Monday, January 30, 2017

This Is Who I Am...

When asked my profession, I don't think most people understand the reply "I'm an ESL teacher." More understand "I teach English as a Second Language." To that reply, I get the occasional nod. To the latter, I sometimes get a blank stare and then a request to explain more about what I do. 

Sometimes, as in the Kroger checkout line when my teaching badge is still hanging from my shirt, I get lectured. The one that sticks in my head the most: "Those kids should be learning English as their FIRST language! They live in America, for God's sake! I can't believe that's what you do!" To outrageous replies like this, which have been few and far between (thank the Lord!). I have a standard reply that I give that's very calm and collected, factual and straight-forward. Those of you who know me know it takes a great deal to get me riled up about something. 

But what I do, the profession that I choose for my life, is one thing that tugs at my heart strings. It is who I am, and it is not something that I always feel is understood outside the world of education. And at this moment in time and with the state of our country, I feel riled up.

So here it is:

For those of you who don't know exactly what I do, I educate immigrant children.

And I love what I do. 


The students I teach have immigrated to this country in various ways or for various reasons. Some students have been adopted. Other students' families are fleeing war. Some students' families come for their job or to further their education. Some had no jobs, no money, no way to keep their family above water, so they moved here: the land of opportunity. Some students' families have been here for generations, just like mine and many, many of yours. 

It honestly doesn't matter how they got here. I teach them English all the same. I teach them English to be successful in school and to be successful in life. That is my job. Even if it weren't my job and I didn't get paid to do it, I would still be honored to be a part of these families lives and their stories, helping them when and where I can.

You see, it doesn't matter whether these students and their families are Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, Christian, Buddhist, Atheist, or non-denominational.  It doesn't matter whether they're from Pakistan, India, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Norway, Kenya, Mexico, or Venezuela. 

These immigrants--these families---are just like us. 

They love, they laugh, they cry, they work, they pray, they get frustrated just like us. 

Their religion doesn't define their humanity. Their homelands do not define their humanity either.

As a member of the human race on this planet, I am standing with my students and their families who are immigrants. I support them and I care about them. I'll be damned if anyone decides that because they are immigrants of a certain faith or homeland that they are not welcome in this country. 

I am American. I believe in American values and I stand with these immigrant families for now and always. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

When Love Has No Place to Go

Ever since my dad passed away almost 9 years ago, the holidays have been different. The first few Christmases were definitely not the same. Of course, I shared Christmas breakfast and lunch with my family. We exchanged presents and ate Christmas cookies. Even though I walked through the motions and traditions of the holidays, they didn't feel the same. I missed my dad; the ache in my heart that started once my dad passed was hard to ignore. 

At 26, I had not expected to lose my dad. The shock of it all gripped me for some time after he passed. Eventually the shock gave way to extreme sadness, missing my fun-loving dad especially at the holidays. Seeing my mom struggle through those first few years was just as difficult and added to the sadness. I was trying to learn how to live my life without my dad, and it wasn't easy. My new normal was one that I had not wanted and accepting it was even harder. 

Nine years later, I still miss my dad with all my heart, but the ache and the pain are not what they used to be. It was so much easier to enjoy the holidays this year: cooking great food, playing with my niece, having a nice drink, anticipating my family opening the gifts I got them, and just relaxing. This was a good holiday. 

As I get older I also believe that it is easier for me because I know my dad is with me. Every day when I wake up, while I'm driving to school, while I'm cooking dinner, I know he's there. I feel him with me every day. It's hard to explain, but I just do. I always have, but as the years have passed, I have gotten used to his new role in my life. My dad's there when I need to vent. He's there when I feel like chatting. He's there just to be there. And I'm okay with that now. 

I recently read a quote that changed my perspective on how I was feeling in my grief process. I can't remember where I saw it, but it really touched me and I'm glad. At the time my dad passed, a lot of things in my life changed and a lot of things in my family's lives changed. We were all in survival mode, so I know I did not get the chance in those first months and years after he passed to grieve the loss of my dad completely. Over the years, I have been able to grieve his loss, and this quote also helps explain why the process was so difficult for me:

Image result for grief love building up

I realized this was what I was feeling all along. I had so much love that I wanted to give my dad. I wanted to hug him, to have him walk me down the aisle, to share my new home with him, to just call him and tell him I love him. That was the hardest part to deal with. I had so much love for my dad, and it would just build up inside of me with no where to go. After awhile, I realized that I could send that love to him in other ways.

I talk to my dad in the car, while cooking dinner, and walking the dog. Sometimes I feel his big hugs while we talk, and I can't help but smile. Just thinking about him and picturing his smiling face makes my heart swell. My life without my dad is definitely different, but I've realized that this is the turn my life has taken. I've found other ways to send him love, and it makes me happy. 

