couldn’t get to why, except that I know what it’s like to have a sick child and what my friends must have gone through. I teared up when I mentioned the reference to Lily being a fighter, and I told her I was unsure why I couldn’t communicate that part without getting emotional. My friend then pointed out that it was probably because Sydney was a fighter too.
It hit me like a brick, and I felt clueless for not quite piecing it together.
Sydney was just a couple years older than Lily. She might have been celebrating her own wedding. In fact, while she went through her battle with cancer, I frequently visualized her wedding day. There was a very specific scene I crafted in my mind, and it was of Sydney, her brother, and myself rocking out on the dance floor to Wild Cherry's “Play That Funky Music.” Don’t ask me where I got that scenario because I have no idea, but I thought if I visualized it enough times, it would come to pass.
And then, damn it, my tears prompted them in my friend when a few minutes later she shared that her daughter would have graduated college this year.
My friend and I acknowledge that we now have blessed lives, but all those “what ifs” and “should have beens” can creep up on you in the most devious ways, and we still can’t always process them. Just when you think you’re braced for all manner of shitstorms, you’re once again proven wrong.
That being said, I’m grateful to have witnessed a day of such immense joy. It truly was perfect. I’m also grateful for people like my friend who - because of her own loss – is able to dig to the bottom of things I sometimes can’t recognize on my own. No matter how seldom we may see each other, my connection with her, in this club to which no one wants to belong, is an invaluable and welcomed part of my life.
With each passing year, I become more concerned and disheartened by the direction public education is taking, and that concern is due to a combination of reasons.
Large Class Sizes, Lack of Funding, and Lack of Resources
I teach computers, so I’m lucky that my classes are capped at forty because that’s how many computers are in my lab. However, many classes are not. When class sizes are upwards of forty, the learning environment suffers. Off-task and misbehaviors increase, and instruction is often replaced by crowd control.
When Betsy DeVos claims that students benefit from larger class sizes, I’d love to ask her what she’s smoking. Sure, Betsy! After all, that’s one of the main reasons people send their kids to private schools – for the LARGER class sizes. (Insert eye roll.)
Lack of funding is one of the reasons classes are so large. Unfortunately, even if adequate funding were provided, currently there aren’t enough going into the teaching profession - or staying in it – to reduce the student to teacher ratio. And many people who do go into education end up leaving because the stress and demands of the job aren’t worth the paycheck.
Developmentally Inappropriate Standards, Overloaded Curriculum, and Test Score Obsession
Kindergarten used to be about socialization, sharing, and learning letters, sounds, and numbers. However, when I taught kindergarten thirteen years ago, I couldn’t believe some of the skills that 5-year-olds were expected to attain by the end of the year.
When I taught fifth grade the following year, I was frustrated that most of my students didn’t even know their multiplication facts, but after seeing firsthand how loaded the math curriculum was, I understood why. Curricula seem to be all breadth and no depth. Sure, concepts are revisited each year, but students aren’t given enough time for mastery of the basics and as a result, are ill equipped for more complex concepts down the road.
Test scores. Let’s not even get started on the emphasis on test scores. Of course, we need standards by which to assess whether students are learning, but the almighty standardized test has been given far too much importance. Our students are tested to death.
Ineffective Academic Policies and Behavior Protocols
For those of you who aren’t teachers, you may not be familiar with minimum F. Basically, that’s when it's mandated that students can’t be given anything lower than a certain percentage in the gradebook – ever. This means that students can do absolutely nothing and still receive a 40% or 50% on the assignment! I can get on board with a policy such as this for when a student shows genuine effort but bombs a test. One or two low scores can really tank a grade. But for doing nothing? When and where does this happen in adult life? What happens when students get to high school or college and discover they won’t be given credit for doing nothing, and they can’t understand why they’re no longer able to squeak by with D’s that were partially “earned” through minimum F’s?
I see nothing wrong with rewarding primary age students for appropriate behavior and gradually weaning them as they approach upper elementary grades. But by the time students are in middle school, we shouldn’t be dangling rewards in front of them to improve behavior. Rewards and recognition have their place, but too often they’re used as bribery to get poorly behaved students to act appropriately, and much of the time the students who always behave are are overlooked. I’ll be the first to admit my worst behaved students are the ones who receive most of my attention, and I can sometimes go an entire semester without learning the names of the nicest kiddos. It makes me feel terrible.
