Hit Me With Your Best Shot.

I interrupt this blog to bring you a more serious than usual post. 

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. While I personally do not have breast cancer, this disease found its way into my life through loved ones all too early. As I count the number of people I do personally know who have been affected, I run out of fingers on each hand. 

13, 14? I don't remember my exact age, but that's about how old I was when I learned one of my dearest friend's mother had breast cancer. We never really spoke of it, it was just kind of there. I think our parents wanted to protect us. She was the mother of three boys, and her middle son and I were great friends. In fact, during my junior year of high school, he was my prom date. We all wanted to stay at my house for the night after prom and his mom wasn't so sure about a co-ed sleepover. Finally my parents convinced her. Since I was one of the only girls around when we would hang out, I would always stay upstairs and talk to Debbie before heading down to the basement to hang out with the guys. Every now and then Debbie would have little gifts for me, whether it was a cute keychain, or little pouch. 

She loved reading (she was a middle school English teacher) and we used to share books and book recommendations. In fact, I still have a list of book titles written down in her handwriting. As the years went on, at time you could visibly Debbie sick. She never complained though. I don't know if I ever truly believed something would happen to her. She was always there - with a smile and a hug. 

As I became an adult and went off to college, my schedule and her son's never seemed to match though we stayed in touch, I saw and talked to Debbie more - visiting her on almost every trip home. 

I remember the night I said to my mom, you have to tell me if she is really sick. I have to know and be prepared if something is going to happen. I don't want to wake up one day to a phone call. 

There I was my senior year of college and my mom kept her promise. It was a weeknight and she called to tell me Debbie really wasn't doing well. I dropped to the floor and cried. I didn't feel better until I got home and saw her. That was the fall of 2003. 

By the summer of 2004, Debbie passed away (July 16th to be exact). I was already going home from New York for the weekend. I was supposed to go and visit her. She knew I was coming. Two nights later when I was at her house, her husband asked me if she knew I was coming home for the weekend. I said yes and with a small smile on his face, he nodded his head. 

The suit I wore to Debbie's funeral was the same dress I wore two weeks later for my job interview. I got the job. Though I am sure the dress had nothing to do with it, I'd like to think Debbie was with me that day (the job was in book publishing after all, and wasn't that fitting?!).

Debbie's story is one of many. Our other friend's mom was diagnosed right before Debbie passed away. The two of them were best friends. Sometimes the way life works is strange. Sometimes life really hits us when we're down. The beauty is in how we get back up and fight - sometimes the best we can do is to hit it with our best shot. 

Some battles will be won and unfortunately there are more that will be lost. Tonight is a story of a fight still in progress. TLC will air a special: Say Yes to the Cure: Lori's Fight (10/26 @10p.m. est.) My sister-in-law, Jen, was the executive producer. As she herself was 9 months pregnant this summer she sat with Lori through her mastectomy. Jen has beautifully captured Lori's story. I am so proud of them both. While they have my greatest admiration, in my heart as I watch tonight will be Debbie, and Julie, and Jenn, and Jean, and Nanci, and Aunt Dot, and Anne, and Evelyn, and Helen, and Amy, and Lori, and all women. 

Lessons Learned (in Debbie's words): 
Dying is not as scary as not living.


Won't Back Down

I've thought long and hard about how I want this post to come across. It's been so long since I've last posted. An entire 9 weeks. That's right, the entire first 9 weeks of school have come and gone and I haven't shared anything. I've merely stayed afloat. 

my desk from the beginning of the year

The truth is the past 9 weeks have not been bad. I've had fun with my 23 kids. 23. Yes, that was not a typo. My list originally had 24. I lost two, they never showed. I was down to 22, and by the end of the first-week of school I had gained a new student. We've remained at 23. 

I'm one of 13 second-grade teachers. We're all a little spread out among the building. Fortunately, I am with three others on my hall and I LOVE them. Thank goodness for our little quad. We eat together, we grade together, and at times we even plan together. In a school my size you really have to help one another out. 

A few weeks ago I developed a cold over the weekend. I tried to muster up and come in on Monday because I was going to be out for a religious holiday in the middle of the week. By 9 a.m. that morning I had thrown up at school. All the other teachers on my grade-level took some of my kids so I could go home, I wound up missing that day, the next day (Tuesday) and Wednesday (for my religious holiday), oh and did I mention that the coming Monday and Tuesday were early release days for parent/teach conferences?! Oh, and our DATA report was due that Friday of conferences and then grades were due by the following Tuesday. Oh and for giggles lets throw an observation by my principal in there as well. Want some more, okay, how about an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting that can last a minimum of two hours  in there, sure why not (Just to make sure you are with me, that meeting lasted a total of 3 hours AND it took place the same day as our STATE testing, so I was late in administering the test to my class)?! Collecting money for a field trip? You bet. Is it any wonder by the end noon on Thursday I was in tears crying and never even ate my lunch. 

This was my first lesson I had planned for my observation. Edible GA regions (Hershey Kisses in blue wrappers for Blue Ridge Mountains, Swedish Fish for the Coastal Plain, Kit-Kat for the Applachian Plateau, they stuck Dum-Dums in Tootsie Rolls to stand up like trees for the Piedmont, and the Ruffles for the Valley and Ridge - cause Ruffles have Ridges :) - That observation had to get rescheduled. But I had promised my kids food so I went with it. 

As a teacher, I am in this for all the right reasons. I am NOT in this for the money. I AM in this for the love of the job. I stay at school from 6:30/7 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. (somewhere/somehow I know the 12 hour days have to stop). I AM IN this for my students. This IS and always will be about them. As I debated with another teacher this week about a spot on the bus for our field trip, I uttered the words, this is NOT about me, this IS about them. They do not get these opportunities. Despite the heartache, and the hours, and the lack of pay, and the burnout, we have to remember that. We are in this for our children. 

As I sat in a 3 hour meeting listening to the special education diagnosis of one of my students, I couldn't help but cry. While I have questions about our system and wonder why a meeting must take 3 hours, I comment the parents for being there. I commend the parents for listening for 3 hours. Quite frankly after 2 hours I had had enough. Then I listened to the mother state what she feels her child's greatest weaknesses are at this time. She said it in a calm voice, in Spanish and this was translated to me: "I understand my child cannot read, she does not know the words, she does not know the words she reads, she does not know what she writes. I ask her if she needs help and she says no, but she cannot do the homework. My daughter is not where she needs to be. But she is just a child and she is going to learn." With tears in my eyes, I stepped out of the room. This mother who had hugged me when the meeting started got it. This mother who had now sat there for over 2 hours with two other children on her lap did not need to endure any more. I stepped back in. Her strengths: "When I am cleaning my room, she cleans her room, she is kind, she is a good big sister, she helps her sisters, she is very tender." I began to cry again as I grabbed a tissue. 

I wanted to reach over to that mom and tell her that I was going to help her daughter no matter what. AND I AM! However at that moment her 2 year old had fallen asleep in her arms. At that moment though, it didn't matter that my grades were not complete, that my test had not been administered, that I was still undecided on what I wanted to teach in from of my principal the next day. What mattered and still does matter are my students. I am here for one reason and that is to teach. I am their teacher. I am there to make sure they are happy and cared for. I cannot be everything to everyone in my school building but I can be the most important person to my students and I will not back down from that job. 

Don't we look all pretty in pink as we had a PINK OUT for Breast cancer just this past Friday at the end of a very long week. I even got some of my boys wearing pink!

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