Easter Pic

Monday, April 13, 2015

For My Special Snowflakes

This post is for my Special Snowflakes.  You know who you are.  I sometimes wonder what kind of world we live in that stalking my blog would be a fun thing for a 13-14 year old to do.  Back in the Dark Ages, when I was a kid, that would be like looking up your teacher's number in the big yellow phone book and prank calling them.  I am sure kids did that sort of thing in the 1980's before caller ID, but I think I had more pressing matters to attend to, like watching paint dry.

You can spam my blog, stalk my Facebook page, follow me on Instagram... I certainly can't tell you how to manage your free time.  But I hope someday you get a hobby that doesn't involve belittling other people, even your language arts teacher.  You can't really hurt my feelings because you are just kids, but you might really do some damage to someone someday.  So please learn an instrument, read a book, go for a walk... do something productive.  Your time with no responsibilities will be over before you know it and I KNOW when you look back you won't think to yourself... gee... I wish I had stalked my 8th grade Language Arts teacher more.

Have a nice Evening,
Mrs. Bickford

PS... ALL of you have a storyboard assignment you could be working on.  Just saying...

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

I Forgive You

Marlene Dietrich said, “Once a woman has forgiven her man, she must not reheat his sins for breakfast.”  I have been thinking a lot about forgiveness lately, and how people are great at apologizing, but terrible at forgiving one another.  When someone hurts me I get angry, as I am sure most people do, then I get sad, and then I wallow in some self-pity.  Everyone loves a good wallow.  I think to deny our feelings of anger, sadness, and self-pity are to deny the fact that we are human.  No one who apologizes should expect the other person to skip these steps unless they are not really interested in true forgiveness.

Now comes the hard part, not for the person who has made the apology, they are done with you and on their own journey of forgiving themselves, but the part where you have to actually forgive the person.  People say “I forgive you,” like it is something as easy as three little words placed together instead of an emotional mountain you must climb and conquer.  When you forgive you must realize that the transgression is not actually about YOU.  People do terrible things to one another and the root is always fear: anger, aggression, violence, hatred… they are all rooted in fear.  You must have compassion for the transgressor, realize that they were filled with fear in some way, before you can forgive them.  Who among us has not experienced fear?  Once you remove yourself from the transgression and replace your anger with compassion, forgiveness is on its way.  Sometimes it takes time and prayer to reach compassion.  Once I had to pray just for the willingness to forgive someone for a month before I was ready to have compassion for them.

After you arrive at compassion it is important to place boundaries.  You should always protect yourself against further hurt.  Patterns must be broken, truth spoken, and lines drawn.  There need to be consequences for the crossing of those lines.  Some people mistakenly go from compassion to forgiveness and forget this step.  They are doomed to repeat the past. 

So you have compassion for the transgressor, placed boundaries that protect you from further transgressions, now you must let it go.  God has a plan for each of us, and He loves you and the transgressor equally.  Do not let the idea that sin has raised you above another allow you to punish the other person for their actions.  Your hurt has been real, but so has theirs.  The best way for both parties to move on is to allow God into the equation.  If He can forgive the sinner, than certainly you can too.  You may remind the other person when they cross boundaries, you may enforce consequences, but the original sin is done and it is not your job to punish.

True forgiveness is not constantly reminding someone how hurt you are.  After a certain point the self-pity is selfish and unhealthy.  Turn your thoughts to God and what he can do to heal you.  Have faith that all of our trails are part of His plan to make us better and more complete people.

I don’t say any of this lightly.  We are so obsessed with instant gratification in this world we even want instant forgiveness, and it is a process that can’t be completed quickly.  I see resentment all around me as a consequence.  I see people wrapped in their blankets of resentment like it is a shield that will protect them from further hurt, but in reality, it creates a barrier between us and God.  It eats away at us like a cancer.  It seeps out of our pores and infects our interactions with other people. 

True forgiveness feels like a weight lifted off of your soul.  You are suddenly freer, lighter, and more whole than you were before.  Those people who have been truly hurt by the people they love know the difference between the light feeling, which is God’s Grace working within us, and the slow eating pain of resentment.

