You know what they say about assuming...

This morning when I logged in to twitter, someone had sent me a DM with the following question (edited to remove potentially identifying details and broaden the scope of my thoughts):

If I write a post about <insert life choice> and all the pressure as a <insert stage of life> to <re-insert life choice>, will <insert all those people at previous stated life stage pursuing previously stated choice> get mad at me?

Oy…what a question to start the day with. My first instinct? I was annoyed that this individual felt they had to ask. NOT annoyed that they asked, because I was happy to share my thoughts. What bothered me about the question was that they knew there was a possibility - okay, probability - that there would be negative (judgmental) reactions to their choices.

You see, we have this idea that life should go a certain “ideal” way. Here’s the general order in my experience:

  1. You’re born.
  2. You have a childhood.
  3. You go to university or college.
  4. You date.
  5. You start your career.
  6. You get married.
  7. You buy a house.
  8. You have kids.
  9. You have a career.
  10. You retire.
  11. You travel/downsize/become a snowbird (for Canadians).
  12. You die.

But darn it all if humans - who made these rules - don’t bother to follow them! (I know…shocking!)

Some people don’t get a degree, including me.
Some people don’t get legally married.
Some people don’t buy a house.
Some people don’t have kids.
Some people don’t establish a career.
Some people don’t retire.

Despite all these exceptions to “the rules”, people still push these narrow and highly unimaginitive expectations on the people in their lives at the stages when they get there, disregarding entirely any possible reasons that someone might not want to follow this path.

Every time a high school graduate crosses a stage to pick up a diploma, there is someone waiting on the other side to ask them where they’re going to go to school and what they’re going to study. 

Couples who date for more than six months or so fend off questions about when they’re going to get engaged. Then, they get engaged and you’d think people would be happy, but NO! That merely starts the round of wedding date inquiries.

The wedding should satisfy people, but it really doesn’t. How many weddings have you been to where the question of kids hasn’t come up? Not many, eh? Didn’t think so. Seriously? Give them AT LEAST a day before you start asking, people.

I think the time from high school graduation to probably late thirties/early forties have to be the most intense period of life changes and busybody interference and questioning. 

I know people mostly mean well, but I personally found it really difficult - emotionally - when I was asked when I was going to have children. This went on for years, because I’d already lost a baby and you don’t just share that information with everyone you meet. That decision was intensely personal for me and Matt; it wasn’t something that was anyone else’s business. After one particularly awkward conversation with someone who was barely an acquaintance, I vowed that I would not ask anyone else when or if they were going to have kids. If we are meant to have that discussion, it would come up naturally in a way that the other person is comfortable with.

Then I watched a co-worker get relentlessly nosey questions (practically interrogations) about when she was going to get married to her long-time boyfriend for over three years. She handled it with grace and dignity, but it got to the point that even I was uncomfortable when it happened. So, I extended my rule to other life stages as well.

Why?

Because I don’t want to make assumptions about choices that others are making. We’re all different. We all have different experiences and backgrounds that affect our choices. The road I take is right for me to the best of my knowledge. It isn’t necessarily right for anyone else and it’s better that I build a relationship with someone to talk about these things than unknowingly creating a potentially awkward situation for them or me. Ultimately, I’ve found that I develop more sustainable and deep relationships with people when I don’t dig too deep too soon.

Have you ever felt the pressure to make certain decisions about life choices from people around you? How did you handle it?

Smile, because you aren't wearing braces anymore.

Matt and I took this week off to spend time going through the piles of accumulated junk in our house. We’re purging, cleaning and organizing our little butts off. Today, in particular, we gutted our home office and started the process of going through boxes that have barely been touched since we moved in.

I happen to be a fairly sentimental type and I keep things that mean something to me. Sometimes they are reminders of the really amazing friends I’ve had throughout my life.

When I opened one box, I knew I’d be spending a while examing its contents. It was filled with cards, letters and notes from people I’ve known - mostly as a teenager and into my early twenties. There was one note that hurt to read - though not as much as when I received it. My relationship with the authors had changed and I don’t think it ever fully recovered back then. Now that we’re all adults, the memories of those times have faded and I see the people they have become and I’m glad I’ve restored contact even though our paths diverged in life.

I kept the note. It doesn’t have the power to hurt me that it did back then. But it taught me today that nothing is insurmountable.

