So here we are… six weeks living on an island. I’ve learned to appreciate the ocean and try to embrace it, I’ve learned where my phone cuts out on my commute to school so I can talk to people far away. I’m learning that I probably need to wear more sunscreen than I do and that island life presents some unique challenges.
I don’t mind island life, actually, but there are a few places that it tries me. Interesting fact: about 145,000 people live on Maui. Somewhere around 2.6 million people visit per year. And I’m pretty certain that they all wait until I’m ready to go to the store to pop over to the grocery. All they want is a tin of coffee and a box of cereal, but they don’t know where it is. And the kids are tired and sunburned and can they have this boogie board? And when they find the caffeinated beverage aisle, the store doesn’t carry the brand of coffee they know, so they need to figure out which one to get. And wow, that’s more than we’re used to paying!
None of this makes a pleasant shopping experience; I appreciate this. It’s hard. They stand in the middle of the aisle with their cart right next to them studying their coffee options because dammit, coffee matters, especially on vacation. And people who are probably usually aware and sensitive to others around them get the glazed look of too much input and just. stand. there. blocking. the. coffee. And coffee is important to teachers, too.
So I’ve found the store that is tucked away from the main road and I to go early on Sunday mornings, when tourists are enjoying mimosas or nursing headaches and the good people of Maui are in church. It’s not quite all mine, but it’s a good compromise to a pretty standard challenge of island life.
This week, I had my First Day of School.
This isn’t really monumental; I’ve had The First Day of School in my own classroom fourteen other times and usually everyone survived. There was one year where an unreported nut allergy collided with a birthday cupcake on the first day, but we caught it quickly and no lasting damage was done. But this year was unique. I’ve always taught in progressive independent schools, with a fairly strong socioeconomic demographic. Of course, my recent move from Denver to Maui made a big difference — the culture on this island is very different from life in Denver. I’m also in a charter school, not a progressive private school. And I’m teaching one subject: math. I’ve always been a generalist, and “specializing” is new for me.
So I approached The First Day of School with a little caution. I wasn’t sure what to expect with all the variables involved. But for all the differences, I discovered that kids are kids. Rich kids, poor kids, white kids, kids of color, kids with multiple heritages, gifted kids, kids with learning disabilities. They are all just kids. They want to be seen, to be heard, and to be appreciated. They want me to know their names (something I’m not very good at, but I’m learning) and to recognize that they are individuals and deserve to be recognized as such. Some are nervous about math; they think they aren’t good at it. Some have a strong self-concept about math, and are ready to take on bigger concepts if someone will give them the chance. Most fall in between, and look at me with a mix of wariness and hope. I’m a stranger, and these are seventh graders, after all.
I feel pretty strongly that I can meet this well. It is difficult — new school, new people, new cultural norms… but it’s wonderful to learn that kids are a constant. I’ve got this.
In Denver, if you can see the mountains, you know what direction you’re going. The Rockies are in the west; use that to orient yourself. And for 25 years, I lived in Denver. I raised my family, served in a strong community, and forged my career, all with the Rocky Mountains in the west.
Building my life there was a lot like hiking those beautiful mountains. Sometimes the path was clear and well marked, other times, the going was tough and it was hard to tell where to go next. There were wildflowers that brightened the time, and sometimes, it was cold and dark. I carved myself during those years, defining who I was and what I could/would/should do, as solidly as the mountains that welcome the sunset every evening.
Now I live on Maui. There are mountains, but they aren’t always in the west. They formed the island, so they’re in the middle. The Hawaiians refer to mauka and makai — mauka is toward the mountains, makai is toward the ocean. And here we have the symbolism — in moving to Maui, I am going makai, away from the mountains and toward the ocean.
In my personal makai journey, I am trying to embrace the entire concept of makai — moving toward the ocean. I have long defined myself in specific terms, and frankly, I don’t even know the origins of some of my self-definitions, but am taking this time to really question what I think I am, why I think I am that way, and what does that mean. What has my self-concept allowed for me? What has it prevented me from doing? And how can I be more honest and redefine my true self?
