The Teacher Who Changed My Life

            Academics did not come easy for me. The alphabet made no sense, so I couldn’t read or write. While math was easy, time and money stumped me. No one had ever read to me and there were few books in our house, so that was probably the main reason that everything was so hard.

            I did attend preschool for a while. I recall that the teachers were nice, but they only gave me assignments that involved coloring alone, at my desk. Kindergarten wasn’t much better.

            The one skill that I did master was being invisible. I was the student who disappeared into her desk. When my reading group was called to the front of the room, I scooted down so far that only my forehead was above the desk. If the teacher had been paying attention, she would have noticed that I was missing, but she seldom did.

            My returned papers had poor grades. When I realized how poorly I was doing, I decided to teach myself. My determination was what helped me succeed.

            I still struggled, so much so that at the end of each year, when the teacher called me to her desk and marked on my report card whether or not I had passed, I never knew what would happen. It could easily have gone either way. Repeating a grade might have been the best thing for me except for the punishment I’d have gotten at home.

            Along the way my academic skills improved, enough so that by the time I went to high school I was able to enroll in the more challenging courses. I was on was on the college-bound track. Even so, English was still difficult.

            My ninth grade English teacher seldom called on me, which was good, because most of the time I had no idea what he was talking about. He’d ask about theme, moral of the story and characterization. What I thought was the theme, was never what he thought. My interpretation of moral was always wrong. I confused characters and so didn’t “get” what one character intended or meant or said.

            There was one time when the teacher called on me to answer a question. I had thought I knew the answer, but I froze. Instead of saying what was on my mind, I replied, “I don’t know.” Not only did he laugh at me, but so did all of my classmates.

            When we moved to California, I had a chance to start over with new classmates, in a new school where none of the teachers knew my history. My Algebra teacher was Mr. Kjekegard, a short, squat, ruddy-faced, pleasant man. He was incredibly patient and explained things in a way that not only made sense, but allowed me to excel.

            Mr. K saw something in me that no previous teacher had seen: a person capable of becoming whatever she wanted to be. When the class was working independently, he often stopped by my desk to give words of encouragement. Sometimes when class ended, he called me to his desk and commented about how well I was doing.

            His demeanor and support encouraged me to work harder, to master complex problems and to push ahead of the class. When he asked for students to come to the board to solve problems, I frequently volunteered, something I had never done before.

            He didn’t teach Geometry, so I had a new teacher, one who was not patient or kind. I found Geometry complex and confusing. It didn’t follow any mathematical principles that made sense to me. No matter how hard I worked, I struggled. The teacher offered no help or encouragement.

            My senior year I was assigned to Mr. K’s class for Trigonometry. I rejoiced when I saw his name on my course schedule. Once again I was a stellar student, mastering complex problems with ease.

            The best part was that Mr. K encouraged me to think about college, something that I wanted to do, but felt I’d never have sufficient academic skills to even consider the possibility. I applied as a Math major, of all things! And, surprise of all surprises, I was accepted at every college.

            While I eventually changed my major because of a misogynistic Math Department Chair, I was always grateful for the confidence that Mr. K had given me. Under his tutelage I discovered that not only could I succeed in higher lever math, but that I could also excel in almost all academic areas.

            Mr. K changed my life. The child who was once invisible later became the teacher who stood at the front of the room, the teacher who made sure to recognize the good in all of her students.  

Thoughts about Whining

Recently I chose two different surgeries to remove excess skin left after weight loss.

The first, back in August, was on my upper arms. For years I’d had chicken wings, or flags, that waved whenever I moved my arms. When I swam, I heard a whap, whap every time my arms entered the water. Often, when wearing a short sleeve shirt, I’d hear the same sound as my arms contacted my torso. It was embarrassing to wear short sleeve shirts and to put on a bathing suit.

Good-meaning friends told me to exercise more. I thanked them for their advice, knowing that I’d been focusing on my arms while working out at the gym. I’d even hired a private trainer to help, but even all his great exercises made no difference.

The wings weren’t going to magically disappear. I met with a surgeon who explained what she could and couldn’t do. She could remove excess fat, but my arms would never be skinny. I didn’t want skinny: I wanted normal.

The surgery went well, but the recovery impacted my life in ways that I hadn’t foreseen. I couldn’t swim, bathe or walk uphill. When I walked, I had to keep my arms loose at my side. I had to wear a compression garment for six weeks. It was so tight that it hurt.

I whined, but not too much. After all, I had done this to myself.

There was another surgery that I desperately wanted: to remove the roll of excess skin around my belly. The surgeon explained, once again, what she could and could not do. I would still have droopy legs and poofs of skin that would stick out whenever wearing a bra. She would remove and tighten front, back and sides. It sounded good to me.

Whereas the first operation was three hours in length, the second was seven. As an after affect, my asthma has been triggered. Considering that it had been largely dormant for a number of years, this was a disappointment. But, I did it to myself, right? So I don’t complain.

With the first surgery I could do many things as long as it didn’t involve lifting. I could sit at the computer and type for hours. With this surgery I have had to remain on my back for much of the day. Now that I am 20 days past the surgery date, I am able to sit for longer, walk about on flat surfaces and resume doing some of my favorite things as long as they do not involve exercise.

And, once again, I have to wear compression garments that are terribly uncomfortable.

There have been times when I was tempted to whine, but then I’d remind myself that this surgery was an option that I chose. I do acknowledge that the roll of skin is gone and that makes me smile. However, I am still limited as to what I can do. Sitting here while I type this is taxing my body. I will soon be reclining, but I won’t complain since I did write something new! Yippee.

I realize that people make huge sacrifices every day: eat food or pay the rent. Put gas in the car or buy new shoes for the kids. Live in a homeless shelter or sponge off of friends and relatives. Stand in line for free food or be too proud to ask for help and therefor go hungry. In some countries, running for your life even though that very act endangers your same life, is a tough decision to make.