Aside from all of that, these policies are not helping the students they are meant to help. Instead, we’re sending a message that if you don’t feel like meeting your responsibilities, that’s okay. You’ll still be given something for nothing. I can’t tell you how many times teachers hear, “I don’t want to do that. I don’t like it. It’s boring…,” etc. Well, suck it up, buttercup! Because life is chock-full of things we don’t want to do, but we do them anyway.
District imposed programs where students are rewarded for demonstrating the most basic of societal norms and given a bazillion opportunities to correct bad behavior with little to no consequences - aren’t effective in the long term. In my opinion, they teach young people that they can curse out their teacher or intimidate and harass another student and be back in class the next day. Try that in the adult world, and you will lose your job.
I understand that we can’t kick kids out of school in droves. That’s not going to help them. I get that many kids have things going on at home that we can’t even fathom – things that are very likely making them act out the way they do and not give a crap about school. I’m wrapping up year nine at a Title I middle school, so yes, I get it. But in my opinion, these systems only cripple our students.
Instead, how about we offer character education, teach coping skills to help students deal with disappointment, sadness, depression, anger, and conflict? And teach empathy. Yes, empathy. Something many adults these days seem to be lacking. Is it any wonder many of our students do?
Our young people live in a world where they have fewer and fewer face to face interactions with others. We see it everywhere – families in restaurants who don’t even speak to each other because they’re all glued to their screens. I stand at my classroom door each morning and greet students as they come in, and some of them don’t even acknowledge me, let alone make eye contact. How can young people understand how their actions may affect others if they can’t even connect on a personal level?
Today’s students face stressors that didn’t even exist when I was their age, but instead of setting expectations and providing tools that will help them grow into capable adults, we are doing just the opposite. For all the lip service teachers are given about establishing rigor and high expectations for our students, too often systems are set in place that undermine our efforts to do that.
I’m not sure how we can turn some of these problems around, but a nice start would be for those making the big decisions in education to regularly enlist feedback from those of us who are on the front lines every day.
A thriving society begins with a strong, functional, and valued public education system. We have the capacity to make public ed a priority - for the sake of all our citizens - and enact policies that serve our students. We just have to come together and do it.
But what do I know? I’m just a teacher.
Though I just turned 50 a couple months ago, I’m worried about the fact that my concentration and memory have been slipping out the door for a while now.
I would never try to imply I was once genius material, but as a teen and young adult, I prided myself on being a strong student with a solid capacity to absorb and retain information.
These days, not so much.
Now, I’m not referring to the universal frustration of forgetting why you entered a room, or the occasional word escaping your vocabulary. The few instances I’m about to describe go beyond that.
I’ve never been great with names to begin with, but at work I’m having increasing difficulty remembering the names of my students. (Being a computer teacher, the fact that I look at the backs of their heads most of the time doesn’t help matters.)
I have trouble focusing on an article/book/task for more than a few minutes before choosing to move on to something else. When online, I usually have 5-6 tabs open at once and frequently pop back and forth between them, with no apparent reason for doing so other than I’m bored.
When driving I sometimes feel off my game, like I can’t fully process all that’s going on around me.
And the most alarming has been while playing Yahtzee with my family, I find myself staring blankly at the dice as I try to total them - sometimes only two dice at a time. (What’s 3 + 5 again?)
Hubby says my lack of focus is beginning to concern him, and he’s not the only one! What in the world is happening to me? Recently I’ve been hearing about menopausal brain fog, but is it real? Or am I developing Alzheimers? I’m beginning to understand what it must feel like to have ADHD, and it suuuuucks.
According to an article I found on WebMD, dipping estrogen levels and other hormonal fluctuations during perimenopause and menopause contribute to this brain fog, and thankfully it’s not permanent. At least, it’s not supposed to be. But in the meantime, what’s a girl to do? My heart goes out to the women with professions that demand mental acuity. Not that most jobs don’t demand mental acuity, but I’m talking life and death type stuff (surgeons, police officers, defense attorneys, etc.)
