Dear Nana,

Today I attended the viewing for a student in my class who very tragically passed away this past weekend.  Contrary to what popular media would have us believe, not every person who gives in to their struggles is weak or deficient or lacking in any way.  This kid was just a real nice young man who had friends and family who loved him deeply.  In the few months I had the privilege of knowing him, he showed himself to be clever, insightful, well-liked, and seemingly well-adjusted.  And I cannot help but be reminded of a memorial service I attended for a former student several years ago, where a speaker noted that THAT particular young man had worked on a theatrical production recently as a follow-spot operator, and what a perfect metaphor that was for his life: always standing in the dark, shining his light on others.   Sometimes that light in our eyes is so bright that we become blind to what stands behind it.

So this note is to my kids…not just the ones I gave birth to myself, but the ones in my classes every day, year after year.  No matter how old you get or where your road takes you, you will always be my “kid”, like it or not.  And I do not mean that condescendingly at all.  I mean it with all the admiration and affection that you deserve.  Hard as it may be to believe, I can assure you that (at least for me), teaching is not a profession that one goes into if they hate children.  If I ever come off as annoyed by you or am disappointed in you, it is only because I respect you so much that I hate to see you sell yourself short.  The world is full of people who will judge you unfairly, be it from the clothes on your back to the way you wear your hair to the scores on your transcript – they won’t take the time to see the wonderful you that is behind all that, and therein lies the frustration.  It is NEVER at you personally.  This is YOUR time to make mistakes, to find yourself, to cause problems, to get confused, to seek your answers, to fight back.  That’s the only way you will know who you are when the time comes for you to stand up and introduce the “real” you.  So don’t be ashamed to speak your mind, to shout, to yell, to scream, to cry, to beg, to cheat…to mess up and let yourself get caught once in a while.  Endure the punishments.  Have your heart broken, and break someone else’s.  Hate someone with a burning passion, and then watch how time makes that anger fade away until you can’t even remember why you were mad in the first place.  Love someone until it hurts when you are away from them.  Laugh until you cry.  Cry until you can hardly breathe.  Breathe in the peace and quiet of a crisp morning before anyone else is awake.  Awaken your senses to every moment, because time is fleeting.  Embrace all the emotions that come with life, because life is beautiful.  All the ugliness and the inequity and the lust and the joy is beautiful, and you are beautiful because you are a part of it.  Never doubt that.

New parents walk on eggshells those first few months.  Babies are so fragile, right?  But the reality of the matter is, they’re not.  Kids are resilient.  Remarkably so.  Even in the very act of childbirth, the bodies of the mother and child endure such difficult feats it’s a wonder our species even survives!  You are amazing.  Don’t doubt that.  Of course things get difficult.  Life is only tough because you were born to be strong.  You can do more than you give yourself credit for.  Don’t give up on yourself.  (I promise you that I never will give up on you.)  Crutches exist for a reason – to help us walk when we need it.  Don’t be ashamed of needing a helping hand every once in a while.  You know you would do the same for someone you loved. 

And I know it’s cliché, but it DOES get better.  It’s so hard to see that when you are hurting, but I have been to too many funerals and memorial services for wonderful kids that had no idea just how much they were loved.  If you could see yourself the way we see you – so full of potential, with so much to offer – you would stand tall in the knowledge that you ARE worthy and you ARE somebody.  No matter who you are, you are the world to someone, even if you can’t see it yourself.  I truly believe that the Universe has a way of balancing itself out…nothing is ever taken away from us without something being given in return.  It’s so hard to see the reciprocity sometimes, but if you just have faith that it is there, you will see it in time.  Don’t give up before the pendulum swings back.

In the meantime, be the wonderful, courageous, amazing, worthy, loved person that you are.  Take solace in the knowledge that those who are toughest on you have the highest expectations and respect for you.  Take comfort in the knowledge that you are worth it.  Take peace in the knowledge that troubles are temporary, and the sun will rise again tomorrow.  And never, ever doubt that you are somebody who MATTERS.

You are strong.

You are beautiful.

You are worthy.

You need to know that.


Dear Nana,

Something happened today that made me very angry and very sad. I keep thinking that I’ll calm down later, but it has now been over 11 hours and I’m still extremely upset about it. I honestly feel like crying.

As you know, Wednesday was Saara’s 11th birthday, and one of her favorite things to do is to have tea parties at A Corner of England Festive Occasions (6297 Central Avenue, St Pete FL). And since Saara has not seen her best friend Mia that much since Mia moved to Tampa and we moved to Seminole, we made reservations for the two of them (plus the twins and I) to go at noon today. The kids were very excited. We arrived and they had a lovely table set for us, complete with a birthday balloon table setting in honor of Saara. All was well. The kids were enjoying their drinks and trying on hats; everyone was in a great mood, we took some great pictures, etc.

And then our food came. It was very good, as usual, but when I went to take a bite of my quiche, I noticed a small chip of porcelain stuck to the bottom. I completely understand, as it was a tea house with lots of mugs and plates and the like, that these things happen. I imagine if a mug or cup broke or was chipped in the kitchen, little shards of porcelain or ceramic could be anywhere; it happens. No big deal. I saw it before I ate it, so no harm done. But I DID think it was important to inform the management, just so they could be on the lookout. Other customers may not be as understanding as I am, and I could only imagine the potential problems that could possibly arise if someone else were to eat a chip of porcelain and get cut or something. For purely selfish reasons, because we like the place so much, I did not want to see them face a lawsuit or something that would force them to close down. So I discreetly and quietly (I even whispered and held my hand up to my mouth so as not to alert the other patrons) asked to speak to the manager. Even my own kids and their friend didn’t realize what was going on, that is how quiet I kept it!

I was referred to whomever I assume was the manager (an older gentleman with gray hair; I did not get his name), and he came over to the table and I quietly showed him the porcelain. He picked it off and asked if there was more on the plate. I told him I didn’t think so, but that I just wanted to let him know about it, and that I had lost my appetite so could I please have the check and my scone to go. He responded NOT by apologizing or thanking me for looking out for them, but rather by telling me that I “cause problems” every time I come in and I need to just go and not return. I was shocked and taken aback! I sat quietly at the table, stunned and trying to process what he had just said to me. I was absolutely NOT trying to “cause problems” (on the contrary, I was trying to help them AVOID one!!!), I was being intentionally discreet and respectful about it, and I never asked for my meal to be comped or any of that! It was literally just a simple “F-Y-I” on my part, and one that was delivered with a quiet and kind tone of voice! His response was the exact opposite!

A few moments later, he returned and told me to get out and never come back again. At this point, I DID raise my voice because I was getting agitated and felt insulted – I restated that I was only trying to let them know that there was potential danger because they were serving food with porcelain or ceramic in it, and I had NEVER asked for my meal to be comped or ANYTHING at all, and I did not deserve to be kicked out for it, because I was intentionally trying to be discreet and NOT create a scene. He said I was making a scene now so I had to go (sure; I raised my voice AFTER he already told me to go just for alerting him to a potentially deadly safety hazard in their food!) I gathered my things and my children and left as directed. In the parking lot, I saw a few more patrons trying to enter, so I told them what had just happened to me as I was loading my kids in the car. Then the man came out of the store again and over to my vehicle, yelling at me for talking to his customers and asking me “Are you five years old? I told you to GO.” I asked “Are you?” and I again reiterated that I had been trying to HELP them and did not deserve to be treated the way I was treated, and that I had been a regular customer for YEARS, so obviously I never had any complaints or problems or I wouldn’t keep coming back and telling them all the time how amazing they all are… and this is NOT how you treat regular customers (especially ones who have repeatedly brought in other customers and sung your praises all over the social media for years too). He said “Well, you don’t have to worry about us anymore because you are not a regular customer anymore. You’re not welcome here”, and he huffed off inside.

(Side note: I have NO clue what the heck he was referring to when he said I “always start trouble” when I go there. My parents raised me to be tactful and respectful in public, and any concerns or questions I ever had I made sure to address in PRIVATE and handle diplomatically and politely. If I wasn’t satisfied with the establishment, why would I waste my time and money to keep coming back and to recommend them to all my family and friends??? Last time I checked, that’s the OPPOSITE of “starting trouble”. I feel as though either that man has mental issues that need to be addressed, or else he has me confused with someone else. That’s even more of a shame then. Moreover, regardless of whether he thought I was a “troublemaker” or not, what happened to “the customer is always right?”)

I am shocked and appalled at this treatment and do not feel I deserved it in the least. If this is how a small business thanks their patrons, especially the ones who are trying to HELP them be successful, I don’t think I WANT to return again. I loved their shop, and previously found the owners supportive and accommodating. Apparently, I was wrong. I know that the owners are already aware of this situation, because the first person I contacted was the owner immediately after it happened! Moreover, since then, several of my friends have contacted them on my behalf as well. I noticed that they had the time to delete my friend’s messages on their facebook page, but not the time to respond to me.

I won’t be going back again, even if they do invite me…but I DO feel that at the very least, my DAUGHTER is entitled to an official apology here. She told me when we got home that she was sad because she didn’t even get to finish her cake, and now she’s never going to get that lemon cake she loves so much anymore…and that the guy scared her with the way he was talking to me and the way he was glaring at her. And who does that to an 11-year-old on her special day?!?! Not only can she never return to this place that she loved (for NO good reason, either!!! I DID NOTHING WRONG!!!), but her long-anticipated visit with her friend that she rarely sees anymore was cut drastically and painfully short. This was her birthday celebration – her CHOICE to spend it at that place – and this is how it pans out? For what? For trying to HELP? For having their back??? I am frustrated and humiliated and angry and hurt. This kind of behavior is JUST NOT OK…from ANYONE!!!

