How does it happen? First you blink and the day starts with your eyes wide open. The clock starts running and when you turn around, it’s 1:20 pm, and you are still slurping on your cold coffee, wondering where the time has gone to? What are my students doing?
That’s how my days are going, these past few weeks. I have started on a new journey, having left teaching, not because of my students or my fellow teachers. The straw that broke the camels’ back for me was the reduction of my hours and health benefits after my husbands’ passing.
I came back to work, after the typical summer off for teachers that was anything but typical. Most people would not have stayed at the party as long as I did, but honestly, there are only so many changes a human being and her children can take in a six month period. I have been reluctant to write about the series of unfortunate events, mostly because it was so unfathomable to me that I was not wanted or needed by a school that clearly needed what I had to offer.
Originally, I had prayed and put out into the universe that I desired to take my teaching expertise in Performing Arts and Montessori Education to either the urban poor or children with special needs. Surely, there must be a place where I could give the very best of who I am as an artist and a human being and help enlighten and educate children who may very well not have the golden opportunity to be exposed to these wonderful areas of music appreciation/styles and peace education.
Well, I put it out there, and got it back, ten fold. I ended up teaching in an inner city school for disabled and urban poor children. They say God only gives you what you can handle. God had much more faith in me than I did. It turned out to be the most rewarding experience of my career. I even used to joke that I would probably do it for free, I loved teaching my students so much!
In return, I received understanding and acceptance, grace and laughter, love and life lessons. My students taught me about adversity and forgiveness, community and shared experiences, but most importantly, unconditional love.
Unfortunately, I had to leave all of that behind. The decision came to me when I realized no matter how much my students and fellow educators loved the musical styles of The Beatles and Verdi, Taylor Swift and Simon and Garfunkel, Miles Davis and The Clash… it was not enough. It became about pieces of paper, reciprocity and credentials. Being an educator for over fifteen years and an artist for over thirty became irrelevant. The request was made to return to Graduate School, once again, repeating the same classes taken in another state, five years previously. My 3.97 GPA was not relevant. Neither were my dollars spent. I was finished with the politics and the paperwork. Mostly, I was sad for my students. I don’t like to believe I let them down. I could not make a living being an educator for fifteen hours a week, with no health insurance and no sick days or vacation. Prior to a change in management, I had received very high marks in all of my reviews and critiques as an educator. Clearly, this was not going to have the ending I wanted or needed. Sad story. True story. This school was gearing itself from Private to Charter status, the culture of the school was changing and I was not going to be transitioning along with them. Sometimes, things don’t work out. They just don’t.
As of this date, the school has yet to hire another music artist-in-residence/educator, Rhode Island certified or otherwise. As for my students, not a day goes by when I don’t think of them. Not a single day.
I’m not so sure I’m good at change. I can, however, adapt to things when I am put in a situation that requires me to be flexible, but I can only do that when I am receiving the same commitment which I am giving. I guess the word for that would be compromise. Not the same as change.Change is uncomfortable. I don’t like change. Change makes me want to do two things. One is run, the other is go back to my past, where things were safe and predictable.
Lately, I’ve been exploring the idea of trying to get back home again. At almost 53, (March 19th) this has been a recurring thought for me, as of late. What does it mean, to go home again? Isn’t that a lift from Thomas Hardy? In this scenario, I have finally figured out it means getting to my authentic self. As of late, I’ve been finding out the things that used to bring me pleasure, no longer do so. It’s a scary thought, this inability to self sooth. We all have to learn how to comfort ourselves, like a toddler who you are praying will make the adjustment to sleeping in his/her own bed. I know no kid goes to college missing the parent bed, and somewhere down the road that transition takes place. How do we, as adults make those life segues for ourselves?
Currently, I am a widow and mother of two teen-aged children. However, I am now involved with a great guy. No, you didn’t see that one coming, neither did I, don’t think he did, either. My problem lies in the dilemma of not knowing how to date someone while being a mother. Who knows how to be in a situation like this? I certainly don’t. Maybe I should read up on this? This is how I have learned to deal with new information in the past.
When I was pregnant with my first child, my family found it hysterical that I read all kinds of books on how to be a parent. Who does that? Well, I do, and as a matter of record, Scott, my husband, did as well. Yes, maybe not everyone’s choice, but it gave me the initial confidence, like doing the prerequisite reading for a difficult required class. so, in that sense, it was a good base.
This time, I am juggling my two children, (19 and 15), my transition from marriage to widowhood to a new relationship. The other factor, and it is a big factor, is the man I’m seeing has been married, and has his own issues and children. Now, I know this is a unique situation to people coming from a divorced/separated relationship. I’m not sure where this will lead, but being exclusive to Mr. A right now feels like the right choice for me. Have I told you he is a wonderful, sweet man? He would have to be, to get my attention, at this point in my personal growth curve.
