Sunday, September 21, 2014

God, Family, That Order

I come from a really big family...I mean really big.  My dad was one of eight and I have twenty something cousins, many of whom have already had two or three children of their own. They are a close knit group and I often wish I didn't live so far away so that I could have a little of that cousin friendship on a regular basis. When I was younger, I didn't give it much thought as I was always off doing my own thing. School, travelling around New England, getting married, raising kids, etc.

My dad was the oldest in the gaggle of children my grandparents raised. He was sometimes the ring leader and sometimes the role model. When I was young and he owned a roofing business, he employed his brothers. We had great Christmas cabin parties and summer beach parties. Our clan would move in and fill a space with love and laughter and joy and more than enough beer and wine to keep that laughter and joy alive. They are a family that plays as hard as they work.

Since I refuse to accept the passage of time, I am guilty of assuming things would be this way forever. No matter how far I moved or how much time passed between visits, I always assumed that when I returned for a visit that the family would remain intact, the way I remember it from my childhood. And then one of my uncles passed away unexpectedly and much too young in his very early 50's. A few years later, my father was diagnosed with a brain tumor and left us, again way too soon.  Not long after that my cousin, whom I was great friends with when I was very young became ill and left behind a wife and two small children. Barely half a year later, his father, another one of my uncles left the world and this week, a second cousin was taken from us.

Thanks to the evolution of social networking I have been able to keep up with my extended family quite well in recent years. I love reading of their joys and excitement, watching their children grow, "meeting" spouses and cultivating relationships that had grown stagnant for a time. This summer, when my brother got married, my boys and my husband finally got to meet many of my aunts, uncles and cousin and I am glad for that.

There are all sorts of memes and quotes about family circulating the internet. Some celebrating family and some not so much. We all laugh and share and click "like" on them but probably don't pay a lot of attention. I know I am guilty of it as much as anyone but I tell you what, my father would have and did give his siblings the shirt or coat off his back on many of an occasion. In his youth, I know he took on many a fight to protect his brothers and sisters and no matter what happened between them over the years, he still loved all of them dearly. My own siblings and I would do just about anything for each other and we have been raised to value family. I have been working hard to pass that on to my own children. When I see how excited they are to see their grandparents, how much they love their aunts and uncles and cousins I feel like we have been successful.

I think I mentioned in the previous post that a friend posed the seven day gratitude challenge to me this week. I took a break yesterday, my heart wasn't feeling all that grateful after hearing about my cousin but today I will be back at it. I am thankful to have been related to a pretty great guy who will be missed by so many people. I am thankful that my father lived by example, teaching us that your family may not be perfect and they may not always be perfect but blood is definitely thicker than water. I am also grateful for a mother who raised us with values and priorities that we could pass on to our children.

Yesterday morning I was standing around with some other parents complaining about how early we had to show up to run the baseball field's concession stand. The dreaded concessions duty is required by every parent of every player of every team, one time during the season. It's not so bad really but who wants to rise and shine at six a.m. on a Saturday after working all week? So we were complaining and moaning and groaning when I received that text message from my sister asking me if I had heard the news. The news that a cousin I had always adored had passed suddenly, leaving his mother and sister and brother devastated. Concessions didn't seem so bad after all. Maybe that should be on my gratitude list- I am grateful for yet another day to complain. Ironically, the last time I saw this favorite cousin it was at my father's memorial service where he hugged and told me how much he had loved my dad. We talked about how short life was...much, much too short for some. I asked him to join our cousin group on line and he adamantly swore to me he would never be on that "Face Page." We laughed and when the time came I bid him farewell.

Today I bid him farewell again although the sadness has abated some from yesterday as it occurred to me this morning that when he enters Heaven he will be in the best of company. I had a dream when my dad died that it was my cousin's father that met Dad and showed him the way...carrying a couple of fishing poles and a cooler. I am fairly certain that the two of them, Dad and his brother, my uncle, met my cousin on his way up and tossed him a line and a tub of worms.  What a way to go.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Gratitude Challenge

Now that the new school year is in full swing and I actually have a few minutes to sit and write, I would like to reflect on a few things.

My oldest has started middle school this year. After a few bussing complications we have finally into a decent morning routine. Big man now showers before school every day. This is a huge step from last year when I had to all but threaten a coup to get him in the shower. He fixes his hair and picks his tee shirts by some mathematical formula I will never understand. You see, this summer he discovered that he likes a little attention from the fairer sex. Apparently middle school girls are worth showering for.

