Future Days

If I ever were to lose you
I’d surely lose myself 

Thursday afternoon Eddie and I were driving home from basketball camp. The song “We Are Going to be Friends” by the White Stripes came on the radio. I looked in my rear-view mirror as I sang quietly along in time to see Eddie bobbing his head with the tune.

“Ya know, Eddie…this song always makes me think of you.”

“Why, mom? Because it’s about school?”

“Yeah. A little. I don’t really know why. School I guess. And being friends. You’re a good friend and I hope you always are. Plus you were my first little dude and I hope we always have these talks.”

“I like that, mom.”

Everything I have found dear 
I’ve not found by myself

We wordlessly listened to the rest of the song. The next song was a Pearl Jam song. One of my favorites. I sang along, and Eddie thoughtfully listened.

Try and sometimes you’ll succeed
To make this man of me 

When it was over Eddie said, “That was nice. I liked that one too.”

“That song makes me think of Daddy, you know. Every time I hear it.”

“Is it because it sounds like Daddy singing?”

“What? Oh! Ha! Is that what Daddy sounds like when he sings?”

“A little. Yes. Actually a lot. Yup.”

“I never thought of that. Actually the words make me think of Daddy.  Well, me and Daddy.”

“Because you love each other?”

“Yup. It’s about being with someone forever.”

“I like that.”

“Me too, bud.”
All my stolen missing parts 
I’ve no need for anymore

Today is eleven years since we said, “I do,” but I realized that this past May officially marked twenty years of friendship.
I believe 
And I believe cause I can see 
Our future days
Days of you and me 

I’ve written about our story…about how are paths were so twisty and overgrown with other stuff that we couldn’t see that they were leading to each other. That both of us prayed and wished and hoped for someone to not just marry, but someone to love and laugh and cry with forever and ever.
Back when I was feeling broken 
I focused on a prayer 

In fact, we even did this wishing and hoping and praying many times together. Until all that was left was the two of us: looking at each other and just knowing.
You came deep as any ocean
Did something out there hear?

Every time I question God or prayer or faith or grace, I think back on how we are even here together. How we never saw it coming, and how now we can’t imagine it any other way.
All the complexities and games 
No one wins but somehow they’re still played

We are not perfect. We still get annoyed with each other. We quarrel. We snip at each other. We get on each other’s nerves with our “quirks” and bad habits.
All the missing crooked hearts
They may die but in us they live on 

But we also laugh. We laugh so much. We laugh through and into and around our tears. We suck in our breath and pray through our fears. We listen to each other talk, but more importantly, we listen to each other’s silence.
I believe
And I believe cause I can see
Our future days 
Days of you and me 

Sickness, death, pregnancy loss, job loss, sanity loss…we have been through all of it, and yet…
When hurricanes and cyclones raged
When winds turned dirt to dust
When floods they came or tides they raised
Ever closer became us

It’s not easy. People have said we make it look easy. I think that is because we were…ARE…such great friends. I wasn’t a cliche when I said I married my best friend. I really did. And it still surprises and delights me.
All the promises at sundown 
I’ve meant them like the rest 

Even though my depression and anxiety lie and say I don’t deserve any of this that we have built together as a team, I know we are both in it until that death do us part thing. And even then…
All the demons used to come round 
I’m grateful now they’ve left 

One of my favorite quotes about love going on forever is from the YA novel, Wonder: “You don’t need your eyes to love, right? You just feel it inside you. That’s how it is in heaven. It’s just love, and no one forgets who they love” (227).
So persistent in my ways 
Hey Angel I am here to stay 
No resistance, no alarms
Please, this is just too good to be gone

So we’ve been married for eleven years, but I believe that our future days…and the ones after we are no longer on this earth…are days of you and me.
I believe 
And I believe cause I can see 
Our future days 
Days of you an me 
You and me
Days,…
You and me

Happy anniversary, my love. I’m sorry I forgot to buy a card.

future days

*Lyrics from the song “Future Days” by Pearl Jam

Testimony

In 2009, without much pomp or circumstance, I made profession of faith. I’m not sure anybody even noticed because I did it in conjunction with Eddie being baptized. It was a requirement for baptism that both Cortney and I were members of our church. Because I had not yet made profession of faith in any church, I needed to do so to be an official member. So we just added that in to all the other “will you…” stuff that is asked before the water is officially sprinkled on the baby. I was thirty-one years old.

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If I am honest, I only did it because I wanted my baby to be baptized and because I was cool with being an official member of our church. I really didn’t have any of my questions answered that had been swirling around since I was in middle school. In fact, I am not sure why it was even important to me to have Eddie baptized other than it was tradition and I knew I didn’t want to deal with what our parents would say if we didn’t do it. Great reasons, I know.

I was brought up in the church. In fact, my childhood church is across the street from the church my family now attends. My town is small and there are somewhere around a million churches in it. The joke is that there is a church on every corner, and it’s based in a bit of reality. Growing up, if we made a new friend, the first question our parents asked was, “who are their parents?” followed by “what church do they go to?”

