Friday, June 5, 2015

Graduation...Confessions of a School Counselor

It's the day after graduation, and I'm so happy.  Now that graduation is over, I have some time to reflect.

Three years ago, I was fortunate to get a counseling position at a new school. While I loved my previous school and the students, I was overwhelmed with testing responsibilities, scholarship coordination duties, working on the master schedule, and other tasks that kept me so busy that I had a hard time being a counselor.

After I was hired, I was told that I would be the sophomore counselor. Because we move up each year with our students, I have been able to stay with most of the same group of students for three years. This year, I was fortunate to split the senior class with another counselor who is simply wonderful. Anyway, I love all high school grade levels, but in many ways, I think sophomores may be my favorite. Most sophomores are 15 or 16. They have matured after their first year of high school, but their lives are not quite as crazy as once they become juniors. For the most part, they aren't driving yet and most sophomores do not hold jobs. They are excited about the future but they're still far enough away from the 'real world' that they're not stressed about what is coming next. Anyway, I slowly got to know my new 667 students. Some students end up in the counseling office because of personal problems or health issues or failing grades. Some students come to find out about dual-credit classes, to discuss college planning or simply to discuss their current or future schedule. Once I had a chance to meet students in those categories, I figured out who I had never met. My philosophy is that it is hard to meet a counselor for the first time when you are in 'crisis.' I wanted to meet with each student at least once so they would know who I was and where I live in the building, and my goal was for every student to feel comfortable to come see me if the need should arise. By the end of their 10th grade year, I had touched base with everyone at least once, and many I had met several times. We talked about who needed summer school and who would need to retake the dreaded STAAR test in the summer. Classes were picked for the next year and then summer break began!

Their junior year came and went. The junior year comes with it's own challenges. The world is expecting you to be more mature and responsible, and yet juniors are still really in the midst of developing into young adults. Many juniors look physically older than they emotionally are. I tend to see more students with anxiety and depression during the junior year. While it is a very small number, there are students who become more aware of who they are in terms of sexual identity and inadvertently a few students become parents. I also see a small handful who turn 18 and decide that because they are no longer required to come to school, that they would be better off dropping out and getting a job. We live in an area with lots of opportunities especially in construction, and keeping some of my students enrolled became a challenge last year, especially in situations where their family was encouraging them to drop out and get a job. I lost a few, but most understood how important their diploma could be their to their future so they stayed. Ironically, some of the same students who dropped out last year resurfaced these last few weeks to find out if they could still finish high school. Juniors get to experience all kinds of fun things - Bonfire, college campus visits, fine arts performances, making the Varsity athletic team, taking on leadership positions in clubs, performing community service, taking their first college classes, taking the SAT/ACT, taking interesting classes, and so on. I feel like the junior year is when traction really starts picking up.

And then the senior year comes. So much fun, excitement, uncertainty, failures, successes, memories! It's really kind of a whirlwind. Many students are working part-time jobs by this point. They are trying to figure out what they're going to do next. Some students know what they want to do, but the majority do not. Of the ones who don't, some will start investigating and searching for options. Some students kind of freak out and shutdown....and then parents understandably freak out. There are the super exciting moments where students apply to the colleges of their choice and get accepted and the disappointing moments when students don't get into their planned school. Scholarship offers come in bringing hope and joy, and rejection letters arrive too. The FAFSA process is fun (not!) and working with undocumented students trying to fill out their TASFA is a delicate subject. There is their last bonfire, all of the senior nights, Prom, multiple awards nights, Senior Walk, graduation, and so much more. After 12 years of schooling, students are bringing their secondary experience to a close and that of course brings out all kinds of emotions. Students start having to make decisions about their future, and I find that employers really don't care if a student is still in school. If a shift needs covered, a shift needs covered. Relationships and friendships strengthen for better and worse. There also seems to be an uptick of family issues. It's a roller coaster ride for some. Overall, there is far more good and happy happening than otherwise. :)

