The Children of God

I attend a local Lutheran church, because the community and bible teachings offer both a community and wisdom/intellectual challenge/interest. Today’s gospel reading was from Mathew Chapter 15, Verses Ten through Twenty-Eight. In this passage Jesus is doing his usual teaching and an interesting things happens: a Canaanite woman started shouting that she had a daughter who was possessed by a demon and she wanted Jesus to heal her. The woman’s daughter is only healed after being first told “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She ends up teaching Jesus by telling him that “even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.” I find this passage astonishing. Not only is Jesus being taught by a woman, but she is also a reviled Canaanite.

My biggest problem with the Bible is that it is so male centrist. Nowhere in the Bible do you hear the female perspective. Just because there are female characters, does not mean that they are accurately portrayed. Every woman in the Bible is either a baby-making machine, or a temptress/sex object. You get the idea that women are either treated with contempt or misunderstood by the male writers of ancient Judaism. I get a little tired of the completely biased portrayals and outright lies being told about women featured in the Bible. This passage seems to turn everything on its head. My pastor even called it an “excellent witness,” to who the true children of God are: everyone (even women and outsiders, gasp!).

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Things that Really, REALLY, Suck About Divorce

Today is a sad day for myself, my cousin and his wife: they are getting a divorce. As sad as it is for the people around them, it is a million times harder for the ones actually involved. My heart goes out to them both. This made me think (unfortunately) about all of the crap they are both going to go through, and have been going through leading up to this point, and I felt the need to write it all down. I hope this helps others that have or are going through this tragic event in their lives.

 

Things that Really, REALLY, Suck About Divorce

  1. The person that initiates feels really guilty, which makes it all-the-more hard to move on.
  2. The person on the receiving end feels like they are in utter shock and deep sadness, because often it is too late at this point to repair the damage.
  3. You become a leper.
  4. There is so much to deal with: emotionally, financially, and just physically. It is overwhelming!
  5. Lawyers
  6. Money going to lawyers.
  7. In my case: no lawyers, but court documents, the court process on my own (very long, expensive, and confusing).
  8. Splitting up and moving all of your stuff (now half of what you had).
  9. Not knowing what to do with all of the photos and memorabilia (throw away? keep?)
  10. Friends and family have to take sides.
  11. Dragging kids (if you have them)  through custody hearings and the whole messed-up process.
  12. Feeling like a complete failure.
  13. Looking family and friends in the eye.
  14. Going to the pharmacy to pick-up anti-anxiety meds and seeing the “Its a Boy/Girl” birth announcements, or “Congratulations on Your Marriage,” cards and bursting into tears in public, because you are sad about the marriage and not sure if you will ever have kids (if you don’t have them).
  15. Dating
  16. Dating people who are also divorced and have kids.
  17. Trying to go anywhere or do anything that you once did with your ex.
  18. Dealing with the taxes from that year.
  19. Signing the papers.
  20. Getting the other person to sign.
  21. Feeling like someone actually died, because your marriage had a life of its own.
  22. Confusion over who you are now, and where to go.
  23. Anger at your ex, and life, and maybe even God.

 

Happiness

To the Zen Master happiness is elusive, and the search for it actually leads to unhappiness. To find enlightenment one must accept the transient nature of all things: good and bad. Living in the moment can bring about a contented state, and I agree that always chasing after something can lead to resentment and wasted energy. If we are one with the universe then we recognize that our own happiness is insignificant, that life should be lived connected with others, not focused on our own selfish desires. I am just really struggling to give up my own selfish need for my own idea of success. I want to feel like I am contributing something in my career, my life. It is not so much about the zeroes on my paycheck, as a feeling of satisfaction at the end of the day. I want some amount of control over my life.

