Half Life

“Please mom? Can we go the waterfall way?”  all three kids shout from the backseat in unison.

It’s just a dam.  And half the time it’s off and there’s no “waterfall” anyway.  But it means 20 extra minutes with the kids, singing the Despicable Me 3 soundtrack at the top of our lungs before dropping them off to their father.

So I always say yes.  Always.

This is the part of divorce that I wasn’t prepared for…the part where I see my kids less.  While I am a full time teacher, I am a mom first and foremost. I made breakfast each morning.  I packed the lunches, signed the permission slips, did the homework.  I made dinner each night.  I did the baths and showers and the bedtime routine and then also the house cleanup after bedtime routine before slumping exhaustedly and somewhat defeatedly into the couch for the rest of the evening.  365 days a year this is what I did.

It’s not the case anymore.  Two days a week I don’t see them at all.  I always feel like I’m going to be happy about having a break.  “Yay!  No kids tonight!  I can relax, or watch TV, or sleep in a little bit tomorrow morning!”  But that feeling lasts for about an hour and then I just want them with me.

It’s because of this whole half time phenomena that it took me so long to leave.  It was an unhappy and unhealthy marriage for far too long but I couldn’t not see my kids every day.  I assumed they would fall apart.  But in reality, I seem to do way more falling apart without them.  And no matter the sadness we feel at being apart sometimes, we are all happier.  All of us.

I think back on last year and get nauseous knowing how much I put them through when I couldn’t leave, but I couldn’t stay.  The shortness of breath.  The tightness in my chest.  They rush in when I think of last year, a panic attack on the brink every single time. It’s the year I would take back if I could ever take back anything.

But I can’t take it back.  It’s there.  It happened.  It changed us.  It scathed us.  It traumatized us.  But it also taught us.

It taught me it was ok to not see my littles every single day if that meant a better quality of life for all of us.  It taught me to leave the pile of legos for the night if that meant feeling like they were here when they weren’t.  It taught me to put down the phone and really be present in the moments because they were no longer unlimited.

And no matter how much longer it makes the drive, always say yes to waterfalls.

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Starting Over

Don’t call it a comeback…

I’ve started going to the gym before work again.  On Monday when my alarm went off I immediately turned it off, rolled over, and went right back to sleep…just as I had done the last two weeks.  But after 5 minutes of laying there I knew I had to get up and go.  And I actually did.  I was so proud of myself for getting up on Monday that I was able to easily rise out of bed today.  Fingers are crossed for tomorrow and the rest of the week.

I’d forgotten how much better I felt during the day when I worked out in the morning. I feel calmer (though it’s probably just that I’m tired) and more focused.  I’m able to tone my anxiety down quicker and compartmentalize better (This is a school worry.  You are home with the kids.  Stop thinking about this).  And this is just after 2 days.

But 2 days seems to be the most I can do these days.  Usually by day 3 I convince myself I need a “break” and the one morning off turns into a week or more.

It’s amazing how much easier it was to work out when I was unhappy.  When it was hard to be at home or spend time with Mike I would always find time to take a break at the gym.  When my dad died and I spiraled into my summer of self destruction, running was the thing that was able to pull my back to the surface long enough to take a breath.

But now, bed and home are my safety nets.  I like being here.  It’s cozy and warm and far away from the anxieties of a bad marriage and an overly stressful job.  It’s hard to get up and go.  It’s hard to leave the place where I feel the safest.

But I’ve done it twice this week.  I managed to get myself up and go, even when I did it alone.  So I can do it again, I know I can.

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The Scaries

I think maybe I’m having a mid life crisis.  I’m only 37, so I sincerely hope not.  Since I don’t really know when midlife is, maybe I’m just always in crisis.  That sounds a bit more like it.

Happiness in some life aspects seems to be taking its toll and I’m struggling lately.  While my “relationship” with my ex is always in turmoil, my other key relationships seem to be working rather nicely.  It took me a long time to actually feel confident in my life with Joe.  Seeing as both of us were with other people when we decided to be together, the constant wondering if he’d rather be back with her was always in my mind.  Now, not so much.  I’ve accepted the fact that he wants to be with me and with that acceptance it feels like a giant weight has been lifted.

Additionally, my relationships with my kids has never been better.  While I wish I could see them every day, I do get them for 5 days a week so I know I am lucky.  When they are with me there’s not a lot of emotional breakdowns.  There’s the age appropriate ones of course, but no more of the tantrums and fits where I would contemplate calling a priest for an exorcism.  Without all of the hostility and toxic air that Mike and I would spew around the house, they are thriving and I love having this daily reminder that I did the right thing even though it was incredibly hard.