I wish I knew what to do to fix it. I keep playing the scene over and over in my head…the condescending tone of his voice, the way my hands didn’t stop shaking for hours afterwards…the way Lily sobbed all the way to the car…how quickly my kids smiles turned to fear and sadness. Who treats a family like this, especially an unwarranted attack like that???

The calm before the storm...

The calm before the storm…

I just want to cry now. 😦

Dear Nana,

The end of the school year is upon us!  Today was the last day with the students, and then tomorrow is a teacher work-day and graduation, and I’m taking the day off on Friday, so summer will officially begin!  Hooray!

I was feeling kind of good about myself yesterday, but then karma decided to have none of that and knocked me off my peg once more.  We can’t have teachers actually feeling GOOD about what they do, can we????  No sir!

A little back-story: I always provide my students with the opportunity to earn some extra bonus points on their final exam grade if they write me a paragraph telling me what they liked the best about my class, and what they liked the least.  I make sure to inform them that I am NOT expecting a page full of butt-kissing, nor am I opening the door for them to be mean to me, but I want honest, real constructive criticism that I can actually USE to become a better teacher in the future.

Well, yesterday, one of my students wrote me this lengthy note, thanking me for sponsoring the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance.  He was NOT a member of the club himself, but just a regular, rather quiet student in one of my classes.  He shared with me that, although he is straight, his mother is a lesbian, and how much he appreciated everything I do to make people more understanding and accepting of people from every background.  So I came home from school yesterday feeling really good.  I never would have known this student’s story had he not shared it in his note: he never spoke of his family in class, never attended a GSA meeting, nothing.  It was a prime example of how one should always be careful what one does or says, because one never knows who may be watching at any given time!  I felt validated.  I felt like THIS is what I was doing this job for.  Moments like THIS made it all worthwhile!  All of the BS, all of the nonsense, all of the attitude didn’t matter one bit at the end of the day, so long as I had THIS.

Then today happened.

Today was my 5th period exam, and just like with all my other classes, I gave them the same extra credit option.  And one of my students wrote me a 2-page-long letter in which she told me just how much I suck as a teacher, how I don’t care about my students, how I don’t bother to get to know them at all (ironic, considering she has hardly attended class all year long…how can I get to know you if you’re not there?), how I am just plain rude and not funny at all (side note: I challenge anyone who actually knows me in person to name a SINGLE time when I have ever intentionally been rude to ANYBODY…anyone???  Yeah…thought not.  I’m a wuss.  I’m the MOST non-confrontational person EVER.  I’m too chicken to be rude to someone!), and then she spent a good page’s worth of her vent just ranting about how unfair I am because I don’t let them use the bathroom in class (side note: she has me 5th period, which is during the LUNCH period, and it is SCHOOL POLICY that there are no hall passes written during the lunch period because too many students ask for passes to the bathroom and then go to the cafeteria and hang out with their friends instead of going to class – it’s a SCHOOL RULE, *NOT* MY RULE.  I’m doing my job – not trying to be mean!)  She even went so far as to justify WHY she thinks she should have more hall passes…to wit (and I quote): “girls have this thing called a ‘period’, which I don’t even know if you get any more at your age, but that means sometimes we have to go and change our tampons”.  Classy.  Wow…thanks for enlightening me on the workings of the female anatomy, but seeing as how I’ve been menstruating since…oh, before you were born…I think I know how it works.  Plus, considering that I gave birth to twins a mere TWO years ago and I’m just now in my mid-30’s, I think it’s safe to assume my lady parts are still in working order.

Now, was she justified in her vent?  Absolutely.  Let’s look at the issues here at the core: she felt as though I was being rude.  I have a sarcastic sense of humor, and I can see how it could potentially be misconstrued as mean (albeit unintentionally so).  I will work on that.  She felt as though I didn’t care.  That can go both ways, though…if she came to class, perhaps she would have seen a different side of me.  The problem with the human body is we can’t read what is in other people’s hearts and minds.  We can only make judgment calls based on their actions.  So SHE was assuming I didn’t care based on how I acted…and likewise, maybe I assumed the same about her based on hers.  My guess is, we were both wrong about each other.  My guess is she is going through personal issues and projecting the blame on me, and she’s a teenager – they’ll do that.  That doesn’t mean her feelings are WRONG; they just might be a tad misplaced.  The hall pass thing…I can see how that would be an annoyance, but my hands are tied.  I’m not going to willingly break a school rule without reasonable justification (ie. had she told me she had an “emergency”, I would have gladly written a pass!).  My job is worth more than that.  I don’t fault her for saying what she did (and incidentally, I did give her full bonus points for her work)…my issue is the WAY she said it!

When I was in 4th grade, one of my teachers had a sign on his wall that said “Say what you mean and mean what you say, but don’t be mean when you say it.”  That was a lesson I learned in ELEMENTARY SCHOOL.  Why is it that today’s high school students don’t get that message???

There was no need for name-calling.  There was no call to insinuate that I am old and out of touch.  That was just petty.

My adult brain with my 13 years of educational experience, my training in educational psychology and childhood development, and my years spent parenting my 3 children all tell me that this kid most likely has self-esteem issues and is attempting to cut me down because she perceives me as holding more power than she does, and it makes her feel better about herself to do it.  My adult brain tells me to brush it off, to let it go, that it doesn’t matter.

Except that it DOES.

Because this is ONE kid for whom I have failed this year.  And, just like cockroaches, when you see one, you know there’s more.  I can’t be mad at her because she had the guts to say what she said (although I do wish she hadn’t been so rude about it…newsflash: teachers are people too!!!  We have emotions too…we get our feelings hurt too!  Give me sticks and stones any day over the words that wound…they replay themselves over in my mind like a song you just can’t get out of your head…).  Just when I was riding the wave, high on my feel-good sensation brought on by the other kid’s note, this tsunami crashes over me and knocks the wind out of me.  If I fail one student, doesn’t that make ME a failure?

I’m not sure how much more of this I can take.

Maybe I shouldn’t be doing this anymore.


Dear Nana,

February has not been off to a good start for me.  Around the end of January, the twins got sick and were not sleeping well…which, in turn, translated into ME not being able to sleep well, since I’m the one who was constantly up with them, tending to them.  And yes, this was IN ADDITION to me getting up at 5am and working all day long, and all of the usual demands of my day-job as a High School English teacher.  Then John was pretty much busy the entire first weekend of the month, so I didn’t even get to relax and take it easy then.  And – you guessed it – all that stress and lack of sleep and being around sick babies all day took their toll, and sure enough *I* got sick, too.  Just in time for my annual observation/evaluation at work!  Nothing like having your Assistant Principal and the Principal come in to watch you teach your class while you’re sick as a dog and going on 3 hours of sleep!  Story of my life…

And here it is, 12 days into February, and none of us are 100%.  I still have an awful cough and I’ve used my rescue inhaler more this week than I have the entire past 2 years combined.  And every time I cough, I feel like the left side of my brain is going to explode.  On top of that, I have 240 credit hours of Reading and ESOL classes that I MUST complete by the end of the school year (“or else!!!”) – 60 of which MUST be completed by the end of FEBRUARY – I have a stack of essays on my desk that need to be graded, the twins are still fussy, and I’m still dealing with all of this alone because I get home in time to see my husband leave for work…I feel like a single mother!

And tomorrow, I am hosting a Beta Sigma Phi meeting at my house.  It’s one of the few things I have going on in my life that actually allows me to interact with other ADULTS!!!  (*gasp!*)  I mean, my entire day is consumed with children: 160 students in my classes all day long, followed up with my own 3 children at home all evening!  I can’t really afford a babysitter, so I rarely go out…and even if I could, who would I go with?  Most of my friends are too busy with their own lives and like to do things spur-of-the-moment…nobody wants to make the time to plan things 2 weeks in advance so I have enough time to secure a sitter and save up the money!  So I very much look forward to these meetings, because it gives me a chance to be around like-minded women and have a social outlet of sorts.

But…of course, since people are coming over…the house must be clean!

And therein lies my problem tonight.

I usually put the twins to bed at 8:30pm, then I help Saara with her schoolwork and she takes a shower and goes to bed by 10pm…then I have a couple hours to myself to do whatever I need to do before trying to get to bed at a “decent hour” (read: hopefully before 1am on a good night).  Tonight, I told Saara that after the twins were in bed, I needed to start cleaning up so that the house would be in order for our company tomorrow.  A lot still needs to be done: floors swept, vacuumed, and mopped, counters scrubbed, dishes washed, bathrooms cleaned, etc.  And I still have that stack of essays on my desk that really needs to be graded.  I had BIG plans of accomplishing all of this and getting to bed by midnight.

You know what they say about the best-laid plans.

