Recently, our family has faced some very trying challenges, leaving my husband and I to throw our hands up and wonder how we can possibly get back up and keep going.
It’s been a minute since I’ve ridden my Peloton bike but today, motivated by a friend, I got back on. When this song played, I burst into tears and rode through them, letting the music and lyrics wash over me and plant its wisdom deep within my soul.
Feeling like an outsider?
It’s gonna be alright.
You just gotta hold on tight.
Feel like giving up?
You gotta get up because you’re going to make it through this time.
“It never occurred to me until writing this essay that “normal” father-daughter relationships do not develop over talking in a restaurant.”
And herein lies the value of Language Arts.
It makes me wonder- were others lucky enough to have a teacher challenge them with the hard questions?
What happened to you?
Where is important to you?
Why do you write?
I attended an all-girls boarding school, whereupon 70% of the faculty, including my Language Arts teacher and his wife, lived on campus.
It was late, after dinner, when I witnessed him reading my very personal essay. It was both terrifying and exhilarating to speak my truth.
“My second chance lives with my future children,” I wrote “and their relationship with me and their father. I can use the lessons that I have learned from my family situation as a guide to how I will choose to live mine. For now, I will continue to meet my father on the corner of Shirley and Colley Ave. for some beef with broccoli and a two hour talk about how my life is going.”
I was seventeen.
And 21 years later, that’s exactly what I do.
I use the lessons I learn, through writing, to choose how I live mine.
I knew it was hopeless before the meeting even began.
Ms. Larrimore briskly explained to my perplexed mother that there was no amount of extra credit I could complete in the last few weeks of school to help me achieve a passing grade.
I had failed ninth grade English so badly, she told us, that I didn’t even need to attend the 7:10 A.M. class for the remainder of the year.
To her, I was hopeless.
I remember feeling a mixture of anger and relief.
Relief that I wouldn’t have to bother attending her class anymore and anger for the entire disaster that was my freshman year of high school.
Where had I gone so wrong?
Aside from second grade, I had attended private school. Ninth grade public exposed me to a world I was wholly unprepared for. I figured it out by fitting in with whoever would accept me- smoking cigarettes, smoking weed, drinking alcohol before and after school and failing the honors classes I had been assigned.
Ms. Larrimore, one of the first African- American students to graduate Maury High School in 1964, saw right through my privilege and wasn’t going to give an inch. This was a woman that assigned a few hundred word paper, in which we weren’t allowed to use the verb “to be”- is, was, am, going, will- all forms. She was all business and I was taking my education for granted.
I took a summer school class the following summer to make up that failed English class.
And ultimately, I became an English Major with a Masters in Education and later, a writer.
But the lessons Ms. Larrimore taught me that year will last a lifetime:
One year ago, in the face of a dooming pandemic, I made the difficult decision to homeschool.
Oh, I worried.
I worried about FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). I worried about them becoming hermits, afraid of unfamiliar shadows. I worried about them being taught by their mom, because as a former teacher myself, I know the power of a teacher’s ability to reach students in a different way than other teachers, parents or friends and I wanted that for them.
In all honesty, I still want to be that for other students.
I worried about them being left behind, especially as they witnessed their friends still attend our beloved, local school.
Ultimately, I went with my gut and we had an incredible year.
Spring arrived and with it, the hope of the pandemic’s near-end.
I started to prepare the girls for their return to school in the Fall, casually mentioning how cool it would be to wave to their friends in the hallway on their way to P.E., Music or Art class. Did they know the Fall Festival was already booked for this year? Were they looking forward to the Fun Run?
But upon Summer’s dawn, doubt settled in.
A vaccine, that I had traveled to another state to get just so I could get it as soon as possible, was available and yet, less than half the country had opted to receive it. The country was split- my body, my choice/ our country, our responsibility.
Now, variants are on the rise and social distancing measures, including masks are still required at school.
Holding a Masters in Elementary Education, I am in a unique situation.
My husband has worked from home since the pandemic began and I am able to stay home to teach with hired help to occupy the girls not currently in lesson.
Moreover, apparently I made homeschooling too fun. All three big girls have begged to continue; and while part of me felt that this was fear-based on having been away for a year, I couldn’t bring myself to convince them that their school could provide a better learning environment than what we had going on right in the Carawan Classroom.
My *entire* experience as a parent has been blessed with the wisdom of my elders: Don’t blink. Cherish these days. It goes by SO fast.
Combine the pandemic, the pressure from my children, the wisdom of my elders and my innate joy in continuing to teach my daughters, and here we are.
“And yes it makes me crazy to think that my kids can go days-or maybe weeks-without me. If I’m not needed, if I’m not busy, if I’m not an overstretched, overwhelmed, underslept, (…) mother . . . What exactly am I?”
I snapped a photo of this quote from Kristin Hannah’s book Fly Away as I thought, “I don’t want to be her.”
I don’t want to be that person so consumed with her kids that she has no sense of self, otherwise.
And then I thought,
Who am I?
What defines me?
What do I want to define me?
The truth is, they are my muse.
And I have learned more about myself in the role of “mother” than I could have ever hoped to have learned in a lifetime.
I thought I knew the depth of Love’s Well once I met Emmett.
But I soon learned it ran much deeper upon the birth of our first daughter, Aurora.
I thought there could be no love greater than that of our first child,
Until I had my second, then third, then fourth.
My children have humbled me, sometimes out of sheer necessity.
Because of them, I will always fight over flight.
I don’t have all of the answers but I do have a greater will than myself to live.
Her name was Linda Houghten but I called her “Linda Hoe” because I hated her with a passion.
My mom was inherently a saver. As a child, we lived on bare minimums so that my mom could put enough away for a better future. She was the CEO of a software company- a black sheep in a male-dominated industry. She was inspirational. A badass. When business was struggling, she and my step-dad went without paychecks to keep the company afloat but her savings stayed put.
Her scrimping paid off- the business became extremely successful and so was she- a sought-after keynote speaker across the country. So, when she finally had saved enough to redecorate our 80K house, she hired the best.
Enter Linda Houghten.
The woman who wanted to change everything.
Generally, I’m not a vindictive or hateful person. I think carrying hate is more exhausting for the bearer than the target. But if I were to see Linda in person right now, I can’t say I’d give her a hug.
And it’s all because she made our house more beautiful.
My mom’s bedroom looked like a hotel room, so did our living room.
Patterns, slip-covers, window-treatments- the whole works.
I hated it all because it was change.
I’m the kid that cried when our area code changed from 804 to 757. I’m the kid that used to tape plastic containers over the ant hills when it rained because I couldn’t bear to witness their hard word ruined in a flash.
Consistency felt safe. Change felt terrifying.
So when it came to my piano bench? I stood my ground.
She wanted to cover it with a floral material.
My mom could see the hair rising on my back and knew when to fold.
No, the piano that my father had gifted me would not be touched.
Victory was mine.
I’d lost the rest of the house, but I’d won what deeply mattered to me: