Reflection is a Powerful Mirror

One day, during the 364 days that have already passed in 2015, I found some big girl panties, put them on thinking it would make things better, and started making decisions for myself. Some of these decisions have been great and worthwhile, some of these decisions would be knee-slappers to onlookers, and some of these decisions were mistakes — I’m sure you know the type, the kind that make you face-palm and think “What the fuck was I thinking?” The moral of the story: wearing big girl panties hasn’t made a lick of difference. They make me look ridiculous, and I don’t know why I ever wore them.

Needless to say, it’s that time of year when many people think about the previous 364 days, about whether or not they accomplished their goals, became better people, crossed items off their bucket lists, or had any significant life changes. Logging into any form of social media will let you know that it’s the time for reflection. Reflection, when done honestly, is a powerful mirror. It can be much akin to ripping off a band-aid; it stings at first, but when what’s underneath is revealed, it provides the opportunity for healing.

It’s been difficult becoming a quarter century old this year. It’s kind of like, well shit, I don’t have a reason to not adult right, I’ve had 25 years to figure out this whole adulting thing, and the only thing I figured out is that if I pay my bills on time, my credit score goes up slowly. Mind blowing, I know. Like I once heard or read somewhere “fake it ’til you make it.” Being an adult is ALL about faking it. Anyway you can. That’s why I like working with kids; they haven’t been jaded to the point where they’re anything less than authentic. They fart, they giggle, they get over it. Farts are funny. I mean, really, who has time for a one-cheek-sneak?

All in all, there have been some pretty awesome things that have happened in 2015.

  1. In January, I went camping and had a pretty spectacular view from Garner State Park in Texas. Hiking and seeing the natural parts of the world has always been one of my favorite things to do because it’s so easy to just let everything else go and appreciate the world and its many wonders.

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2. I was able to trade in my adult responsibilities for a day of silliness with some of my favorite Navarro Navigators. Yes, the costumes were hot, sweaty, and the face paint was gross by the end of the day, but getting to read to kids and dance all day as a part of Read Across America was pretty epic.

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3. I learned a lot of teacher stuff and made a lot of memories at the ACSD conference in Houston with some pretty cool people that put up with my puns, anxiety, and inability to drink copious amounts of alcohol.

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4. One of my best friends, Alex, convinced me to get back into running, and he convinced me to run my first 5K, SAISD’s annual Run for Education with him. As you can tell, I mastered the running part.

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5. As a matter of fact, some of the best memories that I had during my “happiness project” was trying to create a work-life balance. Alex convinced me this could be done by exercising regularly. So we found a pretty awesome running trail at Tobin Park, and he would run and come back to push me along, pretending that we were being chased by zombies to motivate me to work towards the ever elusive thigh gap. If anything, my thigh gap disappeared this year.

IMG_02306.Then there was the time that I graduated from Teach for America.The experience resulted in a pinata, a certificate, and was filled with many days where I cried in my car. The jury’s still out on how this experience has made me a better/ worse person.

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7. Oh, and there was also that time that 15 of my students graduated from high school and I felt like a proud momma bear. I also cried a lot because I was so proud. What can I say, all of those buzzfeed quizzes tell me that I’m sensitive or something like that.

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8. Then one time, I took a weekend get-a-way with a good friend, Lorena, and her family. We went to Port A, and, for all intents and purposes, I was a Mexican that weekend. It was great. There was Big Red, breakfast tacos, a lots of Lonestar, and I was the only one who ended up with a sunburn, even though I went through an entire bottle of sunscreen.IMG_02189. The best month of my entire teaching career also happened during 2015. With Monica and James, we spearheaded (now that’s an adult word if I’ve ever used one) a social justice camp. The highlights: volunteering at a local food bank, a trip to the Holocaust Museum where we got to hear a Holocaust survivor speak, and a hike up Enchanted Rock. For more information, check out my article. http://therivardreport.com/navarro-navigators-a-social-awareness-summer-camp/

