Goose chases, passports and the times in which we live

Ok so I don’t know whether to scream in frustration, cry in frustration or to laugh in resignation.  I think I’ve figured out the entire root of my troubles. I can trace it back, all the way back, to the day I was born.  The first red flag.  I was born then immediately put up for adoption (and that story is for another day).  A wonderful couple was matched up with this new little bundle of joy and was to soon become a family.

My father (the one adopting me) tells of how on the night before they were to pick-up their new daughter, they were out eating with another couple.  The other couple wanted to know what my (soon to be) parents were going to name their new child.  My dad tells them that his mother’s name is Julia and that his mother-n-law’s name is Mary.  The other couple exclaims “that’s it!!!–you name her Mary Julia, but call her Julie.”   “Great idea.”  Who said that???  The rest is history.

That is the second beginning of all of my troubles, and remember, the first was the whole being born thing.

Life rocks along pretty well until it’s time to start school.  On the first day of school teachers start calling roll and are looking for “Mary.”  “Who’s that?!” I wonder– “my name is Julie.” “That Mary girl has my same last name”.  And so the story goes on and on, all the way through college.  I think I’m Julie but legally, I’m Mary.  Ok, I can live with that little piece of confusion.  I’ll just correct all the first day roll callers.

One day a nice boy asks me to marry him. I’m going to get married!  YAY!  Julie is to pick up a new last name.  And like all good southern girls of the day, who love things monogramed, I will be Julie, Maiden Name, New last name—the best of both worlds—–or so I thought.  Has anyone figured out yet where all of this is going ??!!

Once I’m married Social Security says I need to update my name on my card so I can still get paid at work and match up with who I say I am and so the Tax man, no doubt, can find me.  Ok.  I can fix that.  I’ll go stand in a very long line, wait and wait for my number to be called and change my old name to my new name.

But for some reason, a reason I do not know or recall, my driver’s license is still using my “legal” name.  Ok, no problem, it’s just one of my now many names, it has a picture, I’m good to go.

All of that is fine, that is until 9/11.  After 9/11 everything changes.  Everything changes for everyone.  We suddenly realize our lives will never be the same as we knew them to be.  The Government has decided it must now do a better job of identifying people. It must know who is or who isn’t a citizen.  I still don’t think they have this part down quite yet but I suppose it’s just a work in progress, kind of like the Budget…. but I digress.

The Government tells me via the DOT and Social Security that I need to have all legal documents match.  Ok.  I can do this.  I can take time off from work and go to the Social Security Office and wait in a long line, again.  I can wait and wait for my number to be called and change my name–again.

Whew!  Glad I got that over with!!!

Then the Pope dies.  John Paul II.  I am devastated.  And yes, I sincerely was (still am) a huge fan of JPII.  My passport…where is my passport??!!  AGH! It’s expired!!! AGH!!! I want to go to Italy for the funeral!!!  I need to get a new one!!!  However I can’t get one in time!! AGH!!!  But I still need to renew it.  So I do.

“What name do I use?” I muse to myself.  Well I still go by Julie, Maiden name, Last Name so there you go.  And a few weeks later, the Passport arrives…Julia (? hum), Maiden name, Last Name.  OK. That works. Good.  I can now go to Italy to pay my respects.  And I do.

And then a couple of years later my aunt wants to go to Paris.  And we do.  And then my husband wants to go to Vermont.  And we start to– but Delta says “hold up”!  The TSA agent at the gate states “Do you know your name with Delta, which is on your ticket, does not match your license?”  “Oh sure..see I go by Julie.  The other name is just my legal name….”  “Well I can’t let you go through this gate until both ticket and license match.”  “Are You kidding??!”  TSA agents don’t ever kid I discovered.  I tell my husband to go on to the gate and I’ll go back to the counter and get things fixed right up.  When is anything fixed right up at the airport??!!

I stand in a long line, staring back and forth at my watch.  Finally I get up to the desk.  “That will be $350 to issue a new ticket mam” I’m told.  “WHAT!!??”  My phone starts ringing, it’s my husband telling me Security says he has a knife in his bag.  I packed the bag, there’s no knife, “tell them that’s just my straightening iron”– but he is insistent and his voice is getting higher…something about jail.  I have to hang up, I have to figure out this $350 thing!!

