Thursday, August 28, 2014

Worth It

I love where I work. It's pretty normal for me to say that because there's never been more than just a few hours at a time, in 15 years, where I thought seriously about working anywhere else.

A great deal of my love comes from the fact that I work with some of the greatest, most caring, most fun people ever. I issued the ALS ice bucket challenge to them, knowing full well that they wouldn't let me down. And they didn't.

No matter who leaves or who stays or who arrives, the spirit is there, the kindness present, the love unwavering. I think it's in the brick and mortar. 

But it's one thing to love your co-workers and another thing to love your work. Where I work, things are rarely easy. We fight battles we didn't sign up for. We feed them breakfast and lunch, but it's their soul that sometimes starves. We are someone for a few, and everyone for too many.

It has been 4 days since the start of a new school year. It has been 4 days since I rested well. It has been 4 days since I began seeing 5:30 twice a day. It has been 4 days since I didn't bring home a worry that I turned over and over and rubbed, worn, in my mind. It has been 4 days, and I'm as tired as if it had been 14.

And then, today, this kid came by my room. I can tell you with full confidence that his deodorant application in class was the very least of our problems last year. I worked with him for a full 4 months before he trusted me. And another 5 months, convincing him that I wasn't lying when I said he was smart or tricking him by promising that "today is a new day". We had as many tears as we had laughs and as many failures and breakdowns as successes. Probably far more. His swings between liking me and hating me were rapid and unpredictable and intense. I never knew where I stood with him because I was always waiting for the bottom to drop out.

This was our conversation today as I stood at my doorway, passing out index cards for our warm-up.

Me: Hey, dude! How are you?
Him: Okay, I guess. Can I have a card?
Me: Only if you write on there, "I miss Coach Naz."
Him: I will. Because it's true.

Then he walked away.

And it was worth it, y'all. It was so very worth it all.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Big Kid Stuff

Tomorrow morning, this little guy will head off to Kindergarten.

It sounds so cliche to say that it feels like yesterday that we were all at the hospital, awaiting his arrival into the world. But it does. Cliches may be tired, but that doesn't mean they're false. And it doesn't mean they don't make my heart ache just the tiniest bit.

The first time I became an aunt, I was 16, living 300 miles away. I missed all of this, and I didn't fully understand or appreciate what I was missing. The first words and first steps. The silly songs and scraped knees. The tiny hands around my fingers becoming bigger hands holding mine. Learning to tell a joke, ride a bike, write your name. I couldn't fathom how quickly Baby Stuff becomes Big Kid Stuff, and I couldn't imagine how much we'd miss that Baby Stuff again.

I didn't know how to be Aunt Deana back then, and I never really caught up. Even now, I sometimes feel that I'm just catching on. I'm thankful that I have friends who make me practice.

As I was driving home tonight, I found myself thinking about tomorrow morning. School will be starting for me as well, and even though it's the 15th first day as a teacher, I still get butterflies. Wondering how the day will go, worrying that I will forget something important, curious what my students will think. Seventh graders in my school come to me almost like Elliott will appear to his teacher: nervous but excited, curious but cautious, hopeful for a good day, a good week, a good year.

I would say that I'm worried, but I know my friend, Courtney has the market cornered on that, and rightfully so. But I am claiming "hopeful" for tomorrow as my wish for Ell is the same wish that I have for all of my students.

I hope:

  • you are more excited than nervous.
  • your dad packs your favorite lunch, maybe even with an extra dessert.
  • you like who you are sitting with.
  • you don't feel too lost.
  • you are kind and others are kind to you.
  • you make a friend.
  • you make lots of friends.
  • you (and your mom) have more smiles than tears.
  • you learn a little something.
  • your teacher makes you feel appreciated and welcome.
  • you go home, bubbling with stories, ready for the next day.

But mostly, Ell, I hope you always know how loved you are -- bigger than the sky and deeper than the ocean -- today, tomorrow, and every day. I can't wait to hear all about this next big adventure.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Little Girl Lost

It's Father's Day.

I tried to write this morning, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. The weeks since I last saw my dad have been tense and sad. He was not in good shape, physically or mentally, and it's been difficult. It's funny since I've written about my dad and his illness several times here. (And here and here and here. Or here.). Far more often than I ever thought I would; I am a private person who shields herself with a loud and feisty public personality. In this way, yet again, I am my father's daughter.

But to untwist him from my life, to remove him from this space, would be damn near impossible. For the last seven years, his path has become my own. We wander hand-in-hand, lost in a world where we don't recognize ourselves. I have found myself there again today, but this time, I am alone.

My entire childhood, I feared the death of my dad. I thought it would be the undoing of me -- that I would wake up one morning, and he would suddenly be gone. Often, I would lie in bed, wondering how I would get along as if his absence would hobble me as if I had woken up to have my leg amputated or my eyesight lost. How does a little girl imagine life without her hero?

And then I would hear him coming down the hall, and I would wiggle my toes and open my eyes, knowing that the world was still on its axis.

I never stopped to think that there are things worse than death. Because there are. My dad is my hero still, but he has not been allowed a hero's death. Heroes die in battle. They die strong. They die with their wife's kiss and their children's names on their lips. They don't die inch-by-inch.

I woke up this morning with my dad on my heart. I pulled up old posts and pulled out old pictures. I thought a lot about when I was a little girl. I thought about his hands, so calloused and worn. And how he was old pearl-snap shirts and trucker hats before they were cool. And how he smelled -- like Lava soap, freshly-mown grass, WD-40, and Certs breath mints.

I waited until I knew that lunch would be over and the dining room quiet before I called my mom's phone. He doesn't hear well, and his booming voice is often barely a whisper. I knew she'd be there, visiting him at the nursing home because even if he didn't know it was Father's Day, she would.

When she put him on the phone, he didn't have much to say. Even in his prime, the telephone was difficult for my dad who so loved to see someone's face as he told them a story or reeled off his latest joke. Our conversation was stilted and one-sided as I asked him questions he didn't know how to answer.

When my mom got back on the phone, she confirmed what I had begun to suspect several months ago. My father didn't recognize my voice. She's also noticed that he's stopped referring to me by my name and instead calls me "Sister", the nickname my family used for me until I was 10.

I once wondered how a little girl loses her hero, but I never once thought to wonder how the hero forgets his little girl. Now I wonder how long I will live in his mind at all.

I've always thought that the cruelest thing that has happened to my father is not that he is dying but that he is dying in a trap. His body broken, his mind intact. But even that is no longer true, and I am devastated.

I remember when I was six, my dad tried to teach me to take a fish off the hook. I kept recoiling at it, claiming I couldn't do it, putting on my best scared little girl act. It flopped and fought against my hands, its gills fluttering and flailing for oxygen, and I asked why I couldn't just wait until it died to remove the hook. Surely it couldn't take much longer. "Because it's in pain" was his reply. I can still remember the crease in his eyebrows, the frown on his face, 32 years later.

I've always thought about that moment, seeing my father as the fish in that desperate fight for independence and dignity. But it's only in hanging up the phone and hearing my own ragged gasps that I begin to understand what it feels to be on the end of that line.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Forty Reasons We Love Heather

Sometimes, there just aren't enough reasons to love others.

Sometimes, there isn't enough space, or enough words, to tell all the reasons that you do.

