Posted in differences, mental health, mindset

Two old women

During the summer of 2019, I got to visit my great-aunt, the twin sister of my late grandmother, my biggest fan as I grew into being a musician.

Whenever I go back east, I make sure to visit Aunt Ellen. I learned on my last visit that she’s in an assisted living facility now—against her will—and lives about an hour away from where she used to live.

When we were young, Mom-mom was my grandmom and Aunt Ellen was The Other Mom-mom. When they reached a certain age, they had different updos and dyed their hair different shades of their former color, but otherwise, they looked the same.

My last visit to her house, I stopped by unannounced. I let myself into the back yard—she never used the front door, probably because the garage was at the far end of the back yard. She didn’t drive—neither did her twin—but her late husband did, and after years of going in and out the back, why change?

It was autumn. The weather was still pleasant, and the screen door allowed fresh air into the house.

I knocked on the door. No answer. I looked through the screen and could barely see the old familiar dining room, with the living room beyond. The same furniture had been in the same places for as long as I could remember.

I knocked again, hoping that my pop-in wasn’t going to give me the honor of finding she had passed. We were just past her 90th birthday.

Still no answer.

The yard wrapped around the far side of the house. A few large walnut trees stood in that space, as well as the totem pole her husband had carved at least a decade earlier. 

Rustling came from around that corner, so I went to investigate. Aunt Ellen was decidedly not deceased. She was raking up the walnuts and leaves that coated the ground; she had three garbage bags done.

We went in the house immediately and she fixed tea and cookies. We visited for hours, eventually taking the visit to one of her favorite restaurants for dinner.

She has fairly advanced macular degeneration and can’t see very well as a result. As is often the case with people in their 90s, she has some hearing loss and wears hearing aids.

While we talked, she said that everything was fine until she turned 90. Now, not so much.

On our most recent visit, Aunt Ellen was 92 or 93 and generally unhappy. The dissatisfaction she found in turning 90 hadn’t reversed—not that I expected it would—and being forced to move out of the house she had lived in for 70 years didn’t make life better.

She lamented her sensory shortcomings and life’s insistence that she remain a part of it. 

For Christmas, my ex-mother-in-law had dinner with us (along with The Tall Daddy, The Climbing Daddy, and The Kid). Grammy is 93.

She has some hearing loss but not as much as Aunt Ellen and doesn’t wear hearing aids. Although we were sitting at a distance, when we didn’t have masks on for the meal, she seemed to be able to hear everyone without issue. Masks made it more difficult. Masks make it more difficult for everyone.

She has her vision. She plays cards and Rummikub, reads books and writes letters.

When we visited Aunt Ellen, The Kid tried to show her a LEGO thing he had with him. She was happy to talk with him about it but didn’t really follow the conversation and couldn’t see the pieces very well.

After dinner with Grammy, The Kid brought out his new LEGO lunar lander and, masked up, gave Grammy a detailed tour. She followed, engaged in the conversation, and told him at the end that she had learned a lot from him.

Both were delighted to have this moment with The Kid.

It was striking to me, as I watched him interact with Grammy, how different it was than it had been interacting with Aunt Ellen. 

So many factors play into people’s dispositions as they age, but I wonder, in her position, how Aunt Ellen could be happier. She can’t see or hear very well and is displaced. Displaced I can see how to manage, but not without critical senses.

I’ve often thought about what life would be like if I lost my hearing. My right ear went deaf in a matter of hours, and I’m acutely aware that at any moment, the other could go and that would be that.

But I could still see. I could read and write and take pictures and watch my boy and see my husband and friends.

What would I do if I couldn’t see?

So much has happened in my life, and I’ve come through all of it. Losing my vision? I don’t know how well I would come through that. Compounded by losing hearing. Especially if I was 93 and displaced.

Posted in about me, differences, ebb & flow, food, mindset, storytelling

Thanksgiving 2020

Climbing Daddy and I have a tradition of going to a National Park or Monument or something similar for Thanksgiving; Tall Daddy and The Kid go to his family’s Thanksgiving.

We decided we wouldn’t go this year. The parks have never been crowded on Thanksgiving Day, but we’d have to stay somewhere. Camping is always an option, but it’s too cold to camp anywhere driving distance from here (at least, driving distance for a 2- or 3-day trip). Maybe or maybe not for Climbing Daddy; definitely for me.

Also, because the world is out of whack, maybe the parks were more crowded than usual this year. That would be sad irony.

The tradition of going to a park—and hunting for somewhere in these sparsely populated areas to eat Thanksgiving dinner—has done an excellent job of breaking the painful connections of holidays with my family.

