Archive | October, 2014

I’m Just a Festive Person

31 Oct

I’ve been debating all week about this post. I wasn’t sure if I should say anything. In the grand scheme of things, or even the small scheme, it’s not a big deal. I should probably just let it go. But, the fact that it’s days later and I’m still thinking about it means that for whatever reason, this issue resonates with me.

Let me start by saying that I love holidays. Not just the big ones like Easter and Christmas. ALL holidays. I’m the person that switches out her home décor the day after one holiday is over to be ready for the next one. I’m the person that wears green for St. Patrick’s Day when I’m not even a little bit Irish. I even celebrate Flag Day. That’s just the kind of person I am. I’m festive.

I’m also a public school teacher. Emphasis on the word public. All inclusive, all walks of life, all religions, all ethnicities. Public. There is chronic indecision in the public school system on how to handle The Holiday Situation. Do we celebrate all holidays, ever? Do we celebrate the holidays applicable to the majority of students attending? Or do we not acknowledge holidays whatsoever? My district, in particular, seems divided on this issue.

At the school where I teach, we play music for two minutes each morning. The music acts as a “two minute warning” for students to get to their first class. Through a series of events, the duty of selecting the songs to play has fallen into my lap. It was my plan this week to play the song “This Is Halloween” from The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Knowing our conflicted approach to the holidays, I went through the appropriate avenues and did get the go ahead from my principal to play the song. We played the song Monday, and it was awesome. Tuesday my principal told me that I couldn’t play it anymore. Apparently there were parent phone calls, and parents were concerned that we were celebrating Halloween as a school. I asked my principal if parents had specifically mentioned the song in said phone calls, and she said no, other factors had led to the calls. But, since we don’t officially celebrate Halloween as a school, I had to ixnay my song.

I was crestfallen. I love that song, and I was beyond excited to play it for our morning music. Yes, this is partially due to the fact that I love Halloween. But this song is also fitting for another reason.

Halloween is a big deal in my town, the town where my school is located. A BIG deal. We have three separate parades dedicated to Halloween. One of these parades even includes the public (PUBLIC) elementary school students getting out of school for a day to march in it. Together. As public schools. We have pumpkin carving contests, ghost tours, a Halloween gala, a medallion hunt, and then some. To say that Halloween is a part of our local culture is an understatement. Did I mention that the words to “This Is Halloween” include the line, “This our town of Halloween?” We ARE the town of Halloween. I don’t think I could have found a more fitting song.

I know that really, it’s just a song. It really should not be a big deal. But celebrating holidays is a part of my traditions. It’s a part of my culture. We speak a lot in education about celebrating our cultural diversity. Does this not include letting people celebrate their traditions and holidays, whatever those traditions and holidays may be? I can’t help but feel sometimes like I’m being told, “I do not participate in that tradition, so you can’t either.”

This is probably an awful way to feel. I know that I am naïve, and self-centered for thinking this way. I am in the majority population locally in almost every category. White. Middle Class. Christian. I’ve never known what it’s like to be in the minority. I’ve never known what it’s like to see 98% of the people around me participating in something that I’m not a part of.

But then again, I wasn’t asking anyone to participate. I was just asking to play a song. There are those that would argue that I’d be forcing all students to participate in the listening of the song. I can see that. But I’d happily play a song pertaining to any other holiday from any other culture/religion/tradition, and I’d happily listen to it. Like I said, I’m all about embracing the holidays of the world. I’m just a festive person.

Maybe I’ll bring this up again with my principal. Maybe I won’t. It is just a song, and a lot can change in a year. In the meantime, Happy Haunting for those of you who celebrate, and happy Friday for those of you who don’t!


Young Love, Real Love

16 Oct

This past weekend I had the joyous pleasure of spending some time with a few of my former sixth grade girls who are now in ninth grade. They had invited me to go see The Maze Runner with them, since that is a book that we read together when I had them as students. To say I was flattered when they invited me is a gross understatement. When people talk about teaching being a rewarding profession, this is what they’re talking about.

We were the only people in our theater, which was fantastic. It allowed us them to cry out things like, “All four walls are supposed to be open!” and “Why does Theresa look like Bella Swan?” without fear of being kicked out. After the movie we went to Starbucks because, well, duh. After our discussion of the book and the movie and why the books are always better unless they’re Lord of the Rings, our discussion strayed to other topics. My girls told me about their classes and how middle schoolers should never, ever complain about the amount of homework they get because high school is so much worse. They told me about their families and their friends and their cell phones or lack thereof. But then the conversation took an unexpected turn. It went something like this:

Student: “Well Ms. Nelson, we had something we wanted to ask you.”

Me: “Ok?”

Student: “Well, ok. We’ve been trying to find our soul mates, so we wanted to ask you how you met your husband.”

My first reaction was to laugh at how stinking cute they were for asking me that. My second thought was the obvious one, that ninth grade is far too young to be worrying about things like soul mates. But then I really thought about it. Husband and I met each other when I was in tenth grade. Granted, we didn’t start dating until a year later, but still. I was only one year older when I met my husband than these girls are now. It was a really hard idea to wrap my mind around. They still seem so young in so many ways! Was I really that young myself when Husband and I met? Then I realized that whether I was or wasn’t, it didn’t matter.

