A Hopeless Romantic

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I am a hopeless romantic. I always have been. My favorite movies are epic love stories like Wuthering Heights or Titanic. I truly believe that it is possible to find a soulmate because I have done that. Sometimes I wonder how I got so lucky to stumble upon my husband on an evening when I actually wanted to be someplace other than where I met him. It was surely a serendipitous encounter that lead me to a lifetime of happiness and fulfillment. 

We did not need a dating service to analyze our likes and dislikes, or our interests and views on life to determine that we were and still are a very good match. It was happenstance and nature that brought us together and an instant kinship that has kept us that way for over fifty years. When all is said and done it was pure luck prompted by the occasion of a cousin’s birthdays that so unexpectedly helped us to find each other. We proved to have an uncanny sense of kinship from the very start. 

That is not to say that we are alike in every way, nor do we agree on everything. He can watch sports programs all day long, while I lose interest in under fifteen minutes. While we enjoy watching television programs together, we still have personal preferences in viewing that do not overlap. I find myself catching up on episodes of shows that he would never watch. The same is true of all kinds of things. It’s not so much in how we are alike that our romance blooms, but in how we treat people, especially each other. 

I am admittedly an exceedingly independent woman. I grew up in a home without a man as head of the household. I know how to take care of myself. I am a rather driven individual with goals that I am still in the process of achieving. My husband has been exceedingly supportive of my aims regardless of the cost or amount of time I have needed to fulfill them. He also encourages me to express myself honestly. He does not mind when we differ in beliefs. We’ve had some lively discussions about politics and life in general. His total respect for me has been empowering and the greatest sign of his love. 

I think I would have suffocated in a relationship that required me to always be in tandem with my husband. Instead I have always felt free to be me. I know that I will love him and he will love me without one or the other of us being forced into a more subservient role. I would have run from such a relationship before even walking down the aisle. 

My husband was very good to my mother even when she railed at him while in the throes of a manic episode. He welcomed her into our home with love. Now it is my turn to return his kindness by embracing his father as a member of our household. It has taught me how difficult it might have sometimes been for him to share our home with my mama for almost two years. Having one of our parents with us puts a strain on our privacy and limits our time alone. My husband handled such a situation with so much remarkable kindness and understanding that I am still in awe of how wonderful and patient as he was. 

My father-in-law is a very sweet man. He is the consummate old fashioned gentleman. He was taught to care for women, to hold open doors, to have serious conversations with other men in another room so as not to worry the females. For many he would represent the best of a romantic man, but while I greatly admire his loving ways, I prefer to be more of an equal in my relationship with my husband. I realize how incredibly lucky I have been to be wedded to a man who is quite modern in his thinking about the roles of the different sexes. It makes me treasure my husband more than I ever have, because I have witnessed the difference between how men of the past valued women and how the more modern men like my husband demonstrate the same kind of devotion. 

I have come to realize that for me true romance has been my husband supporting me in every possible way as I furthered my education and pursued my career. He has honored me by listening to my philosophies and encouraging me to live according to what works best for me. Together we raised two girls to become strong women who are unafraid to speak their minds. We are truly equal partners in life.

I spent much time with my husband’s mother before she died. We often sat together talking about being women. She was a brilliant soul who at one time had hoped to be a translator in a diplomatic setting. She saw herself at the United Nations or the Hague. Her life took a different turn and she ended up working as a bookkeeper for a family business and then at a church. She was happy with the way things turned out and was not one to regret, but she liked that women were becoming freer to be career oriented. She told me that she had purposely taught her son to value women just as they are and to support them in becoming whatever they wanted to be. She was proud that he had walked alongside me rather than in front. She loved that he had encouraged me to fulfill my educational and career goals. She liked the mutual respect that we had for each other. She had tutored her son to be the ultimate romantic, a man who has never been threatened by my independence and success. 

I used to read fairytales and I adored them. Now I prefer a story of mutual love that allows each partner to become their best selves. I have enjoyed such a romance, and for that I am eternally grateful. I am thankful every day of my life that I met this man. I am a hopeless romantic of a different kind.

