Tag Archives: students

Enough

Recently I was introduced to a book that changed my life. First I listened to the audio version, which is generally what I do. But I found the book so powerful on so many levels that I actually bought it. Now it’s full of notes and highlights because I have read it over and over, and no matter where I open it to, I find something useful. It’s called “I Heart Me (The Science of Self-Love)” by David Hamilton, PhD.

I am enough!

(Disclaimer: I have nothing to do with the publishing or creation of this book, nor do I receive anything for endorsing it!)

Basically, the book explains that self worth is about biology and is in our genes, yet somehow we lose sight of it as we navigate our way through life. We seek validation from others, but our worth is within us when we reprogram our brains to acknowledge it.  In essence, the book helps us understand ourselves, learning to be truly authentic and happy, with the goal being the ability to say “I am enough” and truly mean it.

The phrase “I am enough” has become part of my daily intentions (or mantra). Every single day when I write my intentions in my journal, I start off with that phrase, even if I didn’t mean it when I first started doing it. But part of reprogramming our brains, according to Dr. Hamilton, includes repetition of this phrase because eventually we become fully aware of it and we believe it.

Thinking about what my blog would be this week, my MS sister (who actually introduced me to this book) suggested talking about all the reasons that make me feel that “I am enough” even though people with chronic illnesses often can’t recognize these things in themselves for a multitude of reasons.

For example, many of us don’t work because we are on permanent disability. For someone who identified herself first and foremost as a teacher, when I stopped working it was hard to see that “I am enough” when the thing that most defined me was no longer a part of my life. But my legacy remains and because I am still surrounded by so many young adults who have been a part of my life since they were just teenagers, they remind me that I am enough.

This guy right here is just one of the many former students who remain constants in my life. #blessed

This book also taught me that I don’t need people to like me in order to be enough. I spent so many years putting other people before myself and I thought that doing more for them meant they would like me more, and therefore I would be validated. The truth is that validation comes from within and while I love doing for others, I don’t need to in order to be enough. Narrowing my circle of friends to those who truly love and appreciate me is so much more empowering, and no matter how much or how little I give them, I know that I am enough.

These friends never make me feel like I am not enough. #mssisters

As a perfectionist, I was never happy unless I achieved perfection.  This happened in all aspects of my life. Reading this book made me see that I need not be perfect in order to be enough. I learned that only I could see what I perceived as inadequacies and faults because I was the only one holding the microscope up to myself. As promised in this book, moving forward with self-love made the perfectionism fade. I’m not saying I have overcome it entirely but I’m a whole lot better than I used to be.

Perhaps one of the most important lessons that Dr. Hamilton taught me in this book is that I don’t have to look a certain way or be a certain size in order to be enough. Body image has long been an issue for me, and learning to love my body no matter what size or shape, without shame, comes slowly. I had to learn to think outside the stereotype I felt I needed to live up to, and instead focus on the many things I do to keep myself strong. Opinions are subjective and I might not fit anyone else’s ideal, but I am 100% me. Comparing to anyone but myself resulted in an unhealthy feeling that lead to never feeling I was enough, and I am.

It doesn’t matter what i look like. Whether heavier or thinner, I am loved. Sure, I like being thinner like I am now, but I face a lot of obstacles, and regardless of my size I am enough.

Allowing my vulnerability to show has also given me great strength. There is something very liberating about baring one’s soul, and other people appreciate it even if they can’t quite identify it. Vulnerability includes being honest and authentic with ourselves and others, and only then can a true connection be made. Even though we could get hurt in the process, it’s worth it because we learn that even though we are raw and sometimes flawed, we are still enough.

But by far the most valuable lesson this book taught me is that I need to be as compassionate, forgiving, and understanding with myself as I am with others in my life. We are always quick to comfort others when they feel they have made a mistake, but we don’t offer ourselves the same courtesy. I deserve compassion. I deserve forgiveness. I deserve understanding. I am human, too. And I am enough.

Bru always always assures me that I am enough.

This book was no ordinary book for me. What I learned is that it’s very liberating to go through the process of accepting that I am enough. In every way. If you are ready to learn how to accept yourself as enough, the minutia of daily life that normally makes you feel inferior, no longer weighs you down. The progress I have made has not been easy nor has it come quickly. But every day I am making steps to be the truly happy and authentic me that is just waiting to make her appearance. I am not sure the version of me that first listened to this book would even recognize me now, and I’m not even done yet. In the meantime, I can rest comfortably knowing that I am, indeed, enough.