I feel tears stinging at my eyes.  Finally a different nice Delta lady tells me it’s going to be OK.  She issues me a new ticket.  I dash to the TSA man.  This time he let’s me pass.  I see my husband. He’s looking very pale.  He’s putting his belt back on and slipping on his shoes.  He starts screaming in that “we’re in public so I can’t scream too loud but I need to scream voice”.  Seems our son who last had the bag had put a pocket knife in the side panel when he was driving back from a Spring Break fishing trip. Who knew??!!  But luckily the panic and horror on my husband’s face signaled to Security that he truly was as surprised as they were. They kept the knife, but let me take my husband.  Don’t know if that was too wise at that very moment, but again, I digress.

Then I retired and my aunt and I wanted to go back to Europe.  Remember the license, the passport, as well as for my name with Delta now, do not match.  But I’m going to Europe, heck yeah!  Surrrre you are.

We’re at the airport and I have to get Delta to issue me my ticket at the desk as I can’t do it on-line because I have so many names—but I’m still me and my pictures are obviously me so I don’t understand, what’s the big deal.  The agent is so nice and issues me my ticket and I’m good to go….or so I think.  There’s another one of those pesky TSA agents.  Do they ever smile??  She looks at my passport and my ticket.  “Why don’t these match?”  “Well you see, they do but Julie is the name I go by.  “It’s a nick name and we don’t honor nick names”  “Oh no it’s not, it’s the name I go by”  “Is it your legal name?  “Well, not exactly, but it is my name!”  “Let me see your license”   Long pause and held breath.  “What’s this name?”  “Oh that’s my maiden name”  more long pause and not breathing.  She finally waves us through. Thank God!! Europe here I come…….

Then there was the whole trying to get through the airport in Berlin when we were suppose to fly home. Another debacle I’m just too tired now to relay and you’re too tired to read….Just imagine all of the above  but it happens all in German.   As soon as I finally got on that plan I swore I’d get this passport thing straightened out once and for all!!!!  Righhhht……..

I call the Passport folks and begin my tale of names blaming all of it on my father.  As if that helps.  They tell me I need certified copies of this and that, sworn affidavits form 3 different people who have known me by all my names, more money, the correct forms, etc……

I look for birth certificates, high school diplomas, college diplomas, tax stubs, pay checks….AGH!!  Why don’t any of these match!!!???  Panic is sinking in as I’m beginning to realize I will never travel or leave this country again.  I call my aunt in Florida.  She has my baptismal record.  Good!  “Certify you know me and send it my way.”  I call the Passport folks again.  This time the nice lady tells me I just need a birth certificate, a marriage license and my drivers license, more money, a letter of explanation and I’m good to go.  Great!!  Now where is that marriage license……..

Fast forward to today.

I was married in Atlanta.  No problem.  Bet my license is there.  I look on line and I can go downtown to the Probate court and purchase a certified copy.  I haven’t been to downtown Atlanta in 30 years so I call my oldest and dearest friend who lives in Atlanta.  I tell her we have an adventure but she has to drive.  She’s in.  Off we go to the Probate Court.

Did you know you have to pass through security just like at the airport?  I began to panic about my whole name thing when I remembered this wasn’t the airport.  Whew!!  We make our way up to the proper office where I sign in.  Seems there are lots of folks wanting firearm permits. Go figure. That makes me a little nervous but then I remember I just want a marriage license.

The clerk calls my name.  I tell her what I need, give her my name, wedding date and proceed to wait as she scans the records.  Nothing.  She has nothing.  What!!??  Here’s my husband’s name, try that.  Nothing.  “WE’VE BEEN MARRIED 30 YEARS, WHAT DO YOU MEAN THERE’S NOTHING??!!”  At this my friend quips “guess you aren’t really married.”  At which all the clerks behind the counter start laughing.  I’m not laughing.

And then I remember.  I tell the clerk that I remember we had our blood test in Talladega, Alabama.  “TALLADEGA, ALABAMA?! my friend shrieks.  “What in the world for, Why?!”  I remind her that I am not married to a man who is a planner.  When he realized that we needed a blood test and the wedding was looming, he found  the closest place within driving distance, where we could wait for immediate results without having to go to Vegas –downtown Talledega.  Had we gotten the license there as well??!!

