Impact

NOTE: I have previously posted this on this blog.

In my previous life chapter, prior to moving to Massachusetts, I worked in special education. Teaching (including substituting and working as a teacher’s aide) was my career for the better part of sixteen years, with a year or so detour as I tried to find my footing.

Many of us have a teacher who stands out in our memories as someone who had a profound impact on us. I have more than one: my kindergarten teacher, who realized I loved writing stories and allowed me to do so as part of my reading instruction; the tenth grade English teacher who further encouraged my writing; my college advisor, who recognized my awkwardness with others and tried to help me correct it.

I never thought I was one of those impactful teachers, though. I just did my job, enjoyed my students, and did the best I could to help them get where they needed to go.

One of the memories that stands out most strongly for me was when I left my longest-term position, as special education teacher at a very small rural school in Maine. Some of my students made great gains while I worked with them, and I celebrated those while never really giving myself credit. As far as I was concerned, the kids were the ones who got there. I just helped a little.

(Sometimes we minimize ourselves far too much. It’s definitely one of my flaws…)

Because the school was so small, I was the only special education teacher there, and I had the same students throughout, with some changes as some went on to high school and others entered kindergarten or moved into the district. I became close to some of the students and their families, though “close” is a relative term because professionalism.

But on my last day there, the mother of one boy with whom I’d worked from my first day came to me in tears, put her arms around me, and said, “You have made a difference.”

Those are words we all should remember, whenever we look back at the people we’ve encountered in our lives. No matter what our role was with each other, no matter how much time has passed, we all make a difference in the lives of those with whom we become involved. And we all need to recognize how powerful that difference can be.

Family Conflict

I feel very sad when I see people who are living happy lives and in happy relationships encounter opposition and even hatred from their family. Unfortunately, it seems to happen a lot.

Obviously different people have different beliefs. They’ve been brought up in certain religions and/or cultures that have strong, ingrained outlooks on things like marriage, same-sex relationships, sexual orientations, genders, and so on. For some people, overcoming those beliefs is difficult. This might be because they don’t understand other points of view. It might also be because they just plain don’t want to overcome those beliefs.

When beliefs interfere with family, though, something is wrong. And it probably isn’t the person who’s happy in a same-sex relationship, or a polyamorous one. It probably isn’t the person who’s just come out as transgender. The “something wrong” is that rigid beliefs are causing family members to turn against one of their own.

I’ve always taught my kids that the one thing I want for them more than anything else is that they be happy and safe. If that means they’re gay, or trans, or polyamorous, or whatever, that’s fine with me. Even if I don’t understand how they’re identifying themselves, I can see whether they’re happy and confident, and that’s what matters most to me. I don’t have to understand. I can just love and trust them, and let them be happy.

I know too many people whose families don’t think that way, and sometimes I just want to gather them all up and tell them I’ll be their family. It’s okay to believe what you believe. It’s okay to believe what you’ve been taught. But I can’t see how it could ever be okay to completely turn against your child, or parent, or sibling, or whoever, because their happiness means they aren’t living by your beliefs.

Studying

I’ve been doing a lot of studying over the past few months. So much that some of it kind of leaks out of my brain. It’s a good thing I take notes!

When I was in school, studying was something I tried to avoid at all costs. I didn’t care about the things my teachers were trying to drill into my head, so I sat in class and mostly listened, took notes if I thought I should (or if the teacher required note-taking as part of the grade), and pretty much took tests from that. I often did homework the morning it was due, as I sat in the school cafeteria chatting with my friends.

The traditional school structure didn’t work for me. I didn’t fit in as a student, or as a peer. I wanted to do and learn my own things in my own way.

As an adult, fortunately, I have that option. I’m taking some courses, but they’re online home study courses that move at the pace at which I decide to move. I’m reading a lot of books and taking notes about the things that resonate for me, or things that I believe will be beneficial for me to know.

I wish I’d had the option to learn this way when I was in school. For years, I daydreamed about starting a school where kids could do exactly that: Learn at their own pace in ways that made sense to them.

There are schools like that in existence, and may well have been when I was growing up. Some forms of homeschooling, such as unschooling, operate on exactly that concept.

I hope someday it’s widely recognized that people are not cookies cut from the same cutter. We learn in different ways, and have different interests and needs. One thing we do have in common, though: We can all succeed if we’re given the right tools and opportunities. I wish that happened more often.

Parenting–and Being–Adults

When one’s children become adults, and go from living in the same house and leaving dirty dishes everywhere to having their own home, at least part of the time, it’s an adjustment on both sides.

The now-adult child is trying to find their footing on their own. Going to college or moving on to a career. Living alone or with roommates or partners instead of parents. They might not want much contact with their parents; they are, after all, adults now. They don’t need to be parented, or at least have the perception that they don’t. Or maybe they still do feel like they need their parents, and they want to keep their distance so they don’t lean on their parents too much or don’t get too homesick. Even if they don’t talk to their parents often, though, they often miss them.

Assuming there are no younger children at home, the parents are dealing with suddenly having a much quieter house and a lot more time on their hands. Whether or not younger children are still living at home, the parents miss the child who has moved out. And they may mourn or regret all the things they wish they’d done with that child when they were young, because now there’s no longer a chance.

Much of the time, parents and children love each other. Family bonds can be very strong, and those bonds are tested when circumstances change. Not having daily contact with each other can lead to feeling disconnected. And sometimes it’s harder than one might expect to be away from the home you’ve had all your life, or to have someone no longer in your home.

This is a time to lean on others. To let friends and other family members help you get through this transition. It’s a time to find activities or social outlets where you can meet people and fill the time you now have on your hands.

Most importantly, it’s a time to remember that you’re family and you love each other, and distance and lack of contact won’t change that.