Excuse Me While I Rant! On Being and Doing

Last night Parent-Teacher Conferences were held at the Junior High where my daughters both attend school.  Both of my girls earned great grades, all A’s and one B for both, and are reportedly “a joy to have in class, helpful, ask great questions, and are dependable and hard working.”  Both of my girls were also lightly teased by their teachers for talking “just a little” too much.  Hmmmm… imagine that?  It was one of those nights where I was so proud to be their mom!   All in all it was a great night, but despite their glowing reports I didn’t leave the school without heavy concern.

The order of the night was to meet each teacher and discuss the progress and concerns of our students.  Teachers were seated at their own tables and in typical arena style parents took turns having their individual meetings.  Since there are few concerns about the girls’ academic progress, I decided to take the time to ask each teacher for more specifics about the content of the classes that my daughters take from them.  It was an interesting view into the world of today’s 7th and 8th graders.

It was at one of these tables, with a teacher that was new to our school this year, and seemingly new to her teaching career, that all of my internal sirens started wailing.  It wasn’t her fault.  The phrase “Don’t shoot the messenger” comes to mind here.  She teaches my oldest in a class called Framework for 21st Century Learning.  This class title has intrigued me and I have been curious about what content the teacher is going cover.  As I learned last night, the class covers a lot of basic life skills like balancing a budget, how to manage debt, and write a resume.  It was when she began talking about writing resumes with 8th graders that my “lizard brain” began twitching.  The earnest young teacher began explaining about the variety of aptitude tests that my daughter was taking in class and how after taking all of these tests my 14 year old daughter would be prepared to enter high school with a very good sense of what classes she should be taking to prepare her for her future career or further education.  It was all I could do to keep my emotions from totally popping on this well-intentioned teacher.  Ahhh, she had no idea who she was talking to!  Let me give you a little back-story…

I grew up in a very traditional (even though it was “blended”) family in an age where the times for women, well, they were a-changin’.    My mom went to a year of community college until she married my father, whom she had met the first week of school.  I was born literally 9 months after their wedding, and my brother almost 2 years after that.  On occasion she took jobs to supplement the family income, but they were certainly not considered a career.  My parents divorced, and for the brief time mom was single she worked a J-O-B to put food on the table.  After she married my dad she was a full time stay at home mom until I was a senior in high school.  My dad was a 3rd generation paper mill worker.  He was a faithful and reliable union employee who put in a very respectable 40 sum years.  He once corrected me when I referred to his job as a career.   It was a job, and nothing more.

I was a young girl coming of age in the 1980s, an era when women were entering the work force in record number.  The opportunities that a college education could afford me were exciting and I had dreams of  ‘having it all’.   Title 9, Rowe Vs Wade, the Feminist Movement, like it or not ladies, we were the children born of that labor.   Despite this, it wasn’t all ‘Woman Power’ on the home front.  Now, I want to be clear that the home I grew up in was not an oppressive environment for women, there were just not a lot of opportunities for exposure to what was really out there.  As I prepared to enter college I was excited to one day pursue a career and I think my parents, particularly my mom, were excited too.  Although they never said such a thing, it felt like the acceptable career choices were for a woman to be either a nurse or a teacher.

Since I was the weak stomach type, I was forever being encouraged to become a teacher.  I have great respect and admiration for teachers.  In many ways I see myself as a teacher.   I loved the coursework for my Human Development degree, but being a teacher of little children in the formal sense of the word was a career I quickly ruled out once I became a student at Warner Pacific College.  It took me at least a year to divulge that information to my parents.  They handled it well, but I was constantly being asked what I was going to “do” with my Human Development degree, and honestly I didn’t have a clue.

I was discovering that College was a perplexing environment!  On the one hand I was attending a Liberal Arts College exploring Human Development through the lens of an institution that heavily engaged the Humanities.  This was an environment where I was discovering and exploring all sorts of things about people and life in general, the Human Condition and the correlations between all disciplines.  On the other hand I was learning that College is not Vocational School.   I was learning to be a thinker and not do a specific skill.  This was confusing to me.   I had come to College with the preconceived notion that much more of the latter would be happening. The focus was about who I would be, not what I would do.   I have come to understand and believe this is so much more important.   I am forever grateful for that experience because it has irrevocably changed who I am.  It now really bothers me on a guttural level that as a society we place such a high value on doing and not being.

