Let’s talk about race, baby. Let’s talk about you and me. Or maybe just me…

An NPR article showed up in my Facebook newsfeed during my quiet time today and I indulged. It carries on in a typical NPR tone, informative, occasionally dull, and ending nowhere really, but thought provoking none the less. So, I thought I’d jot down the many thoughts that came to mind while reading it.

All Mixed Up: What Do We Call People of Multiple Backgrounds

For the sake of clarity, I will start with laying out that I have a Costa Rican mother and a father I refer to as a “white guy from the south.” They met in Costa Rica as teens, married, and relocated to Central Florida where they raised my 3 older sisters and myself.

mom and i

Being the youngest of four, I had very different experiences than my sisters. By the time I was born my mother was no longer speaking Spanish at home except when she was on the phone with her family. Aside from cooking beans, rice, and plantains way too often and having an affinity for dancing around the house in a way that would definitely be a this-woman-is-obviously-hispanic red flag to any one else, she seemed just like a white lady to me.  The idea of race or identifying myself as any different than anyone else (read: white people) never crossed my mind.

That is, the idea of race and racial identity never crossed my mind until I stared into the face of racism. As far as I was concerned, I was white. In elementary school we sat at assigned tables at lunch, alphabetically. So, for the most part, year after year I was sitting with the same people. I remember his name, first and last, he looked me right in the face from across the table, “HEY, RHONDA! How did your mom meet your dad? Did she swim across the ocean or take a raft?” Followed up by a snorty gosh awful laugh. Oh, he thought he was hysterical. I was embarrassed, obviously, cause no one likes to be laughed at but I had no clue what was so amusing to him.

The next few years were mostly uneventful in regards to thinking about race or being heckled by white kids. More and more my my mother’s relatives would visit from Costa Rica so I was growing more aware of a few cultural differences but at no point did I identify it as being any part of who I was.

Then came middle school. It was the first week of school and I had become fast friends with a handful of girls. As we were walking to class from lunch one day, a girl, who I could tell was likely at least half hispanic, turned to me and blurted out, “So, what are you?” By the look on her face I almost definitely looked at her as if she had ten eyes. She repeated herself. Then, because I’m unwilling to admit when I’m clueless, I replied, “Why? What are you?” “Mexican.” She answered. By then we were walking into class. I dodged a bullet. I had no idea what the answer was. My mother was Costa Rican, I wasn’t. I’m just white. Like my dad, like my aunts and uncles, like my cousins. I’m white.

I talked it over with a couple of my sisters that evening. They filled me in on what the real answer was. “Rhonda, you’re half Costa Rican and half Caucasian. Caucasian means white. That’s what she wanted to know. You’re mixed. Half this, half that.” My sisters, they all look more like my mother than my father. Their hair is darker, their skin is tanner. While we never discussed race as a family I feel like it was probably easier for them to identify themselves as mixed. My father had a habit of referring to me as his “oddball” and most of the time I hated the term because I’m not a fan of being singled out but I understood myself as being unlike my sisters. We did have at least one other conversation about which box we’d each check when filling out forms, each sister declared they identified as hispanic, and I, without hesitation, stated that I’d check “white, non-hispanic”. One of my sisters emphatically replied, “You’re suppose to check off the nationality of your mother.” I shrugged it off, racial identity was just a preference in my eyes.

Middle school stinks, more and more I came into encounters like the 3rd grade lunch table. There were people who would single me out as “not white” but it still didn’t come up so often that I felt inclined to identify myself as hispanic, or even mixed. They didn’t see me as white but I saw myself as white. My heart was white, my skin was pale, I knew no spanish, I knew very little about the culture of Costa Rica. I had once visited Costa Rica over summer vacation but that’s a thing rich white kids did all the time so if anything I thought I had earned some white kid street cred. Nope. They could see right through me the whole time.

At the end of middle school came the most dramatic of events of my childhood. My family relocated to Costa Rica. My parents divorced. It was just me, my mother, and 2 of my 3 sisters. Our neighbors identified us as Americans immediately. There were tons of teenagers living on our street and they’d heckle us as walked down to the bus stop. By the time I had learned enough spanish to understand what they were saying about us I had grown to cold to care to listen. I was furious that we had moved away from Florida. Away from everything I called home, my best friends, everything familiar. Costa Rica felt like another planet. I was so depressed and furious, just furious. Alas, I took solace in the idea that I was surrounded by thousands of people who identified me as something I could connect with. I wore my “gringa” badge with pride. Quite literally I sewed an American flag across my backpack that I toted everywhere I went. I was a patriot in the truest sense before being a patriot meant something completely strange. I spoke tirelessly about how much I loved the United States every chance I got. I wanted everyone to know that I was somewhere I didn’t belong, that I was different, and that I was white. I equated being American with being white. Still, I was very confused.

