Sunday, December 7, 2014

Heart of the Matter

The more I know, the less I understand
And all the things I thought I figured out, I have to learn again
I've been tryin' to get down to the Heart of the Matter
But my will gets weak
And my heart is so shattered
But I think it's about forgiveness
~ India Arie’s “The Heart of the Matter”
I’ve watched friend after friend (writing friends who are also writing teachers, adjuncts) thrown away by their educational institutions in callous and even shocking ways. I’ve felt blessed to continue receiving enough classes to make ends meet (by enough, I mean overloads, as many classes as I could find). Unfortunately, I’ve discovered this semester that my time of overflowing classes is at an end. I haven’t been thrown away like some stories I’ve heard, but I’ve been told in no uncertain terms from the various institutions that I work for that I can no longer have overloads, no matter what (partly because of lower enrollment and partly so that they don't have to pay adjuncts health insurance).
Even with working at more than one institution, this change necessitates changes in our living situation.
Another change in our life has overshadowed everything for the past year: Lexi going off to college. I haven’t written about it because I’m not ready, but the bottom line is this: I am thrilled for Lexi to have the opportunity to live and study in NYC. Yes, I realize that it is a normal and natural cycle of life for her to go off to college and move on with her life, and I support her and let her fly. However, it has changed everything for me and for Laina. It’s like someone came into our home and sucked out a huge chunk of life and energy and who we were. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through, and we are still reeling from it and working to adjust.
Furthermore, I am rethinking my career path. I’ve taught for over twenty years and have loved it. I’ve taught people from all over the world and people of all ages. I have a high standard in my classroom, which means that I challenge my students to see, learn, and be more. Not all of them like that. In fact, nowadays most of them hate that.
Recent feedback from a student (printed with permission): “I am almost ashamed to admit that this exercise has left me feeling maudlin.  There are actual tears in my eyes.  I feel like I have wasted so much of my life with unimportant work and petty concerns when what I should have been doing is writing.  I am mortified by my own lack of discipline and I can only hope that it is not too late for me to accomplish something I can be proud to say I have done.  This semester has been the most fulfilling bit of education in my life, despite the fact that I already have an AA degree.  My attitude has always been never to let school get in the way of my education because ninety-nine percent of the drivel I sat through in college felt like remedial classes for high school.  I just seemed to reap more from independently reading on my own.  At first, I found this class daunting.  You want a lot of time and effort from your students, much more than most instructors at this institution.  I am sure that does not sit well with some of your pupils, but I appreciate it greatly.  Thank you.“
Words and students like this make teaching so worthwhile. The thought of giving up teaching breaks my heart; however, the whole climate has changed for educators, even for college instructors, and I have been looking for full-time work for five years now.
Moreover, my high standard also means tons of work for me. This semester alone I have read over one thousand pages of student essays and many more pages of simple assignments along the way (both online and on paper). All of that reading and helping students with their writing interferes with my own writing and creativity. This past month (while in NYC and away from the computer, away from a screen, for most of two weeks), I realized just how much strain my eyes and brain have been under. The crux: I am exhausted and need a real break while I reevaluate and decide where to go from here.
Furthermore, my dad has recently gone on hospice. Again, not something that I am ready to write about because I still have so much processing to do. But, I want to spend time with him and be there for family right now.
Coming to Florida was definitely the right thing five years ago. We have met so many amazing people here and been blessed in so many ways. We have healed and grown and learned so much here, and we have had so many incredible opportunities.
Florida 2014
Florida 2009
I am deeply grateful for the friendships and support that we have found here. Words cannot express how much you all mean to me and how you have blessed our hearts and lives with your kindness and love.
I’ve prayed for clarity and answers, and I’ve written hundreds of pages of journal entries the past few months as I sorted out options and the pros and cons of everything. As I processed it all, a few simple truths emerged.
Truth #1: Something has to change.
Truth #2: If I only do the same thing/ask for the same thing (piecing together a living), then I’ll just keep getting the same thing.
Truth #3: I am exhausted from piecing together a living.
Truth #4: We miss family.
I don’t have the answers yet, but I do have the beginnings of a plan. We are packing up this month and going to Missouri to be with my family for the holidays and a couple of months while I finish sorting things out. Transitions are hard, but this is still part of the whole divorce transition. I learned in Divorce Recovery that it generally takes five years after the divorce is officially final to be completely settled again. It’s been three years for me, and I know I’ve come a long way in those three years and am excited to see where the next couple of years take me.
Going through all of this (the divorce, the move away from everyone we knew, the fresh start, the longing for family, my dad’s illness and prognosis, etc.) has taught me so much about the kindness of others and the importance of forgiveness, of letting go. I’ll never forget words that my dad spoke to me over twenty years ago, when I was the one in college. He said, “When it comes down to it, all you’ve got it is your family.” Right now, that is the “heart of the matter,” and I am happy that Laina will have a chance, even for a few months, to be rooted in family, rooted on land that has been in our family for over a hundred years. Nothing can replace a foundation like that.
This is a bittersweet moment as we plan to leave friends who have become family here to go stay with family we have missed there. I don’t know where we will be by summer; we may settle into life in Missouri or return to life in Florida or even begin again some place new. Either way, I am ready for the next adventure.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Newton Ulysses Crawford, the First

