Mimi’s influence

My former student, Sarah Humway, wrote this post as an essay for English Comp I class last fall. I loved it and asked if she’d allow me to share it with all of you. She agreed. Thank you, Sarah!

The most influential person in my life was not only someone who could pick me up from my lows, but she was also my best friend; that person is my grandmother, or Mimi. When I was around seven, my parents went through a divorce; therefore, I spent a lot of time with all of my grandparents, but My Mimi and I formed an instant bond. I could rely on her to keep my secrets as well as rely on her to always be willing to get ice cream at the drop of a hat. To this day, Mimi has been extremely influential to my personality and character, which I believe is most important gift I could receive from someone with such wisdom. Needless to say, she is my other half; we share common interests, similar physical attributes, and opinions. The list could go on and on.

vinyl-record-player-retro-594388As I said, my parents went through a divorce when I was seven, causing me to spend time with both my maternal and paternal grandparents. Mimi and I have always had a special bond since I was her first grandchild. So, for as long as I can remember, I have felt as though a string were tied to my heart, and the other end tied to hers. We especially enjoy going antique shopping despite the odor of mildew and mothballs that cloaked the dust-filled rooms. Typically, we just find odds and end items, but once, we found a few pieces of a dish set called “Lochs of Scotland,” and we were both captivated; the radiant blue detailing against the porcelain white enchanted our inner beings.

I can remember exactly how the shop looked; it was a split level shop on the main strip of Mountain View, Arkansas with wooden floors that made a high pitch creak every time I took a step, clutter filling every square foot of the shop, and dusty antiques littered the shelves. Now, it has become almost ritualistic to go to antique stores on a quest for the dainty dishes, yet we still aren’t tired of it. Antiquing has to be my most fond memory with Mimi because she taught me that even though things might be old, they are still perfectly functional and that I shouldn’t covet new things.

pexels-photo-1352272Mimi and I not only share hobbies- we also have a passion for ice cream. No matter the day, time, season, issue, or whatever may be the case, we are always down to get ice cream; we typically go to Baskin Robbins in my hometown, Jonesboro. We typically choose Baskin Robbins because they serve the creamiest true ice cream as well as the perfectly seasoned “homemade” fries in town; another factor we enjoy is that we can watch the midday traffic rush by as our entertainment. The smell of freshly cooked french fries and sandwiches is deeply embedded into my brain along with the precious memories of giggling whilst eating a frozen treat. I can remember this was always our secret “don’t tell Mom place.” For example, if she picked me up from school, we would head over and devour ice cream and french fries until we were content.

Mimi and I also share quite a few physical attributes; we are even mistaken as mother and daughter more often than grandmother and granddaughter. Mimi is my father’s mother, but she resembles my mother as well. Mimi and I both stand about 5’5” with the same stature, as in broad shoulders and a long torso. We also have medium length red hair-which she dyes- pale skin, and bright eyes, which is actually extremely uncommon with natural redheads, since both red hair and blue/green eyes are both recessive genes. Our physical similarities have also encouraged our close-knit relationship because it has provided bonding about how we hate the sun, the redhead jokes growing up, and other silly things like that. I can say with confidence my Mimi and I have a closer relationship than most people have with their spouse because we truly connect on every level.

Lastly, Mimi is the type of person to speak from her mistakes and give an honest opinion, therefore I have been motivated by every thing she has supported me on thus far in life because I value her encouraging thoughts and actions. I have learned to treat the janitor with the same amount of respect as the CEO as a result of Mimi. She has taught me how to find my own happiness and “blossom where I was planted” because she understood my struggles throughout junior high and high school. Our relationship isn’t “earth-shattering,” but she has definitely significantly impacted my life for the better by encouraging and showing me to be a headstrong and self sufficient young adult.  I consider Mimi my role model, yet also my best friend, which is the best gift someone could ask for.

pexels-photo-164470Overall, I have expressed my adoration for my grandmother, but she still continues to amaze me with her love and support, therefore I believe she will further impact my life and others around her as well. Mimi is a significant figure in my life because of her devout support for those around her and myself. I will always remember our memories, secret and not secret, because of the immense joy she has brought to my life. At times, I smell someone wearing her perfume (a lavender scented aroma), and I do not feel sad because I’m not with her. I feel inspired to act with compassion as I was taught. I feel it is important to treat others with mercy as if she had engraved it into my soul, yet she simply just showed me the way, and I could not be more grateful.

