I hope you never fail one who depends upon you.

When I began my blog, I wanted to write the honest struggles of starting over at 30, in the hopes that I could be inspirational. This is a post I didn’t want to write. I didn’t want to admit a struggle that didn’t inspire, a struggle that merely showed how I failed.

This blog is about climbing the mountain; it’s about the arduous journey to grow, to ascend into something more. Did I really want to post a blog and make public my utter failure? Did I want to share with you a failure that harmed an innocent, one who depended on me? Besides – I reasoned with myself – this post could not be written in the style that I intended to use for my blog. I could find no way to add humor, sarcasm, or any lightness. I could not find a way to be frank without being heavy.

So let me be frank and heavy anyways. I would rather be honest and tell my whole journey than to hide the struggles of starting over. I know I will disappoint strangers, but I have realized that I am more disappointed in myself than any stranger could outdo. Besides, I believe in being truthful about myself, even my ugly parts. And this is hideous.

I must surrender my dog.

Addie, my Schnauzer mix, has been living with my aunt while I apply for jobs and look for full-time work that would allow me to be independent. However, Addie has outstayed her welcome.

I rescued Addie last January, when I was confident that I would be a teacher forever, specifically that I would work in my current school until retirement. I rescued Addie when I had a clear future. When I rescued her, I said, “Dogs are family. Family is forever,” when asked if I would give her back if she proved to be trouble.

Side note: I should have been aware of how much trouble Addie would be with their comment. They promised a potty-trained dog, who might have issues the first day or two. I was promised that she would be perfect for apartment-living and that she was a lazy dog that did well with dogs and people. They lied. But none of that is why I am surrendering my dog. Because Addie was nothing like they promised, but I love her.

Addie is a smart, stubborn Schnauzer mix. She was neglected for the first two years of her life. She no longer defecates inside, but she still has accidents. I swear that she has the bladder of a ninety-year-old woman. She also is possessive of humans that she claims as hers, making her difficult around other dogs and some humans. Plus, she cries like a banshee when left alone. She would qualify as having separation anxiety.

Her special needs are not the reason I am surrendering her. Her special needs mean that I struggled to find her a temporary home until I could get back on my feet after losing my job and deciding to change careers.

My aunt took her in. She has provided her a home for the last three months, but she called Sunday, October 21. She called and said I needed to find other arrangements. Addie had wore out her welcome.

I cannot keep her with me. I’m living with my grandmother who cannot have dogs for medical reasons. I cannot send her to my parents, who are housing my submissive pug mix, as they already have dogs with issues like Addie. Living with my parents would not be healthy for Addie nor for their dogs.

I’ve been avoiding it. I tried last ditch efforts to keep Addie, and they failed. I failed. I have come to the conclusion that Addie’s best chance for a healthy, loving home is not with me.

I don’t know when I will find employment that will give me independence. Besides, I realize keeping her is selfish more than kind. Even if I found a full-time job, I am also a grad student. Addie needs more than I can give her. She loves running around the farm, stretching her legs. She hates being left alone for more than five minutes. Could she really be happy living in an apartment with a human that has work and school responsibilities?  Last time I tried doggie day care, Addie was kicked out. I cannot even offer that for her.

That’s all if I could even find work that allows me to move out of my grandma’s, which I haven’t. I have to give her up.

It might make you satisfied to know that I sobbed on the way to the humane society and during my conversation with the assistant manager and on my way home. I cried heaving, ugly sobs that made my face and chest red and splotchy. I didn’t even give her up yet. I just went to discuss my options with the humane society.

Addie hasn’t been surrendered yet. I’m caught waiting for her original rescue in Kentucky to permit me to give her to this organization in Ohio. The humane society is a no-kill shelter that will interview prospective families. They have a vet who ensures Addie is healthy and stays healthy. They even are confident they could find her a suitable home within a few days. (I told them about Addie’s needs.)

I am waiting to hear from the Kentucky rescue. The Kentucky rescue won’t respond other than a message from a week ago saying I could not give her to the humane society here, but they won’t respond about making arrangements or plans for Addie. They won’t respond to my pleas to allow Addie to go to the rescue here.

You see, when I adopted Addie, she had two types of worms. They have no vet. They are understaffed and underfunded despite their love of dogs. They are not as thorough as the humane society here. Years ago, I volunteered at the humane society here. I know their process, their thoroughness, their transparency.

I am a horrible person giving up her dog, but I do love this dog and I want what is best for her.

So there you have it. That is the lows of starting over. That is the horrible truth of making a decision to change a career and being overly optimistic without fully considering the long-term effects.

Because, I’ll be completely honest. Yes, I am unemployed, but I don’t have to be. Four months ago, I was offered a teaching job at my old school. I could have an apartment with my two dogs. But I turned it down. I wanted to change careers and to learn to say no to work so I could have a fuller life, and I was cocky. I thought I would be okay. I thought I would make it work. I was wrong.

So you can judge me. You can find me despicable. Don’t bother trying to solve the issue below. No one I know can provide Addie a home. Soon, she will be with people who will interview and ensure she is with people who can do more than just love her, people who can give her the stability she needs.

I have to admit that I am humbled by this experience. I judged people who gave up their dogs. How could you give up family? How could you make a commitment and then abandon that commitment? I used to turn my nose up at people like me. Now, I am that which I criticized and judged. I must live with the choices I have made, and I must live with the consequences. My priority now is to ensure that I give Addie her best chance, her best life. I am heartbroken that that isn’t me, and I am ashamed that I have failed her.