Today is our darling friend, Heather's, birthday. It's a big milestone birthday that I'm probably not allowed to tell you. Not because she feels old but rather I'm worried there's some sort of age limit on the acceptability of fart jokes. I hope not. Dinner conversations will never be as funny again.

So instead, I'm using this space to not only share my words about the wonder of Heather, but I'm also sharing the words of some other friends. And I shall reveal the FORTY reasons we all love her.

1. She likes fart jokes.

2. She cackles when she laughs really hard.

3. I love Heather's dry wit and kind heart. She is so very funny and giving. -- Debi Campbell

4. She is adventurous and has traveled the world.

5. The sarcasm. Oh, the sarcasm.

6. Heather will tackle any challenge without fear.
Okay. Maybe a little fear.
7. Heather was the first person that made me feel like part of a team at Nichols.  She made team meetings fun, and I loved that she was just this side of crazy. XLR8Rs 4 life, yo! -- Angela Kaker

8. She's a badass nerd.

9. Loyalty. If she's got your back, she's got your back. Always.

10. She's tough. As nails.

11. My first awkward moment with Heather was during a team potluck lunch.  I brought deviled eggs, with bacon. I had no idea she ate meat-free! She was gracious, even after she took a bite! oh how she loved our Brain Busters. I so appreciated her sensitive way she motivated or mentored all kids, but she sure had a special way to love on a student even at their hard-to-love moments. -- Annie Garza

12. She's a vegetarian who is cool enough to take you out for a steak dinner.

13. Heather can fix anything. I mean, I can fix anything with duct tape, but she can really, really fix it. Like, for real. -- Me

14. She weighs less when she's drunk. Honest. #Science

15. Heather is not intimidated by head lice, broken wells, or pee in a Gatorade bottle. If you're a teenage boy, and you've done something unbelievably stupid, she will own you.

16. I love that she was always unflappable. No matter what the kid did at camp or how much they were bleeding, Heather would stay calm and take care of the situation. I also love her ability to be a kid.... I think that is why the kids loved her so. -- Denis Cranford


17. One of only two adult that I know, in real life, that can rock some pigtails. With attitude.

18. Her generosity of time, money, and spirit. There is not an hour of the day you cannot call her. There is not a moment she will not be there.

19. Vegetarian or not, she will hunt down the big daddy rat in your shitty camp apartment and feed him to the snake living in the hall closet. Word.

20. She was always so much fun to be around. Her wit and charm were delightful. One of my favorite memories of her is when she was one of the back-up singers with Sally and me (the de la Vida singers), and we used rubber gloves to make our boobs bigger and we used small stones taped to the gloves to make nipples. Heather was game for anything, and we had so much fun. Heather, you are awesome!!! -- Nurse Barbara

21. Heather is apparently unafraid to have big ol' fake boobs with stony nipples.

22. I guarantee that Heather is laughing so hard she is wheezing and searching for her inhaler right now after 20 and 21.

23. She does not know the meaning of "that's a SIPPIN' shot".

24. One of my favorite Heather stories is when I went with the girls to her graduation in Abilene. It was my first introduction to "Blue Tattoo" (an intensely blue-colored schnapps). We did consume some adult beverages that weekend. It was my first experience of partying with people that could be my kids. There are so many wonderful memories of Heather and camp that are too numerous to mention, but I do clearly remember her 30th birthday party when I learned how much Heather loves PINK! Happy Birthday, precious girl. I love and miss you to pieces!!! -- Nurse Sally

25. Checking the after effects of Blue Tattoo is considered an experiment. #science

26. She is a rockstar teacher and coach. She spends hundreds and thousands of hours raising other people's children because she will love the unlovable. She will teach the unteachable. And she manages the unmanageable. 

27. She is one hell of a mentor.

28. I love Heather's ability to see the silver lining and do so with the most wicked, yet delightful, sense of humour.  -- Jamie Fletcher

29. Whenever I think of Heather, the first thing that comes to mind is her smile. You almost never see her not smiling! She is so encouraging and happy -- she brings light into any room she's in. -- Stephanie Shackelford

30. Heather, you are one of the most loving people I know. Not only are you loving, but you are real! And that is so hard to come by! To let you know just how awesome you are, I created a poem:

Oh Heather, oh Heather,
No matter what the weather
You are always real, 
probably the realest person ever
At Mt. Loma or Fossil Hill
Your friends are close like birds of a feather.
Marcus is so cool,
You're raising a trendsetter.
Happy Birthday to you,
stay awesome and cool
And your years will keep getting better and better.

Love, Jarrett

31. She's a fantastic mom. And she didn't let anything stop her from being a mom to someone who really needed her. They save each other every day. And it's amazing.

32. Heather, you are amazing. You have truly influenced me in the kind of teacher I am today. You have the kindest heart, and watching you raise Marcus really inspires me in my everyday life with my kids who need a hero. -- Katie Krambeer

33. I love that Heather because she is so loving and compassionate. She loves animals, special needs children and people in general. I've also always loved her passion for sports... especially soccer. One of my favorite memories of Heather is being able to joke around with her in ways you couldn't with most girls and seeing her face when someone says something that could be taken a few ways and watching her try to contain herself is priceless. I still have the post card she sent me. :) Heather is one of a kind and will always be special to me. -- Ryan Willey

34. She believes that a dirty mind is a terrible thing to waste.

35. She suffers no fools. And she does not mind telling you if you're acting like one.
This. This is the look you'll get, fools.

36. Heather is crunchy outer shell, soft gooey inside. She is secretly sentimental and delighted by the small things.

37. Heather is one of the smartest people that I know.  Yet she doesn't hold that over anyone's head -- unless they are truly stupid. She has no patience for stupid people. However, she has incredible patience with young children. Especially those that are difficult to deal with. I often turned over a challenging child, saying, "You're going to have to deal with him/her. I don't know what to do!" And she's pretty hilarious too. But most of all, I would say she's loyal, and I know that she always has my back. -- LJ

38. Heather is a firecracker! A tiny but mighty spirit with an engaging, devilish smile that instantly makes you want to join her team. Whether it's her sports team, department team, or team of friends -- she's spunky and vivacious, and forever branded in my NJH "Good Stuff" memory bank. -- Angela Stidham

39. She throws a mean set of dice. There's a one-eyed Pit Boss at the Horseshoe Casino and Hotel who can verify this.

40. Heather, you are steadfast. When the winds are wild, you anchor us. When seas are calm, you push us. You steer the ship. You fix the broken parts. You dive in when any of us go overboard. You are the sturdy life jacket, the whimsical umbrella in our cocktail, and the lighthouse guiding us home. 
--D, C, and L

Happy Birthday, Heather-Feather. We love you fiercely.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Three is a Magic Number

Three is a magic number. It always has been. It always will be.

Our Brooklyn Claire turns 3 today. And she's pretty magic.

In the tradition of 3rd birthdays, a series of haiku poems.

Hair bows and tutus
Pearls, curls, and rowdy, wild girls
This is Brooklyn Claire.

Sunshine and giggles
This is our ladybug wish
Mostly, you comply.

Fierce independence,
The world is too small, I fear
For the likes of you.

Who dares defy you?
Rain your fury upon them,
Little Pink Storm Cloud.

But when there is peace,
There are pouty lips, sweet sighs
The world rights itself.

Such a little girl
Standing in a sea of boys,
steering your own ship.

Blue eyes and big hopes
Guide you on your merry way
Let us come with you.

Today is special.
Three is a magic number,
Just like you, sweet girl.

