Sunday, April 29, 2018
Over the weekend, I attended several "end of year" events and banquets at the high school. At one of them, the teacher read the words of the famous "Wear Sunscreen" essay that has become rather a cultural icon in terms of graduation speeches.
"Your choices are half chance," she read. And immediately, I thought of the best job I've ever had- the one I have right now, the one I got by chance.
Or was it? Because when I think back, there is a pretty sturdy chain of people and events that leads to me teaching Speech at Bradley. I don't think I can quite pinpoint its origin either. It's tempting to say that it all began the day I decided the best way to get over my fear of public speaking would be to try out for the speech team in high school. (Oh, how I miss the naive bravery of youth.)
But recently as I was looking through my Facebook feed, I found a post from earlier this year in which I described how my dad used to joke about my gift of gab saying that I "loved to hear the sound of my own voice" and how I had come to realize that he was only partly right because what I really loved was the sound of *anyone's* voice- so long as it was talking. So I think it started much earlier than I used to think.
The first semester I taught speech at Bradley, I decided that it would be appropriate if I ended class on the last day with a speech of my own. Each subsequent semester, I debated doing it again but then some bit of inspiration would strike me like a lightning bolt and I'd feel compelled. So I guess that by now, it's practically a tradition.
But I admit that while I spend the whole semester pushing and prodding my students not to procrastinate, I am the absolute worst at heeding my own advice. This time though, the problem wasn't coming up with *what* to say. It was figuring out how to tell them everything that has been swimming around in my head for the last week or so.
And if that isn't a perfect metaphor for what it's like to be a teacher at the end of the semester- drowning in the things you still want to impart to your students, I don't know what is.
I suspect it's the same for parents come graduation time, and part of why May is filled with so much personal angst in general. There is so much "but I still have so much to tell you/show you/ teach you" in the air.
So, back to my speech.
Last week, my sister found a box of my old things in her attic and in there was a diary I started at the age of 14 and completed when I was nearly 16, though I did add a few notes in a few years later during college. I sat down eagerly to read through it but quickly became fairly horrified with that version of myself, who seemed - at best - well, fickle. She displayed a stunning lack of judgment, some questionable character choices, and just showed a different person than I thought I had been. It's not an exaggeration to say it sent me into a bit of a, shall we say, tizzy?
Essentially, the entire journal is about boys and relationships. And one in particular that stood out and continued to haunt me through the evening, because in among all the stories of the boys who so clearly treated me so very badly was one - yes, just one- who did not. He said lovely things to me and pulled off incredibly romantic gestures (I mean, as romantic as 15-year olds can be really) and while I had kept these memories tucked safely in my heart all these years, there was one big problem; I felt I hadn't been as kind to this boy as I should have been. And despite trying a few times over the past 25 years, I'd never been able to find him.
So of course, I did what any sane person would do- I tried again. When a search on Facebook proved fruitless (I mean really, who isn't on Facebook these days?) I turned to our old friend Google and saw that in fact, this particular boy- sorry, man- had created an account on a reunion website not so long ago. And after some clumsy navigating of the site that had me embarrassed about ever making fun of old people and technology, I was able to send him an e-mail. Well, sort of, because the website made it clear that he would only be able to see it if one of us had paid for a membership and I had not done so. Still- I figured that after all this time, fate would step in if the universe deemed it to be so.
The next morning I woke and grabbed my phone to snooze the alarm and saw the Facebook notification at the top of the screen that I had a friend request from... guess who. I'll spare you the details of the parts where I doubted it was actually him, scanned his page, determined it was him and that I had not been searching for his proper first name all these years (yes, really), and then sat stumped for what to do next. I texted both my husband and my best friend like a silly teenager because really, there's no etiquette book for this stuff is there?
The sunscreen essay advises us to "do one thing that scares you every day." Hitting send on that message definitely qualified.
So to wrap up what has become an example MUCH longer than any I would ever recommend any of my speech students use, I feel blessed that I have been able to reconnect with this person because he is an important part of my story and it's one that was missing some pages. Being able to fill them in is a great gift.
And THAT brings me to my point. (I know, just when you thought it wasn't possible that I was getting to one.) When I think about why we do this- why we insist that college students take a speech class and put them through the process, we sometimes talk about how it will benefit them in their future careers. They'll be so good at giving presentations, we say. They'll be able to pitch proposals and ideas, we say. They'll be able to talk to co-workers and be social. Interpersonal skills.
