Posted in Reflections At Mid-Life

Hunger

Last month, my original plan was to write a series of stories about my campaign experiences based on the emotions I felt throughout the campaign. My plan was to reflect on and process my campaign experience after I got some rest and felt a sense of normalcy. The thing is, that plan is not possible now. Election day was March 3, 2020. On March 3, 2020 the first known case of coronavirus (COVID-19) in North Carolina made an appearance.  Ten days later, Durham Public Schools closed for an indefinite amount of time. I packed up as much as I could from my office at school, threw it in my car, and then threw it in my home office. It became painfully clear to me that there would be no sense of normalcy for me to return to now, or in the foreseeable future. So many thoughts swirling through my head, the rug pulled out from underneath us. I don’t see much rest ahead, at least not for me. My brain is bursting with thoughts during normal times, but now, now it is overflowing and jumbled. Definitely not resting.

So here I am, finding it difficult to focus on anything, let alone, writing about my campaign experiences. It seems somewhat irrelevant compared to a global pandemic. Yet, I do think it’s important for me not to lose what I experienced. It was much too big a part of my life to just let it fade into the background. What I am realizing, is that many of the issues, questions, and concerns that I was passionate about during my campaign, have almost seamlessly morphed into the emotions I am feeling now, with all that is happening during the pandemic. It’s almost as if my campaigning was preparing me for this unthinkable health crisis that would not only bleed into the lives of everyone, but would also pour over our most vulnerable populations. The driving forces for my running for school board are now being magnified. The children and families, the teachers and schools who I referred to as “invisible” and pushed aside so that others can live their lives more comfortably, are even more marginalized now.

Hunger: 1) Must have the determination to make change happen. 2) A feeling of discomfort or weakness caused by lack of food, coupled with the desire to eat.

I originally planned to write about my experiences based on emotions. As I looked through my list of emotions to see where I might begin my reflections, one stood out above the others. Hunger. It was the obvious one.

Honestly, I never really thought about hunger as an emotion, but after reading the definitions, it was clear.

I knew my “hunger” and determination to make change happen was definitely a major driving force in my decision to run for school board, but I had no idea in December that my days in March and April would literally be centered around families facing hunger. While the children and families I was most concerned about in Durham had already faced hunger due to lack of food and resources, now, due to COVID-19, they are dealing with it in a way I could not have imagined a few months ago.

I have always considered myself a glass half full kind of person. Someone who gives off positive vibes and hope to others. That’s a tough role to play in the world right now. After my campaign experiences, I find myself feeling more skeptical. I hear people talking about how this pandemic is going to change things. It will make the world a better place to live. People will treat others better once we make it through all of this. Teachers will be respected. People will want to help those less fortunate than themselves. They speak as if it is magical, this pandemic. This optimist is not convinced. I have worked at trying to change systems, many broken systems, over the years, and it is hard, beat your head against the wall, work. There is not a quick fix. I fear, not even hitting rock bottom is going to fix the mess we created. I am not convinced that having all of the “divides” ( economic, digital, …) in our society being magnified during a pandemic will mean that they will magically go away. From what I witnessed and experienced, while intensely living  in the world of politics during my campaign, we have much to overcome before we see change happen that will actually move us toward equity for all.

In our own, supposedly “progressive” city of Durham, NC, I am now watching the most needy families being left out of the panic driven, knee jerk reactions to the pandemic. First, the people who have what they need and the means to get what they need, continue to put themselves first. They plunge into doing something “good for others” , but it only hides the real needs in our community. An example would be that our school system, with the best of intentions, devised a program to provide lunches for students when schools closed. They, however, neglected to ask those of us who actually work in the schools with the students who need access to food, what might be the best way to do that. They plowed forward, making sure that they received accolades all over social media to say what a great job they were doing. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, some of us were scrambling to find students (families who live in poverty or who are homeless don’t always stay at the same address for long periods of time) to make sure they knew where and when they could get free lunches each day. The placement of the buses bringing food was well thought out; however, the communication to families…not so much. Some of us were more than willing to pick up lunches and drop them on doorsteps to children we knew would not step foot outside their door, per strict instructions from their parents (while they were at work). We were told we could not do that. Therefore, lunches were thrown away, while children who needed food did not receive lunches. The safe distancing rules were not adhered to, which put the DPS workers and the children at risk. I could go on and on. I do not understand why we, the teachers who know the students and families, were not consulted to help make these crucial decisions. This type of change costs nothing. It requires only a willingness for people in leadership positions to stop and think and ask for help from the experts in the trenches.This was something I said often during my campaign.

As part of the new normal as a public school teacher, we are asking teachers to reach out to parents weekly to “check-in” with them remotely during this global pandemic. They are to ask how they are doing, do they need anything, have they gotten recent announcements and information about school work and food distribution, etc. As soon as schools closed, several of us went into action without even skipping a beat. We went to find children and families to take them books, food and gift cards for food. My friends and church members, who have always been extremely responsive to me when I ask for anything for teachers or students in the schools I work in, were there for me again. Within a few days, I had collected over $3,000 that I used to purchase food and grocery store gift cards that could be given directly to families, immediately. No questions asked. There were families that we knew would need extra help, especially the first week schools closed, because no food was being provided for lunches or breakfast. The teachers and staff at our school knew that meant that some children would have no food. But then, the teachers started to let me know that other families were already letting them know that they were laid off or lost their jobs. They would need support too, even though they were not on our original list of families with immediate needs. So, we added them to the list. (*there are 40 families and over 75 donors on the list now, and it is growing daily)

Fast forward to mid-April, 2020. According to my school district, I am to be working from home, 8 hours per day. I submit an electronic form every day to give a brief description of how I filled those hours daily. Truth be told, when schools were open, I, like many of my colleagues in education, rarely worked less than 10-12 hours per day. That has not changed for me during this unprecedented, unpredictable time in history. The structure of my days is gone, but the work is still there.

In between required online meetings (that entire experience is an entire blog entry in itself), zooming, chatting, googleing or hanging out, I am coordinating finding donors to help to feed hundreds of children and families. This is by choice. It is only possible due to the kind, caring, generous souls who are in my life during this pandemic. I will write separately about those experiences, as they are worthy of  individual attention. I don’t want them to get lost or be forgotten in any way.

Just as the hunger facing marginalized families in Durham has been magnified, my frustration with systems has intensified. I have channeled those frustrations into action. That is how I feed my soul. My hunger. My determination to make change happen. I may not have won the election for school board, but that doesn’t mean that I will stop trying to make sure that all families and teachers are seen. My campaign slogan, Equity For Families, Equity for Educators, Equity for All, is etched in my overflowing brain. And more importantly, it is etched in my heart. I may have lost the election, but nobody can take my hunger for equity away from me.

 

Posted in Reflections At Mid-Life

But It’s Only for Three Months

PJG-for-DPS

On December 2, 2019, I filed to run for the Durham Public Schools Board of Education At-Large Seat. The election was set for March 3, 2020.  As several people said to me, “The good news is, it’s only three months…and the bad news is, it’s only three months”

Either way, I thought, “Right, but it’s only three months. I can do this.”