I had planned to start writing again this summer because there are characters swimming around in my head who are waiting for me to tell their story, but I’m reluctant because I have serious doubts I can maintain the focus needed.
If nothing else, this whole chapter has given me a deeper empathy for students who have problems focusing and completing a task, and I have great admiration for women my age who find it in themselves to go back to school for a second career. I don’t think I’d have the mental capacity to achieve it – at least, not until I move through this phase of my life - however long that may be.
Here’s to yet another bump in the road while attempting to age gracefully! A friend and I were talking about this recently when she said, “I used to be articulate! At least, I always thought I was.” She took the words right out of my mouth (that is, when I can remember them.)
So… to the ladies who have made it over this difficult hump and have reunited with their gray matter, I welcome any wisdom, suggestions, tips, encouragement, etc., that may help the rest of us poor suckers survive this unnerving stage.
What is POP, you ask? First, let me say I deliberated over whether to write this post. Though my blog posts have become pathetically few and far between, they’ve never been of such a medically personal nature. In my novel Menopause to Matrimony, I addressed many of the experiences perimenopausal women deal with – i.e., hot flashes, lack of libido, mood issues, heavy periods – while trying to do so in a lighthearted, humorous way. Despite my efforts to keep things light, a few reviewers still found my honesty about midlife to be a major downer and even expressed squeamishness about some of the realities shared in the storyline.
That being said, if you fall into the category of “squeamish” you probably shouldn’t read on. However, I thought this topic important enough to share because, sadly, not enough people even know what POP is. I had absolutely no idea what it was, and looking back, I’m pretty sure I was experiencing symptoms several years before finally figuring out what the hell was going on.
One of my readers turned friend emailed me when she hadn’t heard from me in a while. When I told her I’d recently had surgery and was considering writing a post about it, she encouraged me to do so despite my reservations because bringing awareness to this condition would be helpful to other women. Thank you for that little push, Cissy. Here goes nothing!
POP stands for pelvic organ prolapse. I’m going to steal the description of POP from Sherrie Palm’s Association for Pelvic Organ Prolapse Support web site.
“Pelvic organ prolapse (POP) can occur when the PC or pelvic floor muscles weaken and one or more organs shift out of their normal positions into the vaginal canal. In advanced cases of POP, tissues push through the vaginal canal and bulge outside of the body. The worst-case scenario is a woman's uterus can be completely outside of the vagina. There are 5 types of POP; organs that can prolapse are the bladder (cystocele), intestines (enterocele), rectum (rectocele), uterus (uterine), and vagina (vaginal vault). There are 4 levels of severity; grade 1 is the mildest, grade 4 the most severe.”
As I already mentioned, I believe there was a time or two that I was showing signs of POP, but my first and most dramatic indication that something was wrong happened when I was on a family trip to Disneyland over two years ago. It was the end of our second day of extensive walking, and I’d been on my feet the majority of the time. My low back was screaming with pain and while in the shower that night, I felt what could only be described as a pronounced bulge down below while washing. It was terrifying.
Turns out that was my bladder, folks.
I didn’t know it was my bladder until later, but that night I was scared out of my mind. I thought it was my uterus. Every winter I suffer from a chronic cough brought on by allergies that lasts several months (which I’m convinced has contributed greatly to my problem), and I tried so hard to stifle my coughs as I lay in bed that night, convinced I was going to send my uterus flying across the room.
Upon returning home, I made an appointment to see my OB-GYN right away. During my visit, I explained to her what happened during my trip, and after examination she informed me I had a bladder prolapse. She said that my bladder might stay as it was and not get any worse, or it could worsen with time. When I asked how I would know if it was getting worse, she casually answered, “Oh, it will just start coming out.”
To which I replied, “Oh, no it will not!” I was horrified. Now, I adore my doctor - she has been my OB-GYN since I was eighteen. But I was shocked by how nonchalantly she stated my bladder might at some point exit my body! And why – after years of having annual pelvic exams – was I never told about this? Not only not told that I had it, but not even informed that it was a thing! And now that I know how common this is, I don’t understand why doctors are not forewarning women in their younger years that this is something that can happen to their bodies.
