Me and My Magnolias

Despite any concern the premature buds wouldn’t survive the cold nights, in just a week’s time, those hundreds of tiny, tulip shaped pods are in full blossom.  Turning onto my street after the gym tonight, the sun was shining through the effervescent pink blooms of my twin magnolias.  My first March here, they surprised me.  Knowing they were coming – last year, this year – doesn’t dampen the same sense of surprise, wonder, and awe.

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For at most a couple of weeks in early March, the two Japanese magnolia trees come alive, though they lay dormant, barren, unassuming in the summer, winter, and spring months.  My landlord disagrees with my identification, citing the common Southern Magnolia’s description.  Dig deep into the tulip-star hybrids, and the flowering Japanese saucer magnolia’s two week run is like winning a gold medal at the Winter Olympics – the experience, however short-lived, is defining.  Had it not been for a morning where, absent a single leaf, all these tulips had bloomed lining the branches in mass harmony, I wouldn’t have the proof I needed to determine the gorgeous trees’ origin.  It was as if while I was sleeping around this time three years ago, the twin towers in the front lawn had been reborn.

It shocked and delighted me then, and it does still, even though I know it’s coming.  The life cycle of a plant, however, is far easier to predict than those common to the human experience.  I’m not going to see my magnolias bloom again.  This time next year, maybe there will be a little family in the love bungalow behind me on this white wicker love seat where I write my way to clarity, night after 155 Tuesday nights to date.  It would be a family because it’s a three-bedroom home, which is meant for a family.  That empty guest room, girly and frilly and blue, was supposed to be for a little girl I’ll probably never see again.  It reminds me of the woman who moved into this house.  She looks familiar, but she’s not me.

Because she’d never seen those magnolias bloom yet, hadn’t been so inspired on March 10, 2015 that she just had to write.  It wasn’t until that sunset on this writing perch that I was reborn, and I swear those magnolias yielded a special power over me from first bud to full blossom, that year and those since.  Every Tuesday since, I found my way here to make meaning and share it. And every time someone unexpected has reached across time and space to tell me that there was meaning for them, too, I dream of being able to be a writer.  In those early posts, I wrote about that breakup with the guy that was supposed to be my safe “rebound”, how writing let me see where our paths didn’t match up, how I wandered into Liberty Baptist even though I wasn’t sure I believed anymore, hadn’t for two years at the point.  Writing nights helped me let go of a man and his daughter, exposing to the light the undeveloped film strip of the family we were never going to be.

The guest room stands empty, but after all this time, I’m almost embarrassed to answer the question about the third bedroom.  Surely, it seems unnecessary for a single woman.  Charming’s parents stopped in this weekend for lunch at Venture in Downtown Hampton.  They’d never seen my house, and prompted by my fiancé, I gave them the grand tour, noting the typicals… the grand bookcase my grandfather built, my grandmother’s dining room oriental rug, They’re gone, but they live on in my home.  For a few months more, at least.

That tour was different.  I was wondering what kind of furniture Charming and I will end up choosing.  As I presented various items with sentimental value on our tour of my whole 900 square foot dwelling, I couldn’t help mentally assessing the actual worth, value, and likelihood of actually making it into my future home with my future husband.  This tiny place has been my sanctuary.  I grew here in ways I never imagined would be possible.  Like the magnolias that first March, I see these punctuated bursts of color in my history here.

Braving a snow storm with a teacher friend to make it to the gym and resolving afterward to beat Super Mario 3 because everything else is closed.   Rob’s softball games with the shipyard team.  Thursday night dates with Angel at Marker 20 before she moved a town away.  Fort Monroe beach days.  Running into students every time I need to buy something at Peninsula Town Center, greeting them readily except when it’s the line at Victoria Secret or the checkout at Emerson’s Cigars.