It was only a matter of time before I was able to leave Costa Rica and join my sisters who had all, by the that time, moved back home to Florida. I had survived three years living in a foreign land. I spent almost the entire time begrudgingly following my mother around observing, almost never participating in, her world. My teenage angst had been amplified by our move and I never managed to shake it. Obviously, as a grown woman, I can look back at myself and roll my eyes but I don’t think anything under the sun could have convinced me to participate in life during my stay in Costa Rica.

Moving forward, in regards to racial identity, things finally started to feel a little less clear. When my mother would visit my sisters and I in Florida and we would go out shopping, to restaurants, or she’d meet coworkers and friends, I had more encounters with racism that were only slightly less subtle than the third grade lunch table. My mother has an accent. If she’s fresh off a trip from Costa Rica her accent is noticeably stronger but she carries an accent no matter how long she’s been away from home. I never noticed her accent until I was in my late teens, I was oblivious to the things that made her different. I watched a sales clerk at a furniture store physically curl her lip as my mother began to speak. The clerk proceeded to tell us that she didn’t think she’d have anything in the store that would fit my mother’s budget, having had no discussion of any budget. Don’t even get me started about the time an acquaintance turned to me, with a look of disgust, and said loudly “I don’t understand anything she’s saying. Is she even talking American?” Yes. “…talking American” is an exact quote. These things are hard to forget and there are endless examples I could give.

I began to feel something I never felt before. Empathy. Empathy for hispanic people and for half-hispanic people who weren’t in denial. Empathy for anyone who wasn’t as good as passing themselves off as white as I was. I suddenly wanted to embrace the idea that I was indeed half Costa Rican. Not only was I half Costa Rican but I was half Costa Rican and there’s nothing wrong with that. I wanted people to stop. Stop with the jokes, stop with the insensitivity, stop with the stereotyping. Just stop. While I made an immature choice to check out on life while living in Costa Rica I observed a culture that is rich and diverse. I quietly appreciated things and felt I grew the ability to relate to their ideas, their customs, their art. Denying that I was half Costa Rican didn’t do justice to my blood, my mother, or my experience.

Never have I ever felt white enough. Southern enough. Costa Rican enough. Nothing. There’s a disconnect. Sometimes my racial ambiguity feels like a spot light. I still wish I were white when I’m in a room full of white people but these days I wish I were hispanic in a room full of hispanic people also. Being biracial is weird, undeniably weird.

Presently, all of my neighbors are hispanic, first generation Americans. I’m pretty sure none of them identify me as anything other than white, which is okay, completely okay. Some part of me wants them to know that I can relate to them, but I’m not sure why. Them knowing that I understand them when they aren’t speaking english won’t make me any less shy. I just want them to know that I think they’re interesting. I want them to know that I get their kids’ jokes. I want them to know that when I smell their cooking I’m transported to old memories. I just want them to know that I get them. Or at least I feel like I get them. I probably don’t.

Finally, since I’ve moved to Washington 2 years ago, I’ve been presumed hispanic at every doctor’s office I go to. This makes me smile. I still think of myself as white but maybe now it’s more like 70/30 instead of a complete denial of my mother’s blood. The desire to identify as one thing or the other is a strange force I can’t quite put my finger on.

This Block Goes Here

This morning, my nearly 3-year-old huffed out his longest sentence to date. His physical therapist had him building a tower and as he reached to place a block, he looked her in the face and with great caution managed, “This block goes here.”

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Recently the pressure of life has been building. You know, that feeling that life is a gigantic tower and you are its foundation, its shaking, unstable, “WHAT AM I EVEN DOING HERE?” foundation. Or maybe the feeling that your brain is so full and so empty all at once. That you have so many things to decide that you can’t finish asking yourself a question before you get distracted by yet another uncertainty. Anxiety is real, and heavy, and sometimes debilitating.

My most recent bout of debilitating anxiety revolves around finances, housing, and our first trip back to Florida. All of these things are related and complicated, unavoidable, and so stressful. The thing about dealing with stress as a person who struggles with anxiety is that there are loud alarms blaring their sirens in your head saying, “OH NO! THERE IS TROUBLE AHEAD!” There is trouble ahead and you don’t know what to do and you can’t decide what to do first and so you should sit and wallow in your trouble. Let the pain of the intense stress literally permeate in your bones because stress is unavoidable, and heavy, and TOO MUCH FOR YOU. That’s what anxiety says, anxiety says don’t even try because it will always be too much. Anxiety says don’t get that thing done because what if it would be better to do the other things first or what if you aren’t ready for the thing that’s coming tomorrow.

This morning, during his physical therapy, my son’s speech therapist walked by and with mild excitement I mentioned that he said his first four word sentence just moments before. “Oh yeah? What was it?” I relayed it back and his therapist took a few more steps down the hall and paused, grinned, and repeated “This block goes here. That’s cool.”

