Saturday, August 16, 2014

Grandma Ginny

Admittedly, I am terribly awkward in emotional situations and never know the right things to say or do.  This is why I either eat or write my feelings and why I am currently wiping chocolate chip cookie grease from my hands in order to try to think of the right words to write words to capture something important.  I want to somehow do justice to my Grandma Ginny.  The good news is that when you are a true original and classic like Ginny, the stories really write themselves.

There are so many things that are quintessential Grandma Ginny that the only trouble is knowing where to start.  Many of my earliest and many of my fondest memories of her involve holidays.  She prided herself on taking each of her grandchildren out for a date on their birthdays.  I was treated to years and years of these, with dinners at Ponderosa (one of her favorites) or Finley's (one of my favorites) followed by a trip to a toy store to pick out whatever my heart desired.  I remember there was one year when I had my heart set on a baby doll that was more than the amount I was supposed to spend.  Grandma tried for a few minutes to convince me how fabulous the other toys were, but she ended up caving and getting me the doll anyway.  There was another year when she somehow got lost on the way back to our house, and I fell asleep in the passenger seat, no help to her.  If I'm remembering right, there were deer involved.  We got an extra long date that year!  Classic Ginny.

I have to say, though, that the greatest gift my grandma ever gave to me was my dad.  It is clear to anyone who knows the man that he is that she and my grandpa did something right... a lot of somethings.  I never got to meet my grandpa, but the parts of my grandma that show up in Dad are clearly recognizable, from his stubborn nature to the silly faces and noises that he makes.  It takes a good woman to be a great mother (she was to six kids, a slew of grandkids, and even a bunch of great grandkids), and I think it takes an even greater woman to raise a great man.  Dad is proof of how well she did in that area.

The gifts didn't stop with her own family, though.  She started a family tradition of taking in "strays".  I don't just mean the cats she'd always leave food outside her door for, either.  There were lots of human strays, too. I remember my dad talking about how she'd make them share toys with random kids from the orphanage that she'd have over at their house, and I can remember countless holidays where we'd all be elbowing each other and whispering, wondering who in the world all of the guests were.  As the kids and grandkids grew older, we started to bring our own strays around for the holidays, friends who needed a place to go, and they were always welcomed with open arms and without question.

Many other great memories were made on Christmas Eve.  This was always at Grandma's house, where she was surrounded by her kids and grandkids and some darn good cheesy potatoes and cocktail weenies.  Grandma was an excellent cook, and although some claimed sometimes that she "ate like a bird", I'm not sure there was ever a Christmas Eve where she didn't end up with some food on herself and on the floor.  I'd like to think that maybe I got those things from her.  It wasn't Christmas Eve without an awkward weenie joke made by someone, the potatoes setting on fire, and Grandma scratching off a pile of scratch off tickets while asking "Now why'd you do that? You shouldn't have done that!" about all of her other gifts. Classic Ginny.

I'll never forget the Christmas Eve when Tom and I were newly engaged, and I brought him around to meet my Dad's family for the first time.  As was customary, we left our shoes in the dining room and headed to the living room to hang out.  A few minutes later, we heard Grandma in the dining room.

"Whose shoes are these?"
"They're Tom's shoes, Ma," my dad said.
"Ooh.  Good for Jess!"

Thus, Tom was welcomed into the family.  Classic Ginny.

You see, Grandma Ginny was never shy about anything. This was apparent from her unabashed love of the"Talk Sex with Sue Johanson" tv show, her shameless flirting, and the TMI real talk she shared with us.  I found this gem of advice from her in one of my first blogs ever from Christmas Eve

"If you please your man, he won't mess around on you. I used to do it with your grandpa every Saturday morning. That's how Terry and Lynn were made."

Grandma's audacity even led us to coin a term for her that has been used with delight by our family for years. It began when we were visiting her one day, and she offered us a piece of a dessert she had made.  We refused because it was supposed to be for a potluck she was going to, and we didn't want to be rude.  It wasn't until we looked at what she was offering that we realized that there was already a piece missing and cracked up.  Her philosophy?  She made it.  She ought to be able to try it whenever she wanted!  A few years ago, I had an assignment for a grad class that required me to bring something in for a potluck that represented something about my family heritage or history.  I beamed with pride as the entire class delighted at my Ginny'd dessert. Classic Ginny.

There was also a softer side.  Another earlier memory I have of Grandma Ginny was when I was sick.  I was having digestive issues and was absolutely miserable.  She stayed with me, rubbed my back all day, and showed me compassion even when I was cranky and stinky.  That's classic Ginny too.

