Wrong Turn?

It’s been a little over a year since I walked away from my teaching career and started freelancing full time. I decided it’s high time to reflect on my so-called wrong turn. Fair warning: it’s a bit long.

It’s a hell of a thing to wake up when you are 34 years old and still wonder what you want to be when https://www.flickr.com/photos/memoryfreak/6511834823/in/photolist-aVqRCc-5MnsCd-aUDBTz-5AN6w4-aW1nnr-5AMnn4-5c62Qb-aH9b9M-5wqPta-7EFnR6-quvGkm-nnGct2-7fNUg1-gHYFC3-dmyfCP-akHicV-5PHjgc-aSiMac-9TGd3J-akKZfS-dTAKAs-9wkRVT-qeRLQt-qeNnXN-akH9hK-akHjQR-akKXtC-akH9XT-bV6Vif-dTAKQL-5PHfun-9PSLHY-52bYaY-5PHfur-5PHfuR-7fP58U-b3Hzjc-apemzB-bqCkMm-3cjrwC-hsbFtQ-dTAKJ9-akHket-akHhmx-akL6hb-akHbtR-akHceM-akHcux-akL1id-akL9ryyou grow up. It’s an even scarier thing when you’re saddled with a gigantic mortgage, a self-employed husband, and two kids who are just now starting school with hefty tuition bills and to play organized (read: who the hell knew it would be this expensive when they’re 3 and 6?) sports. But, that’s exactly where I am. And, I’m the one who put myself – and my family – here.

I had done everything right. I worked hard, got good grades, became salutatorian, got into a great liberal arts college, got on staff at the college newspaper as a freshman, and quickly became assistant features editor. Then all hell broke loose when I decided to transfer to another great liberal arts college to continue with my English Literature degree but get my teaching certification on top of it. I blame the adorable, energetic, eager to learn inner-city kids I tutored when I tagged along to a church to profile the Black Student Union for the college newspaper. They made me fall in love with the idea of teaching, even though I had come from a family full of educators and did not in any way, shape, or form want to become one myself.

So, I continued to do everything right after transferring. I commuted to save money, I increased my credit load in order to graduate on time, I became certified as a writing tutor, I did community service, I got a fantastic cooperating teacher and placement, and I graduated near the very top of my class again. I was hired as a middle school language arts teacher before I graduated, and I was writing curriculum before I knew it. I lived at home to save more money, got engaged, bought a fixer-upper, got married, got a dog, and had a great life.

Until I realized I wasn’t so much in love with teaching as I was with the idea of teaching. The bureaucracy and politics were one thing, the outrageous behaviors of some of the students were another thing, and I was loving my job a whole lot less than I thought I should have been. The bright spots were the kids who loved to read, who wanted to learn from their quirky teacher, and who appreciated my structured and fast-paced classes. I had never failed at anything that I had worked so hard to achieve, and I was struggling with accepting the fact that even though I was excelling at teaching I didn’t love it. I had all of the mugs and shirts about changing lives and not knowing where my influence ended, but I just wasn’t feeling it like I thought I should have been.

So, I decided to try again. I was hired by another school district and felt a new energy in a new building (even though I missed my original colleagues dearly and still do to this day). I had a much better first year. I had kids whom I loved and who loved me, and it was a good feeling to be teaching sixteen year olds to appreciate Shakespeare and Poe. So, I thought maybe it was the switch to high school from middle school that I needed. And then the years went by and the faces changed and I kept looking at myself in the mirror, thinking that I could not do this for another 30 years.

I wasn’t miserable. I loved my new colleagues. I loved my new school. I just didn’t love teaching. And, once again, I felt like a failure. My students were doing well and we had a great rapport and I was looked upon as a teacher leader, and yet, something didn’t feel quite right. Teaching is the hardest job in the world for so many reasons, and when you’re not sure it’s what you want to do for the rest of your life, you can’t do it justice.

I changed roles in my school district, becoming a coach to fellow teachers, and loved it. I didn’t realize how much teaching had strapped me down. You live by the bell, you pee when you can, and you don’t speak to someone your own age for hours at a time. In my new role, I was treated more as a professional, I was asked questions about my teaching philosophy and instructional delivery, and I put my brand new Master’s degree to good use. I attended conferences and mingled and learned and grew professionally more than I ever had in seven years of teaching. But, I was seeing a stronger emphasis on testing and creating a set of skills students should learn rather than a robust curriculum that allowed them to explore and read and discuss freely. I was uncomfortable with pushing teachers to standardize so much. At the end of the year, the funding dried up, and I was back in the classroom. That was when I knew the end was near.

