Saturday, December 24, 2016

Enjoying Christmas Traditions

It's Christmas Eve. I am up early attempting my first tiramisu. I like trying new recipes at Christmas. I am excited for today and tomorrow. My kiddos will be all mine. School is finished, work is closed, and friends are busy with their own families. This is our time together as a family. One that I cherish deeply and realize may change in the future as they create their own families.

Living 700+ miles away from my extended family, we made the choice to stay home for Christmas when my daughter was three years old. Traveling over Christmas was always hectic. The kids didn't like being in car seats, they always had to become reacquainted with family at a time that people were also shoving gifts at them and expecting them to be happy, and with both of our parents divorced, we had multiple houses to visit. It was more stress than pleasure. Instead, we created our own traditions. Every Christmas Eve we have spent baking and preparing for Christmas day. We plan one special event for Christmas Eve. In the past we have made gingerbread houses, went ice-skating in Chicago, visited the Museum of Science and Industry for their Christmas trees around the world, bowling, and more recently we have started eating out on Christmas Eve. Then we come back and the kids open their gifts from one another. It is simple, but enjoyable. On Christmas morning we get up to see what Santa has brought, eat breakfast and finish opening gifts. When the kids were young, we spent the entire day playing with them and their new toys.

We have created wonderful traditions. Yet, as the kids get older, those traditions are challenged. Will they be happy with just the four of us? Do I need to come up with some other activity to keep them excited? As a mother, I see my precious two days as a family more important than ever because I know it may not always be this way. I want our traditions to be something they always look forward to and will eventually want their own partners and children to take part in. But I also want to keep an open mind to the changes that will occur in the coming years. I want my children to know that being with them is what really matters. Seeing their faces light up, sharing a meal together, or just sitting together is all that really matters in the end.

This year, I get to enjoy another year of tradition. Both kids will be home today to help put together our traditional Christmas burritos. My son will be sleeping at home tonight after we go out to eat. I love knowing both kids are snug in their own beds. I have been reminded that we need fruit for the morning in it's special Christmas bowl, a wonderful reminder to me that they still enjoy the traditions we have made together. In the morning, we will wake up as usual and see what Santa has brought. I don't know what next year will bring but today and tomorrow, I am planning to soak in as much of my family together as I possibly can. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of you.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Lesson Learned

One of the fascinating things about aging is that while each experience is unique, there is also some form of repetitiveness to each one. Having been through similar situations time and again, you get it. You can easily predict what the outcome will be.   

For the last nine years, my border collie and I have walked through frigid temperatures and blizzards. This is her time of the year. She may opt out of walking on a warm summer day, but never during the winter. In fact, she will sometimes lay down during a walk just to eat snow and enjoy the cold snow on her belly. Most of our walk is on shoveled or partially shoveled paths, but we have one long stretch through our neighborhood park where the snow is NEVER plowed. At times it has been up to my knees. Izzy hasn't cared. In fact, I think she has always enjoyed the challenge. It might be an exhausting physical accomplishment for me, but she has always bounced through the snow with gusto. 

This is the entry.
The walk continues
through a park area.
But yesterday when my almost ten year old Izzy and I hit this open area on our walk, she stopped. I could see her thinking. (It's lovely to see her mind working.) She looked up at me for a second as if to tell me she had made a decision and then turned around. Our walk would not include this path. Like me, she has hit that place in her life where she knows what she is getting into, and it was as if she remembered what a workout this part of the walk could be and said, "I am not up to it anymore." To be truthful, I was relieved. I was seriously dreading this part of our walk. We had between 8-10 inches of snow and this path is often tricky not only  because it isn't shoveled, but because so many have stepped on it already and those footprints have frozen over. She has gotten to an age where when she lays down, she groans like I do. She isn't a puppy anymore. Life has given her enough experience to know she doesn't need that type of physical workout anymore.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Leaving a Piece of Heart Behind

Last weekend I tearfully said "good-bye" to the Ford Freestyle I have had for eleven years and 175,000 miles.  Crazy, huh?  My husband had gone earlier in the day to get the details on the VW I have been eyeing for some time and reported back that my Ford valued at $250.  That's fine Kelly's Blue Book, but my heart values that car as so much more.

