My [redacted] Journey

A teacher's search for inner peace.


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Women, What are We Good For?


December 18, 2016

Disclaimer: This post contains content that some readers may find objectionable. Reader discretion is advised.

Dear Readers,

People are more misogynistic than we give them credit.

In 1974 I was attending a parochial (Catholic) school. Most mornings before school, I would sneak into the church to listen to the mass. One day, the priest announced that he needed a young man to assist him, as the scheduled alter boy was unavailable. As no young men were in the church that morning, one of my classmates, Barbara (not her real name) raised her hand and proceeded up to the altar. As she approached, the priest shook his head, “No,” and asked her to return to her pew.

The few parishioners, mostly rosary-carrying, elderly ladies began murmuring. The priest understood that unless and until he conducted the mass, the rosary ladies, who made up almost his entire morning congregation, would not leave. Thus, Barbara became the first female altar server at St. Vincent de Paul, and one of my first heroes. Unfortunately, the rest of the 6th grade students made fun of Barbara for being an ‘altar boy’. Huh, misogynistic?

When racy photos of Melania Trump first surfaced during the presidential race, people felt free to fly their misogyny flag. “Would you want this woman as your First Lady?” was the sentiment the pictures seemed to say. “Hell, yes!” seemed to be the response. In fact, one man I spoke with before the election told me, “If Trump wins, at least he has a wife that most men wanna fuck. No one wants to fuck Hillary, not even Bill.” As if being fuck-able is a qualification for her husband to be POTUS. smh

Conversely, not being fuck-able seems to put a woman out of the running. Hmm, misogynistic?

Aghh! What is wrong with us? idk but middle school seems to be no different.

One of my favorite bulletin boards I display in my classroom is my GOALS board. In years past, my students would color, cut and paste their way to a piece of student work I could post on my board. Today I’m much more savvy. I ask each of my students to send me a selfie so that I may print it. I have the students paste the selfie onto a mock-Instagram frame with the hashtag GOALS. I have them list their goals for the upcoming semester. It is incredible how many of my young ladies refuse to participate. In fact, they would rather take a zero than comply.

I know middle school students are self-conscious and even shy about their picture being taken. However, that doesn’t seem to be the problem. A few years ago, Melinda (not her real name) told me her mom wouldn’t let her send me a selfie. When I asked her why, she stated that her mom didn’t trust that the picture wouldn’t end up on the internet. Not a problem, I completely understand that.

Months later, I came across a selfie this same 12 year-old had posted on one of her sites. Here was my student in a push-up bra and thong underwear. Yikes! I had to have a heart to heart with the young lady.

This student told me that she liked the attention her picture received. She said that her ‘friends’ really liked how she looked in her picture! In her mind, her ‘friends’ knew better than she did about how to look good. She didn’t want me to put up a regular picture of her because the boys in her class would make fun of it. However, the boys at school who had seen her bathroom-selfie (as I kept calling it) liked ‘her’ and wanted to ‘go out’ with her.

Wow!  Definitely misogyny.  How heart-breaking to think that objectifying females starts so young.

Of course, men are not the only misogynists we have to look out for. Females, both girls and women, have turned misogyny into an art-form. Let’s face it, have you ever heard any of the following coming from a female:

“Oh, I don’t like women!” Or “I like to hang around with boys, not girls.” Or even “I don’t like girls, they’re too much drama!” Um…hello? You do realize you are speaking about yourself, right? I mean if a person does not like females, and that person is a female, it stands to reason that the person, who is a female and who doesn’t like females, doesn’t like themselves…right? Right.

Geez, this is quite a conundrum. But, I think I’m chipping away at the problem a little bit at a time. Having an influence on the next generation of young women is quite an honor, one that I don’t intend to squander. I hope never again to see one of my students posting a degrading bathroom-selfie. Because nothing is sexy about 12 year-old tits and toilets in the same picture.

peace, ~v.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow


student-love

I’m all about the love.

November 16, 2016

*Names in the following post have been changed.

Dear Readers,

Respect is overrated. In fact, at times, it is quite inconsequential. I can think of several nouns I would rather have from someone than the ‘R’ word; peace and love naturally come to mind. Unfortunately, our world is sorely lacking in all three.

When I was younger (much, much younger), I was fond of saying that I would rather my colleagues respect me than like me. And I have always been confident enough in my skills to ensure that my coworkers would do just that: respect me. Boy was I wrong!