After being referred to a urogynecologist, I learned that I not only had a cystocele, but a rectocele and uterine prolapse as well. The doctor assured me it wasn’t dangerous and that he saw women in far worse shape than me who choose to live with it, while others who have milder cases opt for surgery. He stressed that it was a personal choice.
At the time, I decided I would try and live with the hot mess that was my pelvic region because I wasn’t suffering from any incontinence aside from the occasional sneeze or cough. Women are accustomed to joking about that as one of the byproducts of having babies. However, not long after, discomfort and pain started kicking in on a regular basis. I would experience a dragging/pulling sensation in my pelvis when on my feet too long, along with daily low back pain. This is when I decided to pursue surgery.
I thought the path would be fairly straightforward, but I was wrong. I spoke with a second urogynecologist about surgery and expressed my reservations about the use of mesh, and after he gave his arguments about why he felt it was the best option, I decided to kick my fears to the curb and scheduled surgery for June of 2017.
By the time I got home, I had buyer’s remorse. When I initially made the appointment with the second urogyno with surgery as my goal, I hadn’t even considered the possibility that mesh would be involved, which I knew very little about. All I could think of were the slew of commercials I’d seen about class action lawsuits involving mesh. Then I started performing the dreaded Google searches, and my fears really kicked into high gear. Basically, what I found during my searching was that surgeries in which mesh was placed vaginally were the ones that had a much higher risk of complications, and the surgeon I’d just met with performed the procedure vaginally.
I cancelled my surgery that same day.
Somewhere along the way I joined a Facebook support group for women who suffer from POP, which has been an absolute godsend due to the wealth of information I’ve gained. However, for a time my confusion only worsened as I read the wide range of results after surgery. Some women raved about their surgeries that used mesh, saying their quality of life greatly improved and it was the best decision they ever made. Others regretted their choice to use mesh because of complications and erosions, creating more health issues and pain than they started with. And still others had POP surgery without the use of mesh, only to have it fail a few months later because the use of natural tissues wasn’t strong enough to hold the repairs.
As my own symptoms continued to worsen, I was upset and confused about what was the right choice for me. My symptoms weren’t as severe as many of the women in the support group, and my heart especially went out to the young women with little ones at home who were already dealing with difficulties of POP. If there was one thing I was grateful for, it was that this condition didn’t start rearing its ugly head until later in my life. Still, it became a huge source of stress and I didn’t want to continue living like I was.
Eventually, I decided to meet with a third surgeon, and the third time was the charm. He explained that he used mesh but performed the surgery abdominally rather than vaginally, and his bedside manner combined with stats on success rates made me feel much more at ease about prognosis.
So, last week I had robotic sacrocolpopexy with hysterectomy. I was extremely anxious about the pain from recovery, but have to say I’ve been relieved by how smoothly things have gone so far. Of course, I’m way too early in my journey to know whether the surgery was a success or if I will experience the improved quality of life I’m hoping for, but I’ve already noticed that I don’t wake with the nagging low back pain I’ve been plagued with for some time, and that’s a good start.
The Association for Pelvic Organ Prolapse Support web page states that “research estimates up to 50% of woman experience pelvic organ prolapse.” Fifty percent! For such a prevalent medical condition, why are we not being educated about this by our doctors? Vaginal childbirth is one of the leading causes, though symptoms may not show themselves until years later. I told my son – my largest baby of three – that I blame him and his big head for my falling lady parts. In the meantime, women are unknowingly participating in activities (running, heavy lifting, etc.) that are potentially exacerbating injuries that are lying dormant without any knowledge that they’re doing so. This needs to change.
It's one thing if a woman makes the choice to engage in activities that may be harming her, but it should be just that - a choice. Not a decision made because she didn’t know better.
This post is for women who may be experiencing symptoms and have no idea why, but all women should know what POP is. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve read from those in the Facebook group who have been talked down to, dismissed, or at times even yelled at by their doctors when they’ve brought up very real concerns about their symptoms. The best way to advocate for our own health is to be informed. If you think that you may have POP, I strongly recommend visiting the Association for Pelvic Organ Prolapse Support page for more information.