For some God-forsaken reason, Miles has a new “thing”.  He seems to think it is super funny to crawl in bed with his twin sister, Lily.  This sounds like it would be cute, except for the fact that Lily does NOT like it.  NOT IN THE LEAST.  And since they are both in their toddler beds now, he has free reign to get out of bed whenever he pleases.  So tonight, no sooner did I put them both in bed and shut the door than he got out of HIS bed and into HERS, which would then prompt her to scream bloody murder until I came into the room, picked him up (which would make him cry, so I would have to calm him down), put him in his own bed, calmed her down, put her back into her own bed, shut the door, creep downstairs…and REPEAT.  FOR FOUR HOURS.  No, I am not exaggerating.  Four hours this went on…same story every time.  And as they got more and more exhausted, the crying fits took longer and longer to calm down…it would take me a good 25-30 minutes to calm Miles down from crying because I took him out of Lily’s bed, and then another 20 minutes to calm Lily down enough to get her to go back to her own bed…FOUR HOURS.  And in the meantime, NONE of the things I NEEDED to do tonight were getting done!!!

And this whole time I am dealing with all of this, I have these little demons that sit on my shoulder and berate me for being such a terrible mother.  They speak to me in the voices of all the other women out there who have ever criticized me.  I hear them plainly…how I want to tell THEM a few things!!!

YOU!  Yeah, YOU – the stay-at-home mom with only one small child at a time (as opposed to my TWO) who unfairly classified all mothers who allow their kids to “cry it out”, saying that they are neglectful!  That’s awfully easy for YOU to say, but mothers of multiples don’t have the luxury of just having  ONE child to take care of at a time and give all your attention to!  And it must be nice to be able to devote all the time you need to making sure that your child is comfy-cozy and happy 24-7 when you don’t have to get up before dawn to take care of OTHER people’s kids every day!  It must be nice, too, if you have family nearby you can count on and a husband who is home at the same time that you are, but a lot of people – myself included -, DON’T.  Don’t JUDGE other people for the decisions they NEED to make.  You don’t know what extenuating circumstances might arise that would render it necessary for a mother to step away for a moment while her child wails in the other room.  I heard your voice tonight, telling me I am causing psychological damage to my twins, just because I needed to step aside for a minute and use the bathroom!  I don’t need that…

And YOU, the lady who likes to scorn me for posting online all the time.  Did it ever occur to you that maybe I need that connection?  Maybe I need to feel like I am not alone?  My closest relatives live 1,000 miles away.  My friends all have busy lives that don’t really have the space to include a woman with 3 small children in tow everywhere she goes.  As I said before, I rarely get to see people my own age anymore!  YOU may not want to read everything I write, but I know for a fact that SOMEONE out there does.  Ignore me if it bothers you.  But why must you belittle me?  I heard your voice tonight, telling me I should stop posting facebook status updates to vent my frustration at my current situation.  I’m telling you that if I DIDN’T do that, I would have had a meltdown hours ago…

How about YOU, the woman with NO children, who had the nerve to make a snarky comment about how unclean my house was?  Newsflash: UNLIKE YOU, *I* don’t have A MAID to clean my house…and UNLIKE YOU, *I* have THREE CHILDREN who help to keep it a mess!  I’m doing the best I can!  I heard your voice tonight, scoffing at my unmopped floors and dusty living room, rolling your eyes that I would even THINK to invite people over to this mess.  You know, not everyone is so judgmental…

Hey, YOU – the rich woman who had maids and nannies and housekeepers to help raise your kids for you, despite the fact that you didn’t have a JOB to go to.  Must be nice to have a husband who pays all the bills and makes enough money for you to have the kind of lifestyle many people dream of.  I DON’T.  And that’s FINE…LOTS of people live in worse conditions.  But I heard your voice tonight, condescending to me, shaking your head and clicking your tongue and casting your aspersions.  I don’t deserve that.

What about YOU over there…the parent of my student, who saw fit to send me the email this weekend, demanding to know why that essay wasn’t graded yet.  We’re halfway through the marking period. In that time, I have given 13 assignments.  In that time, on top of EVERYTHING ELSE (my kids being sick, me being sick, taking my required classes, taking care of my family, not having a planning period, only getting 3-4 hours of sleep every night, etc.) I have GRADED 11 out of those 13…the only ones NOT currently graded are those essays and the work they turned in TODAY.  I have 160 students, each of whom turned in 4-5 pages worth of papers for me to read.  That’s 650+ pages worth!  It took them 2 weeks to write – do you really want me to rush through it and slap a grade on quickly, or do you think that their work is worth my time and attention??  I heard your voice tonight, saying I’m lazy and don’t get my job done right.  I say that is an unfair assessment.

There is great power in language.  Most of those women whose voices ring in my ears and stress me out even more than I am are no more than names on a screen to me – I barely even KNOW them!  Yet they wound me.  There is an old saying that goes “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.”  That could not be farther from the truth.

Words hurt.

Words haunt.

Words harm.

And tonight, as I write this (clearly I have thrown in the towel, so to speak, on my cleaning and grading ambitions – I pray my friends will forgive me for that!), I am reminded of the kind of person *I* want to be.

Not a woman whose words will serve to kick a person when they are down.

Not a woman whose carelessly-tossed judgments on social media tattoos itself in the brain of a person seeking comfort and encouragement, and instead manifests itself as a little demon, waiting to attack when they least expect it.

I want to be a person whose words will heal.

Help me to be like you were.

Dear Nana,

I am very frustrated about this current election!!!  I wish I had someone to talk to about all this…someone who wouldn’t just get all insulted that I was even asking such things!  Why isn’t there anybody out there who can help me understand this so that I am not accused of buying into the hype without proper research???

The more I look into the issues that mean something to me, the more I just don’t see why anyone would like Mitt Romney as a candidate.  I have TRIED to do the research.  I have asked for and LISTENED to feedback from my Republican friends.  They are very intelligent and I respect their feedback, but for the life of me I still don’t understand the draw.  These are what I care about in regard to this Presidential election, and what GOP candidate Mitt Romney has to say about them…

1. Legalizing gay marriage.  I believe that homosexuals are entitled to the same rights as heterosexuals, and in a country where church and state are allegedly separate, there is no cause for the government to impose a certain faith-based belief on its citizens.  No, I do not believe this opens the door for pedophiles or animal abusers because children and animals are not legally consenting adults.

Mitt Romney stated: “I believe we should have a federal amendment in the constitution that defines marriage as a relationship between a man and woman, because I believe the ideal place to raise a child is in a home with a mom and a dad.” (Aug. 11, 2011)  Therefore, he is stating that we as a nation SHOULD impose religious beliefs on everyone?  I cannot support that.  As John Adams himself stated, “Nothing is more dreaded than the National Government meddling with Religion.”  This country was founded on the principles of religious freedom.  It is contrary to those ideals to force anyone to believe or accept one religion over another.  Moreover, nobody is implying or insinuating that any church be forced to perform or recognize a gay marriage if they don’t want to.  Heck, when John and I got married, we used a non-denominational chapel and a family friend to perform the ceremony because we didn’t have a pastor and a church who agreed to it, since I’m Muslim and he’s Christian!  But we’re still LEGALLY married, regardless of that fact, and he and I have legal rights and benefits that our gay friends (many of whom have been with their partners FAR longer than we have) do not have?!  How is THAT fair?!

2. Single mothers.  I was a single mother to Saara for 2 years, following the divorce from my ex-husband for domestic violence reasons until my marriage to John in 2006.  I know first-hand how difficult it is to be a single mom, and I know how hard I tried to make sure my daughter got the best from me that I could give.  I always have and always did try to raise her to be respectful, careful, intelligent, thoughtful, and conscientious because that is my duty as a mom, regardless of whether I have a man to help me or not.  I have all respect for all the single moms and dads out there trying their best.

Romney stated: “If there’s a two-parent family, the prospect of living in poverty goes down dramatically. The opportunities that the child will — will be able to achieve increase dramatically.” (Oct. 16, 2012)  I personally find this insulting, even more so because it followed a direct question about gun control, not about single parents.  So was he intending to insinuate that single parenting leads to gun violence?   How can I, as a former single parent myself, NOT take offense to that?  Not everyone is fortunate enough to find the perfect mate the first time around.  Not everybody does better when tied to someone else.  And, since he has already stated his stance on marriage being between a man and a woman, what about all those families out there who have gay parents heading their households?  Are kids who have 2 moms or 2 dads just not as good as those who have one of each?  As a teacher, I constantly strive to ensure that I don’t pre-judge my students.  I believe that each of them can and will be successful, that each of them has potential.  I can’t help but feel that comments such as these add to the pre-disposed notion that these kids will be failures, and that inevitably leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy.  We set them up to fail when we make blanket statements like that.

3. School vouchers.  As a public school teacher, I have a big issue with this.  Private schools are, as their name suggests, PRIVATE for a reason.  The people that pay the money to send their kids there have a specific reason for doing so…maybe they want a faith-based education, or maybe their kid was bullied in public school, or maybe they just don’t want little Johnny sitting next to the riffraff you could possibly find in my classroom.  Whatever the reason for it, make no doubt about it…as a public school teacher, I bust my ass to make sure my kids succeed, despite the fact that I’m shelling out my OWN measly paycheck to supply my classes with pencils and paper every day.  Give me your tired, your poor…and I’ll get those kids to not only read, but UNDERSTAND Shakespeare.

