Replenishing My Bucket

Tom Rath presented a wonderful analogy of interactions and their effect on people in his book How Full Is Your Bucket? The premise is simple: either you have a positive interaction which adds to your bucket, or a less rewarding interaction that empties it a bit. You also do this to yourself through positive and negative self-talk. Big interactions reap big effects, sometimes filling that bucket up to overfull and sometimes emptying it till all that’s left are pieces of lint and rust — kind of like burning the candle at both ends and getting singed in the process. In the spirit of overextending metaphors as I do and using the bucket analogy of life, some people are bucket heads, some people put out fires with their buckets and some people share the water in their buckets until there’s nothing left for them.

This brings me to May. April is the cruelest month for T.S. Eliot and tax preparers; May is the cruelest month for teachers. We walk around like extras on The Walking Dead, shuffling with arms outstretched in an effort to catch that last little morsel of learning (braiinnnnnnnss) and prove to the students that they really can master the concept we’re teaching. Teachers are committed, desperately so, to the notion that our students are important. Their futures matter, their psyches matter, and their goals matter. I don’t have time for the argument about the bored teacher who gave up on the students; I only have time to be inspired, so I look for those teachers. They are abundant and cross all grade and subject areas.

As a buffer to the news, to the end-of-course exams, and to the students’ burn-out, I have devised a few strategies to keep my bucket full:

  • Thank you notes. I write positive notes to parents, to the students, to my teacher friends, to anyone who could use a smile. They include emoji stickers or scratch and sniffs because stickers are a universal smile inducer. If you don’t like stickers, I will stay away from you, I promise.
  • Candy. Yes, it is not healthy, and no, I don’t care. I share my candy. My friends at work know where I keep the goody stash, and unbeknownst to them, they are the ones I buy it for. Very rarely do the students get the chocolate; that’s an adult reward.
  • No surprise here, I keep a gratitude journal. Each day, I write down three things I am grateful for and three things I hope for. I don’t write a to-do list; those things get freakishly long and I do best focusing on one thing at a time.
  • Inappropriate lyrics to songs. I rework lyrics to songs when I need to regroup. Fortunately for the world, I keep it in my head. The cadence of Frozen is a good one to use: “F—it all, F – it all, stop passing notes in class,” will usually yield a smile wide enough to make the students wonder what I’m up to. That’s all anyone hopes for: curiosity on the part of their students.
  • Award certificates – I derive fiendish glee in making award certificates for ridiculous categories and giving them to people. It’s like a sticker, only more official looking.
  • Exercise. I hate it that I typed that, but it’s true. Exercise helps keep me from burning out.

The reason I write about the book and my strategies is that I needed every single one this past week. It was a whopper in teacher-land: students who didn’t want to take finals (like, who does?), colleagues who are overwhelmed, way too many social events and way to little sleep. Added to that, I will miss the students. There are plenty of memes and video clips out there about people counting down the last days of school, but I don’t. It makes me feel a little bittersweet. When we do our job well, our students leave us. With all the tribulations of testing and grading, the graduations and the celebrations (I don’t know why I needed three –tions, but there it is), my bucket’s wobbling a bit. I have to remind myself that the best part of this time of year is the hope. The graduates, the transitioning students, the parents: we’re all looking forward to a notion, an idea that the next great adventure is on the horizon and that the people who are important to us are ready for it. For me, that next great adventure involves sleep and a trip to the bucket store.



Jawline Journeys


Last Thursday I had my final appointment at my TMJ doctor’s office. TMJ, in all its acronym-istic glory, stands for the temporomandibular joint, a disorder of the jaw, where the joint is misaligned, misplaced, or gone fishing. For the last fiveish years, I’ve been treated for a case of TMJ so wondrous that my jaw locked and my mouth wouldn’t open all the way. While it wasn’t all that unusual to my doctor, it was weird to me, painful, caused headaches, and seriously impacted my ability to eat food. It wasn’t life-threatening, I kept reminding myself, but it was definitely life impacting. Initially, I realized I might have a medical problem when I began having to cut bananas because I couldn’t open my mouth wide enough to eat one straight out of the peel. I figured the locked jaw would clear up on its own. When it didn’t get any better and, in fact, got worse, I went to the doctor. This was about six months after my jaw locked for the first time. I’m an idiot.

I have mentioned before that I adore this doctor and his entire office staff. They were professional, fun, pleasant, and tolerant of the fact that Italklikethisallthetime. They got used to the jokes I’d tell when I was nervous, and the fact that when I’m scared I will hold someone’s hand, doesn’t really matter whose. This only happened once, my first treatment, and then I was fine, mostly because they were fine and we could all be fine together. Their calm was sustaining.

