Too. Much. Stuff.

I have a vacation coming up on Friday.

Yes, a vacation.

A bonafide vacation.

Like the kind where you go to the beach, and stick your feet in the sand, and lie back, kick up your feet, read a good book and just REST.

I have never, EVER been on a bonafide vacation before.

I used to dream about them as a little kid when my mom would sing the “V-A-C-A-TION” song to us at the end of every school year. I always wondered what one of those would be like. I mean, sure, we took road trips as a family… went to fairs and explored big cities and visited museums and went to see family… but it was never a “Rest and Relaxation” kind of vacation. Even my honeymoon. We went to Chicago (I know… Chicago?!) and walked ten miles every day and didn’t have time to rest and relax because we had to see everything in a span of four days.

So, this vacation? This is a big deal.

But I digress. This post isn’t even about the vacation. It’s about the prep work leading up to the vacation… which leads to other work… which leads to ridiculous frustrations… which leads to ridiculous blog posts. (Stay with me, peeps. This all makes sense in my head.)

So, yesterday, in preparation for this vacation… I did some laundry, cleaned out the fridge, cleaned out the litter box, and then took a gander around my apartment and decided to clean. (You know, because one’s home cannot be too clean before embarking on a vacation. I mean, what would the cat sitter think if they were to see your home in utter disarray?!)

absurd

I know, Nick. I know. I deal in absurdities.

SO, anyhoodles… I’m all… cleaning... and I come across a stack (yes, a stack) of … gifts… given to me by well-meaning parents and students. Gifts that have been piling up since Christmas of LAST YEAR. Gifts that have been piling up since Christmas OF LAST YEAR (thus the need for the stack) because… I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT TO DO WITH THEM.

It seems wrong to just… toss them… they are gifts after all… but they are gifts that I will literally NEVER-EVER use.

EV-ER.

The apple cinnamon mini candle? Tell me you didn’t just regift that because you panicked at the last minute realizing you didn’t have a gift for the teacher.

The teeny-tiny apple picture frame? Whose picture am I supposed to put in there? Your child’s? I didn’t even like your child that much.

The mini book of inspirational teaching quotes? Do you honestly think I’m going to put that in my purse and pull it out when I need some wise words of encouragement? Um… Honey? Ain’t NO teacher got time for that!

The Mod-Podge glitter vase with my initials in it? Really? REALLY?

The LIP GLOSS?! Is that some kind of passive aggressive insult or were you just super desperate for a last minute gift?

THE BOX OF SPICES?! (SPICES?!?!) The ENDLESS array of teaching angels. The mugs… the mugs, the mugs, the MUGS! ALL THE MUGS ALL THE TIME. The candles and the calendars and the rosaries and the note pads.

I don’t know what to do with it all!!!

too much

Me too, Kevin. Me. Too.

Now, before you get bent too out of shape… I’m really not that mean and ungrateful. ANY time a student or a parent gets me anything, I’m always super surprised and delighted. I never expect anything for simply… doing my job. So, the fact that parents and students take the time to get me something always gives me the warm fuzzies.

It’s just that… once I look at the stack at the end of the year I’m all…

pile it up

But after a couple years of doing just that…

too much 2

(You guys… I’m going to let you in on a little secret… all the stuff? I piled it into a box bound for Good Will.)

Shhhhh…. No one will ever know.

Truly… I’m not trying to be ungrateful… but I have enough of my own stuff to contend with… stuff which also needs to be gone through and shipped off. (Heck, I haven’t even gotten through all the things from my parents’ house that I need to do something with. So, forgive me if I get all discombobulated with your candles, and picture frames and itty bitty books. It’s not you. It’s me.)

From now on, the only gift anyone will ever receive from me (Unless you explicitly state, “Annie. I would like item number 09283XL48 in red from page 243 of this catalog.” – I love that I assume people still shop from catalogs…) is a gift card. Because I know what you do with all the other gifts I have ever gotten you. You toss them. Or give them away. Or regift them. Because there is such a thing as TOO. MUCH. STUFF.

 

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Just Say No.

I truly have no one to blame but myself.

