Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The Shape of Me

November 19, 2019


I was reminded the other day--not for the first time--that I don't look like I did 15 years ago, as if this were an indictment, something about which to be embarrassed.  Trust me, I know I don't look the same.  I own a mirror, and I can see that I'm 52, and not 37.  Now, 52 looks different on a lot of people, but like many of us, my body shape has changed over the years.  My weight has changed too.  It's not easy for someone who has always struggled with body image (like 98% of the women I know) to maintain a healthy relationship with myself.  Having someone remind me that it's a pretty good reason to negate the other fabulous things I bring to the table can sometimes put me right back into the tailspin of teen angst and insecurity.  Not everyone deals with weight gain as we age, but a great many of us do, and it's just not easy.

Now I certainly don't mean that I have let myself go; I still love to get up and make myself feel presentable for myself every single day.  I like to wear clothes that are flattering, buy cute and charming booties and heels in every imaginable style, and I like to wear a little make-up to bring out the sparkle in my eye and a touch of color in my lips.  I try to work out and watch what I eat.  But yes, as I was reminded, I do not look like I did 15 years ago.  Few do.  So I started thinking about the ways I look different today--a little personal assessment, if you will.

With the passing of the last 15 years, here are just a few of the ways I look different:

--I look like a woman who beams with pride at having raised three pretty incredible humans into adulthood.
--I look like a woman whose world view has expanded through travel to other countries and interactions with other cultures.
--I look like a woman who carries herself with the professional confidence borne of experience and longevity in a work environment in which she thrives.
--I look like a woman who bears worry lines on her forehead and in her heart for all the young lives she cares about in her classroom each year.
--I look like a woman who fought to keep her family afloat during times of financial difficulty when resources were scarce.
--I look like a woman who has smile lines on her face, marking the laughter she has shared with loved ones--friends, students, and family--both the natural-born family and the ones she's chosen as family.
--I look like a woman who has a twinkle in her eye--sometimes mischievous and playful and some times plain joyful--as she looks with love at those who have joined her on her journey of life.
--I look like a woman whose scars tell the story of her triumph over breast cancer.
--I look like a woman who stands tall, having achieved her goal of attaining her Master's degree later in life.
--I look like a woman whose plumper body is evidence of lots of shared meals with loved ones, talking and laughing and dancing together well into late night hours.
--I look like a woman whose heart has grown far more in size than her body ever could by living in love and optimism.

 Yes, I have changed in the past 15 years.  But if you choose to see me through the lens of one who can see only the outline of my shape and determine that's the most important definition of who I am and how I've changed, then my goodness, perhaps it's your lenses that need a little cleaning.  Have I changed? I have.  In ways both grand and microscopic.  My heart, however, and my spirit--those remain the same.  That includes the ability and desire to see the good in others, and the optimism that the best is always around the corner.  I'd rather be loved and supported by those who are able to see through lenses that illuminate that shape ahead of any other.  That is the true shape of me, and I'm damn proud of it.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Just Like Riding a Bike


October 3, 2019

There’s an old adage that talks about riding a bike as something that becomes second nature once you learn how—a muscle memory that you never really forget, even if you haven’t done it for awhile.  Here’s the thing, though.  They never really talk about what happens if you actually want to forget how to ride that bike.  Let’s say you’re riding along on your favorite bike.  It’s blue with little flecks of glitter in the paint, because, you know, that’s your favorite color and you love sparkly things.  It’s probably got those little ribbons attached to the handlebars that flutter satisfyingly in the wind.  It might have a few scuffs or dings, but you love that bike all the same, because each of those unique marks represents an adventure you enjoyed.  You couldn’t have wished for a better day to go out riding, so you’re out with a song in your heart and a wide expanse of beautiful road in front of you as far as the eye can see.  You’ve never been on this road before, but it’s promising, inviting.  Almost magical.  Suddenly, unexpectedly, BAM!  You not only crash spectacularly, but your crash is caused by being forcefully shoved off that bike with no warning sign. You fly through the air, landing with the kind of painful thud that reverberates in your ears and knocks the wind out of you, leaving you gasping for air.  You don’t know if you’ll ever be able to breathe normally again.  You can’t even remember what it’s like to breathe normally, to not have to remind yourself to take in air and let it go again, despite the pain. You lie in the dirt, limbs akimbo, dirt and gravel embedded in the tender layers of skin that tried valiantly to cushion the fall.  On the other side of the road, the bike.  It’s crumpled, irreparable.  It will never look the same again.  It will never be the same, you think.