According to Leslie Becker-Phelps PhD of Psychology Today, “according to self-determination theory (SDT), lasting happiness is built on only three basic, psychological needs that we all share-relatedness, which is connection to others; competence, which is taking on challenges and experiencing mastery; and autonomy, which is having a sense of acting of your own accord and in harmony with your sense of self.” I think Self-Determination Theory is shown to be true in my own life; I have felt the most happy when I was taking challenges and experiencing mastery, and I exerted some degree of control over my life. People have always been important to me: my family, my friends, church/community, and colleagues. Part of what bothered me about working at [district name] was that there wasn’t enough team work, or a sense that we were there for each other or could reach out for help. I do not function well as an island; I need others, and I enjoy helping others as well. The problem is that there are many times when these factors can be completely out of a person’s control. I have found that just getting a different job doesn’t always solve the problem, because you are left with the guilt of not “mastering” the previous challenge. I have the connection to others portion down pretty well, as I am a very social person, but the other aspects of happiness can feel pretty elusive to me at times.

I have always just wanted to work hard, get into a career, and perform well. I just want to find success in one career. Some people might say that my definition of “mastery” or success needs to be tweaked, that I am being too hard on myself. Some people just seem to get it, to just turn everything to gold that they touch. I must not have those genes, and if there is some kind of pill for this, I would take it in a heart beat. I feel like I am stuck at some halfway point: too smart to not go to college and get a professional job, and too dumb to make any of these jobs work. I must be missing something. I am not smart enough. I don’t work hard enough. I have some kind of mental defect. I am a bad teacher. A bad human being.

The truth of the matter is that it isn’t that simple. I was smart enough to get through four years of undergrad, two years of graduate school, student teaching, my first year of teaching, and two months of the second year. I’m not smart enough to go to MIT, but I’m no dummy either. Okay, so I am not too dumb. Maybe I am too lazy. Again, the same logic applies. I made it through all of those things, even working for four years as a preschool teacher (a very tiring job), so I can’t possibly be too lazy. So, let’s see. I am not too dumb, or too lazy to hold down a real job, so what happened? I ask these questions, because I don’t know how this happened. I am dumbfounded, at the near total destruction of my life. There was no obvious cause: drug abuse, laziness, a lack of ability. I am just a bad teacher, whatever that means.

Human beings like to put people and things in boxes, neat little boxes. He is a bad teacher. He is a good teacher. She is a bad wife. She is a good wife. We do this in an effort to make sense of a very complex and sometimes random world. Religion would say that I didn’t have faith, that I didn’t pray enough or rely on God enough. Science would just make hypotheses, would just spot off statistics: she is just one of the twenty percent that leave after the first year at a low-performing, low-income school. Sure that classifies me, but does that really explain it, or make it BETTER. That is what I really want: If I can understand what happened, I can make it better, fix what went wrong. I have to make up for what I did to deserve this.

Then I get to thinking about all of the bad things that happen: earthquakes, disease, famine, abuse, murder, genocide. None of these people did anything to deserve what happened. We understand the forces that caused them to happen, but no one was to blame. Understanding the cause doesn’t it make it less tragic, but then it can motivate people to help out of compassion. That is what we do when tragedies happen: we help. We CARE. So, whatever happens in my life. I will remember that when bad things happen to innocent people: we need to help, to care, to band together as human beings and face these evil/dark forces together.

Disappointment

After being rejected for all of the teaching jobs that I applied to this year (five in all), I am feeling like I need to move on or find a different approach. What I am doing is not working, and maybe it is just not meant to be. It is emotionally exhausting to have to apply for jobs that I have no chance of getting. I need to know if I even have a chance, and [district name] doesn’t seem to want to give me a straight answer. I wish I could go back and tell myself that all I am qualified for is teaching, that there aren’t any other options out there for me, that way I would just keep working. All I have wanted to do for the past few years is teach; how do I start over? At the time I considered that that might be a possibility, but I was stuck between two options: teach and be miserable and probably kill myself, or quit and try to do something else and be miserable and probably kill myself. I hoped that I might find something else, or even less likely, get another teaching job.