I was giving higher-stakes tests to kids with each passing year. I was sitting in IEP meetings looking at sobbing fifteen-year-old students who weren’t going to be able to take a welding class if they didn’t pass the standardized state test. I was listening to administrators talk about data and results instead of kids and their needs. And, I was being told that we needed to be positive and not put out anything negative to the community while cheering on those blasted tests and their results. The tests were one thing; putting on a happy face and shoving them at kids who needed something else was quite another.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/maduixaaaa/2567638237/in/photolist-4UTPoM-8pdi7D-4YEiod-AGAuv-qw3yq-5KDKgX-6VGpG7-8LWNy-es6do-4BHuFz-cXnQnS-NGu9r-HFzM8-6Qsm5S-aQUzkH-5uYFsX-qFSrEb-8HaxTp-9qZzSr-y5QQo-eEEUtL-5FDb6x-m69ai-r4AkuU-4fjrQ3-6nh2Nf-cAUanG-qhxiz-qF8GP-9TbbpY-4kELbG-9dx56x-6ayisx-8N1kAe-ahHEgA-7vMPcL-rZ2oCr-4AQq9Z-SVozu-7NwdQ-6BWLsL-iSWAj-iS5Ef-yxXYH-6kySLQ-aSFFYK-fn5Sv7-7bsCdk-qERwNJ-6NRXzsI knew I had to get out. I knew I could not continue to teach to a test not only in which I did not believe but which harms students. I had sleepless nights, panic attacks, and endless lists of pros and cons. How could I leave a salaried union job, a tiny yearly raise, benefits, and health insurance? How could I start a job that doesn’t guarantee work, which in turn doesn’t guarantee pay? How could I ask my husband to pay for our new health insurance plan? How could I throw away a Master of Education plus 60 additional credits? How could I walk away from 12 years of teaching?

The girl who never veered from the straight and narrow, the college kid who tutored in the writing center while carrying an overloaded course schedule, the student teacher who taught on her own for weeks while her cooperating teacher was out with pneumonia, the teacher who always did as she was told and whose students excelled, was going to do the unthinkable. I walked away. I took a leave of absence, started blogging and working as a freelance writer, and within two months had written a viral blog post in response to Campbell Brown’s attacks on public school teachers and unions. I was loving my new job, my new creative outlet, and the fact that I would not have to go back to school in August.

There truly was no looking back when my newfound courage led me to write very openly and candidly about some local education issues. I was very honest and had some strong opinions. Teachers were supporting me. Parents were supporting me. My district did not. And, being censored by my district was the last straw. I always taught my students to speak the truth respectfully and to support their opinions with truth, facts, and solid evidence. I would have been a hypocrite if I didn’t do that myself. I resigned.

Now, I am a freelance writer who barely has time to blog. I mostly write web content for various companies, but if you Google my name, you’ll only find my three blogs. I don’t have a by-line for my day job, but it pays the bills and I get to be home with our boys while I work. The problem is, my current position isn’t quite feeding my soul enough yet, either. I’m not naïve. I know most people don’t spring out of bed, bound out the door, and sing happily on their way to work, but writing about electrical engineering and Big Data isn’t quite what I was looking for, either.

So, why reflect on my sordid tale of being a lost 34 year old? (If you’re still reading, you’re a saint.) I know I’m not alone. Just in my small circle of friends, I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count everyone who wishes they had chosen a different professional life. So many of my college friends are not working in a field even remotely related to their degree. Tons of them aren’t working the jobs any of us had imagined: one is a veterinarian tech, one helps at a homeless shelter, one gives music lessons to teenagers, one works as a librarian in a small public library, and the list goes on and on.

These are the brave ones who left their well paying professional jobs that match their degrees to do something else. They took a leap of faith before I did and served as my inspiration, but they’re almost all struggling to make ends meet because they chose to do the work that makes them happy rather than the work that makes them money. A noble cause, for sure, but we’ve still got undergraduate school loans and graduate school loans and rent and mortgages and life weighing us down.

Most of us are between the ages of 30 and 50. Most of us don’t regret any choices we’ve made because they’ve led us to where we are now. I am a much better mother and writer because I was a teacher. I am a much better friend because of my teacher friends. But, when I scan LinkedIn profiles to do my day job, I’m shocked to see that people in this age group have had what seems to be an average of at least eight different jobs. Where I come from, you go to college, get hired in your field, and hold that job until you retire. My parents still freak out about the choice I made more than a year ago. Where I come from, you just don’t do what I did.

Maybe this is what we need to be talking about more often. Maybe we need to figure out a way to help people struggling to make the decision to leave a profession or stick with it so they don’t put themselves through the wringer like I did. Maybe we need to help high school and college students with internships and job shadowing and work experiences before pushing them to make life decisions at the tender age of 18 (instead of shoving standardized tests at them that don’t mean a damn thing). Maybe we just need to share our stories so that other people who feel stuck in their profession don’t think they are just miserable people and that there is something wrong with them for not loving their jobs.

I’m still working it out, but maybe my wrong turn wasn’t such a wrong turn after all.

Images via Flickr by familytreasures and … marta … maduixaaaa

On the Issue of Those Pesky First Amendment Rights for Teachers

Teachers are people, too! I’ll never forget going to the grocery store with my mom, who is a teacher with 36 years in the classroom under her belt, and realizing they not everyone views us that way. By the way, she will tell you that it hasn’t been 36 full years, because she was hired part-time and didn’t achieve full-time status for awhile. I say the woman has been in a classroom or elementary library since 1978, and that’s 36 years.

