Change

halloween candies
Photo by Kristina Paukshtite on Pexels.com

I love Halloween. And I have loved watching my son dress up and go trick or treating with his friends.  But this year he was a bit hesitant.  No ideas what to be. Couldn’t find a costume. Had a hard time deciding to go to a friend’s or have a friend over.  I was starting to get nervous that he would want to stay home.

Eventually, we had a plan in place, a last minute costume, and a request that Dad go with Munchkin and his friend around our neighborhood in the dark of night, and the drizzle of rain.

But I knew deep in my gut that this year might be the end.

The end of being a kid.

The beginning of being a tween.

And tonight that became even more clear as I listened to him talk with his friend. They were in the back seat of our car as we made our way to a school event.  And as I drove, I noted the deepening of their voices, their casual bantering,  and their friendly laughs.

And that is when it hit me. My son has passed the threshold from little kid to adolescence.  The realization is jarring. What happened to the little boy I used to read bedtime stories to?  Will we ever sit on the floor and play Legos again?   He is too big now to sit and cuddle in my lap.

I’ll be honest. I have dreaded this stage.  After teaching middle school for 17 years, I have become well aware of the various pitfalls.  Tech addictions. Bullying. Anxiety over grades. Early sexual experiences.  Peer pressure.  Cybercrap, etc , etc, etc.  He already has friends with “girl friends”. Most have cell phones. Some have already pushed the boundaries into trouble.

Munchkin’s world is very different from mine at his age. Maybe it is just an age thing, but the world seems suddenly chaotic and uncertain in 2019.

But the truth is that Munchkin needs to find his way in this world.  I should not tighten the reins so to speak, but let them loosen.  He will need to explore, and fall down.  We will need to be there to help him back up.  Munchkin is not Dad. Nor is he me. He is his own person.

And maybe it is time for me to be me, and not mommy.  It is time for me to be Mom, a signal that Munchkin has crossed into tweenland and that it’s time for me to remember my identify before he arrived.  I should relish the opportunity to delve into my hobbies and interests, and maybe even some self-care.

Don’t get me wrong. We will still have clear boundaries and expectations. We hope to wait until 8th for a cell phone.  There will be limits on how much time he spends playing video games. Rated R movies are off limits. But we give him space and time with friends. I expect to drive him to games and gatherings.  And we will try our best to act from love, and not fear.

But tonight as I sit here typing, I know I will remember November 1st as recognizing the change.  And I will try not to mourn the past as I wish it hadn’t gone so fast.

Jennifer

 

 

 

 

A Writer’s Identity

rorschach

 

Can you call yourself a writer if you aren’t writing?

I think about writing. I read about writing.  I read. But write?

Some suggest that you fake it until you make it, IE you repeat I AM A WRITER, I AM A WRITER, I AM A WRITER, forcing a manifestation of that truth.

There have been moments during the past six months when I make empty promises to myself about writing, and each promise is premised with “when”.

When I finish cleaning the house, when I finish grading the papers, when I am not so damn tired…when is an awful word.

A friend told me an anecdote about Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame.  Apparently Gilbert’s mentor had asserted something similar, that Gilbert wasn’t passionate about writing if she didn’t write.  This makes me wonder if writing is a passion, or the dream of it is.

Even as my fingers awkwardly peck on the keys tonight, I am thinking how I want to catch up on Evil, which I think is wonderfully written.

And then I glance at my mobile office and glimpse the bulging folder of papers that need to be graded.  At least I could grade some while EVIL plays in the background.  Can’t grade while I am trying to write.

And there is the mess in the kitchen.  The laundry sprayed on the basement carpet.  The lunches that need to be made.

I could quit.

Cold turkey.

Then there is that nagging itch and the little voice whispering “You haven’t given it your best shot yet.  How far can you take it?”

I yawn again.

Sip the night time tea.

And consider identity.

How much has writing been a part of my identity?  I often identify as a writer, almost as if it is a badge of honor. I am connected to not one, but two critique groups, which often push me to either pluck a trunk tale, or at least sit at the computer.