The Quirks of Our Brains

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I remember the very first time that I realized that I had a little problem with the way that I comport myself. I was about eight years old and my teacher was determined that each of her students would learn how to sit properly and quietly while she was delivering a lesson. I thought that I was following her instructions rather well when she walked past my desk and slapped my leg and one of my hands without saying a word. That’s when I realized that I had been unconsciously tapping out a silent rhythm with my limbs. I’d receive many of her warnings that school year because somehow moving around seemed to be like breathing to me. It was something that I did without even thinking. 

Mostly people ignored my kinesthetic habits, but now and again someone would point out that it was quite odd that I paced back and forth while I studied for tests and did the same when I had conversations on the phone. The only thing that held me back from moving about the room while conversing on Alexander Graham Bell’s invention was the cord that kept me anchored to the wall. Once phones became cordless I was free to ramble all over the house while I talked with my friends. Indeed, I additionally earned two degree while walking hundreds of miles as a I paced like a caged lion readying myself for exams. 

In some of my classes I had to deliver speeches or lessons in front of a camera. My professors tended to appreciate my enthusiasm and creativity, but every last one of them insisted that my pacing and hand waving was a distraction that I should attempt to eliminate. Somehow I knew that my brain would not allow me to stand perfectly still. Facing my audience with my voice delivering my message rather than my hands was literally painful and made me feel like a wooden statue. I certainly tried my best to be more aware of my movements, but it was exhausting and I eventually just accepted my quirkiness and did my own thing.

Just as my professors had noted, I often encountered students who were flummoxed by my  habits of perpetual motion. One even suggested that I was making him seasick as he attempted to track me as I spoke. Others claimed that my hand waving was so hypnotic that I became like Charlie Brown’s teacher whose voice seemed to be presenting gibberish. 

Teaching mathematics helped me to curb my habit somewhat because most of the time I was using my hands to write down examples in a fixed area. My mind and body were focused on the blackboard, whiteboard, overhead projector or smart board that I used to convey algorithms and formulas. In those moments my need for movement was channeled in an effective way. 

There was a time when I became self-conscious of my seemingly involuntary movements. I worried that I appeared to be some kind of freak, but through my studies of learning theories and the differing ways in which we humans process information I realized that I was simply adapting to the way that my brain works just as each individual does. My own struggles with conforming to stillness made me incredibly accepting of the range of learning styles that humans possess. I was able to follow the wandering scribbles of a dysgraphic student and I knew how to be patient with those who were hyperactive. I even allowed one student to sit in the back of the classroom so that he might quietly stand up and sway back and forth when the act of sitting overwhelmed him. I realized that much of the behavior that we often ascribe to misconduct is little more than the product of a brain that works differently from the majority.

I still have to constantly be on the move. My hands appear to be performing some strange ritual when I talk. I have long suspected that I might have been diagnosed as being mildly dyslexic or perhaps having a bit of attention deficit disorder if those things had been better understood when I was a child. Instead I adapted to the realities of my unique learning needs without even realizing that my movement was in sync with my brain. It would eventually be my mother and some brilliant professors who noted my quirks and diagnosed the reasons why I was so unable to change them. In fact, they congratulated me for finding the methods that I needed in order to learn. 

As a society we have a very bad habit of equating various difficulties with a lack of intelligence. The person who stutters becomes the butt of jokes. The person who can express brilliance in speech but can’t write their ideas down in a coherent manner is deemed to be slow witted. We fail to realize that when we look past the behaviors that disturb us, there is often a brilliant mind just waiting to be recognized. 

My first grade teacher helped me perhaps more than any other person in my life. I realize now that she saw my difficulties and taught me how to overcome them. She understood that I needed a combination of sounds, visual cues and movement to jumpstart my brain. She showed me those things and when I saw that they quelled the confusion in my brain I unconsciously used them for the remainder of my life. 

