Tag Archives: reflection

Prayers for Texas

My heart is breaking. For the last two days, as I’ve watched Hurricane Harvey’s wrath and subsequent flooding rock my home state, I have gone from utter disbelief to despair. The south Texas coastal areas and Houston are unrecognizable. Each time I see an image or watch a video or hear a story of the total devastation to an area I love so much, I can’t help but cry. It hits too close to home. Way too close.

These people affected are my people. My friends, my family, my former students and their families. I read about how my friends have lost their homes to the floods that are unrelenting, how they have had to seek higher ground in their attics and break out onto their roofs and be rescued by helicopters and boats, and my heart breaks a little bit more. I see photos and videos of the place I called home for six years under water, and my heart breaks a little bit more. I think about the children who are scared, unsure of what’s going on and why this could possibly happen to them, and my heart breaks a little more. I am overcome with grief as I see people lose everything, only able to take what they can carry, and my heart breaks a little more. I’m not sure how much more it can break, yet I know the pain I’m experiencing is nothing compared to those who are living it first-hand, seeing their lives turned upside down in a matter of hours, praying that the worst is over, only to find out that it’s not.

Being so far away, I feel helpless. I can’t help people. I can’t comfort them, hug them, cook them a meal, provide them a safe place to stay, or cry with them. I want to though. I wish I could take away their pain. I wish I could make the rain stop. I wish I could be there to help them pick up the pieces of their lives and tell them it’s going to be okay. But I can’t do any of those things. The only thing I can do is continue to pray for them, sending them love and light and strength and courage to overcome the most difficult situation most have ever had to face. I can donate money to the relief efforts, supporting those first-responders who are fighting to save as many people as they can. I can make people aware of the devastation facing my home state and the incredible people of Texas, in hopes that they, too, can offer support. I can tell my friends and loved ones that I’m thinking of them, loving them, and sending them all the strength in the world. But is that enough?

Seeing this horrific tragedy unfold brings back memories of my time in Clear Lake (Houston), when Hurricane Ike hit our area. I can vividly remember the fear I experienced when I found out that we were in the path of the storm. Packing up to evacuate to Bryan, where I’d stay with my parents, was surreal. Part of me knew that it was the right thing to do, but part of me didn’t really believe it would actually happen. If you haven’t experienced a natural disaster like this before, you don’t really think it could happen to you. That is, until it does.

Being away for nearly two weeks after Ike made landfall, I returned home to a place I didn’t recognize. I couldn’t believe what had happened, and seeing it first-hand broke my heart. I was one of the lucky ones. I had very little damage done to my home, and it didn’t take long for me to get power back. But my friends and my students weren’t so lucky.

I can remember walking through the neighborhood nearest my school in Seabrook with tears streaming down my face. Homes and cars ruined. Families trying to salvage what little they could. Toys, clothes, and furniture strewn through their yards. And the smell. Weeks of being under water and a total loss of power created a smell of mildew and rotting food that knocked the wind out of me. I’ll never forget that.

At Bay Elementary, we were lucky to have stayed dry, as we were able to provide a safe place for kids during the day to play with their friends, eat a hot meal, and get away from the chaos that engulfed them at home. My fellow teachers and my principal were amazing. We banded together to help out our community, and it felt good to know we were helping.

After the initial shock of the hurricane passed, the aftereffects were felt all year. They weren’t there all the time, but they were there, hiding just below the surface, ready to bubble over at a moment’s notice. Writing workshop was where I saw the biggest effects. Writing opens us up, makes us raw, exposes what’s inside our hearts, and reveals our deepest fears. Reading my young writers’ words as they tried to process their pain and loss was a knife to the heart.

As I sit here tonight, with a heavy heart, my hope is this. I hope that the rain subsides, providing much-needed relief to the people of Texas. I hope that the goodwill and love already being shown by so many people and organizations continues to be poured onto those who have been affected by this tragedy. I hope that people come together to rebuild their lives. I hope that despite this horrific disaster, people are able to find peace. Maybe that’s through helping someone else, maybe it’s through reflecting on the things that really matter, or perhaps, like me and my students, it’s through writing.

Sending the people of Texas, my family, my friends, my former students, and the first responders love. You are not alone. You are not forgotten. We are praying.