So this is the place I was coming from when I met my daughter’s fresh-faced teacher across that table.  As we spoke I could see the chasm of differing opinion opening up between us.  She began to explain to me that after each student had taken all 6 of these aptitude tests they would have a direction on which to plan their high school career.  Seriously.  From the tests of 13 to 14 year old 8th graders.  Don’t get me wrong.  I think aptitude testing can be a valuable tool for identifying interests and talents in specific areas for people who have had a wide exposure to various experiences.  When I was the same age as my daughter I was certainly not prepared to take tests that would gage talent and ability, and future success in specific areas.   These test that are being taken while she is still in Junior High could affect the trajectory of her educational career!  Furthermore, I would have to say that I don’t think aptitude testing should be the focus of educating kids this age anyway!  Shouldn’t they be allowed to explore, discover, and (dare I say) mature a little bit before they are shoved into the press that will sieve out any creativity, or desires to experiment with something new?

I guess this is what happens when society has a system in place where it is of utmost importance for each one of us to become the sharpest cogs in the wheel, when it is most important to be very knowledgeable and smart about one certain thing in a very quantifiable way.  Science is like that, math is like that, philosophy, character, and thoughtfulness are not, but it does not make their discipline any less valuable.  I shudder to think of our community, our nation, and our world without all of those things.  All of those things work together to bring out the best in all of us.

Somewhere along the way I once heard someone described as being “An inch wide and a mile deep.”   When we become so focused on only the things that we are good at or have a natural aptitude for we loose creative problem solving skills, we loose patience for those who don’t think the same way we do, and we become myopic and ego centric in our views.  We become an inch wide and a mile deep. That’s not the hope I have for my children’s education.  Quite frankly it isn’t the hope I have for anyone’s child.  When we put kids into a funnel that drains into a specific bottle we limit their exposure to so many things and we change who they can become.  I see this as such a colossal tragedy.  It’s a big world out there, shouldn’t they have more than a short 14 or so years to find their place in it?  Shouldn’t we be more concerned about who they will be than what they will do?  I sure think so.

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5 Years Ago Today…

October 25, 2009

5 years ago today…

I have heard it said that the healing comes when you tell your story, and so it is for purely selfish reasons that I am telling mine.  Healing… what is that anyway? It’s such a neat and tidy word, and really I hate using it.  After 5 years it sure looks a lot different than I thought it would, but then again I guess that when wounds heal the big ones often leave scars.

Life was pretty blurry in the weeks heading up to the day I refer to in my mind as Black Monday.  The Saturday night before, my not quite 3 months old son had just slept through his first full night.  Being sleep deprived was only part of it, I also did not want to admit to the post partum depression that had wrapped its tentacle around me and had stolen me to a dark depth.  After all I had just given birth to a beautifully perfect son, I had 2 great daughters, and a wonderful husband who loved me very much.  I was living a real live Cinderella story.  I was supposed to be happy and I was worried about that.

I had spent the weekend being the nurse to my husband who had just had a minor surgery.  My two older daughters were at my mother’s house so that I could take care of my ‘boys’.   We watched the 2nd game of the World Series that day.  There was magic happening at Fenway Park and the entire country was under the spell.   The Boston Red Sox were well on their way to making World Series history and breaking the famed “Curse of the Bambino”.  They were looking for a miracle, and by the time I went to bed that night I would be too.

At some point in the weekend my dad brought the girls home.  I called my mom to thank her for having them and she reported to me that she had been so sick during their visit that it was a relief to have them there to help her out.  I remember worrying about this because she had been sick a lot lately and that just wasn’t like her.  There had been a lot of discussion about her frequent stomach pain and nausea and what she should do about it.  She had been tested up one side and down the other, poked, scoped, and scanned.  Nothing was showing up and we were all getting concerned.

Later that evening my mom called to tell me that she was going to go to the Emergency Room.  Her thinking was that if she went to the ER with a presenting persistent pain, the doctors there wouldn’t let her go until they figured out what the problem was.  She was desperate and had to find the answer.  When I hung up the phone, even though it was getting late, I set about the house cleaning.  I had this intuitive feeling that I needed to get a good cleaning in because I might not have the opportunity to get it done again for a while.  I was almost done vacuuming and was planning on calling it a night when the phone rang again.  It was my dad.  He seemed calm and said they were going to be doing some further tests on my mom and that they would be keeping her all night.  I asked him if he wanted me to come to the hospital and keep him company.  He said no and we hung up.  Before I could get the vacuum put away the phone rang again.  This time it was my mom.  She spoke quickly and urgently in a hushed voice.  She said, “Please come now, there are spots on my liver.”   I told her I was on my way.

