What’s a Mom to do?

Goodness.  My daughter is one month away from graduation, and little over a month from turning 18.  Not so long ago she was shorter than me, brace-faced, flat chested and I was consoling her while she cried over some chickens she neglected and died in some silly reality video game.  I’m finding myself misty-eyed at church events, musicals and even the dreaded before-prom pictures. (Which for the record, I HATE!!)   I wrote a blog about two years ago entitled “Give Up What You Know” https://carvingoutmyname.com/2013/03/17/give-up-what-you-know/  and I felt the need this evening, the day after prom, to revisit that theme.

About a week ago, Lauren asked if we could host the after-prom party and sleepover.  What the what?? I’m trying to sell my house.  I am a single mom with two kids in college in the fall.  I’ve heard stories of parents being locked up for kids getting drunk at their homes.  I thought I had dodged the bullet after I told her of my strict guidelines until I wrote her a note on the church bulletin last Sunday.  (Note to Pastor Chris Joiner…it was during the offering)  “So where is after prom going to be?”   “At our house.”  What’s a Mom to do?  On the way home, I reiterated my request and asked for all parents’ emails by Monday. I sent out an email stating that I was very happy to provide a safe place for the kids to gather after prom, but I wanted to be clear that I reserved the right to search all bags for alcohol and that I needed parents’ cells.  I also said the boys would sleep in the basement and the girls would sleep on the third floor.  I also told them that the kids would need to get up early enough to help clean up as I was hosting an open house later in the day.  Lauren was horrified, and I’m sure some of her friends complained,  but I didn’t back down.  If kids didn’t like it, they could go somewhere else.

Was I nervous about my liability and obligation?  Yes.  Yesterday afternoon, I hid all three bottles (I know, very sad) of booze in the house, a bottle of five-year old champagne, and a box of red wine which will never be consumed so I should probably dump it out.  There was no good wine because frankly, I drank it from being nervous about hosting an after prom party.  Last night, I took a nap while they were at prom and then I got up at 11:30 to put out all kinds of foods.  Around 1:00 AM I game them my last little lecture about expectations. But there were no problems.  They got up at a decent hour, I made them waffles while they had pleasant conversation.  They helped clean up, thanked me profusely and left.  Here’s what last night and this morning showed me.  Not all kids today are entitled, spoiled brats.   Not all kids today are out to get high and drunk at prom. ( But it sounds like from the breakfast conversation that some at prom were)  Not all kids are giving up their virginity early and are promiscuous.  In fact, I’d go out on a limb and say this group of kids behaved better than my generation of kids.   I may be lucky, but I also put in my hours as a mom.  When you have expectations of your kids at 3 and 10, and follow through, they remember it when they are budding 18 year-olds with college-aged boyfriends.   When you don’t nag and micromanage, but act as a loving parent and not their “friend,” they know you trust them and don’t want to destroy that trust.

I thought about what Tony would think of his little Lauren today when I was looking through her pictures.   It’s been almost four years since his passing, and she was so different then.  He would most likely want her to wear sports bras and turtle necks!   He would love how she has matured and inherited his OCD for organization.  He would love that she wants to be a nurse, inspired by the care she saw him receive after his surgery and through his hospice nurses.  He wanted to be here for these moments so I do my best to keep him present.  We talked about him while she was putting on her make up.  She mentioned him this morning in conversation with her friends.   I try my best to look her boyfriend in the eye (which is REALLY hard since he’s over six feet) and be both the Dad and the Mom as I tell him to drive carefully.  At the right time, he and I may have a conversation about Lauren’s Dad.  I’ll tell him all the things I think Tony would say, and what he would want him to know about the privilege of dating his precious girl.   This is what this Mom needs to do.

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Bonnes Choses (aka Good Stuff)

I was getting ready in my hotel room on New Year’s Day when Jack said, “Oh, Sarah. Did you see what Lauren wrote on her Facebook page?” And then he read it to me.

Everyday, for 365 days, I wrote down “Bonnes Choses” (good stuff) that happened to me or something I was thankful for. Looking back at them, it is truly incredible to see how I grew as a person in faith and especially happiness throughout 2014. Thank you to everyone who made 2014 become the greatest year of my life yet. And here’s to 2015, may it be even greater and FULL of bonnes choses!