So in my future posts, when I write about the funny struggles of living with my grandma, they are small struggles, the ones people can openly discuss without judgement. When I write about the endless struggles of weight loss and I laugh at myself, those are acceptable struggles you can handle reading.

Bitterly funny, before my aunt called to say Addie had to go, I had begun a post comparing living with dogs to living with humans. Dogs were clearly the wining roommate on every aspect. It was a post about the desperation to find my independence so I could move out and live with my dogs again. Life was simpler when I only failed myself.  Addie

All Coffee Shops Should Also Be Book Shops

I’m sitting in an independent coffee shop drinking a caramel cappuccino. When I walked in, I ordered two, announcing that I had a coupon.

“The buy one get one free coupon?” the barista asked knowingly.

“Yeah,” I replied dumbly.

When she asked if it was for here or to go, I responded, “Here,” attempting to sound nonchalant. Uh… it’s an independent coffee shop AND bookstore. This place was made to make my soul tingle in bubbly joy.

People, the barista is brilliant. She asked if I wanted one now and one later. Nodding enthusiastically, I announced that it was probably a good idea. “I won’t look like such an addict.”

People, I am wearing a shirt with a wide-eyed owl underneath the capitalized words, “NEED MORE COFFEE.” Uh, I think they know.unnamed.jpg

So here I am sitting in “Grounds for Thought.” Isn’t that a lovely name for a coffee/book shop? The books (and records) are all used, so they have this worn cozy feeling. Some book cases are tediously organized while other books are crammed haphazardly into shelves. An excess of records sit in cardboard boxes on the floor. A hodgepodge of tables and chairs are scattered about. One near me is set up for chess. It’s left neglected at the moment. To my left, two energetic college girls are working to complete a jigsaw puzzle. At times they laugh, but right now they are focused, frustrated at the task at hand.

“I’m going to scream and shout and let it all out,” says one girl matter-of-factly. Seriously, she just said that. I love them. I love this little place. I love the varying company of people coming and going.

Oh! It’s time to get my second cappuccino. This also seems to remind the girls of time, and they surrender on assembling the puzzle. Now, it’s a bit lonely in my corner of the shop. There is something contagious about the energy of undergraduate students. Their optimism, their enthusiasm, their naiveté are bundled into this unfettered vivaciousness.

Meanwhile, today, I discovered a new wrinkle. I’m not too upset. It’s a wrinkle caused from repeatedly raising my eyebrows in my “Are you fucking kidding me face?” I’m okay with that. It’s a bit of a judgmental wrinkle, but it also is one caused by years of being amused and bewildered at adolescents I taught. As long as I don’t have frown lines, I’m good with aging. When I’m ninety, I want my face to tell the story of a well-lived life.

But these girls today are a reminder that, though I am once again a college student, I’m not quite one them. For all their energy and joy, I am happy to be me. I appreciate those blissful moments more at my age. I also have this wisdom of realizing how little I know. Many young college students are filled with a confidence of feeling wise. Their growing education has made them more intelligent, but wisdom comes from life more than books. I loved being their age. I loved the experiences, the adventures. But I made wrong turns after graduating.

When I graduated, I lost that curiosity for practicality. I put aside silliness for responsibility. For all I thought I was wise, I was a fool who did not know how to embrace all parts of myself. I became dull and flat. It’s only from failures as an adult that I have begun to rise into a more interesting, multi-faceted person. Thank goodness I am not a young college student again. I would had to have to learn those lessons again. They hurt enough the first time.

Besides, I had terrible taste in alcohol and limited taste in literature back then. I drank wine coolers and read Jane Austen almost exclusively. Now, I still love my Jane Austen, but did you know how interesting nonfiction is? And smut romance is ridiculously fun; well, it is when it is adequately edited. I admit that I have taken a red pen to some of those books. And the last one I read? It was so terrible and beyond help that I threw it out. No one should have to endure such terrible writing. Donating the book would have been a disservice.

Anyways, I digress. I think the cappuccinos are doing their job. I’m feeling more jittery.

I really should wrap this up and get out of here. It is reluctantly decided. My parking meter is about to expire, and I really need to complete my statistics midterm. Ugh, statistics. I best go to the university library for that. That way, when I am swearing at my work, I’ll be surrounded by other college students studying. I think they will be sympathetic. Here at the coffee shop, people are too relaxed and comfortable to understand a human swearing aggressively at inanimate objects.

 

 

 

3 Reasons I Fail to Say “Yes” to Opportunities

I used to say no to opportunities. It wasn’t that I never said yes. I said yes all the time. I said yes to work, to commitments, to serving. I said yes out of guilt. I said yes out of obligation. I said yes to being the assistant cheerleading coach.

Now, you don’t know me. But let’s just clarify one thing: I was the band geek in high school. I lack coordination and my entire background knowledge of cheerleading came from Bring It On. I had no business being the assistant cheerleading coach. I said no a half dozen times or no, but eventually I reluctantly agreed. After all, “it’s for the kids.” This is the core reason I left teaching. I need to learn to say no. I need to learn to not feel guilty when saying no. Sometimes, saying no is the better option for those kids. Often, saying no is better for me.

Committing yourself to something out of guilt or obligation is not healthy. It does not bring out your best work, and it also drains you. This is a hard lesson for me to learn. I sometimes equate saying yes to being likable; instead, I become a doormat.

So I said yes way too often. But more than that, I said no to beautiful wonderful opportunities. In my pursuit of saying no when I need to say no, I am also learning to say yes. However, it’s important to understand what barriers keep me from embracing life and enjoying new adventures. Therefore, brought to you today are the three problematic “P”s that prohibit me from saying yes:

  1. Perception

I worry excessively. I worry about how others perceive me. I want to be liked. I want to be seen as a good person. I want to portray qualities that will make me more acceptable to society. So I don’t say yes to an opportunity that might make me look irresponsible or selfish.

