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Love and Loss

Love and Death

Lately, I can’t stop thinking about my life in September 2009 and all the changes it brought with it.  I can safely say it remains among the worst times in my life.  That month, I lost two people close to me, both of whom I knew most of my life, and my ex lost his job at a time when I found it impossible to find one.  The aftermath of that particular month still haunts me with unanswered questions and things left unsaid.

It started with Joyce.  She passed away on September 2nd.  It left me in shock as it was her husband who faced serious health issues at the time.  The thing is Joyce and I always had a special bond.  She babysat me from nine months of age until I was old enough to stay alone.  We always referred to her as the “babysitter,” but she became so much more to me, my sister, and my brother.  The truth is more complex.  She and her husband were essentially another set of grandparents whom happened to live next door.  When it came to grandparents – biological and otherwise – my siblings and I won the lottery.

As an adult, I tried to talk to her about subjects such as infertility and faith, but I never found the right words.  I found her increasing pessimism as she aged hard to take at times, even though she had every right to feel the way she did.  I knew that she would have wisdom to share, but I could never bring myself to ask her the hard questions.  Now, a bit older and wiser, I would love to have those conversations with her.

Shortly before or after Joyce passed away – that time frame is still fuzzy in my mind, even though I am fairly certain it all happened within days – my ex lost his job.  He just came home one morning when he should have been work, completely devastated.  It turned out that the company he worked for at the time slashed their workforce by 20%.  Only a few months prior to the layoffs, I had hoped to work there as well.  They never filled the position I so eagerly sought.

In fact, nothing I did during the years 2006-2009 seemed to matter much.  There were openings in my field.  Unfortunately, those positions would remain forever unfilled or I would be competing against someone with 20 or even 30 years of experience – for an entry-level job.  There simply were not enough jobs.  Period.

As cruel as it sounds, I wish I would have known then that things weren’t meant to work out for us.  My ex and I spent years trying to make it all work.  It never did.  As soon as things appeared to be getting better, something would happen to force us to start back at square one.  Out of all the years we were together – 2004-2014 – we both held jobs only one year.  One year out of ten.  The rest of the time, one of us remained unemployed, even though both of us held college degrees (three between us) and had plenty of work experience, not to mention looked continuously  for jobs in our fields.  Still, both of us were far too stubborn to give up.  After all we had been through together, it took two years of our relationship essentially unraveling before we finally had had enough, although the end wasn’t nearly that nice or simple.  I haven’t looked back.

Just when I began to adjust, one of my oldest and dearest friends passed away.  To this day, I think of him all the time.  I came home from work only for Brian to tell me that Derrick passed away.  It is the closest I’ve ever been to experiencing shock without physically being in shock.  Derrick and I went back so far I can honestly say I have no idea when we met – elementary school or possibly earlier; I don’t know.  What matters is the fact that I don’t remember life without Derrick prior to September 25, 2009.  We experienced so much together from elementary school to college.  I tried to capture our memories here.

First, nothing prepares you to lose a good friend who happens to still be in their 20s.  Nothing.  I didn’t know how serious his issues were.  Now, of course, I’d like to think that I would have been able to help in some small way.  Second, when you are unable to attend a close friend’s funeral, it does affect you – family or not.  I still remember trying to keep it together because I had to work the day of his funeral.  Later, I still found it difficult to be around his great aunt E.  Memories came flooding back as soon as I would see her.  I became so uncomfortable that I didn’t see her nearly as often as I should.  Now that she is gone too, I regret it.  Finally, I still see Derrick and I sniping at each other 50 years in the future, somehow managing to end up in the same nursing home.  Frankly, I feel cheated knowing it is simply not possible.

Ten years later, I am not the same woman.  I’ve experienced more loss in those years – and a lot of happiness.  I know myself better and worked hard towards new dreams and goals.  Still, when I think of those awful days of September 2009, I’d like to think that Joyce and Derrick both somehow know where I ended up.  I can only imagine the conversation Derrick and I would have had in the aftermath of my awful breakup with Brian.  He had been so happy that I’d finally found someone.  I can also imagine how happy Joyce would be to know that I am now a teacher and how deeply her faith affected me.  To Derrick and Joyce, I still love you both.

The Price of Love

50337801_10216907142246705_8189655129050316800_nDerrickDerrick

Motherhood

Patsy Cline Quote

Mother’s Day will never not be emotional for me.  I am continuously torn between celebrating the wonderful women in my life who made me who I am today – not just Mom, but both my grandmas and Joyce, my childhood neighbor, babysitter, and essentially adopted grandmother – and struggling with my own path to motherhood.  All those women helped shape me morally, spiritually, and intellectually.