Happy Birthday, Brooklyn. I hope today is all birthday cake, belly laughs, and beauty. I love you.

*Photo credits, as always, to the Mullaney and Hopkins families who, unlike me, always have their cameras and who cannot stop snapping photos of their gorgeous children, thank goodness.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

What Love Is

When I was 5 or 6, I went with my mother for a portrait sitting. A local artist at the rundown Pampa mall created a beautiful portrait in chalk. I don't really remember the actual sitting; I'm sure it felt like it took forever and a day. But I remember my father's reaction when he unwrapped it. It stole his breath, and it is one of the only moments in my childhood I can recall in which I saw my father cry. It is, to this day, his favorite gift.

I thought, "That is what love is." Attention to detail. The element of surprise.

When I was 7, my father bought our family a VCR. We thought it was our big gift until he told us to go outside. There, with snow falling gently, sat a brand new white station wagon with a big red bow. All for my mom. I did not think, "Wow. Who on Earth wants to be surprised with a station wagon?"

I thought, "That is what love is." Big moments. Red bows. Extravagance and newness.

As a child, I loved to watch my mother and father dance. They would twirl around the dance floor of the night club they managed while I roller-skated past them, calling for them to watch me. But when they danced they did not take their eyes from one another.

I thought, "That is what love is." Slow dances. George Jones. Letting the world melt away.

All my life, I would watch my dad come in from working out in the cold. He would take off his work gloves and put his cold hands on the back of my mom's neck to make her jump and squeal. She always knew he would, and she never tried to avoid it. And then, he would stand behind her at the kitchen sink and kiss her.

I thought, "That is what love is." Shared jokes. Cold hands. Warm kisses.

My entire life, my dad would tell jokes. Some were long and complicated. Others were short and corny. A few were downright filthy. But they were all followed with a sharp, surprised laugh. And when it was really good... a short snort. When my mother laughs, her whole face laughs. When my father smiles, his eyes dance. No one can make my mother laugh like my father. And nothing makes him smile like her laugh.

I thought, "That is what love is." More smiles and laughter than shouts and tears.

Sometimes there were shouts and tears and stony silence. But there were apologies and warm kisses and letting go, too.

I thought, "That is what love is." Forgiving. Second chances. Moving on. Making it work.

And now, six days a week, my mother gets into her battered old Buick and drives 60 miles, round trip, to see my father. There are days full of domino games in which she always shuffles and sometimes plays for both him and herself. The only day she misses are Thursday card games with her friends. My dad teases her by calling it her "work day". Thursdays are hardest for him, but he never asks her to miss it. There are no more giant red bows or slow dances or hands freezing from the cold. There are tears some days, but there are also smiles. There are kisses hello but there are now always kisses goodbye. There has been health; there has been sickness. There are unanswered questions and there are unsure futures. There are hardships and heartache, but there is sacrifice and strength as well.

And sometimes, even now -- even through everything -- when they hold hands and look at one another, I think, "No. I was wrong. This is what love is."

Forty-one years worth.

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Road

Today is graduation day for a wonderful friend of mine. When I first met him, he was just a skinny little kid in a Superman t-shirt. He was funny and kind and far too responsible and reliable for a 12 year-old. When you would look at him, you could see the leader he was becoming. He was smart and silly and always knew which the situation called for. He asked questions and sought my advice and put others ahead of himself.

Now, all these years later, the only thing that has changed is his age and the fact that he is no longer becoming a leader. He has become.

Jarrett grew up in front of my eyes at summer camp, from camper to LIT to joining my staff as a counselor and then to training future counselors. He found a home at camp, and camp found a home in him. Watching him journey from boy to man has been one of the closest things I've ever known to being a mom.

Well, maybe an older sister. Or just a really wise and cool aunt.

Today marks the end of a long road, Jarrett. You probably could have reached the end more quickly, but where is the beauty in that? The freeway is fast, but it is drab and devoid of hidden treasures.

The road has not always been smooth, especially this past year, yet life is full of pot holes and traffic jams. Everyone would rather just ignore those obstacles, but you have the patience to wait it out and the knowledge that traffic eventually clears. And you understand what to do when the wheels fly off. It is astounding the number of people in this world, sitting on the side of the road, unable to go on.

This hasn't always been an easy trip. There have been detours and wrong turns and missed exits. But sometimes, I believe, the only way to truly find your path is to get lost a few times first.

Yes, it's been a long road to this day, Jarrett. But I hope the journey has been worthwhile. And although I can't be there to root you on in person today, when you cross that stage, just know that, in my heart, I'm in the audience, waving a big ol' glittery sign and embarrassing the hell out of you.

Because that's what moms and big sisters and cool, wise aunts really do.

Happy Graduation Day, Superman. I am so very, very proud of you.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Little Sister

At work, there is always someone who everyone loves to pick on, mess with, tease. Not in a mean-spirited way, of course, but more in the older sibling-little sister sort of way. For us at work, that is often our friend Jenny.

We are sort of merciless. We tease her about her selfies and sorority girl poses. We steal her keys and cup and try to stage Facebook interventions. We interrogate her about her love life and give the side eye to any boy who comes a-callin'. We feed her fibs to try to fool her and delight when she falls for it yet again. I don't think anyone's given her a noogie though. Or at least not in the last week.

But Jenny is an indomitable spirit. She sees the best in others and helps anyone in need. She adores her students and leads them through math that, quite honestly, makes my head spin. She indulges us our sh*ts and giggles and very rarely gets any more mad than an eyeroll and an exasperated "Y'alllll..."

Jenny is a happy daisy blooming through a yard full of weeds at times.

And, this year, she told me that she loved reading my blog. At first I thought she was teasing me. (Being older doesn't necessarily make you more confident, after all.) But, time after time, she would tell me specifically about things I had written that made her laugh or think or cry.  It's a big compliment when someone tells you that she and her twin sister stayed up late, not to go out to a party, but to go through your old posts.

It's been a while since I've been here. The end of the school year is exhausting, and this year is no different. But I couldn't resist coming to my little place on the internet to wish my favorite cyber stalker a very happy birthday, no matter how tired I might be. Especially since I forgot the customary lunchtime cupcakes today.

Happy Birthday, Roopester. Thanks for putting up with all of us, butting into your life every day. This post is all for you.

Monday, March 31, 2014


One of the hardest lessons I've ever had to learn is this:

You cannot want more for somebody than he wants for himself.

It's simply an unhealthy desire, and it will leave you, broken-hearted, banging your head against a wall.

As a teacher, I do battle with this every day. I see students with such potential who continually underachieve or disbelieve their own abilities or self-sabotage on a daily basis.

It's such a magical word -- potential. Really. It practically screams to be bolded and italicized. It's a whole universe of dreams and possibility in a nice little 9-letter space. But in truth, it's just a word. And, often, it's our own hopes and dreams we are forcing into that 9-letter space; not theirs. This is the danger zone.

With my 7th graders taking their standardized test in writing tomorrow and Wednesday, (and another round with math and reading in just 2 more weeks), I found it especially difficult to cram any more into their heads. Each class, I had to take the academic and emotional temperature of the room. Some classes needed a pep talk. Some needed last minute reminders. Others just needed to know what classroom to show up to tomorrow. And still others just needed to be left the Hell alone.

It is a fearsome and dangerous thing to poke a hive of agitated bees.