On our long drive home I processed that moment. I never ask a lot of questions of his therapists but I spend an incredible amount of time overanalyzing every word, gesture, and facial expression they make. “That’s cool.” What did that mean? As I spiraled my way down the parking garage I pondered his milestones and where a single 4 word sentence placed on his spectrum of abilities. I literally shook my head and laughed at myself, convinced I needed to redirect my train of thought. “Maybe the words he said were ‘cool’?” I replayed the moment in my head. My youngest is such a peach. I thought about his easy temperament and winning smile. His words came with much hard work. “This block goes here.” When he has something to say he usually concentrates a great deal and pauses between each word and this time was no different. He knew exactly what he wanted to do and what he needed to do to make it happen. He knew that block went there.

Last night, on my way to bed, a photo hanging on the wall of my two oldest children caught my eye. They were only 1 and 3 years old in the photo. In an instant, it brought me to tears. I was already at my maximum stress level at that moment, when I saw it hanging on the wall I remembered where my life was at that point and how I thought then that I had it all figured out. I was settled, life only gets better because people only get better at doing life. Lol, right? That’s why I cried, how silly was I five years ago? Raising humans gets more complicated every single day. When they’re babies you tell yourself, “Oh it’ll be easier once they’re feeding themselves!” or maybe “It’ll be easier once they’re potty trained!” and then later, “I’ll get more done once they’re in school!” No. That isn’t how it works. Babies become toddlers, toddlers become preschoolers and preschoolers become little kids, and little kids become slightly smelly, super opinionated, energetic, overwhelmingly curious, and socially unstable KIDS. Every single stage gets more complicated than the one before it. That is parenting and parenting can sometimes bring you to tears on your way to bed because when the stress of life, housing, finances, and your first trip back to Florida are weighing on you to the point you can’t finish a thought, Rhonda still has to be mom. I still have to parent. I have to wake them, feed them, answer ONE MILLION questions, hug them, referee them, direct them.

The tasks of being mom, of being grown, of being alive are so heavy. Anxiety says I’m going to mess up one thing because I should have been doing the other thing so maybe I should just do nothing. Do you know what kids do? Kids do exactly what they want and almost always immediately. They know they want that block there and so they pick up that block and they put it there.

There are few things I enjoy more than when I can go to bed feeling accomplished. When I can close my eyes and say to myself, “Well done, Rhonda, the things you did and said today were enough!” The trick is finding peace and contentment. There aren’t enough hours in the day to check off the items on my lists. Sometimes the items on my lists aren’t even items that should be on my lists. They’re items I dealt with a week ago but I’m still expecting an imaginary anvil to drop or they’re items I don’t even need to deal with until three months from now but WHAT IF there’s some solution I haven’t thought of because I haven’t paused everything to dwell on it. The thoughts, the troubles, they pile and they pile into an insurmountable list. Every. Single. Day.

When anxiety is sounding it’s alarm between my ears what I need desperately is to pick up a single block and put it where it goes. Any block, a small block, a heavy block, a noisy block, all I have to do is pick it up and put it where it goes. And when I’m done, tell myself that it was good. Whether it looks good or bad, or feels weird or great, picking that block up and picking somewhere for it to go matters. Making my kids’ breakfast is picking up a block and it’s something to find worth and contentment in. I can find peace in picking up the block that is answering the question “How do you spell purple?” for the millionth time. Each and every block is important and valuable and each block is something I can find peace in. Allowing the weight of ten million future blocks to keep me from placing today’s blocks gets us absolutely nowhere.

It isn’t easy, reminding one’s self that today is worthwhile, that there is good in the small efforts that make tiny ripples. This long winded blog post will serve as a reminder to myself to pull things together, hopefully at least a few times and hopefully remind everyone that reads it that it’s okay to admit you’re a total mess, just keep placing blocks, that’s worth something.

One last parting idea! Somewhat recently, I was discussing mental health with a group of friends and someone asked what everyone’s “stabilizers” were. Not medicine, but, things, activities, that each person turned to as a form of self-care when stressed, overwhelmed, sad, etc. Things that help you bring a sense of balance, things that help you clear your mind. People listed things like running, puzzles, baking, etc. I legitimately couldn’t figure out what mine were, it seemed like a helpful thing to be aware of so I was surprised how unprepared I was to answer the question. Well! I’ve figured it out. I urge you to ensure you’re aware of at least a couple of your own. Here are my top 3:
– Hymns! I love them, a lot. Here’s my favorite: It Is Well With My Soul
– Sitting in a parked car all by myself, alone with my thoughts
– Writing 😉

Memorial Day – Traditions Old & New

Memorial Day 2014-2

So, for the past 4 years we’ve done the same thing every Memorial Day. We visited Grandpa Walter’s (my husband’s grandfather’s) gravestone in the national cemetery in Bushnell, FL. Walter didn’t die while in the service but at the ripe age of 82. We visited the cemetery on Memorial Day because we knew it was a date we wouldn’t ever forget and let slip by. Walter died the day after our oldest son’s first birthday and so none of my kids knew him but it gives us a chance to talk about how dear he was to us and they, in return, feel connected to the story of how much we cared for him. We would discuss in very little detail the real meaning behind Memorial Day seeing as how our kids are pretty young and  sensitive to any conversation about war & violence.