Say yes

I found myself whispering, too, even though I wasn’t the one hiding in a closet while a drunken man beat on the door.

“Bridgett, it’s okay. You’ll be okay. You do not have to answer that door. DO NOT answer the door, okay?”

Bridgett cried snotty tears on the other end of the phone.

“But why won’t Tim just wake up? I don’t want to be here! I don’t want to be here!”

At fourteen years-old, I felt helpless to rescue the nine year-old little girl whose alcoholic stepfather had passed out on the couch. His friend knew she was inside the trailer and seemed determined to enter the home. I may not have been old enough to understand everything, but I knew enough to know something was sinister; when a child expresses that level of fear, reality lives in it.

phone-booth-1439052_1280

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

So I just talked to her, sitting in the hallway of my parents’ home, cradling the old white phone—yes, attached to a cord, which was attached to the wall. In the middle of July, my parents were working, and without transportation, I couldn’t physically rescue her. But I could make her feel a little less alone and give her the option of not answering the door that day.

Ten years later, I worked for a TRiO program at a private liberal arts college. My job included helping underprivileged high school students excel academically and prepare for college. I supervised tutors, coordinated records with high school counselors, taught summer courses in writing, literature, and ACT prep material, and much more. I didn’t go to work expecting a student to disclose his homosexuality to me (he’d never disclosed it to anyone else before).

Jon, an attractive young man, sauntered into my office on a hot June afternoon.

“Miss Bethany, I’m pretty sure I’m gay.”

Deep breathing. Lots of deep breathing. A very beloved friend in college had chosen me to disclose similar information during college, and I’d blown it. I mean, I had ROYALLY blown it and had responded terribly, making a joke of the entire situation because I felt uncomfortable. I always wished I could go back in time to respond differently; I just didn’t know any better at age 18. This was clearly God offering me a chance for redemption.

“Oh, Jon, that’s a major thing. Have you told other people? Do your parents know?” The kid was only 16.

“No. No one knows except my… well, sort of my boyfriend.”

More deep breathing. Trying to do the deep breathing without looking like Kristin Wiig on Saturday Night Live.

“Okay. I’m glad you told me. Do you need to talk about it?”

The lock on the floodgates broke wide open. I listened to his story for about 30 minutes. At the end of his story, I referred him to the counseling coordinator. When he left my office, I felt spent and grateful.

11224256_599790897932_7884299981922010780_n

Toga party for Oral Communication, 2015

Fast forward another decade. While teaching college as an adjunct English instructor, I discovered students feel more safe writing out their secret horrors, traumas, and worries than they do talking about them (try encouraging a college student to schedule an appointment with a paid professional counselor or student services worker and check out the non-verbal response). And what do I teach? English composition and oral communication courses.

Since 2013, I’ve been gasping, crying, and praying while grading certain essays—and not just due to poor grammar and mechanics.

In 2014, I taught Esther, a beautiful non-traditional student. She worked odd jobs to support her children and family. After the semester ended, we kept in touch. She stopped by periodically with books for my daughter, cookies or other baked treats, and cards. She couldn’t afford these gifts, yet she gave anyway. Recently, her dream man (boyfriend) became abusive within their relationship.

“Miss Bethany, I just want you to know you were right… I love you, and I want you to know I’m taking care of myself.”

I shared my experience, strength, and hope with her and suggested options for self-care and protection.

“Esther, no matter what you do, I will always be here for you and love you.”

I could fill an entire book with stories like these (with names changed, of course).

I read an article recently about keeping the awe in our lives. I don’t know how to get rid of it because God keeps using me. God never stops tapping on my shoulder and whispering in my ear.

“Right here.”

Every time, I’m blown away. I absolutely can’t breathe for at least a moment because I recognize if I move when He says move, something miraculous happens. What will it be? I don’t know! It’s a mystery. I love it. I just take action—which many times redeems my own past—and God fits me into a gigantic unfinished puzzle.

Let me never say no. Please God, let me say yes. Let me never refuse the opportunity to use whatever You have given me to help someone in need. Let my gratitude for my own redemption fuel me when I feel afraid, hesitant, or greedy.

 

Teaching me to mother

Lizard,

205302_503087736842_9842_nThank you for breaking me in back when I turned 22. There was nothing Taylor Swift about it. Your dad and I tied the knot three weeks after I graduated from college and three weeks after my birthday, and I frantically searched for employment while serving as your stepmom. I felt like I was playing house sometimes, the way my sisters and I played Barbies as kids. Ken and Barbie smooch and hug and ride in the Barbie convertible, and then they get married, and they have a baby, and then what?