“Why don’t you tell us how you really feel?” That’s something I hear often. I tend to say what I am thinking, and if it has anything to do with public education and equity, I’m going to not only say what I am thinking, but I am going to say it with many strong emotions. And my hands. I’m going to say it with my hands, because I can’t say anything without my hands joining me. The stronger the emotion, the more my hands get involved. It’s an Italian thing. It’s who I am. I am usually pretty good at thinking before I speak and I work hard not to offend others when I speak, or to say anything that may be taken in a way it was not intended. That can be challenging when strong emotions are involved.  Mine are usually a mix of emotions, and I am generally good at keeping them in check in public. As I have tried to process my campaign experiences, I seem to always come back to how I was feeling during  a particular moment, conversation or event. I can vividly remember my experiences as they were connected to an emotion, person and place.

When I decided to write about my recent political campaign experiences, I made a list of emotions. I made a list, with the help of some predetermined lists that have been used by others who work in the field of, I guess, emotions? I didn’t actually know there were such lists, but there are several to choose from. I wanted a list of emotions because I realized that I had experienced such a range of emotions throughout this experience, and those emotions were the driving forces for me before, during, and after my campaign. They just kept creeping back into my life daily, and oftentimes, several emotions would swell up inside me throughout my eighteen hour days. Eighteen hours was the typical length of my day for three months. During my campaign, there were many nights when I only got true rest for 4-5 hours per night. I’m sure that played into my emotions as well.

Those eighteen hours were filled by working my full-time job at school, preparing for my work, fulfilling campaign demands, being a spouse, friend, mom and daughter, swimming or walking daily, and preparing and eating meals. I promised myself that I would continue to follow my healthy eating habits, which luckily had been established over the prior eleven months. That required 30-40 minutes every evening of cooking and prepping all of my meals for the next day, and then cooking and packing three meals to take with me in the early morning. Oh, and there was my mom’s 90th Birthday Celebration in Ohio in late December, and the other holidays thrown in there. And did I mention the flu that knocked me out for 5 days in February? There was that too.

I also had no way of knowing that COVID-19 would fall on the heels of the NC Primary Elections, so much of my time and energy the past two weeks has been focused on children, families and teachers trying to wrap their heads and lives around that crisis.

My intention with this series of blog entries is to try to capture my journey of running for school board as a first timer in the world of campaigning. I literally started from scratch and depended on the kindness and generosity of my friends and family. It was a journey like no other for me. A journey full of emotions that pushed me through and sometimes almost knocked me down. I hope you’ll join me as I try to capture some moments that contributed to a three month emotional rollercoaster ride.

Posted in Reflections At Mid-Life

Solitude

Granite City Greenway
Monday morning bike ride

Generally speaking, I like people. I just don’t want to be around people all the time. As some people would say, “I need my space.”

When I separated from my children’s father over twenty years ago, I thought I would never get used to being away from my children. I hated everything about it. I hated not saying good-night to them at bedtime. I hated not being able to comfort them in the middle of the night if they had a bad dream or felt sick. I hated not knowing where they were or who they were with. I spent many hours crying and worrying while they were away from me. Callie was barely three years old and Austin was six years old. They were young, and this was not part of the plan. I certainly did not plan for my children to be divorce statistics. I actually felt incomplete when they were not with me then. As if a part of my heart had been taken away. Some days, now that they are young adults, I still feel that way, but now I don’t feel as if anything has been taken away. I know that they will always be in my heart and they will always be a part of who I am.

There was one positive that came from that time in my life. I eventually figured out that I liked being alone. Not that I liked being away from my children any better, but I liked having some time away from everyone. Time to think. Uninterrupted thinking. That was a novelty, and still is. I learned that I needed time to take care of myself. I did that by biking, hiking, creating, cooking and writing. By myself. Of course, I still spent time with friends and family, but I coveted my alone time. So, I have carried on that tradition over the years. As Callie and Austin got older, it got easier. It was a little tricky after I remarried thirteen years ago though. Clark had to learn not to take it personally. As someone who loves to be with others all the time, that was not an easy sell.

Today, I am writing as I prepare to end one of my semi-annual personal retreats. I try to go away to re-energize when I feel most depleted. I spent the past three nights in Mount Airy, NC, better known to most as Mayberry (as in the Andy Griffith Show). I usually try to go to the beach or to the mountains in NC, or even a lake, but that was not feasible for me this summer. I landed in Mount Airy at a wonderful Airbnb owned by a single mom. The space was comfortable, quiet and felt safe to me. I was able to bike, hike, scrapbook, cook for myself and watch meaningless Netflix shows. I also liked knowing that I was helping a single mom pay her bills. That was an unexpected added bonus. I know that people are surprised that I like to take this time away alone, but I cannot begin to explain how much I enjoy it and look forward to it at least twice a year.

Just five nights ago, Clark and I went to hear Mary Chapin Carpenter perform. This was at least the third time we have seen her together. She is always amazing. She just has a way of reaching in and grabbing your soul. We actually ran into her, almost literally, as we walked toward our car after the concert. She was surrounded by “her people” and was headed to her tour bus. Clark was Starstruck. She made no eye contact with any of us as we walked by her. I totally understood. I downloaded her new album the next day before I left for my retreat. I listened to her songs after leaving the park where I wrote my first draft of this piece, while driving back home, and I noticed that one of her songs was titled, “I Have a Need For Solitude” and it captured exactly what I had just tried writing about while sitting under that tree. Clearly, she is also an introvert.

I have a need
For solitude
I’ll never be
Safe in crowded rooms
I like the sound
Of silence coming on
I come around when all the rest have gone…

When I was in my twenties, I lived in Cleveland. At the time I was going to college (again) and waiting tables. One day I saw a two man singing team from Cleveland called Willio and Philio perform at an outdoor concert event (I still have their one and only vinyl record album!) They were quite the characters and they sang folk songs. I guess that’s what they would be called. They were fun to watch and to listen to and my roommate and I became big fans of theirs. We kind of had a crush on them, from a distance. Oddly enough, we eventually ended up renting an apartment that they were moving out of in Cleveland Heights. That’s another story. I am reminded of them now because thy used to sing a song called “I Hate People.” It was hilarious. My younger brother, who is definitely an introvert, used to say to me “I hate people”, so when I heard this song, I shared it with him and it became a new inside joke between us. I understood what he meant though. It wasn’t that we really “hated” people, but we knew that being around people was stressful for us. I first took the Meyers-Briggs personality test in 1990 while working in a family support program in Baltimore. That was the first time I saw in writing that I was considered to be an introvert. A true aha moment! It all started to make sense to me. I have taken the Meyers-Briggs a couple more times over the years, and it continues to show me as an introvert. I would not dispute it at all.