Mom, of course, continues to do so.  I still crave her advice.  I am so grateful for her friendship; her example, not only as a mother, but as a teacher, business woman, Christian; and her unconditional love.  All of it.  Somewhere along the path to adulthood, she also became my best friend.

Russells 1983 (2)

Mom, Dad, and I ~ 1983

In the past, I dreaded Mother’s Day.  Working retail in my 20s, strangers wishing me a “Happy Mother’s Day!” broke my heart and left me feeling empty.  They all meant well.  That’s the problem:  One never knows who is struggling with infertility, pregnancy, strained relationships, loss, etc.  For the longest time, I felt the same way at church on Mother’s Day, until I no longer did.  A simple acknowledgement that some struggle with a whole variety of issues relating to motherhood made all the difference.  Watching others grieve and acknowledge the loss of their own mothers made me realize that I am far from alone.

If I am completely honest with myself, recent events have made me question whether I do want to adopt, my only path to motherhood.  In fact, it is part of the reason why I have been so silent here lately.  Fortunately, my parents support me no matter what I decide, but what I wouldn’t give to be able to talk to my grandmas and Joyce right now.  I could use their advice and wisdom now more than ever.  All three would have something to say – all different – and force me to think of something I had overlooked.

Grandma Reid and Me (2)

Grandma Reid and I ~ 1985

If I do decide not to adopt, the hardest part will be having to change my perception of myself.  I do not remember just how young I was at the time, but the first thing I remember wanting out of life is to be a mother.  Fortunately, that is the beautiful thing about all of this.  If I decide not to adopt, in many ways, I am still a mother.  I have a great relationship with my nephews and niece.  Spending time with my niece the other evening, she randomly told me that she wanted to come spend the night at my house.  It didn’t work out that evening, but a sleepover is in the works once school is out.  I want to be that aunt.  My niblings are finally reaching the ages where I can be that aunt.

As a teacher, I influence children every day.  I truly care for all my students, even if I am just their substitute teacher for a day or two.  It doesn’t matter.  So many students do not have much support at home.  As a teacher, I can put my maternal instincts to good use.  I can be the teacher that cheers them on at school.  I know for a fact that I have already made a difference.  I just need to step it up as I truly start my teaching career.

I may yet decide to adopt, but I need to give myself time and space to make that decision.  I finally concluded that it isn’t the end of the world if I do not.  When and if I do decide to adopt, I can say with certainty that I have thought of all possibilities and outcomes.  If it is meant to be, I know that my son or daughter is out there waiting for me.

Mom and Me (2)

Mom and I ~ 1981

Place

suitcase

There is no escaping it.  This topic keeps rearing its ugly head.  Last night, we discussed it in book club.  Are people meant to be in a certain place?  You can find my take on the topic here. That question keeps haunting me.  What if somehow I missed my chance to be wherever it is I am supposed to be?

Am I supposed to live in Omer the rest of my life?  I wish there were a simple answer.  The reality is that there isn’t.  I love my family, I’ve always wanted to be a part of the canoe livery, and I enjoy spending my summers working there.  Yet, do I have what I need?  Frankly, the answer is no.  There are few people my age around, and those who are around are in a different stage of life.  With one notable exception, all are married and/or have families of their own.  It would be nice to at least have the possibility of dating in my future.

What are my alternatives?  None of them are good.  Either I deal with the issues before me and continue on this path, or I start over someplace new.  If I stay, a part of me will always be someplace else.  If I go, I would miss my family and the canoe livery.  At least in Omer I am needed and loved.

The truth is I am going nowhere.  The canoe livery and the Rifle River itself are too much a part of who I am.  I want to watch my niece and nephews grow up firsthand, and I want to be there for my parents as they get older.  None of that means that there aren’t sacrifices and complications that come with that decision.  None of it changes the love/hate relationship I have with Omer and Arenac County in general.

What saddens me is the reality of where I live.  Over the last two decades, so many people left not only Arenac County, but Michigan as well.  Many were left with no choice thanks to a one-state recession followed by the Great Recession.  I graduated in 1999, and due to the fact that so many classmates moved out of state, I doubt we will ever have a true class reunion.  Most Michigan State business students I graduated with in 2004 headed to Arizona or Texas, including me.  No one seems to care.  Few planned on helping their children create a life for themselves here during that time frame and the years that followed.

