Saturday, March 9, 2019

Sisu

I was born one day shy of spring in a small, southwest Missouri, industrial town. I am my parents’ second daughter. My grandmother could barely read and stopped going to school regularly before she finished eighth grade. She delivered newspapers with my PaPa for forty years. My mom married my dad the summer she graduated from high school. He’d just returned from four years in Vietnam.  Dad was unable to sustain employment, and his behavior was erratic, so our mom often worked seventy+ hours each week to support us. 

We usually didn’t have enough money to make ends meet.  My mom’s income was too much to receive government assistance but too little to afford food or toilet paper after she’d paid the house payment and electric company. The neighbors would give us their old clothes, passed across the chain link fence, in black garbage bags every six months or so and my mom reached out to nearby organizations for commodities (basic food rations).  When my mom became the manager of the local grocery store, vendors would give her the expired food from the shelves to bring home.  

I remember sitting on our front steps, watching my dad work on his old cars, listening to him as he explained each turn of his wrench.  I would follow him around our basement, the floor cold beneath my bare feet, the smell of grease and metal filings heavy in the air. When I was young, I idolized him. I didn’t know something was wrong with him.  I thought everyone’s dad slept with a machete in their hand.  

I understand what it’s like for the kid sleeping through class who can’t focus; to worry about what might happen when you go home.  I remember what it’s like to be worried and scared all the time - imperceptible to everyone around you.  I know because she used to be me.

In his book Teaching With Poverty in Mind, Eric Jensen asks, “If life experiences can change poor kids for the worse, can’t life experiences also change them for the better” (2009, Introduction, para. 3)?  Culture is manifested in everything we experience.  It is an invisible force that shapes our behavior and controls the way we interact with one another.  Most current studies describe poverty as a systemic problem. They fail to acknowledge the success stories - the individuals and families who beat the odds and transitioned out of poverty nor the reasons so many stay in poverty (Payne, 2013, p.165).

Individuals who make it out of poverty usually cite an individual who made a significant difference for them.  Dr. James Comer, leader of the Yale University Child Study Center and author of Waiting for a Miracle: Why Schools Can’t Solve Our Problems and How We Can has said no significant learning occurs without a significant relationship (1995). Dianne McInturff had thirty-two students in her fourth-grade class the year she changed my life.  It began with a mailbox and a pile of Mead spiral notebooks she called our journals.  She told us we could write anything we wanted in them and she would always write us back - I wrote to her nearly every day.  Mrs. McInturff looked beyond my disheveled appearance and went to great lengths to include me in activities my mom could not afford, and my dad was unable to attend.  She bought me clothes for the winter concert and introduced me to Beverly Cleary’s beloved Ramona Quimby.  

I never had [school] friends or a connection to my mom, and by fourth grade, my father’s struggle with PTSD had gotten to the point we were hiding from him, or he was institutionalized.  Mrs. McInturff showed genuine interest in who I was as a person and my well-being.  She had total belief in my ability to be and do more, and this belief was exhibited on a daily basis.  She made me feel valuable, respected, accepted and empowered me to dream of a future.  Her letters provided me with a support system that taught me the skills necessary to choose a different life.  

We don’t all choose a different life.  My younger sister had the opportunity and the choice, and she decided to stay in the culture she was raised.  I understand why she stayed.  Leaving poverty means letting go of everyone and everything you ever knew.  In poverty, “people are possessions” (Payne, 2013, p. 67) and transitioning to a different neighborhood, income class, or job culture creates tension that is rarely overcome.  

Last month, I picked up a special issue of “The New York Times Magazine” while I was flying.  It was there; in the pages of a story about salmiakki (Binelli, 2018) that I found the best, most reasonable explanation as to whether an individual who is presented with a support system, role models, and opportunities to learn would choose poverty or move on. James Heckman refers to this phenomenon as a whole range of things: non-cognitive skills, soft skills, social skills, personality traits, and character (2012).  The Finnish word is sisu.  Sisu is the ability to act rationally in the face of adversity.  It is an inherent characteristic of people that allows them to pick up, move on, and learn from previous failures.  Sisu is not momentary courage, but the ability to sustain that courage.  It stands for the philosophy that what must be done will be done.  It is a measure of integrity that surpasses hardship and sees things through to the end (Binelli, 2018).

Author Joanna Nylund writes, “We all have sisu - it is within reach of everyone.  It lies within you” (2018, p.14). 

I have the stamina to withstand difficult and uncomfortable emotional situations and feelings.  I have courage, willpower, resilience, persistence, and perseverance.  When I walk into school each morning, I bring all of these with me.  I connect with students quickly and easily because I identify with them and their circumstances.  The bonds I build with families are built on trust and respect.  Our partnership does not begin and end in the classroom or with the school day.  

I have sisu.  Sisu isn’t something you talk about - sisu is in your actions.  Sisu is what you do.

My most dominant strength is the ability to sense the emotions of those around me.  My intuitive ability to understand is incisive.  I am considerate, caring, and accepting - a bridge builder for people of different cultures and beliefs. My distinct way of thinking allows me to see patterns where others see complexity.  I am genuinely intrigued by the unique qualities of each person.  I am a keen observer of people’s strengths and differences and intuitively bring out the best in people (CliftonStrengths, 2018).  