Yes, the empty bedroom symbolizes the great reality that the best laid plans of mice and men always go awry.  Like plants, God gave us life, but our cycles are not four seasons of predictability.  I’ve felt myself withdrawing in greater capacities, exponentially, since Charming and I got engaged.  Largely, it happens at a subconscious level, but writing takes me outside myself in an analytic mode that detects emotional risks and clicks the eject button.  I’m more inclined to decline than accept a party invite.  Maybe because, like my magnolias, I’m always adding up the “lasts”.

Last week, I got a text from my friend Linda over at Hop’s Place.  She wanted me to call.  There was no way she knew my AC was blown, just as I had no way to anticipate I’d need the AC in February.  It was Nandy, my mechanic.  He’d suffered a massive heart attack and died there at the shop Tuesday.  I was writing last week just like now, and his smile had already been snuffed out.  We just don’t know how much time we have at any one given place or with any one person.  We don’t.  It was Tuesday the AC blew.  Same time Nandy passed.  You just don’t know.

This morning, I received notice that today would be one of my yearbook student’s last days.  We talked it over when she arrived at my class, and the transfer would be good for her.  Still, we were maybe both a little teary-eyed.  I will truly miss her.  This young woman’s subtle charm and desire to be truly good despite impossible circumstances that try to harden her heart… she disarmed me, and it’s always hard to say goodbye.  Then I started to think about June 16th when my incoming class graduates, and I with them say goodbye and start a new life in a new world with none of the familiar routines.

I wouldn’t have invested less in this girl if I knew she’d leave midway through the year, and I have not a single regret for having tried to improve her life in some small way through her position in the yearbook staff.  I’m a teacher.  It’s who I am.  I’m also a writer.  That’s how I find me.

This afternoon, I was trying to explain the difference between difficult commonly confused words like affect vs. effect and accept vs. except.  My shoulder was throbbing, so I stood up front trying to explain these concepts without the white board.  There were puzzled expressions, though I knew I’d come up with a couple new tricks on the spot inspired by this bunch of bright young minds, so I faced the pain and took up an Expo marker.  I wrote the words “Action – Verb” above “Affect” and “Accept”, briefly referencing the prefix “a” meaning to or toward, denoting action, but they all start with A. The light bulbs went on that.  I tried it with a few more pairs.  Nodding.  Grinning even, surprising themselves at quick mastery of fewer vs. than.

It was as if until we took these concepts and presented them in an organized fashion the brain could digest, the neuropathways fired aimlessly.  Simply by jotting down a few phrases, however painful, my kids began grasping at how parts worked as part of the whole because the abstract concept has been made concrete in the visual.   And that’s what I’ve been doing here on this front porch for all these Tuesday nights.

How do you replace a workout buddy or even a favorite shrink?  You don’t.  God gives us seasonal gifts of friendship though, when we truly need it, and he provided Dr. Huff after Dr. Bogin died.  They’re nothing alike, but I’ve come to love, respect, and admire both men for their devotion to me.  My gym dad Nate back in Syracuse misses me, and my gym mentor Chuck didn’t substitute for him.  They’re all different men, appointed in my life in different season to help me grow and blossom like the tulip magnolias illuminated in streetlamps on my street.

Tonight, it’s me and my magnolias.  In July, they’ll be just one man I’ll need.  My life will be our life.  My street, his street.  Tonight, it’s me and my magnolias, but next year, they will belong to another family.  And maybe I’ll be fitting a guest room for baby furniture by then.  Or maybe I’ll have a heart attack or Charming will get a transfer.  We just don’t know.

When You’re Healing

The balmy, seventy-degree day has resolved itself into a cool, serene staging area for creative evolution and this writer’s growth.  I can ignore my throbbing right shoulder best when I’m busy, but even as I try to focus on the letters forming themselves into words while I type, I can’t overlook the tiny, sharp pain each keystroke elicits.  I tell myself, “Keep it short, tonight.”  I’d like to… I just don’t think I’ve ever done that before.

Ultimately, when you’re in recovery, it’s just human nature to simplify life.  Logic says Friday’s surgery shaving off 8mm of bone to eliminate constant irritation to my rotator cuff will make writing night difficult – either plug it out elementary school-style with one key at a time by my left pointer finger or abandon the sling and suck it up for a couple of hours.  I opted for the latter, however masochistic, because two hands equate to speed, which potentially means less discomfort and quicker sleep onset.

