Friday, June 9, 2017

Thank you Mr. G

I may be one of the last people left still playing "Candy Crush," but I'm pretty faithful about it. It's become a nightly bedtime ritual to use up my allotted "lives" to try to pass yet another level. I don't know that I'm especially good at the game, but I'm diligent.

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

When the Time is Right

Recently, I read the book “The Last Letter from your Lover” by Jo Jo Moyes. It’s a bit of a haunting story that revolves around missed opportunities for love, largely due to timing.

It reaffirmed for me a theory that my husband and I have long had about that very subject, and how often timing plays a critical - yet unseen - role, until the benefit of hindsight becomes available.

But it’s not just love stories that rely on timing. I think so much in life really does.

And so that brings me to the story of how we added a third car to our family. (Yes, seriously. Bear with me!)

I've been wanting to add a 3rd car to our household ever since we got our 3rd licensed driver, or about 3 months ago now. But the timing wasn't right and - warning - full honest parent mode here - our newly licensed driver hasn't always made the most responsible decisions with that privilege and so, we put it off - er- waited.

Then this week we were faced with what I had feared, a reduction in usable vehicles during an especially busy time (even by our insane standards.) So I looked online at the dealership we love, saw a vehicle that fit our needs, and pretty much decided we were going to buy it and put an end to this. And let me tell you- when I make up my mind on something I've been deliberating on for 3 months, it's going to happen. (Just ask my poor husband!)

So today, we bought a third car. Literally while my car was getting a new battery and new brake pads 100 feet away, (and while my husband was riding a bus to Iowa with the soccer team) I test drove and then signed the papers for that “new to us” car. I shuffled between the service dept. and the finance dept. and probably earned a new level of crazy - er- loyal customer in the 3 hours it took to get all of that done. I mean, when the service department calls to tell you your car is done and you tell them you're just down the hall buying another- yeah, that was my afternoon.

What I have learned in this life is that we need to have good, reliable people we can count on to help us navigate some of the trickier moments. I’m lucky enough to count on my team a good lawyer, a good accountant, a good financial investment advisor, and a good mechanic. All of them have helped me navigate so much and their presence in my life has helped fill some of the void left by my dad. 

Another one of those is Brad May - who has seen us through the "minivan to SUV back to minivan (x3) transitions of our growing family.  We always knew one day he'd help us find the "kid car." - a concept that used to seem so laughably far off in our future. Over the years we have bought six cars from Brad. Yes, six. Once we even bought two at once but that’s another story. Brad has always been to us exactly the kind of salesperson I love- never pushy, taking the time to listen and help us find a vehicle that met our needs and budget, honest, and dependable. He’s treated us exactly the same whether we were buying a brand new car or making an even trade for a different one. The level of ease we’ve always felt with him is a gift.

But today, in the flurry of e-mails back and forth to him as we tried to hammer out some details of this latest purchase, another e-mail came in. This one was sent out to a group and it explained that Brad is leaving the dealership and the area in order to begin a new chapter in his life as his wife's job has them re-locating with the opportunity to also be closer to his adult daughters.

For him, the move is about - you guessed it, timing.

For us, the timing was good because as it turns out, if we had waited even a week longer, it wouldn’t have been Brad who helped us buy this car. In fact, ours might be the last car he sells. 

Maybe it seems silly to feel emotional about that but I suspect if you’re lucky enough to have a “Brad” in your life, you understand. 

And then, there’s more.

I was filling out the finance paperwork when I noticed our loan rate of 7.09%. I smiled and explained to the woman that I suddenly felt very peaceful that we were doing this at the right time, because that was a message from my dad. 709 has long been a “signal” and I don’t believe in coincidences. Then (and I didn't realize the significance of this until later) she asked me what color the car is because it's called "Whistler" and she wasn't sure what that meant?  It didn’t actually hit me until Ethan was looking the car over in the falling darkness and innocently asked, “what color is it?” As I answered, “It’s called Whistler,” I gasped a little. (My dad was famous for his love for whistling.) Oh, and Whistler is basically silver, in case you’re wondering.

So, here I sit. I didn't fully anticipate all the emotions this purchase would bring up in me today. I thought we were making a practical purchase and more than once I've explained how a third vehicle isn't so much for the teenager as it is for us. But I actually had butterflies of anticipation as I drove it home, eager for Ethan to be let in on the secret we'd been keeping. And while on the surface it may seem like just another family who bought their kid a car, the reality is we've had to work hard and shift some things and make some sacrifices to make this happen today and I'm feeling very blessed for the ability to do so. I certainly don’t take it for granted. I wonder if it's how my dad felt when he changed his mind on the "no teenager should have their 'own' car" stance and parked that 1986 Pontiac Sunbird on the driveway for me to find when I got off the bus that February morning of my junior year of high school.  

I wish I could ask him.

I suspect he's already given me the answer.

So- timing. I’m not a patient person (see above re: mind made up/must act now) but I do recognize and appreciate these little lessons when I experience them. Yes, it’s just a car. Of course. I guess. But that doesn’t mean it can’t also be a vehicle (see what I did there?) to convey a little life lesson, complete with a few reassuring signs that the time was right.

Thanks Brad. We’ll miss you.