10. When one of your best friend gets a boyfriend who also lives in Texas, you drive 3 hours to see her because at any other given moment, she’s a good 26 hour drive away. Most of the time Amanda and I spend together is outside. This particular time, we decided to try our luck with border patrol by parking our car, running outside of it, and sneaking a picture with this sign. Getting chased off scene by border patrol and followed for a few blocks: worth it.IMG_0995.JPG

11. It was really during the end of the summer that everything changed. Maybe this was when I found the big girl panties, who knows. But, I dropped everything — literally everything, new apartment, best friend, job that I loved — and moved to Florida to move forward with my bae. Florida does weird things to my hair, but the view’s pretty awesome.IMG_023212. So, yeah, I think the “adult” thing to do in that case, would’ve been securing a job before I made the 11 hour drive/ move to Fort Walton Beach, but when I’m gambling, I’m all in. Whether by fate or by some man upstairs looking out for me, I got to Florida Sunday, finished my application on Monday, applied to a job on Tuesday, interviewed on Wednesday, filled out paperwork with HR on Thursday, and started working on Friday. Not bad for chance, huh?IMG_0438

13. I came home from work one of the first weekends that I had been working to a surprise trip. I wasn’t allowed to know where we were going until we got there. Needless to say, it was Disney world. Talk about a panty-dropping moment. Surprise a grown adult woman with a trip to Disney and you’ve already done made her dreams come true.IMG_0166.JPG

14. The new job let me cross something off my bucket list: become an English teacher. This experience is so completely different and not really comparable to my time in San Antonio as a special education teacher. But the people I get to work with are silly, too. And silly makes me happy.IMG_0796.JPG

15. I got to end the year with another hiking trip – Glen Onoko Falls. Waterfalls soothe my soul, and are one of the things that I missed about Pennsylvania, after the people there, of course.

16. Surprisingly, there wasn’t any Final Destination ish that happened during the road trip to PA. The travels were fairly smooth, and I got to reconnect and visit many of the people that mean the most to me. I’ve only been back in Florida for a few days and I already want to go back. (Who knew being an adult came with feelings? Yuck.)

These are just a few of the highlights from 2015, and by no means are holistically representative of the year as a whole. As a matter of fact, what I am currently doing is much more representative of how I spent a lot of 2015 — not wearing pants, drinking coffee because it’s too early for Moscato, cuddling with my dog, listening to Shawn Mendes, toggling between Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook, and chatting it up with some people who mean the world to me, but I don’t get to see every day. Most days, I’m just a sassy homebody who likes to correct people’s gramma

That’s when the realization hits: I’m one year closer to my life goal: to become an ornery old lady.

 

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CTRL-ALT-DEL the Memories

We used to laugh and joke that we had gone through too much together to ever not be a part of each others’ lives, almost as if the fact that we were uttering those words, those promises, would somehow embrace the permanent roles we would surely have in each others’ lives. We would lie on the ground, our hair in the grass, staring into each others’ eyes and promising each other it would last forever. At the time we both meant it. But, just like always, apparently life had other plans.

It’s true that I would not be who I am today if I hadn’t met you. You’ve changed me in ways that I can’t articulate, and there are some days that I hate the fact that you’re no longer an integral part of my life. Those days are a lot less often, rare, in fact; but it’s in those moments that I feel as though I could hate you, but really, I just hate the parts of me that, every so often, think of and miss you. Your part in my life is over, and has been for years, but I’ve always been one who has issues letting go.

I’ve done my part. I’ve deleted you from pretty much everything that I could. But, no matter how hard I’ve tried, I can’t erase you from my memories. Maybe that’s the permanence you were meant to hold in my life. You were a lesson. An important one.