While we may be on the path to recovery, we are not there yet.  What bothers me is a general aura of denial that stubbornly resists any change.  Yes, I agree we need change, but we also need to keep what is working – and there are things that are working.  Unfortunately, we do not support those things.  So many people seem to want to change nothing or change everything at once.  Neither approach will work, but no one seems to address this.

What about businesses?  What are we doing to attract new ones?  Absolutely nothing I can see.  No, instead we keep piling on more unnecessary regulations that do nothing except add costs. Instead of making it easier for those just starting out to get started in a career, we make it next to impossible.  Today, we still tell high school seniors that a four year college degree should be the norm when we are setting them up for tens of thousands of dollars of debt before they even start their career.  It is wrong and needs to stop.  We need to attract more businesses and encourage trades. What about entrepreneurship?  Again, we do little to support those who wish to start their own business.  New businesses and new growth are exactly what we need, but they cannot survive if not supported.

I am angry.  I want to believe in my hometown and live here, but many times, it feels next to impossible.  If it weren’t for my family, I would have never looked back.  I am tired of feeling torn, and I am fed up with everything else about the area pushing me away.

cafe

Organization and Patience

Flat lay with glasses, keyboard and cactus candle on colorful ba

I’ve always been obsessed over organization. If I’ve learned one thing about myself through the years, it is this: I work best when I am completely organized. When one small thing is out of place, I find myself easily distracted. A simple task that should take only a few minutes looms large and threatens to upset everything. Silly, I know.

As a teacher, even as a substitute teacher, I try to be as organized as possible. There is nothing worse than walking into a classroom in disarray as a substitute teacher. Endlessly searching for the sub plans constitutes a nightmare in my book. Even worse, walking into no sub plans at all.  Fortunately, that happened to me only once.

As a student, my favorite teachers tended to be those who were more organized, or at least attempted to be organized. Knowing what is expected of you as a student goes a long way toward meeting high expectations. I loved being able to easily know precisely what I needed to accomplish to do well in a class. It didn’t matter at what level. Teachers that allowed for creative freedom – and time to exercise that freedom in class – were among my favorites as well.

So, where did I go wrong?

Right now, I feel anything but organized. Maybe it is just the chaos of creativity and everything happening at once. I never seem to be able to get far enough ahead to make a difference. I know this spring and summer will bring massive changes in my life – and for the better. But what about tying up all those loose ends and meeting deadlines? How do I make it work?

I am slowly trying to make it all work. Unfortunately, I inherited impatience from all sides. In some ways, my procrastination at times is downright rebellion. Growing up, my parents were always working, whether teaching (Mom), running a business, or raising kids. My parents may have been understanding in most cases, but neither one could be described as patient. After spending time with Mom, I realize it is something I will have to work on for the rest of my life. Ultimately, it is my impatience that makes me so disorganized at times. I need to get things done NOW. Putting things away can wait. I am trying – and that is about all I can say at the moment.

Ben Franklin Quote

Place and Space

oz 2.jpg

The idea of place keeps coming up.  I never realized it before, but I have ordered my life around a certain geography, a certain space.  In my case, that would be my hometown of Omer, Michigan – Michigan’s smallest city.*  It expands to include my grandmother’s house (my current home), the canoe livery, my parents’ home (my home from ages 3-18), and the nearby city of Standish.  If I expanded my personal concept of place further, I would include Bay City, the nearest city of any size – the city where I spent a good share of my 20s – and Saginaw, home to both Saginaw Valley State University and Delta College, where I was recently a student.  There are several others not mentioned here, but currently, those I did name create much of my world.

Although I recognize the fact that the places mentioned above – and more – have helped to shape who I am today, none are nearly as important as the people, family and friends, who inhabit those spaces.  They, too, exist in a certain space in one’s life.  When a loved one passes away, those spaces can loom large.  Instead of filling those spaces, our lives expand to make new room for others as they come into their lives.

If I were asked to list my memories of the places I listed above, I wouldn’t know where to start.  I would be quickly overwhelmed.  Not only would those memories be tied to those spaces, they would certainly be tied to family and friends as well.  For example, each day as I ready myself for the day ahead, I think of Grandma when I look in the mirror.  As a child and teenager, I spent many hours waiting for her to “put on her face” before heading out on our next adventure.  I love and remember those little routines and moments that make up and take up so much of our lives.

