Birthday reflections


Happy birthday to me – No. 52, to be precise.

My first gift was an early waking – around 4 a.m., not being very precise. That much more of the day to enjoy, I suppose. At this point, the whole day lies before me with so many options, so much promise.

Will I be productive and do a little cleaning and clearing of clutter, which, in the end will be like an additional gift? Or will I finish my first semester grading and maybe balance the checkbook – pure drudgery on both counts, but a serious load lifted from my shoulders, which also qualifies as a gift given to myself? Or will I be indulgent as I’ve said I’d be and curl up in a blanket, reading all day and maybe take a break to watch a movie? Seems like the thing to do, but probably wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying as the other options. However I spend the bulk of the day, it will end with family preparing dinner for me, always my favorite part.

Having my birthday so near the end of the year is a great set up for reflecting, and a year doesn’t go by that there isn’t a lot worth reflecting on. High points definitely had to do with family.

Family, so much to be thankful for

No. 1 son graduated from college last December and began his teaching career as a long-term substitute in our district’s middle school. Growing up, I never knew I was going to be a teacher (didn’t start this gig until mid-40s), but being a teacher and having my son teach in the same system and hearing such good things about him just makes me so very proud of him. When he got his science certification and got the real job in the fall, it was just validation that he is in the right place.

No. 2 son graduated in May, along with his lovely fiancée. They had both powered through their programs to finish on time and in that last semester had been planning a wedding and applying for grad programs, looking for one school that would be perfect for both their needs – a tough set of criteria for one establishment. Three weeks after graduation they had the best wedding I’ve ever been to, and on their college campus, the place that had been their home for the previous four years. Yeah, maybe I’m partial, but it was wonderful, and we all got married up. And, yes, after some soul searching and serious decision making tactics, they decided on school in south Texas, and though they’ve got a good gig going on there, the distance is a real downer.

Just after the wedding, my husband and I took a vacation. That may seem like a normal thing for most folks, but it isn’t normal for us. Years of three sons in baseball and never feeling like we could afford more than camping out at the lake kept us from real vacations for the most part. The last family vaca we had was in 2001, when we loaded up the Suburban and drove to California to visit family. That was an excellent vacation and lasted us until this year. The hubby and I rented a cabin in Colorado and planned each day as it came. We visited nearby small towns with casinos and little eccentric shops and traveled old mine trails on steep mountains, taking pictures and panning for gold. We drove up Pike’s Peak and picnicked. We hung around the cabin and cooked and read and watched movies. It was delightful, and I want to keep doing the vacation thing. Didn’t realize what I’d been missing.

While No. 3 son didn’t graduate or get married, he has continued to grow in his awesomeness and give us reasons to be proud of him. Though his school is two hours away, he comes home nearly every other week and helps his dad with outside chores like fencing in the property, and he likes cooking for us, too. He is such a caretaker and helpful, hopeful, encouraging person.

I don’t know what I have done to be so blessed times three. I remember many years ago, when we decided we needed to have three kids, telling people that I needed three in case anything went wrong. I’d seen too many instances of kids dying young, getting into trouble with drugs or the law or any number of other problems that descend on families, even when the families are doing all the right things. That’s a pretty morbid method for family planning, but seriously, that’s what I was thinking. And here we are, with three of the best kids in the world. How’d we get so lucky?

To top off this year, that No. 1 son just proposed to his girlfriend (our girlfriend?) of two? three? years. I dunno, she already feels like such a part of the family, we’ve been counting her for a while, and now wedding plans are in the works.

Work at doing something you love, and it will never seem like work – mostly

I can’t post a reflection on the year without talking about my work. My Twitter bio says that I’ve always been a teacher. Forced little brother to play school when we were kids. Taught my sons to be people. Went professional in 2007. All that’s true. Before 2007, I worked at a loan office, at Halliburton (like everyone else in Duncan, and like many, I was laid off), in a dress shop; I worked in a bank, in a middle school as attendance clerk, then I started a home day care business when my kids were small so I could stay home with them. Played a little teacher there, too. When I started feeling a little burnout in that profession, that’s when I decided to go to college. Working on the college newspaper while studying English and journalism, I found that I enjoyed teaching upcoming staff members. That’s really when the idea of teaching professionally first really took hold. After graduation and a nearly one-year stint at the local paper, I got my dream job teaching journalism at my own high school.