I would, however, consider myself a “people person”, which is not the same as an extrovert. My people skills were the reason I made so much money waiting on tables. My people skills have carried me through many situations in my work with families and children. My people skills have helped me to raise money for non-profits over the years. I think this is what confuses people who know me. I am a people person. I put people first. Always. Often times, ahead of myself. Relationships with people are my priority in life. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but it exhausts me. It takes every fiber of my body to be around large groups of people and even around people all day. My parents were “people-persons” too. I grew up watching them put others first with family and neighbors; learning about customer service through our family shoe business; and basically, just as a way of life. It was a non-negotiable in our house when we were growing up. So maybe I can blame it on them. All three of my brothers continue to live that way too, but I think three out of four of us are introverts. You wouldn’t know it by watching us, but I’m pretty sure they would agree with me.

My entire career has been spent working closely with people. Lots of little people for sure, but as any teacher can tell you, children do not come to you alone. They have adults who need tending to as well. Co-workers and colleagues require a lot of time and care too. All of my jobs have not come to me by accident, they have been carefully chosen by me, and all have involved being with people…all the time. Being the founder and director of a children’s museum required non-stop interactions with thousands of people every month. Being a Jazzercise instructor put me on stage (literally, with a microphone) in front of many other people. Serving on boards and committees, often leading them, creates a space where I am with people in intentional ways that do not allow me to just blend in in the background. Working in schools does not happen easily for introverts. You are “on” all day. So, I really don’t “hate people”. I just need time and space away from them to refuel.

I wrote this sitting on a park bench, under the shade of a tree, in the city park where I biked along the greenway the day before, while visiting Mount Airy on my personal retreat. On the spur of the moment, I added an hour onto my visit by spending some time writing, uninterrupted…with nobody else around. It was heavenly. As I drove away from the park, I wondered, “Why don’t I do this in Durham? Eno River, here I come!” New goals for the new school year.

Peaceful bike ride in Mount Airy, NC
Granite City Greenway

MayberrygreenwayfenceMayberrygreenwaywater

Mayberrygreenwayroom
Scrapbook a little, work a little
Posted in Clearing my head...

An Unlikely Opinion from A Public Education Advocate

I need to begin by saying that I am always in favor of teachers advocating for themselves. The way public school employees, from principals to bus drivers, are treated in North Carolina is shameful. Having worked in the Durham Public Schools for eleven years, on and off, over the past sixteen years, I am well aware of all of the wonderful and not-so-wonderful things happening in our schools. Raising two children who attended DPS while I was single mom for seven years and living in debt because I barely get paid for the 60 hours I work each week has not gone unnoticed.

I am beyond thrilled that teachers are even thinking about advocating for better pay in North Carolina, so please don’t get me wrong when I say what I am about to say.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018. For those of you who are not aware yet, this is the day when (so far) over 35% of Durham Public School teachers have opted to take a Personal Day, a day without pay, in order to attend a rally in Raleigh to advocate for better funding for our public schools. I consider myself a strong and steady advocate for public schools. As a public school teacher, I certainly advocate for higher pay for teachers. I have always been an outspoken advocate for my profession and I always will be, but I am not in favor of closing schools on May 16 to go to a rally in Raleigh. Here’s why.

I am aware that other states have been finding some success with teacher strikes recently; however, a one day rally is drastically different that a several day strike. There is no reason why May 16 will be a magical date to change any elected officials mind about how much they value children or public education. There will be no legislative action on that day. Most of them do not care if there are 80 or 8,000 teachers in a rally in Raleigh. The only way to make changes is to vote them out. That will not happen on May 16. The percentage of teachers who do not vote is extremely disappointing. If we want to contribute toward change, then we need to vote. We need to educate our fellow teachers and parents about the importance of voting. We need to expand our educating from the classroom to educating about elections to churches, parents, business owners and the classrooms in our schools with teachers who do not take the time to vote.

This year I chose to teach in a low performing school and that has, unfortunately, affirmed for me, the many facts about the needs of so many children and families in Durham. Sadly, for me, our current DPS administration highly prioritizes test scores (I get why, but do not agree), and yet, this decision would mean losing an instructional day that could hurt our chances of improving scores. Does one day make a difference? Some people feel that it will not make a difference. They say to send work home with students. Really? Then, why have school at all? Depending on the students in your school, it really can make a difference. We count every minute we are with our students as vital time for learning. For many of them, staying home one day actually does disrupt learning. It also affects their eating and sleeping. Re-adjusting back to school the day after a closing disrupts learning for the majority of our students. You may not believe me, but that just tells me that you are not in touch with reality for so many of our students in Durham. Our students are proud of their accomplishments, in and out of school, and they often need to work harder than others to beat the odds and barriers placed before them to achieve those accomplishments. Why would we want to add another barrier within the last weeks of the school year?

In my opinion, the timing of this rally could not be worse. Although there is never a convenient or perfect time for activism, I wonder if organizers have considered the fact that lower performing schools are under a tremendous amount of pressure to “perform” right now, and losing May 16 as a school day is losing an instructional day for 33,000 students. Then there are the factors of rescheduling the school day, rescheduling exams in high schools, rescheduling end-of-year professional development, finding ways to feed children and make sure they are in safe environments on May 16, and on and on.

I understand that the DPS Administration is charged with working on a plan to try to take care of this, and I also know that they have now been disrupted from their jobs as a new administration trying to prepare for the 2018-19 school year. I appreciate that there are faith organizations and PTA’s trying to organize ways to get food and child care for children so their parents can go to work that day if schools close. Honestly, we need you all year, not just one day in May. We need tutors, mentors, snacks and school supplies for students every day. It may not seem as exciting, but it will benefit our children tremendously. Let me know when we can talk about that too.

The NC General Assembly has used public education as a pawn for years. Every year during budget talks, it is public education issues that get thrown in the face of the voters as part of budget cuts, and every single year, they vote against supporting public education. Rally or no rally. They vote for unfunded mandates. They vote to dismantle public education. I am all for letting our voices be heard, but the answer is not a one and done rally day. We have a better chance if public school employees and parents to get educated about their elected officials, old and new, and to get out and vote. And take someone else with them.

 

 

Posted in Reflections At Mid-Life

Worth The Wait

The hustle and bustle of the winter holiday season often brings a strange combination of tension and joy. For many, the tension comes into play because there is an awful lot of waiting. Waiting in lines, waiting in traffic, waiting for guests to arrive, waiting for the last day of work to end before having some much needed time off, waiting to see if the recipient of your gift will be surprised and content. Waiting for all of the holiday madness to come to an end, so you may find some downtime and then try to find a sense of normalcy again.

Last week, while waiting for over thirty minutes in a line to purchase one stocking stuffer gift for my husband, I began to think about all of the things I have waited for in my life and whether they were worth the wait or not. I probably could have left the Carolina Theater while waiting for the person in front of me to purchase nineteen $10 gift cards, which all had to be manually entered into the computer, but I really wanted Clark to have the gift of movies because it is one of his passions (and I would be his date when he cashed it in!), so I waited. Clark, himself, would likely have chosen not to wait. He does not like waiting. On this particular day, I chose to wait and use this uninterrupted time, a gift within itself, to reflect about waiting and to try not to give dirty looks to the man in line in front of me.

