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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Crystal

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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.

The gifts that make a difference

Today’s post is written by my student, Jordan Fryman, who wrote this essay in response to the question, “What are three gifts you’ve received in 2013, and why are they significant to you?”

gift-givingGrowing up I have received several gifts, both tangible and  intangible, but the older I get I have realized that the gifts I cannot physically hold are the ones that make the most difference in my life. This year has been full of many gifts that have changed my life in huge and very important ways, and I am extremely thankful for them. The gifts that I have been most thankful for this year are having more independence and freedom from my parents, the privilege of starting a college education, and my new Ford F-150 truck.

Since turning eighteen this year and having graduated from high school, my parents have started to give me a lot more freedom to make my own choices and do the things that I want. I have always been more of an independent kind of person and like to make my own decisions, so this is a gift that I really appreciate. I can now go out and spend time with my friends and do as I please because my parents trust that I will still be responsible. My parents have always been the more strict type of parents and like to know what I’m doing at all times, so to know that they believe I’ll do what’s right without them making me means a lot to me. They still continue to put more and more trust in me today, and that is something that I am very grateful for.

Graduating from high school was a great achievement that I was very proud of, but I knew I wanted to achieve more to reach my future goals and get a higher education at a four year school. I had plans of moving off to another town like Jonesboro or Conway as soon as the fall started, but the only thing that kept me from that was not having the financial requirements to go. I had received quite a bit of money from financial aid and scholarships that I had applied for, but it wasn’t half of the amount I needed to go to a four year school right away. My parents left me completely responsible for paying for college on my own, so after I realized I wasn’t able to afford moving off I decided to stay here in Batesville and go to UACCB. Here, my financial aid was enough to pay for all of my classes and books with money even left over for me to use each semester. I am extremely thankful for UACCB providing me with the financial aid I needed and the help of my classes and giving me the privilege of a college education.

The first type of truck I ever bought was a 1996 Dodge Dakota, and it was definitely not the best looking vehicle in the high school student parking lot. It cost me a little over a thousand dollars, but it was the only kind of vehicle I could afford at the time. My friends and my brother especially would always kindly pick on me about the truck and how it would always cause me problems. While driving, the headlights would sometimes go out and come back on again by themselves which was a problem no one could fix, and sometimes even got me pulled over. Also the truck was pretty old; it still had a tape player in it, but there was a tape that was jammed into it that we could never get out. Any time I got tired of the radio and switched it to the tape player, it would play the song “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” which is still stuck in my head to this day.

After dealing with this truck for so long, I was ready for a new one and determined to get one by the time I started college. I worked as many hours as I could during the summer and saved up all the money I made until I had nearly five thousand dollars. I looked all through newspaper ads and went to several car lots until I finally found an extremely nice truck for a price that I could afford. It was a 2001 Ford F-150 that looked brand new, and it was for only four thousand dollars. I bought it and sold my old one that day. My new truck causes me no problems like my first one did, and I really enjoy driving it. I am still very thankful for it to this day because of all the hard work and saving I put in to be able to get it as a gift for myself

Whether the gifts are physical or not they still bring joy to my life and help to make me a happier person. These gifts have really changed my life in good ways, and I am extremely grateful to the people who have provided them for me and helped me to get them.

Eating an elephant

Procrastination_by_diablo2097I’m not sure if I agree with Tom Petty’s claim that waiting is the hardest part. Sometimes getting started is more difficult.

Recently, my friend and recent guest contributor to this blog, Mary Agrusa, posted a writing prompt on her LinkedIn group, Christian Bloggers – Cross Currents, related to the word “initiate.” I didn’t have time to write at the moment, but my mind began ruminating on the word as I nursed my baby and stoked the fire in our wood stove.

11 years after graduating from college, I was able to begin pursuing my Master’s degree. It took me 11 years to get started for many reasons; primarily, I procrastinated going to graduate school because I couldn’t make fiscal sense out of the decision to take out more loans in order to pursue a degree which would most likely provide me with opportunities to earn approximately the same income (or possibly less). However, when my husband suggested that I consider going back to school after hearing me daydream aloud about how much I would enjoy spending more time reading, writing, and studying literature, I began praying about it and asked God to open the right doors and close the wrong ones. He did, and I’m grateful. I started school last January at full steam ahead.

I’m now preparing to graduate after completing two more courses this spring and (hopefully, fingers crossed) passing the required comprehensive exam for earning my degree. It took me 11 years to get started, but at least I’m almost finished. The part I’ve been dreading is the only part left–passing the big test and preparing for it. This fall, in addition to my coursework, I read 11 novels in preparation for the exam. My to-read list now contains only short stories, essays, and poems.

Even though I’m down to the home stretch, I dread finishing reading all those works of literature, attempting to commit the styles of writing and gist of the pieces to memory, and perusing practice tests and essay options. Lack of sleep and something new parents refer to as “baby brain” have sucked my scholastic motivation dry.

Photo by Tim Laman, National Geographic

Photo by Tim Laman, National Geographic

But two days ago, I recalled a phrase my wise mentor often repeats: “The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.”

So I printed out the list of the works of literature the test will cover and charted out a plan for completion. I read one essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the following day, I read two more. And honestly, they were somewhat interesting and thought-provoking. I even found a few quotable lines here and there for my Facebook status updates.

Thankfully, I finally got started.

Eating an entire elephant seems daunting and pretty disgusting. But taking one bite at a time isn’t so bad.