Featurettes

Dec14

Featurette: My Job Does Not Define Who I Am

Featurette: A guest piece written by one of our readers.  A small narrative vignette inviting us all to see the world from behind their eyes and hearts for just a moment.  You can submit your short story for consideration here. Today’s guest piece is written by Jenny Hochmiller

Being an educator takes a certain type of person, and I question if I am that type of person.  After 6 years of experience, how is my level of confidence still shaky?  Yes, my level of confidence is unrecognizably stronger from my initial days in the classroom, but I feel inept in my ability to make a strong impact.  Am I in transition, or not?  These conflicting thoughts bring such a strong wave of emotion, as if I’m a part of an abusive relationship – one I want to leave, but have such an unhealthy attachment to.

Going into education seemed like a natural fit.  My teachers were some of my strongest mentors, and being a contributing member of a vibrant school community was something I longed for.  Of course, a teenager’s perspective of a career versus the actual realities that exist within that career create a strong collide.  I had more discourage me from going into the classroom than tell me it was a good idea, and the retention rates spoke for themselves.  Yet, I refused to be a statistic.

So I dove right in, right into the Montbello neighborhood.  Boy, was I in for a huge wake up call.  My first year greeted me with teaching credit recovery classes on computers for every subject under the sun, an Algebra class full of 40 freshmen, three rooms to travel in between, a board vote to phase out our failing school over the next four years, a building void of a principal halfway through the year, and having to re-interview for my position three times within that year.  Thank goodness for a strong bond with so many of my students and colleagues – we held each other up during what I regard as such a dark time.  Many days I had to remind myself to breathe.

But for some strange reason, I wanted to stay.  There was such a stark contrast from the environment I grew up in and the education I received, to the job I stepped into.  Yet, I couldn’t imagine myself going anywhere else.  The way I saw it, education is what defined my family.  Education brought them from blue collar to white collar, no high school degree to ivy league degrees within just one generation.  How could this community be denied what is considered the great equalizer of our time?  From my perspective that equated to staying, because the more who stayed, potentially the less unstable the school would be.  This was considering how teachers who had been there for two years were seen as veterans, and gained unprecedented respect from the students because they showed they cared enough to stay.

Flash forward to six years later, and I attribute so much of who I am to what this community has built within me.  Perseverance and resilience, from days this non-crier would come home sobbing from brokenness in every aspect of the word.  Drive to be the best educator I can be, despite feeling like the measures to meet this goal were impossible.  Having so much of me being intertwined with a people who are now my family.  And an endless desire for excellence, even if it feels like such a false hope that’s a dangling carrot in front of me.

The question now is, whether the level of self-sacrifice is too strong to continue.  To be excellent requires a great deal of time.  Time that bleeds into the evenings and weekends, when I’m supposed be enjoying time with family, friends, or simply indulging into necessary self-care.  Time that I so freely gave away through the majority of my 20s.  And in my experience with school reform, it has been so heart wrenchingly painful.  My greatest mentors that I have stood side-by-side with have either voluntarily left, or been involuntarily removed.  I look around, and only two remain from that first year I began, and both question their ability to continue.

Will I stay or go?  Am I grieving the end of a huge chapter in my life, paralyzed with fear and standing in the neutral zone refusing to move, or starting a new beginning by entertaining the idea of moving in another direction?  Getting a thrill out of the unknown has never been me – I am terrified.  Terrified to leave, as well as terrified that I’ll never leave.  I have no desire to go in any other direction, as well as no desire to stay.  I question if know who I am.  But a mantra I repeated to myself over and over on my drive to work last year, in an attempt to begin the process of surrendering control, was that my job does not define who I am, and God will continue to love me despite my successes or failures.

Jennifer

Jenny Hochmiller enjoys life with her husband and their new baby girl, Ariana. Her favorite beverage is Root Beer Milk.

Nov09

Monumental Moments

Featurette: A guest piece written by one of our readers.  A small narrative vignette inviting us all to see the world from behind their eyes and hearts for just a moment.  You can submit your short story for consideration here. Today’s guest piece is written by Beth Bruno

In this Mediterranean climate, the air is still warm. The open-shuttered windows let in a refreshing rustle through the newly turned leaves. Though my kids donned costumes and gathered sugar late into last night, my husband and I are half way around the world celebrating 20 years of marriage. The Italian guests congratulated us with “bravo!” this morning at breakfast. Indeed, we know it is something worthy of no small bravo.