On April 5, 1918, Woodrow Wilson was president, and nations around the globe were locked in the campaigns and battles of the First World War.  On that calm spring day in a log cabin on a Missouri farm deep in the Ozark Mountains, a blessed baby boy was delivered into the world by a country doctor who arrived on horse and buggy. Born to Bessie and Homer, Newton Ulysses Crawford, the first child and only son, would see 96 years, some 35,000 days of family, laughter, love. So much change, yet he always approached life as an adventure, even throughout the three wars that he served as a Naval Officer—he was a true war hero who fought with honor in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.
His father, Homer, was born in an alfalfa field in 1894. His parents worked on the land as farmers except for one year when they lived in town to work in the Brown Shoe factory after it opened. Homer and Bessie had two more children, daughters Dortha and Juanita, and the siblings always got along.
Newton farmed, fished, hunted, and explored the 320 acres of forests, fields, hills, river bottoms, and bluffs. Mostly, he worked with his relatives, plowing fields and hauling hay. In his spare time, he walked to school, starting school at four years because he “fussed and fussed” until they let him and making it through two years of high school. He loved going to school, and recess was his favorite part. His mom sent box lunches with peanut butter and jelly on homemade bread and fruit from the orchard on their property. He walked to school, crossing a swinging bridge over Possum Creek.
He didn’t have shoes and went barefoot most of the time, though wore lace-up boots in the winter. He often walked ten miles back and forth to town. They did not have electricity until after he left home, so he did not grow up listening to music on the radio or watching television. He carried in wood every night for the fire. He said that they normally had cornbread, beans and milk at night and oatmeal on eggs for breakfast while lunch was chicken, squirrel, quail, or pork. They sometimes ate opossum or frog legs. They grew or raised everything they ate except for sugar, salt, and pepper.
On Sunday mornings, he went to church with his family, and afternoons he played games like baseball, horseshoes, jacks, dominoes, and cards. Sometimes, they flew kites, made mud pies, or went roller skating or sledding. They often met for picnics, potlucks, or family reunions.
When he turned 16, his grandpa bought him a tractor to keep him home, safe on the farm for a few more years. But Newton joined the Navy and served for 30 years, traveling the world, surviving three wars, making the highest ranking as a Naval Officer, CWOW4 or Chief Warrant Officer W-4.
Everywhere he went, Newton planted a garden, if he could, and told stories of his gardens in exotic places during his years in the Navy.
Retiring from the military, he spent 30 years as a cattle farmer on his family farm where he lived in a white house built by Crawford hands many years before. Two careers, two lifetimes.
He married his childhood friend, Juanita Allen, the girl from just down the road, on September 30, 1944 at the preacher’s house in Houston. He said about his wife, “she’s the most beautiful thing I ever saw!!  She was really pretty!” Married for 61 years, always together until her death in 2006.
His only son, Newton Ulysses Crawford, Jr. was born on March 1, 1948 in California. Newton, Sr. said, “Newtie was always laughing and having fun.  He liked to have a bath and play in the water.” 
Newton Jr. returned to the family farm with his own family. Another white house that had been built by Crawford hands moved, driven down the roads to the hill, placed next to its match. From one son, 10 grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren, including Newton Ulysses Crawford III and twenty years later, Newton Ulysses Crawford IV. Newton the First also had a decade plus of being the grandpa next door. We remember playing rook, watching movies, eating holiday meals...every family event, he stood strong and tall; his presence always there, steady, soothing. Most of the time, he wore his three-time war veteran hat, blue jeans, a blue button down work shirt, and brown cowboy boots.
His sun-spotted hands built houses, a family, a farm. Like his mother, Bessie, he lived into his nineties, driving his own car, and living in his own house until the very end. Change, war, loss, laughter, love—through it all he remained kind, with good humor and an optimistic spirit.
The man and the land leave a significant legacy. An honor to his generation, he will be missed. From him, how much we learned. Thank you, Dad, Grandpa, Great-Grandpa, Newton the First, for showing us the value of family, hard work, a positive attitude, and kindheartedness. For displaying the importance of keeping a garden, raising our own food, and taking care of our land. For teaching us to explore the world and live as an adventurer. You will live on in our hearts and minds from a million treasured memories. We love you.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Smart Fun