Romney states: “Make Title I and IDEA funds portable so that eligible students can choose which school to attend and bring funding with them. This plan will allow the student to choose from any district or public charter school, or a private school where permitted by state law, or to use funds toward a tutoring provider or digital course.” (May 23, 2012)  Here’s my main issue with that: For all the people out there who claim that private schools offer a superior education to public schools…on what grounds do they base this claim? Where is their legitimate comparison data? Is it just because private schools have the ability to kick out the “undesirables”? Doesn’t make for an equal playing field…awfully easy to say you’re doing a better job when you have the crème de la crème to begin with. Plus, keep in mind that public school teachers are more highly trained than those you will find in most private schools (you don’t even have to be CERTIFIED to teach in MOST private schools). And for those out there who wish for government funds to pay for Christian or Catholic schools…do they feel the same way about using taxpayer money to send kids to Jewish or Muslim schools, or are they discriminating? You can’t have it one way and not the other…

I just feel like this kind of attitude will kill public education…not to mention I have already addressed my thoughts on combining government and religion!!!  But perhaps that is the point.  If you privatize education, then you can control the teachers and the curriculum…teach them what you WANT them to know…dumb down the masses…that makes them easier to manipulate, to control…and so on.  But perhaps I am getting too “conspiracy theorist” now…

4. Religious freedom & TOLERANCE.  It’s not hard to imagine that life as a Muslim in post-9/11 USA isn’t exactly easy.  People are upset, and I am by no means minimizing the hurt, but the misplaced blame is doing nothing productive.  9/11 is no more the average GOOD Muslim’s fault than the average GOOD Christian is to blame for the Holocaust!  (Side note: look up “positive Christianity” if you don’t believe me.  The Nazis used the emphasis on Jesus’ struggle against the institutionalized Judaism of his day to justify their behavior against Jews.)  It truly drove me crazy when there was such a big to-do over the appointment of a couple Muslims to the Department of Homeland Security.  I mean, REALLY?!   That would be like me saying that I think that we, as a nation, should make sure to cause a big stink every time a “devout Christian” is sworn into ANY office. After all, aren’t Christians responsible for the Holocaust, the KKK, the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, and the Salem Witch Trials, just to name a FEW?! Their record as fanatical oppressors rivals that of ANY terrorist organization out there.  (For the record, I do NOT feel that way about Christians…I am merely trying to make a point!)  One of the biggest ways this can be illustrated is with the controversy surrounding the “Ground Zero Mosque”.  Obama summed it up fairly well when he stated, “As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.” (April 14, 2010)

Romney’s spokesperson, Eric Fehrnstrom, made this statement on his behalf: “Governor Romney opposes the construction of the mosque at Ground Zero. The wishes of the families of the deceased and the potential for extremists to use the mosque for global recruiting and propaganda compel rejection of this site.” (Aug. 10, 2010)  I’m sorry, but that sounds incredibly prejudiced to me.  If that isn’t blatantly assuming that all Muslims are potential terrorists actively recruiting other terrorists, nothing does!  This would be similar to stating that NO churches be allowed to be built near any former sites of any WWII Concentration Camps, as a result of the fact that Hitler used Biblical verses as justification for his horrific acts against the Jews.  Any rationally thinking person would see how asinine that suggestion is, and yet people still accept THIS as valid???  As Thomas Paine said, “He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.”   Guarding freedom means ensuring freedom for EVERYONE, regardless of whether they agree with you or not!  I don’t think Romney understands that.

5. The “47%” Freeloaders.  Mitt Romney’s quote: “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it — that that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. … These are people who pay no income tax. … My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” (Sep. 2012)

I would just love to say to all of the people out there criticizing people who “get government handouts”, please consider the target of your derision. I, too, was in that position. When?

In 2004, when I left my abusive ex and had nowhere to turn to…I turned to friends, family, and a place called CASA, which is funded by OUR (yours AND mine) taxpayer dollars, for help.

In 2010, when I was pregnant with the twins and John was unceremoniously fired without warning TWO DAYS before I went on UNPAID leave of absence, and then it took him a grand total of NINE months to find another job, he filed unemployment for SIX months because we had ZERO income, we were rapidly going through our savings (because we had budgeted for the loss of MY income, but NOT the loss of BOTH incomes), and we had FIVE mouths to feed. Yes, I had short-term disability coverage, but it only paid me for a total of 4 weeks (they only cover a total of 6 weeks for a vaginal delivery of a child, and then they took off the first 2 weeks because my benefits didn’t start until my 14th day off work. I could have had 2 more weeks paid IF I had opted for a c-section, but I did not want unnecessary surgery…I truly CONSIDERED it, though. How awful is that? To actually be in a position where you CONSIDER having a surgery you don’t NEED just because you need the MONEY?!) The amount of money I got from the insurance company for disability did not even cover the amount the school board CHARGED me to maintain my insurance during the 12 weeks I was off work.

After the twins were born up until now, I qualify for WIC…they have some magic formula that takes into account our income against how many people live in our house, and I just BARELY (like, within $40) qualify. Now that we got a “raise”, however, I may not qualify anymore. Those benefits give me 8 gallons of milk, 4 loaves of bread, $12 worth of fruit/vegetables, 2 bags of beans, 2 dozen eggs, and 4 boxes of cereal per month (and that’s only because I had twins – if I had one baby, we’d get half of that).

All of this, and John and I still
-pay our taxes in full and on time
-both work full-time
-both have Bachelor’s degrees
-raise our kids (he stays home with them during the day while I work and then I stay home with them all night while he works)
-don’t drink, smoke, do drugs, pop out dozens of kids, or do anything else that people assume those on government assistance do
-pay our bills
-donate to charity when we can
-don’t break the law
-try to be upstanding, moral citizens

And yet, when I mentioned this elsewhere, I was told that MY lack of planning doesn’t mean I’m entitled to take YOUR taxpayer money. I was also literally told that “it’s a SIN that (John and I) accept handouts” (referring specifically to the WIC checks we get), even though I’m fairly certain that God never said charity was SINFUL…in fact, I am fairly certain the Bible and the Qur’an, for example, (the only reference I have off the top of my head) say the OPPOSITE. And I’m sorry, but it’s MY taxpayer money too! I have worked hard my entire adult life and paid every cent that I had due to the government so that, GOD FORBID, if I ever needed help, they’d be there to help me. It’s like an insurance policy. And if you are so lucky that you never needed help, good for you…but God protect you from ever being in a position that you do. I would hope if you do find yourself there some day, other people don’t cast aspersions on YOU for it and call you names and make you feel worse than you already do about it.

Trust me. Nobody I know who has been there is HAPPY about it. I know I never was.

And people still wish to claim that we’re lazy freeloaders??? Don’t tell me that you’re talking about those “OTHER PEOPLE” and not us. You ARE talking about us (and I would warrant, probably 1/3 of the people you know are in this position currently or have been in the past and you don’t even know it). Those ones who “take advantage of the system” and make money hand over fist while being lazy? They are few & far between, I’d warrant, and I would bet any money NONE of you knows ANYONE like that in person. It’s just that THOSE people are the ones who make the news and create a bad name for the rest of us. Does that mean we should ALL be punished for it??

I drew this analogy earlier when discussing the same topic: I’m a teacher. I know that on any test I give, there’s going to be some students who try to cheat on it. Does that mean that ALL of my test scores are invalid? Does that mean I should stop giving tests altogether? Does that mean I have the right to accuse all of my students of being cheaters??? Of course not!!!


6. Miscellaneous. This last item on my list is not so much a social or political issue that I care about as much as a personal preference.  I am so sick and tired of the entitled condescension coming from Mitt Romney’s wife Ann.  The thought of that woman anywhere near any decisions that could affect me or my family makes me physically ill.  I have absolutely no respect for her as a person.  I know she has struggled with health issues and I certainly don’t wish her harm; I do feel compassion for her daily struggles and hope that she finds relief from her pain, but as a person, I am offended and insulted by her comments time and again.  Her claim to have been a stay-at-home mom is laughable, considering that she had an extensive staff to “help” her at home.  I’m sorry, but nobody who has maids and butlers and nannies and cooks can TRULY say they understand what it’s like to be a REAL stay-at-home mom.  I know stay-at-home moms who cook and clean do all that AND raise their kids BY THEMSELVES, with NO applause, and they don’t go bragging about it at the end of the day.  But her comment about working mothers (“I love the fact that there are women out there who don’t have a choice and they must go to work and they still have to raise the kids.” April 2012), just shows me how out of touch she really is to what women and mothers go through in this country.  Excuse me, Ann?  You LOVE the fact that I don’t have a choice and have to do this?  You LOVE it?  You LOVE the fact that I haul my butt out of bed at 5am every morning and go teach my students all day long – not the ones I hand-selected, because *I* am not a private school teacher, but the ones that came to me in need of my help…the ones I CAN’T turn away – and I give them my all until it’s time to go home.  Then I see my husband for all of 20 minutes before HE leaves for work, and I am home with my 3 children all evening (because my salary as a public school teacher is LESS than what it would cost me to put my kids in child care, so my husband works nights while I work days).  You LOVE that?!  What a patronizing thing to say!  I am truly offended.  And then her husband criticizes other people’s parenting and insinuates that other people’s parents are to blame for their kids turning out violent, while their own son makes violent statements about wanting to punch the president?! (Oct 2012)  (Look, I don’t care if you love or hate the guy, you DON’T say disrespectful & threatening things like that about the person who runs the country!  I would say the same thing no matter WHO was president!  If Mitt Romney won this election, I would stand up for him and say that nobody had the right to say threatening things about him either!)  The hypocrisy abounds…and this kind of behavior makes me think they have no respect for anyone but themselves, because they are too arrogant to think about those below them, and want to punch those above them!