It is a monumental passing.

But this week while we traipsed around medieval hill towns, I missed my oldest daughter’s monumental passage. She sent me a brief, “It happened” on kik, the wifi messaging app we are all communicating with, and we struggled to talk around her school schedule and a 7 hour time zone. I fought back tears at the thought of being absent for such a significant week, yet at the same time, thankful for all I had already done.

I have been on a journey with my tween daughter, intentionally ushering her into womanhood through a year I call “becoming.” I have been searching for core, intrinsic attitudes of women which supersede culture and history and that far surpass the more traditional focus on periods and purity.

Of course, periods and purity are conversations worth having. But we’ve been having them for years. The only way to normalize a thing is to talk about it casually and frequently. I’ve been prepared and preparing my daughter for the onset of her period increasingly over the past months. We knew it was coming.

Unlike some 30 years ago when my own first began.

We are a full day’s car ride from home and surrounded by all the relatives. My Grandparent’s house is nestled in a wood with corn fields behind and a mortician living down the lane. The small town feels isolated, stalled, and like their home, frozen in time. The baby blue toilet with the padded seat cover is my hiding place. I am 12 and something is happening.

In the kitchen, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and the mortician neighbor enjoy happy hour. It is Christmas and we are all together. There is no privacy, though I pull my mother down the hall to the baby blue bathroom next to the 13 inch TV with Miss Piggy sitting atop. I am horrified. My underpants are brown and sticky and I have absolutely no paradigm for this. My mother pauses. An embarrassed smile is gone as quickly as I detect it and she brushes it off, “too much chocolate” she says.

Six months later it is Spring and the sticky returns red. Now, from health class I presume, I know what this is. I know what to ask for. I know what has happened. Years later, on the eve of my wedding, when the same smile returns to her face, I will recall the baby blue toilet. I will remember that at age 10, I had asked what French Kissing was and she said she had no idea. I will remember another toilet at age 14, from which I received coaching from a friend. She handed me a tampon and mirror and closed the door, not letting me out till I was successful.

And though I managed despite my mother’s embarrassment around intimate and feminine topics, what I recall her telling me that Christmas at my Grandparents, has framed the bulk of my parenting: there will be no topic too intimate to discuss candidly (and age appropriately) with my kids.


So my daughter and I have been having body talks for years, whenever her curious mind pops a question. In 5th grade, I bought her a little coin purse, put some sanitary pads in it, and told her to keep it with her. She has been prepared and knows what is coming. There will be no public celebration, but I will try to muster excitement (tell me a woman who actually enjoys this reality! We aren’t spending 5 days out of the month sequestered in a red tent with our friends and sisters after all!) I will do my best to welcome her to this life-giving gift we have of bringing babies into the world.

At the same time, she is joining the ranks of women from all time, from all over. I want her to know that though she’ll continue on as a kid who now has pads in her backpack, still getting tucked into bed at night, some of her global sisters are experiencing a radical change of life. At the same age, a young girl in Afghanistan or Yemen is now declared eligible for marriage. A peer in Uganda may stop going to school at this point because she lacks sanitary pads to keep her clean. In fact, maybe our celebration of her first period will be to sponsor a year’s supply of pads for a girl of the same age.

These are all thoughts I’ve been having leading up to this reality. But here it is and I am not even with her! By the time I return, she’ll have endured her first cycle. In all my determination to handle this differently than my own mother, in the end, it was out of my control. And in the greatest irony of all, my mom is the one with her right now.

In God’s great sense of humor and grace, my mom gets redemption.

I have contended from the beginning of this process that ushering our daughters through a process of becoming touches our own story and soul. It is as much about the mother as the daughter. It can be both painful and restorative to rifle through our narrative. But what a delightful surprise that my mom is included. Removing me from the picture allowed her to do things perhaps the way she always wanted to, but wasn’t free to at that point in her own process of becoming. We’re journeying together, across generations.

And for now, across oceans.

 

2014Headshot1webBeth is a self-described writer, activist and creative who does life in Northern Colorado with her husband of 20 years and their 3 kids. You can learn more about who she is how she marks the world for good at bethbruno.org. Her current preferred beverage is a glass of Super Tuscan Red Wine.

 

 

Oct08

Therefore, I repeat, I am brave and strong.

