My Biggest Failure

I don’t know why I have been thinking about this a lot lately. Maybe on the success of the triathlon I have been evaluating other situations in my life that have gone a different way.

I am a mother. I am a wife. I am a sister. I am a daughter. I am a friend.

I am a teacher.

I always have been a teacher. I denied it for a while, but eventually my DNA righted itself. It was a little late for me to go about the process of becoming a teacher the regular way. My idealism didn’t reassert itself until I was twenty-four working at a small magazine as a writer and editor. My eventual goal was book editing, but I was not a fan of journalism. And I had an itch to make a difference. Again, I think it was the DNA talking. But I couldn’t afford to go back to school. I was living outside of DC at the time in Maryland. A google search found a program in the county where I lived that allowed you to get certified while teaching. I know what you are thinking. If a district is that desperate for teachers there has got to be a problem. And there so was. But remember that idealism thing? It asserted itself as a pretty powerful pair of rose-colored glasses. That and I had seen Lean on Me one too many times. So I became a seventh grade English teacher with no experience and high expectations.

It was awful.

I knew there would be tough kids. I did not expect to stand in front of a class in which all but five or six kids ignored my presence. I did not expect to have an administration who allowed this to happen. I did not expect to become so apathetic that I didn’t care either way.

I did not expect to fail.

By April, I quit.

I had no idea what to do. John and I were already planning on moving back to Pennsylvania that summer, but now, I had a couple of months of nothing but failure dwelling. (I know he doesn’t believe it, but thank god for John. If I hadn’t had him and the shining light of our relationship during this fiasco, I don’t know what I would have become.) Pennsylvania job hunting did not help. At all.

So when we moved (now with a spectacularly sparkly perfect engagement ring (See what I mean about him?)), I was doing double shifts waiting tables for my uncle and having almost nightly dreams about all the ways I could have made that classroom mine and blaming myself for over a hundred children’s lack of a seventh grade education.

I had made a colossal mistake. One of those mistakes that throw your life askew. (See above: waiting tables.)

Here’s the thing though. The DNA didn’t shut up. It still had a pull. I still wanted to teach. Maybe it was to prove that I could get back on the metaphoric horse. Maybe it is because we so desperately need anyone who can teach to do it. But through the generosity of my ever giving mother-in-law and the patience of my ever-giving husband, I started classes in 2005 to get my PA certification. I still spent a lot of time scared of what I was doing. What if it was just me and not the environment in Maryland? What if my genetic calling had the wrong number? When were these dreams going to stop?

Then I had a class with a really fantastic educator. During the semester, I ended up bring up a lot of the issues I had during my Year of the Failure. I don’t remember what we were discussing the night he changed my attitude, but I remember whatever was being said caused my instructor to plant a chair backwards in front of me and sit to look me in the eye. He said, “None of that was your fault.” I almost cried. It’s not like others hadn’t said it, but I hadn’t believed it. I gave up. The circumstances weren’t my fault, but I was hard on myself for the way I reacted. The dreams kept happening because I always felt there was something more I could have done which was true. Others in the school succeeded in teaching those same students. When my instructor said it wasn’t my fault, it also made me feel that I could forgive myself the apathetic shell I created to cope. I could understand that I wasn’t that person anymore. It had been a temporary survival state.

Still, I think I almost passed out walking into student teaching for the first day. Then my cooperating teacher let me take the reigns for the last lesson of the day. In an environment that was acceptable and manageable, I nailed that lesson, I have to say. I also nailed the rest of my student teaching, then substituting and finally three years as an eighth grade English teacher. Now I am the teacher of two little toddler sponges as I complete my Masters in Library Science. When they start school, so do I.

I am glad I didn’t let my failure have the last word. The DNA was right afterall.

Oldest. Shortest. Fattest. Slowest.

Yep, this post is about my triathlon. Yes, it took me a week to get to this post. It’s been a long week in which my laptop and I did not get a lot of alone time.
My indoor sprint triathlon was last Sunday. A sprint triathlon is 800 yards swimming, 12 miles biking and 5K running. I was feeling pretty good but nervous when I entered the pool area at the Y around 10:30 to wait for my 11 AM start time. There were five people in each heat. The four other people in my heat? All around 25 and in fantastic shape. They could all do flip turns in the pool. Me? I still just tag the edge. It’s a lot easier to pretend not feel competitive when there is at least one person who might be slower than you. Yeah. I don’t care how much any of us say we are only competing against ourselves and just want to finish, times don’t matter. It totally does. Walking into that heat was a little embarrassing and totally made me the one everyone had to cheer for. Sigh. But still I REALLY did want to finish and I REALLY did just want a respectable time. I had to remember that the flip side to being this post’s title is that I was doing a triathlon even though I was all those things. I was being brave and stretching myself to reach a far out there goal.

