Short version: I don't like back to school time. I miss vacation. Vacation is fun.
Longer version: I love being outside and making my own schedule and traveling. I like the fresh air and going on adventures. I like tossing the kayaks up on the top of the car or throwing the bikes on the racks, or filling up the camelbak and setting out for a run with no particular destination in mind. I like taking my kid to places I love and jumping off the rocks into the water of hidden swimming holes and discovering new places. I like driving across the country to Yellowstone and it feels like coming home. I like the ability to be with thousands of people in my favorite place in the world and still have the ability to watch a wolf howl from 20 feet away or see a grizzly bear emerge from the woods and take an early morning swim in the fog with only my family and a few others as company. I like saddling up a horse and getting away from the road and the people for awhile. I feel happy, I feel relaxed and I feel like anything is possible.
This summer we spent 3 weeks in Yellowstone (and driving there and home again) and I had exactly zero panic attacks. Even when I was riding my horse on a very steep cliff my pulse raced and my heart fluttered, but it took just a few deep breaths and a reminder to enjoy this moment to quell the anxiety. I climbed a mountain and made a new friend along the way, chatting amicably for miles as we walked to the top of the world. I ran back down feeling like my legs could carry me forever, a feeling which I lost towards the end of the last school year. I could have stayed in Yellowstone forever. I don't live there, but it is most certainly my home. I've been going there for 34 years (and I'm only 34) and I know its mountains and valleys far better then I know the streets and buildings of my own city. As soon as i get back to NY I begin to think of when we can return again. (hopefully next summer).
I clung to summer as long as I could. I work in a city school and we deal with a lot of issues. We just recently got off the persistently dangerous list and our kids deal with more then I can possibly imagine. Our school can be scary and dangerous Our kids come with baggage that I am not trained to deal with. There are days that I don't think I can manage. There are days that the burdens that come with a job like this weigh me down and make my own luggage to heavy to carry. Still... I love my school, I love my coworkers and I love the kids. For every moment that I feel overwhelmed there is another where I can't imagine living without the place. It's a delicate balance and one that this year I have to work to maintain. Last year I let myself get sucked in and dragged down to the point that I was no longer managing. I tried to compensate in all the wrong ways. I tried to gain back control by doing too much, serving on every committee, saying yes to every thing that was asked of me at work and also tried to keep a hold of friendships by saying yes to everything out of work as well. As noted in other posts I ended up at zero and everything suffered.
This year I am making a concerted effort to not fall into the same traps. We went back to school 2 weeks ago, teachers only for some PD. Some of it was repeats of past years, this is because for the 4th year in a row we have roughly a 50% turnover of staff. So old for me is new for them. We also have done some new stuff, putting a heavy focus on restorative conferences and relationships, something we are practicing with each other as adults. I can say pretty definitively that I have a love-hate relationship with this. It's all about building trust and letting people in, which is good, when it's organic.Sometimes, when it feels forced, it's really stressful. For someone like me, who really struggles with anxiety, this is like asking me to cut myself open and let people pour salt in the wounds. Depending on who is in my group, it can be fun or it can be terrifying. A few people at work know how bad it can get and they can tell when I'm starting to fade. Luckily these are also the same people that I spend most of my time with and who are usually in my group and they already know most of my secrets, so when we have these discussions there's a much lower level of anxiety.
However, there are also people that I work with who I don't like and who I don't trust. I've already made that decision for myself based on my own criteria. Maybe we disagree on work or on how we treat other people. Maybe they've done things that I find abhorrent. Maybe they've hurt someone that I care about. Whatever the case may be, we do not get a long and I do not want to share any bit of myself with them. I'm sure there are people that walk into my circle and think "Oh god. I'm with her. I do not want to share with her" and that's okay. Let me repeat that one: IT'S OKAY. It's okay to not get along with people. It's okay to not want to share yourself with someone else. You are not required to make yourself feel pain in order to meet someone else's expectations. These circles, where you are asked to answer personal questions about yourself often make it seem like it is not okay. You are always allowed to pass and not answer, but there is a stigma to that and one leader actually said that people not participating was disappointing and that we shouldn't accept that from our students when we do it with them. Her assumption was that we weren't opening up because we didn't know each other and were hesitant. What she failed to see was that in this particular case (and for me) we did know each other and didn't want to share because that trust has been lost and there isn't an interest in repairing it. You know what? That's okay too. If you decide that someone isn't worth being in your life anymore that's okay. If you have to work with that person your only obligation is to not cause shit. Be a good coworker. Help out with work stuff without creating drama. Don't try and sabotage that person or try and rip them down. Don't go to your boss and trash them. You don't have to be friends, you just have to coexist peacefully and do your job.
On one particular circle heavy day I crumbled. I answered a question and felt great about it. We had to say if there was a time that you belonged to a certain group that you didn't like it. One person talked about how being an athlete sometimes stunk because it meant people assumed he just one of the good old boys and might not a good friend. I had chosen "woman" as my group and I debated answering. In the end when the facilitator came to me I looked up and said "Being a woman can be a powerful thing and we can do so many amazing things, and yet there are people who try to take our agency away." I said this in a group where there were people I trusted, but there was also a person who I think is emotionally manipulative, who has on many occasion said things like "Why aren't you smiling?", "Why are you grumpy, people don't like you when you are grumpy." and "So you're just going to be a bitch today? You should at least try to smile." (that last one was said about 2 hours after I found out that my cousin died...so yeah.. smiling wasn't in the cards).. This person knew that I struggled with anxiety attacks and yet used comments to make my feelings seem less valid and for a long time I tried to appease him (and others) by not acknowledging my own feelings and instead plastering a smile on and saying "I'm just tired! It's fine." This is a fairly minor example of people taking away someone's agency, we can all think of others that are much more devastating. At any rate, I felt great saying it in that moment because I not only felt like I had to say something to answer the question, but I felt like it was a good answer. However, within minutes I was on the edges of a panic attack. A comment from an administrator a little while later sent me into full blown anxiety attack mode. I made it a whole summer without ever feeling the panic bubble too far up, three days back to work and I was hiding in my office and trying not to hyperventilate.
