Identity Crisis {The Year of Yes}

StudentsWhen 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.

Letter from Studt

letter from student

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The Anxiety of Intimacy

My best friend and I have had many conversations about dating. She has walls up from past hurts, which is completely understandable. She does not want to let her guard down, does not want to be taken advantage of, does not want to seem vulnerable.

She gets frustrated with me, because I am so open to meeting people. I easily connect, enjoy hearing people’s stories, even like the cat and mouse chase. The writer in me enjoys the fodder it gives me for good laughs with my girls.

She worries that I risk getting my heart broken too much, but she is wrong. I never let anyone near my heart. There is so much scar tissue built up that it is going to take a skilled surgeon or hunter gatherer with a sharp knife to get anywhere near the actual organ.

I learned at a very young age that a man does not show up when he says he is going to, that he will pick and choose what is important in your life and you are completely at his whim. I remember sitting for hours staring out of my grandma’s window waiting for him to show up for whatever grand adventure had been promised, only to be disappointed while others made excuses for him. I stared out in crowds at pageants, awards ceremonies, graduation, hoping for some sign of support and approval. But all the crowns and trophies and scholarships and accolades could not make him appear. So I started making excuses for him, and I started blaming myself. I am not enough. I am never enough.

When he did show up, he made me feel like a million dollars, so I would try harder. And, hence, the roller coaster ride of emotions I have been on since I was born. I have got to be better. I have got to work harder. I have got to obtain some level of perfectionism, because maybe then he will say I am enough.

This very basic lesson in my formative years set the pattern for my adult partners, as I strove for fulfillment and acceptance in dysfunctional relationships, slowly chipping away at myself and building scar tissue around my heart until I married. As my dear friend Iris pointed out this week, that decision to marry was the only real mistake I have made as an adult, because it was the one in which I gave up and settled; but it made me a mommy and something about that woke me up to the vitality of life and the need for healthy, intimate relationships.

Only now, I am like a wounded animal. Friendships and casual dating I can do and I can do them well. I can give my all to my children. I can love my students whole-heartedly. Hell, I can love strangers and have a soul full of empathy and compassion.

But a truly intimate relationship with a man? It is completely foreign to me, because as soon as someone tries to pierce my scar tissue, I shrink away in anxious fear. I literally torture myself with the negative messages I learned as a shy five year old suppressing tears of rejection and disappointment. I beg my friends for reassurance, and then I close off and push away.  I try to stay so busy that I forget that I ever needed that affection in the first place. I shuffle quickly like my rescue puppy does when anyone tries to pet him, because he, too, has learned that love hurts.

I wish that I could wrap this post up with a pretty ending, but I cannot. All I can do is admit that I at least recognize my patterns and want to fix them. Iris insists it is as easy as replacing the bad thoughts with positive ones, like breaking my Coca-Cola habit last year. So, I am committed to praying and filling my thoughts with scripture, of acknowledging how much my children and students adore me and why, and counting the blessings that are my friends, every single time my inner dialogue says that I am less than. After all, the whole goal of this “Year of Yes” is a better, more full life, one filled with intimacy and passion and love. Finally, I realize that I am worth the effort of healing. I want more and maybe, just maybe, I have met someone worth the trying.

If you want crappy things to stop happening to you, then stop accepting crap and demand something more. —CRISTINA YANG, GREY’S ANATOMY
Shonda Rhimes, Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person   

I should say that this post is absolutely meant with no disrespect. I still adore him and crave his attention and approval. But I have learned to set boundaries now, another step in the healing process, and I hope one day to understand the why behind his behavior. If that does not happen, then I will have peace knowing that I at least tried. I have always tried. I just will not make or accept excuses anymore.

Lessons from the Holocaust Learned by a Young Child

jew
My son, M, who is now eight and in the 2nd grade, attended a Holocaust Education Resource Council (HERC) education committee meeting with me at Tallahassee’s Temple Israel in October. I had no sitter and, the quiet little man that he is, I knew that I could depend upon him to behave. At that meeting, we discussed how the book And Every Single One Was Someone by Phil Chernofsky can and should be used in high school curriculum. This profound publication literally lists the word “Jew” 6 million times. Something about the number intrigued him and, even though I did not think he was paying attention to our conversation due to his tablet in one hand and a piece of cake in the other, he actually very much was.
Since that meeting, M has regularly asked when he can go back with me to visit the Temple. He has asked me simple questions about Jewish culture and how it differs from ours and our Baptist faith.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, he surprised me. M told me that he had read a book about Anne Frank in school. He is extremely bright and reads on a very high level, but he is also sensitive and internalizes emotions. I worried a little that he was exposed to content too mature for his age.
I questioned him about what he had read, and he told me basic facts about Anne Frank’s story, including her death.  He was matter-of-fact about it, but then he said, “Mama, at the end of the book, I really wanted to cry. I had to hold back my tears so my friends didn’t see me.”
This touched me so much, and I told him that he should have wanted to cry, and that it was horrible what had happened during the Holocaust. I explained that everyone should want to cry about Anne Frank’s story and others’ and that it is bad when we do not.
Several mornings later, while driving to school, M spoke up out of nowhere again. He said, “Mom, was Anne Frank one of the names in that book? The book that had ‘Jew’ written 6 million times? Was her family in that book, too?”
I told him yes, and I praised him for understanding that truth. I realized once again that he is like a little sponge and absorbs so much more than I give him credit for. I also thought how profound it is that an eight-year-old can make such important connections, when adults often cannot.
NOTE: M’s teacher confirmed that the book that he read in school was Who Was Anne Frank? by Ann Abramson. This book is part of a popular series that he loves and is age appropriate.

