Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Jolly

Today, for the first time since I started my new job, I came home happy.

Here are some thoughts that helped me through the day:
#1. The rules with Nathan are different than they are with other kids.
#2. Therefore my expectations for him must be different.
#3. He is unable to process accountability and reflection, so we must simply move on.
#4. Holding a grudge against him is useless.
#5. He will never give me an apology.
#6. I will not be perfect, I will do my best.
#7. I am the authority, not a negotiating buddy.

This made the day lighter. And when I have greater perspective, I am better able to see all the good at school, all the small, jolly moments that make working with kids fun. Here are a few highlights from the past two weeks:

Nathan, sitting in his cool down area, looks at the bulletin board on the wall in front of him. Letters are missing from phrases like "You are special" and "You are unique" because he has torn the letters down during his previous tirades.  He rolls his eyes and exclaims with disgust: "Well, someone has terrible spelling!"

Another day in a fit of anger, Nathan yells, "That teacher is a big, fat, liar: L...I....um....uh....L.....whatever, she's a liar and I don't have to spell it!"

During recess, I ask Nathan what's wrong. He huffs and puffs: "Do you see that girl over there? She called my second-best friend a red head?" And I say, "Doesn't your...uh...second-best friend have red hair?" He looks at me, "Well, yeah, but the way she said it was offensive!"

The teacher informed Nathan's class that they could only sharpen their pencils once during the class period because they needed to get to work. He was quick to yell, "What? NOT FAIR! That's ridiculous!" To which the teacher gently said, "Nathan, you do all of your work on a laptop. You don't use a pencil." He pouted sheepishly: "Well, I just meant it was unfair to everyone else."

Nathan in talking about Pokemon: "Yeah, Chickurita and I go way back..."







Monday, October 29, 2012

Nathan

So, I have this new job. I am working at an elementary school as a SPED (special education) para. It's been new. It's been different. And mostly, it's been quite a challenge. I work with fourteen different students in kindergarten, first, and fourth grade. Their needs range from struggling to learn their numbers to non-verbal autism. Much of my day is spent with one student in particular, a fourth grader with aspergers. We'll call him Nathan.

Nathan is unlike any student I've ever met. Elementary school is already way out of my comfort zone (as my degree is in secondary ed), but understanding Nathan is in another realm beyond where I thought my comfort zone ended.

Nathan loves Pokemon, his grandmother's fried chicken, and drawing. He has a Mario backpack and will be a Koopa turtle for Halloween. He laughs at simple things. He likes chocolate milk and people who are agreeable. He thrives in consistency and a highly-structured environment. Like many boys his age, he likes things that burn and crash and explode. He is also unpredictable and easily set off. He reacts strongly to things he dislikes and is royally talented at avoiding tasks. He throws books and chairs. He hits himself in the head and requires manual restraint. He screams and yells and doesn't like change or being challenged.

What I've found to be the most difficult part of my job is arriving at school, getting through the day, and not letting Nathan get to me. So often, I am nervous to be around him, not knowing what will set him off this day, I get frustrated when he refuses to do his school work, and I watch his anxious temper tantrums and can't help but feel...well...exhausted. I don't have to let Nathan control how I feel.

Is it that easy?
Do I just smile as he hucks a chair in my direction?
Do I forget about it as quickly as he does?
Is there any possible way to get through the day and still feel optimistic and whole?

I think part of my problem is that I thought that maybe...just maybe...I could be the star of my own Hollywood movie. The one where I step in as the young, fresh face in a "troubled boys" life and our relationship eliminates his problems and his tantrums dissolve into thin air.

Yes. I do this to myself.
My expectations were harshly unrealistic.

I cannot expect that Nathan will feel remorse for that day he made me cry.
I cannot expect that at the end of the school year he will miss me or remember me a year later.
I cannot expect much of anything with Nathan.
The rules with him are different.
My goals should be different too.

A successful day may be one in which Nathan has only two meltdowns, however, he is safe and he learn a few things.

Maybe a successful day means that we find something we can both giggle about.

Maybe a successful day is one in which I am useful. Even if only for documenting his behaviors all day long.

I am a professional.
I am important.
I am good at working with students.
I am capable of doing this job.
I am trusted and cared for beyond the walls of that school.

I can learn.
I can be challenged.
I can make decisions that are good for me.
I can teach myself to be happy. Even when it feels hard.

And as the poster on Nathan's wall in his cool down area says:
"I can be okay even when others are not."

The goal for both of us is the same.




