My jaw tendons required a type of therapy that redirected the tendons back to where they were supposed to be. The tendons were stubborn, much like the owner of the jaw they were misbehaving in, but eventually they realized that my doctor was the boss of them and they’d better stay put. For the first time in ever, I followed directions. You want me to practice opening my mouth to the point just after discomfort but just before it feels like it has been hit by a jackhammer? Okey doke. You want me to wear an appliance that holds my mouth somewhat open while I teach middle school? Ummmm, okay. You want me to use warm compresses twice daily? You betcha. I’ll see those compresses and raise you one more. I would have attempted to stand on my head and recite the Pledge of Allegiance to my jaw if that had been prescribed. Thankfully, it wasn’t. I can’t stand on my head any more without a wall to stabilize me.

Eventually, the pain went away, the mobility improved, and then finally, I could chew big people food again. Do not underestimate how awesome it is to eat food with your teeth and jaws working together in harmonious tandem. It’s glorious. First, I could eat a banana without a fork and knife. Then ground meat. Then chicken. Finally, nachos. God, how I missed nachos. Once I could eat them again, I cried real tears of real joy over how great it is to eat without first cutting food into bite-size pieces.

I didn’t really think about the fact that there would come a day when I would no longer need jaw therapy, even though I joked that I was looking forward to missing them. This past Thursday was that day. My doctor measured my ability to open my mouth, checked the alignment of my jawline, and pronounced me good to go. As in leave. As in all done. While I was thrilled to be rehabilitated, I found myself wondering who was going to need their hand held, or who was going to give the office staff goodies to celebrate the wonders of chewing, or even who was going to like them as much as I do. Of course, I realize that there are already patients under their care who fill all of those categories. It’s just not going to be me.

With hugs to anyone within reaching distance, I graduated from the office. Like all good patient-graduates, though, I consider that place an Alma Mater of sorts. Every time I chew food without cringing or yawn without tearing up, I will remember them with thanks.


30 Days of Blogging–Goal Achieved!

After a month of blogging for the sheer joy of sharing my passing, quirky thoughts with people, I pause to celebrate my self-assigned challenge of posting every day for 30 days, fully well realizing this particular project isn’t complete. I met the construct of the assignment I gave myself, and in so doing, I saw what I care most about.

For instance, in everything I decided to consider, so many more ponderous ideas flitted around my noggin. There is a huge part of me that would have commented on the whole Donald Trump running for President scenario, but I haven’t written about train wrecks yet, so I won’t start now. You’re welcome. I also realized that I type almost the exact opposite of what worries or concerns me on a particular day. For those of us who read as a form of escape, the same is true for those of us who like to entertain and inform. I don’t type specifically about the issues pressing most on my heart and in my mind largely because I can’t address the larger issues of my life’s focus in fewer than 1,000 words. There’s no particular word count limit to what I produce, but I have considered my blog a drive-by along the path of someone’s day, not a sit-down experience. I may change that soon.

I have learned that verb tense switching is annoying and also runs amok on my pages, the byproduct of the fact that I live in the present with nods to future and past imperfect (subjunctive because it is, after all, myself I write about, and perfection isn’t the motif of my days). Time is a nebulous concept to me, as evidenced by the boxes I sorted through recently. If my children’s graduation programs can sit in the same box as their preschool artwork, believe me that I have no trouble with the notion that past, present, and future are all hanging out in my noggin clamoring for representation on the page.

Carving out a spot of time to participate in something I love, it turns out, is part of the USRDA for self-actualization. I am pretty sure my husband feels the same rejuvenation after working on the truck – even when the truck isn’t cooperating. My words haven’t always run out of my brain into my fingertips, as can be seen in the range of topics I write about. There was one night I almost wrote about what I had for dinner a la the YouTube “What I ate today” genre, but I stopped myself because my fingers refused to type something quite that idiotic.

Here I sit, a few hours before I go to vote because, wow, do we all need to engage in the democratic process this year. I may go back to posting once a week, I may continue to post more. Either way, I am grateful that I decided to see what would happen if I wrote every day.

A Moment of Zen

One of my favorite quotespirational phrases is this: “The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” This is two parts “D-uh!!” and one part “Oh, yeah. Great idea.” So much of a day is busy, noisy, rushed, frantic. There’s no particular reason for days to pace themselves that way except for the fact that they do. I leap from my cozy bed at 5:35 (well, trudge) and rush to the shower to perform my ablutions before wolfing down my breakfast, wishing my husband a good day and arriving at work by 7:00, maybe 7:10 to greet the students who come in early for homework help. It’s a busy and rewarding existence.