For the past year, I have noticed a definite shift in the attitude of my students, collectively as well as individually. There is certainly more bullying and less kindness on display in my classroom. Indeed, I have oftentimes pointed this out to my most unruly classes. The school year is nearly half over and I have finally gotten my students to take me seriously. I’ve had to prove myself over and over again to not only earn their trust, but, yes, their respect as well. But as any teacher of middle school students knows, it’s one step forward, two steps back. And sometimes it’s not my students that are tripping me backwards; it’s my fellow educators.

There are certain male teachers at school who seem to command respect by their mere presence. Something about a deep, throaty voice and a six foot frame that registers with middle school kids. I was always able to put the fear of God in my own children with my “look”, but it never quite worked with this bunch of students. I’ve even ventured to ask my students why they behave for Mr. Down-the-Hall but not for me. I’m not going to tell you their answers, but I’ve come up with a few of my own.

We live in a male dominated society. Like it or not, men are valued more than women. I try to not let that bother me, but it does. It especially bothers me when Mr. Down-the-Hall undermines my authority in front of my students. Instead of accusing me of dismissing my students before the bell rings, why can’t Mr. Down-the-Hall wait until there are no students around, mine or his, and ask me what happened that my students left early? Why? Because if Mr. Down-the-Hall had waited to ask me what happened, instead of accusing me of letting my students out early, I would have told him that as soon as I turned my back, my students (all but two) rushed the door and were halfway to the bus before I even knew they were gone.

These same students would never deign to pull such a stunt with Mr. Down-the-Hall, they’re too afraid of him. Alas, I am envious of the fear he commands. “If I could just have a teeny bit of whatever he has…” I muse, and sometimes cry. And today was one of those days.

Today was one of those, “I am sick to death of putting up with the lack of respect from pipsqueak, prepubescent would-be reprobates!” And Mr. Down-the-Hall just added to my frustration. I willed myself to stay angry to stave off the tears. “I will not cry on my way home. I will not cry on my way home. I will not cry on my way home.” Then I began to think.

I began to question where I had gone wrong. When had I begun to be ineffective? When had I lost the respect of my charges, if in fact, I ever had it? All I ever really wanted was respect. Respect, respect, respect. My respect mantra was still looping through my mind when I stopped at Panda Express to pick up tonight’s dinner. My anger began to subside (the anticipation of food often does that to me) and I began to soothe my soul.

Instead of telling myself what I didn’t have from my students, I began to tell myself what I did.  I have my students’ trust; they trust me to lead them in the right direction. I have my students’ laughter; they not only laugh at me, they laugh with me. I have my students’ love; they love me even when I don’t think they do. And as if on cue, I see one of my students, standing in line behind me, with her family. I was pretty sure she hadn’t seen me, and I didn’t want to embarrass her, so I was going to pay for my food and quietly slip out the door. It was enough for me to know that I was making a difference in my students’ lives. And, hey, at my age, I can STILL improve my character, I can stop the tears AND the anger, and I CAN be good to myself. Yea me! What had started out as a miserable evening was turning into a pretty good night. And it was just about to get even better.

Lost in thought and heading for the Panda Express exit, I almost missed my student stepping out of line and heading right toward me. She was walking with arms outstretched, smile on her lips, twinkle in her eye; my heart melted. I stopped and we enveloped each other in well-needed hug. We said, “Hi,” and “Bye,” and I was out the door. It was then that I finally let the tears flow freely down my cheeks. To hell with respect, my students LOVE me. And that, dear Readers, is what makes the world go ’round.

peace, ~v.  

 

 

 

 

 


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Reflections for the Living


Respite

Our garden of peaceful reflection

June 29, 2016

“I know you are anxious to get on with the business of living, but she’s just not ready yet.  I’ve taken care of her, led her and loved her for over 57 years.  Yet, I never had the heart to prepare her for something like this.”

Dear Readers,

This is the dialogue I imagine I am having with Mr. Uruguay; or rather, the conversation he is having with me.  I have taken up my post on a plastic couch directly across from my dying friend. Should he open his eyes, I would be directly in his line of sight. However, that is not likely to happen.

Mrs. Uruguay is generally seated to her husband’s right, in a recliner of the hospital’s finest plastic.  Now however, she is bustling about on the other side of the room as the nurses are fussing about their patient, “Trying to keep him comfortable.”

