Monday, December 31, 2018

December 31: Happy Things

I hate New Year's Eve.

I'm a teacher, so I don't even think in "years" the way normal people do. The year begins in late August and ends at Memorial Day. June, July, and early August are time to take stock, heal up, learn new things, experience life, sleep, hike, camp, and then it starts again. The idea that the year ends today and starts new tomorrow is ludicrious.

The year takes two and a half months to end and begin again. It must gestate. Cocoon. A countdown and a kiss at midnight is not enough to mark the end of one and the start of the new.

But here is the way I will end it:

Last year, last fall and winter, I was living at my parents' house and in the process of divorcing. I had recently been let go from one job, which, as a teacher, is a devastating thing, a career ender. My kids were angry and sad at alternating intervals.

This year, I have moved into my own place. The divorce is final. I got my master's degree and my job, although often crushingly hard, is well-paid and my boss likes me. My kids are less angry and less sad. I threw my first party. The squatters are gone, my neighbors see me, and I am standing on my own two feet.

That's not a bad year.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

December 30: Happy Things

My father was mean to me on Christmas Eve. He spent the evening sniping at me and I realized by the time we were opening gifts and he was graceless there too, that this is how he always is. Sometimes it is tempered with vague positive feelings towards me, but since the divorce, that hasn't really happened anymore. I have three siblings and he makes fun of them too, but Christmas Eve, it got harsh with me as his only target.

We drove home, my kids and I, Christmas Eve, only an 8 minute drive, and opened gifts around our own tree in my own house. And then I went to the kitchen and cried, just a bit. My children went to bed, they were leaving in the morning to go to their dad's house and down to Cairo to my inlaws for a few days, it was late, there was no time to spend together that late at night, try to linger and make my heart feel better.

It wasn't their job anyway.

I am not going to be that parent. I am not going to lean on my own children to try to make up for something I'm missing in my heart. I am going to take every criticism of my parenting that Sophia gives me (freely, her hand open, so many suggestions!) and work to be better. I am going to have fun with my kids because I don't want Sophia to be sitting in my house on Christmas Eve in her 40s and taking her family home to cry because of who I am. And never coming back.

I will not be like them.

My youngest sister brushed it away, saying this is how he always is, it's terrible but that's the way it is, that's the way they were raised and so they don't know any better, even now. Even when we are all adults trying our best. Even if I'm mysteriously divorced and Ian is a recovering alcoholic who woke up one morning and became a teacher, even if Bevin works at a grocery store and Colleen never learned how to drive. We are a mess, and yet we are adults and we deserve better.

So my resolution this coming year is to unhook my life from theirs as much as I can and to continue to throw off the bowlines tying me to their harbor. It isn't safe and it isn't what ships were made for.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

December 29: Happy Things

Christmas is over. My brother is back in Texas, my kids are back from visiting Mike's family. For most adults, life goes back to normal.

Not me.

My school district doesn't return until January 7. How I wish we went back on the 2nd or 3rd and instead got a full week off BEFORE Christmas, but I will take the days either way. My kids go back the 3rd and I get just a few spare days of my own.

I already know I will squander them on naps and Netflix.

Friday, December 28, 2018

December 28: Happy Things

I am so grateful this year has brought me back to blogging with Linda, Dona, Kate, Susan, and Helen most of all since she isn't on facebook and I'd lost touch with her. Getting to meet Maureen and Kim this way and read about their lives as well has enriched my own.

I don't want to stop.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

December 27: Happy Things

That wonderful little party I had last weekend?

My priest friend, the one I used to be so close to, the one who didn't visit Maeve or even text me while she was in the ICU, he and I had talked about this party the last time we'd gone to coffee in October.

I sent him an invite. He's a party kind of guy. Loves to make people fun drinks and laugh and talk and sing. A no brainer way to interact with him and try to rebuild our friendship. He wrote back asking if this was my parents' party or was this at my new place? (My parents used to throw one every year and I took their spot for this year). I confirmed it was mine, at my new house.

He didn't write back.

He didn't come.

Maybe he was visiting a friend in the hospital.

He just gave me the freedom to move on.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

December 26: Happy Things

I think the squatters have moved out. The blankets have been taken down from the windows and yesterday afternoon I saw Andryia Ciaccio (I know her name now, and names have power, ask any sci-fi fantasy reader) walk out the front door with her arms full of crap, yelling at the young man in the car waiting for her.

They drove away.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

December 25: Happy Things

I threw a party on the 22nd and lots of people came from different parts of my life and Leo had three of the friends spend the night and it was my party on my turf with my people and even though its just a start, it's a start. The next day a couple of them, parents of Leo's friends, told me what a great time they'd had.