Control. I can’t control how things ended up. I can’t control that it took me so long to forgive you, and as a matter of fact, I’m not sure I have forgiven you. Maybe I can’t forgive you fully because I want someone to blame for how messed up I am and for all of the messed up things that have happened since you left. I’m not even sure if I can say since you left because I was the one who told you to go. The problem was that neither of us had any kind of self-control. Sometimes, I still don’t have self-control. Hence, my necessity to find someone (aka you) to blame..

We tried, desperately, to gain control of the feelings, the heartache, the numbness, the anguish. But, we learned the hard way that we just can’t control the way we feel. We can put on a facade and mask our feelings to uphold the front that everything is okay, but in the quiet recesses of our minds, our furtive attempts to uphold the “it’s fine” fell apart. And thus we lost control of the life we had spent so much time, effort, and love into building.

John Greene had it right when he wrote that “some infinities are bigger than other infinities” in The Fault in Our Stars.  We simply didn’t have control over how long our little infinity lasted.

Alt. Before the era of Netflix and chill, we used to watch a ton of documentaries about the universe while cuddling on the couch. We would have myriad philosophical conversations about string theory, alternate universes, the possibilities of aliens… Who knew that the possibility of aliens existing was greater than the possibility of our little infinity lasting forever? Some days, I wonder if, in some alternate universe, neither of us made the choices we did, the choices that inevitably tore us apart. And then I wonder if, in this alternate universe, our little infinity is still as timeless as we once had promised each other that it would be.

Delete. “Click.” You’re gone. Blocked on Facebook. Number erased from my phone. Deleted from Snapchat and Instagram — not that you ever used to be the kind of person who spent time on social media.

When I moved out of the apartment that we had gotten together, I threw away the pictures that we had together, our love letters, and any other mementos we had together after much vacillation and prodding from good friends that it was the best thing to do.

You warned me before you left that once you were gone, I would never see you or hear from you again. Those were the most honest words you ever told me. And you had lied to me. A lot. About everything.

Unfortunately, there is no backspace or delete button for memories. I’m destined to spend infinity with those.

Outside the Box

Earlier today, while I was browsing Pinterest and pretending my life was somehow extraordinary, I came across a photograph of an envelope that had the words, “but I will love you forever, my darling, and that is the problem” written upon it in sprawling cursive. And it reminded me, almost immediately, of my blue butterfly box full of sentimentals — the one I have stacked on a dusty shelf in the back of my closet that is waiting forlornly for my fingers to once again open the crinkled letters inside and bask in the memories of my previous life.

In a slightly sardonic way, I find it humorous that I rarely even think of this box, or of the contents therein, and even more rarely pore over the contents inside, despite the fact that this box contains many mementos of my most precious memories and artifacts of many that I’ve loved and lost. Maybe it’s because some of the memories are still too painful. Maybe it’s because I, like the stereotypical female, just can’t ever seem to let things go. Who knows.

I vaguely remember some distant family member at my mother’s funeral who told me, after poking me in the chest, that my mother would always live on in my heart. I’m guessing that uncle poked me to emphasize that her memory would still live on inside me, but, at the time, I was more annoyed that he had the audacity to poke me than impressed or moved by his heartfelt message. And the reality of it is, her memory does live on — but I try to tuck it away deep inside my blue butterfly box filled with all her letters to me and random pictures that we had taken together before she passed away so that I don’t spend so much time missing her — or my dad for that matter. But tucking it away or packing the feelings in a box never works; emotions are fairly fluid creatures, much like water — hard to contain when everything comes cascading all at once.

In spite of my naturally annoying magnetism for nostalgia, I spend much of my time thinking outside the box — literally. I get so consumed in my personal life and my professional life that I rarely take the time to think about whom I’m missing. When I do take the time to think about whom I’m missing, it usually practically impales me while I’m in the middle of something — be it the middle of the school day when I’m teaching my scholars about thesis statements, while I’m eating lunch with some friends, walking my dog at the park…

Sometimes, the yearning to be able to speak to either or both of my parents is so overwhelming that I am left with no choice but to open the box and reread the letters that I’ve had practically memorized for years, looking for some hidden advice about whatever particular problem or quarter-life crisis I seem to be facing at the time. In the end, no new maxims have been learned, as the contents of the box remain the same, and all I’m left with is the dull ache of their loss and that love that I’ll carry with me forever.

