Sunday, November 02, 2014

Don't Eat the Puppies

My dog might eat your dog for dinner. She loves other dogs. She loves to play with other dogs, especially if they are smaller than her. But my dog will flip on a dime. And she might eat your dog for dinner.

From the moment my pup and I became family, I knew her checkered past might pose a problem. Picked up off of the street with a number of other dogs, my girl lived life as a stray for an unknown amount of time. She was painfully shy at first. In fact, when I visited with her at the Humane Society, she wouldn't come near me. She did, however, sidle up beside my young nephew.

At nine years of age, my nephew exhibited patience beyond measure. He sat quietly on the floor of the tiny visitation room and waited for the skinny, black, lab-mix puppy to come to him. Eventually, she did. It was then that I decided that puppy was my puppy.

The next day, I spent hours shuffling through the adoption process and I brought her home. She shook and shivered all the way. Her ears drooped and her head hanged so low, her chin nearly touched the seat of the car. Once in a while she glanced my way. Her big brown puppy dog eyes pierced my heart. I just wanted to hug her all the time.

It took weeks before she barked for the first time. Evidence abounded that she was previously abused. Every time I picked up my shoes or wrapped up the cord of my computer, she scurried behind the couch to hide. Determined to train her right, I crated her at night, fed her by the clock, and walked her regularly every day. She loved to ride in the car and I took her with me everywhere.

But alas, I am a bad owner. I am a bad dog mom. Before long, she was sleeping in my bed, sharing my bacon, and basically running the house. And as she outgrew her shyness, we started to see her evil side. If I let her, she would devour the mail and the mail man. She can never be off of her leash because she would do one of three things: run away, eat a squirrel, or bite a neighbor.

I have a mean dog.

I loathe the look that people give me when they realize she is mean too. It's that, "why would you have a mean dog" look. Well, I will tell you why. Mean dogs deserve love too. They deserve a good home. I love my mean dog. She might want to eat your dog for dinner. She might want to take out the mailman but... She's mine and I'm hers. And I love her.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Psst... I'm a teacher now!

Finally, I made the transition to the field of education and since August, I have been trying to get my bearings and find some sort of routine for my life. Nothing has worked. My life is more chaotic now than ever. In the past, I would have been a balled up, crying disaster. But I love the crazy that being a teach has brought into my life.

At least once a week, someone asks me why I made the change in my career. And at least once a week, I ask myself if I made the right decision. But I know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that teaching is what I am supposed to do.

My kids are smart and cunning and quick-witted and charming. They constantly work to outsmart me or distract me or convince me to do something fun instead of reading. I am learning so much from them and they push me to want to learn more outside of the classroom so I have more to share with them.

I often struggle to keep up with the demands of being a teacher and I don't feel nearly smart enough sometimes. But most days, all I need is a good story in my back pocket, an open mind and a willing heart to get me through. Don't get me wrong! Teaching is by far the most difficult job I have EVER had. There wasn't one day in advertising that could compare with the pressure to perform or the level of stress that oppresses you as a teacher or the worry you carry day in and day out for your students. But those three things... the story, the open mind and the willing heart... I think those three things are the secret to getting through the week.

For those most part, I am able to find some satisfaction in every day. Sometimes I have to seek it out or look REALLY hard to see it but it's there. It's in the smile of a kid that has barely looked at you in eight weeks. It's in the "I love you Ms. Rausch!" yelled down the hall by a kid who makes you crazy in class. It's in the 100% you get to write at the top of a student's paper. It's in the thank yous and the laughter and the hugs. It's in the head that rests on your shoulder as a student stands beside you in the hallway during the passing period. It's in the silence of the talker who seemingly never shuts up but has decided to pour herself into her paper one day. It's in the greetings you get when you see your students at the football game.

Now to find that routine and figure out how to survive on five hours of sleep! Mercy... have I made the right decision? Ask me in May.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Journey to Cooperstown: Part One

About 5 years ago, I decided to stop giving Christmas presents to my friends and family and to start giving them EXPERIENCES. It's a decision I will never regret because it has allowed me time with the most precious people in my life. My favorite adventures include a drive down Route 66 with two friends and our family trip to South Dakota which prompted my dad to start thinking about the places on his bucket list that he'd like to visit, like Mount Rushmore.

This trip to Cooperstown was not my original plan for our family vacation. I intended to fly my parents to Florida for St. Louis Cardinals spring training. However, just a few weeks before Christmas, my mom announced that she would not be able to get on a plane. Total panic! Three weeks to start all over with my planning and booking. Thankfully my coworker, Ryan, came to the rescue suggesting a weekend at Cooperstown. What a brilliant idea! My parents love for the Cardinals rises far above for their love of any other sport. That's saying something given they had season tickets to the former St. Louis Cardinals football team and the St. Louis Blues. They rarely miss a Cardinals game (from the comfort of their couch, of course) and they greatly admire Tony LaRussa who will be inducted to the Hall of Fame this year. 

Even though about 15 hours of our trip thus far has been spent in the car, we have had a great time. We spent the night in Cleveland where we shared a hotel with the Cleveland Browns rookies, my nephew got in a good swim with his parents and we all relaxed on the patio, enjoying 60-something degree weather. Part two of our drive included a detour to Niagara Falls which wasn't nearly a big as I remembered from the summer after my 7th birthday. Mom and I took a selfie by the crashing water while my brother-in-law served as photographer for a number of visitors from abroad. The time there, though short, will be cherished.

