Wednesday, November 28, 2012


I regularly get the question: "How's your new job going?"

And my usual answer is: "It's challenging and frustrating, but I'm learning a lot and I love my kiddos."

I don't always understand them. Each student has his or her own unique set of needs and wants and abilities and expectations and personalities. I don't always enjoy every moment we spend together, but I still think that our time matters. The impact in elementary school isn't as obvious as it is in a high school student who says, "Ms. Bo, you are a really good teacher." It is unlikely that I will ever know if Trenton graduated from high school or learned to speak. It is unlikely that many of the kids I work with will actually be able to remember my name, my face, or my presence in their lives at all. But my hope is that, in one way or another, our time together helps them to feel loved. So years later, maybe they'll take that love they received from me and it will turn into self-acceptance or confidence or hope.

What I'm learning and loving outweighs the challenges and frustrations. Here are a few reasons:

-Devon eats breakfast in the classroom the first 15 minutes of school. Trenton, who eats breakfast at home, decided he really wanted Devon's orange juice. So when neither Devon, nor myself, were watching, in one swift movement, Trenton sprinted across the room, grabbed Devon's juice box, squeezing it before it got to his mouth and the the whole thing squirted out all over his shirt. He seemed confused. Flabbergasted. As if he couldn't put together what squeezing the box and this wet feeling on his shirt had in common. It hadn't been fifteen minutes and Trenton needed a new shirt. He instinctively shrugged his shoulders up to his ears and rounded his back as if to say: "I have no idea what just happened, but for some reason I am all wet!"

-A first grader tells me, "Ms. Bo, you smell like Disneyworld."

-Trenton, who is learning a lot of words right now--including his own name--wants a cookie. So he shows me the card with the cookie on it and says, "Aye wanht Trenton."

-This morning, I saw Trenton, got on one knee and said, "Can I have my morning hug?" He smiled, stretched out his arms, and held on tight for a good ten seconds. Then bolted away and dumped a full bin of Playdoh supplies onto the ground. Three times. Some kids with autism avoid all human touch and affection. I'm blessed that Trenton wants it because sometimes I do too.

-Walking Natalie out of the classroom, we step into the hallway, she slips away from my hand and lays face down in a perfect plank position on the tile floor. No explanation. No warning. Just down. So I watched. And after a few moments, as I watched curiously, she got up and walked away.

-Yesterday, while Trenton was jumping up and down and having a grand ol' time, his diaper fell out of his pant leg. Yes, his pant leg, people! He was unfazed and was probably enjoying this temporary freedom.

-Today, while working on a puzzle, Trenton began whining and screeching and crying loudly. I thought maybe he'd bumped his head or had an itch or needed something. The tears were flowing down his cheeks, his eyes and forehead were crinkled and whatever was happening in this guys little world could not be easily soothed. I kept asking and pointing to his picture book helplessly, "What do you want? Trenton, please tell me what you want." I held out Cheeze-Its. I gave him the Barrel of Monkeys. We walked to the rocking chair. Nothing. He just sat, head lifted toward the sky, petitioning all that is unjust in the world. Eventually, I sat down on the floor with him and put my arms out: "Hug?" He nearly toppled me over, he came in so quickly. His head on my shoulder, eventually the crying ceased, and he stayed there a long while. As if that's all he really needed.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Two Feet

I'm twenty-five years-old.
I've graduated from college.
I'm one of those people who are married. Oy.
I work at a school.
I am an authority figure.
I have a job that has no ties to the religion I came from.
I live away from the town and state I grew up in.
I am an employee.
I am a professional.

Yet, just today, I told an acquaintance that I "just recently" graduated from college. In December. A year ago.

Much of my new world feels foreign from my old world.
I'm not a student anymore. The world I knew so well.
I'm the teacher. Which feels wrong.

Many days I walk into school forgetting this. I feel like this is just a side gig. A place I go. A thing I do.

It's like I'm waiting to be accepted simply because I'm there. I'm just a kid, after all.
It's like I'm expecting someone to "call my foul" and plop me on the other side of the desk where I belong.
It's like I'm hoping my superiors will see me for the child I am and just tell me what to do.

But no. This is my job. I'm an adult now.

When did this happen, anyway?
When did my similarly immature and irresponsible friends become physical therapists and nurses and writers and teachers? 
When did the "grown-ups" hand over the reigns and trust us with the future?

