Sunday, March 27, 2011

Spiritual Sunday: Believing

On what it means to be a believer:

"Goodness does not consist in turning your face towards East or West. The truly good are those who believe in God and the Last Day, in the angels, the Scripture, and the prophets; who give away some of their wealth, however much they cherish it, to their relatives, to orphans, the needy, travellers and beggars, and to liberate those in bondage; those who keep up the prayer and pay the prescribed alms; who keep pledges whenever they make them; who are steadfast in misfortune, adversity, and times of danger. These are the ones who are true, and it is they who are aware of God."

-The Qur'an
Sura 2:177

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Copping a Feel

This week, I've been administering/proctoring our state's standardized testing for 6th-8th grade students.

I've never been so felt up in my life (and I've been to Spain).

Let me just back up this booty train for a second.

Massachusetts takes A LOT of pride in its education system. A child is expected to do everything possible to open the doors to an Ivy League college later in life, and parents are (for the most part) extremely involved. There are always exceptions, but this gives the general feel of how it goes.

So, on the state standardized tests, there is a ridiculous amount of pressure. They are geared up for it all year and every teacher works cohesively with one another to best prepare students to succeed. Then, there are several days of testing over the course of two months, each test lasting about 5 hours depending on how fast the student works.

So basically, we're talking about 20-25 hours of testing for most students.

This is stressful on even the most prepared "typical population" kid.

My kids are special education. A coloring project throws them off, never mind entire days of high-stakes testing.

For two days this week, I worked one-on-one with B, an Autistic student. He has trouble concentrating on your face if you're talking, gets up frequently in class to flail his arms or skip, is obsessive about texture and is one of the happiest kids you could ever meet. For his test, we were by ourselves in a small room away from other students so he wouldn't distract them and could receive a little help from me (reminders to stay on track, helping him read questions aloud, tracking his answers so he didn't put them in the wrong place, etc.)

Problem being? One of those textures he's obsessed with happens to be my face.

He doesn't do this to a lot of people, but he just gets fixated on the way certain people feel. I know, this sounds really weird, but basically it translates into him constantly trying to pat my face and rub his face on my arm. I have to tell him that it isn't appropriate behavior, but that lasts two seconds before he's trying to hold my face again. He calls me "Cheeky Mrs. D" and tells me I "have the cheeks of a much younger girl", which actually cracks me up.

I love him to death, but if I wash my face one more time this week it's going to fall off. (Also, can't imagine Purell-ing my arms 37 times is doing wonders, either.)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bombs and Babies

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle."


This is one of my favorite quotes and has been since high school. You just never know what other people are going through, and I didn't fully understand this until I started working with kids.

For the past two weeks, my seventh graders have been working on an essay about someone who has been influential in their lives. Some wrote about friends, aunts, brothers, grandparents, etc. Most of them wrote about their parents.

There is one student, M, who I work with often. She is funny and confident and she and I get along like two peas in a pod. (Sometimes we coordinate hairstyles. She always wants my hair up for some reason.) In her opening line of her essay, she describes her mother running as shrapnel flew through the air.

It is the story of M's birth.

M was born in Kenya during a time of upheaval. I was shocked as I read some of her essay, describing her pregnant mother going into labor as bombs fell around her. Looking at the words on the page and then looking at M, you would never know this is where she came from. She looked focused and content, her legs swinging under the desk.

I thought, no kid could describe anything more traumatic.

And then, I was wrong.

P is a quirky, mouthy, sometimes confrontational kid. Today I watched him struggle to write about his mother, slipping from past to present tense and back again. His mother passed away recently, and I watched him start to shake as he described how his mother taught him to laugh often.

Truly, everyone is fighting a harder battle.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

You gotta be kiddin' me, Lifetime.

One last post tonight and I swear, I'm done.

Sunday nights, I know I'm gonna get all emotional and sloppy because Sunday nights means Army Wives and Coming Home. Army Wives I can manage, but Coming Home gets me every time.

This week, Army Wives leaves on a cliffhanger as the ladies brace themselves while two uniformed soldiers step out of a black SUV, which can only mean one of two things: MIA or KIA, two of the dirtiest acronyms ever created.

MIA: Missing in Action.
KIA: Killed in Action.

Ok, so they've already got me frantic before Coming Home even starts. The show is fine up until the preview of next week's where they're having a tribute to a fallen soldier.