I was astonished because I knew nothing about this! I actually felt bad about my parenting. Why didn’t she tell me about it? Should I have asked what the jar full of paper on her dresser was all about over the past year? I had noticed it but didn’t ask. Maybe good Moms open drawers and read texts to make sure their kids aren’t doing bad things? I’ve never done that. Aren’t good Moms supposed to communicate with their kids and know the ins and outs of their daily lives? Had I become so busy that I had lost touch with my daughter?

The guilt went away fairly quickly as I realized just what had happened. My little blond girl who resembled Cindy Lou Hoo on our Christmas card fifteen years ago was becoming a mentally healthy young woman. She had set an intention for an entire year, even when she was having a bad day, to find a nugget of a blessing.

It made me think about parenting. We spend our whole lives talking to and at our kids. Do they listen? Not always so we talk some more. Our talking starts with trying to get them to talk by cooing, babbling and then we move to telling them not to talk in quiet church sanctuaries or movie theaters. We talk to them about toilet training, brushing their teeth, sleeping, eating healthy foods, cleaning up their toys, not hitting their siblings, respect, responsibility, faith, grades, friendships, exercise, relationships, money, alcohol, drugs, sex, death, driving, taxes, too much social time, not enough social time, filling out their college applications, deciding on colleges, deciding on what to study, job markets, medical school…etc. I have talked to these two kids of mine nonstop for twenty years. I suppose that is why Lauren’s “Bonnes Choses” jar makes me proud. I didn’t say a word.

My Mom and I were talking about it yesterday. She asked me what Lauren had written down the day she didn’t get the coveted spot in the high school musical as she knew how devastated she had been. “You know, Mom, I haven’t really asked to read them as curious as I am. If she wants me to read them, perhaps she will bring it up but I respect her privacy.” I remember what I liked about that day. I got a chance to once again comfort my little Cindy Lou Hoo, hold her, wipe away tears, bestow some wisdom about perseverance and dedication, and reassure her that this was a small fraction of her life as bigger things in her life were on the horizon. We did some early Christmas shopping, I bought her some new penguin flannel pjs, and we went out to eat.

At dinner last night I told Lauren that Grandma was proud of her for committing a year to finding something positive about each day. “Lauren,You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to, but what did you write down on the day you didn’t get the part in the musical?”

“I wrote down that I got to spend time with you.”

Sigh. Thanks Lauren for letting me be your bonnes choses.

Sarah Lopacinski is a Mom to Aaron and Lauren, twenty-five year teaching veteran, yoga teacher and founder of http://www.peacefulplaceonline.com.

Visit http://www.peacefulplaceonline.com to get high definition streaming yoga and guided meditations. Use the code Begin to get a $6.00 monthly rate. No long term commitments necessary. Purchase the Peaceful Place app of guided meditations through itunes or Google Play specifically written for cancer patients. Email sarah@peacefulplaceonline.com for more information!


Out with the Old…Hey, not so fast!

Recently, I became keenly aware that my red yoga mat was getting past its prime. You’re probably thinking that a hot yoga mat used as often as mine would become pungent, but it wasn’t really the smell as I clean it regularly. It was still doing a decent job to keep me from going into a full split when I stepped into Warrior 1. But it had lost some of its luster and the edges had become worn. The bright ones in the basket for sale at Epic Yoga had been beckoning me for awhile. I was waiting for the right shade of blue, and last week, it finally arrived. So I bought myself a Christmas gift.

It would be perfectly logical that I would tear off the tag and roll out my mat the next day, but I couldn’t. In fact, I let the new mat ride around with me for a full week. Every now and then I’d look at it through my rear view mirror sitting on my backseat winking its brilliant blueness at me. The truth was that I was a more than a little sentimental about my old mat. My first mats didn’t work for hot yoga, and I invested into my red one when I realized the transformational power of my yoga practice. That red mat had caught me when I face planted for what seemed 1000 times in my attempt to get into crow. It rooted me to the ground as I wavered and wobbled in my balance poses. It celebrated with me when I finally opened my heart in chapasana. But most importantly, it caught an ocean of tears in half-pigeon as I let go of resentment, regret, and the fear of facing a future as a young widow and single parent. My heart is full of gratitude for a piece of rubber.