And I did it. I was the last to finish each leg, but I never stopped. And I had a better cycling time than one of the other people in my heat. I didn’t walk on the treadmill at all. I finished in under two hours, by a decent amount of time.

I am old, short, fat and slow, but I’m in pretty good shape. In good enough shape to complete a triathlon.

That’s good enough for me.

Motion

Write On Edge: Red-Writing-Hood

She looked like a college student on her way to class, trying to read a textbook as she clung to the subway car’s pole. Her mass of electrified ginger curls was tucked up in the hood of her slightly threadbare duster-length khaki sweater jacket. The military style boots on her feet shifted with the train, trying to keep her still enough to read.

She was not reading.

She was watching.

And counting.

There were four. Then two. Then up to six. Changing as the train stopped and the load of passengers changed with the destinations. Each ride, the new number made a drumbeat in her head. Seven. Four. Five.

She turned a page in the book.

The next stop. It would happen at the next stop.

The number rattled in her head with the rhythm of the train. Five. There were five.

Would it be enough to make it worth it? If any got off, it would not be, she knew.

The train slowed as it pulled into the dim station. None made a move as if to disembark.

It stopped.

She shifted her book, her hand turned a page, and as she gripped the edge again, the fingers of her right hand splayed. To anyone looking, her eyes never left the page.

The man leaning against the wall, waiting for the train bound for the other direction, stopped reading his paper and turned his head towards the front of her train. After a short pause, he tucked the paper under his arm.

She sucked in a quiet breath and closed her book. The doors opened. She swung her bag forward and put the book away. Crouching down, she tied her shoe. When she got up, her bag was not on her shoulder. She made a leap and squeezed through before the doors closed.

She was just emerging from the station, she was on the last step, entering the sunlight, when she felt the rumble of the explosion through the soles of her boots.

 

Motel Toddler

We had our first experience with the kids in a hotel. I learned a lot.

The room was really set up for me. All the surfaces, including the sink, were low, a bonus for a short person. Not a bonus for a short person, with toddlers, who wants to sit and eat a sandwich and watch the television.

One of CJ’s favorite things is ice, and here, right in front of him, was a bucket full of it. I don’t think he knew that much could exist, and there was nowhere to put it out of his reach. Heck, even the fridge was within his grasp. As was the door that’s latch was on the loose side. As were the television buttons.

Within minutes of entering the room, we had to disconnect the phone because Leila was talking on it and pressing buttons. You know she would have managed to call Luxembourg, and it would have ended up cheaper to buy the motel than pay the long distance bill. Honestly, until Saturday night, I wasn’t sure they knew what a lan line phone was for.

We decided to get a room with a king sized bed. Even at home, the kids end up in our bed every night, so there is no chance they won’t when we are away. It was easier to just start out that way. In theory. Apparently, in her sleep, Leila mistook the new environment for an obstacle course with John and I being the obstacles. Her favorite obstacle was John’s head though she might have thought that was a sparring dummy with the amount of kicking it she did. Maybe she is a Potential. At one point she, for her own reasons, crawled to the bottom corner of the bed and just passed out there, face down, sprawled. I ended up sleeping with my head down next to her, with my hand on her, so she wouldn’t roll off the bed. I wasn’t about to move her once she actually fell asleep.

CJ, you ask? He pretty much slept through it all.

In the morning, there were really only two things that were going to make John and me functional, showers and hot beverages of the Starbucks variety.

Motel Toddler

We had our first experience with the kids in a hotel. I learned a lot.

The room was really set up for me. All the surfaces, including the sink, were low, a bonus for a short person. Not a bonus for a short person, with toddlers, who wants to sit and eat a sandwich and watch the television.

One of CJ’s favorite things is ice, and here, right in front of him, was a bucket full of it. I don’t think he knew that much could exist, and there was nowhere to put it out of his reach. Heck, even the fridge was within his grasp. As was the door that’s latch was on the loose side. As were the television buttons.

Within minutes of entering the room, we had to disconnect the phone because Leila was talking on it and pressing buttons. You know she would have managed to call Luxembourg, and it would have ended up cheaper to buy the motel than pay the long distance bill.  Honestly, until Saturday night, I wasn’t sure they knew what a lan line phone was for.