Through it all, the school counselor is there in the background. We monitor grades and attendance and respond to teacher and parent concerns. We check and recheck credits, clear up testing issues, and try to keep a pulse on what is happening. I can't speak for others, but I am so proud when one of my students passes a class they didn't think they would be able to pass or when a student wins an award. Watching students play sports, dance, sing, play instruments, create art, act, and pass AP tests, STAAR tests, and dual-credit classes is wonderful. I am also so proud and impressed when students make admirable and difficult choices - taking care of injured or sick parents or siblings, working jobs late at night to help keep the lights on at their home, refusing to make bad choices when surrounded with negative influences, overcoming a disability, speaking up for those who are bullied, refusing to get into cars with intoxicated parents or family members (yes, this happens), continuing to come to school and giving 100% when dealing with a personal illness, actively serving the community through volunteer service, or when a student goes against the grain to break a cycle in their family. The list goes on and on. When I hear blanket negativity about teenagers, I realize that they haven't truly met some of the amazing young people I have. I'm not "worried" about this generation. In fact, they may do better than the generations of the past. I realize part of it is young, naive optimism, but I love it. The day I get jaded, I hope I recognize that it is time for me to find something else to do. I love hearing students talk about their goals and dreams; their positive energy is infectious.

It's not all roses though. The truth is I worry about my students. I worry when they're in bad situations - sometimes because of their own choices and sometimes because they are in a difficult situation by chance. I don't think I could ever be an elementary counselor. As a high school counselor, I know that my students who are in difficult family situations are relatively close to graduation and being able to get a job, education, and being able to take care of themselves. I feel for my students when they have lost a parent or when they have an incarcerated parent. Some of the kindest, most respectful students I have ever met have an incarcerated parent, and this must be a heavy burden to carry. Even though these students had nothing to do with their parent's mistake (some have no memory of their parent), there is a stigma that these students feel. There are always a few seniors who don't graduate, and I worry about who those kids will be and what will happen in their future. Every year I've had seniors, I have had a couple of students who self-destruct in the last semester. It's like the stress of graduating and not knowing what is coming next causes them to make some choices that are probably not in their best interest. They stop coming to school, they stop talking to their friends, and they seem to totally withdraw themselves. I never know who those kids will be because it's never the ones I expect, and this year was no different. It's not like these things keep me awake at night, but the thoughts are there.

One neat thing about being a counselor is every day is different, and we get to hear it all. Our job allows us to be exposed to a wide cross-section of society - the good, the bad, and the things that make you wonder. We have the privilege of being told things that we vow to keep confidential. The flip side is we are told things that we vow to keep confidential and sometimes that is really hard. I think sometimes counselors are written off has being softies with bleeding hearts. More often than not, I think we know something that we can't necessarily share that causes us to see things a little differently. A student is out of dress code. It could mean they refuse to follow the dress code. It can also mean they slept in their car last night. A student didn't shave. It could mean they are testing limits. It can also mean they had to pick up their drunk mom late last night because she wasn't able to drive herself home. The student is really just glad to make it to school. Rules are no doubt important, and I know taking care of the little stuff prevents little stuff from turning into big stuff, but sometimes I think counselors are fortunate to be able to see more of the picture.

I also find it interesting how many factors affect students' lives and whether or not they are successful. Some students are so incredibly intrinsically driven that no obstacle in their way slows them down. These kids amaze and inspire me. There are also those who put in very little effort or work but they do just fine. Some are very intelligent and some are very adept at manipulating and working the system. Some kids have such wonderful, warm families supporting and cheering them on and some students are truly parentified children. Some students don't have very healthy family units, but they have at least one strong ally in their corner - a friend, teacher, neighbor, coach, counselor, church member, or family friend. Some students have it all and seem so unmotivated. Those are the students I find hardest to understand. And money matters. I don't care what anyone says. The playing field is not even.  

In any case, last night when my students walked across the stage and received their diplomas, I couldn't help but remember the ups and downs of the last three years. It also reminded me that each person has their own journey and story so rich with details, many of which the rest of the world doesn't know about. With the exception of very few people, we are all dealing with a few of our own demons and obstacles.

I felt happy and relieved. I completely understand that this is just one stop along the way, but I'm proud of these students and happy for their families that they can now check high school diploma off the to-do list. :) I am thankful for the laughs, smiles, fist bumps and happy memories, and I am thankful that in the tiniest of ways I was able to join them on this part of their journey. The last few days I have received so many hugs and thank yous. My bucket will be full for a long time.

