Tag Archives: Gratitude

A Tribute to My Favorite Teacher: The One Who Opened the Door

I had one teacher who I was pretty sure hated me for breathing. I wasn’t one of her pets, one of those good students who got physics the minute the words rolled off her tongue. If you weren’t one of the great students in her class, forget it. Never mind that you made As or Bs most everywhere else. I looked at my final exam, rolled my eyes, scrawled some numbers on it, and walked out. It was my last “screw you” to her. I had already been accepted to college, and I wouldn’t be getting any science degree. She taught me that not every teacher’s agenda includes every student.

Of course, I’m ashamed to say there were teachers on the receiving end of my own crooked attitude. Some I made fun of within earshot. How could my chemistry teacher not see she was the spitting image of Peter Pan in that outfit? It absolutely demanded a high-pitched chorus of “You Can Fly” every time she stood before the room in those tan pants and that green collared shirt. Had I been braver, maybe I would have cut a felt hat for her and left it on her desk. Rude as I was, I had my limits. The truth was, science didn’t fascinate me. Neither did her lectures.

Looking back, I’ve felt some teachers did a disservice to me by not pushing me, by letting me slide by on what I knew I could get by with. They didn’t challenge me. They gave me the A. They never encouraged me to read really great books. They never got to know me. They never asked to see something I wrote or gave me pointers. Some teachers were there to go through the motions and collect their paychecks. And I was there to turn in half-assed work and collect my As and Bs. I always did OK and I was always lost in a crowd of really great kids and troublemakers. If you asked any of my teachers now, I bet they wouldn’t even know me.

But one teacher gave me the push I needed. One teacher told me I was good at something. She was hard and strict and she gave me—a quiet, mousy girl when it came down to it—a chance. She taught journalism and AP English. She helped me get out there and get stories, actually talk to people—upperclassmen and adults. She helped me get in front of a camera for our student news show when I wanted to crawl under a table and hide. She talked about the world outside of our high school and introduced me to Edgar Allan Poe. She gave me a camera and made me get out in the community and see it from behind the lens. I never felt like her pet. But she let me know that I had a little bit of talent and that I would have to believe in myself. And it was all that I needed.

When I graduated, I was so moved by the two years I’d had in her classes that I wrote her a letter. It took all the courage I had to give it to her in person. I’m sure it was cheesy and dramatic, covered in the emotion of leaving home and starting anew. But I do remember that I told her she was the best teacher I had ever had. Without a doubt she was.

She was the teacher who ignited my curiosity and unveiled a layer of confidence I never knew I had. And though that kind of learning will never be complete, she is the one who opened the door.

Here’s to Ms. Purdy, in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week.

calculator

We all know I hated math too.

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It Took 40 Years To Be This Person

One recent Sunday morning I set my juice on the table next to a piece of rolled up paper tied with ribbon. “Is this for me?” My family took me by complete surprise. In 40 days I would be 40. They planned to celebrate me in some way every one of those days.

When you’re a kid, every birthday is special, filled with anticipation. Adults mostly try to push them back like the sand that keeps sliding and filling a carefully dug hole.

Over the past year, I’ve thought a lot about turning 40. Not worry, not dread. Reflection. I’m more excited about this birthday than I’ve been since I turned 21.

To me, 40 is not old. I’m lucky enough to have a father who never looked at age as something to dread. “I’m just glad I made it this long,” he says every year. I feel like this is my chance to take everything I’ve learned and go forth.

But 40 does feel like a crossroads. This big year of tumbling into a new decade. Do I keep trudging through my days the same way as always? Do I shake things up a bit? When is the right time to get out there and do the things I’ve always wanted to do? If ever there was a time to try something, this is it. Though I feel like I finally have wisdom backing me, I no longer have the luxury of an expanse of time.

