In the end, all you own is your character

Damn, I'm Good

I’ve spent the last month doing more family activities, and as usual have neglected my writing. To make up for this absence, I want to write about the biggest lesson that I have ever learned. I know it’s a big one because even though I understand it, I don’t know if I’ve changed yet from it.

I am a master of losing things. I love losing things so much that I have memorized the poem “One Art”. This poem describes the art of losing. It is a fantastic thing to recite to somebody when they want to make you feel bad about losing the car keys again. If you do it enough times, they stop making fun of you. If there is one thing I learned about being an English teacher, it’s that people hate having poetry recited to them.

I have lost more important things than care keys. I have lost a job a couple of times. I have even lost a house. Crazy right? You’d think a house would be easy enough to find. The thing about losing these things, is that I didn’t know who I was without them. I felt radically different because I had lost ownership over something that I cared deeply about. Who was I without my backyard? Who was I without my classroom?

Most of us lose things. Some of us lose more than others. I know a man who is a three-time cancer survivor. He has had three different kinds of cancer. He has more energy and empathy than any person I have ever known. I know a woman who lost her young daughter. She told me that when she knew her daughter was gone, she prayed to not become a bitter, old woman. I know a young man who lost his father in a war. With a smile, he told me that his father’s last words to his older brother were to take care of his younger brother. These people exemplify character. After losing their health, their child, or their father, they continued to be fantastic.

Another one of my favorite poems is called “If” . Actually, this was my grandfather’s favorite poems. One of my favorite lines is about loss.

“And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss”

Now, I believe in talking about your loss, but one of the worst things is becoming bitter.  People don’t need to hear about how things are not fair. They don’t need to be reminded how it didn’t work out for you. We chose whether we cross the next threshold with dignity and enlightenment, or bitterness and jealousy. (I think I may be the latter, which is what I meant by not having mastered the lesson yet.) My goal is to have the wisdom of the three people I discussed earlier.

I think that we believe we own the things closest to us. It can be our job, home, loved one, or our health. The truth is, we don’t own them. If we did we could control the housing market. We could control the poor choices that our teenage son makes. We could control the health of a spouse. We don’t. The only thing that we can control is how we react to it. In the end, all you own is your character.

It’s dumb not to have a plan but even dumber to think things will go according to plan.

Last week we celebrated Maxwell’s first birthday party. I think my favorite part of the whole thing was that he was wearing a superman cape. As a teacher I have always viewed summer, not January 1st as my starting of a new year. That is when I think about where I was the year before, what I have accomplished, and where I want to be next year. A year ago, my plan was to find a new job. Two years ago, my plan was to finish my masters. Three years ago, my plan was to buy a house. None of those things happened. It’s almost like going to a high school reunion and telling everybody that even though you were voted most likely to succeed, you are actually living with your parents. It’s funny to think about how impressed the high school version of myself would be with me today.

Having said that, things are going well, just in a different direction. A number of sad stories kept me from sticking to the plan. Sometimes it gets so frustrating and almost depressing. I also think it does something to your confidence when you are not able to accomplish what you set out to do. What I have learned is that flexibility is more important than sticking to a plan. Almost always, you will have to change it because life doesn’t know or care about plans.

Robert Burns once said, “The best laid plans o mice and men often go awary”. This simple quote inspired Steinbeck to write Of Mice and Men, and although I do not think that I am gong to end up like Lenny and George, I find so much truth in those words.

A year ago, I thought I would have to give up teaching, now I am looking forward to getting back into my passion. Two years ago, I didn’t understand that the gift of a baby is more important than a bump in my paycheck. Three years ago, I never imagined the friends I would make by renting a house in this fantastic neighborhood. The younger version of me needed to have a plan. The older version of me understands that this plan will always change, and I am a better person because of it. It’s dumb not to have a plan but even dumber to think things will go according to plan.

Sometimes all it takes is a kiss

A few weeks ago my son was getting ornery because of the heat. True Minnesotans (not the kind that move to Kansas City for two years) have trouble with the summer. We wish for it all winter, fantasizing about beaches, tans, bike rides, and cold drinks on the deck. The truth of it is this: when the thermonitor gets over eighty degrees, we start to complain. At just under a year, my son is already of this disposition.