As we were signing papers for my new car, I could see my blue Freestyle outside the window.  I choked back tears as the memories flooded through my mind.  My kids have been raised in that car. Eleven years means my kids were nine and seven when we purchased this vehicle. Now they each have their own car. As we lifted up the seats there were years of crumbs and evidence of times my teens took the car out with friends. Dog fur showed the numerous times Izzy and I have gone to forest preserves, vet appointments, or her favorite - Starbucks.  She loves those puppuccinos. We have taken family vacations, camped, and loaded our bikes up for family bike rides. My heart was remembering all the times the kids had friends in the car or talked to each other and I was able to just listen as I drove.  I remembered picking up our border collie in this car and the kids and I laughing all the way home.  Both kids learned how to drive with me in this car. My daughter and I have had heated arguments while sitting on the seats of this car but some of our best conversations have been after pulling over in a Starbucks parking lot, crying, talking, and working things out.  Memories of all the homeschool events we attended over the years rushed through my head as well as the first time I dropped my daughter off for a high school event and she told me to stay in the car because she could handle it alone.  I could see her in the driver's seat as she chauffeured five other friends to their spring dance.  She was so beautiful in her formalwear.  I remembered all the hours my son and I drove together, the involved conversations we've had, and the years we shared the car making each other's schedule work.  It's also the car I have used as my "mobile office". Since I teach several of my classes off-site, this car has stored everything I need for class.  I've loaded and unloaded more books than I can count. We have picked up numerous people from the airport and had lots of fun adventures with family in this car.

It's been a long time coming for a new car.  We planned to purchase a new one for me a few years back but instead got the kids a car to share.  Then we planned on it again, but my job became unstable. Honestly, we have let the car go.  When one of my children broke the driver's side mirror off for a second time, we decided the car wasn't worth the expense of replacing it and I had a very interesting "conversational piece" attached mirror for months.  The tires were completely bald to the point I worried about driving on the highway.  Every time I drove it I whispered, "Please let the brakes work a little longer."  It needed new shocks and more. But as we drove away, I felt a little sad for my friend.  It was old. It had lived it's life and provided well for us.  But I also felt sad for myself.  It was like leaving a piece of my heart behind.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

My Purpose

Deepak Chopra says, "Everyone has a purpose in life . . . a unique gift or special talent to give to others. And when we blend this unique talent with service to others, we experience the ecstasy and exultation of our own spirit, which is the ultimate goal."

My adult education students come to class for a variety of reasons.  Some are there to improve their language as English language learners, others want to improve their reading skills, some are working towards their high school equivalency exams, and a handful come due to a court mandate.  My students are special because for many of them, previous school experiences weren't kind to them. That is why I feel I have been given a very unique job, but also one that matches well with who I am.  Not only am I able to help my students with learning the academic skills they want to acquire, but my personal gifts allow them to feel safe and comfortable.  And the amazing thing is that the gift I share with my students as they come to class worried they won't be able to keep up, scared that their lack of knowledge in academia will be exposed, or reliving all their past insecurities is that what I give them tends to stay long term.  

The beginning of the school year always brings students I have had in the past dropping by my classroom for hugs or standing in the hallways waving.  After their first days with their new teachers, they share that they had good experiences, but it is me that is forever in their hearts for being patient with them, showing them kindness, and helping them find their unique way of learning. I hear over and over, "You are very special Teacher."  Sometimes it seems simple to me, but when I have student after student share how I have made a difference, I know it isn't simple to everyone.  For me, it is natural.  It is the gift I bring to the world.  I don't always have the fantastic amount of information in my head as other teachers I admire, but that isn't what I bring to the classroom.  I bring calm.  I allow students time to figure out how they learn best, and to realize that mistakes are there to learn from.  My goal is always to find my students' strengths.  Sometimes it takes a bit of work, but once I see them seeing it in themselves, my heart wants to burst with happiness.

The first week of classes is always crazy busy with paperwork and testing but it is also my reminder that I am where I am for a reason.  I have found what I am good at and it benefits many people. And best of all, by sharing my unique gift, I receive so much love back.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Life Doesn't Let You Get Too Comfortable

Life never lets you get completely comfortable, does it?  For the last 15 years I have been working as adjunct faculty for two community colleges teaching adult education (English as a Second Language and Adult Basic Education).  I LOVE it!  I love the variety of students I am able to meet, the small but important lessons I am able to share, learning new things myself, and being surrounded by colleagues who want to make this a better world for everyone. The problem? Due to a screwed up state budget, both schools have cut their programs.  I am now facing a year of 50% of the classes I have had for many years.  Unfortunately, our family does depend on my income which means I need to get serious about finding a new full time job or finding a part time job to supplement my teaching jobs.

