S asked where I wanted to go on our next date. I told him anywhere. But then I told him I wanted him to take me to Graceland.
This was a test, of course; but he passed. I spent my break driving up to visit friends in Georgia, then up to his place in Alabama, and then we traveled to Memphis.
Oh, how I love Elvis. Although he did not quite get my request or why I would not have rather been somewhere tropical on a beach, he humored me anyway. We spent the morning touring Graceland, then headed over to Beale Street for lunch.
It was actually rainy and cold but not crowded. I enjoyed it. We took our time, and then we went to Sun Studio that afternoon. I love Sun Studio! It is worth the trip in itself, there is such much history in those walls. The tour was fantastic, and it ends with guests getting to walk around and touch some of the actual equipment. Allegedly, this is the actual microphone Elvis would have used during his sessions.
That evening, we headed south across the Mississippi line to Tunica. We stayed at one of the casinos, an absolute first for me. I do not gamble, and am very tight with money, but I played around with his. Almost immediately, I won $100 on a penny slot machine. I think that is a great omen for our future.
Our luck continued the next day. We drove back east through Tennessee to S’s hunting property. We took the back roads, and I was in heaven. I absolutely love that area of the country. It was unseasonably cold, and I was day dreaming the entire way of seeing snow. When we got to his property, which is breath-taking, I stepped out shivering and said, “I really feel like it’s gonna snow, it’s so cold. I think that would be amazing.” No sooner had he laughed off what I had said than small flurries started falling. I kid you not, I could not have scripted it better! He was just as tickled as I was, and I ran around like the crazy Floridian that I am just laughing and trying to catch the flurries with my tongue.
This is one of my favorite pictures, because we snapped it in that moment. Genuine happiness shows, and it exemplifies exactly what the year of yes journey means to me.
It was fitting that, immediately after my last day teaching, I loaded up and headed back to the very place I had started my career in the first place– tiny Montgomery County, Georgia, located just outside of sweet Vidalia.
I do not get to go to what I call my Georgia home much. However, I was invited to a baby shower hosted by my first favorite student, Nikki, for another of my first favorite students, AN, and his wife. AN lives in the home of the lovely Mrs. B, who was the head of the social studies department at the local high school, and who took a chance and hired me, even though I was only 23 and had no experience or degree in education. She literally changed the course of my life.
I helped Nikki with the shower and enjoyed myself immensely, for I have forgotten how beautifully traditional things are there. I sat back and listened as the sweet church ladies gossiped in their slow drawls and admired their impeccable manners and gift wrapping prowess. I miss living there a lot.
Nikki’s parents were always so kind to me, and they treated me like family. She was 15 and a freshman when I taught her. I was later in her wedding, and I pray for her gorgeous daughters. I spent the night with Nikki and her husband, and her parents joined us for a night on the town at one of my old stomping grounds, The Tree House. We all had a blast, laughing and singing and just cutting up. We also learned a lot about the bite of a water moccasin. It’s a drink and, if you have never had one, I highly recommend it, but in moderation, because it could be “deadly.”
That night, something incredible happened. Nikki came in and tucked me into bed. When I was a little girl, I craved for my mom to do that; but my mom was not affectionate, so it never happened that way. Before she walked away, Nikki kissed me on my forehead and told me she loved me. She can never understand just how much that show of affection meant to me. I was flooded with emotion, and time stood still, and I will literally remember that simple act as long as I live. A piece of my broken heart was put back together again.
I worry a lot about growing old and the financial sacrifices I have made to be a teacher. However, that day and those people reinforced everything I believe in. Life is about relationships and love and, if I am a pauper one day, be sure that I have lived a very rich existance.
One of my friends had extra tickets to see Luke Bryan in Jacksonville recently and offered them to me. I was hesitant, because that is an extravagance that I do not indulge in often; however, it is the year of yes, so I took her up on the opportunity. My surrogate mom, Charlotte, gladly agreed to go with me, and we made it a night to remember.
After dinner, we headed to the tailgate party outside of the arena. We had a blast, dancing and people-watching. We even ran into several people that I went to high school with, and it was so great catching up. Charlotte and I made the Jacksonville paper and the local radio station’s website. We felt like stars.