Sunday, October 28, 2012

Despereaux

Recently, I read The Tale of Despereaux (Kate DiCamillo). A short read about a little mouse named Despereaux who is on a great quest. And on his quest, we meet the Princess Pea and Miggery Sow. At one point, Miggery holds the Princess at knife-point and marches her to the dungeon so that she can become the new princess (pg. 198):

"And what of the princess's heart? Reader, I am pleased to tell you that the Pea was a kind person, and perhaps more important, she was empathetic. Do you know what it means to be empathetic?

"I will tell you: It means that when you are being forcibly taken to a dungeon, when you have a large knife pointed at your back, when you are trying to be brave, you are able, still, to think for a moment of the person who is holding the knife.

"You are able to think: 'Oh poor Mig, she wants to be a princess so badly and she things that this is the way. Poor, poor Mig. What must it be like to want something that desperately?

"That, reader, is empathy."


And that, friends, is not a trait that comes easily to most of us. But one I'm continually seeking to understand: how can I stand so firmly on these issues (on this belief, on this opinion) and still hear and learn and want to better understand the other side? I've found no easy answer.

But I do believe that part of this process comes from continually vowing to listen. Even if it sounds funny. Even if I think I know the answer. Listen anyway. This is why I'll often hop over to the "other" sides political website or read a blog about an issue that is exactly counter to my own. I don't always come away thinking, "Oh, now I get it," but I do often come away remembering that they believe equally, if not more adamantly, that what they believe is right and true and absolute and the best belief for them.

I come away being a little more like Princess Pea and her ability to consider the thoughts and feelings of another, even when it feels wrong, even when it's hard. We're all driven to believe the way we do and each of our willingness to explore another perspective, takes us one step closer to true empathy and understanding.




Saturday, October 27, 2012

Why Our Government Should Not Be Christian

Growing up, I thought that all Christians voted Republican. That we were the "right" ones. That we had God on our side. That Democrats were non-religious and therefore lost.

Growing up, I thought that we, as voters, needed to make good "Christian" decisions in order to create the world that God wanted in America. 

Growing up, I thought that I needed to call out other's "faults" and let them know when I believed strongly that the Bible was condemning them.

Growing up, I had a lot of things wrong. And it was upon meeting my first-ever (ha ha) Christian who voted Democrat that I began to see the many versatile sides to politics that I'd been missing in my black-and-white view of the world. 

For as long as I can remember, I've heard that "America is a Christian nation." However, realistically, America is not a Christian nation. We are made up some very diverse cultures and religions that make it impossible to cookie-cut all of us as white, male, heterosexual, and Christian. Why then should our politics be that way?

Imagine how frustrating it would be if somehow a Jewish person were elected president and they decided that because their view was supreme and they were elected into office, that all of our laws and decisions should be made through that lens? There would be an outcry. People would be angry. And rightfully so. You simply cannot make an entire country's decisions from your one, limited point-of-view.

And I believe this is the climate we find ourselves in now. This political race has turned into some sort of distorted argument about what each candidates religious stance says about his politics. That if he believes this way, then he can't possibly be "one of us."

My friends in Canada laugh hysterically at America. We claim this whole "separation of church and state" bit that literally makes them chuckle. Our religion and our politics are completely intertwined and everyone seems to see it but us. 


So, I've been considering how my own personal characteristics may effect my vote and I've been learning to see more of the whole picture outside my own, comfortable lens.

For example, being that I am a heterosexual, female, white, Christian, it may be so incredibly clear to some how I would vote on gay rights. But I don't think that just because I am not gay, doesn't mean I get to act like this decision doesn't exist. My friends who are gay fear that--depending on this election--they may or may not be able to marry the person they love in their lifetime. I can't even fathom what that would feel like, to have the government deciding who I could love. Why should anyone get to make that decision based on their particular interpretation of the Bible? When exactly did we decide that we, in a somehow superior realm, should make decisions that have nothing to do with us? Can't everyone just have freedom and rights regardless of how some interpret that they do or do not align with the Bible?

Another example: there is a good chance that I will never need the services of an abortion clinic. However, whether or not abortion clinics exist will not decrease the need/desire/necessity for women to seek them out anyway. If abortion is made illegal, women will only have to put themselves at higher risk of infection and fatality because they'll have fewer options. You cannot change a person's mind just because the laws on the issues are changed. Not every woman uses abortion as birth control. Not every woman has an easily deciphered reason for seeking out an abortion, but really, it's none of my business. Who am I to decide whether or not she should carry that baby inside her? So, regardless of my own personal need, I will be voting that women everywhere--Christian or non-Christian, rich or poor--will have access to the medical services they need.  