So here I am, no teaching job, no other job, just subbing with no real hope of being an actual teacher. This isn’t working. It is too depressing. I just get to put my toe in the teaching pool. I get to be around children and learning, but I don’t actually get to be effectual or to really be involved in the process. It is like having the best cake in the world, all its sweetness, its perfection, and not actually getting to eat it, to possess it, to make it yours.

Make Your Life Yours

Imagine that your life were recorded in clips of the most important, as well as the most mundane of moments, just short 1-2 minute clips. What kind of movie would yours be? Would it touch hearts? Would is make you turn your head away in shame? Would there be moments of triumph, of beauty, of meaning? The last two are most important to me: beauty and meaning. Looking back I haven’t been alive very long, just thirty short years. Compared to the age of the earth, of the history of humankind, my life is only a short blip, really insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

My movie would show a happy childhood, filled with warm memories, of birthdays, and holidays, family trips, time with friends, new discoveries, and love, so much love. Some of my favorites are of family trips to the beach, picking pumpkins, cutting down a Christmas tree, and sledding on fresh snow. Adolescence was a bit darker, with a few storms raging— doors slamming, teenage angst in its full fury. I had so much to learn and wanted so much to be taken seriously, to not be a dumb kid anymore. My parents tried their best to teach me all that I needed to know, to keep me from great harm, and I am grateful that they did not turn me out into the street with a swift kick to the rear (I certainly deserved it).

The clips from adolescence would picture me in the throes of laughter with friends, listening intently as a teacher spoke about things of great importance: Voltaire, The Holocaust, Geometric Proofs, Equations, Formulas, The Periodic Table, Punnet Squares, DNA, and so on. Oh how I loved school! I wanted to explore the great wide world that books offered. I wanted to know it all! My favorite classes were my English classes, even though I wasn’t the best writer (too sloppy, ADD). I loved talking about controversial topics (Brave New World), and reading rich words, tinged with sugar, sweeter than the sweetest candy. I have always enjoyed reading: the quiet, the beauty of language, going deep into other worlds ( worlds where I wasn’t gangly, the characters were smart, beautiful, and triumphant–everything I wanted to be).

As I’ve only lived three decades, one-third would be filled with early memories, mostly sensory in nature, another third with adolescence, and the last with my twenties. Up until college I felt like the world was laid out for me, with a road paved with gold; the path was known, and success/happiness was assured.

The reality of life and the greater world set in gradually as I was faced with big questions I didn’t know the answer to: why are people so evil? Why does love have to be so painful? Where do I fit in? I felt like I had played the part of the dutiful daughter, pretty and smart, and never in trouble up until this point. In college I felt like I could go off script, but then I was also playing a part where the script wasn’t written, and that was scary. College is where I was challenged for the first time by school, where I fell in love for the first time, where I fell out of love for the first time, and where I began to discover who I was. For the first time I wasn’t who others said I was: “smart,” “pretty,”funny,” “good,” or “nice.” I could try on other adjectives (with limited success): “edgy,” “confident,” “artistic,” “compassionate,” “beautiful,” and even “sexy.”This period of life would be a more complex movie: some scenes bright, filled with light, others dark, the outcome more unknown. There would be time with new friends, conquering the world together. There would be long nights spent studying, exams, lectures, and furious note scribbling. There would be first dates, hands held, kisses stolen, and hearts broken.

After college there would be clips from my first wedding day, angry fights ending in tears, working with children, and just daily life: cleaning our condo, petting our cats, doing the dishes after a meal, and watching a movie on our couch. Later there would be clips of graduate school and my first year of teaching and living in Eastern Washington. The most recent clips would be of me filing for divorce and crying in the car, and later moving my now ex back to Seattle while we both cried. Later there would be clip dedicated to the day I found out that my ex had done what he had always threatened: taken his own life. Then there would be clips of meeting my now husband for the first time, our first dates, going to Kauai, our wedding day, the day I received a positive result on a pregnancy test, me looking at my growing belly, the day my daughter was born, and the last couple of clips would be of our life now: daughter, mom, and dad and our various adventures or just spending time at home.