I learned the then what from you. No matter what obstacles your dad and I faced in our marriage, I always enjoyed being your stepmom. I loved taking you grocery shopping when you were five years old and answering your bazillion questions about produce and spaghetti and magazines. I obtained a great repertoire of bumblebee, elephant, and duck songs because of you. I got a big kick out of playing Tooth Fairy and helping you learn how to do backbends and make macaroni and cheese and use the washing machine and dryer. I remember the summer after second grade when I realized you lacked some important skills, and I decided to make it my mission to teach you to become more self-sufficient. You were so open to learning new things. I remember you telling your mom and Meme and Papaw about every new accomplishment over the phone, beaming with pride from ear to ear.

262960_519156345222_5013781_nYour willingness to learn never waned. We had The Talk in bits and pieces beginning at age five. I was always candid with you, telling you enough to satisfy your curiosity but not enough to bore you to tears. That strategy seemed to work. I also promised to tell you the truth no matter what, and I never wavered on that promise, and I still haven’t, even though we both know there have been some times when it would have been easier and softer if I’d lied. Because of your willingness to learn, and my willingness to be honest, we’ve made a pretty good team.

Fast forward to 2015. You’re finishing up your sophomore year of college, and I teach students the exact same age as you, my Lizard. Of course, I also teach non-traditional students, too.

Talk about having my life flash before my eyes at work every single day.

I see you in so many of my students. Here are a few examples.

10532367_1533784436852237_8484810511697029845_n

Hannah and Joey 

There’s Hannah, a beautiful spirit who is seriously perpetual sunshine to everyone who knows her. She reminds me of how I feel around you from the first minute you pull into my driveway until the minute you drive away.

10945570_1570630046515705_4202909789899928807_n

Nathan

There’s Nathan, a jokester on the outside with a serious interior he tries to disguise from his classmates most of the time—sound like anyone you know? This guy even donned a tutu once during a demonstration speech to help a fellow student out. I have proof of this beautiful moment :). I only taught him for one semester, but he was certainly one of the most memorable students I’ve ever taught.

11008560_585139753942_3629077609157433465_n

With LCreighton and Charmstrong

There are Charmstrong and Lcreighton, two little cuties I came to know outside of class before they became my students. They are both just adorbs (are you proud of me for using that term, Liz?) and often send me pictures of Edna Mode of The Incredibles, who they believe I emulate, in the middle of my lectures. They have filled a little bit of the Lizard void in my heart and life by walking with me to class and laughing with me and reminding me that I’m not THAT old.

11118243_10206439983107671_980423533_n

Crystal

10576922_842455259127051_356376086633655830_n

Sheila

There’s Crystal, who I have known for decades and had the pleasure to teach last fall. She has faced more than her share of obstacles but has chosen to become better, not bitter.

There’s Sheila, a non-traditional student who loves her family more than anything. She is also a total survivor and fighter. She has earned her spot in my heart and has proven herself to be hard-working and diligent even when it would have been easier to drop out of school. These are qualities I see in you, too, Liz.

11149462_10153220074068826_6559028102695630203_nAnd then there’s Lauren, who lost her lifelong love this semester. She is now raising their baby alone and is persevering against all odds. She’ll graduate in two days with honors. She will not allow others’ choices and tragedies to dictate the direction of her life.

And this, my Lizard, is what I hope for you, too.

With all that you have taught me about being a teacher, Liz, and with all that my students continually teach me about being a mom, I’m not sure why I’m being paid to teach. The least I can do is pour my very best self into my teaching, and offer my very best self to Maggie every day as her mom.

Happy Mother’s Day, Liz, to you and to all my babies.

For her curls

As I gear up to go back to work full-time this fall, transitioning from an adjunct instructor to a full-time English instructor, I find myself fluctuating between excitement and eager anticipation and anxiety and grief as I let go of this period of my life–the stay-at-home mom phase. No longer will Maggie’s cute babbling on the baby monitor serve as my alarm clock. One month from now, I’ll entrust my child to babysitters three days a week and rely on them to fill me in on the brightest moments of the day, to keep me posted on her milestones and her tantrums and her patterns of behavior. Soon Maggie and I will both have to adjust to a new schedule, a new routine, and a new balance of people in our lives.