I’d like to keep it short, but can I?  The procedure was over in under two hours, an incredibly short figure compared to the last eight months of pain and re-injury, alternate treatments, physical therapy, and lifestyle changes the elongated bone had created.  Charming took leave from work so that he could take care of me after the surgery; it was our first hospital experience together, and I didn’t have a lot of expectations.  I figured I’d be able to take care of myself after the block had worn off.  Just like being in recovery makes you simplify life, it also forces you to be vulnerable.

When you’re in recovery, you’re weak and limited.  Once Dr. Swenson released me into Charming’s care, I was literally helpless.  Over the course of what would amount to a three-day staycation in which each day I was mildly improved, I had to rely on this guy who was so clearly devoted to me that I let him.  To be honest, that first day is mostly a medicated haze, but I was able to relinquish control, let go, and fall back into Charming’s capable arms, figuratively and literally this time, helpless as I was.

I couldn’t have taken care of myself, not even after twenty-four hours.  In fact, when I kissed him goodbye as I left for work Monday morning, knowing full well he’d be back home in DC before my lunch break, I had to stop myself from asking him to stay.  Every dose of every pill was administered strictly as per doctor’s instructions, and Charming even woke me at four hour intervals during the night.  With him, it was clockwork, and it was easy.  He made all the choices on Friday, except for dinner.  Mom said the meal was on her to keep us out of the kitchen.  Recovery simplifies everything.  Anna’s Pizza.  I didn’t have to think about it.

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Enjoying a few slices together would be the last of the laughter for a while.  It wasn’t even bedtime, but the block had worn off.  I could move my arm, but the pain killers were barely living up to a lesser name of mere pain maskers.  Facing a long night propped uncomfortably on the couch with a multitude of pillows, Charming’s distance from me seemed insurmountable.  Though the bedroom was just a leap and a bound away, my greatest comfort in the vulnerability of Friday was leaning into Charming.  When I was in the most pain, his simple presence did more to ease my discomfort than the pain medication.

Maybe I’d never really done that before: lean into Charming.  The phrase is familiar.  I’ve blogged about it before I think.  But just like I thought I had pain in my shoulder before the surgery and now understand that was puppy chow compared to the monster pain entrée I served to myself with this surgery last week, I don’t think I ever gave myself fully over to Charming.  At times, I’ve feared my fierce independence has growth too long and too strong to be tamed for submissive partnership.

After this weekend, I’m encouraged.  Whether it’s Charming or God, surrendering control has always been a stumbling block for me; still, given a challenging set of circumstances, Charming never failed to maintain a strong and confident command.  He doesn’t always have to take care of me, but wow.  It’s amazing how well he does it, how naturally and selflessly.  It’s as if, in Charming, Christian values join with military protocol to form the ideal helpmate in times of crisis and of peace.

Granted, this was a planned surgery and not true crisis.  This procedure date was a heavy weight looming in the future, a flashing neon sign indicating when I’d have to stop.  Stop what?  Well, anything that required significant arm movement for a while, and unless I magically become ambidextrous, handwriting specifically would be problematic.  In anticipation, I wrote recommendation letters for students, made passes for picture day a week early, transitioned fully to my new laptop, sent my old laptop off for repair, and scrubbed my house from top to bottom – despite the pain, which I would learn to understand was simply relative, anyway.  I applied to two school districts and put applications to eight specific schools in Northern Virginia in my mailbox on our way to the hospital Friday morning.

I had tried to anticipate all the complications my surgery might bring.  Perhaps it had been an unnecessary pressure, but the deadline had forced me to tie up loose ends where I could so that I would be able to focus on my recovery.  I’ve always been a “work first, play later” girl, and I suppose that attitude extends to designated time for healing.  Perhaps that gave Charming and I an unexpected gift; confined to the couch in my clean living room, all projects complete, he had my undivided attention (well, absent the influence of any medicated fog, that is).