I finally rolled out my new mat for practice on Monday. It took me awhile, but I realized that there are poses to master, and I need extra support if I’m ever going to get a solid handstand. I have some personal challenges looming in the coming months, and I’m going to need my yoga to relieve the stress and quiet my mind as I prepare for a move in the summer. There are new tears to be shed in half pigeon as college acceptances continue to arrive for my Lauren, and I figure out my new normal with an empty nest. There are celebratory tree poses ahead as I have discovered that it’s not only possible to find love again in my late 40’s, but it’s downright amazing. My new mat will serve me well, but no way am I getting rid of my old red mat. yoga mats

Visit http://www.peacefulplaceonline.com to get high definition streaming yoga and guided meditations. Use the code Begin to get a $6.00 monthly rate. No long term commitments necessary. Purchase the Peaceful Place app of guided meditations through itunes or Google Play specifically written for cancer patients. Email sarah@peacefulplaceonline.com for more information!

Academic Pointers for a New School Year

It’s tough these days to find balance in parenting. I’m not talking about social media, cell phones or wearing the right outfit from the right stores. I’m talking about my profession: education. Anyone who has kids under the age of 25 has experienced the inevitable end-of-the-year state tests. As a teacher, I understand the tremendous stress that educators are under to “grow” their students and to push achievement higher.

As I begin my twenty-sixth year of teaching, I have what most teachers would envy: High-achieving, motivated students. They do their homework. The majority of them make high A’s on every assignment. They listen to directions. They are thirsty for knowledge. A teacher’s dream!! However, my eyes were opened the other morning. While they were doing bell-ringer work, I went around to check off their homework. It was a workbook page or a sheet. I don’t remember. I came to one boy, and he was “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m an idiot. I lost my paper, and I don’t know where it is.” Tears were brimming in his eyes. I stopped bell-ringer work, and we had a lesson in self-forgiveness and giving up the need to be perfect. I showed them my sloppy writing on the board and my messy desk. I told them I left my cell phone charger at home, and I forgot to copy something for class today. I saw a thousand pounds lift off of the shoulders of the entire class. Yikes. I am worried about the stress kids are under these days, and I have 12 year olds.

Boy studying

I have a few pointers for parents as we begin the school year.

1. Relieve stress from your child by not expecting all A’s. Parents of these students want their children to be challenged, but not if it means they may get an occasional B. We’ve fielded questions on GPA and class rank this year! (FYI…it doesn’t exist in sixth grade.) In addition, you may not think you are expecting all A’s but when your child overhears you talking about their math level and their grades to Grandma, they hear the pride in your voice and don’t want to disappoint you. Tell Grandma a funny story or about something kind that your child did. Pull the identity away from their academic and even athletic accolades.

2. Examine your attitude toward homework and quality of work.

I recently had a meeting with a parent who was very upset over the amount of homework and her child’s anxiety over the quality of her work. She feels she doesn’t measure up to her classmates. It was reported that the child spent three hours trying to complete an assignment that should have taken five minutes, constantly second guessing herself. The parent was at wit’s end. However, there were some signs of roots of this stress. The parent had emailed some of us LONG messages with multiple questions about assignments, quizzes and tests. The parent came in with a typed agenda for our meeting on her suggestions for what we could do at school. We acknowledged her suggestions and agreed to try some things but not all. We came up with some other ideas as well. What I wanted to say was take a deep breath. You are stressing yourself out and you are stressing your child out. Eventually, I will tell her.

3. Don’t push your child into a math class he/she is not ready to take.

Kids at my school who test high in 5th grade math tests are placed on a faster track, taking pre Algebra in sixth grade, Algebra I in seventh, Geometry in eighth and it goes on and on from there. This year, I have a student on my team who takes Algebra I in sixth grade! Most brains are not developed enough to understand Algebra until the age of 14. Kids are given placement tests at the beginning of the year because their parents believe they can handle a higher math. We have parents override the placement tests and the school’s decision regularly. I often wonder if parents want this more than the kids.

