Tagged: life lessons

Boxes with Bows

I have a very bad habit of trying to compartmentalize my life. I want everything settled, tied up in a pretty red bow, and organized neatly on the shelf. Running in one box, knitting in another, and cancer in that large box in the corner.

Apparently I do this with my blogs as well.Giftbox_icon

Rather than be happy with one all-encompassing blog, I periodically feel an overwhelming need to separate things out–kind of like when you don’t want the mashed potatoes touching the green beans on your plate. I felt like my cancer story took over this blog, so I started a new one–and then only wrote one post. And didn’t write anything here. Or on my running blog. And my knitting blog has also been severely neglected.

And that’s not to mention the gardening blog I tried out years ago, or the photography blog. I think I can still remember my husband suggesting that it might be difficult to keep up with all the different blogs . . .

Enough! Mind Margins has always been my home blog, the place where I can write my thoughts and experiences about anything I want. The byline “thoughts on being human” is there for a reason. The fact is, I can’t separate out anything that’s happened to me these past two years into separate little boxes. I think having all those boxes has actually kept me from writing–and I need to write. Running and writing are the best therapies, and God knows I need them both.

I will admit that I also needed this past year to process what I had gone through. Cancer didn’t end when I stopped chemo. In fact, in a way, that was the easy part. All I had to do was get through it. It was my 24 hr a day job for over six months. But once the chemo drugs worked their way out of my body (which took longer than I thought it would), I was left with a lot of what-if’s, whys, and what-nows. More than anything, I’ve spent the past two years learning to live with uncertainty. That’s something I’ve been working on my whole life, and will probably continue to do until the day I die.

Another reason I didn’t write was because I was embarrassed by the attention. You would think someone who shared every gory detail of having cancer, and who shares probably more than she ever should about everything else in her life, would love the attention. After all, no one made me write about any of it. Instead, I felt like a show off. And I have only myself to blame.

(Why did I never think of writing an anonymous blog??? Problem solved!)

My only intention in sharing so much about what I went through was to help other people who might be going through something similar. I found very few stories from other women who had ovarian cancer, and I felt the need to help someone else. That desire is still stronger than ever–and that’s why I keep writing about cancer. Life does go on, but it will never be the same again. And that big box in the corner, the one labeled Cancer? It’s getting smaller and smaller as the months go by.

Hitting the publish button is a scary thing. I cringe every single time I post something. The thoughts in my head range from Why would anyone care what I have to say to I sound like a complete idiot. Ultimately, I write for myself. I always have, since the day I first put my stubby pencil to a Big Chief pad. I write because I have to.

So I’m raising the white flag and calling a truce between me and my blogs. I’ll probably shut a few down. If surviving cancer has taught me anything, it’s to keep things as simple as possible, and to get rid of the stuff that’s not important.

Time to clean out some boxes.

(photo courtesy of petercui [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

This is What Happens When Cancer Takes Over Your Blog

Top searches that brought people to my blog this month:

– i’m 63 will i definitely lose my hair during chemotherapy?

– golytely not working kids

– i did my golytely prep but it feels like something is stuck

– chemo day 14

peach pit and seedling

Well, I have only myself to blame.

It’s been awhile. I’ve been busy. Very busy. So busy I pretty much stopped writing for six months.

Let’s just say, life is good. Very good.

Last year was an incredible year. I got married, was in the best shape of my life, had just come back from a vacation in Utah (one of my top three places on earth) with my son and his girlfriend, and had enough finished knitted items to toy seriously with the idea of starting my own little business.

And then at the end of May I went to the ER. And quickly discovered I had cancer. Ovarian cancer.

I won’t go into detail about that year. I wrote extensively about the experience here on Mind Margins. After surgery and chemo, I was declared cancer-free by December 2013.

It was an incredible experience. I am so lucky to have caught it early and to have survived. Two friends I made during that time, and the majority of women who were diagnosed with ovarian cancer last year (all years, in fact), weren’t so lucky.