It’s easy to dismiss relationships that start at a young age as puppy love. A fleeting feeling that isn’t “real,” and cannot possibly withstand the test of time. For many, that may be true. But for some relationships, like mine, it’s the real deal. The beauty of love, true love, is that it evolves with the people who carry it and mold it. The love Husband and I have for each other now is different from the love we had back when I was in high school. Our love is calmer now, less full of angst. It seems less urgent somehow, but no less vibrant. No less meaningful. No less real.

My first reaction was to laugh at my students and brush off their request for advice on finding one’s soul mate, but to do so would have belittled the lives they lead. In retrospect at age almost-thirty, the trials and tribulations of my fourteen-year-old self seem small and unimportant. But I remember clearly, that at the time they were everything. So I told them my story. Husband’s story. Our story. Even the embarrassing parts. Especially the embarrassing parts.

These particular girls hold a special place in my heart. They’re my girls from my first year of teaching and my first year of our middle school book club. If I’m being completely honest, I see parts of my sixth-grade self in each of them. Their proclivity for falling in love with fictional characters, their feelings of self-doubt, their yearning for fairy tale romance, kindred spirits and something more. I can relate to it all. The thing that got me through those painfully awkward years were my friends, my books, and my teachers. Teachers who took me seriously, related to me, and saw my life not as a fleeting moment in time, but as the only moment that mattered. If I can do that, be that, for these girls, then I will be able to consider myself a success.


Goodbye Kitty

6 Oct

I’ve never considered myself to be much of a cat person. Sure, there was a phase when I was in elementary school where I thought there was nothing cuter than a kitty, but my affinity for cats was quickly dispelled once my family actually got a cat. My childhood cat, Johnny, was aloof. He never played, or purred or did any of the cute things I had been led to believe that cats did. In fact, he was downright mean. When it was time to say goodbye to Johnny, sure I was sad. But I took his loss as an opportunity to come to acceptance with the fact that I really was just a dog person. End of story.

Until I got married. Practically our first purchase as a married couple was a dog because, well duh. But it came out in conversation one day that Husband actually preferred cats. His childhood cat, Heidi, did play, purr and do all of the cute things I had been led to believe that cats did. After hearing his story, it was clear that there was only one thing left to do. So, we went to the humane society and got a cat.

There wasn’t any specific type of cat we (and by we, I mean I) were (was) looking for. My only real specifications were that the cat be female, and that the cat was on the young side. That being said, I knew Sasha was the one the moment I held her. She was in my arms for no more than two seconds before she started purring. Loudly. She never stopped.

All my life I had dreamt of an affection cat. Sasha was that cat. At least I knew that by definition she was, yes, a cat, but she always acted more canine than feline. She loved to be pet. All you’d have to do was touch her. Literally. Just lay a hand on her back and she’d instantly be purring. Because of her love for human affection, she was always cuddling. On my lap, on my laundry, on the papers I was grading. It didn’t matter what was in her way. If it meant being close to you, it was no obstacle.

This was particularly true when it came to Husband. While he had been the one who originally said he preferred cats, it became clear that he did not prefer our cat. While I found her purring and need to cuddle endearing, he did not. He especially did not appreciate her need to sleep directly on top of his chest at night, purring the entire time (of course). Sasha seemed to have a compulsive need to make him love her. The more times he threw her off the bed at night, the more times she crawled right back up.

It was when she stopped sleeping on Husband’s chest at night that we knew something was wrong. She still purred when you touched her, but for the first time since she’d joined our family, we had to seek her out. She became a recluse, hiding under our bed. She stopped eating. And, eventually, she stopped using her litter box. The vet told us it was liver failure. We’re still not sure if it was cancer, feline leukemia, or a different malady. Honestly, it wouldn’t have mattered. The vet informed us that no matter the cause of her liver failure, it was progressing too fast and too furious for her to ever fully recover. Despite a brief turn-around when it looked like she might actually get better, in the end it became clear to us that it was time to say goodbye. Our plump, happy, affectionate cat was gone. In her place was a rail-thin, listless, suffering kitty.

Tonight we said goodbye to our sweet cat. It’s been harder than either of us thought, especially trying to explain the situation to Child #1 (4yo). Trying to explain that you are knowingly taking your pet to a place where they will end her life is a hard concept to get across. He seemed to understand what was happening, but still doesn’t grasp the gravity of the situation emotionally. I suppose I’m ok with that. Whether I’m ok or not is still undecided. I know that Sasha was suffering. I know that putting her down was the humane thing to do. But making that call was decidedly harder than I ever thought it would be. It was hard to say goodbye. It was hard to ask Husband to be the one to take her. And, for some reason, it was even harder to keep it together watching Husband dump out her food bowl when it was over and she was gone.

Sasha will always have a very special place in our hearts. She was my second “baby,” and my dream cat. She purred the moment I met her, and Husband says she purred until the very end. There will never be another cat like her.

Goodbye, Sasha. We’ll miss you.