I’m what you call a late bloomer. It took me a long time to come out of my shell. I remember a time, decades ago, when boys wore their best flannel shirts and stone-washed jeans to the high school dance. I gathered all the courage I had and blew it on walking in the door, forget dancing. I watched as everyone else without a date gathered in groups and bobbed together like boats on the horizon. Their bodies pulsed to the beat, they laughed, they goofed off. It didn’t matter what I faked. Smile or laugh or whatever, the only thing hearing me was the wall and deep down, I fought the tapping in my toes and the bouncing in my knees. I couldn’t and wouldn’t have as good a time as the kids on the dance floor.

In time, I learned. I learned not to care what I looked like. I learned that confidence and beauty really can go hand-in-hand with making a fool of yourself. People see your smile, hear your laughter. They move and smile and laugh with you. No one is moved to hold the wall up with you all night.

And I want to be an example. I don’t want my kids to be that person. I don’t want them to sit on the sidelines and watch. I want them to participate in life and jump in and not be afraid. I don’t want them to hold their happiness in.

When my kids are mortified to see me dance, when they hear me scream on a ride, when they see my step falter on a high climb, when they hear me speak up, when they see me try something new, I want my kids to know that it has taken me nearly 40 years to be this person. That you don’t ever have to stop growing. Every year I learn something new because I learned to let go of the part of me that was holding me back.

This was tough but quick. Almost at the end!

Something new and terrifying.

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A Mother’s Thanksgiving

As a mother, every day is Thanksgiving to me. I am grateful when my family walks out the door at their varying times every morning and we all come back together for the mad scramble that is dinner each night. Amidst the kids’ taunting, the whining about science fair projects, and me on the very brink of falling apart myself, I stop to take note that everyone came home in one piece. That alone makes it a good day.

As much as I nag about my son’s socks on the floor, I’m thankful they’re still size 2 and even more so that they’re still here, in my home. He’s only on my watch for so long.

I can’t stand to see the teeny, tiny trinkets that cover my daughter’s dresser, a housekeeping nightmare. So often I skip right over the menagerie and save the dusting for another week. Still I smile when I examine each one closely and remember how I would have wanted a half-inch glass turtle as a seven-year-old girl. One day curling irons and pictures of boys will replace them.

When my nine-year-old son asked when I planned to stop reading to him at bedtime, my heart dropped to my knees. It’s the time of day when we can still snuggle like we’ve done since he was young. We talk and giggle and for a few minutes, he has no show to put on for anyone. Toughness and independence left at the door, he enjoys our time together. I’m not ready for it to end, but that day will come soon. For now, I’m ever so grateful for each night that he doesn’t announce our ritual is over.

I’m grateful for a daughter who puts her brother in his place. She’ll be a tough girl who doesn’t take it from anybody. And he’ll be a better man for it.

I love starting my day with a chaotic send-off to school. And just when I think everyone is too busy for good-byes, my son always turns back, buries his head in my gut, and hugs me tight. Then my daughter squeezes me with the strength of a python and bolts out the door, skipping and jumping.

They’re not too old for me, not yet.

For every meal I silently bless and sprinkle with a bit of hope that everyone will eat it, for every afternoon that I am grateful I held myself together when both kids pulled my emotions in every direction, for every odd and scary health mystery that turns out to be gas or eczema, for every tear wiped, for every hug, for every kiss, for every loud howl of laughter, for every moment of quiet broken by shouts for me, I am so grateful every day of my life.

turkey

I have a feeling my thankful thoughts are different from this guy’s.

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A Thank-You to My Readers for a Great First Year

One year ago today I published my first blog post (it took me about a year after I thought of starting a blog!). I take my time thinking things through, what can I say? One thing I didn’t have to think long about was thanking my readers for being loyal, for commenting, for liking, and for coming back. If you have a blog, you know how scary it is to write that first post. You know how exciting it is to get your first subscriber, your first comment, and to suddenly start feeling like you have a sense of community.

I had no idea what I was getting into when I started blogging, but I wanted to write all the thoughts that flow through my head as I shower each day or drive down the road. I had put writing on the back burner for a long time to deal with two young kids who always needed a snack, something from the top shelf, or something wiped. I desperately wanted to write again and for some reason, I wanted to do it publicly. I think I thought blogging would force me to write every week and work at it. It has, and it has never felt like work.