What we remember the most about our lives was how we felt at the time, especially if it was a very strong feeling, such as, joy, love, disappointment, hatred, or hopelessness. I was luck enough to be born into a wonderful family, the child of two incredible parents whose love knew no bounds. This foundation of love and trust allowed me to achieve at high levels in school, and to know what love looks like. My career life has not been without its ups and downs, but I never had to go without food or a roof over my head, and for that I am grateful. The future is still uncertain; I had no idea if I will be able to get back into teaching, and so my career may have to change. Of one thing I am certain: I will always love my daughter, I will work tirelessly to keep being married to this man I love, and I will never stop loving and learning. Our lives are short, but the options are endless. I choose to make this the best life I can, to make it mine.

Mini Vacations

The hardest thing about being a parent, particularly the primary care-giver is that you rarely get a break. You work around the clock, sometimes even in the wee hours of the night— there is no overtime and no vacation accrues. Recently my husband I took a trip, a vacation of sorts, but it ended up being way more stressful for me than if we had just stayed home. I have learned that the only way I am going to get rest is to leave the baby with someone else, or during those brief naps. Too often though I have other things to accomplish during naps, so I can go all week without a true break, let alone a vacation.

Some of the activities I fantasize about on a rough day:

  1. Reading a whole chapter or article, really getting absorbed in a good book.
  2. Going for a long run or complete workout, without any interruptions or a crying baby in the stroller.
  3. Having a long conversation with a friend without interruption.
  4. Going shopping for the hell of it, not to pick up things we need.
  5. Watching a movie or show for adults all the way through without interruption.
  6. Sleeping in.
  7. Not doing anything at all.
  8. Listening to music with a cup of coffee/tea and just getting lost in thought.
  9. Going for a real hike.
  10. Talking to my husband without interruption.
  11. Traveling with just my husband or friend(s)
  12. Having a leisurely dinner with wine and different courses.
  13. Painting, making music, writing.
  14. Going on a walk to nowhere.

Acceptance

I am a fighter, not a lover. Definitely not a lover. Sure I love people, but my usual stance is to put up my dukes, no matter how big my enemy. During my first marriage, I thought I could conquer the mountain of mental/emotional problems my ex-husband had: low self-esteem, anger, impulsivity, and relational problems. When I was teaching at a low-performing school I thought that I could take on all of education’s problems and I could WIN, if I just kept fighting— instead I got beat up. Sometimes we just have to live to fight another day,or recruit some help! I have such a hard time with vulnerability; it is my greatest strength and my greatest weakness. I can handle a lot of pain and stress, but I am no superhero. I am human. Ugh. I hate being human. Something in my personality demands perfection; I want a perfect life with a perfect husband, a perfect body, a perfect career, and perfect children. I want my Barbie Dream House, dammit!

One thing I learned in counseling and my own introspective journey is that I am more than my job. I have worth, because I am here, not because I am a perfect friend, wife, Christian, or teacher. I don’t need to earn my place, earn people’s love and respect. I need to love and respect myself first. I have always been a pleaser and a bit of a tattle-tale, even since I was a child. I am the oldest of four, so I assumed that it was my job to create order, to keep people in line. I was the responsible one! If I didn’t do everything right, and wasn’t the perfect example, then my parents and therefore the world wouldn’t love me. I was jumping at the chance to sacrifice myself on the altar in the name of saving the world. I wanted to bask in their love!