So the next time someone hurts you and apologizes, take some time before you forgive them and do it properly… it will change your life.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

America voted "Most Likely to Give a 17th Place Trophy"

Statistics, and we all know that statistics mean reality, indicate that the United States is in 17th place for reading and 26th place for math worldwide.  The news conglomerates are all at arms and asking questions about how we, the greatest and richest country in the world, are not in 1st place.  I find this to be hilarious, since we are the country voted "Most Likely to Give a 17th Place Trophy", but if our nation is really still confused let me break it down for them.

1) Our kids are spoiled.
There is a sense of entitlement in this country that defies imagination.  Our children seem to have taken that concept and really created something special out of it.  Only a fellow teacher can understand the frustration of a 10 year old looking at you like you are some kind of servant they have to put up with before they can go home and do what they really want to do.  If we ever want our children to be number one this would have to be the first thing to go.

2) School has to be fun.
Because life is fun right? And all of us have fun jobs that we go to every day?  Surely we should make sure that every second of school is both entertaining and fulfilling for our children.  This attitude, combined with entitlement, leaves teachers at a loss.  Guess what? Sometimes you just have to learn your grammar by writing a million sentences.  Sometimes you have to learn your addition facts by looking at flash cards.  This isn't rocket science.  Learning CAN be fun, but it doesn't always have to be.  It sets a dangerous precedent for our children that life should also always be fun.  If you look at young adults in the workplace now you can see the fruits of this technique in technicolor.  I am pretty sure that in China and the other top nations school is not always fun.

3) Your schools are partly run by textbook companies.
Every year your school district pays tens of thousands of dollars for needless new books.  The textbooks are not better, actually they are usually worse than the last batch, but there are new "standards" every year that need to be assessed (I will address those in a minute.)  So the textbook companies, working with the government, are able to create this great demand cycle where they must create new books and materials to accommodate the ever more inane standards. Ad nauseum.

4) Common Core and other standards systems are a joke.
Every. Single. Study. says that the main problem that our children face as a country is poverty, needless poverty.  Until poverty is addressed we can not have the scores we want no matter how many assessment systems we develop.  Common Core was created by politicians and educators who are also politicians.  If you were to ask actual teachers how to improve classrooms they would tell you what they have always told you: smaller class sizes, hands on activities, interdisciplinary critical thinking projects.  Guess what?  You can't write a textbook for that, so as long as we look to these assessment systems and textbook companies we will have mediocre results.  We have been tricked into thinking that we NEED assessments, technology, and supplemental materials because someone wants us to BUY them.  Look at the countries ahead of us on the list and tell me how many of them have the kind of technology we have in the classroom.

5) We are content to remain uninvolved.
Yes, parents, I am talking to all of us.  I am not talking about the booster club or raising money for the PTA.  These things are easy.  As parents we have to realize that this system is a joke and care enough to do something about it.  There are some educators that believe that No Child Left Behind was designed to create such a disaster in our public school system that the running of education would have to become privatized.  I believe that even if this isn't true, it is the direction our country is heading in.  I am not saying that children should be left behind, and that is the beauty of this argument.  No one can come out against it without looking like they don't believe in special education.  I do believe that no child that TRIES/WORKS/PUTS IN EFFORT should be left behind.  But sometimes Johnny figures out that he doesn't have to actually do ANYTHING and teachers and administrators will bend over backwards because they have some illusive number they have to meet to get funding that year.  At least Johnny is working on his critical thinking skills…

6) We don't let teachers teach.
Teaching is a profession.  I did not wake up one morning and decide I wanted to be a teacher and walk into a classroom.  It takes a certain set of skills and not everyone has them.  Some teachers are great, some teachers are not, just like with any other profession.  The solution to our education problem so far has been to limit teacher involvement in the actual planning and designing of curriculum and materials.  As a teacher I have never met a textbook that I liked.  As an English teacher I would create all of my own materials: vocabulary tests, unit tests, chapter activities.  It was exhausting because the school required a certain number of assignments, homework, and assessments.  As an English teacher I had to have as many assessments as a math teacher.  Does that make sense? No.  