Later, that same day, I went to the pool to swim laps. I am a selfish swimmer and an introvert, so with those two qualities combined, sharing a lane to swim laps is very unappealing to me. In fact, it ruins the entire experience for me.  I use lap swimming as a time to take care of my physical self, but more importantly, to keep my mental health in tact. It is, again, coveted uninterrupted time for me. If you are a swimmer, then you know that sharing a lane is a constant thinking process trying to avoid crashing into the other person in your lane. So, if there are no open lanes when I arrive at the pool, I wait. People always kindly offer for me to join them and share a lane. I opt out every time. It’s worth the wait.

The gift I was most proud of giving this year was a memory book that I created for Austin, fondly titled “The World According to Austin.”  It was a compilation of some writing that I had done about his and my life from his birth up to age four. It also included a collection of quotes from him that I had jotted down as he would entertain and amaze me when he was a young child. One of the first pieces I wrote about in 1994 was titled “A Labor of Love”, which highlighted a not-so-joyful labor and delivery of my first born child in 1992. It was, however, a perfect example of a time in my life that was worth the wait. Nothing about Austin’s birth went as planned, including pre-eclampsia and a three-day labor ending in a c-section, but in the end, bringing him into the world was well worth the wait.

In 2005, I began dating Clark. I had been a single mom with two young children for over six years at that point. I was never convinced that I needed to get married again. I was an independent person and had no issues with being alone when my children were with their dad. My days and nights were full. I have always worked more than I should, but I also took time to exercise and find time for making memories with friends. I had the philosophy that if I was meant to get married again, it would happen in time, or it would possibly not happen at all. It was not something I was pursuing or losing sleep over. Then I met Clark. After two dates (two days in a row) it was clear to both of us that my days of being single would soon come to an end. It was worth the wait.

When Callie turned eighteen and was about to graduate from high school, I offered to take her to Spain to experience the Camino de Santiago. We went and we hiked / backpacked over 100 miles in eight days. It was an experience like no other I have ever had and I do not regret one minute of it. It was, however, not easy. Trekking through awe inspiring landscape, meeting people from twelve different countries, pushing myself physically beyond what I thought I was capable of at the age of 55. We did our share of waiting throughout our experience. Sharing a room or housing with others, anywhere from 4 – 50 others, provided some opportunities to wait for showers, wait for quiet (no snoring) to get to sleep, and wait for each other to get dressed and packed up for another full day of hiking. Callie had her share of waiting for me to get to the top of many mountain climbs. I believe she inherited my ability to wait and know that it would be worth it in the end.

As a teacher and now a mentor/coach to teachers, I have learned the value in waiting for others to share their fears, and hopes and dreams. I have watched and waited for students and teachers to have their own “aha” moments and their own leaps of growth as learners. The importance of waiting when you are guiding someone else to learn something new is underestimated. Every person grows at their own pace and in their own time. It never ceases to amaze me that children and adults will not only continue to learn and grow, but it is often beyond what they had even imagined possible if you sincerely believe in them. I do not regret waiting for the moments when a child or a teacher realizes that they have accomplished a goal, small or large. I do believe in them. I cherish those moments. They are worth the wait.

Having patience with myself is perhaps the most challenging waiting of all. I was raised by two parents who had high, but realistic, expectations for me and my brothers. I was encouraged and supported to find and push through challenges, but not at the expense of hurting others. I have always had the ability to understand what was possible for myself and others in my life, but sometimes I did not want to wait. My passions and compassion would drive me to move too quickly. I wanted things to happen immediately, even though I knew that change takes time. It was not until this past year that, in my mid-life wisdom, I learned to wait. I waited to think about where I should be and who I should be with to accomplish my personal mission and goals in life. In July, I made a decision to change jobs, yet again. I have moments when I still doubt my decision, but I find that if I wait long enough, it all comes together and I know I did the right thing. I have a quote hanging in my office that says, “If it doesn’t challenge you, then it won’t change you.” I am being challenged in my work, both on a professional and personal level, as I face the fact that I am no longer as young as I used to be. While I am who I am, and I generally like who I am, I never want to be stagnant or the older person who says I don’t want change because that’s the way we’ve always done it. Instead, I am trying to find the balance of knowing what works, sharing that wisdom with others, and knowing when change is necessary. So, sometimes that just means I need to wait. I wait for others to “come around” even when I am ready to move forward. I offer my thoughts and wait so others may have their own epiphanies so they are empowered to move forward. Changing my job, growing alongside others who are as passionate about public education as I am, has been well worth the wait.

The approaching new year will inevitably bring more change and challenges. I look forward to seeing what else life will bring to me while I am waiting. I am more than sure that it will be worth it.

 

 

 

Posted in Reflections At Mid-Life

It’s Time

Over the past fifteen years I have struggled with the thought of being one of the statistics that we often read or talk about in the news or on social media. While I know I am extremely fortunate in so many ways, I have also had a nagging little voice in the back of my head shaming me for allowing myself to be on a couple of lists of statistics that I never thought, as a younger person, that I would be on.  You may be wondering what I am talking about. You may be thinking that in this time of labeling everyone it has become common to put people in categories, for better or for worse, based on how they look, think or what they experience. These particular statistics are specific to me though. Others will find themselves on the same lists, but the combination of statistics is what makes us each unique. It is a large part of what shapes us into being who we are. As I reflect on my life, I have come to realize just how much these statistical identities can lend themselves to you forming beliefs about yourself. For me, as I am sure is true for others, a few of these statistics I have chosen to keep to myself over the years, or shared them very carefully with a few people in my life. My reasons for sharing with particular people varied from my level of trust in them (which needed to be high) to whether or not I thought it would be helpful or a comfort to them. One of my statistics, which is far too common, is that of being divorced when my children were young and being a single parent for seven years. I could write a book (except many others already have) about being a single mom or going through a divorce, but that is not a statistic that I feel the need to write about at this time. One statistic in particular was not something I had any say in. That is the statistic that I have been driven to write about recently. It has been percolating in my head and heart for over six months. Well, actually, for forty-five years.

On November 8, 2016, I had some surprisingly strong emotional responses to the presidential election. Some would be obvious to those of you who know me and my beliefs, values and passion about social justice in our world. On the surface, clearly, I would be upset at the election results. I understood those feelings.

What took me by surprise was a deeper response that I could not shake. While I disagreed politically with the new president, there was something more that was bubbling up beneath the surface for me. I have lived through having presidents that I had very little respect for, personally and politically, and I knew that life goes on and you do what you can to make the best of it.

But this presidential election was different. It was nagging at me personally. It wasn’t because a woman lost. While I would like to someday see a woman become president, it didn’t have to be Hillary for me. I have high hopes that someone better will be there in the near future. It had nothing to do with being democrat or republican. While I lean to the left, I don’t necessarily agree wholeheartedly with either political affiliation. It had nothing to do with wealth. While I believe DT has absolutely nothing in common with me, especially in the area of financial wealth, the truth is that most politicians are much wealthier than I have ever been or will ever be.

