My sweet dad took his life on Sunday.
As you can imagine, or may already know, when a loved one commits suicide you can’t help but run through all the possible “why’s”.
This tragedy has sent my family reeling. Did something in him snap? Was he severely depressed and we never knew? Did he feel worthless and unloved? Were we unaware of a terminal illness?
My family was very close with my dad. I was fortunate that he and my mom live just three miles up the road, and we saw them on a regular basis – meals out, family trips, several telephone conversations a week.
My dad suffered from several health issues, and I know he lived with daily pain and discomfort. CPAP machine, COPD, back troubles, bowel issues, hernias and failed mesh surgeries, diverticulitis, and even blindness due to ocular histoplasmosis and detached retina. He could see well enough to ambulate, but over twenty years ago this blindness stole his ability to drive so he was dependent upon my mom for transportation.
Despite all of this, rarely did he complain. Yes, he could have a short temper and would lose that temper over what others might consider trivial things, but he never took it out on his loved ones. I think it was just part of his way of expressing the frustration he must have felt from all his ailments.
But when I think of Dad, I just think of his big smile, his generosity, humor, compassion, zest for life, love of travel and food, his ongoing quest for knowledge, and his adoration for his family. Anyone who knew my dad loved him. He didn’t know a stranger because he sought to connect with others.
He told the same silly jokes over and over. “That sure was a good meal. The only bad thing about it was it ruined my appetite.” He liked to tell his loved ones how much we were his favorite. I am an only child, and he would often say, “Have I told you lately that you’re my favorite daughter?” Just as he would tell his only grandson, “You know you’re my favorite grandson, don’t you?” He loved to slip my kids twenty dollar “handshakes,” even now that my son is twenty-three years old.
Dad was a voracious reader who loved to learn. Throughout his life he read so many books on religion, philosophy, and history. Although his poor vision made it difficult for him (he used a magnifier), reading was most definitely his jam. He spent his career as a journeyman wireman, but his dream was to be a history teacher, and he would have been amazing. He so enjoyed telling us about his current read and what he was learning.
Dad knew how to make the most of his life, despite his physical difficulties, but a couple of years ago he started showing early signs of dementia. His short-term memory was taking a hit. Not surprising – he was seventy-six years old, but he stated how it frustrated him that he could remember things from thirty years ago, and not what someone told him five minutes ago. He had often told my mom that she didn’t understand what he was trying to tell her.
He watched his mother fall into severe dementia during her final year and had expressed that he would hate to go that way – that he would rather die. In fact, throughout his life he had commented from time to time that if he ever had any sort of lingering, irreversible illness that stole his quality of life, that was unacceptable to him and he would much rather end it.
When Dad took his life, I was in disbelief. He would never do such a thing, I thought. He wasn’t deteriorating from a terminal illness. He had a family who loved and cherished him. We still enjoyed so many things together. I lost my daughter to cancer almost twenty years ago. Surely, he wouldn’t do this knowing what it would do to me after losing her. Something inside him must have snapped. None of it made sense.
The day he died, while my mom slept, he wrote her a note telling her how much he loved us with no other explanation. He left the house, walked a couple blocks so he was no longer in a neighborhood, found a corner where there were no houses - only desert - and ended it.
The thought of him on that corner, all alone in his final moments, tortured me. What was going through his mind? Surely, he couldn’t have thought he was unloved or worthless. These thoughts plagued me. He was so very precious to our family.
But in the days following this tremendous loss, my mom, husband, and I talked about this a lot. The way he went was too planned out, too methodical. He did it the way he did so that Mom could still live in their home without the horrid memory of finding him. Even in his final moments, he thought of her.
I don’t think he snapped. Maybe he knew all along that this is how he wanted to go, and he was just waiting until he was ready. Mom said that morning he walked with a limp, which he never did in the mornings. She said he looked so old and tired.