No one.

I could be all, “UGH! Why are you people demanding so much of me?! Don’t you know I have a LIFE?! DON’T YOU KNOW I’M SUPPOSED TO HAVE SUMMERS OFF?!”

I could do that you know… and in my head I often have these confrontations which only end in tears.

But then I realize just how silly I’m being….

Because, I’m the one who agreed to nanny for the summer. I’m the one who offered to tutor kiddos. I’m the one who was all, “No! I can start at 8:00 and end at 4:30!” It was I who didn’t protect her one day off a week. It was I who was all, “No! I can fit in your kiddo (and your kiddo and your kiddo and your kiddo) for tutoring!”

Until my schedule is chock full of kids I’m supposed to care take and educate. DURING MY TIME OFF.

WHY AM I THE WAY THAT I AM?!

WHY CAN’T I JUST BE ALL…

shrug I don't care

I don’t care about you or your child’s educational needs. I’m off for the summer.

WHY CAN’T I BE THAT AWESOME?!

I HATE that I still fall into the trap of pleasing people. If I say no, they will figure it out. They’re not imbeciles!

There is no justification for being as ridiculous as I am. There’s just not. I am a sad and pathetic shell of a human being.

sleeping beauty

*sigh*

Well, I better be off… to start my awesome summer of work.

Yaaaaaayyyyyyyyy….

 

 

The Secret Life of Teachers

I often wonder what those closest to me would think of my life in the classroom.

Because when I’m teaching, I’m a completely different human being than I am in “real life”.

Real Life Me is intelligent and mature; thoughtful and educated; sophisticated and cultured.

Teacher Me dances around classrooms and turns every set of classroom instructions into choreographed musical extravaganzas. Teacher Me speaks in ridiculous accents and uses over-the-top dramatic reenactments to illustrate new concepts. Teacher Me laughs at fart jokes and tortures children by eating doughnuts from the lounge right in front of them. Teacher Me is absurd and immature and weird.

People in my Real Life rarely get to see the teacher side of me. In fact, 95% of them never do. And I’m secretly relieved about that. Because if the people in my life saw the Teacher Me? My family would get me professional help, my friends would unfriend me, and I would never go on another date again ever.

That’s why I hate when other adults are in my classroom. I’m never the “real” Teacher Me with other adults. (Unless that person is a classroom aide. Those aides have seen it all… and they keep coming  back… God bless them.) When other adults are in the classroom, I’m focused and serious and on top of my kids. It’s not much fun. I morph back into Real Me – the well put together, “normal”, contributing member of society… and the kids wonder if I’m feeling okay.

But that’s the cool thing about being a teacher… you get to set up your own community… your own family… where everyone gets the inside jokes and you speak the same language and you communicate with head nods, grunts and raised eyebrows. My students get to see a side of me that no one else sees – I get to be totally and completely weird with them – and that’s a pretty cool privilege. With my students, I can have a totally absurd conversation about the consequences of nose-picking and erupt into a fit of giggles with all the rest of them when someone lets out an exceptionally noisy fart right in the middle of sustained silent reading. I don’t do that in real life! No one does that in real life! But having a classroom full of kids evolves into a familial relationship – I probably spend more time with those kids than I do with anyone else in my life. If I can’t laugh with them, then it’s going to be an exceptionally long nine months.

I think it’s easy for adults to forget what we were like as kids. We’re so busy trying to get kids to be good – to excel and work hard and try their best and be good friends and make right choices – that we forget they’re just little weirdos – walking around, being weird, trying to get better about not being weird because it’s not “normal” to be weird, when the fact of the matter is… Kids are weird! Eventually they grow out of it… but during their childhood… sometimes they need to be weird! Just like I need to be weird. We all need a safe place to be weird. And if my classroom is their safe place to be weird with their weird teacher? Then I think I’ve done my job.

Blessed

Disclaimer: The following may or may not make sense. I don’t really know if one is able to connect the dots in this one… or if I just published a post that is a chaotic mess. If I did, I apologize. I’ll do better once I’m caught up on my sleep.


It’s been a long week.