Why did my heart ache? Why were my gut feelings so uneasy? Why did I actually feel angry? Even helpless?

I eventually realized that it had everything to do with some previous men in my life. When I realized this, it made me even more angry. The comparisons between DT and these men were so similar that it literally made my stomach and my heart ache.

So, it’s time. It’s time for me to write about it. I wonder how many other women had the same response to DT as I have for this reason? I wonder how many men and women will be able to understand this and have some empathy for me and others who feel the same way? I find myself making a list of questions, Andy Rooney style, when I try to think about who would be able to not only read or listen to my story, but actually hear it?

Have you ever been sexually molested or assaulted? Have you ever been told that it was your own fault for making someone else treat you disrespectfully? Have you ever had to keep a secret on the inside, while pretending that you were happy on the outside? Have you ever felt like you couldn’t tell people you loved, the ones who would do anything for you, what was really happening in your life? Are you anything BUT a white, heterosexual male?

If you answered “no” to most of those questions, then chances are that you may not be able to fully understand my story. I know that a few of you will, but most will not.

When I was a tween, a term that did not exist when I was a tween, I spent a lot of time babysitting. I was a responsible person, kids and parents loved me, and I figured out that this was a great way to earn spending money. I babysat for my cousins and for friends of our family. My parents would not let me babysit for people they did not know, which made sense to me at the time, and even more so after I became a parent myself. Would you want your attractive adolescent daughter alone in a strange persons home?

I was asked frequently to babysit for two of my aunt’s families, usually on Saturday nights. My younger cousins were easy to babysit. We would play outside, watch TV, eat snacks, and they would go to bed. I would watch Carol Burnett, Mary Tyler Moore, and Rhoda and talk to my boyfriend on the phone. Sometimes I would fall asleep on the couch, but I hated when I did that. It  just felt embarrassing to be woken up when the adults would arrive home. Bed head, creases on my face from the sofa pillow, maybe even drool on the corner of my mouth. I was already way too critical of my appearance at that age, and this just added to it.

Then there were the rides home. One of my uncles (by marriage) drank more than he should have when they went out and was still slightly intoxicated when he drove me home. I didn’t really think about it at the time. He was a comical and friendly guy when he drank, and he got me home safely every time. I guess we were lucky.

My other uncle, also by marriage, didn’t ever seem drunk to me. My aunt would say that she had too much to drink, so my uncle would need to drive me home. I dreaded when they would arrive home and she would say that to me. At the time, it was one of the worst feelings in my life. It was about a fifteen minute drive back to my parents house across town, and sometimes a little longer if my parents were staying at our cottage, a small bungalow that my dad coveted on the banks of Lake Erie in the nearby town of Vermillion.

I’ll never forget the first time. We hadn’t gotten but a couple of blocks down the street to a stop sign and my uncle put the car in park and told me to move over and sit close to him. There were no seat belts back then, and the front seats were one long seat, no dividers in between. I just looked at him with a puzzled look on my face. He said he would not drive any farther unless I moved next to him, so I did. Then he put his arm around me and started to put his hand down my shirt. I froze and looked straight ahead. I actually remember hoping that no other cars would come by because I was embarrassed. Eventually he put the car in drive and took me home, but I had to stay next to him all the way home. His arm around me as if I was his date. I didn’t move, and probably barely breathed. I was in the eighth grade.

Each drive home with him after babysitting was a similar scenario, at least for awhile. Until one night when he had to take me back to the cottage. When we arrived there, in the dark driveway next to the railroad tracks, before he let me move across the seat to get out of the car, he started kissing me on the mouth. I remember feeling so confused. This was the way my boyfriend would kiss me, not the way my uncle should be kissing me. Or was I kissing him? He told me that he knew I dressed the way I did to look good for him and that I liked being with him. I remember questioning myself. Was I asking for this? How was I dressed? Was I attracted to him in any way? Was I flirting with him? I didn’t feel that way, but maybe I just didn’t know what I was feeling. At that moment, I was also angry at my parents for being asleep and trusting him to bring me home. Why didn’t they wake up when we pulled in the driveway? Why couldn’t they wait up for me? When I went inside, I could not fall asleep, so I wrote in my journal to try to comfort myself. For many months, my journal was the only place I could share this uncomfortable experience and feeling.

The last time I had to let him drive me home I was in the ninth grade. This was the time he took a detour and we ended up at a local park where couples would park to make out. I had heard my mom refer to this as “Lovers Lane”. I looked around at other nearby cars wishing someone would come to my rescue, but they were not interested in what was happening in our car. His hands seemed to be everywhere all at once, as if he was an octopus. Somehow I squirmed out of his arms and grabbed for the passenger side door handle. I said “Take me home now or I will scream.” He laughed and said, “No you won’t. Nobody will ever believe you. Besides, you love this.” He scooted over to the my side of the car, but I grabbed the door handle, turned my head away from him and told him to stop. I desperately kept trying to grab the door handle. Only later did I realize how fortunate I was that he did stop. He was pretty angry, but he moved back to the drivers seat and drove me home in silence. The entire ride home, I held onto the door handle as tight as I could. When I went to get out of the car in my driveway, he grabbed me again and kissed me hard. He said “Nobody will believe you. You asked for this.” I was shaking when I went inside and went straight to my room. I cried quietly and I wrote in my journal again.

It was a Saturday afternoon when my mom hung up the phone and called me into the kitchen. She said “Are you sleeping at a friend’s house tonight?” I said “no, why?” Well, your aunt just called and said that’s why you told her you could not babysit tonight. My mom then told me to call my aunt back to let her know that I could babysit. I refused and said, “I don’t want to talk to her and I cannot babysit for her any more.” My mom was pretty insistent that I babysit, but I stuck to my words and said no, I would not. My grandmother happened to be at our house that afternoon.  My grandma looked at my mom and said in her monotone voice “Leave her alone. She said she doesn’t want to babysit for them any more, so she should not babysit for them any more.” She looked at me and I looked back at her. I wanted to cry, but she just nodded at me and said, “You don’t need to babysit for them any more.” She knew. My grandma knew. There were many reasons I referred to my grandma as my soulmate after she died, and this was one of the moments I was referring to when I said it. I never told my parents what had been happening, but I never had to babysit for that aunt and uncle again. And somehow, my other uncles started to stand guard for me at future family events. When that uncle came near me, they all magically appeared like body guards. He couldn’t get near me if he wanted to. He would smile from a distance and tell me that I looked good in my outfit. My skin would crawl and I would spend the entire time avoiding him. When I was a sophomore in high school, I had a steady boyfriend and I told him about my uncle. He attended every family event with me and never left my side when my uncle was in attendance. Many years later, after I was an adult, my aunt divorced him.