The problem with being a martyr is that you aren’t really living and it may actually lead to your death in the actual sense, not the metaphorical. We cannot live just for others. We need to be selfish too, we need to get what we want out of life. Whose life is this anyway? That’s right, my life isn’t yours; we can’t share. This is MY life. I can help others, but I have to take care of myself first. For me that means being in a marriage that brings me joy, where I am respected, and it means working in a career where I experience the same two things: joy and respect. Without those two elements I am just left with misery and hate— not exactly a recipe for happiness, but a great plot for a movie (Sleeping with the Enemy and Enough).

 

Exiled Teacher Pt. Two: Failure

Having just left my post as a high school English teacher, I was both free to pursue other options (opening my own day care, law school, insurance, real estate), and I was left at a crossroads with confusion and guilt over what had just happened. Had I left teaching, because I truly wasn’t capable, or were there other reasons? Was there something I could have done differently? These and many other questions plagued my wavering confidence and left me nearly paralyzed. My mind just kept grinding over the last few months: the divorce, my failed evaluation, and finally my departure. I was looking for answers. I wanted someone to blame.

My first reaction was to blame myself; I was a screw up, a failure in the biggest way possible. I had failed myself, my parents, my teachers, and everyone who believed in me. It was almost too much to bear. I saw a nurse practitioner who specialized in mental health for both counseling and some kind of pill that could right my world again, or at least give me the power to fight on another day. She was the only person I could see, because I no longer had insurance. I could not go on Medicaid, because I was not pregnant, or on disability, and this was before The Affordable Care Act. I desperately needed medical help and medicine, but I couldn’t afford it out-of-pocket. I had to rely on my parents and boyfriend to pay for my treatment, which felt like another failure, like I was a child— a burden. There is nothing I hate more than to be a burden, to not be independent. I want to stand on my own two feet and accomplish things. This new reality where I needed so much help was crushing me. It wasn’t until I received counseling after threatening to kill myself and being put on suicide watch until they could find a bed for me at the hospital, that I finally started to move forward with my life.

This new counselor was good; he knew what to say and when to just listen. He was very good at getting me to see when my expectations for myself were just unreasonable or when my negative thoughts about the future were holding me back. There were two things I was having trouble grasping (and still struggle with): that I should forgive myself, and that life could turn out well; I can trust again. When I went back to school for teaching, I thought that I could find a position, work hard, and make a life for myself. I found out that in some schools, hard work is not all that it takes: it takes letting things go and self-care. I just thought that if I worked harder, or taught better that I could make the situation I was in all right, that I could be successful, but I learned that sometimes bad things just happen to people. I took a job not knowing just how poorly run the school/district was. My marriage didn’t work out, because my husband had challenges that I just couldn’t overcome. People die. Sometimes it just doesn’t make sense. I still don’t really know how to be okay with that. Acceptance of the bad is hard for me. I just want to make it all go away, fix this broken world. Make it all better, and I can’t— all by myself.

Exiled Teacher Pt. One

This is a hard post for me to write. My relationship with education is a strained one: I love working with kids, and I love nothing more than to teach them new skills, new knowledge, especially of reading and writing. Teaching and English are my greatest loves in life, so much that they have been my life for the past five years including graduate school, and before that I taught preschool. I wanted to become a teacher, so I could give kids from poor neighborhoods, from hardship, a better chance at life. I became an English teacher specifically, because nothing lights the fire within me like literature, words, stories, and language do.

After completing graduate school and student-teaching, I applied for teaching jobs and only received one offer, a very poor school in a rural setting in Eastern Washington. I looked at their test scores and thought: “This is going to be hard, but I think I’m up to the challenge.” My husband (now my ex) and I then had one week to pack and move all of our belongings 300 miles to our new life in a strange and different land. I was excited to be teaching, not subbing, but I was nervous about moving away from friends and family to somewhere so remote, and I knew poor schools lacked the resources that wealthier districts have.

