Abandoned Southeast is a photoblog that documents the history and haunting beauty of abandoned buildings from Georgia to Louisiana, like the once-vibrant Booker T. Washington High School in New Orleans.
“The Worst Kid Ever.” I will always remember these words. They cut through my soul like hot butter on bread.
I’ve been in education for more than 25 years and never have I been more professionally despondent than I am at this very moment. Over the past 25 years, I have heard and seen a lot of things. Some cause my stomach to turn. While others cause my eyeballs to literally feel like they are going to roll out of my face. There are times when I cannot hold my tongue. Today was one of those times.
Like every day, I prefer to eat lunch in a classroom, office, anywhere but the staff lounge. It’s not that I don’t like the staff I work with. Most are actually pretty nice people. I just prefer to multitask while eating my lunch. It’s also a time when I can make personal phone calls if I need to or handle other personal business.
My lunch started off relatively quiet; relaxing. However, it was short lived, and in a big memorable way. When suddenly and without warning (if there could be any), I heard the teacher next door screaming “You’re the worst kid ever… I never worked with a kid as bad as you. You’re the baddest kid ever.” My heart sank and I could feel my blood pressure rise. I got up from my seat and walked to the classroom next door, peaked in the window of the door, and saw the teacher continually berating this kid while simultaneously pointing his finger at him, his head hanging low. Feeling helpless, I opened the classroom door, peaked my head inside the entrance, and asked the teacher “Would you like me to take him into my room?” The teacher responded “No, he’s OK. Now, he’ll be the best kid ever.”
Now for the record. I’m a black teacher. The student is a black male second grader and the other teacher is a white male. None of these details should really matter, because I would have been upset if the student was white, purple, or red. In my eyes, a child is a child. I have treated all students that I have come in contact with respect and dignity. What I saw and heard today was so disrespectful and unprofessional. It was abusive, negligent, and detrimental, and I’m feeling some kind of way about it. That teacher’s words still echoing in my brain. I still hear him. His voice reverberating off the wall, bouncing back and forth like tennis balls. His voice is haunting.
Honestly, I’m in shock. I’ve read newspaper articles about teachers abusing students. I’ve seen video clips on TV and the Internet, but this feels so surreal. It’s the kind of thing you hope you never have to witness or have firsthand knowledge of, but when you do, it rocks you to your core. It causes you to fall on your knees. It’s gonna be hard to get up from this one, but I know I must.
“Be careful how you react. Spills can be wiped up. Dishes and furniture can be replaced, but it takes a long time to fix a child’s broken heart.”
If your life is anything like mine, it’s crazy busy. There are times when I feel as though my head is on a swivel; that I’m on a merry-go-round that will never slow down and it’s moving at a dizzying pace, so much so that at times it’s diffiult to catch my breath, to see the beauty of life. One morning this week, as I prepared to walk out my door for work, I was presented with such an opportunity – to see how beautiful life can really be.
As usual, it was a busy morning. I had overslept and was running around like a chicken without her head, aimlessly wandering from one room of the house to the other, trying to get dressed for work. Between my wardrobe changes, I’d run over to my son and daughter a few times to sound the alarm,”5 minutes – I’m leaving in 5.” This is what I did almost every morning – warn them of how many minutes were left before I would leave the house; ready to abandon them if they were not ready. It’s really all a ploy to make sure I don’t have to wait on them and to ensure they were standing by the door when I was ready to leave the house.
This morning was no different. Chaos. Anything that could happen, would happen. A flat tire. Lost keys. A sick child. The utter of: “I don’t want to go to school.” Last minute requests – “Mom, I need money for…” “Can you sign this, mom?” Complaints – “There’s nothing in the fridge to make lunch.” Take your pick.
However, this morning’s chaos would be one for the books. Because I am so good at giving warnings, my teen daughter was already sitting in the mudroom waiting for me, when to my surprise, the doorbell rang. Stunned to hear it rang so early in the morning, me and our yapping dog who’s piercing bark is now drowning out the sound of the doorbell, raced frantically to see who was at the door. Of course, my daughter who was already sitting near the door was now peeking through the peephole.