There’s no fog tonight.  Without Charming, I barely remember to pop a Tylenol every six hours now.  I miss him, but the affectation of his absence is different, my deference towards our traditional week off / weekend on relationship evolving to mere toleration.  God had to sit me still with Charming for three days to show me how good it could be to wholly trust someone to care for you.  It’s been a long time for me, maybe not since my parents.

Not only do I know that I can trust Charming to take care of me, but when I get out of my own way and let him rise to the occasion, I end up with a spotless kitchen and an offer to take care of my laundry before he heads out of town.

When you’re healing, everything is different.  You simplify life, become vulnerable, and discover who you can count on.  At school, I find myself avoiding the hallways during class changes.  Afraid someone will bump my shoulder, I walk near the wall protecting that side.  That’s natural, too.  When we’ve been hurt before, we tend to be overprotective of the injury site, whether physical or emotional.  That fierce independence was a protective shell of my own making.  If I didn’t need someone, he couldn’t disappoint me.

I wouldn’t need to walk by the wall if Charming were at school.  He’d protect me.  I know that.  I trust that.  I trust needing him.  And I really like leaning into him… to keep it short.

Do You See What I See?

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Do you see what I see when we look at the same image?  Whether you’re smiling back at my nieces and nephew from a smart phone, tablet, PC, or Mac, we’re all looking at the same image.  The dripping chill of a rainy Hampton Roads Valentine’s Eve cannot permeate the warmth each expression elicits automatically as our early celebration hours ago, quickly collaged, challenges the tone of the dreary dark beyond my laptop screen.

My last class of the day debated the permanence of first impressions, emerging at the general consensus that it was easiest to argue that, while difficult, it’s possible opinions formed at an introduction can be altered with time.  For example, given more encounters, a person might prove himself to be different in character than presented at first meeting.  If I look at the photo of seven-year-old J.J. reaching over my homemade gift to snatch an item out of his two-year-old sister’s hand, and that’s all I have to go on, I might conclude he’s selfish. While his report card reveals he’s satisfied all grade-level requirements a half a year early, it’s the comments J.J.’s teachers provide that remind me why a judgment based on one event could never keep someone from loving this precious kid.

In the next photo, Gabrielle’s camera focused in on J.J.’s sweet smile.  Mom always says eventually, people will be seen for who they really are, and 98% of the time, that’s J.J.  He, like all of us, gets cranky when he’s tired.  Add to that the strain of competing with tantalizing twins that command everyone’s attention straight past him, and you can’t blame a kid for wanting in on a piece of the action.

If my sophomores get this prompt on exam day in four weeks, they’ll recognize that the power of this particular argument is hinged on reinforcing the counterclaim.  It’s possible, but it’s hard.  Sometimes, we’re given another chance to make a better impression, and other times not.  This past weekend, I opted out on a DC weekend with Charming to prepare to move to the area permanently.  He’ll make me his wife five months from tomorrow, and Lord willing, I’ll be continuing my career in a new school in Northern Virginia.  By then, the three years of mid-distance relationship confined to alternating weekends in our hometowns will have settled into a home and made membership at Restoration Anglican in Arlington official. Okay, so we haven’t talked about that, but it’s a red herring anyway.

I can’t find a new school family by hoping, so this weekend, I holed up and went full Wheaton-mode, mapping distances to the Pentagon (and Restoration, too!), researching districts to narrow the field, then isolating specific high schools whose core mission and vision reflect what’s most valued in my philosophy of teaching and learning.  Over the course of two days, I’d connected with my references, requested some letters of recommendation, completed the extensive applications for two districts in best proximity to where Charming suggested we’ll look for houses, and submitted the most sincere, authentic, and confident letters of interest I’ve ever written.