With my fellow faculty members on the day I got the news that I'd been selected for the full-time position

With my fellow faculty members on the day I got the news that I’d been selected for the full-time position

Don’t get me wrong–I’m beyond thankful for my new job. If you missed my post about my new job, reading that will certainly clarify any confusion about my feelings about that. For years, I didn’t even think I’d ever have the opportunity to go to graduate school; a few years ago, my husband (boyfriend at the time) encouraged me to pursue my passion for English language and literature, regardless of the practicality of it all… talk about winning me over! I enrolled in a Master’s program a few weeks later, and I’ve never regretted that decision. I feel that I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing with my life right now;  it’s a wonderful feeling, and a great way to serve God and other people.

Still, I’m a mom, and I’m a mom who wears her heart on her sleeve sometimes. I’ll be the first to admit that it took me an entire year’s worth of prayer and meditation before I felt absolute peace about the decision to go back to work full-time at this point in my daughter’s life. But it does feel like the right time. If there’s anything God has repeatedly taught me, through practical experience, it’s that He is always right on time (if I yield to His will and don’t push and shove and insist on my own). There’s something easy and beautiful about letting God make things happen.

I would not trade the past 20 months of time I’ve spent at home with my daughter for anything; no amount of money and no thrill or prestige would entice me to reconsider how I’ve spent this period of time.

IMG_3763This morning Maggie and I took a walk down our quiet country road, admiring the bright morning sun reflecting off the surface of nearly every dew-covered leaf in the woods. We played with bubbles in the backyard. Every time Maggie popped a bubble, she excitedly exclaimed, “I gots!” Maggie played in her sandbox, silently scooping and shoveling sand into her little bucket over and over again, occasionally turning to glance at me sitting nearby, maybe to ensure that I was still watching her. The light reflected off her wild auburn curls. I found myself watching nothing but her hair, mesmerized by the light in her curls, the sun spinning around and twisting every time she turned and picked up her scoop and set it down again.

What is that worth, I wondered. What is this moment worth to me?

Everything. There’s nothing anyone could pay me to trade me for this moment, and nothing I’d exchange for the life I have lived with my daughter for the past 20 months.

I know that I haven’t wasted my time because I have chosen to be where my hands are; when I make that choice, I’m never wasting my time.

 

Learning to teach

A wise woman named Mauzelle who managed the Arkansas Methodist Church archives at Hendrix University once told me, as she tried to share her lunch with me while I researched Methodist women in the Ozarks, that she loves history and wants to do everything she can to preserve it.

“It’s so important, you see, because we are who they were.”

Bethany the professor!

Bethany the professor!

That rings true in my life in many ways. Lately, as I prepare to teach two courses on the college level for the first time, I have caught myself reminiscing about the teachers I remember most, teachers who made a difference in my life, either because of their great teaching abilities or because of their huge capacity to serve and care for students.

I’m thankful for Ms. Prim. In kindergarten she spent what seemed like forever unbraiding my hair while I sobbed uncontrollably one morning after begging my mom to fix my hair like Princess Leia. When I got to school and realized that none of the other girls looked like Princess Leia, I was mortified. Ms. Prim didn’t ask any questions. She just soothed my insecurities and gave me chocolate milk in a carton and graham crackers.

I’m thankful for Mr. Ward who took the time and effort to gather worms and crickets so that in fifth grade, when all things gross are very cool, we had the chance to eat cricket pizza and worm cookies. He made science more fascinating, fun, and whimsical. And I’m thankful for Mr. Smith, one of my high school science teachers, who had a true gift for explaining the most intricate theories in dummy terms. From him, I learned that I will earn my students’ respect not by being their buddy but by being a good teacher.

I’m thankful for Ms. Walters who had an infinite amount of patience with me as I struggled to make an “A” in algebra in eighth grade. I still don’t love math, but I remember that in her class, it wasn’t so bad. She helped me to understand that I can’t infuse my passion for my field into the heart of every single student, but I can certainly equip them to be better writers.

Maggie, in 2012, with the book Mr. Tilley gave to me in 2004

Maggie, in 2012, with the book Mr. Tilley gave to me in 2004

I’m thankful for Mr. Tilley who tolerated my huge crush on him. He was nearing retirement when I had him in class in 7th grade, but I just loved that man. He was dignified, smart, had a Grizzly Adams beard, and collected antiques. What could be cooler than that? When I realized that the antique children’s book I’d chosen to use as a prop in Maggie’s newborn photos was the book he’d given me when I visited him several years after graduating from high school, I cried. Mr. Tilley helped me to understand that being a good person is even more important than being a good teacher. He’s the kind of person I’ll never forget.

