Day 30/Post 30: I made it!

Well, first of all, a moment to celebrate that I made it! 30 days doesn’t sound long but I was really trying to push myself to only post things of substance. I think I managed, for the most part at least, to rise to the challenge I laid out for myself. Today has proven to be especially challenging. It’s the last day so I can’t put it off until tomorrow but we had so much going on today that made it difficult to find time to write. So, even though I really wanted to finish strong I think instead you’ll get a recap of what I’ve learned from this challenge and what my goals for this blog are as I move forward.

  1. I need to be writing every day. It may not be publishable every day but the more I write the more I find I have to say. There are, of course, days when I don’t have much to say and without the challenge hanging over my head I probably won’t push myself to post things that I feel need more refining or that simply don’t really say much. But I’m going to sit at the computer for least 20 minutes daily and see what happens.
  2. It is not conducive to writing for me to pull myself away from my family. It has to be done when nothing is going on. If I try to set a time and then we’re in the middle of something- even if that something is just watching TV or showing each other silly internet memes- I can’t really give myself over to writing. So, it’s either early in the morning, before everyone is up, or finding moments of natural down time in the day.
  3. I don’t need to narrow my writing to specific topics or special days for certain topics. I need to write about what is in the forefront of my mind in the moment if I really want to say anything of value. Readers would rather have posts with substance on varied topics than watered down posts on the same topic- and more importantly, that’s what I’d rather write!
  4. I can use this space as a jumping off point for other adventures with writing. A blog post can be refined for submission to a magazine; I just have to find the right fit.
  5. Sharing my writing helps me feel more connected to the world at large. Seeing the number of people who’ve read, shared, liked and/or commented on something reaffirms for me that deep down we all have more similarities than differences. But we can only discover that if we’re willing to actually show people who we are deep down.
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Day 29/Post 29: Before and After?

I’ve already shared how I feel about before and after pictures used in diet ads. As my birthday approaches (it’s Wednesday) I’ve been thinking more about the juxtaposition of these photos and what they are supposed to represent. When diet companies show us these pictures they want us to see the “after” picture and associate thin with happy. They are trying to sell us their product with promises of this happy life. You know what I think of that. I don’t need to tell you. But, as I approach my 38th birthday and my 20th (!!) high school reunion I want to share a little bit of my long journey to this place.

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So, here are some pictures of that journey. Seeing them all together like that, these pictures from 18, 28 and (almost) 38, I understand the appeal of the before and after shot, I really do. The photographer in me knows that we like having visual imagery to represent the big changes we feel inside. That same photographer really hates to admit that pictures just can’t tell the complete story.

That first picture, the perfect “after” picture for diet ads with a smiling, thin girl,  can’t tell you that I was  feeling very grown-up without realizing that I was merely playing dress-up. I was happy enough but it was superficial. It was a happiness based on fitting in, passing for “normal” and very little introspection. I was a pretty typical teen and I really don’t have much to complain about. But I was also pretty insecure and had a budding eating disorder.

The picture in the middle doesn’t tell you that even though I’m smiling in Paris I’m on a downward spiral toward my rock bottom. You can’t see that I had moved on from one eating disorder and plunged head first into the next. You can’t tell from my smiling face that I had suddenly and completely realized that collecting things that represent the perfect life (house, husband, kids, career, vacations) wasn’t the same thing as actually having one. This picture can’t show you that I was clinically depressed, binge eating and miserable.

And the last picture, the one that  does a great job representing what diet ads use for those “before” pics doesn’t tell the full story either. I’m not smiling (I was but I talked just as Kya snapped the picture so it came out without a smile) and as a result I look fat and unhappy. The opposite of that thin, smiling girl in the first pic. But I am no longer playing dress up. I’m no longer striving to fit in. I’m introspective to a fault. I’ve defeated eating disorders. I’ve overcome depression. I am not just happy but JOYFUL. My appreciation for the life I have is not based on my mood or the circumstances of the day. Even on my worst days I am capable of moments of pure, unadulterated joy because I am happy with myself.

So, even though my “before” is smiling, skinny and young, my “in between” is having an adventure in Paris, and my “after” is making a weird face, fat, getting older and settling for Branson instead of traveling the world I don’t mind. The truth is that all of those people are me, none of them are simply a before or after because they all brought me to this place. And I not only like where I am but I also appreciate the journey that brought me here.

Day 28/Post 28: Uncultured

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Cultured is a term I’m becoming increasingly annoyed with. It seems to have become (or perhaps it always was) another weapon in the ever growing arsenal we use against each other. Somewhere along the way an appreciation for things that are aesthetically pleasing has become a yardstick by which me measure another person’s value. Lack of appreciation for things that have the cultured stamp of approval seems to be grounds for dismissing the opinions, desires, needs and rights of others.