I'm so used to saying, "See you on Monday," "see you next semester," see you after the break," and so on. As I drove home after graduation, it hit me that I won't see or hear from most of these students again which is how it is supposed to be. I'm excited for them, and I wish the very best for each and every one of them - that they find what makes them happy, that they make good choices for themselves, and that they find the next leg of their journey better than the last. Next fall I get to start with a new set of sophomores. I think I just may have one of the best jobs in the world.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Massages are magical!! :)

     Massages are awesome, and in my book, massage therapists are healers, feel good machines, endorphin inducers, and amazing people all rolled into one.
     After I broke my neck years ago, I experienced a spectrum of pain ranging from aches to incredible headaches. I saw various doctors who offered everything they had to offer - referrals for physical therapy, TENS units, and lots of different medications (muscle relaxers, strong anti-inflammatories, and a variety of pain medications). The problem is you can't stay on drugs forever, physical therapy is very therapeutic but it can't always take away pain, and for whatever reason, the TENS units never seemed to do anything for me. I was talking to an amazing lady at Texas Tech, Julie Isom, one day about my pain, and she suggested that I go see this wonderful massage therapist that she knew about. I don't remember our exact discussion, but I remember expressing some concerns I have to take off my clothes?! :)  The idea of laying down on a table and having a stranger massage me sounded really bizarre, but the truth was I was in a lot of pain, and I was more than willing to try anything at that point. She gave me the therapist's name and contact information, and I made my first appointment.

     Melody was the best - knowledgeable, professional, and a truly gifted healer. She herself had neck issues and had studied massage therapy and all kinds of biology (and who knows what else!). I told her about my injuries, surgeries, etc. and my search for pain relief. She offered a number of common sense suggestions and then I received my first massage. Heaven-on-Earth. I'm not sure if it was extra circulation to my neck or what, but I had immediate relief from some of the muscle spasms that I think were causing me the most pain. Over the next few years, I continued to see Melody a couple of times per month. I went from being on multiple medications constantly to not taking anything except for the occasional flare-up. I remember talking to my neurosurgeon about the massages and how much they were helping. Not only was my pain level so much better, but I felt better, the swelling in my ankles was much better, and I didn't have to deal with the unwanted side effects of the medications. While I loved my neurosurgeon, he didn't buy into the idea that the massages could be helping with my pain management. I really only told him so he could talk to others in my same situation, but anyway, I knew without a doubt that I had found something that was bringing me relief.

     Once I moved away from Lubbock, I found different massage therapists. I've been fortunate to have mostly very, very good ones, a few so-so ones, and two downright scary ones! There was the one lady who massaged my shoulders and back so hard that I was bruised for days afterwards. She said, "You are so stiff!" What I should have said back was..."I'm currently scared for my life!" Then there was another lady who was convinced that if I just relaxed, she could get my head to turn. Because of the screws in my neck, I can't turn my head side-to-side anymore. I tell every therapist that very clearly before they begin, but she didn't believe me. :)  Needless to say, I made it out of the situation as well, but there was lots of praying going on. Awkward.
      While I have some headaches and neck pain now, it is nothing like it used to be. I typically get a massage once a month now, and on top of the pain relief, I feel like it is a most wonderful treat for myself and definitely a stress reliever. I am convinced if everyone could have a massage once a month, the world would be a much happier place!

       Fast forward to this week. I love, LOVE, love my job. I never get bored, and I get the opportunity to meet so many wonderful students that I am constantly learning from and inspired by. I never have to worry about being asked to work on Thanksgiving or Christmas, I get to spend extra time with my kids in the summer, and there are other perks. I feel like in the very tiniest of ways, I get to impact a few lives - it doesn't get much better than that. On the other side of the coin, we do work long days occasionally. On Monday, we had a FAFSA Completion Night which meant my day extended from 7am-8:15pm excluding the commute. After one of the fathers finished his son's FAFSA, he asked if he could ask me a personal question.

"Do you get paid extra for coming tonight, or are you just helping out?"

     This question kind of tickled me. :)  I said, "I'm a senior counselor, and this is part of my job." He said, "Well, yeah, but do you get paid to stay at night or anything?! I mean you could be home with your own family." I assured him that I wanted to be there and that my family and I are doing fine. :) He shared some of his other thoughts and then thanked me for my time. This really hasn't nothing do with massage therapy, but the dad amused me, and I was genuinely thankful that he was so thankful. Anyway, Monday was a good but long day. Last night (Tuesday) we had an awards ceremony at school, so that too was good but made for a second very long day. Yesterday afternoon around 4pm, I got the robocall reminder that I had a massage appointment today at 4! What an awesome surprise and such a treat after two long days!! I had booked the massage about a month ago, and apparently I forgot to write it down on my calendar. I was so excited about my massage this afternoon.