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My Mom

This isn’t what I was going to write about today, day 31 of 31 in the Slice of Life Challenge. I had planned on writing a reflection on the past month of writing, my take-aways, if you will. But damned if the universe had different plans for me.

To unwind after a long day, I sat down to watch the latest episode of Grey’s Anatomy. If you are a fan and haven’t watched it yet, stop reading now, as there are some major spoilers in this post. This week’s episode centered around Maggie and her mom, who has cancer. During the episode, Maggie is fighting her mom’s cancer, taking every risk she can to keep her alive, and the steps she takes only end up making her mom sicker and sicker. Her mom ends up stopping the treatment, and later in the episode, she passes.

Just before her mom dies, Maggie says, “She’s gonna go. I’m not ready. I’m not ready.” With tears in her eyes, Meredith responds with, “You’re never ready. You just…do it. Listen to her. Talk to her about whatever she wants to talk about. Record her voice in your mind. Just keep sitting there.” That quote really hit me. Throughout the episode, we see glimpses of Maggie’s journey- the denial, the fighting to stop it, the crushing realization that she can’t, the spending every ounce of time she can with her mom, and the bond between family, blood-related or otherwise.

It was absolutely gut-wrenching. I cried no less than 5 times while watching this episode. I cried because it was an extremely sad story, of course, but it was more than that. I cried because that will be me someday. Someday, my mom will pass. I hope and pray it’s many, many years from now, but the reality is that the pain Maggie experienced will be my pain. Right now, my mom is healthy, active, and leads a full life. She’s not sick, and I hope it doesn’t happen. But in some way, age will catch up to her, like it will to us all, and I will be faced with a devastating loss.

It makes me think about how finite our time is on this earth, and the fact that we need to treasure every moment we have, especially with the people we love. Living abroad means I don’t see my family very often- only twice a year to be exact. I want to make sure that I make those moments count. I want to be more intentional about the time I spend with my mom. I want to listen to her stories, and commit them to memory. I want to learn her recipes, the ones she knows by heart. I want to do things she enjoys, rather than sneaking off to do my own thing. I want to tell her I love her each and every day, because I do, and she needs to know that. I want to tell her thank you for everything she’s done for me, and for being my biggest fan. I want to tell her I know that she loves me so much it hurts, because I can see it in her eyes and hear it in her voice. I want her to know how proud I am of her, too, for all the sacrifices and hard work she’s put in to being the best daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, aunt, entrepreneur, and friend she can be. I want to travel with her, and show her my favorite parts of the world, so she can see the world through my eyes, and I can see hers light up with the excitement of new experiences, tastes, sights, and smells.

My mom is one of the best people I know on earth, and without her, I wouldn’t be who I am today. She showed me how to be fierce and independent, something I wonder now if she wishes she’d done a little less of, considering I choose to live alone halfway across the world. She supports me in everything I do, and she loves me unconditionally. It kills me to think about a time without her in my life. Who will I call when I need advice? Or when I’m scared and alone? Or when I just want to celebrate? For now, I’m fortunate I don’t have to think about these things. I’ll just cherish the time we do have. That will have to be enough.

I love you, mom.

 

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What the SOL Challenge Means to Me

The Slice of Life Challenge is a very important part of who I am. Seven years ago, I took a risk and put myself (and my thoughts) out there for the world to see when I joined the SOL Challenge, and I’ve been excited ever since.

I had been following TwoWritingTeachers for about a year, and I loved reading all their posts about the art of teaching writing. I soaked in all the knowledge that they had to give. I shared posts with my friends and colleagues, tried out new ideas in my classroom, and spent hours poring through archived posts, jotting down ideas for later use. One March, I saw the SOL Challenge posts and wondered, What’s this all about? I read some of the slicers’ posts, and sometimes even commented, but thought, There’s no way I could do that! Who has time to write every day? And what would I even write about? Fast forward to the next February. I had convinced myself I would give it a try. I created a blog and once March came, I began sharing my stories. I didn’t post every day that first year, but I put myself out there, and I was proud of that.

