Honey, I’m Home

I was mesmerized by the massive gray clouds, and I realized I could see miles of them. It wasn’t just over our city like in Poland; it stretched well into the next county. And I thought it was beautiful. Seeing for miles and miles was a treat. I could see where I had been and where I was going; I felt like I had my compass reset.

Our adventure in Poland is over, and we are home in Texas. I’ve been giddy about it since we landed, and I kissed the ground at DFW.

And lo, the glory of Texas shone all around her booted toes.

And lo, the glory of Texas shone all around her booted feet.

Our first dinner in America? Sonic corn dogs and cheeseburgers. Or, as I like to call them, ‘Merica Meats. We’ve had my mother’s homemade tacos and chili con queso. We’ve had bagels and Lucky Charms. I’ve even already had my parents over for dinner in our new apartment. It’s a culinary wonder, and we are eating it all. I still need a nice steak, but I think I’ve hit most of my food cravings including 12 pounds of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

I’ve been running. The boys have played in numerous parks without jackets or gloves or frostbite. We’ve seen the sun pretty much every day as is needed by my soul.

Even the dentist is fun here.

Even the dentist is fun here.

And oh how I’ve been talking. My blog title has once again been proven true. I’ve talked to friends and strangers. If you speak English and are in earshot, I will speak to you. Excuse me kind Target worker, where are the Ziploc baggies? Did you know the plastic baggies in Poland are useless and come in weird sizes and aren’t always at the grocery store and that their idea of cling wrap would make my mother weep?

Of course I’ve been talking the most with my family and friends. We’ve had our first friend group gathering, and I tried my hardest to slow my motor down. Luckily, the boys needed my help dealing with a crowd of kids and grown-ups we hadn’t hung with in a while.

Friend gatherings involve food and fun.

Friend gatherings involve food and mess.

On Friday I met my friend Christine for a drink after work. (I’d worked two days. I deserved it.) Poor, poor Christine. She didn’t know it, but she was my first outlet for real gabbing and laughing without watching my kids or my foul mouth. We talked about approximately 439 topics, with most of the words coming back to how the topic affected me. I was loud and happy. I was hoarse by the time I left. She kindly said we should do it every week, but I’m sure she went home and prayed I’d be out of words next time.

My tutoring job started last week. I’m working with seventh grade students getting them ready for their state test in reading and writing. I go two days a week, doing writing one day and reading the other. I was so happy about it I actually planned my lessons before I got to school, a new personal achievement. I even packed my lunch and had my clothes ready. And boy did those girls in my first class get the best me ever. I’ve got many friends at the school, so I’m feeling right at home.

I’m also really feeling my teacher soul jump for joy. When we lived in Poland, the owner of the boys’ school and my friend Zosia both made comments about how obvious it was that I was a teacher. They felt my personality and the way I talked to my kids (in public) suggested educator. I took that as a huge compliment. Then, at our gab fest Friday, Chris and I talked about my looking for a full-time teaching job next school year. I told her I had also considered just working retail or something so I could be free of grading and school-bureaucracy nonsense. She said, “No, you love teaching. You’re good at it.” Pump my ego up a little more with props from a fellow educator.

So, my Twitter presence has diminished, and I’m behind in my computer time-wasting, but, we’re settled in our apartment and happy as pigs in Texas mud. Soon I hope to be back to writing regularly and keeping up with the people in my computer. It may be annoying because I’m so peppy, but you’ll get used to it.

And finally, I leave you with things I’m loving about America:

garbage disposal, washer and dryer with large capacity, not having to haul my toiletries all over the house for a shower nor find my clothes in the closet in the kitchen, English-written & spoken, variety at the grocery store, Target.

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Lost

Hey! I’m writing again when I said I wouldn’t because I was kind of dared to do it. And because this story has been in my head for months. It’s a fiction piece for the YeahWrite Speakeasy. Enjoy!