Even now as I sit typing on my laptop I see that my lips are moving in tandem with my thoughts and the movements of my fingers. All the while my feet are tapping with the rhythm of the keyboard. I am using every possible mode of learning to keep my focus and it works. My brain is operating full tilt, fueled by the methods that work best for me. I am so fortunate to have learned these things and to have encountered amazing people who took the time to understand me. Hopefully I’ve done the same for some of the students I have helped along the way. The brain is quirky, but we are slowly learning how it works and how unique that experience is for each of us.

An Apple For Teacher

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These days we tend to take the education of our children for granted, but there was a time in the not so long ago when children spent little, if any, time in school. I’ve often spoken of my grandmother, Minnie Bell, being illiterate, but I never knew the exact reasons why that was so other than the fact that she only attended school for a brief period of time. By her recollection she may have gone for about two years before she was called upon to help out at home. 

Even my grandfathers, both of whom were avid readers, claimed to have never extended their formal educations past about the seventh or eighth grade. By then they were adept enough with reading and writing to be able to continue learning on their own, but each of them considered education to be a noble goal. My paternal grandfather was particularly proud that his son was a college graduate and that his grandchildren went on to earn multiple degrees. He often explained that when he was growing up it was difficult to find teachers, particularly in rural areas. Back then communities pooled funds to bring a teacher to the area, often providing room and board but little else. 

The tradition of bringing an apple to the teacher was originally a way of paying an educator for his or her work with children. Often all that the people had to give was a small room in someone’s home and a share of the crops that they grew. Sometimes not even the draw of a place to stay and food to eat was enough incentive to attract a teacher, so youngsters often grew up without perfecting the skills of reading, writing and arithmetic. Only the wealthiest families were able to insure that their sons and daughters received an education. 

The establishment of public school systems supported by funding from taxes has been one of the greatest equalizers in history. Making it mandatory for students to attend school until a certain age freed young people from being commandeered by their families to work in the household or on farms and in factories. A more educated populace enriched the lives of individuals who might otherwise have been like my illiterate grandmother. Suddenly people who might once have been thought to be ignorant were transformed by the gift of knowledge. Likewise societies as a whole benefitted from more universal schooling. 

Over time we have tended to take our schools and our teachers for granted. We certainly pay more than a bushel basket of produce and a room with a bed for the services of our educators, but in general we do not give them the respect and admiration that most of them are due. We gladly pay ridiculously high prices to attend a ballgame, but complain about the cost of finding and keeping good teachers. We become armchair quarterbacks when it comes to judging teacher performance based more on emotions than actual knowledge of what happens inside schools. We don’t seem to appreciate the fact that the great great grandchildren of an illiterate woman are able to read difficult books, perform impressive calculations and write coherent tracts. We take it for granted that our children will learn. 

I suppose that I value education because both my mother and my father did. From the time that I was a small child my dad surrounded me with books and music and experiences that made me curious and eager to learn. He had once attempted to teach his mother how to read and write, but his efforts came too late in her life. He was determined that nobody in his family would ever again take the gift of education for granted. 

I used to tell my students who grumbled about having to attend school each day that they looked at the situation with the wrong attitude. I told them that they were not somehow being punished, but had indeed been provided with a right that they must never let anyone take away from them. I pointed out that despots throughout history have first destroyed the schools, persecuted the teachers and kept the population ignorant. I wanted my pupils to understand that they should challenge any person or any group who seems intent on dismantling schools. I argued that knowledge is more powerful than guns. 

I’m not sure how many of my students took heed of my commentaries on education, but I know for a fact that some of them did. As adults they came to realize that democracy really does die in darkness. They saw evidence that we become slaves to the powerful when we are denied the right to learn. 

When we take an apple to the teacher we should always remember that there was a time when we did not have schools open to everyone in every town. Those heroes of yore who were willing to work for a pittance were the pioneers one of the most important movements in the world, universal education. Today’s teachers continue the tradition of working to assure that every child receives the powerful rights of reading, writing, arithmetic and beyond. Nobody should have to be rich to possess such precious things.