  1. Priorities

My priorities for the past eight years or so have been terrible. I have missed multiple family vacations because I put work first. Sometimes that work was a part-time job at a day care where I was discouraged to take time off. Now, work is important. It provides income so you can live, but it should never ever keep you from living. That’s what it was doing for me. I nearly missed my brother’s college graduation until I was told my school wasn’t renewing my contract. That moment I realized I had prioritized work when work didn’t value me at all. I immediately requested a Friday off so I could fly home to my brother’s graduation, bringing my total of two missed days for that entire school year. (The other was for an out-of-town wedding.)

Family is important, but so is self-care. Notice that I didn’t miss work for my health. I went to work sick. In my six years as a teacher, I probably took maybe 3 days off of work for my health. Once, I was sent home early because I was vomiting. Note: I was very cautious when I worked while sick. I kept my distance from people and used lots of precautions. I would never jeopardize someone else’s health. But I also could not justify writing sub plans when it was best for students to have their teacher there.

I was crazy. Seriously. I put work before everything. How stupid! When I received that notice that my contract wasn’t being renewed, I was devastated because I made work my entire life. I didn’t say yes to anything else. What a limited life I would have led if I had never gotten that pink slip.

  1. Panic

I am a scaredy-cat. I run from that which scares me. I don’t say yes to opportunities because I get anxious and bolt. This pretty much sums up why I don’t say yes to love and romance. Putting myself out there creates so much dread that I immediately locate an escape route when introduced to a single male of my general age. Then, at the first opportunity, I take it. This weekend, I escaped two men, each in less than five minutes. Were they terrible, awful, creepy dudes? Who knows? I never even gave it a chance. Don’t tell my mom. Mom, if you are reading this, forget everything I just said. (People, I totally promised her that I would start dating.)

So here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to say yes more. I’ve been evaluating my priorities and I’ve been putting friends, family, and myself above work. It helps that I’ve been unemployed for a couple of months. For the past month, I’ve worked part-time at an event venue, preparing food and waiting on guests. It’s easier to not let it consume me. Also, I’ve been trying to embrace the fact that I’m fucking awesome, so that I don’t keep worrying about if I was too annoying or if I was likable. I’m learning not to care so much about that which I cannot control. I am never going to control the fact that I tell people long-winded stories about my life, that I skip small talk, and that I am entirely honest about myself. I’m still struggling though. I do want to be liked, and I spend too much time replaying conversations in my head, analyzing what went wrong, even if it seemed to go well.

But for the life of me, I am still a coward. I still have the instinct to bolt when faced with a scary opportunity. Nothing terrifies me more than dating. People, when trying to think about what scary activities I could say yes to, I came up with skydiving and snorkeling. I am more willing to tackle my fear of falling and my irrational phobia of swimming with fish than I am to tackle the world of dating. This is probably pathetic. I’m aware. But, see number one on my list: I’m not as worried about perception as I once was…. But I am a little worried about the rejection that comes with how a man perceives me. Okay, “a little worried” is an understatement, for sure.

Anyways, I’ll work on that later. Right now, I’m saying yes to more. Saturday, I said yes to attending an after-party bon fire (sans bon fire due to rain). Sunday, I said yes to going to the Apple Butter Festival in Grand Rapids, Ohio, alone. Okay, it turned out my grandma, great aunt, and aunt were going, so I met up with the three of them after a couple of hours of meandering alone. Today, Monday, I am saying yes to a day-trip to Put-in-Bay. I’ve missed previous opportunities to go, but this time, I asked not to be put on the work schedule so I could go. This might seem small to many of you, but I’m also the kind of person who once would only have only done one of these three activities, because it would be too much, and it would not responsible to be off having fun three days in a row. I’m an idiot. But a little wisdom will help fix that.

I’m going to work on saying yes to more of life in the future. I’m working my way up. I’ll keep you updated on my next interaction with the male species. I’ll try not to bolt.

Reflecting on My 20’s and My Silly Timeline

In four days, I turn thirty years old. It’s one of those significant milestones that make you reflect on your progress in life. So I went back to those goals I set for myself at twenty to see how the decade “measured up,” so to say:

  • Fall in love
  • Marry
  • Have kids
  • Adopt a child
  • Adopt a dog
  • Have a career
  • Own a house
  • Publish a novel
  • Visit Italy

I remember that I made a little timeline too. I had determined the proper timing between falling in love and getting married. I calculated when to start having children and when to adopt. I had it all figured out. How foolish I was.

Well, I have four days to check off the eight goals that I have not yet achieved. Yep. If you did not go back and counted the bulleted items, that means I have completed one of those goals. Here is my accomplishment:

IMG_1668.jpg

Some might say I failed. I wasn’t successful. But I’m not upset at all. I cannot believe how different I am from twenty-year-old me. I am so much wiser now, because now I know how little I know, how little I can control, and how little good it does to worry over the little things. I often find myself saying, “I know nothing.” (Then, I follow that with a cheesy grin as I add in a whisper, “John Snow.” Every time. It’s amazing I even have friends.) I used to have answers to life questions that I’ve since learned have no answer. In my twenties, I knew life wasn’t black or white, I understood the gray area. But now at the cusp of thirty, I’ve learned there is a wide spectrum of color when trying to understand life, truth, and people. Life is brighter, more interesting, and more confusing for it. I love it.

