Sep 19 2013

Falling Into Step

In efforts to playIn the winter of 2005, I found myself in the bathroom stall of a bar somewhere in the French Alps.  In between hysterical sobs, an old friend braced my shoulders and looked me in the eye.


When I first met Kelly on the field hockey field at Holy Cross in 1998, I found her abrasive, stubborn to a fault, and mildly offensive.

And I wasn’t entirely wrong about those qualities.

But here we are, fifteen years later.  On a running trail in Austin, TX with my musician boyfriend and not nearly enough water.  Talking our way through a brisk workout.  She lives in Hawaii now, and I’ve been in Texas for ten years.  We missed each others’ respective weddings due to distance (though she still counseled me during my subsequent divorce).  It’s been five years since our last meeting, but we’ve fallen right back into step.

Kelly Visit

Kelly gave me this card when I moved to Austin in the summer of 2003.  The caption reads, “A friendship with two viewpoints is twice as strong.”  Inside, Kelly sent me off with words about our differing opinions, our heated discussions, and the strength of our relationship.  My staunch-republican friend and I even had the confidence to watch the 2000 election together … A decision that could have ended in bloodshed.  But every time we challenged each other – every time we pushed and pulled at each other  – we grew closer.

And the same can be said of our three years together on the field hockey field.  As with all of my teammates, every competition made us more like sisters.  Every shared loss, every struggle, every hard sweat and snowy play-off game, every overtime win and every penalty stroke failure tightened the familial bonds between us.  Naturally, when we see each other now, we want to run and play again (no matter how much more it hurts our older joints).

Kelly’s brief visit in Austin invigorates me.  She reminds me that real friends are with you through the hard times.  They support you, they love you, and they stand beside you when you need an ally.  But they also snap you out of it when you’re being a tool.  They know you – really know you – and they embrace the bad with the good.  Kelly makes me feel like the best version of myself.  Even when I’m a sloppy mess in a foreign bathroom.

Sure, my old friend and teammate is still abrasive and bossy.  (Just as I’m still overly-sensitive and neurotic.)  But she’s also smart, and funny, and honest.  She doesn’t sugar-coat things, and she knows who she is.  She’s the friend who met me in Europe for an ill-advised roadtrip; who took me out to party when I was injured at an Ultimate tournament in Chicago; who called me when she had one single afternoon in my (still somewhat new) city.  She’s a friend I know will be around in another fifteen years, and fifteen more after that.

…Especially if I can convince her to move to Austin.

I’m working on it.

Sep 3 2013

Gift Card Gratitude

Sheila Gift CardOne of my teacher friends recently received this card from a parent.  Naturally, the gift was to a restaurant/bar, and I’m confident that she used it happily and gratefully.

Teaching is not without its built-in rewards.  I’ve been doing this job long enough to have students come back and visit me; send me Facebook messages from college thanking me for what I do (and what I did when they were in my class as seventh graders); tell me out loud, directly to my face how much they enjoyed having me as their teacher.  I’ve worked with a myriad of complex, diverse, incredible kids, and many of them have open hearts and a willingness to say thanks…even if it’s a few years later.  Their parents are often the same way:  Thankful, kind, supportive, and appreciative.

And let’s not forget the thrill of seeing a struggling student pass the state-mandated test; go on to do something important and special in their lives; demonstrate growth or understanding of a difficult concept; wave excitedly when they see me in the grocery store.

I mean, let’s be realistic:  Teachers don’t do this job for the incredible salary, or the benefits, or the retirement plan.  We don’t do it for the vacations or the job security (which are both growing less and less guaranteed with each passing year anyway).  We teach for the connections and the experience; the playfulness and the fun; the creativity and the love.  (And okay, maybe sometimes for the karma.)  But we don’t do it for the pay.


Occasionally parents and students show their appreciation in concrete ways.  And every single time I get a thank you card, or a book, or a mug, I’m surprised and jubilant.  (I actually collect mugs.  I’m not kidding.)  And then there are the gift cards.

I don’t have expensive tastes.  (I’d better not.  I’m a teacher, after all.)  And I sincerely love a thoughtful note as much as I do any other gift.  I would never treat a student differently if they gave me something, or a particular something for that matter.  I don’t remember them differently, or think of them more favorably.  And I would never expect anything from any of my students or their parents.

But teaching is also very stressful.  And time-consuming.  And exhausting.

So the beauty of the gift card isn’t that it’s expected or needed.  But on those Tuesday nights when I’m working late grading papers; or when I’ve been coaching in the spring and working solid 6-day weeks and I’ve lost my voice for all of the instruction and the talking on the sideline at Ultimate games; or when it’s the end of the month and my bank account is veritably empty…Well, having $10 to spend at my favorite taco place in town is like a fairy godmother.  It means a few quiet moments with my boyfriend, when we don’t have to worry about the cost of our meal.  It means not having to cook.  It means getting off my aching feet and treating myself to some relaxation and reward, without any strings attached or need for justification.  It isn’t about the money or the “present,” it’s about the emotional support and the relief.

…Which is why I store away these little treats like I’m a squirrel.  I know that when those days creep up on me (which they’re sure to do), I’ll have some respite.  And in fact, when I find that Alamo Drafthouse coupon, I’m reminded how thankful I am to be a teacher, and to have that rapport with my students and their parents.  So the stress and the pressure fall away while I crunch away at my popcorn and watch Ryan Gosling on the big screen.

And sure, maybe I’m exaggerating.  But last night Jeff and I celebrated the return to school with a Roommate Dinner, and I used a Central Market gift card for ingredients typically outside my teacher budget.  While we were toasting our new classes and discussing lesson plans over bacon-wrapped scallops, I was also thinking that in some ways the gift card had come full-circle.  That dinner – and the items afforded by the gift – reminded me how very lucky I am.  I’d love my job regardless of these little “thank you” presents.  But they certainly don’t hurt.