Church was not a bad experience for me though. I met my best friend through Sunday School when we were very small. She likes to joke that I scared her back then, but she scares me now. The truth is, some of my best memories are from church-related things; I had lots of fun experiences, but I wouldn’t say any of them were life-changing in the spiritual department.

My family was in church ever Sunday morning for the 8:30am service. We sat in the pew in the same order: me all the way to the middle, mom, Mike (my youngest brother), dad, and Chris (my younger brother) on the aisle. There were some years where my dad was a deacon and we sat in the “reserved” bench. We were always there.

We were also always in Sunday School. All of us. Our church offered classes for every single age, so we all went. Most weeks we even went back to church for the evening service.

Wednesday night was also for church. In elementary school, I did choir and catechism class. In middle and high school I had youth group. I participated in skits and other dramas when I was in high school, I went on retreats and mission trips. I did fun nights and scavenger hunts and ice cream socials.

The one thing I didn’t do was follow the rest of my peers and make profession of faith. Church was fun, but the actual religious part of it…the part where I was expected to feel moved by God…didn’t happen for me.

I credit those years for laying a foundation of good morals and the desire to put kindness into the world. I believe my religious upbringing definitely aided in my perception of my self-worth and self-respect.

However I don’t think I ever felt a strong, unflinching belief that I thought I should be feeling. I never felt the same blind faith that my parents seemed to feel. I had way WAY too many questions.

In college I took a history of Christianity class for a gen ed requirement. I came home with fascinating questions and wonderings and the minute I brought them up I thought my dad’s head was going to explode. He absolutely wouldn’t let me talk about it because to him, you didn’t question God or what we are taught in the Bible. You accept it. You believe it. And that is it.

That was a turning point for me. I just couldn’t accept it as the absolute, literal truth, so I assumed I didn’t believe. I thought it was all or nothing, so since I couldn’t give all, I supposed my faith was nothing.

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I spent the rest of college battling with whether or not I believed there was a God. As much as I tried to deny one, I just felt in my bones that there was something bigger than us. That we weren’t here just randomly.

One night circa 2002, I found myself having a discussion with a drunk, but lucid not-even-on-my-radar-as-a-possible-life-partner best friend named Cortney. One thing we talked at length about was our religious beliefs–something I hadn’t even really discussed with my then boyfriend of four years. It turned out that we had similar beliefs after being brought up in very similar ways. We both believed there is a God, but to what extent everything in the Bible is a literal truth threw up lots of doubts and questions. This was a big deal because I had never talked to anyone with my almost exact feelings about Christianity and organized religion before.

Three years after that conversation, Cortney and I said “I do” in his church just six months after his dad was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.  While the cancer slowly overtook his body, my father-in-law kept a firm grasp on his faith. I felt like he knew something I didn’t. Something I just couldn’t hold onto. And even though I tried hard to see how in the world his faith in God could grow, mine seemed to shrink. Cortney’s seemed to disappear altogether.

Before we were even married two years, I suffered my first miscarriage. I suffered another the following year. When Eddie was three months old, Cortney lost his job. I suffered from postpartum depression and anxiety.

People told us that everything–EVERYTHING–happened for a reason. Cancer, death, lost babies, depression, job loss, all of it…happened for a reason and we just needed to trust that good was coming.

One family member who was a minister told us that everything bad that happened was a result of our faith being too weak.  It was because of something we did or didn’t do.

I had just one question: Where in the world was God?

He’s there was all people could say.

I called bullshit on it.

People said God gives you hard stuff to make you stronger.

I called more bullshit. I still do. I simply cannot believe God purposefully sends death and depression and loss. I just don’t believe that Cortney’s dad was destined by God to get cancer and die at age 49.

I don’t believe that since my toddler years God knew that I would grow up to lose pregnancies and battle depression. That he was knew it and and was all like, “oh yes…”hard stuff”. All according to my plan.”

NO.

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I have so so so many questions. Still.

Three years ago we decided to go back to church because we wanted to raise our kids in the church–to give them the good memories and solid foundation we were brought up with. We also felt like something was missing from our lives., and we found that going to church made us feel better–part of a family.

At the time our church was going through changes in the pastoral staff. In the past few years, all three of the pastors in our church have become our good friends. In fact, I think of them first as my friends, then as the pastors of our church.

On the one hand, the past few years has taught me that my heart for social justice and my idea of putting love and kindness into the world are absolutely what Christianity is supposed to be about. On the other, I have more questions than ever. Our friends-our pastors-are academically intelligent people. Like I said, I think of them all as friends first. I would absolutely hang out with them even if their jobs were not to spread the word of God. We discuss social justice and ideas and books and beer and music and politics. I have a great respect and love for them.

But my heart has so many questions.

 

I think I have more questions than I have faith, if that makes sense.

Cortney was ordained and installed as a deacon in our church last week. We stood and recited the Apostles’ Creed, and I couldn’t help but wonder, “do I believe this?  Does Cort? Are we lying?”

I love baptisms because they are full of faith and love and promise. They are the promise of God’s love for all of us, and I know that if nothing else, I believe in that love.