The Uruguay’s son is pacing anxiously at the foot of his father’s bed. He was in the middle of shaving Mr. Uruguay’s three-day stubble, as per his mother, when the Nurse Angels flew into the room. By his nervous gait, it is obvious that Mrs. Uruguay’s son is not used to not following his mother’s directions, thus the nervous stutter-steps.

Mr. Uruguay’s daughter-in-law is curled up, crossed legged on the other available recliner, pecking away on her iPad, sending and receiving messages to and from parts unknown. Daughter-in-law is a registered nurse.  So, this appears to be old hat for her.

The Nurse Angels flit out of the room as quickly as they flitted in, and the process of death falls like a hush over the room’s occupants.  And here is where I imagine mine and Mr. Uruguay’s conversation picks back up.

“She needs a little more time to get used to me dying.  I mean, it’s only been three days since we made the decision to stop my nutrition and hydration.  And although she knows I’m dying – thank her for the priest and my last rites, by the way – my lovely bride needs just a little longer to accept that she is going to be alone.  I owe her at least that much.”

And so it goes.  Slipping towards death, just as he was in life, .Mr. Uruguay is still in control.  Mrs. Uruguay is a quick study, however.  And although there is a vast emptiness in her soul, she is beginning to take control of her life and her husband’s death.  It is hauntingly beautiful to watch. And so it goes, and so it goes.

Peace, ~v.

 


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29 and Holding


June 28, 2016

Dear Readers,

My daughter Jessica died 29 years ago, June 26; she was three years old. Actually, she was 2 years, 8 months, and 10 days old, but I round up; so she was 3. It just so happens that I almost missed the ‘milestone’ day altogether. 

Six years after Jessica’s death, my youngest daughter was born. Actually, Mimi was born June 25, 1993, the day before Jessica’s sixth anniversary. For the next 19 years I attempted to let the joyful remembrance of one daughter’s birth, overshadow the sorrowful remembrance of another daughter’s death. I don’t think I succeeded. 

For the past 3 years, I found the elusive acceptance stage. Still, all my focus was on, well, me. And I didn’t want to wait another 28 years for the peace to finally seep into my soul.  

“Please Lord, let me have peace!” I would beg.  “Denial, I did it. Anger, I was it. Bargaining, depression, I’d done my penance. And now, acceptance, I get it, I accept! Now, peace, please?” I would end weakly. 

Perhaps the toughest lesson I’ve had to learn over the past five decades is that I will receive that which I crave the most, when I crave it the least. 

I woke up on Sunday, June 26 sadly empathetic. A friend, Mr. Uruguay, suffered a massive stroke and it was on this day that his wife of 57 years, Mrs. Uruguay, began trying to process the immensity of it all: life, death, change. 

I sat with Mrs. Uruguay as she watched her husband. I cannot stop her pain. However, I can empathize with her pain. And for the past two days, that is what I have done: sit and empathy. My  hope is that Mrs. Uruguay find peace. 

“Please Lord, let her find peace! Please, let her have peace.” 

Two days, sit and empathy. And prayers for peace. And I am peaceful, oddly peacefu. But my peace is secondary to what Mrs. Uruguay is going through. 

I’m on my way back to sit with my friend. It’s sure to get tougher, soon. And I’ll be here, not feeling sorry for myself, not feeling alone, and not feeling anything but the peace I so desperately searched for, for 29 years. 

“It’s in giving that we receive.”

Peace, ~v.


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The Boogeyman 


July 31, 2015

Dear Readers, 

Here’s the thing, I’m a good person. However, I’m also the boogeyman.  Let me explain. I have 23 nieces and nephews and with a few exceptions, I terrified them as children. No, not intentionally. However, they were scared of me. I’ve spent the better part of the past 20 years or so trying to figure it out, and I think I’ve got a handle on it. 

I’ll use one of my nephews as an example.  Lennon, not his real name, was completely intimidated by me when he was a small child. He would literally run screaming at the sight of me.  Now, I was a bit demanding. I expected the children in my circles to be polite, respectful and to follow directions. I suppose I did scare them with my strong, gruff voice. 

I will apologize to no one that I admonish children in a voice that sends shivers down most adults’ spines; it’s how I get the message across. For example, if I want little Lennon to stop running in the house with a fork because he might fall and put his eye out and then his dad, my brother, will pitch a fit, I’m not going to use my soft, gentle voice. My soft, gentle voice is reserved for the conveyance of all things soft and gentle. And little Lennon might not have understood my words, but he understood my tone.  And make no mistake, my tone said, “Stop effing running in the house with a fork!”