Positivity



The above conversation happened between me and one of my “kids” the other night. She was a little anxious because she has to have her wisdom teeth taken out. My response to her was nothing forced and it reflects exactly who I am and how I live my life. 

When I think about what a different person I could be if not for maintaining the perspective that I do, it blows my mind. Yes, I have Multiple Sclerosis. Yes, MS forced me to leave my beloved career as a teacher long before I was ready. But others have MS that is far more debilitating than mine is. Yes, I have breast cancer. But others have far more aggressive cancer than mine. I know that the universe has reasons for having me travel this particular road, and I’m starting to see some of them. 

When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I wrote about how the reasons would become clear as I continue on the journey, just as they have (and continue to do so) on my journey with MS these last 14 years. 

When that last text came from my girl, I read it over and over again. First of all, it’s a huge compliment, especially coming from a 20 year-old. But most importantly, she was able to put into words exactly what I believe part of my purpose to be. We all know people who are all doom and gloom. I can’t tolerate that sort of person, and in fact, I surround myself with those who are more like I am. That’s not to say that there isn’t room for an occasional pity party, because we all need that release at times.  But if not short-lived then it’s way too easy to get stuck in a dark and scary place. 

It’s not like I sat there and thought carefully before crafting my response to her. It’s just who I am. I can’t imagine living my life looking through a filter of negativity. How do you then feel joy? Do you laugh? Do you smile? Does your heart feel love? Do you appreciate the precious moments that are present every single day? These are all such vital pieces of who I am and I wonder if people who don’t carry the same perspective as I do ever truly feel those parts of being human at all, much less with the same genuine intensity as I do. 

I have always been a mostly optimistic person by nature, and I find it so interesting that even as I’ve gotten older and have had more obstacles to tackle along the way, my positivity keeps growing when it could just as easily have taken a turn in the other direction.  While at one time the obstacles I face might have seemed insurmountable, I understand that every challenge makes me stronger, and when I am stronger, it’s only natural to have a more positive attitude, and the cycle continues…

I’m not sure if I was born this way, if I became this way, or if I chose to be this way. I do know that if it was a choice, it was not a conscious one, and was rooted in straight-up refusal to be a miserable human being. Even though they say that “misery loves company”, I have found the exact opposite to be true.  

 

August

It’s that time of year again. As August comes to a close, the back-to-school photos are slowly creeping in to my various news feeds. This has never been an easy time for me, whether I was full of anxiety preparing for a new school year, or even now that I am no longer working and full of nostalgia for what used to drive me. My emotions are all over the place, and even though I have come to terms with how things have worked out for me, times like this still tug at my heart strings. 

Former students have always remained a huge part of my life, when I was still working, and even to this day.

Former students have always remained a huge part of my life, when I was still working, and even to this day.

This is going to be the third opening of school since I began my disability retirement. It does seem to get easier every year, but I don’t think I will ever be un-phased by it. The first year, I went running to my daddy’s house in Florida to escape, and took myself completely off of Facebook for two weeks. I am pretty sure that I just did not want to see the world (in which I proudly resided for 15 years) go on without me. But it does. Everyone is replaceable at work. EVERYONE. And even though I thought my world would come to a halt, it most certainly has not. Quite the opposite, actually. 

I no longer spend the summer, especially August, in back-to-school mode: decorating my classroom, lesson planning, PowerPointing, re-vamping past activities, creating seating charts, photocopying, and shopping for school supplies. Yet the other day I still couldn’t turn away from a commercial advertising a 12-pack of Sharpies for $3.00! (It wouldn’t have been so bad if Bruce didn’t catch me in the act. Old habits…)

I never imagined that I could exist in a world where I wasn’t Mrs. Rankin, the teacher. My whole life revolved around my “kids” and my job. I remember feeling such intense loss and emptiness, and I felt as if my whole identity was a question mark without that one thing that had always defined me. But in these last three years, I have worked incredibly hard on figuring out who I am without what I had always considered the characteristic that most described me. 

Having been a teacher will always be the one thing I am most proud of in my life, because I was lucky enough to meet and get to know a new crop of amazing students every single year. People don’t become teachers for the salary, but the rewards are priceless. Nothing makes me happier than visiting with former students who are growing up to do unbelievable things as they find their own ways to being productive members of society. 