But now, in the absence of these major life instances to worry about, I actually feel a loss.   One might think that now that I have these things worked out, it’s time to reflect on other items that may have been plaguing me but that I’ve brushed aside.  Yes, this is probably true, but I feel like it’s more than that.  It’s almost as if I’m scared of happiness.  That I look at myself being content and happy and immediately begin to wait for the other shoe to drop.  I begin to worry about not being worried about something so I find something to worry about (the ever present vicious cycle). I think that’s why lately I have been so focused and seemingly unhappy in my career.

For me, the Sunday scaries seem to be a thing of the past…because now they begin on Friday night.  I spend my entire weekend with the idea and unhappiness of going back to work on Monday looming in my mind.  AND. I. HATE. IT. I find new causes and excitements each day.  I get excited about buying in bulk and reducing my plastic usage.  I get excited about making muffins with a new recipe.  I even get excited about starting a new book.  But I can’t get excited about going to work.

Don’t get me wrong, when I get there it really isn’t that bad.  I love my students.  I love feeling like I’m making a difference, at least in the life of one child but ever since I switched schools my enthusiasm for teaching at all has gone lower and lower with each passing day.  Yes, I always felt stressed about teaching and my job…but in a way that everyone does.  This year is different.  I feel like an outsider in this school, locked away in my own little corner, almost as if no one expects me to stay so no one makes the effort.  Everything seems so competitive, almost as if you can only do well if you are doing better than someone else.  It’s completely exhausting.

At Collington I was never really a favorite.  I did my job and I did it well and for that I fell under the radar (not extremely motived to do everything in the school, but also not drowning).  I knew the families and they knew me.  And I had people.  There’s something about working in a school in an atmosphere like that one.  You need people.  You are not going to make it without people.  You band together because you know they get it.  I don’t have people at my new school and that makes it rather lonely.  That, topped with a complete lack of any praise EVER makes it a hard environment to work in day in a day out.

So I stress.  And I stew.  And I worry.  I deliberate.  I panic…literally.  And then I tell myself every single morning as I walk out that door that if it gets to be too much, I can quit.  Or I quietly remind myself that I only have a certain amount of days left of this year and next year is sure to be better.  And these two things seem to be all that is getting me through.

I don’t know why I allow myself to be consumed with the stress of this job ALL THE TIME.  I have to stop.  I spend roughly 7.5 hours there each day. That translates to 35.5 hours at work.  That’s it.  Barely a blip on the 168 hours that are in a week.  And yet I spend the rest of those hours worried about work!  And the saddest part of all?  I’m a 37 year old woman and I keep worrying about if I’m doing a good job.  That’s it. No one tells me I’m not.  But no one tells me I am.

This is ridiculous. I have to be more present in the moment with my kids.  I have to focus more on the good things than stress that is ever present.  I have to stop letting 35.5 hours dictate the rest of my time.

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On Teaching…sigh.

I’ve really struggled with writing this post.  There are so many things I want to say about this and I have no idea how to even organize my thoughts.

This year has been one of great turmoil for me.  I’ve done so many things that I thought I couldn’t do, from leaving a toxic marriage to cutting ties with toxic people.  I even changed schools, moving from the only public city school I’ve know to a new school on the other side of town.  While the other stuff has been hard, this may be the decision I struggled most with, and the one I am still the most unsure about.

I wanted to leave my old school because it was a hard environment to work in.  Cattiness among co-workers, kids running rampant in the hall, a lot of protocol but no actual plans, a lack of communication between everyone, and a severe lack of under-appreciation made for a very hostile work environment.  When I switched schools I thought things would be better.  I thought I would like my job more.  I thought I would find the love of teaching that I lost somewhere along the way.

I didn’t.

Instead I realized how broken the system really is, at least in Baltimore City Public Schools, and how tired I really am of it.  Of all of it.

Simply put, I don’t know if teaching is for me anymore. I’m 37 and I’m tired of feeling this way every single day. I’m tired of counting down the days and always living for Friday.  I’m tired of just making it through…or simply thinking “If I can just get through (this week, this day, testing, staff meeting, observation, etc.) everything will be ok.”

I’m tired of having people breathing down my throat when 5 year olds can’t read, telling me to take my planning time to give more intervention.  Give more repetition.  Give more homework.  Work harder. Drill…drill…drill.  THEY. ARE. FIVE.  Let them rest.  Let them play.  Give them the opportunities to learn, but let them find their own way.  Max left Kindergarten hardly reading anything and now in third grade he is on a fifth grade reading level.  And it has nothing to do with me.  At 5 he simply wasn’t ready.  At 6 he was.  And because I didn’t push him and didn’t freak out and because his teacher was awesome and did the same thing he loves school and he loves to read.  Yes, by all means, if students need services and testing please get them early on.  But sometimes kids just need TIME and that’s Ok.

