A Love Letter to Teachers

Last week I sat in the third row of a high school auditorium, palms sweating, heart racing. We were waiting for our little Maeve to take her seat on stage, to play and sing for an audience of her peers,their families and friends, her very own piece. Composed and performed by Maeve Gore. I couldn’t possibly have been more nervous for her, and when she walked onto the stage I wished I could give her just one more hug. One squeeze. One more “I love you, you’ll do so great.” But when I looked up there was her choir teacher adjusting the mic. And then that teacher did the just right thing, a little shoulder squeeze. “You’ll do so great.” My shoulders relaxed just a bit, and Maeve sang her little heart out.

This morning I watched my once anxious little boy saunter up the path at drop off. He didn’t look back. He wasn’t afraid. He has confidence now, and I don’t get credit for putting it there. The credit goes to other women. Those who have worked with him in small, almost imperceptible ways, the women who have made him feel that he is home when he is away from me, that he is welcome, and always loved.

There’s Miss P, who greets the children at their cars. She knows every child by name, siblings too. She knows what’s going on within every family, whose birthday it is, who might need a little extra help making their way up that path. And she’ll always compliment your new shoes. For the longest time Huey wouldn’t look her in her face, but she persisted. Today he gave her a hug.

And Miss J, who greets her kids each day with a wide smile, who expertly puts parents at ease as she ushers frightened babies into their new classroom. Who spends six hours a day with those babies guiding them through to kidhood. She mediates endless conflicts, teaches them to clean up their mess, put on their shoes, write their names. She’s there to congratulate them on their accomplishments. “Look at that fish you traced!” She’s the woman you want on their side. She’ll be there when the are hurt, especially the hurts that are not visible. And at the end of the three years she’ll smile through tears as those children walk out of her life, even as they take little pieces of her heart with them.

There’s my sweet friend Miss E, who gets up before her shift to teach children across the ocean how to speak english. And who spends eight hours a day in the company of the smallest friends you can have. She writes gorgeous lesson plans, pats ten little backs to sleep, wipes raw noses, and encourages disgruntled toddlers to eat their lunch. For this she as no health insurance and inadequate pay.

These are the givers. These are the people who deserve all the respect. Their lives are messy, like yours and mine. But they show up every day for our kids. These are a handful of the dozens of incredible individuals who have helped me raise up my children, of the millions throughout the world. These are the preschool teachers, the administrators, the substitutes. They are the speech therapists, the public school teachers, the special ed. teachers. Each one of them come to work every day to hold the too short days of childhood as sacred and vital. Now at the end of the school year, as we pack our bags and travel trailers, I think it’s important to pause and thank these very special people. We have absolutely no idea what we would do without you.

It’s Mental Health Awareness Month

It’s mental health awareness month, so I have chosen to share this piece, written last year, at the tail end of my battle with some acute OCD symptoms. I lost some months to this illness, and I am one of the lucky ones. People have lost years, lifetimes caught in it’s grasp.

Don’t Feed the Monster

It arrives out of nowhere, and since I don’t recognize it for what it is, it drags me under. For a while now it’s been all murky darkness down here, but I’m making my way back. I’m beginning now to glimpse where the sun’s rays disperse just below the water’s surface. I can reach out and touch the particles illuminated by their light. The monster is still here of course. Sometimes he tugs at my ankle, makes snarling noises in the dark, but I feel him getting weaker. I’m almost home.

When I wake up The Morning the Monster Arrives I  have plans to meet up with my sisters at a local coffee shop. The tea and conversation is nice. There are cookies, laughs. Lizzy skins her knee. And after a few hours we hug goodbye. I get into my car, turn on the radio, and have a thought.

We all have strange thoughts. Thoughts that don’t align with our person. Usually, if we notice them at all it’s to wonder at their weirdness, and then most of us move on. But for the one percent who struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder it doesn’t work that way.

OCD thoughts are often violent, sexually inappropriate, or otherwise grossly immoral. Some sufferers are tortured by the idea that everything is contaminated, believing they must take drastic precautions to protect themselves and their loved ones.  Some are petrified that they might lose control over their body, and harm themselves or others. Many can’t be convinced that they’ve locked the doors, or turned off the stove no matter how many ways they examine the evidence. These thoughts can be described as images, as an inner voice, or even as urges.

On this particular day mine is a strange, meandering feeling of a thought. A thought that, by the time I reach home, has grown out in all different directions. What if?  It whispers. What if it all means nothing? And so begins my struggle with philosophical OCD.