The rest of the stuff I have no idea, but the love? That I know I believe in.

Twenty

Apparently this month marks twenty years since I graduated from high school. This fact didn’t affect me at all until someone created a Facebook group for the class of ’96.

Let me back up and say that my class hasn’t been too great at getting reunions together. The ones they did manage to throw together, I did not attend. It’s not because I don’t like my class or because I was too busy to go. I just didn’t want to. Five years seemed to close to graduation. I was just out of college and not at all ready to go back to high school. Ten years found me only a year into a marriage with no kids yet and nothing of note–other than my teaching gig–to report back with. I don’t think a fifteen year reunion even happened.

So here we are at twenty. As far as I know, there is no reunion being planned, but maybe. There is a Facebook group. And there are pictures that have been added (some by me). I am suddenly reminded that since our senior year there have been marriages and babies and divorces. There have been those who have moved away not to be heard from. There are many who are still living in our small town.

It’s hard not to think of my classmates the way I saw them when I was in high school. This makes me wonder how people saw me in high school. I never really thought about it while actually in high school, though. In fact, I saw myself as someone who could find a buddy anywhere. I was never concerned about whether or not I had friends in a class with me because I knew that whoever was in the class would be cool.

I had three close girlfriends in my grade, two of whom are still my best friends. Freshman year I started dating a junior, so I hung out mostly with older kids. Junior year he went off to an out-of-state college and I started hanging out more with a group of guys the year behind me since my best friend’s brother was in that group and we all pretty much hung out at their house. I was in marching band, but I dated varsity athletes. One of my best friends was a partier; I didn’t drink but I was usually hanging out willing to give her a ride. I was friendly with pretty much everyone, but I didn’t really belong in any one clique. Unless my friends were a clique and I just didn’t know it.

My grades were good–I was always on the honor roll–but I wasn’t top of my class or anything. Math and science tended to elude me and I had to study pretty hard for those B’s (sometimes C+’s). I liked to goof off in class and make people laugh, but I didn’t push the line of disrespect with teachers. I was chronically late to first hour once I had my own car, but I managed to avoid detention. Most teachers seemed to like me, but not because I was a brown-nose. I don’t think. I didn’t play any sports, but my friends did and I was always at their games.

The first time I was ever aware that my name came up in groups when I wasn’t around was when I was a sophomore. A group of girls was gossiping about who had gone how far with their boyfriends. Everyone looked at me. My boyfriend was a senior and in that moment I found out that “everyone” assumed he and I were…well…doing something we mostly certainly were not. I remember laughing my head off at these girls who were so sure they knew my personal life. They laughed too once I told them the truth, although I never was sure if they believed me. It struck me as incredibly odd that anyone would talk about me while I wasn’t there. That people had opinions of me separate from being around me or talking to me.

So I look back on that and think about my assumptions about other people that may or may not have been true.

I think about the cliques people were in; I notice that a lot of them still hang out with those people (thanks, Facebook).

I think about those who I didn’t really get to know very well back then other than possibly sitting by them in math or doing a government project with them. Are they essentially still the same? Have they changed?

And what about me? Am I the same?

In some ways, I know I am not. I know I am about twice the size I was back then–something that is very sensitive for me. Something I want to immediately bring up and explain. “Hi! So yeah, I am like TWO of the Katie’s you used to know, right? I had five pregnancies, two miscarriages, and a pile of mental illness, so you know, my body hasn’t been my first priority. No, I don’t want your shakes or work out plans. Not right now. I’m just letting you know I am aware that I look different.”

My worldview is also much different. I went to a pretty insular high school and depended on my parents to let me know what my views were. They didn’t actually say much, but I knew they leaned to the right, so I copied that. Since those days I have straightened up and pretty much fell over to the left. I have become an loud voice for social justice and human rights, rather than just being loud.

I used to tell myself I didn’t go to reunions because I hadn’t done enough yet. I wanted to come back accomplished. But I am not sure what I mean by that anymore. Since graduating, I have earned two degrees, been published in print books, academic journals, and large online publications like the Washington Post. I have spoken at conferences. I have fought mental illness and become an advocate. I have raised thousands of dollars in books for my classroom library to promote literacy in my at-risk school. I’ve created this blog and shared my story. I have a wonderful marriage to one of my best friends and we have three pretty awesome kids. We own our own home. Cortney is a part-owner of a business. I’m planning on getting my PhD.

How much more accomplished can I get?

So maybe I don’t go because I am scared. I am scared that I don’t matter. I’m scared that people still see me as someone nice, but not in any group. I’m afraid of being excluded.

And really, I feel that as an adult, I shouldn’t have to feel nervous and inadequate and self-conscious anymore, so I hide and tell myself lies.

 

Can I Say?

I pick Eddie up from school every single day. A couple days a week he stays late and goes to the after school program so I can can stay late in my classroom. The other three days I brave the dumb school parking lot and get him right after school. Every day I ask him how his day was. Every day we end up chatting during the short, three-mile drive home. His booster seat is in the middle in the back seat with Charlie’s carseat directly behind the driver and Alice’s carseat behind the passenger side. During our chats, I can glance up and see his little face full on in my rear view mirror.