Looking back at this past year post-cancer, I suppose I went through a modified version of the stages of grief. During treatment I was nothing but positive. I never, ever thought I wouldn’t survive. Post-chemo, however, was another story. Looking back on what I had gone through, and survived, I initially felt scared. I thought a lot about dying. That turned to anger. Then sadness. Then just plain depression. It didn’t last long, but these past few months I needed a break from all things cancer.

And every time I sat down to write, my fingers wanted to write about having cancer. My brain didn’t.

So I did everything but write–which means I got a lot of knitting done. I started running again. I spent a lot of time just sitting and thinking about what had happened and the things I learned from it. I put things in perspective and reorganized my life. My husband and I finally went on our honeymoon.

I grew my hair back.

And I knit. I knit a lot, sometimes for hours and hours. These past six months have been filled with family and love, appreciation for life, and learning to pick up where I left off. It sounds trite, but things that used to seem so important really aren’t anymore. When little things get to me now, it’s easier to see how unimportant they are. I don’t brood for days over them, like before.

I know how short life is, and how every moment is a choice. Either we embrace what we’re given and move forward, or we stay stagnant in resentments and feelings of injustice.

Relationships are important. Being kind is important. Never forgetting how short life can be is really important.

Though I haven’t been writing, I’ve been reading. I may not have commented on my friends’ blogs, but I have been keeping up.

I’m running again, and am up to 10 miles. I’m slower than I was before, but that’s okay. My oncologist says I’ve inspired her to run, and we’ve run two 5K’s together, both of them benefiting cancer. I even have my future daughter-in-law running with me. I’m also doing strength training and eating much healthier than before. Except for some residual chemo brain fog, I feel great. I’m not the same person I was before, and that’s a good thing.

I’ve learned a lot from cancer, but it’s time to release its hold on my blog. Here’s to more writing, more questions, and more thoughts on being human.

– Angela

A Letter to My Friend

Dear Katie,

Six months ago you sent me an email. You had just left a comment on my first post about being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. You had also just been diagnosed, and you were scared. You were so scared you asked me to delete your comment because you didn’t want anyone to know.

Thus began our friendship. We traded stories of our surgeries, gave each other advice on how to get through chemo, and compared notes on our lives. You told me about your young daughter and your brother, and we promised each other we would run a race together when this was all over.

You made me promise, over and over, to NEVER GIVE UP! You always wrote it like that. You also put actions in your emails with an asterisk. *nods nods* was your favorite. God, you were funny. I could always hear your Irish lilt in my head, even though I’d never heard your voice.

On Sep 29 you told me that things weren’t going well. Your cancer wasn’t responding to chemo. You didn’t want to tell me the news, thinking it would affect my own recovery. I wrote emails to you periodically after that, knowing you would write back when you were stronger.

Tonight I found out you didn’t make it. You went into the hospital two days after your last email and passed away a couple of weeks after that.

I am devastated. Hearing the news was like a punch to the gut.

We never met in person. I don’t even know what you looked like. We were friends. You were my hero.

Your last post was titled “This Isn’t Goodbye . . .” I think you knew it probably was.

You touched other lives just through your comments here on my blog. People asked about you when you disappeared. I understood why you stopped writing and needed a break. I did so as well. After a certain point in chemo, when it got really tough, I needed to save all my energy for the fight. My brain was all jumbled up and I couldn’t string a sentence together, let alone make my fingers work on the keyboard. I’m sure it was the same for you.

You fought hard, Katie. You never gave up and you never lost hope.

You went so quickly.

Now that I know you’re gone, I feel like the only survivor of a plane crash. We are a small club of women. This cancer doesn’t leave many behind. It is selfish and claims most of us for itself.

I never felt anger towards our cancer before now. It was just something that happens to some women. Now that it has taken you, it’s become personal. Now I’m angry. This cancer can mess with me, but how dare it take someone as good and kind and honest as you were? And how dare it should take away the mother of a fourteen year old girl?

I bought a sticker for my car while I was still doing chemo. It’s a teal ribbon and says “I won.” I’ve saved it all these months until I got the official news from the doctor that I was cancer free. I’ve debated actually putting it on my car, thinking it might seem arrogant or disrespectful to the women who didn’t make it. You fought harder than anyone I know to beat this cancer. In your last email you told me you hadn’t given up hope. You told me once again, as you had so often before, to NEVER GIVE UP.