And then there was today. The students have been moody, too much drama interfering with too many deadlines and too little sleep. I can sympathize. We’ve been studying Black History Month with my own personal flair tossed in: kindness matters, and inspiration takes many forms. Today we were scheduled to have a debate over which figure most inspired them, but due to some pretty hefty distractions, I revamped the lesson plan.  Instead of a debate, we had an inspiration discussion.

The students wrote passages about their person and took the framework of understanding. For example, one normally truculent 8th grader wrote, “I understand why someone would find Neil deGrasse Tyson inspirational because of his contribution to science and learning, but I prefer Maya Angelou because her imagery and voice make me want to be a better person.”  Instead of the usual middle-school banter that greets a typical day of learning, we were all a little quieter, more reflective, and definitely kinder.

In one of the classes, a student who would usually rather clean his shoes than write, wrote a passage so tremendous the class gave him a standing ovation. “Are you a writer?” I asked him. After a lopsided grin, he quietly answered, “I guess I can’t say no anymore, so I’ll say yes.”

The most amazing thing about this day wasn’t necessarily that this student wrote for the first time, or that classmates supported each other, it was that all the lessons building up to today let them take charge of their learning. I didn’t talk much today, I just listened to them compliment each other, offer productive input, and give each other standing ovations. In other words, because I wasn’t flapping my jaws incessantly, I was able to hear their pride, feel their risk-taking, and join the spirit of the moment.

They taught me more today than I have learned in my 12 previous years of teaching. Their lesson: listen more, talk less.

I Want A Pony

My extended family used to utter a phrase when we wanted extra attention for no particular reason: “I want a pony.” Were we an equestrian family? Nope. I am guessing here, but I think the only types of horses any of us rode were of the petting zoo variety. Well, except for that time that I went to the rodeo and sat on a really tall thoroughbred. That beautiful horse judged me, wouldn’t move, didn’t care that the owner was cajoling it to “trot.” It walked maybe four steps and then turned and entered the corral. I’d been dismissed by a horse. This is only to illustrate that I have no particular interest in horses, ponies, donkeys, or any other neighing and braying critter.

Except for when I want attention. Then I want a pony, a parade, cookies, streamers, and crowds of people cheering. Recently, after five years of treatment for a jaw situation, I had run the last lap of orthodontia and went to my getting-the-braces-off appointment. After the doctor, who I adore by the way, removed the last bracket and buffed my teeth to opalescent, coffee-stained goodness, I looked at my slimy teeth and grinned. I had made it through this odd and tangled adventure of pain and procedure, therapy, and finally, braces. I hugged everyone in the office, which surprised one of the staff members because I hadn’t met him before. I really didn’t care; I was celebrating freedom, the ability to eat nachos, peanuts, and even a – hands on heart – Snickers bar. Wow. Goodness. I had to sit and think about the choices.

I texted friends and family that my teeth were unshackled, sang songs the whole way home, and entered the house rejoicing. You can predict this: it didn’t matter to anyone. Not my husband, who has had to kiss me with all my appliances over these years; and certainly not my son, who didn’t care what my mouth looked like. I posted a quick text on my social media, and was congratulated with happiness and celebration. But where was my pony? I could now chew, yawn, and grin without reflecting light, so there should be some sort of festival in my honor, right?

Wrong. The world did not know how much it hurt to chew because I never said anything. No one much cared that I looked a little funky; they’d comment, and then move on with the course of their day. I remain grateful for this. Occasionally someone would mention what a trooper I was being, but that was also only in passing. After all the treatment, I wanted a super duper trooper poster with a balloon bouquet, even though it would have been silly to receive one.

I type sheepishly now because I know that I was being self-centered. My jaw situation (TMJ for those who like maxilofacial conditions) was remedied. My doctor was amazing, patient, told jokes, and let me talk incessantly about my job and whatever else was on my mind at the time of the appointments. I’m pretty sure if anyone deserves a pony, it’s probably him for having to put up with my threats to shoot at him with the rubber bands of my braces.

Last week my in-laws sent a package to the family because they’re cool like that. In it, they included a card with a note congratulating me on making it through my treatment. I cried. Ponies come in all shapes and sizes, and mine was a quick note. I write this rumination now because I know it’s my turn to give someone else a pony. After all, the whole point of the metaphorical pony is to let someone know you’re thinking of them even if their situation isn’t that big a deal.