I become consumed with thoughts about nihilism, existentialism, and perhaps most frightening of all, solipsism. Does any of this even exist? I spend whole days feeling depersonalised. I hold my children close for reassurance that I still love them, that they still matter. I listen to music to check that I can still feel. I’m afraid that I can’t love. The irony of course is that my debilitating fear is an intense expression of love in itself. And the feeling is so consuming it’s absurd to believe this is anything more than a manifestation of that fierce, protective love, however broken and lost.

From one moment to the next, nowhere is safe. I am a dust mote in space. The world is no longer a given. I am nobody in infinite nothingness. I’m trapped in my own mind where an endless ping pong game is taking place between the thoughts and their opposition. I sleep more than I should, afraid to be awake. And each morning their is a brief peace while my mind searches for the thing it fears. I seek reassurance from friends and family, and my days are consumed with bizarre google searches that only feed the monster. I do some exposure therapy. Which is shorthand for a medieval therapy technique by which I expose mysef to my fears repeatedly until I become desensitised to them.

Sometimes the existential thoughts grow quiet. That’s when I get a taste of the paralyzing world of harm OCD. The thoughts that find me on these days I can’t bring myself to share just yet.

The answer, as usual, is to live. To put one foot in front of the other. Wash the dishes. Fold the laundry. Make the beds. The solution is to choose not to engage the thoughts, to neither court nor combat them. Just let them be. Wash, fold, make.

Until one day, not too far from the other, I find myself breathless, wondering at the red sky, with the wind whipping about my hair and face. Then dizzy at a concert, the stars just beginning to show their faces, listening to a gorgeous man singing about love. It’s here that I am briefly sure of what I know. So that minutes later,  when the monster tugs at my  ankle,  I am a little less afraid. Wash, fold make.

Your heart says not again

What kind of mess have you got me in

But when the feeling’s there

It can lift you up and

take you anywhere
But the gravel beneath
and the limbs above
If anybody asks you
where your coming from
Say love, say for me love
Say love, say for me love
-The Avett Brothers


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Mother’s Day

I have a new favorite day of the year, and it’s the day before mother’s day. Because while I cannot overstate the awesomeness of being served chocolate strawberries in bed along with a cup of tea that has, more often than not, at least partially escaped it’s vessel, I truly enjoy the afternoon of shopping that precedes this rare treat.

While I spend the day shopping for my own mother, I am treated to the best kind of people watching. These are Dads with kids in tow. They shuffle around the display tables in stores wholly foreign. They examine candles, soaps and gel pens. They study the dregs of the chocolate aisle at the grocery store, no doubt chastising themselves for their failure to take care of this earlier. Kids present final selections proudly to cashiers who wrap their treasures in pretty tissue paper. Teenagers rifle through wads of cash and change to pay for potted plants, and cellophane wrapped bouquets. They peruse the card aisle, and struggle to find a sentiment that’s adequate, a few words to convey, with gratitude, their love for the woman who makes them.

It’s the one day of the year that society asks us to consider all that our mothers have given us, and it’s this; everything. It’s a hard concept to grapple with. But the woman your mother was before she was yours was swallowed up. In the moment between your birth and your first cry. While she held your slippery little body, touched your ragged fingernails and breathed you in, she knew the game was over. She surrendered. The jig was up. And every decision she’s made since then, for good or for bad, had you at it’s center. It may not have looked perfect. It may have looked far from it, in fact. But you were there, in her heart, for all of it.

That’s why she rises before you, folds your clothes and makes your oatmeal. It’s why she decorates birthday cakes until 2am and then gets up at 6 to make you birthday pancakes. It’s why she flosses your teeth. It’s why she spends three days sewing beads onto your choir dress. It’s why she learned to knit, so you could have a Harry Potter scarf.  It’s why she still tries to make you see reason even while you shut her out. It’s why she comes back for more when you curse at her and call her names.  It’s why it felt so damn futile today in the card aisle. And why your hands wobbled a little as you handed over the cash for that potted plant. It’s why the tissue paper wrapping isn’t quite dazzling enough.

But she didn’t do it for the potted plant. She did it because the love she has for you makes her feel a little closer to what some people call God. She does it because her love for you is the tie that connects her to the deepest part of the universe, where we know the meaning lies. Her love for you is the knowing without knowing, the tiny sliver of understanding of the grand thing that we can never comprehend. It’s the reason she says thing like “this is what it’s all about.” Her love for you is perhaps the only thing she can say is really real. It’s the most real thing there is.

As I write this I have been banished from the kitchen, I hear the mixer mixing and Bear has whispered in my ear the secret I am not supposed to know about the macarons. Tomorrow I’ll eat my tea drenched strawberries and I’ll give my mother her carefully chosen gift, wrapped in peacock blue. And we’ll all know it’s not enough, can never be enough. But we’ll hold each other and celebrate. We’ll tell each other “I love you.” We’ll say later, “this is what it’s all about.”