Monday, May 30, 2016

Home #1


I have been thinking a lot about home.  About what we mean—what we feel, really—when we talk about home.  About going home, being home, staying home.  Leaving home.  Missing, creating, remembering, moving past, adjusting our understanding of home. 

It’s is an enormous word—a weighted one, thick with individualized meaning, heavy with comfort and safety and, sometimes, pain.

The older I get, the more I love just being home.  This is a change back to the youngest me, the child, the little girl who loved being home.  I didn’t need to be anywhere else.  Of course I went out and about in the world and did the things people do to turn into grownups, but I felt my best when I was just home.  Before I was 18, I lived in one place—one little house on one little country road outside of one little town. 

But after high school, by my own choices and circumstances, I lived in ten different places from age 18 until 28.  A move a year, roughly.  I lived alone and I lived with roommates.  I lived in dorms, apartments, houses, and—my favorite—a rented mobile home on a rough, unkempt lot with six other mobile homes ($215 a month, thank you very much).  I even spent a few months on a ratty, smoke-scented couch, crashing the apartment of two high school buddies who had become regulars in the pub where I was a bartender.   They offered their couch, and I took it.  When I arrived the first day and knocked on their door, a black garbage bag full of clothes in my hand, I knew instantly it was a mistake.  The guys greeted me enthusiastically, albeit a bit slurred and red-eyed, and I swallowed the lump in my throat that was asking me, How did this happen?  How did your path lead to this?  I did everything I could to avoid the place, only going there to sleep, but sleep was largely elusive because of the ongoing reel of country music videos on the television and the constant smell of Budweiser and Marlboros in the air.  When I did sleep, it was only because I’d cried myself to a place of complete exhaustion. 

There.  That story just happened, didn’t it? 

Here’s the thing about home, for me: Each home has its own story, and they all come together to tell my story.  Each “home” defines a place in my life.  A mindset, really:  where my head was, and how I was figuring out my path.  Each home was a specific mark on my own timeline.  Maybe a place of a stumble, or victory, or stability.  A place of clarity; maybe a place of confusion.  I could go on and on about each of those places I’ve lived, give specific details about each front door— and how I felt each time I walked through it. 

I think most people have a complicated story to tell about home. 

I started thinking about home because I have noticed the deep meaning behind some of the most common ways we talk about home.  We have all said or heard one of these things:

I just stayed home.
I couldn’t bear to be at home.
I really want to go home.
It just feels like home.
It never felt like home. 
I’m never home.
S/he’s never home.
S/he’s always home. 
It will be good to be home.
My first home.
Our first home.
Our next home.

And so on.  Think about it.  When people use the word home, they really mean something.  They’re saying something important.  Something that should really make us stop and listen.

Next time, I’ll tell the story of one of my students, and how his request to go home stopped me cold.  

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

I'm Sorry

There’s this awesome scene in Parenthood where Adam tells his brother, Crosby, to just suck it up and apologize to his mother-in-law for something that had happened. 
“For what?  I didn’t do anything!”  Crosby protests.

Adam answers, “It’s just… you know what?  You’re a man.  It’s just what men do.  We apologize.  I say three ‘I’m sorry’s before I get out of bed in the morning.” 

Smart.  It’s true.  Sometimes, you just apologize. 

But Adam is wrong about the man thing.  I think it’s an everyone thing.  It’s certainly a leadership thing.  When you’re a leader, apologizing isn’t at all about if you’re right or wrong.  It’s about something simpler.  It’s the right thing to say.  I’m sorry.   Sorry for a situation that sucks.  Sorry for a bad decision on someone else’s part.  I’m sorry.  Just sorry.

Not long ago, a couple students got into some silly scuffle.  These two have been classmates for several years now, especially if you count their time together in preschool, and they are sick, sick, sick of each other.  They actively seek ways to get on one another’s nerves.  They each wish for nothing more than for the other one to get in trouble for something.  Anything.  So, on this particular day, we had yet another version of the same story that has been told between these two kids for months now:  Kid #1 took an item from Kid #2 and threw it in the trash.  Kid #1 didn’t admit it, in spite of a long and involved search for said item.  Another kid ratted out Kid #1 and the item was retrieved. Kid #1 got in trouble for being mean. I called her parents; they understood, promised to deal with it at home, everything good.

And then, with a sick feeling in my stomach, I called the mother of Kid #2.  This woman is challenging; I’ve had enough interactions with her to know it wasn’t going to be a pretty phone call.  I knew she’d be really, really pissed.  And she was, but this time, she went even farther off the reservation than I’d ever predicted she would.  She screamed at me.  Screamed.  Said she’s sick of Kid #2 picking on Kid #1, she’s sick of her kid being bullied, she’s sick of this school, she’s sick of me.  She’s sick of me putting her kid in danger (!??!), sick of me not expelling Kid #1 (!?!?!), sick of the whole *&$@%( school (!?!?!).  She said a whole bunch of other things, too—mostly about my incompetence.
“I’m sorry,” I said, about five hundred times.

I had nothing to be sorry for, if you got right down to it.  I wasn’t even in the building when this particular incident happened.   I’ve done everything exactly as I should have with these two kids—investigate, intervene, communicate, make a plan for going forward.  Of all things, I shouldn’t be sorry, for cryin’ out loud.

But I recognize that it’s my job to be sorry, to apologize, to recognize that this woman was frustrated and angry and needed someone who would take her fury.   I knew there was nothing I could do to make her feel better—except, maybe, apologize. 