Anyway, we were grocery shopping, and a little boy looked at her with eyes as big as saucers and ran to his mother. He was pointing at my mom and mumbling something. I thought my mom must have reprimanded him at some point in the library to have traumatized him so, but the poor kid actually was so shocked to see her outside of the library that he thought she was looking for him to get back a lost book.

As the daughter, granddaughter, niece, great-niece, and great-great-niece of educators, I didn’t know that kids thought their teachers lived in schools. I just thought it was weird that other kids said their parents were going to work, and my mom said she was going to school. But, apparently, kids think their teachers live, eat, and sleep at school; thus, they don’t realize that teachers are real people.

Unfortunately, it seems as though many of those misguided children grow up to be lawmakers, lobbyists, judges, and Campbell Brown. These people don’t realize that teachers are, in fact, people who are capable of having thoughts and opinions. Worse, they don’t think teachers have the same right to express those thoughts and opinions publicly. First Amendment, be damned!

I have first-hand experience with this. When I started this very blog in June, the initial two posts were about how I knew it was time to take a leave of absence from teaching, even though I was in the prime of my career. I may have been a little harsh in my language and brutal with my honesty; however, to the best of my knowledge, I broke no levels of confidentiality, I used no names (in fact, most of the anecdotes contain characters who are blends of students and colleagues and administrators I’ve encountered in eleven years in the trenches), and I ran the posts past some of my union leaders prior to publishing them online. I was received with mostly positive responses and more encouragement than I had expected. In fact, friends of mine who teach in other districts in a couple of states shared it with their colleagues and union leaders; they actually asked for permission to share my posts at their end-of-the-year festivities because they were so entertained, yet moved by my story. Nearly every teacher who read those first posts said it was as though I had been inside his classroom or inside her mind while writing. And, most of the educators who read those posts encouraged me to keep telling the true story of what it’s like inside public education today.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I received a phone call advising me to take down the blog. I was told that I could be terminated “on the spot.” In my mind, I simply was exercising my First Amendment right; in their minds, I had overstepped some sort of boundary that forces teachers to keep everything under our hats. In the end, I complied because I didn’t know where this new freelance adventure was going to take my family’s finances, and I could very easily need to return to the classroom. It was a very difficult decision and I was beyond livid, but I realized that I had to follow the advice, at least for the time being, for my family.

I then changed the direction of the blog to family and parenting and observations of life under my ponytail, all the while wondering how my audience would have grown if I had left the posts as they were. I also wondered how many other teachers would have responded positively about someone finally being able to tell it like it is.

Then, I saw the Campbell Brown interview with Stephen Colbert. I couldn’t keep quiet about that. I was angry and insulted and disgusted by her insinuations, her spin, and her less-than-half truths. I sat down and penned the open letter thinking that I would feel better once I got it all out. I walked away from it and tried to go back to the writing job that is paying the bills. But the thought of leaving the letter off the blog, too – of not being able to share my opinions and thoughts and feelings as a professional in the education field AGAIN – was too much. I closed my eyes, hit “Publish,” and went to bed.

The response has been overwhelming for someone whose blog was getting between 50-100 hits a day (other than those initial education posts that were getting more hits than expected for a blog that had been up and running merely for two days). When it hit 1,000 views, I was thrilled. When it hit 5,000, I was in tears. When it hit 10,000, I was stunned and shaking. It’s still going. And, the responses to the letter are equally as overwhelming.

Teachers are sharing stories with me that are breaking my heart. They have lost their unions, their pensions, their classrooms, their autonomy, and for most, their dignity, as politicians, corporations, parents, and people like Campbell Brown come after them day after day after day. People are asking me to share their stories, and I can’t do that in good conscience when I’m afraid to share mine. The repercussions are far too great. I’m still researching cases in which judges are ruling against teachers’ First Amendment rights. Facebook statuses are getting teachers fired, even when they aren’t breaking any confidentiality, laws, or contract obligations. Yes, teachers always have been held to a higher moral code, and some teachers push the envelope with their language and overabundance of personal information and other things that in all honesty should be actionable. This is not why unions exist, and this is not why tenure exists, and teachers need to be smart about what they share.

But, teachers are people, too. They should have equal protection under the First Amendment when they want to add their voice to “education reform.” They should have a voice when governors slash education budgets by millions of dollars year after year after year (don’t forget, I live in PA, with arguably one of the worst governors in relation to education in the entire country). They should have a voice when administrators bow to parents because they are afraid of losing kids to charter schools and cyber schools that are draining desperately-needed resources from the majority of kids in public schools. And, they should have a voice when they decide to leave their profession for a year because they know they need a break.

I WILL be publishing those initial blog posts in the next couple of days, with a few tweaks. I am a person, too. And I have First Amendment rights, just like everyone else. We will see whether I actually do or not. In the meantime, I’m going to try to do some more research about it, so if anyone else has links to those recent cases, from anywhere in the U.S., please send them my way.