     Now as a mom, wife, and full-time employee, I appreciate massages for a completely different reason than just pain relief. For that sacred hour or 90 minutes, I have no responsibilities, no one is asking me to do anything (except roll over half way through :)), my children aren't asking me for anything, my husband isn't trying to coordinate with me, my students aren't asking me to do anything for them, there is nowhere else I'm supposed to be. I just lay there, listen to the music, chit-chat about trivial stuff, and get massaged. I leave feeling relaxed, content, and full of happy endorphins. If you've never had a massage, I highly recommend them. If you're weirded out by the idea of taking off your clothes and getting touched by another person, you'll probably get over it fairly quickly. Every massage therapist I've been to (except the 2 that were a little scary) has been completely


     In summary, there are lots of health and mental wellness benefits of massage, and I am so grateful for massage therapists who share their healing gifts with others. If you're feeling stressed, need a pick-me-up or you're experiencing some sort of pain, massage therapy might be for you. Massages are good for the mind, body, and soul.


Monday, February 16, 2015

Our very brief experience with Obamacare...

I know politics are a sensitive subject, but I thought I would share our very brief experience thus far with "Obamacare" in case someone ends up in a similar situation.

As long as Devon and I have been married (11 years in April <3), we have been fortunate to have jobs with access to excellent health insurance. With this access has come hefty insurance premiums as we are probably all familiar with, but I am grateful for having it. Having been in a bad car accident over a decade ago, I understand first-hand how incredibly important health insurance is. Even though the majority of the major expenses were at the time of the accident when thankfully I was still covered on my parents' insurance (thanks Mom & Dad!!), I have had several CT scans, x-rays, specialist visits, etc. since, and insurance was critical in ensuring I had access to the care I needed. While I don't agree with many things about the healthcare system, I recognize generally how it works, and so maintaining health insurance is very important to me.

I take good care of my screws. 
About a month and a half ago, a great job opportunity presented itself, so Devon applied for the job. He fortunately got the job, but the company position is a three month contract to hire position. Devon has always been hired on with immediate access to benefits as a salaried employee, so this is kind of new for us. As a contract employee, at least for now, we had the option to keep our insurance with his previous company (COBRA), get insurance through my workplace, forgo insurance temporarily (definitely my last choice), or we could consider "Obamacare." My inclination was to just keep what we had because it was very good insurance, but COBRA would mean our monthly premium would double because Devon's company had been paying half of the premium. We could pay the full premium plus a 2% administrative fee which was going to come close to being a second mortgage payment. While I considered trying to get insurance through my workplace, I have heard lots of complaints from my fellow employees, so I wasn't particularly excited about that option. Going without insurance was not an option in my book, so the final option was to try to figure out what Obamacare was. While I am sure I probably know several people who have purchased insurance through the "health marketplace," I haven't actually talked with anyone about it. I will admit, that while I am strong proponent of universal access to healthcare, I had serious reservations about even messing with Obamacare. Everything I have heard has been pretty negative - the website is horrible, the time to speak with someone on the phone could be hours, I wouldn't be able to see my own doctor, and on and on. Had the COBRA option not been so expensive, I would not have even considered looking further.
He has a point!

One night after the boys had gone to bed, I decided to peruse the website. There was an option to type in my zip code and search for options. The only information I had to provide was my zip code, the ages/genders of the individuals I was seeking coverage for, and whether the individuals were parents and/or tobacco users. After I put in this information, 24 plans pulled up organized into categories (bronze, silver, gold, and platinum) and by price ranging from lowest to highest. As expected, the least expensive packages had the highest deductibles and the more expensive plans generally had lower deductibles and better coverage. This part of the process was honestly a little overwhelming because there were quite a few options. I tried to find a plan that was comparable to what we currently had, so I could try to compare prices. As it turns out our previous insurance company did not have a comparable plan available on the Marketplace, but there were several other options with other companies that were either similar or even better.