The magic was all in the finishing touches. It wasn’t enough to circle a word or two here and there, place a checkmark in the margin. No, to make it look legitimate, the essay had to look like it had taken a long time to grade. The pages had to be creased repeatedly at the staple. It needed food stains.

Tonight she was even more rushed with the essays. It was time to write something worth selling. Her main problem had been the old adage, “Write what you know.” How could she make a novel out of her job of glorified babysitting? Ms. Cooke needed more excitement.

She chugged her second beer and turned on the computer. She headed to the personals section of Craig’s List. She had spent the last three weeks trying to find a story idea in the desperate messages there. She wanted something exciting that she herself didn’t have. But all she found were beginnings of maybes and more writing for her to edit and correct, evidence of other terrible English teachers. She decided the only way to get a story out of it was to answer an ad.

However, she only found ads that made her sad, not inclined to answer. Tonight was her last go at it. She read the first five new posts for the day and saw the usual dejected pleas. But then she opened the sixth one.

“My wife has hidden my car somewhere, and I need it for work tomorrow.”

Her nervous energy turned to adrenaline-fueled confidence. She couldn’t reply to the ad fast enough.

“How can I help?”

She hit send and tried to think of what might happen next. But either the beer or the Twilight novels had dulled her imagination. Why was this man thinking Craig’s List was his best option? Was his wife dangerous? Couldn’t he take the bus? How would she help?

In less than five minutes, the ad’s author sent her a reply. Her hand hovered over the mouse; she suddenly wasn’t sure if she should go further. Maybe she could just use that one line to get started.

“Oh, Thank God. Can you meet me in 20 mins?”

Now she was on full alert. The man would abduct her and steal her car, though probably not to go to work. Being a teacher was fine. Eventually her students would be more interesting, and she’d have literary gold.

“Are you insane? I don’t know you. I’m not meeting you anywhere.”

She stepped away from the computer and paced her living room. What was she thinking? Craig’s List for adventure? Death and dismemberment had been in play all along.

“Gah, I’m sorry. I’m desperate. I assumed anyone who answered the ad would be ready to act. It’s 8pm, and I am running out of time to get my car and what’s inside. I’m sorry to bother you.”

He wasn’t just wanting his car; he needed what was inside. Fast. That was interesting. Crap. She was getting sucked in to his trap. But, on the other hand, what kind of criminal apologized and used words like, ‘gah’?

“Okay, surely you can see why I’d be hesitant? Can you tell me what happened? Why did your wife hide your car?”

A conversation was the way to go here. Surely the other lonely losers did that before putting themselves at the mercy of a weirdo.

“It’s a long story, and, like I said, I don’t have much time. What I need is someone who can help me decipher the clue quickly. Are you smart?”

“Well, I’m answering a Craig’s List ad from a guy who lost his car; do I seem smart?”

“Look, are you going to help me or not?”

“You have to tell me what you need in the car.”

“It’s nothing illegal. It’s nothing weird. It’s just embarrassing.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s for my job, and I don’t like telling people my profession. They criticize it.”

“Do you want your stuff?”

“Yes! Listen, my wife said the car was where Jack Shepard met Kate to beg her to return to the island. There are zero words in that sentence that help me.”

Okay, this guy was a weirdo. Who didn’t recognize the characters from Lost? Ms. Cooke could practically rewrite that scene from memory.

“I know where it is. But, I still want to know what’s inside.”

“Just tell me!!”

“No, I just want to make sure I’m helping someone who deserves it.”

“Trust me. No one deserves what’s in that car. It’s awful.”

Now she had to know. It seemed like this guy was in a worse state than she was.

“I’m not trying to be mean. I’m trying to be less nervous about what I’m doing. I feel like I’m part of a crime now.”

“It’s not a crime; I promise.”

“Then tell me.”

