Saturday, April 30, 2011

Work in Progress

When I created this blog almost a year and a half ago, I wasn't really sure what to call it.  I had seen other blogs with cute little names and cute little backgrounds with pictures of cute little kids.  Those are all very, well, cute.  But my reasons for creating a blog were not to showcase my cute little life or to follow the recipes of a famous chef and post the results daily.  Honestly, I didn't really know what my intention was.  But I knew that this seemed like the right thing to do. 

As time has gone by, I have written about many things.  I have written about my travels, my hopes, dreams, frustrations.  I have stirred emotions in many people, some good, some bad.  Not once have I ever tried to hurt anyone with my words here, only gently include people who have influenced me in different ways.  There is a reason the name "Work in Progress" came to me.  This blog is about me....a work in progress.

Over time, I have opened up in my writing, expressing myself deeply and honestly.  This is MY expression.  This is how I feel.  I realize that there are always two sides to every story and thank GOD people don't always agree with each other.  How boring!  There are going to be those who are moved by what I say and those who are downright pissed off by what I say.  That's ok.  Because one way or another, I have touched a nerve.  And if I have pissed off someone, that means that maybe there is something I need to work on further in my life, or maybe, just maybe, there is something that they need to work on in their life.

So as I continue to write, "Work in Progress", I will do it with the knowledge that I am different from many people but my mission is to be honest in my writing.  Not pompous, all-knowing, and judgmental... just honest, authentic, goofy, profound, confused, positive, hurt, angry, hopeful......just "me".  I am a work in progress, but after 44 years, I like me.  Quite a bit actually.  Hope you do too.  But if not, that's ok too.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Twilight Zone

When you are in the depths of a cave, immersed in the obsidian absence of light, there is a point when you finally start to see a glimmer of natural light.  This area, illuminated ever so slightly, but not directly receiving the sun's caress (or moon's kiss), is called the twilight zone.  It is at this time that you know your long journey through the cave is ending and you are about to emerge into the brilliance of the outside world.

I have just entered the twilight zone in my life.  This adventurous cave trip I have been on for the last decade or so has been both exhilarating and terrifying at times, but I can finally see the light.  I'm almost there.  No, this isn't the famous white light that people see when they have a near-death experience.  This is the light of freedom, of knowing, of understanding.  It is the light of authenticity, of clarity, of peace. 

Each step I take, each climb I make in a cave, I learn something about myself.  I learn to test myself and push myself in ways I never thought possible.  I stumble and fall, then stand up too fast and hit my head - that's why I wear a helmet.  But I pick up and move on.  Even when belly-crawling through the tightest passages, scraping my shoulders and cheeks on protruding rocks, feeling the weight of the earth above me, I keep crawling, keep pushing on. 

My journey through this particular, spectacular cave is coming to an end.  I can see the light.  It's time to crawl out and envelop myself in the magnificence of what is waiting on the other side.  It's time for new adventures, with new people, in a new place.  It's time to face the fear of the unknown, embrace it, and kick its ass!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Apology to My Mother

A few days ago I wrote a letter to my mother.  The letter was meant to address some issues I had and to let her know that through it all I was happy for how things had gone, sorry for my behaviors and feelings, that I loved her very much, and was looking forward to connecting with her further.  Instead my letter was found to be "disturbing",  "bashing",  "disrespectul",  "hurtful",  "dishonoring". 

My intent was to celebrate the troubles we have been through individually and as mother and draw the similarities of our lives and connect through them.  My intent was also to celebrate that through it all we are much better people, stronger and wiser.  It was to illustrate that we both know so much more now and are able to do so much more now.  Instead my words came across as derogatory towards my mother and drawing attention to myself yet again.  My words drew attention to me and my past and made it more about me than about my mother who I never intended to hurt. 

I am truly and deeply sorry for any hurt or pain that I caused my mother or those that love her.  I made a poor decision in trying to share with others what I had experienced in my life.  Clearly my communication skills are greatly lacking and until they are more finely honed, I should not be sharing something so personal with others.

Again, my most sincere apologies to my mother.  She is loved by many, including me, and a well respected member of her church and community.  She gives freely of herself to her church and others.  She is greatly admired and always there should anyone need her. 

To anyone else offended by my letter, my sincere apologies to you as well. 

Kelli Thomas

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How Much Longer??

My body hurts, my mind is numb, my reality is, what?  What is my reality?  Is this really it?  Is this really what life is about? 

Is life meant to be lived day to day feeling drained, helpless, and clueless? 

No.  It's not.

How much longer?  How much longer do I have to wait?  I've been patient for so long.....I'm ready.  I'm ready. 

Let's do this!  Let's do

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

On Being Yourself

Almost a year and a half ago, I started writing my blog.  It just seemed like the right thing to do at the time.

