Write Your Own Obituary

A colleague who teaches English stopped by the other day to talk to me about my recent announcement that I am heading back to my hometown to teach. We got to talking about Illinois and baseball. She told me I just had to read a book by Chris Ballard titled “One Shot at Forever” about a baseball team coached by an English teacher in Macon, Illinois. In true English teacher fashion, she tracked it down immediately to loan me her copy. Befriend English teachers. You will never have a shortage of access to really spectacular books. I have a stack of books as tall as I am in my “to read” pile, but I dove headfirst into this one.

Chapter 3 shares the title of this post. It talks about the unconventional assignments Lynn Sweet gave in his English class, including the one where he has students write their obituary.

“But Mr. Sweet,” he said, “How are we supposed to know how we’re going to die?”

“You’re not,” said Sweet. “How you die is the one thing you don’t have control over. What you do have control over is the rest of your life. Write how you want to live.” He paused, then smiled. “Have fun with it.”

It has been almost ten years since the last time I completed an assignment for an English teacher, but I could not resist the opportunity to complete Mr. Sweet’s assignment myself. Here’s to hoping it is many, many years before mine is published in the local paper, and also hoping that someone can edit it down to a reasonable length.

 

Laura Ashley Grimes (aka “LG” and “Femes”), lover of life, friend to many, wife, mother, daughter, sister, teacher, dog mom, and so much more than could ever fit in a newspaper column, left her earthly life on (date) after living all of her days. Those she loved knew it fully, and she was surrounded with love from near and far. She lived just as she loved, fiercely and fully. She was preceded in death by her incredible mother Sybil Sue Sparks Grimes, who gave her life, filled her life with love, and taught her to live life with love, her grandmother Joanna Sparks, whose sass, stubbornness, independent spirit, and unwavering faith was a compass for Laura all of her days, her grandfather Jim Sparks, whose zest for life inspired Laura’s love of laughter and people, and her grandfather Gordon Grimes, whose stories of travel inspired her own desire to see how she fit into this world that was so much bigger than herself. After a tough few years of loss, she refused to say goodbye to anyone else.

She made good on what started out as a joke to name her children mathematical names. Her daughter, Parallella (Ella), and son, Pythagoras (Pi), were the light of her life, her pride and joy. Of all of the things she did in her life, the opportunity to love, care for, and nurture her children the way her parents had done for her was the most important (along with a sufficient amount of embarrassing them because are you a really a parent if you don’t do that?). Her greatest wish was that she gave them roots and wings, just as her extraordinary parents had done for her.

In her years as a teacher, she taught her students a little bit about math and a lot about life. Although many did finally realize that they use math in real life and she was right all along, they all realized that the most important lessons that they learned in her classroom extended far outside of anything mathematical: be kind always, be useful often, do good, laugh a lot, work hard, don’t take yourself too seriously, find something you are passionate about and use it to make the world a better place. Although she would like to think it was her own wisdom that she was giving out, she knew she was just dividing out all of the things people had added up in her throughout her days, and it was one of the greatest honors of her life to be able to pass it along to her students. She knew that addition and division was the most important math of all because it would continue to grow exponentially. She always appreciated a good math pun. She also hoped constantly that she taught her students as much as they were always teaching her.

She traveled as near and as far as she could and left a little piece of her heart everywhere she went. Those pieces live on even though she is gone, whether it is on a small island in Nicaragua, in a cafe in Paris, on a mountain in Spain, in a piazza in a small Italian town, or all of the places in between. She did not believe in strangers, but rather people who hadn’t had the opportunity to teach her something about the world yet. She carried the people who crossed her path in her heart always, because each and every one of them enriched her life in some way and always reminded her that we are more alike than we are different. 

When she wasn’t with her family and friends, educating our future, and traveling the world, she valued some quality alone time, a good nap, and a good book. She did some yoga, wrote a blog which eventually turned into a book or two, and never did quite master the cooking thing, even though she was excellent at the eating part. She spent lots of time outside, knowing there was nothing as good for the soul as some quality time outdoors. She swore it was impossible to be unhappy in a hammock. She saw a lot of the world, but nothing compared to her back porch, with her cup of coffee, a good book, and her two golden retrievers, which she often referred to as her “dream life.” She knew long before that, though, that she was always living the dream. She had people she loved who loved her, work she was passionate about, and always left some sunshine everywhere she went. That was the dreamiest of dreams.

A celebration of life will be help formally on (date) at (place). There will be donuts, coffee, french fries, ice cream, and an additional assortment of all of her favorite foods. Her 2BC class from the 2016-2017 school year will make good on their promise to perform one last math rap at her funeral. A celebration of life will also be informally held in the hearts of all who knew her every day for the rest of their days, because to know her was to celebrate life. In lieu of flowers, her family requests that you plant your own flowers to enjoy and smile fondly when you see them and think of Laura. Memorial contributions may be made to one of the many links she shared on Facebook asking for money for the causes and organizations she was passionate about. Fortunately, that no longer includes lung cancer research because after lots of stairs climbed and hours of Yoga Challenges completed, lung cancer is a thing of the past.