I know so many people who are very unhappy with the way things are in this country nowadays.  I’ve got to admit, things aren’t all peaches and roses for me either.  But I think about what I have now as opposed to what I had in 2007-2008, and I can’t say I am worse off than I was by any stretch of the imagination (John and I both have jobs, I actually got a TINY “raise” this year…not much, but at least my salary didn’t go DOWN again, we have a great house, my health insurance costs are going to go down finally, etc.).  I cringe when I hear of so many people who are voting a certain way just to get rid of that guy they don’t like.  What good does that do?  You’re not just voting someone OUT; you’re voting someone else IN!  I feel as though too much of this country’s problems are because the Republicans and the Democrats are too busy FIGHTING each other instead of trying to collaborate and FIX things.  What good does that do?  Are we that immature that if Bobby says one thing and all of Bobby’s friends like it, they’ll all support it until Ollie says it too, and then all of a sudden they don’t like it anymore because it’s Ollie’s idea???  GROW. UP.  Stop fighting amongst yourselves and DO the damn job you were chosen to do!  In the meantime, the rest of us peons are stuck suffering the consequences of the powers that be not being able to get their shit together, and we’re all being fed lies that turn us against one another instead of fostering a spirit of cohesiveness similar to the one that helped to create this nation in the first place!

I’m trying very hard to stay positive and keep an open mind in all of this, but I fear we as a society step backwards when we allow ourselves to be consumed by intolerance and arrogance…and the idea that gay people, non-Christians, children of single parents, people who qualify for government assistance, working moms, and teachers are not worth it to a potential president worries me…

Dear Nana,

I’ve been irritable lately.  And I have no excuse, really.  Things have been going well.  I really have no reason to complain.  I have 3 beautiful, healthy children…we are all moved into our new house, which we love…I’m off for the summer and enjoying sleeping in & spending time with my family.  As those silly t-shirts say, “Life is good”.

But I’m irritated.

OK – allow me to be more precise with my language.  I suppose it would be more accurate for me to say I’ve been annoyed.

Yes, things are annoying me.  Maybe it’s because I have more free time to think about it.  Ha!  What irony – you get annoyed because you have no free time, and then you end up with free time to think about things that annoy you!   What a catch-22 indeed.

So what’s been getting on my nerves lately?  Several things…to wit:

I am annoyed at all the people who say to teachers “well, unlike you, *I* don’t get my summers off work!”  WTF?  Really???  Let’s break this down a bit here.  We all concede that teachers work hard (and, for the record, I am referring in this blog to decent, hard-working educational professionals.  We have all heard the dozens of “bad teacher” stories out there.  I am not talking about those people who leech off the system and make a bad name for the rest of us…just as I would not assume to judge all coaches by the actions of Jerry Sandusky, or judge all Catholics by the actions of the pedophile priests you hear about).  Teachers barely make a livable income.  I know people who don’t have anywhere near the amount of training and expertise in their fields that I do, people that never went to college, and people that never pulled in the grades I did, who make FAR more than I do.  I get up at 5am to get to work every day of the school year.  I sacrifice time with my family to grade papers and write lesson plans.  I spend money out of my own pocket to provide pencils and paper to my students.  I smile with them at their graduation, and too many times have cried with their friends at their funerals.  It’s my job to pick up where mom left off, giving them the best I can give, trying to raise them up just a little bit higher.  I had to use up MY sick days to go to your funeral, Nana, because the school wouldn’t give me a single day of bereavement leave…and in the midst of all that, I still had to make sure I had adequate lesson plans for every single day I was out.  And my personal expense for that is that I come home, exhausted, trying to give whatever I have left to my OWN children before collapsing at night.  I did not get paid for my maternity leave – on the contrary, I had to pay THEM for the privilege of taking it (and keeping my insurance, just in case I needed it to help pay for giving birth to twins…)  And all year long, I bust my tail and ask the school board to hold back some of my money instead of paying me what I earn so that they can give it to me in predetermined increments all summer long so that I might have a few weeks to spend just being MOM for once.  And that’s just because I have 3 kids now.  When I only had the one, I spent my summers WORKING A SUMMER JOB because my school paychecks didn’t cut it!  The only reason I don’t have a summer job now is because the cost of day care for 3 kids would be more than I’d make.  So my summer job is stay-at-home-mom.  And this is the gratitude I get?  Snotty comebacks from people (most of whom have children and SHOULD recognize the value of education), begrudging me my hard-earned time off???  It really makes me wonder: of all the people who support year-round schools, how many of them are only doing it because they want “free child care” for their kids all summer and they think teachers don’t need summer breaks? (I am appalled at how many people truly think teachers get “paid” for their summers off.  WE DON’T GET PAID FOR SUMMER BREAK.  WE ASK THAT OUR PAYCHECKS GET A PERCENTAGE HELD BACK SO WE CAN STILL GET CHECKS.  IF YOU OPT NOT TO HAVE YOUR CHECKS HELD BACK OR YOU TAKE  A LEAVE OF ABSENCE, LIKE I DID IN 2010-2011 FOR MY MATERNITY LEAVE, YOU DON’T GET SUMMER CHECKS – LAST SUMMER, I HAD ZERO INCOME!)  Look, there are plenty of jobs out there that DO offer “paid” vacations – I don’t bad-mouth those employees for taking them.  I have never begrudged ANYONE their hard-earned time off.  “Oh, you only work 4 days a week?  MUST BE NICE.”  “Oh, you don’t have to get up at 5am to go to work?  Wow – that’s not fair.”  Those statements have never come out of my mouth.  So what makes other people think they have the right to judge me?

Speaking of reciprocity to other people…let’s talk about this one:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you!

As I stated before, we recently moved.  And our old house is still ours as well.  We haven’t listed it yet.  Our belongings are pretty much gone, but there are just a few things that needed to be done before we could put it on the market.  In our old house, there was a carport, and in that carport was a storage closet where our washer & dryer were hooked up.  The closet area locked with a key.  Inside that closet, I put Saara’s old bicycle because I had intended to take it to her father’s house so that she would have a bike at both houses…and since he lived closer to the old house than the new one, it didn’t make sense to me to take the bike to our new house and then bring it back to the same area as the old house.  Well, last week, I got a phone call from our former next-door neighbor…apparently, some hoodlums had broken into the closet area of the carport, had stolen the bicycle, and were in the process of taking the washer & dryer when our neighbor saw them and yelled at them, and they ran off.  THIS made me SO angry!!!  What gives someone the right to do something like that?  They weren’t even trying to hide it – it was broad daylight (our neighbor was out walking her dog)!  I never really liked that neighborhood, but I made a point to not bother anyone there.  I didn’t cause problems for our neighbors.  I never trespassed on their property (although they used to walk through our yard and our carport like they owned it – and oftentimes we would hear talking outside of our front door and open the door to find them just sitting on our chairs in our carport, chatting like it was some local hangout).  I’m sorry, but this kind of thing makes me indignant.  I would never think of acting this way towards anybody else, and I am appalled that others think it’s OK to do to us!

Which leads me to another thing…

I am so tired of people blaming the victims!

When we moved, we hired a company called Doug’s Hourly Muscle to help us move.  The whole reason we hired them was because with me working all day and then taking care of 3 kids by myself all night, plus the fact that John was recovering from surgery, we would not be able to pack up and move the house by ourselves.  They came in, gave us an estimate, and then came back the day of the move.  That morning, when they arrived, they claimed that they were told “no packing” and they were not expecting to have to pack everything up for us.  They had never been told “no packing” by John or I.  John’s parents told them that we would “try to have as much packed as possible”, and we DID…having moved several boxes of items over by ourselves already, but the rest still needed to be done by them.  They told us it would cost extra for the packing, and we conceded the cost.  After several hours, I left to go to the new house and meet them there.  When they finally arrived, they told us that they couldn’t get everything (despite the fact that the initial load that was estimated and the load that ended up being hauled was FAR LESS than anticipated due to the fact that we moved several boxes ourselves ahead of time AND we decided NOT to move the couch & entertainment stand from the living room, and also despite the fact that they filled their truck TO CAPACITY), but that they had another appointment that day and had to leave, so if we wanted them to come back and finish the job, we’d have to pay for a whole other moving day.  That wasn’t an option, so instead they were paid (they ended up getting almost TWICE what the original estimate was for) and they left.  When I got back to the old house to assess what was left, I was SHOCKED!  They had literally just picked up the major furniture items and left everything else behind except the stuff from the storage shed and the stuff in Saara’s bedroom.  Everything from the kitchen, the dining room, the living room, the nursery, all of the closets (except Saara’s), both bathrooms, and every single item in the carport storage rooms was still there!  It took us 3 weeks and 7 extra people to get out what they left behind!  I tried to contact the company to see if they would make it right, but they refused, choosing instead to call and harass us about the “free moving boxes” they had left behind, and offering as their only solution the chance for US to pay them MORE money to come back and get the rest!  They scammed us BIG time!  I believe they intentionally gave us a low estimate to get our business and then tried to con us out of more money, knowing that they left us with a mess!  And what is worse, I contacted the BBB to report them, and the company blamed ME for the problem, saying that *I* had not answered my phone the day before to clarify (even though our phone records show that they never called us).  They rested on their laurels, saying that in 17 years of business they never had anyone complain, implying that the problem MUST be with ME.  They claimed that they had an estimate that had written “no packing” on the top, even though NOBODY told them there was no packing involved (again, why would we hire them if we didn’t need them to do that??), and this slip of paper they had does not have John’s, my, or my in-laws signature on it as acknowledgement, nor did I even SEE that paper until AFTER the move!  Since when do companies blame their customers for their misdoings?  They were paid MORE than estimated to cover the additional packing they claim they didn’t know about.  They are the ones who showed up with a van that wasn’t big enough to accommodate our belongings, and they were the ones who double-booked themselves that day.  They were hired to move ALL of our belongings from our old house to our new house, and they FAILED, period.  End of story. I also found it ironic that they choose to only handle their business over the phone, because they have been very rude to us on the phone…but at the end of the day, you can’t prove that because it’s not legal to record someone without permission.  They do their business over the phone so that it’s all hearsay…no evidence.  If they had handled their correspondence via email all along, there never would have been this “miscommunication” to begin with.  They blamed us, the victims of their scam, and they got away with it, too!  I only hope it doesn’t happen to anyone else!