Our conversations range from the mundane to the exceptional. We have talked about both math and God on these drives. But it’s one of our most recent conversation about language that I wanted to share today.

Eddie: Mom today I learned about swear words.
Me: Come again? What?
Eddie: I learned that “shitty” is a swear word. It is, right?
Me: Um. Yeah. It is. May I ask how you learned this?
Eddie: Well. We were in our groups and we were doing word cards and I said the word “city” with and “sh” on the front.
Me: Why?
Eddie: Because I got mixed up and thought “ci” sounds like “sh”. But later Mrs. D told me that “city” with an “sh” on the front is actually a swear word and I should probably not say it. So is it? Is “shitty” a swear word?
Me: Uh. Yes. Yes it is.
Eddie: but “shit” is not, right?
Me: Well, yeah. That is a swear word too.
Eddie: Oh. Ok.

We ride along in silence for a couple seconds and then…

Eddie: Mom?
Me: Yeah?
Eddie: Who says swear words anyway? I mean, I know we’re not supposed to say them because they are bad, but they are words, so someone must say them, right?
Me:  Usually adults. When they are angry.
Eddie: Do you say swear words?
Me: I have. Yes.
Eddie: But they are for adults to say? Because they are bad?
Me: Yeah. They are just not nice. They are pretty ugly and you only say them when your feelings are ugly.
Eddie: Like when your classes don’t listen and you have a bad day?
Me: No….even uglier and angrier and sadder.
Eddie: Like when someone dies? Yeah, I would think death would be shitty.
Me: Yes. Yes it is.
Eddie: Ok mom. I promise not to say it. Not until I am an adult.

The very next day, on the way home.

Eddie: Mom?
Me: Yes, Bud?
Eddie: Did you know I am the only kid in first grade who can’t say “fart?”
Me: I doubt that.
Eddie: Well, all of my friends say it. And they laugh when I call it a “toot”.
Me: Why are you guys even talking about that anyway? Bathroom talk is not for school.
Eddie. Mom.
Me: What?
Eddie: We talk about it at recess. Not in class. (and I actually looked up in time here to see the massive eye roll you are probably imagining.)
Me: Well what should we do?
Eddie: I should be allowed to say “fart”
Me: But daddy and I don’t think that little kids sound very nice when they use that language.
Eddie: Well I am not a little kid. I’m almost seven AND almost a 2nd grader.
Me: But you have a little brother and sister who are little kids. If you start talking like that, they will do what you do.
Eddie: Do you and dad say the word “fart”?
Me: Yes. But not in front of you guys.
Eddie: Ok. How about I am allowed to use the word “fart” with my friends, but not at home because it’s a “friends word only”.
Me: Huh. Ok. I guess that would be Ok.

When we get home from school, Eddie is allowed to watch Netflix for an hour. Just this week he asked me if he could watch a “not cartoon show”. It’s called Mighty Med.

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The show is about these two comic book fans who find this secret entrance into a hospital for superheros. They end up getting jobs there and hilarity ensues. The thing is, the kids are all high school-aged which means they use words like “fart” and “butt” and other things that are not bad (I mean, it’s Disney, after all), but it’s not something I want to hear my four-year-old saying. So since Eddie and I had discussed “fart” as being a “friends only” word, we also talked about how this show is for after school when his younger siblings are not around.

Eddie then asked if this is why he and Charlie and Alice had different profiles on Netflix–to keep their shows separate. And I said, yes. That is exactly why.

I know he feels pretty special being the oldest and having the privilege of using “friends only” words and watching shows that The Littles are not allowed to watch. I feel pretty awesome knowing he feels comfortable enough to talk these things over with me.

Hopefully our lines of communication will always be this open, although I am going to guess he will use the word “shitty” before he’s an adult.

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Get Yer Groupon!

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post, but all opinions are mine.

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Let me tell you a little story about a girl who enjoys shopping. In this story, the girl is me. I enjoy shopping. I mostly enjoy shopping when I feel cranky or sad or disappointed or in need of a pick-me-up.

But here is the rub: we don’t have a bunch of disposable income for me to go out shopping myself happy. (I know, I know, money doesn’t buy happiness. But you know what? It buys “cheer up”).  This means I either have to forego the shopping or I have to do it smartly.

I never saw myself as a “coupon-er.” In fact, I may be guilty of mocking those who obsessively clip coupons–those people who have a coupon for everything and plan their lives around said coupons. However, I do appreciate a good deal, and if it’s not something I have to “clip”, I am even happier.

Enter Groupon Coupons.

So admittedly, you are not exactly saving as much money shopping with a coupon as you would just not shopping. But listen: they regularly have Target and Starbucks coupons, so we all know I was going to spend that money anyway. They also have Barnes and Noble coupons which I totally JUST used five minutes ago to get a couple more books for my classroom library. It was in the name of research for this post, ok?

See my library back there? Always adding to it!

See my library back there? Always adding to it!