My Ride or Die in Orlando

The upside of culling people from my life is that my focus has become very clear. My vision has become razor sharp. I now work to see people, not as I’d rewrite them, but as they have written themselves. I see them for who they are. And for who I am with them. Because it’s not merely about surrounding myself with people who treat me well. It’s also about surrounding myself with people whose self-worth, self-respect and values inspire me to elevate my own behavior. People who require that I stay truthful and kind and not totally crazy. Not eating every single thing in sight. Not hiding. Not saying no. I want Ride or Dies who make me want to be a better person. ~Shonda Rhimes, THE YEAR OF YES

Sometimes you just need your best friend, and she needs you. You can hear that something in her voice that lets you know that she needs you to just be near her. No explanations are necessary.

What do you do when you have traveled to DC, to Middle Georgia, celebrated the holidays and your son’s birthday and your best friend calls and asks you to come for the long MLK weekend, too? You pack your bag, put money on your Sun Pass, load up your playlist, drive through Wendy’s for “Baconator” fries and a strawberry lemonade, and you hit the road for Orlando. Because it’s The Year of Yes and, frankly, she will not take “no” for an answer. K always gets what she wants! She has a certain mojo or swagger, and I am bewitched by her.

krissy-orlando-1

One of my favorite chapters in The Year of Yes was about finding your tribe– the people who are in your inner circle and are your “ride or dies.” I kind of like that there is an FSU association to be made there, but my Gator friends will not. K is one of them.

krissy-orlando-2

T, who I went to visit over my birthday weekend, is in the tribe. We were in the same kindergarten class. K is another. We are from the same place in North Florida, but we did not know each other at all until we became neighbors randomly at Wilkes Townhouse Apartments in Vidalia, Georgia.  She drove by while I was at the mail box with her Florida Gator tag labeled with our home county, and the rest is history. I knew she was going to be in my life forever.  It was her cooking that really lured me in, though. She never let me starve, and, Heaven knows, I was a horrible cook whose pantry was regularly stocked with peanut butter, chips and onion dip, and fudge rounds and not much else. There was also that time that she literally ran my boyfriend down my stairs and out of my house, because she did not like his way too charming toothy grin. No one did but, of course, I thought he was so niiiice. He never came back, poor guy. lol

K is psychic and she says the same about me, although highly intuitive is probably a more safe description. She senses things and is extremely tuned in to me and my kids. I love it! I think it is very provocative and reassuring, all at the same time.

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So, Orlando it was, and it was incredible. As soon as I arrived, her husband sent us out to a local winery for dinner, followed by a memorable night at a dueling piano bar. Turns out, I do a sassy “Cupid Shuffle.” We laughed, we went live on Facebook, we caught up on our work lives and daily demands, we danced, and we reminisced about being in our early 20s, moving to rural Georgia, and going out to the local bar, Kerrigan’s Country, with all of our friends on the weekends, followed by the mandatory stop at the Waffle House for loaded hash browns and Cokes.

Then, K and I closed the piano bar down like it was 1999 again.

And it felt wonderful just letting loose and knowing that I could be one million percent Becky Jo, and she would love me for it, hold me up and hold my hand if she needed to. She is always completely in my corner, always has been, and she will not let me fail, even if it means being brutally honest and willing bad juju away. My tendency to see good in people drives her INSANE, and she is constantly praying protections around me. K does not see good in people, so we balance each other out. In the end, I know she makes me a better, much stronger person, and I am grateful for it.

Contentment in Motherhood

I have joined a Wednesday night Bible study group for women at the church that we have been attending for a year. I do not know anyone in this group well, and it is completely out of my comfort zone. We are reading Walking With God in the Season of Motherhood by Melissa B. Kruger. Thankfully, there are several other single moms in the class, so I do not feel like I am the only one on this solitary trek.

Last night, the kids were at their dad’s and not here chomping at the bits to go to the Wednesday night children’s program that they love. I was relaxed and had to make myself get off the porch swing for Bible study, but I am glad I did. God laid a special message on my heart.

My plate is full. Single parenting is hard, and the truth is I often find myself impatient, overwhelmed, and discontent.

However, I was gently reminded that what I often perceive as “Have Tos”– dentist and doctors appointments, hair cuts, errands, laundry, play time, birthday parties, extra-curricular activities, school engagements, reading, discipline, homework….the list goes on and on — should be turned into “Get Tos.” Children are a blessing. Not everyone gets to be a parent, as my friend Jack lovingly reminded me this week, and they grow up so very fast.

swinging-mason

Photo by Captured by Casey

Today, I got to volunteer in Miss Julia’s class and watch her practice ballet; this weekend I get to fold their tiny clothes and smell their hair as they snuggle next to me in bed; if I’m lucky, I may get to play catch with Mason in the yard; and, on Sunday, I get to worship Jesus with them at church. One day, I will miss cleaning up after them, and I will miss holding them in my lap. Mason’s already almost as tall as me.

So my prayer tonight is this: Lord, “Let me live that I may praise you (in this season of Motherhood), and may your laws sustain me.” Psalms 119:175

Amen.