Was it a choice?
Or is it just a natural process?

It doesn't feel right.
I don't feel ready.

And as I looked at old photographs of my great-grandfather, my grandparents, and my parents, I realized, they probably didn't feel ready either, but it's just this thing we do: we grow up. We don't know what it will feel like until we're right here. No one ever has this all figured out like we think they do when we're looking up to them. Even our parents. We take on new responsibilities. We figure out the minute details of how to pay bills and feed children. Because no one ever feels prepared for this and I am no different. 

Now it's my turn to be the teacher.
To not dwell on the child I used to be.  
It's my turn to speak with authority.
To be sure of what I know.
To be confident in where I've been, what I've seen, and how I've come to stand where I do today.

On my own two feet.

Saturday, November 24, 2012


Last night, my family--happily full of turkey and apple pie--watched family videos: Easter egg hunts and birthdays, bathtubs and back yards, learning to walk and learning to stand. These memories reminded me of something I don't think about very often: where I've come from.

I have a pretty accurate recollection of the last five or six years of my life, progress and change, but how often do we usually think about being babies, having our bossy older sisters correct our behavior, our parents as young adults? It's good to remember where I've beeen.
That baby was loved.
That toddler was celebrated.
That kiddo was fiesty.
That adolescent was silly.
That bouncy, blond, curly-top had not a thought or a care in the world about food, calories, or size. That person has lived well.
And as I look around this table, I feel good.

Just last week, Jeremy asked me, "How's Helga?"

I was surprised by my own answer: fine.

Thanksgiving hasn't always been a reflective compilation of warm fuzzies and happy memories. No, Thanksgiving used to send pricklies up my neck. I dreaded it. I hated it. It was six years ago when anorexia and bulimia stole my joy for the holiday (among other things). But now, it feels so good to have that joy back.

Helga doesn't have much to stand on these days. She's not silent, but she's quieter. She's recently been drowned out by the newness of marriage and the challenges of adulthood and time with wonderfully supportive people.

This Thanksgiving, I'm grateful to where I came from, to healing, and to getting my favorite holiday back.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Chico Gospel

How recently did you think to yourself: "I just can't see the light at the end of this tunnel"?

If you are anything like me, this might happen in varying degrees of intensity about twice a day. For some reason, I seem to be more gifted in this area than some. I am just so good at losing perspective and viewing my situation in a negative light.

So, it's at times like this that I must give thanks. Assess my situation. Observe the good. Recognize the positives. Take stock of how ridiculously wonderful my life really is.

I'm not sick.
I have no diseases.
No cancer.
No allergic reaction to sunshine. Some do.
My stomach works well and allows me to digest food.
My eye lids open and closed. Imagine how painful it would be if they never closed!
My bones are strong.
I can see and hear and taste and feel and smell.
I have a job.
And money.
And family.
And friends.
I have a car.
A computer.
A college education.
A well-lived life.

Yes, here's to moments when all feels well.
When it's so good we risk the threat of missing it entirely.

Not today.

Chico Gospel 
by Mamuse

"There was a time I believed
Life was over for me
There was time I believed
My life was over
I feel strong today
Thanks to your help
I'll find my way and
I too will lend you a hand
When you need one

Sometimes I get so down
I feel like
This the end
Like there's no way in hell
I can get over this mountain
The sun has come out
Beyond the shadow of my doubt
I am walking on this earth
Stronger than ever

There was a time I believed
There'd be no love for me
There was time I believed
I'd get no lovin'
I feel love today
Thanks to your help
I'll find my way and
I too will lend you a hand
When you need one


There was a time I believed
There'd be no money for me
There was a time I believed
There'd be no money
I feel rich today
Thanks to your help
I'll find my way and
I too will lend you a hand
When you need one


There was a time I believed
There'd be no peace for me
There was a time I believed
There'd be no peace
I feel peace today
Thanks to your help
I'll find my way and
I too will lend you a hand
When you need one

I am walkin' on this earth stronger than ever
I am walkin' on this earth stronger than ever"

Friday, November 16, 2012

Safe Seat

Today, I put myself in the Safe Seat.

It's like a traditional time-out that is part of the district-wide behavior management program at our school called BIST. When a student is misbehaving or refusing to do work, they are asked to sit at the designated chair and desk called the Safe Seat. It is here that they take time to rate their feelings, pinpoint what they were doing wrong, and problem-solve through what they could do better next time.

