Category Archives: loss

Character Study – Gwen (The Condition by Jennifer Haigh)

I’ve been fairly open about my struggles with Turner Syndrome over the years (you can read my story here), but it still amazes me to see Turner Syndrome – along with certain aspects of myself – depicted in popular culture.  Lately, I’ve been thinking about how those representations influence perception and so much more.  Both well-known depictions of Turner Syndrome, one a “victim” in the Law and Order:  Special Victims Unit titled “Clock” (hint:  turns out she isn’t a victim at all) and the other, Gwen, the protagonist in the popular novel The Condition by Jennifer Haigh, have issues and inaccuracies, and yet, there are certain truths that shine through.  Personally, I have yet to meet a woman or girl with Turner Syndrome who isn’t as stubborn as we are portrayed in popular culture.  It is quite simple, actually:  We have to be.

Even though these images of women and girls with Turner Syndrome, along with their accuracy (or lack thereof), have been analyzed to death in the Turner Syndrome community, that isn’t my intention here.  No.  My intention is to describe my experience of seeing aspects of myself in relation to Turner Syndrome in Gwen in The Condition.  I am discussing my experiences only.

Frankly, while I enjoyed The Condition, it isn’t a book that I would necessarily reread in its entirety.  Yet, there are scenes, plots, and subplots in which I couldn’t help but see myself mirrored in Gwen – not as a woman, but as a woman with Turner Syndrome.  It is those pieces and depictions that have stayed with me for well over a decade at this point.  There are several things Gwen is faced with in the novel that most women will, fortunately, never have to face.

The opening scene still takes my breath away.  In it, Gwen’s father, who later becomes almost obsessed with the fact that she has Turner Syndrome, watches Gwen tag along with her slightly older female cousin at the beach.  He observes them as they run into the ocean.  The difference in their height and body structure is noticeable.  Gwen’s body remains almost childlike while her cousin’s decidedly does not.

Growing up with older female cousins, particularly my cousin Abby (10 months my senior), I couldn’t help but compare my body to theirs.  I always wanted to catch up but never could.  I distinctly remember one December shopping with my aunt, cousins, sister, and mom.  I desperately wanted to be able to finally buy clothes in the misses section (not kids, not juniors …) like my older cousins.  Nope.  Not yet.  Even though I was now in high school, it would have to wait.  In that opening scene of the novel, I could distinctly visualize Abby and I swimming somewhere as preteens.  In my head, I was the one comparing.

Later, Gwen is described as hiding herself away from the world in a job in which she remains in the background.  Now in her late 20s/early 30s, she wears jeans, t-shirts/sweatshirts, and sneakers everyday, all often too big for her.  Given the choice, I’d be right there with her (and am when I can).  Quite simply, it is often difficult to find clothes that fit correctly if you are a woman with Turner Syndrome.

A few years ago, I tried on a top while shopping with my mom.  I loved the color, the style – everything – except the fit that wasn’t quite right.  I came out of the dressing room to ask her opinion.  My mom almost mumbled under her breath:  “Damn Turner’s body!”  I found it hysterical because that is precisely what I was thinking.  I just needed it verified.  As much as I love the button-downed look, I could purchase blouses three sizes up and still suffer from gap-osis.  Sadly, fashion is a struggle at times.

At the end of the novel, I can’t help but root for Gwen.  She is so fed up with her family members’ actions and reactions to the life she has created for herself and the fact that she finally met someone that she runs off to the Caribbean to be with her new boyfriend.  Considering how her family treats her and reacts to different aspects of her life, I can’t say that I blame her.  Her new life in the Caribbean sounds fantastic.

I admit, I am extremely guarded about my personal life as well.  It is just that I’ve always needed space.  Throwing infertility into the mix is never easy.  The idea that someone you love would have to give up having biological children of their own to be with you …  Well, unfortunately, that is reality in many cases.  I pray that it will get better with age, and in some ways, it already has.

When I finished The Condition all those years ago, my immediate reaction was one of wonder.  Did Jennifer Haigh have Turner Syndrome herself?  Did her best friend?  Who did she interview to get into our heads so well – or at least my head?  I loved the title of the book.  One may think that “the condition” references Turner Syndrome, but in reality, in the book, each member of Gwen’s family battles demons of their own, even without a diagnosis.

I am a firm believer that everyone has something – some huge hurdle he or she needs to overcome in life.  Everyone has a story.  As The Condition lingered in my mind, I couldn’t help but feel “seen” in a way I’ve never experienced in a book.  As a teacher, it reinforces the need to expose students to as many diverse books as possible. Unfortunately, when we talk about diversity in literature, we too often just focus on race, religion, and sexuality.  The reality is that there are so many other stories out there and so many other ways to view diversity. This is one reason why I wish everyone would share their story in some way, shape, or form.  No one is ever truly alone.