You want more proof? Fine. They also currently have coupons to Carter’s (where 90% of my children’s clothing comes from), Kohl’s (where I get all of Eddie’s jeans), and Shutterfly (where I make all my kids’ photo books each year).  These are places I shop anyway. That is why it’s so awesome. I get emails with the latest coupon offers and I can use or not use. If Eddie has blown out the knees in every pair of his jeans and he needs new ones anyway (which is a true story at this house), I may as well not pay full price!

So tell me…do you Groupon?

The Teacher in Me

“Mrs. Sluiter, I have NEVER had an English teacher–or any teacher really–who has been as excited as you get when you teach us grammar or when you talk about books. You’re crazy.”

I am winding down my second year as a middle school teacher (thirteenth year overall in my district) and it happens to also be Teacher Appreciation Week. Of course this means I have been thinking a lot about how I got to this place. A student asked me on Monday why I became a teacher in the first place. I think she was expecting me to say something about wanting to change the world. I always laugh at this question because at the time I made the choice, I thought it came out of nowhere, but it didn’t. Not really.

The story as I tell it is that I decided one day in my senior English class. While reading 1984 and discussing it, I blurted out that that was what I wanted to do with my life: read and talk about books. My teacher put both hands on my desk and said, “that is my job” and the rest is history.

Looking back, though, I see that I was meant to be a teacher from a very young age.

When I was in first grade, I sat my four-year-old brother down and forced him to learn to read. Oh, I set it up to look like we were playing school, but I demanded he learn and I threatened bodily harm if he didn’t do what I said. He learned to read, but I can’t say he was unscathed.

It makes me laugh now that I couldn’t see that I was meant to have a career that centered around words.

My parents like to say I haven’t stopped talking since my first words. I have always been loud and assertive. I have a very real love of books and words and how words fit together. I am lucky that I have mostly had teachers who encouraged my personality rather than try to squash it.

My elementary teachers all encouraged my voracious love of reading. I remember specifically Mrs. Larsen, our school librarian (because they weren’t media specialists back then), always helping me find just what would keep me reading from picture books in Kindergarten to Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, and Marilyn Sachs. I’m definitely the reader I am today because of them.

Middle school is awful for everyone, I think. And now that I am a middle school teacher, I notice it hasn’t really changed much. I remember my 7th grade math teacher, Mrs. Wheeler, who had a biting sense of humor and could make a room full of awkward adolescents feel like super stars in their own right. I never did fall in love with math, but she taught me that even if you’re not good at something, you should still do your best. And then laugh your way through it all.

I had excellent experiences with my high school teachers. I can really only look back and see just a few who I would say weren’t great teachers, the rest loved their subject and love their students and seemed, at least, to love their job. The two that influenced me the most to become a teacher were my British lit teacher senior year, Mr. Torgerson, and my band director, Mr. Walker. Torg helped me realized that I wanted to do his job. Walker helped guide me to the right college to get there. Both recognized my talents and embraced my ridiculous personality and found ways for me to use my loud voice for good rather than trouble.

As an undergrad at Western Michigan University, Dr. Allen Webb was the one who showed me that literature can actually change the world–that teaching isn’t just reading and discussing books, but taking the knowledge and empathy we glean from the characters and doing something about it in our own societies. He helped me see that reading creates empathy.

Since then, there have been many other colleagues and instructors that have shaped the teacher in me. My students have done that too. Even having my own children have changed and shaped who I am as an educator.

Being a teacher is stressful. It’s heartbreaking. But it makes me so very happy. I can’t imagine having any other job.

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I currently have a Donor’s Choice Project up that I am collecting donations for: A Spring Book Drive. These books, if funded, will go onto the shelves of my library for next year’s 8th graders. My current 8th graders helped choose the titles they think next year’s students will want to read. Any dollar amount is welcome!

Listen…

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It’s tomorrow, you guys.

Tomorrow night I will stand on the stage with those other 12 beautiful people up there and tell my story.

I never cry when I read it, but I am hoping the adrenaline and extra emotion of standing on stage don’t mess with my tear ducts. I know I will cry during the other stories though. So I am packing tissue in my handbag. You should too, if you’ll be there.

And I hope you will.

It’s hard to explain Listen To Your Mother to anyone who has not experienced it. It’s stories of motherhood. Live readings. But it’s so much more.

If you’re reading this, you might start to get it…at least how important story-telling is to me and why this is such a big deal. I publish pretty vulnerable stuff here because I want to be heard…to matter…to have been here someday when I am not here anymore. Story-telling is how we preserve our history and our culture. Speaking my truth out loud in front of live eyes and ears is another level of witnessing that I am not used to.

I am good at writing my thoughts, hitting publish, and leaving it up to you to read or not.

Standing in front of hundreds of people and reading my story is different. I know you hear it then. I know you see me…and my words. Being there for the reaction is so different than hitting publish and hiding from my computer.

Yet…I want you there.

This is my “thing”.

I was never an athlete and have never asked anyone to come cheer me on for sporting events. I was in the occasional play at church and I was in band, but I didn’t expect people to come watch those. So this is my thing. This is what I want you to see. Because this–this storytelling with my words and my voice–this is my talent.

