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.

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 :).