By the way, if you happen to be the parent of a girl with Turner Syndrome, I can’t recommend the National Turner Syndrome Camp enough.  I attended two years, and it allowed me to meet others with Turner Syndrome for the first time.  It also boosted my confidence in a way that nothing else ever has.

Blake Shelton – Austin (2001)

Blake Shelton – Austin (2001) (Video) (Lyrics)

(Written February 22, 2023)

Have you ever fallen so in love with a place that you still dream about it years later – and you fall so in love with your memories of that particular time and place that you instinctively know that reality will never come close to what you remember?  It can happen.  In 2002, I fell in love with Austin, Texas.  In reality, I fell in love with a time and place that no longer exists.

It started out innocently enough.  When I began planning my year abroad – one semester in Quito, Ecuador and another in Caceres, Spain – I knew that I would also need to make plans for the summer after Spain.  I lucked out.  The spring of my sophomore year at Michigan State, I landed a position as a paid intern at IBM in Rochester, Minnesota.  I must have been on a roll that semester because I also landed a paid co-op opportunity (6 month contract) with Applied Materials (AMAT) in Austin, Texas.  Ultimately, I accepted the position with IBM and asked Applied Materials if I could pursue the co-op opportunity the following summer/fall.  They said yes, and I left East Lansing for a series of adventures that would take me away from campus for over a year and a half.  I was well on my way to pursuing several of my dreams at once, including a career in tech.

My time in Austin did not start off well.  When I arrived in June 2002, I didn’t know anyone.  I ended up subletting my first apartment from a UT student.  It was OK, but my only roommate in our four bedroom apartment spent all of her time with her boyfriend.  Often the only trace of Carly was the reeking skunk smell of pot.  Soon, things would change.

The first week or two at Applied consisted of orientation classes and touring facilities in what’ve been loving termed bunny suits.  What I loved about AMAT was their place in the tech industry.  We didn’t make the chips; we made the machines that make the chips.  After a long day of orientation, an engineer I’d just met, Melissa, asked if I wanted to go get a drink and have dinner after work.  Little did I know just how much she would impact my time in Austin.

Melissa and I became fast friends over dinner.  Once I began describing my experiences studying abroad in Ecuador and Spain, she began telling me about her former coworker at Motorola, Andy, a fellow engineer.  She thought that we should met, and frankly, I think she was trying to set us up.  There was only one catch:  Andy was currently exploring Machu Picchu in Peru and wouldn’t be home for some time.  It would be worth the wait.

In the meantime, on July 24th, 2002, on my way to work, a huge moving truck made a left-hand turn in front of me when I had the green light.  He hadn’t seen me.  In the accident, I broke my big toe and the metatarsal.  The molding on the driver’s side door of my car also sliced me behind my ear.  If I had had a passenger, he or she probably would not have survived.  In the aftermath of the accident, things somehow came together.  My mom flew out to Austin to help me find a lawyer and a new car.  She couldn’t believe how well I knew the city even though I had only been there just over a month.  I had to help navigate in the days before Google Maps due to my cast.

By the time I had a walking cast, all bets were off.  I quickly found out that the six month sublease I’d been promised was really only for three.  Livid, I needed a new place to live within a few weeks.  In the end, I found a much better place to live just in time thanks to Applied Material’s internal listings.  The months living with Karen and her toddler son were great.  It was almost as if I had the good fortune to live with a fun aunt for several months.  Things were finally looking up.

In all the chaos of the accident and moving, I finally met Andy.  We ended up on a blind date at the type of place that could only exist in Austin – Flipnotics.  The first floor was a quirky retail t-shirt shop.  The second floor included a restaurant/bar with a small performance space for live music.  We were there for the music.  I wish I had a video of Andy’s face when I opened my car door.  He was horrified to realize that I had a walking cast up to my knee and that he had invited me to a venue requiring climbing a large set of stairs.  Fortunately, we hit it off right away.

One of the best things about Austin, then and now, is the live music.  It isn’t called the live music capital of the world for nothing.  Andy was the perfect companion with whom to check it all out.  It turns out that as a hobby Andy had a radio show – ATX Live – on the local co-op radio station KOOP.  Soon I would met his friend and manager Cheryl.  Andy would later serve as president of KOOP for several years.  It isn’t every day that a man you admire and respect introduces you to someone who soon becomes one of your best friends.  That is precisely what happened.