As things go, we obviously were going to need to change up our traditions pretty drastically having moved 3500 miles away from the cemetery that holds Walter’s stone. In the past, we would follow up a visit to the cemetery with a stop at Cracker Barrel, a game of over-sized checkers on the porch and then a way-too-long wait for food as it was one of only two restaurants anywhere near the cemetery. Unfortunately for us, not only were we not within range of Bushnell, FL but the nearest Cracker Barrel was a whopping 6 hour drive. Don’t even doubt for a minute, we considered taking that 6 hour drive.

Memorial Day 2014-15We landed on a new plan altogether though. A pretty good one, I think. We considered going to the services at the local national cemetery here in Portland but we weren’t sure that our 2.5 year old would be able to maintain a respectful demeanor and I’d worry about disturbing other visitors. With both the cemetery and Cracker Barrel out of the question I was desperate to hang on to some remnants of the traditions we had in place already, be it as simple and seemingly meaningless as they may have been. Amazon saved the day. I ordered an over-sized checker set just like the ones they sold in the ‘Old Country Store’ at Cracker Barrel.

Still desperate to connect the dots and not lose hold of remembering their great grandfather but wanting to get a better grasp on the idea of Memorial Day I skimmed through pictures of years past and found our golden ticket. What a relief!

Memorial Day 2014-6On Walter’s gravestone the words “Loyal, Faithful, and Generous” can be found, all of these ran deep in him. So, we made a plan. We packed a picnic and set out for a farm on Sauvie Island for some strawberry picking and a nice long chat about character. We talked in great depth about the meaning of each of these traits, where we could find them in our own lives and how we can try to grow in these areas. We talked about how Grandpa Walter lived these words and how it’s really easy to see these traits in the lives of the men and women who fell while serving our country. I so love it when all of the things come together so perfectly. The kids moved on to writing a sentence and drawing pictures to represent which word stood out to them the most. It went better than I could have imagined. Our two-year-old was even happy to scribble beside them.Memorial Day-1

Next we surprised them with that checkers set and their reaction was better than I could have hoped for. They’re always very grateful when I bring a little bit of their “Florida life” to their present. We rounded out the day with strawberry picking, mostly because berries are red and, hello, photo op. 😉 I’m pretty excited about our day, I feel like we really nailed it and I can’t wait to do it all over again next year. Now, we have some strawberry jam to make…

Memorial Day-6Memorial Day-16

Dear Florida, I Lament.

I can’t pinpoint the first time it happened but it did, and it stuck, it stuck like glue. Sometime in middle school my friends affectionately nicknamed me “Mean Ol’ Rhonda”. I laughed along with them for years. I played the cool card and I played it hard, middle school is hard, right? So if everyone thought of me as mean that couldn’t be all bad. I wasn’t a bully by any means, though I can definitely think of a few instances of being unkind to others that still break my grown heart. They called me Mean Ol’ Rhonda mostly based on that I depended heavily on sarcasm for my sense of humor. In general, I’m also a person who feels pretty strongly and I tend to not be afraid of speaking up. Somehow, I’m shy but bold? I am a walking contradiction of myself, too complicated for my own good.

Anyways, the nickname stuck around way longer than ended up healthy for me. I moved away from my friends after middle school and came back around for my senior year of high school a much more vulnerable version of myself. My humor still greatly depended on sarcasm and I still had an urge to stand up for things and ideas I care about, I simply had less walls. I cared what people thought of me. I needed to grow into an adult, a lady. I need to be liked, and I wanted to like people. So, naturally, I would have preferred to have not been thought of as mean.

I’m pretty sure I’m just greatly misunderstood, almost all of the time. Yesterday, I felt misunderstood. Not blameless, but greatly misunderstood.

Onward! Since last fall I have literally been moved to tears of joy over how relieved I am that my children are having a positive experience at their new school in Washington. I’ve thought many times about sharing my joyous relief on Facebook but every time I stopped myself. I’ve tried very hard to be sensitive to the tension I unwittingly caused between myself and lovers of Florida. My goal was to compare my past to my present. Not Florida schools to Washington schools. Schools aside, there are a lot of things I do not like about Florida, this is not a secret. But, I realized some time ago, that to advertise those things, even in jest, is to isolate myself from others. A couple of very wise friends taught my family this in two simple tweets. “Don’t yuck someone else’s yum.”

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Children do this to each other a lot. For example, barbecue is not a thing in the Pacific Northwest like it is in the South. My kid got barbecue sauce to go with his chicken nuggets at school and in unison those around him let out a series of yuck and ew noises. How do you think that made him feel? Alone. Like he was weird? Is he weird? Or just different. I get it, for me to publicly herald the things of your great state that I do not love made you uncomfortable. It isolated me from you, that was never my intention. Sometimes, I get carried away. I am sorry.

