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First date in the second half of life.

I wanted to give it all, almost–my personal email, my blog URL, a good view of my shapely enough figure. The written exchanges were so… right, so warm and yet appropriate, intelligent with no posturing, appreciative with no flattery. In his reticence, I read alluring self-restraint. In his simple sentences I read deep thought and care about using words in the most frugal and powerful way. An unleashed ability to be passionate. In his serious expression and seeming reluctance to smile in the few photos he posted, I read authenticity–who can criticize someone who has not trained themselves to grin at a camera, who can only manage an “Ah shucks, okay I’ll try half smile? I appreciated his regular, but not too frequent, replies, and how he referenced the content of my messages intelligently and sometimes connected them with his own thoughts and experiences. In his references to heartbreak I read tenderness, a willing to be vulnerable, even be hurt, and I admired his courage to try again. I placed his personal rule of not letting online dating interfere with his lifestyle at the forefront of my mind. And start to gather dust.

I thrilled at his allusion to having considered mooring his boat in my area, of having applied for positions here in the past. I drew him out. I encouraged him to meet. Yes, I agreed; this was hard, but one had to give it a chance. Yes, one could have one’s expectations disappointed, find that one person felt differently than the other, not sense the necessary chemistry. But what else was there to do? audentis Fortuna iuvat and all that.

He suggested a dockside dive in a half way town, said he had a boat project to work on, nothing too ambitious. I was jittery, excited, excitable. I refrained from frothing over to my kids, who supported me in my online dating venture, but for whom this was too new, and they’d rather not have the play-by-play. But my oldest daughter was patient with my need to bubbkle over a little, and said she’d help me pick pick out my date outfit. She cautioned against red, and said that a plaid shirt, even a cute one with a shirt, looked like dressing down.

I had been checking online several times a day, feeling that rush of dopamine, knowing it was foolish to allow myself to get worked up, but at the same time savoring this long-dormant feeling. And why not? My friend Pink Poet texted, “Do you feel sixteen again?” She let me tell all, said it was welcome alternative drama to the tension of her current marriage situation. I told her that for some reason I was more drawn to this guy that to either of the others with whom I’d arranged meetups–the tall, bearded Hispanic romance writer, or the curly gray-haired something like a designer-sculptor who made me laugh and let loose my wry sense of humor and ended every message with “Whoo-hoo!”

The day of the early dinner date dawned. I puttered around all morning, avoided digging in the garden to keep my fingernails clean, repainted my toenails, put the laundry through and worried that my sweater wouldn’t be dry in time. I skipped my morning exercise so as to have more energy later, especially since I hadn’t slept well the night before. I picked berries to pull out for a surprise dessert.Distractedly scrolled through the matches of the day online, sent some “currently following some other leads, which is enough for now, but thanks for reaching out, and good luck with your search” messages. I wondered whether I should have purchased a shorter membership after all.

The time to head south drew near. I dressed, did my hair minimally but tidy, chose a slightly form-fitting black sleeveless and striped rose colored linen pants one might throw on after a day in the sun. I thought of my daughter’s claim that pants with a pattern made any butt look good.

My mind continued to spin–images, feelings, imaginings seemingly unstoppable. I cautioned myself, tried to maintain some kind of realism. It was expectations that disappointed, after all, not reality. Though I felt attractive enough, I remembered tha my efforts to get a good selfie at times made me think of Silvia Plath’s “hideous fish.” I reminded myself to smile fully, not nervously covering my teeth, an old habit I picked up as a teen when I was insecure about my teeth. I decided my first few words: It’s a real person,” or something, a hand clasp, like a friend rather than a colleague. I imagined the locking of eyes, the wordless reaching out of hands, a kind of recognition. I packed a travel toothbrush and clean underwear.

As I pulled out of my driveway, I saw a jar of sweet peas on the roadside stand my son and I had set up. My eyes filled with tears. It felt like the beginning of the breaking of my bond with my longtime husband, now gone almost a year.

 

 

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Parenting by extension: siblings carry the baton for each other

My grown kids out for Frisbee and coffee, by daughter #1

My oldest kids are old enough to start giving me advice about parenting my youngest son, and to some degree my youngest daughter, though she’s already eighteen and has considered herself an adult for many years and not subject to parenting efforts.

They give pretty good, advice, too. My husband and I seeded some of it, but now it’s filtered through how they experienced it, highlighting any of the wisdom it has borne out in their lives.