In my thirties, writing was a large part of my identity.  My friends were all writers.  I went to conventions and workshops.  For a while I must have owned twenty books on writing, most of which are gone.

But now I am barreling towards fifty, like the stocky dwarves in the river from THE HOBBIT.  I feel as if I am holding reins to so many runaway horses that a few will slip from my tenuous grasp at any moment.  The rein that holds WRITING is getting frayed, yet it is tangled between my thumb and forefinger.

Does giving up writing mean giving up on me?

Stay tuned…

Jennifer

 

Nana and Peach Pie

peaches

 

Nana is 100 years old.  And she still teaches me how to live.

This week when I visited, my Aunt and I sat with her after lunch, Nana in the wheelchair by the window, and my aunt and I perched on some poor excuse for a bed.  Beneath the window was an arrangement of The New York Times.  The TV’s remote control sat on top of it, holding papers in place.  You can smell age in such a room, a combination of bleach and baby powder.  Sometimes there are shadows in the corners.  I swear in those moments, I can feel Death biding her time.

After lunch, our ritual is to have a cookie or two.  There are usually Milanos, or Vienna Fingers. Sometimes there are Chips Ahoy.  Nana’s greatest line is “Looky, looky, where are the cookies?”  The first time she said it, I busted out laughing, shocked at her emerging sense of humor.  I can still remember her sheepish grin.  She even asked, “Did I say that out loud?’

But on this day, Nana swore there were no cookies.  She scolded my aunt for not bringing any. But my aunt said that there were a few different kinds in the tiny college fridge on the other side of the room. As a dutiful granddaughter, I went to get them.  While pulling out the cookies,  I found a small Tupperware with a piece of peach pie.

Puzzled, I asked Nana where she got it.  Turns out that the woman who comes to hang with Nana in the afternoon had brought it, a gift from the woman’s own mother.  My first thought was how considerate this aid was.  Some of you may know that it is difficult to find a good aid in a nursing home. The second thought that bounced between my ears was I was surprised that an aid still came in the afternoons.  My aunt had groaned about the extra expense, claiming that we couldn’t afford it for long.  Nana’s response would be “I won’t be around much longer.” This childlike manipulation seemed to have worked.

Surprising me again, Nana chose to forgo her usual after lunch Milano for the peach pie.  My aunt was about to nuke it when I told her not to unless we took it out of the plastic container.

I searched the cabinets over the sink and found just one plate.  It happened to be one that my sister had made a few years earlier  probably at one of those sip ands women go to.  It saddens to me to think that Nana doesn’t have plates, cups, or silverware anymore. It’s just another reminder that of how memories tend to anchor my experiences.  Nana had had gorgeous silverware, and beautiful goblets my grandfather had swiped during WWII.  Now there are no plates, silverware, or wine goblets.  I am not even sure where they ended up.  Maybe they are in a cousins’ basement.  Or perhaps they ended up at Good Will.  Not that it matters, but my brain clung to this detail like pink bubblegum to a high-heeled shoe.

After nuking the pie, I took a white paper napkin and tucked it into Nana’s shirt collar.  The action reminded me of putting a bib on my son when he was little.  She grinned at me, just like he had.

“Think I’ll make a mess?” she asked.

I smiled as I handed her the pie and grimaced at the plastic fork.  But Nana didn’t seem to care.  She dug into the piece of peach pie,  stabbing it like Ahab trying to kill Moby Dick.  And this was after eating a full lunch!  I marveled at her appetite.  It wasn’t so long ago that she was in the hospital with an IV and refused to eat.

My aunt was chatting about one thing or another, and I thought to ask her about the aid.  But Nana dug into the pie again with a sheepish grin.  Peach juice and pie crust pieces fell onto the napkin, evidence of her enjoyment.  She was genuinely happy in that moment, stopping only to describe the woman that would arrive later that afternoon.

Asking that question about the aid didn’t seem so important. Neither did the plastic fork, or ceramic plate.  All that mattered was that Nana enjoyed her pie.  And I was here to witness it.  Asking about how we were paying for the aid, or complaining about the plastic fork, or reminiscing about the fine china Nana used to have dissipated with each forkful. Nana didn’t need to know the particulars of her existence in that moment.  She just needed to feel joy.

