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

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Southern Gothic

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Confederate Soldiers at Rest, Montgomery, Alabama

I have always loved cemeteries. Even as a young girl, with a nostalgic historian’s heart, I enjoyed walking through them, admiring the artwork, the names, the family groupings. To me, there is great beauty in them, and old Southern graveyards even enchant with their ancient trees and draping moss, harboring sassy mockingbirds who keep watch over the quiet stone inhabitants in respite from the busy modern world.

Since my Mom died, I have rarely been to a cemetery. I have always been good about visiting my family plots, regularly placing flowers and cleaning up their resting places, an obligation ingrained in me from childhood. Write thank you notes, Becky Jo, and visit your people, that’s what Southern Belles do. But my Mama, against all family tradition, chose to be cremated. Three months before she died, as we were leaving our swimming hole on the St. Marys River, she told me that when she died, she wanted to be cremated and her ashes spread. I fussed and fumed at her, because she was young and healthy, and I did not want to be talking about death on a hot summer afternoon. She insisted, however, and I was forced very soon to honor her wishes against the protest of many of our kin.

I never understood why she made this choice. I tried to and I even spread her ashes in a poetic manner, playing her favorite Beatles song, “Here Comes the Sun” at dawn while doing it. Now, I get it.

Yesterday, I was in Montgomery, Alabama, making my way through the lovely Oakwood Annex Cemetery, and an overwhelming wave of emotion hit me. I realized sort of stupidly for the first time that my Mama wanted to be cremated, because she was single and did not want to be buried alone. I knew it as if she was whispering the message on my heart, and I got teary-eyed, because I, too, now have that fear.

As the day went on, I thought about my  life and my relationships and got very, very morose at the thought of dying and not having a loved one to lay beside. Granted, I have my grandparents and other family members and I have my kids who will hopefully, God willing, be with me when that fateful time comes. But not having a husband, not being a Mrs. whomever, not belonging to another human being when passing, just breaks my heart and makes me cry.

Maybe this is part of some midlife crisis I am having. A quick search actually showed that the fear of dying alone is quite common. I am not scared of dying itself and have no sense of its impending call as I think my Mama must have had. Maybe this new sensitivity is a sign of my longing for deeper companionship. Maybe it means my heart is healing, that I am ready to be fully committed, hell if I know. Whatever it is, the flood of emotions that overcame me as I snapped pictures of magnolia trees and Confederate graves haunted me like a ghostly specter throughout the day, and the fear lingers with me, even now.

I do not want to die alone.

As women glide from their twenties to thirties, Shazzer argues, the balance of power subtly shifts. Even the most outrageous minxes lose their nerve, wrestling with the first twinges of existential angst: fears of dying alone and being found three weeks later half-eaten by an Alsatian.” ~Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones’s Diary {my favorite book}

Celebrating Eight

My son wanted a simple birthday at home this year. I was happy to comply, and my friends and family helped me get organized and entertain all of our guests.

He also asked that the boys sleep over. I honestly did not think any would take us up on this invite, but they did. My “adopted” daughter, Ashleigh, stayed over with me, thankfully, because I ended up with six boys piled up. It brought up so many memories of my childhood, and I loved every second of the chaos. There is nothing I enjoy more than a house full of kids.

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He wanted a Jacksonville Jaguars themed party. I am from Jacksonville, and it is so sweet that he loves my hometown team. Who cares that we are perennially one of the worst teams in the NFL? This little guy bleeds teal and adores Blake Bortles.

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I love this picture of his buddies singing “Happy Birthday” to M. The looks on their faces epitomize childhood innocence to me and makes my heart soar.

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The best part of the party was a complete surprise to all of us. A family friend brought over her boyfriend, Josh Peters, who plays football for the FSU Seminoles and was just off their Orange Bowl victory. He was amazing. He signed autographs for all the kids and took pictures with them. They were in awe by his size. It was surreal to have one of their heroes in our home. M was so proud. Go Noles!

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My Dating Checklist

After my divorce, my college friend Steve insisted that I sit down and write out what I am looking for in a mate before taking on the dating world again. He told me to keep the list somewhere sacred and to revisit it constantly, amending it if I need to, but to never lower my standards.

I was so lost that I found this exercise extremely difficult to do then, and it is still painful, because I realize now how prone I am to compromising my own values for the sake of love or, worse, approval. The fact that it is difficult makes it essential to my growth and worth constant review.

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Inspired by a sermon, I recorded my thoughts on the back of the church bulletin one Sunday during our service. I prayed over it, and I will continue to do so, because I realize now that this season in my life is so very important and planned. I only want to end my singleness according to God’s will and, frankly, I will miss it. I am starting to savor my freedom!

 

 

 

 

Heart Birthday

My little girl declared Valentine’s Day to be her “Heart Birthday” when she was two. Since, then we have celebrated her in a big way. Little girls are special that way.

This year, she was super excited that the Daddy-Daughter dance at school was a sock hop. She loves Elvis Presley, and she said they played “Hound Dog.”

On Valentine’s morning, I woke her up with the “Just the Way You Are” by Bruno Mars blaring on our sound bar. She got to open her gifts and dress up in her new holiday shirt, necklace, and bangles. My son plays along, too, which is adorable. He received a special new thermal cup that he had been asking for.

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For dinner, the kids wanted fondue, so we had both cheese and chocolate. The kids helped me make it, and my daughter set a beautiful table all by herself. They declared it the best holiday yet, and my son even made a toast to his beautiful sister on her “Heart Birthday.” It was precious.

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