Over the next few months, Andy, Cheryl, and I had numerous adventures.  I admit, I had a huge crush on Andy by this time.  Cheryl did her best to try to get us to end up together, but it wasn’t meant to be.  However, the fun I had that late summer and fall are never to be forgotten.  The three of us attended the first Austin City Limits Festival in Zilker Park.  Cheryl “conveniently” couldn’t join us the second day.  The antics that took place that weekend are stories in themselves that belong with other songs.  At the end of the festival, Andy and I ended up at a favorite local restaurant called Shady Grove.  As it was within walking distance of the festival, we had to order takeout and eat/drink on the lawn, it was that crowded.

Later, Andy had LASIK surgery, and unfortunately, it didn’t go as planned.  He ended up blinded for a week.  As it was near his birthday, Cheryl and I threw him a party at his house once he regained his sight.  I finally got to meet a bunch of his friends, coworkers, etc.  It ended with Andy having to smooth things over with local cops late in the evening.  Our “dress to be seen”/birthday party was a complete success.

As Halloween approached, Andy asked if I wanted to go to a house party hosted by local musician Chelle Murrey.  Once we arrived, I dressed as a gypsy and Andy dressed as Zorro, Andy told me that he had a surprise for me.  It turned out that a Beatles’ tribute band were going to play at the party, and knowing that I was a Beatles’ fan, he wanted me to have the opportunity to check them out first.  I will never forget it.  I bought Chelle’s CD that evening, and even though the music hasn’t quite held up, it will always remind me of Austin.

Shortly after one more party – this time a birthday/going home/Christmas party for me in mid-December at Karen’s house – I had to pack up my new-to-me 2002 silver Grand Prix and make the long journey home – alone.  I arrived back in Michigan right before my birthday and Christmas.  A year and half and a thousand adventures later, I would be returning to Michigan State in January 2003 to finish my degrees.  I would graduate in May 2004.  I never wanted to leave Austin behind.

Chelle Murrey’s album Uncomplicated

On December 15th, 2002, a cold, foggy day in Austin, I left, listening to Chelle Murrey, trying to keep it all together.  Austin represented everything I wanted after graduation – a good job, great friends, beautiful place to live, and for the first time in my life, a social life that actually felt like me.

My senior year at MSU, I did everything in my power to land in Austin.  I made it to second round interviews with both Dell and Applied Materials.  Unfortunately, my manager at AMAT left a few weeks before I did.  He didn’t even get a chance to do my review before he left, that was left to someone I had only known for a week.  In essence, I had no one on the inside fighting for me.  Only half of the engineers and supply chain grads were hired.  Sadly, I wasn’t one of them.

I did put my time back in Austin to good use, however.  I met up with Andy and finally told him how I felt.  In essence, he told me that he viewed me as a little sister.  He explained that he was at a completely different stage in life.  At 22, devastated doesn’t begin to describe how I felt.  Looking back, I completely understand where he was coming from at that point.  At 29 and about to finish his MBA, he already owned his own home and was established in his career.  I still needed to finish undergrad.

It is funny how I should have seen it coming.  He bought me a cowgirl hat at the Austin City Limits Festival because he was afraid I was going to fry otherwise.  As cold weather set in, he warned me about trying to drive on ice in Texas.  In essence, I may know how to drive on ice being from Michigan, but others in Texas do not.  My dad would have been impressed.

Today, Andy is married and still lives in Austin, now owning his own business.  I’d love to track down Cheryl.  I have a feeling that if we were able to catch up after all these years, it would be as if no time had passed at all.  The only person with whom I am in contact is Karen, who keeps reminding me from time to time that Austin has changed – and not for the better.

In essence, this is a love letter to the Austin I knew in 2002.  Some of my favorite landmarks and haunts, namely Flipnotics and Shady Grove, no longer exist.  I still follow AMAT and the semiconductor industry.  How could I not after 2020?  The Austin City Limits Festival has grown beyond all recognition.  I can only imagine how the city has changed and evolved.  I just hope that it is still as weird as I remember and remains a welcoming place for young undergrads trying to find their place in the adult world.  Those memories of Austin will always be a part of me.

Joan Osbourne – One of Us (1995)

Joan Osbourne – One of Us (1995) (Video) (Lyrics)

There are one hit wonders, and then there are one hit wonders that reside on Grammy nominated albums.  While I’ve never been a fan of award shows, even the Grammys, I did pay some attention to the Grammy albums that came out each February as a teen – just in case there was something I’d missed the year before.