Three years later, I still find this time of year bittersweet. But I no longer feel like that world goes on without me, because this new world that I have been exploring is fulfilling my soul in completely different ways. For every teacher “friend” (a term used very loosely since only about three of them have proven to truly be friends) that pushed me aside as part of their past, I have been blessed with new friends who have made it clear that they are committed to be by my side in the future. 

I will always miss my students, but I will never miss the way I sacrificed so much of my life (and my energy) for my job. Life is about the loving relationships we build and maintain, and memories we make along the way. Those memories should include the people we love most, and although I loved (and still do) the thousands of students who entered my classroom through the years, I am grateful that my focus is now squarely on me. It might sound selfish, but I spent too many years focusing on others that I lost sight of the most important thing of all: taking care of number one! 

For as much as MS has taken away from me, I have been given many gifts that I never would have been given otherwise. I now appreciate and am grateful for every minute I get to spend with my loved ones, and I never take it for granted. I recognize how fortunate I am to be able to listen to my body, resting when necessary, and making it stronger by dedicating the time (that I couldn’t spare when I was working) for proper exercise. And of course, I will be forever indebted to my MS family, including the best trainer ever, for walking (or hobbling or rolling) into my life and changing it forever, in all the best ways possible. 

So even though I’ll always feel a little pang of sadness at the beginning of the school year, it does, indeed, get just a tiny bit easier as time goes by. There is a reason why things worked out this way for me, even if it isn’t blatantly clear to me at the moment. But I believe that the universe works in powerful and mysterious ways, and things unfold exactly as they should. The only thing I know for sure is that I am a happier, more balanced person now, even despite the obstacles and the circumstances that brought me here. In fact, three years ago, I would have never been able to say, with 100% sincerity, that life is pretty damn good. Today I can tell you that it’s friggin’ awesome…as long as you open your eyes and take a good look around. 

If you open your eyes (which I was always too busy to do), you will see the world a whole lot differently!

If you open your eyes (which I was always too busy to do), you will see the world a whole lot differently!

Unexpected Gifts

“I have MS but MS does not have me.” I have always despised this phrase. People use it and think they are being so original, and beyond that, they somehow think it is an empowering statement. I read someone rant about this statement in a Facebook support group, and surprisingly, most of us dislike the use of this ridiculous phrase. People said things like, “How could MS not have us when our whole world changes when we can’t do the same things we could do before?”. I agree. MS does, indeed, have those of us who battle it, but I don’t see it as a negative. It’s the biggest part of me, and (being a true optimist), I focus on the many gifts that I would never have been given otherwise if MS was not a part of my life.

People often give me funny looks when they hear me talk about the gifts I have been given as a result of Multiple Sclerosis. How could there be anything good coming from such a bad place? The answer is all about your perspective, and sometimes a tiny little shift in how you see things can make an incredibly significant impact.

Thinking back to before I was even diagnosed and the onset of the noticeable symptoms that led me through my journey to my diagnosis, gifts were presented to me before anything was even committed to paper. The first gift I was given was the ability to truly listen to my body and to find the appropriate language to describe what was going on, since my symptoms were all “invisible”. I learned how to tune in to what was going on inside my body, and then I learned how to explain to others, very specifically, exactly how I was feeling. For example, when talking about the excruciating tingling, I knew no one would understand just how uncomfortable it was if I simply said it feels like the worst case of pins and needles (like when your leg falls asleep) that you could ever imagine. It was (and is) far worse than that. What it really felt like was burning hot needles poking me from the inside out. Instead of saying that my left side was numb, I said that my sensations were altered on the surface of my skin, but not deep down, and I started using the expression “surface numb”.  Learning this lesson when I did has helped me not only when describing my health, but also when meditating or doing yoga. Being in touch with the energy in our bodies can help in so many ways, chronic illness or not. There is a very powerful mind/body connection that some people live an entire lifetime without experiencing.