There are lots of ways I’m moving makai — I am starting at a new school, with a very different group of students and faculty, and I’m trying to be more fluid with myself and my treatment of others. I know that I need to work on being more patient with people and situations; Maui is a perfect place to practice patience. The pace of life is different here. When I find myself becoming impatient, I think of the waves of the ocean, how they never stop but they don’t rush. I want to be more like the waves, to keep going, to embrace my natural persistence, but to ease it.
The most obvious aspect of my makai path has been my relationship with water. Clearly, I am using the ocean as a significant element in examining myself. For most of my life, I have not been a water person; I’ve avoided it, very publicly. I did not like the feeling of being immersed in something so much bigger than myself; I felt insignificant and without value. And so that was the first self-definition I challenged when I got here. I went into the ocean. I let myself get swallowed by the water, and I learned to float. It was really difficult at first, but I kept at it, like the waves, and I do it every day now. And I’m learning that it can be relaxing to let myself go and and stare up at the blue sky and learn that, while I may be small in relation to the ocean and the sky, I have value. It’s going to be an interesting journey, makai from who I was, who I let myself become, to find out who I can be now.
Today, I mowed the lawn.
Sure, that sounds like a really mundane thing to do, but please understand that I have managed to reach the age of 50 without ever having operated a push mower. Thank you to my parents, Jim, J3, JP, and Mag for enabling that.
This morning, I awoke up to a standard Colorado spring day: big blue sky, a few clouds, and my lawn bright and green, nourished by the 35+ inches of great Colorado spring snow this past month… and all the dandelions in the world. The house I’m renting is on the market and I want it to show well, so I grabbed the mower that came with my half of the Things We Split When We Moved From Our House and stared at it. I circled it. I put on my glasses, read everything on it. Then, like a true child of the internet, went online to find instructions, and isn’t the internet wonderful? because it didn’t let me down – there it was: the complete manual for the mower. I skimmed it (because I do that; I know it isn’t right, but I do), got the gist of it, and attacked. Position? Check. Oil? Check. Gas? Some… check enough. Push the handle, pull the starter, and… nothing.
Of course, right?
Then I flashed back to a vision of J3, putting the mower into my tiny little storage space in December (when the splitting of goods occurred) in the dark with snow and ice all around, telling me what I would need to do to start it come springtime. I remember thinking that it was about 5 degrees outside, we’d been moving stuff for five days, we were exhausted, that I would probably be able to find the instructions on the internet… and smiling and nodding. I also remember him holding up a little can and saying something with a Very Earnest Look on his face, like he was actually willing me to listen to this part (my son knows me well).
I looked in the shed, and there was the little can. Starter Fluid. Aha. This will help. I looked up “starter fluid” on the internet to figure out how to use it (stop laughing, this is a story of triumph), and, web knowledge and starter fluid in hand, I attacked again. The motor turned over, whacked a dandelion at the knees, and died.
Maybe “check enough” wasn’t okay for gas.
Off to the gas station, bought a gas can (why didn’t one of the seventeen of these from the last house make its way with the lawn mower? One of the many perplexities from that time… it’s all fuzzy), filled it with gas, took it home, and poured it into the mower.
Push the handle, pull the starter. Rrrrrrrrrr. Again. Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Again. Rrrrrrrrrrvrrrrrrooooooooommmmm!
I mowed the yard. And in the middle of this, I reflected on #independenttari, who was afraid of the weed whacker last year and conquered that (but didn’t manage to bring the weed whacker to this house… it really is fuzzy, that intense and cold time of packing in December), and now, #independenttari is mowing the dandelions and grass like I know what the hell I’m doing. I was a little sad, because I know that Pepper, the USMC-certified hound dog, would have enjoyed this and I lost her two weeks ago (Semper fi, Pepper), but I was also pretty proud of myself.
Then I saw my next door neighbor mowing his yard. I gave him the knowing “neighbor nod,” and he nodded back. And understand, my yard is big (because Pepper was going to want a big yard… back to sad for a minute), so I’m mowing a long time, and then I realize that my neighbor has finished his yard and has started mowing the grass on the street in front of my house. The whole thing, and I’m on a corner and it’s the first mow of an El Niño year, so that’s not insignificant. I stopped at a point when we were close to each other and thanked him, he gave me the neighbor nod again, and we both kept going. He finished the side of my house a little before I finished the main yard. And I thought how #independenttari isn’t so independent… I rely constantly on family, friends, complete strangers who happen to live next door to me and just reduced my mowing time by a fourth… How cool is that?