On Christmas morning, I closed my eyes and saw my dad with his bed head in his pajamas. His baggy pajama pants a little too short for his six foot one frame. His long white t-shirt had stained with tea on the collar from dribbling his drink while reading the paper. He giggled childishly, shaking the present I handed him trying to see if he could guess what's inside. I laughed. My heart smiled as it always does when I think of him. I sent him my love, he sent me his, and I carried him with me hoping he enjoyed Christmas this year as much as I did. 

To anyone grieving the loss of a loved one through the holidays, you are in my thoughts. Sending you so much love and healing energy. 

Love and happiness <3 Holly

Saturday, August 6, 2016

One Important Lesson from the Summer

It's funny the things you learn when you least expect it. Unassuming, sometimes life lessons can just appear out of thin air and smack you in the face. Especially from places where you least expect them to come. 

I've always been a fan of young adult literature; I mean, I am an elementary teacher. I love the depth of characters and lessons learned that so many amazing books provide our youngsters with today. And one amazing book that I read this summer taught this adult woman a life lesson that I've been needing to internalize. 

This summer I set out to read books. For me, for relaxation, for my soul. So many summers I try to plan too much--housework, projects, school work, etc. For some reason I think that having the summer off means that I can get everything I've ever wanted to in life done in a matter of three months. That, however, has never worked out for me. My anxiety brain starts screaming at me about a month into summer, "Oh my god! You are NEVER going to get any of this done!" I start panicking that I'm not going to accomplish what I need to accomplish (more likely what I want to) in the three months I am not teaching. 

Each summer I was putting undue stress on myself. I felt like a failure if I wasn't getting all the items checked off my to-do list, and I would feel drained once school started. This summer I decided to do a lot of "me" things to help rejuvenate me for the next school year and to keep my to-do list anxiety checker at bay. This included reading a lot of books.

Checking out stacks of books from the library, I would grab what spoke to me from the shelves. I did have a small to-read list, so I picked those books up too. One of the amazing books I read this summer based on teacher friends' recommendations was Counting Thyme by Melanie Conklin.

This young adult book boats a dynamic, young lead character, with whom I fell in love. Eleven-year-old Thyme Owen's family is facing a crisis. Thyme's little brother, Val, has been accepted into a new cancer trail in New York, so their family needs to move cross-country to save her brother. Thyme misses everything about her home: her house, her grandmother, her friends. The city is not a welcoming place to her, and Thyme is certain that her family will be moving back to their old home in a matter of months. As the family starts to see positive changes from Val's treatment, Thyme realizes that her family may be sticking around in New York for good. Confused by her new situation and feelings about moving, Thyme faces new life moments that she is afraid to embrace: a new school, new friends, her first crush, and a grumpy neighbor with a sweet singing bird. She is uncertain if the emotional pull she feels to New York and these new experiences are what she wants in her life. All Thyme can do is count the minutes, hours, days, and months in hopes that her brother can be cured and that her family can find their way back home.

One of my favorite reads, I related so much to this story. Eight years ago my family was in crisis. Granted I wasn't eleven years old, I believe that anyone who's ever been in a battle with cancer can understand Thyme's feelings of not wanting her life to change, yet wanting to do anything you can to help your family member in trouble. 

Eight years ago my dad passed away from a rare form of brain cancer: glioblastoma. When my dad was diagnosed, I knew that our lives would never be the same. In my 20's, I didn't that my life could change in an instant. I knew they could, but I didn't expect it to happen to me. 

After my dad passed, I really struggled understanding my new life without my dad. I didn't expect my dad to be gone before I got married. I never thought my dad would never meet my niece. I never imagined my dad would not see my sister graduate college with a degree in statistics--a math-brained person just like him. This was a life I never imagined, and nothing felt "normal" to me for a long time. 

This summer after reading a passage from Counting Thyme, something clicked with me, and it helped me to accept the fact that my life has changed. 

In New York, Thyme feels awkward in her new surroundings and doesn't feel like she fits in. She isn't fitting in with the "normal" New York kids. When things don't go Thyme's way, she wonders why her life in New York can't just be normal like they were in San Diego. In this instance, Thyme remembers an important lesson her grandmother once shared with her:

Thyme's grandmother's advice is just what I needed to hear. Of course, as an adult, I know there is no normal. I give my students this advice all the time. But I needed to hear it from someone else to allow it to resonate in my heart and soul. 

My dad may not physically be here with me, and my life may be different than it was when he was around, but this is my new normal. 

My life is normal for now, and I'm okay with that. 

Life changes, and it will continue to change. It's okay to have a new normal. You may not like it at first, but you have to embrace the happiness and joy in the moment and expect the unexpected. Of course, I wish my dad were still with me today, but it's okay to embrace my new normal and enjoy life.

Thank you for Thyme, Melanie. 

Love and happiness <3 Holly