4. Hope that your child loses an assignment, forgets homework or fails a quiz.

I know this sounds absolutely ridiculous, but I mean it. When it happens, reassure them that they are human. Share a story about when you had a similar experience to connect with your child. They need to know that you screw up too. Ask if they need some suggestions on organizing their papers or writing down assignments. They probably don’t need your help, but if they do, help them. Your love, example of self- forgiveness and attitude about the situation are like a safety net. They won’t forget it down the road. Mental health is more important than being in the top 10% of the class.


5. Don’t be an online grade book checker and instant emailer.

Oh my gosh. I have had parents who must have the online grade book open at all times and get alerts for anything below a 95%. We all know which parents are going to send us an email as soon as a grade is entered, and we laugh about it at lunch. One year I set a timer to see how long it took for the Mom to email me: 8 minutes!! Allow for some time for your child to get the grade back up, but if you see a pattern of low marks, talk to your child first and then email the teacher. Think about the message that it sends your child about being perfect if you are constantly bringing up grades that you saw online.

6. Be honest with yourself about your own experience

Are you tying your own “If I had only…” lessons and dreams onto your child? Do you feel your life would have been set on a different course if you had been pushed academically? Do you wish you had been in a “better” college? Would it have made a difference in your career? Over the past ten years, I have had several parents ask me to rank their child in the class. I decline. Is this about their child or about them? Hmmm.

7. Google the article “Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League.” It’s one of the most honest, thought-provoking articles I’ve read in awhile by an Ivy league professor. Kids today are becoming zombies, trying to get as many extracurriculars on their college application as possible, striving for highly ranked, prestigious colleges. And although I feel it’s important to go into college with a sense of what you may want to do and to pick a college that offers a good program, it’s more important to pick a college that allows kids to think, reflect and experience. My friend Steve Hoeffler, a professor at Vanderbilt has helped me with this.

I’ll admit that I have violated everything above as a parent. It’s true. I find myself asking about grades, signing Lauren up for ACT prep classes and asking Aaron if he’s had any tests in Organic Chemistry. What I feel I have done well is to always tell my kids to do their best, but to take time to enjoy their years in school. There are times when I know they are slacking, and I’ll point it out to them. They’ve also had bare bones honesty about where they stack in the deck. There will always be people around you smarter, wealthier, better looking and better networked. A truly successful adult is one who has balance of work and play and self-love.

A Not-So-Gentle Reminder

I’m pushing 50. Actually, I’ll be 48 in August, but I might as well go ahead and say I’m almost 50. I’m not afraid of a number and definitely not ashamed. I have more energy than I’ve ever had because for the most part, I eat right, take supplements and sleep well. I’m in good physical shape and can still wear the same size from my high school and a smaller size than my college years (especially the post-freshman 15). It comes from daily commitment and intention to live a long, healthy life for myself and those I love.

However, this morning as I prepare for my day, a not-so-gentle reminder of my age hits me as I sit in the sink, putting on my moisturizer and makeup. It’s a long black hair poking out of my chin, and I’ve decided to name him Carlos. I have no reason for this name so do not ask. He sticks out of my chin in an area that I can’t easily spot. It’s as if I can find it only after a full moon in just-right-light because by the time I spot it, it’s about three inches long. Good grief. Carlos shows up to remind me that there are some things I have no control over like long pubic hairs coming out of my chin. When I get past 60, perhaps I’ll dye Carlos a bright blue to clash with my purple dress and red hat, but for now, I’ll pluck him out. Fuera de aqui, Carlos, you little stinker.

This one’s for Sam

The Brentwood community has lost a star. He wasn’t a political visionary who rallied support for a great cause. He was not a songwriter who penned top ten hits. He wasn’t a star athlete who lead Brentwood High to state titles or a National Merit scholar stirring pride in the quality of our public schools. He wasn’t in the chorus, band, or orchestra. He wasn’t a class president or Homecoming king. No. He was way more important than that. His name was Sam McGahren, and his sudden passing this week has stirred waves of emotion in me that I must put down in words.

When I first moved to Tennessee, I became Maggie McGahren’s 5th grade homeroom teacher and brother Charlie’s science teacher. One day early in the year, I saw Maggie hug a fourth grade boy. She told me it was her brother, Sam. She explained that they were triplets and were born very premature. Later, their mother, Shannon, told me about the triplets’ birth and how Sam had the most developmental delays of the three. He wasn’t supposed to make it, but the doctors didn’t understand how much spunk that tiny baby had in his soul.