I don’t remember when I first heard One of Us, but I immediately fell in love with the song.  It was the perfect song to belt by yourself in your car when you think no one is watching.  Half the fun of getting your driver’s license as a teen is the anticipation.  I couldn’t wait to be the one behind the wheel, belting whatever I pleased.

Growing up, the only thing better than waiting to get my license was waiting for my older cousin Abby to get hers.  We are only ten months apart in age and grew up together.  We shared a first Christmas at Grandma Buttrick’s house in 1980 – and every one thereafter until Grandma passed away in 2014.  Now, at Christmas, we bring the party to Abby, even in the middle of blizzards.  We did elementary school, junior high and high school, and even college together.  We, along with her older sister Emily, studied supply chain management at Michigan State.  Freshman year, she was my ride home.  Safe to say, my childhood would have been much different without Abby J.  She was very much the older sister I never had.

In February 1996, the Grammys were over, we were celebrating all of the February birthdays at Aunt Robin’s house, and Abby was just about to turn 16.  Her first car was similar to mine.  I ended up with my beloved ‘89 red Grand Prix and hers was a white ‘88.  Both of those cars ended up saving our lives.

I don’t remember specifically what Abby received for her birthday, aside from the car, but we ended up listening to One of Us on the CD player she had had installed in her car.   There is nothing to compare to giggling in the back seat of a car with your older cousin and younger sister singing along to a great song at top volume.  This image of the three of us singing One of Us with as much emotion as we could muster continues to haunt me.  In a few months, everything would change.

The day started out normal enough.  A typical beautiful early June day not long after school ended for the year, it was to be my first day of driver’s ed.  I had just enough time to down a bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats before Mom was to return from the gym and drop me off at the high school.

I met Mom in the kitchen after I heard the door to the garage open.  I knew immediately something awful had happened.  Mom couldn’t stop crying, and generally, Mom wasn’t a crier.  On the way home from the gym, she had heard that Abby had been involved in a tragic car accident.  I don’t know for sure, but I have the idea that she heard it on the radio on her way home.  However it was reported on the radio, it made it sound as though Abby was at fault.  That certainly wasn’t the case.  In reality, Abby was hit head on by a drunk driver.  Another car had been immediately in front of Abby and swerved out of the way of the drunk driver, leaving Abby with no time to react.  Tragically, the other driver died.

Abby was OK but certainly not unscathed.  Once she was home from the hospital, I remember visiting her with my mom, sister, and brother.  My younger brother Garrett, 5 at the time, made her laugh so hard that he had to stop.  It made her stitches hurt.  He still has that effect on people.

My intention here isn’t to tell Abby’s story as I could never do it justice and it isn’t mine to tell.  Instead, it is to finally admit just how deeply Abby’s accident affected me.  Keep in mind that her accident happened on my first day of driver’s ed.  Shortly after learning the true story of the accident and that Abby would be OK, I was sitting in a classroom listening to the driver’s ed instructor talk about her accident.  I wouldn’t feel comfortable behind the wheel for years.   It would take two road trips well into college – one to Minnesota and one to Texas – to make that happen.

In the end, Abby and I joined SADD (Students Against Drunk Driving) the following school year.  She went on to suffer braces all over again and became class president her senior year.  Eventually, we both ended up at Michigan State.  It is thanks to Abby, who still didn’t feel completely comfortable driving the expressway, I learned the back roads home from State.

Everyone always seemed to chalk up my issues behind the wheel – fear, basically – to Turner Syndrome (TS).  Most women with TS do not get their license on time due to depth perception/spatial issues.  Fortunately, I’ve learned how to deal with those.  No, it was my fear and anxiety after Abby’s accident.  One of Us will always take me back to a much simpler time.

To My Grandparents, Thank you!

My grandparents are never far from my mind (or heart), but over the last several days, they’ve been on my mind even more.  As my parents were preparing for a trip to Ireland, my dad asked me a little about the Irish ancestry on the Russell side of his family.  It is fascinating!  I didn’t realize that his grandfather (my great grandfather), Elijah (EC) Russell, was the son of Irish immigrants.  As Grandpa Russell passed away long before I was born, I happen to know the history of the Suszko and Buttrick/Hoffman sides of my family better.  Realizing that my ancestors on the Russell side made sacrifices for their descendants by leaving their homeland in search of a better life is humbling.

Grandpa Russell’s parents – Mary Jennie and Elijah (EC) Russell

Today also happens to be Grandparents Day.  My grandparents may no longer be with us, but I simply would not be the same person without their influence.  As a child, I somehow won the grandparent lottery.  Both my Buttrick and Reid grandparents lived close by and played a huge role in my life.  I spent my summers spending time and working with Grandma and Grandpa Reid.  They both taught me so much about life in general.  I’ve written extensively about their influence.