As the months have gone by, I have opened up, little by little, sharing myself one piece at a time.  It’s been a scary prospect, letting people in.  I’ve always been an open person, but few people actually get the opportunity to see what is really going on in my head.

In the beginning I worried about what people would say.  I’m one of those people who sets herself up for being made fun of.  Sometimes it is all in good fun, sometimes it is just plain cruel.  After 44 years, I’ve finally gotten used to it…almost.  So I worried about what would be said behind my back….the quiet whispers about me, “Who does she think she is, writing a blog?”. 

But I kept writing, from the heart.  I wrote what I felt, what I was angry about, what touched my heart.  In the process, I have begun to peel back the layers of who I am and reveal those layers to you, whoever you are, reading this right now.  I’ve also learned that I need this outlet.  It is very cathartic.  I am happiest when I am writing.

All around me are voices telling me to just “Be yourself, just be yourself”.  I teach that to my children as well.  My daughter, Caroline, lived that to the fullest last night as we walked around the park.  We both had on our headphones listening to different music.  As we walked, I watched her singing and dancing to the music on her Ipod.  Let me tell you, she was d-a-n-c-i-n-g!!  It was so much fun watching her just being her goofy, wonderful self.  Bradley is learning to let go as well and just be his big-hearted, precious self.  It is so good to finally see my children coming into their own and being who they really are.

In fact, now that I think about it, it took all three of us getting away from some very controlling people in our lives to finally feel free enough to be completely and totally ourselves in our day to day lives.  It’s so sad how some people who claim to love you can make degrading comments about you so regularly that you start to withdraw and conform to what they want just to avoid the remarks and the hurt.  We all did it and in fact I probably encouraged it to an extent, just to keep the peace.  How very sad.  Those people lost out on relationships with three funny, easy-going, good people who would have done anything for them.   

Looking back on those years of outside control, my self-esteem plummeted to an all-time low.  I could seem strong and brave on the outside but inside I was dying.  I was like a butterfly caged in a dark, cardboard box.  Every now and then the lid lifted and I tried to fly, but couldn't yet.  I was trapped.  Tethered to the box.  Over the last few years I have finally found the courage to leave the box for good.  As I spread my wings and start to discover the strengths I have, I have grown to really like who I am - goofiness and all. The things that people make fun of me for are just a part of me and that's ok.  That relaxed attitude has spread to Brad and Caroline and we are all much more laid back than we've been in years.  We are all happier than we've been in years.  All it took was just to realize the importance of being ourselves.  One of my greatest joys right now is seeing the happiness in my kids....just being themselves.

I'll admit, I'm not everyone's cup of tea.  That's fine with me.  I'm a little particular about the people I want to spend my time with as well.  But one thing I know for sure, I like being me.  I'm happiest when I'm true to myself, and no one will ever come between me and myself again.  And no, I don't have split personalities. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

College Degree??

I have a college degree….a degree that I worked hard for... a degree that I was told would open doors for me and allow me to have a better life.  Granted, a degree in Elementary Education isn't a particularly difficult degree to get, but I did have a 4.00 grade point when I graduated (I think - maybe I need to look that up). 

Now, fourteen years after getting my degree (I finished late), I am using that degree not to teach, but to be the “Pencil Police” because my students cannot handle keeping and maintaining pencils on their own. What exactly ARE they doing to these pencils??  I assume that the erasers have been abducted by aliens who leave the metal casing scrunched up after they meticulously remove the pink eraser tip.  The pencil leads (or graphite) mysteriously disappear as well.  Are they on the mother ship with the erasers racing to a new galaxy?  Because I can promise you students NEVER do anything to the erasers.  They gingerly write with their pencils....treating them like precious gems.  They've never removed an eraser and flicked it across the classroom.  Precious angels.

Daily I bark to my students to “sit down”, "stop talking", "change your color”, “stop talking”, “pay attention”, “keep your hands to yourself”, “stop talking”, “label your paper”, “stop talking!”. “Single file, hands down, eyes forward, mouths closed”.    I utter words not heard in any other profession except for teaching.  In what other profession do people frequently say, "Voices OFF!".  I spend hours cutting out things to enhance student learning that only end up being lost, torn up, or eaten perhaps?  I don't know where all these things go....they just disappear.  Aliens again?  Do they not have a Wal-Mart in outer space?

I do actually teach, but all this “redirecting” goes on while I am teaching too. Despite all my attempts at good classroom management, this is my daily experience and it takes up an enormous amount of time and energy. We have seven weeks left of school and it gets worse every day. In fact, it gets worse every year. The apathy and inability to focus has become all I can focus on….trying to get kids to care enough to sit down and focus on what is going on. They don’t care. They just want to play all day.  And yet I alone am responsible for their test grades.  No pressure there.