I’ve pushed myself in ways I didn’t think I would. I’ve been inspired by other bloggers I’ve met along the way. I’m thrilled to have all of you here. I just wanted to stop between posts and say thanks for reading every week. Thanks for giving me an audience.

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The Women Who Showed Me How to Mother

When I was a little girl, there were three things I wanted to be when I grew up: a teacher, a writer, and a mother. My choices hardly changed throughout my life. Those were always the choices I juggled. I chose a career that allowed me to write. I married a man who wanted kids. I have never taught in a classroom, but being a mom certainly qualifies one as being a teacher.

Hardly a day passes that I don’t think of at least one of the women in my life who has made a lasting impression on me and given me the skills I’ve needed to become the one thing I’m most proud of being: mom.

Here are the women who showed me how to do it.

My mom. When I was young and my sister was in school, I played dress-up in my mom’s closet, donning her wedge heels. I pretend-shopped in our kitchen and hid in the cabinets. My mom would take me out for lunch to a Chinese restaurant where I loved the fried rice. It was our thing. When I was sick, she stayed up with me and rocked me to sleep even though I was too big to fit on her lap. She nursed my weekly migraines. Even though I wasn’t the most gracious of teens, she still has bouts of empty nest syndrome. She has always loved me, a lot. She is the reason I stayed home with my kids.

My sister. It’s not that I doubted my sister would ever have kids or that she’d be a good mom. It’s just that when we were kids, she used to line up all of her dolls on her bed. Facedown. And she’d stand back with a belt and run up and whip them. We certainly weren’t punished this way. But I had to wonder if she’d be a bit of a disciplinarian when she had a family. Good news. She turned out OK. When my niece was born two years before I had kids, my sister filled me so full of knowledge about those early years. I laughed. I cried. If it weren’t for her, motherhood would have been a rude shock because she is the only person who gave me the truth about what would happen to my body after birth, clued me in that kids don’t really sleep through the night at three months, and made me realize that most of the time you want to pull your hair out but you love your kids anyway. She gave it to me straight.

Mother's Day

Mother’s Day love from the kids.

My mother-in-law. I am lucky to have married a man with a wonderful, loving mother. She must be one of the most generous women I know. When her own mother became ill, she put her life on hold and moved several states away to cook meals, clean, and care for her aging parents. When it became clear they needed more care and they moved into a nursing home near her, she visited them almost every day. Knowing the tricky relationships mothers and daughters can have, this has always moved me. She showed me that mothers care for their loved ones no matter what went on in the past. Love has no bounds.

My friends. My husband and I have no family nearby. When I had my son, it was one of the loneliest times of my life. Having a baby who wants to be held all day and no friends to talk to was rough. I joined a moms’ group at a local hospital where I met moms with newborns who cried and screamed, moms who were tired and who wanted to talk. We formed a playgroup of 18 moms and we met every week. We went on field trips. We formed friendships. Now, nine years later, I still keep in touch with nearly half of them. All of my friends have helped me survive motherhood. They have become my second family. We moms take the kids and bike together, teach our kids to cook, hold crazy science experiments in our back yards, play in the creek or the lake, camp, or just hang out. Us moms talk about the challenges each new age brings. We laugh. We cry. We advise. In spite of our different parenting styles, we embrace one another and learn from each other. They inspire me.

I can honestly say I am a better mom because of all of these people. I think it really takes a village to raise a mom.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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It Is a Wonderful Life

Twenty-five years ago I sat in an itchy brown chair in a brown paneled den, flipping through channels to escape the heat of a scorching summer day. I landed on a black-and-white movie that was just beginning, though I didn’t catch the name. Several minutes in, I was hooked.

Some kids were using shovels to sled down a hill, and one of them went too far and plunged into icy water. I had to see what happened next. I was instantly captivated by the scene’s hero, George Bailey. The movie turned out to be It’s a Wonderful Life. It also turned out to be my all-time favorite. Ever.