I’ve now been posting for seven years, and I’m a huge fan! I tell everyone I know that they just have to try it out with me. Just dip your toes in. Start a blog, write some slices, see where it takes you. Most people look at me like I’m crazy. But a handful have taken me up on the offer, and I’ve sliced alongside friends and colleagues. We’ve learned more about one another, supported one another, and grown closer in the process. Some continue slicing the next year and some don’t, but all of them are glad they tried it.

What I love most about the challenge is that it pushes me as a writer. I cultivate a habit of writing each and every day, whether I have something profound to say or not, whether I feel like it or not. The quote is true. The only way to become a writer is to carve out time daily to write. I look forward to this challenge before it begins, and I mourn it when it’s over. I need that daily deadline to consistently put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). I’ve also grown immensely as a writer through the years. Looking back on my old posts, I can see how my craft has evolved. I am more fluent, more engaging, and try out a variety of techniques now. I can always improve, as we all can, but I am proud of the progress I have made thus far. Over the years, I have also become more open and vulnerable in my writing, something I had always wanted to do. Prior to the challenge, I’d put up a mental block and I wasn’t fully open in my writing. Through the support of other slicers and their examples of laying it all out there, I have begun opening up and showing more of who I am.

I have also grown to love this writing community. This community embraces everyone, pulling us into the fold, and supporting us with their heartfelt comments. I know it’s been said before, but it’s worth saying again. Comments fuel writers. Knowing we have an audience who’s reading our words is important, but knowing we touched someone else enough to leave a comment is magical. Comments leave me with an understanding that what I say matters. Through the course of my time on the challenge, I have cultivated friendships with other slicers. Even though we’ve never been in the same room (or the same country in some cases), by reading one another’s thoughts, we share a bond. We learn to care about one another. It’s an unconventional friendship, I admit, but I cherish the relationships I have made with Elsie Stacey, Sandy, Karpenglish, Amanda, Leah, and Anne, among others.

One of the coolest things about this challenge is that I have a time capsule of one month of my life for the past seven years. Not many people can say that! Looking back at my slices is a window into my life. And for some reason, March tends to be an eventful month! I’ve had multiple injuries, many adventures, and lots of normal day-to-day stuff, too. I enjoy looking back and reminiscing on the person I was then, wondering whether I would have done the same thing as the me I am now.

As a traveler and an expat, I try to write blog posts about my life abroad, but I fall short and typically only post a few times a year, but the SOL challenge gives me ample opportunity to write not only about my travels (I’ve been on Spring Break every March except this year- my holiday is next week.), but about my life as an expat in another country. I have lots of random posts about China, Albania, and now Thailand. This challenge gives me the opportunity to treasure these moments, no matter how small. When I’m 70 years old, sitting around the campfire roasting marshmallows with my niece and nephew and their kids, I’ll tell them about my adventures. And when my old, tired brain doesn’t remember all the details, I’ll have my slices to look back on to remind me.

This challenge is a gift, and I am forever grateful to TwoWritingTeachers for hosting it, and to the SOL writing community for continuing to support me year after year.

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Let’s Get Vulnerable.

On my lunch break, I like to take a few minutes to myself and watch videos on YouTube while I eat my lunch, clearing my mind from the morning. Usually I watch Jimmy Fallon segments, as they’re guaranteed to make me smile. But today was different. Today I scrolled through one of my favorite channels, Soul Pancake, for something new to watch. For those of you who don’t know, Kid President is the brainchild of Soul Pancake.

The That’s What She Said playlist caught my attention. Expecting something light and humorous, something akin to Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, I pushed play. The first episode was entitled “Beauty and Body Image.” Whoa, that got real, real quick.

A focus group of an eclectic group of women sat around a table, talking about body image issues, sharing their perceptions of beauty, particularly their own, as well as recounting times in their lives when they questioned their body. Everyone shared these vignettes from their past when someone said or did something that caused them to doubt their beauty. As I listened to these women laying it all out there, I found myself nodding in agreement, tears welling in my eyes. Why is it that we allow others to define our beauty? Why do we give power to this negativity? Why do we consume media that promotes unattainable beauty standards and think we are less than when we don’t, when we can’t, measure up?