Grandma and Grandpa Buttrick’s house was always open to us grand kids and our friends.  They lived close to Standish Elementary, and we often visited after school.  As an adult, trips to Standish were not complete if I didn’t visit Grandma and Grandpa.  Even today, when I am running errands in Standish, I think of how nice it would be to be able to stop in for a quick visit.  I still miss the book club for two that I had with Grandma B.  I also think of all of those August trips to hunting camp in Kenton, piling in Grandpa’s station wagon or Suburban with our cousins.

There is so much more I could say.  I didn’t even discuss our “adopted” grandparents, our neighbors Joyce and Carl.  That is all together another subject for another day.  By the way, I didn’t post a picture of Grandma Buttrick for a specific reason.  She was a private person, and even though she is no longer here, she would hate having her picture here.

Even though I never knew him, Grandpa Russell’s legacy lives on in the canoe livery.  Grandma and Dad may have kept the canoe livery running after he passed away, but it was Grandpa Russell who started it all over 60 years ago.  In fact, all of my grandfathers were entrepreneurs in their own way – a fact I love.

So, to all of my grandparents, thank you!  Thank you for your love, guidance, memories, and so much more.

Love,

Lindo

Sugarfoot

Little Bo

Christmas 2004 – Left to Right – My sister Erica, me, and Grandpa Buttrick.

This is one of my favorite pictures, taken at our annual adult Christmas dinner at the Quality Inn in West Branch, MI.
Left to Right:  Owen Reid (my dad’s “step” dad whom we all adored); Grandma Reid; me age 17; and my brother Garrett, age 7.
Grandpa Russell; Twining, MI.

Thank You

Here’s to a great 2022!

Restarting my conversation with all of you here has been on my mind for quite some time.  As with so much in my life, things became bogged down during the pandemic.  It is telling that my last posts described my feelings at the beginning of the shutdown – my experience as a new teacher suddenly thrown into the great unknown and then a two-part series on the pandemic and the canoe livery.  The survival of that constant in my life weighed so heavily on my mind during the darkest days of the shutdown.  It was almost unspeakable.

And now … Well, I feel as though I just witnessed the end of an era on Friday with the death of Betty White.  I watched The Golden Girls during its original run.  Yes, I am that old.  Even though I was a child and tween during that time, there always seemed to be something timeless about that show and the principal actresses as well.  I spent many Saturday evenings watching with my grandparents.  Grandpa Owen adored Sophia, and of course, we all loved the humor.  Out of the remaining three actresses, Betty White’s Rose reminded me the most of Grandma Reid.  However, there is one huge catch:  Grandma was never, ever even close to being that naïve (or dumb)!  Yet, Rose’s willingness to help anyone and everyone fit the bill and her constant positivity reflected my experiences with both of my grandmothers.  I think it is that kindness, reflected in both Betty White’s character Rose Nylund and anecdotes of Betty White’s generosity towards her colleagues and fans, that I am sensing is gone.  It is also a longing for a simpler time.

If I am honest, the feeling that it is the end of an era started before Friday.  This past fall, one of my Grandma Reid’s last remaining friends passed away (although there may be a few left).  It hit particularly hard because Ginny was such a positive person.  I have fond childhood memories of visiting her home during Halloween, at which time she would show me her vast porcelain doll collection and shared stories about working for my grandfather.  As an adult, I saw her often as she volunteered at the Skilled Nursing Facility where Grandma Reid lived out the last few years of her life.  I can only hope that I will be around to volunteer in my 80s and 90s! I remember her as so full of life. Again, the world could use more positivity at this point.

In fact, I am done.  There are so many times I’ve wanted to write that simple sentence, and I now know how to explain it a bit better.  I am done listening to the negative, which, let’s be honest, is everywhere now.  I’m also done spending any time or energy on people who only focus on what could go wrong.  It is time to finally move forward after the last nearly two years of hiding in the shadows and not living to the fullest.  Yes, I truly believe that there have always been ways to do so safely.

We can get back to ourselves, but we might find that we have discover ourselves once again.  As I work on decluttering my life, I will hopefully make even more room for what is truly important.  I still have important to decisions to make, but I am finally once again headed in the right direction.  There is hope for me yet (see article below).

So, thank you. Thank you for staying with me through all the craziness that is my life. Thank you for still reading even if I am nothing but inconsistent. Thank you for letting me share a tiny piece of my life.