When each class left me today, I had to fight down the urge to focus on the 3 or 4 kids each class who voiced that they "only want to pass" and demanded to know the passing rate for this test. It's not typically 70, as in class, but that's the last thing I want them to do -- aim low -- so my lies of omission are the strategies I employ. Their desire to be average is completely foreign to me and also happens to be far below their suspected potential. but they are not me, and I am not them.

I cannot want for them what they do not want for themselves. All it leaves me with is a bruised head and a broken heart. They will do as they will do, and all that I am able to provide is the patience to see them through and the trust that I've prepared them as well as I possibly know how. The rest is up to them.

So, for all of my fellow teachers, in the midst of testing season, I offer this advice. Let them be. There will be plenty of other days to karate kick the hive.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Kindness Matters

One of my students asked me last week what I wanted for my birthday this Thursday. I told him that I honestly didn't know. He suggested a Duke trip to the Final Four, but even I knew that was a pretty desperate wish. I'm sad at just how right I was.

But I did think about it all weekend. It's so great to be a kid with a birthday coming up. The world is your oyster, and it's just about the only time that you get a pass for being selfish with your wishes. No sharing. No watching your back for that creepy elf. No costumes. Just you, a big sugar rush, and a pile of presents.

As an adult, though, it's lost a little bit of its magic, and I find myself needing fewer and fewer things in my life. So I've been thinking instead about all of the richness I already have.

I have been blessed with a meaningful career that challenges me every day.

I am honored to work alongside some of the most dedicated teachers I've ever known, and I have been for 14 years now.

I have money in my bank account. I cannot always say this, but I can right now. So there, I said it.

I have a home with cuddly kitties who snuggle and comfort me no matter how awful or great my day has been.

I have a home.

I watch, each day, my former students and campers grow up to change the world. And I get to say I had a tiny part in it.

I am relatively healthy, even if there's more of me than I'd like there to be.

I have a family who has always wanted me to be more than I ever dreamed I could become, even if it meant letting me go in order to have it.

I am surrounded by friends who loved me when I had nothing to give them but my friendship. And they haven't stopped yet.

And, this year especially, I've found myself surrounded by kindness. From the smallest moments to the biggest struggles, I've been met with nothing but encouragement and support and kindness. In a world that often feels so negative, I constantly am astounded by how much light there truly is.

I have always believed that kindness matters. I even keep a small sign in my classroom to remind both myself and my students of this. I believe it's circular; what you give, you will one day receive. I believe that it's contagious. And I believe that it is intentional. 

Certainly, I think there are some people in this world who are just more naturally inclined to being kind, but I don't think it happens accidentally. All of us, at some point or another (perhaps today even) has been faced with the choice -- to be or not to be kind. The chances and opportunities may be random, but the choice is not. I wish I could say that I always make the right choice, but I don't. The very best thing I can hope for is a chance to make the choice again, and I can.

Kindness is one of our last renewable resources. Yet it's only renewed by each of us.

This year, I don't want a sugar rush. I don't need a pile of presents. And I've already had the very best birthday party I could ask for, out in the wild West Texas wind with my most beautiful, wonderful friends.

All I want is for you to put a little more kindness out into the well. You don't have to tell me, or anyone else for that matter, but do it. Think about the nicest someone ever made you feel and, over the next few days, try to give that to someone else. 

Here are some of my favorites:
  • Let someone cut in front of you at the grocery store.
  • Go over to a new mom's house and hold that baby while she sleeps or showers or folds clothes.
  • Sneak attack hugs (or high fives)
  • Donate to a local shelter. Call them first. Ask what they need. Hit the Dollar Store.
  • Allow your significant other to sleep in. Especially if you have kids or animals.
  • Pick up the tab for the person at the next table (or behind you in the drive-thru)
  • Spend an hour at a nursing home.
  • Take a bouquet of flowers to the hospital and tell the nurse to give it to their most in-need patient.
  • Clean out your bookshelves. Donate your favorites. Old books need new lives.
  • Bake some cookies for your secretary or custodian or local service people.
  • Leave a nice note for your waiter or waitress (along with a generous tip).
  • Leave a nice handwritten note for ANYONE (words matter too!)
  • Drop off a bag of food or litter to an animal shelter.
  • Make copies or run an errand for a coworker when they least expect it (thanks again, Mandy, for the copies last week -- one of the best gifts you could give me: time!)
  • Smile or tell a joke. Tell your dumbest one. Even if people say they don't like it, they probably do.
  • Call someone who made you angry and forgive them. This is a tough one. Or forgive yourself.
  • Send an email to your boss and brag on someone they may have overlooked. Teachers, pick a kid to brag on. Send 'em to the office on a POSITIVE referral.
  • Pray. Pray for someone who doesn't ask. Pray for someone who may not know how.
  • Notice the strengths of others. Thank them for it. Let them know how their gifts matter to you.
It doesn't have to be big or expensive or even well-planned. But when the opportunity presents itself, grab it and fill the well. You might just find yourself a little renewed, too.

Thank you, yet again, for visiting this space this past year. Whether you left a comment or whispered a prayer or just had a little chuckle, somehow I felt it. And it's lifted me up.

That's more than I ever could have wished for, friends.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Greatness Rising

I grew up in a really small town. Tiny, really.

There were only two stoplights (there are still only two). My 1st grade classroom was only about 200 yards from where I sat in my senior English class. When you moved from elementary school, you literally turned two corners in the hallway, and you were in junior high. To go to high school, you walked out the breezeway. We only had four channels on television until I was 10. We never had more than eight or ten stations until I was out of college. Tiny, I tell you.

It's a good place. But it's not a place that many people leave. Especially to become a football star.

Ours was Kenny King. When I was little, I can remember him coming to visit his hometown and making an appearance at the high school pep rally. He came to our classroom, and I stuck my hand out to say hello and get his signature in my autograph book. His hand engulfed mine, and I saw that he had on a very pretty ring. It looked similar to the college ring my dad always wore, but bigger. And shinier. He was so tall, with such a deep voice, but his smile was wide and welcoming.

I still have that autograph book somewhere. It has the signatures of my brother, my mom, my Grandma Henrietta, and a Super Bowl champion.

My mom and dad, both avid football fans, almost fell over when I showed them my book. And once they explained just who he was, I almost did too. Because of their awe, my awe was doubled. Every time he came to visit, or made an appearance, I was starstruck and too nervous to ever say hello again, no matter how many times he signed my t-shirt or binder or notebook paper.

Even now, when the Super Bowl airs, you can spot #33 in a clip, on his 80 yard touchdown run -- a record that would stand 16 years. And even now, when I see it, I get a little weak-kneed at having once come so close to a star. I can remember the way that he stood with his old classmates and teammates and teachers, taking pictures, signing shirts and footballs, so at ease, so normal, so like all of them (just with a fancier car and flashier jewelry). It didn't make sense to me that they should feel so comfortable in the midst of someone who had -- gasp! -- been on TV.

In the time since I was 17, I've managed to teach or coach thousands of kids who have grown into tremendous people, including: doctors, lawyers, entertainers, soldiers, mothers, teachers, and two professional basketball players and a national champion. Last night, I turned on Sportscenter to see a former student, so shy and quiet when I knew him in the 7th grade, burning up the highlight reel, hitting seven 3-pointers for his team in their first NCAA tournament game. And then tonight (and all season), I've watched another former student-athlete grow and develop into a solid collegiate player under the eye of an NBA and NCAA hall of fame coach. All such wonderful kids whose hard work and dedication took them far beyond their own city limits.