Sometimes, time doesn’t heal all wounds; sometimes, time only makes the preexisting wounds more visible.

Serendipity

When I first became a teacher, I had just had my heart broken. Badly. I didn’t know what was real anymore, and I sure as heck didn’t know who I was. It was a struggle every day to keep it together emotionally, but I did it. I had to. For the kids. I would sit in on professional development and Teach for America training and listen to behavior management strategies and how to be culturally responsive and how to be and set an example for the kids to follow. I would listen, sometimes cause “trouble,” and think to myself, “how the hell am I supposed to be a role model for these kids when I don’t have it together myself?”

What I failed to realize was that, in many ways, my kids were role models to me. They set for me an example of what it truly meant to have self-worth.

Many, if not most, of the students I taught dealt with, and overcame, overwhelming adversity and heartache to get to where they were when they first entered my classroom or when I came in to help them in theirs. What I learned in my first two years in the classroom wasn’t something that I could’ve gotten in a faculty meeting, professional development, or educational handbook. What my students taught me was how to love myself. Unconditionally.

In their eyes, I was a role model. I was the one they came to when they needed advice, when they needed help or extra tutoring, when they wanted to vent, when things were spiraling out of control and they didn’t know how to stop it. To them, everything about my life was interesting — where I came from, why I went to school, how I ended up in Texas, how I got my dog… They left me thank you notes, drew me pictures of butterflies, accidentally (and sometimes on purpose) called me mom, and inspired me beyond all else.

They looked up to me on good days, on bad days, on days when I questioned who I was, what I wanted, what I was doing with my life. They never gave up on me, and in turn, never allowed me to give up on myself. Like any other teacher, I wanted to make a difference in students’ lives. It’s only started to sink in just how much of a difference my students would make in mine.

I didn’t know who the best version of Tammi was until I had to be her every day for my kids. And I fought to be her every day until I became her.

Now that I am her, or at least a better version of that girl who dropped everything to move to Texas two and a half years ago, I know that, as bittersweet as this moment is, it’s time to move on; it’s time for the next chapter of my life to start as I prepare to move to Florida in a couple weeks.

Hungry for a Metaphor

It was like going to an expensive restaurant, an experience that didn’t happen very often, rarely, if ever. The anticipation of the experience was so thick it was almost tangible, and both parties were filled with a raw hunger that couldn’t wait to be satisfied. As they sat down, they assessed the service; some days it was quick, other days it was thorough. Occasionally, it was sweet, and sometimes it was downright angry. They ordered different things, depending on what they each wanted from the menu, and only rarely did they want the same thing from the meal. Ultimately, however, they just wanted to feel fulfilled. With wide, eager eyes and ravenous appetites, they awaited their food. Finally, after waiting for what seemed to be eons, the moment they had been waiting for finally arrived. Sometimes, they had been unsure of their order and were pleasantly surprised.  Other times, “the usual” seemed bland and unsatisfying. Most times, they realized it wasn’t bad, but could have been better.

Only rarely was it exactly what they had both wanted.

An “Excess”ive Way of Thinking

When I first discovered that I was to be “excessed” (forced to move schools due to allocations), it was bittersweet. I had watched my students grow and mature and learn so much over the course of a year that they had become my kids. The only time I ever cried in front of my kids last year — usually I waited until I was in the safety of my Impala and could get a nice long cry out on the way home — was when I told my “worst” class — you know the one with so many behavior issues that you say a prayer every day before it starts (Dear lord, PLEASE replace them with angels and let me get through the lesson without yelling) — was the most opposed to my leaving Lanier High School. I was their teacher. Amid their protests, they attempted to brainstorm ideas to get me to stay; some of them even mulled over the idea of starting a collection and raising enough money to get me to stay. What my first year taught me was that, as a teacher, the most impact we make is often subtle and one we don’t quite see and with the children who test our patience; after all, it is from them that we learn the most.

