a large collective sigh…..

“Listen to the mustn’ts, child.
Listen to the don’ts.
Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts.
Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me…
Anything can happen, child.
Anything can be.”

Shel Silverstein

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(my giddy, degree holding, son)

Did you hear that?

That sound of exhaling?

That whooshing sound Saturday morning…
the sound of a large collective, slow released, heavy sigh?

The sound of years and years of the breath held by two parents, their son…
and now a young wife…
along with a myriad number of friends and family…

A sigh that has actually been held for….
A lifetime.

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See this young boy?
This picture was taken on a balmy Friday night in May of 2007.
It’s the image of young man who had just graduated high school…
standing on the edge of a well anticipated future…

Yet what he, in his delirium of conquering the one mountain failed to realize that carefree night,
was that he was not yet finished climbing…
For looming in the distance, just beyond the horizon of his youthful exuberance,
lay a mountain range far more challenging than what he had just conquered….

That exciting evening, so long ago, indeed marked a successful passing….
The passing of a 12 year long struggle…

Yet the magnitude of the struggle to which I speak is most likely lost on those who have never
experienced or lived through a child who has had to struggle academically.

And whereas I have written about this struggle before…
That of his particular struggle and of our particular struggle as a family…
The massive weight and enormity of it all came rushing back to the forefront of my heart and soul
this past Saturday morning while sitting in a crowded gym of a southern university.

From that fateful day his first grade teacher called me, a fellow educator, telling me she had a concern…a concern that something just wasn’t right…
to finally sitting in a college gym waiting for a commencement ceremony to begin…
our road has been painfully long and arduous.

From the hard diagnosis of a crippling learning disability…(most likely inherited…)
later compounded by a diagnosis of ADD…
It was double indemnity that was sadly to be our unfortunate lot.

There were many hurdles, impossible hurdles…
And there was testing..lots and lots of testing.

There were the years of refusal to take the medications that were promised to help make things easier…
to finally relenting…
Then only to live with the ill effects of those medications on ones body…
Eventually going back to life without medical help.

There were disappointments…
and failures,
and lapses,
and anger,
and frustration…

There were tears…
lots and lots of tears…
from both child and parents.

There were tutors, reading camps, repeated courses, more tutors…
There was working, studying, studying longer and harder then others
There was the staying after, long after others were gone…
There were sacrifices…

And…
There were a few rare triumphs…
The acceptance letters…
Along with the…
changing of schools…
The changing of majors…
The sitting out…
The waiting…
The continued waiting…
The nos,
The not yets,
The not nows…
The too bads…

Yet there were hopes and dreams.
Always hopes and dreams…
Hopes and dreams that would never fade or go away…

And there was a determination to realize those very hopes and dreams…
just like anyone else who has hopes and dreams…
anyone else who was “normal”….
because wasn’t that what so much of this was all about…
just wanting to be normal like everyone else…

Knowing that you were not stupid…that you were not slow or dumb…
as they would whisper behind your back…
Knowing all the while that you were smart and that you could learn…
that you could excel…
that you could be like everyone else…by God!!!
And by God it would be….

You wanted to prove that you were normal…
Normal like those who didn’t have to struggle, didn’t have to work so very hard…
You wanted to be like those who made the good grades, who didn’t have to expend the energies…
You wanted to be like those who just made school seem… easy…

However today is not that day…
It is not to be that day for the retelling of the very long and hard fought journey of ours…
It is not the day for rehashing and re-living the difficulties nor for the recounting of all the struggles…
And it is not a day to expound upon our seemingly misfortunate poor dumb luck…

No…

Today is not that day…

Rather…

Today is THE day to rejoice…
It is a day to soak it all in.
It is a day to exhale.
It is a day to smile.
It is a day for tears.
It is a day of HOPE.
It is a day of DREAMS.
And it is a day of Thanksgiving and Gratitude….

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The Lord has heard my plea;
the Lord accepts my prayer.

Psalm 6:9

Post Script regarding Malala

Hope is nature’s veil for hiding truth’s nakedness.
Alfred Nobel
Sweden Alfred-Nobel2

***A bit of a disappointing Post Script
The Committee who awards the various Nobel prizes announced this morning form Oslo that a Chemical Weapons watchdog group, who has overseen the chemical weapons search in Syria, has won the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize. Unfortunately Malala Yousafzai, the young defiant 16 year old Pakistani girl, who was shot in the head last year by the Taliban and left for dead– all for refusing to back down from the hardline edict that girls should not be educated, did not win. She was the youngest contender.

