Thursday, August 6, 2020

A Gift

About a week ago, I stopped by my friend Frances's house for a short visit. She had just returned from Houston where she spent five months fighting a disease that had invaded her body a second time. Her family thought it would be great for friends to stop by and say hello. It would cheer her up. I knew that Frances had lost weight and was slow to respond when she was awake, but I never expected to see my mother in Frances when I arrived. 

My mother passed away from the disease that was trying to take Frances. There were so many similiarities between the two of them. When I walked into the room where Frances lay, propped up at an angle by the support of the bed she was on, I was brought back to June of 1998. I was looking at Frances but seeing my mother. 

Frances's breath was steady and slow. I talked to her as her "sister from another mother" stroked her hand. I told her about school, how my district hadn't made a decision about what it would look like in the fall, and how I was patiently waiting. 

Twenty-two years ago, I had a similar conversation with my mother as she lay in almost the same position, unable to open her eyes, but able to hear my words. I was just finishing up my first year of teaching. She had grown fond of the students in my classroom and got to know them through the stories I told her. 

During that first year, I had a second grader named Kamiah. She was tall, kind, and hardworking. She was curious and always proud. I remember her infectious smile and detail to everything in her handwriting, daily work, and art. 

My mother took her final breath during the last week of school of my first year of teaching. I never completed the year but somehow everything got done. 

Recently, Kamiah crossed my path as Frances fought to survive. And I can't help but think my mother had something to do with it. 

Because of the pandemic, Kamiah was laid off from her job in April. Looking for something to fill her new found free time, she started painting. Kamiah has a natural gift. It is evident in her work. She recently started a daily challenge to practice and improve her skills. I knew the moment I saw the painting of Day 1, I had to have it. I reached out to her about purchasing this painting and received it a few days before I went to visit Francis.  

Day 1

This painting means so much more to me than I could have ever imagined.  Everytime I look at it, I see a young Frances. Forever loving life and touching those who were lucky enough to have crossed her path. 

My dear friend Frances lost her battle this morning with her family by her side. Rest in peace my sweet friend. You will be missed. 


To view Kamiah's art, please visit:
meahs_art on instagram 
Meah's Art on facebook

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Taking It With Me

It sits high at the corner of MLK and Malcolm X. I see it every single day when I drive to work right before I turn right to head onto the freeway. It's a white billboard with a large black circle in the middle of it. Inside that circle are white letters that remind me of my one little word (OLW) that I chose for 2019. Actually, it isn't really a word but a phrase: You got this. All year long that billboard remained there exactly the same. And every day as I drove past, I silently said those words.

There were days that life got overwhelming between the pressure that I put on myself at work to driving my kids to their activities to working a second job at night to this and that and the other. But the funny thing is that each time I started feeling that way, I envisioned the billboard and repeated those words because one day life will slow down and the kids will be gone and You've got this will have a different meaning.

As 2019 was coming to a close, I started to think about my OLW for 2020. A few days ago I had been reading an article in Magnolia by Joanna Gaines. She was reflecting on her year and how she likes to be busy all the time but realized that life moves fast. And in this article she talked about a phrase that she is going to work on for the new year. As soon as I read it, I knew that this was going to be my OLW (or phrase) for 2020: Look up.

So going into 2020, I am going to look up more. I am going to revel in my kids and the age they are now. I am going to slow down and live each day. Worry less. Know that things will get done when they get done because I am a doer. Take in the moments. And just live.

I am also going to be taking my OLW from 2019 with me into 2020 as well. I didn't anticipate this happening until about 12:30 in the morning, when not one, but both of my girls decided to ring in the new year with the stomach flu. As I woke every hour after hearing momma, helping them walk to the bathroom to finish emptying the contents of their bellies, pulling hair back, washing bowls, disinfecting over and over, I did take a moment to look up. At that moment, I was appreciative. Appreciative that I was on break so I could take care of them. Appreciative that despite of everything, they will get through this. And appreciative of the moments of silence when they are both resting so I have enough time to write this post.

Because sooner rather than later, You got this is going to run through my mind until this stomach bug is out of my house!

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Forever and a Day

I am in this club. But not by choice. It's a club that no woman ever thinks she will be in but many find themselves there. Some when they are very young. Still girls. Others later in life. Regardless of the age you join, there is one thing for certain: every member knows how you are feeling.

If you aren't a member, you just don't know. You just don't know how it feels until it happens to you. And my only wish, readers, is that you don't have to join for a long, long time. The club I am talking about is the motherless.

It was twenty-one years ago, this evening, that my mother took her last breath. She was in the comfort of her own bed ready to go home to her own mother, father, and older sister. They had long passed but on this night they were there. She saw them and was ready.

No matter how many times I replay that night in my head and how sad I get about it, I always feel a sense of comfort. She left the world with the same people who brought her into it. 

My mother was an amazing woman. She raised three strong-willed, independent girls while working full time at whichever job suited her: teacher, social worker, lawyer, business owner. She created memories for my sisters and me while teaching us the value of hard work and volunteering. I spent my high school years building homes for Habitat for Humanity and serving meals to those less fortunate. After my mother had died, I learned about all the things she did for my friends. I never knew about this and probably never would have, but my high school friends reached out to me with sympathy letting me know how much they appreciated her kindness.  