For example, my oldest daughter is the most similar in personality to my youngest, is good friends with him, and can offer a new voice, and help me be patient while her younger brother takes his sweet time to learn life’s lessons. She also comes alongside him, mentoring him in her oddball humor way. She’s taken him shopping for clothes, encouraged him on dating (that it’s fine not to in high school–many sensible people don’t), listens, fascinated, to his bubbling over of what he’s learning about history and politics, and helps keep up his spirit when life is stressful. She also backs me up on the issues of nutrition, fitness, and computer games-life balance.

My oldest son confirms the wisdom of just putting in the word consistently but gently and then letting his brother ruminate on its  possible application in his life, until ready. This was illustrated in the surprise turnabout my youngest made on how he’s spend his sophomore and senior education dollars. He was firmly committed to remaining in his high school, with his friends, to go the traditional route. I said that’s fine, but required him to at least attend the information session for Running Start to be sure he was well informed in his decision. He came out with the packet, said it had confirmed him in his decision not to enroll, and I was satisfied.

The next day he announced that he had decided to do Running Start after all. Whatever was holding him back–certainly not any fears about academic readiness, but probably including discomfort at losing contact with his friends–had been processed, and surmounted. His siblings, having experienced Running Start for themselves with positive results, slapped him on the back and affirmed his decision.

He also told me he had decided to rejoin the high school swim team. I showed muted enthusiasm at this, knowing that he had quit a month into the previous season. Probably due to what was going on with his dad’s cancer–that was the first fall after his body succumbed, and this boy had enough to deal with. My son wisely adjusted his course load too, as well as turning down a study abroad and internship opportunity that year. But his confidence has returned, which is very heartening. He sure will miss seeing his dad in the stands–as busy as he was with work, he hardly ever missed a meet. I’ll pretty sure all five of us will be cheering all the harder.

We’re also doing some patient waiting on my younger daughter’s growth. Her sister is her greatest friend, though the younger is less that committed when her age-mates come to call. She prefers to block out advice, then learn lessons the hard way. I just pray that she will remain essentially unharmed as she walks that rough road. For example, she recently had a collision (she says she was not at fault) without auto insurance–without having even activated her title registration after I filled out all the paperwork months ago to sign the car over to her. I’d given her several weeks of warning, told her what could happen without insurance, and then, with trepidation, cut her off my policy, partially honoring her stated wish that I get out of her life, and knowing she had the funds to take care of it if she managed right.

I appreciate the fact that neither older sibling is preaching at her. Her sister vents to me sometimes, especially when hurt in the roller coaster of being a friend to this young woman who burns so through life. The brothers shake their heads, but essentially there is just love and acceptance, reaching out, and patience to see the amazing life this woman will built with her strong spirit, good mind and, beneath it all, tender heart. There was that frequent “Keep your heart soft” mantra embedded in our parenting of all of them, often repeated by their dad, as he worked on his own heart. And, what my husband and I passed on from my own dad, to work on your own issues first.

I’m so glad to have the help. I said to my youngest, about cleaning up after him but with more iunderneath, “I’m just tired of doing this, J____.” Not really fair, and I am still committed to the most important parts of parenting, for the rest of my life, as needed. But it’s a relief to have part of the holy burden shared by these young, energetic travelers.

 

 

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And she doesn’t type!

I went to a writer’s conference on the weekend, half filled a notebook with useful tips, inspiring and otherwise helpful thoughts and perspectives and resources. Now I’ve started simple typing up everything that could become an essay, part of an essay, quotes, reflections, memories, poetry starts and dreams. All in one rough document, resisting almost all impulses to edit. It feels great–like a skim of my work, eanbling me to see what themes are most important to me, what questions arise again and again, how my thoughts and writing have developed. Already I’m getting a sense of direction, but for now I’m going to keep just being a typist (although I might actually hire someone for some of it, since I don’t type properly or very quickly.

For the last several months I’ve had mostly scorn and criticism for my writing attempts and kept stalling, getting annoyed, “shoulding on myself” even more for writing so little. Asking myself why, I figured that it was because I’d been more in contact with writers, of higher quality and greater accomplishment. As much as that was great for learning and aspiration, for my self esteem as a writer, not so much.

At the conference, I didn’t attend the “Silencing the Inner Critic” session, but I took the title as a reminder to do just that, to just let the words flow again. Like I learned when I was working hard to develop my drawing ability, I have to treat everything I start as just practice, just for me, to express, understand, see what I think. Still, as I copy out my starts, I am getting a sense that there’s some substance in some of my work even at this stage, that certain readers could value this stuff, when refined and possibly almost unrecognizable the offspring of all that early drafting process.

In other news, I joined a dating website. We’ll see how that goes. Fun so far; I’m in a conversation that arose about books and writing, for example. I clearly set out my low key approach, not being out to find a serious match, not feeling needy, just hoping for some enjoyable outings with new acquaintances based on shared interests and valued qualities.

