Sunday, February 4, 2018

On Choosing Joy

Good Sunday evening.

Last week I shared the news that I will not be teaching full-time come this fall. The aftermath of this announcement has been interesting, to say the least. Apparently some of you were aware I've been a little tense. The overwhelming response has been heartening, ranging from "I am so excited for you," to "You won't regret this," & perhaps my favorite, "You used to be more animated at book club meetings." I too am excited. I am thankful to have friends who are excited with me & for me. 

I'll begin by clearing up some confusion regarding the children's whereabouts next fall. Reagan & Henry will still attend OCS. My decision is about our family's needs & my desire to be peppy & functional & physically & emotionally available for my husband & kids. My decision is unrelated to my feelings about OCS.

At no point have we considered taking the kids out of OCS. I am not mentally or mathematically equipped to homeschool the kids, so that's not an option. I don't want to engage in or ignite a public versus private school debate, but suffice it to say we are willing & able to part with the tuition to send our kids to a private, Christian school, & that's what we will continue to do.

I want to discuss one more response to my imminent departure from the high school classroom. It's a response I anticipated & one for which I have been searching for an answer. I have been told I am lucky. I think that's a fair response.

I had a rare opportunity yesterday to do some reading & thinking. Trey bought a shotgun from a man who lives in Lafayette. He assures me this was a stellar deal. To make sure I remain as happy about the gun purchase as he is, he took the kids with him yesterday when he drove to Lafayette to pick up the gun. They drove down, got the gun, roamed around Barnes & Noble, ate some junk food, & drove home. This left me with an empty house & a Saturday to myself.

I did the responsible thing & made coffee & quick chocolate oatmeal cookies. Other than some yogurt I had for breakfast, these oatmeal treasures pictured below are the only thing I ate yesterday. The oatmeal is filling, & there's protein in the peanut butter; they really are the perfect option when you're too lazy to cook for yourself but are hungry & also want chocolate.

In between consuming my weight in chocolate oatmeal cookies & watching Fixer Upper, I thought about the You are lucky comments. My gut reaction to this sentiment is that I don't think luck has as much to do with life as choices & hard work. Trey made choices years ago that continue to pay dividends for our family. He earned a college degree. He studied for & passed the LSAT (Law School Admissions Test). He graduated from law school. He studied for & passed the Louisiana Bar Exam. I don't know what motivated him during these years. I do know his kids motivate him now, likely especially on days he would rather do a thousand other things, but he gets up & goes to work.

I made a choice after college to get a masters because I knew it would give me the option to teach at the collegiate level should I want to do that in the future. High schools don't hire adjunct instructors, but colleges do; I wanted a ready-made part-time job should I one day find myself nearing forty, tired, & overseeing two young, energetic kids. The schedule & demands of adjunct teaching are far better suited to my temperament & our family's needs. Because of Trey's decisions & consistent hard work, & because of my decision to earn a second degree, yes, I am able to walk away from a full-time job, yet continue to teach part-time. So, yes, I do bristle at the word luck at times. Don't get me wrong; I know I am fortunate. Focusing on the good, on the blessings, is a skill you hone when one of your child's internal organs quits on her when she's three.

Let's assume I concede the notion that I am lucky. Most people are where they are & have what they have because of a combination of hard work, solid decision making, a little bit of luck, & a lot of prayer. Sure, if a distant relative leaves you millions in his will, lucky is obviously an appropriate word.

I had an experience last fall that addresses the You are lucky comments. On what is designated Spiritual Emphasis Day at school, I found myself in my classroom surrounded by senior girls. I was charged with leading a discussion about the day's events, particularly the messages we'd all heard from the day's designated speakers. The conversation began slowly but soon picked up steam.

Many of the ladies who stared back at me that day have experienced heartache I cannot fathom. I sat & listened as one by one they shared their grief. If there was a theme (I'm always searching for a theme) uniting their stories, it was the ache that an absent father leaves in his wake. I note that a father can be absent in a variety of ways. I chimed in when I felt the conversation was becoming too heavy. I chimed in because I felt something needed to be said about the futility of comparing grief, comparing battle scars, comparing your journey to someone else's journey.

One of the young ladies who sat in my room that day has been my student for nearly two years now. A few months before our paths crossed, she lost her father unexpectedly. A senior in high school this year, she continues to reach milestones she assumed her father would witness. I see her nearly every day. She is always smiling. She speaks often of her decision to choose joy. She is an absolute joy. She's been accepted to the college of her choice, & she will no doubt excel in her studies there. She is petite, smart, has a beautiful smile, & will be weighed down with medals when graduation rolls around in May. She is someone other females might describe as lucky. I don't know how she feels about the word lucky (I suppose I could assign her an essay on the matter). I do know she is fiercely determined to make proactive choices regarding her attitude & her future.

Luck implies comparison; I suppose that's one reason I am not always a fan of the word. I am lucky . . . compared to whom? Friday night, book club assembled to discuss Mere Christianity. One of the many things I love about book club is the diversity of homes represented by the members. Three of the women at the table Friday night homeschool their kids. Some of us teach full-time. Some of us don't work at all . . . except of course that don't work is an absurd thing to say about women who care for three or four or five children around the clock. My sister, who has two kids under four, works online from home, or from my parents' house, or from wherever she can access the Internet & grab a few quiet minutes. Incidentally, my sister has her MA in Technical Writing & earned her law degree & passed the Texas State Bar while working for a Fortune 500 Company. Is she lucky to be able to work in her pajamas when she wants? Again, lucky is not a word I would use. She has paid her dues; she has earned those pajamas.

Everyone seated at the table Friday night when book club convened is, relatively speaking, lucky. We all have homes, friends, & belong to an amazing book club. We've all made different decisions about work & school based on what best meets our needs & the needs of our families. I know to an outsider, everyone at our table appeared deliriously happy Friday night. Again, while it is true we are all lucky, I think the reason we were so boisterous is because we usually make good decisions. We make the decision to read. We make the decision to fraternize with like-minded women monthly. We make the decision to be happy for each other, to mourn with each other, to pray for each other. We make the decision to listen to each other, be it about life or books we've read. From what I know of these ladies on a personal level, they each make the decision to resist comparisons; they each focus on the joy that is theirs.

I think the comparative mindset is one of the most difficult things for females to resist. It begins early, when you first notice who is taller than you, skinnier than you, has better jeans than you, etc. Just as you get comfortable in your own skin & stop comparing yourself to your friends, you're tempted to compare your kids to their kids. I frankly don't have the energy. I don't care who plays every sport & is involved in every activity under the sun & takes a vacation every other week & gets to use glitter in the house; I don't have the energy to keep up.

I've rambled on for quite some time now. I suppose, in addition to Roosevelt's warning regarding the danger of comparison, I also want to quote Hemingway (because of course I do):

I suppose it is time to end this treatise on luck. I just am uncomfortable with the idea of luck. I don't want my kids focusing too much on luck or who is lucky & who is not. Reagan has a chronic disease that absolutely nothing in the world could have prevented. That is unfortunate, but no amount of wallowing or pouting about it will heal her pancreas. Attitude is immensely important when it comes to handling diabetes; attitude is immensely important when it comes to handling life. I want to stress the importance of making good choices, & I want to stress resisting the urge to compare. If you must compare, compare yourself only to your former self, per Hemingway's wise words. 

I'll end by echoing my aforementioned student, a young lady wise beyond her years: Comparison is the thief of joy. Resist the urge to compare & choose joy


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