2020s, Colorado, family, In My Opinion, inspiration, love, nature, photography

IMO: Looking for Mom

Mom would frown and shake her head. “Good, God, stop crying. I wasn’t a saint, you know.”

Grief is a heavy activity. Doing one’s best not to cry is hard to do. Talking about it is exhausting. The permanence of her departure is a rock that’s heavy to carry. Just when a few days go by when I am not overcome with emotion, I start to relax. Then, boom! Triggers abound, and I am weeping in the car before heading into the grocers, or I am about to enter a room full of people. On goes the smile and I am ready to explain the puffy eyes and red nose as the result of a bad attack of allergies. 

Last week before the students and staff arrived, I walked down the wide, dark hallway of the school searching for hot water for my cup of tea. Out of nowhere, Mom’s face appeared sharply in front of me. Was I hallucinating? I was back at her side, patting her hand while she breathed heavily. I looked at her and her eye opened and stared at me. It was freaky to see her staring eye. Did she know it was me? I talked to her anyway, hoping she could hear. “Jenny washed you, Mom. You’re clean. You won! You are here in your home and we love you. We’ll be okay.” And just like that, she faded away and her eye turned to stone. In the dark hallway, I burst into tears and rushed back to my classroom muttering, “It’s going to be one of those days.”

Well, of course, none of us are okay, but we’ll adapt. I take comfort in knowing she’s in a better place. I believe that.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m overwhelmed, I always want to run away from home. So Jim and I did. I know God’s in nature as well as the church, and the colors and smells of nature is a place I go to connect and regroup. At Vallecito Lake, I saw Mom in what she loved about nature. 

The 15th was her birthday. I was glad to share the fall day with Mom surrounded by the beauty of Colorado. My gift to her was not crying. I felt lighter. I didn’t feel pain. She would have approved.

2020s, camping, culture, family, In My Opinion, inspiration, love, nature, photography, travel

Across the Heartland

Happy Fourth of July weekend, my fellow Americans. 

Lake Maloney, Nebraska.

Considering the COVID situation, here’s my report of what it was like traveling through thirteen states in two weeks. 5,000 miles. For the record, wearing masks, sanitizing our hands, distancing ourselves, and sleeping in our camper away from people was a mandatory situation.  Map from Meadville, Pennsylvania 16335 to Clarkdale, Arizona

30 h (2,075.9 mi or 3340.83721 km) via I-40, 55, 80, 76, 25, 17

Yesterday, Jim and I drove 800 miles. No, we aren’t masochists. It’s just that by late afternoon, we were in New Mexico and state parks were closed. Any forest road that provided dispersed camping was miles out of our way. We grew tired and cranky; we gave up and parked in the Walmart parking lot outside of Albuquerque, NM. The round trip was shy of 5,000 miles averaging 600 miles a day on the road.

What a difference from the previous night when we found beautiful Lake Maloney, Nebraska. You’d never know there was a pandemic in Nebraska. I stopped in a Walmart to buy stuff. No one wore masks. No one seemed concerned. (That’s a hasty generalization. Forgive me.) Campers stayed away from each other.

New Mexico, on the other hand, had lights blaring on the interstate informing people they would be fined if they didn’t have masks on. Everyone seemed to wear a mask. My point is each state we traveled through had a distinct response to the pandemic.

Can you imagine the memories made today with this pair of brothers learning how to jump in the lake?

We scratched our heads wondering how on earth the pandemic would spread here. It was creepy.

The state of Kansas didn’t want anyone from Arizona passing through, so we rerouted our itinerary and got out of there as fast as possible. We found ourselves on a back road in the middle of nowhere for hours.

Northern Oklahoma surprised me by how pretty it was. Lots of trees, hills, and green grass. We were in the Bible Belt. The towns were manicured and spacious. Half of the people I saw wore masks. That night,  we parked in a monstrous parking lot of the Church of the Nazarene because Ruby would have plenty of space to run in the grass on the compound. We hoped no one would mind and no one did.

Because our travels took us mostly through rural areas, there was no problem self-distancing. Once we arrived at our destinations, Jim stayed in Pennsylvania on his cousin’s 18-acre farm where distancing was easy. Jim’s purpose was to visit his father who was 91 and frail. I stayed indoors in a bubble world with my Mom for a week. We kept our tradition of an afternoon drive with an ice cream cone in hand.