I’m tired of all academics all the time.  In grad school we learn that kids need play.  Studies all over the world show us that kids need play.  Do we do it?  NO.  Do you know why kids don’t know how to play anymore?  Or why they don’t know how to talk to another student?  Or why the only way they know how to play is to fight?  Because we don’t get time to teach them otherwise.  We need to teach them how to socialize, solve problems, work out different situations, be a friend, play games, how to be kind and respectful to every, explore, pretend, etc. and in kindergarten these days we are so focused on academics that the important stuff like socialization and problem solving get pushed under the rug.  There is no doubt in my mind that this is one of the contributors to rising school violence.

Do you want to know why kids these days don’t respect their teachers?  Because a lot of times, their parents don’t.  To parents I’m seen as a babysitter or a necessary evil.  I usually have great relationships with my parents, but I know I’ve had some that I’m sure think that I work for them. I’ve had parents bust into my classroom yelling at me, yelling at other students, disrupting the universe and then people wonder why the kid doesn’t listen to their teacher.  Out of the 7 teachers Max has had, I’ve liked two of them and “strongly disliked” the rest.  Could he tell you which ones I didn’t like?  No.  Did I always stick up for my kid?  Yes.  Was I ever disrespectful to one of his teachers? No.  And you know what?  He never has been either.

I’m tired of giant class sizes.  30 kindergarteners with one teacher is too many, and I’ve seen classes with so many more than that.  You want me to have everyone reading on grade level?  You want everyone proficient in math?  But you also want to give me so many kids that I don’t have time to effectively work with each student…so my scores go down, my raise goes down, my “effectiveness” goes down, and somehow it’s all my fault.  Doesn’t quite seem fair to me.

I’m tired of not having time for my own kids because I am too busy testing, grading, lesson planning, collecting data, filling out reports, filling out referrals, staying for meetings, joining committees, plus taking classes to stay certified as well as earn a raise.  Along with that I’m tired of having less money for my own family because I’m spending it on my classroom.  No one brought snack?  I’ll provide it.  No one brings schools supplies?  I’ll provide it.  I need a housekeeping and blocks center, but there’s no toys and equipment.  I need cords to run the smart board, but there are no extras in the building.  My poor kids are constantly looking for toys I’ve taken into the classroom simply because I couldn’t afford to run out and buy another thing.

Lastly, but mostly, I’m tired of feeling completely unappreciated.  Administration…I’m coming for you.  For the love of God…say THANK YOU.  Tell me I’m doing a good job.  Find one good thing to say about me and my classroom.  And say it to ME!  I’m not expecting this every single day, but every once in a while can’t hurt.  Oh…so you don’t think I’m doing a good job?  Tell me constructively and help me make it better.  The same way I am supposed to do these things with my students.

I love my students, each and every year, even the tough ones (sometimes they are actually my favorite ones), but I’m so tired of faking enthusiasm every single day.  I read a post somewhere the other day that said “Kids deserve an excited adult”.  Maybe they do, but I don’t think that’s me anymore.  I’m doing this because I’m good at it, I have great benefits, and my pay really isn’t that bad.  But my drive is gone.  My optimism is gone.  My excitement is gone.

But in all seriousness I don’t know what else I’d do.  I just wish I had time to be able to figure it out.

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Small Love

I haven’t been feeling well for the last few days.  Joe has class from 7-9:40 three days a week.  Even though he wasn’t going to get home until late, he offered to head to the pharmacy after class in order to get me some much needed medicine.

To some this might not seem like a big deal, but to me it means the world.  I know how long class is for him.  I know how much he just wants to get home afterwards.  But he offered to go out of his way to get me something I need…even though I very well could go out myself.  Let’s not even mention the fact that he’s the one who gets me out of bed to marathon train at 5 am most mornings.  That’s more than dedication.  That’s more than caring.  That’s love.  Plain and simple.

It’s the small tokens of love that are the most meaningful and important. These are the tokens that had been missing from my life for quite some time.

Had I been sick before it would have been met with contempt, almost as if my sickness was a major inconvenience that I contrived in order to make someone’s like more difficult.  Or I would be met with the fact that he was also sick…and even though I was working a full time job, along with being a full time wife and mother, I was still expected to take care of one more person.

I think about these small moments when I feel someone judging me for leaving.  They don’t know what it was like; to never feel like someone cared or to never feel “taken care of”. I think sometimes people forget that meanness and non-caring isn’t all about outward nastiness.  It’s not always name calling or a controlling nature.  Sometimes it really is the fact that you are overlooked and feel completely unimportant in everyday life.

Sometimes someone taking 15 minutes out of their day to show you small tokens of love is all you need to realize you’ve found “the one”.  It’s moments like these that make it all worth it.