That sticker is going on my car today. I know you would want to see it there. I hope it makes you smile when you see it from wherever you are.

I didn’t give up, Katie. My fight was nothing compared to yours, but I never gave in. I was only lucky that we caught it so early. Most are not so lucky. It doesn’t make sense to me that someone can fight as hard as you and others have done and not win. I will never understand that. My victory is a hollow one without you here. It’s like breaking the tape at the finish line and realizing you’re the only one who made it to the end.

Rest in peace, Irish Katie. Your fight is over, and we’ll miss you here on Earth, but you’ll always be in our hearts.

Your friend forever,

Angela

http://irishkatie.wordpress.com/

Even Rock Stars Trash Their Hotel Rooms

I’ve been strong. I’ve been positive. I’ve been a “rock star” patient (according to the nurses in the hospital). But today, finally, reality is starting to set in.

I have cancer.

It isn’t something that is just going to go away. I may battle this for the rest of my life. I will heal from surgery and jump right into chemo. I will essentially poison all the cells in my body to get rid of the cancer cells and hopefully trick them into submission.

But one day they may decide to come back. Then, the battle begins all over.

I’m not trying to be pessimistic. Today I take a hard look at what I’m up against. It’s all part of the show.

Rock group

They’re not trashing their hotel room, but they look like they might be thinking about it.

Photo courtesy of: Ted Van Pelt [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Last night I ordered some scarves and hats from the American Cancer Society so I will be prepared when my hair falls out. For the past two weeks, since the doctor told me my hair will most definitely fall out, I’ve thought it’s no big deal that my hair will fall out. Today I know that’s BS. It’s going to be a HUGE deal for me. My hair is below my shoulders. What is it going to be like when my hair starts coming out in clumps? When I wake up and see clumps of it on my pillowcase, or see clumps of it slide down the drain in the shower? What will I look like without eyebrows? Without eyelashes?

And something I thought I’d never do: I’ve even found myself getting angry and thinking WHY ME? I did everything right: I had children, I breastfed them both for a year each, and I took birth control pills when I wasn’t pregnant–all protective factors against ovarian cancer. I’ve run ridiculous distances for the past seven years, I don’t drink, I’ve never smoked, never done drugs, and I eat organic as often as I can afford to. All that wasn’t enough to protect me from cancer.

Why am I having to go through this?

I don’t always believe that things happen for a reason. Sometimes bad things just happen. No rhyme or reason, they just do. It sucks. I understand that. I accept that in the Russian roulette of life and disease, I got cancer.

But it doesn’t mean I have to like it.

The outpouring of support since I started sharing my story has been incredible. Overwhelming, to a point. It’s hard to hear over and over how “strong” I am. I don’t feel strong, I feel realistic. I am a fighter by nature. I won’t roll over and play dead. I’ve always said: I’m going to live forever. Cancer certainly isn’t going to change that.

But today, after weeks of smiling and staying positive, I’m allowing myself to feel this exhaustion, this numbness as I accept that I have cancer and that the battle has just begun. I think that I’ve been very positive up to this point, but this is my reality today. And as I’ve stated over and over, I’m not one to sugarcoat anything. There will be days like this. I knew there would be, and that’s why it’s not a big deal. It will pass.

So having a bad cancer day can be like trashing your own hotel room. You put on a good show, do everything that’s expected of you, then you go back to your digs and get a little crazy.

Despite this one bad day, in the end I will win, and I will win big. And I’m going to bring as many women and their families over the finish line with me as I possibly can. I don’t know how yet, but I’m going to make it happen.

The Confidence to Not be the Best

Confidence doesn’t come from being the best at something. It comes from realizing you don’t have to be.

How many times have we found ourselves working harder and harder to be better than others at a specific task, only to then reach our goals and realize we’re still just as messed up as we were before? I’m a runner, and the day I qualified for the Boston Marathon was one of the most amazing days of my life. I had finally proven to myself that I was legit, and I felt like qualifying meant there wasn’t anything I couldn’t accomplish.