What was overwhelmingly obvious was that I have had many people in my life who appreciated and cared about me - even if they were only a part of my life for a short time. I saw names that I no longer remember saying beautiful things to and about me. Piles of birthday cards and Christmas cards from my (then) teenaged friends. I don’t remember doing Christmas cards for my friends, but maybe I did.

There was one note that stuck out above all the rest. There is no name, but it was clearly written by a boy in one of my classes. I think I know who wrote it, but there are 3-4 possibilities, so I’m not 100% sure. It was a note passed to me in class. And it had to have been in 10th grade*, though there is no date. This note made me smile and I couldn’t resist sharing it:

Hey Karen, what’s up? How are you? Why do you seem so depressed lately?

Me: I don’t know exactly. I just haven’t been very happy with anything.

Smile, because you aren’t wearing braces anymore.

Me: That really won’t help any.

So?

Indeed.

I often forget how blessed I’ve been by friends throughout my life. This friend just wanted me to smile. He cared enough about my state of mind to work at coaxing it from me when I wasn’t willing.

I hope I smiled when I got this note like I am as I read it again nearly 18 years later.

I think I’ll keep this note, too.

*****

*My braces were removed two weeks into my 10th grade year. I walked into classes late that day, smiling wide as one of the guys yelled out, “Do your teeth feel like snot?” And all the kids who’d had braces laughed because, yes, they did.

The unfortunate demise of my parents' first ever brand-new car

I don’t have any pictures of the actual truck I drove. But this one’s pretty close.So, Christine just wrote about her first car - the Green machine and I couldn’t resist writing about my first car, which also happened to be green, though it was actually a truck.

My first car wasn’t really my car. But I became the primary driver because my mom was extremely generous and she also appreciated the help since she wasn’t always in the best of health.

It was a forest green 1989 Chevrolet S-10 pickup truck that had beige pleather interior and plastic flooring - no carpet at all (which was actually kind of nice in Florida). My dad got my mom this truck for her birthday in 1988. It was their very first brand new vehicle. It was so nice. We were very much a second hand car family. Mom’s favorite - she always said - was the Galaxy that was white with forest green interior. I only remembered that it was ugly. :) So, dad bought the truck in October for my mom’s birthday. He proceeded to tease her for quite a long time that it was only meant to be for her birthday and that it was his once her birthday had passed. Just 6 years later, I ended up driving it far more than both of them.

When I turned 15, I was eligible to get my learner’s permit in the State of Florida. I procrastinated and didn’t get it until about 3 months before my 16th birthday when I would be eligible for my full driver’s license. My parents told me that they wanted me to drive for a full year before I got my license and I was okay with that. I took Driver’s Education in summer school and drove for about 7-8 months before mom and Dad decided to let me get my license. I think I got it in November of 1993.

It wasn’t long before I started taking my mom to work in the mornings, then driving to school and returning to pick her up from work in the evenings. It was great! Mom worked long days, and rarely left the office due to her physical limitations, so I had a car to get to and from school and all my other activities.

I never fully understood why - perhaps it was being in the south and the truck-driving culture there, but I seemed to get lots of compliments about that truck. I learned how to change its tires, top up the oil (when it had a leak) and other general things that have to be done regularly with a car. I learned the hard way about filling up with gas on time. I think Dad still reminds me that “E” doesn’t mean “enough”. I also did my fair share of giving rides to friends after school and band practice. Those were good times.

Sadly, just a year after I got my license and during my senior (12th grade) year, I had an accident that totaled the truck. On my way to church one Sunday afternoon not long after a rainstorm had ended, I was driving on a road that had water in the ruts. This wasn’t a problem until someone passed me coming the other direction and sprayed dirty water from the road all over my windshield. I turned my wipers on right away, but it wasn’t quickly enough. A line of cars had stopped in front of me because a car was turning left. I hit the brakes, turned my wheel all the way to the right and kept going straight into the back of the minivan in the back of the lineup. That water on the road caused my view of the road to be impaired and then caused me to hydroplane so that I couldn’t avoid the accident. If only the police could have assigned fault to the water instead of me!