But I’d like to reflect on the goals of twenty-year-old me:

1. Fall in love

It’s true; I have never been in love. I’ve made excuses for it, but, to be honest, dating terrifies me. You may have seen many variations of the quote that says, “Sure, I talk about wanting a boyfriend, but what do you do with them? Do you feed them? How often? Will it need mucking out?” I don’t know the original author, but this quote resonates with me. I have repeated it to people, and they laugh. I say, “No, really. I’m not kidding. I have no idea what I’m doing. Like, how do you even get a boyfriend?” And they laugh again, a little less enthusiastically. I think I’m just trying to prolong a joke for more reaction, but I’m seriously lost here.

My last boyfriend was in 2003 (when I was a high school sophomore) and I never kissed him. We were both so shy. While I have been kissed, I don’t know how to find a decent man, not talk myself out of him, and let myself relax and enjoy his company. Not even in a conversation. I think it is largely my questionable self-esteem and tendency to over-think. But also, I have tried this questionable practice of online dating, which I loathe, and I’ve attracted completely unsuitable matches. My mother said I was too picky. But to explain how I was not would take too long for this post. Those disastrous dates were more a problem with my online profile. I didn’t know myself, and I didn’t know who I was looking for. Also, I’m a bit of a romantic and I could not shake the desire to fall in love in some cinematic meet cute. I’m super awkward, which seems to be a necessary part of a meet cute, so why couldn’t I fall in love that way? (I know, I know, because I live in reality and not in a 90s chick flick. What a shame.)

Anyways, I guess I figured that I should have this task done by the time I was 30. And it’s a little sad that I’ve lived this long and not allowed myself to be vulnerable enough to fall in love. I’m working on that. More later.

2. Marry

Uh, you really should fall in love before you get married. No matter what some well-meaning relatives say. (I am from a culture that believes a woman’s primary purpose is to marry and produce children. It’s not a foreign idea, but these people are VERY serious about making marriage and babies happen for me.)

3. Have kids 

I am so glad I have not had any children yet. I would still love to be a mom. However, in my early twenties, I was unsure of who I was. For the last six years, I taught high school English. I let that career consume me and did not balance it with my life at all. I would have either been a terrible mother or a terrible teacher. I only recently realized that I don’t know how to balance my life and priorities, and I’m working on that.

4. Adopt a child

This is still a fierce dream of mine. There are many children in foster homes that need a forever home, and I am still a woman who longs for a forever family. While I am not great at expressing my love and appreciation for those around me, I loved my students dearly. I worried over them and prayed for them. I felt such joy when they found success and/or happiness. I have wept when they suffered. (They would be shocked, considering how hard it was to even get me to give out hugs.) I turned my students into surrogate children, but they weren’t really mine. Every year, I struggled to say goodbye, usually avoiding it entirely. I know that my heart yearns to love and treasure a child forever. I hope one day I get to have the privilege of adopting a child into my family.

5. Adopt a dog (CHECK!)

Uh, I did this one. I even think my plan was to adopt a pug, and it you look closely at that picture earlier. The fawn one on the right is part pug. In fact, pug is the only breed that her vets have ever been certain of. Either way, she is my darling Sybil. The black curly-haired one is my devilish Addie. Sybil was adopted in 2013, when she was just a soft, fluffy puppy. Addie was adopted early this year as a two-year-old who had been neglected most of her life. Each is unique. Each gives me joy.

Because I suddenly started grad school part-time and am living at my grandma’s house in Ohio, they are not living with me. Addie is with my aunt. Sybil is with my parents. When I had moved home (with my parents) a couple of months ago, I could not bring both dogs due to their own kennel of canines. (Two of their dogs are seniors, one having been rescued from a severely abusive home. So they don’t always do well with new dogs.) Addie was welcomed by my aunt on her farm. She is probably so deliriously happy getting to chase geese and cats and romp about the farm with two bigger dogs. I’m worried she might not want to come home with me. Hopefully I will soon get a full-time job so I can afford my own place. I’ve even found two pet-friendly homes that would work for us. Fingers crossed that I find a job soon. I miss them.

6. Have a career

Well, I did have one, but, just recently, I decided to start over. I’m so glad I did. I loved teaching, but an epiphany made recognize and agree with long-ago words of wisdom from my parents: I did not know what else was out there. I can’t wait to see where life takes me.

7. Own a house

It’s hard to do that without money. But I am very blessed that I have always had a place to call home. That is so much more important.

8. Publish a novel

This. This is the only item that makes me disappointed in myself. I loved writing. I still love it now. I am disappointed that I put it on the back-burner and then turned off that burner. I let other priorities take over my dream of being a writer. I let insecurity tell me that it was no use anyway, that no one would publish what I had to say. And did I have anything to say, anyways? Pish posh. I’m going to write now. I am going to write here and I’m going to work on those story ideas I’ve had. It makes me happy. Why wouldn’t I do what makes me happy? And if no one reads what I write, oh well. At least I wrote it. After all, no one will ever read what I don’t even write.

9. Visit Italy

I’d still like to do this, but, even more so, I want to visit Scotland and Ireland. These are places that are in my blood. Also, I’ve read the first four books of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, and I’m completely smitten with Scotland (and, yes, with Jamie Fraser). Today I just finished Finding Fraser, a novel by kc dyer, in which her character is a modern day woman who is so smitten with Jamie Fraser that she leaves America for Scotland and travels about the country seeking her own Jamie. What a delightfully fun read! Not to mention that her main character keeps a blog which drove me to kick myself for neglecting to post for so long, and I went to the library and wrote Thursday’s post. My posts are much wordier than Dyer’s main character. I apologize. Somewhat. Not really.