So there are my irritants.

I suppose in the grand scheme of things, these are minor annoyances and won’t matter in 5-10 years.  That’s fine with me.  I don’t mean to imply that these are earth-shattering problems.

They’re just those silly little things…the kinds of things I would call to gripe to you about.  You’d probably throw a few more of your own in, too…you could definitely be quite the curmudgeon when you wanted to be!  I miss that.  I miss our “bitch sessions”.  For instance, when mom & dad were down here last month, mom & I got in a little debate about cats.  I told her that I was holding onto some of the cat items because we might get another cat someday, and it turned into an argument about why she thought I shouldn’t get a cat…blah blah blah.  It seemed awfully silly to me to argue about something that is, at the moment at least, completely theoretical.  I currently do not have a cat and I have no plans to get one at the moment.  But still, why should she care?  She lives 1000 miles away.  My whole life, I wanted a puppy or a kitten so badly, and I could never have one because of her allergies.  Now I live in my own house in a whole other climate zone, and she’s still trying to tell me I can’t have a pet???  She said something that really hurt my feelings about it…basically that when Becky and Paul had their own kids, she wouldn’t care anymore if I got a cat then because she’d have grandkids she could visit, but for now if I got a cat, she wouldn’t visit my kids.  So, what…my kids won’t matter anymore once she has local grandchildren?  Then I can go ahead and get a cat because she won’t want to visit us anyway, since she’ll be focusing her attention on her local grandchildren instead?  I realize with my head that’s probably not the way she meant it, but I can’t help the way it came across to my heart.  I really don’t understand what the big deal is about the stupid pets.  Why does virtually everyone in the family act like it’s a huge slap in their face if I want a pet?  Do they not know me at all?  Do they not remember the little girl who wanted to be a vet so she could work with animals?  The girl who would beg and plead to visit every pet store?  The one who preferred dogsitting to babysitting because I could pretend I had a pet?  The one who would make little birds out of paper and fashion little cages out of green plastic strawberry baskets?  The one who would try to keep wild baby bunnies in a box on the porch?  The one who cried when we got guinea pigs and then had to give them up because they were bothering mom’s allergies?  The one who cried when her birds died?  Did they forget all of that?  I’m still the same person.  I’m still that little girl inside.  You would understand.  You were the only person in the whole family who didn’t treat it like a huge insult if I wanted a pet.  I guess I will never understand why they feel so offended by it.  But if I called to tell you that story, you’d commiserate.  You’d agree with me.  And – even more – if I decided to go ahead and get a cat anyway, but not tell them about it – you’d keep that secret for me!  (For the record, I haven’t.  John’s mother is just as anti-cat as my family is, and we can’t hide from her as easily, since she lives 30 minutes away and has a key to the house.)

Anyway, I miss calling you to complain.  And I miss listening to you complain.  I really felt like we were kindred spirits in that way.  Other people may have been annoyed by your complaints, but I found them more amusing…or insightful…or relevant!

Isn’t that a silly thing to miss?

Saara, standing outside of our new house.

Dear Nana,

Happy belated birthday!  So, Tuesday June 12th would have been your 81st birthday.  And it was your first birthday in heaven.  The kids and I sent you some balloons.  We bought 4 of them – 2 pink and 2 blue, your favorite colors – and we signed them.  Then the four of us went outside and released them.  The sky was so incredibly clear that we just stood there and watched them for what seemed like forever…we saw them get smaller and smaller as they flew higher and higher away.  Soon, they were just tiny specks on the horizon, softly drifting.  I kept expecting one of them to pop or to fall, but for as long as we could see them, they were all four of them there, together, dancing on the light breeze.  I hope you liked them.

This weekend was full of art for the whole family.  Not only was it Becky’s 10th annual recital and Saara’s recital too, but John and I also attended the Tampa Unified Auditions (a chance to audition for many of Tampa Bay’s local professional theatre companies at once)!  I have to admit, I had a lot of trepidation about auditioning this year.  The last time I auditioned for anything was when I was pregnant with the twins, so it’s been about 2 years now!   A few weeks back, I was talking to someone (I truly can’t recall who at the moment), and this person remarked about how courageous one must be to get onstage and perform in front of people.  And it really got me thinking – it’s not courage at all!  I think it’s funny how people who don’t do theatre think actors are so brave. Actors are quite possibly the world’s most self-conscious, self-deprecating people you know. We’re constantly putting ourselves down, making unfair comparisons to other people whom we perceive to be more talented, more beautiful, etc. Low self esteem abounds in the theatre world. We don’t get on stage because we’re braver than the rest. We just need the applause more.

As for me, I have not had that applause in my life much lately.  It’s not necessarily a bad thing per se; I just don’t have the time with 2 babies at home anymore.  Before the twins arrived, I was averaging about 12+ shows a year, oftentimes finishing one in time to start the next, and on many occasions, overlapping 2 or more shows at the same time!  It was standard practice for me to work a full day, come home, take care of things around the house, leave for rehearsal all evening, and then get home in time to put Saara to bed, shower, take care of any little things that needed done around the house, and head off to bed myself, averaging about 4-5 hours of sleep per night.  Maybe that’s why I transitioned to twin parenthood so easily – I was already accustomed to the lack of sleep!  But, as with any drug, an addict needs her fix.  I have stayed away for a while (yes, I have done some things since the twins were born – namely, I was in Opera Tampa’s La Rondine, I sang for the Opera Tampa concert honoring Plácido Domingo, I was in a few commercials, and the whole family – including the kids- was in a production of Amahl & the Night Visitors last December, but overall, this was NOTHING compared to what I am used to!), but I really felt the need to get back on the boards.  So, John and I auditioned Saturday morning.  I have no idea if we will get any callbacks at all, or even if we would be able to do the shows if we were offered them to begin with, but I felt happy just being able to get up there again.  To know that I still had it in me to stand in front of people and perform, even if only for a few minutes, was good for my soul.  When the time is right, I’ll get my chance to go back up there again…

I noticed, when we were looking through your things at the house after you passed, that you still had all of the show T-shirts from the productions I was in.  Did you wear them?  Or did you keep them for sentimental reasons?  If anyone asked why you had the shirt, did you tell them your granddaughter was in the show?  Did you ever talk about them?  Remember when the twins were cast in that bit part on Burn Notice (they played “Charlie”, who was the son of “Nate”/nephew of “Michael” on the show in episode 3 of season 5)?  Did you tell your friends that your great-grandbabies were on TV?  Season 5 is on DVD now – they’re selling them at the stores.  Would you have bought a copy of it so you could show all of your friends your great-grandchildren’s 3 minutes of fame?   Through all of those things, did they make you happy?  Were you proud of us when we did them?  I know you loved theatre.  You were part of the reason why we all got involved in it.  I remember sitting backstage with you at the Mishler Theatre during Altoona Community Theatre’s production of The King and I.  You were helping chorus members get full-body tan makeup on!  What a messy job!  You always liked working with Jim Gatehouse backstage, doing makeup.  I loved the fact that theatre was such a part of my life growing up.  You were backstage, Pappy was running lights or sound…Dad onstage.  Remember when he was in Guys & Dolls?  That was such a fun show.  I really think you had a lot to do with why Becky owns/operates a dance studio now, and why I do theatre.  It’s genetic.  We’re drawn to the lights, to the stage…to the applause.  Because, as I said before, we need it.

This evening, I got into a discussion about some popular music nowadays, and the discussion turned to the meaning of the lyrics.  One of my friends mentioned that this particular song was about kids getting high, and it made me think about the fine line there is between an addict and a creative genius.  Look as far back as you like, and you will oftentimes find that drugs and art go hand-in-hand.  I wonder why that is?  My thought is that perhaps a person who can take everything that life is: all of the ups and downs, all the anger, all the tears, all the darkness, all the smiles, all the joy, all the fun, all the despair, all the anguish, all the fear…  For someone to take all of that and turn it into something that is lasting and beautiful, maybe for some of them it awakens such demons inside that they can only be silenced by substances.  Yes, there is a fine line between inspiration and devastation.  The struggle manifests itself in the ability to stay on the path you need to be on for yourself.  To keep it together, no matter where the wind may take you…

Kind of like those balloons we sent you…

Happy Birthday, Nana!