One of the longest in recent memory.

Constant teacher in-service sessions with continuing education credits and technology implementations and back-to-school nights and classroom preparations…

I’ve been at school more than I’ve been home. I’m in my classroom 10 to 12 hours a day. And just when I finally feel like I’m getting my head above water, it hits me that school starts in just five short days and I still don’t have a schedule, a curriculum map or any kind of teaching plan.

I’m beyond exhausted. I’m at that point where when I do tumble into bed, my body screams for respite, while my brain whirs and clicks and spins with a never-ending to-do list. Any sleep I do manage to get is less than restful.

That’s why I was dreading back-to-school night tonight. I just didn’t have the energy, or the patience, or the where-with-all to handle it. And of course, today of all days, I was so busy rushing out the door, trying to get to work on time, that I completely forgot to spend time in prayer this morning and entrust my day to the Lord. I didn’t realize this until I already had the key in the ignition as I was about to head to work.  I can’t actually start my day without the Lord. (Well, I suppose I could, but it’s not recommended…) . So, I took the key out of the ignition, paused, and said the only thing I had the energy to say. “Lord, this is your day. Use me as you want to use me. Help me to honor and glorify you in all I say, think, and do. Be in charge of every aspect of my day. Please. I can’t do this without you.” And I was on my way.

Fast forward nine hours later and the throngs of kids were starting to arrive at school. 6th graders, 5th graders, 4th graders, 3rd graders, 2nd graders, 1st graders, kindergartners, a couple pre-K students I didn’t even know, students who had already graduated and never had me for a teacher… They were running up to me for hugs, rushing into my room, making themselves comfortable, telling me about their summers, asking me questions – seemingly oblivious to the fact that they hadn’t seen their actual classroom teachers yet, nor taken advantage of the carnival set up on the front lawn of the school. They just wanted to… talk and be seen. Even my kids for this year… the kids I had been warned about… the kids everyone talked about in hushed tones and raised eyebrows… were coming in with grins of sheer joy on their faces.

That’s when something really strange happened with one kiddo in particular. Mom was telling me about how her child had had a rough couple of years and a few days ago her kiddo had said to her, “Mom, I just want to have a teacher who likes me.”

I just want to have a teacher who likes me.

At that comment, my heart jumped in my throat, and I looked at that child, and there was the strangest moment of recognition and connection. I saw something wonderfully special in this child and as mom and I talked, I actually… started to cry. Not for me. Not because I was tired. But for the child… and for the fact that the Lord had put this child in my life so I could bless them  – and teach them – and help them grow. The Lord had put ALL these children in my life for those reasons. The Lord had given me these gifts and this job for HIS reasons.

In the past I’d found it somewhat disconcerting that children everywhere seem drawn to me – at the grocery store, at the gas station, at the beach, at church. They seem to look up to me and see me as an ally. That’s a lot of pressure and a pretty a big burden. But more than that, I’ve felt overwhelmed that the Lord would want to use me for something so important. Me. That He would give me the favor and the opportunity to care for something so precious to Him. I don’t deserve that responsibility. And I know it’s not me that they’re drawn to… it’s HIM in me that they’re drawn to… His love in me… shining through me. And that’s even MORE overwhelming.

And you want to hear the really stupid part? Last night as I was going to bed I was telling the Lord all about my concerns for this school year. A few really good friends and coworkers were gone and everything at work was just feeling… off… awkward… lonely. I was dreading this school year. But now today, there I was, blessing those kids while they blessed me immeasurably in return. I don’t know how He does that so subtly… but every now and then, a “normal day” turns out to be a hugely blessed day. And if you’re not paying attention, you’ll totally miss out.

Today was one of those days. I’m glad I didn’t miss out.

 

Confession

Ha! See what I did there? I lured ya’ll in thinking this post would be about the Sacrament of Reconciliation, when, in fact, it’s not. That’ll be a post for another time. But for right now… I have a confession to make.

Sometimes… I’m not really sure I’m supposed to be an elementary school teacher. A teacher, yes. An elementary school teacher? Well, let’s just say that I occasionally have my doubts.

