There was an empty cup in my son’s bedroom yesterday. I couldn’t muster the initiative to take it ALL THE WAY to the kitchen, so I kicked it out of his room into the hallway and partway down the stairs. It sat on the stairwell all of last night and this morning. I just walked by it on my way upstairs to write this, so I kicked it the rest of the way down.
The empty cup sits on the floor at the bottom of the stairs, annoyingly. Right in the way, and I know it’s there, and it bugs me, but I don’t want to go move it.
I sat down on my bed to listen to music and contemplate showering when I decided the cup was a strange situation and I needed to write about it. Why was I being so darn lazy about it?
I’m not sure.
I do keep looking at the time. Right now is 6th period. I’d be teaching my favorite class. We’re on World War I right now.
I finished student teaching on Friday, and it’s only Tuesday. I anticipated a slump, but I thought there’d be a honeymoon period first. You know, where I liked the fact the long days were over and I could breathe again.
But for some reason, I breathe better when I don’t have time to stop and focus on it.
Deep breathing feels good for a second, but I always overdo it until I get dizzy.
I finished student teaching on Friday and said awkward goodbyes. I carried my box of belongings to the car and drove away in the falling snow and cried a little bit because it was over. I called my mom and dad. I started to feel better.
Then I got stuck in a traffic jam and ran out of gas.
And then I sat there turning the car over and over and over (after getting two rides with strangers to the gas station and back) , wondering why it wouldn’t start even with gas in it. Wondering why no matter how often I repeated the same action, nothing worked.
Then my battery died.
I sat awaiting rescue in the cold and wondered why I didn’t feel elated. I FINISHED. Four months of long, exhausting days of teaching and not even getting paid. This was the culmination. Another graduate degree awaited me, another diploma which said I was GOOD at something – school.
Instead of elation, a ton of realities seemed to hit me at once as I sat in my dead car in the snow.
Our trip to Scotland was canceled, for a host of sad reasons.
We lost our plight regarding moving my mom to Colorado.
My dad was about to get on a bus to protest DAPL and I worried about him.
My best friend (who had been visiting) was back in Scotland.
And I sat in a dead car, with nothing to look forward to but empty expanses of time to think.
Officially, a slump.
First world problem, though, I thought. And I made myself get out of bed on Saturday.
I attended a political activism meeting and I felt a rush of adrenaline for the first time in a few days.
But then I threw up in the middle of the meeting, and that activity was ruined.
Because the icing on the cake of my life was a virus of some sort.
Yep, a slump.
An existential slump, a first-world problem slump, but still, a slump.
I keep thinking back to this time last year, when we were anxiously awaiting our son Alistair having his heart procedure in Minneapolis. To help combat the fear and anxiety of such a time, I enlisted Alistair on a a ‘kindness mission’ and we spent the weeks leading to his procedure doing random (and deliberate) acts of kindness. It’s something I tried to do every December since 2012, when I did the 26 acts of kindness for 26 victims of the Sandy Hook shootings.
But this December I’d just been thinking about getting through my work days and passing my assignments and graduating. I knew I was lucky not to have to think about Alistair getting a heart procedure done, but it didn’t really hit me.
And now, the slump has resulted in me not even putting away dishes. Just kicking them around the house.
I think the sight of that cup was pathetic enough to stir something in me. The Light the World campaign is going on right now, and it’s right up my alley with the kindness acts.
Over the next three weeks I will be posting about how I get out of this slump, starting with doing things for others again.
Below are some highlights of what we did last year, in 2015.
I’m working at my former high school for four months. I’m teaching all of these humans in the same desks I once sat in, fifteen years earlier. Doing so ruffles up bits of memory not visited in years. Walking those halls in a different role conjures up endless thought.
First, a list.