The cold rain just doesn’t fit on my front porch tonight; it doesn’t fit the images still playing back in my mind playing with the kids and The Palma Pokémon Family.   While I was preparing the crisp white envelopes I will send off tomorrow to eight possible new bosses, I exited precision processing and welcomed Monday morning with a creative drive.  I couldn’t just send the resume and references… I’d already chosen my districts before realizing that seven of my final choices are ranked in the top twenty schools in Virginia.  The dreary night air conflicts with my heart’s position tonight.  It would taunt that I’m overreaching, and self-confidence in the integrity of my career in education would not be enough to warm me from the inside tonight.

And I’m realizing that it’s all about perspective.  Do you see what I see?   Laura Joy’s either setting herself up for failure, or she’s trusting God’s leading.  The outcome is irrelevant.  I can choose to see J.J. as selfish or accept the more logical opinion that he’s sweet.  I can choose to see schools #1-#6 in Virginia on my top eight job hopefuls and let the competitive potential of rejection condemn me to picking up a fourth state’s teaching license and commuting to Maryland, or I can seize the opportunity to distinguish myself in the process.  Because I believe that it is incredibly difficult to change a first impression and because I accept that a second chance is not guaranteed, when these white envelopes land on the desk of a high school administrator, I want him or her to get an extra glimpse at who I am, thereby distinguishing myself from other applicants, and for one of them, eliminating the need to recruit a quality educator: I’m here, I’m ready, and I’m smiling at the uncertainty.

And even as those words spill from my fingers to the keyboard, my favorite little people steal my attention, the happy collage silently playing devil’s advocate.   When my students break down an SOL prompt and find the helpful guide “or” is present, there is a collective sigh of relief because they are clearly given both possible positions for the persuasive undertaking.  For instance, there’s a key phrase buried in one prompt: “Has the limitation of human contact due to the use of technology had positive or negative effects on people’s lives?”  Okay, so technology positively affects people’s lives or adversely affects it.  Now, I can make a choice.

It seems in my life these days, that choice is typically between seeing the positive and the negative.  I hug my babies so much closer knowing Auntie La La won’t get but one last season of J.J.’s soccer games.  We could build an argument against limiting human contact as Skype will be my primary means to see my brother’s family after I get married.  I can see leaving Virginia as a heartbreak, an uprooting, four years truncated and isolated in rear view mirror, OR I can review that list of incredible schools in Northern Virginia and be grateful for the opportunity to teach in an area that esteems educators, and from the top down, these two districts build strong teachers who maintain the expected standard of excellence and provide instruction that delivers the test scores that only serve to give them the recognition inherent in this particular region.

The last time I started over, I left under different circumstances.  Time truly does change our opinions of people.  I’ve had some trouble sleeping, perhaps the excitement of compiling my resume and references, printed on special ivory paper, which matches the custom-made business cards affixed to my letter of interest to the associated district, finished with a personal note to each administrator… sprinkled with stickers and seals I printed on the clear white labels that inspired my idea for my kids’ Valentine’s Day gift.  J.J. and the girls chose various Pokémon from the game to represent our family members, so I printed each one on labels that I secured to thin foam.  After cutting out the little creatures, I added a magnet to the back of each, purchased a sturdy blackboard, and created a special gift for my nieces and nephews that will represent a unique bond they shared with just me.

Creativity breeds energy I suppose, and it may also be true that idle hands are the devil’s playground.  Somewhere in the wee hours of this morning, Facebook so entrapped me that I eventually discovered a photograph of my ex-husband marrying a beautiful woman.  The date wasn’t even a month ago. I know, assuredly, that I could support an argument that time changes our perspective.  Perhaps it’s easier to see the positive in future potential than in past outcomes.  My hand went to my lips, and I knew I was going to cry.

Understand, I was happy that he’d found love again, and I was oddly comforted by the thought that he won’t have do life alone.  The tears came because, after four years, I realize that time has been so gracious to my memory.  There are words of affirmation I would want to speak into his life if I ever had the opportunity, truths that counter the blows dealt as we weighed the pending reality of our divorce.  My former husband is a good man, but to live the rest of his live believing that I didn’t value or cherish those qualities that made me see something in him years ago that no one understood? If his new bride’s love hasn’t healed all the wounds, I pray God whispers these sentiments of affirmation into his ears for me.