Sam became my student the following year. He would come into the room with a “Hey everybody” or “Alright!!” listening to his Allen Jackson and Brad Paisley CDs and giving me a big hug, throwing his arms around my waist and burying his head in my stomach. Next, he would ask me, “Mrs. L, do you dry your hair upside down?” I would say, “Sometimes I do for a short while to get more body in it.” He would give me a crooked grin, shake his head and say, “Ok.” I found out that his assistant and teacher were trying to encourage him to have conversation with his peers and other adults and the hair drying is what he came up with to talk about. I never tired of him asking me even though his other teachers told him he would have to come up different conversation starters like “What’s your favorite tv show?”

Each day, his best friend in my homeroom, Jack McGregor, would walk him to the bus sometimes holding Sam in line so he wouldn’t run away. Other boys from other class rooms would help out, but to this day, my eyes tear up as I think back to a very tall Jack gently reminding Sam to speak in an inside voice and not to run out of the bus line.

My Lauren became one of Sam’s friends. He would often call the house (sometimes ten times in a row!) until he could speak to Lauren to see if she could come over to play. Just a few weeks ago I had to explain that Lauren was in France and wouldn’t be able to talk to him. “Why not?” “Well, Sam, it’s across the ocean and expensive for her to call.” “Ok. Bye, Mrs. L.”

In December of 2010, Tony and I went to a Christmas party. We had recently received the bad news that the spots in Tony’s lungs had grown and that traditional treatments were no longer an option. Shannon pulled me aside to talk to me. She said, “Sarah, I am a believer that anything is possible. Every day I wake up with Sam who is a miracle. He was given a less than 5% chance of living and look at him, beating all the odds.”

I have been a teacher for twenty-five years and I now believe that the greatest wisdom that I can bestow upon my students has little to do with state science standards. I encourage my students to pay attention to not only the world around them but more importantly to themselves. To learn self-awareness is to discover what gifts you have been given. Maybe your gift is a strong intellect with keen curiosity. Maybe your sensitivity to the world allows you to be a writer, someone who listens and is a good friend. Maybe your life’s circumstances have been less than ideal, but you discover the gift of compassion to help others. Self-awareness isn’t easy because we are often dishonest with ourselves and often things stand in opposition to what God would have us do with our lives.

That’s why Sam McGahren will be missed. He innately understood exactly what God called him to do in his short time on Earth. He showed us joy when we felt melancholy. He showed us enthusiasm when we were bored. He showed us that every now and then, the best way to shut out the racket of the outside world was to put on headphones and listen to some good old Allen Jackson songs. He allowed children and teenagers to practice and foster compassion and gratitude. He was a blessing to his family and the entire Brentwood community.

I pray for peace for Dave, Shannon, Maggie and Charlie as they will miss their Sammy. I pray that Sam’s friends will remember and honor their friend by living a life of joy, gratitude and service. I pray that this entire community, our state, and our country recognize the importance and value of supporting educational and vocational programs for students and adults with special needs. I know that I should end this by petitioning that Sam rest in peace, but what I really want to say is: Dear Sam, run with unbridled joy, ride horses and laugh, sing your favorite country songs, loud and proud. We will miss you.

Celebrating Mother’s Day (without a Father to buy the cards, gift and lunch out)

I read my mother’s blog Mother’s Day 2014 yesterday (Ellenblose.com), and I have to admit I felt some guilt.  She points out that busy moms don’t take the time to focus on whether this day is set aside as special or not.   I understand that, but she also had a great partner who took care of reminding the seven Blose girls about this day.  We would go out to lunch after church, and I’m pretty sure he covered her with appreciative hugs and kisses later on.  

For the past four years, I have celebrated Mother’s Day either with a very sick husband or as a widow.  It’s been up to me to take the crew out to lunch and to drop subtle hints that Mother’s Day was coming (Hey, kids, make sure you sign your Grandmas’ Mother’s Day cards!!).    I’m busy, but I was accustomed to a husband who bought the card and reminded the kids about the day.  I never wanted or expected anything expensive.  My favorite gift ever was a CD of a five year old Aaron singing “Here Comes the Sun” and a three year old Lauren singing “Skidamarink.”  In all honesty, this Mom has always enjoyed being celebrated and recognized on Mother’s Day.  