Only the incredible feeling of invincibility eventually wore off. Even worse, I felt less confident about my running than I did before I qualified. I became plagued with self-doubt and insecurities. By the time I stood at the starting line, I was a mess. I had gotten sick a few days before the race and knew I was in trouble. I looked around at all the toned, athletic bodies around me and felt as if I was an imposter, as if I didn’t really belong there, as if I didn’t deserve to be there. I had a miserable race and wanted to make myself invisible from the cheering crowds.

I was sick alright, and it wasn’t just physical.

Dallas Marathon 2012

My friends and I sometimes push ourselves to the point of injury to get faster, to get better. We claim it’s because we’re competitive, or because we want to be our best selves. Some of my non-running friends find all of this inspiring. Others think it’s just plain crazy. I think it’s probably both.

Because when it’s all said and done, it’s just not that important. Look at Lance Armstrong. His drive to be the best cost him everything in the end. Hubris also played a huge part in his downfall, but perhaps hubris and the drive to be the best at something go hand in hand.

Wanting to be the best doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It can be the impetus for some incredible changes in our lives. I think it’s when we make being THE BEST at something more important than anything else that leads to a hollow type of confidence. It’s like not being afraid to jump off the ledge but forgetting what’s waiting at the end of the fall.

Fast forward to today. I can’t honestly say that I’m any more confident than I was in Boston, but I can say that I no longer care as much about how fast or how far I run. Of course I still love to run fast. And long distance running is what I love the most. But I’ve realized neither defines who I am or how I view myself, and I don’t feel as if I have anything to prove, to myself or anyone else.

And if I don’t have anything to prove, it just means I’m one small step closer to being happy with what IS. And that’s good enough for now.

Enemies and Rivals

We have met the enemy and he is us.  – Pogo

I’m tired. I work hard, I run hard, and I never seem to have enough fun. Everywhere I turn these days it seems someone is showing me their angry face, or I’m reading yet another snide blog post from someone who is angry at someone else who is taking all their hard-earned money and having a great life at their expense.

I’m so tired of the rhetoric.

The election is over and we’ve all moved on. Right? Wrong. And of course we shouldn’t just “move on.” That’s not how democracy works. We should all be ready to roll up our sleeves, dive in, and get this country back on track. All of us, We the People, not just the ones who vote the same as we do.

And that’s what is making me tired.

Seven years ago I started running. The people I run with are the best friends I have. We laid one to rest yesterday and perhaps it’s the reason I woke up this morning with these thoughts pushing their way to the front of my crowded brain. Things that once seemed important no longer do. Life is short, and I have some things to get off my chest.

My friends and I run crazy long distances for hours at a time, and no subject matter is off the table. Within my larger circle of running friends we rarely talk religion or politics, which pretty much mirrors life at large. I suspect most of us don’t talk religion or politics with our less close friends either. Within my smaller circle of running friends, however, religion and politics is what we talk about the most, kind of like what we do with our families.

Even amongst my less close running friends, we all get along great. We come from all walks of life, have very different jobs from one another, enjoy varying interests outside of running, and we break bread and toss back a cold beer together quite often. We really like one another.

Beer

Beer: the great equalizer

Of course we all stay in touch on Facebook when we’re not running together. But something happened these past two months. We had to choose our next president. For some people, Facebook suddenly became a battlefield. Things I never would have expected to see were posted, not just by my running friends, but by everyone. Some of the posts were funny, some rude, some mean, and some downright ridiculous. What bothered me the most wasn’t what was said — though some of it was very surprising — it was the vitriol behind the words, the hatred and disrespect if you felt differently.

The other day I read a blog post that disturbed me, but I couldn’t figure out why:

When we answer to each other, as we do now, we are only as successful as our neighbor allows us to be and he is only as prosperous as we permit him to be.