“Open the door” I said. And there before my tired eyes was…my son. Looking him dead in his eyes, I asked “Why are you not at school? He needn’t answer. I had already decided that he had inconvenienced me. Standing there with a grin on his face that could light up any room, he uttered “I found this dog on my way to school. He’s lost.” I looked down and see this beautiful dog that looked like a mix of Alaskan Husky and Collie. “What do you want me to do about it?” I said. Without blinking, he says, “Help me find his owner. His address is on his collar.” “I am supposed to be at work. I’m going to be late.” I’m thinking to myself.
In the meantime, our dog is violently barking and about to bust through the storm door to get at this dog that is twenty times his size and who is as calm as a statue – unphased. On the flip side, I’m yelling at my daughter, “Get him! Put him upstairs!” With all the commotion, my sleep walking college student finally awakens and grabs hold of our dog. All of this happening during the wee hours of the morning was more than I could have imagined and more than my senses could muster.
Thinking how there is no way on earth, we’re having another dog, another dog in this house, I was moved to ask – “What’s the address?” Without paper and pen nor time to jot down the address or an updated phone with a GPS, I repeated the numbers (6 digits) over and over in my head until they found a place to settle in my brain. It was like I was having an out of body experience, as I found myself backing out of the driveway. Contemplating a drive around my neigborhood where almost all of the streets have the same suffix, I could not believe I was actually going to drive through my neighborhood to find the dog’s owner. Definitely, this was one of those times when I wanted to ignore the signs that adorned the neighborhood lawns which read “Drive like your children live here.”
As I drove in what seemed like circle after circle, overwhelmed I eventually gave up and returned home, saying something I thought I’d never have to say. “The three of you stay home and go find the dog’s owner. I have to get to work or I will be really late.” Pulling out of the driveway, there they stood – my three children with this dog that I prayed would be with his owner by the time I arrived home from work. He/she had to be. There was no way I was living with another dog. No way. I already live with three children, a dog, and a husband. Five was enough.
My drive to work was not the relaxing drive I’m used to – not the time to take a deep breath and enjoy the scenery. Instead, I was making to do lists in my head, and now at the top of that list was sending emails to teachers, explaining why two of my three children would be absent from school.
“Would locating a lost dog’s owner be an excused or unexcused absent?” I thought as I conjurred up the words to explain in the email that my son is not in school today, because he was searching for the owner of a lost dog he found wandering about, on his way to school. He wasn’t at school, because he overslept, because he was moving at snail’s pace, or because he couldn’t find something of importance to him. On the contrary, he was absent from school, because of his heart. That’s what the email response from his principal stated:
“Excuse ____ for having a kind heart.”
I almost missed it. This moment. Beneathe all the chaos, I almost missed this moment to see my son as a beautiful and compassionate human being – someone who cares for others. Surely, there were other students who saw this lost dog wandering about, but perhaps, like me, they too were in such a rush. Too busy to see what was in front of them; too harried to pay attention, because the merry-go-round of life was going so fast, that they too could hardly catch their breath.
The dog was reunited with its owner. My son went to school late. And my heart has been cracked wide open. Thank you son for pulling me off my merry go-round – if only for a moment.
Mothering is an art, not science. No one is going to do it the way you do it or see it as you do. Don’t compare yourself to other mothers. Not only are you different, but your canvas is different. The brushes and color palette you select to shape and groom your beloved children will also be unique. The saying “different strokes for different folks” never rang truer than it does when parenting. New mothers are the target of countless advice of what to do and what not to do. I include myself amongst those advising as evident by this post! My point is glean from the noise what is important for your journey and don’t be afraid to say “No, thank you.” Note the comment section on my blog!
You’re not butter, jam, or any of those delish condiments, so don’t spread yourself thin. You can’t be all things to all people, and that includes your children. What you do for one child, doesn’t have to be done for the other child. Instead focus on what each child needs. Just because you buy a pair shoes for one child, doesn’t mean you have to buy shoes for the other child. I once met a mother who had one child in private school and the other child in a public school. Young, I silently questioned this mother’s motive. Later, I learned that educationally, one child needed something different that was not being provided by the public school her child attended. Being equitable is a far more effective way to parent than being equal, because it shows your children you are paying to attention to their individual needs, and not always to what they want.
