Cardboard Boxes May Contain Feelings

Yesterday I packed up all of the things I had kept in the classroom I had been in since September and took them home. After spending most of the year in someone else’s chair, I didn’t have a ton of stuff to carry out, and it all fit neatly in one box. I say it fit neatly, but actually it was the heaviest box I’ve ever carried a long distance. Now, here comes the dumb part. I got a bruise carrying this box.

I know you are thinking it could have been avoided, and you would be correct. I have 2 rolling carts that were parked in the hallway, and either one would have done the job. I would have had to bring back the cart though, and I wasn’t prepared for that. See, I was crying as I was leaving. After a day of training with some amazing people, I didn’t feel ready to leave just yet. I didn’t feel my work was done, and yet it was for the moment. I had to leave. I wanted to make a quick exit. I didn’t want anyone to see me cry.

On the way out of the building I saw 3 people. They all offered to help me. I refused each one of them. Why would I do such a thing? Well, I have a few reasons. (None of them are really good.)

1.That box was my stuff. It was stuff I had brought into the building at one point. I should bring the stuff back out. I am responsible. If I had a coffin full of stuff to carry out, it would be my own fault.

2. I wanted to feel like I could carry my own stuff. If I brought it in, I should be able to carry it out. It was ONE box. If I couldn’t make it to my car with one box, wouldn’t that make me a loser? It sure felt like it would. Allowing someone to help me would cheapen my small feat of making it through this school year intact.

3. I kept telling myself my car was not that far. Yes, I parked in the back, and it was farther than it would have been. Yes, I had to make it down a long hallway, a short hallway, across a courtyard, through a fence, and across a parking lot, BUT I am strong. I felt like I could do it because each step got me closer than I was.

So, with each step, I swear, this box got heavier. I shifted the box. I hugged the box. I put the box down a few times and readjusted. My brain knew the box was the same box, the same weight, and still just as awkward, but with each stop my hope renewed that this box was going to be in my car in just a few minutes! When I finally got there to the car as I placed the box in the backseat and sighed, I also felt like my arms were going to fall off. Then today, I see this bruise, and it figures.

What a great lesson! Emotionally I want to carry things on my own, and I want to feel that I clean up my own messes. This doesn’t mean a load full of feelings and emotions is not going to be too heavy to reasonably carry for long distances. It doesn’t mean it will be an easy trip. Having good friends to help us along the way is priceless. If you are carrying something heavy on the inside, those bruises are only going to heal with time, just like my arm.

Holding on While Letting Go

In the children’s book Where the Red Fern Grows a young boy sets out to trap a raccoon.  His grandpa tells him a way to trap a raccoon using a brace to bore holes in a log, and you hammer nails in along the shaft.  Finally to set the trap, you put something shiny at the bottom.  Raccoons can put their hand-like paws down inside the trap, but once they make a fist over the shiny object their paw is stuck.  Raccoons will never let go.  Because they will never let go, they are trapped.  If they let go, they would walk away unscathed, but they die because they refuse to give up the object precious to them.  My best guess is sometimes you are raccoon in this metaphor, and sometimes you are the shiny object.

The problem with deciding whether to hold on or to let go of something is there is no real way to know you are making the “right” choice.  If you let go, you are in a way surrendering.  If you hold on, you might meet the same fate as the raccoon. There are songs all over the radio telling us to hold on.  Whether we be holding on to one more day, holding on cause we are going home, or holding on to what we’ve got, we are inundated with the message to hold on.  Not until the Frozen soundtrack was released over radio waves had anyone told us musically it was okay to “let it go” in a way that spun it as a positive thing.  So, what is the right thing to do?

I’ve come to the conclusion that the problem is not in the choosing.  The problem is never thinking beyond what is here and now. If you stay in the moment, then you’ll never let go.  Moments change, and as they change, so do we. The best route to take is to ask yourself what the end game is.  Is there an end game?  If there is no end game, what are you holding on to?  Pipe dreams, a load of optimism, and a chance to be very jaded is about all you really have.