Featurette: A piece written by one of our readers.  A small narrative vignette inviting us all to see the world from behind their eyes and hearts for just a moment.  You can submit your short story for consideration here.

I have been binging on Anne Lamott. I read Operating Instructions when a friend mailed it to me while I was going through the new baby stuff in the very foreign country of Cambodia. I would get up in the middle of the night to nurse my daughter and not mind so much because I had a few minutes to read the hilariously crass words of another new mother. She wrote things most wouldn’t admit to, and honestly, she had worse thoughts than I ever had, but I could relate to so much of it, that I gobbled it up. I had no friends in Cambodia, no other mothers I could ask for advice. Just a great many dark hands touching my baby and holding her every chance they got, but not able to utter even one word to me in English. Operating Instructions, mixed with this very difficult start of our little family in a hot, corrupt country was a funny induction into motherhood.

This weekend I got time away from my now family of five, and I brought along Anne’s book on becoming a grandmother. Not that I am at all close to that stage, but I like her voice and I wasn’t in the mood for her fiction stuff. So, I feasted on Some Assembly Required with some voracity, and found having reached the end, two sentences that stand out. I think Anne is remarkable because she is terribly honest, and hilariously funny, so her anxiety seems survivable.

At one point in the book, she writes,

“We as parents have the illusion that we make our kids stronger, but they make us stronger.” – Anne Lamott

I try so very hard to make my kids strong and confident. I feel like that will help them escape a lot of the crap the world hurls at them; they will be able to stand up under it and smile even when things are tough. But as I lie on this hotel bed in the middle of the afternoon and enjoy my space, I can’t help but understand deeply what she means by this. I have been so exhausted with my parenting duties that I thought I could not possibly take another step, or cook another meal, or clean another butt, and then, the need arises and I just do it. I just keep putting one foot in front of the other and love the people entrusted to me the absolute best I can. I am really stinking strong.

I am quite brave also. I know this because I have moments where I fear the worst happening to one of my kids, or an illness befalling them, or perhaps even losing one, and I can’t even manage to hold the thought in my brain anymore, but I have to. I have to think through it, and rationalize my way back to sanity and realize that although we haven’t had any terrible loss or hardship, they may come, and I have to be able to face it. I will be able to face it. I know that. I have literally cried over things that have not happened. That sounds crazy now, but fear is like that, it takes hold and you have to push it back out to where it belongs. And because I am able to do this I know I am brave, and I know I can stand when something does happen. Don’t test me, but trust that I know it with great confidence. Just don’t test me, please.

The second line that caught my attention has a natural connection to the first.

“You love your kids way too much to ever feel safe again.” – Anne Lamott

I remember when I finally gave birth to my first daughter, as I already mentioned, living overseas, I realized once my water broke and we had to take a Tsongtau to the hospital that I may have been naïve about this whole thing. I really wanted to splurge for an American-style taxi, but none were around, so I managed to hulk my large belly onto the back of the converted truck.

In a tuk-tuk on a rainy afternoon — in Phnom Pehn, Cambodia.

In a tuk-tuk on a rainy afternoon — in Phnom Pehn, Cambodia.

But 28 hours later my daughter appeared blue and cone-headed. That scared the shit out of me because I had never seen a baby that new before, and didn’t realize it was perfectly normal after the hours she spent hanging out in my birth canal. It was almost instantly that I knew I was screwed. I mean really in trouble.  Because I now had my husband, who I could not stand the thought of losing, and my daughter, who literally took me captive. I now had two people in the world that were living lives I could not control or protect indefinitely. They were at risk all the time. I was too but who cared about me now. I only had half a heart for him and another half for her, so they were all that mattered. Imagine how messy my heart and mind were when we added another beautiful little lady into our family and our handsome son. Five halves of a heart gets exhausting to carry around in one’s chest all day.

Therefore, I repeat, I am brave and strong.

My second born loves to say that same thing while flexing her little twig-like arms in an exaggerated strongman pose. “I am brave and strong.” She was right all along. Because I have a family, which I work tirelessly for, and I am able to hold them in the proper space that recognizes how much I love and adore them, while also knowing they are not mine to control or protect. I can only ever do so much; I have to let them go a little, which makes me crazy. That risk, though, is what makes the reward so much richer. The reward of seeing their smiling faces when I return, or holding them when they are sad, or celebrating with them when they are happy. It all goes together in one big messy life.