Back on track, I like to think I’m trying to be more sensitive about speaking negatively about Florida. I’ve rubbed many of you the wrong way in this regard and it’s not my intention to come across as mean. I do not want to be known for being unloving and harsh. I understand how a Floridian might find themselves immediately on the defense when reading my words.

I spent most of today with a heavy heart trying to comfort a friend who is struggling to find the right place for her daughter in the public school system back home, in Lake County, FL. I took to the internet with a heart overwhelmed with gratitude, reflecting on my own experience, and shared these words:

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I genuinely looked over my words and saw nothing but positivity. I patted myself on the back, “Look at that, Rhonda! You’re sharing a happy moment!” My happy moment hurt a few people that I truly care about and that broke my heart.

Teachers have a hard job. I feel like everyone knows that. They have a job I’m not willing to do.

When I was a senior in high school I had my mind made up, I was going to go to be an elementary school teacher. I don’t remember why exactly, I just loved the idea of it. I loved the constant need to be creative, I loved that no one would ever call me out for being too enthusiastic, it seemed like the perfect position for me. I spent my entire senior year only attending classes for half the day. The last half of my school day I would walk across the street and spend hours volunteering in kindergarten and second grade classrooms. One-on-one tutoring, grading papers, cutting paper after paper, playing games, sounding out syllable after syllable with kids learning to read (that is way more exhausting than it sounds!), I did whatever I was told, whatever I was allowed to help with, and I loved every single second of it. I proudly wore a school shirt and had a volunteer badge with my name embossed on it, I felt honored to be a part of that team. It was a wonderful experience.

I graduated high school and needed to find a part-time job to go along with my time I was putting into community college classes on early childhood education. Chasing the dream, I quickly landed a job at a local private school as after-school care monitor (I write coordinator on my resume, but really I coordinated nothing. The position was very vague and no one was really ever clear on how involved I was allowed to be, I think my job was just to make sure no one died.) I sort of enjoyed my job, I got to spend a couple of hours with just kindergarteners and then I would relocate to the school playground where kids of all ages (well, up to about 8th grade) would all come to play and fuss over one another while I waited with a clipboard for them to each get signed out one-by-one. It wasn’t a particularly meaningful job but I liked it alright, fulfilling or not.

Somewhere close to the end of the year I had a game-changing experience with a parent. She was a parent of a child I rarely had in aftercare but a parent I recognized. We had no prior encounter that would indicate to me she had any trouble with me and she had a sweet, mild-mannered kindergartner that never caused anyone any trouble. She approached me one afternoon filled with a rage that broke me in two. She yelled with the fullest volume her small stature would allow, in front of parents, in front other children, she roared at me that I was a child and had no business looking after children (This was probably an accurate statement, I was 18, in retrospect I question the judgement of whoever gave me that job). She told me my presence was offensive to her, that I was a disgusting example for the children. She said lots of hurtful things, at some point I couldn’t hear her anymore because I was crying too much. I was so humiliated. I found a teacher to cover for me and I ran to the administrative office and cried and cried and cried some more. Nothing really ever came of that. The parent never apologized, in fact, she never spoke to me again. I finished out the school year, I even worked through the summer program. Although, I knew then that I’d never make the cut emotionally, I didn’t have the fortitude to deal with student’s parents. I couldn’t handle the idea of disappointing people. Inevitably, I would disappoint someone. My chances didn’t seem good to me, twenty-something kids each school year. My tendency to believe the worst case scenario will always happen meant eventually I would have a laundry list of adults sitting around thinking I was the absolute worst thing that ever happened to their kid, and I couldn’t handle that. The next semester I ditched the education classes (and the job!) and just started chasing the elusive associates degree. I meandered, I dropped out. I had no actual goals anymore.

It seems like a rash decision of an emotional teenager, probably because it was. I probably wouldn’t have listened if anyone tried to change my mind. It’s not the experience of a teacher, but I have dabbled in the likes of their atmosphere and I know it is a tumultuous one. It can be a rewarding job but it’s often a back-breaking hard one. I get that. It’s one I wasn’t willing to do. I applaud teachers. I need teachers in my life. I need teachers in my kids’ lives. I am grateful for them and the choice they made to be a teacher.

Sometimes there are people holding the position of a teacher who, for whatever reason, do not have the heart of a teacher. Can we agree on this? I was scared somehow I would eventually be like them.
For example:
Eighth grade, first day in her class, in front of the entire class, “Ms. Bell, I expect the most from you. I’ve seen you in the halls and you should know I think you’re a disgrace to your family…” followed by an awkward moment where she lists every cousin, aunt, and uncle she’s ever met. Thank you, for that, very inspirational & encouraging speech. I’m sorry you hate me, now I feel worthless.