Dad’s mind was such a vital part of his life. He often said to have your physical health but lose your faculties was no way to live. Maybe he worried he was heading down the same road as Grandma, and on top of all his physical issues, that was simply unacceptable to him. He was tired and needed to rest.
So, I have to get this dreaded thought out of my head that he was sad and hopeless when he died. Dad was a planner. He planned every aspect of his life. My mom is financially taken care of - he made sure of that. He knew that she has us and that we all have each other, and that we will eventually find a way to be okay without him. I believe he knew for some time that when he was ready to discard his broken-down shell, he would leave it on his own terms and no one else’s. And for that, I’m happy for him. He is free from all the pains and limitations of his physical body, and as a wise friend told me he is pure love now. Of course, we will never really know why he did it, but this is what makes the most sense to me.
Rest in peace and love, my sweet, wonderful Dad. Thank you for being my father. I will miss you more than you know.
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.
Holy crap! Was my last post really in August of ’16? I’m embarrassed that I actually have a page on my website dedicated to blogging. Eeeek!
I am excited to share that I have some new projects coming up on the horizon. Not writing projects, but stuff I can put my creative energies into, nonetheless. I’ve been working with an actress on the audio version of Vegas to Varanasi, which is very close to being complete. I am so psyched!
Jazmine Ramay, the lovely actress who has been narrating for me, has been such a pleasure to work with. Thank God she has the patience of a saint because this whole thing has definitely been a learning experience for me. Translating a story from words on a page to audio is tricky to say the least, especially when two people are involved and the expression of words is always open to interpretation. I reiterate – Jazmine has the patience of a saint! Prepare yourself for my pimping of the audio version once released because she has done an amazing job, and I truly believe you will love it.
The whole experience has inspired me to try my hand at the narration for my first book, Believe. Normally I wouldn’t tackle such a project, given that I am hugely ignorant of all the intricacies of sound engineering and do not possess the skills to create a variety of character voices, as Jazmine does. But because Believe is such a personal story, and for the most part has two characters throughout, I thought I’d give it a shot. Final sound editing will most definitely be hired out.
The dog. My dog is a very nervous, clingy type. If I lock her out back, or even outside my bedroom while trying to record, she is likely to whine annoyingly. Obviously not helpful. Thankfully, she’s pretty good about just lying quietly somewhere in the bedroom while recording. However, there are times when she paces back and forth down the laminate hallway floors, resulting in the click, click, click of her toenails. I’ve already had to pause on numerous occasions to wait out the toenail intrusions.
Gravel voice. You never really notice the quality of your voice until you are forced to listen to it ad nauseam. I was shocked to discover how gravelly my voice can get. I never really thought of my voice that way, but surprise, surprise! After having the pleasure of meeting with Jazmine recently, she advised me to make sure to give the voice a rest every so often. Don’t try to record too much in one sitting. Apparently, apple juice can also help with this predicament. The only thing that made me feel better about this was listening to Carrie Fisher’s The Princess Diarist, because she had a pretty gravelly voice too. I'm no Carrie Fisher, but listening to her made me less self-conscious about my own voice.
Plain old tongue tied-ness. When editing audio, there are plenty of times when I hear myself mutter, “Oh. My. God” in frustration because I cannot seem to deliver the simplest of sentences. And if they’re not simple? Lord help me! I came to regret including the word vehemently in one of my sentences. Have you ever tried to pronounce vehemently like it’s part of your usual speech? That word alone resulted in five takes.
I’m sure Jazmine would be like, “Puh-lease! Try pronouncing the Indian names you included in Vegas to Varanasi, like Dashashwamedh and Manikarnika. Then we’ll talk.” Point taken.
Those are only a few of the issues I’ve encountered so far and I’m sure there will be more, so I have massive respect for those who have mastered this artform. Don’t even get me started on breath sounds or explosive pronunciation of p’s. Jazmine gave me the tip of putting two fingers in front of my lips whenever saying a word with p’s. I normally consider myself a pretty decent multi-tasker, but doubt I’ll be able to pull that one off.