We all care about different issues. These are mine. I admit, I don't know the ins and outs on every issue, however, I will never vote for a candidate that wants to take away freedom and rights from people who don't align with his white, rich, heterosexual, Christian view of the world. I care about the end of war, a cleaner environment, and a smaller government that doesn't have it's fingers in people's sex lives and vaginas. So, I'm going to vote for a presidential candidate that creates the most safety and freedom to as many people as possible.




Monday, October 15, 2012

Axe

I'm ready for this presidential election to be over. I'm tired of political advertisements, people name-calling irrational slurs, and everyone focusing on where we differ instead of how we relate. And you know what else I'm tired of? Uninformed voters. Not one political party has more or less of them. When it comes down to it, a lot of us vote what our parents do. A lot of us don't study which candidate makes more sense on different issues, we let popularity or culture or familiarity make our decisions for us. 

Like this YouTube video (obviously from a more conservative side) calling out uninformed Obama voters from the 2008 election. People who--when asked questions about the candidate they just voted for--didn't know what they were talking about. 


You don't have to watch the whole ten minutes to know that most of these people don't know the answers. But we must also recognize that for the purpose of this video, the creators weren't going to show too many of the voters who perhaps answered the questions correctly. And, let's not pretend that if both sides were interviewed, both sides would fare about the same. We're all guilty.

Take, also, this woman who recently made the news for her blatant and outlandish (yet, so ridiculously viral) opinion that Obama is a communist. It wouldn't surprise me if she also believed that he is not a U.S. citizen, his birth certificate is non-existant, and he's a Muslim. Oy.

 

Her flat-out untruth bothers me, but not as much as the fact that the woman who had nice, less controversial, less crazy things to say (the woman first being interviewed) was quickly ignored and overlooked at the potential to hear from this voter with an axe to grind, but no actual information or knowledge to back it up. Just "study it out" she says. Yeah. Let's.

You know what I think would guarantee informed voters? If we all had to vote on individual issues and not candidates. We'd have to study what we believed about the environment and war and the budget and women's health, instead of just the comfort of our political parties. I say this, because I know it would really challenge me too. Can you imagine how this would drastically change our voting process and our government? It would be harder to just pick a party and vote accordingly. It would be more difficult to go around bashing other political parties, if you had learned that, actually, you agreed with a few points from both sides. Each "issue" would be voted on, and a point for each issue would go toward the candidate who believed similarly. Now that would be interesting.


I'll be happy when the election is over and we can stop looking at the world only through the lens of our political parties. Oh wait, we never had to do that to begin with...

Friday, October 12, 2012

Until the Straw Sputters



One of the first questions acquaintances ask is: "What do you do for work?"
One of my least favorite questions the last six months is: "What do you do for work?"

After our summer at camp, Jeremy and I have spent a good amount of time job hunting, talking to people we know, making phone calls, all in the hopes of getting a job. Ya know, to make money...so we can live. The search has felt dry lately. Unproductive. Hopeless.

I've always kinda, sorta had this strange unquenchable desire to be a barista: to meet people, make them yummy caffeinated beverages, and listen to NPR all day long. I figured this kind of set-up would be ideal, got an interview and felt pretty confident that I'd get hired on Friday (when they said they'd call). But the deadline came and went. Bummer. And then Monday happened.

On Monday morning, I got a call from a medical receptionist clinic asking for me to come in on Tuesday with my resume. Yay. Regular work. Decent pay. Uniform: scrubs (a.k.a. pajamas). What could be better?

On Monday afternoon, I got a call from an elementary school I had interviewed with three weeks before and also hadn't heard back from. Another dead end. Or so I thought. They acquired more hiring "points" over the weekend and wanted to offer me the job.

Long story short, I felt totally overwhelmed by all these good things. Apparently, I'll complain about no job offers and I'll complain about two job offers (aren't we finicky mammals?). I knew I wanted the easier job: the job that involved adults and answering phones (and pajamas). But after much debate, and leaving a message for my counselor to call me back and help me out with this decision NOW, I took the elementary school job. And while I was on the phone accepting the job she called me and left me a voicemail: "I just got your message. What's up?"

Two hours later, I got a call from the barista job. The job I wanted. Saying they'd hire me. Now. Too late.