Why on earth would you want to ride again?  A battered and bruised figure might well think walking to be a safer bet.  A longer path, perhaps, and maybe not quite as exhilarating, but one in which it is less likely for you to get knocked back down into the dirt, leaving you struggling to regain your composure, your confidence, your self.  And so you set off down another path, gingerly placing each foot one after the other on the new path.  It’s slow going, of course; every path now seems fraught with the possibility of an unexpected pitfall.  You want to be prepared.  You want to brace yourself.  You want to ward off the possibility of being taken unaware again.

It’s not possible, though, you know.  And as you make your way down this path, the one you had no intention of traveling, and certainly not on foot, you begin to hear a little voice from within.  “It’s not possible.  You can’t avoid the possibility of pain.  You just can’t.  And in trying to avoid it, by being afraid, you also cheat yourself out of something that brought you such joy.”  You realize that little voice inside you is right; you don’t want to give up the possibility of finding that joy again.  And so you go back.  You walk back slowly, almost timidly, to the place where your bike sits, bedraggled and damaged.  On closer inspection, however, you realize it’s not beyond repair.  With a little care, with a little time, you reshape the frame and dust off the dirt.  You polish it again until you see the glint of the glitter start to shine through.  Carefully, you slide one leg over, just to test the weight, the balance.  An easy spin of the pedals propels you slowly forward and you turn onto a side road you hadn’t noticed before.  It’s not well traveled, but there are flowers edging the path and charming trees dotting the landscape.  It’s worth exploring what’s ahead.  As you pick up speed, you feel the wind caress your cheeks and tousle your hair gently.  You feel the kiss of the sun on your forehead and you find yourself daring to breathe again. To look forward again.  To find promise in the path of the unexpected, unplanned.  You are going to take it slow for awhile, and you might stop and get off every now and again to regain your footing for a bit.  But ride again you will. And you realize that perhaps they were right all along.  Maybe you really never forget to learn how to ride a bike.  Perhaps you don’t ever want to forget.

Monday, June 17, 2019

By the Numbers

June 17, 2019

Numbers that help define my worth and value:
--The number of beautifully kind and wonderful children I have (3)
--The number of people I smile at today
--The number of friends I call family
--The number of ways I try to make the day of another person brighter, easier, or happier
--The number of lives I touch in a positive way
--The number of new perspectives I try to see
--The number of times I pick myself back up after falling (or being pushed)
--The number of people I hold in my heart, and the number of people who hold me in theirs
--The number of times I recognize that my world is not only about me


Numbers that don't help to define my worth and value:
--The number in my bank account
--The number of wrinkles and scars my body bears

Numbers that don't IN ANY WAY help to define my worth and value:
--The number of calories I do or do not consume
--The number on a scale
--The number of years I've lived

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

For Diane

June 5, 2019

I gave a little speech yesterday to honor my friend and mentor, who is retiring after 40 years of teaching.  Honestly, I could probably write a book (and some day I still might), but I tried to be brief.  When I finished, I realized I had still written too much for the time I was allotted to speak, so I had to narrow it down further when I spoke.  This is the long version I wish I had had time to say...




For Diane, upon your retirement:

(The long version.  There was too much to say in only 2-3 minutes!)

First, let me say there is only a tiny handful of people for whom I would be willing to overcome my terrible fear of public speaking and get up in front of a group of people to talk.  For Diane, I wouldn't have missed it, and I am honored to be here for her.

My name is Donna Mayes Lutjens, and I have been teaching for the past 28 years at Buchanan High School.  Diane was my 9th, 10th, and 12th grade teacher, and then I came back and student taught for her.  I connected with Diane (Mrs. Belman for many years, long after I had graduated) in a way I had never connected with a teacher before.  I have been blessed to have her as a life-long mentor.  I have never heard anyone say an unkind thing about her--literally never!--an impressive thing, especially in a sometimes difficult and contentious world.

It is a sacred gift that some possess, this calling to teach.  And a vitally important calling it is, to guide young lives during a time in their youth where there can be such insecurity, such uncertainty.  Diane clearly has this gift.

By luck of the draw, I ended up in Mrs. Belman's freshman English class.  Right away I knew I liked her, but I was shy, and didn't speak up much.  I can still remember reading Romeo and Juliet aloud in class.  I was always the kid who was terrified she'd be called on to read a part, and sure enough, she not only called on me to read, but she gave me the role of Juliet!  And, as fate would have it, she assigned Bill, my new boyfriend of one week (unbeknownst to her!), to the part of Romeo. Well, all the band kids in the back who were in the know tittered and giggled while Bill and I turned various shades of red, until suddenly a dawning grew in her eyes...

