You don’t know me, but I know you. I recognize the look of exhaustion on your face as you juggled young children, a bottle, a pacifier, and a quest for an hour of worship. I’m familiar with the tone in your frustrated voice when you whispered to your husband, “Please take one of them.”
I know the expression that fears the judgment of other worshippers around you, afraid we will see misbehaving children. You are worried we will see parents who can’t control their young ones.
But as the mom who sat in her childless pew behind you, let me tell you what I really did see:
I saw joy in the sweet faces looking back for a quick game of peek-a-boo.
I saw pride in the older ones attempting to mimic your moves and care for the littlest one.
I saw curiosity as their young eyes turned to you taking in your every move.
I saw peace as they reached for you, to be held secure in your arms, their tiny heads nestled in the nook of your neck.
I saw a precious reflection of my own little ones, now so grown.
But what I saw the most was a mom and dad setting a significant example for their young children about the importance of worshipping even when it seems so far from easy, or even remotely holy.
And trust me, young mom in the next pew, the day will come way too soon when you will be sitting in a childless pew, no sticky hands poking you, no fussy ones distracting you, and you will see little ones close by, and your heart will hurt a little for the way the world spins so quickly. You will play a quick game of peek-a-boo with them, and smile as you realize you sometimes miss those crazy, exhausting days.
Then, you, too, will fight the urge to tell that young mom, “You don’t know me, but I know you.”
Or maybe you will write her a letter.
Maybe it was the pet carrier he was riding in, but I couldn’t help but to think of another time so long ago. After not eating for a couple of days, and a painful walking gate, we were on our way to the vet hospital.
Suddenly, I remembered each of the four kids gathered by the window waiting for daddy to pull up with our new puppy: our Cody. Arguments over who would first get to hold him quickly abated when the puppy arrived with what appeared to be nervous puppy intestines. Our little white fur-ball was not so white when he made his debut.
Upon immediately giving him a bath and swaddling him in a soft towel, I wondered if he knew he was now at home. He closed his eyes and I swear he smiled.
I think he knew.
And now thirteen years and so many baths and swaddles and smiles later, he was in that carrier being uncharacteristically sedate. My mother-heart that understands the difference between children and pets, couldn’t help but hurt for this little guy who believes himself to be my fifth child. The doctor diagnosed arthritis and prescribed medicine and sent us home. I was happy we were on the right track, but sadness crept in the back of my mind.
I think I knew.
A few days went by. He ate too little and limped too much. I noticed he followed us everywhere, not letting us out of his sight. He seemed to be taking it all in as long as he could.
I think he knew.
A week after the original vet visit, I returned with a weaker dog who refused to eat or take any medicine. X-rays revealed the real culprit: bone cancer. Upon finding it had aggressively spread to his lungs, the vet this time sent us home with a few days' supply of Morphine, telling us there was nothing else to do but try to keep him comfortable, love him… and say goodbye. But she didn’t really have to tell me that.
I think I knew.
Too soon it was time. And as we waited, waited, and waited for the beginning of the end to begin, I watched as my tearful daughter held my trembling dog and I fought the urge to hold them both in my arms and make it all go away.
It was time for the I.V. to be placed in the paw of his now 12-pound body. Then, I held him as the injection began. Within seconds he was at peace for the first time in a long time. No more trembling. No more pain. No more cancer.
No more Cody.
And as I held him, the precious family memories of which he is so entwined raced through my mind: the Christmas we told the kids we were finally getting a puppy; the walks, the games, the days, the nights. Remembered photographs of holidays and birthdays flashed before me. But even more than that, so many memories not photographed because they seemed so unimportant, but at moments like these, become so important, all played like a slow motion slide show in my mind.
And I think I knew.
I always understood that Cody wasn’t really my fifth child. I recognized he was our pet. But more than that, he was such a vital part of our family dynamic. He was both devotedly loving and devotedly loved. He belonged to us. We belonged to him. We’re family.