As a teacher, I was used to talking to groups of people, whether it was my students or my peers. But what I was given with my diagnosis was a strong voice to help educate others and raise awareness of MS, because I was (and still am) not afraid of telling my story. I started a team for Walk MS, which became a “club” at school, and for eight years we were the largest team in the entire chapter. We raised a ton of money (over $150,000!), when school teams historically raise very little. Walk MS for us during those years was a year-round commitment, and I have heard others say that it was more than a club, it was a lifestyle. Because of my involvement in the MS community and the community at large, we garnered plenty of interest from the various news outlets, thus expanding my reach. I was asked to speak at programs left and right, whether for the MS Society, various school board programs in towns near and far, or other random programs. Connecting with other MS patients and their families, and being the teacher OUTSIDE of the classroom (for my students and peers alike!) remain some of the most treasured gifts I have ever been given.

This is just part of me team. We had over 300 registered walkers.

This is just part of me team. We had over 300 registered walkers.

This bulletin board has some of the newspaper articles that were written about our team through the years.

This bulletin board has some of the newspaper articles that were written about our team through the years.

I could be angry and bitter, stewing over the fact that MS forced me to give up my livelihood and my passion. But that’s not how I see it. MS has given me the ability to focus on me and my wellness, because when I was working, I was 200% work-centric. I didn’t enjoy family and friends the way I should have because I was always thinking about my students, lesson plans, grades, and the million other tasks that teachers are charged with. These days, I am fully present and appreciative of the time I spend with my loved ones. Everyone, no matter what the circumstances are, needs to learn this lesson because the truth is, life is so very short. I smile wider, laugh more, and love endlessly now. I wouldn’t trade my past because it brought me to where I am now, but I wish I had learned this lesson far sooner than I did. Unfortunately I had to come upon it according to my own timeline, but I know it now and I hold my loved ones that much closer to my heart, and that is the gift.

By far the most precious of all the gifts MS has given me has been the addition of a whole other family that plays such an integral role in my life. Because I was able to focus on me when I first stopped working, I was able to enroll in a wellness program for MS patients, which led me to my MS family. We are quite a diverse group by all accounts, but the one thing we share is the one thing that only we understand. Despite our differences, we are tightly bonded to each other in ways that we aren’t with even our closest of friends and family. We lean on each other for the kind of support that can’t be given by others no matter how hard they try, simply because they are not in our shoes. I often wonder how I survived the first dozen years of my journey with MS without having my fellow warriors by my side.

The best support group ever! My MS family is always there for me.

The best support group ever! My MS family is always there for me.

I could go on, but you get the idea. For every thing MS has taken away from me, the universe has given me something way more valuable. It’s all a matter of perspective, and how you see your glass of lemonade. Mine is half full. How about you?

You decide what your perspective is, but life is so much more beautiful when your glass is half full.

You decide what your perspective is, but life is so much more beautiful when your glass is half full.

Mama Rankin

This week, the thing that has been resonating with me the most, is something I have written about before. I’m sure many of you are familiar the beautiful and talented actress Kim Cattrall. For the old fogies, remember the movie “Mannequin”? How about “Porky’s”? “Sex and the City”? I find it amazing that in the year 2015, a 59 year old woman is still defending the fact that she has not given birth to any biological children. Perhaps I am hyper-sensitive about the topic at this exact moment in time because I have been wearing my “Mama Rankin” hat a lot these days, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

I was so pleased to see that her discussion on the matter became newsworthy and that she was so eloquently able to express the way we mamas without kids feel. 

No one can deny the stigma associated with a woman of child-bearing age who is not, has not, or will not bear children. I have lived it personally, more so when I was in my 20’s and all of my friends started getting pregnant, but people still respond the same way now. It doesn’t matter what the social situation is, either. Why is it that when people first meet me, a middle-aged (yikes!) woman, their first question is “how many children do you have?”? Why are we, as women, judged by whether or not we have physically given birth, or even by the number of times we have done so? All of a sudden, the hot new term for people like me is “childless”, which Cattrall explained is demeaning, because it insinuates that we are lesser women for not having had children. I think that my value as a loving, nurturing woman, exceeds far beyond the fact that I did not endure any pregnancies. 

(Read more about my decision to not reproduce HERE!)

Kim Cattrall also explained that she may not be a biological parent to anyone, but that she does take on a parental role for many young people. I prefer to think of myself more as a big sister than a parent, but either way, I could not have said it better myself. Years ago, I was interviewed for an article in the newspaper because of my involvement with the local chapter of the National MS Society’s annual walk, specifically the largest team the chapter had ever seen, of which the majority of participants were my students. Of course, they actually asked me if I had any children. I was quoted as saying, “Yes. I have about 160 this year.” And that’s exactly how I always felt. 