After watching That’s What She Said, I clicked on the That’s What He Said suggested video on the side, not really sure what to expect. The men’s version, entitled “Self Esteem and Body Image,” tackled similar issues related to body image and the messages men receive from others and the media. What surprised me most was that men faced the same things women do. They doubt themselves. They strive to fit this mold of what an attractive man is, someone who’s tall and strong, who can protect their loved ones. It shouldn’t surprise me that they feel this way, but it does. It’s not as widely talked about a topic as it is with women. Listening to them sharing their struggles and concerns was eye-opening. It made me understand a little more what’s beneath the often macho exterior of men.

As I watched both videos, I found myself noticing how beautiful each and every person was. Even as they described issues they had with their bodies, I would think, But look at your eyes; they’re so striking. He has a nice smile, one I’d notice across a room. Her hair is lovely; I wish I had hair like that. Her skin is radiant; I love the way her freckles dot her face. Why is that we can easily notice the beauty in others, but not always see it in ourselves?

Some of the questions and discussions posed in the video got me thinking about my own experiences. How do I feel about my body? First off, I struggle with my weight. I’d like to be much thinner, more fit. I’ve never had a flat stomach. Oh, how I wish I had one. My hair, while a pretty color, doesn’t know what it is. Is it curly? Is it straight? I wish it’d make up its mind. I’ve always been self-conscious of my smile. I have nice eyes, but the dark circles under them have always been there. I wonder if that makes me look tired.

When was the first time I felt not good enough, physically? Thinking back, I was in 7th grade when the self-doubt about my body started to creep in and consume my thoughts. I had always been small growing up. I was short and athletically thin, a result from the endless hours I spent outside running around and riding my bike. In middle school, my body began to change. Puberty hit me full-force, causing my body to grow softer and larger in certain areas. I was no longer thin. I found myself looking at my friends, with their flat stomachs and perfect bodies, and wondering why I didn’t look like that. Boys didn’t pay me much attention, like they did to my friends. I started to call myself fat. I’m pretty sure others did, too.

For the past 20+ years, my weight has fluctuated, from fat to not-as-fat, but I’ve never felt entirely happy with myself when I look in the mirror. I have never worn a bikini. Even when I wore a size 4 (a size 4!), I was too fat for a bikini. I wish I was that fat now.  I can recall, almost verbatim, the times in my life when people I loved have commented on my body. The time when my haircut made my face look too fat; when I wasn’t thin enough for him; when I didn’t look like a model and he deserved that, you know; when I was asked, not so subtlety, if I’d put on weight; when I was asked what I ate that day and whether or not I had worked out; when I was asked what’s wrong with me that I’m still single. Why do I let their commentary continue to play in my head?

When do I feel most beautiful? That’s a hard one. I wouldn’t use the word beautiful to define me. Cute? Maybe. Pretty? Sometimes. But beautiful? Hardly ever. If I had to answer that question, I’d say I feel most beautiful when I’m sharing a story with a friend or laughing with my whole body. If I really think about it, I think that I push people away, afraid to let anyone get too close, because I don’t feel beautiful enough. I feel confident in myself in terms of my personality. I know I’m a good person. I’m intelligent. I’m funny. I’m adventurous. I’m kind. But I lack the physical beauty that people seek. So instead of opening myself up for heartache, I find that I close myself off to others. I hope that the confidence I have in my inner self can be echoed in my confidence in my outer self.

This journey I’m on is definitely a life-long one. Learning to be comfortable in my own skin, accepting who I am and what my body looks like, and gaining self-confidence are all things I’m working on at the moment. I have good days and I have bad days. Today’s not a bad day, but it does leave me thinking.

I Wish You More…

Amy Krouse Rosenthal, the writer whose format I borrowed for I Wish You More, passed away this week at the age of 51. Gone way too soon. Her light and love shone through in her life, and I admired her so much. As one of my favorite children’s books (and memoir) authors, I shared many of her books with kids and teachers over the years. Her death has hit me hard, and in honor of her, I give you this poem. AKR, this is for you! I wish you more love and happiness than pain.

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I wish you more stamps than pages.

I wish you more tries than give-ups.

I wish you more what now’s than what if’s.

I wish you more quality than quantity.

I wish you more spicy than mild.

I wish you more books than shelves.

I wish you more oh yeahs! than oh nos!

I wish you more yummy than yucky.

I wish you more happy endings than cliffhangers.