Whenever I am inclined to whine, I think of those less fortunate, those who are unhoused, hungry and poorly clothed. How can I complain when my discomfort is self-imposed, while for those poor individuals, they are in those circumstances because of unaddressed mental issues or due to the high cost of housing that they cannot pay even when working full time.

I am blessed to be able to afford the operations. There is no doubt that if I had wanted this done years ago when we had young children at home, there would have been no money for such extravagances. These are the things that sustain me, that keep me focused on the outcome, not the current discomfort.

 I swear that no whining will pass through my lips. I am grateful for all the blessings in my life.

Me Time

Even when I was a little kid I understood the value of time spent alone. Family life, for me, seemed confusing and chaotic. I struggled with my place in the dynamics of everyday life. I knew that I was less-than my older brother who was revered by my mother. When my sister was born, now I was less-than both of my siblings.

I loved being by myself. As a small child, it meant being out on the front porch, standing there, do nothing other than watching whatever transpired in the neighborhood. I didn’t play with dolls, probably because the only ones I had were kept stored in my parent’s closet on a high shelf.

I didn’t read yet and no one read to me. I didn’t go to school until kindergarten-age, and only then because my parents thought I was dumb. Interestingly enough, school reinforced that opinion as I was the most backward kid in the class, even through fifth grade.

The one toy that meant the most to me, that allowed me precious “me time” was my mother’s cookie tin of mismatched buttons. I played with them for hours, day after day. I sorted them by size and color, by shape and by how many holes in the center. Then I’d dump them back in the tin and start all over. I spent hours doing this, day after day, all year long.

In the winter I played on the kitchen floor while my mother napped. I the summer I took them outside and sat on the grass. It’s amazing that I am still not sorting buttons today as I found it both comforting and relaxing.

I have progressed from those early days it terms of what I enjoy doing in my free time. I love shopping. I can spend an hour easily roaming through stores, buying little to nothing. I am a great sale-shopper and almost never buy something that isn’t discounted.

I love looking at styles, brands, colors. I love trying on clothes, especially now that I have lost a significant amount of weight. I love feeling the fabrics and imaging them against my skin. I can tell by that action alone whether or not I would like something.

I love reading. I mostly read contemporary fiction, but I also branch into fantasy, Young Adult, and on rare occasions when a book is recommended by a friend, nonfiction.

What I love about reading is that it takes you into stories, into characters’ lives, into places where you have probably never gone and never will. It allows you to follow in another’s skin, seeing, feeling, tasting all the things that they experience. It’s an out-of-your world journey. I can spend hours reading.

I love exercising, especially swimming. When I am in the water swimming lap after lap, my entire body relaxes into the feet of water streaming over my body. The ritual of traversing the pool, turning, doing it again and again and again is a special time for me. It is something that I do alone. Well, not entirely as there are other swimmers in the pool, but I am unencumbered by family, by needs, by demands. It is just me.

I get the same rush from the elliptical, the stationary bike, the machines. It is me challenging myself to do more, to be stronger, to last longer. And it gives me time to think, if I want, or I can watch whatever TV program is available.

If I didn’t love writing, I wouldn’t have this blog. There is something calming about putting thoughts into the written word. It gives me an opportunity to analyze where I’ve been and where I’m going. It often gives new perspectives into my past which then form my present and future.

At times, when I am writing fiction, it brings me deep into my character’s life. I get to see what she sees, hear what she hears, feel her emotions. Her confusion as she navigates her world. Her delight when something redeeming occurs. Her perceptions of where she fits in her world. Yes, I can alter those dimensions, and often I do, but I also allow her to take charge of my fingers.

Me Time is important to me. It allows me to pause, evaluate, and reorganize myself. It gives me a sense of peace in what can be, at times, a disorderly world. It reinforces who I was, who I am, who I will become.

I cherish those moments.

I also love being with my family and with friends, but those experiences are different. There you fit into a mold, one that sometimes others have crafted for you. You play the mother, wife, friend game, participating in conversations that sometimes move past your realm of experience. This is where Me Time comes in handy, for when things are out of my control, even in a crowd, I can step back and allow my thoughts to roam free.

My trust in Me Time was formulated when I was quite small. It has sustained me ever since. It is a treasure that I hope everyone shares.

Trying to get home

I’ve heard horror stories about travelers who are stranded due to inclement weather. I’ve always felt sorry for them, imagining the long, tedious hours in airports.

Yesterday it happened to my husband and I. We had just completed a wonderful vacation in Washington DC and New Jersey/New York. We spent quality time with my sister-in-law, son and daughter-in-law.

We visited homes of our founding fathers and saw a musical. We walked under cherry trees in full bloom and amidst towering sculptures. Many wonderful sites and vistas witnessed with fantastic people.

But the weather in DC turned awful on Thursday. Low visibility and constant rain. Wind, thunder and lightning.

As we sat in the airport, one after another flight was cancelled. After a six hour wait, we expected our flight to also be canceled, but all of a sudden, they called for us to board.

When we arrived at our transfer point, our connecting flight had left.

We were stuck. If my husband had been traveling alone, he probably would have spent the night at the airport. But not me. I used the phone provided and found us a hotel with a shuttle.

By the time we checked in, it was 8:00 and we were starved. Thankfully there was a fast food joint a short, but freezing walk away.

As I sit today and wait for my time to check in my luggage, I can reflect on the good things in my life.

I am blessed with an amazing husband and family. I am grateful to the pilots who flew through the tumultuous weather and got us safely back on the ground. I am lucky that I am an experienced flyer and so am comfortable being on my own.

And more than anything, I am blessed to have a God who is watching over me.