I’m surprised at my level of confidence in my “ignore” versus “like” decisions. I simply decide based on a short blurb plus a few pictures. This surely will lead to some false negatives as well as some false positives, but there really is something in visually discerned potential chemistry, as well as in reading between the lines of the personal essay. I find myself sometimes giving grace, sometimes jumping to conclusions. So what if someone does the same based on my profile? That’s life, and I don’t believe in “the one” or want to put any pressure on myself to either find the one or be the one. It’s fun to court the possibilities, though.

 

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2019 in Relationships, Writing

 

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A conversation between two deaf men

One guy says to another guy in a coffee shop, a few tables away: “I’m looking for hearing aids from Thailand.”

“What’s that?”

“Hearing aids from Thailand.”

“Oh?”

“But they’re all imported from Europe.”

“Where?”

“Europe. And they’re eighty dollars.”

“How much?”

“Eighty dollars. And you have trouble finding parts.”

“Trouble with what?”

“Getting parts.”

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2019 in Places & Experiences

 

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The sympathy of not really belonging

I am part of a small team within our small staff, just three people, working on getting to know the Common Core math standards, focusing on 6th grade and up. We call it our Math PLC, Professional Learning Community, and meet most weeks, with a few gaps for other things that come up and general staff meetings. I am sort of leader, being the high school math teacher, so I bring guiding documents and suggest options for how we proceed, but we really all work together and I respect and depend on each person for their perspective, experience, and skills. For example, I am ideas and vision oriented but also wanting to analyze a lot of information before making decisions, another member is relationship oriented, super encouraging and also hilarious, and a third member is action oriented and good at laying out the pieces visually so we can organize the parts and move forward.

So far we’ve chosen what we’re calling Priority Standards, being the ones we guarantee to teach and assess with an aim to get all student to meet these standards. These are about a third of the ones laid out in the big CCSS documentation, but it’s recognized that it’s impossible thoroughly teach and track progress in every standard every year. Also and since the standards are broad and overlap from year to year and even across each other, as long as we align the strands up through the different level and catch the stages where certain ones are emphasized, in the big picture we try to cover them all. It’s also true that only certain things can be captured in standards language or be assessed in any standardized way; this does not mean they are the most important or can comprise a full curriculum.

This last meeting was completely different. We didn’t really do anything about math standards, but we made a deeper connection that felt pretty profound. We just talked. About one eprson’s relationship with her grandpa, about spirituality and religion, and about feeling, all three of us in different ways appreciative of but also disconnected and critical of the culture of our local community. I was like, one person said, My two team members had always lived here, but said the place sometimes drove them nuts and they’d never really feel they fit in. Yet at the same time, they knew it was imporant to stick around and be a part of the community, especially as teachers.

I’ve written before about how I don’t feel I fit into the community, doubt sometimes even whether I can even make an impact because I’m so at odds with the dominant culture, even though on the surface I seem like I have a lot of similar background. From a rural dairy area, raised in the Church, large family, homeschooled my kids. But that’s where the similarity ends. I feel like they both said they do so often, like I’m always having to bite my tongue.

There are two sides (at least) to this tongue biting–one being the effort to avoid unnecessary argument, alienation, or openness to misinterpretation when views are worlds apart, or at least toning it down so as to have a chance to slowly influence as well as show respect. The other is the restraint of criticism of the community and culture, and certainly individuals, to those on the fringes or outside, and avoiding a holier-than-them attitude.

None of us put out any specifics about what that culture was that grated, but we all knew. And about the rich and valuable parts too. No need to say, but it was special to feel more connected to one another in that moment, and it was an important team building session.

Personality-wise, the three of us are very different–it’s kind of magical that we can still feel so in sympathy as a team that has come together, as well as individuals who in some way are outsiders. Brings home in a greater way what community means.

 

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How can we say what’s real, with so much going on under the surface?

I have about 38 posts partially written, stuck somewhere in every one, either because they were too ambitious and require much more deep thinking and hard wordsmithing than I can manage lately, or because they are very out of date. I have not been showing up daily, as wanted, to put words together t o craft at least some kind of post. Discipline is important, yes, but I regularly find I purposely rebel against routine, including this one. It is a regular thing, these purposeful bouts of neglect of a practice I find so enriching for me and for which I can see some possible usefulness out there in the world, if I can improve my craft and develop a sense of a proper focus for my writing voice.

My idea is to double-rebel; that is, when I feel like breaking with the regularity of writing, I’ll recognize that as a habit bred from the same thoughtless laziness that makes me as eat the same breakfast every day or drive the same route to work, frequent the same coffee shop or avoid social situations. Thus I will feel that by maintaining a habit I am being a disruptor, which is more exciting, and out of my comfort zone.