I am blessed to have the ability to carve out a space for myself in various places so strongly associated with my childhood.  As a writer who ultimately plans to write creative non-fiction centered around her early life, including childhood, there is no place I’d rather be.  That isn’t to say that I don’t dream.

oz 1

I often fantasize about packing up and starting over on the west side of Michigan, near Grand Rapids, or in my wilder days, Austin, Texas.  The Grand Rapids area makes sense.  My sister and her family live in a small town called Hopkins, which happens to be situated between Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo.  My sister, her husband, and their two boys enjoy the best of all worlds.  They live in a small town and can take advantage of all it has to offer.  The benefits of suburban and even urban areas are still near.  Add in the facts that I have a lot of family on that side of the state and western Michigan is growing like crazy, I must give it serious consideration.

Then there is Austin.  I don’t know if I have ever fallen more deeply in love with a specific place.  Even though I only lived in Austin for six months back in 2002, those experiences left a huge hole in my heart.  In Austin, there were plenty of tech jobs to pursue at the time.  When not working, I had endless opportunities to check out live music venues and crazy art installations with friends.

Oh, and did I have great friends!  For the first time in my life, I felt as though my life had come together.  It took everything within me to drive home to Michigan to finish my degrees at Michigan State.  I had no choice.  I can still see the heavy fog and sleet – and feel the tears rolling down my cheeks as I left on that drab December day.

Even though I daydream about moving to Austin every now and then, it won’t happen.  I am too tied to Michigan – by birth, and by the people and places I love.  As much as I adore Texas – all of it – that is another story entirely.  The reality is that I am not going anywhere.  I am as much a part of my family, Omer, and the Rifle River as they are a part of me.  It is now time to claim the space for myself.

* Yes, I realize that technically Lake Angelus has a smaller population, but it is in Oakland county, near Detroit.  It is close to and surrounded by Metro Detroit.  There is no comparison.

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Grace’s Table

I don’t remember exactly when I first heard about Grace’s Table, but it has made a lasting impression.  My sister, Erica Wolbrink, met Lisa Anderson and became involved with Grace’s Table not too long ago.  It is through Erica that I learned all about Grace’s Table’s mission to help provide young moms with space to grow personally – spiritually, professionally, and as mothers.  Ever since I first heard about Grace’s Table’s mission, it stuck with me and captured my imagination – even though I have never experienced Grace’s Table in person.  I could never quite figure out why, until recently.

As I began participating in Grace’s Table’s latest social media campaign, I thought about why I feel so drawn to Grace’s Table’s mission.  It finally hit me.  As a single woman approaching 40 preparing to adopt and become a single mom, I can only begin to imagine what young moms feel at age 15 or even 20.  Parenting is hard enough; it is infinitely harder when trying to figure out your own identity, often in the face of limited resources and support.

I am blessed.  I have a wonderful education, bright career prospects, a home, and reliable transportation.  I am surrounded by friends and family who support and love me unconditionally.  Even though I am not yet a mom, I know where I will send my children to day-care and later school.  I have a fully-developed support systems, resources, and options.  And I am still scared.

I can’t imagine facing parenthood in the middle of adolescence or even in young adulthood.  As a secondary teacher, I fully understand that adolescence and young adulthood is a time of discovering one’s identity.  That self-discovery requires space and support.  Unfortunately, that is precisely what many young mothers lack just when they need it most.  Grace’s Table is seeking to provide that space and support for young mothers in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  I invite you join me in learning more about Grace’s Table, their mission, and what space for grace is all about.

Grace’s Table – Growth

#spaceforgrace

Dreaming Big

Bold and Brave

I am not sure when I settled, but I did.  Why am I content to shortchange myself?  Anything can happen.  I need to remind myself of that simple truth daily.

It is time I figured out exactly what I want.  The thing is that what I truly want are things out of my control.  How do I balance that with working towards other goals over which I do have some control?  This is the type of question that keeps me awake at night.  I am no longer content to sit on the sidelines and let things happen.  I would love to know precisely when I stopped trying.  As much as I hate to admit this to myself, I never stopped caring.  I did stop trying.

The sad thing is that I’ve always wanted to do it all:  wife, mother, teacher, business owner, and writer.  I am not even a wife or mother yet, and still the other three on my list give me fits.  My sister Erica thinks I am nuts for wanting to teach and help take over our parents’ seasonal business.  She points out that things are much different in education and our business when compared to the days when our mom balanced both.  I agree.  Still, Erica underestimates me.  I can and will have it all – just not all at once.

Frankly, it kills me when people give up on their dreams.  Why should I give up on mine?  I do not care if my plans are hard.  The best things in life are hard.  Nothing worthwhile is ever easy.  I wish more people realized how much potential lies within everyone.  We would all either be much happier – or lost in sorrow when we realize what we could have had if only we hadn’t given up.

If you are betting against me, be prepared to lose.  I am far from done.

Rumi Quote