As I see them, playing on TV, earning the respect of commentators and players that I, myself, grew up in awe of, I am amazed that I came so close to greatness without even knowing it. And I begin to finally understand how those men and women could stand and chat with a legend with such ease. They knew him not before he became great;  rather, they knew him through all of the things that led him to be so.

I'm amazed at how they've changed as I study them in timeouts and interviews. But then I will turn my head quickly to see a gesture or a smile or a face that isn't 30 or 23 or 19. When I look closely, they're 13 again... turning in their homework or challenging me to a game of Knockout or hauling their tuba down the hallway. Those are the faces that now leave me a little starstruck, and tomorrow I'll look into my classroom and wonder about the futures waiting inside.

And I remember how lucky I am to see greatness rise, every day.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


So... I love my job. I do. But like with any job, there are things you have to do that, frankly, you just don't wanna.  One of those such things is training. Another is standardized testing. And when you get those two crazy things together... well, it's a whole lotta don't wanna.

But whether you want to or not, it must be done. Before the actual standardized test training next week, we had to watch 3 training modules about standardized testing.

No. That is not a typo. It's exactly as clear as it sounds.

This is modern day education. Just like there are warnings like "Do not ingest" on tubes of Preparation-H because somewhere, somebody thought "Hey. This stuff I put on my butt? I wonder how it tastes" and then got sick and died, there are poorly-acted training videos set in the worst looking fake classroom because somebody, somewhere, thought "Hey, I've got 4 hours to let kids test in my room. Maybe I'll take a nap."

And now we all suffer because grown adults can't follow scripted directions, pay attention, and stop eating hemorrhoid cream. Such is life.

But because there's not anything top-secret in these videos, and because I was so tired of hearing the robotic voice explain to me what was happening in said videos, and because I was totally alone in my classroom at 6:30 PM with no one to whisper my snark to, I live-tweeted my experience between video segments. Luckily, I think everyone was watching the NCAA tournament play-in games and paid me no mind.

I have to admit, some of the scenarios were intriguing... students stealing test booklets and hiding them in their leather jackets from 1992...THEFT! A teacher who can't tell the difference between Roberto Martinez and Robert Martin... ILLITERACY! Teachers leaving their booklets, trusting another teacher to turn them in only to have that coarse villain violate privacy rules by looking at the test... BETRAYAL! A shady looking administrator leaving a teacher's door unlocked after "checking smoke alarm batteries"... ABUSE OF POWER!

It's enough to make someone certifiable. Or you know, just #CERTIFIED!

*Please note that all of the teachers referenced below are what I believed to be not-so-professional actors playing the role of some very questionable educators. Because, let's face it... video taping a classroom actually engaged in standardized testing is most likely against the rules. There wasn't a module mentioning it, but I'm sure there will be next year.

**Also, reading this blog post does not qualify you as having been "trained". This blog post cannot be used as module credit, will not print out a certificate, and could never do these videos the justice they so rightfully deserve.

***Plus, I had to watch; therefore, so do you.

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Post-Spring Break Analogy

How I would describe the first day back from Spring Break:

Sometimes you're in control of the laser pointer.

Sometimes you're just not.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

On Procrastination...

I have a problem. And its name is Procrastination.

Seriously, I have a black belt in Time Wasting.

It's a problem I've had all my life, and I fight it all the time... getting packed for a trip, I'm still stuffing underwear into the suitcase as the car pulls up to the curb. Putting away laundry only happens when the mountain of clean clothes fully overtakes the kitchen table and threatens to erupt onto the floor. Grocery shopping? Forget about it. I'm the Queen of I'll-Stop-And-Just-Get-One-Thing. I run my car until it's empty because I hate stopping for gas. I dodge every deadline until the very last moment. And I hit the snooze button about 20 times in the morning, up until the exact second before it becomes too late.

And, frankly, sometimes I'm too late. It's genetic. I promise.

Well, this Spring Break turned into the Week of Postponed trips (and all for very good reasons), so last Saturday, I promised myself, "one day of time suck, and then -- PROJECTS".  Let me tell you how that went:

I finished watching "Breaking Bad". I caught up on all of the movies I had been missing. I watched the True Detective finale 3 times. I spent Sunday with a friend in Dallas. I spent a couple of afternoons at a nearby patio, checking their margarita supply. I wrote. I read. I saw every game of the ACC basketball tournament -- and it's a 15-team league. I got a manicure and pedicure and then proceeded to wander around Target for an afternoon and wound up buying oranges and Diet Coke. So... yeah.

I did not clean out closets.

I did not schedule doctors' appointments.

I did not renew my driver's license (although, for real, someone make me do this tomorrow).

I did not take the 4 (FOUR, y'all) boxes of things I cleaned out of closets (at Christmastime) to Salvation Army.

And, I most certainly did not clean out the other closet, the junk drawers in the kitchen, or my bookshelves.

That is until last night when I started cleaning out cabinets and the refrigerator (expiration date check) and the medicine cabinet (more expiration date checks -- I found Pepto Bismol tablets from college, y'all) and on and on and on.

Just since 5:00 tonight, I've done the dishes, 5 loads of laundry, re-organized the linen closet, the bathroom, the kitchen, and sorted out my entire sock drawer. I've developed a bit of a sock problem. I've also decided that if you are a man who can fold a fitted sheet, I will marry you. Truly. You don't even have to buy a ring.

You know how they talk about how runners hit a "runner's high"? I think I've hit the "cleaner's high". It's pretty elusive (although not as much as that stupid runner's high myth), but I think I'm there. (Or maybe that's just the Clorox fumes.) The only problem is that it's 11:32 PM on the last night of Project Spring Break, and I've got to be at work in only about 7 more hours.

See? A black belt. I think it's in the dryer, or I swear I'd show you.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Logic vs. Not Logic

I scared the ever-loving hell out of a poor AT&T guy today. He was only about 20 or so, and I'm sure he's had no training for the likes of me.

I went in today to talk about rearranging my plan. I've had both of my parents on my cell phone plan for the last 4 years, and I know there has to be a better, more cost-efficient way to handle our needs. I've known that the quickest way to chop about 30 bucks is to cancel my dad's phone, and I've known it for a long time. I just haven't been able to do it. Every month, I pay the bill, and I promise that I'll make that change. Yet I don't. It's a promise I never keep. Sure, it's only $30, a drop in the great Cosmic hat, but it could definitely go to use elsewhere. This is logic.

My dad has been in a nursing home for the past two years. We haven't given him a phone for lots of reasons, most of which I'm sure seem heartless to anyone who isn't in our situation but hopefully save everyone the smallest of heartaches and heart attacks. I lied and told him it had been stolen after a hospitalization. It was hard because I'm not one to lie to my dad very often. It was terrible because he's always been able to see through them when I do.

I confessed to a friend last weekend that I'd been paying the bill even after he went into the nursing home. This is not logic. She wasn't shocked, but it's been in my mind since then, wriggling worm-like, begging the question of why.

I don't know why. There is not a sane or logical or remotely understandable reason to keep it. If this were happening to anyone else, my dad would've already scolded me into cutting that cost months ago, telling me to "toughen up" and "let it go". But it is happening to my dad, and as I've learned, outlooks and opinions change drastically when he's at the center of them.