 

I have helped write a few obituaries in the past few years for my mom and my grandmother. It was sad and painful, but also a reminder that death is just a small piece in the grand scheme of your life. After all, you don’t have control over the death part. But the life part? That’s all up to you. Have a little fun with it.

A How to Guide to Help Your Person When They’ve Lost Their Person

People often come to me seeking advice for what to do when an important person in their life has received terrible news about an important person in their life. Although it is kind of nice to think that I’ve convinced people that I know what I’m doing in my grief, I actually have no idea. I also know that every person is different and approaches grief differently. That being said, I’ve compiled 8 easy foolproof steps that have no scientific data backing them up other than my own personal experience.

1.) SAY SOMETHING. One of the most painful things is the people who have yet to acknowledge the grief I have experienced. It is better to say the wrong thing than nothing at all. You’ll never know what to say. I’ve been on the other side of it and I still don’t know the right thing to say, and sometimes I’m guilty of not saying anything at all. I’ve spent many hours in the greeting card aisle looking for a card that says “Hey, life really sucks sometimes, and I don’t have anything to say to change that. However, I promise you never have to face it alone because I care a lot about you. Here’s to lots of embarrassing public crying in your future. I’m sorry!” Tragedy, death, and grief are all super messy awful things. The silence from people you think care about you is deafening though. So one more time, a little bit louder for the people in back: SAY SOMETHING.

2.) However, if at all possible, there are some things you should really try avoid saying. Although there is a possibility that people want to hear about your similar experience about your dog, grandparent, parent, pet turtle, cousin, etc., comparing your grief to theirs can make it feel like they are cheapening what they are feeling. Your grief is every bit as real as theirs, but give them this chance to honor theirs. Do what I say and not what I do though, because I’m totally going to talk about my grief throughout this. Also avoid “Everything happens for a reason.” I’m a really firm believer that life is a series of events always working to put you where you are supposed to be and make you who you are supposed to be. But I also think that sometimes that happens because life gives you a really awful batch of lemons and no one wants to sit around holding lemons so you make yourself some lemonade and although there are some refreshing qualities of it, it can be really bitter. Sometimes I have a tendency to take metaphors too far. Ask my students about my flipping on the light switch metaphor sometime. Also avoid “God has a plan” at all costs. Because although that might be true, saying it to someone who is struggling will most likely result in them having some choice words for God about this plan of his. Also avoid too much talk about praying for a miracle. It is very comforting to be include in thoughts, prayers, and good vibes. Prayers for peace, comfort, and understanding personally feel much more useful and realistic to me. When in doubt though, refer back to #1.

3.) Allow your person to talk about their person. Bring them up. Talk about the memories you have with their person. If you never had the privilege of meeting their person, ask about them. Talk about them in the days, weeks, months, and years after their loss. Although I might get emotional when people bring up my mom, it makes me so happy to hear that other people carry her in their heart also. It’s a reminder that even though she is not physically here, she will always be a part of this world. I have especially loved hearing from her family members, friends, and former colleagues. They provide me pieces of her that I never knew. It’s a reminder that although she is gone, I can always learn new things about her.

4.) Be really careful about how you suggest things. I think therapy is an absolutely wonderful thing that should be openly discussed without stigma. However, there were occasions where people suggested therapy and grief groups in a way that felt to me like they were saying, “I’m too busy or uninterested to support you so can you maybe go be someone else’s problem now because your grief is really killing my vibe.” Now I highly doubt this was anyone’s intention at all, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t feel that way. Absolutely support your person as they seek professional help in their grieving. Just make sure they know it is from a place of love.

5.) Be there. Meet their needs. If you see a need that needs filled, do it. Show up. When my mom was diagnosed, the school I was teaching at rallied around me in an unbelievable way. I still carry that love and support in my heart to this day. They gathered cards, money, and gift cards to make sure I was fed and my gas tank was full as I was commuting 6 hours roundtrip every few days. They stopped in when I was teaching just to check in, even though their own plates were full. They made copies, checked in on subs, and handled my most difficult students. They tried to convince the school to allow them to donate sick days to me (huge shoutout to schools and companies that have an employee sick day donation system in place). In one of the most challenging stages of my life, they reminded me that I would never have to face anything alone. Back home we had a steady stream of food delivery, people mowing our yard, and people making sure our physical and emotional needs were met. The day my mom was moved to hospice, my best faraway friend sent electronic gift cards for all of the food and coffee places within a few minutes of the hospice home. Thoughtful AND practical! Hours after my mom died, my best friend was at my house and the best shadow for the next few days. Anything that needed done, she did. Take out the garbage, get me coffee, make sure that my family was hydrated, ensure that I had a fresh Kleenex in my hand. All without ever needing a direction from me. People don’t want to intrude or be a burden and I totally get that. Figure out a way you can be useful to your person and do it. I know it is not always possible to show up to services, but I am forever grateful to the people who showed up from near and far to support me.

