It’s Always There

The holidays are always a big deal for me.  Thanksgiving through New Years is my favorite time of year.  I love the atmosphere around this time; twinkle lights, chilly air, yummy food, the possibility of snow, and a lot of time with my family.  While the holidays can be hard for some, especially those with depression, I have always been the opposite.  This is my happy place and if I could I would stay in these feelings forever.

It comes as no surprise, I guess, that lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my dad.  The kids are getting older and they are certainly asking more questions about him, but that’s not really it.  During these two months I tend to see my brothers more and our conversation inevitably falls on him at some point.  Some memories good, some memories not, but they flow and ebb throughout our conversations almost as if he was still here, about to walk in the door.  Sometimes I think he just might.  Parts of him are in all of us, again, some good, and some not, so we can’t help feeling the pull of nostalgia during these times.

While I have never shied away from telling people of my father’s struggles; the alcoholism, the unmedicated bipolar disorder, the anger (so much anger all the time), few people know that for many years of his adult life, after he and my mom divorced, he was homeless.  Not the homeless where he slept on people’s couches, the homeless where he slept in a tent under the highway.  These are the years we had no contact, because I just couldn’t.  That’s probably why I tend to keep this a secret.  Not because of me feeling embarrassed about him being homeless, but me feeling embarrassed  because I didn’t do anything to help.  Not that I could have.  I was a mess in most of my twenties, dealing with much of the same problems as my dad, but sheltered in an apartment and school and friends.

I guess you can say it’s been imbedded in my life in some way…the concept of homelessness.  But I never thought about just how intertwined it was until recently.  My dad was always the type to give money or food to homeless people on the street.  A big believer in religion he would tell me that even if they weren’t really homeless anyway, it was ok.  It wasn’t his place to judge.  And I have carried that with me for a very long time.

When I was in high school, my parents separated and after a few months with my mom, I went to live with my dad.  We didn’t have the best relationship (it was downright awful) but I missed my friends and my school and wanted to be back there.  Life with my dad was rough, and he was definitely not doing well being on his own.  We barely spoke and that seemed to work well for the both of us.  I don’t remember much of those months, as I’m pretty sure I have blocked them out, but one thing has always stuck with me.  A few days a week when I would come home from school, there be a random man or two at the house.  They called my father “Mr. Gary” which always made me laugh a little.  Long story short, my father would pick up homeless men from random places and bring them home.  He would let them stay for a few days and feed them in exchange for doing work around the house that he just couldn’t do (painting, mowing, yard work) and then he would take them back a little cleaner and less hungry than before, always trying to put them in contact with someone who might be able to give them a job.  It is quite literally the best memory I have of him.

Flash forward to years later when I moved back to Baltimore from Charleston.  I was driving around and saw a homeless man on the street corner asking for change.  I looked at him and he looked at me and though it took me a while to recognize him, it was my dad.  We stared at each other for a minute and then I drove away, vowing to never tell anyone of this moment because the guilt and shame I felt for my behavior, for not doing anything at all, was overwhelming.  That was the last time I saw my dad before seeing him lying in a hospital bed, in a coma and end stage liver failure, dying.

Sometimes I think I still see him.  In a store.  On a street corner.  Just hanging out. And the memories of these moments flood back in an overwhelming way.

I didn’t help him then.  I couldn’t help then.  But maybe I can find a way to help someone else now.

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The Mama-Teachers

They had a great idea, you know, the people who came up with American Education Week.  Back in 1921, when so many people were illiterate and uneducated, they decided to block off a week to raise awareness and support for public education in America.  Fast forward almost 100 years to the present when American Education Week is used as a way to draw families into the classroom.  Special teas and receptions are set up in schools enticing parents to come and visit their children.  Schedules are sent out and plans are made.  Parents eagerly await the opportunity to see their child in action, thus confirming what they always knew deep down…their child is brilliant and wonderful.  Teachers plan special lessons to show off their abilities and to show parents that school is not all about play and socialization, that real life learning occurs every single day.  Students are so excited to have their parents with them, to sit at their desk or (for the very brave) criss-cross applesauce on the carpet.  For one week they are partners in school, and both parties eagerly accept this.

But there’s a group that we forget about during this entire week.  It’s a group I’ve comfortingly named “The Mama-Teachers”.  This is a group of teachers who not only devote their days to the students in their classroom, but also have their own little people at home.  Many times we forget about this subset teachers, inundated all day with the tiny humans, whether at home or at school.  And as many of you know, I am one of them.  And while moms and dads all over are making preparations to visit classrooms and have special lunches and receptions, I’m silently stewing and huffing because I won’t get to be there for my kids…because I have a class of my own to teach.