In Response to the Open Letter to Campbell Brown Response

As of 11PM, August 2, 2014, 11,100+ visitors have viewed my Open Letter to Campbell Brown 12,300+ times, and it has been shared on Facebook more than 4,000 times. I am overwhelmed by the amount of support and encouragement I have received today. As a teacher, I never thought of myself as a teacher advocate because my circle of teacher friends always does all we can to support one another every day, even if that means offering a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen when the classroom, standards, and criticism become too much.

Today, I am being labeled one, and I hope to live up to that moniker in the days and weeks and months to come. I have been receiving links and studies and information that I will have to ponder in the next few days. I have been thanked and cheered and, yes, even criticized. A few friends and my husband were worried about how I’m handling the criticism. One of the best things teaching has given me is thick skin, so I’m just fine. I understand Campbell Brown is blocking people on Facebook and attempting to control the discussion; her apparent lack of thick skin simply proves that she doesn’t belong in this discussion of education. I also understand that people have been taking to Twitter in droves about the letter and the interview. I’m going to be honest. I’ve handled the discussion through the comments on my blog and a bit on Twitter because the letter pretty much covers everything I have to say about her appearance with Stephen Colbert.

When I wrote the letter, I was venting my frustration at Campbell Brown and attempting to bring a voice of the teachers to the discussion – a counterpoint to her interview, if you will. Of course, she is just one in a cast of thousands attacking teachers and unions and tenure and, let’s face it, public education, in this country. Today has been bittersweet because I’m being thanked by so many people who are too afraid for their positions to be able to speak up themselves; this issue of educational reform has spun so far out of control that teachers are afraid to exercise their First Amendment right. (FYI – Several people have forwarded me recent cases in which judges are siding against teachers who exercise their First Amendment rights, and that’s another issue I’m going to start researching soon.)

I sincerely appreciate every single person who took the time to reach out to me through email, Facebook, and Twitter today. I understand why so many teachers have chosen to contact me privately. I’ve done my best to respond to everyone while continuing to be a mom and a wife today, and I will continue to answer as many people as possible. I may need a bit of time to recover from this sudden social media presence I seem to have created for myself, but I will have much more to say soon.

In the meantime, think about the teachers who are starting school soon without a contract, without a union, without a voice. Think about the students who are starting school soon without adequate supplies, prior knowledge, or support at home. Something does need to change in this country, but it doesn’t seem to me that teacher tenure should be at the top of the list.

I’m Contributing to a Book – What the Hell?

So, this isn’t exactly an official blog post, but I finally can share the news: I’ve been asked to contribute to a book project.  While in its very early stages, the book is “Becoming Mother: Narratives of How One Becomes Two,” by Sharon Tjaden-Glass. You can view the project on the blog: www.becomingmotherblog.wordpress.com and see my contribution: http://becomingmotherblog.wordpress.com/other-true-stories/bailey-how-could-i-be-a-mom/. I’ll be featured in the “Other True Stories” section.

This may just be that first small step into a writing career. What the Hell?

I Don’t Know Enough About Me – What the Hell?

I was asked to update my About page by a few readers because they don’t see how my teaching degrees are relevant enough to the content of my posts.  That’s fair enough for now, especially because there is so much more to that story that I’m not yet at liberty to tell.

In the meantime, I figured that I could update my About in the two minutes I had until the washer’s spin cycle ended and the OnDemand feature the little guy was watching rolled the credits, and I sat down to update my About.  It was harder than I thought.  I gave up after those two precious minutes.  And I kept thinking about it while I put in the next load of laundry and switched to the next OnDemand feature (No! PAW Patrol no.  I watch Turtles now!) and wrote the grocery list and realized the bananas are still sitting on the counter because the banana hanger was ruined by the fruit fly trap.  Long story.

I had Siri take a few notes on ideas while I put away laundry and folded pool towels (we are officially calling them pool towels from now on because I don’t think we will EVER make it to the beach) and chased the little guy away from the toilet paper for the fourth time.  I forced myself to stop thinking about it while playing trains and watching Turtles and actually enjoyed the break from thinking about it while out running errands and having lunch.

Now, the kiddo is asleep and the husband is working out in the yard and I’m bound and determined to do it.  I read a few helpful hints online, got fed up by how easy they made it sound, and sat down to write the About.  I let it flow without judgment and without editing and hit “Update.”  And, I think I hate my About.

How can I know so little about my About?  I’m enjoying writing this blog so much, and I’m happy with my number of views and followers because I honestly thought I’d have six – my parents (2), my husband (1), my really good friends who are online and read voraciously (3) – and I get supportive emails and Facebook messages and comments all of the time (still not sure why people are so hesitant to comment on the actual blog itself, but I’ll take what I can get), and I’ve been getting just enough criticism to know that I’m at least hitting readers who don’t love me enough to tell me they love everything that I write.  I have great reasons for blogging and thought I had a good handle on the kind of writer that I am, so why is this About so damn hard?