6.) Don’t ask this person to support you in your grief of their person. There’s a very good chance that the death of your person’s person will also be really tough on you, and that’s okay. Your grief is valid. However, if at all possible, do not rely on this person to support you through your grief. I have seen several things referring to the “Ring Theory.” Basically, it says that there are different rings around the grieving person. The center is the person closest to the grief and the outer rings represent people further away from the grief. Comfort should be pushed in to the center of the circle and you should rely on the people on the rings outside of yours.

7.) Be there. This is a bit of a repeat, but it’s that important. Be there long after the fact though. Honor that your person will carry this with them for the rest of their lives. Be there days, weeks, months, and years after. I vividly remember sitting at my family’s kitchen table hours after the funeral. Everyone had left. There had been all of this hustle and bustle for a few days and then suddenly silence. Everyone else got to move on with their lives, and suddenly I was alone and drowning. Eventually life for your person will move forward, but they will carry this grief forever. Be there on the good days and the bad days, the anniversaries and the crying in an aisle in target because it’s been dreary for a few too many days. My mom loved eating ice cream for breakfast, so on June 29, the anniversary of another year without her, my heart is so happy when people send me pictures of them eating ice cream for breakfast, a reminder that life is sweet and special and that I’m not the only one carrying my mom in my heart. One year on my birthday, my best friend went to my mom’s gravesite as the sun was rising and sent me a picture. I never would have thought to do something like that, but on a day where I felt very alone, I was reminded that I wasn’t. I’ve received cards and notes and messages for no particular reason on no particular day reminding me that my mom would be so proud. Friends, family, colleagues, former students, and strangers have shown up or donated to climb stairs and do hours of yoga in my mom’s memory in hopes that the cancer that so brutally took her from me will someday be a thing of the past. Be there, be there, be there, whatever that looks like for you.

8.) Depending on your relationship with this person and keeping in mind #4, you might feel comfortable sharing resources, be it support groups, podcasts, books, articles, or twitter accounts. Sometimes people ask me if they can share my blog, either because they know someone experiencing similar things or because of how beneficial I have found writing. Share away! If just one person finds comfort in my words, then it is worth publishing my thoughts and feelings on the internet. Heck maybe that’s my silver lining in the thought that everything happens for a reason. A few of my favorite (heavy) things for people feeling all of the feels:

Books: “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed, “It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too)” by Nora McInerny, “The Dead Moms Club” by Kate Spencer, “Tiny Beautiful Things” by Cheryl Strayed, “When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi, and “The Bright Hour” by Nina Riggs

Books that I’m excited to read but haven’t finished yet: “Modern Loss: Candid Conversations About Grief” by Rebeeca Soffer and Gabrielle Birkner, “Everything Happens for a Reason (and Other Lies I’ve Loved)” by Kate Bowler, “The Art of Death” by Edwidge Danticat, “Promise Me, Dad” by Joe Biden, and “Hiking Through” by Paul Stutzman

Podcasts: “Terrible, Thanks for Asking” and “Everything Happens for a Reason”

Support Group: The Dinner Party (http://thedinnerparty.org/) – A COMMUNITY OF MOSTLY 20- AND 30-SOMETHINGS WHO’VE EACH EXPERIENCED SIGNIFICANT LOSS & CONNECT AROUND POTLUCK DINNER PARTIES TO TALK ABOUT IT.

A Teacher’s Thoughts After Yet Another School Shooting

Today I wasn’t sure I could get out of bed because the task at hand seemed to large. I was not sure I had it in me to stand in front of a group of teenagers today. To tell them that they are safe here. To tell them that sometimes the world is ugly and messy but that I believe in all of the good things for them. To tell them that I think they can make the world a better place. To be prepared if someone were to try to harm them. I hardly ever call in sick, even when I really am. Today I was sick and tired of this world we live in. But I remembered that the students of mine are often reminders to me of the good in the world. I remembered I had important work to do.

I started my classes today by talking about what happened in Florida yesterday. I told my students that I do not have anything eloquent or profound to say, but that I felt like it was important to have this conversation regardless. I feel the same way about writing this piece. It will not be eloquent or profound but it will be raw, because that is what I feel right now.