As a highly organized person, I have put everything into place for these kids to be successful. The only thing missing is the student and what they do with the tools I give them. But the problem is that they lose the tools I give them or forget about them or their dog eats them or pees on them. Or things are shoved so deeply into the depths of their desks that I need to get out my caving helmet and light to go in and find anything, because God knows THEY can’t!  Although, it could be those damn aliens again....hmmmm???

Is this seriously what I am using my education for? I didn’t need an education for this. I could have gone to more parties and spent my nights reading books I wanted to read if I had known my education would be used in this way.  I could have saved thousands of dollars if I had only known.

But the most frustrating part of the whole thing is….THEY are NOT getting an education. It’s not for lack of trying on the teacher’s part. All of the teachers I know put their heart and soul into these kids, every day. But these kids can barely form a complete sentence. How on earth are they going to formulate an intelligent thought? We can’t teach them higher order thinking skills, they can’t perform basic thinking skills, nor do they care to try.  Don't get me wrong...there are a few kids out there who want to do well.  They want to learn and to be successful.  Some even want that but can't achieve it because their bodies won't let them focus.  They need medication or an environment where their type of learning can be addressed.  When you have four or five in a class like that, it makes it a little difficult.

Folks, this is our future and it scares the hell out of me. Seeing kids like this, actually it was seeing adults like this, made me want to get into teaching. I wanted to make a difference. I thought I could do it….get their attention, make them care, make them love academics the way I do. But I can’t. I don’t have the energy. My bag of tricks is empty. My brain is fried. And they, the students, are laughing the whole time and throwing away good pieces of paper and breaking perfectly good pencils just so they have an excuse to get out of their seats and not do their work.

This is the most frustrating thing I've ever dealt with in my life.  I know the parents want their students to get a good education.  I just think most parents have no idea what their kids really do in school, or rather what they really don't do.  I don't think the general public has any idea what teachers face daily in school.    I know that the few people who have experienced it, either through substitute teaching or classroom parties always come up to me with a newfound respect.  I had a substitute the other day who requested that I NOT call him again to sub.  Wow. 

I believe to my core that I am an educator.  I  believe that I have a great deal to share and that I am a good teacher.  Maybe this is simply not the right forum for me.  I don't know.  I believe in education, just maybe not the way it is done in today's educational system.  I don't have the answers, yet.  I do believe we need a major overhaul in the education system because the one under which we are functioning today is severely broken. 

I have taught in two schools during my career.  I only taught one year in the first school, so maybe my opinion is jaded due to my lack of experience in other schools.  I know what I know though.  What I see frightens me.  I see teachers walking in first thing in the morning looking as if it should be the end of the day, not the beginning.  I know that personally I wake up exhausted each morning.  I can't sleep at night worried about my students and how I can possibly teach them when they don't care one bit about learning.  We teachers seem to be the only ones truly concerned about the education of these kids.  We seem to be the ones putting in most of the effort for what?  A bunch of kids who just want to talk and play?

Yes, this is our future.   Frightening, isn't it.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Losing a Home in a Fire

Yesterday in the middle of teaching, the school counselor came to my door and asked me to go into the hallway with her.  She told me that she had just had a call from the mother of one of my students.  Their home had just burned down.  Standing there with my mouth open, completely shocked, I didn't know what to say, what to do.  I had known Tristan since second grade when I first started in the morning daycare.  Tristan's mom was going to come pick him up later in the afternoon.  That's when she would tell him the news.

Walking back into that classroom was one of the hardest things I have done.  Tristan was sitting there grinning from ear to ear, with his shaggy blond hair sweeping across his brown eyes, clueless that his home was engulfed in flames.  He had no idea his world was getting ready to be turned upside down.

We continued with our lesson and after a bit, the secretary came over the intercom telling me that Tristan was being checked out.  I told him to take his time gathering his things and that I'd be right back.  I rushed to the office to speak with his mom who was standing in the conference room.  Tiffanie is a beautiful, petite woman with large brown eyes.   I'll never forget the look on her face.  Peeking out from beneath her baseball cap, her eyes were wide open.  Disbelief.  Shock. Confusion. 

I told her how sorry I was and for her to not worry about school at all for now.  After giving her my phone number and telling her to call if she needed anything, I left to return to my class.  Walking through the office, I ran into Tristan and gave him a cheery hug goodbye.  I worried how he would react to the news.

Later that evening our school was hosting Bingo Night.  I had to run home quickly before I came back to the school.  But before I did, I decided to run by Tristan's house.  He lived very close to me, but I wasn't exactly sure where.    As I drove down a long road looking for his house, I finally saw several cars parked in the street and wondered if this was his house.  I couldn't see anything because of the large trees blocking the view.

