A Moment to Be

Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash

My life is constantly about being on the move.

I am a runner. I am a teacher. I am involved in several individual and collaborative research studies and grants. I do a ton  of service (probably too much) at the university, community and state levels. I consult. I supervise student teachers. I am a wife and a mother of a pre-teen, a toddler, and two adults who have residual trauma-based struggles. I prioritize maintaining friendships. And I’m actively involved in several ministries with my church.

So, my life is constantly about being on the move.

When, this semester, my family experienced multiple medical crises on top of my “normal” life, my pace became somewhat frenetic, and the routine that grounds me and stabilizes me seemed to be the easiest thing to put aside in order to address the more urgent and pressing needs at hand.

But when I lost that stability and grounding, I also lost a large part of myself.

I have been in “survival mode” before.  For a time in my late 20s, survival mode was my modus operandi.  I didn’t think. I didn’t feel. I didn’t reflect. I just did. I went from task to task, executing them relatively well (never well enough for my standards, but better than most people might expect), trying to keep everybody happy.  I lost touch with what happiness or joy meant to me because I was so busy figuring out how my actions could best satisfy others.  I did well. People liked me. I accomplished a lot.

And, I felt incredibly alone.

This semester has been a testament to my growth.  While I had to slip into survival mode in multiple moments during the last few months, I have built enough of a community to remind me of my humanity.  And, I have a toddler who calls me into the present even when I don’t have the energy to be anywhere but zoned out in front of an electronic device.  It has been hard, but I have tried to be more honest, more human, and more accepting of my best (at any moment) being enough. I am still trying to learn that I can’t do it all, shouldn’t put the desires of others above my own, should make space for the grounding of routine and of reflection.

Today, for the first time in a really long time, I’ve had time to just sit and breathe and write and be.  I’m a little out of the habit. But, I am still recognizable to myself.  I feel a twinge of displaced sadness at all that has happened in the last 2 months, but I feel something which is a great relief.

It is practice to be human and to be vulnerable. It is brave.

And I am all of these things, even if I am out of practice sometimes.

I write so I can remind myself to come back to the moments.

Growth & Collaboration: Walking the Talk

Pictures say a thousand words so I won’t say (as) much in this post, but I’ll explain these pictures and what they mean to me.  On Wednesday night, my preservice candidates in my secondary literacy course got to present Project Based Learning assessments aligned with Career & Technical Education pathways and state content standards, disciplinary lesson plans that would lead to these assessments and reflections on their take-aways from my course. Usually, this presentation is done to their other colleagues in the course. On Wednesday, my current Masters candidates (who are practicing teachers in a curriculum and instruction cohort focused on Linked Learning principles) and my former credential students (now in the classroom) came to be the audience, give feedback and tell about their experiences in the classroom. Here they are presenting (each to groups at individual tables thanks to our awesome Active Learning classrooms):

It was an amazing night and a super meaningful way for me to end the semester with my preservice students.  It was a night based on reflection, growth, professional collaboration and learning.  I could not have been prouder.

And, following our good-byes, my Masters candidates “kidnapped” me to go to our final program celebration of the semester, where we got to acknowledge one another and celebrate their accomplishments:

CSULB Curriculum & Instruction: Focus on Linked Learning MA Candidates — Fall 2017

I came home that night, and the next morning opened a small gift that was presented to me the day before.  

This teaching bracelet and this night reminded me why persistence is important and why I champion professional learning and growth, professional and personal identities in the classroom, and relevant curriculum that draws students in and helps them to reach their goals.  We can do amazing things as educators when we walk together and push one another. I am humbled by my students and the opportunities to engage in this work, and I am so very grateful for growth & collaboration with them on the journey.

December 14th

Today is December 14th.

When I was in middle school and high school, December 14th was the day of my crush’s (who would later become my first boyfriend) birthday.

Later, when I became a teacher, December 14th was the birthday of another dear friend.

It was a happy day that I rarely forgot.

Five years ago, December 14th became a day that I would never forget, for different reasons.  It began with an early morning text from my brother about a situation at my nephew’s elementary school.  It became a national tragedy centered in the small town that my brother and his family still call home.  My nephew was fortunate not to be physically harmed.  As I’ve written about, it could have been very different.

There are simple things I always remember on this day: hold my children tightly; don’t take life for granted; live a life of love.

But trauma is never simple.  My nephew; my brother (and the rest of his family); the Sandy Hook/ Newtown community; other victims of gun violence (and their friends and family); those suffering from mental health issues (and their friends and family)–so many people in our country and in our world–continue to grieve, continue to suffer (often in silence), continue to misplace or displace our anger, continue to heal, continue to live in spite of it all, continue to try to find hope, love and a reason to keep believing.