I think it’s because I just write to write because I love it so much (and if you read my post about why I blog, that’s great because I don’t want to rehash all of it here).  I don’t have a niche because I never intended to have one.  I just live my life under this ponytail and have fun with my family and work as hard as I can at everything that I do (even that laundry pile) because that’s what I was raised to do.  I just happen to have a lot to say about the life I’ve chosen to lead in this low-maintenance kind of way, and most of it makes me say, “What the Hell?”  I think that’s because I’m a bit of a perfectionist and a control freak and I expect things to go the way that I expect them to, and when they don’t, my mind automatically reacts with a “What the Hell?”

I don’t know how to say that in an About.  So, I’m leaving it the way that it is, for now.  And I’ll deal with it when it doesn’t make me say, “What the Hell?”  I just don’t know when that will be.

Broken Promises – What the Hell?

I broke a promise to myself yesterday. I swore on my old Girl Scout honor that I would write and publish a blog post every day since I started more than a month ago. There were days that I barely hit “Publish” by midnight, and some days that I had to accept hitting that button a few minutes after midnight, but I always made it. Until yesterday.

I was crazy busy with a project for the job that pays the bills, and because the little guy didn’t sleep for two minutes after I got home from my satellite work location (that’s my cool new term for my parents’ den), I couldn’t write when I got home. Then, there were all of the Mom Duties: changing diapers, playing the Wii, playing with trains, pouring milk into sippy cups, filling the Ninja Turtle cup with water when he realized he wanted it instead of the milk, getting the iPad to do whatever it was he wanted it to do, cleaning up, ordering pizza, paying bills… well, I think that just about paints the picture. Once everybody was finally in jammies and in bed, I cleaned up some more and sat down to continue that crazy-busy project. Until 4:15AM.

I’ll admit that I looked at the clock around midnight and felt like crying. Maybe it was the combination of the frustration I was having with the internet and the long list of things I still had to do before going to bed, and maybe it was the realization that I can’t remember the last time my husband and I hit the sheets at the same time, but the tears were ready to fall. I didn’t give in to those salty pests and continued to plug away at my list. I’d like to be able to say that I didn’t turn on the waterworks because I realized that crying over a missed blog post would have been silly and juvenile, but I think what stopped me was knowing that my keyboard would get wet. Anyway, the fact that I broke a promise to myself still bothers me this morning.

As a kid, I made promises all of the time. And, I kept them. If my mom wanted me to do something, she would ask me to promise; it worked better than a guilt trip because even at a young age, I knew that a person’s word was supposed to mean something. I can remember looking at my dad as he was rushing out the door after work, on his way to a meeting, and asking him to promise he’d be home before I fell asleep. He wouldn’t promise if he knew he wouldn’t make it. I remember being very young and asking my mom to promise she wouldn’t make me eat steak one more time because I hated it. She promised, and I still don’t eat steak.

I didn’t intentionally teach our big kid to say “promise” when it came to matters of the utmost importance, but that’s another thing he’s picked up from his mama. It hit me last night – well, this morning – while I was finally trying to fall asleep, that he uses promises the same way I do. If he really wants something, or if something really matters to him, he makes a promise with me. He doesn’t use promises for silly situations: I’ve never heard him say, “Promise me I can eat ketchup tonight.” And, I’ve never heard him say, “Promise we’ll never go to the dentist again!” because he knows that I won’t make promises that I won’t keep. But, he will ask me to promise that I won’t check my phone when he wants to show me his new tumbling moves. And, he asks me to promise that I’ll make his favorite Yummy Chicken soon. The funny thing is, when he wants his brother to do something, he doesn’t ask him to promise; he knows that little guy isn’t capable of sticking to his word.

I believe in teaching by example, and I got all warm and fuzzy thinking about how I’ve already instilled the value of a person’s word in my son. Don’t get me wrong: he still fibs and tells lies every now and again, but he’s at least on the right track with following through on a promise. He doesn’t know that Mommy has a blog, so I won’t tell him about my little slip. But, I promised him that I’d play with him when I got home today, and I will. That next blog post will just have to wait. I may break a promise to myself, but I’ll never break a promise to my children.

I’ll probably be up until the wee hours of the morning again, though, despite the fact that I promised myself I’d be in bed by 11 tonight. What the Hell?

You Mean I’m an Addict? – What the Hell?

I never have smoked anything in my life. Although, I have had students ask me, “What have you been smoking?” after I assigned them work and actually expected them to complete it. I rarely drink, other than a Ruby Relaxer once in a while and the rum and Cokes my husband whips up for me every now and again and one chocolate martini in the world’s sweetest place that sent my head spinning. I don’t like to take medication; I left the hospital with narcotics after a C-section knowing full well that I didn’t plan on taking them unless the pain was so unbearable I wanted to screech as loudly as the new little person living with us. Needless to say, I’ve never tried an illegal substance or recreational drug of any kind. I don’t have closets full of shoes or clothes. I only have a few really good pieces of jewelry. I have a few pieces of sports memorabilia that are near and dear to my heart. So, I’ve never really considered myself to be an addict, yet I have several “addictions,” and I’ve detailed them here, in no particular order.