He's gotten taller too. In just the few months since leaving intermediate school, his feet are now as big as mine (and I have some BIG feet- size 11W!) and I don't have to lean down to hug him anymore. He now looks me in the eye...

With age, comes the desire for independence. He doesn't want me to walk him to the bus stop any more. That doesn't mean I don't sometimes sit in my car and watch from a distance but I am trying hard to remember that at his age I was babysitting so he should be able to handle walking three houses down to catch the bus.

I am struggling with his growing up. As much as I want him to stay as my baby, I love to see him changing and maturing. Much the way his younger brother suddenly lost his "baby face" this summer and became a "boy". I have held back more than a few tears in recent months, the struggle to let my babies grow up tearing me up inside some days and making me so very proud on others.

When school started so did baseball season. Again, more changes. The little one moved up from coach pitch to "big boy" baseball- children his age with little training and almost no control now throw balls at him that he tries very hard to hit. After spending last season as one of the top hitters on his team, he now struggles to manage a foul hit let alone those triples he is used to. The older boy landed himself on a fabulous team this season. They work together, the coaches coach and he is excelling in his favorite position of catcher. I now look at pictures of him from his very first season and wonder what happened to that little boy who had no idea you were supposed to get out of the way when the pitch is aiming straight for your stomach.

A friend challenged me to the 7 day gratitude challenge this week. List three things you are thankful for each day for seven days. So far I have covered the usual friends, family, children etc. For the next several days I am going to dig deep and try to find things I take for granted without even thinking about. Such as the fact that my boys may be growing up too quickly but they are turning into smart, caring and kind young men or that they are able to grow and become independent because my husband and I have done our job in teaching them to do so.

We are off to a very busy start. This is the time of year where I feel like I am running around constantly. Some nights I don't sit down until after 9pm. I will be grateful from now on that I have the means and the ability to do all the things we do. Not all are as fortunate.

What sort of things are you most grateful for?

Monday, September 1, 2014

Special Edition: A Tribute to My Teacher Friends

So, this is it...the final countdown.  In a mere twelve hours I will be standing in my classroom in front of twenty seven new faces as unhappy as I am to end their summer and begin the rigor of a new school year.

Oh, don't get me wrong.  I enjoy my job and once the school year gets going I will be fine. It's the transition from bathing suits, flip flops and days at the pool to "real" clothes, "real shoes" and days in a windowless classroom that always gets me. Luckily, I have two giant goldfish who are anxiously awaiting new faces to drop food in their tank.  I am unnaturally attached to my goldfish.  They have names and personalities and I talk to them like they are going to talk back to me. I have missed them and I hope they help with my transition.. Hey, don't judge...I don't have any windows in my room, I have to have something to look at during the day!

Many people have told me that last school year was one if the toughest ever with new evaluation procedures, dwindling budgets and paychecks and lack of support for education from those in office. I couldn't agree more.  Last year was a tough one and I was absolutely and completely emotionally drained and physically exhausted.

This year is going to be better. I insist that it will be better! My goldfish agree.  They told me so...

Tonight, on the eve of a brand new school year, I would like to wish all of my colleagues well in the new year. May your and your students' successes far outweigh the pressures of intensive evaluation procedures. I pray that you stay safe, that lockdown drills remain drills and the police never have to visit your classroom in search of one of your students...or anyone else. May the air conditioning and later the heat system work the way it should and may all your lessons turn out as fabulous as you envision them. Most of all, may this year be your best ever.

This calling you have answered is as noble as they come. The lives you touch will be too numerous to count and the blessings you will receive by giving of yourself in ways that only you know how will be eternal. You will give 110% each and every day, even when you have nothing left to give. You will invest your time, your money and your emotions into everything you do and will go largely unrecognized.  You may not see it now but your efforts will not be in vain. Just be sure to take care of yourself along the way, your students really do depend on you and need you, no matter what anyone says.

To those of you I have had the pleasure and the honor of working with over the years, I know how much you give of yourself to your students. I have seen your hearts break and your spirits waver just as much as I have seen you open yourself and your pocketbook to a student or a teacher in need in a time when everyone seems to be in need anymore. It is because of each and every one of you that I go back year after year knowing that together we do make a difference.

May your year be once of peace and may your classes be easy to manage.