"I close my eyes, turn inward, and breathe until I can sense the still, small space inside me that is the same as the stillness in you and in the trees, and in all things.  I breathe until I can feel this space expand and fill me.  Then I smile at the wonder of it all."
                                      --Oprah Winfrey

I am both a collector of words and a writer.  I collect words, quotations, and precepts that speak to me.  I write because it is how I survive. In 2012 I read something that struck me with the energy of a lightning bolt. Terry Tempest Williams wrote an essay about discovering her mother's journals [diaries] after she'd passed away only to realize they were blank (Williams, 2012). I don't want my legacy to be empty pages.  I want my students to [be able to] recognize the significance of seeing and trusting a vision of their future so much that they will persevere through difficult times.  

Alchemy is one of my favorite words.  I am fascinated with the notion of taking common, regular things and turning them into something extraordinary.

I want my students to know they are valuable, they are incredible, they are powerful, and they can succeed. Jim Knight published a book in 2016 titled Better Conversations: Coaching Ourselves and Each Other to be more Credible, Caring, and Connected. He said, “I didn’t write this book because this is the kind of person I am.  I wrote this book because this is the kind of person I want to be” (2016, p. ix).  I am in a unique position to influence change. If I better understood how to use my conversations to promote change, it would be a significant asset to my strength set and ensuring student success.




Thursday, December 24, 2015

Her Favorite

I never knew who I was.  

My little sister has always been special.  She was born gifted in athletics and has an outgoing spirit.  In elementary school she was hit by a car while riding her bicycle and I think that made something about her just a little more magical.  She played softball and basketball, rode bikes, and did band... My parents were proud of her.  They talked about her.  They celebrated her.  

My older sister is my mom's confidant.  They talk about everything.  She is the family sage - the medicine woman.  

But me? I remember sitting on our front steps, watching my dad work on one of his old cars, and talking to him about how mom didn't like me.  

I remember following him around our basement.  The floor cold beneath my bare feet, the smell of grease and metal filings heavy in the air - his workbench cluttered with hammers, wrenches, jars, and screws  - wanting to know if she loved me.

I remember packing a bag to run away, thinking I didn't matter.

A lifetime has passed and no amount of books, journaling, or therapy could give me what I'd longed for, what I needed, what was missing...

Then

I overheard my mom tell a complete stranger how much she loved me...was proud of me...and I was her favorite.

I was thirty-seven years old and might as well have been seven.  It was a life changing moment.  I've spent a lifetime telling myself her feelings and approval don't matter to me because I didn't think I mattered to her.  

...but I do matter.

She loves me.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Impact

I was a horrible teacher.  The absolute WORST.  I screamed.  I yelled.  I taught things incorrectly or didn't teach them at all...  I started projects I didn't know how to finish and treated most of my students the same.  I hated it.  I hated myself.  I wanted to quit.

But I didn't.

Instead, the craziest thing happened.


This silly, quirky, thought provoking kid in glasses reminded me of why I chose teaching in the first place.  He challenged me, day after day, to keep going.  In the years that have followed, Julio continues to be the student who pushes me to do it better... do it with love... and have fun.

He was the first one I ever deeply connected with

                                                                         and now he's gone.

I'm still wrapping my head around how this amazing human being who impacted my life in such a tremendous way isn't here anymore.

You see, I'm awesome because of Julio.

Love,
me

Austin Chronicle Article Remembering Julio Santos

Body Found at Lady Bird Lake - Julio Santos III





Saturday, February 7, 2015

Broken Can Be Beautiful

My family is broken.

Why?

Because I refused to give up on hope and love and happiness.  Because I wouldn't settle.  Because I found someone who made me realize and understand that I am valuable and worthy of love... of being loved.

Because he refused to give up on hope and love and happiness.  Because he wouldn't settle.  Because he found someone who made him realize and understand that he is valuable and worthy of love... of being loved.

We are broken.


We

are

broken.

Why?

Because that's what you call a family that has separated for specific reasons, resulting in a step or blended family.

We are a family with roots twisted deep into the earth of two vastly different worlds.  We are both parents and step-parents...our children - sisters, step-sisters, and mostly sisters with siblings somewhere else.

But are we really broken?



I don't know.  

Were we fractured?  Yes.  Damaged?  Probably.  No longer in one piece or in working order?  That's just it...  We took the broken pieces and put them together to create something more amazing than we ever could have envisioned.  How is that broken?  

We are blessed.

So blessed.


...and oh so beautiful.


A year ago, we were plagued with uncertainty.
Six months ago, I wasn't sure the broken pieces would ever come back together.
Today, we are the family I remember... my family.


It has been a difficult year but we are closer and stronger because of it.  In the end, love prevailed.


We are broken.
We are blessed.
We are beautiful.

Love,
me














Friday, June 20, 2014

Journey to Happiness

Today is the sixteenth anniversary of the day Ruth's dad and I wed.  I still remember everything as though it happened just a week or so ago.  It's funny to me how that happens... how some memories get lost and others stay with us.