Even at 92 years old, Grandma was a woman with almost as many hobbies as years under her belt.  She golfed and bowled late into her life.  Even when she didn't do either super well, she did them with gusto!  She liked to go on senior trips and to casinos, and we'd joke about how she'd always be the one that "wandered off the tour."  She collected perfume bottles that filled shelves and shelves all over her house.  She was an avid church goer and involved in all kinds of church business.  She worked at the Jackson Space Center for years after my grandpa passed away and introduced us to space ice cream, something I still love to find in museum gift shops.  She kept up with the latest gossip and goings-on through listening to a police scanner and even called one time as we were discovering our house had been robbed to make sure we were okay. She filled pages and pages of diaries.  Given what she was willing to share publicly, I can only imagine what those private thoughts must hold.  She never had a computer or took to the internet, but I bet she could have written a blog that would have given people something to talk about!  She always sent cards for birthdays and anniversaries and cracked us up with her comments when we'd call to thank her.  She was a busy lady who was never too busy to spend time with her family or let them know that she loved them.  It was all just classic Ginny.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention what was arguably her most classic line of all.  No matter what came her way, Grandma always had two simple words for any situation: "I'm fine."  Maybe it was the stubborn Spencer woman in her that refused to admit that there might ever be something she couldn't handle.  The freezer went kaput? She turned it into a pantry.  She was clumsy and always taking a spill somewhere?  The way she remembered it, she used to jump over barrels on ice skates.  Maybe the "I'm fine" came from the fact that she had been through so much that even the big things could seem little to her.  She survived giving birth to six children, breast cancer, the death of her husband and a son, and anything else that came her way. Even as she was in her last few hours, semi-conscious and barely able to speak, my dad reported that she was still insisting to her sister, "I'm fine."  It doesn't get more classic Ginny than that.

Grandma, you left a mark on all of us who loved you.  You Ginny'd our world, and there will always be a piece missing now that you're not in it anymore.  You will live on in your sassy daughters, your sons who aren't afraid to be sensitive, and the hilarious memories you created for all of your grandchildren and great grandchildren.  Thanks for always taking us in your arms, pecking our cheeks, and telling us that you loved us very much.  There is comfort in knowing that for the first time in decades, you will be in the arms of the men you have loved all your life: your beloved Buysse, your Tim, and your Heavenly Father.

"Be not afraid
I go before you always
Come follow Me
And I will give you rest."

Rest peacefully tonight, Grandma.  Judging by the thunder we're having here tonight, there's a rowdy game of bowling for you to join with Grandpa tomorrow.  Love you.


Friday, May 9, 2014

Worthwhile File

One of the best pieces of teaching advice I've ever gotten was to create a "worthwhile file".  Mine is actually a file folder, and it's full of reminders of why I love my job.  There are notes, cards, and pictures from students, parents, and other teachers that make me smile and feel a few inches taller when I read them.  Don't tell anyone, but I've also kept some carbon copies of detentions past students have gotten (we used to get copies any time one of our Ac Lab students was written up by someone) that make me giggle.  Maybe giggle is an understatement.  Anyway, I look through it from time to time for a boost, but its real purpose is for days like today as a reminder of why it's worth it to work through the tough days.  Today was one of those tough days.

I don't ever want to publicly complain about my job.  I've said it before, and I'll say it again-- being a teacher is an honor and a privilege, and I feel blessed every day that I get to be one.  EVERY day.  Truly.  I also don't want to be too specific because maintaining the privacy of my students is important to me (although if you ask me about those funny detentions, I'd be happy to share a story or two that will make you pee your pants).  With all that being said, here's what I think it all boils down to for me today:

One of the hardest parts of my job is investing everything I have but feeling powerless when kids make bad decisions.

It's incredibly rewarding to see students grow and shine.  When I can give them skills and tools and challenges and then sit back and watch them accomplish things all on their own, it's one of the most amazing feelings in the world.  It's also so much fun to watch kids be kids.  They're silly and creative and wonderful when left to their own devices.  Unfortunately, the opposite is also true.  Kids who act like kids do not always produce rainbows and sunshine.  Allowing them the freedom to make their own decisions also gives them the opportunity to make bad ones.  Bad ones with consequences.  As we get closer to the end of the school year, some of these kids that I have loved and enjoyed all year are not making the kinds of decisions that we've taught them to make.  Our best laid plans and discussions and investments of time and energy are just not always going to be enough.  They do dumb things because they're still just kids, and that's what teenagers do sometimes.  They don't think, they act, and they can throw away all of their hard work and progress with some nasty words or actions in the blink of an eye, leaving me sick to my stomach and teary-eyed on the sidewalk, watching the bus drive away, hoping it was the last big bad decision and hoping that they'll be back to finish out the year strong after a week away.  Patterns have to change.  Cycles have to be broken.  Even though I know each student makes his or her own decisions, I really do KNOW this is true, it's so hard not to take the weight of their worlds on my shoulders.  I'm a fixer.  I'm a make it betterer.  That's my job.  It's the naive hope I had when I signed up for this whole business, and it's what I still carry with me today.  Let's save them all!