It’s Never Too Late:  On Becoming a Writer at 50

A Fresh Start … Part 2

Read A Fresh Start … Part 1

By mid-June, things were starting to come together at the canoe livery …  but would our customers return?  Boy, did they!  We had a wedding at our main location in Omer towards the end of June.  After the wedding, with one more weekend in June left, we became increasingly busy, experiencing volume rivaling what we normally experience mid-to-late July or even early August.  True to form, we remained busy right up until the mid-August.

Normally, this would be welcomed and wouldn’t have been an issue.  However, this year, thanks to COVID, we didn’t have adequate time to properly prepare.  During a “normal” year, we have much of June to prepare for the crowds.  Things ramp up during June until it becomes crazy from the 4th of July until mid-August.  Well, we lost that time to hire and train.  We had a week, maybe two, before we started to become that busy.  Add in the pressure of new safety precautions, difficulty in getting merchandise, and rebuilding from the flood, and one gets a sense of why it became so stressful.  I feel as though I have been running a marathon since May.

Please don’t get me wrong.  I am eternally grateful that our business not only survived but grew during COVID.  I refrain from saving thrive because it would not be sustainable long-term.  Simply too many hours and too much work in such a short period of time.  Still, it haunts me that so many small businesses didn’t survive or are in danger of closing permanently.  All I could think of this spring is the decades of work the canoe livery represents – my family history and my personal history.  It would not exist if not for the hard work, dedication, foresight, and planning of my parents, my grandparents, and now my brother and I, along with countless others over the years.  So much in my life simply would not have been possible without the canoe livery.  In it, I see my future.  Whether I like it or not, the canoe livery and the Rifle River is a part of me.  The very idea of it no longer existing is unimaginable.

If nothing else, I do hope that I have turned the corner and truly have a fresh start this fall.  It feels that way.  I could use some routine and consistency in my life – along with a healthy dose of “normal” – whatever that is now.  It is time to figure out exactly what it is that I want.  I know that I have returned to that theme dozens of times here over the years.  Yet, I still don’t know.

Who is to say that I will be content to spend the rest of my life alone?  If I met the right man – and I repeat here, the right man – I can see myself in a relationship again.  Yet, I have a difficult time seeing how I would meet him.  Same goes for children.  I would love to be a mother.  I know I would nail it.  Yet just the mere thought of the foster and/or adoption processes is enough to make me want to break out in hives.  I know what can go wrong all too well.  Maybe it will be time to “jump” sooner rather than later.  I do know that I do not want to regret what I didn’t do in my life.  Until then …

A Fresh Start … Part 1

My favorite color is October …

I’ve always loved fall, but somehow, this time of year just means more this year.  I’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster (more on that in a minute, and not all entirely COVID related) since mid-March.  I want OFF!  NOW.  I never dreamed that I would help run a business and teach middle school during a pandemic, but here I am.  Something I never wanted to add to my bucket list.

As I am smack-dab in the middle of returning to in-person classes for the first time since mid-March, it is SO nice to have some normalcy, particularly after a summer and spring that was anything but “normal.”  I missed my students deeply, and I enjoy just observing kids being kids.

So, about this spring and summer …  Well, of course, it all started mid-March – that ill-fated Friday the 13th to be exact.  As the shutdown deepened, I began to worry about opening the canoe livery for the season.  Worry about the survivability of the family business #1.  Frankly, it didn’t look good.  Just as we, along with pretty much everyone else on the Rifle River, made the decision to open for self-contained camping only during Memorial Weekend, the other shoe dropped.

May 18th-20th, we received close to 7 inches of rain.  Dams in nearby Gladwin and Midland counties failed.  Fortunately, we did have a little warning thanks to another livery on the river.  My parents, brother, and I were able to save much of our technology and merchandise in our store in Omer.  Good thing we had that warning.  We ended up with 3 feet of water in the store.  That wasn’t even the worst part.

During the shutdown, I made the decision to stay with my mom.  I don’t think either of us wanted to be alone in our own homes for an extended period of time.  My dad was at their cabin in Canada when the shutdown happened, and he didn’t come home immediately.  I was over at my parents’ house when the stay-at-home order dropped.  Then, it just became habit.  What was I supposed to do at home by myself that entire time?  Normally, I am rarely at home.  I am usually at work, running errands – all kinds of things – none of which I could do during the lockdown.