Spontaneity and Duty

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There was a time when spontaneity was my middle name. I reacted rather than planned. I vividly remember taking a trip to Colorado on the spur of the moment one summer. I had been opining about the mountains with my husband and daughters as we spooned ice cream into our mouths on a hot summer evening. Like me they felt the call of adventure and before we had emptied the cups of custardy delight we had decided to head for Colorado the following day. That night we visited a Walmart to purchase the supplies we would need for the journey and arose early the next morning to begin our serendipitous travel. 

At the time our quixotic adventure seemed in keeping with the way we had always lived. Life was short and we intended to squeeze as much joy out of it as possible. It was the same reason that my husband and I got married before we were wet behind the ears and had two children while we were still learning how to be adults. We did not purposely adopt the mantra, “Live for Today!” It just seemed to describe our joyful, if sometimes rash way of approaching each moment. There was literally no telling what we might randomly decide to do from one day to the next if an urge overcame us. 

Over time we became more and more circumspect. We planned and created schedules. We began to be ruled by appointments noted on calendars. If it was Thursday we had a fairly good idea of what lay ahead of us on that day. We quite reliably became dependable in our habits, sending our regrets for last minute invitations that did not jibe with our routines. We were ruled by a clock, the seasons, the pace of our work. We progressed nicely as adults in both our careers and our private time. Everything was in order. Everything had a time and place. 

Then we retired from our long years of labor. Suddenly we had no place to go at seven in the morning. We were free to do as we pleased, but we had forgotten how to seize the day without first planning it minute by minute. We drifted for a time, unable to determine how we might spend the next years of our lives without the constraints that had directed them for so many years. Ultimately we learned to relax once again, to randomly leave for a sojourn at the beach or in the woods. We became aimless travelers willing to head in directions unknown at a moment’s notice. It was exhilarating!

Then came the pandemic from out of nowhere. The trip to Scotland that we were about to take was canceled. Nobody was calling to invite us to meet them in an hour anymore. We became more and more like hermits tied to our home while we waited for the danger of the virus to abate. We did our best to make that time fun in different ways, but it was difficult to watch the weeks then months of confinement rule our lives. Eventually we figured out how to travel without endangering ourselves or others. We embarked on trip after trip in our trailer, our conveyance into the wider world. It was glorious to be spontaneous in a kind of bubble of our making. 

We had continued to consider a number of trips for this year ,but all of them would come to naught as my mother-in-law’s health quite suddenly began to fade. Then my father-in-law became seriously ill at the moment of her death. Month after month we have been caretakers, responsible people just as were had been when we were working and providing for our daughters when they were still living at home. Our calendar became the guide for our days. We had to perfectly plan each hour to accomplish the goals centering on getting my father-in-law well. We have had to be grown-ups once again. 

Life is funny. One day we can be free to live in the spur of the moment and the next we have to buckle down to our duties. We do well to know how to react successfully to both situations. There is a time for being the adult in the room and another for taking full advantage of joyful escapes from obligations that require us to plan ahead or follow a calendar. Spontaneity is good for the soul, but so is doing what must be done. In life there must be a balance and a sense of when it is time for each way of living. 

My father-in-law is growing strong and healthy again. We are beginning to see that it may be okay to leave him for an afternoon or an evening. In the coming weeks we even hope to go on a camping trip once again with enough planning to be certain that he will be okay alone. We will slowly restore a bit of spontaneity to our lives, but we also understand that there is just as much happiness to be found in daily routines. Embracing the joy does not require running away from the moment. Sometimes just waking up to the discipline of making someone’s life a bit better is the best way to spend the time we have. 

If all of my years have taught me anything, it is that balance is the key to happiness. We need to know when to work hard and when to laugh and dance. The two ways of living are not mutually exclusive. We can and should have both. Life is way too precious not to enjoy as much as we possibly can. When we are facing our own mortality we each want it to be said that we have lived well. It’s great when we can look back and know that both our work and our spontaneous moments were magnificent.  