Now these two together would already freak me out because I seriously cannot handle that kind of thing. On top of it, I just sat through an MIA and KIA lecture this morning. My mother and I went to my brother's Reservist Family Day.

My little brother. Reservist. Navy corpsman attached to a Marine unit, deploying to Afghanistan as my husband makes his way home.

Salt in the wounds, Lifetime. Salt in the wounds.

Quick Note on Religion

I grew up Christian.

Well, not really Christian-Christian; more like Santa-Christian. We never went to church as a family, I didn't grow up hearing the stories of the Bible. My understanding was that Santa gave us gifts on Jesus's birthday and the Easter bunny freaked me out but I liked jellybeans, so that leveled it out.

As I came into my teenage years, I chose to go to church on my own and really wanted to find my faith. I tried talking to my mother about it but she didn't want to get into it, saying she didn't want to ruin Christmas.

I get it- the holidays became more about building memories with family than anything spiritual, and that's fine, but I'm curious.

After trying several different churches and sects of Christianity, I'm still searching.

Recently, I was introduced to Islam.

Before now, I knew very, very little about it. I still don't know that much. I'm reading the Qur'an partly out of academic curiosity and partly to see if it can fill the void I feel.

So far, I really like it. I'm not talking about Sharia law or the way predominantly-Islamic countries are run; I'm just talking about the Book itself and my own interpretation. It preaches charity and non-violence, although you do have the right to self-defense. It recognizes Abraham, Moses, and all the prophets of the Old and New Testament, saying that Islam is the descendant of both. It recognizes Jesus as someone "strengthened by the holy spirit" and refers to sections of the Bible.

All I know right now is that I am glad to be learning about it, even if it only helps me to understand others and where they're coming from. It amazes me that something so close to Christianity and Judaism is represented as totally foreign here. I talked to my dad about it earlier and his first question (after he figured out Muslims aren't Buddhist) was, "Wait, weren't the terrorists Muslims?" And I had to explain it like, "Dad, the terrorists are to Islam as the Westboro Church is to Christianity. They don't represent the whole; some people are just off the deep end."

At the end of the day, I want to make up my own mind about it and not rely on others to interpret it for me; I want to think and feel based on my own impression. I'm going to put up a little bit of something every Sunday I think, whether it's the Qur'an or the Bible or a Charlie Sheen quote, whatever has me thinking about faith. I apologize ahead of time since I know it's not everyone's cup of tea (ahem...husband) but I just want to keep growing and thinking and trying to be better and I need to think it out.

As the late, great Eleanor Roosevelt said, "Do what in your heart you believe to be right. You'll be criticized anyway."

Spiritual Sunday: Showing Faith

On making sacrifices and/or showing faith:

"They ask you [Prophet] what they should give. Say 'Whatever good things you give should be for parents, close relatives, orphans, the needy, and travellers. God is well aware of whatever good you do.' "

-The Qur'an
Sura 2:215

Saturday, March 19, 2011

One Year

One year ago today, I married my best friend. He is the craziest, funniest, strongest, most linguistically creative man I have ever met. He's handsome and charming and wears his heart on his sleeve- you never have to guess how he feels about you (good or bad). He's honest to a fault and generous to others in need; he would make a great father in spite of the fact that whenever we go to the mall, he starts to get really upset about how teenage girls dress and then yells at me as if I allowed them out of the house like that.  (Which, incidentally, I find to be a hilarious quirk of his personality and my laughing at him while he's angry probably doesn't help the situation.) He loves his mama and his father was the best man at our wedding.

What I'm trying to say is, I love the man.

Last year, J and I were planning a huge wedding to take place on July 17th in Massachusetts. It was going to be in the church I grew up in and all our family and friends were invited. Our guest list was close to 200 people coming from all over the country. The dress I found with my mother was waiting in my closet back home.

On March 12th, we found out that J was deploying and would already be gone before our wedding. I cried hysterically while canceling everything and asking my mother to let people know to throw out their save-the dates. Not only was he deploying a half a year before expected, but all the soldiers were told to "clean up any affairs" they had within the week as they would have no time off after that before shipping out.

J and I decided; we wanted to pull together whatever we could and get married before he left. He spoke to the chaplain on post, who said he would be more than happy to marry us on Friday night. J scheduled us for the Old Post Chapel, built in 1875. It was small and intimate and perfect.

His parents and grandmother said they would drive out for our ceremony and my parents and brothers booked their flights. We wouldn't have the 200 people we had originally planned, but we would have our parents and close family there to help us celebrate.