So when DT was elected president it struck me as if someone had just punched me in the stomach. A man had been elected the president of the United States who I do not believe would think that what had happened to me as a teenager was my fault. This was a man who made vulgar, disrespectful comments about grabbing women by the pussy, as he laughed. He and all of the other men who think they have the right, the privilege, to say and do whatever they want to women, especially in private conversations, are the scum of the earth to me. His behavior and comments were unacceptable to me and I really, really mean it when I say “he is NOT my president.” He never will be.  He is certainly not worthy of being a president of the United States. It disgusts me that he is now a role model for other men and children, male and female. If you have read this and you think that this is a petty reason for not respecting DT, then I question your ability to understand what it is like to feel helpless, to question your own character based on the actions of someone else who has no moral compass, or to be a victim of any type of abuse. Read over my story a few times. If you think I was at fault, then you have the same sickness as he does.

I eventually shared a watered down version of what was happening to me with a couple of close friends in high school who encouraged me to stop babysitting for that uncle. They were all my age and didn’t really know what else to tell me. In my adult life I have shared what had happened to me with others at moments when it felt safe, (but again, a watered down version) including telling my grown children, in hopes that they could understand and know that this can happen to anybody. Especially when you least expect it. And it can stick with you for a long, long time, but it does not need to define you. It doesn’t need to, but trust me, it can and does.

Earlier in this piece, I mentioned previous men in my life. This is just one. It may take me a little more time to write about the other ones. At mid-life, I am finally putting the pieces together though. They all add up as to why I  subjected myself to any unhealthy relationships. Piece by piece. They all add up. I didn’t think I was worth enough to be treated any better than I was being treated. A strong message was sent to me at a very young and vulnerable age that made me doubt myself and my self worth for a long time. It has taken finding a relationship, in my forties, with a loving husband, to be able to figure this all out. Life lesson: Never give up hope and never let anyone else make you feel like you are not worthy of respect.

 

An addendum (April 29, 2017): After posting this blog six days ago and getting an overwhelming response from those who read it, I wanted readers to know that my mom was as supportive as she could be at the time with the very little bit of information I told her. I did not tell anyone, not one single person, my experience in the detail I have written in this blog, until I published this blog. After speaking with my mom about this recently, she confirmed that she knew from what I told her at some point in my life that something had happened, but I never told her details. She also confirmed that she never shared that information with my dad. We both agreed that that was best because we both believe he would have wanted to kill my (former) uncle. My father passed away fourteen years ago. My abuser is still living, and does not take responsibility for what he did to me or any other young women.

 

 

Posted in Reflections At Mid-Life

Change: I’m A Planner (Part 2)

There’s a difference between being a planner, and being rigid. I am a planner. I am not rigid. I embrace change in my life, which means that I choose to be flexible when necessary. At least I think I do. But there is no getting around the fact that I am a planner. In fact, I usually have a plan for making my plans.

I believe there is a gene for planning, and if you have it, it’s hard to fight. If you don’t have it, it’s hard (not impossible) to develop. I was destined to be a planner. I grew up with a mom and a dad who had a plan for most everything that happened in our lives. They did not dictate our lives, but we always knew what was happening in our lives well in advance. My mom planned meals, grocery lists, school events, family reunions, and fundraisers. My dad ran a family business with his brother and father and he was a master of making lists.

There is a difference between having a plan and following a plan. I’m pretty sure that my parents may not have always considered me much of a plan follower when I was growing up. I was the one who “had a mind of her own.” At the end of my first student teaching experience, my mentor teacher, Jenn, gave me a gift. I don’t remember what the gift was, but I still have the wrapping paper. It was red with small white polka dots on it, and she had added six stickers as decoration. One sticker was a mama duck leading her ducklings in a row. The second to last duckling in the row was yellow instead of white, and it was turned the complete opposite direction of the other ducklings. Enough said.

Anyone who has known me over the years, no matter which chapter in my life they happen to appear in, has more than likely witnessed me planning something. Currently, every morning I tell Clark what my plan is for the day and ask him about his plans. I have planned silent auction fundraisers for my children’s preschool; I have been a wedding planner for a few friends; I always planned unique theme birthday parties for my children; I had a plan for training for my sprint triathlons; I plan my Jazzercise class sets daily; I planned numerous field trips as a teacher and I can’t begin to count all of the lesson plans I created since 1982. My most grand plan was my plan for BUSY STREET Children’s Museum in 1998, which turned out quite well while it lasted.

My children will attest to my family vacation planning. I still have some of the written plans we followed; especially from the years I was a single parent. Our beach trips and trips to Ohio were planned to a tee. The beach trips were planned for each day, including the menu for all of the meals, the videos we would watch, the activities we wanted to make happen, and of course, the packing lists. The trips to Ohio, whether they were road trips or plane trips, were planned minute -by – minute and hour by hour, including surprises to open every hour during our nine hour drives to Ohio. I have planned trips to El Salvador with our church. I think our friends in El Salvador get a laugh out of how planned we try to be. They often remind me in a calming tone and a relaxed smile on their faces, “Paula, don’t worry.”

My first trip away from Austin, was  to attend an early childhood conference in CA, when he was just two years old. I thoughtfully numbered and labeled bags and filled them with different treats, games or activities so he could count down the days until I returned. A couple of years later, I similarly planned out several days worth of surprises for him for the days I might be away from home while in the hospital after giving birth to Callie, including a recording of me reading one of his favorite bedtime books to listen to at night. Turned out they came in handy. Now, I know you may be thinking I go a little overboard, but it works for me, so that’s what I do.

Usually, planning pays off. I try to take two short vacations alone every year. Writing this blog entry was on my list for this few days at the beach. I began planning what to write about, as I took my hour-long bike ride. The bike ride was planned to happen between 11-12, which allowed time for the beach in the morning, some scrapbooking work before the ride, and most importantly getting the ride in before the predicted thunderstorms this afternoon and evening. For me, planning for thunderstorms at the beach is crucial. It would frustrate me if I missed out on a bike ride because I chose to do indoor activities in the morning and ride later in the day… and then it rained all afternoon. That would turn this planner into a grumpy person for sure. Perhaps I would not feel the need to plan if I had a few weeks at the beach (a luxury I doubt I will ever experience), but when I only have a few days, I want to make the most of every minute. That’s what planners do.

Truth be told, sometimes plans don’t work out. This is where being flexible can come in handy, but I find that it takes more than that for me. I can roll with it if everyday plans change at the last minute. You cannot stay sane as a teacher if you can’t be flexible in that way. (I know my teacher friends are reading this and wondering if I believe any of us are really sane anyway)

I often need to dig deep to make peace with myself about plans that don’t turn out the way I had hoped. I had planned for my children to grow up experiencing a loving happy marriage between both of their parents. I had planned to be fit and thin the rest of my life. I had planned to spend more time with my mom and my family and friends after my children grew up. I had planned to have a savings account at this point in my life so I would not feel vulnerable financially. I had planned to write a book about my teaching experiences. And so it goes. I haven’t necessarily given up on these plans, but as I reflect on my life and where I am now, I realize that my planning may need to shift so that my plan is simply to enjoy life and those who are in my life.