I often think about how much good my mother had done in the world during her short 54 years. She was a shining example of what it meant to pay it forward. In all her months of being sick I never once heard, why me? Our conversations were always about others. Like many mothers, she put everyone else first.

Every few years, in her memory, I feel an urge to do something for others. I am a firm believer in paying it forward and try to do it as much as I can. This year, I am going to pay it forward for the entire year (June 2019-June 2020). Each month, I will send a $50 check to a teacher to use for their classroom. You might need Kleenex or pencils or papers or markers or a new game. You might go to garage sales to try to stretch it. Maybe there is something you think your students might like but would never spend your own money on because you are busy spending the money on things that your students need to be successful. Whatever it may be, I trust that you will use that money in your classroom and the things you buy will benefit your students. I trust you, because that is what my mother would have done.

My mother at 26. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

That Magical Place

Dear 2019 Camp Arbutus Hayo-Went-Ha Staff,

I grew up going to various day and sleep away camps. It was one of the only places during my youth that I felt I belonged. When I went away to college, I found myself working at Camp Arbutus Hayo-Went-Ha during the summers because I loved being outdoors, and I loved the impact that I had on the campers. I even worked at camp after my first year of teaching but couldn't go back the following summer because I was too exhausted when I started the school year. It wasn't fair to my new class of students.

I missed being at camp so much that I started bringing my students up there. For 19 years, I gained the trust of the parents in my classroom to allow me to take their children three plus hours away for three to five days. And here is what happened. The kids in my classroom that struggled were shining stars at camp. Those days at camp were exhausting but my students got to experience something they probably would never be able to: the magic of camp.

There is something about camp that only camp friends can understand. There is a closeness and bond that is unbreakable, and it doesn't matter if you are there for one summer or ten. You will grow in ways you never thought possible. You will become more independent, self sufficient, mothering, and creative. You will learn how to really talk and listen to kids. As much as this summer is about you growing as a person, it is also about helping your campers grow too.

Some of these girls are away at camp for the first time. Most by choice and some not. It is your job to build a sense of community and closeness in your cabin. That is most effectively done by building relationships with your campers. You will have campers that you gel with right away and others that might drive you a little nuts. You need to look past that and find something that bonds you two together. These girls have one chance at childhood and you are a big part in it. EVERYTHING about camp will leave a lasting impression on them. Make it good. Make it positive.

My daughter, Kate's first year at girls camp was during the summer of 2018. She was familiar with the grounds and cabins because we had attended a few mother-daughter weekends together over the years. She went to camp knowing no one and left with tradition and memories that she has spent the last school year talking about. She has an entire shelf of just "camp clothes," has started making lists of things she needs to remember to bring, and is anxiously waiting to meet up with her friends from last summer and the older girls that befriended her. She continues to sing songs and tell anyone who will listen about Super Saturday, the food fight, casino night, and the fourth of July.

Kate is outgoing and is a camp girl. She adapts to pretty much any situation and tends to go with the flow. She can be the messiest girl in the cabin or organize a cleaning party. She is inclusive but shy. .She is ten and is already starting to talk about the extended trip to Alaska. Here is what I know.  Kate LOVES camp because of the tradition, activities, and you, the counselors.

You will be exhausted. You are mother hen to a full cabin of girls. Take care of yourself. On your day off, rest. Take it easy. Recharge. Because although this summer is about you, it is also about them. The young girls that leave their families for two to four weeks and for some more. Camp is a magical place. And if you don't know that already, you will. Soak it all in. Learn. Grow. But most importantly, be a role model for a young girl. This is one reason why I send Kate to camp. She needs to see that women are strong, can be in leadership positions, and are capable of going through life truly happy with who they are.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

A Letter to My Mother

I have been thinking a lot about something Prince Harry said recently after the birth of his son. He said, "Missing a mother is like missing some type of security." As this Mother's Day comes to a close, those words remind me that mothers are the glue that hold a family together. And when you have lost your own mother, no matter the age, a part of you is and will always be missing. So in honor of my mother today, the 20th Mother's Day without her, I have written her a letter. It is found below.

Dear Mom,

You never knew this but six months before you passed away I went to see a lady who read my star chart from the night I was born. She had some interesting things to say, and I believe she had a bit of psychic ability. She told me that someone very close to me was sick and that she wasn't sure she was going to make it to Mother's Day. But if she did, then she would pull through the month of May and pass away sometime during the summer months.

It was the day before Mother's Day of 1998. Heather, Dad, and I were at the hospital. You didn't look well. All of your energy was drained from your face and eyes. You were saying your good-byes; I was for sure that this was it. I had prepared myself for what was to come. Waiting for a phone call that night. But one never came. The next day Heather and I went back to the hospital because Dad had stayed the night. We went to your room and you were no where to be found. All of your stuff was in its place but not you. We inquired about your whereabouts and one of the nurses said you were walking around with Dad. Heather and I searched the halls for you, eventually finding  you talking to another patient. I looked at you and knew. Knew that we had been given more time with our beautiful mother. You were in full spirits, the energetic mother I always knew. You said you woke up feeling great. We spent Mother's Day with you in the hospital. I don't remember what we did or talked about. I just remember leaving feeling grateful that I had one more day with you.