I can’t think of a movie that I have loved as long or that speaks to me as this movie has. Even then, as an awkward sixth-grader, wondering when boys would ever notice me (and they didn’t for many, many years) and dealing with friendship woes and other social plagues, I could see how life can get the better of you. I could see how a person who has so much doesn’t see the difference he makes every day, and how attitude and loved ones can pull you through life’s rough patches.

I spent an entire afternoon in that chair, running to the bathroom between commercial breaks or bolting to the kitchen for a bag of chips. I didn’t want to miss a second.

I pulled for George Bailey. I learned that sometimes life doesn’t turn out like you expect it to, but you roll with it and make the best of it, just like George Bailey did. He didn’t have much. But he had so much. The gift of family and friends, happiness and good health, and doing good for others. Wealth can’t buy any of that. It didn’t for Mr. Potter.

Each year, when George Bailey sees what a good life he has and runs through the snow-covered streets, I’m there, yelling, “Merry Christmas, George Bailey!” through teary eyes and a lump in my throat because it still moves me. Every year, this movie is a reminder that I have everything I need.

It is a wonderful life. Your family and friends are your riches, and life is what you make of it. That’s what a sixth grader learned on a hot summer day. Merry Christmas, George Bailey.

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Thanks a Lot

This is the time of year when we’re supposed to stop and count our blessings. As parents, we know better. Most of us pause several times daily, thankful for every little thing we have.

In honor of this holiday, I’ll tell you some of the many things I am thankful for.

I'm grateful for seeing the beauty of the world through my kids' eyes.

My husband. My partner in the perils of parenthood. I can’t count how many times he has walked in on the tail end of a flaming tantrum after work, and instead of walking out the door, he takes it like a man, often the hero of the hour. “Daddy!” All is often suddenly good with the world. He does the dishes, then plays with the kids for an hour before bed. No computer, no cell phone. Real quality time with his family, whatever the night may bring us. I am grateful for this man.

I am thankful for the two spirited, smiling beings who have stolen an incalculable amount of sleep from my life and nearly every inch of freedom with their demands and the insane amount of thought I feel compelled to give them. My kids, who from day one have been harder to figure out than any math class I have squirmed through, have upended my life so incredibly that if I really knew what having kids was about, I may have never wanted to have children in the first place. The rewards: Just hearing the word Mom is good for me.

As a mom, I’ve wished away many fevers, cuddled sick babies, and worked myself into a frenzy over the countless horrible diagnoses I’ve given my children from the Internet. I’m thankful that my children are healthy.

I’m secretly grateful for hurts only cured by Mommy’s hugs, books that are better read by Mom, and unexpected hugs. When my kids give me their worst, it’s these little things that get me through. I am grateful for every one of them.

I am so incredibly thankful for friends who can relate, who can laugh at our misery, and who don’t even flinch when I tell them we’ve just infected them all with strep.

I am thankful for the food we eat, the meals I slave over that the kids sometimes stick up their noses at and squirm in their chairs over and make an otherwise lovely meal unbearable.

Our home, though often cluttered and never glamorous, keeps us warm, comfortable, and safe. It is filled with love and silliness and often more dirt than I can keep up with. But I am ever so grateful.

I’m thankful for laughter. We make time together as a family. We play together. We eat together. We do so much together that we drive one another crazy, but we can always make each other laugh. It’s the unexpected that keeps us going, like when my husband tries to lick the cinnamon roll icing off his plate without being caught or jumps in the car and locks it during a rollicking game of tag. (Well played.) Or the many moments when the kids say something so out of the blue, there is no other choice but to laugh, no matter how inappropriate.

I’m grateful for family. We don’t have any family nearby, but emails and phone calls keep us connected until we can meet in person and remind each other of why we’re all so crazy. Darn those blood lines.

Being a mom has been so much more challenging and sometimes more painful than I ever imagined. I honestly thought it would be a breeze. Then I realized you can’t mold people. They’re already who they are and you have to learn to deal with their idiosyncrasies from the start. But I’m grateful that every day is new, my kids don’t hold grudges, we forgive, and we love.

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