I found out that I was to be placed at Navarro Academy, an alternative school, on the last day of school, and up until today, the first day of school, I didn’t really know what to expect from my new placement. As the first day of school approached, I didn’t know how I felt. My new colleagues would ask me how I felt, if I was excited, and I would answer them with a shaky “sure.”  But really, I didn’t know what to think, so I did my best to refrain from thinking about what I thought about it — it was safer that way. Too often we think too much about things and let preconceived reputations taint our opinions or first impressions, and I didn’t want to let that influence my notions about my new school; after all, this would be my new home away from home for, at the very least, the next year. 

Even still, I didn’t know how I felt until half way through the day during lunch duty when I got to observe some of my former students experience becoming acquainted with a new school. These particular students were notorious for being the rowdy troublemakers on campus, but today, they blended in. They were timid, unsure, testing out new waters, trying to find their way. They were quiet, pensive, and they asked questions about where they were supposed to be. Tables had turned; in this moment, for however long it lasted, I was able to see another side to them, a side that showed me all they really need is guidance. Some are guided by love and others are guided by discipline and my new campus is set up to do both. Headpiece in and walkie on, I am ready to walk through the halls of my new school with a smile, grateful for some familiar faces and ready for whatever this year unfolds.

Experience is a Master Teacher

She was lost in her mind again, stuck betwixt the firing synapses, carried along the various axons and dendrites. Every minute detail searched, analyzed, regarded. She was a webpage with too many tabs open, mesmerized and overwhelmed by all the data  — over-processing everything with a sense of urgency, but rarely coming to one certain conclusion. The possibility of extending the search outside herself: now that, that was something unfathomable, a possibility buried deep within her subconscious, meant to be dealt with at a later time. 

Experience had made her a detective, a skill set she kept hidden from all but a trusted few. Her eyes warily searched her surroundings, slowing glossing over every shelf, every volume, every picture, fastidiously searching for any signs of significant change; she would be the first to notice any sign worthy of suspicion so that she could protect her fragile heart. She analyzed every word for subtext and subtlety of meaning, carefully gathering data to process, data to understand, data to protect. Certain clues triggered memories, warning her of the possibilities of the eminent dangers that may lay ahead, of the flames that she was sure to get too close to — and this time she didn’t want to get burned. This time she wanted to be prepared.

Every possible clue was remembered and stored away, waiting to be placed in the context of relevance.

Experience had taught her that trust is an expensive amenity not everyone could afford and thus shouldn’t be given away freely. Knowing full well the cost, she had made the mistake one too many times of providing trust to others on a credit system, a system in which those who later proved untrustworthy were front-loaded with too much trust — a responsibility they were unable to handle, adding to her seemingly unwavering skepticism. The deficits that followed often left her defeated, weak. Those who would enter her life later would have to make up for those deficits by paying the price in gradual installments. She was mesmerized by the fact that the truth only hurt once, but lies haunted her, hurting her over and over again. Every new experience with trust was filtered through the angst and heartache of former, remembered deceit.

Most of all, experience had shown her that just because she was fragile, didn’t mean she was broken.

Experience had been quite the teacher, but had she been a productive student? Despite myriads of lessons learned the hard way and hours spent in quiet, painful reflection, she still believed in love, more than ever even. The difference: she now valued honesty, transparency, and the beauty in both suffering and healing in ways she had never before pondered or paused to appreciated. She appreciated the possibilities of new beginnings and the strength in walking away. Her teacher had shown her the majesty of the difference between beauty and romance. Her teacher had made her remove her idealistic rose-colored glasses. She was now seeing 20/15  — she was compensating for her past and looking to analyze and interpret the subtleties in her world.

Despite failing several tests, her naive heart remained on her sleeve.