I knew Aaron would be at the beach with his friends this week and Lauren told me that she had to work from 1-9:00 at her new job.  I was giving myself more than a little pity-party, lamenting some to my guy friend, Jack.   He told me yesterday that he was sure they wouldn’t forget, and I felt the very first pangs of jealousy when he went to buy his ex-wife Mother’s Day gifts. Grrrr.    

It dawned on me late last night how many Moms out there celebrate this day alone.  Either divorced, single, widowed, there are many of us who don’t have that man to make sure the kids are reminded about this day.  If you know of a Mom who is single, widowed, divorced, make sure you send her a message today.  

Lauren hinted at making strawberry crepes for this morning, but I’m up and she’s not. Ha ha.   Imagine my surprise when I got an email this morning from Anthropologie for a pretty nice-sized gift card amount.  It said it was from Jack but the message read 🙂 “Happy Mother’s Day, Mom! Thanks for everything you do 🙂  Love, Aaron and Lauren.”   

Wow. Thanks, Aaron and Lauren!  ( aka Jack.  🙂    

A Small Price to Pay

Today marks ten years since my Dad peacefully slipped away to heaven.. Anyone who met him, knew from his handshake that he was  a strong man. It was a tiny bacterium that took him from us.  He would probably laugh at the irony of that, and would probably have something wise to say about it all.   

As my mother said in an email, it’s a bummer of a day.  That is true.  It is a bummer.  However, she is the one who told us years ago when our little chihuahua was hit in the road that if we didn’t risk for the sake of love, then our lives on this Earth would be incomplete. The dredlocked-poet Bob Marley said it best:  “To love is to risk not being loved in return. To hope is to risk pain.  To try is to risk failure, but risk must be taken because the greatest hazard in my life is to risk nothing,”   

I’m currently rereading Cold Mountain at Lauren’s request as she is reading it in her AP English class, She knows it’s one of my favorite books and wants to have occasional book talks to pick my brain but to also show me how smart she has become. . Spoiler alert! Stop reading here if you want to read the book.  The protagonist Inman goes AWOL from a Confederate hospital when a blind man  convinces him that losing something you already have is worse than not getting what you want.  I suppose he wondered what he had left to lose and took off for his home, Cold Mountain, to get what he wanted: the love of a young woman, Ada. The journey home is fraught with dangerous encounters and he often turns to nature to look for meaning in the world.  The memories of innocent moments with Ada keep him motivated to live and move forward.   He returns and shares several days of romantic bliss with Ada.  And then the home guard finds him. I”m being speculative, but I’m fairly certain  Inman would say that it was a small price to pay to finally get what he wants. 

We all feel the burden of this “bummer of a day” and on many other occasions.  We miss Dad at chicken barbecues and games at Thanksgiving.  We miss him at football games, graduation, weddings by a lake, and talking about his grandchildren’s engagement stories. We miss him when new babies are born and grow up into toddlers who say funny things.  There is never a time when we don’t think about him.  But it’s a small price to pay to have had him in our lives. I’ll embrace this melancholy day because I know it will dissipate.  There’s a dinner planned a couple of weeks from now at the Blose house.  There will likely be wine, some cold beer, and stories told around the chicken barbecue pit.  I doubt there will be tears or talk of regret.   I won’t be there, but I will hear the echoing laughter 550 miles away in Tennessee.  


At the end of each week in sixth grade, we have “Fun Friday” 30 minutes of social time at the end of the day.   Sadly, recess is thing of the past when students reach middle school.     Although it was warm today, the fields were wet and we opted for game time inside.  I had papers to check, but I chose instead to play UNO with six students.   Some had never played (cursed video games!) so we all assured them that they would learn as we went along.  I loved watching each face wrinkle up in disbelief at the realization of drawing four, changing the color to the “only one NOT in (my) hand,”  or being skipped or reversed.   I laughed out loud when one boy looked at me with a gleam in his eye and said, “I’m going to get you, Mrs. L. I’m going to pay you back for this year.”  We laughed.  The kids talked incessantly (adolescent kids just like to hear themselves talk..a lot). 