Don’t do for your children, what they can do for themselves. Ask yourself what kind of adult do you want your children to grow up to be? Do you want them to be dependent or independent adults? Reliant or self-reliant? Make no mistake. The human condition is optimised when we love, show generosity, and support each other. Love your children abundantly, but do not spoil them. For a spoiled child becomes not only a spoiled adult, but one that is self-centred, dependent, and entitled and who will one day undoubtedly face a world that is not so equal or equitable.
Here lies some other examples… When babies are learning to eat, we teach them how to hold a spoon; we help them to move it toward their mouth so they can feed themselves. And, when it’s time to potty train, we teach the boys to aim. We even provide target practice to amuse them! Once babies start gaining control and strength in their bodies, we support them as they labor to stand upright and then walk, holding on to their tiny hands with every step. But then… After a while, we know we have to let go to see if they can do it alone. Inevitably, they fall on their tush and we help them get back up again! But, soon they learn to get up on their own. These examples show there’s balance that exist in early mothering that for some of us becomes lost as our children grow emotionally, socially, and developmentally.
Create beautifully. The universe is counting on you.
I just finished listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, for the second time. It’s been a few months since I first listened to it and when I started it again, I thought: Why did I wait so long to listen to this book again? Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear […]
We are gathered here today and every day to play this game called life. This game will commence, progress, and at some point end, with or without us. Regardless of who we are, our position in life, or what we’ve been through, if we’re here, we’ve been drafted by a higher power to fully participate. This is a commonality we all share.
Some of us are in the bleachers, in the dugout, and some of us manage to make it onto the ball field. Others may even feel that they’re not playing the game at all – they’re not moving in the directions of their dreams. Those who partake in the game may feel as though the game never goes their way. No matter how hard they work, they feel they never achieve that home run; they’re always striking out. They always come up short.
That damn ball is always being thrown over their head, below their belt, and those times when it finally seems to be headed directly towards them, they swing the bat with all they’ve got and “low and behold” the ball hits them square in the face. Life has a way of feeling like that – a “hit or miss.” It causes you to not want to take chances; to not put yourself in a vulnerable position. But, let’s own this: When we step out and onto the field of dreams, we are bound to limp away battered and bruised.
I’m here to tell you “Be encouraged.” Wherever you are in life; whatever your lot is – again whether you’re in the bleachers, in the dugout, carrying the water cooler, or on the field, – walk, run, skip, jump, hop, shit scoot if you have to, but MOVE in the direction of your dreams. And… like Iyanla Vanzant once said, “If you feel some pee trickling down your legs” you’re headed down the right path; you’re pursuing your purpose and living your authentic life. Dream big, Do big. Play this game as hard as you can; until the big umpire in the sky says “You’re out!”
While sitting in a restaurant enjoying Valentine’s Day dinner with my husband, we were engaged in our usual conversation about our kids, family plans, the movie we had just seen, and the menu in which we were about to order from. He had his phone in his hand, thumbing through social media and I was eyeing the restaurant menu when suddenly he said, “I see you had a moment last night.” Brows raised, I was trying to wrap my brain around what he meant. “I see you posted something about your mom on Facebook.” He said. “Oh yea” I replied. “You saw that, huh?” What I wanted to say was “Baby, I didn’t have a moment. This is where I reside.” For me, life will always be divided into two defining moments- before and after my mom’s death. I exist in both. But, no longer do I feel shackled by grief. Of course I miss her. I miss her terribly every hour of every day, but I would not call those moments. It’s just my life now. It’s part of who I am.
He has both his parents. I don’t. My dad died when I was 13 years old. Thirty-two years later, I lost my mom. older, I had a much harder time handling and accepting my mom’s passing. To say I was devastated would be an understatement.
Grief held on to me as if his life depended on me, as if I was his life jacket. And, I not knowing what else to do or who to turn to, I gave in to him. I tossed out that life jacket into what felt like the very bottom of the ocean’s depth. I freed grieve. I resuscitated him and in turn he breathed depression, anxiety,and panic attacks into my being. For the first time in my life I felt mentally unstable. Fragile. This went on intensely for about a year and less so, off and on for about 4 years.
My first panic attack happened at work. It was November of 2008. The week after Thanksgiving. I had just return from Atlanta, where I enjoyed celebrating Thanksgiving with my family. Although, I didn’t know it then (or maybe I did), my mom was at the end of her battle, her life. However, looking back, I am convinced my body, my subconscious knew she was dying.