Social Media

Thank goodness I’ve finally found a job that requires spending more time on social media. I don’t necessarily creep on people, although there are times that I just have to be nosey, and I definitely am not an internet troll, but I love looking at friends’ pictures, seeing what they’re up to and trying to figure out if I’ve been to the places they visit, and commenting on their latest updates and tweets. I just recently got strong-armed into joining Pinterest, and I think I’ve been missing out on Pinning with friends for far too long, too.  I don’t have much of a social life due to our rugrats, and social media at least lets me communicate and share with people, even if I can’t go to the movies or hang out with them. This may be the one addiction that has the most benefits.

Music

I’m not completely to blame for this one. I had friends in junior high and high school with older brothers and sisters, so we always knew everything that was happening in music. And, I’m fortunate enough to have seen the world through its 80s music, grunge, and alternative stages; unfortunately, it seems as though we are edging ever closer to a pop scene that I just cannot handle. Overall, though, I love music. There is such a variety in my iTunes that people who have seen the playlists ask if I accidentally downloaded someone else’s collection with mine. When my husband and I were planning our wedding, we took our CDs to the DJ and told him our whole soundtrack; he actually asked us if he could borrow some of our stuff. The problem with all of this, though, is the way in which I get addicted to individual songs. I’ve been known to play a song on repeat for the better part of a day. My boys refer to some songs as “car songs” because I have a car ride playlist that contains only three songs. I’m driving my husband crazy, but I need to hear those songs and dance to them with our little guys before they realize we all may just look very foolish to passersby. I dread the day when they become too cool for their mom.

Pandora bracelets

Yes, I am aware of the fact that I mentioned that I have only a few pieces of really good jewelry. And, that is true. I sold almost all of my yellow gold jewelry last year when our older son had to have extensive dental work, and I only kept a few sterling silver and white gold pieces that have more sentimental value than anything. But, those few really good pieces are starting to be overshadowed by my ever-increasingly expensive Pandora obsession. It’s all sterling silver with a bit of 14K gold and diamond accents thrown in here and there, but because I keep collecting, it’s starting to break the bank. In a previous post, I described my first bracelet and explained why it’s become an addiction: I get to combine symbolism and storytelling when I design my bracelets. But, that was only true for the first two: the first one tells the story of my little family of four, and the second one tells the story just of our boys. The third one, which I had been designing for months, doesn’t tell a story at all. It’s just purple and silver and sparkly because those are my favorite things. And, I thought I needed a bracelet to celebrate my new writing adventure. And, I got an amazing deal for 12 months same as cash. And, I can explain why I needed it in a million different ways, all of which make my husband moan and groan and roll his eyes. I can’t help it. And, now that I have my third bracelet on my wrist, I am planning my fourth one with all of my favorite sports teams. I told you… I’m addicted.

Eating

I haven’t made my weight a secret on this blog, and I readily admit that it’s because I love to eat and don’t make time for exercising, other than trying to keep up with our two boys. I don’t hide food under the bed or carry snacks with me everywhere I go; although, I do know some skinny gals who do that and I envy their metabolisms. But, I love to eat. I grew up in a family that celebrates everything with food and finds any and every reason to get together and have a picnic or a party or a feast. And, going for lunch with friends is one of my favorite social outings. Everybody knew I could make reservations and place orders like a pro during in-service days at school. It’s funny, with all of my passion for eating, that I haven’t learned to cook particularly well. I don’t have the time or the patience, and there are those kitchen disasters that make me afraid to get adventurous in the kitchen. But, I love to bake, and some of my family members are secretly admitting they like my cookies more than my Mom’s. *Gasp!* And, I love to eat what I bake. And, I also love to eat pizza, French fries, chocolate, bread, pasta, salads, mushrooms, mashed potatoes, cheeseburgers, hoagies, cake, cookies…

Disney Movies

Parents complain about the amount of time their kids spend watching Disney movies, and I’ve been known to complain when the boys want to watch the same one 2,373 times in a row. But, I love Disney movies. I used to need to be the first one in line when they opened, and that only stopped when our first kiddo was born. I wait for them to be released on Blu-ray, and I get a little thrill when the boys ask to watch the trailers online for the upcoming flicks. I also may be guilty of letting the boys stay up a little later just so we all can finish watching the movie. Other people can quote lines from cool, popular movies; however, I can tell you everything Boo and Mary Poppins and Mr. Incredible say. The only drawback is having those songs in my head for weeks at a time. That’s one addiction side effect I can handle.

My family

I remember a time when I couldn’t get far enough away from my family. I applied to colleges and universities halfway across the world because I thought I needed to get away from everyone. I closed the door to my bedroom and put on my headphones and wrote volumes about how much I couldn’t stand to be with these people who share so much of my DNA. As more life happened, I realized that the people who matter most are those same people I wanted to steer clear of for at least four years of my young adult life. And, when my own family started to grow, I knew that there was nothing more important or special or meaningful (there are no words to completely capture the feeling) than our children. Too much Hallmark here? Sorry. So, now I’m the one calling everybody and trying to schedule days at camp or the pool or family dinners.  I text my parents and talk to them multiple times a day.  I bug my brother about not seeing him often enough.  And then there’s my little family.  I cannot get enough of the boys’ little feet and hands. Those soft curls at the base of the little guy’s neck faded away with his first haircut and I thought I was going to die. The time spent rolling around on the floor and fighting with pillows and making trains and trucks go and running through the grass and pushing little bodies on swings are the moments when life is the fullest. I’d take five minutes with my husband and boys over five hours with friends any day; so, I do. This explains that addiction to social media.