Right now my son is in Georgia where they have Common Core. He has an excellent first year teacher who is managing having 26 2nd graders beautifully.  She is given every assignment and project ahead of time.  She is told how to teach each subject.  While every teacher is different she is not given reign to use the skills she learned and that is a shame.

So here is my recommendation for improving American schools:  Tell little Johnny that school is his job and that it is work to get what you want out of life.  Don't let politicians and textbook companies determine how teachers teach because they fundamentally don't understand how education works.  And… finally… let teachers do their jobs and work on solving more important issues like how we can still have poverty in a country where it is completely unnecessary.  Let the government work on THAT.

I could write about this for hours… but I won't bore you.  If you still can't understand why we are in 17th place, you might need to bone up on your critical thinking skills… wait… we don't teach those anymore.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Marriage is for Me: a response

There is a blog post that went around earlier this week entitled Marriage Isn't for You.  While I applaud the writer who obviously poured his heart and soul into the post, I am troubled by the fact that it is so popular.  In my opinion, giving marriage advice after a year and a half is like the parent of an 18 month old child giving parenting advice.  I have been married for ten years and I would not even begin to give advice to other couples, because, like parenting, each relationship is different and needs different things.  The premise of the original post is that marriage isn't for you, it is for the other person.  Your job as a spouse is to love, support, and nurture the other person and to do so selflessly.  I do agree that your job as a spouse is to love, nurture and support, but you can't do any of those things if you have not taken care of yourself first.  One of the major pitfalls of marriage can be relying on your spouse to make you happy.  The reality is: no one can make you happy, only you can make you happy.  

As a younger woman I was selfless.  I took care of my husband and my children and literally spent no time during the day thinking about myself or what would fulfill me as a person.  Unfortunately what can happen in that situation, if you don't think about yourself, is that you become a non-person.  People get the impression that you don't have needs or desires and that your happiness is derived from doing for other people.  Now don't get me wrong, I enjoy taking care of my family, it is my job, but it isn't ME.  When my children leave the house or find their own diversions I refuse to be a mother that is left with nothing.  I am (usually) happy to support my husband in his endeavors.  But when a person is selfless it is easy for their spouse to believe that their endeavors also fulfill their partner.

The blog poster also recounted a time when he was selfish and resentful and his wife responded with love and understanding until he came to the realization that he should stop thinking about himself so much.  In an 18 month marriage I imagine this period was short.  It may have seemed interminable to his spouse, but in reality 18 months is no time at all.  When you are married there can be months and years where one spouse doesn't think of the other the way they should.  Is it a good idea, then, to respond with love and understanding for a couple of years while your spouse is selfish and resentful?  I personally don't think so.  When you get married you should do so with the person that "brings out the best in you".  It is a tired cliche, but one that has survived for its inherent truth.  My husband and I challenge each other to be the best versions of ourselves.  That process can be painful, uncomfortable, and frustrating.  The key for us is trying to love each other through that process.

Marriage is difficult.  When the Bible was written the average life expectancy was that you would survive until your mid-thirties.  So if you got married, as a woman, between the age of 12 and 14 you might get ten years of marriage if you didn't die in childbirth or your husband didn't die of old age at 35.  To say that there are different challenges now to married couples is a huge understatement.  I got married at 22, and if I live to be 72 that means I will have been married 50 years by the time I die.  That is an incredibly long time to be with the same person.  The idea that two people will be able to grow together and face the challenges of life for 50 years is an amazing idea.  I am not saying that it is an insurmountable challenge, but certainly one that can not be considered easy.  When I think of the challenges that my husband and I have faced in the first ten years: children, moving, unemployment, financial hardship, stressful family dynamics, it is overwhelming to think of 40 years.