That day every thing seemed normal. I was a staff development teacher at the time. My colleagues and I were having a lunch meeting when without warning, I began taking rapid breaths. My heart beats went from what felt like zero to a thousand within seconds. Beyond scared, I told my colleagues that I thought I was having a heart attack and to call an ambulance. The doctors ran every test imagineable on my heart and found nothing. A few days later, I would have another attack at home. This time violently hyperventilating, I really felt I was going to die. In the ER again, I was given a shot of Ativan. This time, my heart beats did the reverse, taking me on a slow nose dive to somewhere between normal to a catatonic state. It reminded me of Diana Ross in the movie “Lady Sings the Blues” when she was put in isolation and left to detox. All I could do was curl up into a fetal position to comfort myself until it (the let down) was over. There were several more panic attacks after that, most less severe, but there was one I will never forget as long as I live.
I had just driven my son and daughter to school. I was feeling fine. It was a beautiful morning. I was ready for the day, excited to see my teacher clients. Within 5 minutes of dropping them off, I was sitting in my car waiting for the traffic light to turn green when my focus quickly shifted to the rising I felt inside my body. It’s hard to explain. But, I had become accustomed to the symptoms of panic attacks and I knew then I was about to have one. Even so, it didn’t matter what I knew, that I recognize the onslaught. They always scared me to death. I always felt like I was losing control. Like this is it. I’m gonna die right here, right now. I drove like a bat outta hell to the nearest hospital, about 7 minutes away; running red lights and stop signs. When I finally reached the ER, I jumped out of my car, leaving the car engine running and the door open, exclaiming to everyone that I was having a heart attack. The thing is, I probably knew I wasn’t, but pyschologically and physically I felt it to be true. To me, it was truer than anything.
Again, the diagnosis was panic attack. By this time the doctors had become familiar with me. My frequent visits to the ER had created a long wrap sheet. “Do you have a psychiatrist?” The doctor asked. Surprised, I said “No.” “You should see one.” He recommended. “Me??” I thought. I was completed and unequivocally baffled. But, the thought did not escape me that the doctor thought I was crazy.
Growing up, and especially growing up black, psychiatrists were reserved for crazy people, the mentally disabled. We, as black people just did not see psychiatrists. We suffered in silence; kept it on the down low, on the hush-hush. Our fears were always brought to the Lord in church and on our knees.
After researching panic attacks, I learned that it IS a mental disorder , one that is rooted in fear. But… What did I have to fear? I didn’t feel afraid. Eventually, I did see a psychiatrist who talked to me, prescribed meds, and told me I needed to see a therapist to get at the heart of my worries, my fears.
My god, I’ve seen so many therapists since my mother’s passing; sat on so many couches – many of which were uncomfortable, so uncomfortable that I’d leave without notice. This whole thing being so new to me, I guess I didn’t know what to expect, but it didn’t feel right. They didn’t feel right, the therapists that is. The whole thing felt very sterile.
After a couple of years of working with a therapist who mixes a variety of methodologies and styles (e.g. Prayer, meditation, tapping, coaching, and honest conversation), I finally found someone I can open up to. What I have learned about myself is that I have fears, the one that connects most to the lost of my mom, is getting the same cancer she died from. Because, I look so much like her, I have felt that her fate is mine. . What I have learned through therapy is that although I am my mother’s daughter, I am not her. I am me. Her life, is not mine.
I no longer have those “moments” my husband described over dinner. They come too often to be given such a title. They just are. An unknown author once wrote:
“I had my own idea of grief. I thought it was a sad time that followed the death of someone you love. And you had to push through it to get to the other side. I am learning there is no other side. There is no pushing through anything, but rather an absorption, adjustment, an acceptance. Grief is not something you complete, but rather endure. Grief is not a task you finish or move on. But, an element of yourself; an alteration of your being. A new way of seeing. A new definition of yourself.”
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote:
“The reality is you will grieve forever. You will to learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again, but you will never be the same again. Nor should you be the same; nor should you want to.”
No moments here. I’ve been over the mountains and through the valleys. I’ve gone skydiving off that mountain. I’ve walked through the valley with blindfolds on, wandering aimlessly to find my way. It was a long haul. Along the way, I lost a lot of baggage, but grief remained in tow. By all means, lighter than before. Nonetheless, still there to remind me of the great love I lost. No moments here.