My first year of teaching was quite a journey: I learned how to be firm yet fair, and to deal with challenging parents and students. It was a thankless job, where I worked more than 60 hours on average preparing lesson plans, grading, and other teaching-related tasks. I had to make many phone calls home in Spanish, as 89 percent of the students were of a Hispanic background, and a third were the children of migrant farm workers, who move every few months to where the harvest is. The rest of my students were of Yakama Nation decent, and they had to face obstacles that most white middle class people couldn’t even dream of. One of my students was inducted into Special Ed, because he was so behind in reading and writing, and the same year his older brother committed suicide. I still don’t know if he was put in Special Ed, because he truly needed it, or because he was native and was facing other issues at home.

I learned through this experience that not all children are given the same opportunities, not even here in the United States. These poor districts, whether they are urban or rural do not possess resources like, white board markers, projector bulbs, acceptable copying budgets, class-sets of books, technology, and so on. The students themselves often come without paper, pencil/pen, and any of the class materials, if they come at all. When I have called home about grades or behavioral problems I have had parents tell me “Oh, he’s just having a hard year.” Well, this kid is going to have more then one bad year if he doesn’t pass English. Students are required to complete four years of English in high school to graduate, and this doesn’t even address what they really need to succeed in college and the workplace.

Where everything truly went wrong is during my second year of teaching (my counselor convinced me to do another year). We no longer had lockers, because the school was finally being rebuilt. My bulb burned out again, because they had given me a used bulb the year before. I never received the bulb I requested. The janitor was storing old computers that didn’t even work in my classroom, and they lost my set of dictionaries from the first year. Basically, I couldn’t deal with the total lack of respect. I was making less than 3,000 per month, while my husband was out of work, to be treated like a slave.

In addition to my work troubles, I had been in a loveless, difficult marriage for many years and it was truly falling apart under the strain. My husband blamed me for his career troubles and resented leaving everything he loved: job, friends, and family. He up and joined the army without talking to me, or taking my needs into consideration. It was what he wanted, but I just couldn’t deal with being alone with so much financial and career related stress. He graduated boot camp, and I handed him divorce papers.

All of these problems caused by the district I worked for, my husband and my failings, the move, financial difficulties, coalesced into one giant problem— one great Godzilla that began to tear my world down. I became so depressed that I actually thought that I might end up hanging myself in my classroom. This was when I decided to quit, rather than go to the hospital (a decision I later regretted), and rather than killing myself. I admitted defeat and tried to figure out what to do next.

Card-carrying Member of the Mom Club

Am I really writing a mommy blog? Does this mean that I have to start shopping at Ann Taylor’s The Loft? Will I be gushing about my child’s bodily functions and the new thing that she is doing every day? No to everything, except the last one— the stuff babies do is amazing! I can say I am proud to be a mom, and with that statement I try to be a “good” one, and by that I try to keep my child alive and keep her from ending up in the psychiatrist chair (unfortunately the later is probably genetic, just like the glasses she’ll inevitably need). But, can I really say that I am one of THOSE moms? When I was young and hip (ok, I’m not that old, and I was never really hip), but when I envisioned my life I was going to be “artistic” and daring, not boring and sloppy (covered in spit-up and baby food). I was going to be SEXY dammit! I was going to shop at vintage boutiques, buy indie records, and travel to distant places like India and Europe, and no one was going to call me CONVENTIONAL.

Here I am, quickly approaching legitimacy (thirty), married, with a baby, and a sort of real job (where does subbing fall?). I can still hang— I do own a few Black Keys albums, and we compost! If I was going to conform to the status quo then could I at least make a status quo paycheck with something resembling benefits? Maybe I am experiencing a sort of quarter-life-crisis, where you wake up and you have turned into your parents, into a mommy, a functioning member of society, diaper bag and all. I’m not trying to denigrate my fellow moms; being a mom is the hardest job in the world, and it takes some serious selflessness and a crap-load of caffeine (thank you Starbucks). I just don’t want to be so mainstream, so acceptable. Sometimes I just want a touch of the subversive, the counterculture, or just the weird— keeps life interesting and scares my mother, which is also entertaining.

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