All that being said, I now have a better appreciation for all that an audiobook entails and why they’re so bloody expensive. And given that I'm beyond sick of the music playlists I listen to while in my car - and on the rare occasions I make it to the gym - audiobooks are becoming a welcome change of scenery.
Teens have a lot to deal with these days, between school politics, worrying about their friendships and relationships, and social media tugging at their attention at all times. It can be overwhelming for many young people to try and cope with everything at once, and when stress takes over, teens simply don’t have the emotional maturity to handle it well. This can lead to depression and even suicidal thoughts, so it is important for parents and caregivers to take their teen’s feelings seriously.
Here are some of the best tips for helping your teen cope with stress and anxiety.
Encourage them to be active
Being physically active every day can help combat boredom, anxiety, and stress by elevating mood and providing a goal. Many young people find success with school or extracurricular sports, but if they aren’t athletically inclined, encourage them to get in a workout every day. Go for a walk after dinner, head to the park for a game of basketball, or play a game outside when the weather is nice.
Staying mentally active is also important, and there are many mental exercises that can reduce stress and anxiety. For example, forms of art therapy, such as painting or dancing, and journaling, are great options.
Make sure they’re getting enough sleep
Teenagers need at least nine hours of sleep every night, but most of them get seven or less. It’s extremely important for young people to get adequate rest in order to function well at school, and it also helps them keep control over their emotions. Mood and behavior are greatly impacted by the amount of sleep we get.
Make sure you talk to your teen regularly about various topics. It may be hard to get them to open up sometimes, but in the long run they appreciate that their parents are trying to bond with them. Make a no-phone rule at the table and turn off the television for a bit every night so you can have a chat, or engage with them on the ride to school in the morning. Knowing their daily activities and who they spend time with can be helpful when they are having issues and need to talk.
It’s also important to keep your kids involved in any family decisions. Big changes at home--such as a move or divorce--can wreak havoc on a teen’s life, and stress is doubled when they feel like they are being left out.
Find things they love
Help your teen find things they enjoy doing. Having a hobby or doing something they’re really good at can help with comfort and stress relief, such as creating art, playing a musical instrument, writing, acting, working with computers and software, or cooking. Consider helping them find a hobby and trying it out with them, and remember, they will be watching to see how you react to your own successes and failures.
Dolly enjoys writing about a variety of subjects based on diligent fact-checking. She maintains the site, Dollymath.com, where she compiles thoughtful educational articles based on her conscientious analysis of available information.
No matter how blessed your adult life may now be -- and I'm fortunate to say mine is -- sometimes you miss the carefree days of being a teen. Am I right? I'm not saying that being a teenager doesn't have its own brand of stresses and pressures, especially in today's world. But I have to admit my teen years were pretty damn awesome, at least during high school. (We won't talk about junior high.)
I'm aware that many people had childhoods/teenhoods they'd rather put behind them forever, for various reasons. However, if you were lucky enough to have a reasonably normal, trauma-free youth, I think I can safely assume you had absolutely no idea how good you had it before adult complications or the sometimes harsh realities of life set in. I most definitely fell into that category.
The '80s was the decade of my teen years, so I can't help but chuckle when I watch the following footage* of my fellow teeny-boppers (is that still a term?) dancing to Wham. I mean, look at all those shiny, happy faces! How can you watch this and not smile? Music especially has a way of transporting us back to the simpler, joyous times of our past. Back to times when you hopefully had no inkling of what kinds of challenges, worries, or sorrows life may hold.
So, would it be such a stretch of the imagination if our adult selves occasionally longed to return to such carefree days, even if such a wish was on a subconscious level? Before the days of financial responsibility, stressful workplaces, health issues -- or on occasion -- tragic loss?
Hindsight being 20/20, I've learned that such latent yearnings can prompt uncharacteristic or even ridiculous decisions. Of course we're not at all self-aware when we find ourselves in the midst of some life crisis that may be the catalyst for such choices, but surely I'm not the only one who can relate to this kind of thing.