The concert was amazing. I have seen Luke Bryan many times, and he never disappoints. It was fun sitting by my friend and her fella, too. The four of us had a blast singing and dancing the evening away.
Afterwards, we took a huge detour around Jacksonville trying to get back north. Charlotte is worse with directions than I am, and even my car’s navigation had us cutting through the bad sides of town. But we finally made it, and it was wonderful settling in to my bed in the cozy room that Charlotte keeps for me. It’s filled with pictures of me, the kids, and my mom and makes me feel loved.
Before heading home the next day, I met up with a former student of mine who I had not seen since 2002. We have kept in touch via email and phone, and he is now a teacher. He treated me to lunch at The Florida House Inn, one of the oldest hotels in Florida, located on beautiful Amelia Island. We caught up, strolled the historic downtown, and then I stopped at one of my favorite spots on earth– Fantastic Fudge– for my go-to flavor of ice cream, rocky road.
I could not leave without spending time with my Mom at the beach in solitude. I read a book, napped, prayed, and listened to my Mom’s song, “Drink a Beer,” by Luke Bryan, of course.
As I settled in to my new office, I quickly hung diplomas and cherished photos of my family. However, looking around my space, I realized that I have a plethora of handwritten notes displayed as well. These beautiful cards and scribbled messages on scrap paper outnumber my children’s framed faces. There is something comforting in reading the carefully thought out words etched in a friend or colleagues’ unique penmanship. It is grounding, and a tangible reminder of a connection to another person, and, even if professional, reflects what is often missing in the modern digital age—authenticity.
Rapid email correspondence, text messaging, and social media have sped up our personal and professional lives so much in such a brief period, that we are constantly bombarded with information. We are overstimulated and, while our circles are ever broadening, loneliness and social isolation are becoming public health issues. A 2015 article published in the United Kingdom’s The Independent stated, “…our growing reliance on social technology rather than face-to-face interaction is thought to be making us feel more isolated. It means we feel less connected to others and our relationships are becoming more superficial and less rewarding.”[i]
Although not a cure-all, the simple act of writing notes can have an enormous impact on personal and professional relationships. While emails, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, message boards, E-vites, constant “likes,” and texts give us instant and often too constant contact with one another, humanity is filtered through devices. We have resorted to using Emojis to relay emotions, without realizing how simplistic these cartoonish characters are and how completely incapable they are of expressing the complexities and nuances of our feelings. I shamefully became way too excited recently when I realized that I can add color to my Facebook posts… it is time to disconnect.
Meanwhile, the handwritten note, with words carefully chosen to fit within the boundaries of stationary, is neither too romantic nor passé. To send a note requires time, patience, reflection, a good pen, careful attention to script, an address, and a stamp. It requires a purposeful effort, which then, in turn, relays the message that the recipient matters. Meghan Markle, former author of the popular lifestyle blog The Tig, wrote recently about the “Art of the Handwritten Note.” In the post, she expressed her joy at receiving a personalized letter. “I am a gal who just loves getting mail… I absolutely relish it. I know my mailman’s name, I race to the door when mail comes (usually just fliers or bills), but I always hold out hope that there will be a letter. A sweet letter. And that I will have the tactile experience of un-creasing the paper, reciting the words, and holding someone’s thoughts in my hands.” [ii]
Office mail is no exception and can offer a respite from the hectic professional world. Electronic communication is fast and free; but you get what you pay for. The Harvard Business Review points out that, “Personal messages are often notes of gratitude, civility, and appreciation that reach beyond the conventional thank-you.” They show what author John Coleman describes as “acts of investment” and can leave lasting impressions and memorabilia.[iii]
According to celebrated blogger and etiquette expert Janice Sessums Gibson, “Professional emails and texts are easy to save, but lasting memories are created when you send a handwritten note. The handwritten note lets a friend or colleague know that you appreciate them.”[iv] Cards are displayed on desks, on boards, and on refrigerators. They are a cherished gift of encouragement.
Further, when asked whether handwritten notes still set job applicants apart in today’s digital age, Ben Milsom, Chief Ticketing Officer of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, stated, “The handwritten note is a differentiator. Today, we live by text and email, so for someone to take the time to purchase nice stationery and sit down and write a letter is something that I value and conveys their personal brand.”