Anyway, my parents and I watched in May as the Rifle River filled our Crystal Creek Campground near my parents’ home.  It nearly reached Pinnacle Bridge, which is amazing in and of itself.  Then it happened.  I read a Facebook post that stated that the Forest Lake Dam broke.  We evacuated my parents’ home.  While the Forest Lake Dam isn’t directly on the Rifle River, it would feed into the nearby river if it did break.  There simply was no way to predict what would happen if the dam broke.  My parents feared losing their home of nearly 40 years, not to mention their business of nearly 45 years.  I can still hear the panic in both of my parents’ voices.  I hope to never experience anything like again it in my life.  Same can be said for most of March through August.

Fortunately, the dam held.  We returned to my parents’ home later that day when we received word that the immediate danger had passed.  While I haven’t made a habit of watching the local news in decades, I did watch that evening as local affiliates reported as the Edenville and Sanford dams collapsed, devastating Gladwin and Midland counties.  I know the area.  I used to manage a convenience store in Sanford.  I traveled M-30 across the Edenville dam many times.  Wixom and Sanford Lakes are no more, and the Tittabawassee River reclaimed its original path.  It so easily could have been my family.  My parents could have easily lost their home – MY childhood home – and their business that day.  So many in Midland and the surrounding area did.

When we were finally able to survey the damage, we were lucky.  The flood mainly damaged our main location in Omer this time.  Keep in mind that we suffered devastating flood/ice damage – along with tornado damage later that summer – at our Crystal Creek Campground in 2018.  In Omer, we lost our propane tank, our ice chest, fencing, and a campsite.  Yes, you read that correctly.  When our campground – a former mill pond – flooded, the water drained in one area, completely eroding one of our campsites.  We had to get excavation work done in order to rebuild.  All of this on top of 3 feet of water in our store, bathrooms, and pole barns.  The cleanup took nearly a month, delaying our opening.  When we were finally able to reopen in mid-June, we didn’t know what to expect.

I will leave off here for now.  There is so much more to the story.  While I will discuss some aspects of what happened after we reopened another day, there is much more that will have to be left unsaid.  So much of what made this summer truly horrendous isn’t even my story to tell.

In my family’s experience with the flood, I watched my parents, my brother, and I come together to make things happen under unprecedented circumstances.  COVID made things much more difficult than they needed to be.  Something as simple as ordering merchandise for the summer became a nightmare.  Yet, it worked.  We somehow made it work.  That is precisely why I wanted to tell this story.

Above all, I hope all of us – every last person affected by COVID, which is the entire planet – finally get some semblance of normal.  We deserve it!

There Are No Words

Statue

If I have learned anything over the last few weeks, it is that I crave structure.  I need it to be productive.  I am slowly working on getting back into some type of routine as everything has shifted over the last couple of weeks.  Right now, I’m not even sure what it would look like.

I’d love to put tons of time and energy into my Google Classroom now, but Michigan just closed schools for the rest of the school year.  Up until this point, I was unable to assign anything for a grade.  I could share things I would like my students to look at and do, but that was about it.  I did come across some great stuff that I will be using with my students moving forward.  Unfortunately, that is the point.  Until we can figure out what distance learning will look like at our school, I’m not sure how we will handle students without out devices and internet access.  Hopefully, we will know more next week and will be able to move on from there.

I miss and worry about my students.  My heart breaks for my 8th graders who will be heading off to high school next year.  Will they be ready?  We did not get to send them off in the way they need to be sent off – not yet, anyway.  I worry less about 6th and 7th graders.  I can put things in place to help us fill in gaps next year.  It may not be fun, but it might be necessary.  I still miss them though, and they are certainly missing out on so much.  When we left school on Friday, March 13th – a day I will never forget – I was in the middle of planning a field trip to the Michigan Science Center and the Detroit Institute of Arts.  My 6th graders were also supposed to go to Lansing on another field trip in early May – a field trip that never happened last year.  8th graders are also missing out on their last dance, usually put on by 7th grade.  Not to mention track and field day, the last events surrounding Lent and Easter, and the wonderful chaos that is the last week of the school year.  Oh, and I could cry when I think of what we had planned for March is reading month, most of which never took place, including Prime Time Live Friday Night (originally slated for that ill-fated Friday the 13th) and a poetry café, among so much else.

Then there are the student council events.  I am the student council advisor, and my students pleaded with me to plan an end of year event.  A trip to an escape room and laser tag were in the works.  We were also supposed to have a carnival for younger students during March is reading month, all sponsored and put on by student council.  I’m now trying to figure out how we are going to do elections for next year, which take place every spring.  I may be able to come up with something there.  The point is that everyone who works in or deals with education day-in, day-out – teachers, administrators, volunteers, staff, parents, and certainly students – lost so much over these last few weeks.