When one neighbor can pass a law or raise taxes on another neighbor, then we all lose making one man’s tax benefit another man’s income loss. This negative spiral of self-defeating tax and law resolutions causes every man to have a small piece of his own personal freedom (and income) taken away from him by his neighbor. In this way we each take turns taking from, and losing to, each other until in the end, everyone is just a slave to everyone else.

Many people feel this way. Even my better half leans in this direction, and I still love him. I find those words sad and cynical. What happened to being my brother’s keeper and all that? The fact that for this person his “neighbors” are the ones keeping him from personal happiness (and solvency), and his equating this to slavery, makes me wonder how we got so far off track. I appreciate his thoughts, though, because I’m trying really hard to understand views that are so different from my own.

(Personal aside that really bugs me about his post: he eventually throws in something about having to pay for his neighbor the teacher’s higher salary, health care benefits, pension, and school building improvements. Sigh. Those evil, greedy teachers who are once again out to steal money from those who have real jobs. At least he didn’t bring in the unions. For 18 years I was admired for being a teacher, and about two years ago I seemingly overnight became the root of all problems in this country, without even being a member of a union. Fighting teacher-hate makes me really tired. I apologize for the digression.)

Dog

Shasta asks the question: Can’t we all just get along?

The entire point of my tiredness is this: WE, the citizens of this country, are not the enemy. When did we let ourselves be convinced to turn on each other, to be each others’ victims and rivals? We’re spending so much time these days hating some other guy (myself included, apparently, considering my response to the aforementioned blog post) that we’ve lost sight of the fact that our country is only as great as we make it.

We own this place. Those people in Washington are there as our representatives. I live in Texas and I’m not a Republican. My congressional representatives rarely represent my views. That doesn’t mean I throw up my hands and cry uncle. I don’t want to go out and shoot up a school, either, but I do bitch and moan a lot because I earned the right to do so when I voted.  I continue to make my views known to my Senators, even though I rarely agree with their votes, because that’s the way it works. I have to trust in that. If I didn’t, I would try to change it.

As for taxes, of course there are problems. Teaching in a low income neighborhood for 20 years illuminated a lot of welfare abuse. I saw it firsthand. But here’s the deal: those poor families and their children who need assistance aren’t going anywhere. They aren’t going to magically disappear and suddenly leave more money in your pocket. Isn’t it better to try and help their children, and at least offer them a good education as a way out of poverty? If we can’t see the benefits of having good public schools, as a way of preserving our country’s future, without resulting to privatization and making a profit off our kids’ education, then there’s no hope for us. None. Hopefully those tax dollars will come back to us in the form of intelligent, responsible citizens. They won’t all be lost. I’m willing to help my neighbor with that, and I’m willing to see the bigger picture and think of the ramifications for the future, not just my own small, short life.

Poor people are not the enemy. A larger share of our tax dollars go to mega corporations in the form of tax breaks, grants, and incentives. These corporations then use our tax dollars to develop new products, which then leads to jobs being outsourced overseas to people who will work for pennies a day. Then these same companies turn around, pay the guys at the top six and seven figure salaries, and the corporation pays little to no taxes. Isn’t this just another form of welfare? Socialism? Capitalism? I’m not seeing many benefits to our country by continuing down this path. I’m not anti-business. I would love to run my own small company. But if you’re going to use my tax dollars, I’d like you to at least contribute something back to society.

We have plenty of money in this country, it’s just in all the wrong places. But, really, rich people aren’t the enemy either. We all know that. Let’s work on putting our money where it can be put to good use.

Maybe we should all turn off CNN and Fox News and start thinking for ourselves. Look around. Talk to those neighbors you resent so much. Bandy together and see what you can do to change the things you don’t like. Accept that there will be differences in your beliefs. Those differences are what make life interesting. Assume that most people are smart enough, and have enough common sense, to be able to make good decisions. Debate. Talk.

And, please, let’s get rid of all the catch-phrases and labels. Liberals, socialists, conservatives, entitlements, idiots, blah, blah, blah. I am not an idiot because I think something other than you. It’s not okay to belittle someone because they’re different. Please, be respectful.