As I looked down at the eternally sleeping dog in my arms, through my own tears I swear he smiled.
I think he knew.
Eighteen years ago, above the swish-shish of the ultra sound machine, I heard the doctor announce, “Without a doubt, this one’s a boy.” Soon I was blinking back tears of joy which spilled into worries of how much pink in our existing nursery needed to be replaced with a cute hue of blue. Then, after dismissing the nursery rhyme line of “snakes and snails and puppy dog tails,” I finally allowed myself the precious pontification, “What will we call him?”
There is something so monumental about assigning a child a name that will be his calling card, his introduction, his label of who he is for the rest of his life. Having had two other babies in five years, we, of course had some boys’ names as back-up just in case. But at the moment when it wasn’t just a possibility he would be a boy, but a fact he was, choosing a name took on even more responsibility.
As a teacher, several names that had been favorites over the years often became unflatteringly attached to the mannerisms of another child who also just happened to answer to the once favored name. That shortened the possible-name-list a bit. And having had a Megan and a Katelyn, we needed a brother’s name that sounded like it could be said in the same breath as the others. “Megan, Katelyn, Frank—time to eat!” just didn’t sound natural.
So it was, we came up with a name. The baby books said it was Irish which went well with his sisters. They also said it meant “Little King” which sounded like a name that should certainly lead a child to a life of confidence and success.
And soon after, our “Little King” was born and we removed the “Baby Boy Bundy” sign and christened him “Ryan”. Not long after that, he would assume the alternate titles of grandson, nephew, baby brother, big brother, and “little Brad”.
Over the years he would also answer to “Ry”, “Ry-guy”, “Bundy” and, at the age of 9, after mistakenly climbing into the Tasmanian devil’s pit at the zoo (and hurriedly climbing out) he became known as “Taz-Bundy”.
Later, he’d grow into other names. By his own efforts, he has been referred to as friend, volunteer, fan, student, musician and athlete. In sports he’s been numbers 14, 34, 1, and for the last four years, 2.
Still today, he has earned yet another name: “Graduate”. And as he prepares to leave Wyoming High School and walk his path to Miami University and the endless stage of the world, I can’t help but to marvel at the amazing young man he has become and how much he has blessed my life from that first moment of the tell-tale swish-shish of the ultra sound machine. It’s then I realize that of all the names, nicknames, and monikers he has had over the years and will have in the future, there is one of his titles that fills my heart, meaning the most to me: “Son”.
Standing at the dawn of my second half-century of life, the words of Mother Superior echo in my head. No, I’m not considering joining a convent and picking up a new habit, but I am hearing a song over and over. The song is “Climb Every Mountain” from The Sound of Music because I’m coming to realize that’s what it’s been about for my first fifty years.
Over the years I have climbed mountains: Education mountains. Marriage mountains. Parenting mountians. Career Mountains. Some have assured me after days or weeks or years of climbing, that I have indeed, climbed the right mountain. And yet, my victory dance of completion is always interrupted by a metaphorical sign that tells me, “But wait… there’s more…keeping climbing.”
Still others, have been in vain; a realization I find only after laboring away for long periods of time to find it was the wrong mountain --- the sign this time tells me the mountain I have spent my time on wasn’t my mountain at all.
Of course, there have been mountains in my life where I have begun to climb, but backed down. Tired, discouraged, distracted, bored, there were many excuses I found for ending the climbs prematurely. But today, they still remain mysteries to me –my what ifs, would-a beens, could-a-beens and should-a-beens.
There’s something about a milestone birthday that calls us to reflect on where we’ve been and where we are going. There’s also something about it that forces us to acknowledge we are getting old. Would I like to look younger? Sure. Would I like to see better, move better, remember better? Okay, I’ll give you that. But would I like to be younger? Absolutely not. Because being younger would mean taking away the experience of one of those mountains I spent my time climbing. Even the ones that didn’t turn out to be meant for me, taught me something along the way. And the ones that were mine to climb? Which one would I give up? I can’t part with any of them. They are mine. They are my yesterdays that guided me into my today that point me to my tomorrow.