"Why is everyone laughing?  What's going on?  Wait...you??? And you??  Oooohhhh...adorable!!  That's perfect! That's precious!"  She gleefully clapped her hands together while poor Bill and I squirmed and tried to disappear under our desks.  Any of Romeo and Juliet that was read in class that day was punctuated not only by giggles from our classmates, but by delighted exclamations by our teacher as well.  And while it was mortifying at the time, it made me understand something that was of paramount importance to her.  We were not just students in her class; she recognized us as individuals with lives outside of the classroom.  We recognized that we were not just a name on a roster to her, but humans with lives full of love and angst and confusion and hopes and dreams, and all of that mattered to her.  Some days we were Romeo or Juliet, some days we were Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye, and some days we were the wildlings from Lord of the Flies.  It didn't matter; she met us where we were and loved us and taught us.

Speaking of names on a roster, one of the things that always amazed me was that she learned our middle names.  She memorized them!  Honestly, I'm astonished that I can still hold my own students' first and last names in my brain every year.  She knew our middle names, too, so she could 'mom' students when they needed it.  If a child was remiss or out of line, she didn't need to yell or raise her voice; "The Mom Look", coupled with a stern, "Scott Anthony Mayes, you need to get that late homework in by tomorrow" would generally have the desired effect.  It was an incredibly effective technique.  Sometimes you can ignore a teacher directive; it's pretty hard to disregard Mom.

For me personally, the kid who tried to perfect the art of escaping notice, she was a catalyst.  She saw me.  She heard my voice when I wasn't so sure I had anything to say yet.  She heard me anyway, and encouraged me to have faith in my voice, my ideas.  She didn't just tell me that one day I could be a teacher and a writer; she held up the mirror that showed me I already was.  Through her confidence, I developed my own.  She believed in me until I believed in me.  Diane has sometimes said I am her favorite author, something that makes me prouder than she knows.  Years after being in her class, she is still encouraging me, lifting me up, helping hone and refine my voice.

Diane doesn't just teach English, though she does that well, of course.  She thoughtfully designs organized, rigorous, challenging curriculum, focused on the beauty of language and its ability to connect human hearts.  Through that curriculum, though, she teaches students, human beings on the path to becoming who they would be.  Life lessons of love, perseverance, faith, and her belief in the good of her students--these are the things Diane--Mrs. Belman--was able to share with each of us every day.

She has a generosity of spirit, strength of faith, is endlessly encouraging and enthusiastic, and is a testament to positivity.  She is grace personified.  Some might say one is born with these qualities, and that might be true to some degree, but there is something to be said for a mindful dedication to this approach to life--a conscious choice to meet kids where they are and seek out ways to connect, foster growth, and find the positive in each kid.  She chooses that mindset every day.

Her reach is exponential.  Unfathomable, really. How many countless lives has she touched?  Her impact is hard to quantify.   Thousands of students are better for their time with her, each in turn radiating out that light to others.

Walking in the hallways of many of the schools in Clovis Unified--and other districts as well--are teachers hoping to build up their students in the same way Diane touched their lives.  If I myself can reach even a tiny fraction of the people she has positively impacted, I will be forever thankful.

Diane has absolutely been my second mom.  Her kids, David, Becky, and Rachel know that they and their own children have been her world, but they were gracious enough to share that world with so many students over the years who look to her as a second mom, a mentor, and a friend.  We are all thankful they were generous in sharing their mom with us.  A big part of who I am as a teacher, as a mom, as a human being, comes from the influence of both my own mother and my Diane.  I hope I have made them both proud.

Clovis High will have a huge space to fill as Diane moves on to devote herself full-time to her most beloved roles as mother, grandma, and wife, but the school and the whole district has been left with her legacy in the lights she has sparked in her former students, like myself, who found such a passionate and caring example of service to others that they wanted to continue to carry that torch and reach out to others, fostering hope and confidence and optimism in the future.

Diane, I'm sure I speak for your kids--all your kids across all of these years--when I say we're going to do our best to keep that legacy going, for you, and for the next generations of students.


Friday, May 10, 2019

The Prom Speech

The Prom Speech

May 10, 2019


This weekend is the Prom at our high school, and I teach seniors. Every year I give a big 'prom speech' to all of my seniors in class on the day before the big event (and a similar, but modified one before Winter Formal and graduation). There are a few variations year to year, but the main message is always the same. Here's what I tell them:

I'm going to give you my prom speech, because I'm a mama, and you'll just have to humor me. I have my own kids, but you're my kids, too, so you'll just have to deal with me being a mama for a moment. There are three things I'd like to talk to you about.