I had a few questions about how it would work, since I didn't want there to be a lapse in our coverage, so I called the number listed on the website. I braced myself for a long wait, but a nice lady immediately answered. She answered my questions, and while I felt a little better about this possible option, I was still a little skeptical. The next day I discussed everything with Devon, and we looked at the different choices together. For each package, there is a link that you can click on to check and see if your doctor is covered under that plan. I found that for the plans we were considering, our doctors were covered providers. While the plan we chose certainly wasn't cheap, it was still going to be about $500 a month less than our COBRA option and from what I could tell, our coverage would be slightly better than what we currently had (i.e., cheaper prescriptions, lower office copay, same deductible, etc.). In addition to choosing medical coverage, it also gives you an option to purchase a dental and/or vision plan. Like the medical plans, the plans are categories and labeled as HMO, PPO, EPO, etc.

I filled out the online application (SO MUCH EASIER THAN FILING TAXES!!), and then it took me to a separate website to arrange payment, so that we could be covered by the first of the month. I could either pay online or be billed, but since our coverage would be ending very soon, I opted to pay online. I received an e-mail confirmation from our new insurance company, and within the next couple of days we received our new insurance cards, packets of information, and so on.

So, I felt pretty good about everything, and then a urinary tract infection hit. YEA! Today I got to test out my new insurance. I went to my doctor who I LOVE, and I paid my usual copay (less $10), and this evening I picked up my antibiotics ($0) because they're a generic brand. I don't know why, but this morning when I handed my new insurance card to the receptionist I halfway expected her to say, we don't accept Obamacare here! As it turns out, they do accept Blue Cross-Blue Shield even if I enrolled through the healthcare website. :)

City goes with Blue Cross/Blue Shield for employee health insurance

I know that this is just the tiniest tip of the iceberg, but so far, I have been pleasantly surprised by this experience. In the future, if we have insurance options through work, we will certainly consider them especially if our workplace is paying part of the premium, but I will also keep the marketplace in mind. I like the idea of having choices and being able to choose a plan based on my family's needs and budget. There are no questions about pre-existing conditions, and there are lots of major companies to choose from (Cigna, United Healthcare, Aetna, Blue Cross, etc.).  I'm not sure, but I think the deadline to enroll was yesterday unless you have a change in jobs (as we did), but if you do have a change in jobs, it's worth looking into especially if you're considering paying for COBRA.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

My Keys ~ Reunited and it feels so good!

     The world is full of so many wonderful people, and I have had the fortunate experience of running into several of these kind souls. I'm not sure what my problem is, but I lose things...often. I can't count how many times I have accidentally put down my purse, keys, phone, or a credit card. Amazingly, every single time that I have left one of these items behind, someone has been kind and honest enough to turn it in.

