It’s gonna be a good day…sort of

I have not been feeling very miraculous lately.  In fact, whatever the opposite of miraculous is, that is what I’ve been feeling.  Everything feels crappy right now.  I am trying so hard to focus on the positive, but really, I just can’t.  It’s like life is a sticky, gray sludge, and I am trying to wade through it… with lead boots on… in the rain… at night.

My guru friends have all tried to lift me up from the sludge.  Focus on gratitude!  Pray!  Look at all of your blessings!  One particularly close friend even verbally slapped me, hoping it would shake me.  And actually, the verbal slap worked, for about 2 days.  Then it didn’t.  Sad to say, I have not been able to lift myself up out of this hole for a while now.

I’ve had some health issues that are just random and unfortunate.  And my job is, well, it’s so blah.  I love my company and the people I work with are awesome.  And miraculously, I work from home full-time and get to occassionally travel.  Awesome, right?  I should be grateful – in fact, I am grateful.  But here’s the rub – I don’t like the actual work.  And here’s a nifty little epiphany I’ve come to – working from home does not make you like your job anymore, if in fact you just don’t like the work that you do.  There, I said it.  I work from home, and I don’t like my job.  Love the company, hate the job.

And the personal situation – oh man.  I’ve said before, I have a difficult situation here at home.  No need to re-hash, but it involves multiple generations under one tiny roof, some big egos, a little tiny bit of money, and a bunch of tempers and tantrums, of all shapes and sizes.  Lately, I find myself wanting to do one of two things: a) run away or b) stay in bed all day.  Neither of these is an option, so I generally compromise by getting out of bed, taking small people to school, and sitting at my corner of the dining room table to do my work.  But I rebel by wearing the same clothes I wore yesterday, and waiting all day to take a shower.  Ok, so maybe later day showering is not that rebellious, but I’ll take it.

The fight for positivity has gone out of me.  I look back at my previous posts, all so full of light, even in the darkness, and all I think is, “Really?  You were really that positive? ”  If you have a small person whom you read to, perhaps you know of the Frog and Toad stories by Arnold Lobel.  Toad is the always pessimistic, ner-do-well.  Frog is his always perky, and perfect companion.  Toad is obviously my favorite character.  His favorite saying is, “Bleh.”  I feel like Toad lately.  Bleh.  Bleh to it all.

So where is the silver lining in this post?  Where do I miraculously turn this frown upside down?  Well, I’ll tell you, but you’re not going to like it. I am not turning this around.  Not today.  Today sucks.  Maybe this whole dam week sucks.  The miracle is that I get another day to try to get it right.  The miracle is in the hope of tomorrow.  The real miracle is in letting myself feel crappy.  And then moving on.  With hope.  So, yeah, today I might eat my way to the bottom an ice cream bowl or I might not take a shower at all.  Maybe I’ll yell at my kids, and feed them chicken nuggets and french fries, without any vegetables.  And you know what?  That is totally fine.  Cause tomorrow I can try again.  Tomorrow I can take a shower and put on clean clothes and try to be more patient and try to cook vegetables.  Tomorrow I can try to pull myself up out of the sludge of life.  But today, I’m just going to be.  And I’m going to be ok with being me right now.  Wonderfully sad, hurting, and imperfect me.  That is my miracle today.

Oh, and chocolate.  Chocolate is a miracle today too.

See you all on the other side of the sludge….

M.

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The Box

When I decided to become a teacher, it was because I wanted to make a difference in the world.  I had this belief that education from caring, knowledgeable adults could change the lives of impoverished children.  So I took my two Ivy League degrees and I went to teach in the inner city.  It’s been 15 years since I got my Ed.M. and started on this career path – and I have come to question everything that put me here.  I’ve actually been involved in education since 1995, when I began working for LEAP.  But I find myself constantly asking, “did I make difference?  did I change a child’s life?”  I recently talked to a friend who also worked for LEAP and she and I both had the same feeling – what was it all for?  Some of our LEAP kids are in jail, or had babies before they graduated high school.  Some of the boys are dead.  It is soul crushing to think about how much hope and enthusiasm we brought to our jobs, and how little we actually changed.

My career trajectory took me away from direct services and contact with children and families – although I remained tied to the bureaucracy that provides funding to programs for children in poverty.  And here, in the bureaucracy, covered in papers, and politics, I completely lost hope, and lost that sense of myself that seemed so important all those years ago.  What is my purpose in life? If I never really made a difference in anyone’s life, then what was the point of all I’ve done, all of these years?  And what the hell am I supposed to do now?  For years, I have felt like a ship without a compass.  But I think, just maybe, I am beginning to get the picture.

Last night, while on FB, I noticed a post on a friend’s wall.  The woman who posted it seemed familiar.  Her name was slightly different, but her face – I knew that face.  I remembered her.  The woman I speak of, I’ll call her “Betty” had gone to elementary school with me.  We were in the same class in 5th grade.  Betty did not come from a well-off family.  She always seemed a little dirty and her clothes looked second-hand.  She was always smiling, and pleasant, but she did not have an easy time learning.  In fact, she was slightly hyper, and had a hard time focusing.  She did not get great grades, and she didn’t have many friends.  But I saw her smile and I saw her spirit, and I knew that she was someone who needed a friend, and I just knew, deep in my soul, that she was worthy of hope.   So, at the tender age of 10, I decided to befriend the most unpopular girl in the class.  I didn’t care what others thought.  Nearly everyday, I played with her at recess.  She was funny and delightful to be with.