Finally, I want to give huge thanks for all the amazing women in the support group. Though I didn’t post often, my questions and concerns were always met with compassion, encouragement, shared experience, and useful information. No topic is too icky or embarrassing for these awesome ladies. When experiencing the scary and unknown, it truly helps to know there are others who have navigated the path before you.
And that you’re not alone.
It's such an awful feeling to stick your foot in your mouth, especially when it results in hurting someone's feelings. And when that someone is a child, it's a hundred times worse. Enter yours truly this week.
It was the end of the last class of the day, and I was standing by the door with my students as we waited for the dismissal bell. One of my girls asked one of my boys (I'll call him Tom) about his shoes. I didn't detect any meanness in her question, nor had I ever noticed Tom looking poorly dressed or tattered. Then again, this particular class has forty students and my observation skills have been in steady decline the past couple of years. His reply was something about a relative having worn them whose feet were the wrong size. I didn't really understand his response, but when I looked at his shoes I saw that the soles were practically falling off.
Because I had never noticed Tom looking particularly shabby, without thought I jumped to the conclusion that he was choosing to wear a favorite pair of shoes that he didn't want to part with -- because my own kids were known to do that when they were younger -- and I said playfully, "Dude, you need a new pair of shoes!"
As if that wasn't bad enough, one of our campus monitors passed in the hallway and asked, "Who said that?" thinking it was a student being hateful. "That was me," I said, still completely clueless that Tom was not wearing his shoes by choice, thinking to let her know that no one was teasing him. No, it was just his ignorant teacher making him feel bad. Geezus, she must have thought I was a blithering idiot! What was wrong with me? It wasn't until a few moments later when Tom walked away to stand by the other classroom door that the reality of the situation set in.
I wanted to die.
So what do you do when you say something so completely thoughtless and insensitive? You apologize. Unfortunately by the time I realized how wrong I'd gotten the whole scenario, Tom had left for the day, and I wouldn't see him again until the day after next because we're on block schedule. I went home and agonized over my words for the rest of the evening. I emailed the counselor, telling her about the stupid thing I'd said and asked her if she knew anything about Tom and his family. She told me that he had been given an application for Operation School Bell, which is a program for students who are in need of clothing, but hadn't returned it yet.
I told my husband about what I'd done and he said, "Buy him a pair of shoes!"
"I don't know his size."
"Get him a gift card to a shoe store."
That was a great idea, one that I planned to implement.
The next morning, I was going to hunt Tom down in the quad so I could tell him how sorry I was for being such an insensitive dolt, but wouldn't you know it? I had to attend a last minute meeting. I sat through conversations about budgets, cuts, and staffing, the whole while being irritated I wasn't going to get to speak with Tom before school started. With a few minutes to spare before the bell rang, I searched for him with no success. So at the end of my first period class, I called his first period teacher and asked if she would send him my way so I could talk to him.
When I finally apologized and tried to explain how I ended up making such a hurtful remark, it just sounded lame, lame, lame. However, Tom was very gracious and even pretended he didn't remember that I'd said anything. I know he remembered, I'm just not sure if he was trying to keep me from feeling bad or if he was protecting himself. Maybe it was a little of both.
The good part of this story is when I saw him again today, he was wearing a new pair of Jordans. Without having to ask him, he came up to me with a big grin on his face and told me that Mr. Joe, our other campus monitor, had bought him the shoes. So Mr. Joe beat me to it, but that was more than okay. Besides, I wouldn't have known to buy Jordans. And the fact that Tom approached me to share his news gave me the sense that he really did forgive me after all. There was absolutely no animosity in his words - just joy. I told him that they were some seriously sweet shoes.
Later that afternoon at a staff meeting, our principal read a thank you letter that Tom had written Mr. Joe. He explained that Tom was often teased about his shoes so Joe stepped up and showed his heart. "Shelly, you were such a jackass," I thought. I had no idea.
I've always considered myself a pretty empathetic person who tries to be considerate of others, but I really dropped the ball on this one. This whole experience has reminded me to start paying closer attention to those around me, especially the kiddos, and to think carefully before opening my pie hole. And the next time I open my mouth and insert foot -- which I inevitably will -- make sure to set things right and hope for the forgiveness that Tom showed me.
Writing about the everyday, wishing to give you a smile in the end.