I’ve got a few more examples where that came from. So, when my kids’ first school experiences ended up worse than along those lines. I got nervous. I decided that I wasn’t going to take a chance on continuing in an environment where that wasn’t a far-fetched story. After all, I spent most of my elementary education thinking my own teachers were superheroes! It was the best! Elementary school was suppose to be a glorious lovefest in my mind. I wanted that for my kids and that’s not what was happening while we were in Florida. We had more misses than hits. The hits were great but the misses were devastating. I have no interest in concerning myself with the past. It is in the past. My family made a decision that the environment in the schools that were available to us just were not an option. We had no ties, we were ready to move and we weighed school districts very heavily in our decisions when choosing where to live. Like, it made finding a place to live way more complicated than it needed to be, it was awful, but worth it.

When I updated my Facebook status I simply wanted to celebrate my kids’ happiness and how wonderfully fulfilled we feel having found a comfortable fit for our family.  I understand there are thousands of kids finding their own success in Central Florida schools, that is wonderful. There are hundreds of school employees giving it their all. Please, know that you are needed and appreciated.

To polish off this very long post, here’s a list of a few things from Florida that I miss (excluding people):
– Disneyworld
– Thunderstorms
– Parking spaces that are not so small you have to seriously concentrate so you’ll be able to leave room to open your door
– Parking lots with enough parking spots.
– Warm beaches
– Barbecue
– Consistent amazing sunsets

The Unbridled Ambitions of My Renaissance Boy

“I could do that.”

ImageMy son stood and watched his 3-year-old sister embark on her first day of ballet class last fall. He watched through the window for the entire 45 minute class. My daughter, rarely eager to jump into anything with both feet, stood in the back of the class only occasionally uncrossing her arms to join in on the simple stretches and hops that they call “creative dance”.

I thought nothing of the moment when I heard him mutter about how great a dancer he could be, that it all looked “so easy”. I smiled and asked, not thinking he meant anything by it, if he’d like to join and he stared at me like I was insane.

So, when he approached my husband & I in the spring and asked if he could please take ballet classes we were only kind of surprised.

My son has been on this earth for six and half short years, and he’s loved music no doubt from the very beginning. 

I could tell you about the toy we got that attached to his carseat when he was only a few weeks old that played the most gentle tone and would take him from wailing to silence in an instant, or the fact that I’ve been singing to him the same song every night since before he was born and without fail it soothes him, or I could tell you about all of the cute stories of his love and excitement over any musical toy since before he could talk, or how he’d sit at a piano for an entire hour playing gently “the classics”, OR! I could show you all of the adorable videos on my phone where I’d catch him dancing in the middle of a department store to the (usually awful) background tunes. You know, I could share all of those stories with you, but why? Why do I feel compelled to gush about how much my son loves music?

Last fall he began violin lessons, I didn’t feel compelled to gush to anybody about his love for music. Not to his teacher, not to the other parents, not to my friends. Obviously, either he’s taking lessons because he likes music or I guess there is the chance that maybe I’m a Tiger Mom, but, no guys, he likes music, A LOT. So why did (more accurately, still do) I feel compelled to spew out his history of musical inclinations like it was some fantastical love story that ended with him being the most majestic beast of a dancer hurling ballerinas across a stage? Cause I’m insane.

Or am I?

It’s hard to tell. What I do know is that it’s important to keep my cool. He wants to dance. Great. Let him dance. He wants to play the violin, learn piano, strengthen his soccer skills, master karate, join a swim team, attend art classes, and build robots (BIG ONES). The kid is ambitious. He thinks we hold him back, I have to remind him on a weekly basis that he’s too little to accomplish all the things he wants to accomplish, he still needs time to play. Then he realizes it’s been a week since he touched his Nintendo DS…

Today he had his first ballet class. He loved every second of it, just as we all hoped he would. In the few moments after school, while his little brother and sister napped upstairs, we talked about the day he’d had.
“Lots of kids were teasing me today. About ballet.”

“Yeah? How’d that make you feel?”

“It didn’t make me feel anything. I’m not worried about what they don’t understand.”

“Great.”

“One kid said ballet is for girls. I told him that’s not true and asked him if he’s every watched ballet, cause they NEED boys. He said boys are suppose to do sports. I told him ballet is a sport. He said no, sports are things that make you strong. I said ballet makes you strong, and I asked him he’s ever seen a dancer. THEY PICK PEOPLE UP IN THE AIR. He didn’t really have anything else to say.”

“It sounds like you’ve got it all figured out!”

“I do. One girl says, ‘Well, you take ballet!’ all the time, as if it’s suppose to make me feel bad. She makes no sense. I think they’re all just confused. I’m not worried about it.”

He’s not worried about it. So, you know, I’m not worried about it.

Sometimes you teach kids and sometimes kids teach you.