Jilla's Keys - If you happen to find these somewhere, please let me know. 
     About two weeks ago, I had to make a quick stop at Sam's Club to pick up some items for a little Christmas party at my school. Sometimes the greeter will ask to see my membership card when I enter, so I try to have it out so I'm not having to dig for it at the door. Because I have a Sam's credit card, my card also serves as my membership card. Anyway, after showing it to the greeter, I failed to put it in my purse, and instead I just carried it throughout the store until at some point I put it down. As I hurried getting the things I needed, I realized that it was getting late. I called Devon to let him know that I would be cutting it close, but I would be able to pick up the boys. When I made it to the register, I realized I didn't have my card anymore. I searched my pockets and purse, but no card. In my head I tried to retrace my path through the store, but I couldn't remember where I might have put it down. Due to my shortage of time and needing to get to the boys, I found a team member on the floor, and asked if he would be able to radio the customer service desk to see if anyone had found my card. While I was explaining my issue to the gentleman, a nice lady in a Texans shirt overheard me, and she said "I just turned in a card to the customer service desk. I found it back in the bakery section." I really wanted to run up to her, pick her up, and squeeze her!! I thanked her, and made my way up to the front of the store to retrieve my card. Once I had checked out and was on my way to get the boys, I thought about how wonderful lady this was. Not only was she honest enough to turn in my card, she made it a point to stop her shopping and go to turn it before she herself had even finished. If I had more time, I would have tried to find her again to tell her how awesome she was. I was so grateful, I would have gladly bought her a gift card or paid for her purchase. Who in their right mind lays a credit card down?!
Nice people shop at the Pearland Sam's Club
     A few nights ago my sister and I went shopping. I typically keep my phone in my pocket or in my purse, but sometimes I carry it around. This is a dangerous habit for me given my history of absentmindedly just putting things down! Anyway, I finished checking out, and my sister and I were walking out of the store when I heard someone yelling, "Maam, maam...your phone!" Even though the lines were long, this Kohl's associate stopped what she was doing to chase me down. I appreciate her effort to get it back to me. Even if she wasn't going to keep it, she could have passively let me leave, figure out later that I had left my phone somewhere, and left it up to me to come back to get it. What a nice lady!
     A few months ago at this same Kohl's, I guess I must have put down my keys, phone and coupons while trying on clothes. Once I realized I had lost my keys, I tried to retrace my path through the store. After not finding my keys, I went to the service desk and found out that not only had my keys been turned in, but also my phone and coupon that I laid down! I didn't even realize I had lost my phone, but I sure was grateful someone was kind enough to turn it all in. My Mom was with me that day and rightfully, she gave me a loving hard time about losing my keys. She made me give her my keys until we finished shopping. I promised her I would do a better job of hanging on to my keys! Once we finished shopping, I took her home and headed back to DSW to look for a new pair of boots. Somehow while trying on shoes, I put my keys and phone on top of a column of boxes and walked off. A few minutes later, one of the employees who had seen me over by the boots came and found me in a different section to ask me if those were my keys and my phone. I felt like such a dork!! Two times in one day. Don't tell my Mom! If my keys and phone could talk, they would speak of abandonment issues I'm sure.
Thank you Kohl's Employees ~ You Rock!
     I have a bad habit of using my spare key. I have one set of keys that has a Texas Tech keychain and all of my keys (i.e., house key, car key, etc.), and then I have a spare key. As you might imagine, I misplace my keys within our house often. I have a hook right by the door to help assist me, but for whatever reason, I have not been able to train myself to use it consistently. Anyway, I realized on Thanksgiving Day when it was time to head to my parents' house for lunch that I could not find my keys. I looked everywhere, but it was getting later and later, and I couldn't find them. Finally, my sister sent me a text saying "Mom would like to know an ETA." That was a gentle reminder that it was time to get moving, so I grabbed my spare key, and we were on our way. When I came back home, I looked everywhere I could think my car, kitchen, under the couch, but no keys. Out of desperation, I even offered Ian a $5 finder's fee if he could locate my keys.  I continued looking yesterday and today, and then I tried calling all of the places that I remembered recently visiting because I was afraid maybe I had gone somewhere with both sets of keys enabling me to leave one set behind. Since I couldn't even remember when I had last used my regular set of keys, my Mom suggested tonight that I try calling Krogers which I had visited a few days ago. When I called, the man who answered was very nice, but he sounded a little flustered. He said their customer service desk was already closed, but that he would try to find someone working in the back to see if anyone had turned in any keys. After waiting a few minutes, a lady answered asking what kind of keys I had lost. I told her there were several keys with a Honda key and a Texas Tech keychain. She said, "Yep, a set of Honda keys was turned in." I was so relieved! We headed to Krogers, and I walked in full of happy endorphins ready to reclaim my keys! I found an employee to help me, and she seemed happy that she would be returning my keys to me. She unlocked a drawer, and said "You said Honda. Here you go!" Unfortunately, it was a key to someone else's Honda. I thanked her for her help, but told her those weren't my keys. While I was disappointed those were not my keys, I was secretly happy to know that I am not the only crazy cat who leaves their keys laying around. Anyway, I walked back out to the car where Devon and the boys were waiting. Sweet Devon tried to reassure me that I would find them, and that he would help me.
     As soon as we got home and I walked in the door, I had a flashback from Wednesday. I had taken the boys to see Big Hero 6, which I highly recommend, and when I got home I was carrying lots of things into the house. Matthew had spilled some drink on him at the movies, so my mind was thinking about getting him changed. We were also expecting a surprise delivery for the boys and the driver had called me to tell me they would be coming to the house in about 10 minutes, so I was trying to quickly get Ian and Matthew engaged doing something, so they would be distracted when their new swing set arrived. Anyway, in the flurry of activity, I put several things down on top of a chest of drawers near our entry. In my search the past few days, I had looked everywhere, including there, but there was a bag of snacks sitting on top of them so I hadn't seen them. While this time I ended up finding my keys at home, I appreciated the efforts of individuals at Wendy's, Cinemark, and Krogers who genuinely tried to help me find my keys. I generally don't make New Year's resolutions, but I really am going to try to misplace fewer items in 2015!
Big Hero 6 - Great movie! I might need my own Baymax. 
     In summary, I rarely go longer than a few weeks without misplacing something. I like to think that my absentmindedness is a result of a concussion from my accident because I really don't remember losing so many items earlier in my life, but maybe I just blocked out the memories. :) This trait of mine does help me be a more empathetic Mom, teacher and counselor when working with students and my own little guys. When students come in and tell me they have misplaced something, I completely understand because who am I to judge someone misplacing something!! I do want to reassure everyone that while I do lose items often, I have never lost one of my children! They are loud and they seem to like me, so they never stray very far.  I guess above everything, these experiences and others are constant reminders to me of how many wonderful people there are who will drop what they are doing to practice a random act of kindness for a stranger. My sample size is relatively small, but my experiences with others is overwhelmingly positive and for that, I am very thankful. I'm also convinced that my guardian angel stays very busy.