I get it, I do.  It’s part of the territory.  We knew this going in.  But to be fair, I didn’t have children going in to this arena.  And I know there are other people who are unable to take off work to visit as well.  This is not lost on me.  But I never get to be there.  And right now, it really sucks.  It’s American Education Week and dad is visiting the classrooms and not me because I am a teacher and parents will be visiting my classroom as well.  Friday is Elementary Conference Day and dad will be attending both conferences because I will be teaching.  And it’s not just American Education Week and conferences.  It’s classroom parties, and field trips, and volunteering, and a plethora of other things.  And let’s not even mention first days of school.  I’ve missed them all…because it’s also my first day of school.

And for the naysayers, yes, I know I can take a day off.  But not always.  I work in a district where there are very few substitutes and taking a day off is very hard to accommodate.  There are certain things that can’t be rescheduled or cancelled.  Yes, I know children are a priority.  They are my number one priority.  But just once I’d like to go to something without it being a hassle or a nightmare.  Without stressing over the leave slip I have to fill out and the reaction I’m sure to get from my principal. What I want more than anything is to feel like an active participant in their education and not just a homework helper.

Every little thing I can’t do in regards to their schools makes me feel like I’m failing as a mother.  And I think it hits home more this year than any other.  When I went to pick Charlie up from school a few weeks ago, they didn’t even know who I was because I had never been able to pick up or drop off before.  My happiness of being able to actually pick her up was marred slightly by the sadness of knowing it might not happen again this year.

So tomorrow, I’ll have a classroom full of my parents and I’ll smile and nod and put on my song and dance number, but really my heart will be in Max’s classroom, room 114 where parents will be learning and watching third grade ELA, without me.

To all my Mama-teacher friends, just know I’m always thinking of you always, but especially this week.

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Snapped

It’s November 5th. Today I’m supposed to be running the NYC marathon.  Instead I’m sitting my my dining room, typing away, listening to the boys argue passive aggressively while playing with the iPad and simultaneously praying that Charlie stays asleep just long enough for me to finish my coffee. (side note: she didn’t)

I could sit there and simply say “It wasn’t supposed to be like this.” but that would be an understatement.  Of course it wasn’t.  No one ever plans to get separated.   Or plans to move into a new house consequently cutting their time with their children to half.  Or wakes up one day thinking “I’m going to go ahead and gain back all of the weight I lost.”

While I know that life very rarely turns out the way we want, I still have a hard time accepting it.

For the longest time I felt lost.  Lost in my relationships.  Lost in motherhood.  Lost in work.  Lost in debt. And while every year (every month, every day) I decided that I am going to make these changes, this is the year I have actually started accomplishing it.  I left my very unhappy marriage after years of contemplation and accepting hurtful situations.  I cut unhealthy people out of my life and have tried my hardest to spend more time and love on the friends that have always been there for me.  I left my old school in order to find one where I felt I could do my job to the best of my ability.  I started paying down my debt and have come up with ways to get it gone forever (except for you, student loans.  We will never be apart.)

And you know what?  I still feel lost.

I see glimmers of ways to get myself out of the fog.  I see someone running down the street and my heart leaps a little at the nostalgia of how I felt when I was “really” a runner.  I watch the children have a cordial exchange and I feel content in my ability to be a mother for a moment.  I spend my planning time at work actually planning so that I feel caught up for a small period of time.

But then the alarm goes off and I say “fuck running” and go back to sleep.  Or Max and Oliver start screaming at each other because Oliver is one centimeter too close to Max (and we all know Oliver is doing it on purpose because…Oliver).  Or I remember the 287623 things I am supposed to be doing at work and get so overwhelmed that I just want to quit.

Last weekend I snapped.  As in SNAPPED.  I have the kids all weekend every weekend and they were just so extra.  And it was raining.  And I just don’t have enough toys for them here.  There was yelling.  And screaming.  And crying.  And for the first time in months I just could not WAIT to send them back to their dad.  Through the whole entire ordeal that was Sunday I felt so much guilt.  Guilt that I yelled.  Guilt that I couldn’t handle the mom stress better.  Guilt that I was ruining the small amount of time I seem to get with them these days.  And while this weekend is ultimately better and I haven’t lost my shit (yet) on this rainy Sunday, the cloud from last weekend hangs over me threatening to reappear if I don’t get myself together.

Overwhelmed.  Lost.  Scattered.  That’s all I seem to feel these days.

So I make plans upon plans upon plans.  Meal prep.  Make a gym schedule.  Make a kid schedule.  Color code calendars.

But then I don’t.  No reason.  I. JUST. DON’T.

I used to be so good at holding myself accountable and I’m not anymore.  I’ve gotten lazy and tired.

Sometimes Charlie walks around the house and picks up my phone.  Whenever she does this she ALWAYS opens my Nike Run Club app.  Always.  And then hands me my phone.  I know she doesn’t really know what she’s doing, but it’s like she’s trying to tell me something.  “Go run.  I believe in you.”

Maybe one day I’ll actually listen.

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