Watchdog groups are important but I always have a hard time when “groups” win such awards verses the individual who has somehow defied the odds, overcome grave adversity, stood up to tremendous obstacles all in the face of grave danger with little to no regard to self in order to be the still small voice for the masses who have no voice. Alone. No group of support. Simply, alone.

I suppose the argument could be that that “Peace” and working towards that as an end to the means, is what the Weapons group is all about—but to me, that is their job, their responsibility. Is there danger involved? Certainly. But Malala is not ordered, asked, contracted, to be the voice for millions of young girls, she did not volunteer for this global platform, but came to it by simply refusing to stay at home and not attend school. It almost cost her her life but she understood the importance of learning and schooling for children world wide, particularly for countless young girls who still find that a deep double standard exists all around this globe.

Malala will still stand her ground against a terroristic group of men who somehow think it’s ok to burn down schools, pour acid on young girls and who even hunt them down as animals shooting them, as they simply attend school, in hopes of silencing “this rebellious act.” She will continue being the advocate for the countless numbers of girls who are mutilated, enslaved, tortured, bought and sold, pimped, who are considered less than all across this globe. She will continue to educate a world that a girl is a person of worth and that an education is the most important gift you can offer to children other than love.

Here is to education, to the hope that knowledge is more powerful than ignorance and that all children, male and female, deserve to be nurtured, loved and educated by the adults who are all entrusted to care for them.

Do you know Malala?

“A successful man (woman) is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him.” (or her)
David Brinkley

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Do you know Malala? Malala Yousafzai?
Malala is the young Pakistani girl who, on her way home form school last October 9, was shot in the head by the Taliban. In the extreme religious views of the Taliban, girls are not allowed to attend school. The various schools for girls, throughout certain areas of Pakistan, have been systematically victimized. The schools burned and acid thrown on the young female students. Actions sadly used as deterrents to learning and knowledge—all intended to eradicate the educating of generations of young girls.

If intimidation does not quell the desire to learn in the young girls of this muslim Taliban stronghold, then violence seems to be the rod of discipline of choice by the Taliban. Malala was returning home, on her school bus, when the bus was stopped by two men. A man boards the bus and asks “who is Malala?” Malala does not turn away as the other girls do attempting to avert eye contact with the gunman–Malala looks his way. At which point, 3 shots are fired directly at her young 15 year old head.

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Malala was and continues to be an outspoken opponent of the Taliban and their skewed belief that girls should not be allowed to attend school or have the right to an education. It was her outspokenness and defiance that brought her the attention of the Taliban.

It is her miraculous survival, her recovery and continued perseverance to raise the battle cry for girls world wide that, yes, girls have every right to learn, to attend school, to be taught, to be successful, to attain their dreams and goals just as it is for boys which is what all seems to stir the ire of this malicious terrorist group. It is the raising and the continued carrying of this educational battle flag that keeps Malala on the dangerous radar of the Taliban as they have warned that they will indeed kill her yet.

Odd that a global terrorist organization of often masked thugs should be afraid of a 16 year old girl.

On October 11, the latest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize will be announced from Oslo, Norway. The front runner for this year’s most prestigious award is 16 year old Malala Yousafzai.

Malala has taken the bricks of hatred and ignorance that were thrown at her and has in turn laid a firm foundation not only for herself but for all girls world wide–a brave foundation build upon hope and knowledge. On Friday I hope to hear Malala’s name announced as the youngest recipient of an award that has been awarded to such individuals as Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Lech Walesa, Mikhail Gorbachev, Ellie Wiesel, Anwar Sadat, Menachem Begin, Desmond Tutu…to name but a handful…

Will you also dare to pick up the bricks of ignorance and build a foundation of hope and knowledge? Here’s to Malala and to all the young girls all over this planet who all have hopes and dreams……

Why Teaching or How God dropped my life on my head

People have often asked me why I wanted to be a teacher.
When children are asked what they want to be when they grow up,
my response was always that I wanted to be a lawyer.
I don’t know why that was; I didn’t know any lawyers to speak of.
Maybe it was because I had (have) a tendency to argue and/ or defend my “case”—
or so that’s what my husband seems to think.
Wonder why he thinks that?