I went to the hospital alone that night.  It was now close to midnight and not practical to tote 3 kids and a recovering husband out that cold and foggy October night.   Besides, in the 15 minutes it had taken me to drive to the hospital I had solved the worst-case scenario with one word:  Transplant.  A person can live on a donated liver.  I was her daughter, I’d be a match, I’d donate part of mine, and we’d both live to tell about it.  Solved.  It wouldn’t be easy, certainly inconvenient, but we’d manage.  Everything would be fine… and with that pep talk, I entered the Emergency Room.

I don’t remember how I ended up at her room, but I remember entering the tiny observation room.   She was alone and with her eyes closed.   There were IV bags hanging and machines flashing numbers and wavy lines, and I assumed she was sleeping.  As I walked to her bedside and took her hand, she looked up at me.  In that moment that our eyes met I knew she was trying to tell me something no mother ever wants to tell her adoring child.  She didn’t say anything as I draped my body over her chest and began to cry.  I knew I had just walked in to my worst nightmare.

A few moments of silence went by before we found our way to the difficult conversation we needed to have.  She told me how the doctors had discovered several “spots” on her liver and how no one was being very specific, but every one was acting very urgent.   At some point I became aware of the gentle and steady presence of my dad in the room.  He knew I had kids to get off to school in the morning and an infant to attend to, so he urged me to go home and get some sleep.  They would have some of her test results back by the morning and we would need our rest in order to make decisions regarding her treatment.  Everyone was being very careful not to use the “C” word yet.   I left that night still unsure of exactly what was wrong with her.

On the way home my mind drifted to a memory of a shopping trip I had made a few years earlier.  I was at the mall shopping for a purse at Meier and Frank.  It was a rare shopping trip because I was alone and as I often do when I’m alone, I was people watching as I shopped.   In front of me was a large table full of purses that were neatly set out in rows according to size and color.  Across the table from me, shopping for just the right hand bag was a very stylishly dressed woman who looked to be around her 70s.  She was taking various styles of purses and trying them out in front of a full-length mirror.  Eventually she found a nice one and turned to her shopping partner and asked her what she thought of it.  The other woman wasn’t pleased with the bright color of the red purse and suggested a more practical brown.  Well, this just frustrated this woman and she turned to her friend and said something like, “Mother, we just have different taste in color.  I’m getting the red one!”

It was the word “Mother” that really caught my attention, and I smiled and silently chuckled as I pictured myself in that same situation some day with my own mom, who had me at 19.  I just knew that was going to be us one day.  In my mind was a picture of my mom, who regularly told me (and anyone else she thought should know) that she was going to live to be 100, and me, her geriatric sidekick!  We were well on our way to those days because we already enjoyed each other’s company very much.

I cried myself to sleep that night feeling more afraid than I had ever felt in my entire life.

After a few hours of fitful, tearful sleep I woke to the realization that the night before was not a terrible dream, but in fact an unfolding reality.  In a fog, I sent my daughters off to school, my husband off to work, and took my son with me to the hospital to learn about what the overnight tests revealed about my mom’s health.  I arrived to my mother’s new hospital room, stroller and baby in tow, to find my mom in her hospital bed, surrounded by several people.  Some were new faces, doctors, nurses, and some were familiar, a couple of her friends and one of the church pastors.  It was among this sea of people that the “C” shot was fired.  It was as if her words were shot from a loaded pistol.  “It’s Cancer.  They can’t take it out.  It’s everywhere.”

I wanted to dissolve.  I wanted to push everyone out of the room.  I wanted push the rewind button and search for the moment this dreaded disease invaded her body.  I wanted anything but this moment!   Again the wave of fear gripped me and I felt paralyzed.  This time I didn’t cry.  I sat down at a chair next to her bed and watched as the universe whirled around her.  I was numb.

It wasn’t at all like I thought it would be, to hear those words, “It’s Cancer.”  I thought there would be an immediate mobilization of the troops.   I began to think of questions that there appeared to be no answer to.   The answers were things like, “We’ll know more after a test/surgery/procedure.”  When will she have that test/surgery/procedure?  “In a few days…”  Nothing was immediate…  I kept picturing the ticking time bomb inside her body and wondering when MacGyver was going to show up with his pack of rubber bands and paperclips and save us?  Do these people really know what they are doing?  Why is this going so slow, don’t they know my mother’s life is on the line here?