“Fine. I’m a seventh-grade English teacher. I left my classes’ essays in my car, and grades are due in two days. I haven’t graded a single paper because I know they will be awful. My wife is sick of my whining and procrastination, so she acted out. There. Commence to telling me how pitiful my job is. Tell me that I am nothing but a glorified babysitter. Tell me, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” Yes I have a novel I’d like to get published, so I can quit. But no, I guess I’m not a good writer if it’s been rejected 13 times. I’m stuck as a teacher.”

Ms. Cooke raised her shaking hand from the mouse. She reached around to the power switch and flipped it. She gathered her graded papers and shoved them in her tote bag. Then she backed into her tiny bedroom, threw the tote on the chair next to her bed, and perched on the edge. After several still moments which didn’t even rumple the plain white sheets on her twin bed, she turned off the lamp and let the dark cover her.

No,This is 40

Okay, everyone get out your shiny new day planners, calendars, and time management apps.

Got ’em?

Good. Now put a big star around October 11. That is my 40th birthday, and you are all invited to my dance party/dinner/fun fest. I want an excuse to buy a new dress and laugh until my sides ache. And I want to be happy. Because you know what? I’m pretty damn excited about where I am and where I’m going.

I know that turning 40 is supposed to make me cry and wonder where all the time has gone. I remember the black party decorations for my mom when she hit this milestone, and the ‘holding at 39’ jokes. I guess she was supposed to be sad about being that age and that her life was over. My brother Michael did not handle 40 like a champ. It was probably because we threw him a lame family party he told us not to do. When my brother Rob turned 40, he had a big party at his house and doubled down on sporting hobbies that proved his youth and vigor. And I haven’t been exactly kind to the myth of the death of youth and fun at 40 myself, having deemed our friend Old Man Curtis when he became the first of our group to hit that age.

And now 40 has come for me, well, in nine months anyway. And though I’ve been upset about it in the past, today, I’m not. I am not giving in to the stereotype recently reinforced by the movie This is 40, and neither are a lot of really smart women I know.

First, my marriage is in a good place. My husband and I have been married for almost 12 years, and we have figured out a lot about how to work together. I’m sure we have a lot more to learn, but for now, we compromise well and take good care of each other. I firmly believe my husband puts his family first and is intentional in the way he loves us. We’ve survived loss, new lives (Twins! What a fun marriage test!), and two years in Poland away from friends and family. Also? My husband is hot with grey hair at his temples and his toned legs from walking to work every day.

My twins are going to be in kindergarten when I turn 40. I’m not sure why, but it feels like I’ve reached some sort of achievement by keeping them alive until school age. It’s like I leveled up in the parenting game, and I am so ready. Though things are harder emotionally for big kids, and I already worry about how they will face bigger disappointments, I also get to watch them begin their life’s path. They have blossomed so much in this past year, and I know it will only get more interesting as they enter school. I love their perspectives on life and the way they look out for each other. I can’t wait to see the next steps.

But Stephanie, you say, turning 40 for a woman is all about lost beauty and lost opportunities. Well, to you I say:

Because I’m too busy being awesome. I’m not a super cougar hottie. I’m not Stacie’s mom. But, I’m not too hard to look at. This body has done a lot for me, and I can’t blame it for being a bit worn in places. My stomach? Dude’s been in battle. My legs? They have danced a thousand dances and continue to carry a five-year-old when needed. My face? Lined with laughter’s left-overs reminding me of how much happiness I’ve seen. (My neck? Crap. My mom told me for 25 years to take care of it, but I didn’t listen. Thank God for expensive neck cream. I will continue to buy it even if it means I can no longer afford new shoes. Yes ma’am. It’s that serious.)

I have a good vibe going on in my mental and spiritual world too.  I know me well. I’m not perfect, but I know where my imperfections lie. I’m somewhat able to work around them. For example, I know I procrastinate, and I try to fight that natural tendency with lists and self-imposed screen-time restrictions. I face all the parts of me, and I’ve even been known to make a joke or two about them. I know my passions. Writing is back in my life, and I am a happier woman for it. Not only that, but I think I’m a more driven person as well. I want to improve my writing and be read and appreciated by more people. I will write my Poland book and who knows what else. I am surprised because I guess I thought you couldn’t have new goals and dreams at this age.