And there it is again, that same theme. Am I up to juggling my two children,now late teens and almost young adult? My daughter seems to think she has a vote in this. Hell, I feel like I don’t have a vote in this! Love is love. I never thought, in a million years, I would meet someone who could hold my attention and admiration again. I was like, “Love? … Ok did that, check it off the life list.” Then it happened. Not like, “Oh, Chocolate ice cream, I forgot how much I like chocolate ice cream!” It was more like, “Whoa! French Vanilla with Honey?! No way! Didn’t know it existed!” (I laugh at my own analogies, pretty good analogy, since Mr.A makes his own homemade ice cream)
In some ways, it would be so easy to go home again. Move back to New Hampshire and join the ranks of my family. I’m the only family member that lives away. My kids would have Aunts and Uncles, cousins and Grandparents. I have given that some thought. With a daughter deeply entrenched in a private high school, I couldn’t do that to her.So that ship has sailed.
The good news is now I am older and wiser. Death will do that to a person. It also makes you realize how far you have actually come. And that’s the scary part. That is why I still need my friends and family. Very much like the toddler who runs away from his mother, but after taking eight or ten steps independently, turns to make sure his Mom is still there. Remember my friends, I am making this up as go along. I will still turn around, checking to see if you are still there. I hope you will be.
My dog died. I won’t go into the terrible details. I will tell you, he was a constant, lovable companion. It took awhile for him to get past his Master’s death. This was Scott’s dog. Sam was a Great Pyrenees. We had rescued him from a family who had come on hard times, having lost their home to bankruptcy and were moving into a two family in the city. I can’t remember if this happened when Scott was in hospice or after he died. Sammy kept running away, looking for Scott. It happened multiple times during the summer of 2011, just when I thought life was stupid and painful and not worth the hassle. This giant, white dog kept doing what I wanted to do. Run away.
The Providence police were wonderful. Our neighbors were wonderful. Everyone who tried to help was wonderful. This dog wanted to bolt, and it may sound easy to keep a one hundred and sixty pound dog inside. Trust me, it is not. If he wanted to get out, he got out. Galloping, really. Like a small Shetland Pony. There was no way I could keep up with him, you needed to be in a car to keep the pace. As irony would have it, keeping up with Sam was that was the very thing I needed to do. Keep up with him. Keep him in focus and active and busy. He had to be loved. Actively. Fully. So I loved him, even more than before.
And it got better. Slowly, without me even realizing it was happening. Sam was there when I was alone. He didn’t mind if I had a red nose from crying, or if I stayed in the same sweatshirt all weekend. His favorite thing was to walk through the house at night, on patrol. He would walk from room to room, pausing long enough to listen for any unfamiliar sounds. I knew no one would mess with us, just my daughter and I alone, husband gone and son away at college. Not with a giant white polar bear sleeping at the front door.
Now he sleeps at a different front door. Back at home with his Master. Thank you Sam. For being there for me, when I didn’t even know what I needed. You knew all about unconditional love and had enough to share with everyone, ten fold. Sleep well, my Bubba.
The squint of your eyes, the touch of your hand, The way you had hoped your story would end. These things that were you, I cannot replace. Nor would I want to, your laughter, your face.
I still see your eyes, I still slow dance our dance. The memories will keep, but missing your glance. I wanted to save you, while knowing, I can’t. Tried my best to honor your wishes that’s true, for grace, love and comfort were the least you were due.
Leaving you for the last time, in your blanket of blue, surrounded by pictures of the life that was you. “This was your life, Scott”, I whispered in our last private event. And then it was finished, and settled, and went.
What was the one experience that completely changed your life? What happened? How did it change your life?
Sometimes writing prompts are helpful. Sometimes they are not. The experience of having a child released from hospital to your home, after a serious illness was one of the most defining moments of my life. Of all of our lives, of that I am sure.
Jay had begun his first day of high school just like any other kid who was transferring to a larger school. He had first year orientation to attend, wearing his new school uniform, hot off the stockroom from Donnally’s. He looked so much older, and I saw the maturity that had taken place over the summer when he wore that new school logo. He was ready for school! We did the typical first day of school thing we has always done, getting his picture taken on the front steps of the house, in his new uniform, all ready and beaming. I felt so proud of my guy, but was having tiny doubts about his ability to handle the course load he was walking into. All normal parent thoughts. By the end of that day, I would be told that it could very well be his last day on this earth. At that moment, I flashed back to the feeling of the front step, earlier at the start of what seemed hard to believe, was the same day. Suddenly, Honor classes and course loads were replaced by Last Rites of the sick and dying. This was anything but the typical first day of school.