But I think it's so much more than that. I think it's about telling your story. About speaking up and sharing who you are. It's arguably the most powerful thing you'll learn not just here in college, but in life. And that's a skill you're going to need your entire life because you - and your story- is going to keep changing. Right now, 15-year old you is still pretty fresh in your minds and he or she doesn't seem so bad. Trust me, that will change and if you have written a journal all I can say is, save it - but prepare yourself.
In an effort to try to ease your fears, I joke all the time that we are just giving speeches, we aren't doing surgery. No life and death actions in speech class. But recently a friend told me that high school speech changed her life, saved her life, and shaped who she is and as I started to reflect on that in my own life, I realized that maybe I should stop downplaying it so much.
It's important. Using words as tools to tell your story is important.
That's where the magic in life is. What you're experiencing right now- this place, this school, this season of life- it's magic. And there will be people who cross your path here who may disappear and then reappear 25 years later and as the line in that sunscreen essay says, "the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young."
I didn't attend school here. But the man I told you about? Nope, he didn't go to school here either. He didn't even live in Illinois. I met him through mutual friends, and they met him here. At a camp for speech team kids, that I attended here with him and many others that following summer. That story? It starts here. As does my story with many other people, including now- all of you.
Chance? Maybe not.
Go, tell your stories. They matter.
Friday, June 9, 2017
A lot of the levels I've played lately have this challenge where if you clear enough of the "jelly" of a 3x3 square, a hammer will come down and shatter what's left, thereby jostling every piece of candy on the board into a different position. Sometimes it's jolting because the next match my eye just saw is suddenly knocked out of place and not there anymore. You kind of get used to where the pieces are and then suddenly, they all get knocked around.
The game stays the same, but everything changes in that one moment.
That was exactly what came to my mind early this morning. I was just starting to get moving for the day and with nothing pressing to do on these lazy summer mornings, I often just grab my phone and take a quick look at my Facebook feed before the day starts. I was scrolling through when suddenly I saw a post in which one of my favorite teachers was tagged. My stomach dropped when I realized he hadn't written it. I thought something was wrong and immediately a voice inside my head started to silently scream, "No."
And then I read the words his son had typed - that Mr. Grodjesk had died this morning.
Boom - the hammer hit - and suddenly everything changed and I am grieving a great loss.
Mr. Grodjesk was my science teacher in junior high, for both 7th and 8th grades. I was not particularly strong in science (I mean, I went on to get a college degree in Journalism, need I say more?) but Mr. Grodjesk definitely made it fun. He was always eager to get started, always so passionate about what he was teaching us, and never really willing to let anyone be less than completely engaged. He would do experiments with dry ice that were impressive. One time, he showed us DNA. I don't think any of us really understood what he was so excited about but thinking back on it, he was showing us DNA in junior high science in the late 80's. That seems pretty impressive and the sign of a lifelong learner sharing his passion.
I remember spending extra time in Mr. Grodjesk's lab working on my science project (does the size of the environment affect the growth of a goldfish - yes, for real) and I remember working so hard to get an A and getting within a couple of tenths of a point and him rounding up on my behalf in recognition of the effort I'd put forth. (That's a lesson that several of my own students at Bradley have benefitted from.)
It isn't so much the stories or lessons in class I remember, it's more the way this teacher made me feel. I'm not even sure I can properly articulate it, he was just one of those rare and wonderful teachers who stays with you over the years and always comes to mind when someone says the words "favorite teachers."
A few years ago, he happened to come to mind one night and so I did what we all do in this day and age- I looked for him on Facebook and sure enough, there he was. We officially reconnected in December of 2014 and in February of 2015 we met one day for coffee. Do you know how amazing it is to grow up and connect with one of your role models like that? I hadn't started teaching yet but I knew I wanted to and I think we talked about that. I know we talked about our families. My dad. His wife and children.
I must have been working on a story for the paper about high school graduates. I remember being struck by some of the difficult life circumstances many of them faced and I think we talked about that. In a message on Messenger he asked me, "Are these students the ________ of our community? If all the students were in a Kaleidoscope. . . what would one see?"
I messaged him on Facebook when I was planning to talk to someone at Bradley about grad school so I could teach (a meeting that fell through) and then again after I (somewhat ironically here) had started teaching at Bradley a few months later. He himself had taught at the college level (after teaching junior high) and he offered to help me navigate the world of academia.