Andrea Peters does life in Denver,CO alongside a student/writer brilliant husband, two fierce daughters, and a gentle son. She coordinates her MOPS group and likes to tackle tough projects, i.e. Parenting.  Her favorite drink is currently a Moscow Mule.

Andrea Peters does life in Denver,CO alongside a student/writer brilliant husband, two fierce daughters, and a gentle son. She coordinates her MOPS group and likes to tackle tough projects, i.e. Parenting. Her favorite drink is currently a Moscow Mule.

 

Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott

Some Assembly Required by Anne Lamott

Apr10

A Hole

Featurette: A piece written by one of our readers.  A small narrative vignette inviting us all to see the world from behind their eyes and hearts for just a moment.  You can submit your short story for consideration here.

There I was, going about my morning routine, when WHAM. Out of nowhere, I found myself grieving over A Thing I Cannot Change. See, it was National Siblings Day. And my social media feeds are all about random “national” holidays. I mean, who doesn’t love National Donut Day? Or Talk Like A Pirate Day?

So on this day celebrating brothers and sisters, smiling sibling pictures popped up all over my feed. But to paraphrase Monty Python, grief is like the Spanish Inquisition; one never expects it. Perhaps I should have; sibling relationship is a touchy subject for me right now. If you invited my extended family over, there are people that would not or could not attend. And out of all of the ridiculous things to set grief off, it was a social media blitz of togetherness.

You see, there is a hole. If I were to put up an old picture of my siblings right now, it’s almost like some people would be grayed out. It feels as though someone has raged through the picture album of my heart, crudely cutting out faces. Their bodies remain; they exist. But their faces are stolen. If I were to put up a current picture, people would simply be missing.

I know that others’ families have also been torn by tragedy and brokenness. For me, there is hope that someday things can somehow be mended, and we will be whole again. For others, death has stolen that hope. Illness, disease, suicide, fatal accident–whatever happened, the hole created cannot be mended this side of the veil. And that is a grief I cannot imagine. I hope that our hole can be mended before there is a physical finality to that possibility.

The hope I feel is like a spark of light; the hole I feel is like a vacuum. Brokenness tends to feel like that; it oozes through time and space in the deep places, tainting what it touches. It is hard to see a picture of a loved one lost to drugs, or alcohol, or crime, or abuse, or disagreement, or whatever other brokenness and unfinished business remain. It is hard to miss a sure friend, one whose presence should be lifelong but whose absence exists instead. It is hard to know that the next family picture taken will not include them, not because they are lost to this mortal world, but because they are lost to the possibility of presence. That they have disincluded themselves, or they have disincluded you, or both. There is a hole.

Growing up, I desperately wanted to belong to my family. There were ways in which I did not feel a sense of belonging, especially among my extended family. But a principle was held sacred nonetheless, that family comes first. Friends come and go, but family–siblings especially–is forever. And in that, up through my teens, I felt secure. I might have been closer to some siblings than others, but I never doubted that we all were friends, and that our relationship transcended whatever life would throw our way. That we were there for each other, forever and always. I belonged; they belonged.

I never imagined that over the tumultuous years of growing up, the lines that held our life rafts together would be purposefully cut. FullSizeRender-18That we would become lost to each other. That relationships would grow cold and stale, and that instead of seeking to know each other, shallow judgement would be upheld instead. That people’s poor decisions would launch them far away from the safety of reach. That small slights would cut deep, and that true offenses would crack open gulfs only crossable through reparation, humility and forgiveness.

What does one do when you’ve lost your earliest playmate? When terrible, tragic decisions were made that caused boundary lines of safety to be drawn? When one whom you love cuts themselves off of the family branch to pursue their brokenness? It is a wound that will not close; it is a hole.

Most days, I find comfort in my relationship with my maker. At one point, I went to therapy and gained some tools. I invest in the healthy relationships I do have. I am not without hope, and most days I am not so raw; the hole all but disappears. But some days, I find that grief is like the ocean. Never turn your back to the ocean, they say, because a powerful wave can sneak in when you least expect it. I didn’t expect a silly holiday to bring a frothing surge of grief. But, today at least, there is a hole.

Melissa Taft is a stay-at-home mom in Seattle who enjoys reading, puttering in the garden and the smell of autumn.  Her favorite drink is Thai Iced Tea.