Reflection, NOT Resolution

New Year's resolution

I’m setting a new trend for myself for New Year’s day. Instead of establishing lofty goals that, often, I set too high for myself, I’ve decided to instead look upon New Year’s as a day of reflection rather than resolutions.

A cup of warm lemon water each morning (before eating or drinking anything else) is a wonderful thing. Not only does it balance out the liver and give your metabolism a boost, the daily dose of vitamin C has made me feel better.

Being forty-something isn’t as bad as I had originally anticipated, for it has helped me evolve into a woman who can, in fact, let “it” roll when it comes to stressors in my life that I can’t control. Take “#randomkid” (earlier post), for instance, as a teacher a decade ago, he would have sent me reeling; instead, I looked beyond his adolescent behavior and stood the course, which has led me to deal with “#latekid” (future post, to be sure!) in a much more calm, resolute fashion. This one doesn’t even ruffle my feathers!

Which leads me to another very valuable lesson that only age and experience has afforded me: not to take everything so personally. Instead of internalizing and jumping the gun, assuming all fingers point at me, I can do the opposite, now! This is a wonderful feat for myself; in fact, it’s one I’m very proud to have accomplished. (Kinda’ makes me wonder, now, where I’d be had I mastered that one twenty years ago– another future post, perhaps).

I spent most of the last five years feeling disillusioned about my profession– so many facets of it changing in directions I see as not being productive or positive. I have stood up on several occasions to make my opinions known. I’m not shy about standing up and speaking my mind. But I’m not sure what difference it’s made, if any. What I don’t like about my job, I’ve learned, is how entangled public education is with politics, money more specifically. Never before, have I felt it as oppressively as of late– a sign of the times, I suppose. I grappled with this negatively affecting my perspective on coming to work every day. I felt hopeless and helpless. I’m not sure how I turned the corner or which corner I turned, but I’ve learned to focus, not on what’s wrong with education, but instead on what my true priorities and capabilities are as a teacher. First and foremost, my responsibility (and my joy) is in the day to day contact I have with the kids. It’s in developing them as people (more so than any skill that I can impart); I seek to create critical/creative thinkers and confident self advocates. Reforms will come an go. I will agree with some and adamantly oppose others. But, through it all, I can always remain true to myself and my students; no one can change that.

After encountering my first health obstacle this year (and so it begins…), I realized I’m the kind of person who goes on the counterattack, something I didn’t really know about myself before. I’ve decided to look at this as an opportunity to put my health first, something I should have done a long time ago, and so I have. It’s a daily call to consciousness, something I’m grateful for.

We have three dogs, all labs, who are very much part of our family. The eldest, Bailey, 13 years old, is nearing the end of his life. We’re kind of lucky because he’s sort of had 9 lives. We’ve said goodbye to him twice, already, in fact, sure he wouldn’t make it through the night. The reflection is this: people deal with death differently. If it were solely my decision, I would have put him to sleep months ago. He struggles getting up, cries out in pain at times, has a hard time climbing up one step. I’m of the mindset that if one isn’t living a quality life, the right thing to do is to allow him/her to die with dignity. Unfortunately, this luxury is afforded to animals more so than people (but that’s for another post, too). My husband and two of my children are of a different mindset– I see it as them having a hard time letting go. My husband is looking for a decision to confront him– a choice that puts the choice out of his hands. But then he said something that I can respect and live with. He said, “I’m trying to keep him alive until Ryan (my eldest child who lives in Chicago) comes home, so he has the chance to say goodbye.” Everyone needs closure.

The little things really are big things. Having an impromptu breakfast with all of my children. Hearing the excitement in my first born’s voice when he gets a promotion at work. Watching my second born play hockey again. Seeing my third born’s eyes widen when she realizes the college that will make her happiest. Knowing my kids are all under one roof, asleep at night. Observing the rhythms of my children as they enjoy just being with one another. A cup of coffee in the morning. Quiet time to write. My graffiti wall and the memories it calls up. The scent of pumpkin in the fall. A family reunion. My dogs rushing to greet me. Laughing uncontrollably. The quiet in my head (and house) when the only sound I can hear is of my narrator speaking words through fingers pressing down letters on the keyboard of my writing universe. Listening to my favorite new song on repeat. Realizing the all the little things that keep propelling me from one day to the next, from one moment onward…

As with any marriage, my husband & I have had our share of highs and lows. Undoubtedly, the most difficult time has been in raising our teenage-young adult children because we often don’t see eye to eye. The differences in our own upbringing have shone through this time unlike any other in our parenting. It’s almost broken us, but I’ve come to realize, instead, it’s made us stronger which I believe speaks a lot to the core of our relationship. We could have given in, called it quits, but we have both stuck it out in the name of love for each other and our family. You know, 25 years ago, when I married my husband, I fantasized that we’d be together forever; it’s taken me 25 years to know. And, that, is a good feeling.

