Wednesday, December 17, 2014
It was a warm October day just a couple of months ago that I stood in front of my second grade classroom in rural Utah, and pointed to a colorful map of the United States surrounded by photographs of my students.
"54 years ago, I was born in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois," I told the children, as I pointed just west of Lake Michigan."The following spring, when I was still a baby, my parents moved our little family to Amherst, Virginia." My finger moved eastward on the map, by the Atlantic Ocean, to the heart of the state of Virginia. "When I moved to Utah after high school to get a college education," I told my little ones, moving my finger almost all the way across the U.S., "I ended up staying in Utah, and I raised my children here. Now I find myself getting ready to return to Illinois, where I will marry my best friend, Chuck Bennorth."
"It's a circle story!" one of the children exclaimed! I smiled. Yes, it is, indeed a circle story, one that ends in the same place it began. And this particular circle story does not only take a circular path geographically speaking, but emotionally, as well.
When I was a little girl, laughter came easily. I believed in fairy tales and happily ever afters. Over the years, my life lessons shook my beliefs more than slightly, and I began to lose faith in ever finding a Prince Charming of my own.
It wasn't long after I met Chuck that I knew I had met someone special. I could be myself with him, and I felt safe enough to be vulnerable. We were soon caught up in each another's stories, and knew our hearts had found a safe place to call home in one another.
Someone was asking about my plans to move to Illinois. "Aren't you a little scared of moving so far away?"
Without hesitation, I answered, "Not at all. I am confident I'm doing the right thing for me."
"You've always been kind of adventurous, though."
Yes, I suppose I have been adventurous, although I'd lost sight of that for awhile, it seems. Moving 2300 miles away from my girlhood home to go to college took a sense of adventure. Deciding to settle down in Utah to raise my family, so far from my parents, required a bit of bravery. As I look back on my life, I can see where I have wandered from my adventurous path, attempting to do the right thing or the safe thing, but I have always been happiest when I follow my heart.
It does feel like a fairy tale, at times. The timing was perfect, if not quite a bit later than either of us would have desired, but everything just seemed to fall into place once we found each other. We can see that we have something special together, and it never would have worked with anyone else.
All of my life, I've been a bit of a chameleon, trying to fit in, and blend into environments where I may not have exactly belonged. It wasn't until I read Brené Brown's book Daring Greatly that I began to know the difference between fitting in and belonging. Finally, I feel like I can be who I am meant to be; an occasionally serious, and sometimes silly, woman, who loves children and words and baking and hiking, someone who loves to laugh, and who has the best of intentions of living her life fully present. Chuck loves me in all of my moods, and can appreciate my quirkiness, and he loves me in such a way that I feel completely safe being myself. I belong. I no longer feel like the square peg trying to fit into the round hole.
I found this quote by Kirsten Smith from her book, The Geography of Girlhood, and I thought it went perfectly with this picture of Chuck and me. "And we laugh and laugh and all I know is at this moment I feel like I can do anything I want and be anyone I want and go anywhere on the globe and call it home." I know that with Chuck's love and support, I can do anything I want and be myself, and as long as I am with him, I will know that I am home.
I am returning to the land of my birth, and my spirit is settling back into a comfortable spot of loving and living fully, just as it used to when I was a young girl. Yes, my life has come full circle, and I am the princess who has finally found her prince in this circular story. My sweet prince and I are planning to live out our days, happily ever after, forever and ever.
Thursday, December 11, 2014
It was a legitimate question. Throughout my thirty years, I've been called many things (some appropriate to list here, and some not so appropriate). I've been Miss Beidler. I've been Mrs. Waters. And I've been Mrs. Jackson. When my principal asked me that question, I was coming out of retirement, and my divorce had been final in February. I decided on Ms. Jackson.
In my second graders' vast experience with adult women, they were a little confused when they stumbled upon my name in our morning message. ALL of their previous teachers, all TWO of them, had been a Mrs. Something-or-Other.
At the bottom of my morning message that first day with my seven and eight-year-olds, I had signed my letter, "Love, Ms. J."
