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

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