Do you see what I see?  Perception.  Time.  Or.  Half full.  Half empty.  Leaving home.  Building a home.  Selfish or sweet.  We can’t control a first impression, but given the opportunity, it’s possible to alter how someone see’s us or how we see someone else, and the permeability in judgments of both are equally important.

If you could go back, would you?

For my thirty-fifth birthday, all I really wanted was time.  Court her, cover her up, or ignore her; time is a fickle mistress.  I remember in high school, a teacher in her mid-thirties quoted an Irish playwright: “Youth is wasted on the young.”  I rolled my eyes, considered my straight A’s and myriad extracurricular accomplishments, and concluded neither he nor she saw insult in the irony.  Bright and bold, I’d change the world by the time I was my teacher’s age.

That particular year, my English class was led by a woman with a solid reputation who was derailed for nearly a semester while she and her husband battled it out in the courts.  Her last name changed mid-year, if memory serves.  In the brazenness of blind ignorance, I pitied her.  The divorce had altered more than her initials; her personality, her perspective, her personal goals probably all changed, too.  I couldn’t have understood it then, sitting in her classroom.  I’d never have fathomed that she felt the insult in the irony of Shaw’s rather accurate assessment of life’s greatest paradox.

If we could go back, would we?  I joke that for my thirtieth birthday, I gave myself a divorce, but my sophomores recognize that bit for the comic relief that it is.  Like the English teacher I’d pitied long ago, I experienced the tragic loss of what was promised to be a forever union, and it changed me, too.

The five years since have been an incredible journey of heartbreak, separation, healing, growth, change, and renewal.  The progress was not simple graph of one line trending upward with a constant, positive slope, but rather we’d have to chart multiple lines tracking the various parts of me that were restored at different points, and those lines dip and rise like the Dow.    And in the ebb and the flow, the dip and the rise, I grew.  I continue to grow.  Preparing for our data analysis meeting with the district today, searching for trends in the most recent district-wide assessment, I wasn’t surprised by the ebb and flow.

By now, I’ve experienced enough leadership meetings to realize that we grow – be it students, schools, or districts – as much by the isolation of areas of growth as those areas of weakness.  Forward progress is possible where pacing is malleable, and assessments are effective as benchmarks only if the data yielded is analyzed.  Instruction responds accordingly, adapting curriculum emphasis to target insufficient skills.  One of our new teachers worries when he sees low scores for certain students in isolation, and when we look at the data together, he benefits from seeing the bigger picture, starting with areas where the whole class performed well.  The challenge became plausible as he not only understood how to identify trends that meant something, but within a week, he had developed a plan for targeting areas of weakness he discovered as he waded through a sea of numbers.

This young teacher, fresh out of school, is beginning to understand that one test on its own tells us little about how much progress has been made and how much remains.  When it comes to analyzing assessment data, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees.  There are hundreds of lines to chart, one for each of our students, and with experience, he’s learning what I’ve learned.  Don’t allow data to discourage you.  Instead, let it arm you and equip you for the battle ahead so that change can be possible, so that the overall trends are positive, so that your interventions can affect future outcomes.

Charming checks charts, too, on a smart phone app that tracks the value of a Bitcoin.  I struggle to understand the alternate form of currency (like other intangible, abstract concepts previously explored: infinity, death, etc.).  By slowly dragging his finger across the screen, Charming was able to show me how the value of Bitcoin started from $0 USD in 2010, then it made small steady gains marked by small peaks.  After three years, one Bitcoin equated to nearly a thousand bucks.  Value fell again, and after another few years, by December of 2017, its worth was nearly twenty thousand dollars.

While I’m writing on my front porch in Hampton, Charming’s probably checking his Android hoping the newest trend reverses.  It hasn’t even been two months, and the value of the Bitcoin dropped to under $6,000 USD today.  Though I’ve not bought one myself, I’m sympathetically browsing the web for articles on why people shouldn’t give up on Bitcoin yet.  In the financial world, what I see revealed by one line on a bar graph represents a dozen variables that rise and dip even as we type.