Things I did as a teenager:
Role play Lord of the Rings in the woods of Palmer Park
Wear hand-made signs on my back to NSYNC CD releases
Use a wet finger to leave messages such as ‘Alana + JC 4ever’ in the dust on strangers’ cars
Hover outside the movie theater asking adults to buy rated R tickets for me
Buy pheromone wipes from The Icing and walk the mall hoping to attract boys
Play Barbie with my friend’s little sister’s amazing collection
Skip lunch to redo my hair and makeup in the school bathroom
Use public library computers to AIM with strangers
Ask my parents to drop me at Media Play for 3 hours so I could browse EVERYTHING
Drive aimlessly through town with friends to listen to CDs and ‘cruise Nevada’
Pass notes in class using code names and funky folding techniques
Stay up all night talking just to say we did and walk to breakfast in the morning
I’m not, well, proud of some of these things, and the list could get a lot less G-rated if I dared, but it’s a snapshot of a space and time. My space and time.
Things I see teenagers doing today: ( Now, this is just at school and in front of ‘teachers’, so it’s not entirely comparable)
Plugging their phones in during class to charge
Sneaking looks at their phones when they think our backs our turned
Keeping their headphones on as accessories (simply off their ears during class)
Texting, snapchatting, taking selfies, hiding in bathroom stalls on their phones, etc.
But other than the obvious smartphone difference, which I’m writing about off the bat to get it out of the way, the students remind me of the kid I was and the peers I went to school with. I don’t think fifteen years has changed the fundamentals of adolescence…much like my late 90s/early 2000s youth didn’t make 1980s teen movies any less poignant to me.
Every day, I see friends huddled at the same locker I used to use. They don’t hang up photos and redo their lip gloss there, however. In between class chatter doesn’t seem as necessary, the socializing doesn’t seem as condensed, and the personalization of posessions doesn’t seem as common (decorated books and binders, anyone?) This nuanced change is also probably because of technology – within our online worlds, we have our photos, our snippets of conversation, our personalized pages.
The athletes still wear their jersey on game days. But the pep rallies have gone…and in this, I think, lies a clue to what I’ve found to be the biggest difference between when I was a teenager and ‘kids these days’:
The primary difference is acceptance of a shitty world and uncertain future.
I’m not insinuating our early 2000s pep rallies meant we were full of vigor and spirit…but in a trite sense, that’s how I remember us. Maybe we moaned about assemblies or tried to skip out them, but as a rule, they existed, and within them, we existed a cohesive group of peers. An us.
An us with a bright future, and little to fear.
Today, I taught a lesson about 9/11/2001. The students I taught were toddlers when it all happened. They accept it as the way the world was. When I told them about MY day on September 11th, 2001, I had their rapt attention. They gaped at me with some of things I said.
Fifteen years ago on September 11th, I sat in my high school’s computer lab, hearing bit by bit about the second plane hitting the Twin Towers. As the bell rang, students spoke about it in the halls as we rushed to our next classes. My next teacher had a television, and we all watched with horror. By the end of the day, some of the boys were talking about enlisting in the military as soon as they turned 18. By the end of the week, half of the cars in the school parking lot sported American flags and United We Stand was written everywhere.
For those of us in high school on 9/11/2001, we recognize the feeling of the Before and the After. For those of us at school in April of 1999 when the Columbine shootings happened, we also felt the change of the Before and the After.
Today’s youth only know the After. And I feel bad for them.
Fundamentally, they are the same jumble of hormones and energy we all were, even if they don’t communicate the same old-fashioned way my friends and I did.
But their world-view is very altered from where I stood in my pre-2001 bubble. And in my pre-Columbine cocoon of safety at school, where nothing bad would ever, could ever, happen.
Now, it’s early September of 2016 and we’ve had to do a lock-down drill and a shelter in place drill at the high school I’m teaching in. These types of drills simply did not exist for me when I was there. The students roll their eyes at them, and huddle in the corner with the lights off, pretending there’s a shooter, and just….accepting the drill. Whatever. It’s part of life. And has been since they were babies.
So when I think about the fifteen years since I jaunted around my high school thinking I was hot shit, and I think about the students I see every day in 2016, I do notice the phones. I notice the changes in fashion, the changes in slang. That’s Teenage 101. That’s normal.