The Clerk told me to call the county office there in Talladega where I could probably find the help I needed —I needed more than help at this moment–a strong shot of liquor was sounding pretty good.  Once back outside I call my husband telling him I have no idea where our license could be–was it in Talladega?  “Talladega, why would it be there?” he asks a little confused.  I explain the whole blood test story hoping to trigger his obviously failing memory.  “Yeah, we got the blood tests there but we got the license in the county of Georgia I was living in at the time.” “ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME??!!”  “WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME THIS WHEN I TOLD YOU I WAS GOING TO DOWNTOWN ATLANTA TO GET OUR LICENSE??!!”  He quietly states that it appears as if I am blaming him for this goose chase of a trip.  He assumed I knew what I was talking about when I told him I was off to Atlanta to get our marriage license.  Now he tells me he thinks I know what I’m talking about….damn straight!!  AAAGGGHHHH!!!!!!!!!

A now very long story short, I called the county office where I now thought my elusive license to be hiding and BINGO!!  Tomorrow I will pay $10, bring home a license, gather all of my other identifying information, write a check for $110 and send it off to the Passport Office.  I will light candles, have a novena said, and offer my oldest child all for a Passport, a Drivers license and a Social Security card to match.

And now the Pope retires and I don’t have a working passport.  Perhaps by the time we have the Conclave and our new Pope—I will be able to go pay my respects.  I will go.

Thank you Mrs. Mckibben

I wonder if others are like me?  As I’ve reached the end of one career path, I can’t help but look back on my journey, remembering exactly how it was that I came to this very spot in life.  For anyone completing a journey, a career, a passage or an achievement, there has always been some sort of help or assistance along the way. Or at least I think there has to have been support of some sort or other.  Maybe it was financial support from parents or a friend who believed enough in you to invest in your venture.  Maybe it was the helpful words of encouragement when there seemed to be only endless road blocks or relentless doors closing and apparent failings abounding….

For me there has been a great deal of help and support along my journey of teaching.  There are not enough words in the world to begin thanking everyone who has offered support, a kind word, or the strength of tireless love and belief in me as an individual and educator.

There is, however, one person in particular I wish to thank who indeed helped to shape who I was as an educator and who I grew to be as an adult.  Mrs. Frances McKibben.

Mrs. McKibben would probably be mad that I was using this particular forum to express my gratitude.  And it should be noted that I have thanked her over the years through my many cards and letters.  But as I have come to the closing of a lengthy career in teaching, I find myself nostalgic with a heart full of gratitude.

I attended a public county high school in a large southern metropolitan area in the mid 1970s.  The Vietnam war had thankfully ended, the drug culture was unfortunately hanging on and “disco”, for good or bad, was emerging as a new form of music.

The current idea and form of technology in schools consisted of a 16mm film projector or the static film strip accompanied by a record that would beep each time the frame was to be changed.  Students learned by way of lecture and note taking.  There was the use of current periodicals such as Time, Newsweek, US News and World Report as well as the local newspapers if one wanted current issues.  There were trips to the library (no media centers in those days) to look up information on the local reels of microfiche.  Teachers were the bulk source for the majority of the information gleaned by the students–that and the current textbooks of the day.

Mrs. McKibben was the head of the Social Studies Department at our High School.  Her reputation preceded her.  You knew of her stature and importance the minute you entered the school in 8th grade.  She was this larger than life presence.  Mostly she taught upper level class-men so chances were a student wouldn’t have her until their junior or senior year. The upper class-men often refereed to her as “Mama Mac” so you knew there had to be a soft side– somewhere!  However she had very little patience for those not mature enough academically or behaviorally– it was best to be “older” and hopefully little wiser—or life would prove to be most unpleasant.

I was not a scholar and struggled terribly with math– not to mention foreign language, and a few other key subjects required for success.  I can remember lamenting to my mom that something was wrong with the way I learned.  Poor Mother would just look and me and try to encourage her defeated daughter.  This was the time before programs existed in schools that addressed such concerns—concerns for learning or the lack thereof.  Programs and classifications such as Special Education, Learning Disabilities, ADD, ADHD, BD, etc. simply were non existent or were just emerging as a serious endeavor within the US educational system.  As a student you were expected to suck it up and “get it” or the consequence was to fail and repeat until you did “get it”.  (There is something to be said for that mind-set as it could produce endurance– as giving up was not often an option).

Mrs. McKibben taught an introductory course of study known as World Foreign Policy which was a required class for the college bound high school student in our school system.  It was a fascinating course, one I wish students still were required to take today as it opened up a world that I previously had had very little concern over or interest in….