Dear Nana,

There is one topic that has been on my mind a LOT lately, only because it is such a major issue in the news nowadays.  That is the issue of gay marriage.  I know I touched on it the last time I wrote, but it’s really been something I have been thinking about.  Personally, I don’t get what the big deal is.  So what if two consenting adults want to make a legally-recognized emotional commitment to each other?  What in the world does that have to do with anybody else?  I truly don’t understand why anybody would object to it, and I have yet to hear a reasonable response (that DOESN’T try to force someone’s religious beliefs onto someone else).   I’d be open to hearing a logical argument, but as of now, nobody has made one to me.

What I HAVE heard are a string of fallacious and oftentimes bigoted remarks…to wit:

Being gay is a choice.  People might be genetically predisposed to be gay, just as someone is genetically predisposed to be an alcoholic, but we should always try to help them make better choices so they don’t harm themselves or others.  This one really shocked me.  First off, how are gay people harming themselves or others?  Do they spread the gay?  And if that is the case, then how come straight people don’t spread the straight?  How come straight people keep making gay babies?  One would think the straight would rub off or something.  I mean, it’s not contagious!  And if your definition of “harming themselves” includes YOUR religious beliefs, then that is YOUR choice, not theirs.  (I will discuss the imposition of religion later in this thread.)  And don’t tell me that gay people are child molesters and rapists either, because there are just as many straight child molesters and rapists out there too, and we don’t judge all straight people based on the few that are corrupt, so why should we do the same for gay people?  Regardless, that has NOTHING to do with marriage.  And comparing homosexuality to alcoholism is offensive, in my opinion.  An alcoholic can seriously harm or even kill someone else: they can become physically violent, or they can drive intoxicated and get into a car accident.  Yet we still make it LEGAL for them to drink!   How is a gay person being in a committed relationship hurting anybody else?  Do people die because some guy married another guy?  No…yet that’s not legal???  Where is the logic in that?  I mean, people may also be genetically predisposed to be fat (and, after all, gluttony and sloth, two major contributors to obesity, are also sins, are they not?), but that doesn’t mean we remove their constitutional rights and force legislation on them to make them be skinny!

Gay marriage will inevitably lead to people wanting to marry children or animals or inanimate objects.  This is so preposterous I feel silly even including it here.  How is there ANY comparison between what two human adults do and doing the same thing with children, animals, or objects – none of which have the same legal rights or standing as an adult human being has, last time I checked!  There is just absolutely no comparison here.  The equality comes in the form of consenting adult humans being legally allowed to marry the other consenting adult human that they love, period.  When you say that’s a right that only heterosexual consenting adult humans are permitted to have, that’s special treatment, and that’s wrong.

Gay marriage has no place in a country that should be focusing on family values.  Recently, an article came out about the best countries in the world in which to raise children.  Not surprisingly, the United States didn’t even make the Top Ten.  They used a variety of data in which to form this assessment, from school rankings to percentage of in-tact families to the number of children in day care to maternity/paternity leave, etc.  Guess which country has consistently come in NUMBER ONE in the world as one of the BEST places to raise a family?  Norway.  A country which legalized gay marriage YEARS ago.  Go figure.  Anyway, since when is hatred a family value?  Not in my family!  Besides, I personally know a handful of gay men who got married to women and had children, and then ended up divorced because they realized they were lying to themselves about their sexuality.  So now they have children in broken homes, and all of the emotional devastation that comes along with a divorce for every family member involved.  Maybe if they had been allowed to marry who they truly needed to marry in the first place, that never would have happened.

God hates gay people.  God’s law is clearly written in the Bible, and it says we should not accept gay people.  Yes, and it also says that men can have concubines, that people can sell their daughters into slavery, that we shouldn’t eat pork or shellfish, and we should kill people who work on the Sabbath, but people tend to gloss over those.  I’m sorry, but you can’t pick and choose…either you follow the Bible literally, in its entirety, or you don’t…but you can’t select the verses that conveniently fit into your narrow view of the world.  Besides, I’m pretty sure that the Bible also commands us to love one another and treat each other with respect.  I cannot for the life of me justify believing in a God who would be so cruel, so hateful, that He would condemn His people to Hell from birth.  The God I believe in is merciful and loving, and if that’s not the same God that others believe in, then I am sure glad I’m not a part of their religion!

OK, so maybe God doesn’t hate them, but God doesn’t want them to get married.  Wow.  Still awfully presumptuous, don’t you think?  Personally, I think it borders on blasphemy to presume to speak on God’s behalf.  And again, please tell me how this is relevant to a country that claims to have freedom of religion.  How is imposing one set of religious beliefs on everyone else demonstrating freedom?  Nobody is saying that a church MUST perform gay marriages.  Nobody is saying that everyone MUST get married to a homosexual life partner.  The only reason to allow it by law is to not impose on someone else’s constitutional rights as an American.  Last time I checked, we don’t follow religious law here.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that most of the same people who are so dead-set on imposing Christian viewpoints on everyone in this country are the SAME people who are quick to say how incredibly wrong it is for countries like Saudi Arabia to impose Islam on their citizens.  Ever look up “hypocrisy” in the dictionary?

We as Americans need to reinforce marriage, not redefine it.  Oh, sure…because Americans are set in their ways and NEVER evolve.  That’s why interracial marriages are still illegal in this country, and why only wealthy white male landowners are allowed to vote.  Seriously?!  What makes us strong as a nation is our ability to adapt!  What makes America great is that we allegedly accept anyone from any walk of life, no matter if they are rich or poor or Muslim or Jewish or Christian or Agnostic or black or Asian or male or female or WHATEVER!  Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free… that does NOT exclude people who are different from us!  Freedom of religion means freedom for ALL religions…so imposing religious beliefs on someone else is oppression, not enlightenment!   I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: if one is truly devoted to their religion, then in my opinion, one would embrace the opportunity to show just how devout they are by choosing to live a pious life in the face of seeming adversity, as opposed to creating a safe bubble environment where everyone is forced to do what you think is right.  It’s awfully easy to go along with the crowd, but much harder to remain true to your commitment if faced with temptation.  What are you afraid of?  That your dedication to your God will be questioned if you accept the fact that others have the right to live their lives the way they want to, just the same as you do?

The fact that there are elections where this item is on the ballots and is being shot down in many states only further indicates our need as a country to support it.  Of course minority causes will lose on popular votes: they’re in the MINORITY!  But since when is this country only set up to serve the majority and forget about everyone else???  They have rights too, and it’s our duty to protect them!

Gay marriage won’t make people gay.  It will just allow gay people to have the same rights & recognition that every straight person in this country already enjoys.  I remember a wonderful episode of The Golden Girls, where Blanche’s gay brother says he wants to get married, and Blanche has a problem accepting it.  She says she can accept the fact that her brother is gay, but she doesn’t understand why he has to slip a ring on his finger so that the whole world knows it.  Sophia then asks her why she married George, and Blanche answers, “We loved each other.  We wanted to make a lifetime commitment, wanted everyone to know.”  Sophia responds, saying that’s what they want, too: “Everyone wants someone to grow old with; shouldn’t everyone have that chance?”

I imagine that you’d probably say the same thing if I talked to you about this today…

Everyone just wants the right to love.

Dear Nana,

The world is trigger-happy!  It seems all you have to do is voice an opinion, regardless of how innocuously you word it, and a shit-storm ensues!

That was one of the things I loved the most about you.  Even if you disagreed with someone, you NEVER put them down or invalidated their feelings.  You let them vent their point of view and you just listened.  I hope someday I have that kind of patience to be able to hold my tongue, but for now, I just can’t.

There are a few things that caught my eye on my facebook account tonight that have some people’s panties in a wad, so to speak.  And at the risk of getting in fights with people, I figured it would be safer to post about them here.  After all, my confidences were safe with you…so I hope that goes for my blogs as well, albeit to a lesser extent I am sure.

One thing that seems to have hit the headlines a lot lately is the issue of gay marriage.  Apparently, NC just voted to overturn their acceptance of gay marriage and change their constitution to specify that marriage has to be between a man and a woman.  Then, in response, the President himself made an announcement endorsing gay marriage, and now everyone’s all worked up over it.  Personally, I don’t understand what the big deal is.  It’s not going to destroy the country if gay people get married.  It’s not going to lead to people marrying children or animals, because the last time I checked, neither children nor animals were granted the same legal rights as the ADULT HUMANS that live in this country.   It’s not going to make terrorists hate us even more (let’s face it – at this point, they’re just looking for excuses!  They’d hate us whether we allowed gay marriage or not!).  It’s not going to destroy Christianity or any other religion.  In my personal opinion,  if one were truly dedicated to their chosen religion and wished to live a pious life, I would think one would embrace the opportunity to prove just how devout they are by standing true to their chosen path in the face of adversity. It’s awfully easy to “live rightly” when everyone else around you is forced to do it, too. It’s standing your ground in the midst of temptation (just like Jesus did) that truly shows how focused you are on your faith.  Also, It’s not going to destroy the sanctity of marriage.  What a preposterous notion, knowing full well just how many couples get divorced every day!  And how many people cheat on their spouses like it’s their job?  How many drunk people get hitched in Vegas on any given weekend?  And a legitimized union between two committed people who love each other will destroy all that?!  Ridiculous!  I try to be fair and open-minded when hearing various points of view on the subject, but I have yet to hear a compelling intellectual argument in favor of banning gay marriage. The only objections I have heard are religious-based, and my problem with that is multi-faceted: a. this country espouses freedom of religion, so it’s unfair to impose one’s religious beliefs on the general population (and let’s not forget that freedom goes both ways, not just the way you think it should); b. this country claims to allow equal rights, but when you only allow one group of people the emotional, financial, and legal benefits of recognized unions on the grounds of something they have no control or choice over, how is that equal?; c. if we’re all going to be forced to take the Bible literally and adhere to it regardless of what religion we choose to follow and to what extent, then we can’t just pick and choose which verses we follow and which we shrug off…therefore, are we also allowed to sell our daughters into slavery, arrange marriages, keep slaves/concubines, and kill people who don’t observe the Sabbath, cut their hair, eat shellfish, and have sex with women who are menstruating (just a few examples of similar Biblical commands)? I think that a little bit of compassion and an unbiased viewpoint when considering such things goes a long way.   If you don’t like gay marriage, then that is your right – but you don’t have the right to make someone else feel the same way you do about it!