Now that sounds like a plan worth sticking to for now. Wish me luck.

Posted in Reflections At Mid-Life

Change. It’s a Gift.(Part I)

Change. You either love it or hate it. For me, I can’t seem to live without it and I am not content unless I experience it on a regular basis. It pushes me to stretch and grow, whether I am ready or not. Most changes in my life have been planned or intentional, but certainly not all of them. Planned or not, many unexpected gifts are usually the result of change for me. As I get older, I realize that it was I who decided whether the results would be gifts or disasters. It’s a choice. I choose to make them gifts, not disasters. I choose to embrace change instead of running away from it.

I didn’t really experience much change as a child. I lived in the same house from the age of nine months to nineteen years of age. My parents stayed together and my dad had the same job as the co-owner of a family shoe business my entire childhood and adult life until the day my dad died. We had the same (Dimacchia) Christmas Eve family celebration every year. We went to the same church on the banks of Lake Erie, St. Anthony’s, and sat in the same pew my entire childhood. With the exception of a few, we had the same neighbors for nineteen years. I even had the same classmates, give or take a couple, from kindergarten through sixth grade. I don’t think this is the norm any more. I knew what it felt like to have consistency in my life as I was growing up. Is that why change was not a threat to me as a young adult? I now wonder if this is why my own two grown children never liked change. They had more than their share of change as children. None of it by choice.

Major changes in my life began happening in high school and they were all the result of death. My dad always said death was a part of life. My mom hated that he said that, but I am grateful to him for leaving me with that attitude. It’s true. Whether we like it or not, and whether we are ready for it or not, death happens. With death, comes change. That is inevitable. Ninth grade was a year of learning about death for me. One of my close friends, Michael, died at the age of fourteen, from Leukemia. Shortly after that, my favorite uncle, Joe, (he was a favorite because he was young and funny, really funny) died from cancer within a few years after returning from the Vietnam War. My Grandma Januzzi died a month before my Uncle Joe after suffering through a brain tumor for years. I was her first granddaughter and we had a special relationship, although it was limited due to her illness. At the age of fourteen, I missed all three of these people deeply, and life changed without them around, but my life also went on. These were all somewhat expected changes, even though you can never totally prepare for losing a loved one in your life. Oddly enough, I felt that they remained in my life, or at least in my heart.

At the beginning of my sophomore year in college, my long-time boyfriend, Terry, from high school died unexpectedly in a car accident. Obviously, this was not planned. I had to face changes that I was not prepared for and they came without notice, sometimes on a daily basis. I had to wrestle with neverending questions and thoughts inside my nineteen year old head. “Would we really have gotten married eventually? Was his death really accidental? Was it okay to go out with another guy? What do I do with all of the photos, his clothes that I had borrowed, his camera that his family graciously gave to me? Should I graduate from college in two years or four years now? (Two years was the original plan because he was two years ahead of me and we would then graduate at the same time)

Needless to say, I worked through these unexpected changes, but I never really knew if I made the best decisions. I was only nineteen. What I learned was that you need to go on with your life. It helped me to think about Terry as guiding me along the way. It was as if he didn’t really leave me, he just couldn’t talk to me directly. As other people I loved dearly died throughout my life, that was my way of handling it. I just kept them in my heart. And I still do.

As for other changes in my life, I had quite a bit of say in most of them. I was very intentional about having both of my children, and eventually, very intentional about divorcing their father after 17 years of being married. A divorce is a change that you cannot be totally prepared for either. You must go through the entire grieving process. So many losses to process and yet such a relief. It was a strange mixed emotional place to be. The changes were daily, but they were high and low for me. I vividly remember happily packing boxes of things to send with my former husband so he would move quicker and it felt like a huge relief that he would be gone from our home. At the same time, my heart ached for our children that they would not have their parents in the same house ever again. I had no idea what that would feel like for them. Of course, I was scared too. He was the bread winner and his work was the reason we lived in North Carolina, far from my family. I had just started running my children’s museum, so my job was extremely time consuming and emotionally demanding. With the help and support of friends and family, I ended up becoming stronger than ever. I learned how important it was to ask friends for help. That was a huge change for me! I put our big house on the market by myself, I figured out transportation for school and child care schedules and I moved to a new house and worked hard to make it the best home ever for the kids and I. I was changing, but personally, it felt like changes for the better. I could breathe again and I could laugh with my children authentically from the heart, with nobody watching and judging and criticizing me for it. I chose, intentionally, to make every effort to make sure my children were raised with positivity–at least while they were in my presence. Keeping true to that throughout the changes that happen in a divorce was definitely a push and time of growth for me. It was another time in my life when I did not really know if my decisions were the best ones, but I was giving my all to figuring them out.

Over the years, I also changed jobs quite a bit. While in my twenties and thirties, these changes were mainly from necessity because we moved from Cincinnati, OH to Charlottesville,VA to Baltimore, MD to Durham, NC all within ten years. I loved all of my jobs, my homes, my neighbors, my co-workers, and my friends in every city we lived in. I learned that the old saying “people come in and out of your life for a reason” was true. I became a better, stronger woman because of every single person in my life and all of those changes made that possible. I became a stronger teacher with every single student and the diverse school experiences I had. I learned that distance did not mean that you had to disconnect from people. I embraced these changes and my life became fuller and better with each one.

My most recent changes in my life are still developing. I am still adjusting to the change of my husband being retired while I continue to work. My grown children are becoming people that I lean on for advice, laughter and a listening ear, coming in and out of my life as they need to, but not necessarily on my time schedule. Lastly, I started a new job last week, which was not an expected intentional change, but a welcome one. One week in, and I can tell I will be growing and getting stronger again. Who would have thought that at the age of 57 I would be getting stronger?

I know deep in my heart that I may not always have choices about changes in my life as I get older, so I am going to make the most of changes in my life now. I still doubt my decisions from time to time, but I also know that I make the decision about changes becoming an unexpected gift or a disaster. It’s a choice. I choose to make changes a gift, a chance to stretch myself, and I hope that along the way I inspire others to do the same.

 

 

Posted in Reflections At Mid-Life

I’ll Always Be A Soccer Mom

Just that one glance brought back an overwhelming sense of sadness. Early yesterday morning, on my way to teach my Jazzercise class, I drove past a soccer field filled with the hustle and bustle of multiple youth soccer games being played simultaneously. I can’t even begin to count the number of hours I spent driving Austin or Callie to and from soccer or hockey, or baseball, or basketball practices and games when they (we) were younger. It all started over nineteen years ago and lasted for thirteen of those years, beginning with Austin when he was just five years old and ending when Callie was in high school and could drive herself to practices.