I'm actually going somewhere with this and hope you won't be annoyed with my admission that I'm leading up to a shameless plug for my latest romantic comedy, which I released the end of April. I've been feeling kinda guilty because I didn't put as much energy into its release as I have with other books, even though I feel pretty good about how I explored the circumstance I've been speaking of as one of the plotlines in this story. But then again, like most writers I've become unusually attached to my characters as if they were real people in my life.
Anna and Luke were best friends in high school, college sweethearts, and eventually a young married couple with children -- before Luke came to terms with his homosexuality. Many years after their divorce they are still close, each of them in a committed relationship.
I hope the following teaser with the two of them will intrigue you enough to pick up a copy of Harmony to Heartburn to discover how Luke may be suffering a similar longing for a simpler time of "blissful ignorance", which eventually drives him to an impulsive decision that turns things upside down. If you do decide to read it, please feel free to leave a review on Amazon to share your thoughts about the story and/or characters. The poor book has been stuck at seven reviews for quite some time! LOL. (By the way, the first book in the series is free!)
Okay, enough of the shameless plugging and on to the excerpt. ;)
As we settle in, I scan the audience and make a face.
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Luke asks.
“If you’re thinking we’re frickin’ dinosaurs, then yes, I’m thinking what you’re thinking.”
He laughs and sets his drink in the cup holder beside him. “If it’s any consolation, you don’t look anywhere near as old as most of the people here.”
“Aww, thanks, friend. Neither do you.”
“When would you say we last saw Depeche Mode in concert? At the MGM, remember?” Luke’s voice is mellow and smooth, being on his fourth or fifth mixed drink this evening. If I wasn’t driving and didn’t have such unpredictable results from alcohol these days, I’d be right there with him.
“I’m not sure. Was that the same year we saw Duran Duran the second time? I’d guess ’94… ’95.”
Luke nods slowly in agreement. “That sounds about right. How many times have we seen Duran Duran anyway?”
“Let’s see. The first time was at Thomas and Mack when we were in high school.” I begin keeping track on my fingers. “Then that time we went to L.A. to see them at Dodger Stadium. Then didn’t we see them at the Aladdin before it became Planet Hollywood?”
“That’s right, we did.”
“And the last time was right here at House of Blues.”
“Agh!” He tips his head back. “I remember that night. Simon was off his game in the worst way.”
“That he was.”
Luke slides down in his seat and closes his eyes. “This is nice, reminiscing about old times. We’ve had a lot of fun memories together, haven’t we?”
“And tonight will be one more we can add to the list.”
I give him a friendly pat on the leg, but when I go to draw my hand away, he covers it with his and holds it there. He opens his eyes with an innocent grin before squeezing my fingers and releasing them.
Returning his smile, I take a sip of my drink.
“You were heavy into Depeche Mode for a while. I remember,” he says.
I was. I loved their broody, often sensual sound. However, a couple of songs on my cassettes I wouldn’t listen to because they creeped me out a little. “Yeah, I went through a phase where I had some serious fantasies about Dave Gahan.”
“You and me both.”
I smack him in the arm. “You did not… Wait, did you?”
“I’m kidding! I wasn’t even out to myself at that point.”
“Oh yeah. Well, I wouldn’t blame you if you did. That voice. And those eyes! Even though he was such a string bean.”
“Kind of a contrast from your Michael Jackson infatuation, but then you’ve always had pretty eclectic taste in music. Didn’t you say you were into Judy Garland as a kid?”
“Loved Judy Garland! There was this one radio station that played forties music in the evenings, and I used to call to request her songs. Remember the days before Spotify and YouTube, when you had to call in a request to hear a song you liked?”
Luke swallows the last of his drink before responding. “And you’d wait and wait with your cheap ass tape recorder so you could have your own copy, but it never failed. The DJ would talk through the entire opening of the song, and wouldn’t shut up until a split second before the first lyric. And then he’d do the same thing at the end. Sometimes the end was the best part, and they’d ruin it with all their yammering.”