We expect the ebb and flow, the ups and downs, the rises and dips in our professional spheres and in our bank accounts.   Charming and I both enjoy the certainty and finality of concrete numbers, where data analysis yields greater potential for growth in the future.   Unfortunately, time didn’t provide number value’s for life’s progress tracking spreadsheet.  I can only look back at the five birthdays since I left my husband and know, most assuredly, that each year was collectively better than the one preceding it, and that while the journey was marked by highs and lows that mirrored my ever-changing circumstances and choice of partners, the general trend is positively sloped.

I pitied my English teacher back when I was sitting in her classroom, but I never thought to pray that I wouldn’t eventually become her.  Her brokenness scared me, but she rebounded and I think she was a great teacher, and her last name changed again, hopefully for the last time.  As a teen, I glimpsed a woman without children who was divorced without children and a fear was forged without my knowledge.  Perhaps because I teach high school and more or less never left high school, it was difficult to look in the mirror yesterday and apply foundation to cover smile lines, choking down the dose of reality that I am that old, single, childless woman.

Mom teases that it’s silly to care about turning thirty-five, but now that the day itself is in the rear view mirror, I sense a rise is coming.  Charming reminds me that we’re getting married and children aren’t far off now, but Bitcoin’s graph charts only the history of the value, not its potential future growth.  Maybe they both see the big picture while I see just the current trial when coming-of-age stories simply make you nostalgic for your youth…

Bouncing between doctor’s appointments for my shoulder, back, ADHD, and insomnia is equivalent to a commitment to indoor track was back in my teens.  I’d love for Charming to marry the girl he met as a college sophomore who lived in same dorm.  That version of me was fit and fearless, unaffected by any need to interpret data.  If we could go back, would we?

I look at the picture that my sister-in-law snapped before I blew out my candles.  We celebrated early while Charming was in town, and Gabrielle baked me a yellow cake with chocolate frosting like they made all the girls on my floor in Smith my freshman year at Wheaton.  Charming hadn’t met his first wife yet.  If I was to go back to a moment, it would be that birthday, and Charming would be cutting into the cake with me at nineteen like he was now at thirty-five.

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No, I wouldn’t go back.  For my thirtieth, I gave myself a divorce and became the pitied high school English teacher I was most afraid of, and the five years since have been an incredible journey of heartbreak, separation, healing, growth, change, and renewal.  When I pack up the moving truck this summer, I will have had four full years to live life with my brother’s family.  My nieces and nephew are an ever-present joy even in the dips and valleys.

No, I wouldn’t go back.  I can’t explain it with proper data analysis produced by numbers and formulas, but my overall progress from nineteen to thirty-five trends positively upwards, seemingly in direct correlation to the decline of my ego and pride.  The woman Charming’s marrying might already have arthritis sneaking into her spine, but her heart is pure and only for him.  I’ve had the chance to learn how to raise a family in my years here, and I don’t need numbers to see that despite the dips, there’s always a rise.

I can’t put confidence in my students’ state tests based on what should happen or what I want to happen.  I can look at each test and intervene.  The best promise for future success is isolating areas of weakness so growth is attainable.  By whatever measure, be it standardized testing or the value of a Bitcoin over time or my own progress toward being a responsible grown-up, I know the bigger picture matters.

Lord willing, birthdays past have passed, and Charming will share every birthday cake with me for the rest of my years.  He won’t sell his Bitcoin.  I know him.  He’ll wait because there is room for hope when you put the numbers down.  He promised to love me forever when he put this stunning ring on my finger, and Charming won’t give up on me either.

When I opened my gift from my husband to be, it was a Citizen watch, delicate and dainty just like I didn’t know I always wanted.  There is room for hope when you put the numbers down, blow out the candles, and realize the man you love gave you time for your thirty-fifth birthday, just what you didn’t know you needed.