My heart is also screaming out and yearning to get back to teaching. I remember going to my 10-year high school reunion. I had just decided that teaching sucked, but I had no real plan for another path. So, I worked an hourly job at Citibank and wallowed in existential questions. Could there be a better time to meet up with people who knew you when you were an over-achieving honors graduate? I cried a lot that weekend.

But now, I’m sure. I am a teacher. I love English. I would marry the rules of grammar if it were legal. I am here, ready to help you with your writing and work on my own. I want to talk about books and themes and the power of language.

I have so much to look forward to just in 2013. We are moving back to Texas. I get to see my friends and family. I get to go to writing conferences and continue to meet women who inspire me. When I went to my writing conference last October, it was like a new world opened up to me. I guess I didn’t think old ladies like me could make new friends. But I did. And they happen to be women with goals and dreams and positive attitudes. I want to start a new part of my blog that includes video lessons for families needing grammar and writing guidance, and these women helped me solidify this idea. They make me a better person, and I can’t wait to see how that manifests for me as I turn 40.

We may not stay up until dawn, but we still got it goin' on.

We may not stay up until dawn, but we still got it goin’ on.

So, Judd Apatow, this is really what 40 is and can be. It’s being at a place where you can use the lessons you’ve learned and try new things. It’s a time to enjoy some of the rewards of your hard work while you continue to seek new successes. It’s a time when anything is still possible though sometimes at a slower speed. So, if you come to my 40 and fabulous party, don’t bring any tired stereotypes or weak jokes about getting older. I will punch you in the throat and then blog about it.

So, what about you? What do you like about your age? What are you looking forward to as the next milestone approaches?

Can’t Hardly Wait

It happened as quickly as an ’80s movie montage plot summary. The important events and interactions segued into one another easily. The heroine-me-moved on to her grown-up plans.

*College Recruiter Interview*

*Video Interview at Central Office*

*Knocking on Doors at Every Middle School in the District*

*Job Offer at the Last School on the List*

And just like that, I was a teacher.  Instead of the struggle to find my first real job defining my whole movie, it was just the opening credits. The real struggle was going to be that ‘being a master teacher’ thing. I entered the profession with the goal of awarding knowledge daily and changing lives forever. After the first few months, I just wanted to be proficient.

My best knowledge gifts that first year? Well, let’s see, maybe it was the time I taught them to keep an unfortunate incident a secret for their teacher?

See, I had this student, oh, let’s call him Damien, who was a fantastic learning experience for my first year. He had social issues beyond the normal ones of 12 year-old boys in constant contact with girls. He was also too smart for us normal folk but too lazy to try harder. His parents saw no reason for the myriad interventions the school had to offer and instead wanted us to just roll with it.

So I rolled until one day I couldn’t anymore. I sent dear Damien to the office. That’s all. I may have also thrown a pen at my desk which was unfortunately in his general direction. I did not pelt him with the pen nor did I intend to. (I hit my targets.) It was still inappropriate. Yet, the minute he was out of the room, the rest of the class seemed to forget it all. They were so happy to have peace and quiet and, dare I say, the chance to learn their verb tenses. They liked to say, “What pen?” every now and then to make me laugh. It was likewise a constant reminder of my failure to do the right thing in a tough situation.

In fact, none of that movie went according to script. Dear God, it was like the director couldn’t read a damn thing I had written. Instead of being about the gifted teacher changing lives with proper grammar and love of literature, the story was about a girl with a talent she couldn’t quite put to good use.

I was exhausted when that year ended. Every day was a new lesson for me, not the kids. I prayed with all my might that those kids would get fabulous English teachers the rest of the way.

There were many sequels. Some were great, and some went straight to video. The director eventually made a movie about a pretty decent educator. It was energizing; I’m hoping to see it again.

Please follow the link to Yeah Write to read some other inspired posts by writers stretching their skills this summer.