Ireland is a place my sister wants to visit and I had spoke of it longingly before. I think it’s the one country that we both want to visit. (She tends to favor the exotic locations like Australia and anywhere she can see lions. I favor the places with beautiful languages, rich literary histories, and delicious food.) But we both want to see Ireland. I think she is more interested in the pubs where I am intrigued by castles and landscapes, but no matter. We collaborated (which is a rarity for us) to start an Ireland fund. Each birthday and Christmas we gift the other person with $50 for our fund. We are up to a whopping $250. We started a year ago, and it should be only $200 but I somehow got confused and put in an extra $50. But it can’t hurt.

Really, I want to see more of the world. And I believe that one day I will.


 

So as I consider what I want for this decade, I’ve decided to leave out some of the previous goals. I’m not going to make certain things happen in my life. I’m not going to worry so much about the end results. As I’ve said in a previous post, when I try to control my destination, I limit myself. Besides, how creepy would it be if I entered each first date telling them my goal was to fall in love and marry. Uh, can’t the guy breathe a little? Can’t we just enjoy our food, each other’s company?

So I’m taking to heart my mother’s recent strange advice: “Take a lover.” (To be fair, she said this knowing that I’m too closed off, I’m too reserved. I’m too uptight. I take myself and life too seriously. This is not the advice she would give to my sister.)

My goals for the next decade:

  1. Say yes to life. (Thank you, Shonda Rhimes, for your inspirational words in Year of Yes. I recommend this book to anyone who is not loving life to its fullest. Are you happy? Do you have joy?)
  2. Give out love. (I don’t have to love the thing or person forever, but I’m going to give love to the world. Instead of waiting for love, I’m going to be love and I’m going to share love. Maybe I can start with learning how to initiate hugs without all the awkwardness? Maybe.)
  3. Follow what feels right. Follow what makes you happy. (Sometimes I follow what I think society expects or what I think should be the right, or rational, path. Usually that means that I’ve just taken the safest course in life.)
  4. Open your eyes. (I want to travel and I want to see the world. I think I will do that in this next decade, but I also just want to experience life firsthand. Have you seen how many people go to a concert and spend the whole time watching it through their smartphone as they record it. Experience the moment. Also, side note, I don’t know why so many people record fireworks. Put down your phone, breathe in the crisp night air and just enjoy the show. Who wants to watch videos of fireworks? Are you even going to watch it? Why?)
  5. Write. (I don’t have to publish a novel, but I do have to write. I love writing. I may not be faithful posting here, but I’m going to write more. Then, if that writing results in something worth publishing in book form, I will try to do that. But instead of being concerned with the end result, my goal is going to be regularly engaging in the process of writing.

We’ll see how I do, but I think these are more admirable goals because these encourage a more full life. I would be better off as a lover, wife, mother, and writer if I do these things. I might even make some of my goals for my 20’s happen in my 30’s.

How the Eclipse, Forgotten Keys, and Lori Schultz Changed the Course of My Life

A series of strange coincidences changed my life.

It began with a grumpy grandfather. I had driven over 550 miles from northern Virginia to their town of Hicksville, Ohio, to bring him and my endearing grandma back to Virginia for a visit. My aunt, knowing that unemployment left me with a flexible schedule, asked me to drive them back. I drove my little car up and drove them back the next day in their small SUV. The SUV was more comfortable for them; however, driving over 1100 miles in two days was not very comfortable for me.

During their visit, my grandpa became anxious to return home. He was bored. Ignore the fact that there was more entertainment being provided for him in Virginia, he was bored. He tried to pressure me into taking him home five days early, four days early, three, two, even one day early. He sulked and pouted. He made those around him miserable. But he was staying at my aunt’s house, so I suffered less and, therefore, I refused. I had plans. Regardless that Grandpa didn’t think those plans were more important than his needs, I was not giving in. You see, I am a doormat. It’s true. I’m not a sweet, happy-to-do-it doormat, but I will agree, put a smile on me face, and be grumpy about it later. I feel that I must do things to please people, to earn their acceptance or love, to repay their acts of kindness. Now, I love giving to people, but it’s not healthy when I feel that I MUST be giving. Then, there are many who are happy to take advantage and become expectant that I will give my time, energy, and resources to them.

I had said yes to driving them home, but I was not going to be guilted into giving up my plans. Those plans were important to me. I also realized I couldn’t repeat the two-day trip to Ohio and back. I broke into tears when I got home the first time. Not kidding. After eleven hours on the road (two of which were spent at numerous rest stops), I had dropped off my grandparents at my aunt’s home and driven the last ten minutes to my parents’ home. I walked in the door, into the kitchen. I don’t even know what my parents said, but I demanded I just needed a minute. Tears began to well as I darted up to my room. I sobbed, breathed, sobbed, breathed. It was exhaustion (mingled with frustration and expired patience). So I knew I would need a few days to recover from the trip taking them home, and I thought it would be nice to visit my paternal grandparents. They are just a short hour and a half from Hicksville, and they are on the side closer back to Virginia.

But I couldn’t call them. I couldn’t let them know I was coming. What if Grandpa guilted someone else into taking him home early? Then that person would drive them up in their SUV and bring back my car. The likelihood was high. My grandpa was making life difficult at my aunt’s house. So I didn’t call my paternal grandparents. If I arrived, it would be a surprise.