He messaged me while visiting his sister in Carmel Valley because they were watching KSBW and he knew we had worked there. He messaged again around my Spain trip last year, to mention a 101-year old cousin he had there and I promise, had the trip been mine to plan and execute, I would have gone to meet her.
In September of 2016, he wrote that he had been "sidelined, temporarily" with brain lesions and that had slowed down his work as a paramedic. He offered to connect that week to talk about me going to graduate school but I was busy with Marigold Festival work that week. He asked for my e-mail address so he could send me some things, and that is where our chats ended.
In reading the thread on Messenger, there are times the messages seem disjointed. He would see something I had posted and then take a moment to send me a personal note - just a quick thought or words of encouragement. The writings back and forth read like something between two good friends who could pick up and put down the conversation on a whim. How blessed was I.
Mr. G came back into my life as a father figure at a time I really needed one and that, I'm sure, was no accident.
I've always felt that the true gift of a teacher often goes unnoticed. Often by the teacher themselves, sometimes by the students. Because the true gift is the impact teachers can have on their students' lives, the ways they can empower and embolden and enrich without even knowing it has happened.
The way they can linger in the shadows of a person's life story forever.
It is both beautiful and tragic to me to see the many posts of fellow students who share sorrow in the news that we received today. We are all from another time, another chapter in Mr. Grodjesk's life.
How lucky are we that Mr. G was part of our story. I am forever changed because of it, and I am forever changed by his loss.
Thank you, Mr. G.
Friday, April 28, 2017
Friday, November 11, 2016
I hear, "I am not listening to your concerns."
When you say, "Please can we just go back to posting pictures of what we're eating and cats?"
I hear, "I have accepted and moved on and so I need you to do the same, whether you are ready or not."
When you say, "It's time to move on past this."
I hear, "I do not respect or understand that you need more time to grieve and process."
When you say, "Stop posting all these hateful things."
I hear, "I have seen some truly hateful things being posted. And they are keeping me from hearing the message you are trying to send because I have lost faith in my ability to discern truth from fiction or reason from hyperbole."
When you say, "He won the election because a majority voted for him."
I hear, "I don't actually understand how our election process works."
When you say, "The protests should stop because they look like whining crybabies."
I hear, "I do not understand that people are truly hurting and very afraid."
(or maybe if we're being really honest it's "I am afraid I have contributed to these peoples' hurt and anger.")
When you say, "Protests have never happened before after an election."
I hear, "I do not know how to use Google to fact-check before I make an absolute statement."
When you say, "Keep it off Facebook."
I hear, "I need a break from reading things I do not agree with."
Also: "I do not know the difference between "unfollowing" and "unfriending" someone on Facebook.
Sunday, June 29, 2014
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Maybe you're still here
I feel you all around me
Your memory, so clear
Beyond the distant star
I wish upon tonight
To see you smile
If only for awhile to know you're there
A breath away not far
To where you are
Here inside my dream
And isn't faith believing
All power can't be seen
As my heart holds you
Just one beat away
I cherish all you gave me everyday
'Cause you are my
Watching me from up above
Thursday, April 28, 2011
7:20am - Hey! What was that? Sounded like my big brother Aidan slamming the toilet lid! Thank goodness he did that or I might have slept in today and since everyone else is already up and leaving for wherever it is they go all day, I KNOW mommy wants me to get up too! Some days I don’t get up until after everyone else has already left and mommy always looks so lonely. I’d better start yelling so she knows to come and get me!
8:30am - Better start asking for some breakfast. Nursing was great but it’s time to sink my teeth into some toast too!
9:30am - Mommy is dozing on the couch. I don’t know why Sesame Street puts her to sleep, it’s one of the few shows I find really fascinating! Oh well, I will sit here in my little chair and watch... but just for a little bit.
10:00am - Got my exercise done for the day. I crawled all over mommy on the couch for about 20 minutes... phew, what a workout!
10:30am - I see mommy’s heading to the bathroom. I’d better go with her and be sure to shut the door behind us! I don’t want her to be lonely in there. But while I’m there, I’ll try reorganizing the garbage can to keep me busy.