I was in 2nd grade when Columbine happened. I remember coming home from school, walking up the driveway, and grabbing my usual after-school snack of goldfish crackers and a Diet Coke (Michelle Obama would NOT have approved). I remember my mom glued to the TV in our living room as coverage of the school shooting in Colorado was happening. Usually she would have turned this off or told me to go elsewhere. Instead, we watched together as students streamed out of the school, parents cried, and experts analyzed. As more and more news came out, including the motive of the shooters, I very vividly remember my mom telling me how important it was that I be kind. Always, always, always be kind. It wasn’t unusual for me to crawl into bed and watch the Today Show with my mom before getting on the bus. I couldn’t believe when halfway through interviews of parents and students sobbing she told me it was time to get on the bus and go to school, where I clearly would not be safe. She told me something that I’ve carried with me every since. “You can’t live your life in fear or you let them win.” When I got to school, my teacher addressed it. I remembered that today as I questioned how to talk to my students. If a 2nd grade teacher could lead that conversations with a bunch of 8 and 9 year olds, I could lead it with young adults. From that day on, we said the pledge as well as a statement about being kind to each other and preventing violence in our school.

I was nannying the summer a gunman shot up a movie theatre. I remember making breakfast with the 12-year-old in my care when she asked me why something so awful like that could happen and how do we stop it. Her question broke my heart all over again. I didn’t know how to explain gun laws and mental health to a 12-year-old. Heck, I don’t understand it all myself. I told her a lot of things are out of our control, but we can always choose to be kind, even when the world is ugly.

I was preparing to start student teaching when the news of Sandy Hook broke. I questioned if this was a job I could do. It wasn’t what I signed up for. I wasn’t equipped for it. I had written hundreds of lesson plans and a mathematical thesis, but no one taught me how to barricade my students into a classroom and shield them with my own body.

I’ve huddled in the corner of my classroom, both for drills and possible threats. During one instance last year, I was on prep and grabbed a student out of the hallway when the announcement that we were on lockdown came across the loudspeaker. As I sat silently in a corner with a student waiting to know if we were safe or not, all I could think of was that I had eaten a candy bar for dinner the night before. I can’t even feed myself a proper dinner and yet I am expected to know how to handle an active shooter.

I’ve participated in active shooter trainings, where I practiced disarming and restraining a gunman, barricading students in a classroom, and making life and death decisions. I’ve looked around my classroom and questioned what I could break a window with, what I could arm my students with, and where would be the safest place to hide them. I’ve questioned if I could get them out the door and to safety in time.

Today I pulled up to work and saw parents dropping of their kids. I thought of how tough that must be, entrusting us to do everything we can to keep the most important thing in their life safe. Today I looked at my class rosters. I thought long and hard about whether or not every one of those students felt like they belonged in my classroom. I asked myself if they felt loved for and cared for and welcomed into my classroom. I wondered if their needs were being met. I hoped that every one of them knew that I would do everything in my power to keep them safe. I stood at my door and tried to greet every student as they walked in, hoping they knew how very glad I was to see them today and every day.

Thoughts and prayers and blog posts are great. Sharing articles and tweets and having courageous conversations are important. I currently have a student in my class studying abroad from Germany. Today he asked me what is it with the US and guns. He has been here since the beginning of the school year. In his short time in the United States, he has seen more mass shootings than he ever has in his entire life in his home country.  This is awful and sad and embarrassing. We need to do better. It’s not like this everywhere and it doesn’t have to be like this here.

We need common sense gun laws. There is no reason why a civilian needs access to an assault rifle. We need background checks. We need to keep guns secure. We need proper training and resources for gun owners. We need to recognize that all people need access to mental health care and social services. And maybe more than anything, we need to increase the resources provided to schools. We need to increase the access to mental health resources and social services in our schools. My school’s social worker and psychologist are two of the most incredible women I’ve ever met.  I am repeatedly inspired by the work they do. I also know that their plates are overflowing. Yet they answer every email, address every student concern, and make time for every student who knocks on their doors. Every school needs them times ten. We need to recognize that in addition to trying to teach content standards, raise test scores, collect and analyze data, and all of the other “academic” tasks teachers are handling on a daily basis, teachers are also continually trying to build relationships with students and look out for both their physical and mental well-being. We need to lessen those burdens wherever we can, and that means more funding and resources. Will this prevent every tragedy? Probably not. Will it prevent some? Absolutely.

I will continue to love and care for our kids, as will teachers all across the country as they do day in and day out. But as long as our politicians care more about money than the lives and safety of our kids, that love will never never be bulletproof.

Here is a website to find out how to contact your elected officials: https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials

New Year, Same Ever Evolving Me

I am not really one for New Year’s resolutions. It seems like a really fantastic way to set yourself up for failure. Have you ever met someone who made a really fantastic change to their life and credits it to starting something on January 1? Yeah, me neither. (I’m really hoping you all said nope to that or you completely disproved this post.) Why would we decide to change our lives after a week of overeating, the day after staying up too late with a full day of football watching ahead of us? That just sounds like we are setting ourselves up for failure.