In addition to teaching adult education for the last 15 years, I have been busy raising my kids. I've always been passionate about motherhood.  While the kids still need me on occasion, they are growing up.  Between my job slowly dissolving and my kids growing up, I feel like I'm in limbo. What's next for me?  It's a scary uncertain time. I want my next phase of life to be just as rewarding as the previous one has been but have no idea what my skills allow me to do.  Plus, once you've been in a position of helping people as a career, it is pretty hard to give that up.

As I slowly prepare my heart and mind for a new job, I know what I don't want.  I don't want to go back to public education.  Teaching fifth grade was a lot of work and I don't have the energy for it anymore.  I don't want to be stuck in an office working on a computer all day.  I cringe every time I try to see myself there.  I like variety.  I also have a few things I want. After twenty some years of teaching, I want to continue helping others.  I love that part of my life.  I love knowing that I have helped many students who have been away from school for many years feel comfortable and component.  Also, after working odd hours for so long, I'd like a regular schedule that also comes with benefits, something I haven't had as adjunct faculty.

Each morning I wake up and ask for guidance on where I am supposed to be.  I search different career sites and try to see myself in different jobs. So far, nothing.  I know there is a place for me and I am keeping my fingers crossed that it won't be long before I see myself in a place designed for my unique gifts and I can continue contributing to our family income while also making a small dent in a better world.   

I am curious, how have you transitioned into a new phase of life? 

Friday, July 22, 2016

My Calm is Moving Out

My oldest is picking up keys today to an apartment he will share with his girlfriend.  We have had many discussions about his moving out and I thought I was in a good place.  I am so proud of how he has thought through the many scenarios of how this move will effect him.  That is hard to do when you are in love.  He has had ups and downs about moving and I think has come to a mostly happy place, although leaving home is of course a big change for anyone. But, I've been happy for him.  Actually, I have been excited for him.  Until now. Even though he hasn't even taken his stuff yet, the house feels empty of his spirit. 

My son is the calm of this house. Whatever is going on, even if it is him I am upset with, it is he who I need to be around. He radiates a sense of calm. He listens and gives a tiny bit of advice. He hugs me. He reminds me so much of the calm I felt with my dad.  There aren't many people in the word like them.

Last night we discussed how this is just a new phase and we will have to figure out a new way of making our relationship work.  We've been making those adjustments through every stage of his growth.  The difference now is he won't be here every day.  I already miss standing by the coffee pot as he makes his coffee, having deep discussions. I already miss the lessons I have learned from him on being more open minded. And, I can't wait until Sunday night when he is here for dinner. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Parenthood: The Tables are Turning

When my kids were young, my daughter would call me on my way home from the evening class I taught.  We talked until I was in the neighborhood.  When I pulled up in the drive-way, both my son and daughter were standing on the porch jumping up and down in excitement that I was home after being gone for five short hours. They would both run to the car and hug me tight.  Their pure genuine joy in seeing me is the most fulfilled as a person I have ever felt.  Pulling up in the drive-way, I knew 100% I was meant to be on this earth.

As my children are transforming into young adults, the tables have turned a bit.  It is now me waiting excitedly for them to come home.  With their busy schedules of school, work, and friends, I don't see them that often. Sometimes that is fine, because living with young adults who have life figured out can sometimes be a struggle.  But, I am and will always be their momma.  So, as their evenings out become later and later, I wake up constantly as I once did when they were very young, "Are they okay? Do they need me?" I am trying really hard to just stay in bed repeating, "You've raised them well.  They will make good choices," because if I get up and they aren't home at what I consider "a reasonable hour", I go into panic mode and sleep will not come again.  I ask them to please at least send a text that they are safe which is getting better, but sometimes forgotten.  So when the hour finally arrives that I hear the front door open and those familiar steps tromp up to bedrooms, my heart wants to jump up and down in pure delight that they are home.  As children they could share their excitement in seeing me, I don't dare show mine because I know they need their space and my jumping out of bed to embrace them will only make them feel watched and judged.  They made it home.  That's all that matters to me.  In the morning (wait, who am I kidding, they won't be awake until afternoon), I can shower them with love and let them know how happy and honored I am to have them in my life.