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Lenten Promises

Sigh.  A week without wine. I’m ready to throw in the towel.

I’ve been thinking about Lent a lot lately.  I’m not sure why, because I’m not particularly religious.  I think it’s the whole idea about willpower and of beating myself at something.  I’m nothing if I’m not competitive.  I assumed that the hardest thing for me would be to give up wine and that if I could do it for Lent, I could do anything.   And let’s all agree, this is not true.  Giving up wine is not going to give me some insane super power that is going to magically change my life.  It’s just not, and I feel foolish for even thinking it.

As I sit here in my dining room, the sun shining outside, and the wind blowing through the windows I opened, I’m pretty sure I’m doing this Lent “thing” wrong.  As a matter of fact, I’m positive that I am.  Joe and I each decided to give up something for lent that we felt we over-consumed.  For me, wine (though I gave up all alcohol) and for him soda.  And do you know what we did the minute we decided to give them up?  We began planning for Good Friday when we can have them again.  We know exactly where we are going to eat, and exactly what we were going to drink.

Each day we count how many more days we have until we can imbibe again.  Our conversations and communications with each other throughout the day have picked up, but it’s basically each of us telling the other that we want wine or soda and the other one agreeing wholeheartedly before ushering in the “we can do it”s and any other encouraging comments we can muster.

So in a nutshell…we’re talking more but simply about what can’t have and planning for the minute that we can have it again.

I’ll say it again…I think we’re going about this the wrong way. Or at least I am.  What is the point of giving up wine for lent if I’m going to go right back to it? What is the point of giving up wine for lent if it does not affect my life in any way (neither positively or negatively)?

No.  This is not an excuse to go out and buy myself a bottle of wine right now and call it a day.  It may seem like that, but it’s not.  While many people tend to focus on the “fasting” portion of Lent, giving up something we don’t need, depriving ourselves of the excesses and luxuries we may have in order to become more attuned spiritually, we forget that Lent is really a time of self-examination and reflection, a time in which we look inward to really determine ways we can be better: whether it is ways to better serve the Lord, ways to grow spiritually, or simply ways you can make a positive impact on the world, or others, or yourself.

Maybe instead of depriving ourselves of something it would be more admirable to find small ways to change our habits.  Maybe I should add in a reading time each day instead of TV watching.  Somehow I feel like I never have time to read for pleasure, but have no trouble finding time to binge watch 10 episodes of The Office.  Maybe I add a mandatory “no phone” time for myself (another black hole of time suckage along with the TV).  Maybe I make sure I complete a mile every day (whether it’s walking or running) just to get some time outside away from technology with my family and boyfriend.  Maybe I do all three.

To make a long story short (too late) I need to rethink this.  If I want to do this right…really do this right…I need to start thinking of ways I can better myself for more than just 40 days. I need to be in it for the long haul.

 

From the old to the new

I got my haircut today.  And registered to run the NYC marathon.  Two things that really needed to happen.

While my haircut is pretty great, we all know this isn’t what this post is about.

I earned my guaranteed entry by deferring my entrance from last year to this year.  Last year I wasn’t ready.  I thought getting in by lottery would make me ready.  It didn’t.  Life happened.  And then more life.  I stopped running. I stopped trying.  I stopped everything.

But now things are different.  I’m still not ready for this marathon.  Not by a long shot.  I’ll be one of those last finishers that everyone waits for, but I don’t care.  I’ll do it anyway and be proud of any amount of time it takes me.  Going from zero to marathon is no small feat.  I know this.

I knew my guaranteed entry was coming but I hesitated signing up again.  I would think yes, then no, then yes again, then no again…I think you get the picture.  Then the lottery opened and my emailed arrived confirming what I already knew.  And still I waited.  After posting on social media about how I was unsure of which decision to make my friends and complete strangers encouraged me: it’s a once in a life time opportunity, don’t hesitate – just do it, I have faith in you.  The words resonated with me so much and I began to think maybe I could do this.  Maybe I could “run” a marathon.

But still…I waited.  $295 dollars is no small amount of money and for someone who is paying the bills in two households, it’s more than I can waste.  What if I chickened out again?  What if the self-doubt and fear overtakes me?   What if I really can’t do it?  That’s a lot of money to flush down the drain.

And then, on whim, on a random Thursday night, I sold my old engagement ring.  A ring I had picked out and essentially paid for myself.  A ring that represented a marriage and a union that no longer existed.  A ring that was bought for a person who no longer exists.  I didn’t get a lot for it.  Not nearly as much as we paid for it almost 16 years ago.  But you know what it was enough to cover?  An entry fee to the NYC marathon as well as some left over (training gear, perhaps?).

With a few clicks of a button it was done, and I was registered, letting a piece of who I once was turn me into someone I know I can be.

NYC 2018…here I come.

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