Never having had “teaching courses”, I can’t talk curriculum development, test design, or interpreting data to better inform lesson design, but I’m willing to bet that those who fling those and other hoity-toity educational terms of the moment around like they know what they are talking about, seldom look their students in the eye, and rarely pull back from the computer where they are trying to get grades put in, so they can listen to a student talk about parent problems or bully problems or the like. I don’t just teach Google Drive or complete sentences or subject/verb agreement or headline hierarchy, I teach kids how to talk to other people, how to speak up for themselves, how to talk in front of the class, how to respect each other (when sometimes the other person hasn’t deserved it yet). I try to teach them that what they have to offer the world is important and valuable and that learning more is even better – not for the grade (grades are stupid), but for the learning itself. And you know what? They respond to that stuff. I’ve had so many high points in that area. I’ve watched kids this year work on improving their writing BECAUSE I hadn’t put a grade on it yet. I’ve had kids THANK me for making comments on their work so they could improve it. I’ve had great conversations with students in person and on social media, and I love being a part of their lives. I regret when, occasionally, I realize I’ve said the wrong thing or not responded when I probably should have, and I hope I correct those situations as soon as I can, because they count so much sometimes.

The job got a little tougher, and many of my students showed me their devotion toward the end of the semester when it became clear that, no matter how deeply I’d stuck my head in the sand, we were going to have to change classrooms. It’s another complete post (or two) to talk about that classroom and how much it means to me – to us, and how difficult it has been mentally and physically to move, but trust me: It’s been difficult. Several members of yearbook and newspaper staffs, though, have helped with tossing stuff and packing the rest and preparing for the move. And as of yesterday, they have also helped with unpacking and arranging our new space. Some of that help included a grad from 2011. One of my favorite things about my work is that I stay in contact with several newsies and yearbookers long after they have moved on into adulthood, to the degree that they come back to visit and even help me move. And bring me Christmas presents (Thanks, Hayden).

What’s next?

My husband and No. 1 and No. 3 sons have also helped out in my moving process. I love that my family knows how important my work is to me. Balancing family and work has always been a struggle. As I began putting my new, tiny, room together yesterday, I vowed to put photographs of family where I can see them. I feel I need a reminder that I should put my family first more often than I have in the past. I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions, but if there is an area of my life that I’d work to improve on (and, really, there are many), I want to simplify my work life so it’s not so overwhelming, and make family more of a priority.

But first, I really need to unpack some more boxes.

I need to do something to make the new room feel more homey, like the old room was.

Should I repaint that bookshelf before I fill it?

What to toss and what to keep? There isn’t enough room for all of it.

I need to write up a purchase order request for some containers for all this stuff.

Oh, my – I need lesson plans for the first week.

Don’t we have a deadline coming up?

I’ll be home soon, honey. I just need to get these files in some kind of order first.

Are you starting dinner?


Happy birthday to me!

birthday cake

Happy birthday to me – you know the tune.

Oh, reflection time, oh, reflection time – three guesses on that tune.

I have a special affection for December babies, but especially for those whose birthdays have to rival the commercialism and the already constant celebratory nature of the holidays. For those of us in the lull between Christmas and New Year’s, however, I have the greatest sympathy of all.

While most well-intentioned family members know it’s a serious breech to wrap a December baby’s birthday gift in Christmas paper or to give the combination Christmas/birthday gift, the one that is most offensive to slipping by the radar is simply letting the day slip by the radar. This is much more likely after the Christmas festivities and while gearing up for the New Year’s Eve celebrations.

I have a mental snapshot of my seventh birthday. We lived in Texas where I was in first grade. I had handed out party invitations the day before Christmas break. Mind you, this was back-in-the-day, before the hiring of clowns and the renting out of venues. This was even before meeting at the local pizza place. We’d planned to play a rousing game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey, open gifts and eat cake. My mom made my favorite cake, Devil’s food with Betty Crocker fluffy white frosting and sprinkles on top. I distinctly remember sitting on the sofa looking at the coffee table where my pretty cake and one small gift from my parents were laid. We waited … and waited. Not a single guest arrived – at all.

Flash forward to my sweet 16. A couple of my good friends planned a surprise birthday party for me at the local pizza place. I don’t know how many were invited, but I know four showed up, and one was my cousin – he may have been forced. Or it could have been that he knew other girls would be there. I dunno.

Point is – be kind to December babies and make them feel special. Use birthday paper. Give separate gifts. And for God’s sake, don’t freaking forget them. They may turn out as warped and broken as I (not a bad thing; I’m pretty cool).