I wish you more calm waters than crashing waves.

I wish you more bright than dull.

I wish you more grey than black and white.

I wish you more friends than followers.

I wish you more adventure than aversion.

I wish you more sunny than stormy.

I wish you more questions than answers.

I wish all of this for you,

because you are everything I could wish for…

and more.

Saint, my pint-sized protector

From the moment he first saw me in the wheelchair, my ankle bandaged up, he was my protector. My little Saint.

I wheeled over to the edge of the playground where my class was happily playing. I’ve missed their smiling faces, their hugs, their sense of wonder. Catching their attention, they rushed over, all with the same question, “What happened?” All, that is, except Saint. With indignation in his voice, he points to my ankle, and asks, “Who this?” His face said it all. Being his teacher, I knew “Who this?” really meant “Who did this?”. Saint, my little three-year-old protector, wanted to know who did this to me. What happened wasn’t as important as who hurt me. Such sweetness wrapped up in such a tiny person.

Since returning to school, wheelchair-bound, my class has been curious, asking me what happened one too many times, learning to respect my boundaries (“no touching my foot please”), and wondering why I can’t do the things I normally can. The novelty for some has worn off, and preschool as they know it is back to normal. But not for Saint, whose sweet gestures bring a smile to my face and warmth to my heart.

Everyday, at random times, he comes over to me, smiles, and pats me on my arm or my leg or my shoulder, reassuring me that he cares and is worried about me. Knowing that I keep my ice packs in the freezer, he will bring me one at random, making sure I take care of my foot. He watches me, too. When the pain and swelling get to be too much, I prop my leg up on the table, an attempt to reduce the swelling that occurs from keeping it down all day. He questions, wondering what I’m doing, why I’m resting.

Yesterday during interest areas, I was wheeling around, snapping photos of students busily cooking hamburgers and salad with the playdoh, making melodies on the xylophone, or building a tower out of blocks, wondering how high they can make it until it topples over, sending them into fits of laughter, when something caught my eye.

The dramatic play area, by far the students’ most sought-after center, is too small for my wheelchair to fit, so I watch from afar, an outsider not a part of their fantasy. What I saw was Saint sitting in a chair, his leg up on the table. Lali was tending to him, bringing him a glass of water. Zooming in, I snap a picture before I ask, “Saint, what are you doing?”

With a forlorn look on his face, he responds, “My leg is hurt.”

“It is? I’m sorry. Is Lali helping you?”

Nodding, he says yes. A smile crosses Lali’s face, as she continues to care for her hurt friend. Knowing that I’d removed all the doctor stuff last week, I asked, “Would you like an ice pack?” Of course he would!

Lali came over and I handed her a no-longer-cold ice pack. She went back over and wrapped his leg. Later, his leg still on the table, another student tries to help him, using a pizza cutter as a tool. Grinning, I think, maybe I should return the doctor stuff to dramatic play.

I go about my business of tending to the other students in the class, but about ten minutes later, I look over at the dramatic play area again. There is Saint, his leg still propped up with his ice pack, sitting alone. His heart is so tender and loving, and he is just trying to make sense of his little world.

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Wondering the Reason

It’s been five days
since the accident
Five days since my life
suddenly changed

No more going where I
want to go
doing what I
want to do
Heck, even going to the bathroom
is an ordeal

At first, being cooped up
isn’t so bad
You get a free pass
to binge-watch
your favorite shows
You can stay in your PJ’s
all day long
No judgements

But then
the desire to do
normal things again
sets in
Things like walking around
taking a shower standing up
leaving the house
without it being a big thing
And suddenly
being confined to your bed
isn’t so glamorous anymore
It’s suffocating

At first, you expect
the pain
You know you have to
endure it
But you think
it’ll get better
each day
Only it doesn’t

Throbbing, pulsing
pain
Blue to green to yellow
yet it still hurts
Glancing down
not my foot
but a balloon
ready to pop

Too many pills
too much sleep
not enough sleep
can’t get comfortable
No longer
self-reliant

And then the thoughts
Playing the what if game
What if I hadn’t
stopped for that bottle of water?
What if I’d left
five minutes later?
Would it have been
the same?
Everything happens for a reason
Wondering the reason

Trying to stay positive
But today
it’s hard