Yes, that’s all really dumb and immature, but at least now I’m writing a little instead of watching two or three episodes of The Crown like I did last night. I was utterly exhausted, wanting to go to bed at 8 pm, exhausted for unknown reasons. I just lay on my quilt, partially propped up with unadjusted pillow, unable to move even to pull over and turn on my laptop and be passively entertained. I wondered if it was just my lack of leafy greens, excessive coffee, and failure to work out for the past two weeks. That habit was getting established, felt mighty fine, and I let that falter too, staying in my classroom a few hours after I should have to get through more paperwork.

As I felt the heavy inertness of my body, I also wondered if it was carrying the burden of some grief stage anniversary. Or if I was feeling May teaching burnt out, frustration from coming home to a mess in the kitchen I did not make, or just fighting a virus.

I did drag myself to the gym today after work, mindlessly warmed up on the treadmill, made the circuit of machines and did a few free weights, and it started to feel very good. It doesn’t feel so awkward going on my own now that I know what to expect–the machines, the low key 4 pm clientele, but the pool was full of kids and a water exercise group so I didn’t get the swim I’d hoped to end with. I was planning to suspend my membership for the next three months, but it turns out I can’t on my deal, and I’m kind of glad that this might make me get here more often, even if I do have more work in the yard to keep me fit.

I don’t want to have a countdown attitude about May and June. I want to fill the hours with well planning lessons and even up my game to work for a higher level of student engagement and success even while the weather calls us all outside and the three fans in my windowless room can’t keep it from heating to uncomfortable levels by the afternoon. I’m trying out a new Chemistry resource and a new online math curriculum we’ll be piloting this year, and collaborating with two colleagues to pin down priority standards for math which we’ll work on aligning K through 12th grade. I’m getting to new levels of understanding of best practices in teaching science (though still a long ways to go on the quality of my instruction), moving toward more student ownership of learning, getting to lead on my team more, all kinds of exciting things going on.

Plus, there was this student I was starting not to like, and really, to get pissed off at, most days. Well, actually two, and sometimes three. That’s never a good direction, and I needed to talk it out with colleagues, and even my daughter, to work on improving my attitude. I think I’m making progress. As I told my daughter yesterday, if I can convey that I actually like, in some genuine way, a student who is passively or actively resisting my leadership and/or their own better instincts, I think there is a lot of hope for something good to happen. Even if that hope is deferred for years. I want the most “difficult” students, when they realize down the road what they want to do with their lives and start to be more mature and responsible, to remember being liked. I want to provide a balance of sort of a parental style to pushing, requiring, disciplinary consequences, with a releasing into their own unique life, a recognition of their free agency to make their own choices, and an acknowledgement that the school machine is just a thing, and you can’t let it get you down. It’s a thing, and it has its uses, but it’s not the real thing, baby.

 

 

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May celebrations with my kids

Last week was my older daughter’s twenty-first birthday.The night before, her younger sister and (also underage) roommates treated her to a late night, and were there to accompany her to the local grocery store just after midnight to pick up a bottle of wine on her own newly legal ID. My daughter had explained beforehand that they’d be doing this, answered my objections that she’d thrown off her sleep schedule by asserting that it was just what was done. The next day she admitted that after midnight she’d just wanted to go to sleep and had to be urged to the store, that the feeling of hangover the next morning (being usually a light drinker) probably wasn’t worth it.

This is the daughter that always takes the time to make others’ special days feel special–she’s at our home now leading a team of siblings though cleaning chores and making a special lunch for me of potato skins and coconut cream pie for Mother’s Day. She jokes that she’s the “mom” of the bunch. Was in that role while living with her sister and roommates as well (she moved back home and started looking for a different set of housemates, the emotional work being too heavy and thankless).

Likewise she needs to feel special on her special day, and so we planned, checking in with her about her preferences, a special birthday dinner a few days after her actual birthday when we all could make it. She and her sister went camping, and would arrive for the special dinner.

We had a blast. Dance music blasting, everyone helping with this or that, flowers, helium birthday balloon (and helium-infused vocalizations), playing with the dog and cat (who wrestling with abandon, being about the same size), and my daughter’s favorite chicken, rice, asparagus and chocolate cream roll cake, topped off with some cider, champagne, and grape juice soda. Everyone hoping and trying for their best spirits and good will, hoping no one would bring up resentments, be insensitive or unkind, or get moody or selfish. Laughing with and not much at one another.

Another get together today for Mother’s Day. First without their dad. Makes them feel extra thankful, over a layer of melancholy. What will we do for Father’s Day next month?