But what if you hold on just because you want to hold on?  What if you hold on because that is what you really want? No one can tell you that holding on is the wrong thing if this is the case, because you know your heart.  You’ve weighed options, and you’ve decided.  Nothing will change that decision.  That is when you should hold on.  Unless it turns out you are the raccoon, that is. If what you want to hold on to for dear life is a direct conflict of what someone else has planned, it’s time to release the shiny object, withdraw your hand, and leave the woods.  Chances are though, you won’t leave the woods the same way you came.

When A Truce is Greater Than Friction

I love the Union and the Constitution, but I would rather leave the Union with the Constitution than remain in the Union without it.” – Jefferson Davis

April 9th, 2015 marks the 150th anniversary of when Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant in the front parlor of a farmhouse in Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia. This event set off the chain of surrenders that swept across the South, thus indicating the end of the Civil War.  This made me think about my own Civil War I fight every single day.

I’ve always enjoyed learning about The Civil War because I feel as though I walk around with a Robert E. Lee and a Ulysses S. Grant waging war inside me.  I fight against what my heart feels and my head thinks every single day.  Every once in a while they meet just like the real ones did and call a truce.  It can be for one hour, one day, or one week, but truces never last.  The Civil War continues on.  No one notifies the rest of the troops, so the battles never cease.

Robert E. Lee for me symbolizes the general for my heart.  Lee lived in the South, however  originally his desire was to see the Union intact.  He fought for the exact opposite on principle. My heart is the same way.  Because it is my heart, it tends to make decisions for me without bothering to ask my brain what the best plan would be, but my heart always has the best intentions.  After all, it is my heart. Lee lost the war, but what he really wanted was peace and harmony back.  Hearts are like that.

Ulysses S. Grant is symbolic of my brain.  My brain can make a deal with the Devil to make the March to the Sea happen and burn every metaphorical Atlanta on the way.  My brain is strategic.  It has excellent leading capabilities, just like U.S. Grant.  It has iron will.  Stubborn to a fault, my brain will argue with the strongest arguments it can come up with.  My brain is sometimes completely and utterly wrong. Does that mean my brain will stop spewing words out of my mouth faster than it can filter them? The answer is absolutely not.  Grant won the war, but there was a lot of collateral damage and Reconstruction took years.

Could the South have won?  Perhaps, but it doesn’t all boil down to leadership.  It comes down to decisions.  Some decisions the generals made, but other decisions were out of either general’s control and belonged to other people to make.  Many battles were fought prior to that surrender 150 years ago.  I’m sure there were several times Lee probably felt like the best thing to do was surrender.  Other times I’m positive Lee felt the best thing to do was fight as hard as he could for a cause he deemed worthy enough to die for.

Have you ever believed in something so much you’d be willing to die for it?  When your heart and your head agree on opposing sides and they both are willing to sink the ship to win the war, who wins?  Can there be a winner?  Is a truce within ourselves ever really a truce, or is it just a lie we tell ourselves to get us through another day so we can wake up the next day with enough energy to fight again?  There are always casualties of war, and sadly either way, it’s me going down with a fight.

Growing Seasons


Everyone goes through a growing season, even though at first it might not be easily identifiable as you experience it. A growing season is defined as the time that plants experience the maximum amount of growth successfully. People have them too, but they aren’t always as long or as short as a plant’s growing season.

The past year has been challenging. Few things remain from the life I led one year ago. Growing seasons push you out of your comfort zone, ask you to get real with yourself, and in the end you are better for it. At the time it’s just like the seed in the quote, you are sure you are completely losing it. You feel like your guts could come out, and you are raw material. You feel the complete destruction. In the past year I doubted, I wondered, I wandered, and I lived. I made mistakes, and in reality, that’s probably the thing I did the most. Even though I was hurt and confused and I felt I had most likely offended the universe greatly to have all the things happen to me that way, I knew it would all end up okay.   Hard times had hit before, and then I wasn’t so sure I’d come out of it in one piece. This time, I knew I might not come out of it in one piece, but brokenness could be just as valuable. When you are broken, something beautiful could very well come out of the brokenness. To a seed, that’s the only way to make a flower: complete destruction.

