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.