And for those of you too far away, I know you’ll be there in spirit.

So tomorrow.

(tickets are on sale here for $16.95 or at the door for $20)

Sibling Conflict: The Netflix Edition

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I never had the experience of having a sibling who was the same gender as me. Cortney didn’t have one close to his age (his brother is seven years younger than he is). Eddie and Charlie’s relationship being two and a half years apart is a whole new world to us.

They are super close in a way I wasn’t with my brother and Cort wasn’t with his sister, but that closeness also means they fight. A lot.

Eddie is typical oldest child: He is bossy and too smart for his own good. And like his mother (who is also an oldest child), he is rule-follower and a tattle-tale. He’s also a bit of a wimp (also like his mother).

Charlie is proving to be typical middle child: Stubborn, gives no damns about rules, rough, and did I mention stubborn?

At almost seven and four, Eddie and Charlie have pretty different preferences in what shows they want to watch. Charlie is still very much into Disney Jr. shows and chooses Dinotrux, Curious George, Handy Manny, and other shows that are geared toward his age group and love of tools, trucks, and silliness.  Eddie likes anime shows, but he’s also starting to watch movies and shows with real people, Odd Squad being a real favorite.

Each night we watch a show before heading downstairs for books and bed. Sometimes it can turn into a real argument about what we watch. From time to time we also do a movie night and that can get heated too since the boys have such different preferences of what is entertaining.

This is where I admit that when we found out Charlie was a boy, I had all happy brothers-gotta-hug-type visions of how Eddie and Charlie would grow up together. I pictured Eddie putting his arm around his little brother’s shoulders and guiding him. I pictured Charlie looking up admiringly to Eddie.

<insert cliche record scratch sound>

TV show and movie arguments are the tip of the iceberg with these two. It seems like when they are getting along it’s because they are doing something naughty–like throwing spaghetti noodles at the sliding door windows (outside, thankfully, not in) while I get Alice cleaned up after dinner. Or they are are throwing things into our tree and then standing on top of the cozi coupe to get them down. Or they are supposed to be eating lunch, but instead are thinking of different ways to describe their food in terms of poop and giggling until they have the hiccups.

All of the rest of the time they are LOUDLY yelling/screaming at each other or smacking each other around.

Is this normal brother behavior? I don’t really know.

I do know that they are able to agree on a few things: butts (and everything they do) are funny; bubbles are a good time; and Netflix has at least three things that they both like to watch.

I’ve mentioned before that they both like the movie, Home.

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And now Inside Out is also on Netflix and they both really love that one. In fact, Charlie took one look at Anger and said, “I like that red guy.”  No one was surprised.

While we were on our little mini-trip over spring break, we found Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on TV and they were both totally into it–much to my surprise. We read the book together last summer, but both forgot some of the details. Eddie discovered this week that it’s on Netflix, and they have watched it twice since.

As far as shows, they discovered Kong: King of the Apes this week and seem interested in it, so I foresee that one one being the next binge they go on. And as always, the whole family loves some Phineas and Ferb.

So give me some suggestions for these crazy boys. What are your kids watching? I need some back up ideas for what is looking like a rainy weekend coming up!

Six World YA Lit Books You Should Read NOW

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It’s been awhile since I wrote about what I’ve been reading, which is actually funny because I have been reading more than I ever have before. In fact, I am on book 22 for the school year! Crazy!

Anyway, in the last month or so, I read six Young Adult Lit books that fall under the category of “world literature” and “historical fiction” because my 8th grade classes would be choosing between them for their final class book of the school year. Each of my five classes has a “book club” centered around each of these books. So far, it’s a wonderful experience, and I think the fact that the book are so darn good is has a big part of that.

I really love historical fiction, but I admit I hadn’t read much YA historical fiction until now. And of course reading six titles, probably qualifies as binging on it, but I am Ok with that. I highly recommend all of these titles to anyone 13 and over, so let’s get into the books…

My Name is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson 

Based on stories friends and family have told her, Edwardon bases her book in Alaska in the 1960’s when public schools were unavailable to the majority of children who didn’t live in a main city. Before 1976, students who wanted to attend high school had to travel hundreds of miles to boarding schools. In My Name is Not Easy, Luke (whose real name is not really Luke, but something too difficult for white speakers to pronounce) and his brothers–along with other children including Chickie, Amiq, Junior, and Sonny–are sent to Sacred Heart School where they realize that the students–Eskimo like them, Native American (Indian), and white–segregate themselves in the lunch room almost as if some sort of war is going on. The staff at Sacred Heart forbid use of native language and push to assimilate the children to a white, Catholic culture, but the students main goal is just to survive school and get back to their families.

I not only loved all of the characters in this book, but I knew many of my students would identify with having a name and culture that society may not understand. Many of my students may feel that they have to push their own culture behind them at school.