So I drove them home on Tuesday, August 22, the day after the eclipse. I couldn’t drive them home on Monday, after all. I was determined to go to the library’s event, offering free eclipse glasses. Never mind that the library line was ridiculous, so Mom and I ended up watching the eclipse in beach chairs in her front yard while drinking expensive cider. She had a pair of solar eclipse glasses that we took turns sharing. Let me just say, that was a wonderful day. So instead of going back to Ohio on Monday, I stayed to watch the eclipse. Without that eclipse, my life would not have changed.

At 8 a.m. Tuesday morning, I met my grandparents at my aunt’s house. My uncle and I loaded the SUV, and, once we herded my grandparents into their seats, I took off. The trip was uneventful. Grandpa got chattier as we got closer to his home. I, in turn, became more annoyed. Every ten miles, my grandpa pointed out the mile marker and bellowed out the miles remaining until the next state: “60 miles until Ohio… 50 miles until Ohio… 40 miles until Ohio…” I believe I’m the most patient person in my family… or maybe not

The closer we got to their house, the more I plotted my escape. I would unload their items into the house, load my items into my car, and drive immediately to my other grandparents’ house. When we were less than 30 minutes away, I was replaying the plan in my head when horror hit me. But I couldn’t have, could I? I thought my packing through step by step. I mentally rummaged through my bags. No need to panic. I couldn’t be that stupid, right? I replayed it through again. It was no use. I had done it. Just to be sure, I asked my grandmother, sitting behind me, to pass me my purse. Without taking my eyes off the road, I sifted through the items. My fingers searching for the jagged metal. No luck.

Quickly explaining the situation to my grandparents… multiple times due to their poor hearing… I picked up my phone, sighed, and called my mother.

“Before I ask you to do something, please don’t judge me.”

“Okay…? What is it?” My mother responded cautiously.

“Could you go up to my room, go into my nightstand and get my car key?”

“What!?”

“Then, can you mail me my key?”

Yep, people. I was in Ohio with my car while my keys were safely in my nightstand in Virginia.

I was so mad at myself. I was also anxious. I was planning to escape. Now, please understand that my Grandma Connie is the most compassionate, giving, loving, generous soul I have ever known. I would take her anywhere with me. I would do anything for her. I adore and love her. I wasn’t trying to escape her. I was trying to escape Hicksville, Grandpa, and the noise created by hard-of-hearing elders who refuse to admit they cannot hear. (I love Grandpa too; but I was still very much mad at him for his behavior and his jolliness of being farther and farther away from Virginia.)

IMG_2274Anyways, back to my predicament. I was trapped in Hicksville now. Once we arrived and unloaded, I took off for a walk. The town is half a mile from their house. I went in search of a bar, of alcohol, of an alternative escape. Meanwhile, I called my dear friend Jerilyn to lament my fate. Just talking to her, I felt more optimistic and relaxed. I walked around the block a few times before our conversation ended. I crossed the street to the one bar – a brewery – in town. It was closed.

I ended up wandering around some more. I visited the library and learned about events for my grandma to attend, and I ordered a sub sandwich from a pizza shop. Then I headed back to the house. During my outing, I had been blessed with a solution from my mother. She and my father had overnighted my key. Apparently, Dad questioned paying an exorbitant fee to get the key by noon the next day. Mom told him to do it, just do it. I was staying at her parents’ house and she knew how drained I was. I suppose that, when I talk about alcohol, something must be terribly wrong. I’m typically the one who volunteers to be D.D. when family and friends want to go out for a drink. So because I forgot my key, I didn’t go to my other grandparents that night. But because my beautifully kind parents overnight expressed my key, I would be in Bowling Green, Ohio, early afternoon the next day. Without those additional two events, my life would not have changed.

So it was that on Wednesday, August 23, 2017, I received my key right before noon, andI drove to Bowling Green State University, my alma mater. I had deduced -correctly- that my Grandma Karen would not be home at this time of day. So instead, I drove to campus. I wanted a new BGSU shirt. I wanted to walk where once I questioned who I’d be and what I’d do with my life. I figured I would surprise my aunt on campus.

Lori Schultz is a woman who never seems to rest. She has a deep love for her work on campus as an advisor and always seems to be “adopting” a student or friend. She is a mother to her four children and she mothers anyone else who seems to need it. I have no idea where she gets her energy too. When she is not working, she is at university events, sporting events, friends’ parties, local taverns. She is always on the move, always busy, and always willing to help.

She was no different that Wednesday. Lori, after hugging me, proclaimed that she had been using me as an example of someone changing careers all summer. I had called her a couple of months ago inquiring about returning and if she knew about the MBA program. Her eyes widened and her smile grew bigger, “You should get your MBA. Do you want to do it? The first class is tonight” I smiled. How nice of her to remember. I didn’t think her too serious. I should have known better. Within a few minutes of surprising her, I was introduced to her colleague who was starting the MBA program. Lori repeated her idea. Uh? Say what? I thought. I couldn’t do that. Could I? Nah…. You cannot just decide to become a grad student and start class in one day. That’s ridiculous.

So now, I’m a grad student for the professional MBA at BGSU.

Lori, an advisor for the College of Technology, walked me over to the College of Business. I met with the administrative assistant for BGSU’s Graduate and Executive Programs in Business. Her shocked face matched my feelings. Class had technically begun Monday, but a change in instructors had led to that class being cancelled. If it hadn’t been cancelled, I’d have already been behind. Plus, since I had completed my undergraduate studies at BGSU the application was faster. As she processed the idea, she started to make it happen. She was providing me with materials, talking about the application process, and preparing to contact the instructors to make sure they understood that I did not have access to the online material yet. I wasn’t even sure what to think. I can’t do this, can I? But another bossy voice thought, Why not? What else are you doing right now? But still the insecure voice in my head argued, I can’t just decide to start grad school and go to class tonight. People just don’t do that. It’s not how things are done.