We live in a society that isn't particularly honest about anything.  We are inundated with images of romantic love that are, frankly, ridiculous.  ( I can't even imagine how many marriages Nicholas Sparks and the Twilight Series have ruined.)  When I am my most unhappy I am comparing myself to other people or wondering why my life isn't more like the fiction represented in books and on television.  I am just now, at 32, starting to figure out what makes me happy, what fulfills me, and taking time for myself.  I have to force myself to sit and think, slow down and breathe.  When I take care of myself properly I am more patient with my family.  When I get enough sleep I love my husband more.  These are simple concepts, but difficult to implement in a world where everyone is in a competition to explain how little time they have.  It is an excuse, one we need to escape the perfection that society requires.  In my opinion the best way to live, especially as a married person, is to do the next right thing.  Sometimes the next right thing is to call my husband and apologize for being short with him.  Sometimes the next right thing is going to the gym.  If I really search my heart I always know what the next right thing is: the challenge is doing it.

Friday, August 16, 2013

10 Years Later

I got married a month after my 22nd birthday.  I had just graduated from college, never had a real job.  My husband was my third serious boyfriend and I met him when I was almost 19.  At the time, I felt like most college grads in their early twenties.  I knew everything.  If someone had told me not to get married so young, to take life's changes slowly, that there would be time enough, I would have pitied them.  They might have had problems and obstacles, but that would not happen to me.  I was too smart, too well prepared. I loved too much.  

If I could see that girl now, in some sci-fi back-to-the-future way, I think I would just shake my head and give her a hug.  There was nothing anyone could have said or done to prepare me for life.  I am a dive in and doggie paddle kind of girl.  Teaching kicked my ass.  Parenting is wonderful, but three children in 4 years does not add to anyone's sanity.  I wanted to have all of my children before I turned 30.  I needed to have a masters degree.  We needed to buy houses and cars.  If you try to tell someone in their twenties that all of those things really don't matter, that life is long and days are beautiful, they can't understand.

I remember my wedding day very clearly.  It was hot, and I was happy, but apprehensive.  I couldn't really eat and the limo driver made us late.  I waited outside the church for what seemed like an interminable time before it was my turn to walk down the isle.  I cried repeatedly, during the ceremony, during my vows, during speeches, during the father-daughter dance.  I was both happy and a little sad that my childhood was officially over.  It seems a little strange that 10 years later I feel like adulthood is really beginning.  10 years of limbo… packed full of emotions and milestones.  

When I look at my Facebook page I see hundreds of happy faces, happy families, perfect relationships, perfect children staring back at me.  I look at my own Facebook page and it looks the same.  I don't write about the truly difficult times because I know people don't really want to hear about them.  But that omission makes my Facebook, my photo album, my memories, in some ways, inauthentic.  It gives the impression that if you do things in a certain way that life will be perfect.  I find myself looking at friends who have been married the same length of time, or with children the same age as mine, and wonder what I am doing wrong that I don't look that happy all the time.  Lately, I look at those people who have moved recently and wonder how it is that they are so happy in a new place where they know no one and have to start all over.  But it is all an illusion.  Those people have their own struggles behind closed doors that don't make it on their Facebook page, just like mine stay hidden behind smiles and posts about fabulous weather.  

The truth is I don't know how I have stayed married 10 years, and I don't know if there is a secret formula for staying married 10 years more.  I love my husband and my children, but that is no recipe for success.  I am still trying to figure out who I am, and I really hope that in 10 years I will have a better idea.  I hope that my husband will continue to love me, even when I change.  I hope that my children will be happy and healthy.  I hope that they won't make the same mistakes I did unless they have to.  

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Natives Are Restless...

            My children do not tolerate isolation well.  I am trying to pace myself with setting up our new home, so I occasionally take breaks.  If  they see me inactive for more than two minutes the questions start.  “Can we go outside?” “Can we go to the park?”“Can we watch a movie?”.  Grace then always adds, “Is it snack time?”  I swear that child never does anything but think about food when she is bored.  And she is BORED.  When they are older I will be able to give them a task to do, but now at 3,4 and 7 years old, normal tasks can become dangerous.  Any cleaning tool can be a weapon, or a tool for disassembly as I am frantically trying to assemble. 