If anything, I believe in new school year resolutions. At the beginning of each school year, I make my advisory students do an activity where they make a resolution for each class, a professional resolution, their profession being a student, and a personal resolution. I do the same thing. This year, my professional resolution was to do every assignment that I assign to my students. I have no idea why they complain about homework because I think it is so much fun. I’m not even kidding. It’s what I do to de-stress. If anyone wants me to send some math assignments their way, I would be happy to do so. I’ve been doing a great job, and while a lot of my students are a month behind on homework, I’m about a month ahead. It’s been fun, it has helped me anticipate where students might struggle, and I think it puts more value on the work I assign if I say it’s so important that I’m going to do it too (even the word problems). My personal resolution was to cook at least three new recipes a month. After I ran out of new ways to make tacos, that one has kind of fallen apart. There’s always next year? (PS please send me all of your easy taco recipes.)

There are also a few things that I am famous for ranting about. Those things include (but are not limited to) people who use the snooze button (SET THE ALARM FOR THE LATEST TIME YOU NEED TO WAKE UP AND THEN GET UP YOU ARE JUST MAKING IT WORSE FOR YOURSELF), Wisconsin drivers (THE LEFT LANE IS FOR PASSING. IF YOU ARE NOT ACTIVELY PASSING SOMEONE, PLEASE SCOOTCH YOUR 68 MPH GOING BOOTY OUT OF MY WAY AND WHILE YOU’RE AT IT, LEARN HOW TO USE A TURN SIGNAL), and people who go to the gym the first two weeks of January and are so busy getting endorphins that they forget how to be a decent human being. Now, I think fitness is great and that every single person should add it to their routine. It has been great for my physical health, my mental health, and my daily donut habit. If New Year’s resolutions are what help you find a love of fitness, great! But please, for the love of all things good, wipe down your machine when you are done, stop talking on your cell phone, don’t change the TV that someone is clearly watching, AND BRING HEADPHONES. NO ONE WANTS TO LISTEN TO YOUR MEDIOCRE TOP 40 JAMS.

The thing that gets me about New Year’s resolutions is the thought that we need to wait until a ball drops to change something in our lives. I would hope that I am continually evolving to become the best me that I can be. New year, same ever evolving me. As much as I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions, I do believe in taking the time to reflect on where you’ve been and where you want to go, and I think a new year is a really great time to do that. So here are some of the things on my ever evolving list.

1.) I want to work on becoming a more consistent writer. Now I never want to feel like I need to churn out a certain amount of blog posts every month. That sounds counterproductive for all of us. However, I would like to be better about designating time to write, whether it is blog posts or just personal journaling. Now because I’m a firm believer in full disclosure, I think it is important that I inform you that this blog post has been in my drafts since last January. On the bright side, the bar is very low, so I feel like I can only improve!

2.) I want to deepen my yoga practice. I thought about committing to a certain number of classes each week or month, doing some sort of challenge, or finally signing up for a yoga teacher training. I don’t think yoga is at all about the quantity, but rather the quality. I want to make sure that whether I’m attending one class a week or seven, I am making sure my whole self is present and honoring where my mind and body are on my mat on that day.

3.)  I want to make sure I am always putting myself in life’s way. The best things happen when you put yourself in life’s way, both in the big and small ways. When the option comes to pull back or push forward, I hope I push forward. I hope this also eventually evolves into me being a way less picky eater, but that might be taking it to the extreme.

4.) I want to embrace my humanness. I often feel the need to try to be some sort of superhuman in all things I do and I hold myself to some ridiculous standards. Although I think it is important to always do my best and put my whole self into all that I do, I also hope to be better at honoring where I am at, even when where I am at is not perfect. To mean, this means recognizing the things that are really great about me and celebrating them. It also means embracing my flaws and respecting that I will always have them. Whether I’m happy, overjoyed, sad, frustrated, exhausted, confused, lost, hurt, or anything in between, I’m allowed to feel that way and it is okay to feel that way.

5.) I want to be better at embracing others in their humanness. Yes, this includes snooze button users, Wisconsin drivers, and New Year’s resolutioners at the gym. I think this goes hand in hand with allowing myself to be more human. When I remember that I am flawed it will allow me to embrace other people’s flaws. We are all just walking along this journey of life, no one knowing more than the next. We can always be learning for each other, and ideally always evolving into our best selves.

We are all works in progress, 365 days a year, all of the days of our lives. Every day is an opportunity to work towards becoming the person we want to be and living the life we want to live. It won’t happen overnight. It won’t happen in the span of 365. Heck, it won’t happen in our lifespan. But that’s no reason not to always be working towards living our best lives, whatever that looks like wherever we are in life.

Teaching is Loving Outrageously

I didn’t make the cheer squad in middle school and I never did quite master juggling, and yet, it feels like that is exactly what I spend my days doing. Cheerleading and juggling. At the same time. In addition to teaching math, creating math songs and dances, ensuring the safety and well-being of my students, handling the avalanche of emails that end up in my inbox, tracking down students who should be in my class but aren’t, kicking out the students that should be somewhere other than my classroom, eating donuts, grading, and trying to be a functioning human being. Sometimes I wonder why I am so tired all of the time, and then I realize the amount of multi-tasking I am doing at any given moment. I’ve often seen a statistic that says teachers make an average of 1,500 educational decisions. A day. A DAY. No wonder that when it comes time for me to decide what is for dinner I find myself crying on my kitchen floor because decisions are hard (well, decisions and life sometimes). I would be lying if I said I haven’t tried to figure out a way to position my computer so that I could type emails with my foot, teach at the board, and write passes at the same time.