It’s just probably because I’m stubborn and that I’m always usually right.
I don’t see anything wrong with that.
If the truth were known, I probably watched Perry Mason with my parents and thought that
I could do what Perry Mason did.
How hard could it be to get up in front of 12 people and talk?

Of course I also thought professional football looked fun.
We watched a lot of football when I was young.
When I was little, on January 1st,
all the big bowl games were played on that single day, not like today as we have a month of
bowl games.

My dad would move the small black and white television we had in the kitchen, and then the
one from their bedroom, all to the den in order to have 3 TVs for the 3 major networks
showing all of the games.
It was like a “holy” day in our house.

I was a tomboy and loved football.
I wanted to tackle.
I also wanted to be a receiver because I thought I could run for touchdowns—

How hard could that be?

However, I was also about 8 years old.

Our neighborhood was small but there were lots of kids.
We all gathered in one particular yard.
It was the flattest yard in the neighborhood.
We would play football every fall Saturday afternoon.
If I remember correctly, other than the times I was flattened by the bigger and much older
teenage boys, having the breath knocked out of me, I was pretty good.
I didn’t like, however, how hard the boys threw the ball.
It made it difficult for me to catch the ball.
Maybe that was their point.
They needed to work on that.

By the time I made my way to high school,
I fell in love with history (see the Post Thank you Mrs. McKibben)
even taking a Law class that our Social Studies Department offered to seniors.
I participated in the Mock UN that was held at each year at Georgia State.
It was a statewide event, hosting high school students who had been invited to participate,
representing various countries—just like the “real” UN.

I sat on the Security Council.
We dealt with real-world issues of the day and conducted business just as the real UN.
It was a wonderful experience for high school juniors and seniors,
opening doors of possibilities for kids who probably never would have thought of
exploring a world greater then their own town,
let alone state.
I wanted to be an Ambassador.

How hard could that be?

Problem with me being an Ambassador,
it helps being able to speak another language.
For whatever reason, God did not bless me with the gift of language.
That has always been one of my greatest frustrations/ regrets.
When I was in elementary school, the Fulton County School System decided, in its
infinite wisdom, that all children in the 4th grade should learn French.
Funny I seem to need a command of Spanish these days, not French—but I digress.

By the time I reached the 7th grade,
with three years of French under my belt,
the French teacher would recommend whether or not a student should move on to high school level,
which for us started with the 8th grade, taking the “advanced” level of the language.

My French teacher reluctantly recommended that I could go forward,
taking the “honors’ level of French for the following year.
I wonder if she felt sorry for me since most of my friends were “smart”
and excelled at learning the language, me, not so much.
I think my high school French teachers would have preferred to disagre with this woman,
but luckily for me, they didn’t know me yet.

8th grade was ok because the French teacher, Mademoiselle, seemed to like me.
Looking back I think she actually felt sorry for me.
I struggled to say the least.
Bonjour, Au revoir, une, deux, trios…
I got that.
When it came to having to go around the room reading aloud from our French version of
Dick and Jane, it’s a wonder I’m not scared for life.
I often wonder what happens between the eye, the mind, and the mouth.
What my eyes took in, my brain, failing to process, sent to my mouth for delivery—
brutal.

By the time I was a sophomore, I had Madame.
Madame did not like Julie.
Julie did not like Madame.
I think it was because Julie was not strong in her French learning.
For some reason, unbeknownst to me I often had to stay after school, quite often.
Madame had me “look at the clock.”
I don’t know what that was all about.
However, I suppose it beat writing a hundred times on the board that I was sorry
I did whatever I had done.

It might have had something to do with the time Madame separated me and 3 of my friends,
for, perhaps chatting amongst ourselves about French no doubt.
She moved each of us to the 4 separate corners of the room.
I don’t know exactly why we suddenly felt the urge but one of us stood up and started
singing the latest hair product commercial jingle…
“oh we’ve got streak personality”,
with the next one standing…
“oh we’ve got tip personality”…
“oh we’ve got frost personality”…
and so it went.
I somehow recall it had something to do with the fact that she wouldn’t let our class
have a French breakfast.
I wonder why that was…

I certainly could imagine myself living abroad in some exotic land.
Negotiating, entertaining, wining and dining dignitaries—

How hard could that be?