"People cry not because they're weak.  It's because they've been strong for too long."

This is why I need the worthwhile file.  It doesn't take the weight off, but it tips the balance back to even, and, in some cases, helps me to remember that we really can save a lot of them.  It gives me the deep desire to jump back in and get back at it.  My job, after all, is one of the most worthwhile ways I can think of to spend my time (the others, of course, have to include some type of family, friends, church, food, and alcohol).

I'm excited for Monday.  I really am. I need a weekend to energize with many of the things mentioned above and to read over the worthwhile file again(yeah... I brought it home), and then I'll get to try again.  Monday can be a great day.  I'm going to make sure it is.

Thank you, worthwhile file, you made my day.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The One Who Listened

The warm-up today for my students was to reflect on and write about an MLK quote I had on the board.  I had also written "Happy (belated) MLK Day!" because this was our first day back since Monday.  A student raised his hand and asked, "What's milk day?"  I played along with the joke and made some kind of remark about how we should all bring in a quarter for our little cartons of milk, and we could have snack time, and...

... and then I realized that he wasn't joking.  Like, not at all.  Le sigh.  Really?  I mean, really?  Milk Day?  

To be fair, he also thinks that Americans speak American and Canadians speak Canadian, so his lack of common sense is not limited to history.  He's equal opportunity in these types of questions, and the rest of us do the best we can to handle answering them with humor and grace... and maybe a dash or two of sarcasm.

When someone else asked later in the day why we didn't celebrate MLK Day during Black History Month, I held my breath, hoping that this conversation would not be a repeat of our morning history lesson.  Instead, before I could form a response, another student chimed in:

"Well, you see, Martin Luther King, Jr.'s actual birthday is January 15, but..." 

And he went on to answer the question with what I'm guessing was pretty much verbatim what he had heard in his history class.  I thanked him profusely for this gem of knowledge and promised to put in a good word with his history teacher.  I wonder if there's a way I could subtly strike up a friendship between him and my good ol' milk buddy.  A girl can dream.  You know, like that milk guy did?

Thank you, the one who listened, you made my day.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Baby Butt Cheeks

When we lived in Seattle, we paid top dollar to be able to watch the sun rise over Lake Union from our tiny one bedroom apartment.  It really was breathtakingly beautiful and one of those kinds of views you don't take for granted, even seeing it day after day.

It turns out that the best things in life are free, though.  One of my favorite things in life is the view I now get of some tiny little butt cheeks sprinting from the nursery to the tub when it's bath time.

"My blessings are in front of me, it's not about the land
I'll never beat the view from my front porch looking in

I see what beautiful is about
When I'm looking in, not when I'm looking out

'Cause anywhere I'll ever go and everywhere I've been
Nothing takes my breath away like my front porch looking in."


From the Seattle sunrises to the St. Louis moons, we have been so richly blessed.

Thank you, baby butt cheeks, you made my day.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Neighbor on the Payroll

I should be excited that I had a Snow Day today instead of having to go back from break.  The truth is that I have four hours worth of professional development to facilitate tomorrow and a penchant for Lifetime movies when I'm at home sitting on the couch, so I ended up going into work for a few hours anyway.

When I got home, I decided that the driveway wasn't going to shovel itself.  I also thought Tom would be pleasantly surprised if I took care of it, and he might even make me some hot chocolate with little marshmallows as a reward (he did, by the way, after I asked him nicely).

I made the mistake of not wearing any head covering, as my hair was piled up in a rushed hot mess from this morning.  As I was nearing the end of the driveway and the conclusion that my ears would freeze off and I would have to live without them, my neighbor from across the road came out.  He hollered a hello, and I quickly greeted him with a frozen smile.  He pulled up to our driveway in his truck and slowly rolled his window down.

"Now I really see why he married you!"

I finished with a grin and an extra spring in my step (as much as you can "spring" in snow, I suppose).

I remember a similar incident to this from a few years ago where I got a "You go girl!" from our self- proclaimed "Mobsta" neighbor.  It must be that it's cheaper for Tom to keep the neighbors on the payroll than it is for him to pay someone to come shovel while he's gone. ;)

Thank you, neighbor on the payroll, you made my day.