With my former students, I was (and still am) 100% emotionally invested in them. No, I did not give birth to any of them, but the relationships we share are equally as sweet. I celebrated their accomplishments with them, no matter how big or small. I remember celebrating with a “high five” or a hug when a student finally passed a test (with a D+) after never having passed one before. I remember a student who took a victory lap around the classroom when he won quiz show type of question against someone he deemed smarter than himself, and I encouraged it. I gave hugs when my students needed them, even though we weren’t supposed to. I listened to their stories of heartbreak, family problems, and school problems. I disciplined them when they behaved badly, because I had to. But I proudly witnessed their growth from freshmen to sophomores to juniors to seniors. I cried as they received their diplomas, and then exchanged phone numbers, email addresses, and social media handles with them because I could. I think about my former students all the time, even the ones who are not in touch with me anymore. My name is not on any birth certificates (other than my own), but I still consider myself a “mama” in every way. 

I’m sad that I won’t be “adopting” any more children now that I’m not teaching. To make myself feel better, I chalk it up to my “biological clock” ticking. Plus I’m still completely committed to all those who were in my class, on my Walk MS team, or who simply liked hanging out in my classroom before and after school. Whatever the reason, I am thankful for having each and every one of them. Every single one of them has left a little stamp on my heart. The truth of the matter is that this teacher’s love never dies, and that no matter how many years go by, Mama Rankin will always be in their corner. 

It is true that I did not go through the physical process of giving birth, but I challenge anyone to devalue my worth as a woman because of it. I certainly don’t. 

These are just a few of the most recent selfies with some of my kids. They are all at different stages in their lives, and I am super proud of each one of them, including all of my "kids" that are not pictured here.

These are just a few of the most recent selfies with some of my kids. They are all at different stages in their lives, and I am super proud of each one of them, including all of my “kids” that are not pictured here.

Lead by Example

Teachers always seem to be held to a higher standard of behaviors simply because of the nature of the profession.  Indiscretions are rampant in every single work environment, yet when one teacher makes a bad decision, the whole profession suffers the wrath of the public. Good teachers seldom are praised, but bad ones automatically represent all teachers everywhere.  In a society that is largely “do as I say, not as I do”, teachers are expected to lead by example.

This was a very sweet moment.

This was a very sweet moment with one of my favorites.

I happen to think that all human beings, regardless of vocation, should be the kind of person that we’d like others to be. As a teacher, I always modeled what I expected of my students, as consistently as possible. If they couldn’t have their phones in class, I didn’t have mine. I didn’t allow gum-chewing in class, therefore I would never chew gum in class. I didn’t want them to give up on anything so I never gave up on them. 

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This student was a sold D student before I began working with him.

I didn’t realize what effect I would have on my students when I made the decision to go public with my diagnosis.  I discovered that I was teaching my students about much more than what the curriculum dictated, simply because of what I stood for. I never gave anything less than 200% despite all the excuses I could have made to give less.  Many students connected with me because they saw me as human, with challenges and limitations that are not within my control, just like them. 

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Instead of retreating, they saw me become more open. They were comfortable asking questions, and they were truly interested in what my answers were. They saw me raising awareness of MS and the often debilitating (and invisible) symptoms that go along with it. They saw me working towards my goals despite an uncertain future. They will tell you that they were never turned away at my door, regardless of the piles of work I had to do, the number deadlines I was facing, or how much pain I was experiencing. They always found me seemingly just waiting for them, and always with a smile on my face. They cheered me up through the times I was out for treatment, and made me feel appreciated when I came back. Finally, just before my last “attack” that took me out of work, they marveled at the fact that I earned my Masters Degree while working full time AND going to school. I almost blew their minds when I told them I graduated Summa Cum Laude, especially after I explained what that meant. 

Hard earned!

Hard earned!

I’m not saying all of this to toot my own horn. It’s quite the opposite really. It wasn’t until I got sick that I realized I had always been that same person, but the fact that I had this illness made all those things into more than just teachable moments. Everything took on a different meaning, and now when I look back at my career, I don’t think the vast majority of my students will remember their textbook Spanish. But I like to think that they will remember the life lessons I tried to teach by example.