Friday, September 5, 2014

1st Grade Rocks!

We have now wrapped up our first two weeks of first grade, and it looks like Ian is going to have a wonderful year! I wouldn't say last year was a bad year for Ian, but it wasn't the fun, inspiring kindergarten year I was hoping it would be. Ian's teacher seemed nice, but it was obvious from the first minute I stepped in her room at Meet the Teacher night that her heart wasn't really into this whole teaching thing. Her room wasn't ready, she didn't seem prepared, she seemed quite distracted, and more than anything, I could just feel that she didn't really seem excited about the start of another year. Over the course of the year, there was virtually no communication from Ian's teacher, she was absent A LOT, and Ian's behavior and attitude towards school really started to take a downward turn. As it turns out, from what I understand his teacher ended up leaving the education field at the end of the year to focus on another career (her real estate business I believe). I genuinely respect her for realizing maybe this wasn't what she enjoyed doing, and I appreciate that she moved on to other things. While the education field is constantly losing awesome professionals, unfortunately there are also some duds who really, really need to go who manage to stick around forever. Teaching is extremely hard even if you love it, so I can't imagine what it feels like if your heart isn't in it. Anyway, that was last year, but I did have some concern about who he would get this year. I know every year he isn't going to have an *awesome* teacher, but I'm hoping we can sprinkle them in, especially while he is young, so he has a positive, excited view of school. 

The Thursday before school started, August 21st, the teacher assignments were posted outside of Ian's school at 10am. My mother-in-law was in town that week and was nice enough to walk over with Ian to see who he had. As soon as she knew, she texted me, and then I proceeded to text a friend who had a son who had been in first grade the year before. It was good news! I was very happy to hear that she was a great teacher, but I couldn't wait until that night to meet her myself. 

That evening, we walked over for Meet the Teacher night. We are very fortunate to live within walking distance of Ian's elementary school. We entered Ian's classroom, and I immediately felt overcome with emotion. I'm generally not a weepy or emotional person, but I just felt like this was going to be such a good year for Ian, and that was so incredibly important to me. Her room was warm and inviting, and in the midst of meeting her new students, the teacher kept getting interrupted by hugs from her students from years past who HAD to stop by to see her. Clearly she had made an impact on them and that relationship had continued. 

First day of First Grade - Monday, August 25th, 2014

When I picked Ian up after his first day of school, he seemed so excited and eager to tell me about his day. Like kindergarten, the first graders have a color chart that is filled out each day. Green is a great day with little or no redirection and then it goes down based on conduct to yellow, orange, and red. Ian's teacher told the students on the first day, that no one in her class had ever, ever, ever, ever been on orange or red. :)  Obviously, I know that's probably not the case (or that a student never deserved an orange or red day), but I loved that she set her students up for success. She wanted them to expect success, and she told them what they could do to bring their color back up if they made a mistake. Brilliant! 

Green days are good days!

At the end of the first week, we received a letter about a program/app Ian's teacher (reading and writing) and the switch teacher (math and science) would be using called Class Dojo. There was an app that could be downloaded onto our phones to monitor his progress and behavior or we could log into the website. Ian loves it, and I do too. The students are given "points" for good behavior (i.e., following directions, finishing things on time, good teamwork, etc.). They can also lose points for various things. So far, Ian has lost three points for not sitting criss-crossed, talking out of turn, and not sitting in his chair correctly. I appreciate knowing what he needs to work on, and it helps him see what his teachers are noticing. He LOVES hearing what good points have been noted. I'm sure this takes some work and dedication on the part of the teachers, but I really appreciate it and hope they are able to keep it up. What a neat app and it's free! 