Today, I needed it.
A time-out.
A cool-down.
A moment.

Because today, Trenton ran away from me giggling then wouldn't stop crying when I offered him every possible snack he could want, Devon had a meltdown in the hallway, Bradley stubbornly sat under his desk, and Nathan threw two chairs at me. So that was it. If I didn't take a moment, I was going to yell at someone.

I found a deserted Safe Seat in the library. The poster on the wall reads:

"How are you feeling?

I can be productive and follow directions even if I am mad.
I can be productive and follow directions even if others are not.
I can be productive and follow directions even if I don't want to."

Using the strategies before me, I designated that I was at about a four and-a-half on the feelings scale, I was taking Nathan's chair throwing personally, and I felt unsupported at my job.

So, I decided that...

I can do my job even if I am frustrated.
I can do my job even if I feel unsupported.
I can do my job even if I don't feel confident.
I can do my job even if I feel disliked.
I can do my job even if I struggle at adjusting to change.
I can do my job even if I feel uninformed and not included.
I can do my job even if I feel undervalued.

Because at the end of the day, I'm earning a paycheck.
And getting holidays off.
And sometimes the kiddos make me laugh.
And it's all very temporary.

I can do this even when it's hard.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Trenton is my kindergarten friend with autism. We communicate through pictures and sounds and visual cues. And Cheeze-Its.

Words are difficult for Trenton to understand, but he can be easily motivated to do nearly anything for the sake of a Cheeze-It. Without a Cheeze-It, he's mush. He sits quietly and peers out the corner of his eye. He stares at the wall. He won't budge. But low and behold, the presence of a tiny, cheesy, snack, and he will do nearly anything: go to the bathroom, put things away, pick things up, sit down, stand up, walk, do puzzles, count to five, play matching games, and completely cease a crying tantrum. Trenton also favors M&Ms ("emmmm..."), tiny cookies ("cooooookah"), Goldfish crackers ("fuh"), and animal crackers ("cruckah"). Point being: we all need rewards. Otherwise many of us wouldn't feel that what we do is worthwhile.

We all need a high five.
A pat on the back.
A "Way to go!".
A pay check.
An ice cream sundae.
A good grade in school.
A reason to keep doing whatever we're doing.

Without rewards, we wouldn't be nearly as motivated.
To give the assist instead of taking the shot.
To clean our rooms.
To run our best race.
To go to work.
To be nice.
To try our best in school.

Working with Trenton got me thinking: How am I being rewarded? What keeps me doing this job that often feels tiring and redundant? 

Part of why I often don't feel like my job is particularly "rewarding" is because I base my perception of "success" on my students' behaviors which are unpredictable and finicky. I can't expect people to change simply because I want them to. I will always be let down. Because...
Nathan will throw chairs at me.
Devon will miss the toilet.
Lily will refuse to work.
Adam will tattle on everyone.
My superior will make me feel small.

So, how will I feel rewarded and useful and valuable anyway?

If I can laugh at Trenton and Devon as they run amok as little kindergarteners trying to figure out the world around them.

If I can give respect and dignity to students and staff without judgement.

If I can observe Nathan without taking his words and behaviors personally.

If I can smile and be open to my superior, even when I feel talked down to.

If I can learn these skills, then I can have good reasons to walk out the door each day and feel light, open, balanced, and confident.

I control how I feel and no one else.
This will be my reward.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Six Month Anniversary (oh, and five month, too!)

Today, Jeremy and I have been married for six months. And as I look back at the other few anniversary posts of marriage thus far, I see that I can almost always find something to be worried about. Stressed about. Concerned with. Overwhelmed by.

On our one month anniversary, I was reeling from adjusting to life at camp.
At two months, I was concerned with helping Jeremy feel loved.
At three months, I was stressed that we didn't get much time together.
At four months, I was unsure about the future and where we'd go next.
On our five month anniversary, I apparently forgot to write a blog.

This day is no different from the past six months.

Today, in this season of our lives, I'm working days and Jeremy's working nights. It's rough. We're struggling to find time together. To see each other more than just in passing. Our latest argument involved Thanksgiving plans. Our latest fears involve--surprise!--the future.