My dad has Parkinson's, and that will never change because there is no cure. And he is getting worse, causing me just this week to postpone a visit because he wasn't well enough. Even his medication treatments bring little relief to his continual muscle freezes and immobility, and when adjustments are made, we risk his mental stability and the emotional stability of my entire family. The last 5 years of his treatment, trading sanity for independent movement, have been a damn work of art in how to rob Peter to pay Paul. A mural, painted entirely with false hope, disregarded opinions, and monkey shit.

My dad has changed so much -- physically, mentally, emotionally -- that he feels less and less like the man I grew up with every day. He's still in there, so sly and sharp some moments that it's scary, but there are others that disconnect me in a way I once thought unimaginable. That's hard to say, especially to someone who doesn't have a parent at all. But my whole life, I thought the worst thing that could ever happen would be for him to die. It is only after years of watching him slowly disintegrate, of watching all of us fall apart, do I concede that perhaps there are far worse things than death. Maybe that's naive or selfish or cliche -- it certainly feels that way -- but I know that I wouldn't wish it on my very worst enemy. I don't hate anyone that much.

Keeping that phone line has been a habit, a secret that I've pushed down in order to make it feel as if he's not gone. Because he isn't gone. But it also doesn't bring him back. I talked my dad into a cell phone to make myself feel better when he was out working alone, when his moments of physical fallibility were frequent enough to give me worry but infrequent enough to make him stop. Now, he cannot dial the numbers himself or even often make his voice loud enough to be heard over it. I gave him that phone so that he would have a way to reach all of us, and now we are all so desperate to avoid a phone call because in my family no one ever calls with good news. Never before has $30 made such little sense to me. All my life, I have done what my dad advised, and here I was, yet again, needing my dad -- my not-sick dad -- to just tell me what to do.

Nothing in the world makes me feel less like a grown-up than to actually have to be THE grown-up. I feel like a 5 year-old, playing in my mother's make-up and jewelry.

And these are the thoughts that snaked around my brain while I waited at the AT&T store. While I waited on their psychotically bright orange couch, questioning why I couldn't do such a seemingly simple thing. And for me, waiting is the hardest part. Waiting gives me time to think and feel and fear and doubt. I'm not good at waiting. In fact, I'm almost as terrible at it as I am at lying.

So, when that poor, unsuspecting 20-something asked me how he could help, I didn't know how to explain that I was here to get rid of my dad's last tie to his own independence and dignity. I burst into tears and barely managed an apology, leaving him blank-faced and staring after me as I scuttled out the door, desperate to save my meltdown for the car, away from the orange couch and befuddled looks.

And to top it all off, they still got my 30 bucks this month. Somewhere, in a parallel universe, my old dad just shakes his head.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Smallest Moments

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the hardest parts of teaching. It was tough to write because I did not want it to be seen as negative or a complaint; I wanted it to be a love letter to all of the teachers I know who strive and struggle to love those students who don't love themselves. It's rare that I feel I've accomplished my goal in writing, but I did. I knew it from the love I received back from all of you.

What we do is hard -- so very hard -- in ways that a college course or internship or even the world's greatest teacher cannot show you. The struggle is day in, day out, and it can be wearing. The burn out rate for teachers, especially new teachers, is astonishingly, exorbitantly high.

But it is worth it -- so very worth it -- in those small moments that no one else gets to see. Those moments that no camera crew wants to film, that no headline will ever be written about, that no legislator notices.

Today was a benchmark testing day for writing, a practice exam for the big standardized test my students will take in about 6 weeks. Because there are two state tests in my grade level subject (writing and reading), my students get a little worn out with the sheer number of tests (and practice tests) they endure each year. This morning, when I went into the four classrooms where my students were sitting, I tried to remind them of all the things that I expected they could (and would) do.

Today, this was the hardest part for me; instilling confidence in the unsure and unwilling.

I went on about my morning, checking in on all of the classes, relieving teachers and monitoring kids, seeing some small but reassuring work on their test booklets.  In my math teacher's classroom, I noticed one of my students hard at work on the first of his essays. His planning pages were full of charts and maps and... well... planning.

I was legitimately surprised. This is a student who, even on his best day, shies away from intensive work. He can be very sweet for sure. His smile can light up the whole room when he wants. But he gives up. He sulks. He has been known to make a poor decision or two, mainly in anger. He often loses faith in his own abilities, and so he struggles to simply try. Our relationship has lacked consistency and flow, stumbling through the growing pains of a child becoming a young man.

He didn't even look up to see me see him as I walked down the aisle and gave him a pat on the back. I was overjoyed at his effort and focus.

I continued to watch him as I waited for Ms. Doud to come back from her lunch break. Not only did he plan, but I watched him moving his lips as he silently read his essay, orally rehearsing it, inspecting it for missing words or errors and making sure it didn't lack consistency and flow. He still had not noticed me, noticing him.

And then, as he finished, I watched a slow smile spread across his face, and he gave just the slightest little fist pump. Like this:

It wasn't for show. It wasn't to throw me off his track. It wasn't an attempt to make himself feel better. It was simply the smallest celebration of what he felt was a job well done. In fact, when I pulled him out of his last class of the day to tell him how proud I was -- how genuinely thankful I was -- he had no idea he'd even done it.

But I knew. And his math teacher, Ms. Doud, knew because I had to tell someone as soon as it happened. She also knew because he was so proud of his essay, he wanted her to read it right away.

And the history teacher on my team, Mrs. Witt, knew because I took her with me so I could brag on him in front of someone else. I wanted someone he didn't know; someone whose respect and congratulations would be received with sincerity and not the suspicion it was made of simple kindness or empty cheerleading.

And now you all know it too because this is also my love letter to you, my friends. These are the moments that we build together. These are the moments that make the man, so to speak.

It was one of those smallest moments that bring the greatest joy if only we take the time to stop and look around for it. One of those smallest moments that no camera crew or legislator will ever see. But that's okay because those moments aren't for them. They're for him. They're for me. And they're for all of you.

And those are the moments that turn the tables and make the hardest parts, the most dreadful days, the biggest growing pains, seem the smallest indeed.

So, for each of you, for all of you, I'm sending you a slightly bigger, more fantastic, fist pump.

Keep going, y'all.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Hardest Part...

Dear Students,

Several weeks ago, you asked me what the hardest part of being a teacher was. I desperately wanted to blurt out that "You! You are the hardest part about being a teacher!" We were in the midst of another stranglehold on each other's patience, so I can't be held entirely at fault. But I didn't, and I'm glad because for just a moment, you seemed interested. Thoughtful, even.

I told you that getting kids to care about something that they think they don't care about was the hardest part. I'm sure I was right at that moment, but I'm not sure I'm right now. I've thought about your question often since then, wondering what I would say if you asked me again.

The hardest part is caring -- getting you to care, yes, but it's also hard for me to care about you without being consumed by it.

The hardest part is management. Every 51 minutes, 5 days a week, I am met with a new team of 15-27 employees in the midst of hormonal turmoil.

The hardest part is watching your faces and calculating the slump of your shoulders or the width of your smiles in order to plan our interactions for the day.

The hardest part is when I miscalculate and ruin both of our days with the wrong words, the wrong tone, the wrong first step.

The hardest part is saying "I'm sorry" and meaning it. For both the student and the teacher.

The hardest part is choosing a lesson that will interest you as well as educate you and then delivering it 17 different ways until it is perfect for you. For each of you. And sometimes 17 isn't enough.

