This is me at graduation with my friend Elias. I couldn't find any of my other graduation pictures for some reason!
Last Friday I went to my nephew Wyatt's high school graduation. It made me think a lot about when I graduated 15 years ago. It made me think about 18 year old Julie sitting there waiting to start her brand new, grown up life, and how idealistic, and naive she was. I had a goal of becoming a Life Skills special education teacher. That was all I wanted to do, and so in my mind that was just what was going to happen. I believed that for four years until I did my block teaching and discovered that I actually hated being in a school all day, and I hated being responsible for managing a classroom of kids, but I didn't hate teaching, and I still loved kids, just not in such large groups! So, I changed my major, and finished with a Rehabilitative Sciences degree and moved on. I did a lot of interesting jobs: counselor for delinquent teens, TSS almost always for children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder, sexual assault crisis counselor, Early Intervention special instructor where I visited children in their homes, program manager for a community program for adults with disabilities, program manager for a sheltered workshop, and a family-based therapist.
If I missed any, it doesn't matter. What matters is that life seldom turns out the way you expect, or assume it will. But, sometimes things do still go the way you wanted, but just in a very, very different direction. I taught those delinquent teenagers how to crochet in the evenings when we were just relaxing. For some of them it developed into a very useful coping skill. I learned a lot about behavior management while teaching children to manage their own behavior as a TSS. As a special instructor for children ages birth to three in rural Clarion County, I was able to teach them what they needed to be ready for preschool...and I learned about the cycle of poverty and had my eyes opened wide to the situations people in poverty live in sometimes. As a family-based therapist I learned how to teach families to break unhealthy patterns that were destroying their lives. I learned to say hard things to people because they needed to hear them, and I learned how to teach them ways to be brave and move forward with life, even when they felt like there was no hope. In the years between graduating from college and Lu's birth, I learned a lot, and taught a lot, but in no way near the ways I assumed I would when I was sitting back on the football field during my graduation.
In those years I learned more patience than I knew I had. I learned that people live in desperate situations, and I waded into their situations while mustering more courage than I ever knew I had because quite frankly, I had to do some scary things and go to some scary places sometimes. I learned a lot of technical crap at each job that actually has been surprisingly helpful at times. (I hate the technical crap, I just like the "doing".) I learned about how social service agencies really work and what a pain it can be just to help people or just to get help that you need. That insider info has been especially helpful in navigating through systems where I am just trying to get Lu what she needs. I think most importantly I have learned that I am a teacher and that I don't have to be trapped in a classroom to teach.
I have learned all of those lessons over the years and now I use them every single day to teach my sweet Lu. Sometimes I worry that we don't do enough "academic" stuff, but she is only four. Right now she is learning to communicate. That is what we do most of the day, but not like it's work, we just do it, and really, I see that as the most important thing for her to be "learning" right now. I always like to share what Lu has been saying every once in awhile and lately she has been expressing some very important things. She often tells us what she wants, which is awesome! She has a new cute habit of asking where specific people are, and recently she has been a real super star at expressing her feelings, even during extreme emotional turmoil. Here are some examples of things she has said lately:
-Lu had been on a short bike ride with Chad before supper and afterward she started crying and it escalated to wails and sobs. When we got her to her Tobii she said: "I don't like it (x3), I don't want to do it, too hard, tired" We asked if she meant her bike and she said yes. And then she was able to calm down enough to eat supper.
-While eating breakfast: "(something's wrong), I don't like it, sick, mouth, I don't like it, bad" When I asked her if her mouth hurt she said no. When I asked her if she means how her mouth doesn't work well for her sometimes when she's trying to eat, she said yes. Then she started a new message and said, "I don't want to do it, gross." I asked if her egg was gross and she said no, and then said, "I want to use my book. With her paper PODD book she said, "I think it's, bad, I can't do it" and she said yes when I asked if she was still taking about eating.
-We were eating French toast one morning and Lu said, "(I don't like this, you, yucky, I want, something to eat or drink, stove, egg, my, you, hot" we the. Went through the "hot egg" choices she usually enjoys and I told her she could have what she chose (and egg sandwich) for lunch, and I made sure that was what she had.
- "(something's wrong), itchy, my, stomach, angry"
-to her Daddy at breakfast one Saturday morning: "I want, cuddle, yours, story, we, funny" he asked if she wanted to cuddle and read a story with him and she said yes!
- "I want, something to eat or drink, off, fork" I was feeding Lu supper and one things was with a spoon and one thing was with a fork and she was telling me she wanted the food I was giving her with the fork.
- "I want, something to eat or drink, cereal" she said this halfway through a piece of toast.
- "I want, rest, cuddle" This is one of her favorite things to say.
- "I want, mine, fingerpaint, blue"
- "where is, Jen, occupational therapist?" Jen is in fact her occupational therapist.
Besides learning that I am a teacher, and that everyday I get to teach the most amazing student I ever could've hoped for, I was lucky enough to find Chad, Lucy's other teacher who wants her to learn all of the same things that I do. We were so fortunate to find each other and realize how much our beliefs in life were the same, and that we should probably stick together. And as we stick together, we both teach Lucy everyday how important her emotions are to us and that we want to know what she is thinking, and feeling, and wanting all of the time. We are a pair of teachers that both 1000% believe in the abilities and potential of our student and therefore she thrives...and I can wear sweatpants all day while I love and cuddle her and take time out to do whatever we want while still learning to live all the time.
So, 15 years after graduation, I am not where I imagined I would be. I'm in a place better than I ever could've imagined back then. Teaching every day, just in the way I want to, to the greatest little girl I've ever known.