Tag: Bravery

16Nov

Write Fright

I should probably clarify after my last post—I don’t hate my job. Not even close. I get along well with my colleagues, I enjoy getting to know my students, and watching them improve in English holds a special satisfaction as all teachers know. However, the time factor simply isn’t sustainable for me. Teaching isn’t a job that can be done more quickly or efficiently to make time for other pursuits; when students pay for twenty hours, those twenty hours belong to them. Also, the job requires almost as many unpaid hours in lesson preparation, paperwork, travel, and office minutia as it does in paid ones. Throw in students’ schedule openings—usually only during evenings when my girls most need their mama and their mama most needs to unwind—and the stress of coordinating childcare when my husband’s traveling for work, and you have one headache of a lifestyle.

Possibly even more compelling is my realization that I’m only working for work’s sake, i.e. to earn something, keep my résumé current, pretend to be a bona fide adult, all the standard reasons responsible people sign over eight hours a day. I’m good at my job, but it drains rather than inspires, and I find myself increasingly resentful of the time it takes away from my real life, everything and everyone of big-picture significance to me. I can’t continue giving away the best of myself to what matters the least.

So Dan and I have a project in the works, a tangible form to one of the grand ideas I hinted at in my last post. I am equal parts terror and excitement. I am so tired from this year that I can hardly imagine summoning up the extra energy and enthusiasm this project will require, and I dread taking a risk that would dangle a very poignant kind of failure above my head. On the other hand, oh goodness am I looking forward to it. I’m desperate to dislodge my soul from my current routine, and this is an opportunity to dive back into my one wild and precious life rather than continue banishing it to the eternal waiting room of Someday. Even with my inner ‘fraidy cat protesting, it feels like the plunge into peace.

If it’s okay with you all, I’d like to take this opportunity to scream with fright, dance a little jig, and pour myself an extra coffee. It’s going to be a good winter.

Make mine a double

(Details are forthcoming; stay tuned!)

21Sep

Finally Free[lance]

The thing about a season of wild change is that every new morning feels truly new. It’s like we’re starring in a coming-of-age movie about our own life (with a moving indie soundtrack hand-picked by Zach Braff, of course), and absolutely anything could happen just around the next scene change.

One of my school-mom friends told me the other day about her brother taking an incredible high-paying corporate job in the States ten years ago. He and his pregnant wife uprooted their lives here and moved to the US… just in time for September 11th. The corporation who hired him went under in the aftermath, and he and his wife suddenly found themselves income-less in a foreign country. (Oh how sinkingly familiar this sounds.) Instead of just snatching the first menial job he could find to get back on his feet, though, my friend’s brother took advantage of the upheaval and enrolled in a photography program with a small stipend. One decade later, he is doing what he truly loves instead of dashing to endless meetings in a company car. He and his wife are still living out their dream of raising their children in the States, and they’re doing well enough to spend summers vacationing in Italy.

Our situation is much nearer the beginning of that story than the end, but I couldn’t help nodding enthusiastically because we’re already seeing how unemployment is the best thing that could have happened to my husband. He is already set up as a freelancer and doing support work in a field that makes his brain light up with ideas, and he’s turning some of those ideas into the start-up he’s been dreaming of for years. Finances are a day-to-day tango right now, but there is always just enough, and it’s becoming ever easier to leave tomorrow in the future where it belongs.

Our coming-of-age movie probably looks like a surf documentary put on by the Jackass crew—our family clinging to a tidal wave of uncertainty for all we’re worth and hurtling toward anywhere—but I can personally confirm that it feels like liberation.

The red flag side
(Photo from the beach in Porto this summer.
More coming soon to a blog near you.)

9Sep

The Stuff of Brains

I’ve never considered brainwashing to be a particularly accurate term. Brainwashing implies a cleansing, the junk drawer of thoughts replaced with a sparkling fresh emptiness. In reality, though, it involves cramming someone’s mind so full of a certain perspective that no room is left for any others. It is a form of control. It is a form of abuse. And it is a significant part of my history.

I struggle frequently with how much of my past, if any, I should share on here [ed: in addition to what I already have], and there is no easy answer. The simplest solution is to keep steering clear of the topic. This doesn’t offend anyone, it doesn’t stir up the memories I least want to revisit, and it lets dark secrets continue to sleep in peace. Hiding the ugly truth was ingrained in me a long time ago as a virtue; keeping quiet feels like the right choice. Almost.