But our teacher, Mrs. “S” had other plans for Betty.  Mrs. S thought that Betty was lazy, and slovenly, and not worthy of anyone’s time or energy.  Mrs. S went so far as to put a cardboard box on Betty’s desk, to keep her focused and to keep her from being distracted. She exiled Betty to a corner of the room.  She berated her daily in front of us and kept her isolated.  I remember when this happened, I stayed in at recess to talk to Mrs S about how disturbed I was by this.  I asked her if it was really necessary to put a box around Betty.  Mrs. S replied, “Yes, it’s for her own good.  And Michele, if you know what’s good for you, you’ll leave Betty alone.  You can’t help her.  No one can help her.  You’re a good girl, you should really not be playing with Betty.”

Needless to say, my 10 year old self walked away from Mrs. S, but I didn’t stop playing with Betty.   But I always remembered that conversation, and I remember how wrong I thought it was.  And as a young teacher in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn, I had a similar conversation with a veteran teacher one day.  One of the school’s most beloved, and accomplished teachers (her class always scored high on tests) told me one day, “Michele, you can’t save them all.  You want to do well?  Then focus on the ones who want to do well, and forget about the rest.  That boy you’re so worried about, who you want evaluated, just put him in the corner, and forget about him.  That’s what I do.”  I was appalled by that conversation at 10 and equally appalled at 24.  I could not bring myself to think that everyone wasn’t worth saving.  I did get the boy evaluated by the way.  And he got services for issues he had since Kindergarten. His mom was so thankful.

So, fast forward to 2014.  I contact Betty via Facebook chat.  At first, she doesn’t remember me.  We chat about life – she is living in Florida, going to school to be a Nurses Assistant.  She’s acing her classes.  She came up to NJ after Sandy to take care of her ailing mother. Her mom passed away a year ago.   We get ready to say good-by and she apologizes for not recollecting who I am.  I pause.  Then I tell her the story of how we became friends.  How I used to play with her in 5th grade, when no one else would.  She starts messaging me with caps “I REMEMBER YOU NOW!!”  And this is the part that got me – she said, “You’re the girl who told me I didn’t deserve to be in the box.”

Suddenly, after years of not knowing what I was put on this earth to do, I am reminded, by a friend I made over 25 years ago.  Betty, I can’t thank you enough for that comment. It was like a bolt of lightening to me.  I was put on this earth to have hope for those who have been told they don’t deserve it.  I’m here to remind everyone that they are all worth saving.  I’m here to fight for those that everyone else wants to throw away.

My conversation with Betty was so healing for me.  It gave me renewed purpose and helped me to forgive myself.  You see, when I was teaching in Bed-Stuy, I was Mrs. S to one of my students – I treated her just like my 5th grade teacher treated Betty.  So, while I helped some, there was this one girl who got under my skin, whose vulnerability and helplessness I did not acknowledge.  I made fun of her in front of the class once.  And I’ve never forgotten the look on her face afterwards.  Betty reminded me that that person, the mean one, the one who only saves a few – that’s not me.  And I’ve forgiven myself for that behavior, because I know it’s not who I truly am.  And now that I know that and acknowledge that, I will do better next time.

Betty wasn’t the only one put into a box – I kind of put myself in one.  I have spent so long living my life by the expectations of others, defining my success by other people’s standards. And now, I’m doing for myself, what I did for Betty.  I don’t deserve to be in a box.  None of us do.  What are you doing to build up walls of expectation around yourself?  Have you been telling a story that is not actually yours?  Are you living as others define you?  Or are you living your own, authentic life, outside of the box?

Grateful

How grateful are you?  I mean, really, truly grateful.  Not just for the good in your life, but how about gratitude for all the crap?  Are you thankful for that too?  Because I am.

It’s easy to be grateful for all the things that we are blessed with.  Who isn’t grateful for the love they receive, or for the roof over their head, or their own health?  That shit is easy.  Me, I’m grateful for all the horrible shit that’s happened to me.  No, for real.  I am.

I am grateful for every mistake I’ve every made.  Like, in 3rd grade, when I raised a hockey stick too high, hit some kid in the face, and was forced to sit out the entire gym period.  I remember crying when that happened.  We had been warned not to raise our sticks.  We were told what the repercussions would be.  In my excitement, I forgot and raised my stick and hit someone.  My stick was taken away.  And me, being the goody-two-shoes that I am, was mortified.  I never got in trouble in school – I mean, like never. So to be yelled at by the teacher – I was reduced to tears, and horrified that I had to watch everyone else have fun.  But you know what – lesson learned.  I never raised a hockey stick above my waist again.