Selfishness and putting oneself first is not the same thing. When I was a kid, my parents used to call me selfish. It stung; it had a lasting impact on me such that I think I’ve gone to the other extreme to try to prove them wrong. And, now, I’ve come back to somewhere in the middle, to a place that I realize this is, after all, MY life. In large part, my friends are responsible for this epiphany. Their observations of me helped me to see myself clearly. And I have finally developed the courage to live my life for me and what makes me happy because, at the end of the day, if I’m not happy, I cannot be happy with anyone else in my life.

Being the best and being my best are two totally different things. I’ve always been uber-involved in many things; I don’t like to be idol. I like to take on a task and see it through to perfection (“Ah, there’s the rub”). At forty-nine, I finally understand that perfection does not exist. I can be okay with what is in my control. I can be okay with putting MY best efforts forth and I realize that, in life, as over-committed as some of us are, that something’s got to give. I no longer feel a failure at saying no or not living up to another person’s expectations of me. My own expectations matter most. At the end of the day, if I can say that I gave what I could give, I’m happy.

Thankfulness is the best gift one can give to oneself. I learned this last year during one of the lowest periods of my life. I performed a “Thirty days of Thankful” experiment with myself which has colored the way I see each and everyday. I am thankful for “just being here,” the words and platitude a very close and wise friend gave me. I am thankful for my family, for who they are and all that they mean to me. I am thankful for the opportunity to work with kids everyday and, hopefully, positively influence them and the course of their lives in some way. I am thankful for my friends, each fulfilling a different facet of my life. I am thankful for the ability to notice the little things as they happen, the experiences that become memories to cherish. I am thankful that each New Year is almost like a reset button to stop for a moment to reflect, in order to learn and move forward, a little wiser and more thankful than the year before.

13 Take-aways from 2013: HAPPY NEW YEAR!

NYE Champagne glasses

As the New Year is upon us (be GONE, 2013, don’t let the door hit you in the A**!), I’m reflecting on the lessons I learned, the moments that will be remembered, as well as contemplating what’s to come. I’ve made a list of 13… nothing better than writing it all down to flesh out the perspective… take-aways from this year:

NYE Cartoon B

NYE Lessons learned

1) Expect the unexpected – no matter how well you’ve planned your life out, how perfectly (in your head) the details all fit into one beautiful mosaic, curve balls will be thrown and you must be ready to catch them

2) Be kindER – as a result of The Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, coupled with my reading of R.J. Palacio’s book Wonder, I have a heightened sense of just how much benevolence matters.

3) Believe – in something, a higher power, perhaps, or simply the power of people. I’ve tattooed myself with the word on my wrist to remind me that there is a plan bigger than myself, bigger than what I can see in front of me right now, and I just have to trust it.

4) Be resilient –  changes happen around us all the time: some we easily ebb and flow with, while others are like trying to swim against a powerful tide. In these moments, we must focus on our own goals, do what we need to do with the power we’ve been given, and forge ahead resiliently according to what we know is right.

5) Learn to let go – in life, I’ve come to count on some things, like my family being together — it’s comfortable and it feels right. However, in the grand scheme of parenting, I know I’ve raised my children only to set them free. Many things are like this. Change is uncomfortable, but in order to let the new in, we somehow need to let go of the old (even when we aren’t necessarily ready to). I’m learning. So, in the spirit of being a taker-of-baby-steps, I am finding comfort in the benefits of letting go.

6) Be thankful – as an experiment, I wrote down every day, for 30 days, during one of the most trying periods of my life, something I’m grateful for. And what I learned is that sometimes big goals are overwhelming, so in making strides (small ones) toward something positive, the journey is much less painful.

NYE Memorable Moments

7) Seeing Chicago and my son’s new beginning (his world) through his excited eyes. It amazes me that after all these years (twenty-two), I’m still seeing the firsts through his eyes.

8) In a moment of real connection (and with teens, these are few and far between) my son told me that I’m his best friend. While, as a parent, you tell yourself over and over, “I must be his parent, not his friend,” particularly in getting through the obstacles of this stage. If through all of that hard parenting, he can tell me that I’m his friend (with no strings attached), I have truly succeeded as a parent, in my eyes.