Be mindful, however. Issa Sawabini, Partner at Fuse, warns professionals about reliance on electronic spelling and grammar checks: “In a digital world, sometimes a handwritten note can have a big impact… Make sure you write something meaningful and actually proofread your work. You can’t include a note at the bottom blaming your iPhone for any spelling errors.”[v]
[i] Rebecca Harris, The Loneliness Epidemic: We’re More Connected Than Ever, But Are We Feeling More Alone? Independent (2015), http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/the-loneliness-epidemic-more-connected-than-ever-but-feeling-more-alone-10143206.html (last visited Apr 5, 2017).
[iii] John Coleman, Handwritten Notes Are a Rare Commodity. They’re Also More Important Than Ever. Harvard Business Review (2013), https://hbr.org/2013/04/handwritten-notes-are-a-rare-c (last visited Apr 5, 2017).
[v] Abraham D. Madkour, In Today’s Digital Age, Do Handwritten Notes Still Set Job Applicants Apart? Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal (2016), http://m.sportsbusinessdaily.com/Journal/Issues/2016/04/11/Opinion/From-The-Executive-Editor.aspx? (last visited Apr 5, 2017).
When I was a little girl, I did not play with baby dolls. I played with a chalk board, and I would force my brothers and the neighborhood kids to be my students. I would give them assignments, grade papers, and line them up and march them around the yard. I tutored the kid across the street, and his dear mom, Peggy, may she rest in peace, joked that the grades I gave Brian were the best he ever received. She would hang them on her refrigerator.
When I describe myself to people, “teacher” is the first word out of my mouth, right after “mom.” It is my natural gift, and education is my passion. Unfortunately, I was always told I could and should do more, whatever that means, so a relationship in my early twenties with a high-powered attorney inspired me to leave my beloved teaching career for law school.
I do not regret my legal education one bit, nor do I regret practicing. My favorite job was working for the law school immediately after graduation, because it combined a little of both worlds. My degree and experience have opened doors for me that I never dreamed possible growing up in a one red light town. However, the classroom is where I am my most comfortable, creative and inspired.
When I had my children, it seemed natural for me to return to teaching. There is no better schedule for a family, and I was able to work at one of the best schools in the state, which allowed my babies to eventually attend the best schools themselves. I was so excited to get back to my calling, and I did it with joy and enthusiasm. However, even with clear objectives, I was given grief by those I loved most. I was told I did not have a “real job” and questioned about how I could turn my back on money and prestige by simply being a teacher. As sad as it is to type these truths, it was even more devastating to live them.
After my divorce, I hung in as long as I could, until I could no longer financially justify my position. I was highly effective, successful and involved. I absolutely considered my students my own and have built life-long friendships that I will forever cherish; but the rumors about teacher pay are real.
More than anything, though, I was emotionally drained. After visiting my closest friends over the holidays, both T and K commented to me that they had finally figured out what was keeping me from completely healing. My storehouse was dry. I was “Mama B” to 200 kids a day, then had to come home to my own, and teaching at the level I was doing it was sucking up all of my extra energy. My brain was fried. Both friends encouraged me to pray about the situation and start looking for jobs.
To say I was terrified was an understatement. I was not sold on the fact that I needed a change. I did not think I could take the leap and give up my time at home with my children. I was not sure I was even marketable. But, then there was this #YearofYes promise I had made myself, and I decided to start applying. It is not an accident that Shonda Rhimes ended her book with one of my favorite quotes:
You must do the things you think you cannot do. Eleanor Roosevelt
So, there you have it. Within a month of me applying for jobs, I had an offer I could not refuse, and I had to say good-bye to some of the most incredible people I have ever met. My students were so wonderful, and they showered me with gifts and cards of encouragement. It was amazing how much love I felt as I packed up my classroom and prepared to leave a place that was mine and my kids’ home away home for eight years. But it was time for me to graduate, and I think everyone knew it but me.
I was explaining to a colleague this week about my #YearofYes challenge and how powerful the book has been to me. When I told her it had inspired me to change careers, she was shocked, but it is true! As my bestie K said, “You’ve sacrificed enough of yourself. It is time for you to thrive.”
I am still a mom and a teacher, and I absolutely think teaching is the most important profession in our society. However, my focus has changed, and I think the move will make me a better mother in the end, because I will have balance for the first time in a long time.