I'm keeping the elementary school job. Because while I have absolutely nothing theological to say about "God's will", I'm pretty sure that most things work out how they're supposed to. Not like everything's pleasant. Not like it's always pretty. But usually, things just work out. So I took a cue from the presence of some pretty "awful" timing the last few days, resisted the urge to call the school and say, "Yeah, I'd rather be a barista," took a deep breath, and decided this was exactly where I needed to be right now.

So, now I am back in education. I'm a special education para-educator at an elementary school in town (elementary school...wha...what?!). I'm working with k-5th grade students with aspbergers, autism, and physical disabilities. They are a hoot. A handfull. But a hoot. I'm in this moment. Learning what I've been put here to learn. And moving forward.

Where I need to be next month may be different. Each moment is a season. A time when we can learn all that moment has to offer. Drink it dry. Until the straw sputters with nothing left to swallow. And move forward. A little better. Wiser. Stronger.





Friday, October 5, 2012

Politics Need You

I'm not sure what people mean when they say, "I'm just not that into politics."

The sentence just doesn't compute. It lacks meaning in my mind. Because I'm pretty sure, we must be talking about two different things. Because when someone says, "I'm just not that into politics," I imagine they mean, "I'm not into name-calling," or "I don't like arguing," or "I'm not into backstabbing, untruthful rhetoric, and the shenanigans often associated with politics." Yeah, I get that. But, to me, their not talking about politics.

By definition, politics is "the art or science of running governmental or state affairs." It doesn't have to be ugly. It doesn't have to mean throwing rocks or picking sides. The word "politics"--in and of itself--is completely neutral; it's the energy and charge from the rest of us that makes it so messy.

According to Wikipedia:
"Modern political discourse focuses on democracy and the relationship between people and politics. It is thought of as the way we "choose government officials and make decisions about public policy". [2]"

Seems a little less, nasty. Right? The political process is how we make decisions about public policy. About how schools, roads, and buildings are built. About where we'll delegate our time and money: foreign affairs, war, environment, public education, social security, and so on. Politics are the venue through which we--as normal, non-Congressional peeps--get a say in what our country stands for. 

And everyone has an opinion. Everyone. But each of us cares more or less about different things. 

Some will live and die over green-house gases, GMOs, pesticides, and landfills. 

Some just want their kid to get the best education possible and recognize that voting for one candidate will give their kid more opportunities than the other candidate.

Some people will yell and scream about the economy and the national debt crisis; about who did and what, and what should be done to that person who did that thing. 

Some just want safe neighborhoods and others want to earn the money they deserve for the work they do. 

We all care about politics. But we all care differently.

Because everyone has something about America that they wish were different. Whether it's that gas were cheaper or the air were cleaner. And the way I see it, around presidential election time, everyone starts yelling louder and louder about the America they want. And we're all allowed to do so, because we live in a democratic society. And those who are passionate about certain issues will find a way to make their voice be heard. And those who know their voice will not be heard among the screamers, end up saying, "I'm just not that into politics."

And this makes me sad. Because I know that deep-down we all have a picture of how we wish America were different and each of those pictures need to be seen and explained and talked about. And even though, I don't agree with everyone's picture, I respect it. And I acknowledge their right to have it. Even when I want to smack them. I don't.

So, if you consider yourself to be someone who "just isn't that into politics," consider what you believe would make America better. Please, please do not vote how you "should" or what your parents would vote. Look at a solid fact-check website or side-by-side comparison of which candidates best align with your views, and then...join the discussion. It doesn't have to be ugly.

We need you.

Familiar


Familiar feels good. And familiar has seemed a long time coming. Much has felt unfamiliar: Student teaching. Engagement. Lack of job. Wedding planning. Speaking trips. Wedding. Marriage. Death. Moving. New people. New places. Moving. Job hunting. Apartment hunting. Purpose hunting. Oy.

But now we're back where we started in a town that encourages change, yet stays recognizably the same. Even if it's been a few months, I can still find my way home. I can still bump into familiar faces. I can still feel safe.

I realize that to self-proclaimed "adventurers" and "thrill-seekers" familiar is the last place a person should want to be. "Life begins," they say, "just beyond your comfort zone." I agree that some of life begins when we're uncomfortable, but thank God, not all of it. Because I've been uncomfortable. I've stretched my limits. I've felt the prickliness of new things and new places. And soon enough, I will again. Life guarantees change and uncertainty. But for now, this is working for me. For now, this is what I need, and I'm okay with that.

Sure, we have no jobs.
Sure, we don't know where we'll be in a year.
And some of this is uncomfortable. Yes.
But we have each other, food in the cabinets, and money in the bank.
This is as sure as it's been for awhile and I am grateful.