The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle

Engle tells the story of Cuba’s struggle for independence through poetry through the eyes of characters in the middle of the action, mainly Rosa–known to some as a witch for her knowledge of holistic healing with herbs. The story begins with her childhood learning the different powers of flowers and plants, and it follows her as she becomes a nurse to those injured–from both sides–during Cuba’s fight against the Spanish empire. The setting is mainly near the concentration camps where former Cuban slaves were sent. While the poems are mostly from Rosa’s point of view, some are also from the voice of Lieutenant Death, a slave hunter who has a particular vengeance for capturing Rosa. The character of Rosa is based on Rosa Castellanos, an historical heroine known as “la bayamesa”.

This book was both beautiful and devestating. I had forgotten home much I love to read narrative poetry, and how quickly the actual reading goes. The imagery and  just sensations this book oozes are wonderful and terrifying. I went back and re-read some of my favorites. This book is in English, but a Spanish version is also included. Many of my students are hungry to read in their native tongue and lots have family in Cuba. I knew this would be appealing to those kids.

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

This is book is a dual narrative about Salva–one of the Sudanese Lost Boys–and Nya. Salva’s true story begins when he is eleven years old in 1985. Salva is separated from his family when fighting comes to his village in Southern Sudan. He has to walk for days in hope to find his family. He struggles to find food and people. He ends up walking for seven years before ending up in a refugee camp. Nya is a fictional character whose story begins in 2008 when she is also eleven years old. She has to walk to a pond that is two hours away twice a day to provide fresh water for her family. Her story emphasizes the lack of clean water in Sudan and the importance of family. In the end, Salva and Nya’s stories cross making a very important push for Salva’s cause of bringing clean water to South Sudan.

This was the first book of the six I read and I remember closing it and thinking, “these books are going to leave me emotionally drained.” I was right. Reading Salva and Nya’s stories was like going on these walks with them. And although I knew Salva survived to create the Water For South Sudan project, I kept thinking, “this is it. He can’t survive this.” I knew this book would appeal to the widest range of students, and since its the shortest, easiest read many of my reluctant readers chose it and are loving it.

Climbing The Stairs by Padma Venkatraman

Vidya is fifteen and dreams of going to college. But she lives in British-occupied India during World War II. Her family is loving and supportive and fairly liberal, encouraging her to be what she wants to be. However tragedy strikes and they are forced to live with ultra-conservative relatives who believe women should remain uneducated, serve men, and wait around to be married to a good family. Vidya is miserable, but she secretly breaks the rules and ventures upstairs to her grandfather’s library to read books she is not supposed to even touch. Here she meets Raman who treats her as an equal. When her brother leaves unexpectedly, Vidya is suddenly forced to think about the political situation in India and what she can do to hold on and make her dreams reality.

This is totally a “girl power” book. Venkatraman bases her characters on family members who have told her stories of growing up in India during this time period, and I was excited to see some of my strongest girls chose this book, and have already commented that they are totally loving it!

Far From Home by Na’ima B Robert

This was the last book I read of the six and I admit to needing to take a break from reading after this one. For one, I had binge-read six historical fictions in less than four weeks. Secondly this one made me think and I just needed the time to reflect before diving into something new.

Part One of Far From Home is Tariro’s story.  She is fourteen years old, lives in Zimbabwe on her ancestral grounds near the baobab tree that she was born under. Her dad is the chief, she is in love with the brave and handsome Nhamo–things couldn’t be better. Then white settlers arrive and violently and tragically drive her and her family out of their home into new areas zoned specifically for the blacks.

Part Two is Katie’s story and takes place twenty-five years later. Katie is also fourteen and lives on a farm in Zimbabwe near the baobab tree. She loves her family, her exclusive boarding school, and her home. Then disaster strikes when the second War for Liberation occurs and natives begin to reclaim their land. She is forced to leave the only hone she has ever known and go back to London with her family.

It was hard for me to feel sorry for Katie at first. Her relatives had been the ones to drive the natives off their land! But as I read, I understood the complexity of it. Katie, herself, had not been involved in the relocation. This home was where she was born and raised. It’s all she knew. Plus as the entire story unfolds she learns about white privilege and humanity.

While it is worlds away from us, there are definite connections with today’s society here in the United States. It’s a more difficult, longer read, so only a few of my higher reading level students are tackling this one, but so far they are enjoying it and I am enjoying the conversations that are coming out of it.

Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick

This one affected me the most out of all the books. This is the true story of Arn, a survivor from the Cambodia Civil War during the 1970’s. He was eleven years old when the Khmer Rouge invaded his village, killing the upper-class and educated and separating the rest of the people into work camps. Arn was sent to a work camp that was also where they took prisoners and slaughtered them. He was forced to work with almost no food or sleep and witness the horrific murder of many people–some of whom he knew. If the kids reacted, they were also killed. Arn eventually volunteers to become a musician for the propaganda-like revolutionary songs the Khmer Rouge has them play. Later, when the Vietnamese invade to help the people of Cambodia, Arn is forced to join the Khmer Rouge as a child soldier.