But when I see them faced with the world we now live in, and their quiet acceptance that accompanies it….I see the biggest change of all.
And I think it’s a damn shame this is the world we’re giving them.
I’ll be honest. I’ve had more than one conversation in the past few months about how I am a sensitive person. They weren’t, for the most part, people telling me how great it is to be sensitive. I’ve often been told I’m sensitive like it’s a bad thing.
I’ll own it, though. Sensitive comes from the Latin sentire, or feel. And I feel things.
I also allow myself to be vulnerable. Or at least, I try. Vulnerable comes from the Latin vulnus, or wound.
I feel wounds.
I may be sensitive by nature, but I am vulnerable by choice. And I think everyone should strive for more vulnerability.
Seven years ago today I graduated with my undergraduate degree. I was living in Boulder, Colorado in university-owned apartments at the bottom of campus called Smiley Court. I rode my bike uphill to the main campus in first gear, dripping in sweat, for classes. I coasted back down the hill to my home with nothing but forward momentum, sometimes barely keeping control I was going so fast , and I was usually helmet-less. .This is not the kind of vulnerable I advocate for.
My mom had, a year earlier, jumped off a bridge in a suicide attempt. My last year of college was spent living two lives: the student who tried to blend in while learning about foreign policy and allowing herself dreams of changing the world, and the daughter who drove 6 hours every other weekend to the state mental hospital to visit her mentally ill mother, going through metal detectors, speaking to social workers and doctors (though, in all honestly, my husband and dad did much of that, as I tend to get angsty with authority figures).
For anyone who knows me, this isn’t news. It’s just my story. I graduated college, we all moved to North Dakota, and lived happily ever. Right?
Vulnerable stems from the word wound, but its modern definition is: the state of being open to injury, or appearing as if you are. It might be emotional, like admitting that you’re in love with someone who might only like you as a friend, or it can be literal, like the vulnerability of a soccer goal that’s unprotected by any defensive players. (Vocabularly.com)
You see, I didn’t want to be vulnerable. Not then. I just wanted to make things tidy, and help my parents get moved to this utopia I’d created in my head: Fargo, North Dakota. I thought it would be everything they needed, and my husband Alex and I could move to Washington, D.C. after spending a summer helping them get settled in and, to be honest, me fulfulling my need to mother my parents. But we’d taken a road trip to D.C. to check out our future. I saw myself walking those streets, changing the world.
Then my mom had emergency bowel surgery late that summer, and we didn’t move.
Okay, one more year would be okay. We put in our notice on our apartment the next May, and moved everything to my parents’ garage.
Then my mom got respiratory distress and was hospitalized in the ICU for a few scary days before being sent home with orders to live a different, healthier, life.
We didn’t move. Another year would be okay, just to make sure everything was okay. Okay?
I slowly felt my dreams changing. Like John Mayer sang in Born and Raised, ‘I’ve still got dreams…they’re not the same…they don’t fly as high as they used to.’
My husband and I had a baby. I decided to go back to school to be teacher instead of a politician. It seemed Fargo was our destiny. I believed in destiny, after all.
Back when we’d all moved from Colorado to North Dakota, it was me convincing both my mom and dad it would all we’d hoped for and more. I remember signing my mom out of the state mental hospital after a long year. She had no money, no possessions. She loved Colorado. She loved it so much. But I had lived in Colorado since 7th grade and it was just another boring state to me.
“North Dakota is where you belong, mom,” I said, and she protested that it was a stupid idea but I was stubborn and she had no leverage.
I didn’t realize how emotionally vulnerable it is to move. I had expectations, and vague memories of my younger years in Fargo. When these didn’t pan out, I grew mad at North Dakota. I didn’t WANT to be vulnerable.
I felt stuck, though. The perfect solution – the only solution- was a temporary move. It was the only way to do something good for Alex and I without sacrificing too much time away from helping my dad care for my mom.
And so in 2013, we made a purposeful, vulnerable decision. We moved to Scotland for one year, dates set. My husband’s family was there, and our son got to know his other grandmother, his cousins, etc.