We decided to get a room with a king sized bed. Even at home, the kids end up in our bed every night, so there is no chance they won’t when we are away. It was easier to just start out that way. In theory. Apparently, in her sleep, Leila mistook the new environment for an obstacle course with John and I being the obstacles. Her favorite obstacle was John’s head though she might have thought that was a sparring dummy with the amount of kicking it she did. Maybe she is a Potential. At one point she, for her own reasons, crawled to the bottom corner of the bed and just passed out there, face down, sprawled. I ended up sleeping with my head down next to her, with my hand on her, so she wouldn’t roll off the bed. I wasn’t about to move her once she actually fell asleep.

CJ, you ask? He pretty much slept through it all.

In the morning, there were really only two things that were going to make John and me functional, showers and hot beverages of the Starbucks variety.

Another feature of the short person’s motel room was a massaging shower head I could reach. I know, right? So that helped, you know, my shoulders and my forehead. Ahem.

No really because the bathroom door wouldn’t shut properly, and CJ was making regular mommy checks.

 

The Power to Read

I am sure that this is part of a lot of your lives on a daily basis. Super Why is a favorite around our house. Our kids really like the hip hip hooray happy dance at the end. I am usually in the shower or getting ready, so I don’t usually pay close attention to the show. Plus there are around five episodes that they just play over and over again. However, for some reason, the other day when Super Why went all extra super with his Power to Read, it struck me. Now, Super Why’s power to read means showing kids how to pass a reading test. Super Why shows them three words that will complete a sentence. He and the audience kids then work together to choose the word that fits the best outcome for the story. This makes my teacher heart a little sad every time I see it. However what struck me on this regular old day was the real power of reading. There is a reason dictators throughout history have made reading illegal for the masses. Reading is the way human knowledge is passed and expanded. It is how the ideas that have changed the world have reached those making the change. Revolutions always start with words spread in the quiet and dark and secret until the spirits they invoke in people come bursting out to create a new age.

And sometimes the lessons are not so big. They are small and simple. Here are somethings I have learned as a lifelong reader.

If you are open-minded and kind, friendship will always find you. (There is nothing wrong with crying yourself to sleep over a spider spinning to her last to save a friend. Whether you are five, and your mom thinks she has traumatized you, or you are in your twenties. Ahem.)

A girl can accomplish anything she can put her observant mind to even if she’s wearing a pencil skirt. All she needs are two plucky friends and a convertible.

The answers are right there if you just look for them.

Slavery is a sickening blight on the world, and the damage people can do to innocence is heartbreaking. Ten years old is a tough time to learn that.

The love of a dog for his owner can only be overcome by his love for his sister.

If you ever run away, a museum is the best place to live.

Christmas should be simple. To be happy with a peppermint stick, a tin cup and a penny is the good life.

Dragons and music are beautiful and so is believing in them.

Some times surviving means being a real bratty, bitchy, tough broad.

Sometimes the belief in art transcends our differences.

Commitment can be tedious. You just got to hope it’s worth it in the end.

If Jesus had used dumbfucks instead of the meak, I’d be a more devout Christian.

And there is nothing wrong with reading for the absolute fun of the story.

What lessons have you learned from your favorite books?

Stories of my Pappou

Pappou is Greek for grandfather. My pappou arrived in the United States from Greece in the 1930s, knowing no English. He went to work as a dishwasher in his uncle’s restaurant. These are some stories of him.

The only people who were kind to him when he came to this country were the other dishwashers who were black. They would invite him for dinner and helped him learn English. Years later when he owned his own restaurant everyone could eat there. One day a black lady was eating at the counter, and a white man commented, “You shouldn’t serve the niggers in here.” My grandfather turned to him and said, “Nobody talks to my wife that way. Get out!” And he gave the woman her lunch for free. My family only knows this story because when he died, one of the teachers’ aides who worked at my mom’s school told her the story as the lady apparently shared the story for the rest of her life.

My yiayia, grandmother, was born in Brooklyn to Greek parents. She and my pappou were all but an arranged marriage. His cousin knew my grandmother’s sister, and the two ladies thought they would get along. Plus my grandfather’s English was much better, and his uncle was worried about the attention he was getting and giving to American girls. So one day, my yiayia came down from New York to Pennsylvania, they went on a car ride, and by the end of it, they were engaged. The marriage lasted 55 years, so something went right. This is the true story of their courtship. Apparently, my pappou had been telling my sister stories of riding his donkey from his village over to my yiayia’s village in Greece to court her. It wasn’t until we were all sitting around after the funeral that she mentioned how romantic she thought that was. To which my mother replied, “Where? To the village of Brooklyn?” I don’t know if my sister has ever forgiven our pappou.

Upon finding out that my aunt’s first husband had become abusive, my pappou took his shotgun and went to the aduser’s house. He was not home. My pappou would often say, “He lucky he no home because he be dead and I be in jail.”