I brought a baby pool out for him, and although the dog went into it happily enough, my son (Max) was more interested in climbing the stairs to our deck. You have never known monotony if you have not followed an 11th month old going up and down the stairs. After a few dozen trips of this, I removed him. He responded by having a temper tantrum. Thankfully our neighbor came over to distract both of us from this ordeal.

While I started to talk to her, he wiggled his little bottom as fast as he could to get to those stairs before I could stop him. When he say me coming, he moved even faster. I knew I was in for another tantrum, until…. well watch the video.

I think we all get caught up in not getting exactly what we want. Babies throw temper tantrums, men curse, and women pout. In the end we usually just need a little compassion. Sometimes all it takes is a kiss.

The Big Picture Always Looks Better

Last month I made an iMovie for my father-in-law for his 60th. It was centered around my growing son’s life. Since Max was born in June, things have been crazy, to say the least. Any new parent can tell you that the transition from childless to parenthood is not always easy. With Max’s complicated birth, and my apparently horrible, child-bearing body, I was sick for months. It was really hard to care for a newborn. Many days, I kept wishing for the next stage to start.

Other problems popped up along the way, and I kept thinking that things were really hard. I carried this chip on my shoulder. I was jealous of other people, all I could think of was sleep, and at night, I couldn’t sleep.

To make a long story short, I made this video for my father, but really I gave myself a gift. I remembered all the wonderful moments from this last year. I was grateful for all the time that Max spent with me, both sets of grandparents, and all of his cousins. He is luckier than a lot of other children.

The big picture of this last year is wonderful. I have a healthy son, a happy husband, and a great support system. Sometimes the minutia of the day get people down: running out of wipes, stepping in dog poop, getting honked at when you are driving. Sometimes it’s the bigger problems that keep people awake at night: jobs, money, health.

As Chuck Palahnuik once said, “You are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive …don’t let the things you own, own you.”

Your successes, but most of all your losses are not what define you. I believe it is the big picture, and it always takes awhile to see it, especially when you are in it. So here is my big picture from last year.

Two is Harder Than One

Two is Harder Than One

Okay, this title just went better with the picture, but my actual Word Gift is this:

It could always be harder

For the last two days I have not been able to find my car keys, and I have been waiting for my husband to notice that my car has not moved in a while. You’d think he’d at least notice that I hadn’t bought anything in two whole days! Finally, after searching everywhere, I called AAA, assuming that I must have locked them in the car.

After not finding my keys in the car, cursing my car alarm, and calling a locksmith, I saw my small son playing in our porch and dropping tiny objects into the mail slot hole that is in between the inside and outside of our house. Low and behold, when I stuck my hand inside, there were my keys.

I thought about how challenging an almost toddler can be, and then I remembered taking care of my sister’s three kids. The youngest is in the picture above with my husband and son. I’m guessing that her days are a little bit harder.

Once a Teacher, Always a Teacher

Once a Teacher, Always a Teacher

Here is my grandmother, the retired kindergarden teacher, with two of her great-grandchildren. Just like she did with her students, children, and grandchildren, she is reading to them. She still knows how to make learning fun!

To Begin With

As I start my adventure into the blogging world, I am faced with two fears. 1. People do not care what I think 2. People will know what is going on inside my head. It is a typical catch-22 situation.

So why have a blog? I am an out-of-work English teacher, or possibly ex-teacher (if you see any grammatical mistakes, perhaps that is why) trying to start my own small business. I have spent the last year with my insane cat, needy dog, interesting husband, and crazy son. It has been amazing, and I am not saying that sarcastically. At the same time, life’s hurdles have thrown me off from time to time. Since writing is therapeutic, perhaps this will keep me sane.

My grandmother likes to give Word Gifts, and these have helped me cope with some of the more challenging obstacles that I have faced. Word Gifts are pieces of advice or adages that help make things more clear. I like to think of it as a way to look at the positives in life. (This is also what my small buisness is somewhat about (slideshows and personalized film) In an imagry-focused society with an attention span of a five-year-old, I want to expand on these word gifts with media. With every Word Gift, I will be posting a picture or video that helps to describe it. My first Word Gift is…. now I’m coming up blank. This is not off to a good start.