          I’ve taught my daughters to have smart fun (at least I hope so!). Case in point: Lexi’s sweet 16 birthday party. Over 50 people attended her party, which was held at a friend’s house in a sleepy neighborhood along a golf course in Suntree, and the teens called it the best party of the year with some saying it was the best party they’d ever been to. They danced, talked, ate, and played games all evening. No drugs, no alcohol, and no smoking. Just good, clean fun! The DJ, Lexi’s dance instructor, was also a police officer, so the party had built-in protection.
          As one of the few adult chaperones, I watched everyone and discovered an interesting phenomenon: many of the public high school students who came to the party (Lexi’s friends from dance) didn’t appear to enjoy the party as much as everyone else for two reasons that I could see. First, they were way too self-conscious, too worried about what everyone else would think and how everyone else might judge them. Not that the homeschooled teens didn’t have doubts, but that they felt comfortable or confident enough to push through those doubts and enjoy the evening. Secondly, many of public school teens arrived partnered up. They brought their boyfriends, and then sat in the corner on their boyfriends’ laps, watching everyone else have fun.
          An important life lesson: you don’t need to have a boyfriend/girlfriend in order to go to a party and have a good time. In fact, you might have more fun going with friends and letting loose.
          This particular party ended at midnight, and just before the witching hour, a cop knocked on the door to make sure that all was well. Luckily, we had the DJ/cop angle to smooth things over, and we were ending the party anyway so everything worked out. It’s not a party until someone calls the cops, the teens joked, but they learned that if you are having clean fun and if you respect those around you, nothing bad happens when the cop shows up.
When we moved to Brevard County over four years ago, Lexi was a homeschooled teenager, and I didn’t want her to miss out on the social aspects of high school like the school dances. So, I worked with another mom, and we put together some homeschool dances. Again, 50 teens, dancing, talking, eating, playing games, having so much fun! Once we had a DJ (same wonderful one) and other times we used a playlist. Whatever we did, the teens had a blast. Lexi began attending the public high school dances for her junior and senior years, and she agrees with the others who said that the dances we threw were much better; however, she is glad that she attended the public school dances for the experience. After all, we never forget our prom nights.
Lexi just told me last night that I would be happy to hear that she stayed in and didn’t go out with her friends. Darling daughter, you missed the entire point of smart fun. I want you to go out with friends, to explore the city, to travel the world. I want you to be adventurous and try new things. Always.
A couple of years ago, I didn’t feel like the girls and I were communicating well regarding hanging out with friends; they thought that I didn’t want them to go out with friends, and I thought that they were being disrespectful. I believed this was an extremely important issue to communicate with them because the friends we choose colors everything else in our lives. So another life lesson: choose good friends! Be very picky about who you hang out with. As the saying goes, we become like the five people we hang out with the most. And, I like how a family friend puts it: YOU are valuable, and the most treasured thing that you have to give is YOU and your time. So, choose wisely. As a mom, I worry, and as a mom in this crazy world, I really worry, and as a single mom, I worry even more. So, I typed up a “contract” that we all agreed on and printed off copies for each of us. Here it is:
Going out with Friends Respectful Boundaries
1.     I WANT you to have time with friends, to hang out with friends, to have fun with friends.
2.    I TRUST you!!! You are amazing, and you will make good choices. Any mistakes you make you will learn from.
3.    It is imperative that you COMMUNICATE with me in a respectful way. Be polite and respectful in your tone and text messages. Please ask before inviting friends over here and before making plans with friends (check the family calendar, etc.). Text me who you are with and where you are because that helps me to not worry. Be home by midnight unless we have agreed on an earlier or later time for some reason.
4.    It is important that FAMILY comes first, including YOU. That means that you do your homework and chores, your RESPONSIBILITIES, BEFORE hanging out with friends. That also means that you incorporate FAMILY time every week or weekend. This is also about having BALANCE in your life.
5.    RESPECT yourself and your own boundaries. Be YOU because you are BEAUTIFUL, AMAZING, INTELLIGENT, TALENTED, and simply WONDERFUL!!
Now I want to reiterate another important life lesson for my daughters: have fun in a smart way! In fact, I review the smart rules with them anytime I drop them off somewhere (county fair, mall, beach, party, etc.), and yes, I also share these rules with their friends. Now that Lexi is going to college in New York City, I review them with her over the phone. If she calls and asks my input, “Mom, should I go out and do X?” Hell, yeah! And, remember the smart rules.
1. Have good, clean fun (which means nothing illegal; for instance, no alcohol, drugs, or smoking). Once you turn 21, enjoy a glass of wine or a bottle of beer if you like, but don’t get wasted. Confession time: I’ve never been drunk. Tipsy, yes. Plastered, no. It’s interesting because anytime any group of friends hears that the first thing they say is that they want to get me drunk (and this includes any church groups I’ve been part of). Even as an adult, I’ve been pressured to give in and get bombed, but you know what, I don’t need to. I honestly believe that I can have fun, a better time even, when sober. Sure, I enjoy having a drink every once in a while; it’s relaxing and lowers inhibitions, but I still know who I am, what I believe, what I am doing, and why I am doing it. Plus, I won’t be the one sick and hung over the next morning, wasting that fresh day.
 2. Stay safe (which means to only go places with friends you can trust, always stay with your group, don’t even go to the bathroom alone, never take drinks from anyone, and never set your drink down unattended and then drink out of it).
3. Stay healthy (which means to take care of yourself on a regular basis, get enough sleep on a weekly basis, eat healthy overall, take good vitamins, etc.). The important thing is what you do most of the time; set a strong foundation for yourself and your world.
4. Always remember who you are and what you believe in. I am a woman of worth and strength and integrity. Say it! Remind yourself every day. When you operate from that truth, then you will try new things and live a courageous and incredible life; however, you will not be swayed by peer pressure or societal expectations or anything other than the truth that you stand on. Along with that comes trusting your instincts.
But whatever you do, be bold, live, and have smart fun! As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Life must be lived and curiosity kept alive. One must never, for whatever reason, turn [her] back on life.”
A friend mentioned that I should share the “smart fun” idea with others through my blog, hence this post. J Do you do something similar with your teens or have other similar ideas that work well? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Chasing Moonlight