Now that I feel this growing season slowing down I’ve decided it’s not enough just to flower. I don’t want to flower and die. I am not going to be an annual. I would rather be a perennial. Annuals are beautiful, and they bloom so bright and pretty. However, annuals sprout, flower, seed, and die in one growing season. I know I won’t actually die, but I also don’t want this to be the end. I want to keep on growing.

Perennials have it a little tougher. They persist. They have to take measures to prevent not dying off during the time when they are not in their growing season. Some build structures in order to survive the other seasons when they are not in bloom, such as bulbs or seeds. They have shorter blooming periods, but when placed with other plants with blooming periods that are not the same as theirs they help provide beauty even after their season is over. Some even keep their leaves year round and return to bloom year after year.

Just like flowers, that’s what people need. They need to be surrounded by other “perennials” that have different growing seasons so they can all help each other be the most beautiful as they flower. Where we are “planted” matters. Where we are planted can change a perennial into an annual if planted where they don’t grow best. We all want to grow. We all want to be brilliant flowers. We just have to find the right amount of sunlight, the right amount of rain, and grow.

My Life, the Coloring Book

I have 35 coloring books lined up on a shelf. I refer to them in polite company as memories.  Sometimes I take them down and flip through them.  I’d like to say I colored them in all by myself, but I didn’t.  I helped color them in by the things I did, people I chose to be around, and who I let hold crayons.

Who holds your crayons? When I was little my grandmother, my babysitter, kept the crayons on a high shelf in the pantry.  At the time, I hated that and resented having to ask for them when I wanted to use them.  Looking back, the ones we love hold the crayons in more than one way.  She helped color those early years in, and kept my crayons safe.  She helped choose people I would be around, and therefore she also chose who held the crayons to color in my first five coloring books.

When you get a little older you want to start making everything your own.  You use crayons to color outside the lines to test your limits.  You use colors you’ve never used before, and they might become new favorites.  You start seeing friends, and not just family all over your coloring book pages.  It becomes even more beautiful when you flip back though them.

When you are a teenager pages might have equal dark and light on them.  Splashes of color that are vibrant are right beside colors of memories of middle school and high school trauma.  We take the good with the bad and hope that in the end our pages look prettier each day.  Sometimes they do.  Sometimes they don’t.

As an adult we choose who holds our crayons.  We shape our coloring books just as much as we shape our family’s and friend’s coloring books.  Loved ones get married.  Loved ones have babies.  We color the most vibrant colors of all.  Loved ones die.  Loved ones get divorced.  We color some of the darkest pages of all as adults.

What color of crayon are you holding over your family and friend’s coloring books?  Are you a bearer of light?  Are you shading in rich, bold colors?  Are you warming the pages with your presence?

Some pages are meant to be dark.  Some beautiful things come out of darkness.  If someone scribbles all over your pages with ugly colors, the pages that follow can be some of the most beautiful.  After a rainstorm can come a beautiful rainbow.  You can’t choose the colors when you let people color in your coloring book.  You just get to choose the crayon holder.

The Absolute Value of Humans

This week I taught 5th graders about integers.  We discussed the number line they were used to, which started with zero and only had positive numbers, and then I added in negative numbers.  We practiced getting used to this number line by doing the integer dance.  It closely resembled the electric slide, but the point was to get the students used to moving positive and negative directions.  After all, number lines can be tricky.

