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.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

New Year, Looking Forward

January 1, 2019

The new year traditionally is marked by a pause for reflection, resolution, and recommitment to those things we feel represent growth and truth for us.  This year, more than most, I have been confronted with that reflection rather harshly.  Having seen one particular path for my future--one I was happy with and looking forward to the continued adventure --the path suddenly and violently veered off into the unknown.  To diverge from someone who is an intricate part of one's world, be it a lover, a friend, or even a family member, is a difficult, messy business.  To discover a betrayal of faith and trust requires deep soul searching in order to progress and to look forward, instead of being stuck looking back.

There is a strange sense in this aftermath of needing to look backward at the what-ifs and the whys of the situation.  The how-can-it-be-so-easy-for someone-to-do-this-to-me? kind of feeling.  The what-could-I-have-done-differently? And sometimes that answer to that is simply to be someone you're not, though that clearly can't be the right answer. But let me tell you, that's a difficult train of thought to escape.  Because after all, if one is loveable, how can someone treat them so unlovingly?  It's a trap, though, because although we all have flaws, and both people can contribute to the unraveling of what was once steadfast, in the end, we cannot and should not control each other's emotions or actions.  One person's betrayal is exactly that- that person's betrayal, and not a commentary on the loveability or unloveability of the other person.  That is their choice alone to own. I could say that they will regret it, I could even wish it.  But I don't know that to be true.  Perhaps it will lead to something even better, and if this is truly a person I love, wouldn't I wish happiness for them?  And if they regret it, do I want to 'earn' connection through regret?  No, I want connection with someone who chooses me in joy, not out of regret.  We all deserve to be chosen, to be with people who count themselves fortunate in our company.  One can be mired in the past, attempting to regain the path once traveled, but that path has been erased; it no longer exists in that form.  That does not mean that a new path can't be forged eventually, but it can't be found by looking back; only by looking forward.

So forward we go.  And in looking forward, the most important thing to remember is that if one's desire to remain connected changes, that is their reality.  And they are entitled to that reality.  It just doesn't get to define me and my reality.  I cannot be mad at them, and I can't fault them for their feelings.  However, I can't let it make me question my own worth, my own value, my own loveability.  I have said my mantra this year will be "I am enough" in response to being told that who I am isn't enough.  (And just because I was told this doesn't mean I have to wear it as a badge.)  In rethinking and reflecting, though, I have to say my mantra should be "Good enough isn't good enough".  I cannot be content to try to be "good enough" for others or myself; I need to find people who recognize my value and aren't settling for "good enough".  Certainly I am looking to better myself, as many of us do, especially at the time of year, but I deserve to surround myself with people who don't make me feel as if I need to prove that I am worthy.  And if that path leads me to new paths I never expected to travel, and if that path leads me so far away from my original path that the roads don't cross again, that will have to be good enough.  If I spend my time looking forward, instead of back, focusing on my own definition of self rather than seeing my worth through another's eyes, then perhaps my occasional glances looking back will be ones filled with fondness for a distant time that once was, rather than a path of loss and regret.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Graduation Time


June 6, 2018

Well, my friends—it’s almost time.  The night where you get to celebrate all that you have achieved is just around the corner.  I am so proud of your accomplishments—some of you have worked very, very hard to make it to this night and have overcome personal, emotional, and academic hardships to earn that little piece of paper that can open up new avenues and opportunities for you.  Well done! You’ve made it!
              Graduation can be an emotional night.  Some of you might be a little nostalgic and sad about losing the comfort and familiarity of home, school, and family as you head off on to new adventures.  Some of you will be relieved that you actually made it.  Some of you may feel elation that you are done with the rules and dress code of high school.  (I’ll leave you to the fantasy that there are no rules you have to follow once you leave high school and your parents’ homes, at least for awhile.  You’ll find out the truth soon enough.)  Some of you might even feel anxious or nervous about what the future holds.  Most of you will feel proud of yourselves.  All of these emotions are real, valid, and totally normal.  Just know that while you are feeling all of these things, your parents are, too. Whether you are the first one in the family graduating, the middle child, or the baby of the family, please recognize that this is a milestone for your mamas and your daddies, too. They are thrilled, stressed, nostalgic, anxious, and hopeful, just like you are.  So when Dad wants to talk to you for the 30th time about how to be safe when you’re away at college, don’t just sigh and say, “I KNOW!”  He’s not just telling you he wants you to be safe; he’s telling you he loves you.  Let him.  When your mom wants you to smile for just one more picture (or 20), do it for her.  Do it with gratitude, and not eye-rolling, because when she says, “Say cheese!” she’s actually saying, “I am going to miss these times, these moments with you.”  Let her know that you hear what she’s saying, even when she’s not saying it.  Let her know you’ll miss those moments too.  This moment in time is yours, but it’s also theirs.  Share it and enjoy it together.
              So here you are, on the verge of your new adventure, with your family and friends surrounding you and cheering you on.  Some of these people you’ll be sitting in the stands with, you might remain friends with for the rest of your life.  Some of them you might see now and again, but you’ll eventually drift apart.  And for some of them, graduation night might be the last time you ever see them.  High school is like that, just like the rest of your life.  People will come in and out of your life, some only briefly, and some for long and enduring stretches of your journey.  Regardless, each person has an impact on those they encounter.  Be thankful for the mark your classmates have had on you; hope that you have been a blessing to those you have touched.  It’s really the most important life lesson, at the end of the day—one that isn’t found in a textbook or on a test.  Be a blessing to the people you encounter, whether it be for a day or for a lifetime.  Your life’s mission is to find the best way for you to do that.
              And speaking of life’s mission, you all have one.  I don’t know what your mission is, and maybe you don’t yet either.  That’s okay.  Just look for it.  Be mindful of it.  Find your passion and follow it—that’s a great place to start looking.  And when you do find your mission, make it your life’s work to meet it head on, with intention and care.  Seek positive mentors.  Be a positive mentor to those who follow behind you.  Look for ways to leave your world and the people you encounter better than they were when you first arrived.  Let that be your legacy and your mark.  Will you make mistakes and wrong turns?  Of course you will!  Will you learn and grow from them?  That, my friends, is entirely up to you.  I certainly hope so.  Mistakes do not define success; reaction to mistakes does.  How will you respond?

              So here I am, reflecting on the mark you have already made on me, as I think about all the ways you will move out into the rest of your tomorrows.  Know that all of you, from the most gregarious to the most introverted, have made my year a special one.  I always marvel that I have future businessmen, politicians, amazing stay-at-home moms and dads, teachers, mechanics, engineers, pastors, musicians, and farmers among my students.  It’s a privilege to get to teach students who will grow up and be the decision-makers of the future.  It’s the reason I keep teaching. YOU are the reason I keep teaching.  So thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for another wonderful year.  I can’t wait to see what the future holds for you.  Good luck, much love, and best wishes on all your future endeavors.

                                                                                                                   Mama Lutjens