I laugh at the accuracy of his account. “I know!” Realizing I haven’t turned the ringer off on my phone yet, I take a second to do so.
Luke notices a cocktail waitress nearby and hails her. “You want something else to drink before it starts?”
“I’ll have a water.”
He presses his lips together. “You sure? We’re gonna be here at least a couple more hours.”
I tap two fingers to my forehead, reminding him of my proneness to headaches when I drink, and the waitress leaves with our order.
“You poor baby.” He wraps an arm around me gives me a couple of warmhearted shakes. “Getting older has really sucked the fun out of one of life’s pleasures for you, huh?”
Suddenly the lights dim and the sound of skidding tires echoes throughout the place, signaling the opening of “I Feel You.” The intro music follows, colored lights flash, and the crowd cheers, however, there’s no sign of anyone on stage. The music continues for a really long time, building and building, with no hint of a band member in sight, until this den of mid-lifers is at a fever pitch that could rival a Justin Bieber concert.
Okay, maybe not quite that bad, but the excitement is contagious nonetheless.
Finally, we hear Dave Gahan’s voice and the crowd goes even crazier. The audience’s enthusiasm has definitely taken me by surprise and it’s easy to get caught up in it; Luke and I howl along with everyone else.
The first few numbers are energized. Everyone is out of their seats and we serenade one another during each song, carefree and a little ridiculous. From time to time the couple in front of us gets carried away with the public displays of affection. Their unsure footing makes it obvious they’re completely loaded, and at one point the man grabs the woman’s ass and they commence with some serious grinding while shoving their tongues down each other’s throats. Turning my back on them to face Luke, I fake a dry heave. He responds by rolling his tongue all over the place like he’s making out with an invisible partner.
“You’re disgusting!” I say.
He laughs and grabs my hips, rubbing up against me in a most intentionally awkward and unattractive way.
“Get off me, ya perv!” Good God, he has had way too much to drink!
My appalled yet amused reaction makes him laugh even more.
A half hour into the concert, the atmosphere is far more sedate as the band descends into some of its more contemplative and cheerless material not heard on the pop charts. Now we’re getting into the stuff that drew me to them so many years ago. Don’t ask me why it was so appealing. I wasn’t exactly what you would call an angsty youth, nor what is often referred to as “emo” these days, but oh how I loved their doleful sound.
Unfortunately this plaintive mood—coupled with the awareness that so many of these songs were popular during the time Luke and I were beginning our romantic relationship—sparks a wistful pull in my chest. After all these years, I still catch myself mourning for that young woman who’d thought she and Luke were on the road to a happily ever after together, and it makes no sense. I’m living a happily ever after with Kiran that’s far better than I could have ever imagined.
Maybe it’s because Luke is still so much a part of my life that I will never forget that pain, even though I stopped being in love with him a lifetime ago.
Without taking his eyes from the stage, Luke reaches for my hand again and holds it to his stomach. He and I have always shared small expressions of affection, whether it’s a hug or a quick kiss on the lips, but tonight he’s been uncharacteristically physical.
He’s absorbed in the performance, gazing straight ahead, and his skin bunches around his eyes. He almost appears anguished. Not wanting to stare, I turn my attention back to the stage but have trouble focusing on the act. For some strange reason I’m self-conscious, hesitant to even let my fingers twitch in his hand.
I must have heard this song a million times in the past, but tonight I attempt to listen to the words with Luke’s ears instead of my own. He squeezes my hand—hard, and it feels as if I’m a conduit for his discomfort, like when Carly got her ears pierced as a little girl and I held her hand.
He’s someplace else.
I have no idea why this number seems to have thrown him into an obvious funk. Something to do with him and Richard?
Leaning into him, I use my free hand to squeeze his upper arm. “Sweetie, are you okay?”
“Yes.” He looks at me briefly before returning his eyes to the stage. “Why?”