Well dear Readers, Lennon is now in high school and he is an awesome young man. He is respectful, bright, and cool as heck!  He no longer fears me. In fact, we have enjoyed each other’s company and we have had some awesome conversations. Kids his age love me. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • I show them how much I love them
  • I never take my love away
  • I respect them first
  • I am firm but fair
  • They can trust me to not hurt them physically, emotionally and mentally 
  • I apologize when I am wrong
  • I am cool like that

I’m not perfect. However, I’m perfectly me. I am an inspiration to anyone who hangs around me long enough. I see the potential in most human beings to be good people. So, if you have ever seen me as the boogeyman, give me another chance. I’m really quite inspirational, just ask Lennon. Peace, ~v.


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Begin Again


June 4, 2015

“Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever you’ve been through, it’s never too late to begin again.”
Joyce Meyer, You Can Begin Again: No Matter What, It’s Never Too Late

Dear Readers,

I cannot count the times I have had to begin again.  I won’t belabor the point, but, yeah, I’m beginning again.  And although that is the title of today’s post, I have a much bigger issue to discuss with you.

Few people I know will ever know the pain of being homeless.  Fewer still will know the pain of an empty belly.  No, I’m not going to tell you I was homeless, starving on the street.  However, there are too many people in my community who are.  I can help do something about it.

As I sit in my air conditioned home in a city that reaches triple digit temperatures throughout the summer, I am moved to action.  I cannot imagine not having a place to cool off throughout these hot days.  And I can’t imagine not helping where ever I can.

Volunteering is nothing new.  In fact, it’s universal.  I write this tongue in cheek, dear Readers.  However, if you are looking for similarities, and not differences between you and the rest of the world, volunteering qualifies.

I wish I had been more diligent in teaching my own children how important it is to give back to one’s community through volunteering.  I guess it’s never too late.  Hey you guys…Volunteer, it’s good for the soul.  And if you live in the area, hit this place up:

Praise Chapel Food for Families
590 Hancock Rd.
Bullhead City, AZ, 86442
Peace, ~v.

 

 


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Go Rub Some Dirt On It


June 3 2015

Dear Readers,

My dad was not one to gladly suffer whiners.  In fact, Dad was quite intolerant when it came to whining.  It’s not that he wasn’t compassionate; he just didn’t have time for excuses.  And that’s where today’s post comes in.  I’m a whiner, dear Readers.  I HATE to admit this, but, I am.  Oh sure, I gripe, I grumble and I grouse.  I groan, I mumble and I kvetch.  But, whine…me?  I think not.  Ahem…I think so.  Dad would not be proud.

I do not want to makes excuses, so I won’t go into detail.  However, I thought I had every reason to bitch and complain, until today, right now, this very second.  I was talking to my roommate about how some of our students need to realize that no matter how bad they think they have it, there is always someone who has it much worse.  Or maybe I was just telling myself…anyhow, something my dad used to tell us kids popped into my head.

Mom and Dad (well, really Mom) had eight children in ten years.  So, there was always some kid or another boo-hooing about some boo-boo or another.  “Mom!  So-and-so hit me!”  “Dad, So-and-so tripped me!”  “Mom!”  “Dad!”  You get the picture.  Dad had the perfect response.  Although, I don’t think I really understood what it meant until today.

When one of us would show Dad some real or imagined cut, bruise, and/or other physical slight, Dad would feign concern, look at the boo-boo and say, “Go rub some dirt on it.”  This would make me laugh, but, I always walked away puzzled.  The hurt no longer hurt, of course.  However, the ‘Go rub some dirt on it,’ never made sense.  Now, I get it.

Stop whining!  Suck it up!  That’s what it means.  Oh, I can’t pretend to tell you what was in my dad’s mind when he said that to his kids.  But I can sure tell you what is in mine.  Stop whining, sissy!  Suck it up and just do what you gotta do!  There are things in this life that are true tragedies, my life is not one of them.  I love life and life loves me back.

So, the next time I start feeling sorry for myself, the next time I begin to think, “Poor me, poor me, poor me,” I will remember the words of one of the greatest men I ever knew, “Aww, go rub some dirt on it!”  Peace, ~v.