This course was my introduction to not only the world but to Mrs. Mckibben as well.  She minced no words and laid down the law.  She was probably in her mid 50’s but seemed “mature beyond her time”.  She had between 30 and 40 teenagers in one class at one time and handled the load with ease and finesse.  She was stern and actually possessed those infamous eyes in the back of her head as she could be in mid lecture on the importance of the Israeli/ Palestinian Six Day War, while writing on the board about Moshe Dayan’s battlefield triumphs, while simultaneously yelling at the star basketball player on the 5th row for attempting to sleep.

The bulk of our assignments were the writing of “position” papers.  These papers were to cover each major area we happened to discuss in class on a weekly basis.  Perhaps a student chose to write about the importance, or not, of Peace in the Middle East.  Perhaps it was the US position on the Cold War.  I can’t remember my first topic but I certainly remember my first grade– a big fat red D.

My paper was returned to me with more red ink than I knew a pen could hold.  There was, however, one comment that stood out particularly painful as it was scratched with apparent vehemence in the middle of the my paper.  I can still see myself sitting at my particular desk on the 3rd row getting that paper back with the comment in bold red ink: “perhaps you should leave my class and go re-take an English class and learn how to write a decent paper before you continue forward”.

I was devastated–for lots of reasons– but I think the main cause of sadness was the fact that this larger than life woman now saw me as inept and as, what I equated to be, “stupid”—especially when I knew I was enjoying  the class, her lectures and the subject matter.  The only sign of redemption was that the grade was a D and not an F— so there had to be something of merit there in those mis-connected words as I knew she would certainly not grace me with any form of pity.

I knew that I did not have have a strong background in writing or the use of English grammar.  Had I had the wrong teachers, somehow missed the important information, been passed on due to pity….???  All I knew was that I was going to have to do something in order to prove my worth.  Loving the subject matter helped.  I hung on to each of her lectures as if I was listening to a riveting tale of intrigue and suspense, which is what so much of history is truly all about—it’s all in how it is presented and she presented it very well and with a vast wealth of knowledge.

I don’t remember much about my continued performance only that I did improve, enough, as I went on to take several more courses taught by Mrs. McKibben, with Russian History being a favorite.   I know I never did impress her with my grades or scores throughout the remainder of high school or college as she often told me that I should just find a rich boy and get married and not worry about college or a career.

I was, however, determined, for whatever reason, to prove to her that I did have a brain, it did work and I could succeed.  But why, I don’t know.  I never was angry with her, never felt belittled—I just wanted to prove to this marvelous woman who had given me a now endless gift of love for History, that she had not wasted any time over me.  I was determined to do my best even though that was a bit sup-par.  Perhaps it was my sheer determination that may have endeared me to her.  I wanted her to be proud of me.  I still do.

Our relationship was close my last two years of high school.  She was the sponsor of the senior class, of which I was an officer.  She was the sponsor of Anchor Club, of which I was a member and I continued taking courses in History and Social Studies well after I had met all the requirements for graduating high school on a College Prep diploma.

Upon graduation I stayed in touch with Mrs. McKibben, often stopping by her house for afternoon visits and for what I  knew was to always be the latest lecture–usually regarding my college behavior and/or performance (darn that sorority) or my academic struggles and that it was never too late for me to drop out….

I suppose talk like that would have made some people very mad, sad or offended–especially an insecure adolescent.  Today a parent would not hesitate calling a Superintendent to complain or threaten a law suit over such talk.  But I knew then (as did my parents), just as I know today, that all of her blustery energy , which seemed perhaps harsh at the time, was simply because she cared—she cared enough about me, not only as her student, but as a person who she wanted to make certain was not only prepared for college, but was prepared for life post high school.  Mrs. McKibben cared enough about me, a sub-par student, to cajole, reprimand, scold, harangue, and mold me into a person who could and would succeed.   All of which, eventually, took me forward in a career I loved and allowed me the opportunity of being honored and named  Teacher of the Year for not only our school but for the entire school system.  I owe her so very much…..

I owe so much to Mrs. McKibben.  She, as well as some of the other teachers, gave me the most important thing besides their knowledge— that being their time.  They took the time to get to know me as a young person who had potential–albeit a bit of a diamond in the rough potential.  The type of “time” that told me they cared– I knew how much they cared during all of the times I was scolded or fussed at over my poor performance on a test, or a poor score during a track meet or a poor judgement call (and we know with adolescents there are many poor judgement calls—like the time I was told not to go to a particular party—I went anyway but she still had to tell me not to go—)

A teacher’s legacy can be very lasting as it can effect generation after generation—just like that of a parent.  Which is what I liken all teachers to–surrogate parents.  I like to think that Mrs. McKibben’s legacy continued on with me as well as her “parenting” skills and often tough love approach.  I know the relationships I’ve had with my students over these 30 plus years have all been molded by my having had Mrs. Mckibben all those many years ago back in high school.