 It was time well spent with my kids.  I now have work to do at home, but that’s ok.  You can’t measure what they learned today on any standardized test and knowing the rules of UNO won’t secure them a place in a top-tier college or make them competitive with Chinese kids.  But maybe they will go home tonight and instead of watching tv, suggest a game of cards with their family.  Maybe they will some day look back on this moment, laughing with their teacher on the floor and knowing that all things said in veiled threats toward her were not taken seriously.  Maybe they will understand the importance of laughter and playtime with their own children one day.   What they reminded me of today is my calling to be a teacher wasn’t rooted in a deep desire to teach kids about energy, weather,  tides or our vast universe.   It was because I love kids, especially these adolescent rascals. I love their awkwardness, their need to be affirmed, their laughter, and their perfect imperfections.    I need to remember to give them  a break every now and then to give myself one as well.  

Living by Example

The world has lost a shining example of resiliency and perseverance.  Monica Pence Barlow epitomized the motto: ‘Never Give Up.’ She was my second cousin, and when you are from a family as large as mine (I believe there are 74 first cousins on my Mom’s side of the family) you really can’t possibly know everyone.  Over the past few years, I got to know Monica more as our lives paralleled.  I remember she and Tony speaking to one another at a Christmas party right before he had started his first clinical trial.  She was diagnosed several months before Tony, and the conversation ended with “I’ll pray for you, Tony.”   He was touched by her sincerity and strength.  It was exactly what he needed to hear before going into his clinical trial.  

In January, Monica began coming to Nashville for a clinical trial at Sarah Cannon Research Institute.   She did not look or behave as someone sick or in pain.  She walked into her appointment, head high.   When she described her side effects and symptoms to the nurse at one appointment, I couldn’t believe it.  She had just been on the phone,  talking to someone in the Orioles office, tying up loose ends for the big Fanfest.  Strength.  

On the way home, she turned to me and said, “I noticed that you knew where everything was in the hospital.  Was this hard for you today?”   I confessed that there was just one difficult moment.    I remembered how Tony would go sit down in the waiting room, as I would check him in for his appointment.   Today, when I walked into the waiting room, and turned around, I saw a shaggy-haired young man with his head in his hands, staring at the floor.  A couple of years before, I had turned to see someone else in this same position.  It literally took my breath away.  I didn’t cry.  I didn’t want to run.  I just remembered.  

“If it’s too much, Sarah, I can stay at Hope Lodge.” “Monica, if you can do this,  I can certainly do this.”   

She talked candidly about  cancer and how it would not define her life.  Her job gave her great joy, and it was a welcome reprieve from cancer.  “I don’t know if I have months or years, but I will not let it take over my present life.”   Courage. 

After I dropped her off at the airport, I had some time to think.   How does someone so young become this strong?  Did she learn this from her parents? Her grandparents? Was this a trait that passes through the generations? I knew stories of the benevolent, hard-working great-grandparents that she had never met.  It struck me that it didn’t matter that she had never known them because she had lived her life exactly as they had.  It made me think about my students over the years who miss days and days of school or never complete homework because they “don’t feel good.”  I thought about their enabling parents who rob their children of the opportunity to learn to persevere when things are tough.  

I had meant to ask her permission to write about her on her last planned visit to Nashville, but I never got the chance.   This week, I’m going to take a short break from teaching about ocean tides, to teach my sixth grade science students a lesson about character. They are going to watch the Baltimore news piece about Monica Pence Barlow.   We are going to talk about digging deep when things are tough, and being not a spectator in life,  but an accountable participant.   Monica will be their example. 

Tony’s birthday recently passed.   A day after his birthday, I saw that my teenage daughter had posted something on twitter.  In the picture, she is a little over two and in her Daddy’s arms.  The text below the picture read :  “Unable are the loved to die.  For love is immortality.”   I would offer these words to Monica’s family, but I am certain they already know them.  They learned this from their parents, grandparents and generations before.   Monica will touch lives to come, not because they will know her but because they will know of her.