We are taught in primary grades that zero is a starting place.  Eventually we get fluent enough in math to amend our previous thoughts about zero and the number line to include negative numbers.  So, now our number line increases to show that really, zero is the middle of a big scale with infinite integers on each side. All numbers on both sides gain their identity from the zero, or the origin.  So, you could say the value of a number is dictated by how far away a number is from the origin, or zero.  This is the absolute value. This week while teaching I wondered “what if we saw people with absolute values, instead of only positives and negatives?”

Zero is the only integer that is neither positive nor negative.  In theory we all want to be greater than zero.  No one wants to be a negative number.  Theoretically being a negative number means you are worse than when you started at the origin.  Zero technically means no objects are present.  If you offer a child zero popsicles, zero pieces of candy, or zero trips to the zoo it might seem to them that zero is a negative, but really, it isn’t.  It’s just unrealized potential.  Zero of something just means nothing has been added or taken away.

Life is just a giant number line.  It’s a series of positives and negatives.  We take steps forward, and we take steps backward. Sometimes we are way ahead of the origin.  Sometimes we are behind the origin.  There are times we tend to feel our value is less than zero when more bad than good happens.  I was encouraged when I thought about absolute value.  We can be -6 or 6 from zero, and the absolute value of both of these is still 6.  There are no negatives in absolute value.  So, even when we have terrible things happen, our value is never negative.  We are always just so many spaces away from where we started, and knowing that can help us get back on the right path, which is right back up the number line.  As we take steps up and down the number line, instead of focusing on the negatives, it is a lot more fun to pretend we are just doing the electric slide.

Existential Geometry: Don’t Be An Asymptote

Everything is made up of lines. As humans we spend our days drawing lines, crossing lines, walking lines, or signing on dotted lines. We drive inside of lines, we stand in lines, we argue over property lines, and lines of code make up how you see this blog entry. Lines are important. Lines give our world meaning it would not have without them. We live our lives in relationship to lines.

Today I was teaching geometry, which at first seems harmless enough, but when people wrote the book on analytic geometry something tells me what goes on in my brain isn’t exactly what they had in mind. Today when explaining parallel lines to a student it occurred to me how sad parallel lines would be if they had human characteristics. We know that parallel lines are always the same distance apart. They will never touch. They never get any closer than they were the day before. They point in the same direction. The old joke goes, “Parallel lines have so much in common! It is a shame they will never meet!”

The better existential question is do the parallel lines know each other exists? Do they whisper across the plane? Do they know just how congruent they are? They are always moving in the same direction, but will never share a common point. How many people do we pass in the halls at work or on the road in our cars and we might all be driving toward a common location, but we will never meet? We might be listening to the same radio station, eating the same breakfast, or drinking the same brand of coffee, all while never knowing this, and will never come to a point in our lives where we do know this. I think of this kind of line cinematically as The Lake House. In order for those two lines to meet, they had to move to an entirely different plane. I’m glad they did too, because what a frustrating plot otherwise!

There are also lines that intersect. You can have intersecting lines, and some of those intersecting lines happen to be perpendicular. I know I have met a lot of people that I have come into contact with at some point in my life, and I have no idea where they are right now. The geometrical reason for this is we weren’t perpendicular lines. Perpendicular lines are interesting, because they aren’t as tragic. Two lines are perpendicular when they are right angles to each other. Perpendicular lines meet. They meet at one spot. We know that when they meet at this one point, they form a right angle. There is hope there, right? They meet! And when they do, they form not just an angle, but a right angle. Intersecting lines are the Casablanca of the movie world, while perpendicular lines are more When Harry Met Sally. You do have to realize though that even Harry and Sally knew when the time was right to be perpendicular. For a while we were all on the edge of our seats.

There is but one winner for the saddest existence when it comes to lines. It goes to the asymptote. Asymptote derives from Greek meaning “not falling together.” These lines come as close as you can get and never intersect. They appear as though they might intersect, and as soon as they have you persuaded they are going to intersect, they run parallel all the way to infinity. I think of this kind of line as the movie Lost In Translation. I’ve also never forgiven the movie writers for that ending, but I digress.