My absence of a reply goes unnoticed.
If I’m right and this song is a reflection of his relationship with Richard, that reflection is not good, despite his vaguely positive responses while we were in the lounge this evening.
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Funny how back to school time elicits a variety of responses, depending on who you are. If you are a student or a teacher, I think the above meme expresses our feelings pretty well.
Because I'm off for the summer, I've been home to witness my daughter's Netflix addiction metastasize as she transitioned into a creature of the night, so I have to admit I'm looking forward to seeing her get back into the routine of school and having some sort of purpose in life other than keeping up with the latest drama on The Fosters or Orange is the New Black.
Not that I've been uber productive myself. I haven't done any writing and summer is usually when I begin a new project, but I've at least managed to create some new materials for the upcoming school year, taken three online classes, and I also started working with this great narrator to have Vegas to Varanasi made into audio, so I'm psyched about that!
As a teacher, feelings about starting a new school year are mixed. You (hopefully) look forward to seeing your colleagues again. (If you can't stand your colleagues -- sorry, that's a drag.) And there's this twinge of excitement about starting fresh.
"This year, I'm going to have all my students' names memorized by the end of September!" Okay, maybe that's not such an accomplishment to non-teachers. I just want to clarify that I teach middle school, which means around 160+ names to memorize. And my classes only last half the year, so at semester I do it all over again.
"This year, I'm going to greet every single student at the door every day so they all know I'm happy to see them." Until that first day when you're pulled away because a student from last period unplugged the keyboard and mouse from their computer and switched them with the one next to it, and the poor little sixth grader now trying to log in can't figure out why nothing works.
I teach 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students, which means I often have students as 7th or 8th graders that I had in 6th grade, just for a different subject. So another one I tell myself each year:
"This year I'm going to pretend like the difficult students were never difficult in the past. No self-fulfilling prophecy for me! Everyone gets a clean slate!" This one's a toughie, and I realize how tough it is when the school year hasn't even started yet and I feel myself wince at the recognition of certain names on my class lists. Will have to work on that one.
Then comes the joy of setting up your classroom and arranging furniture. You're excited because the carpets are clean and there's no longer evidence of when little Johnny barfed at the front of the room last year, (though that neon green piece of gum on the floor by computer 17 still remains.) You make your way to your desk to find this mess on the floor, and proceed to curse and grumble to yourself as you untangle the disaster before trying to figure out which plug goes where. This is what I was doing yesterday. But on the bright side, I remembered my login! Some poor fella new to our school stopped by my room and asked if I had any advice because he'd locked himself out of his account. Sorry, new fella! You'll have to hunt down Mr. Tech guy.
Back to school staff meetings/development... be still my beating heart! After looking at the agenda that we receive in the mail each year around this time, the schedule actually doesn't look too terribly painful, but I'm pretty sure I can speak on behalf of most teachers when I say this is the least appealing part of the process.
What I find frustratingly funny is that teachers are the worst about talking during meetings. I mean THE WORST! I get it, the meetings are usually boring as all get out. Have I wanted to slit my wrists a few times during staff development? Of course I have! But I am quiet in my discontent. I zone out and go to my little happy place if necessary, but I don't talk through the whole frickin' thing. How do people who spend their days reprimanding students who don't pay attention and talk through their lessons sit there and do the same exact thing to their colleagues? Drives. Me. Insane.
So while I'm happy that I won't be rotating through the various staff development sessions we have scheduled the Friday before school starts (because I will be presenting), I'm not happy that I will most likely have to talk over my colleagues (because I will be presenting). It's a double-edged sword for sure.
And with that, I would like to leave you with this final meme that someone tagged me in on Facebook recently, and it's soooo true. Pray for me as I embark on a new year with these little darlings we refer to as tweens, as I will pray for all the parents, teachers, and students who are readying themselves for another year. Let's make it a great one!
What are your feelings about back to school time?
Writing about the everyday, wishing to give you a smile in the end.