Luckily, I stopped having my internal debate long enough to pause the lovely woman who was dropping everything to help me. “I need to speak with my parents first about this.” I awkwardly explained that I had a dog and all my stuff in Virginia and I would need to make arrangements. I would need to have my parents’ support. She was very understanding. Then, she introduced me to the director of the program.

The director was just as surprised and just as welcoming. He also quickly determined this was possible. After a brief discussion, during which he was assured that I would attend class that night, he reasoned that it was fate. He contemplated the strange situation and the series of happenstances that aligned to make it possible for me to join the program. He remarked on the eclipse. The eclipse was a sign. As a former teacher, I can testify how teachers and administrators connect the rise of strange behaviors of children to new moons. I suppose the added strangeness and rareness of the eclipse seemed to correlate to my situation. If class had been held Monday, if I hadn’t had come to the building at the time I did, if the program had been filled, if so much hadn’t been perfectly so, it would not have been possible.

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Still, I was struggling with the decision. I was interested, but I didn’t allow myself to say yes. All the doubts were stampeding through my mind. My youngest cousin can testify to that. She was with my aunt that day. After leaving the director’s office, Lori suggested that Meredith come with me to surprise Grandma. (Grandma, however, still wasn’t home.) Meredith probably feared for her life as I drove around town, vocalizing my doubts. I had texted my mom as we had walked to my car on campus, and, when she responded, she was encouraging. I gave her a call and she said it was possible. I asked what Dad would think and what she said was true: Dad would be happy knowing I was doing something that would make me happy.

In less than four hours, I had gone from wandering around BGSU contemplating life to attending my first class in the professional MBA program.

After class – which I must say was wonderful -, I drove to my grandparents’ house to surprise them with a visit move. They might think I’m crazy and impulsive now, but they have graciously allowed me to move in with them. The next day, I submitted my official application for the program. The following Thursday, as I was driving home to get my clothes, I received my official acceptance letter. (In fact, I stopped at a Panera to use their WiFi to complete steps of the admission process.)

I am a graduate student in the professional MBA program at BGSU, a program that holds classes from 6-9 twice a week. A program that allows professionals to work while returning to school. Right now, I’m the only unemployed student in the program. So now, my task is to find a full-time job. One that allows me to build experience, to apply that experience to class discussions, to afford my own apartment, and -most importantly- to allow me to live with both my dogs once again.

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But let me just sit in bewilderment of how my life went from directionless to purposeful. Last time I wrote, I explained how I was letting go of being in control. Former me would have missed this opportunity because it wasn’t in some predetermined life plan nor decided with a detailed pros-and-cons list. Former me would have let the insecure voice win. Former me would have said no. I am so glad I didn’t listen to her, and I’m so glad I drove my stubborn grandpa home and forgot my key in Virginia.

So, in the immortal words of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, “This is a story all about how my life got flipped-turned upside down.”


 

 

Finding and Losing Control on Rollercoasters

As a child, I was coerced by my mother onto intimidating rides at Cedar Point, an amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio. I suppose it was for my own good as I was quite the coward. I feared catastrophe.

Watching my sister play Roller Coaster Tycoon, a computer game that simulated amusement park management, only exacerbated that fear. She would create a roller coaster similar to Cedar Point’s Wicked Twister where the track ends as riders shoot up into the sky. The roller coaster is built to keep the trains from flying off the end of the track, but Katie, my devious sister, would max out the roller coaster’s speed and watch as the train full of virtual guests would fly off the track and explode mid-air. She was quite good at the game so destroying her park score with virtual deaths added to the challenge of the game for her. At least, that is the reasoning I tell myself so I do not have to contemplate the potential darkness in my sister’s soul.

This image of roller coasters exploding in air was all I could see the day that my mother goaded me onto Wicked Twister, the actual daring roller coaster at Cedar Point. I am not exaggerating when I say she had to prod me onto it. I whimpered and whined and she ridiculed my pathetic behavior. She had every right. I was probably eighteen years old at the time. I nearly threw a temper tantrum about riding. The scowling and sneering looks of other park guests kept me from collapsing on the ground. I physically shook and stomped my feet, but somehow Mom got me to climb into that seat.

I sat down, practicing deep breathing. I pulled down the over-the-shoulder restraint to its tightest point and buckled it to my seat. I pressed my head back against the headrest. My body was tense with nervous anticipation. The restraint lifted. It lifted. It rose up, pulling at the woven fabric attached to the buckle. I frantically pulled down the restraint, pressing it tight until it latched. My breathing was rapid and my eyes felt dry. I must have stopped blinking out of fear. I was trying to reassure myself that this ride was safe when an ominous hiss sounded and my restraint lifted once again.

Three times, my restraint refused to protect me. Three times, it rejected my body, pulling away from me. Three times, my restraint released, rising above my head. When my restraint latched for the fourth time, the roller coaster attendants incredulously determined we were properly secured and ready. The ride slowly clicked backwards, and Mom simply said, “I hope it doesn’t go up during the ride.” My eyes grew wide and I clung to the restraint, as if I could physically pin it to my body for safety. I proceeded to shriek, “Oh my God!” incessantly at the top of my lungs. I don’t remember breathing in, only breathing out that frantic prayer. By the time the ride came to a complete stop, I was hoarse. My mom wheezed with laughter.

I still ride roller coasters. I find a sick joy in the sheer terror as a roller coaster slowly trudges uphill while I contemplate all that could go wrong, only to experience the sheer thrill of the wind whipping my face while my stomach summersaults. It is the only time in life that I willingly release control.