Another hot-topic currently is that Time magazine put a photo on its cover showing a woman breastfeeding her 3-year-old.  (See below):

It seems as though everyone’s all upset about it, saying it’s perverted or gross.  I wouldn’t go that far – it is a legitimate personal choice with many documented health benefits for both mother and child, after all.  I breastfed my kids, and I chose to stop breastfeeding them (at 6 mos. for Saara and at 8 mos. for the twins), but I have friends who nursed their kids much longer than that and I don’t have a problem with it.  However, personal preferences aside, I feel that this cover was designed to be antagonistic. Everything from the mom’s stance to the look on her face to her clothing says “I DARE you to challenge me”…and when you couple that with the caption “Are you Mom Enough?” (which, in my opinion, kind of implies that you’re not “Mom enough” if you don’t, and I beg to differ with that), it’s manufactured to draw derision and shed a negative light on what should be a gentle, nurturing, bonding experience between mother & child.  I feel that the magazine could have been a little more sympathetic to a topic that has such potential to create division.  However, speaking as a mother who made the choice to breastfeed her kids, I will say that I am getting really tired of the holier-than-thou attitude many proponents of breastfeeding seem to harbor.  I have heard people claim that women who don’t breastfeed are selfish, that they have dirty minds and mentally make their breasts from baby-food-bags into sexual objects and therefore see nursing as something “perverted”, and that “every woman can breastfeed”, implying that if you have trouble with it, you’re just not trying hard enough.  As a mother who is not only well-endowed but also dealing with – shall we say, a spout that doesn’t protrude? (inverted) – I can personally attest to the fact that it’s NOT that simple!  Every drop of breastmilk I gave my kids was something I had to WORK for, much harder than the average woman has to.  And also remember, my second time around was with not one, but TWO babies, since I had twins!  It was a frustrating challenge every step of the way, and the only reason I did it for as long as I did was because I felt horrible about NOT doing it!  Even when I stopped breastfeeding, it was not by choice…my milk supply dried up on its own.  And I resent the implication that I didn’t try hard enough or wasn’t dedicated enough…that I wasn’t “Mom enough”.  That is my only issue with this whole thing (and please note, I haven’t even read the story – this is my reaction on the cover alone!).

I guess the moral of all this all comes down to the same thing…treat others the way you’d want to be treated.  Do you want your marriage recognized?  Then you should recognize others.  Do you want people to respect your parenting decisions when it comes to how you feed your children?  Then you should respect other people’s equally legitimate decisions too.

As for me, I just want to be able to voice my opinion without being crucified for it.

So, thank you for that…still…

Dear Nana,

It’s been five months today since you left us.  So much has happened.  We bought that house I wrote to you about, and we’ll be moving into it in a few weeks.  The school year is drawing to a close.  Miles and Lily are walking now.  Saara got on the Principal’s List at school for her straight-A’s (and I told her about how Pappy used to give us a dollar for every A on our report card).  John had hernia surgery a few weeks ago, and he is still recovering from that.  It was pretty bad (his hernia was what they call “incarcerated”, which means if he had let it go any longer, he probably would have lost some of his bowel!)  And soon, I will celebrate my first birthday without you.  And, of course, 17 days after my birthday comes your birthday.  My Gemini twin.  Saara already asked if we could send you some balloons, so be on the lookout for those.

I kept wanting to write to you these past few days, but I never felt like I had anything good enough to say.  That’s the main problem with doing this as a blog.  I could call you on the phone for no reason at all – just to talk.  I didn’t have to worry about if I was witty enough or insightful enough.  It just mattered that we could hear each others’ voices.  Lately, I have been feeling a lot of pressure to (for lack of a better word) perform, as it were.  Ask any teacher at my school – we feel like we are expected to put on this dog-and-pony show for administration to prove that we’re touching on every criteria they are assessing us with, because (unlike past years), it’s not good enough anymore to just say “Yes, I do that” and show proof – they have to actually SEE it with their own eyes, and if they don’t see it, it doesn’t count.  Personally, I can’t help but feel as though that proves that administration doesn’t have faith in our abilities.  I try not to let myself get stressed out about it, but that, like so many things in life, is easier said than done.

And I am letting people bring me down.  Not just in my personal life, but in the lives of my friends as well.  Lately, it seems that people in general have forgotten to be nice.  Plato said “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle”.  What I take from that is that you should never try to make someone feel worse, because you never know how close to the edge they already are.  I know I (like everyone) can have my moments, but for the most part, I truly try to treat the people I come in contact with with respect and kindness.  I am always careful about the way I word things in emails or other written correspondence so as to eliminate any negative tone.  I only wish there was some reciprocity.  Lately I have felt really beat up by some people – not in a literal sense, of course, but figuratively.  It is as if they are going through tough times, and they are taking it out on me.  And as much as I understand that it’s human nature to do that, it still hurts to be on the receiving end of it.  Now, add to that the fact that I am hurt by the behavior that some of my closest friends have had to endure from people in their lives (Nana, I won’t gossip about someone else’s drama online, but if you heard some of the things I have heard about the things people have said and done to people I care about, you would be shocked!)  What ever happened to treating others the way you want to be treated???  What ever happened to tact???  What ever happened to “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”???

And it’s not just the adults.  One of my students was in tears today over boyfriend nonsense.  I kept her after class and talked to her a little bit, but the truth of the matter is, she’s letting it affect her grades, and she’s better than that.  I want to tell her that in 10 years, none of this drama will matter.  In 10 years, she probably won’t even talk to most of the people in her graduating class (I know *I* don’t).  And I want her (and all my students) to know that they’re worth more than they think they are, and they should never let anyone believe they aren’t beautiful.  But they won’t hear me now.  Maybe they’ll remember some day when it matters the most.

I guess I just don’t understand the inherent need to tear people down when we should be helping to build each other up.  What good does it do to make someone feel bad?  All that does is make you look bad in the end!  I’m so sick and tired of the bullying, and not just with the kids I am around, but with the adults!  The pettiness, the snarky underhanded remarks, the catty comebacks, the constant assumption that someone’s mistakes were done maliciously instead of giving each other the benefit of the doubt and trying to help one another – I can’t take it anymore!  It really overwhelmed me yesterday.  I went to Panera all alone on my lunch break, and when I sat down, by myself, with my soup in front of me, I reflected upon how lonely I am.  I have said it before, and I’ll say it again: I spend all day surrounded by kids at work, and I come home to be surrounded by kids all night.  I know my friends go out and have fun together, because I see their postings on facebook and I see their photos…but does anyone ever think to call me and ask if I want to come?  No.  So, there I was, sitting by myself…and I had already had a rather stressful day as it was, because my back was killing me due to the fact that I have to do all the painting at the new house by myself since John can’t right now, we had a rather ominous training at work, and all the time I was getting text messages from friends about rude things other people were doing to them, and I personally was dealing with the fact that I had let down a friend with an honest misunderstanding, and that’s when I realized that the food I had ordered for lunch was the exact same meal that I had ordered on my last day with you, when we stopped at Panera on the way home from running errands together.  And that’s when I realized that I had all of this piled on me, and I wanted nothing more than to just call you and vent all of it to you, and I can’t.  And that’s when the tears came.  I sat in the middle of Panera, smack dab in the center of the lunch rush, all by myself, crying huge, fat, ugly, sloppy, mascara-laden tears into my soup.  And I can’t remember the last time I felt so very alone.  Not even when you died.

And you know what I vowed?

Never again.

I do NOT want anything to ever make me feel like that again.  Nothing, outside of tragedy in one’s family or close friendships, is worth tears in your lunch.  NOTHING.

What I long for is for everyone to just be real again.  I want to be able to identify my friends and my enemies.  I don’t want to be blind-sided by negativity.  I am fortunate enough that when I do take the few opportunities to surround myself with other adults, they are always wonderful, positive people.  I know that we all fall sometimes.  Nobody is perfect.  But, as Shakespeare said, “This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”  There’s so much beauty and selflessness and positive energy and hope in the world, and I for one am tired of allowing myself to be consumed by the negative.  To thine own self be true – LET that goodness inside come out.  LET the world see you for the kind and loving person you are.  I KNOW we’re not the critical, nasty, self-deprecating individuals that we sometimes allow to consume us and play our parts.  I just feel that if we stopped putting out so much negative energy, then maybe more positive energy would find its way back to us in the end.

I don’t know if the universe really works that way or not, but I am willing to give it a shot.  What do I have to lose?

Happy times (with Nana, John & Saara)