Chasing Moonlight

On the drive home from practice tonight,
the heavy, yellow moon floats,
low and full,
Caught, we pull over,
stop in the parking lot of our condo complex;
stumbling over rocks and dips in the green grass,
we walk to the lake and search for the moon
past the water fountain,
over the trees,
around the buildings,
through Laina’s tired grumblings.
No moon.
Hide and seek.
Catch me if you can.
Go straight, I command,
walking through the field,
the moon…
My foot slides on a slippery, dark object.
I scream.
The girls run so fast to the safety of the parking lot
and artificial lights—
Laina on the concrete, laughing and moaning;
Lexi doubled over with laughter;
I stagger in between laughs and squeals,
hunting always for danger,
until I, too, reach safety.

Drawing deep breaths in between lingering giggles,
we race to the car and pile in.
What did I step on?
“Mom, it’s a snake,” Laina declares. Lexi agrees.
It was flat. Slippery and flat. And it moved.
We ponder the dark possibilities.

I want to see…
“I wanna go home,” Laina wails. “I’m exhausted and sore.”
“I’m game if we stop for shakes,” Lexi adds.

The image of the moon beckons
like a journey too long denied.
Determined to capture a photo of the beauty,
we embark on our own adventure:
chasing moonlight.
Down roads,
around houses,
through neighborhoods,
we drive,
capturing glimpses of the round moon.

Who else do you know who chases the moon?
“Just you."
My mom would.
I roll down the window;
at another peep of the moon,
I let loose a long howl.
The moon peeks,
creamy and cold;
the moon winks;
brilliant and bright.

We park at a friend’s place near a golf course,
snap photographs
over the alligator infested river
through the light fog, and
the moon sparkles
luminous and low,
so low we reach out and grab hold
of moonlight,
of promise and hope and
of all things lovely and new and good.