The call came late on June 5, 1998. I was at my apartment already in bed because I had to teach the next day. I was finishing up my first year of teaching down in Detroit. The school year was a week from from being done, and I was not around to see the end. There were more important things to tend to. I found comfort in knowing that your dad, mom, and sister came to get you as you took your last breath. You were always a believer in spirits and the afterlife. And this belief brought you peace as you moved on to the next chapter of your life.

Within two weeks of your funeral, I went to work at summer camp. It was there that I met John, and I know you had a hand in that. Do you remember the note you left my sisters and I? The one where you told us how you saw us in your eyes? I still have it. And I find it only fitting that you saw me as your quiet girl who loved the outdoors. You saw me for who I was and never wanted to change me. And that boy you sent me. We were married five years later.

As I get closer to the age of your passing, I find myself remembering more. I remember all the things you did for the three girls you raised. The countless hours of driving us to this practice or that game. Providing us with opportunities to pursue our interests. Trusting me as a 16 year old to use your car. Showing me how to sew and allowing me to travel to another country alone when I was 18. Putting up with my crazy ideas knowing it wasn't right for me but letting me figure that out on my own. Making me call you every night as I traveled across the country alone by u-haul.

Above all you were a mother. One who knew when to let her girls go but always worried about them. You were the glue that held us together. I only hope that I am the type of mother to my own kids that you were to us. I miss you Mom. Every. Single. Day.

Love your middle child,


Sunday, March 31, 2019

Giving Back

Today I took my daughter, Sophie, to Justice to use a gift card that she received for Christmas. This was the umpteenth time we have been to this store in the past two months. There were a few things she had been eyeing and decided today to get one of those things. 

She is really good about money. Last fall, I had given her and her sister cash to use at their will for back to school shopping. She and her sister both went through all their clothes prior to shopping, so they knew what they needed to buy. They ended up giving eight bags of clothes that didn't fit to a family that has two girls younger than mine. They felt good that their old clothes were going to a new home, and I was giving them the opportunity to buy what they needed and wanted.

For me, though, this was all about budgeting. The first thing they asked about were coupons. Once they knew what stores they wanted to go to, we searched online for some. Surprisingly, we found a few. I made sure to give them cash so they could see exactly how much money they had left. I held onto one kid's money while their dad held onto the other. We followed their itinerary. Let's just say that a trip my husband thought would be over quickly lasted many many hours. Both girls would look at how much something cost before trying it on. They both wanted to make sure they bought the things they needed before they bought what they really wanted. I heard things such as "Oh, that's a good deal." and "That's too expensive." All in all, they bought a lot for the amount of money they had. I was proud of how they realized that you really must take your time to price things out and sometimes you can't have what you want. It was a really good experience, and one I will do again.

Ever since then, both girls have been very conscious about what they spend their money on. So today, Sophie bought a watch. She went to check out and the total was $15.74.

The cashier asked her, "Do you want to round up the total to $16.00 and donate to Girls on the Run?"

I explained to Sophie what that meant and she replied, with bright eyes and a big smile, "I do Girls on the Run! Sure."

I keep replaying her reply in my head. She was so excited to give to something that she was a part of. Something that she loves. It wasn't much. But it was something. And it made her heart happy to know that she is giving a little something to an activity that she adores.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Being Inspired With: Hello there...

Yesterday, I read and commented on a post that I thoroughly enjoyed reading and thought it would be fun to try. Inspired by Elisabeth Ellington's post who was inspired by Aggie Kesler, here is my take on Hello there.

Hello there...

I am a rather quiet person. I always have been although people mistake me for bring shy, which is something I am not.

I keep a box of memories in a wood box made from a barn on my dresser. It contains my life with my husband since we began dating, shortly after the death of my mother.

I wish I could have one more day with my mother. I would tell her so many things. But most importantly the profound impact she has had on me as an adult.

I could live unplugged for the rest of my life and be happy. Life slows down dramatically for me when technology is not around.

I love my job. I have found "my place" and will be in this job until I retire.

I dance in my dreams. I don't really have much rhythm, only wished I did.

I sing a lot in the car. I am one of those people who will belt it out when I am alone.

I think that reading and writing should be taught together in upper elementary school. When students see the connection between the two, they see purpose.

I really enjoy running. There is something about it that allows me to think and clear my head.

I need to learn how to relax. I work too hard and never really take time for myself.

I should take it one day at a time instead of worrying about everything that needs to get done.

I can think of ideas quickly. It is one of the things that saved me in school because it definitely wasn't my grades.

I make my grandmother's Italian pasta and meatballs really well. It is the only thing that I can really cook.

I always am reflective. I reflect on everything I do, especially teaching.