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Tenacity. Determination. Strength of spirit. Passion. These are characteristics I have found in myself through my journey with MS, and if I could teach any of my students about the importance of each one of those qualities, then I have, indeed, done what is expected of us teachers. I made my share of mistakes, but I am only human, and I own my mistakes so that I can learn from them. Obstacles and mistakes litter the pathway to strength and success. I learned this as I struggled through the tough times, always becoming stronger for the wear on the other side. 

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This is the legacy I hope to have left behind with my students. If I have done that much, then I can proudly say that I have truly led by example. 

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This room was a safe haven for many, and it will ALWAYS be MY room!

Invincible

This is what graduation looks like from the dais. I had the best seat in the house in 2011 when I was named the teacher of the year.

This is what graduation looks like from the dais. I had the best seat in the house in 2011 when I was named the teacher of the year.

When I first was faced with the decision of taking disability retirement, my first thoughts  were about the kids. There is a very special bond that can be shared between teachers and students, particularly in the high school environment. Teachers are not rewarded with huge salaries and bonuses, nor are we rewarded with the professional respect we deserve. But we are, indeed, rewarded in ways that are beyond monetary value.  For me, the students were my children, especially since I do not have any children of my own. I was scared beyond belief that without the kids I’d feel lost and detached from my purpose. What’s more is that I thought I’d feel inadequate because so much of the personal fulfillment I enjoyed from my job came from being a mentor for my kids.  

This girl will always be one of my faves, even though we don't see each other much. No matter what was going on with her, she always showed up for the MS Walk, even though she was one of my very first adoptees.

This girl will always be one of my faves, even though we don’t see each other much. No matter what was going on with her, she always showed up for the MS Walk, even though she was one of my very first adoptees.

In my position, I generally taught freshmen and sophomores.  In the best case scenario, I ended up watching these young people grow up right in front of my eyes during the course of three or four years. My classroom was in the main hallway, so I inevitably would see my students several times a day, and this continued for as long as they were students, not just in my class.  Most continued to check in and catch up with me throughout their high school years, even after they were no longer in my class. There is no greater job satisfaction than taking part in the journey as these young people work their way to adulthood. 

These girls are lucky enough to be sisters, and I see them pretty frequent;y despite their incredibly hectic schedules: Ashley (middle) is just finishing up law school, and Britt (right) is almost done with nursing school.

These girls are lucky enough to be sisters, and I see them pretty frequent;y despite their incredibly hectic schedules: Ashley (middle) is just finishing up law school, and Britt (right) is almost done with nursing school.

My classroom was always a safe place for my students, and on most days I had kids with me both before and after school, whether for “extra help”, or just for some mama Rankin love, which both were pretty much the same thing. Nothing made me happier than being able to help guide them, both academically as well as personally. The more they learned about me, the more they connected with me, particularly those who had challenges of their own. Because I have been open and honest about my medical situation, I think they saw me as somehow more human and definitely more compassionate than other teachers. 

I am constantly in touch with my Abby-girl. She always makes me smile!

I am constantly in touch with my Abby-girl. She always makes me smile!

Now that I have been “retired” for almost a year, I feel good about my impact on my students because so many of them (ranging in age from 17-29!) are still an active part of my everyday life. I love how our relationships change as they grow up, and even though I’ll always be “mama Rankin”, we seamlessly shift from the student/teacher relationship to one of genuine friendship. I am always open to bringing our relationships to an adult level, and I truly appreciate having them in my life. I am honored that I have been a guest at events for former students ranging from graduation parties (even from college!), to bridal showers and weddings, to baby showers and surprise parties. 

Love this girl so much. She works really hard and I have always been in awe of her maturity.

Love this girl so much. She works really hard and I have always been in awe of her maturity.

This week I got together with three former students in three days, and next week I am seeing two more. I feel like the luckiest person in the world! They may not remember a single word of Spanish, but I know there is a reason why they keep in touch. I’d rather their memories involving me and my class be about me being a positive role model and working hard despite my own challenges than Spanish conjugations anyway. 

From D's and E's to straight A's while we worked together! She has a determination and focus that can't be beat.

From D’s and E’s to straight A’s while we worked together! She has a determination and focus that can’t be beat.