We finally arrived at a little farmhouse in Oxford, NY late last night after a breathtaking drive through the New York country side. Our route took us through farmland and quaint, adorable towns. To say we are amazed by the beauty of this country is an understatement. The roads are lined to rows of corn, vineyards that stretch as far as the eye can see and hops farms which was a new sight for me.

Our farmhouse, nestled in lovely Oxford is the centerpiece on an alpaca farm. Antiques and other old things clutter every room. It smells like my Grandpa Aben's house. Or at least the way I remember it. It's dusty and dirty but the beds are comfortable. The dishwasher is broken, the toilets don't flush correctly, the lake that was supposed to be behind the house is nowhere to be found, the bathtub doesn't hold water and a number of the lights don't work. But we gathered around the dining room table last night, ate sandwiches, and played three rousing hands of UNO, forcing each other to DRAW FOUR MORE and SKIP turns while we laughed until someone peed a little. 

You cannot manufacture these moments. They are grown from pure love. 

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Whose Body?

ESPN The Magazine has released its latest Body Issue featuring the nude physiques of famous professional athletes. This year's issue includes tennis player Venus Williams,  swimmer Michael Phelps, soccer star Omar Gonzalez and many others.

But the athlete creating the most stir is Texas Rangers first baseman Prince Fielder. Why the fuss? Well, Mr. Fielder is a big dude. He isn't lean and slender like nearly every other athlete featured in the magazine. He has thighs for days and a firm round stomach and giant rolling hills for shoulders. He doesn't look like the others.

All athletes are not created from the same mold so allowing for some diversity is a welcome change. All too often, society creates parameters for athletes in each sport that might limit participation by children who feel like they don't look the part or whose parents feel like they don't look the part. If you are really tall, you play basketball. If you are short and speedy, soccer is your sport. Rough and tumble kids with long hair and a blatant disregard for the importance of a full set of teeth are hockey players. There are exceptions to every rule, however. Spud Webb long reigned as the height exception for basketball players and I think big guys like Prince Fielder demonstrate daily that lean might be mean but being husky isn't an obstacle to success on the playing field.

I don't expect that the inclusion of overweight athletes or those who are bigger than the average will become a trend. We won't see weight lifters and sumo wrestlers in the buff any time soon. We probably will never see a thick woman gracing the pages either. Back fat and love handles probably disqualify an athlete immediately. But I love that ESPN The Magazine included Fielder in the Body Issue this time.

Three cheers for the big and beautiful!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

New Beginnings

I'm not one of those people who is motivated by someone telling me I can't do something. I am not that kind of a fighter. I fight for others. Not for me. I've watched that video of Pharrell crying on Oprah over and over. On some scale I have experienced that but more in the way of feeling pure joy and satisfaction in seeing others succeed or seeing them happy or seeing them finally realize their own potential. That is why I loved coaching. I especially loved coaching kids who didn't think they were good enough to play because I had the chance to uncover an ounce of potential and turn it into something rewarding for them, and for me.

For months, I have been thinking about quitting my job and selling everything I own and starting over completely. New career, new opportunities, new experiences. But, much like my lack of will to fight, I am also not very motivated to do things that feel like they are really for me and not for others. I started sorting through all of my belongings, donated bags and bags of items to charity, and unloaded a couch I have had for years on a kid starting out with his first apartment. I made a list of things I wanted to do like volunteering on Pine Ridge for a week and walking dogs at stray rescue. I calculated the risks. I dragged my feet. I went to work day in and day out. And while I loved my team and I loved our work, I was miserable.

On April 7th, I had a dream. I was stumbling through my office, bloodied from battle and I was dodging bullets being fired at my head. I shared the dream with a coworker (and friend). Today the battle ensued. The bullets missed me but I'm a little battered and my heart is torn. But, a window of opportunity has opened. And while it scares me nearly to death, I am about to embark on a new journey that will take me to amazing places. 

There is a lot of work to be done. Work for others. Work for good. The kind of work that, when I see it played back, will bring me to joyous, happy tears. Ready or not? Well, I don't feel ready but I know I am prepared.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

I'm not easy to love...

In a short original film about musician Michael Franti, John Chester describes Franti's adoption as a "severe form of rejection." Franti himself describes his beginnings this way: "When I was born, my birth mother carried me for nine months. She held me for one hour and she gave me up for adoption."
His adoption story is actually quite beautiful as is Franti's description of his relationship with his mom. I don't know anything about Franti's life path between then and now. "Now" being a life with a family he loves and a wildly successful music career. But I can guess there were many struggles.

I believe in adoption and the opportunities it presents. My own adoption probably saved my life. I came from some pretty incredible people, including a mother of tremendous strength. Any mother who gives up her child must be strong. And I inherited some pretty phenomenal talents and abilities. I do not resent my adoption in any way nor the people who facilitate it. In the end, I received one of God's greatest gifts to me: parents and a sister for whom I am eternally grateful.

But to dismiss the inherent sense of rejection and abandonment that comes with adoption is a mistake. Those feelings are buried deep inside adopted people. Some of us become more keenly aware of them throughout our lives than others. And some of us are more dramatically impacted by it than others. We are not easy to love. We often self-sabotage. We hurt others indirectly so we can control their departure from our lives rather than be surprised by it.

On a daily basis I struggle to embrace those who have embraced me. I have destroyed the bridges of many relationships because I cannot trust. I have trouble forgiving or even just letting things slide because I need to know that you are in this with me ALL the way, not just when it is convenient. I mean, if my own mother can leave me after nine months... I am rarely surprised when disappointed by others. I expect it.

Michael Franti inspired me today. He inspired me to reconnect with my music and to open up my soul to healing. And it frightens me to the core.