I feel as though that goes double for students in Catholic schools.  I am not Catholic, and I do not teach religion, but I know what my students are missing at a time when they could use their faith the most.  They need guidance when it comes to faith formation, and that is what they are lacking now.  I keep thinking … 20 years from now, how I will I explain these times to my students?  There are times when I feel at a loss when I try discussing September 11th with current students who were born longer after 2001.

This is not what I wanted or dreamed for my first full year teaching.  It just isn’t.  I do hope that next year will bring a “normal” year.  During the 2018-2019 school year, those of us in Michigan experienced a record number of “cold”/snow days.  Something no one experienced before.  Now this.  I think everyone could use a return to “normal” at this point.

Change the World

Then there is the canoe livery.  Fortunately for us, we don’t truly begin to get busy until the end of June, early July.  August keeps getting busier and busier every year.  This time of year, we get things ready for opening on Memorial Weekend.  We will see what happens.  While we can make some progress, in other ways, it is difficult.  For example, I can’t finish ordering our t-shirts and sweatshirts at this point.  Would it be wise to do so right now with so much uncertainty?  Same goes for other merchandise in our stores.

There are so many summer scenarios that are running through my head.  I can’t help but think we’d be especially busy if things start returning to normal by early June.  If it is towards the end of June, that might put more pressure on already extremely busy weekends.  Should we extend our season?  Time will tell.

I do know that I will survive.  My family will survive.  The canoe livery will survive.  We’ve weathered so many storms in the past.  I keep telling myself how bleak things looked in 2018 in the wake of massive 100-year flooding due to ice.  We made it and came back better than ever.  Eventually a path will be made clear, and there will be a new “normal.”  We all just need to hold on until then.

Empty Classroom

Grieving “Normal”

Graduation

The Sadness is Real:  An Open Letter to the Teachers

Ever since schools closed on Friday, March 13th, so many people have posted about spring break trips, proms, graduations, and so much more being cancelled and/or postponed.  I’ve watched others shame those same people truly grieving their loss by stating things such as “at least you’re healthy” and “how can you think of things at a time like this?”  What awful things to say!

While graduations and field trips certainly aren’t the sickness or loss of a loved one – no one is making that comparison – most of us are suffering from loss at this point.  We have lost our “normal” and working like hell to get to a “new normal,” whatever that may be.  As a teacher, I’m in awe at how teachers have come together.  I belong to a Google Classroom group on Facebook, and the activity I’ve witnessed over the last few weeks is unreal.  So many strangers, all teachers or in education, coming to help one another help students across the United States and the world.  In fact, I’ve had my own crash course over the last few weeks.  In fact, that is precisely why I am a teacher, I love to keep learning and then share what I’ve learned with my students.

When all this madness is over, and things return to “normal” – and they will – it is my hope that we are all kinder and gentler with one another.  Hopefully this will bring many people closer to God.  I also hope that it brings everyone, students included, a new appreciation for their everyday lives.  It already has for me.  As stressed out as I was at the end of last trimester, I’d love to be worried about planning all the fun things for March is reading month and the end of the school year again.  So, I am taking some time to grieve my loss of normal – and you should too.  When this is over, we are all going to love on each other and support our neighborhoods, small businesses, and cities, towns, and villages like never before.  Personally, I am hoping for a great party out on the river!

All I can say is that there will be time to reschedule those missed spring break trips, make those memories with your seniors, and generally make up for lost time.  I am looking forward to that day, and I expect to be so busy that I will be tempted to complain.  Until then, I will just keep plugging away.

Never Stop Learning

Changes

Dear Students, We Didn’t Even Get to Say Goodbye – Her View from Home

To Those Saying “Lucky Teachers,” This Isn’t a Break for Us, It’s Heartbreak

Through all of this, seniors – the class of 2020 – has been on my mind.  I hope that when this is all over, we will have the opportunity to properly celebrate all their accomplishments.  I think we are all grieving all the celebrations, events, you name it that have been cancelled at this point.  While I know some people have expressed anger at people getting upset over cancellations, it is only human that we grieve all the experiences we’ve lost.  Does that mean we shouldn’t take precautions or help those in need because we are bummed that our events were cancelled?  No.  It just means that we are grieving a valid loss – at this point, we all are.

I don’t know what these next few weeks or months will bring, but I do know that we will work through this together.  One of the silver linings of all of this is the time to work on projects that have been put on hold indefinitely.  For example, I’ve toyed with the idea of playing around with podcasting for some time, and tonight, I think I will finally start.  We will see where it goes!  I am also planning to play around with sharing podcasts with my students too.  Much more to come!

Miss Russell

PS – Check out the new page I created to share middle school online resources – Miss Russell’s Middle School Resources