Morning walks around Zearing Park, Princeton, Illinois

This was the first trip I experienced where a situation like the COVID affected my perceptions of America. Like most Americans, we had many discussions in the car about the state of the United States. This was no vacation. The trip was a heavy one.

Traveling through the heart of the country made me appreciate the communities I observed from afar. The towns we passed through and the lives of ordinary people who work hard and take care of their yards. It matters. I respect their gardens. I respect the farmers out on their tractors. I respect those who go to church. I admire the flower pots, the trimmed hedges, the canned vegetables, the sheets hanging on the line. I am thankful for the time my mother has left on this earth. I appreciate my job, my friends, my family, and my country. Even though we are going through a bad patch of dysfunction. I am resolved to stay calm and carry on.

2020s, culture, education, In My Opinion, inspiration, movies

IMO: 20 Years Later

I feel a silver lining to the COVID experience is it has allowed me to stop the merry-go-round to pause, reflect, and prioritize. This has brought to the surface tapped down memories and feelings and discussions around the table. The not-so-good feelings, the spiders on the wall–my 4 D’s: delusion, denial, deprecation, and depression have followed me around all my life. Then there are the good parts of me, the virtues: initiative, perceptiveness, diligence, and loyalty. In short, at worst, I’m a neurotic dreamer. At best, in a past life, I was probably a dog. Ha!

One boring day, my daughter and I took a free Myers-Briggs personality test. I’m a BDNF. I’m rare, they said. I’m John Snow. An Eleanor Roosevelt. A Gandi. Wow. That’s flattering, but there’s guilt that I haven’t done much in light of their accomplishments. Except for John Snow. He was a boring character in Game of Thrones. I do feel, however, that in a past life I was Brienne of Tarth. Speaking of boredom, after ravishing through Season 4 of The Last Kingdom and gulping down Season 5 of Outlander, I decided to rewatch the GoT series when I couldn’t remember much of what happened in the first four seasons. I must say, I am having fun. During COVID, my time is spent babysitting, reading, writing, and researching. I need a bolt of fun in the evening. 

In the 1990s, when I was in my thirties and at college, I wanted to become a professor at the community college level. A professor warned me to get my teaching degree at the secondary level while I worked on my Master’s. He predicted the market would become saturated, and it would be tough to get a full-time position as a professor. “Everyone’s going to college. Those Ph.D. grads that don’t get hired at the university level? Guess what? The junior colleges pick them up, thus making a Master’s degree the value of a bachelor’s degree.” Well, he was right. Imagine being a single parent! Yikes! No wonder I was frazzled, and the 1990s and 2000s were a blur. My adult life is like Game of Thrones. I know I lived through it, but why can’t I remember anything? COVID allowed me to revisit the seasons to see if I held up over time. 

Still, I have taught at both levels simultaneously for twenty years. I’ve been a hole-filler adjunct since 2000. I’ve taught at the high school level since 1999. I didn’t want to be a high school teacher. But I did it. I have six more years to go. All my student loans will be paid off, and I can retire with a pension. I did not want to run this marathon race, but I’m almost at the finish line, and grand vacations await.

When you are “becoming” something, it’s easy to believe that it is your destiny. When you fall into a career you did not want, it is easy to believe you were shortchanged. After twenty years, it’s all okay. Once I was obtuse. Now it is clear that God wanted me to have this career because I am very good at it. Don’t ask me about the paradigm-shifting, acronym-gathering, administrative micro-managing parts of the profession. None of it bothers me anymore. I just smile and carry on. 

The time spent in seclusion has allowed me to feel grateful for my career. I feel the honor of getting to know the saintly students–those who will most likely succeed with the straightest trajectory, and the sandpaper students–those who have interesting personalities and circumvent the norm. My school asked teachers to create a short video message for the graduating seniors. Who knows what will happen to our school when we resume on August 1. I thought it might be interesting for you to see the real me and hear my voice. I may be getting old, but I’m safe. I’m one of the good guys, and I’ve got their backs. Hail, Brienne of Tarth!