The hardest part is juggling all of your needs. Yesterday, I cleaned up a vomiting student in the hall and did not stop teaching my lesson even as I tied up the biohazard bag from the doorway. Even in the midst of chaos, the show must go on. The show must always go on.

The hardest part is that vomit wasn't even the worst thing I had to hear yesterday.

The hardest part is watching you throw away your opportunities because you think it will get the attention of those who have proven they don't care.

The hardest part is the moment you realize that no matter what you do, no matter how you wreck yourself, they still don't care.

The hardest part is enduring your disrespect and anger because it's too hard for you to respect and love yourself.

The hardest part is letting you fail and hoping it becomes a wake-up call and not a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The hardest part is forgiving, even when it's not asked for.

The hardest part is telling the truth, even when it hurts.

The hardest part is holding my tongue, keeping my patience, and being kind when I'd rather just be human.

The hardest part is knowing when to stand firm and when to walk away.

The hardest part is trying to get you to think when all you want is to be fed, to live when all you can do is survive, to rise when all you've ever done is fall.

The hardest part is not really the paperwork or meetings or long hours grading. In fact, the hardest part of teaching usually has nothing to do with teaching.

But if it wasn't a hard job, then everyone could do it.

And the last thing I want to be like is everyone else in your lives.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over the Lazy Dog

Yesterday, my students were taking a quiz in class. I sat at my desk, responding to an email. Typically, students hear the typing of computer keys and assume that the teacher is not watching. They take that opportunity to talk or cheat or do something really silly. And, as if on cue yesterday, as soon as I started typing my response, one of my boys reached across the table to try to win her attention by stealing the pencil from her hand.

Before his hand even made it off his desk, I had called him out with a "Hands to yourself, Mr. Taylor" and told him to get back to work, all without stopping my typed response. He stared at me incredulously for almost a full minute, waiting for me to finish what I was doing. After the quiz was over, he asked me if he could see what I had been working on because he didn't believe I was typing "real words". I couldn't show him because it was a work email about another student, but I asked him if he'd like to test me.

The whole class watched as I sat at my laptop, transcribing his words without stopping. They were in awe that I could not only type without looking at keys but that I could also correct my mistakes without going back to look at them.

I am an excellent typist. Mainly, I'm an excellent typist because I had an excellent typing teacher. And, yes, I took typing. On an actual typewriter. It was the dark days, indeed.

Coach Smith was our small school's art teacher, typing teacher, and head football coach -- a man of many talents, if you will. He referred to us as his Sweathogs, a nickname I have forever loved and continue to use at times. He also was sneaky-brilliant. See, I was a bit of a perfectionist at schoolwork then, and in order to correct something on the typewriter, you had to stop, backspace, insert a white-out strip, re-type the mistake, backspace, and type the correct letter, word, or sentence. Making mistakes was a time-consuming and irritating process, so I had a terrible habit of looking at my keyboard. This would elicit a reprimand of "eyes up, Nazworth" from Coach Smith every time.

Even if the man was reading the newspaper, he seemed to catch me.

And then one day, he sat a new student across from me. That student happened to be his son, Spencer, who happened to have the most gorgeous eyes on Earth. Now, I honestly don't know if Coach sat him across from me because it was the only open desk or because he knew I wouldn't talk to him (I was super-awkwardly shy AND a rule-follower while Spencer was an uber-popular cool kid). My guess is the latter, but what happened was I never looked at my keyboard again. I didn't necessarily stare at him, but I made sure to have my head up just in case I could sneak a quick peek or in case he needed to borrow a white-out strip. I didn't want to make mistakes, and I didn't want to miss a chance to gawk, so my only option was to become really, really good at typing.

And I did. Good enough to catch students doing all of the things they're not supposed to be doing when they assume I'm not looking.

See what I mean? Sneaky-brilliant.

So yesterday, as my class called out tricky words and phrases, trying to mess me up, this is the story I told. And then I reminded them that teachers really do always know what's best when it comes to seating charts.

Then I moved Mr. Flirty to a seat across from the starting center on the football team.

I'm kind of sneaky-brilliant too, now. Like I've said before, I learned from only the best.

(For all of you who haven't been exposed to the greatness that is
"Welcome Back, Kotter")

Friday, January 17, 2014

Teachable Moments

In my classroom, I try to follow just a few guidelines every day:

1. Don't speak in anger.
2. Never shy away from a teachable moment.
3. Find the funny. The funny will keep you alive.

That's it. I don't always accomplish all 3 every day, but I make the attempt and I apologize when I'm not successful. Especially when I don't accomplish #1. I've probably apologized to more 12 year olds than any other group of people on Earth.

I do believe, however, in the teachable moment, and I find myself sometimes teaching lessons that I never planned (see examples: here, here, and also here).  I also don't tend to shy away or ignore topics that kids seem to be/show to be misunderstanding. I like honest answers, and I don't think there's anything wrong with answering the "tough" questions as long as you speak respectfully, intelligently, and without personal bias. 

On Wednesday, my 3rd period had a 5 minute discussion on how one of the student's sentences -- 

"Joe, a black student, was sitting in class" was not a racist statement but that their continual assumption that I like country music and NASCAR because I'm white might be. 

(For the record, *Joe, is in fact, a black student, and he created that sentence himself. Also, for the record, it's a pretty funny story to tell, but in trying to recreate it in teleplay form, every last one of us just came off looking terrible.)

It's also how, during today's assignment, I discovered that my students didn't know the name of one of our mustachioed teachers and have been calling him "Dr. Phil" for the last 4 months.

You be the judge.

For the record, these kids don't have this teacher, so I don't really believe that they're trying to be mean-spirited. Unless he really hates Dr. Phil, I suppose. Then it would be mean.

Still... Tuesday's teachable moment is going to be all about introducing yourself and learning people's actual names as a sign of respect.

Never. A. Dull. Moment.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Just a Little Line-Jumping

I coached at my junior high for 13 years, and if there's one thing I learned in all that time it's this: when the End Times arrive, and all of our souls are sent to Heaven for Judgment Day, anyone who has ever coached B-team girls' basketball will move automatically to the front of the line. Junior high teachers, in general, will ascend in the carpool lane, but those coaches? Double sixes, buddy. Collect your eternal reward and understand that it was all worth it.

Seriously... saints, healers, people who give up their seats on the subway, three-legged dogs... you can all just wait your turn. Jesus knows the patient and virtuous when He sees 'em.

This is the first year in my entire career that I have not coached. After all, as I told my new principal last year, nobody gets their school out of AYP troubles with lay-ups and free throws. So, I stepped off the court and decided to devote myself to my classroom. All year long, people have asked me if I missed it. All year long, I couldn't decide if I truly did. I don't miss the 70 hour work weeks or the 6:30 AM practices. I don't miss keeping books and waiting on buses and hosting tournaments. I don't miss overly-enthusiastic parents yelling from the stands -- at me to play their kid (yes, I know she is unique and special), at their kid (no, they simply cannot box out), or at the refs (believe it or not, they DO know that they should "call it both ways").

Believe me. There are lots of things I don't miss.

Last week, I kept the scoreboard at the 8th grade girls' game. The A-game was exciting, fast-paced, push-and-pull. It was hard to keep my mouth shut, but I left them in good hands, and although they lost, I know that they'll be okay the next time around. I was sad to have missed out on their talent, but I did not feel the pang of regret that I feared I might.

And then, came the B-team.