If you know me at all, you know that it is no secret that I have a special place in my heart for all of my students, especially my more challenging students. Call me crazy, but I love a good challenge. They are often referred to lovingly, and sometimes frustratedly, as “my kiddos.” People often ask my why I decided to be a high school math teacher. Well, besides the pay, glory, and fame, I did it for the summers off. Just kidding. A little. I like math, but I LOVE working with teenagers. They are the niftiest bunch of frustrating weirdos you could spend your day with, and I think it is pretty cool that I get to use math as a way to prepare them to be full blown functioning adults that might possibly one day change the world. Some days I see those things happening right before my very eyes. Some days I have to remind myself that it’s all about the little victories, and that I might not get to see the tree that grows from a seed planted in high school, but that doesn’t make that tree any less special.

I have a student this year who is going to be responsible for my first grey hair, without a doubt. I don’t even have her in class, actually, and yet, she is going to age me. We work together on her behavior and her academic work, and I often feel for as many steps forward as we take together, every little victory we celebrate, we often end up with a giant leap backwards. We recently had a chat where I was very honest with her. I told her that I am continually telling everyone just how incredibly awesome I think she is. I told her I will continue to tell everyone how incredibly awesome I think she is, because I completely believe it is true. But people are starting to think that maybe I’m crazy, because they don’t get the chance to see that side of her. When I start to think that maybe I am, I remember how far she’s come in the past year, and all though we still have a ways to go, that progress should never be belittled.

We had a speaker at the beginning of the school year named Dr. Sharroky Hollie. It was probably the best professional development I’ve ever sat through, and I’ve sat through a lot. Seriously, teacher friends, look him up, and if you get any say on speakers for staff, you want him. He covered so many important things relating to Culturally Responsive Teaching. The thing that stuck with me the most was his talk about outrageous love. He said that every day should be a day where we show outrageous love to the students who need it the most. It’s been said that the students who need the most love will ask for it in the most unloving way and boy oh boy is that true. But with every frustrating situation (of which there are many), I remind myself that this is the perfect time to show outrageous love. I know I’m not the only one in my building reflecting on outrageous love. While talking to a student in need of some outrageous love with another teacher, the student asked why we cared so much. The other teacher proclaimed, “BECAUSE THIS IS OUTRAGEOUS LOVE!”

So in addition to juggling all of the day to day tasks of teaching, I add in outrageous love, which to me, feels a heck of a lot like cheerleading. Sometimes I feel like I am continually cheering, “I BELIEVE IN YOU, I WANT YOU TO SUCCEED AND I KNOW THAT YOU CAN, AND I FIERCELY AND OUTRAGEOUSLY LOVE YOU!” I might just buy some pom poms and master a toe touch.

Sometimes outrageous love is exhausting. And you question if it’s worth it, if students even feel the love. And to be honest, after a particularly tough and exhausting few weeks, I was wondering if outrageous love was worth it. But then a student asked me for a letter of recommendation for college. If I’m being completely honest, I was surprised. This student hadn’t made it a secret that my class was nowhere near their favorite last year. But when this student asked me for their letter, they said they wanted me to write it because I had seen them at the worst, and loved them anyway. It was a much needed reminder, both that outrageous love is worth it, and that it’s not about where you start, but rather, where you end up and the growth it takes to get there.

I am by no means an expert, but here are some things that I have found help me outrageously love my students:

1.) Greet students at the door. I had heard this over and over, but this year I decided to make a conscious effort to be at my door during passing period whenever possible. I am continually amazed at how much more connected it makes me feel to my students. It gives us the chance to start the day on the right foot, and I honestly believe that more of my students are showing up on time.

2.) Send positive emails. I’ve started picking out a few students every week and I send a positive email home. It makes it easier to look for the good in my students.

3.) Hallway chats. Whenever possible, I try to immediately pull a student out in the hallway when behavior is not classroom appropriate. It gives us both a chance to voice our feelings without things getting blown out of proportion, and more often than not, we can both walk in to the classroom and have a reset. I also like to pull students out in the hallway for positive things. First off, it’s fun to watch them squirm when you tell them you want to talk to them. Second off, it reminds everyone that a hall chat isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes they don’t go so great though. Just last week I thought I was having a really productive conversation with a student about his behavior when he interrupted me halfway through to inform me that he didn’t like how I did my make-up.

4.) It takes a village. For a long time, I thought it was my job to find solutions for every challenge I face while teaching. I felt like if I asked for assistance, I was admitting defeat. It’s quite the opposite actually. Students need to know we are all working together for their success. I am so grateful for the coworkers who support me while outrageously loving. I am thankful that they help me brainstorm creative solutions for my most challenging situations.