I liked the idea of travel,
I was sociable, I thought I knew politics and I was pretty certain I knew history.
I was certain I could wing the whole language thing—
surely the world speaks some bit of English…..

As Life progressed, I was simply the best-laid plans of mice men sort of girl who was resting
on shifting sands.

Maturity came creeping in slowly but surely—much to the joy of my teachers.
Funny how by the time a teenager becomes a junior and senior, there comes a “settling” period.
For those who don’t find that “settling” period of Life, for all involved, life
becomes most difficult… as any parent or teacher will tell you.

I was fortunate, as I’ve written in previous posts,
to have had some caring adults in my life,
while I was attempting to navigate the murky waters of adolescents,
coupled with my frustrations of surviving the dysfunctionality of my family.
Had I not had those caring adults, and had I not known that they cared,
I most likely would not be here writing this Post.

A plan began forming in my still immature mind.
Teaching…
counseling…
the priesthood…

No wait!, I’m a girl (that wasn’t cutting edge back in my day)—
I know! a nun…hummmm…

As my luck would have it my high school had two very old and very tired guidance counselors.
I can recall only one visit. It was my senior year and it was time for the final ‘checkoff’
making certain I had met all the requirements for graduation.

That was it—in all of 5 years, I had managed to see a guidance counselor only once.

Theirs was not the open door policy for teenagers who might just need to talk or vent.
We were just coming off the turbulent ’60s—maybe they were all talked out.

That’s it then, I triumphantly thought, I will be a counselor!

someone who is not just concerned with the red tape of credits,
testing, and graduation.
As I know I certainly wish I had had someone who could “counsel” a drowning teenager
it would now fall on me to counsel others.

How hard could that be?

How hard could it be for me to listen to teenagers ramble on about teenage angst.
I was full of opinions; I could whip anyone back into shape…hummmm

Shortly after arriving in college I took my first Psychology course.
I had the head of the department. Everyone told me to drop his course.
“Drop the course?” I thought, how hard could a man be who wore Hawaiian shirts to
a class full of 500 students, lectured a little bit, departed, only to leave the poor
lab mice grad students to pick up his pieces and do the really hard dirty work.
For extra credit, I could go participate in “experiments”…

How hard could that be?

Hummmm

Lesson learned and advice duly noted far too late.
After the quarter, I dropped the Major.
I moved to History.

I stayed with History for two years, unfulfilled and unhappy.
It was all so boring.
The professors were boring.
The reading laborious and this was not my area of love as far as history was concerned.

This was awful.

I had to change or I would be changed.

I moved over to Education.
Not exactly sure why I chose Education…in particular Elementary Education…
but this was when Mrs. McKibben kept telling me to find a rich boy and get married
(people don’t say that anymore, but they did when I was young).

I had to take a course Art for the Elementary Teacher.
I had had art all throughout high school,
with a couple of whacky art teachers
(remember the principal who told me that I didn’t look the part–see the post An Isolationist’s tale).
I liked art well enough but had not gravitated in that direction.
Remember I wanted to “help” young people.
I found myself excelling in the course.
I think the Art Education professor was amazed and pleasantly surprised.
I’m certain he dreaded working with the Elementary teacher wannabes
who struggled with the whole art thing.

As I liked this art business I decided to take some drawing courses where I had a
delightfully laid-back professor.
He knew that I was not the cream of the crop but he must have seen that I was
indeed teachable and trainable.
He asked me why it was that I wanted to stay in that awful Education building,
the big square ugly behemoth on south campus,
studying a major that was just about the same—square and boring.
I told him I wanted to “help” young people.

I don’t think he was impressed.
It was also at this time that the Art Education professor asked me as to why I wasn’t
an Art Education Major…hummm…

To be honest I had never considered teaching art,
remember, my two high school art teachers were whacky.

This was late spring quarter;
soon we’d all be heading home for the summer.
I was at a loss of what I really wanted to “do” with my life.
I wanted to “help” young people but I just never felt that there was a major,
leading to a profession, which would allow me to do such—
maybe Social Work?

Maybe I should just ditch the whole idea, switch over to journalism and write…
For even back then, the expressing of self on paper was a big part of who I was.
Remind me to tell you how, after mother’s death,
I was cleaning out a closet and found all of my old diaries.
I started reading them and immediately disposed of them–permanently and forever!!!
Ode to the angst of a young unhappy teenage girl…was I ever really that morose??
Lordy!!