 Class Dojo Screenshot

Ian has already come home and told us about all kinds of new words he has learned, and we've only had 9 days of school. He was especially proud to come home and talk to us about the words: embrace, ancestor, evaluate, and analyze. I'm not sure what all is going on during the day, but his two teachers have him pumped!  A great teacher who loves her job makes all the difference in the world! We lucked out this year. :) I think the little guy is in for a wonderful, memorable year, and this Momma is so incredibly grateful for that!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Friday Night Camp In

Devon has often talked about taking the boys camping, but it hasn't happened yet for a variety of reasons. This was the first week of school for Ian and for me at work, so honestly this week has really been a blur. Devon mentioned a few times this week that he wanted to set up a tent this weekend, but I didn't really catch all of the details. Anyway, he knew what a week this has been for me, so he offered to watch the boys, so I could go have dinner with my parents and my sister. When I left the house, I knew he was going to set up a tent for the boys, but for some reason I imagined a tiny, little tent. :)  When Devon does something, he does it very well, and tonight was no different.

When I came home this evening, I found our furniture moved, and a very large two family tent set up in our living room. "Happy Feet" was on pause, and the boys were in the kitchen making stovetop smores. 

On the way home from work, Devon stopped at the grocery and bought smore essentials!

Ian loved his smore!

After finishing their smores, the boys returned to their tent.

Tent with lots of blankets - all smiles in here!

My sweet boys

Ian and Matthew both love books, but reading by flashlight is even more exciting! 

Wrapping up "Happy Feet"

The boys had a wonderful evening. Not only was Daddy kind enough to watch the boys on a Friday night, but he did it in such a fun way! I have a feeling there will be more movies watched in the future from the comfort of our tent. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

RIP Robin Williams

I'm not sure why I am so sad about Robin Williams' passing, but I am. We have never met and honestly I can't remember the last time I watched one of his movies. It's nothing personal - I just don't have much time to watch movies these days. Tonight when I read the headline that Robin Williams had died, my heart immediately sank. As with most of the news I read, I was reading on my phone, so then I clicked on the link to read the article. After I read that he died of an apparent suicide, my heart sank even more. Such a preventable loss of life.

I haven't been a counselor for many years, but in my short stent in the mental health field, I have worked with a number of individuals who were clinically diagnosed as having a major depressive disorder. Depression is such a beast to understand and sometimes even harder to treat. When a person gets so depressed that they are in a dark enough place where they don't see a reason to go on living, it's very hard to get them to agree to treatment - lifestyle changes, therapy, medication, etc. While I have a basic understanding of some of the chemical and physical reasons for depression, I still have a hard time wrapping my mind around suicide. What must Robin have been thinking this morning as he prepared for his own death? How deep must his pain and hurting have been that the thought of death outweighed everything else? Did he consider the pain he would cause his wife and children? For someone who passionately played so many roles pertaining to love and relationships, it's hard for me to understand how he was able to do this. Maybe this is one reason why I'm having a hard time grasping his passing. How could someone who did so much to help others through laughter and charity, end his life like this?

I remember in one of my classes learning that the highest suicide rates were found in middle-aged, white males (45-64 years of age). I'm not sure why I found that surprising, but I did. We talked about how that age group might have more suicidal tendencies because individuals might look back on their life up to that point and not be satisfied by their path and progress, but then I think about someone like Robin Williams who achieved such greatness and admiration. I just don't understand.

There are many of Robin Williams' movies that I have never seen, but of the ones that I have seen, I think my favorite is still Mrs. Doubtfire. It is both funny and moving.

I love Williams' voicing of the Genie in Aladdin!

I like Good Will Hunting, although I still think I prefer Robin Williams in his funny, comedic roles.

I also really like Patch Adams.

 Who couldn't LOVE Lovelace from Happy Feet?

 While kind of dark, I really, really like What Dreams May Come. Watching it gave me so many things to think about and a different way of looking at things. This movie does an amazing job of pulling at so many different emotions. I hope Robin's heaven is everything he dreamed it would be.

I am so thankful for Robin Williams and for his talent, generosity, passion, and amazing sense of humor. A very bright star burned out today. Rest in peace, Robin Williams.