As such, I didn’t feel obligated to even celebrate the holiday at all. No inner tension or conflict. Felt great!

But it’s not all about me (what?!), and Tall Daddy was joining us, so we made a menu.

The Kid and I made spaghetti from scratch. We made the dough as a joint effort, and aside from the one or two pieces I demonstrated on, The Kid rolled and cut all of the spaghetti himself! He was proud of his work.

Also in the morning, we made the apple pie from PostSecret. It was easy to make and tasted delicious. I decided to buy a pie crust instead of making one, in light of all the other things we were making from scratch, and that was a good choice.

The Kid went to Tall Daddy’s to spend a few hours in the afternoon (where he chopped veggies for salad) and I made two-hour crockpot bread and sauce for the spaghetti.

Climbing Daddy made some caprese on toothpicks with basil from the garden (tomatoes aren’t ready yet; hoping they ripen before it frosts). He realized The Kid wouldn’t have anything while we ate caprese (The Kid doesn’t like them—whose kid is this?!) and made toothpick snacks from apple, orange, and kiwi instead.

The meal was ample and delicious, and it kept with the tradition of spending a lot of time preparing food for one meal. That wasn’t a goal, but we did create this menu because it’s too time-intensive to have on a typical day.

I joke that I went back to my roots for Thanksgiving this year (my dad’s mom’s side of the family is all Italian), but we always had American Thanksgiving growing up, no matter which grandparents we shared the meal with. I’ve heard stories about Italian Thanksgiving prepared by the generation before, but that baton had been passed on by the time I was around.

We ate all of the salad and caprese, but we have enough of everything else left over for another meal, maybe two.

After dinner, we Zoomed with some friends and played Code Names online. (That link takes you to the game, but there aren’t directions if you don’t already know how to play the game.)

Also in the morning, in the midst of food prep, The Kid and I ran a “turkey trot.” The intention was 5k, but he hasn’t been running much and it wasn’t worth it. We ran just over two miles, and that was plenty.

Thanksgiving this year was not at all what we expected it would be, based on recent years, but we pivoted and had a great day.

How did your day turn out?

Posted in differences, education, mindset, motivation, parenting, thoughtfulness, vulnerability

Take the opportunity: band teacher edition

What a fantastic opportunity we have been forced into!

I know that could be interpreted sarcastically; I mean it completely sincerely.

I am a teacher. Sometimes, I am a phenomenal teacher. Sometimes, I am a mediocre teacher.

We all know teachers who have been teaching for a long time, teaching the same thing, plugging along more or less on auto pilot. (As much as auto pilot works in this gig.)

Not now!

We all know teachers who have completely resisted learning/using technologies.

Not now!

We all get in routines, have our way of doing things, etc., even if we’re consistently learning and growing.

Now? Now we have the opportunity to re-think ALL OF IT.

I teach band. I’m in band teacher groups on Facebook where I get and share resources and ideas regularly.

Man. There are a lot of people trying to figure out how to do what they’ve always done, just through an internet connection or a face mask.

Missing the opportunity.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s hard. It’s exhausting. It’s time-consuming. And we’re all at square one again. Everyone I’ve talked to feels like a first year teacher.

Being a first year teacher is rough. Really rough.

(I can’t imagine being a first year teacher this year…)

If you’ve been banging your head against the wall trying to make this year like every other year through Zoom and face masks and life-draining expectations, I’m here to tell you—it’s not too late to change the course. Rethink everything. Do something differently. Do everything differently. What do you have to lose?

“But then my kids will be behind!” Behind what? Your expectations for where they “should” be? Your fear of someone else’s judgement of where they “should” be? And by extension, judgement of your competence as a teacher?

There is a global pandemic. Let the expectations go.

Right now, nearly everything is hard for nearly everyone. Stressing yourself out trying to make kids—who have their own laundry list of stresses to deal with—jump through hoops to try to pretend that everything is normal is … well … stressful.

Also, kids have so much less autonomy in choosing how to deal with everything that’s going on, or even knowing what healthy coping mechanisms are available. Do we want to be someone helping or someone hurting? I’m not convinced anyone is neutral now, or ever.

“Band is some kids’ safe place!” Yes it is! It was mine. Does that mean it needs to be as close to what they did last year as possible? You are their safe place. The group is their safe place. Keep the space sacred, but the activities? They can be shaken up.

Take a deep breath, let some of the weight go, and see what you come up with.

Posted in connections, differences, mental health, mindset, podcasts, socializing

Introverts need people, too

Solidarity incited among introverts via memes in the theme of staying home versus socializing.