5.) Remember that you are teaching almost adults. To me, this means remembering that you are teaching real humans with real thoughts and feelings. This means that there is a reason behind why a student is acting the way they are. “How does this make you feel?” and “Why do you feel this way?” are such important questions. A lot of times, I understand a student’s behavior much more when I take the time to listen to them. It also means that they are humans and humans make mistakes. Kids especially are still learning how to function as a human in the world, and it is part of our job to teach them how to do this. You can’t just assume they know it already.

6.) You can’t pour from an empty cup. I spent a lot of time trying to be super teacher. I sacrificed a lot of my own health and well-being because I thought I was doing it for my students. I realized that when I took the time to take care of myself, I was a much better teacher.

7.) It’s okay to let your students know you are human. Students can smell bullshit from a mile away. Be a genuine human with them. Let them know that you are imperfect and make mistakes. But also show them how to recover and redeem yourself.

8.) Keep a stash of things that make you smile. Some days are just going to be really, really awful. And on those days, when you find yourself googling “jobs that pay me to not interact with people, not wear real pants, and be able to use a bathroom anytime I want,” dig out those reminders that not all days will be great, and not all students will be success stories, but that you are doing good work and your work is worth it.

Why I Write

When people find out that I write a blog, they always ask me what I write about. My response is a little something like, “Uhhh life, my dead mom, teaching, grief, travel, you know, those kinds of things.” People also seem especially shocked when they find out that I am a high school math teacher, like the only thing I could possibly write would be geometry proofs. Actually, my math degree was considered a writing intensive degree because of the amount of writing required when it came to theoretical proofs THANK YOU VERY MUCH. Those made me not love writing so much because my professors did not seem to appreciate me trying to add my “voice” to my writing. I write a lot of letters of recommendation for students, and they always seem a little bit surprised when they read what I wrote, like maybe they thought I would exclusively use math symbols.

My earliest memory of writing was my Kindergarten entry in my school’s Young Authors competition. I took first place with my entry, a true story entitled “Me and My Apple Tree.” Apparently the judges looked past my grammatical error because they awarded me 1st place for my grade level. I remember sitting in our living room and dictating the story I wanted to tell to my mom, because you know, my actual writing skills in Kindergarten were subpar. She then typed the story about the apple tree that I was gifted for my birthday (because what 5 year old doesn’t beg for an apple tree for her birthday?) and I completed the illustrations (also subpar). The next year, I made a valiant effort to defend my title with the fictional “My Dog Spot.” One year, I partnered with my best friend to create a chapter book about aliens invading the school, and I still feel like we were cheated out of an award. In fifth grade, I won the coveted 1st place school award with my compilation of stories of my favorite memories with family memories. I followed that win up with a 1st place D.A.R.E. essay. You could say I peaked in 5th grade.

Through high school and college I was told what I had to write about by teachers and professors and like most teenagers, I didn’t like being told what I had to do. The one exception was my junior english class where we had to write for the first 5-10 minutes of class every single day, but we could write about whatever our hearts desired. I also kept a lyric diary, which was essentially whatever Dashboard Confessional lyrics summarized my teenage angst that day.

For a long time, I forgot how much I loved to write. Then my mom got sick and was willing to let me use my writing to keep family and friends updated. Writing those posts made me realize how therapeutic writing was, how it made me feel grounded and centered and a little less alone. After my mom died, a dear friend encouraged me to keep writing in some form or another. And from that came this blog.

Step one to setting up a blog is coming up with a name. My first year of teaching, I contemplated a teaching blog (because lol like I would have time to write on the regular) and I took to Facebook to get suggestions. Out of that came a tagline that I just loved: The exponential problems of growing up and other tangents on life. If I ever write a book about teaching, that’s golden. Please don’t steal it. I knew I wanted this blog to be more than just about teaching. I wanted it to be about wherever I happened to be in life, whatever happened to be on my mind. A piece of my mind. Writing gave me peace of mind. alittlepieceofmynd.

I’ve started a lot of things in my life that I didn’t stick with for very long. Dance classes, saxophone playing, speech performing, healthy eating, etc. So I had no idea if this would be just a phase. However, the internet has been letting me write the words that bubble up from deep inside of me for almost two years now. This spring, I decided to purchase my blog domain. Which really means next to nothing except that no one else can have it. Also, I get paid ad revenue. So with my current earnings of $0.45, I am officially a paid writer. I will not, however, be quitting my day job anytime soon.  I also have a family member who tells people I’m a writer anytime she talks about me, which I think is the absolute coolest and it hasn’t gone to my head in the least.