 

Chasing Dreams – An Interview With Danielle

When I heard that my hair stylist friend, Danielle, had gotten her own room at Perfect 10 Salon in Fruitland Park, a space to call her own, a space to do a complete overhaul, I knew it was a big deal. It would be a big deal for her, for the salon, and for her clients. She pours herself into a project, and she’s got such a fun eclectic eye for design I think just about anyone could find something to love in what she was bound to make look amazing. From her start as just a senior in high school and over the last ten years she’s never hesitated to tackle her dreams head on. So, once she was done we sat down to document this cornerstone in her career; where she started, how she got there, and why she does what she does.

1Danielle CollageWhen did you decide you wanted to do hair?

It’s always what I wanted to do, since I was a little girl. My mom used to find me in the bathroom dying my barbies’ hair with Kool-Aid. My only backup plan was to maybe be a school teacher but I knew I’d end up a stylist.

You went into beauty school very young, right? What was your motivation to go for it and start when you did?
Right! I started my senior year of high school. It felt like a big risk at the time. My mom encouraged me to start when I did because it was just her and I at home, we didn’t have a lot of money, and if I started in high school I could do it under the dual-enrollment program and attend the school for free. I missed a lot of the “senior year” stuff that my friends were doing but it turned out to be my absolute favorite year of school.

Is “beauty school” even the right term? I feel so out of touch, I keep singing “Beauty School Dropout” from Grease in my head!
Haha! I don’t know! I always call it “hair school” but I think beauty school is accurate. We’ll go with beauty school.

What was your least favorite and most favorite thing about beauty school?
Oh my! My least favorite thing was the book work. We didn’t get to go to school and just do pretty things. We first had to study laws and all the technical stuff before we started to do anything. My most favorite thing was that for the first time in my years in any school I felt like I was really great at something. I felt like, until then, I hadn’t found my thing that I was really great at, my friends always had some subject in school that they were great at, hair was my thing. I felt like a star student

Once you finished school you found yourself at a few different salons before you ended up at Perfect 10, were you struggling to find a place to fit in?
I did! Straight out of school I ended up at a salon in downtown Mount Dora. It was just an older lady and myself, it was such an awkward situation. It was such a small place and I spent most of the time pretty much just acting as her assistant but I learned a TON from her, she was a very experienced hairdresser. Next, I ended up at a big salon chain, I really enjoyed it there because I moved up in the salon really quickly. It was a place where I could really shine because they had so many people there. I became a master stylist there within the first six months. They kept rank of all their stylists and I kept the number one spot the entire three years I spent there.

That’s pretty impressive! How did you end up at Perfect 10?
Thank you! I was successful there but I knew I wanted more independence. My mom was a massage therapist at Perfect 10 at the time and she insisted it was the right fit for me. New owners had come to the salon shortly after and they just made this place like my favorite place to be, everyone here is just wonderful, I love it. It just feels like home to me.

What’s the greatest risk you’ve ever taken in your career?
Definitely leaving the chain salon. Because there, up until I left,  I was commission based, so I had an hourly wage and a percentage of the work I did and I struggled over like 8 months to come to my decision to leave that security. I was pretty much stepping out to start on my own, I wasn’t sure if any of my clients would come with me, it was scary, I didn’t know if I’d be making any money to pay my bills. It ended up being the best decision I could have ever made.

Why did you want your own room at the salon? It seems like a lot of work you put into a space that Perfect 10 owns. 
Yeah, I get asked that a lot! It was a ton of work. Really I’ve just always had a bigger vision for the work that I do. It’s always been about my clients and I want them to have an amazing experience. Not just coming to see me, sit in a chair, and have an average experience. I’ve always thought they deserved more than average. I want them to feel like they are escaping and treating themselves to something special.

What was your inspiration for the decor?
I definitely was going for an eclectic and artsy feel. Unusual. Like your grandma’s house, if you had a super chic cool grandma. I wanted it to be super comfortable for men too. I wanted to make sure I had a good balance of masculine & feminine details. Nothing too terribly girly.

So, how long did it take you to put your room here together?
Well, I was a slave driver.

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 Wait! If you were a slave driver who were your slaves?
HAHA, Alan (my husband) and Dale, the owner of the salon. We really worked ourselves hard. It took about two months but we only worked on it one day a week. Though, the other girls here at the salon used to laugh at me because in between clients I’d sneak back into my room and I’d be sitting on the floor with a dress on, make-up & hair all nice for work with a screw gun in my hand piecing things together. It was a lot of hard work and I was eager to see it come together!

So what are you favorite things about the room?
I love so much about it! But my favorite thing is the couch from Hobby Lobby! And also, I love the mouse door my daughter painted. Alan bought it for her on one of our several trips to Hobby Lobby and I came home one day and she had it all wrapped and taped up with tissue. I opened it up and she let me know it was for the mouse in my salon. (*There is no actual mouse in the salon.)