I think I’ll make cookies tomorrow. I need to be a little neighborly.
“I don’t want to limp over the finish line. I’m tired of having years that suck the life out of me. I’m over the concept of gracefully accepting the challenges of my existence. If 2015 isn’t going to come in peace, then I will put on armor and take it with force. I don’t mind difficulty: everyone gets difficulty in their lives, and I’m tougher than most. But I will no longer allow events and circumstances to push me around. It is not okay with me to be a bystander in my own life. I don’t expect a year of eating cupcakes and riding a unicorn while holding a red and gold banner, but I do think it’s time for me to retake control and even start dictating some outcomes. I turn 50 this year; I have the tools and experience to make this the start of an excellent new chapter of my life, but I think I should be much more proactive in writing that chapter.”
I said that a year ago. I knew a lot when I wrote that – I knew my marriage was over, but it wasn’t public, and I didn’t know what would happen next. I knew my last child was leaving for college, but I didn’t know where she was going or if she would find her place there. But I also knew that I wasn’t going to post another hand-wringing, bullshitty optimistic New Year greeting about how this year was tough but the next one would be better. I knew 2015 was going to kick my ass, and I needed to get into fighting stance.
Fighting stance — that’s new. I learned that through krav maga. I started krav in August and love it (through the bruises and the frustration of being new and inept). Krav is a fairly aggressive form of self-defense and is an integral part of who I am becoming. I knew that 2015 was going to be a year of metamorphic change; both the end of a long marriage and the “empty nest” that follows the last child going to college require you to change in order to survive. I knew I needed to add new elements into my life to facilitate that change, and krav was a good addition.
In our technological society, it’s easy to see change. Any software version 1.0 is a new idea, a beginning. Version 2.0 is 1.0, but with some bugs fixed and new features. 3.0 fixes the bugs from 2.0, adds new features, and maybe adds new dimension. Etc. And while people aren’t as easy to read as software, I like the metaphor, so I’m going to run with it.
I’m working on Tari 6.0.
Tari 1.0: I was a kid. No. I was that kid. The one you probably didn’t want your kids to play with, the one who made teachers wince when they saw my name on the class list. I had attitude and very little patience for those who couldn’t keep up. It’s almost as though I came into the world with my hand in a fist. Tari 1.0 was smart and scrappy, but very, very rough around the edges. I’m sorry, Mom. I know I was difficult.
Tari 2.0: College. The world was bigger than my attitude, but I was adaptable. My hair changed color and shape and I added the feature of Music. It was an excellent addition; it became a critical feature almost instantly (the hair, not so much, but that was an important element for Version 4.0).
Tari 3.0: Business. I got a job in the Real World and learned that you don’t really get to carry the fist when you’re the rookie. This was when I added the feature of real learning. Not what I did in school, but actually paying attention to events and applying the Smart feature that came in the original version. When I did that, I became pretty successful and had a flair for marketing (thanks, Dad, for good marketing and writing genes!).
Tari 4.0: Mom. Almost a reinvention, actually. I took many features from previous versions and embedded them so deeply they were no longer visible, but provided substantial groundwork for everything I did. The biggest change was that I did almost everything for other people: for kids, for husband, for community. I learned that there is something more important than me. Lots of things, actually, and they demanded all my bandwidth. I accomplished the most important things in my life during this time.
Tari 5.0: Teacher. The lovely thing about being a mom is that you end up working yourself out of a job, so I took what I learned as Tari 4.0 and earned a Master’s Degree in Gifted Education. The universe gave me three very different gifted kids, and between raising them and working in their schools, I discovered a new feature: I am capable of doing good things with weird kids. (Weird is good. Weird is actually great. The weird kids end up doing most of the cool things in the world.) Maybe it was because of Tari 1.0, whose little fist and sharp edges told me how hard it is to be a smart kid in a roomful of “regular” people and that snark is often a defense, but I have a knack with gifted kids and can sometimes make a difference when it matters. That’s really cool.