Houston Marathon 2012

Houston Marathon 2012

I didn’t support the decision to go to Iraq. I had a teenage son at the time and worried about all the sons and daughters being sent off to die for something I wasn’t convinced was right. It hurt when others felt my nonsupport was unpatriotic and treasonous, as if the simple acts of questioning war and fearing for the safety of our troops made me less of a patriot. Now I shake my own head in disbelief at those who talk of secession. Is that a more honorable solution, to walk away rather than work towards a better future? I’m very confused by this.

It’s all much more complicated than I’ve stated. There are no easy answers. I would lose any debate on this issue, I’m sure, and get way too emotional for my own good. I’m just someone who is tired of the way we all seem to hate each other these days. I see it when I drive my car, when I buy groceries, when someone steals my lawn mower and my grill, and when people talk about others they don’t even know. I honestly think our differences are smaller than we imagine. We seem to have lost sight of the ability to “walk a mile in someone’s else’s shoes.” Compassion is not only reserved for those who believe as you do.

I sometimes feel as if we’re treating each other as opposing sides at a football game, with our future, the football, being thrown around so haphazardly. Us against them. Maybe we could take a lesson from my running group, all of us so very different, but all running — together — towards the same finish line. I think we owe it to each other, to our children’s futures, and to the future of this country that we all love.

We have a lot to lose if we don’t.

The Wildness Without

Why are wild places so vital to our existence?

I’ve pondered this question since my first trip years ago to Yellowstone National Park, and wrote a photographic post about the subject last year. Most people may not think of a national park as being “wild,” but I assure you, once you step off the main road or the shorter, more visited hiking trails and enter the back country, you are indeed in a wild place. Sometimes you’re lucky enough to experience it directly from the main road, such as when coming across a pack of wolves circling a group of elk cows and their calves, like I did one summer, or when you spot a grizzly bear at dusk, just off the road, pawing grubs at the base of a decomposing tree trunk.

Man’s presence is not needed for the wild to flourish, but I’m convinced we need wild places in order to flourish as human beings. We’re not separate from nature, we’re just another part of it. Wild places strip us of our modern contrivances and remind us how simple and present life really is.

Sepulcher Mountain, Yellowstone

Off the Beaten Path wrote about wild places recently and put into words exactly how I feel. She writes about viewing a grizzly sow and her cub:

For the first time I truly understood what a privilege it is to be able to visit a wild place; a place that provides a space for animals as wild as grizzly bears to live. That just knowing that these places are there adds value to our lives, even if we don’t go there often. This was an epiphany; and silly as it sounds, I realized that I hadn’t really understood why wild spaces are so important until that moment.

When I was still teaching fifth grade, I used to come back from our summer road trips to Montana and Wyoming feeling sad that most of my students had never experienced a wild place, and probably never would. I felt certain that if only I could pack them all into a bus bound for Yellowstone, get them on the trails, and let them spend time in the wild, it would change their lives. Children need to see that the earth is a living thing, that there are wild places with rules all their own, and that everything they think is important in life really isn’t.

Sepulcher Mountain, Yellowstone

Once in Yellowstone we mistakenly took a left instead of a right and wound up taking an unplanned all day hike up Sepulcher Mountain. For almost an entire day we never saw another human. The weather was somewhat stormy, and I remembered all the warnings I had ever read about hiking in the mountains during lightning. There is something life-altering about spending an entire day in nature, having to be alert and attentive to the possibility of death from weather or wild animal, and yet feeling so completely alive because of it.

We sat at the top and viewed the mountains around us. I had a profound feeling that I was at the center of the world, and that it didn’t matter what happened to the rest of the world, Yellowstone and the wilderness would always be there. It didn’t need us. It didn’t need me. Life would always continue, with or without man.

There was still snow at the top, and because we were lightly dressed we ran down the side of the mountain in our hiking boots. It felt like we were flying. Missing that turn on the road turned out to be one of the best days of my life.

Sepulcher Mountain, Yellowstone

I think back often on that day climbing Sepulcher Mountain. I can imagine the grizzly bears, the bison, and the wolves going on with their lives, oblivious to anything but survival. Life is harsh in the wild, but perhaps our own modern lives are just as harsh, if not more so, than anything we can imagine in the wild.