The first one is, that I'll be chaperoning the dance. (This is almost always the case.) I specifically sign up for prom duty, because I like to see you all dressed up. I love to see all the beautiful dresses and shoes, and I love to see the guys all dressed up in their tuxes. You all look so grown up, such ladies and gentlemen! It's one of my favorite things to see. Please come by, find me! I can't wait to see you all elegant and refined, meet your date, and take a few pictures. However, that being said, one of my least favorite things is seeing the dancing that goes on out on the dance floor. Having fun, or being close and romantic is one thing, but the 'freaking' on the dance floor? I don't need to see it. I don't need that image in my head.  I've got to look you in the face again on Monday morning, you know? Simulated sex on the dance floor is not dancing! And it totally undoes the elegant sophisticated look you took all day cultivating as you were getting dressed up like young ladies and gentlemen. I know some of you are going to do it anyway, because you think that's the way you're supposed to dance, or you don't know any other way. If that's the case, and I have the unfortunate luck to have my duty on the dance floor (I do, this year), please do me the courtesy of coming by, introducing me to your date, and then moving to the OPPOSITE SIDE OF THE DANCE FLOOR to dance.

The second part of the speech deals with a much more serious thing, which is the whole issue of drinking. There are a lot of you who think that because you're feeling all grown up and dressed up, and it's a festive time, that it's okay to drink. First of all, let me remind you that IT'S NOT LEGAL. But you know that, and some of you will choose to ignore that. So if you choose to make the first bad decision and drink on prom night, don't make a second bad decision to get behind the wheel of a car. When you are driving home from the prom, I will be, too, and I want to make it home alive. I have babies at home that want me to make it home alive. I want all of you to make it home alive and to be back here on Monday, safe and sound. I want you to make it to your graduation, which you have all worked so hard for.

This is not just about you drinking. If you are with someone who has been drinking, don't let them get behind the wheel. They might be mad at you, but that's okay. They'll get over it. You can get over being mad; you can't get over being dead. Don't be the one who watches someone drive away, and then later finds out he spun out of control on the way home because he shouldn't have been driving. Decisions like that--one stupid decision--can irrevocably alter people's lives. Forever. Don't be that person. Don't let your friend be that person. Make good decisions. And if you make the first bad decision to drink, make a second good decision, and stay where you are, or have a designated driver. Call mom or dad to pick you up. Call ME to pick you up. I don't care if you call me a three o'clock in the morning. I would jump in the car and come get you to take you home, rather than have you driving out on the road, drunk. I am absolutely sincere about that.

The last word about drinking is please don't show up to the prom already drunk. I've had students who have been ejected within 15 minutes of their arrival because they had so obviously been drinking. This is supposed to be a fun night, and getting kicked out of the prom is not fun. Even really good kids sometimes have a lapse of judgment, but you don't want that kind of lapse in judgment to put to waste all the money and time you spent getting ready for this event. And what if you are the girlfriend whose date got caught, drunk? You are either stuck there to finish out the prom alone, or you have to go home. Even worse, students who get caught drunk at the prom will get expelled under Zero Tolerance. After all those years of hard work, after all that time invested, don't make a decision that could lead to you not walking graduation with all of your classmates when you are so close to the light at the end of the tunnel.

And finally, speaking of graduation, let's do the math, shall we? We are about four weeks away from the big night, the culmination of all your years of academic work. Prom night is a big night for a lot of kids. You're feeling grown-up, you're feeling you are on the verge becoming a fully independent young adult. And a lot of students feel that this is the perfect time to experiment with other 'grown-up' behaviors. All I'm going to say is, that four weeks down the line, right about graduation time, you don't want to discover that you've accidentally come away from the Prom with an extra souvenir, ladies and gentlemen--one that will be with you forever.  When you are sitting at graduation, thinking about what your future looks like and all the possibilities ahead, and how you are ready to learn to become responsible for yourself as an adult, you don't also want to be wondering how in the world you're going to learn how to become responsible for another tiny human being as well.

Be careful. Make good choices.

And have a great time!