Writing (and Editing and Revising)

No surprise here! While I wish I could figure out a way to write 24 hours a day, I am never far from a tablet or my laptop. And, by tablet, I mean a bound stack of papers that you record your thoughts on with a pen or pencil or other writing device. Yes, handwriting is still an art I practice. I have been relying more and more on Siri and reminders for when I can’t physically write what I want to say or what I’m thinking. The funny thing is, I see these power bloggers who are posting dozens of times a day, but I don’t aspire to be like them. I don’t have that much content or time on my hands. I do have lists of ideas and pieces from forever ago and tons of book ideas. I just love to write. I tried to explain why, but I’m not really sure that I can properly convey it to anyone else. So, I just write and rewrite and rework my ideas until I think they’re ready to be shared.  Editing and revising are tasks that I can spend hours doing, and there is such a sense of accomplishment when I get just the right word or phrase after trying a million different ways.  Then, I share what I have written with other people and hope that they can gain an understanding of my passion for writing. And, I hope that I have inspired some other people to sit down and write, too; I guess you can’t completely take the teacher out of the classroom. So, I guess I was wrong. This is my most beneficial addiction.

 

I certainly don’t mean to make light of addiction in any way, because I have seen my fair share of true addiction in friends and loved ones and know there is nothing funny about it. But, these are my addictions. They make up my life story just as much as my genes and education and family and careers.

My Very First Blog Post… From 1999 – What the Hell?

The following is an email I sent to my mom September 9, 1999: my first week of classes at Franklin & Marshall College.  I have been searching for this piece of writing for 15 years, and my mom just nonchalantly handed me the worn, yellowed, folded, written-on paper today.  I could have cried.   I guess I was trying to blog before blogging even became a thing.  What the Hell?

Mom,

I want you to read this, print it out, and then read it to Dad, my brother, Nana, and Pap.  I think you ought to know where your $33,000 is really going.

After one week of college classes, I find that I am already wondering why I am here.  I have no idea how any of these things I am doing are going to help me get a job.  I know I could write for a magazine starting today, but I wouldn’t have that precious “BA” behind my name to prove it.

The very first thing I learned is that college is not about the classes.  I just saw a sign that reads: “Don’t let classes interfere with your education.”  This is so true.  College teaches you how to deal with the most undesirable circumstances.

You don’t come here for the food.  You don’t come here for the living facilities.  You certainly don’t come here to take baths.  You learn how to wear the same pair of jeans for four days and the same t-shirt for three days, just so you save yourself from having to do laundry.  You learn how to sleep in the noisiest of places, how to get a shower at just the right time so there isn’t anyone around flushing toilets or using the showers upstairs to put your precious hot water in jeopardy, and how to read four novels in three days.  You also learn how to run a movie and CD rental store.  You learn how to eat snack food in moderation, so you don’t gain the Freshman 15 five times.

College is a learning experience, not an institution of learning.  You find a way to deal with people you would never approach if you didn’t absolutely have to.  You learn how to cram an entire house into a space 14’ x 16’.  You learn that professors do not teach; they make you question everything you thought you have known to be true since you were five years old.  You do not ask questions unless you are prepared to defend not only yourself but also the previous four student speakers.  You learn to read and analyze and take more notes than you will ever need in your life, so that when the professor asks you to write a paper on what you just “learned,” you have some sort of material to make that paper magically materialize.

And, you ask yourself, is this really worth being in debt for the next 30 years of my life?  And, you answer yes.  Because learning how to eat pizza that is fresh, cold, not-so-cold, not-so-warm, reheated, preheated, soggy, and hard is definitely worth something.  But, the best advice you gain from a college student is this: if it moves, don’t eat it.  It’ s probably your roommate.

(Connect with me @baileyshawley, share this post on Facebook so your friends can see what you’ve been reading, or click to follow my blog as a fellow blogger or through email.  There are nifty little buttons below to help you.)

One of Those Days – What the Hell?

It’s been one of those days.  I can’t get focused for some reason, which is totally out of character for me.  I’m having trouble connecting thoughts and remaining on topic.  I’m reading and rereading and not getting anywhere.  I think I’ve had to charge my phone twice today because I kept adding Reminders and grocery items and checking the weather and seeing why my Facebook notifications were flashing.  I have been procrastinating, and I loathe procrastination.  I found things on the internet and television to distract me nearly all day, and I normally work with music on so that I can keep working without distractions.

I’m yawning and stretching every two minutes, and I keep feeling like I have to flex my toes and ankles.  I’m never one to crack my knuckles, but I caught myself doing it today.  Twice.