Perhaps the need to connect with wildness is why I love trail running. When I’m running on a trail in a beautiful location, even if it’s only half an hour’s drive outside the city, I’m always cognizant of the possibility of danger. I don’t want to get chased down by a bobcat or trip over a rattlesnake, but running through a forest or desert canyon gives me a sense of freedom and being alive like nothing else does.

Sepulcher Mountain, Yellowstone

So find someplace wild to visit. Spend time in the Needles in Canyonlands, or hike into the wilds of Alaska. Get out of the car. Walk. Make yourself a part of the natural world. Remind yourself that the entire world is your home. See what lessons wild places have to teach you.

Why Do We All Notice THAT Kind Of Woman?

A few weeks ago we went to a party at a friend’s house. I didn’t know many of the people there, but one person stood out from all the rest. You all know the woman I’m talking about.

Bleach blonde, thin, 40-something, fake boobs, wedge heels, strapless black top, and short shorts. She’s attractive, but in a contrived sort of way. She knows people (men) are watching her, and that’s just the way she likes it. She looked like a middle-aged Barbie.

I didn’t know this woman, but I became fascinated watching the effect she had on the people around her. Men’s eyes followed her. Women kept looking back at her. Even I found myself watching her, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out exactly what it was about her that sparked such interest.

She made a comment to one of the men in our party that she was disappointed so-and-so had just left, and hoped he didn’t think she was with whats-his-name, because she wasn’t. Within ten minutes she was making the rounds, and within another couple of hours was seen leaving with that-guy-over-there.

I’m not being catty, just curious. I don’t know her, didn’t talk to her, and my first impression of her could be way off the mark. She could be a microbiologist with a Nobel prize in her back pocket for all I know.

To be honest, maybe I’ve even been that woman in the past, and I was merely recognizing something familiar.

Blonde

Women like to look nice. We spend a huge amount of time and money searching for things to make ourselves look attractive. But do we sometimes go overboard and make our appearance–and our motives for looking attractive–the main focus of our lives?

Especially if we reach a certain age and find ourselves unmarried, do we sell ourselves short and become desperately “flashy” in an attempt to attract attention?

To me, there seemed something sad about her. There was nothing unique or genuine about her. She looked like your stereotypical Dallas woman. Did she know who she was? Was her only objective in life to snag a man?

And why did I care?

I’m not married, but I do live with someone. This is the first relationship I’ve had that gives me the freedom I never had when I was married. And by freedom, I mean the freedom to BE myself and do the things that make me happy. I’m not saying you can’t have that freedom in a marriage. For whatever reason, I never felt I had as much as I do now.

Maybe it was because of being so busy raising two children. That’s a choice I would never undo, and that particular loss of freedom had many more rewards than sacrifices.

In all honesty, it was more a matter of playing second fiddle to someone else. Their outside interests came first. I let myself  become swallowed up in my husband’s life and path, and never took the time to develop my own.

No blame to him. It was my own responsibility and I let myself down.

Now I’m older and wiser. Younger women seem to be much better at making their own lives before marriage and not giving up so much of their own dreams and goals for their husbands or families. I do believe you can have it all, but it may not be easy.

We don’t have to sell ourselves short. I don’t think the woman at the party gave herself enough credit. Rather than being happy in her own skin, she seemed to be playing the role of what she expected others wanted. I’ve been there. It never works. You wind up making poor choices and getting used.

Perhaps I’m way off base about the woman at the party. Maybe she has a thriving life, full of activities and endeavors that keep her fulfilled and satisfied. Maybe she’s philosophical and has interesting ideas. Maybe she isn’t as desperate as she seemed that night.

Maybe she was just lonely. For whatever reason, we certainly all noticed.


The Snow Day and the Thugs

Now that the days are getting long and hot, and I search for anything to get me through to October when the days might cool off a bit if we’re lucky, I dream of snow. White, cold, fluffy snow.

And snow always makes me think of one of my students.