I am continually amazed when I find out that friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers read the words that I write. I might love writing, but I also love numbers, data, and statistics. I am repeatedly amazed when I see how many people have read my words, sometimes in different countries. Sometimes I think that it is completely absurd that I publish my thoughts and feelings on the internet for the world to read, but then I find out that someone relates to my writing, was moved by my writing, laughed at my writing, cried at my writing, or felt something because of my writing, and I realize how wonderful it is that people let me share this piece of me. So thank you for allowing me to share a piece of my mind while finding a little peace of mind.

27 Thoughts, Feelings, Musings, and Questions on 27 Years

I have always really loved birthdays. However, in recent years, birthdays have started to feel strange. I don’t know if it is because I am getting older or because of the loss of my mom. It’s probably a combination of both. But at the end of the day, I still love birthdays. How wonderful is it that we celebrate the day someone came into the world? Although I have the occasional mixed feelings on getting older, how truly wonderful is it that it is a thing I get to do? And how wonderful is it that one day a year, people call, text, post, and spend time with you to celebrate the fact that you exist in this world?

My earliest birthday memories are filled with my mom. I remember her telling me that they celebrated my existence when I was six months in the womb. Her birthday was a week before mine, but she always focused her time and attention on mine. She would start planning my birthday party with me as soon as school got out in the summer and planned it down to every last detail. When I was in college and celebrating my birthday for the first time with her far away, she decided to call a local bakery and convince them to deliver a cake to my dorm room. Now this bakery didn’t actually have a delivery service, but she told them it was my birthday and I had just moved 3.5 hours away from home. My mom had a way of getting what she wanted. She was so excited that she didn’t even wait for the cake to surprise me and called me to tell me it was coming and that I could share it with all of my new college friends. Well I had just started college and hadn’t made any friends when a cake that could feed 50 people showed up at my door. I may or may not have cried and ate a lot of cake myself before realizing that I had the secret to making friends in college in my hands: free food. September is so bittersweet without her.

In honor of my 27 trips around the sun, here are 27 thoughts, feelings, musings, and questions on my 27 years, in no particular order:

1.) Should I have my life together more at 27?

2.) But also, I have my life more together than some people, so maybe I’m doing alright.

3.) By 27, I should be better at remembering that there is no timeline or competition when it comes to living your life. We are all where we are and that’s where we are supposed to be.

4.) At what age will I start getting gray hair? Should I be using more expensive facial products to avoid wrinkles? Would my mom inform me of these things if she could?

5.) Speaking of my mom, will I ever get over the fact that she will never know me past 24 year old me?

6.) Would she be proud of 25, 26, and 27 year old me?

7.) I have gotten to see and do so many wonderful and exciting things over the past 27 years, but there are still so many more things I want to see and do.

8.) The first 27 went pretty darn fast. Hopefully I’ll be lucky enough to get another 27 more. And not to be greedy or anything, but I think I would like another 27 after that.

9.) In my 27 years, I’ve been so fortunate to have so many great people in my life. I sure do hope I get to keep those people and keep on adding to my collection.

10.) I think 7 and 17 year old me would think 27 year old me is pretty cool, but I don’t think I am who they would have predicted I would be.

11.) I am so glad I live in a world with dogs, chicken tacos, donuts, and iced coffees with mocha and cream (among other things).

12.) It’s super cool that I get paid to spend my days teaching some incredible young adults. There is something really special about getting paid to do something you are passionate about, while also getting three months off to pursue other things you are really passionate about.

13.) People read things I write on the internet and connect, laugh, and cry with me. It makes the world seem so big and small all at once, and it’s nice that people let me share pieces of me this way.

14.) Families will always be a bit messy and complicated, but mine is no different. But I am so fortunate to have the family I have, whether they are family by blood or family by life, they are family for life.

15.) At what age was I supposed to learn to stop eating like an unsupervised 5 year old at a birthday party? Is it too late?

16.) If life had always given me what I wanted when I wanted it, I wouldn’t have a lot of the things I have that I wouldn’t trade for the world. I should remember that often.

17.) At what age will I become someone who thinks waking up at 5:30am to become a contributing member of society is a thing I want to do on the regular?

18.) Will Taylor Swift please include a song about being 27 on her next album? I’m still singing “22,” but it’s way less applicable these days.

19.) I wholeheartedly believe that there is more good than bad in this world, you just have to look a little harder for it.

20.) How long will it take for me to stop writing “26” for my age? Will I be able to figure it out before I hit 28?

21.) I don’t really like odd numbers, but I guess 27 is my number for the next 365 days.

22.) How old were the characters in Friends? A little google search has informed me that they were between 24-27 when the show first started and 34-37 when the show ended.

23.) How many times will I watch Friends all the way through in my life?

24.) I sure hope I get to make this list when I’m 80. I think that 80 years would give me lots and lots of things to write here.

25.) At what point will people stop confusing me for a high schooler? Will I be offended when this happens?

26.) With this post as my witness, it seems that as I get older, life has more questions than answers. I think that that is okay.

27.) I am looking forward to all that 27 and beyond will bring. Being able to live this life is pretty nifty, and I should remember that always all of my days.