Taken by Cody McCabe
But, if I've learned anything at all--from writing, from reflection, or from a good memory--every heartache is a season. They always pass. Like our mothers told us they would. And I know for a fact that Thanksgiving will come and Thanksgiving will go, and when it's all over, we'll find something new to disagree on. And then that will be the world's greatest problem. Ever. Until the next one.

Last night, Jeremy and I reminisced about the favorite moments of our wedding day. The best picture that was captured (FYI: we both agreed on the one above). The moment we saw each other. The second that it clicked that we were actually married. All the memories. We talked about our favorite moments of the past six months. What surprised us. What was expected. What was hard. What was fabulous.

And we decided that six months feels really good. We have jobs. We have an apartment full of love and wedding gifts bestowed on us by supportive families and friends. We have money in the bank and health in our bodies. We've learned a lot and we're growing a lot. But six months feels good.

And thirty days from now, at month seven of married life, I hope we'll be stronger and wiser and calmer and even more deeply satisfied at all the good around us.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Someone Stronger

She was still afraid of the dark. And other fears reserved for kids.

She was still a bit uneasy at shadows and creaky sounds and empty rooms and ticking clocks. She didn't watch certain films. Too close. Too much. Sometimes in the bleakness of an empty apartment and too-familiar calm, she'd imagine that one movie or that one news report a few weeks back or that awful reality that the world is unsafe and unpredictable and unfair and downright terrifying sometimes.

Alone at night, she'd remember. She'd think back to another dark time in another dark place far from home where safety was compromised and fear ruled. Where she felt isolated and alone and vulnerable (but only the awful kind of vulnerable). It was that thing that she wished had never happened. But it happened. And she'd remember. And the thickness would linger over her body like an itchy, weighted blanket that she didn't want to wear, but didn't know how to escape. She felt completely smothered in the dark.

So she sat. And thought. And washed dishes. And talked herself out of ridiculous fears and questioning the sounds above and around and beside. She distracted herself with upbeat music and cleaning and the task at hand. Anything to avoid feeling anxious. Feeling twenty years-old again. Feeling scared.

Her soul knew better (but wisdom won't shout. It's the sages and the old spirits who often whisper, until we're quiet enough to hear). And once she was calm and quiet enough to hear her own breathing, this is what she heard:

And again.
And again.
And a third time still: "Don't believe everything you think."

She found an odd amount of solace in knowing that--while her mind was her own--she'd experienced enough to know that her own thoughts and actions surprised her sometimes. That even she could never completely control her inner world. Could anyone? And it did make sense that maybe, just maybe, she could be safe even when her mind told her to cower under the blanket of fear and never come out again.

She decided that--if only for tonight--she'd be someone else. Someone fearless. Someone unscathed. Someone confident. Someone stronger. Simpler. And free.

For tonight.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Dear Twenty-Five,

It's great to see you. It's good to be gifted this day that I am still breathing, still experiencing, still learning, still alive. Thank you.

The gift of regular writing is a well-documented past: the opportunity to look back and say, "Oh my," or "Oh wow," or "Holy cow!" That's what I do on my birthdays. I look back to past birthday posts from 2007 through this day and see growth and change and progress. It's good for my soul.

In 2007, I wrote from a dark and lonely place in Cambodia.
In 2008, I wrote about the sad side of birthdays and half-hearted well-wishes.
In 2009, I wrote of my expectations for what I thought twenty-two would look like.
In 2010, I wrote of progress and change and the fragility of life.
In 2011, I wrote of optimism about the future, perspective, and gratefulness.

And now, as we've acquired twenty-five years on planet earth, I see a theme in the last year or so:
learning and believing that I am stronger than I thought. 

I survived child hood. And let's be honest, middle school's a doozy.
I survived high school and will gratefully never return ever again.
I battled an eating disorder. And won.
I journeyed to Cambodia, lived, learned, and moved forward.
I wrote a book.
I earned a college degree.
I got married.
I'm rockin' this thing called "adulthood."

Yes, twenty-five, that's quite a lot for a quarter century.
I'm stronger than I thought.

And moving forward, growing up, and moving on seems less scary, less tumultuous, and less depressing than twenty-one, twenty-two, or twenty-three could've ever known.

So I'm grateful for you, twenty-five:
for the recognition that I'm stronger than I thought
for the knowledge that it's going to be all right
for the perpetual journey toward self-acceptance
for the realization that I need not be perfect, only whole.

Thank you, twenty-five.

Much love and gratitude,