Take today for instance. I was in my classroom unpacking, repacking, hanging up, taking down, rearranging, changing, and giving the place a complete overhaul in preparation for the upcoming school year. I enjoy doing it. I really do. It’s probably one of the best parts of being a teacher – figuring out what’s going to capture a kiddo’s eye and attention, deciding how best to tap into their potential just by figuring out a layout that’s conducive to learning, determining how to make the space warm, welcoming and intriguing at the same time.

So, there I was, combing through a never-ending pile of posters, when I came across a “Word of the Week” hanging chart. And I thought, “Hm… I guess I could use that for vocabulary words…” and I set it aside. Then, I came across a gigantic cross I had made a few years back to help the kiddos keep track of how they were growing in virtue as a class. And that’s when I had my “Eureka!” moment.

I looked over at my “Scripture Verse of the Week” poster and tore it down. No. This whole “delving into the scriptures” thing I’d been wanting to do was getting a complete overhaul. Our “Word of the Week” was going to come from the Word of God. I would highlight a vocabulary word from scripture every week, and tie it into a reading that they could look up and find in their Bibles and then memorize. So, not only would we be learning vocabulary words, we would be getting familiar with our Bibles, and learning how to decipher what exactly the scripture was telling us. THEN, using the gigantic cross, we would look for ways in which others were exemplifying the vocabulary word and begin to fill in the cross with those examples of virtue. So, for instance, the word we’re starting with is “Strive”. So, I copied down Matthew 6:33, (“But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.”), and opened the Bible to that page where I highlighted the passage. This will be the scripture verse they memorize. Then, during their first week of school, the kiddos will look for ways in which their classmates are “striving” for righteousness, and we’ll fill in the cross with these examples.

I got so stinking excited, I couldn’t go home until I finished this new project. I was so excited, I may have been tingling all over. I was so excited that I may have been blathering on about it to anyone who would listen to me.

And that’s when it hit me. Nothing in the realm of teaching gets me this excited unless it’s about teaching the faith. It doesn’t matter what subject we’re talking about… math, science, social studies, literature… nothing gets me as excited as the Christian faith. Put me in the middle of a staff meeting where we discuss how to implement more rigorous standards and I hit the snooze button. Put me in the middle of a staff meeting where we discuss changing our religion curriculum, or implementing active participation at Mass and I am WIDE awake and completely unable to shut up.

I’ve seen how people look at me when I start talking about teaching the faith. Usually there’s a moment of recognition and this realization of, “Wow. She’s really passionate about this…”, but it quickly fades into slight confusion and boredom because they don’t share that same passion. But other times, when you find someone as passionate about this stuff as you are, you see the moment of recognition morph into the same joyful giddiness that’s written all over your face and it turns into the BEST CONVERSATION EVER.

That’s where I get tripped up. My passion for the faith is way bigger than my passion for teaching. I actually said to my sister tonight (in jest, but maybe there was a teeny, tiny, minuscule part of me that kinda, sorta meant it…), “I really don’t care if they know their multiplication facts or can spell as long as they know how much Jesus loves them and wants a relationship with them.” And then I instantly felt guilty because no elementary school teacher should say something like that! I mean… OF COURSE I want them to learn their multiplication facts and have a decent mastery of spelling but… I just really, REALLY want them to learn about the Christian faith.

You guys… I haven’t told many people this… but before I went back to school to get my teaching license, I was this close to going back to school for a degree in theology and possibly going to seminary. But the thought of being a pastor made me laugh, (and now that I’m a Catholic, it’s just that much more funny). To be honest, I’m crazy jealous of the job that pastors and youth ministers and religious education directors and missionaries have. I mean, they get to talk about and teach about and learn about Jesus ALL DAY LONG. Does it GET any better than that?! That’s like, my dream job, peeps. And if I wasn’t up to my eye balls in so much student loan debt that I have no possible means of paying off, you can bet your sweet bippy I’d be heading back to school for a theology degree.