Mrs. L

Sunday, January 6, 2019

A Metaphor

January 6, 2018

I went bowling today for the first time in years.  It was a little intimidating, since I know my bowling skills are, shall we say, weak at best.  But I decided I was going to go into it not worrying about what others thought of me; I wanted to just have fun, try to be myself, and not be concerned that I was not exactly in my comfort zone or operating within my natural skill set.  This attitude did not in any way improve my bowling score, but it did allow me to laugh at myself (and my bowling partner), and relax and goof around.  We had a great time.  There's a good lesson there:  attitude and choosing one's mindset ahead of any activity has a pretty significant impact on how you're experiencing life.  Since I'm moving into some new territory as we kick off the new year, I'm going to endeavor to keep that at the forefront of my mind moving forward.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Productivity

January 5, 2019

This Christmas break was marked by quite a bit of productivity and a sense of a fresh start.  Sometimes when you are sitting in a place of comfort, a complacency can set in and make it difficult to continue with a sense of forward momentum.  However, this past two weeks has been marked by a significant change in the household, which was marked by lots of furniture movement, lots of cleaning, lots of sorting and moving remaining items, and either donating or throwing out quite a bit of accumulated stuff that's been overtaking our house over the past few years.  There's lots and lots to still do, and of course as I moved furniture and rearranged the living areas I found that everywhere I looked there was more to dust, vacuum, sort, and clean, but I feel like a forward moment has taken hold and has enabled me to create a much more comfortable, inviting, and peaceful living space.  The goal is to keep it up as I head back to work next week!

Friday, January 4, 2019

Just Like Yesterday

January 4, 2019





Sometimes months will pass between the times some of us see each other.  For some of us, there have been years that stretched between our gatherings.  But each and every time I see any of these women--those of us who started out teaching together years and years ago, when we were baby-faced novice teachers--we reconnect like we saw each other only yesterday.  Time only brings us closer together, and that is truly a measure of a beautiful friendship.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Lean On Me

January 3, 2019

When we were young, we looked to the adults around us and on the whole, we probably thought they mostly had things figured out.  There was business to handle, and handle it they did.  There might have been notable exceptions to the adults we thought had it all figured out--the weird uncle or the slightly crazy second cousin, or even the disheveled and perpetually confused looking high school teacher--but on the whole, we believed the adults knew what was going on and how to approach any circumstance in life.

Fast forward to now. I am--we are--the adults.  And my goodness, we do NOT have it all figured out.  We constantly question each decision we make, each action we taking moving forward.  What if it's the wrong thing to do? What if my decision leads to consequences I didn't foresee?  The reality is, we simply do not know.  The secret of life?  We're all out here doing the best we can, making our best guess as to how it's all going to turn out.  The secret of life is that no one really knows the secret of life.

So what do we do?  If we're lucky, as I have been, we cultivate good, solid friendships.  We seek counsel and solace from those friends; we seek commiseration and celebration with souls who wish the best for us and, like us, are making their best guesses about how to proceed from day to day, and year to year.  When you cultivate friends like that, you can roll around ideas, test out theories, offer suggestions, learn from one another's experiences, knowing that no two experiences are alike, but might have common ground.  You offer to one another a shoulder to cry on, a fresh perspective, a belly laugh when levity is warranted or needed, a boost of confidence, or a gentle kick in the rear when one is stuck in static mode.  We offer an ear; we offer community.

I've got a few circles of friends, and within those circles, we have collectively faced many challenges and joys over the years:  marriages, children, diseases and catastrophic illnesses, accidents, births, deaths, new careers or loss of careers, infidelity, new homes, divorces, bankruptcy, mental health issues, and addiction, just to name a few.  And as fate would have it, we often take turns with our burdens, so that some of us are strong when others need buoyed.  Sometimes I am able to help carry someone else's burden, and sometimes it is I who needs a hand.  But the hands are always there--hands to hold, to reach out for a hug, and to gently touch to help us remember that though none of us has it all figured out, we aren't all on our own making guesses in the dark.  We don't have it all figured out--no one does--but we aren't alone, and sometimes, that makes all the difference.


Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Rise

January 2, 2019

There are quite a few people I know who choose a focus word as a New Year resolution of sorts--one they can center in on as a priority in their life for the upcoming year.  I like the idea.  I've never done it before, but I'd like to think it could help direct my energy moving forward.  (I'm not going to lie; there's also a great likelihood that I'll forget it, in which case, no harm, no foul, right?)  Maybe I'll write it on my mirror to remember.  Anyway, I believe I shall claim the word "RISE" my word for 2019.  As in, "Rise above".  As in "Rise from the ashes like a phoenix".  As in, "Rise and look ahead to all the possibility before you." As in "Rise, Baby--I can't be kept down.  You wanna throw a wrench in the works and bring me to my knees?  Bring it! I'll rise higher than I ever thought I could soar, bigger and brighter and better-- a beacon in the night shining down."  That kind of rise.

RISE.