Archimedes said, “The shortest distance between two points is a straight line,” but once you grow up you realize it is a lot more complicated than that. You see that rarely are lines straight, rarely are they what you imagine them to be, and you tend to want to color outside the lines just a bit. You also realize that the best of friends know how to read between your lines, and most importantly the most critical line is your smile. As long as you still have that, you have everything.

Hanging It Up

There is nothing on my walls of my living room. I had never really thought about it until a friend of mine mentioned that the walls were bare at their place too. They too had gone through what I will call an unexpected loss of a long-term living situation. They said they couldn’t quite bring themselves to hang something up, but they weren’t sure why. That got me to thinking about what it means to hang something up on the wall.

When I moved out of the house I shared with my ex-husband I took a few of the wall hangings. They were things I loved or had bought specifically because I liked them, even though I knew they wouldn’t be his favorite. I had great intentions for those pieces, but so far 7 months after I moved out I still haven’t hung them up. Some are in storage, while others have sat right behind the couch mocking me as I chose not to hang them. I don’t have one picture displayed. What is wrong with me?

I thought about it and I think that while the walls around me are technically mine, I’m still possibly a little bitter that they are my walls.  These walls are not walls I had planned for myself. These walls were walls I was forced into moving into because of a situation. These walls are temporary. Does that make them less important? Does a temporary situation mean I shouldn’t hang things up to make this place mine? Hanging things up means coming to peace with what is my life in the now. I have to admit that my life looks nothing like what it did a year ago, and I have to be okay with that.

After confronting a lot of feelings, a nice hot bath, and a fit of rage and crying I think I am ready to accept my walls. My walls don’t have to be perfect. They don’t have to be my walls forever. But my home is my home. My life is different, and that doesn’t make it bad. What my home was missing in the bare walls is life. We live here, so my walls should have life. They should have life because I have a lot of life left.

So, tomorrow I will hang up something. It doesn’t all have to be done in one day. I will make this place mine, because for now, it is mine. It’s time to build something new, and to do that I need to live where there is life all around me. I’m going to hang it up.

Finding Freedom Serendipitously

Sometimes the things we count as blessings weigh us down.   Is it nice to have an easy life where you don’t have to worry about much? Absolutely, yes! However, I wouldn’t trade this year for anything.  Once I lost a few big puzzle pieces to the things I considered “my life,” I came to the realization that what we have does not make our life what it is.  The circumstances we live in today might not be the same tomorrow.  This is not always a bad thing. Sometimes losing things reveals what is really important.  A lot of good has come out of all I lost this year, and I’ve been thinking about all I have to be thankful for. I’m thankful for losing my job, losing my home, and losing my marriage.

I lost my job one day before I was scheduled to move out of my house because my husband and I were separating. I already signed the lease when I found out the job I based my entire budget around was no more. This year has been challenging. The week before school started I still had no hope of a teaching job. Then I got a call to teach algebra at my old high school. I did that, and then a month later a job opened up for a special friend that needed me to take over her elementary class because she was ill. The result of this is what I am thankful for. I got to teach 100 students this year instead of just the normal 24. I got to network with over 50 new teachers, and I made friends along the way. I found out exactly who my friends were at my old job. I saw my teachers from high school and made new memories with them. I got to see the room where I met one of my best friends at my old high school. Realizing that my job as a teacher did not make me a teacher, and as a result I was a teacher even without a job was empowering. I taught things I never thought I could teach, did things I never imagined I could do, and I loved teaching something I would have never guessed I could love. I have taught in a better environment with better morale, and I have gotten to teach with one of my very best friends. I got to sit in other people’s chairs, and see things from a different view. That was a blessing. I’m thankful I lost my job.