When I stepped into my new classroom in Scotland, I recognized the buzz I got from new experiences. From exposing myself, emotionally. I guess I always knew this, but it was during this year abroad (where everything seemed condensed- our flat, my quickly-forged friendships, my writing) where I felt I was really able to look at my husband and son clearly. From a distance, everything in the USA seemed clearer, as well.
It’s always a risk to lay yourself out there. I think I learned to be purposefully vulnerable, and not just sensitive, when I was in Scotland that year.
And while my blog often speaks of authenticity, I think being vulnerable is an important part of that. It leaves you open to being hurt. It leaves you open to fail. But it also leaves you open to great things, new things, better things.
The only way to know…. is to be vulnerable.
I think social media (and I’m a fan, I am) encourages us to hide our vulnerability. I try not to. I do, on a quite regular basis, have old friends contact me to ask if everything is ‘okay’ for me? (And if this is you, I actually really appreciate it and I love people showing they care). When this happens I wonder if I’m being *too* visibly vulnerable. But that quickly passes as I realize it’s actually a bit like a pat on that back that I am doing it right – being authentic, being vulnerable.
I think ‘real life’ also encourages us to hide our vulnerability or not seek it out. No one wants to be seen as weak, right? No one wants to look like they’re floundering.
But it’s no secret I am a flounderer. And I don’t mind floundering for a bit, as long as my family is safe.
This summer, my husband, son and I are moving back to Colorado Springs. After seven years of trying to make North Dakota work for us, we just know the life we want for ourselves and our son Alistair lies elsewhere. It’s nothing against North Dakota. I’m like Josh Duhamel. I will wear shirts that say Fargo and go on the TODAY Show and talk about how wonderful it is, if they want me.
Because…if you have what you need here, North Dakota can be nice. If you have a house (not a tiny apartment) — to get you through the cold winters with a space to run and play — the winters can be okay. If you have auto-start on your car, you don’t HAVE to freeze. If you have ‘toys’ for summer – a boat, heck, a paddle board – and a place to go, summers can be lovely. The people ARE as nice as everyone says, as a general rule. I’ve found great community within my church and within a local mom’s group. If you have your people here, North Dakota can be great.
But we don’t have a house, a paddle board, a lake, auto-start or a clan. Our ‘people’ move a lot (thanks, friends, for always moving away -ha-), the family we ARE in touch with in this area don’t live close to us at all (except my dad, but he is part of ‘we’ , my immediate family) and the magical life we envisioned for my mom never happened. (She’s in Minnesota’s mental health system, which, for the record, isn’t any better than Colorado’s….)
So, we are returning to Colorado in stages this summer. I find Colorado to be MY roots and they are Alex’s American roots. The details are tedious, but by summer’s end, me, Alistair, Alex, my dad AND my mom should all be back in Colorado.
My mom, who kept telling us over and over as we drove through the midwest to bring her up to North Dakota, ‘This is a bad idea!’ is not going to be left behind. She’s under a psychiatric commitment until September, but essentially lives in a central Minneapolis slum nursing home. I’ve never seen anything like it in Colorado. The housing couldn’t be worse than where she is, so it seems like a good time to bring her back to where she raised me. (She has two sisters in the Minneapolis area who are very, very good at visiting her and being there for her, but they are the same sisters who used to visit us in Colorado, so same difference, more or less). Most importantly, it ‘s my mom’s ‘dream’ to return to Colorado.
And if we can make dreams come true….we should.
Life goes in cycles.
I’m goin’ back to my roots.
I think this blog post goes under YAGE.
See ya later, Fargo. Hello, graduation, teaching, and a fresh start…..again.
Since this blog was mainly autobiographical , I’d suggest this TED Talk for an actual expert opinion on being vulnerable:
In 2003, internet cafes were a thing. So were calling cards and phone booths – sorry, phone boxes.