In the days and years since December 14, 2012, I have prayed and signed petitions; donated; helped with community forums on gun reform; advocated for better mental health awareness and less stigma; I’ve done my best to create a world that is a better place for my children to grow up in.  But I know it’s not enough. I am too comfortable on many other days of the year that are not December 14th.

I know that until we are all able to see the children lost in Sandy Hook as our own; the children lost to senseless violence and tragedy EVERYDAY as our own; the orphan, refugee and undocumented children as our own; the children who don’t get equitable educational opportunities (that value their knowledge and cultures as strengths) as our own; the children suffering from abuse, physical and mental illness without access to the care they need as our own; until we are able to be responsible for the fact that our enemies are more similar to us than we choose to acknowledge and until we use whatever power and privilege we may have to be the change we want to see, December 14th will just continue to be another day and we will continue to witness more tragedy, until that tragedy is personal. And, I also know that even when tragedy touches us personally, it is still hard to not want to just withdraw into our own families, our own safety, our own lives. In fact, it is natural, but our comfort will not ultimately heal us.

I don’t know where to end this because I can’t end with a cliché or an optimistic exhortation, not today, not authentically. So, I will just end by saying that today has been a pretty decent December 14th, but that it is still sad and hard and full of unspeakable grief.  And tomorrow, on December 15th, the work continues, as it did 5 years ago and as it will until the day I die.

No One Said It Would Be Easy

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

The last time I wrote was in mid-October, after speaking my truth powerfully at a spoken word event for my church social justice group.  I remember feeling empowered and strong as I reflected on my history and my identity, sharing experiences and thoughts that were personal in public, both out loud and through this blog.

Exactly a week after that post, I received a call from my cousin that my aunt was in the hospital emergency room.  Being the only local close family member, I dropped what I was doing to check in with my aunt.  I found her looking relatively well, but tired.  She assured me she was just having some trouble breathing, but the nurse told me that she had congestive heart failure, which sounded terrible and terrifying, and that she had major kidney troubles as well.  My aunt wanted to make sure that I had eaten, had told me not to come back the next day if it was too much trouble, and sent me on my way as soon as they had transferred her to a regular hospital room.

Every day for the next 19 days, I drove between 2-4 hours (Southern California traffic is unpredictable) to sit with my aunt and to act as the liaison between our family and the medical team.  I watched her slowly then more rapidly decline physically and emotionally.  I showed her pictures, told her story, held her hand, sat with her.  I put my life on hold mid-semester, telling very few people, making it to class each week (often driving directly from the hospital) and home for a few hours each day to try to maintain some normalcy in my life and support my students’ and my own children’s growth and development.

My aunt passed away on November 11, Veteran’s Day.  I was at my son’s Tae Kwon Do belt testing event when I got the call.  I watched him receive his belt, coordinated with my husband and drove to sit with my aunt one last time while waiting for the mortuary to arrive.

The following week came coordination of the viewing and memorial. Then Thanksgiving and a visit home from one of my older twin girls, who has had her own serious health concerns, then the services which were just this past weekend. In the midst, a dear friend was in a serious, life-threatening accident in another country, another dear friend lost a close family member, members of my immediate family experienced blatant racism, and I completely lost my voice for almost a week.

This semester, particularly the last 5 weeks, have probably been the most humbling and difficult experience of my faculty life. I haven’t had time to read or write or think. I’ve barely had time to teach or breathe.

And yet, it has been a time of growth and peace.

When faced with death, dying, illness, and so many situations beyond my control, I was forced to acknowledge that there are so many situations beyond my control.  I was obligated to live by faith.  My community and family drew close around me.  People prayed with and for me.  I prayed and sought support.  People sent me food (without me even asking, and with me being a pain in the butt about it because we have porch pirates). People asked how I was doing, sent texts and cards and e-mails.

I wasn’t doing anything (and I am always all about doing everything) and yet people showed overwhelming and abounding love and caring for me.

And, my academic career didn’t collapse.

I taught. A couple of pieces were published and one submitted for review; I gave a couple of small presentations; piloted and revised a course; I graded papers and gave feedback and supported students who were also in crisis.

What I’ve learned this semester is empathy and grace, that there are times in each person’s life when the external circumstances are too much. There are times in my life when this is true.  But, I am not alone, and I am also not expected to have it all together all the time.  I have learned that my humanity draws others closer to me and that true compassion is born in the root of the word itself–suffering with another.

I have learned that sometimes there is only enough and that enough is your best, and your best is enough, because sometimes, that is all that there is.

I have learned that holding space for someone who is transitioning from this world is a great honor.

I have learned that family, faith and community matter deeply and that time and space cannot separate those who truly love one another.

I have learned that we have to invest in the things that truly matter because time is not promised to us.

It has not been the semester I predicted.  I suppose it never is.  No one ever said that this journey (of life or academic life) would be easy.  But I am grateful for the opportunity to walk the journey and live this life. And I am grateful for the space and the words to write about it.