As I got closer, the charred house gradually came into view.  The entire center of the house was burned, the roof partially caved in.  There was no more smoke.  The fire department was gone.  A Channel 5 news crew was finishing up their filming.  People stood in the front yard talking, surrounded by some household items that had been retrieved from the home.  Tristan was darting about in the house.  His younger brother Jaden was playing in the yard, oblivious to what was happening.

After parking my vehicle I walked up to Tiffanie.  Her brown eyes still wide, she was calm, assessing the situation.  I asked if I could help.  Seeing my white jeans and tennis shoes she said something about me not being dressed for it.  I told her I lived a short distance away and could be back in a few minutes after changing my clothes.  She said ok.

I ran home quickly.  My daughter, Caroline, was in the middle of a helping out her big brother with a project.  I told her what was going on and quickly left.  I remember thinking how grateful I was for my nice, neat apartment that I had just walked into.  I realized that I would have my own soft, clean bed to crawl into that night.  I would have fresh clothes to put on the next day.  Tristan's family would have none of that.  Everything they owned had burned up or melted, buried under a pile of charcoaled roofing materials, insulation, and water.

When I returned, I went inside and got my first look around.  I walked into the living room where there were electrical wires hanging everywhere, their insulated coverings gone.  The floor was squishy with water and debris.  There was some laundry on the sofa waiting to be folded.  I stepped on a small empty picture frame on the floor as I walked in to the hallway leading to Tristan's room.  The picture it used to contain was gone. 

Everything was black.  Some light filtered in through the open roof and windows but otherwise it was hidden in shadows.  I started digging through the debris looking for anything salvageable.  Electronics looked like something out of a Salvador Dali painting....melted, almost beyond recognition.  Wet sheet rock covered the floor.  As I all dug through the mess, occasionally I would find something that could be saved.  Then I had to carefully walk back out through wreckage to carry it outside.  The pile outside was growing, but not by much. 

At one point Jeremy's brother walked out with the family Bible.  As he handed it to Tiffanie a huge smile came across her face.  She squealed with excitement.  She couldn't believe it had made it through.  Jeremy, her husband, was working on boarding up the windows.  Tiffanie continued to deal with the insurance company, restoration people, and neighbors coming to help.  Tristan was in and out, taking it all in, finding little treasures that had made it.  Sadly, his hamster, Izzy, was not one of those who made it.  I found Izzy's body, buried under a heap of rubble, still soft, not burned. Tristan had said that they had lost one member of the family today.  It was Izzy.

As we found usable clothing that could be cleaned, we piled them up.  Such a small pile.  I remember wondering about the days to come.  Being a woman, I have my favorite clothes that I love.  I imagined the day would come when Tiffanie would want to put on her favorite piece of clothing and realize she no longer had it.  Or her favorite earrings or shoes.  Maybe Jeremy had his favorite baseball cap that he'd never see again.  A lot of Tristan's soccer things survived strangely enough.  Jaden is too young to care.

We all worked until we weren't sure what else to do.  I left and went home.  My hands were black from the soot, my boots covered with the remnants of their home.  I was tired and dirty.  But all I could think about was Tristan's family.  They are good people.  They were so strong through this.  Calmly handling everything, I never once saw either of them break down.  They just dealt with it all, smiling the whole time.

The next day I dropped by to show my mom the remains of the house and to check on the family.  Tiffanie was standing in the yard.  They'd clearly been working again.  She told me that the roof might be about to cave in.  It's a miracle it didn't happen yesterday when we were all in and out of the house.  She said that Jeremy had found some treasured photos for her.  Her eyes filled with tears as she told me the paper around them was completely charred, but the photos remained intact.  She couldn't believe it.  That's when she realized that she had been so worried about the house and now, well, now, it just didn't matter.  Her family and those photos were the important things in life.  She had everything she needed.

I tried not to start crying right there in front of her.  She had a beautiful aha moment that day at a terrible cost.  But I know they will be ok.  They have family, friends, and each other.  They will be just fine.

The whole experience helped me realize just how grateful I am for everything in my life and how quickly things can change.  Value the important things in life and let go of the things that are not.  Sometimes it takes hard lessons for us to truly grasp that concept.  But as someone who has had a few hard lessons in her life, I feel daily so much gratitude for everything I have in my life.  That which does not kill us truly does make us stronger.  And I'm glad for the strength that I now possess. 

Tristan's family possesses that strength as well.  My love and prayers go out to them.....

What happens when you take a break from Facebook?

Eleven days I ago I deactivated my Facebook account. The negative posts, political bashing, and idiotic memes were beginning to have an adve...