What was worse was the absolutely mortifying coincidence that no less than 10 people I knew from school drove by the scene of the accident. They were very nice, offering to help, but it was still very embarrassing. Especially when I had to retell the details to all the people that found out about the accident the next day. Fortunately, there were no injuries - apart from my pride and the front end of the truck. I couldn’t believe how well the van made it through the accident. There was damage, but nothing like what happened to my truck.

The damage to my pride didn’t stop with the accident. From that day on I was forced to drive either my parents’ blue Caprice Classic station wagon to school or my grandmother’s Ford Fairmont (0-60 in 5 minutes flat!) to school. If you asked me which of the two I preferred, to this day I can’t tell you.

*****

Do you have a good story about your first car? Share it and link up at Coffees and Commutes!

The scariest (and best) teacher ever

She was a legend. I’d heard about her for almost 10 years, because she was there when my brother went to my high school. Few could spell her name, but everyone knew it. She commanded respect in a not-so-warm-and-fuzzy yet oddly still quite likeable way.

I remember my first interaction with her. I was in 10th grade and I and one of my friends were hanging out in our Biology classroom for some reason. This was strange because A) I did not like biology. Krebs cycle? Kill me now. B) I’m pretty sure our teacher didn’t care too much for female students - that was . Since my friend and I were girls, it was just strange. I don’t remember why we were in her room, but I do remember not really talking about class or schoolwork.

And Miss M came in.

Her hair was long, straight and parted in the middle with every gray strand in it proudly on display. It worked for her. Miss M was all natural. She didn’t wear makeup and she wasn’t into fru-fru frilly crap. I never saw her wear a skirt or dress and I’d be shocked if she ever has. We eventually learned that she was pretty bad-ass in her personal life; and those details are better left in my head. But it was all part of the big picture that was Miss M.

Miss M excelled at telling it like it is. You can look at her for the first time and know that she’s not one for bull$#!@ - giving or receiving. It’s not her style.

Somehow that afternoon, we - my friend and I - admitted that we were a little timid about taking her class. Miss M taught chemistry and the reason she was legend was because her class was so difficult. She told us we’d be fine as long as we worked hard. 

Fast forward however many months to the following August (that’s when school started for us). I walked into Miss M’s 3rd period gifted *shudder* chemistry class. I was kinda nervous. The only thing that gave me hope was that I’d heard Miss M didn’t particularly like male students - she was the opposite of our biology teacher that way. Of course, I knew that didn’t mean I could get away with not busting my butt in her class.

Have you ever heard of that fabled rule that teachers shouldn’t smile for the first 6 weeks? The point being that you scare students into submission? THEN and only then can you show them your human side?

Miss M might have written that rule. Seriously.

I have never known a teacher who knew the curriculum as well as this woman. She knew which chapters would be easy. She knew which chapters half of us would fail. She started out by saying that if we weren’t prepared to study very hard for 5, 6, 7 and 8 that we would set the tone for the year. That day, she laid out her expectations. She didn’t care if we were “gifted”. She expected us to work and work hard. She expected us to know what we were doing - and that meant reading the book, as opposed to sleeping on it and absorbing knowledge by osmosis.

She yelled at us. Not in a mean, screaming way, but more in a this-is-what-it-takes-just-do-it way.

I think that lecture singlehandedly saved my butt. I was awed by this woman who could strike fear into even some of the cockiest (and smartest) boys that I’d been in classes with for years. That’s the thing about being in the gifted program - you start to believe you’re all that when you’re really not.

Those chapters she mentioned? I didn’t ace them all, but I didn’t get lower than a B on any of them. I learned that chemistry is really cool, where biology just made me want to poke my eyes out (except the genetics part - that was cool). By the end of that year, I had so much respect for Miss M and I have always believed that it was mutual. She knew how hard I worked to do well in her class.

The next year, those of us who’d had Miss M the previous year got into the habit of calling her by her first name and she let us. A sign that we were on a more equal footing after our successes in her class, perhaps. Maybe even a sign of mutual respect.

If you ask me who my favorite teacher was in high school, Miss M is the first name on the list, even though I only had her for one class. Because she was so tough, when you did succeed, you felt like you’d truly accomplished something.

*****

This post was based on the prompt “A lecture you still remember.” from Mama Kat’s Pretty Much World Famous Writer’s Workshop.

A little side note: I took Chemistry in college and cracked the book open exactly twice. I got an A in that class because of Miss M - three years after I left her class. She taught us that well.