As a nineteen year-old American living in Edinburgh, reaching home to Colorado involved purchasing a phone card from the newsagents and finding an open telephone box. You know, the red ones everyone gets excited about.
Only once you were in one and the door closed, you’d wish to be anywhere else. They smelled of urine, and that’s if you were lucky. After dialing about 100 different numerals by way of categories, pin numbers, etc, you’d sigh with relief (but inhale reluctantly)as you waited over a static-filled line for the endless ringing and ultimate, ‘Hello’ (from the other side).
This is how I told my parents I was engaged to Alex. I stood in a disgusting phone box in the Grassmarket hoping my credit didn’t run out as I plunged into the rather shocking news I was getting married to my Scottish boyfriend of five months, the one they’d never met. And then it was, “Oh, no, it just told me I had one minute!” And then a beep, and then “Hello? Hello? Oh, I ran out of credit.”
And in a week, repeat.
Internet cafes were better for speaking to my friends in Colorado. Brevity was the key, however, as time ticked away. Here is an actual email I sent (all names omitted):
09/29/03 at 11:23 AM
Hi ——-! I miss you too! But I hate —- and I hope leads a long and miserable life! Shoot, im almost out of time on my internet cafe, so i should go, but I will write to you soon! i have an address now, I got a flat with 3 flatmates, and I am still looking for a job!
Send me a letter, and I ll send you a man in a kilt (not really,lol…I could try)
My life in four lines: Gossip, I moved, quick quip, ttfn!
Internet cafes, calling cards, soup in a cup, drink specials and being out until 4 am just about summed up the first part of my life in Scotland.
Something else was a thing for me back in 2003, as well: establishing who I was outside of my parents’ home. My best friend and I were on our own for the first time. Baptism by fire, you could say. Out of the frying pan and into the fire.
Just, fire in general. It was hot, alluring and potentially dangerous.
But I LOVED it.
So much so, that when I settled in Edinburgh in 2004 on a fiance and then marriage visa, Scotland slowly grew into the land where I learned how to be an adult. How to pay bills, rent flats, look for jobs, navigate relationships, and make my own decisions for the first time ever.
It is home to me because I lived there, but also because of who I became there.
The castles, the scenery and the history were amazing, but secondary to things such as going with my best friend to Pound Stretchers to buy linens for the first time in my life. Or having Alex carry me over the threshold of our hundred year-old tenement apartment.
We’ve moved between Scotland and the USA numerous times: I’ve lived in the United Kingdom under five different types of visas ( BUNAC, fiance, limited leave to remain: marriage, and two separate student visas. )
Maybe it sounds strange; I don’t care at all.
You can’t choose where your heart calls you (though you can supress it). And my heart led me to Scotland, which led me to Alex, which led our son, Alistair.
With Alistair’s dual citizenship, I feel even more tied to the place which I love.
When Alistair turned two, surrounded by his Scottish grandmother, uncle, aunt, cousins and friends, I made a wish it wouldn’t be his only birthday spent in Scotland. I can look back on videos and see where Alistair first learned to talk in Edinburgh…with a Scottish accent. His first friends were in Scotland -Winston and Alex – his little soft-play mates, fellow pebble tossers, play-group goers, and hand-holding buggy buddies as we walked up the street. He won’t remember those tender moments, but I’ll never forget them.
From simple streets, less than glamorous flats, days in and out of menial jobs to stressful universities and suburbia…and countless bedtime routines with Iggle Piggle and ‘cleaning your teeth,’ the years have passed and adulthood has blossomed.
I’ve known Edinburgh single and partying.
I’ve known Edinburgh as the place where I fell in love and got married.
I’ve known Scotland as my first train ride, my first time abroad..most of my travel firsts.
I’ve known Edinburgh as a mom going to playgroup.
I’ve known Edinburgh as a graduate student spending all day in the library.
I’ve known Edinburgh as my home, where half of my family and friends reside.
I think the place where you ‘learn to adult’ will always be a home. I think the place where you have your first child will always be a home.
I think the place you find love will also always be home, and if you love the place as well….then you are doubly lucky.