As tough as she was, I knew she cared–cared enough to be tough.  Mrs. Mckibben could have easily over looked me or even basically ignored me as I was not a standout or stella student or an over achiever in her classroom.  She chose, however, to be persistent with me–just as I chose to be persistent with her.  Thank God for that.

Thank you Mrs. McKibben.  I love you.

Why a blog?

I suppose the first question to ask is why does a person “blog”?  I think as a retired educator my answer is simple.  I’ve spent a lifetime “instructing”—communicating if you will.  Some people communicate through the written word, some people communicate through the spoken word, some people communicate through visual imagery, some people communicate through the use of sound….a teacher teaches most often utilizing all of the above but the bottom line is a teacher has something to share.  And that is what I would like to do, I would like to share with whomever reads this “blog”.  Maybe, just maybe, I may offer something to someone which may be of benefit—be it a laugh, a bit of empathy, a shared experience—teachers share….  They share their knowledge, their journeys, their life’s adventures, their failures and their victories, their passions, their dislikes.  For good or bad a teacher molds and forms.

Teaching has often been described as a calling, a vocation—not just a “job”.  The hours are long, the pay is minimal, the rewards are fleeting.  Often it is the family of the teacher who takes a back seat to his/her “kids”.  I’ve often been heard to lament to many a principal that I was a better parent to my “kids” than to my own son.  I often told my students that they spent more time at school with their teachers than they did with their own families—that was why I took my job very seriously and the truly important issue was that I was often a surrogate parent to a myriad of kids.

If you looked into the “about me” profile you’ve read that I recently retired due to my elderly father having been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  53 seems terribly young to retire.  I started teaching right out of the gate if you will.  Graduating college –jumping directly from the frying pan into the fire! ( I will write more about that at another time).  So almost 31 years have passed.  It was time for me to be more flexible with my time for my dad.  It was also time for me to allow some new enthusiasm to enter my classroom.

The transition has not been always easy.  At first I found it sad to be sure—the saying of all of the good-byes and the packing up of a lifetime last May.  I spent almost 31 years in the same school.  That in itself, in this day and time, is amazing.  Whereas I knew the time was at hand, I was still sad and actually quite scared.  I have been in a school setting for almost 50 years.  I was the true Pavlov dog.  I lived on the bell and for the bell.  Freedom and flexibility would be grand but also frightening.

My principal wanted me desperately to stay.  There is something to be said for the veterans amongst the younger crowd.  A veteran teacher may be a bit outdated but they offer stability and have a staying power.  They anchor the ship so to speak.  They may not be the most innovating but they are sustainable.  The Yoda amongst the young Jedi warriors.

On the day that I was honored by our school and had the yearbook dedicated to me and to my time of service, I found myself writing an e-mail to a dear friend and longtime colleague.  I explained about the pain in leaving the one world I had known for so very long but of the peace I had had in how things had played out—from the timing of my decision, to my replacement, to the joy we were currently experiencing in the celebration of my service— that I likened my departure to the departure of a famous NFL player…..following is an excerpt from that e-mail:

Hines Ward was one of the best players UGA had ever seen– much better than Hershel as he could do more things and do them very well.  When he graduated he was drafted by the Steelers.  He’s played his entire career with them.  Last month he made an announcement that he was going to retire.  It was an emotional speech for him– he was still healthy, still a team player, still able to make those plays…but he knew for his body’s sake it was time– go out on top rather than being forced out, embarrassed out, or taken out on a stretcher…I feel that way too.  He cried making his announcement.  It doesn’t mean he no longer loves the game but rather that he knows there is still more life for him to live… I kind of want to think I’m thinking like Hines Ward..

So it is all of that and then some which brings me here—typing away on my computer on my kitchen table vs my desk in my classroom.  Retiring has not meant I am too old, too late, too inept, too passed my prime—it just means I’m having to switch gears and re-learn a few things—like how to be more wife and mom even though my son is almost 25, and certainly more of a daughter.  I figure it’s never too late to learn as I have spent a lifetime teaching others about learning.

So my blogging is not about the end of a  journey but rather about the ending of one path that has only opened up to a new here is to Robert Frost and the woods with the two paths….”two roads diverged in a wood, and I–I took the one less traveled by, and that had made all the difference.”  Here’s to hoping so………………..