Sunday, November 13, 2011

Letter to the young mom in church

Dear Mommy-in-the-next-pew,

You don’t know me, but I know you. I recognize the look of exhaustion on your face as you juggled young children, a bottle, a pacifier, and a quest for an hour of worship. I’m familiar with the tone in your frustrated voice when you whispered to your husband, “Please take one of them.”

I know the expression that fears the judgment of other worshippers around you, afraid we will see misbehaving children. You are worried we will see parents who can’t control their young ones.

But as the mom who sat in her childless pew behind you, let me tell you what I really did see:
I saw joy in the sweet faces looking back for a quick game of peek-a-boo.
I saw pride in the older ones attempting to mimic your moves and care for the littlest one.
I saw curiosity as their young eyes turned to you taking in your every move.
I saw peace as they reached for you, to be held secure in your arms, their tiny heads nestled in the nook of your neck.
I saw a precious reflection of my own little ones, now so grown.

But what I saw the most was a mom and dad setting a significant example for their young children about the importance of worshipping even when it seems so far from easy, or even remotely holy.

And trust me, young mom in the next pew, the day will come way too soon when you will be sitting in a childless pew, no sticky hands poking you, no fussy ones distracting you, and you will see little ones close by, and your heart will hurt a little for the way the world spins so quickly. You will play a quick game of peek-a-boo with them, and smile as you realize you sometimes miss those crazy, exhausting days.
Then, you, too, will fight the urge to tell that young mom, “You don’t know me, but I know you.”
Or maybe you will write her a letter.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

For Cody

Maybe it was the pet carrier he was riding in, but I couldn’t help but to think of another time so long ago. After not eating for a couple of days, and a painful walking gate, we were on our way to the vet hospital.
Suddenly, I remembered each of the four kids gathered by the window waiting for daddy to pull up with our new puppy: our Cody. Arguments over who would first get to hold him quickly abated when the puppy arrived with what appeared to be nervous puppy intestines. Our little white fur-ball was not so white when he made his debut.
Upon immediately giving him a bath and swaddling him in a soft towel, I wondered if he knew he was now at home. He closed his eyes and I swear he smiled.
I think he knew.
And now thirteen years and so many baths and swaddles and smiles later, he was in that carrier being uncharacteristically sedate. My mother-heart that understands the difference between children and pets, couldn’t help but hurt for this little guy who believes himself to be my fifth child. The doctor diagnosed arthritis and prescribed medicine and sent us home. I was happy we were on the right track, but sadness crept in the back of my mind.
I think I knew.
A few days went by. He ate too little and limped too much. I noticed he followed us everywhere, not letting us out of his sight. He seemed to be taking it all in as long as he could.
I think he knew.
A week after the original vet visit, I returned with a weaker dog who refused to eat or take any medicine. X-rays revealed the real culprit: bone cancer. Upon finding it had aggressively spread to his lungs, the vet this time sent us home with a few days' supply of Morphine, telling us there was nothing else to do but try to keep him comfortable, love him… and say goodbye. But she didn’t really have to tell me that.
I think I knew.
Too soon it was time. And as we waited, waited, and waited for the beginning of the end to begin, I watched as my tearful daughter held my trembling dog and I fought the urge to hold them both in my arms and make it all go away.
It was time for the I.V. to be placed in the paw of his now 12-pound body. Then, I held him as the injection began. Within seconds he was at peace for the first time in a long time. No more trembling. No more pain. No more cancer.
No more Cody.
And as I held him, the precious family memories of which he is so entwined raced through my mind: the Christmas we told the kids we were finally getting a puppy; the walks, the games, the days, the nights. Remembered photographs of holidays and birthdays flashed before me. But even more than that, so many memories not photographed because they seemed so unimportant, but at moments like these, become so important, all played like a slow motion slide show in my mind.
And I think I knew.
I always understood that Cody wasn’t really my fifth child. I recognized he was our pet. But more than that, he was such a vital part of our family dynamic. He was both devotedly loving and devotedly loved. He belonged to us. We belonged to him. We’re family.
As I looked down at the eternally sleeping dog in my arms, through my own tears I swear he smiled.
I think he knew.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

What's in a name?

Eighteen years ago, above the swish-shish of the ultra sound machine, I heard the doctor announce, “Without a doubt, this one’s a boy.” Soon I was blinking back tears of joy which spilled into worries of how much pink in our existing nursery needed to be replaced with a cute hue of blue. Then, after dismissing the nursery rhyme line of “snakes and snails and puppy dog tails,” I finally allowed myself the precious pontification, “What will we call him?”
There is something so monumental about assigning a child a name that will be his calling card, his introduction, his label of who he is for the rest of his life. Having had two other babies in five years, we, of course had some boys’ names as back-up just in case. But at the moment when it wasn’t just a possibility he would be a boy, but a fact he was, choosing a name took on even more responsibility.
As a teacher, several names that had been favorites over the years often became unflatteringly attached to the mannerisms of another child who also just happened to answer to the once favored name. That shortened the possible-name-list a bit. And having had a Megan and a Katelyn, we needed a brother’s name that sounded like it could be said in the same breath as the others. “Megan, Katelyn, Frank—time to eat!” just didn’t sound natural.
So it was, we came up with a name. The baby books said it was Irish which went well with his sisters. They also said it meant “Little King” which sounded like a name that should certainly lead a child to a life of confidence and success.
And soon after, our “Little King” was born and we removed the “Baby Boy Bundy” sign and christened him “Ryan”. Not long after that, he would assume the alternate titles of grandson, nephew, baby brother, big brother, and “little Brad”.
Over the years he would also answer to “Ry”, “Ry-guy”, “Bundy” and, at the age of 9, after mistakenly climbing into the Tasmanian devil’s pit at the zoo (and hurriedly climbing out) he became known as “Taz-Bundy”.
Later, he’d grow into other names. By his own efforts, he has been referred to as friend, volunteer, fan, student, musician and athlete. In sports he’s been numbers 14, 34, 1, and for the last four years, 2.
Still today, he has earned yet another name: “Graduate”. And as he prepares to leave Wyoming High School and walk his path to Miami University and the endless stage of the world, I can’t help but to marvel at the amazing young man he has become and how much he has blessed my life from that first moment of the tell-tale swish-shish of the ultra sound machine. It’s then I realize that of all the names, nicknames, and monikers he has had over the years and will have in the future, there is one of his titles that fills my heart, meaning the most to me: “Son”.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