To make things worse, I caught myself biting my fingernails three times today.  Actually, the biggest problem I’ve found since starting this writing venture is that I’m losing fingernails daily.  I don’t have some sort of fingernail-eating bacteria invading my hands, or anything; I have a bad habit.  When I was younger, I bit my fingernails.  My mom tried everything from painting terrible-tasting liquid on my nails to making me wear gloves.  Nothing worked.  I remember bloody fingers and painful days, just because I couldn’t kick that stupid habit.  The day that I finally quit was the day that I got the call for my first teaching interview.  (Yes, I still bit my nails well past my teen years.)  I had two weeks to let my nails grow, and I was determined to do it.  From that point on, I knew that I had to be an adult and exercise some self-control over my fingers.  And, I was successful until about a month ago.

Now, I catch myself  biting my nails when I’m stuck on a sentence or a word or I’m struggling with an idea or a difficult subject.  It’s been eleven years since I last bit my fingernails, and here I am, staring at four nails that don’t look like they belong on my hands because there’s almost nothing left of them.

I don’t know what made today so different for me, but I hope that it’s one of those things that rarely happens, or I might not be able to do this writing thing after all.  It’s hard to write about the weirdos on the morning game shows and what my friends are up to on Facebook, so I really better find a way to cut out these distractions the next time they happen.

Ooh – I have six new notifications, two new emails, and a text.  What the Hell? 

(Connect with me @baileyshawley or share this post on Facebook so your friends can see what you’ve been reading.)

What Do I Need? – What the Hell?

The dishwasher was empty, courtesy of my husband, the counters and table were clean, courtesy of me, the washer and dryer were running, courtesy of both of us, and the kids were asleep, courtesy of the sleep gods. It was 9:50PM, and we were just starting the work that accompanies our jobs that pay the bills after our supper/playtime/bath time/bedtime/clean-up/Mommy/Daddy jobs were done for the time being. My husband asked me my favorite question: What do you need? And tonight, I decided to be completely selfish and just go with the answers off the top of my head. Here they are…

I need a magic time wand. Not a regular magic wand. No, no. And not a time machine. Absolutely not. I’d get in too much trouble trying to live in the 60s. But a magic time wand. When the baby is having an especially adorably good day, I would freeze time with it. But, I’d pay it all back when he’s having a I’m-going-to-throw-myself-down-for-the-umpteenth-time-and-kick-and-scream-even-though-I-don’t-even-know-what-I-want day. Kind of like Give a Penny, Take a Penny.

I need blazing fast internet that isn’t acting up exactly when I have a deadline. And I need it to download when I think of something, not just when I finally find what I’m searching for. And I need it to remember every site I’ve ever been to because there aren’t enough bookmarks in the world for everything I have going on.

I need someone to figure out how I can walk on the treadmill without waking up the whole house AND be able to read all of the books I have stockpiled for “when I have time” while walking on said noisy treadmill. I don’t know if I’m not doing it correctly or what it is, but I might as well try to read while driving on the PA highways, bouncing all over all of the potholes. The result would be the same: I’d be sweating more than I should be and feeling frustrated, my liver would need a rest from bouncing off my ribcage, and I’d be looking for the nearest rest stop.

I need someone to potty train our younger son. I couldn’t do it the first time with the more patient, reasonable child. I don’t have a prayer with this one.

I need somebody to rub and massage my feet all day long. And my temples. That would be heaven. I could die a happy woman.

I need somebody to explain retirement and taxes to me in a way that I really understand. I’ve tried hard, really I have. I’ve done the research. I’ve talked to the right people. I don’t get it. I never will. It’s not the math. It’s all of the combinations and possibilities and words I don’t care to know.

I need somebody to show me how to keep our bathtubs clean. For more than two days. I hate cleaning them, and I’m too short for our extra-deep tubs and I never feel like they’re really clean, even though our five year old points out that they squeak, so they have to be clean.

I need to figure out how to get rid of the I’m-33-so-I-shouldn’t-be-dealing-with-this-acne-and-this-hair-where-I-don’t-want-it problem. I’m hoping that getting myself out of the high school environment will rid me of the high school hormone problems, too. This is a big dream, seeing as how my PCOS makes so many things about life as a woman unpleasant.

I need somebody to explain to me why we get the same bugs in the house at the same time each year, in the same places, and then tell me how to get rid of them. We keep everything clean… well, within reason. We have screens in the windows. We don’t let our doors hang wide open. Yet, there they are. I’m ready to wage war on them. I’d hate to firebomb this house, but some days that fantasy seems worthwhile.

I need somebody to drop off loads of money to our house once a month so I can pay off our school loans and this house. I’m not asking for a million dollars or even an astronomical lottery payday. Just enough to cover school loans and the mortgage. Then, I could put away what I promised myself I’d be putting away for our boys’ college educations.

I need to figure out a way to sleep comfortably. I don’t get many hours of sleep, and those that I do get are not the most restful of my life. Maybe that magic time wand could help a little.

So, What Do I Need?  I guess all of the things that I just wrote about, because they flew onto the page so quickly. But now I’m feeling selfish and greedy for just allowing myself to be honest about what I need. What the Hell?

(Connect with me @baileyshawley or share this post on Facebook so your friends can see what you’ve been reading.)