So I kick off my next 50 years, grateful for the steps I took before and excited for the steps to come. I pray for the strength to keep climbing and the discernment to pick the right mountains. Of course, these days I also pray for some soft spots to rest along the way; and when I get to the top, I’m hoping those metaphorical signs will be in large, bold print. But whatever my next years hold for me, I never want to stop climbing those mountains. Who knows? I might also start fording streams and following rainbows. There’s no guarantee I’ll find my dream, but it’s a chance of a lifetime to try.
I am a teacher. And as a teacher, Senate Bill 5 has brought something to my attention that both surprises me and saddens me. It’s probably not what you might assume. Yes, the potential to lose up to $20,000 of my salary is enough to make me sad. What’s more, losing benefits is never good to hear. Also, merit-based pay that would only work if all students were equal and all tests were fair, is definitely frightening to me.
But what surprises me and saddens me the most about Senate Bill 5 is the response against teachers it has revealed. Every article or debate discussing either side of this issue soon becomes flooded with vitriolic comments that paint teachers as lazy elitists who seem to only care about their tenure and summer vacations. When did this happen?
In the twenty-eight years since I became a teacher, I cannot think of one teacher who went into the field to make money. We all knew that was not an incentive. Still, we were drawn to a career that placed us directly in the lives of our students --the future of our nation. There used to be an honor, an understood respect in being able to say, “I am a teacher”.
True, the state of education is in a state of chaos. You don’t have to point that out to any teacher. We’re at the front lines of this battle. We know. But, assuming this dire state is because teachers aren’t doing their jobs, is like assuming the ongoing war in Iraq is due to the soldiers overseas not doing their jobs. No one would dare put that blame on our brave soldiers’ shoulders. We are quick to point out there are many other factors out of their control. Instead of blame, we look for ways to support them in their battle. Why the opposite for teachers who battle to educate our future?
Are there bad teachers out there? Certainly. Is that what causes such a negative reaction when this topic comes up? Maybe. Perhaps some people simply remember the one teacher they had who never should have become a teacher at all, and forget all the wonderful teachers who helped shape them into who they are today. Believe me, though, the bad teachers are the exception. Instead, the field of education is saturated with wonderful, caring teachers who give way beyond their 180 days of contracted service to ensure that each child has a chance to succeed.
If Senate Bill 5 passes, stripping wonderful teachers of pay and benefits, and strapping their merit to ridiculous standardized tests approved by those who have never been in a classroom, many great teachers will be forced to leave the profession they love. And many great teachers-to-be will be forced to choose other fields. In the meantime, we teachers will continue to do our jobs amidst growing frustration, disrespect, and uncertainty.
Because we are proud of who we are. We are teachers.
Hello, my little one!
Welcome to my world.
Your first breaths
become my last
breaths I ever breathe
without thinking of you.
And as you lie upon my chest
nestled close to my heart,
I wonder what being a mommy will hold
as I smile and breathe in your delicious baby smell
and promise not to blink.
But I must have….
Because now you are learning to walk
One toddler foot in front of another
Your dancing eyes lock on mine
determination oozing from your beaming smile.
You can do it…you can do it.
And you do
as I smile and breathe in your delightful giggle
and promise not to blink.
But I must have…
Because now you are trying to ride a bike
Wobbling, weaving, zigging and zagging.
Slowly, my steadying hand
becomes less necessary.
You can do it…you can do it.
And you do.
as I smile and breathe in your exhilarating joy.
And promise not to blink
But I must have…
Because now you are entering
You can do it… you can do it
And you do.
As I smile and breathe in the wonder of the woman
standing next to me.
preparing for life on her own
miles and miles away from home
yet still so close to my heart.