It didn’t matter that Nana is now immobile and spends her days in a wheelchair.  Or the financial crisis of trying to pay for assisted living looms in the near future.  Nor, the presence of a plastic utensil.  None of these was worth mentioning.  “Just let her be!” my thought screamed at me.

All that mattered was being there.  And witnessing the sweet happiness a stranger’s generosity can bring.  I was present for those eternal minutes.   And I am grateful that I chose to keep silent and just watch, recognizing that it was Nana’s moment, not mine.

Excessive Emails

money pink coins pig

It’s almost Summer folks! And like many teachers, I am ready for a break.  The end of June brings a job change.  I become a full-time MOM.  And while all you who don’t work in education groan, keep in mind, teachers don’t get paid twelve-months a year, at least the ones I know.  This means that while those last weeks in June and July are fun, I start to get a bit antsy about money in August.  And by the time September comes around, I start to bite my nails.

So I’ve been thinking about ways to not experience summer $ stress. Recently, I read that a strategy to save money is to unsubscribe from all the emails you get from various companies.  The emails promoting sales get me to click all the time. Now I don’t know about you, but I love a good sale.  And this is where I trick myself into buying something not for right now, but for the future, because….well you know…you might just need that something two months from now.  Did I tell you how much I loathe Prime Day?

Now I don’t know how many emails you get a day, but my inbox is typically flooded with over one-hundred.  Various companies, from Children’s Place to Michael’s to Staples send me emails hoping to push my BUY ME button.  So this morning I decided that today was the day, even though the Macy’s sale email was enticing, to unsubscribe to as many email lists as I could.

This was not easy.

First off, have you seen how little the unsubscribe button is?  And then when you press it, you can find yourself into a screen that gives you options:

A. Keep the emails coming!

B. Send me less!

C. unsubscribe.

Once you’re through that hurdle, then you are often faced with the following choices:

You don’t want these emails anymore because:

A: You get too many.

B. You want fewer.

C. You don’t want to hear from us anymore.

They should offer a D option: Destructive Financial Gremlins

It took me on average over 15 minutes to unsubscribe from ten vendors.  Lands End was the worst! It bounced me to two extra screens.  After ten, I was tired.  So I quit.  Tonight there are 28 new emails in my inbox! UGH!

It amazes me just how easy it is to spend money in our economy, and how challenging it is to get companies’s hooks out of our heads, hearts, and piggy banks.  It terrifies me just how much companies know about me.

I expect to receive “We want you back!” emails tomorrow.

So I’ll let you know if not seeing emails curbs my addiction to spending during sales.

If you have any neat saving tips….post them below! I’d love to hear them, and I bet a few of my readers would too.

Happy Writing!

J.Monell

 

 

Doors

arch architecture art blue

 

I’ve been thinking about doors lately: the ones that remain open, the ones that are closed, and the ones we have our fingers bent around the edges while leaning back with all our might.

Doors are portals to life.

And figuring out which ones are open, closed, or closing is important.

I just had an experience with one that I should never had tried opening again.  Looking back, I thought going through that door and reengaging with a group I had left nearly a decade ago would bring more joy.  Instead I couldn’t help but compare how things were to how “they used to be”.  While I thought I could be of service, I felt overwhelmed by numerous demands of my time.  Worse, I didn’t feel the connection to the people I used to.  There was some with the people I had worked with in the past.  But after less than a year, I realized I had changed.  And so had the group.  The experience was an exercise in business, as well as reliving the past.

So I walked out the door again.  And I got hurt.  Then bitterness washed over me like ocean waves, sucking me into the sands of morose.  It was clear.  If I wasn’t part of the group.  Then I didn’t belong in the same space.

I walked out that beautiful spring day feeling offended.

Now I stand looking at the circle of doors around me.  Some are open.  Some ajar.  Some shut and sealed.  And I question which is which and where to go from here.

Middle age is like this.

I am aware of time.  Time that has passed.  The time I might have left.  And regret overhangs like a sepulchral dome over my doors.