I don’t really remember the rest of that day.  I know that the words, “Terminal” and “Hospice,” were used, but by that point I was unable to comprehend what those things meant for me.  When I left the hospital that day I felt angry that the rest of the world hadn’t ground to a halt because my mom lay in a hospital bed, a victim in the War on Cancer.  In fact life didn’t slow down and it certainly didn’t stop.   By Wednesday, October 27, 2004 the Boston Red Sox had won the World Series shutting the Cardinals out in 4 games.  I was praying for my miracle too.

It’s Gimmelwald not Grindelwald

For the past few weeks I have been watching a lot of travelogues and reading a lot of travel guidebooks.  Happily, I have reason to do this!  My husband, who is a professional musician, is going to be giving some concerts in Europe next summer.  Lucky for me, I will get to tag along and we’ll only have to pay for my portion of the expenses and any additional sightseeing we decide to do.  I’ve been very excited about this opportunity ever since it started shaping up at the end of the summer!

I know that this trip is still many months away, but I am a planner.  A planner with wanderlust…  I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I like to plan the trip as much as I like to take the trip, but I do like it.  A lot.  This trip will be taking us through Switzerland, so for the last few weeks I’ve spent much of my spare time watching anything on the region I can get my hands on.  (I like to start by watching travelogues and then read about what caught my eye.  Kinda’ like window shopping!)  Along the way I have made notes about Swiss towns and attractions that make the region we are going to be visiting special and unique.

One of the travelogues I enjoyed watching was made by Rick Steves.  He visited the exact region we are going to be visiting and I made tons of notes about all the interesting sights, train transportation, and the towns to see.  It was very exciting!   In my notes I wrote about how while watching the DVD, my husband and I really thought it would be neat to see a town I noted as “Grindelwald.”

We listened intently as Rick Steves toured this idyllic alpine town that is not even accessible by car.  I began looking for this charming town in the stack of guidebooks we have checked out from the library.  It was a surprise to find so much information on this remote little town in the Lauterbrunnen Valley.  I was delighted to find many options for accommodations in and around the community and went to bed a few nights ago sure that we had found the perfect little mountain hideaway to explore for a few days along our trip route.

This past weekend my husband made a trip to the bookstore to buy our own copy of the Rick Steves’ Switzerland book.  We often use his books to help us plan a sensibly priced vacation and have found he has lots of great advice.  I was eager to read what he had to say about the little gem of a community he showed on his documentary, the town that had me dreaming of a life in seclusion with fondue and chocolate.  I flipped to the section on the Berner Oberland and read with anticipation…

On a very neatly boxed couple of pages he gives a quick run down of the places and names in the Berner Oberland and what each has to offer.  This was the page where I came to understand that I had it all wrong!

There in the Rick Steves’ Switzerland book, on page 130, it was very plainly written, “Grindelwald: Expensive resort town, not to be confused with Gimmelwald.”  On the line before this he lists the town, “Gimmelwald,” and gives this description, “Wonderfully rustic time-warp village overlooking the Lauterbrunnen Valley; good home-base option.”

Oh…

Well that changes everything!

Isn’t that just the way a faith journey can go?  So many times along my path in life, I’ve been busy making plans for a destination I only think I am interested in and it is only when I have paid close attention to my guide and my guidebook that I have been able to arrive at the destination my Guide intended.

I am finding myself at a new intersection again.  My son, my youngest child, is going to start Kindergarten next fall.  When he was born I felt a strong call to stay at home with him until he went to school.  I say call because over the past 5 years I have felt like my ministry has been to serve my family.  I have felt God guide me on that path over the last 5 years.  It has been a gift and I am so glad I’ve done it, but I see that huge intersection looming in the distance, and I’m a little weary.   Where do I go from here, straight ahead, stay on target?  Turn Right to Grad School?  Turn Left to the work force?  How ‘bout a U-Turn, this time to adoption and parenting a preschooler once more?  I want to make sure I’m looking at the map God has for me, listening to God’s divine voice as my travel guide.

My ears are open Lord…

Grindelwald seems nice...

Grindelwald seems nice...

but, it's not really Grimmelwald.

but, it's not really Gimmelwald.

(And in the end I think we’ll be staying in Lauterbrunnen!)