I do it a lot, just like Adam says he does. I say I’m sorry.  Three times before getting out of bed, it seems.  And all throughout the day.  It’s what leaders do.   We be sorry. 

Saturday, May 14, 2016


There's this great Minion meme that says, "Being sick is your body's way of saying you're way too awesome, and you need to slow down, so everyone else can catch up."

Not so with me.  Being sick is my body's way to tell me to freakin' stop already.  Period.

I got sick this week.  The kind of sick where my body felt like it had been in some sort of accident.  Like I'd been shoved to the ground and kicked a few times.  My muscles ached.  Little portals in my body had masses of... just... hurt.  Even my armpit felt like it had a bruise.  My armpit.

I stayed home from work Wednesday, alternately watching Netflix and trying to keep up on the endless emails that come into my work account.  I wasn't much better the next day, but I mustered my toughness and bungled my way through another day of work.  It was fine.  Not good, by any means; I felt like crap and looked even worse, and I blew my nose so many times it grew red and raw.  But I just kept telling myself I felt okay.  It was okay.  I was okay.

That night, I made dinner and we all sat down and ate, all civilized and stuff.  Afterwards, as the kids played on the trampoline, I cleaned up the mess, like I always do—it's a comforting habit, really, making my way through the lists of tasks:  I clean the dishes, store the leftovers, wipe the table and countertops, and then sweep the floors.  Except this time, as I worked, I started feeling worse and worse and worse.  About halfway through, I just started to cry.  I admonished myself several times:  Oh, stop it.  You're fine.  Why are you crying?  Stop it!  STOP IT.

But the tears kept coming, even as I picked up the broom and finished up the cleaning, even as I kept reminding myself I wasn't actually crying about anything.  And by the time I was completely done, I was so achy and cry-y I couldn't do anything except... ache and cry.

I went to our back patio, where my husband was watching our kids jump and play.

He looked at me.  A look of alarm crossed his face.  "What is it?" he asked.

I shook my head.  "I just can't," I said.

He jumped up.  "You're still sick," he said.  He took my shoulders in his hands, turning me back into the house and murmuring something about getting me to sleep right now. "I'm sorry," I said, feebly apologizing for leaving him alone with the bed-and-bath routine with the kids.  "Don't be ridiculous," he snorted. He lifted back the covers and nudged me in, pulling the blankets up around my head and tucking them around my shoulders.  I closed my eyes and just let go.  I heard other noises—there was the shake of an Advil bottle and a water bottle filled up, placed on the bedside table "just in case."  I think the kids came and kissed me goodnight.  I can't say for sure.  I was done.

And I slept.

A couple hazy days have passed.  I'm not yet feeling well, but I'm past the break-down-into-nothing stage.  I'm ready to tackle the last month of school, with all the ridiculousness and fun that comes with it.  I can do this.  I've had my shut-down; time, now, to power back up.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

No. More. Decisions.

I read somewhere that the human brain only has a certain amount of energy in it.  It can be used up, so to speak.  So after a long day of work or play or conversation or whatever, the brain needs us to go to sleep so it can regenerate itself.  It's why we wake up in the morning with strength and resolve and we can make sound decisions; but it is also why, after a long day, we kind of lose ourselves.  We lose control.  And willpower.  And common sense.  Which is why evening is the time stupid decisions are made and stupid arguments happen.  'Cause our brains are all used up.

There's some real science out there explaining all of this, but I don't really want to go find it to quote it here.  So let's just say I know it's out there and I believe it.

Every Friday night, I believe it more.

Fridays exhaust me.  On Fridays, I feel like I will never, ever, ever catch up.  They make me feel like a tree that's got a whole flock of woodpeckers on it, peck-peck-pecking away at me.  Like this past Friday:  I don't even want to go into what all happened.  I can't.  It's too much.  I don't even remember it all, even.  I woke at 5 a.m. and went like gangbusters all day.  I had tough conversations.  I mediated.  I planned.  I made decision after decision after decision.  I pinch-hit and bunted and struck out, boom-boom-boom.  Kicking ass and taking names.  Except really just whirling around punching at the air and decidedly not taking names.

So when the day wound down and my husband and I met back at home with the kids, the Friday night script began.  It's the same every week.  My husband starts it off.

Want to eat out or make some dinner here? 

I don't care. 

Well, which would you prefer? 

I don't care. 

Well, if we go out, we could just walk up to Donatos and have pizza.  It would be easy. 

I don't care. 

Or I could just grill some brats and you could make some rice and a vegetable.  That would be easy, too. 

I don't care.  

You don't care?  Because, like, both are fine. 

I don't care. 

But what do you think?  You've got to think something

Which is when I stop whatever I am doing, look at my patient and persistent husband, and say:

I. Do. Not. Make. Decisions. On. Friday. Nights. 

And he laughs, and shakes his head, and says:

Yes, that's right.  You don't.

And then he'll make the decision.  Which is why this past Friday night, like most of the Fridays before it, we walked up the hill to our local Donatos and ate pizza.  It's what he wanted to do anyway, I don't care.  Not on Friday, I don't.  Because my brain is all used up.

I have come to adore Donatos pizza.  Its cheesy, greasy, piping-hot goodness represents a simple end to a long week and a long day.  It represents the teamwork of my family.  It represents a break from the pace of a regular week.  And most of all, it represents a decision I didn't have to make.

Teaching, Time, and Water in a Sieve

"Time flies."  The nurse shook her head and locked eyes with the infant I held in my arms.  She was finalizing paperwork to discha...