The Jinx

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I spent a Saturday afternoon talking with a fellow teacher while our students attended a seminar. He boasted that he had won a great deal of money in Las Vegas and the casinos in Louisiana. He told me that he had never purchased a lottery ticket without winning at least a small amount. He bragged that he was one of the luckiest men around. 

I told him that I never win anything. I gave up wasting my money at casinos long ago. I don’t even give myself a twenty dollar limit. It would be like setting the money on fire in an ashtray. I’ve received scratch off tickets at Christmas parties where almost everyone won at least a dollar, but not me. Our family has a tradition of handing out envelopes with money inside ranging from two dollars to fifty smackers. I’ve been drawing since I was maybe seven years old and have never received more than two dollars. I don’t gamble or bet, because the odds are pretty good that I will not win. 

The fellow teacher insisted that he if were to purchase a couple of scratch off tickets for me I would be certain to finally win. After we had dropped safely brought the students back home to the arms of their parents we met up at a service station that sold those things. To prove his point he told me that they would be a gift to me. He wanted to use his own money to show that he had the lucky touch. He confidently went inside and purchased two tickets and rushed back out to see what he had won for me. 

He took a quarter out of his pocket and even flipped it into the air before scratching on the surface of the card. He became more and more frantic as he came up with nothing indicating a win. He laughed lamely and insisted that this had never before happened to him then he smiled and began scratching the second card assured that he would find his winning streak again. When it also appeared to be a dud he excused himself and walked back in to get two more cards. Neither of them yielded a win either. He looked at me as though I was a Jonah on an ill-fated ship. 

Undaunted and wanting to prove his point he announced confidently that that he was going to purchase two more tickets but this time they would be for him, not for me. He came out of the store smiling and whistling. He began scratching and found a winner almost immediately. His good luck seemed to relieve him greatly. When the second card proved to be a winner as well. He literally heaved a sigh of relief. He looked at me and announced with great gravity that I must be the unluckiest person he had ever met. “Don’t ever go with me to Vegas!” he laughed as I reminded him that I had told him so. 

I am not a superstitious person but life has taught me that probability works against me when it comes to any games of chance. I once went to Las Vegas with a friend who was having a really bad day at the slot machines. That evening we both retired early and she vowed to do better the following day. When I awoke in the morning she was snoring away, so I went to breakfast without her. She met me later with a big smile. She told me that she had snuck out of the room the previous night while I was sleeping and had won over four hundred dollars. She laughed and said that she would be doing any future gambling without me. We spent the day sightseeing instead of playing any of the machines. That evening when she was alone she won a bundle again.

I have a very bad reputation as a bad luck jinx. While people admit that it is totally silly to accuse me of such a thing, their experiences with me lead them to actually believe that such things are possible. I’m glad it is not an earlier more superstitious era or I would surely be viewed as a witch or some other terrible character. The reality is that I get no joy in investing my money in games that are built to take my hard earned cash. I don’t play them often enough to finally get the bag of gold at the end of the rainbow. It’s not that I am unlucky, it’s just that I don’t play the odds often enough to finally get a pay off like other people do. 

I might invest in a really good stock or place my funds in a CD that pays good interest, but I just don’t like tossing money away. I would much rather give it to a charitable cause or even a political campaign. I work too hard to just fritter my earnings away and so going to a casino for any reason other than eating a nice meal or watching a show, it just not for me. 

Once in a great while I do buy a lottery ticket when the winnings get really high. I imagine what I will do if for some unlikely reason I actually won. Most of the time I think of giving most of it away to worthy people and causes. I like my home and might make a few improvements on it, but I doubt I will move. I’d like an electric car and the ability to travel the world. I’d give my university money to improve academic programs or to create scholarships. I would never gamble any of it away, but it it’s a card game where I can use strategy, I find that I have a good chance of winning. That is about as far as I will go.