11:00am - Mommy opened the refrigerator to make lunch. Oh boy the things I can get into in there! I found a bottle of strawberry syrup and drank some. Mommy just laughed and took my picture. Kind of feeling a little sugar rush now...
11:15am - Turns out, I like egg salad too! Who knew? I ate 2 little egg salad sandwiches... got to keep my energy up!
1:00pm - Mommy thought it was probably time for me to take a nap, and really I’m too tired to arrrggguuuee...zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
3:45pm - I’m up! Looks like the “guys” are all back home from wherever it is they go every day too, and we’re off to Wal-Mart. Mommy says Elisabeth needs a birthday gift for a friend and we need a few things for dinner and some new socks for the boys. Boy, we sure spend a lot of time in this store! I’ve learned that mommy moves faster when I start standing up in my seat in the cart. And don’t think that strap thing is any use... I know just how to get out of it in no time flat! It makes the old ladies in the aisles nervous but I usually just smile and wave at them so they stop and talk to us anyway. Today we got all the way back out to the car with our stuff when mommy realized she hadn’t paid for something on the bottom of the cart. So, back in we went. Guess mommy got her exercise today too!
5:15pm - Time to drop Elisabeth off at soccer practice. Ethan is going to stay here too, but I’m going to stay with mommy. She said we have to go buy some stuff at Elisabeth’s dance studio, and then we are going home! I guess Elisabeth has a big dance event coming up... geez these brothers and sister of mine are busy! It’s a good thing my car seat is so comfortable because I spend a LOT of time in it! (Don't worry, this picture is a few weeks old and my mommy fixed that turned around strap protector thing!)
6:15pm - We’re home now and I’m trying really hard to help mommy. I noticed that earlier she messed up all the work I did decorating the family room and the kitchen with my toys, so I’m going to work on that. I think mommy is feeling a little lonely without me right by her too so I’m making sure to cry every time she walks out of my sight, even for just a minute. This girl who comes by a lot (I think her name is Jordan and mommy must be helping her get ready for some big competition or something?) came over for a few minutes tonight. She wasn’t here long, but I showed her how good I am at knocking things off of shelves while she was here. I also showed her how good I am at holding on to mommy’s legs and crying. Luckily, mommy took the cue pretty quickly and found something for me to play with right next to her. I guess she needed to get some paperwork done or something, so I finally let her do it.
7:00pm - Mommy gave me some green beans and cheese. Nobody else is eating yet but she must have realized I’m getting really hungry. I wonder how she knows? Eventually everybody got home and sat down to eat and she gave me some more beans and some fish. I ate all of that, plus a roll and some Pringles I sweet talked daddy into later.
8:00pm - These other kids sure are fun. They messed up my family room decorations too (mommy told them to) but they made up for it by playing hide ‘n seek with me. Daddy tickled me and made me laugh really loud - mommy said that was kind of a surprise because daddy is not usually a good tickler.
8:30pm - For some reason, everybody seems to laugh a lot when I make these faces. Ethan taught it to me. First, you tuck your chin way down in to your neck and then you look up at the person in front of you without smiling. Then you stick your chin and neck way out and make a “pa pa pa” sound with your lips, and then you start giggling. I don’t know why they like it so much but it sure is funny every time I do it! I also gave a bunch of kisses on the lips tonight, they love it when I do that too. I guess I’m pretty good entertainment sometimes.
9:00pm - Heading upstairs now. I sure love these warm, soft and fuzzy pink pajamas mommy put on me. I think she said Elisabeth used to wear them too? I don’t know, but they sure are comfy! Mommy and I sat in the recliner in her room and nursed for a few minutes. Now that I’m older, it’s harder and harder for me to sit still very long so I got a nice drink and then tried to get down and play. Mommy said it was time for bed though, so she laid me down with my blanket and my favorite toy “Violet” and turned out the lights. I guess I am pretty tired, because I didn’t even make a sound. Sometimes I fuss for a few minutes but never very long. I guess mommy doesn’t like that Ferber guy very much so she just waits until I’m good and tired and it usually works out ok. At least it’s fine when we’re at home but when we stay in a hotel I really try to switch things up on her.
You know, mommy seemed kind of tired today and I’m not sure why because I haven’t gotten her up at night for a couple of weeks now. Hmmm. I think that big wedding in England is happening tonight so maybe if I wake her up tonight she won’t even mind so much? Well, we’ll see what the night briiinngggsszzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.