They’ve always rubbed me the wrong way because they didn’t fit me. I’m definitely an introvert. And I definitely enjoy socializing. (In certain contexts.) And, as I wrote about recently, a good girlfriend date is definitely energizing.

My depression is always triggered by some sort of emotional disconnect, whether a breakup or just (“just”) feeling socially isolated. I’ve spent a lot of time and energy looking for the roots of this, but I think the most oversimplified premise is simple: people are social animals.

That runs contrary to the introvert memes.

Perhaps ironically, I was out in the local mountains alone, listening to podcasts, taking pictures, enjoying the perfect weather. It was wonderful and recharging. The first podcast I listened to?

The Happiness Lab, Season 1, Episode 4: Mistakenly Seeking Solitude. Their thesis was everyone is happier interacting than not interacting (as a generalization, but regardless of introversion/extraversion), and automation is causing emotional issues. They talked about the invention of ATMs, bar cars and quiet cars on public trains, and the Museum of Ice Cream. (How did I not know that was a thing?!)

(I was recently tipped off to The Happiness Lab, and I’ve loved every episode I’ve listened to so far. They’re only a season and change in, so I started at the beginning.)

As I continued wandering through the mountains, I thought about blogging about the episode, made a note in my phone, and carried on.

A day or two later, I was listening to Work Life, another one new to my rotation that I’m loving. Adam Grant, the host, was talking about the use (and misuse) of personality tests in the workplace, when he interviewed Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. (Excellent book, if you’ve not read it.)

Adam: Most people think about introversion extraversion as where you get your energy. Like, extraverts from people; introverts get it from being alone. But when Susan studied the science, she learned that wasn’t quite right.

Susan: Everybody, whether you’re an introvert or an extravert, draws energy from other people. And I think that we don’t make enough distinction between how many people and in what kind of a setting. [emphasis mine] There ends up being an idea that introverts are anti-social and I always say, it’s not that, it’s just differently social.

(The conversation with Adam and his wife that follows the above dialogue is very funny.)

Susan goes on to talk about the recovery time introverts need after a party or other over-stimulating event. It doesn’t mean we don’t get energy from people. That’s just … too many people. Past the point of diminishing returns.

This all lines up exactly with what I’ve been thinking for a long time. I felt a little more at peace with myself after hearing people who’ve actually done research said what I’ve been thinking and feeling all along.

How does any of this resonate with you? My curiosity about your opinion is piqued a bit more if you listen to one or both of those podcasts.

Posted in differences, education, know better do better, mental health, parenting

The Kid’s advantages

Three things that came together recently:

1- The Kid had a sleepover the other night. Big fun!

They played with LEGO, jumped on the trampoline, drank hot chocolate, read about sharks, played in the yard, and might have even slept in there somewhere.

At breakfast, I was making pancakes, and they had made up and were singing to each other a song asking how many pancakes they could eat.

This led to a conversation (between them) about really big numbers. Sextillion. Googol. Googolplex.

They’re in second grade.

2- While going through Facebook memories, I found one from several years ago where I was showing gratitude for having the education and the means to know how important preschool is and to send him to a good one. (No rigor or that bullshit. But that’s for another day.)

3- I read a piece that another mom wrote, talking about how her 8-year-old daughter often asked to bake or cook, and the answer was often no, because it was going to make a mess or it wasn’t safe or any one of the myriad of reasons tired parents say no.

And then the mom went to see what the girl was doing instead, and she was watching an episode of Chopped, Jr.—same idea as the regular version, but with kids. Apparently some of them quite young.

The mom had an epiphany that the girl can’t do those things because she, the mom, had been saying no and not giving her the opportunity. She changed that and while the kitchen was often messy, her young daughter learned to cook really well in a fairly short time.

How does that all come together?

The Kid has such an advantage over so many other kids. Because his parents aren’t stressed about basic necessities. Because he’s been read to his whole life. Because when he asks questions—regardless the topic—he gets answers. Because we’ve been able to say yes to most of the things he’s been interested in. Because we have enough self-awareness to let him pursue his interests instead of pushing him to pursue our interests (whether current or from our youth).

And you know what? I want that playing field to be more level. Not just among disadvantaged groups, necessarily. But I want kids—all the damn kids—to be given the opportunity to learn and imagine and become, not just because they go to school and get what they get at school. I want home to be a place of nurturing, of growth, of learning, of exploring, of safety. So kids can feel confident and stable and loved. Which will allow them to be kinder to others. Which would lead to a whole ton of adults who were emotionally secure and aware of their strengths and weaknesses.

Nothing but good can come of that.