Yet blessedly clarity did come.

I can remember the very spot where I was…
crossing the tracks from Rivermill Apartments where I was living at the time,
heading over to East Campus Rd for my afternoon run
(I tried to be healthy back then).

I sent up an arrow prayer to God.

I was going home the next day for the weekend and was to start the dreaded job search
for summer employment.
That was another thing, where in the heck could I work??
I had hated my last couple of spots.
I told God that if He wanted me to stay in Education,
he would have to drop some kind of job on my head letting me know.

I have never been one to have a clear vision.
I am a waffling queen…
“is this right, is that right???”

I have never been able to hear, read, or see whatever direction it was God was/is wanting me to go.
I have spent my entire life fumbling in the dark,
as far as all of that is concerned.
So I asked that He literally drop a job on my head for the summer that would help me know
what I needed to do with my life.

I got home early enough that Friday to scour the phonebook.
I wasn’t certain what it was exactly what I was looking for.
Maybe a day camp?
Maybe if I found a day camp that I could work for,
I could then see if I really liked kids enough to stay with my major.

I found two in the metro area that I was familiar with,
as I had attended one of them when I was a kid.
I called the camp but they were all full for the coming season.
I drove out to the other camp, same response.

Crap!

Had I waited too late?
There was one more.
I’d not heard of it before.
Camp Merri Mac for Girls in Black Mt., North Carolina—obviously not a day camp.
But what the heck—remember, I was the one who dreaded coming back home as ours was a
home of anything but tranquility (see the post Forgiveness one step at a time).

I called the number and the man who answered told me to come for an interview.
His home was near my church.
Seemed they lived in Atlanta in the off-season.

I headed over to his house.
A beautiful old Tudor style house in the heart of old Atlanta.
A rather odd place for a camp director to live I mused.

I knocked on the massive oak door.
A nice looking, spry short man, in his mid 50s opens the door.
I introduce myself as he asked me to come out back to the office.

I never knew there were waterfalls in Buckhead.

His yard was reminiscent of a tranquil wooded scene form some sort of postcard.
The “office” was located in an out building perched by a creek and the very pretty waterfall.
The “office” smelled musty and mildewish.
Definitely outdoorsy.

His name was Spencer Boyd.
Little did I realize at the time,
but Spencer would soon become one of the most important people in my life.
I will write a post about Spencer one day soon as the world lost Spencer
a couple of months ago at the young age of 82—

His life is a post unto itself.

The first question he asked me was whether or not I could shoot a gun.
I told him that I had taken riflery as a kid at camp when I was younger,
but that was the extent of my marksmanship abilities.

I can’t recall what exactly he said but it equated to a “you’re hired”
however he would arrange for me to do some adjunct shooting at the ROTC school at UGA,
as he knew the shooting instructor.
He wanted me to teach riflery as well as be the head counselor for a cabin of
6th grade girls.

Piece of cake, I got this.
How hard could it be?

I will write another post about Spencer and Camp as those two intertwined subjects are long,
amusing and quite poignant.
Suffice it to know that camp was good.
I fell in love.
I worked for Spencer for two summers and would have made a career out of it if I could.
He was going to let me work in the off months traveling and promoting the camp
but he wouldn’t be able to pay much,
I knew I needed to move forward as badly as I hated leaving him and camp behind.

The long story short, I switched to Art Education.
I graduated two quarters later than I should have,
putting me out looking for a job at Christmas.

Who hires teachers at Christmas??

Unbeknownst to me, someone had given my name to the principal of a high school
in a small west Georgia town who was in need of an art teacher as his current art teacher
had just decided to leave mid-year, in order to go back to school.

I received a call right before Christmas asking if I’d be interested in coming
for an interview…

The rest, 31 years later, is history.

There is a great deal more to the story but it will have to be woven into another post.
I came into teaching in the most round about way,
but with one goal always in view—
I wanted to “help” kids.

I hope that after 31 years, there are some who will say that I did attain my long-sought goal.
There will be, no doubt, those who will say otherwise—
such as it is when dealing with young people.

But for the most part, I hope I did help and I hope that many of my “kids”
were the better for it.
Or at least I hope they found a bit of a respite on their tumultuous journey to growing up,
while spending time in my classroom.

God did hit me on the head with a job—a job that was to last a lifetime.