Losing my home was hard. Being asked to leave when I had no real direction was very sad, and then losing my job made it seem like I lost all sense of home. But 5 and a half months later I look back at all I gained when I lost that house. My apartment has allowed me to see just how little I need to be truly happy. My kids call my place home, and it doesn’t matter they go back and forth from sharing a room here to having a cavernous 3,000 square foot house every other week. My place is warm and cozy. I have had great times here with many friends that I would never have invited over before because of the atmosphere at my old house. My new place has seen love at its best, grief at its rawest, and hope at all times. I’m thankful I lost my home.

Marriage is supposed to be forever. It’s supposed to end with side by side tombstones, with the dashes between filled with love and laughter. Mine ended in October and instead I received paperwork, a bill for court costs, and a sense of cluelessness at how my life had turned out like this. I was hurt, and pretty badly, at just how little the last 15 years of my life meant to someone who was supposed to be my best friend. But, once it was over and the dust settled I realized I gained so much from it. This year I reestablished my sense of self. I made new priorities. I got closer to my kids, and had new experiences. I was a responsible adult. I made mistakes. I realized that I am, aside from any other person I could be attached to emotionally or legally, a complete person. I am thankful I lost my marriage.

It’s strange to feel a sense of joy in loss, but if what you gain is greater than what you lose, than I guess the tradeoff is worth it. Anything can weigh you down.  You can have too much of a good thing.  Finding joy in the journey to where I am now assures me that no matter what life throws at me, there is always a new page to be found.  Turning the page is painful, grief-ridden, and ugly.  The result is a freedom that comes from surviving something you never thought you could and coming out on the other side a new creation ready to take on anything life has to offer.  That is pretty amazing.

To My Beautiful, Newly Minted 12-Year-Old Daughter

Dear Baby Girl,

Today is an important day. Twelve years ago you were brought into a world that already looks a lot different than it did then. The evening I met you face to face we were watching the news, and I thought about the scary world you were going to face. I doubted my ability to keep you safe in a world where people hurt each other on purpose. Of course, I meant strangers, but this year your own parents did what you had labeled unthinkable. They got a divorce, and they hurt you more than any stranger ever has. We didn’t start out to hurt you, or for that matter, each other.

I always liked October because that was when all the leaves fell off the trees after achieving brilliant colors like gold, red, and orange. It never seemed sad when the leaves fell because it is understood that in order for there to be a spring, there must first be a fall. So, that’s how I hope you can grow to see this period in our lives together. Our family achieved brilliant things, just like those trees’ colors, but just because we don’t all live together in one house doesn’t mean life is over. We have a ton of life left in us.

So, I sat down to think about what I would give you if I could give you anything on this very important birthday. I would pick courage, but you already have more than your share of that. I see it everyday. I’d choose to encourage you to be who you really are, but again, you do that without blinking, despite your peers. Beauty would also be pointless because your heart is already shining out of your sparkling brown eyes and showing the world how caring and wonderful you are. Then it came to me, and I knew it was a perfect gift.

If I could give you anything, I’d give you mistakes to make. I’d also gift you not being afraid to make those mistakes. I know you’ll give me a deep frown when you read this and grumpily say, “Mom!” Please understand that this gift keeps on giving. Making mistakes is priceless. I’ve made more than my share, and I have even hurt people with my mistakes. I’ve made mistakes I’m incredibly sorry for, and I’ve made a few I don’t consider actual mistakes unless you look at other people’s definition of mistake. No matter what kind of mistake you make, you come away with something valuable. You’ll have more knowledge, strength, and hope that things can get better. Some of my “mistakes” are the best things I ever did.

Please know the world is still a scary place. It’s probably more scary now than when you were born, but don’t let that change YOU. Take all that courage, beauty, and being yourself and make some mistakes. You only get a few years anyway. Just yesterday I was holding a tiny bundle of pink and purple, and today I have a giant, leggy, beautiful 12-year-old. You are perfect, and don’t let anyone ever tell you any different, not even when you make mistakes.

I love you more than you could ever know,