9) Laughing. Simply laughing with my daughter. No matter how hard life gets, I find comfort in the playful moments we share– two girls who love & respect one another, as well as enjoy each other’s company.

10) My sanctuary. The building of it mostly. For years, I’ve waited for some place in this house to be only mine. Putting the words on the wall, and standing back to admire them– such a cathartic experience. I finally, again, have a room of my own.

11) My students words. Two, in particular. First student, “Somehow I just feel a connection with Mrs. Carbone that I haven’t felt with any other teacher. We have a lot in common.” Second student, “I always feel comfortable in Mrs. Carbone’s class. She makes me love learning, and the best part is that I’m learning a lot about myself.” These gems are the reason I love my job.

NYE goals

12) Live in the present. Love it. Cherish it. Recognize it as the chance to do something I’ve never done before and will never do the same again.

13) Follow my dreams, my intuition… ultimately, be truest to myself.

NYE Poster Final copy

And as an added bonus:

NYE blog

30 Days of Thankful

LEGACY: The People Who Leave

The Magic of Teaching: First-Day-Ever Teaching Advice to My New-Teacher Friends

Wonder, R.J. Palacio- So much more than a review, a call to action

SummerGarden Splendor

 NYE Thank you

…So I Lied

… a little white lie. When I said I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, I lied– sort of; I made one mocking the notion of making New Year’s resolutions: mine was to DRINK MORE AND DRINK MORE FREQUENTLY (which I told to anyone who asked me what mine was).

I lied and I didn’t. It seems, according to this text from my daughter, that I took my resolution more seriously than I’d anticipated. So, in the spirit of making affirmations, something I wholeheartedly believe in, and as a bit of a revelation prompted by this text,

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I have created my own reality.

This began at a friend’s Christmas party, two weeks prior to Christmas. She had a game called Shot Roulette

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this was a game w/ played with the aid of a book called Would You Rather? The Dirty Version [which is described by Amazon as a book that] captures the sexual, the seedy, the sardonic, and the silly in the unique tone that has made the Would You Rather…? series popular with readers of all ages. Readers of all ages… now that is highly disputable!

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So, let me set the scenario for you. About 30 people at a colleague’s newish apartment– a housewarming/holiday celebration if you will– with a mixed crowd, mostly consisting of people I work w/ and those I call my friends. So the roulette game is there on the coffee table, and the book along w/ a bottle of Whipped Cream Vodka, and a bottle of something else (cinnamon flavored, I didn’t like it); we begin. My friend and I polished off the vodka and had OH-so many laughs b/c the loser (the one whose # the roulette game landed upon) had to ask one of the Would You Rather scenarios of another player… questions along the lines of would you prefer a blumpkin or a dirty sanchez? Did I know what these terms meant? Most certainly not. Nor did I know what the poop in the cup video was all about (disgusting… DO NOT VIEW!!!) or the grandmother’s reaction on you tube to the poop in a cup video (now that was funny). Suffice it to say, several shots later accompanied by an infinite amount of uncontrollable laughter, the night ended. I don’t recall much of what followed, but I do recall telling my husband we needed to do that more often.

… which is what brought me to my mock New Year’s resolution (that and a mojito incident that occurred sometime in the fall); moreover, Alexa’s text prompted me to realize this resolution as newly formed and sufficiently begun, albeit subconsciously.

So, it got me to thinking because I would certainly not characterize myself as a “drinker”

— in fact, it’s an addiction my father’s side of the family has combated for generations, and one I’ve consciously and steadfastly avoided. Furthermore, in the vein of parenting, there has always been simply too much to do the day after, not to mention that I’ve made a conscious decision to be a good role model for my children. Hence, I ask myself… What does it mean that I want to drink more? and more frequently? Do I want to set myself up to battle the demon alcohol? Most assuredly not. Do I no longer care the kind of role model I am– of course I do. I always want to be a good role model for my children, but that doesn’t mean swearing off fun. So why, then,  have I been drinking more? and more frequently?

What I’ve come up with is that I simply want to work on having more fun– bringing the spontaneity and [controlled] reckless abandonment back into my life.

I have felt so much in the middle as of late. Quite literally, in the middle of everything in my life, age-wise, work-wise, marriage-wise, parent-wise– hell, even my bucket list is dwindling. I have found myself trying on new hats, so to speak, some have been healthy and productive, while some have not. I’m not sure where I’d categorize my newfound resolution, but I’m going to go with it for a while and see.