It was exhausting to throw a holiday/graduation party three days before Christmas. I've never thrown a party in the evening before. The only gatherings I've had have been post-baptism cake and punch affairs.

This one was alcohol and appetizers and people brought wine and homemade egg nog and people stayed and talked to each other and laughed and drank and shared the time together.

My old house I shared with Mike, I was always so ashamed of it, how dirty it felt, how things never felt right in it. I was too embarrassed to have a party. And that realization makes me sad to think of it.

But Trisha, who was once my very best friend, but who has kept her distance for the past several years for many hard reasons, hugged me goodbye after staying longer than she'd planned and said, "this place works, you work in this place."

Monday, December 24, 2018

December 24: Happy Things

My cute little Tudor Revival has a huge stone hearth. A non-functioning fireplace but it has a gas hookup....maybe one day when I have extra money lying around. But this stone hearth demands attention in a way that my delicate Victorian mantels did not--the ones in my "World's Fair" (1904) foursquare house were fancy and beautifully carved (or in two cases, likely pressed--they were always meant to be painted).

My current mantel isn't delicate. It stands on its own two feet and does things for its damned self.

The former owners hung a flat screen TV above it; my TV is in a cozy basement ratskellar (as old St. Louisans refer to those little dens or rec rooms). I could hang one above this mantel but it would detract from it like vinyl siding covering up the red brick on the outside would.

So I hung my bows above it. And decorated the fuck out of it for Christmas.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Saturday, December 22, 2018

December 22: Happy Things

Helen said she thought my job would be incredibly hard but potentially rewarding.

It is. Every year it is. Each school is hard in a different way and rewarding in different measures.

Some places made me feel like I was doing God's work, like the school filled with refugees. That was the same school where I met the mom would would eventually be Maeve's godmother. And the same place where I met John, who grew up to be the young man who lived with us in 2013 and 2014 and kind of changed me forever without meaning to and then he went and died of a preventable genetic flaw instead of how we all thought he would, of a drug overdose or getting shot or pushed out of a car over the edge of a bridge into the icy water.

Some places were easier than that. Not as hard but not as rewarding. But the last school brought Maggie into my life and I'm still writing beautiful letters of recommendation for some of those students.

Names stay with me over time. Some of them, I know their stories after our time together. Efi went to college and is a film maker. Grant is deciding between some very prestigious universities and the Naval Academy. Bao is friends with me on Instagram and has a chow chow and a tall boyfriend. Joe and his wife just had their first baby. Pete lost both feet while jumping a train and now owns a boat off Vancouver Island. Rachel is happily married and works with the elderly as a social worker. John died. Arlanda died. Greg died.

My public school retirement system sent me a letter this summer letting me know I'm eligible for retirement in 15 years, but that it would be better to wait for 17 or 18 years. How many more names? How many more terrible colleagues and stories you have to laugh at so you don't cry and kids you just want to take home and let them take a long hot shower and moms who yell at you and moms who cry and moms who never answer the phone and wondering how Jack is doing out there in the world, hoping that this year will be easy or that kid will graduate or this family won't leave and people telling me my job is a vocation when really I think it's just a job, a hard job, a job that nobody who has anything else to do should ever try to do because it obliterates you while I watch my spectacular young co-teacher with the incongruous Hispanic last name but the blond hair and pale green eyes burn to a crisp while I stand there unable to help him except to tell him he's phenomenal and it's time to go, go somewhere easier where the rewards are greater and the challenges are fewer because baby, you don't have to work so hard getting so little back don't waste what you have on a school that doesn't care but some of them, him included, want so desperately to stay because they were broken and put themselves back together and want to make this true for others and it's such a delicate dance between saving yourself and saving the world one person at a time and sometimes kids even die on you.

Don't teach.

Or if you do teach, teach all the way.

Friday, December 21, 2018

December 21: Happy Things

The tamales got me remembering.

I used to teach at a Catholic school in the city, my parish school actually, that had the tagline: "We bring the world together". We did. Students were white and black Americans, but also immigrants and refugees from all over. Mainly Vietnam (50% of the student body) but also Angola, Liberia, Eritrea, The Philippines, Bosnia (Romany), Laos, Guatemala, and Cambodia.

Only one Cambodian family, and Binh was in my homeroom. His sister Lily was the year behind and I taught her math.

The day before Christmas break, Binh brought me a brown paper lunch bag with grease stains at the bottom. I opened it and found two egg rolls inside.

"My mom said she will make you two egg rolls every Monday as a Christmas gift."

Binh or Lily would drop them off on Monday and I would stand there at my desk and eat them immediately, hot, greasy, wonderful. I asked Lily one morning what was in them.

"You don't want to know," she replied.

So instead I just would hoover them up the minute I got my hot little hands on them each week.

It was the best Christmas gift I ever received from a student.