Then it occurred to me that if I struggle with this then I am sure that some of students will too. They will have classmates they do not trust and do not want to share with. They will have reasons to not answer and when they do answer they might be afraid of what will happen after they share that piece of themselves with their classmates. So I have to work really hard to support them the way I would want to be supported. I have to make sure they know that their feelings are always valid and that we can totally find a way to all work together without making anyone feel uncomfortable. I have to make sure that other adults also understand some of the other ramifications of these circles and that they see that not sharing is not always someone not buying in, it might be that person just not being ready. And that's okay.
Time for some Kindness...
I'm also trying to infuse some kindness into the school day. I'm the coordinator of a great group in our school called WEB (Where Everybody Belongs) and it's out job to make sure new students transition to our school with as little stress and anxiety as possible. We train 8th grade students to be leaders and to run fun team building activities with incoming 6th grade students. We have an orientation before school starts and our kids help new students get to know each other and the school so the pressure is off on the first day. There will already be friendly faces waiting for them. Throughout the year our WEB leaders will meet with our new students to celebrate their accomplishments and help them deal with some of the harder parts of middle school.
Sometimes you just need to have fun:
I'm also making a huge effort to stave off the anxiety by doing things I really love doing and not necessarily just going along on what other people want to do.
The first week of school I went camping. Like the whole week. Instead of driving to work from home I drove from my campsite. Each night we had a fire, made marshmallows and rode bikes. I slept in my hammock out under the stars and woke up to deer chilling in the fields and beautiful sunrises. With the exception of that minor freak out, the week was awesome and I was missing it almost as soon as I got home. The next weekend I went kayaking and did some driftwood yoga with friends. This past weekend we dusted off our boots and went to a concert, watching a beautiful sunset while we listened to great music. The point is, I left work behind and went out and had fun. I didn't let myself get sucked into doing tons of work on non-work hours (even though I was asked).
On top of that I'm planning some fun stuff for during the year. Like a fun girls night out each month. Just to blow off steam and get silly together without worrying about work.
Plus, it's just about time for my annual tattoo. I have 6 right now. A few from when I was younger that don't have a lot of meaning anymore, but a bunch from more recently that have a ton of meaning. I generally get tattooed in the fall, mostly because that's when I have money again, but also because being inside 8 hours a day allows them to heal without interference by the sun and chlorine that I spend a lot of time in during the summer. This years tattoo is already planned. I will somewhere near my collarbone/shoulder and say "Siamo in po' tutti rottami ma continuiamo a lottare" which means "We are all a little broken, always keep fighting" in Italian (super thanks to a friend who speaks fluent Italian- I wasn't going to trust google translate). I'm going add some colorful birds to the quote as well. The pictures to the right give a general idea of what I'm going for.
That one time in Chicago when we met Alex Meraz from Twilight.
The big one...
My last big plan is one that I've thought about but never pulled the trigger on. Until last week. I make no secret of my love for Supernatural and the actors from that show. In addition to just being a fun show, they appear to be really genuinely nice people who do amazing things for people in so many ways. Misha Collins is the Co-Founder and Board President of Random Acts, Jared Padalecki works to help remove the stigma of mental illness. The cast throws support to those in need more then any other cast that I've noticed (although I am sure there are others who do the same). The consequence of this is that their fans also support each other, I belong to a group of the most supporting women I know and it stems from a love of the show.
For me it is very reminiscent of the group of friends I made when I worked at TwilightMoms. Brought together by a book and movies, I made some of the best friends I've ever had. Even though I don't love Twilight as much anymore, I wouldn't throw away my time working with that group because of all the other things it brought me. I'm even a librarian because of Twilight, but that's a story for another time. I traveled all over because of Twilight, going to book conferences and meeting authors and actors. The memories we made will last a lifetime. It was awesome.
Now I'm going to travel for Supernatural. To Jacksonville for a Supernatural Convention where I will get to hit up a karaoke party, see a live band, watch panels with the actors and get both autographs and photos. I'm super excited to go meet some people that I truly look up to and who are serving as great examples for me...and also be a total geek fangirl for a weekend. I've got 4 months to plan out what kind of pictures I want to get with the actors. I'm thinking about making them do research with me- they do it on the show, I do it as a job and then I can hang the pictures up in the library for my students to see. Show them the world is a lot bigger then our four walls and that if you step out of your comfort zone you can do some really cool things.
So yeah... I'm pretty sure this post is what you would see in the dictionary under the definition of "Rambling". A little bit of a hodgepodge here today, but it works. Get's it all off my mind. I think I can take this whole massive post and sum it up... maybe.
Summer's fun and vacation is too short. Sometimes sharing is good, but sometimes it's terrifying and we should make sure we make everyone feel safe. You don't have to be friends with everyone, just don't cause drama. Going back to school is stressful for everyone, but being kind to one another can go a long way. And a quote from Misha Collins that I found while making the WEB Random Acts board at school... "Be kind to yourself so you will be happy enough to be kind to the world." I'm going to make a huge effort to find that balance this year and make it a great one for everyone I can.