Somehow, everything magically fell into place. The church was beautiful and the chaplain was fantastic. A photographer I had booked for engagement photos rushed home from a conference in Las Vegas to be our wedding photographer. Josh found a perfect restaurant that allowed us to book a private room for our small reception. Since my wedding dress was still hanging in my closet at home, I searched frantically for my wedding dress. I finally found it- a perfect traveling dress, design circa 1940. The top was cream silk with a draped neckline. A thin belt cinched under the bustline, leading to a fitted tweed skirt. While I was searching for shoes to match, the women in the store could see I was a little frantic and came to my rescue! They brought out everything they could find that might match, and when I mentioned what I was looking for for my veil, they called up a boutique close by to see if they could help!

With my dress draped over my arm and my perfect heels purchased, I stopped in at the shop and found that a girl there could make custom birdcage veils and, after hearing that I was to be married in only a few days, said she would take the project home to make sure it was ready for the wedding! On top of that, a woman I worked with suggested a salon, and when I went in to speak with someone, one stylist said she would love to do it as she had just been practicing 40's inspired styles!

With the two of us running around, J and I didn't even have time to be stressed. I didn't worry about the food, or if people would like the music, or walking down the aisle, or not having time to lose weight or whatever else I'm sure my crazy self would have stressed about given months of time to think on it. Everything just started to come together.

The night before our wedding, his parents and grandmother drove in to town. In the meantime, my parents and brothers had landed and had made their way to our apartment. I gave them big hugs when they walked in and my brothers shook J's hand for the first time. We talked for a few minutes before I heard a knock on the door. I was shocked as I opened it to find my aunt and uncle coming in, laughing and yelling and ready to party. My cousin Kate came up behind them and yelled, "You can't get married without your maid of honor!" They had secretly booked flights to come out to be there for our wedding. I started crying while I hugged them and was so happy that they would be there.

That night we had a quick rehearsal followed by a big dinner at Olive Garden. My uncle cracked jokes with my soon-to-be father in law and J's grandmother got a little feisty with out waiter- I'm not sure how she did it, but he ended up singing and dancing on a chair while she clapped out a beat. My brothers made funny, dry remarks while my mother and J's mother barely break rhythm in conversation. It was fantastic.

The next day was THE day. Our families went out for brunch while I went to the salon and to get my nails done, trying to figure out where I was going to get pictures done with the photographer when she arrived. I still hadn't come up with anything. I got back to the apartment at the same time as my mother arrived with a bouquet of roses. She used her skills to put together my bridal bouquet, attaching the cross necklace my grandmother had given me. While talking to my cousin, I remembered- there is an old, historic home perfectly preserved that is open as a museum. I called and a woman picked up the phone. I told her I was getting married and hoped the museum might let me take a few photos. She said that the museum wasn't open, but for some reason she had decided to get there three hours early; she said that if we wanted to come do photos, she would open it just for us and we would have the place to ourselves!

My mother, cousin and I went before leaving for the church. My father walked me down the aisle as my cousin stood as my maid-of-honor while J stood at the front with his father acting as best man. I couldn't stop smiling and I don't really remember anything else but J, standing there, facing me as we said our vows. I remember thinking that he was so sincere and heartfelt and I stood there, grinning like an idiot. He kissed me and I think there was music, but I didn't even notice at the time. We left the church and stood outside in the afternoon sun, hugging family and taking photos before leaving for the reception.

At the restaurant, which was beautiful, we had some of the best food I have ever had. Our families raved about their filets or seafood, and plates and plates of hors d' oeuvres kept arriving. We toasted with strawberries and champagne and they surprised us with a delicious red velvet cake; my husband's favorite kind.

It wasn't what we were planning on, but I can say now that I have no regrets about any of it. I loved our chapel, our chaplain (who stayed to celebrate at the reception!), our photographer, my dress, his uniform, how intimate it was, everything. Every single thing was perfect because, one year ago, I got to marry the most perfect man for me, the one I wasn't expecting, the one who makes me laugh, the one who makes me realize how much I love him everyday.

Our Wedding Video

P.S. While I was writing this, he sent me these- (he's so good!)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Spiritual Sunday: Thankfulness

On God's mercy and being thankful:

"We appointed forty nights for Moses [on Mount Sinai] and then, while he was away, you took to worshipping the calf-a terrible wrong. Even then We forgave you, so that you might be thankful."

-The Qur'an
Sura 2: 51-52