I am a control freak. I hide it well, I think. At least I don’t ask my friends if I am and they don’t mention it. So since it has been unsaid in public, I can say that I am a secret control freak. I live in constant tension from keeping life on a short leash. I plan out my days. Even for “spontaneous” trips, I still have a plan; it’s just less structured and allows for more exploring. I always control the destination. I know where I will end up. I am willing to be somewhat flexible on the timing or the route, but the destination is always firm. The unknown terrifies me. I hate not knowing what to expect. I need to know my destination.

When I ride roller coasters, I know the destination. Even in these little moments of giving up control, I choose controlled environments. There is an illusion of being out of control in roller coasters. Thanks to an ornery cousin who would list examples of horrific ways roller coasters can go wrong as we waited in line to ride one, I feel like I give up control on a roller coaster. While I have not returned to the Wicked Twister – a death trap, I’m certain –, I have lost count of the times I have ridden my favorite coaster, Cedar Point’s Millennium Force. It has all of the thrill without any possibility of shooting off the edge of the track and exploding into nothingness.

The Millennium Force is a steel roller coaster that boasts a 300 ft drop at an 80-degree angle, reaching up to 93 mph. This is the roller coaster that thrills me the most. Since it was one of the most popular rides at Cedar Point when I was a teenager, the line was long and tedious. As we inched closer to the front of the line, the butterflies in my stomach intensified. By the time I was sitting down, I would be panicking. Why are these lap bars so small? How is that supposed to hold me in? I’m huge. There is no way on earth that this tiny triangle of plastic can protect me.  Every single time I rode the Millennium Force, these thoughts stampeded through my mind. I’d practice breathing as we chugged up the 310 ft hill. What if we get stuck? Inhale. How will we get down? Exhale. I’m clumsy. I’ll trip just trying to get out of my seat. Inhale. I’ll die. Swallow and forget to breathe out. 

Then, the train would cascade over the hilltop every time and we’d barrel down to the earth, leaving my worries behind. It was a predictable journey, but I felt fearless each time I conquered this ride. This ride has safely provided me with that thrill every time – save one.

One fateful day, my college classmates and I had decided to spend the day at Cedar Point. With two of my friends, I got in line for the Millennium Force. As always, I felt that tickle in my gut as we crept forward, closer to the ride. When we reached the front of the line, my friends climbed into the row behind me, and I clambered into a seat next to a stranger, an adolescent boy. I pulled that tiny yellow lap bar down and began that familiar panic. Did the bar shrink? How does this protect anyone? Breathe. Then the ride was off. We ascended 15 mph up the hill and I felt the nervous anticipation. Suddenly, a hiss beneath me sounded a warning, and we stopped. Just stopped. Three-quarters of the way up that mountainous hill, the ride halted. I forced a smile. It’s okay. This happens. Stay calm. Be calm for your friends. I turned to ask if they were okay. As I smiled encouragingly at them, I noticed the sheer drop below. My mind began shouting behind my calm facade. How do we get down? What if they can’t get us started? What if the train slips backwards, causing us to crash into the train at the loading station below and explode into a fiery blaze? But I masked my terror to refrain from my worrying the other passengers.

I was internally praising myself for staying so calm when my neighbor looked at me with his brow lowered in concern. “Miss, are you okay? Breathe. You need to breathe.”

In my attempt to appear calm, I had stopped breathing. The blood had drained from my face, leaving a pasty white mask of fear. My neighbor and the couple in front of me began instructing me to inhale and exhale. Inhale and exhale.

I need control like a child needs a security blanket. I wrap myself in it to protect from the uncertainties of life. That day, the ride resumed after an excruciating fifteen minutes of uncertain waiting. We returned to the ground safely. I heard something had fallen onto the track. The roller coaster operators were always in control of the situation, halting our ride to safely remove the object. Regardless, I had no control in that moment, and it petrified me.

I have always kept tight control over my life. In that control, I have developed an aversion to the unknown. I can’t control what I don’t understand and what I can’t see. Education was a field with which I was familiar. The world outside of school was an unknown. Without any exploration, I chose the career path I knew. I could see the destination: I would be a beloved schoolmarm. So I worked in daycare facilities, a tutoring center, and finally in public high schools. I taught high school English for six years: five in northern Virginia and one in Kentucky. Teaching became my entire life. I let it consume me. It defined me.

My career came to a screeching halt in late March. I learned that my teaching contract in Kentucky was not going to be renewed. I was confused, devastated, lost. Teaching was who I was. I was once again stuck at the top of that roller coaster forgetting to breathe.

As my mind raced to figure out how I could prove everyone wrong, restore my pride, and become an even more committed teacher, I realized that I had to make a drastic change. I had to stop allowing my career to come first. I needed to become more than a career. I needed to stop controlling my life at the expense of exciting opportunities. Besides, it was foolish to continue to teach out of pride, to prove to others how capable I was. That wasn’t the right choice. I need to do what is best for me, not for my ego. What is best for me is to stop trying to dictate my entire life, leaving no room for adventure, romance, the unknown.

Now, I’ve truly relinquished control. I am pursuing a career change without knowing where that will lead. For the first time in my life, I have no future mapped out, no destination. I don’t know what I will be doing next week, let alone next year. At 29 years old, I moved back in with my parents. I am starting over and I have no control.

And you know what? I feel free for the first time. When I breathe now, I inhale potential, excitement, and the unknown. I am fully free. I know that this new ride is going to be indescribably exhilarating. For once, it’s a ride without any track, without a carefully planned path, without a predetermined destination. It’s a ride with unlimited possibilities.