When I first started coaching, my friends would come to my games, not to watch the kids but to watch me on the sideline as I, their most competitive friend, tore at my hair, pinched the bridge of my nose, watched kids shoot at the wrong basket on multiple occasions, and released a torrent of expletives into the back of my hand.

For the record, no one can hear you scream in your hand. Also, no one is ever really sure which basket is theirs. Ever.

As I watched those girls play, I was reminded of some of my most notable B-team adventures, including a tournament game whereupon I had 5 players total, and we won 9-6 in double overtime.

NINE. TO SIX. DOUBLE OVERTIME. For real, that's seven baskets (plus a free throw) in 42 minutes. At the end of the first overtime, when it was 6-6, the tournament hosts and the opposing coach wanted to just end the game, but I was all, "I did not just survive that mess for a tie. No way. SOMEBODY is going to win this freakin' game."  And then we did. My girls went on to dub it as their "Miracle Game".  I saw one of them at her high school last year. She is still talking about that game 5 years later.

B-team basketball is not for the faint of heart. The closest approximation I can make for it is to attempt to drive a bumper car, blindfolded, while holding an egg, without cracking it or your own skull. It is 32 minutes of collisions and near-misses and close calls. It is a series of wrong turns and panicked throws and unforced errors and at least two dozen switches of the possession arrow. It's more than enough to lead a coach to buy stock in hair dye and blood pressure meds.

It is also all heart and hustle and Hail Mary's. It's celebration and nervous energy and second chances. What I realized in my many journeys, navigating the wilds of B-team athletics, is that there are few people willing to work harder. There are few kids who find more joy in a steal or a rebound or, God forbid, a made free throw. There are few moments I have found more frustrating or funny.

But there are also few moments where I have found myself as a better or more patient teacher.

I've coached many incredible athletes who have gone on to set scoring records and secure scholarships and, yes, even win national titles. Yet their smiles are not always the first I remember in my heart; their one shining moment simply cannot hold a candle to scoring the winning basket in a miracle game. 

And tonight, as I watched those same girls play their guts out, I looked over to the bench. There were hot tears and hurt feelings and the pains of coming so close. I watched the coaches lean in to explain, to console, to teach, and I felt a little ding in my heart.

I checked the time. I listened to the parents yell a little more, and I wondered:

Do I miss it? Not really.

But do I miss them? Absolutely.

Was it worth it? Without a doubt.

Even if I didn't get my line-jump in Heaven.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Bloom Where You're Planted

This was my writer's response topic for my classes last week.

I gave it to them on the day I was assigning them to new seats and new teams. This is always a day filled with gnashing of teeth, lamenting wails, and other various expressions of teenage angst meant to drive adults so insane that they wind up giving in.

But I am no mere mortal adult, and I do not give in. I am well-versed in the art of guilt and inspirational quoting. This also happens to be one of my favorite expressions -- one that I tend to remind myself of when life takes a turn that makes me unhappy or overwhelmed.

My kids did fairly well at deciphering the meaning of the quote and VERY well at my intentions behind it. A new semester, new start... all of that. The angst level never rose above DEFCON 3, and for a week now, stability and *gasp* improvement have been the norm.

I felt pretty proud for about 6 hours. Then, I got in my car, looked in the mirror, and realized that everything I had just preached at my kids hasn't really been practiced by me lately.

I've been absent from this little space of the internet for a while now -- over a month by date alone, longer if you start looking closely at effort. I didn't stop writing; I still try to do that every day. My goal, after all, was to find a place to spill and drop the stress and worry and anxiety I found building up. My goal was to find something that made me happier and freer. I don't always accomplish that every day. Never have, never will.

The holidays were hard. I knew they would be because they are every year. By November, I am exhausted physically and mentally from work which has been exceptionally difficult this year.  And the brightness and light and commercial drain slapping me in the face each time I take a walk through Target tends to exhaust me spiritually as well. This Christmas brought a little extra emotional quicksand as I watched and waited through another leap off the deep end with my dad's health. And, in true Deana fashion, his backslide caused my own backslide because I am nothing if not my father's daughter.

Even as I felt myself fraying, I kept trying to write my way out of it, to use my words as my nightlight, to throw the puzzle pieces on the screen and the page and wait for them to fall into place. I kept writing and people kept reading and friends kept supporting. But one day, someone, in passing relayed a concern from someone else. "Deana just seems SO... SAD."

And I froze.

Granted, the ellipsis and the capital letters... maybe those are my own hearing; maybe not. All words are open to interpretation and strike different chords in different people at all sorts of different times. This is what makes words so dangerously beautiful. It's not that, at that very moment, I disagreed. In fact, in that moment, I wholeheartedly agreed. I was very sad some days, but not every day and certainly not CAPITAL LETTER sad.

But in the message of "I am concerned (and also saddened) by this", I received "Deana just seems so... pitiful (and frankly, it's a little much)."  And then... someone else said it, to my face, with a full-on sympathetic head tilt. Oh, sweet Jesus, the head tilt. That's when you know there's trouble.

I didn't stop writing, but I stopped posting. I stopped sharing me with anyone else and just closed up. I thought that maybe if I just stopped telling then people would stop hearing and then they would stop worrying/judging. If I didn't fill my timeline with links then people wouldn't feel compelled to click them and then I wouldn't feel so bad when anyone tilted their head in my general direction, even if it was a well-intentioned, heartfelt head-tilt.

And then I stopped writing altogether. Don't act shocked; it's the next logical step in the shut-down process. After all, the reason I began posting was so that when I tried to vanish (and I knew I would), there'd be some accountability. I took all TWO of those possibly (probably) innocent statements, and I spun them out of control until they absolutely dominated all of my self-esteem with questions and hesitation. Because this is my Achilles' heel -- wondering and doubting how people actually feel about me. Waiting for people to lose interest, find me tiresome, and walk away. It's nonsensical and overly dramatic and has virtually no basis in reality, but for some reason, none of that logic ever rears its head in those moments. So instead, my sad becomes too big, and others' happy becomes too loud, and it gives me the perfect excuse to shrivel up and fade and prove myself exactly right.

I amaze myself at my inability to identify my nonsense as it occurs.

So, last week, when I looked in the mirror, I knew that I had not been living what I was selling. I felt no better than a snake oil salesman promising new health and a new start. I came home, sat in front of my screen and stared. Nothing happened. No pieces fell into place; no lights magically came back on. But that's not how it works, and I know that. I still couldn't shake that doubt, so slyly tugging at my pocket, so I went back. I went back and read everything I've written here, and then I went back and read my journal. And then I went back to those links I posted; I read all the kind comments I could find from all the people I trust. I hoped that seeing would lead to believing and I would suddenly trust all of the good from others and ignore all of the bad brewing within.

And I sat in front of my blank screen last night, and I stared. Nothing happened. No pieces fell into place. No lights magically came back on.

Because that's just not how it works. Flowers don't blossom in the cracks of concrete jungles because anyone planted them there. Cactus blooms don't appear because someone else hauls water through the desert to feed them each day. Dandelion seeds scatter accidentally on the winds far more often than on the wishful whispers of a child. Bluebonnets cannot reappear year after year without dying and withering first.

They don't bloom because someone wants them to or even because someone wills them to.

They bloom because they can.

They bloom because they persevere.

They bloom in spite of their circumstances and not because of them.

And they bloom because sometimes, strangely enough, the very best thing for the strongest and most beautiful flowers is a truckload of shit thrown on them.