Things I’m proud of

Here on the downhill side of the century mark, I’m reflecting. I’ve been a good girl. I learned in my youngest days that spanking hurt my legs and my feelings, so I endeavored to stay out of trouble. My cousins called that being a good-goody; I called it not being much of a risk-taker. I liked pleasing the grownups more than displeasing the grownups.

I met this cute guy with a sexy voice in ninth grade. We dated. We broke up. We dated again. Five years later we got married. Thirty years later he told me happy birthday when my alarm that I thought I turned off last night went off at 5:30 this morning. A lot’s happened in between, but even when we are being incompatible, we are compatible. I love him a lot.

He and I have successfully raised three sons. Each has worthy goals he is pursuing, and I love watching them as they consider, research, try things out, reflect, re-consider, fail sometimes, dust off, re-configure, try again. I appreciate that they are not crushed when something does not work out as planned but that it simply means there is another way. They have good relationships with people and understand the value of that. Yes, I am proud of my children.

The decisions we make in life have a way of working out one way or another. When I graduated from high school I made the decision not to go to college. That decision was made out of fear and ignorance. When I was 38, I got brave. My husband had gone back to school for a second degree, and it was my turn. In six years I got my four-year degree. I worked hard and I loved almost everything about it. I fell in love with learning – and with journalism. And with the idea of teaching.

After No. 3 son had some medical issues that claimed the better part of a year (another post some time), I snagged a teaching/advising job. I’ve done some good work there, and I’ve become close to many of my students. Several have told me that I made a difference to them. I am proud of them, and I am proud that I was able to do something so important for them.

Things I wish I’d done better

From this chronological vantage point, it’s easy to see what so many have said: take care of your body. While I am by no means in bad health, it has been interesting to observe systems begin to wear out. My vision, for instance, has slowly gotten worse since around 40. I had good vision all my life. But these days I wear my reading glasses or eat blurry food. Maybe there is nothing I could really have done about vision, but I coulda, woulda, shoulda exercised more. I have no strength in my arms, my hands (I’d starve if I had to open my own jars). I have hide-and-seek arthritis. I’ll have an elbow bother me for weeks only to have that discomfort gradually dissipate as it’s replaced by a throbbing thumb joint that lasts for a little while. I should have been more active. Maybe I’ll work on that.

I should have eaten better. In this area, I’m not too bad off, and small changes would make a big difference. I’ve never been one to drink sodas, so I don’t have that war to wage. But sugar, specifically chocolate, I’ve treated as a reward. It’s a psychological addiction. Doesn’t help that I’ve been told there is a genetic candy-cake-cookie-pie-ice-cream problem in the family. Always slender when I was young, I didn’t notice the 2-3 pounds I’ve been putting on each year until the last few years. I really need to work on that.

I wish I had managed finances better so that they didn’t manage me so much. Aren’t I supposed to be financially comfortable by now? At this age, my grandparents were bailing the rest of us out of trouble. Oh, wait. Maybe that’s part of the problem.

My biggest demon is procrastination, and instead of becoming more mature in my wisdom-filled years and dealing better with it, it’s getting worse. I make it work for me by putting less important things ahead of more important things. You know, like blog posts ahead of grading and balancing the checkbook. Yeah. Gotta get a handle on that.

The bucket list

Last year for Christmas, my yearbook secret pal, also my editor, gifted me with the Jack Nicholson/Morgan Freeman movie, The Bucket List. After that, EVERYONE was making a bucket list. Yeah, me too.

1. Read the three books Frankenstein’s monster read as he hid and watched the DeLacys. I remembered Paradise Lost (and own it), but had to look up the other two: Plutarch’s Lives and The Sorrows of Werter. They were quite an education for him.

2. Publish some writing beyond blogs and newspaper. Something for advisers? A literary analysis in an English journal?

3. Write a novel.

4. Publish a novel. (These are separate endeavors)

5. Travel somewhere in Europe. Would love to see some castles in Scotland.

6. Travel in the U.S. There are places I don’t even know of that I want to see.

7. Get a JEA certification

8. Get a master’s degree

9. Develop a sudden desire to become clutter free and throw everything away.

All right, time to get on with my day. It’s my birthday and all, a day I usually set aside to read a book or do whatever I want, but that’s exactly what I’ve been doing the last four days. See procrastination, above. Today, I must make up for lost time. I have some chores to do as penance for my bad judgment. My reward will be pride in accomplishment. Happy birthday to me!