Wondering what waits for you now,
I must remind myself to breathe.
I can do it….I can do it.
“Welcome to your world, my little one.
Take a deep breath
…and promise me you won’t blink.”
Some moments wrap so tightly around me, I have no choice but to write them down. So it was with the May morning breeze cooling off an otherwise overheated week, that I glanced around the fields of Colerain High School at the mixture of teens and teachers and had to smile.
A week earlier, we finally received the results of the test that holds our students’ sophomore year hostage. Thankfully our banner can stay –we are excellent once again.
Now it was time for our OGT party.
And amid donuts and Deejays, the teenagers mingled among their teachers while the tunes of country, pop, and hip-hip hugged the air.
And that’s when I smiled.
As a Sophomore English teacher I understand the importance of the Ohio Graduation Test. I get the significance it can hold for my students as well as my district. Still, sometimes as much as we try to make the necessary information palatable, it seems we teachers must spend months cramming test answers down our students’ throats instead of feeding them morsels of knowledge to whet their academic appetites.
And perhaps it was this fact combined with the juxtaposition of the mild mini moment of the party coupled with the intenseness of the end of the year academic demands, and the worry of piling up papers to grade, that made me stop and take notice. But when I looked out and saw teachers and students laughing, bouncing soccer balls, hula-hooping and just sharing this time together, I had an “aha!” moment.
For, standing before me were not test scores and statistics.
No, standing before me were the adults and teenagers I had worked closely with to get as many across the finish line as possible. Sadly, some students remain shy of the goal, while, happily, others have flown past any preconceived success estimation. But that day we celebrated the coordinated effort of so many individuals working together, culminating in just having fun together.
And as I was competing in my own hula-hoop contest with one of my students, she giggled at me and said, “Mrs. Bundy, when I’m a senior and look back –this is going to one of my best memories from high school.”
Now, that is an excellent rating that beats any banner or ribbon anywhere
At the end of the seventeen hour journey, the trophy proclaiming second runner-up was positioned next to the Grand Champion trophy. Although the smaller award was admittedly dwarfed in the shadow of the previous week's impressive prize, it represented something mere size can't measure.
The high school Show Choir met at 7 a.m. on that Saturday to travel to their destination in another state for an all-day competition that culminated months of practicing everything from singing and dancing, to presentation and production, to articulation and attitude. Coming off the grand champion victory of the previous week, the teen's spirits were high. They walked into the venue with a confidence that belongs to champions.
Unfortunately, the wheel of good fortune spun that day and landed on the judges proclaiming them third place in the preliminaries. And for a while this affected the way they saw themselves. They were the same award-winning, awe-inspiring, talented kids that walked into that competition. It's just they stopped believing that's who they were the moment someone else deemed them less deserving than the best. The performers had forgotten that others can judge us, but they can't define us.
The teens themselves had not changed. Perhaps this week, a pose wasn't held long enough, or a note went sharp, but that didn't change the definition of who those teenagers were.
At last by the finals, they finally seemed to realize this. They didn’t give up. They regrouped and reclaimed their winning spirit. This goose-bump-inducing performance would leave the audience recognizing beyond a doubt that they were winners. Receiving the second runner-up trophy didn't change the triumphant definition of who they were in the least. In some ways it represented the heart of a champion even more than the colossal trophy of the week before. True, we all like coming in first. Winning is good. And we certainly need to encourage our children to strive to be the best they can be, not settling for less than we know they are capable of. But when we allow those judging us to have the power to define us, we lose sight of who we are and who God intended us to be.
After all, He is the one who originally defined each of us and ultimately is the only one whose judgment actually matters at all.
In A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche Dubois utters the famous line, “I have always relied on the kindness of strangers.”
Today, I know exactly how she feels.
It all began with a two hour drive to Indiana so my son and daughter could fulfill one of their dreams: seats in the fifth row of a Dave Matthews Band concert.