Do you think you love doing hair now as much you did when you started in 2003?
I do! Actually, I think I love it more! I mean, when I started there was so much uncertainty. I feel very sure of everything I do now. I get to go into everything feeling confident and at ease. When I first started doing hair I would stress myself out worrying when a client would want a big change. I know I don’t need to worry anymore!

Any advice for young girls thinking about becoming a hairstylist?
Start! Soak in as much as you can from other stylists who have experience. As much as I disliked being in that tiny little shop I started at I learned more from that woman than I ever did in school!

Check out more of Danielle & her salon at www.rhondaelm.com

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Water Drops

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It was a sweltering hot Saturday. After days of what felt like endless rain we woke that morning to shuffle around town from soccer, to ballet, to errand running and eventually landed at home. On our way in through the neighborhood we passed a house down the street throwing a party with one of those huge inflatable waterslides.

“I wish we were friends with them!”

While I know in the moment you were just after those kids’ waterslide I’m reminded of your love for people. You haven’t quite refined the skill of friend-making. You really love people, you love feeling connected to people, and you thrive when anyone spends time with you one-on-one. Your heart is a little sensitive because you love so hard but in due time you’ll learn to balance your emotions long enough to get through the rough parts of getting to know a person.

“Hey, mom! Do you think we could take our pool out? Maybe skip rest time?”

Of course.

Let’s pause this day and live in this hour. Your dad and I have a habit of planning away bits of the weekend to spend doing as many tasks around the house as we can manage in the time it takes for you and your sister to watch a movie, nap, or do some other project that isolates you from what we have going on. It feels like maybe we’re doing that wrong. At least too often.

We pulled in the driveway and immediately got to work. Your dad dragged out the pool from the garage while I laid down your baby brother for nap.

“SWIMSUITS AND SUNSCREEN!”

You waited patiently downstairs while Adelaide piddled around with who knows what. You’ve been afraid to be upstairs or downstairs by yourself for some time. You’ll go on your own if you must but you do everything you can to avoid it and so often your sister is happy to oblige, sometimes she even fetches things for you so you don’t have to bother. She loves you so much.

“I found my special sunscreen, mom! Can you help me? I’m so excited!”

This was only the second time in almost a year that you’d be in need of sunscreen. As last summer came to an end you developed such an intense allergy to typical sunscreens, thankfully your doctor found one, a “special” one, that we use just for you. It goes on so thick. I hadn’t noticed it the first time we used it but it seemed much more water-resistant than any typical sunscreen.

I’d notice it later.

Fast forward about an hour, past some splashing and popsicles. You found yourself in time out.

You’d pushed your sister into the pool of water from the top of only three steps toward the slide but rather than pushing her toward the slide you shoved toward the steps and, I’m sure you can hear the ringing of her screams in your memories as she fell awkwardly and painfully back into the pool.

You meant it in jest, as you usually do. It’s hard to remember safety when you’re having a good time. I assume it’s probably hard for most little boys. I know it’s hard for you, the more fun you’re having the wilder your arms fling in the air, the louder your laughter gets, and the harder it must be to hear mom’s pleas for an ounce of tranquility.

So there you are, standing on the front porch, frustrated to find yourself stuck out of the water. I call you over to me to discuss the “why?”. The worst part of time out, the time when I get to talk in circles around what brought us to that point until I sense some sincere connection you’ve made to what I’m saying.

You weren’t listening.

You weren’t even looking at me.

I found myself unusually patient this weekend. I’ve been praying for patience. Patience and grace.

Realizing I haven’t yet started talking and that I don’t seem upset, “That’s the greenest lizard I’ve ever seen,” you spoke quietly. You’re capable of being so gentle. You have a gentleness I yearn for in my own being.

I stared at your face. The water droplets laying so gently on your cheeks caught my eye.  How could those water droplets be so lucky? So lucky to sit upon your cheeks, still, in that moment, those droplets so lucky to know your calm. Often times I feel reminded that I know you best. Aside from your creator, no one knows you better than mom. For now, no one quite knows how gently you can love. Those water drops on your cheeks got to see you the way I see you and there they sat frozen on your cheeks. Frozen so as not to disturb your wonder as you lock in on that lizard, the greenest lizard you ever saw. You love color, you love animals, and you love discovering something for the first time.

I ask you if I can take your picture.

“Of course. Whatever you want, mom.”

I return with my camera and quickly snap the photo realizing the water drops, in my mind frozen in awe of you, are really just water drops all the same, dissipating right in their place as water drops would, frozen temporarily by your “special” sunscreen.

“Can I see my picture?”

Of course you can, Noah! I love the way you love pictures.

“Mom. the photos you take remind me of movies I love.”

I’m not sure what that meant, but I know it meant something lovely.

A kiss on the cheek and off you went.

“Be gentle with your sister, Noah!” I hollered after you, remembering that, ironically enough, you seem more capable of gentleness than anyone I know. A secret only I know.

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