It would feel right if I didn’t know how profoundly healing honesty can be… or how damaging silence can be. A long time ago, a loved one nearly died from causes I may have been able to prevent had I just been brave enough to tell someone. Now, an alarming number of my college classmates are starting eagerly into the same lifestyle that I barely managed to limp away from, and I wonder who else is going to speak up for their children. Am I still letting myself be victimized into silence when the truth, however incriminating, could help set others free?

As I see it, my experiences are my property to do with as I please. The things other people have done to me are not their secrets; they are mine. The dubious reward to surviving a childhood like mine is that I now have full claim to it. I have both the right to reveal it and the power to destroy reputations with it.

But that is not my goal. If I decide to bring my past into the spotlight, it would be for the dual purpose of making peace with it (a daily effort for as long as I can remember) and showing others where the trap doors are hidden. I am not interested in causing more pain… but more pain would be inevitable, and it would affect more than just myself. There is nothing fair about a childhood of abuse, and the injustice seems double in adulthood as I’m faced with the minefield of what to do about it now. I never asked for the responsibility of forgiveness, much less the one of honesty, and each requires more of me than I think I have to offer.

Perhaps the only reason I’m even daring to mention this is because of writers like Elizabeth Esther and Hillary McFarland who have been brave enough to tell their stories and whose candor spreads healing and understanding. Their courage inspires a spark of recognition in me, and I begin to think I could actually do it, I could finally give myself a voice and speak up for those who don’t feel they have one. But then the years of brainwashing—or rather, braincramming—do their work and re-convince me that the simplest solution is the right one.

Almost.

23Sep

City Mouse

The sun is warm and expansive today after a week of dishrag rain, and swallows are flirting in the treetop just outside the window. My bedroom looks down over an enormous park where cylists are riding in ellipses, the local soccer team is running drills, and circus tents swoop turquoise and white like some exotic taffy. Dan’s office is just on the other side of a second park; I can see the bar where he goes for mid-day espressos in tiny glass cups. On the opposite hilltop, our city’s ancient epicenter sprawls like a cat, the afternoon reflecting off its walls in shades of terra cotta and wheat. The view is breathtaking.

And the wonderful impossibility of this September is that I am finally starting to feel connected to this place. It’s due to a combination of factors, not the least of which is our new house. We moved from an impersonal apartment building in the suburbs to a three-family home in a vibrant little neighborhood, and the inclusive nature of community is working its magic on me. I love chatting with our downstairs neighbors as they cook supper, bumping into friends while walking Natalie to school, getting to know the Napoletan boyfriend and girlfriend who own the pizzeria down the street, buying vegetables and fresh flowers at the open market every Wednesday morning.

Not that community doesn’t come with its annoying moments. For instance, the woman at the pharmacy who schedules our medical appointments is insatiably curious about the nature of our ailments and the unfamiliar details on our personal documents, and discusses them loudly enough that the deaf great-grandfather in the foot care section can follow along. And then there is our next-door neighbor, a friend’s “crazy great aunt” (his words) who likes to ambush the girls and I just as we step inside our front gate and talk for fifteen increasingly uncomfortable minutes about her childraising theories. Both ladies have good intentions, I know, but… well, encounters with them stretch the limits of my politeness. (Probably a good thing to have stretched, in the long run.)

Crazy great aunts aside, I really do love feeling like a legitimate part of society. Beyond finding my neighborhood niche, I’m also doing my best to expand along with our home front. I finally started teaching English to some friends (once the initial paralyzing nervousness wears off, I really do love it), and we’ve been having company over so often that my head is spinning. My heart is full though. We’ve spent a very long year and a half with closed doors, and it’s liberating to open them wide, to invite people to be part of our lives again.

Of course, the country mouse in me wants to scamper back to my cricket noises and single-person hovel. Socializing comes about as naturally to me as tanning and geography; as long as I had access to a library and broadband, I would happily live out the rest of my days as a hermit. But something deep inside me knows it would wither without relationships, so I’m finding the courage to be social—a bit more every day—and as reward? The first delicious taste of belonging.

Find the courage - September 2009

18Sep

Uncharted

It would seem that Operation Going To School Isn’t This Awesome You’re Such A Big Girl YAY has hit a snag. It’s a doozy of a snag too, as far as three-year-old emotional butterflies are concerned.

“Hi Mommy. Good morn—” she says, and her voice cracks.The day is less than 30 seconds old and Natalie is already sobbing on the rug, a puddle of broken-hearted little girl. I suddenly feel unsteady inside my skin. “I—can’t—g-g-go—to—schooooool” she chokes, her eyes spilling over fresh. She has never cried this deeply before.

We tried good old-fashioned logic yesterday. “But think of all the fun you’ll have with your friends! Playing games! Reading books! Learning from your teachers! They’re so nice! And you always have such a good time singing and dancing!” Breathfuls of wasted exclamation points.