Just shy of our destination outside of Indianapolis, people in other cars started honking, waving and pointing to us. Realizing they were probably not expressing their deep admiration for my eight year old minivan, my kids pointed out that they seemed to be pointing to my tire. Upon pulling over, it was easy to see the flat tire was about as useless as my knowledge of fixing it.
Buying air from a gas station pump (who said air is free?), I managed to buy a little more time and get the kids to their concert venue. Then, I set out to figure out where on earth my spare tire actually was, and what on earth I would do with it, once I found it.
Within minutes, the newly replaced air was hissing out of my tire. Finally finding my way to another gas station, my hopes became as deflated as my tire when I realized that gas station didn’t even have an air pump.
At this point, I had a flat tire 120 miles from home, by myself, at 6:00 on a Saturday night. And of course, just to complete the mood, it started to rain.
That’s when I uttered a prayer –admittedly more of a complaint than a petition. “Lord, You have to help me here –I have no idea what to do.”
And then, just shy of a chorus of angels singing harmonies in my head, directly across the street, I saw a muffler shop with an open garage door.
Approaching the garage, I noticed they had closed an hour earlier, but three grease covered mechanics were still inside working.
Playing the damsel in distress more than I really wanted to, I interrupted them, hoping one might at least know where the allusive spare tire was on a Honda Odyssey minivan.
When all was said and done, they not only knew where the tire was, but without hesitating, they also put the van on their car rack and changed the tire for me. All of this was more than an hour after they had closed on a Saturday night.
Overcome with gratitude I choked back tears as I asked how much I owed them.
“Don’t worry about it, Ma’am,” the young mechanic replied.
Once back in my van, I allowed the tears to flow as I thanked God for the kindness of strangers, and all the angels he sends into our lives –especially the strangers who are angels who are sometimes covered in grease.
Some life moments wash over us as if they were scripted by Hollywood. The time is so intense we are certain that at any instant we might hear a director yelling, “Cue the music!” as the dramatic scene plays out before us.
Thus, I was waiting for the swell of the soundtrack of my life to begin playing last night while on a walk with my first born.
Her suitcase was waiting by the door.
Her passport was waiting in her purse.
Her future was waiting around the corner.
This was the night before she was to leave for Guatemala as part of a program to help Guatemalan women find life skills and careers that will keep them from being at the mercy of others. It’s a wonderful program–--one I fully believe in ---–for other people’s daughters. For my daughter, after she graduated from college, I was thinking more along the lines of a job within fifteen minutes of home, one she could drive to and from in an armored vehicle, with or without an escort from the National Guard. So it was, this detour from the life-bubble I wanted to keep her in was smacking me in the face while we walked on the eve of her endeavor.
It was an unseasonably cool summer night. The light mist of rain was a perfect setting for the mood I was wallowing in. We walked and talked and I hugged her as much as I could.
As we arrived back to where we began, we sat for a moment on the front porch, looking out at the cloud covered horizon. She indulged me as I blabbered on about how quickly the years had gone ---how proud I was of her –how hard letting go sometimes is.
And then, just as the misting rain was watering my wallowing, a ray of sun squeaked through the dusk sky. “Look,” my daughter pointed at what the ray had brought us.
There, right above us, was a rainbow. And at that moment I felt a blanket of comfort covering me, reassuring me, reminding me.
When my first born was a baby, her daddy used to sing her a song that became her theme song. The refrain is:
“Look, look, look to the rainbow
Follow it over the hills and streams
Look, look, look to the rainbow
Follow the fellow who follows a dream”.
As I remembered those words of her song, I realized that is exactly what she is doing ---following her rainbow –following her dream.
And if a director were to be shooting that scene of my life, he would have at that moment yelled, “Cue the music.” And the scene would fade with my arms lovingly wrapped around my baby girl.
For at least a few more minutes.