            During times like these, I fantasize about having some of those lobotomized children that can sit in front of the TV for hours.  I would settle for 20 minutes right now.  Yesterday, as I was cleaning I witnessed a zombie war, a family of very dysfunctional, whining children (none of them wanted to play the mom… hmmmm…), and hide and seek.  The only reason why I knew they were playing hide and seek was because as I was walking into the kitchen I heard a small voice say, “Hi mom,” and there was Lily curled up in an impossibly small shelf of the TV cabinet.  She had even managed to close the doors around her.  She had one of those triumphant preschool smiles, and I hated to dash her sense of accomplishment, but she was on a GLASS shelf.  I eased her out of the cabinet slowly and admonished her for climbing on the furniture, and immediately realized that if she was in the TV cabinet that the other kids might be hiding in even more dangerous places. However, they had forgotten about the game and left Lily in the cabinet to wait and figure out that they had moved on to some kind of spy game.

            While I love my kids, I am ready for school to start.  As I was cleaning the grout in my bathroom with a scrub brush and high-powered steam cleaner, I wondered how women did these kinds of chores in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  My grandmother had seven children.  How did she get anything done?  There were so many more chores too.  The clothes all had to be ironed, food made from scratch,  only ONE TV with no Netflix.  The thought is impossible.  I picture a Mad Men-esque scenario with Paul as Don Draper coming home from a long day.  He would expect food on the table, and that I would have showered.  I think I would have been institutionalized back then.   I guess now is not so bad, considering the shrieking coming from the playroom right now.  It certainly beats being expected to do my vacuuming in high heels…

Sunday, July 14, 2013

the last year...

It has been a little over a year since my last post.  I don’t even know where to begin.  In April of 2012 our lives were turned upside-down.  My husband lost his job. 
Anyone who has been through this before knows the pain and anxiety that this brings.  We had a significant amount of money in the bank and renters for our home, so it was “easier” for us than it is for most people.  However, here we are, more than a year later, savings gone, house in short sale, living in a different state. 

When it became apparent that we were going to lose our health insurance and could not afford COBRA, which is horrifically expensive, I got a job teaching.  We figured it would take, maximum, six months for Paul to find a job.  Unfortunately, it took ten months.  There were many “final interviews”.  Paul was flown to Pennsylvania, Iowa, Georgia, Texas, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.  Each time we waited with baited breath to find out if he got the job, and each time we were disappointed. 

When Paul finally found a job he moved down to Georgia and I stayed in Virginia to finish my teaching contract. In retrospect it might have been better if I had followed him, but hind-sight is 20/20.  I learned what it is like to be a single working mom, something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.  It was the hardest, most demoralizing, frustrating thing I have ever done in my life.  We lost our renters in May because, though they signed a 4 year contract, in Virginia, military personnel can break their lease if the military moves them.  Civilians like us had to pay a break of lease fee and find renters for the home we were living in. 

We are still in the short sale process with our home.  It has also been a demoralizing, frustrating process.  The bank has no obligation to tell us anything.  They have requested paperwork, then more paperwork, then told us we have to be delinquent on our mortgage, then told us we have too much money, then told us to re-submit our paperwork.  I won’t know until September if they will even let us continue with the short sale.  

Through all of this I have learned some very valuable lessons, ones that I will carry with me my whole life.
1)   Life can get worse, even when it is bad.
2)   Life is not fair, and the hardest part is maintaining your own sense of morals and ethics even when people are not treating you properly.
3)   Not everyone will appreciate the sacrifices you make, so make them in the spirit that they are a gift for which you will receive no thanks.
4)   NEVER EVER judge someone based on your perceptions of them, especially single mothers and the unemployed.  You have no idea what they are going through.
I can’t tell you how much it hurt around the election when people would write Facebook updates about President Obama winning the election because all of the lazy unemployed people taking advantage of the system had plenty of time to vote, while ‘working’ people had to be at work.  Trust me, being unemployed is MUCH worse than holding a job. 

I got to be that mom that forgot to make cupcakes for my son’s class on his birthday.  I got to be that mom that the teachers chased down to sign a permission slip for a field trip I forgot about.
I got to be the mom who comes home from work with no energy or time for her own kids. 
My kids got to be the ones who could not buy the pictures from picture day because we couldn’t afford them.
My kids were the kids who didn’t go to birthday parties they were invited to at school because we couldn’t afford to buy presents.

I learned many lessons, and I am still learning.  To be honest I am ready to let someone else learn lessons for a little while.  I need a break.