So this morning, we tried extra love. There was really nothing else to do with my sobbing girl except snuggle her close, smoothing damp curls away from her cheeks. But it didn’t seem to help, and I find myself completely disoriented in the new (to me) landscape of loving my girls intentionally.

I know Natalie has a glorious time once she’s at school and involved in the bright hum of activity. She comes home every afternoon glowing; I’m certain that this is a good thing for her. I just wish I knew how to soften her emotional heaviness in the mornings. It’s a thudding reminder of those newborn days when she was learning to put herself to sleep and I was crying on the other side of the door at how miserable she sounded. By now, I’m more accustomed to the way babies scream when they’re bored or tired or mildly annoyed, but a hormonal three-year-old is uncharted territory.

If there’s a positive side to these tearful mornings, it’s the opportunity for me to bond with my daughter in a special way. She’s been too busy carpeing the diem since she took her first steps to let me cuddle her like this, and I would never move again if pesky things like responsibility didn’t dictate otherwise. And perhaps Natalie’s pain is simply that of growing up. My girl is strong and spirited, and I look forward to seeing how she learns to lace up her frayed emotional ends and face her anxiety head-on. It just might be our most valuable lesson of the year.

16Sep

Fill-In-The-Blank

Buried deep in cover letters, doubts, and the concentrated strangeness of having time to work. I spent a large chunk of this morning doing research, which always leaves me cranky and limp—overwhelmed by information while sinking under the intangibility of it all. No words on paper, just the worn-out click of a mouse. This necessary homework along the path to publication bogs me down, is “hopelessly unromantic” as Anne Shirley would say. My brainwaves get tangled in grammar and protocol. Can I say this? Who do I contact in what order? Will these laborious search-engine hours pay off in some recognition, or do I need a big dose of Tyler Durden—“you are not a beautiful or unique snowflake,” just stick to your little sphere of homelife?

It all makes me need a thoroughly unique moment, like screaming into an abyss from the back of a Garden State tractor. A voluntary suspension of grammar. Homemade hot chocolate, but only if I don’t have to do the homemaking of it. A fill-in-the-blank poster, all blanks.

I’m up to six submissions for this year. Only one heard back from—a contest I didn’t expect to win anyway. Five crisp white hopes still out in the world and not a clue whether they will find dry land or fling themselves back at me like boomerangs. I’ve never done this before. (I blame my husband for all this optimism and bravery and trying of new things, and it still took him five years to convince me to do what I longed to do.) Either I’m an imposter or I’m reinvented, sharing my words and wobbling on stilts with my chin up… but it’s good. So good.

15Sep

Season’s Change

Autumn whooshed into town today, leaving skid marks across our last short-sleeved morning. Apparently it never got the memo that seasons don’t change for another week, and the sky is suddenly damp gray flannel, steadily leaking rain. Goodbye, summer. We hardly knew ye.

This morning was also Natalie’s first day of public school. I was a little worried dropping her off, not knowing how she would take it… by which I mean not knowing how I would take her taking it. I had cut out a tiny pink paper heart in case she needed some extra love to carry throughout the day, and I fingered it in my pocket as we got near the school. But lo and behold, her classroom was brightly lit, flitting with color and activity exactly as a classroom should. The teachers were all smiles and showed us the cubbyhole to put Natalie’s backpack; by the time we turned back around, she had already plopped down in a cluster of children around the train set. That was it. No fanfare, just my independent little girl setting out on her 19+ years of formal education without a look back.

I took a deep breath then headed out for a quick cappuccino and the most effortlessly productive morning I’ve had this century. I cleaned, read with Sophie, and spent an unbelievable two (2!) hours uninterrupted at my desk. And before I knew it, Natalie was home with her daddy for lunch.

“The teacher told me she cried at breakfast,” Dan informed me. “But just a little. For a first day, it went great.” Positive assessment aside, I couldn’t help imagining my sweet three-year-old sobbing into her juice. I felt an unmistakable twinge of that guilt parents get for subjecting their children to life, even in all its goodness. She must have felt so lonely; would she even want to go back?

I sat down at the table with Natalie and asked her to tell me about her day. She broke into a huge smile and announced, “I was such a big girl! I was a crying big girl! Can I cry at school again tomorrow?” Sure thing, kid.

So the pink paper heart is now on my desk where I can see it throughout the day and think of that brave, articulate, hilarious girl I love so much. And if I ever had a doubt on the subject, I’m now convinced that Natalie has the kind of heart to take on the whole world.

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