"Caitlin, I'm not married any more. I'm single. I get to choose my title, and I'm asking you to call me Ms. Jackson or Ms. J."
She was having none of that. "Well, your name is Mrs. Jackson, and I'm going to call you Mrs. Jackson." Whatever. I learned quickly to pick my battles with this little miss.
Fast forward a couple of months into the school year. Most of the kids had agreed to call me Ms. J, and Caitlin even slipped every once in awhile and called me that, too.
Then on October 7, a beautiful bouquet of Gerber daisies arrived at school for me. A small group of children gathered at my desk as I arranged the daisies in the vase.
"Who sent you those?" Caitlin wanted to know.
"Why do you have a boyfriend? Gross. What are you going to do with a boyfriend?"
"Oh, you know, go on dates, take long drives together, go out for dinner," and considering my little tomboy's perspective, I tossed in, "Play games and go in the mountains for hikes."
When the kids started asking about this new man in my life, they wanted to know his name and see his picture.
|The Famous Chuck|
"He has a mustache?" Caitlin asked with an obvious scowl, when she saw Chuck's picture. "That's just disgusting."
The kids finally settled back down at their desks, but their little hands kept shooting into the air to keep the discussion going. They shared their knowledge of boyfriends and dating.
"If a boy asks a girl to marry him, he is her fiançé," one of them piped up.
Ryker's hand went up next. "I know what a fiançé is! It's someone you can go to parties with."
If this relationship moved along as quickly as it began, Chuck and I would have to look for some parties soon, apparently.
As it turns out, we did get engaged. Chuck has become an honorary member of "Ms. J's Second Grade Classroom" on Facebook.
It took some fast talking and explanations to satisfy Nate'squestions about why I was moving to Illinois. "Is Chuck's job more important than yours?" I had to be careful with that one because I knew what he really wanted to know was if I believed teaching our class was important.
When I asked Nate if his mom and dad would want to live apart, he got an impish grin on his face, and said that they would. He seemed to understand a little better after that, but it took awhile for him to stop coming up with alternative plans for Chuck and me.
My students practiced writing open-ended questions so they could interview Chuck during a Google Hangout session.
When we were practicing our questions, the kids learned that we find out more about a person if we ask them a broader question than one that simply requires a yes or no answer. The kids wanted to know his favorite foods, where he lives, and what he likes to do. They asked about his kids, and then he asked them some questions.
|Our Google Hangout with Chuck|
After our Google Hangout session ended, Caitlin said, "What I really wanted to ask Chuck is why he's taking our teacher away." As she walked back to her desk, I just wanted to give her a big hug, but Caitlin isn't much of a hugger. I'll have to settle for a high five on my last day with the kids.
Yes, we've had some tough emotions to get through after the reality set in that I would not be finishing this school year with my littles. Some were grumpy, some were sad, and some seemed remarkably mature about the whole thing. When they found out that their new teacher would be Stacey Roberts, the overall mood of the class improved considerably. She's like a rock star to these kids. I know I'm leaving them in good hands, and it helps lessen the guilt I feel about leaving mid-year.
When Chuck came to visit during the Thanksgiving holiday, we stopped by my classroom before heading to the airport in Salt Lake City so he could read a story to the class.
Some of my children, especially some of my little girls, are very interested in my love life. Brooklyn is constantly drawing wedding cakes, and pictures of Chuck and me as a bride and groom, or as a prince and princess. Dreagan is fascinated with a Christmas story she discovered that included a winter wedding.
Today I noticed Caitlin does actually call me Ms. J now. Hmm...wonder how hard it will be to get a Mrs. B out of her when I come back to visit in February? I'll decide if that battle is worth fighting then; for now, I'm just happy for the progress we've made so far.
I would like to thank all of my second grader's parents for your congratulations and good wishes on our upcoming marriage. You have such wonderful children, and I love them all.
If Chuck weren't such a wonderful man, I would have had a much harder time making my decision to marry him during the middle of the school year, but when you meet him, you'll know I'm making the right decision. I can't wait to be Mrs. Bennorth!