On turning 50

Standing at the dawn of my second half-century of life, the words of Mother Superior echo in my head. No, I’m not considering joining a convent and picking up a new habit, but I am hearing a song over and over. The song is “Climb Every Mountain” from The Sound of Music because I’m coming to realize that’s what it’s been about for my first fifty years.

Over the years I have climbed mountains: Education mountains. Marriage mountains. Parenting mountians. Career Mountains. Some have assured me after days or weeks or years of climbing, that I have indeed, climbed the right mountain. And yet, my victory dance of completion is always interrupted by a metaphorical sign that tells me, “But wait… there’s more…keeping climbing.”

Still others, have been in vain; a realization I find only after laboring away for long periods of time to find it was the wrong mountain --- the sign this time tells me the mountain I have spent my time on wasn’t my mountain at all.

Of course, there have been mountains in my life where I have begun to climb, but backed down. Tired, discouraged, distracted, bored, there were many excuses I found for ending the climbs prematurely. But today, they still remain mysteries to me –my what ifs, would-a beens, could-a-beens and should-a-beens.

There’s something about a milestone birthday that calls us to reflect on where we’ve been and where we are going. There’s also something about it that forces us to acknowledge we are getting old. Would I like to look younger? Sure. Would I like to see better, move better, remember better? Okay, I’ll give you that. But would I like to be younger? Absolutely not. Because being younger would mean taking away the experience of one of those mountains I spent my time climbing. Even the ones that didn’t turn out to be meant for me, taught me something along the way. And the ones that were mine to climb? Which one would I give up? I can’t part with any of them. They are mine. They are my yesterdays that guided me into my today that point me to my tomorrow.

So I kick off my next 50 years, grateful for the steps I took before and excited for the steps to come. I pray for the strength to keep climbing and the discernment to pick the right mountains. Of course, these days I also pray for some soft spots to rest along the way; and when I get to the top, I’m hoping those metaphorical signs will be in large, bold print. But whatever my next years hold for me, I never want to stop climbing those mountains. Who knows? I might also start fording streams and following rainbows. There’s no guarantee I’ll find my dream, but it’s a chance of a lifetime to try.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

I am a teacher

I am a teacher. And as a teacher, Senate Bill 5 has brought something to my attention that both surprises me and saddens me. It’s probably not what you might assume. Yes, the potential to lose up to $20,000 of my salary is enough to make me sad. What’s more, losing benefits is never good to hear. Also, merit-based pay that would only work if all students were equal and all tests were fair, is definitely frightening to me.

But what surprises me and saddens me the most about Senate Bill 5 is the response against teachers it has revealed. Every article or debate discussing either side of this issue soon becomes flooded with vitriolic comments that paint teachers as lazy elitists who seem to only care about their tenure and summer vacations. When did this happen?

In the twenty-eight years since I became a teacher, I cannot think of one teacher who went into the field to make money. We all knew that was not an incentive. Still, we were drawn to a career that placed us directly in the lives of our students --the future of our nation. There used to be an honor, an understood respect in being able to say, “I am a teacher”.

True, the state of education is in a state of chaos. You don’t have to point that out to any teacher. We’re at the front lines of this battle. We know. But, assuming this dire state is because teachers aren’t doing their jobs, is like assuming the ongoing war in Iraq is due to the soldiers overseas not doing their jobs. No one would dare put that blame on our brave soldiers’ shoulders. We are quick to point out there are many other factors out of their control. Instead of blame, we look for ways to support them in their battle. Why the opposite for teachers who battle to educate our future?

Are there bad teachers out there? Certainly. Is that what causes such a negative reaction when this topic comes up? Maybe. Perhaps some people simply remember the one teacher they had who never should have become a teacher at all, and forget all the wonderful teachers who helped shape them into who they are today. Believe me, though, the bad teachers are the exception. Instead, the field of education is saturated with wonderful, caring teachers who give way beyond their 180 days of contracted service to ensure that each child has a chance to succeed.

If Senate Bill 5 passes, stripping wonderful teachers of pay and benefits, and strapping their merit to ridiculous standardized tests approved by those who have never been in a classroom, many great teachers will be forced to leave the profession they love. And many great teachers-to-be will be forced to choose other fields. In the meantime, we teachers will continue to do our jobs amidst growing frustration, disrespect, and uncertainty.

Because we are proud of who we are. We are teachers.