It was not always joyful. As a single mom, juggling work and two children who needed to get to different places at the same time was challenging. This meant that we would not always be on time, or really cutting it close to be on time, which was a cause of high stress for both of my children. Part of the reason we would be running late was because I always needed to pack a bag of work to take with me. I was the mom who sat in the bleachers or in my car writing grants, grading papers, writing lesson plans or trying to return a hundred phone calls while my children ran, sweated and honed their skills in whichever sport they were in at the time. Walking to the car, Callie often called me out at the end of a game. “Mom, did you even watch ANY of the game?” “Did you SEE my goal(s)?” Well, actually, I did…most of the time. As they got older, travel was required and very expensive (beyond my budget) over night weekend tournaments seemed never-ending. Thank goodness for other parents, carpooling and my children’s willingness to drive or stay with other families as needed.

I was prouder than proud of both of my children as I watched them, listened to other parents and coaches compliment them. I loved listening to them in the car or over dinner telling stories about themselves, the games, teammates, or coaches. They were both amazing athletes to watch. I say this not because they are my children, but because it is true. Austin was not only talented, but also such a leader as goalie or any other position he was asked to play. Callie was the talk of the bleachers at home and away games. Her natural ability to move quickly and her passion for playing both hockey and soccer was evident to any spectator. Many times I would not identify myself as her mom, as I listened to fans ooh and ahhh over her while sitting in the bleachers. Only at the end of the game would I quietly and proudly thank them on her behalf for the compliments about her that had poured out of them throughout the game. Callie played hockey in a male dominated league, so her incredible abilities and her long pony tail (dead giveaway that she was a girl) were often the topic of conversations in the bleachers. Secretly, “That’s my girl!” played over and over inside my head, but I never let on in front of them.

Both Austin and Callie were extremely critical of themselves. It didn’t seem to matter that I would tell them what I noticed them doing well, or what I heard others saying about them during the game, they still beat themselves up pretty regularly. Yet, I knew that it was important to be there for them. The ups and downs of competing on team sports required a sturdy suit of armor, even when they were very young. I took my job as “soccer mom” very seriously, but not quite the way I watched many other parents take it on. (*note: I was a hockey mom for many years with Callie too, but Sarah Palin totally ruined that term for me, so I am sticking with soccer mom for now). I truly did not care if they won or lost. This attitude of mine was frustrating to both of them. As a matter of fact, sometimes I hoped they would lose so they could learn how to lose. Okay, sometimes I hoped they would lose so that the season would end sooner, but that does not belong in this blog entry. I wanted them to do their personal best and to learn to have confidence in themselves. I wanted them to have fun. (other parents sometimes lost that notion during the games)

My main job, as I saw it, was being there for them. Listening. Watching (between grading papers). Making sure they had water, Gatorade and snacks for the ride home. Keeping bandaids, towels and extra t-shirts in the car. I guess I was part coach and part manager.

As I drove past the soccer field yesterday, I had a twinge of sadness because it seemed like that part of my life was such a long time ago. All of the hours spent learning, laughing, and arguing together was gone. Just like that. I was even Callie’s soccer coach at the YMCA when she was four years old. The term “coach” is pushing it a little I suppose. Mostly I made sure they were running in the right direction toward our goal. But I was there. Almost every.single.game.

I thought about my unexpected sadness yesterday quite a bit until I realized that while I am not with my children every day or driving them to practices and games, I continue to do my job. We may not be physically in the same place any more, but I am here for them. I still love listening to them. I still stop what I am doing if they call or text. I even still send snacks to them. But most of all, I still believe in them and I am prouder than proud of both of them. I guess I will always be their soccer mom.

Posted in Reflections At Mid-Life

No More Fashion Statements

YosLunchSat.JPGMy mid-life reflections today are centered on fashion. While I think I generally have good taste in clothes for myself, I have never considered myself a fashionista (not even sure how to spell that). As a child I hated wearing girlie clothes and preferred wearing my brothers hand me downs. This was a huge disappointment to my mother, since I was her only girl. Not that it stopped her from trying to get me to dress and act like a L-A-D-Y. “Paula, L-A-D-Y!” she would beg me on a regular basis to dress, sit, and talk like a “lady.” So talking through burps at the dinner table didn’t go over well. Making pitch perfect sounds with my palms under my armpits or behind my knees didn’t go over well either. I knew she loved me regardless, so I continued to be myself, but tried to respect her wishes at the same time. I saved armpit sounds for times she wasn’t in earshot.

I don’t wear make-up. Ever. I did go through a brief phase of using blue eyeshadow when I was in high school until one day when my Grandma D noticed. She said, in her monotone, gentle manner, “Paula, you really don’t need to put that on your face. You are beautiful just the way you are.” I believed her, because she was one of the most awesome women I ever knew. So, no make-up for me. Well, I did notice that I had some on for my senior picture and prom, but that was it. This make-up issue caused a little bit of a problem for me when I decided that I wanted to be a Jazzercise instructor and franchise owner in the late 1980’s. Wow! Did I say late 1980’s?  Ah, yes, that is why this blog is about Mid-Life Reflections. I am still grappling with that. Jazzercise had a policy that instructors had to wear make-up. What? This was ridiculous to me. Supposedly, it made you eyes and mouth more visible to the students in your class. I reluctantly wore make up for the auditions, but never while I taught a class. Who needs mascara running down their face or eye shadow dripping into their eyes from sweating? Did this make any sense at all? That would be distracting to the class, right? And anyone who has ever taken a Jazzercise class from me knows that there is no doubt that my mouth is visible. I’ve asked their opinion about make-up and they all agreed that it was not necessary. Between them and my Grandma’s advice, I won’t even consider it. P.S. Make-up is expensive and takes a long time to put on and take off. It’s not in my budget or in my daily schedule.

Today was day three of hiking during our vacation at Yosemite National Park. What an amazing place! As I packed my suitcase for this trip, I realized that I was definitely going for function, not fashion. When I was in my 20’s and 30’s, I would have cared about how I looked in the clothes I was packing for hiking. Not now. I still try to match and I will not wear tight anything, but mostly, I want to be comfortable. I used to have a quote from the late comedian, Gilda Radner, hanging in my home office. “I base most of my fashion taste on what doesn’t itch.” Yep. That and choosing clothes that don’t make me look like I am trying to look twenty again. It helps, a little, that I have a daughter who actually IS twenty! The hard part of this realization for me is not that I am being practical (I have always leaned toward that end), but that I had to be honest that nobody would be looking at me. I am a 57 year old mom and (step) grandmother. I will not be “turning heads” unless I am tripping and falling down the mountain. When I was younger, I was in great shape and, honestly, I looked good. Heads did turn.

I do still get compliments about what I wear, and you know that when someone compliments you on an outfit or dress, you are going to wear it again and again! One younger teacher I work with has an inside joke with me about  whether my pants/jeans are “mom jeans” or not. She couldn’t tell by looking at me, so I told her that it must not matter.  Reality is, that I am going to wear clothes and shoes that I feel comfortable wearing. Because when you are in your mid-fifties, you get to do that. I’d rather  have heads not turning, rather than turning because I look ridiculous.