Thanks for being patient as I figure out which doors are still open or ajar.

Namaste,

J. Monell

Change

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It’s been quite a while since I’ve blogged.

Sorry about that.

Last September I started a new job.  When I first heard I had it, I was so excited. I had waited ten years for this opportunity, and the last few, when I was burned out, were the ones when I thought I needed a complete job change, not just a new job.

Now it did change my hours, and my family’s morning routine.  But I had to give up some stability, and the confidence that comes with having mastered old material. Yet, I report to someone new and hang out with different colleagues.

I had so many expectations.

One of which was that my entire life would change for the better.  And while many things have changed for the better, some fundamental, personal challenges have not.

And that was my mistake.

Sometimes people believe that a change will change who they really are.  Like a new home, a new job, a new spouse, that new phone.  It’s as if our minds are tricking us that if only this changed, everything would be better.  But these changes are only superficial.

Sure, my new job has renewed my faith in the profession.  I have new energy at work.  I no longer dread going.

But my own expectations of the job, and of myself, have pushed me into a frenzy of working longer hours at home, learning new skills, and having that “this is my first impression” complex.  I don’t have the same confidence in my own success as I did.

And all this had prompted me to pay for this change with time. The new job has taken up so much of it that I have not addressed those fundamental personal issues that my mind tricked me into thinking the new job would magically solve.

I lost my balance.

And those other issues I want to address? They may have slid into the background, but they put on even more terrifying masks and pop up when I least expect them.

It’s going to take real effort to solve them, not just a superficial change.

Think about life changes you have experienced.  Were they all you expected? Leave me some comments below. Love to hear from you.

And bear with me reader.  I promise to start writing again.

JMonell

Reading Logs and Other School Crap

abc books chalk chalkboard
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

*In full disclosure, I am not just a middle-aged mom.  I happen to teach for a living.  But that doesn’t mean that I don’t feel the need to rant from time to time.

Education has become a business.

And a part of that business includes endless amounts of paper for parents to sign, not to mention dozens of emails a day for a parent to read.  But let’s leave that for another time.

Reading logs, practice logs, and other such forms that require a parent to sign daily are a waste of time.   Period.

I can hear you already, but aren’t you a writer?  Don’t you want your stories read?

Sure I do.  Not that they will be read in schools anyhow.

How else is the teacher ensuring that the child studies, reads, practices, etc?

Blah. Blah. Blah.

The problem is twofold.  First, my son got the message, from a very early age, that you don’t read for pleasure.  You read to record a number in a tiny box that requires you to ask a parent for a signature nightly.   I’m not against keeping track of activity, such as reading, eating, and exercise.  But for a kid, it becomes one more thing to worry about.

Mine worried so much that there was one time when he forged my signature because I wanted to finish a yoga DVD.  He might have been 8.  When I asked why he forged my name,  he said “I’m afraid of getting into trouble.”

Fear.

That’s what these logs can bring to a child.

Second, the logs can be used to “grade” students.  The recent one we have indicates that the log must reflect a certain amount of instrument practice per week, with a signature,of course.  The kicker is that the completed log is worth 50% of the grade!

My son did not understand the implication or importance of the log.  It took him three weeks to show it to me.

Yeah, I should have done the nightly SHOW ME YOUR STUFF ritual.

And I wondered why his grade in the class was lower than the other classes.

My problem with this is that I KNOW many parents just fill it out regardless if their child practiced at all.  Lying to get a grade is nothing new.  But the teacher is depending on the parents’ integrity.

Look at our world today.  Our much integrity do the adults have?

Worse, grading should be used to assess skill.  Did my son master the skill that was presented?  Did he surpass expectations?  Did his ability to produce a C sharp fall short of expectations?  No idea.  He just did not practice enough at home, or he didn’t write it down and remember to ask for a signature.

Practice should be practice.  NOT GRADED.

Logs should be a personal tool to measure growth towards a goal.  Not the end assessment.

And the business model in school needs to be busted out.

These are children. NOT WIDGETS!

close up photography of microphone
“Mic Drop”