*sigh*

But alas, that is not in the cards… for now. Maybe when I’m ninety. For now, I’ll continue being a good steward of the faith in the classroom, and wait eagerly for those religion lessons to come around every week, and discuss with the kiddos with as much passion and zeal as is containable the aspects of the faith throughout the school day. I guess that will just be the cherry on top of an otherwise awesome job.

The Petulant Child and You

As an educator, child care-giver, and human being, I know all too well about the petulant child.

It’s not all that unusual to be yelled at.

Or screamed at.

To witness objects being hurled across the room…

At your head.

To try to break up shoving matches and choke-holds.

To attempt a “voice of reason” in the midst of tantrums.

To have doors slammed in your face.

To be the recipient of rude, snarky comments.

To be argued with until you simply stop talking out of sheer exhaustion.

To walk on eggshells all day long so as to not “poke the bear”.

I’ve seen moms, dads, grandparents, siblings, teachers, pastors, and tutors freeze in fear at the appearance of a petulant child because it’s a very delicate dance to correct a child while de-escalating a situation. You come on too strong and they explode. You don’t come on strong enough and they walk all over you. It’s basically like dealing with a ticking time bomb.

batman

In children’s defense… kids DO have a lot to deal with these days, and sometimes their minds and bodies just aren’t equipped yet to handle it. Lack of sleep, hunger, busy schedules,uncertainty, overwhelming expectations… sometimes the kiddos simply don’t know how to handle everything going on within them and in the world around them and they just explode. It happens. It’s not always excusable, but it happens.

I was having one particularly challenging week this past year that I simply didn’t know how to deal with. Children were exploding all around me. One was hungry, another was overly tired, this one’s cat had just died, that one’s parents were fighting… you name it, and they were dealing with it and so…

hedgehog

Clearly, I am the hedgehog in this scenario…

That evening, I sat down and just cried. I didn’t even want to pray about it. I was too exhausted and fed up and SAD that I was failing in every possible way with these children. But because we need to pray the most when we feel like praying the least, I figured I could at least share all this with the Lord.

So, I made the sign of the cross, sat there in silence for a moment, and launched in with a wail of, “Lord… you can’t make me go back tomorrow!” And then I exploded.

I may not have thrown anything or put anyone in a choke-hold, but there was a great wailing and gnashing of teeth, and maybe some questions and accusations being hurled about…

What do you want from me?!

Why won’t you help me?!

Why do the children hate me?!

I don’t know what else to do!

HEEEEELLLLLLPPPPPP MEEEEEEEEE!!!!!

So much so, that by the next morning I woke up with a swollen face and such a sense of shame and embarrassment about the explosion that I quickly confessed it and asked forgiveness. (I know God is a “big boy” and He can certainly handle our explosions, but still… Get it together, woman.)

And so, I got up, washed my face, and immediately started praying for guidance, help and wisdom for the day ahead. I told the Lord that I didn’t know what else to do, so I needed Him to take over completely.  I was out of ideas. This was his ballgame.

As I was driving to work, coming over the crest of a hill, the Lord spoke to me. In so many words, He suggested that I was overly tired and in dire need of some quality rest.

That’s when I burst out laughing.

Sleep? SLEEP?! OVERLY TIRED?!

YES! Yes, I was suffering from lack of sleep and sheer exhaustion! Yes, that was partially why I had exploded the night before! And how many times had the children in my care exploded for the exact same reason?!

I could complain and wail and be all, “Woe is me” to the Lord all I wanted… but in that scenario? I was the petulant child! The overly-tired, demanding, whiny, bratty child who couldn’t keep it together anymore and instead exploded in a safe place where I would be forgiven and loved and consoled. And if the Lord could be patient, long-suffering, and kind to me in the face of my explosion, then with His help, I could and should extend the same grace to the children in my care. Because, with God, we’re all petulant children sometimes. But He doesn’t give up on us. He doesn’t throw up His hands in exasperation and walk away saying, “That’s it. I’m done.” No, He continues to love us and guide us and direct us and correct us… explosion after explosion after explosion.

And ever since then, God has given me more grace and more patience with the kiddos in my care than I ever thought possible. Because now I can see myself in them. We are all the petulant child sometimes.