During my parents’ divorce, there was an accident. My sister slipped next to my mother’s car, my mom hadn’t seen her, and ran over her leg. At the hospital, my dad came storming in shouting, “What has she done to my daughter?” My 5’2″ pappou started to choke him. It took my uncle and my mom’s cousin to pry him off. He would often say, “He lucky they there because he be dead and I be in jail.”

The extended family was out to lunch after church one Sunday. As we were sitting down Pappou waved and smiled at a lady who had waved at him from another booth. My sister asked if he knew her. He did not. My uncle told him he should be careful of strange women. He might get an STD. To which Pappou replied, “Well, you gotta die of something.”

I miss him.

SAHM as a Misnomer

There are plenty of blog posts out there discussing how stay-at-home-mom is not really very accurate when it comes to what we do with our lives. A lot of them are about the running around a mom has to do because of errands, food, practices, etc. Often the running around is lamented, and some actual time at home is hoped for.

My kids are two and one and a half. (If you don’t know why that math is off, read here.) There aren’t any practices. Errands are mostly just groceries and Target. So I could spend a lot of time at home, especially since it is requires several bags and all my patience just to get out of the house.

I do not like being home all day. My kids are fun, but interaction is on a toddler level. Plus, at home I have to do all the housework that screams at me from around every corner. I hate housework, and being someone who doesn’t work outside the home, I feel like it is my job. If I don’t do my mental list everyday, I am a bad employee. Thank goodness I don’t get annual reviews. When I am out and about, it is way easier to ignore even if that would totally get me fired.

Thus, I try to get out of the house almost everyday. I work one morning a week at the Y, and every Friday at the library, so that’s two. Mondays and Thursdays, I go to the Y to spin and swim (That should be an actual class!). Thursdays also mean Mother Goose time at the library and blissful Chinese buffet lunch with John. Thursdays are awesome. I am gone almost all day, and there is Chinese food and usually Starbucks and my wonderhubby involved. Then I bully my sister into hanging out with us in the evening when John is at band practice. (It doesn’t take much. Thi Thi is mad in love with her nephew and niece.) Wednesday is the day I stay home if I end up staying in all day.

Are you seeing a pattern here?

Yeah. I hate to be alone. And, while, I love my kids and love being with them, their toddler company while comforting is not always stimulating. The dogs and cat aren’t any better. (While the kids were younger, the pets were in fact more adult company. That balance is starting to change.)
I use to be embarrassed by my lack of wanting alone time. It seemed to be such a holy grail for other people, especially moms. I think it’s the Greek in me. We don’t do alone. There is no one to yell back at you. Loud talking is only not insane fun with someone else.
I am also not fond of my alone time thoughts. They have a tendency to lead to guilt over what I should be doing or sometimes they go to dark and morbid places of worry. Even if I have alone time, you will not find me enjoying quiet time. My dementor would be quiet loneliness. I am so made for the internet age.
So even when the kids were way little, I got out as much as possible even if it took more time to leave the house than the time I was out. And I think it’s been good for them too. When it’s the Y or a play date or MOMS Club, they get to be with other kids. They are really good car nappers. We listen to audiobooks. Even running errands I talk to them the whole time and try and make it as much about exploration as shopping or mailing a package or cashing a check.
Sometimes I worry that this all comes from a great insecurity, a massive emotional chasm, but mostly I’m too busy and having fun to care.

Back to the subject. What should my job title be?

To De-clutter or Not to De-clutter, That Is not the Question

We have lived in our house ten years this summer. In that time things have accumulated. Now we aren’t hoarders or overly sentimental people who keep boxes of Christmas cards or paperwork from ten years ago.

But in the course of busy lives things have accumulation. In the last two and a half years of being a person who spends most of my time in my house, this accumulation has been making me feel overwhelmed. There are several closets for which the idea of wrestling them open gives me a panic attack.

Sensing my mood because I nagged he is a perspective husband, John tormented his sinuses and eyeballs a couple of weekends ago and cleared out the basement. I now have room to store the stuff that is not trash for a yard sale (According to my sister it is going to be the Epic Yard Sale to End All Yardsales. Get your plane tickets now. Also it is amazing what people who shop at yard sales think is not trash.)

I got to start my de-cluttering this week. I started with the kids’ closets. There are two in their room.

Before

After

I know it doesn’t look like a big difference, but I started with smaller messes. I’m trying to work my way down the house with the kitchen de-cluttering being my ultimate achievement.
I am learning things along the way. For instance, it is hard to even give away baby blankets if your child’s name has been embroidered on all of them. I am thinking of using them in a sewing project. Maybe doll clothes? Any suggestions?
Also any advice for my de-cluttering process?