And that’s not even half of them.

I could spend hours writing a gratitude list solely pertaining to the educators in my life.

Instead, I think I’ll go work on my own courses. I have some teaching to do.

Never say never

At the homestead, 2011

At the homestead, 2011

I’ve said NEVER about plenty of things.
And eaten my words plenty of times, too.

“I will NEVER get divorced.”

Done. Twice.

“I am NEVER going to be one of those people who moves back to the middle of nowhere as an adult!”

Done. Here.

“I’m never going to date another alcoholic or addict, EVER!”

Done. Remarried one. Subsequently divorced him.

“I am NEVER going to wear leggings. Gross.”

At my friend's infamous Festivus party, 2011

At my friend’s infamous Festivus party, 2011

All right, maybe I came close to holding true to this one, but I did don a sweet pair of leggings with the ugliest Christmas sweater EVER a few years ago.

When it comes to saying “never” these days, I try to catch myself and rephrase things.

“I can’t say I will NEVER have another baby, but I’m leaning that direction.”

Our daughter's christening, 2013

Our daughter’s christening, 2013

 

“I won’t say I will NEVER join another Baptist church, but I’m pretty happy attending our Methodist church right now.”

“I won’t say I will NEVER teach again. But I’d rather work as a waitress than teach again.”

Well. This has proven false.

I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to put my recently earned Master’s degree to work and to teach one course this fall at our local community college. Not only am I glad to be able to use my degree, but I’m excited about TEACHING. I can’t wait to wade through the text and create my syllabus, incorporating things I’ve learned and ideas I’ve mulled over the past few weeks. I look forward to being on campus, even for a few hours a week, and helping students in some small way to better themselves and prepare themselves for the world of work that lies ahead.

My first experience as a teacher left a bad taste in my mouth. I taught, as my second job out of college, as a high school teacher (teaching English and Religion/Philosophy) at a private high school in an affluent area of the city. I was the third teacher that year–and I started in the middle of September. That probably should have raised a red flag, but it didn’t. I was naïve and assumed that teaching there would be easier because the students would certainly be better behaved due to their upbringing. And the Christian environment would be really supportive, encouraging, and positive.

I do keep in touch with many of my students. And I built some great relationships with many of them. If I could have stayed inside the four walls of my classroom without any interruptions from the outside world–namely parents and administration–I think I might have stuck with it. But that didn’t happen.

I received a handwritten letter from a student threatening to bring a gun to campus after my first month teaching because said student was failing my course and wasn’t thrilled about it. The principal blew it off and suggested I change her grade so she would have fewer worries about graduating. I was not wise enough at that point in my life to simply report the incident to the police, so I just moved on. Countless parents scheduled conferences with me to voice their concerns about my zero-tolerance policy regarding cheating and plagiarism. Couldn’t I be a little more forgiving and overlook those things? When I sent students to the office or reprimanded them, they were often sent immediately back to my classroom, receiving no consequences for their actions.

I wasn’t a perfect teacher, but I tried my best to stick it out (and I did, for a year) for the sake of the students, who were a year away from heading to college, to improve their writing and reading and critical thinking skills. I knew that what I was doing would prepare them for what they would encounter in college. But dealing with the lack of support from parents and administration proved too stressful for me. I opted out of contract renewal in May and went back to working with emotionally disturbed teenagers. Believe it or not, the environment at that facility was much more supportive, encouraging, and positive. And I felt the students truly appreciated my efforts to help them.

After that negative experience with teaching, I vowed to avoid teaching at all costs. And yet I continued to find myself in work environments and volunteer situations that demanded that I lead or teach. I led support groups for sexual assault victims. I taught summer courses for high school students as part of a grant-funded program. I led workshops for college students when I worked in career services. I created curriculum for training employees at multiple job sites. I led Bible studies for students.

And now I find myself preparing to teach college students.

One of the wisest women I know repeatedly tells me that “always and never are God’s words.”

She is right. I NEVER know what my future holds because I do not hold it.

God does.

And He ALWAYS knows what’s best. And I won’t say NEVER, but it’s rarely what I had planned :).