Any number of things can earn one the brand uncultured:

  • Listening to the wrong type of music
  • Enjoying the wrong types of food
  • Wearing the wrong clothes
  • Watching the wrong movies/TV shows (or, in some circles, watching TV at all)
  • Reading the wrong books (or again, not reading at all)
  • Liking the wrong kinds of art
  • Living in the wrong place
  • Speaking with the wrong accent/dialect

I could go on but you get the idea.  There are entire websites, reality shows and so much more that exist solely to make fun of those deemed “uncultured”. And the most glaringly obvious way, when observing these various forms of media, to earn the brand uncultured is to be poor. Or socially powerless. Or both.

But this word, uncultured, makes little sense. We moved a lot when I was young. I have a HUGE family (literally hundreds of cousins, 2nd cousins, etc.) so we are an extremely diverse group. I married into a family that’s also pretty diverse. I’ve worked in the public sector. I’ve moved among various social circles within the same community. And with all of my experiences with people I’ve never met a person with no culture. Rednecks, hippies, geeks and jocks, they all have their own culture. It may not always be “refined” culture, but it’s still culture. One with values, traditions and personal style.

It took me a long time to appreciate this. When I was still figuring out how to accept myself and my personal history I was judgmental of cultures outside the mainstream. I was a harsh critic of my own culture because I so desperately wanted to be “normal”. But as I’ve come to value myself I’ve also come to value the culture I grew up in. It is not perfect, far from it. But parts of it are. Jut like most of us. Just like me.

 

 

Day 28/Post 27: The Myth of Perfection

*If “rude” hand gestures offend you then you may not want to scroll down. Click on any image below to enlarge.

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Last night I was scrolling through the “humor” category on Pinterest when I came across this image. It did make me laugh but, as the best jokes will do, it also made me think. Then it made me sad. And finally mad, but still with hope.

My initial reaction was that of the girl in the bottom picture. “Screw you, tasty food is tasty and I don’t care one bit about hip bones.”

Then when I really looked at the collage at the top of the image I realized that the creator was chasing something that doesn’t exist, perfection. We are bombarded with the message that anything less than perfection is unacceptable.

Silver medal? Don't even bother coming home, loser!

Silver medal? Don’t even bother coming home, loser!

But the dirty little secret that people pushing this message don’t want to acknowledge is that perfection doesn’t exist. It’s a myth that is widely used to sell you something. Buy this shoe, this diet shake, this curriculum, this hair product, this exercise equipment and you too can be PERFECT. We promise!

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When we really examine the reaction of the girl in the bottom picture another truth begins to emerge. Rebellion. When I was began recovery for eating disorders I discovered that often my food choices were a subliminal act of resistance to pervasive unhealthy messages about control and body images. In other words, pressuring ourselves to change our bodies and accepting messages about perfection is actually making it more difficult to be healthy. Our subconscious is busy rejecting unrealistic expectations instead of noticing what foods we actually enjoy and make us feel good.

I also think it’s worth noting that the top image has reduced the women pictured to body parts. We don’t see an entire body much less a face on any of them. Because the other dirty little secret of the people pushing these ideas for their own gain is that NO body is perfect. Humans have flaws and it is a waste of energy to resist that. Furthermore, if some anomaly could be found of person with a perfect body (without photoshop) that still wouldn’t mean that the person inhabiting that body was perfect. Thin does not equal perfection. Or even beauty.

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But there is hope that a healthier message can prevail. The girl in the bottom of that first image and the above quote from Ms. Symone reminded me of that.

 

 

Day 27/Post 26: They’ll be so far behind…

I keep running into this phrase. It comes in a few contexts, all relating to homeschooling.

Concern from parents that their kids are falling behind their peer age group.

Concern from the kids themselves about falling behind their peer age group.

Condemnation from family members and strangers who think homeschooling should be school-at-home and if it isn’t the kids will fall so far behind they’ll NEVER be able to catch up.

But what does “falling behind” even mean? Falling behind an age group? Falling behind a grade level? Falling behind in what areas? Who decides what kids should learn and when? What are they basing this decision on?

I have a lot of experience in the field of education. I’ve worked in daycare, as a classroom teacher and special education teacher in public schools (at various grade levels) and as a GED instructor working with teens who had just left high school up to people in their 60s. I am here to tell you that there is no average student. Age does not determine what people know. Grade level does not determine what people know. In fact, one of the most common topics of discussion among professional educators is differentiated instruction- trying to find ways to teach students in the same classroom who are at different levels of skill and ability.

Based on my personal observations “falling behind” is based upon what works best in the classroom* environment. In that particular setting it is necessary to move at a specific pace, introducing new ideas at specific times for organizational purposes. This is loosely based on when some kids seem able to master certain skills. It’s not based on current brain research or what we know about how people learn. For example, the reason kids who can’t read by the end of 2nd or 3rd grade in school are at risk of never reading fluently isn’t because they are no longer capable of learning this skill. It’s because classroom teachers don’t have time to work on reading skills beyond that grade level. And the kids lose interest because books that are increasingly difficult are required so they give up. This isn’t a critique of teachers, please don’t misunderstand me, it’s a critique of the inherent flaws of the system as it is currently structured.