We have a rule in our school district that if the weather turns bad after a certain time in the morning, the buses will run and the schools will open. No matter how bad the weather gets, once the decision is made schools stay open for the entire day.

We rarely get snow in Dallas, but on this one day it started to snow after the cutoff time. By the time school opened at 8:00, the ground was covered in white and the snow was still falling.

Snow in Dallas

As you can imagine, trying to get a bunch of fifth graders to settle down when all they want to be doing is playing in the snow, is tough. School is the last place they want to be.

On days like this you usually have two kinds of kids who show up: the straight A students who never miss, and the ones you pray will stay home just this one day, please dear God.

Ramon (name changed to protect the innocent) was in that first group. He was a smart kid. He never got in trouble, always did his work, and was very well-liked by his classmates. He even had a few girls think he was cute. But there are times when even the good kids go bad.

Like on a snow day.

After picking up the students, walking them up the stairs and past the windows where they could all moan and groan about the fact that they were here and not there, and telling them for the fifteenth time that no, we can’t go outside and play in the snow, the students settled down and got to work on journal writing. The usual suspects stared off into space, not a clue as to what they should write about, and the others wrote furiously about the unfairness of being stuck at school while so-and-so got to stay home and play in the snow. Pencil leads were snapping, sighs and moans were expelled, and even I felt gipped that school wasn’t closed.

A few minutes into journal  writing, Ramon walked up to me with a worried look on his face and asked if he could go to the restroom, it was an emergency. I gave him the Disbelieving Teacher Look, saw the desperate look in his eyes, and decided he was legit. He grabbed the hall pass and escaped.

Class continued. I decided to read a chapter aloud from the book I had been reading to the students, knowing they would lord it over the kids who hadn’t come to school that day. It was a particularly good part of the book, and I was enjoying making the story as dramatic as possible. The class listened intently as I read.

After fifteen minutes or so, I looked up to see the assistant principal standing in my doorway. Mildly annoyed that she was interrupting our right at the good part, I also noticed she had someone with her. Someone who was hiding behind her.

Ramon.

“Excuse me,” she said. “Is this your student?”

Uh oh. I had forgotten about Ramon.

“Yes. He went to the restroom,” I meekly replied.

“Uh huh!” she said. “Do you have any idea where I found him?”

I looked at Ramon. He was looking at the floor. Ramon was in trouble and somehow it was my fault.

The AP called me into the hallway. The class was loving every minute of this. I walked out into the hallway, sweeping the room with my Evil Eye Teacher Look that said don’t even think about it.

Apparently the AP had been making the rounds downstairs after the bell rang, making sure everyone was in class and accounted for, when she heard someone yelling and knocking outside the door to the playground. The door was set to lock when it closed. When she opened the door who did she discover? Ramon.

For some completely innocent reason, Ramon had decided to go to the downstairs restroom. He couldn’t explain why. As he passed the door leading to the playground, he heard someone knocking to be let in. Being the good Samaritan that he is, of course, he opened the door–and was promptly thrown into the snow by some THUGS! They had really done a number on him, too, because his hair, shirt, and jeans were sopping wet.

“Who were these thugs?” I asked. “Just some guys who wanted to be mean” he sheepishly answered.

I said, “Wow, those were some really mean guys to throw you down in the snow like that! That’s awful, Ramon. It’s too bad you opened the door for them.”

He swore it was all true. He even cried.

We sent him into class, closed the door, and burst out laughing in the hallway.

Snow in Dallas

We teased him all year about the thugs. We warned him to watch out for the thugs at dismissal at the end of the day. We asked him if the thugs ate his homework when he didn’t have it in class. We made sure he had a buddy on field trips so the thugs wouldn’t force him to do fun things again.

We were so worried about him, we even had him explain it to his mom on Parent Conference night. After a long look at him, she rolled her eyes and shook her head.

He knew he had been caught red handed, and he laughed along with us. I told him he would never, ever forget the day he went bad. He said he would never, ever do something that stupid again.

So on these horribly hot days of summer, when I’m running in temperatures that are meant for an oven, I’ll think of Ramon and how much fun he must have had rolling in the snow. He said it was worth it, and I believe him.