Since sadly tendering my resignation as a teacher, I have been learning so much about myself. One thing I know for sure is that I’ll always be a teacher, but I am no longer confined to a classroom. Here in “Holland” (http://www.makinglemonadebecauseican.com/holland/), I love that there are no restrictions on our relationships. I catch myself doing “teacherly” things all the time, and when I realize it, I can’t help but smile. Nothing will ever replace the feeling of having my kids around me all the time, but they’ll still always be MY kids, and I would do anything for any one of them…at any time. Seriously. If you don’t believe me, ask around. My kids will tell you. 

I adore these girls so very much! Even though I had given up my position as team captain of the largest MS Walk team, I promised I would walk with them because it was their senior year. The catch was that they promised to actually walk WITH me (not ahead of me!) the entire time. They are seniors in college now.. almost done! Except Rawan (right). She is a junior in college.

I adore these girls so very much! Even though I had given up my position as team captain of the largest MS Walk team, I promised I would walk with them because it was their senior year. The catch was that they promised to actually walk WITH me (not ahead of me!) the entire time. They are seniors in college now.. almost done! Except Rawan (right). She is a junior in college.

To reproduce or not to reproduce?

Bruce and I have never really followed the flock where it comes to what the social norms are regarding relationships. By the time we got married, we had known each other for 10 years already. There was no proposal, nor was there an engagement. We simply decided it was time. We didn’t want a big wedding, and we opted instead for a trip to Las Vegas, just the two of us. On April 17, 2000, Bruce and I tied the knot in front of a webcam, and no one else. It was perfectly us, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Picture taken at the renewal of our vows on our 10th wedding anniversary.

Picture taken at the renewal of our vows on our 10th wedding anniversary.

Having children was never a part of our plan. But everyone always told us that we would change our minds. When our friends started having babies, we were still no closer to feeling the need to have children. We were often told that we were selfish, or that we couldn’t possibly know what real love is until we experienced being parents. People also asked us who would take care of us when we are old if we don’t have kids. As if all of this wasn’t insulting enough, many people assumed that we hated children solely because we didn’t have any. Clearly I don’t hate children. My entire life was centered on my career as a teacher and included many adopted “kids”.

This was a very special moment between me and one of my kids at graduation.

This was a very special moment between me and one of my kids at graduation.

Two years into our marriage, MS became the silent third partner in our relationship. Having children is a very personal decision for any couple, but one that needs to be more seriously considered when there is a chronic, progressive, and debilitating illness involved. Even though I didn’t think I wanted to reproduce, I was angry because I felt that MS took the choice away from me. Yes, many women with MS give birth and are completely fine. But many women with MS give birth and do not fare so well afterwards. There were far too many “what ifs” for me to be willing to take that chance. Furthermore, I was struggling to make it through each day as it was, and could not imagine having to care for a child on top of that. It just was not feasible. Having a child for the wrong reasons (like having someone to take care of you in your old age) is selfish. Making a responsible decision is not.

I love this photo of my "niece" Peyton. I got to take her into the ocean for the first time ever when she was just a little peanut. She is 8 years old already!

I love this photo of my “niece” Peyton. I got to take her into the ocean for the first time ever when she was just a little peanut. She is 8 years old already!

As a teacher, I felt that I gave birth to a new litter of kids every single year. If anyone ever asked me how many children I had, my response was always, “150 this year.” I took pride in their smallest of accomplishments, and cried many tears over their disappointments. I still do. I always will. Isn’t that what parents do? I loved them as if they were my own children, and no one can dispute that. Bruce and I have many little ones in our life. We love them to death and they love us right back. Being cool Aunt Rennie and cool Uncle Bruce is the perfect compromise.

Cool Aunt Rennie and Uncle Bruce with some of our favorite kiddos.

Cool Aunt Rennie and Uncle Bruce with some of our favorite kiddos.

My value as a woman (and a human being) is not based on whether or not I have children. Similarly, my relationship with my husband is not an inferior one because our family does not include offspring. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Our bond is stronger than ever. Going through the process of being diagnosed with MS completely changed our relationship for the better, as have our experiences with my recent disability and early retirement. His support for me has never wavered, and I’ll always be grateful for that. There is no one in the world I’d rather spend my time with. Children don’t make a family… love does. I can say with 100% certainty that I know what real love is because I live it every day with my little (child-free, dog-full) family.

My kids. They never talk back and I don't have to pay for college!

My kids. They never talk back and I don’t have to pay for college!