Right now there are a  lot of things challenging me.  I don’t have my own home.  I have to live with an anxiety ridden narcissist who has speech and memory issues – sounds like fun times, right?  I have challenges at work, and with my kids – one of whom pooped in the pool at camp the other day (and I thought getting yelled at by a teacher was horrifying! Ha!)  But you know what, I’m grateful for all of these challenges.  Because with every mistake, I learn a lesson.  With every obstacle, I learn a new skill.  Every difficult person I come across is a reflection for me, a mirror of how not to be.   I am freaking stoked about all you assholes out there!  Because in you, I see myself.  I see my faults, and I see how I have to change.

Living with my obsessive, anxiety-ridden mother helps me focus on the mother that I don’t want to be.  Seeing her hover over my children, I am reminded that I never want to hold them back – I want my kids to be free, and learn from their mistakes too.  I want to be the mom who lets them fall, and then helps them back up, not the one who stops them from climbing the trees.  I want to help them up to the top, and let them see the view for themselves.  So yes, while I can’t wait to get the hell out of my mom’s house, I have to say – living here is teaching me some very valuable lessons – ones that I don’t think I’d learn if I wasn’t living here.

A few years ago, I had an epiphany about the awful relationship I had with my stepmother.  She was mean, and cruel, and distant. She made my dad do some pretty stupid, mean things to me.  But it was because of her awfulness that I decided not to go home for the summer after my Freshman year at college.  I could not stomach the idea of being under the same roof as  that crazy bitch.  So I found a job that gave me free housing in New Haven for the summer.  That job was LEAP and I met my husband while working there.  I also changed my major after LEAP and began a life-long career of working in the field of education.  After this epiphany,  I suddenly felt a great release and a giant wave of forgiveness washed over me.  I could finally forgive my stepmother because she was the portal to my love and my life as it is now.  And I could finally see all of the wonderful things that came out of that very challenging relationship.  I no longer feel vehement hatred toward her – now, all I feel for her is love (sometimes I feel sorry for her too, but that’s for another post).

It’s not easy when you are going through the fire to see that there is a purpose to everything.  I hope that what ever you are going through, you can find some time to be grateful for it – the good, the bad and the ugly  of life are all conspiring on your behalf.  It’s up to you – will you be grateful and learn the lessons the universe is trying to show you, or will you close yourself off to your blessings by being bitter and resentful?

Me, I’m choosing to learn my lesson, and be grateful for it all.

-Michele

Phoenix Rising

“In order to rise from its own ashes, a Phoenix first must burn.”
― Octavia E. Butler

A few months ago, a sat on a public benching crying; in the middle of the day; in plain view of everyone.  Some office politics, an on-again-off-again friendship, and my tender heart were all to blame.  I could not stand to be in my shoes that day.  If I had wings, I would have jumped out of the 41st floor window and flown away, like some big, giant bird.  But I don’t have wings and I can’t fly.  So I ran outside and cried – in public.  And it wasn’t pretty either.  It was that ugly, snot inducing kind of cry.  I could barely breath at points, suffocating in my own distress.

I was low on that day.  Very low.  My ugly cry was precipitated by all that I had endured over the past year.  My mother’s illness; the move; the unsold house up north; the 4 hour commute; the difficult personnel; the difficult client; and finally, to round it all out was my regret at every single decision I had made that led me to this point.

I stayed outside for nearly an hour, sobbing and pondering why I had made such a mess of my life.  I called a few folks, each of them talking me off of the deep-end in their own way.  But what really got me over the hump was realizing – this is bottom.  When you are living at your momma’s house, with your husband and 2 kids, when your commute is 2 hours – one way, when you leave your house at 6am and get home at 6:30pm, when your brother has gotten a DUI and has lost his license and the ability to pick-up your kids for you, when your mom has not progressed much in her rehab, when your kids are acting out at school (and home!), when you can’t seem to keep it together in public spaces – this, this right here for me was bottom.

Now I know that my first world problems do not compare to the pains of others.  My kids are healthy, and I have a job and a roof over my head.  I have indoor plumbing and electricity.  I have computers and the ability to blog for God’s sake.  I get it.  I am blessed in many ways.  But on this particular day, I had hit my emotional lowest.  I didn’t want to exist as I was anymore.  I needed to be someone else.

It didn’t matter how I got here and how my life compared to others.  I was burned out.  And when you are nothing but ashes, there is nowhere else to go but up.  Crying in public seemed to cleanse me.  It reduced me to my most basic self – the one without pride, without past regret, and with nothing left but hope.  Somehow crying on that bench cleansed me.   I re-grouped, re-framed, and felt the universe conspiring for my re-birth.  And when the opportunity literally landed in my lap, I grabbed it.  I had help along the way.  Various friends and comrades, some close, some not – pushed me in the direction of change.

And this is where my miraculous year begins –  here in the ashes.  Every regret, every poor decision, it has all led  to my new beginning.  If you’re going through it right now, if you can’t even figure out which way is up, remember that before the phoenix can rise, it must first burn to the ground.  I’m rising from my ashes now.  And this year is truly going to be miraculous.