I see this resolution as a metaphor for putting the me back into me. For so long now, I’ve been parenting and working hard to provide for my children. I (we: my husband & I) have made our children (as good parents should, I believe) the center of everything. Our “free” time was either their time (tutor, coach, fan, taxi-driver, cook, outfitter … those of you who are parents KNOW this) or we were just simply too exhausted or burnt out to do stuff for us. Not to mention that most of our friends during this time in our lives were somehow connected to what our children were doing because that is what worked. Now, in between my children going off to college and being home still but NEEDING us less & less, I find this time. Time. An unfamiliar thing to me. I think back to before I had children when my days were filled, but I’ve forgotten w/ what. I’m having to relearn how to set goals for me– independent of my children (an my husband, in some ways). Finding myself. Reinventing who I am in the middle of my life, I ask myself… What next? How do I see the next half playing out?

It’s ironic because when I had my children, as a young mother, I do absolutely remember thinking to myself… what have I done? how am I going to learn to sacrifice for all my children need of me? Funny, I hadn’t thought of that transition in a very, very long time. It was a huge learning curve, but I made it. I’m proud of the mother I’ve been and who my children are as a result. I’m proud that I found it in myself to always put them first through the time in their lives when that’s what they needed. I don’t begrudge any of the decisions I made as a mother or that Anthony and I made as a couple.

And so the tide is turning… back to Anthony and me, and, ultimately, back to myself. It’s time to rework my bucket list (that is another blog post, altogether). But,  I’m making it a priority to start working on it and what better place to begin than to put the fun back in me? So if drinking more and drinking more often is a metaphor for letting loose, lightening up, figuring out, not worrying so much about my responsibilities the morning after, living in the moment, doing what feels good– bring on the mojitos, or cable cars or whipped cream vodka shots– whatever it is that captures the me I want to be for the next half…

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(the above, another find on FB– I don’t know where it’s from, but it spoke to me as I was writing this post. A good affirmation, I think)

Resolutions

New Year’s Resolutions date back to 153 B.C. when the Roman God, Janus– God of Beginnings, was placed on the calendar demarcating the god looking back on the past and ahead to the future.

It has remained a custom to reflect upon the year past in order to create a resolution (or several) for the future, but the fact is only about 12% of resolutions are actually attained.

I do NOT believe in New Year’s resolutions. Everyone building up to THAT day to make a goal that hangs over our heads for the whole year through. We wait and wait and wait– for that ONE moment, that perfect time, that DAY– New Year’s day to be resolute.

It’s like building up a moment or event in your mind which inevitably falls short because you spend too much time fantasizing in your mind how perfect it will be. And isn’t that what we’re doing when we’re projecting the positive change in our lives toward a singular moment? I think New Year’s resolutions set us up for failure.

Waiting for the perfect moment causes us to procrastinate making effective change in our lives every day. Charles Dickens said, “Procrastination is the thief of time.” We should be reflecting all the time– on a moment, or a day, a month or a year, on a belief, reaction, gesture, decision– in order to better ourselves for us and those around us.

I set goals all the time. Sometimes, it’s as simple as this will be a good day. Or, it can be as monumental as a life change. In fact, when I reflect back on the biggest risks I’ve taken in my life, I attribute those as catalysts of my most positive changes. It’s only when I seem to throw caution to the wind, go out on a limb, face a fear– that I’ve grown the most.

For example, about twelve years ago, I decided to return to school for a master’s degree (after much deliberating on where I wanted my life to take me) while working nearly 30 hours a week and raising three small children. Most certainly, it was the busiest time of my life– working classes in and around the other jobs I held, in addition to committing to a graduate teaching assistantship, writing a master’s thesis while keeping up with my course work. I remember being up late at night, until like3 a.m., eyes pealed open, fingers hovering over the keyboard of my computer, the house was hauntingly still and my brain was in overdrive, but I didn’t give up– I willed the thoughts and words onto the page for my next class assignment. When I look back on that time, I have no idea how I accomplished all of that in such little time (much of it is a blur), but I did. And so many positive changes have resulted from that one goal.

I believe in self-talk. I believe we create our realities. So, when we make a decision and affirm not to waver from our goals– our dreams, we open ourselves to positive change.

Henry David Thoreau said, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined. ”

Ghandi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

If every day we choose at least one thing for which to assign a purpose– a step in achieving a goal (some days a baby step, some days a step so big we think we might not make it), every day will be a day for resolutions.