I had to keep reminding myself that this story is true, and that Arn does survive and make it to the United States because I kept expecting him to die. Reading this from the lens of a mother and teacher was hard. I found myself putting the book down several times because the imagery was so horrifying. I knew my students would be engrossed in a book about a kid close to their own age having to survive experiences that were too terrible to even imagine. I was right.

All six of these books are about real historical events, many of which we don’t learn about in school. And if we do, it is only briefly covered in a textbook which dates and a few facts. These books humanize the wars and struggles so many children had to endure.

Have you read any of these? Do you have any suggestions to add to this list? (because I am always open to adding more to my To Read pile!)

Climbing Out

It has been six years and I still remember it like it was yesterday.

I sat on the edge of our disheveled bed in my pajamas while Cortney got his breakfast ready in the kitchen. My hand shook as I followed the instructions and pushed the appropriate numbers to make an appointment.

“I need to make an appointment for today with Dr. W.”

“What do you need to see her regarding?”

“I think I have postpartum depression.”

“According to our records, you haven’t been in to see Dr. W in over a year, so we will have to process this as a new patient. I’m not sure she will want to see you for this today.”

“I have to come in today. That is why I called at 7am. For a same day appointment.”

“I’ll have to put in a note for her and call you back when she gets in.”

“But I took the day off.”

“We will call you back.”

I hung up and started crying. It was too late to get ready and get to work. Besides, I had already put in for a substitute and made plans. Now what?

At that moment, Cortney came in and asked what time my appointment was. I told him there was no appointment and relayed the conversation I had had with the receptionist.

“That is unacceptable,” he stated angrily.

I cried harder.

“We are calling them back.”

I knew what he was thinking: if I didn’t go in today, I wouldn’t go in. And I had to go in. The night before was one of my worst meltdowns yet and it was the first time I admitted that maybe something was wrong. If I waited, I would change my mind. It had to be today and he wasn’t going to take “no” for an answer.

I’m not sure who called back, but I remember Cortney getting on the phone and demanding an appointment for me…and getting one. Later that day my doctor nodded vigorously as I told her what had been going on: I was mad all the time. I took out all my rage on the people closest to me. I wasn’t sleeping well, but I wanted to sleep all the time. Mostly I was just mad.

She looked at me and said, “normally I would say let’s wait and see, maybe try some therapy, but it’s been nine months of this, right? You did the wait and see on your own. You have postpartum depression, and I am going to suggest an antidepressant along with talk therapy.”

Sometimes I look back and hate that day. My postpartum depression and generalized anxiety are full-blown depression and anxiety (with some OCD on the side) now. Some people have PPD and it goes away. Mine has stuck around. Sometimes that makes me mad.

But mostly I look back on that day as the day I got my life back. The day Cortney got his wife back. The day Eddie got his mom back. That is the day a team formed around me: my doctors, therapist, psychiatrist, family, and friends. That was when I found out who was going to stay with me; the ones who said, “let’s tackle this thing together!”

That was the day I found out I don’t have to do anything in this life alone.

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I credit the internet for helping me know what to look for because I never, ever would have connected my rage to depression. I thought that being mad all the time was just how I felt about having a child–I thought that was what motherhood felt like. I was totally wrong. Katherine Stone and the other warrior mommas of Postpartum Progress saw my blog post about it and rallied around me immediately. Because of them and Lauren’s (of My Postpartum Voice#ppdchat on twitter, I was able to connect with hundreds of women who were just like me–going through the same thing as me.

When I had Charlie, they were right there for me: listening to my fears about my PPD coming back, supporting me as I tried (and failed) to go off my meds during my pregnancy, virtually hugging me and praying for me when I relapsed in the months after Charlie’s birth.  They were there through my pregnancy with Alice. They have celebrated with me as I have avoided a new relapse this time around.

Postpartum Progress is a non-profit that supports thousands of women around the world–including me. Katherine Stone and her staff advocate tirelessly for better support and less stigma related to mental health issues specifically surrounding postpartum women–including me. Their advocacy has saved lives–including mine.

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In 2013, Postpartum Progress started a Climb Out event where participants do a climb in their area to raise money and awareness for Postpartum Progress and their advocacy programs. The first climb had 177 participants in 40 states and 7 countries and raised $40,000. Last year the climb had 2,500 participants in 45 states and 5 countries and raised $230,000.

This year I am doing the climb.

I’m doing it to give back to Katherine and Postpartum Progress for helping me get my life back.

I’m doing it to show my kids that I am strong and healthy (and Cortney and the kids are doing it with me!)

I’m doing it to celebrate NO PPD with Alice.

I’m doing it to celebrate surviving.

I’m doing it because I think back at how uninformed and scared and angry and just sad I was six years ago sitting with my hands between my knees in my doctor’s office. I was afraid to say anything. I thought I was a terrible person.

At times, I wanted to relieve my family of the burden of me.

Did you know that the second leading cause of death for postpartum women is suicide?

That could have been me.

But it wasn’t.

So I am celebrating.

If you want to support my Climb or join our team climbing in Grand Haven, Michigan, you can visit my fundraiser page here. The Climb takes place on June 18 (our eleventh anniversary!) and our whole family will be participating!

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