So, when I hear people concerned with kids “falling behind” I take it with a grain of salt. Many of the arbitrary guidelines necessary for schools to run smoothly disappear in the home environment. I still, of course, listen when parents express concern because there are times when a legitimate concern might arise. However, I don’t think it happens often and certainly not as often as I hear it from “concerned” bystanders.

*Classroom here is referring to a K-12 classroom. Post-secondary instruction is organized differently in that it is, for the most part, voluntary. Additionally differentiated skill can be addressed by the individual student in these instances in the form of taking necessary per-requisite courses.

Day 27/Post 25: A Bird in the Hand?

I have a pretty promising job opportunity. The principal of the high school, who is a former colleague of mine, called me yesterday to ask what it would take to keep the GED program running in our town. We discussed it briefly, she told me that she’s already spoken to the superintendent and that he thinks it’s a good idea as well so they are preparing to present it to the school board. I am so relieved for the community; in rural communities programs like this are essential. I’m also excited at the prospect of returning to work I love with a schedule that suits our families needs. But…

The hours are far fewer than I was working before. I wanted fewer hours after realizing that the kids, Jace especially, need me home more. But this is a bigger reduction that I’d planned. I have a few options for income to compliment this one but neither of them are exactly secure financially nor do they thrill me in terms of professional fulfillment (though perhaps the GED class will be fulfilling enough to bolster me through…)

I could substitute teach at our local school in addition to teaching the evening GED classes. But that is largely dependent on being called for work. I’m also afraid that in the thick of it I’ll have a difficult time saying no when I’m called even if I’ve already worked as many days that week as I’d like to.

I could also offer child care services one day per week in my home. Our local school is transitioning to a four day school week this year and I know a lot of parents are looking for child care on Mondays. But again, not exactly secure. I’m not sure I could get the number of kids I need to make this a viable option. And I’m also not sure how much I’m going to like it.

And all of this would be easier if that *perfect-really-really-want-it* job wasn’t tantalizing me. But they aren’t even going to start looking at applications for this dream job until next month. It’s a lot more money than any of the other combinations for about the same number of hours worked. It’s a job that I feel well suited for and know I could do well and enjoy a lot. But I don’t even know if I’m going to get an interview, much less a job offer. Can I really turn down this right-in-front-of-me offer for the possibility that something better *may* come along?

No job at all would not be feasible for our family. Simply subbing without the GED position to supplement would require too many days/hours out of the house to really meet our needs. So, if the GED position comes to fruition before I get a call about the other one I’ll have to decide. I’m not a gambler. I’m not a risk taker. I know that there are countless inspirational stories about people taking big risks for big rewards. But there are a lot more cautionary tales about people who let opportunity slip through their fingers. Generally people who take big risks can afford to. And I’m just not sure we can.

Day 25/Post 23: Amends and What It Means to be Sorry

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I have mentioned before that I am recovering from various forms of disordered eating. Like most other addiction disorders I’ll never really be cured but choose recovery daily, sometimes several times a day. An integral part of that recovery centers around the idea of forgiveness. Forgiving others, forgiving ourselves, and making amends to those who might forgive us.

Making amends is about so much more than being sorry. It is about attempting to make it right, which can take many forms. But there’s another aspect- accepting that you may not be able to make it right. Accepting that you may not be forgiven. Accepting that forgiveness may look different than you’d imagined.

One of the most important things that I learned through my recovery process is that being sorry should not be about forgiveness or defining the form forgiveness should take (IE: forgiveness may not include the other person letting you remain in their life). In other words, it shouldn’t be about making yourself feel better.

Truly being sorry is about letting the other person know that your actions were about you, not them. When we are hurt we often hurt other people, usually indirectly and unintentionally but that doesn’t erase the consequences. Accepting responsibility for those consequences should be about helping the other person, not our own redemption.

I’ve come to understand that letting go and forgiving myself doesn’t mean that others will always forgive me. I’ve also learned that just because they forgive me doesn’t mean they will trust me. It is not for me to demand forgiveness or trust. It is not for me to hold it against someone when they can’t let go of hurts inflicted by me.

I’m not an axe murderer but I’m no saint either. Most of the hurts I’ve inflicted on others arose from my own lack of self esteem. I had my own reasons and I honestly believe that I was doing the best I could at the time. And yet I hurt people.  I subconsciously pushed people away because I was afraid of being hurt and had a difficult time trusting that they truly cared. I didn’t realize it at the time but I had some very carefully constructed walls that I wasn’t really letting anyone behind.

I’ve torn down large portions of those walls and I can clearly see now what I was doing. With the wisdom of hindsight I realized that there were people I pushed away that I now need to make amends to. This is an ongoing process, one that includes the understanding that just because my walls have come down doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone will want to see what’s behind them anymore.