Even though my marriage to Ruth's dad didn't make it and is seen as a failure to most, I look at it and see an amazing gift - true success if there ever were such a thing.  Because of Ruth's dad and our marriage I grew and evolved and became this incredible person: A scholar, a teacher, and a mother.

Our marriage did not last but our family and a life long friendship has prevailed and that, my friends, is why I continue to honor this day each year.

To my first loves, Ruth and Chris, Happy Family Day!

Love,
Me

Monday, February 10, 2014

That's Right.

Earlier today I heard Ruth explain something by saying, "...because she's my mom and my mom is awesome."

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Love Notes

One of my absolute favorite things?

The little love notes left for me from my daughters.

Love,
me













Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Friendship

I've never been one to think I have a lot of friends.  To go out on a tenuous ledge, I'm even willing to admit I tend to spend most of my time wading in the waters of inadequacy and loneliness.  So I was surprised tonight when my thirteen year old daughter looked at me between bites of her dinner and said, "You have a lot of friends."

Do I?

Have a lot of friends?

My initial reaction was to gasp and deny the audacity of it - of course I don't!

But then I took the time to think about what she sees, hears, and takes part in...not just this week but always and I realized it's possible she's right.

I do have a lot of friends.

Ashtin spent several afternoons at West Pensacola with Sabrena.  We made brownies with Ms. McQueen the week we left Pensacola.  We celebrated Isabella's birthday one week and Harper's the next before the Hendersons packed my house...oh how I miss the Hendersons.  Ashtin went swimming and ate ice cream with Pippin.  She spent a week this summer with my best Texas friends Courtney, Mark, Chris, and Carolyn before we spent another week with Wendy -- someone who doesn't have to be my friend but is (and the best kind).

This week she's been on play dates and dinner visits.  She's been home when someone dropped by just to say hello and helped her Dad deliver a pie to friends who gave us soup in return.  She's walked up to our front door to find more than one holiday surprise and watched time and time again as friends offered their time, their trucks, their muscles, and their support for one reason or another.

"One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood."
-Seneca

"In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out.  It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being.  We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit."
-Albert Schweitzer

"Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light."
-Helen Keller


I have friendships.

...More so than I realized.

I believe that is the best Christmas gift I could have been given.

Love,
me











Monday, December 23, 2013

Middle Name Day

Sometimes it's HARD

to keep your chin up,

to smile,

to carry on

the way

you know you should...



Today
was
one
of
those
days.



So I did what any super awesome person would do.

I stood in the kitchen and made a declaration.

"I hereby bequeath this day, December twenty-third, two thousand thirteen,  Middle Names Day!"

We would address one another by our second and third names rather than our first.

Let me introduce:

Ella Renee


 Nicole Carole

Destiny Grace


Awesome Sauce and The Captain


Life is better when you can step back and laugh at it even when it's being cruel and unfair.

Love,
me

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Handful of Snow

I'm incredibly grateful for the gifts that I've been given.  Who can feel downtrodden when they have the best of everything?  From my fella and our family to all the friends I've picked up along the way, my life is full.  Knowing that is better than any material possession...even though I won't make Mr. Sides take back the Bose blue tooth speaker he ordered me.

Love,
Me

Photo Card
View the entire collection of cards.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A Fact is a Fact is a Fact...

Turns out,
a
Fact
         is
   a
Fact

EVEN

when
        you
choose
to
     ignore
it.

Imagine that.

I bet it's not even a fancy new phenomenon.

I think I'll print up t-shirts and we can all wear them.  Maybe the idea will catch on.

What do you think?

Brilliant, eh?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Roads

You know more of a road by having traveled it than by all the conjectures and descriptions in the world.  -- William Hazlitt






The Road Not Taken
-Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay,
In leaves no step had trodden black,
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Monday, October 7, 2013

I Feel Sorry for You




A word primarily used by the uneducated and, when used, tends to reflect poorly upon those who use it.

Love, me

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

For Ruth

Dear Ruth,

These words are for you.  I love you.

Love,
Mom



"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
-Albert Einstein

"You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream."
-C.S. Lewis

"Whatever you are, be a good one."
-Abraham Lincoln

"Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment."
-Buddha

"With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts."
-Eleanor Roosevelt

"I am only one, but still I am one."
-Helen Keller

"Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn't."
-Mark Twain

"The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them."
-Ernest Hemingway

"Our greatest weakness lies in giving up.  The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time."
-Thomas A. Edison

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Monday, September 23, 2013

Life's Too Short



I'd rather spend it with people who bring me joy and happiness (like you)... yes, that is definitely much better.  Love, me


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sunday, September 15, 2013

How Can I Help You?


Seven Life Lessons

I love it when I come across good, solid life advice.  Michael J. Fox candidly shared this list in the October issue of Good Housekeeping magazine.  Thanks, man.  I appreciate it.

My Seven Life Lessons
-Michael J. Fox

One
Don't let an opportunity pass you by.

Two
Marry the right person.

Three
Keep your head up.

Four
Listen to your loved ones.

Five
Teach your children well.

Six
Fight the good fight.

Seven
Never give up.

I'm Awesome


Saturday, September 14, 2013