And that’s where I am right now, but Tari 6.0 is coming. Many of the features that were embedded deeply in Tari 4.0 are calling to be added back into the main content. I mentioned krav; that’s a new and important feature – it gives some elements of that little fist a positive path and some guidance. And 2.0’s music — it has always been there, but in the background. It’s been gaining importance over the last few years. These are good features, but other outside factors are demanding a new version.
I love my children, but they have independent lives, and I am so glad for that. They don’t need me; I am part of their lives when they want me to be, and I’m fortunate that they like to have me around a fair amount. I’m proud that my children are very different people – I believe that shows that I gave them space to find themselves and grow into what they wanted to become, not forced into something that wasn’t their own. They are people who are going to change the world. And please don’t read “they don’t need me” in a way that suggests that I think I don’t need to actively be there for them; I am and always will be, in every way I can or should. But their lives are now managed by them, not by me.
I no longer have a husband. I have a friend that I used to be married to, and he’s a great person. I wish him all the best and help him in all the ways I can, as he does me. This was hard, but as amicable as dividing 24 years of shared life could be. This leaves both challenges and opportunities. I’m ready to manage both. I don’t mind being alone — I actually think I’m pretty good company — but I would also like to make new friends. I’m not solitary by nature.
I love teaching, and always want to use my talent with gifted kids, but I don’t see myself at the head of a classroom in ten years. I just turned 50, and as a teacher, I bring energy and self to my work that I don’t think I will be able to sustain at 60. I need to keep my eyes open to ways I can evolve, maybe engage some of the business sense I earned in 3.0, so I continue to deliver to both my students and myself.
So here I am, not wringing my hands that 2015 was a tough year and maybe next year will be better. It was a brutal year, but I took it from fighting stance. Now, I have the fist of Tari 1.0, the music of 2.0, the real world sense of 3.0, the love of 4.0, and the direction of 5.0. My eyes and my life are open in a way that I haven’t experienced since I was 17 and graduating from high school. My future is in front of me and I can make it into anything I want.
Let’s see where this goes.
Hovering on the edge of my fiftieth birthday, I feel like I’m supposed to be filled with something… dread? Longing? Regret? Exuberance? But, I’m not. It’s not that I’m in denial; I’m very aware of the fact that I’ve been moving about this planet for fifty years, and that’s a long damn time. And I know that most likely, I have lived more days than I will live to see. But I don’t think it’s a particularly big deal, except that our society seems to have a thing about ages that end in zero. Like the decade mark makes a difference somehow.
Now, granted, a whole lot has changed in my life this year, not just my fiftieth birthday. My marriage of almost 24 years ended and my last child left for college. I’m about to leave a town I’ve loved for almost twenty years. These are pretty significant life events, and they happened at about the same time, so maybe that’s casting a shadow on the importance of turning fifty. But I think it’s all just part of an evolution that’s been happening for a while. I’m only now noticing it.
My role in so many situations has changed. I feel awkward in situations that I used to feel completely comfortable. I used to be the one at my school to cheerlead the staff to have a collegial beverage on Friday afternoons, but lately, I feel like I should leave that job to someone else. For a long time, I was at all the parties, but I find that less and less tempting. At the same time, I’m more comfortable taking chances on things that matter to me, and I’m more confident about my own voice and ability. I don’t think it’s necessarily wisdom or the “red hat” mindset that I’m old enough to do whatever I want. I think it’s just that I’ve given myself permission to be myself finally.
Many people know this from the day they’re born; throughout my life, I have marveled at them, those who were just naturally comfortable in their own skins. Some people are smart enough to listen to the advice of others – plenty of wise ones have offered maps to show the way to self-acceptance. I’ve just never been that girl. I’ve always fought and scratched for everything I believed, sometimes, I think, just for the sake of fighting and scratching. But I think I’ve reached a point where I can come to terms with a few basic Tari Truths.
- 1) Being honest with yourself can be really hard, sometimes brutally painful, but it makes everything after it easier.
- 2) Say yes more often than you say no. There’s a lot of living to be done and “no” doesn’t let you live it.
- 3) Pursue the things that you love even if other people think it’s weird. Ironically, it turns out that a lot of people admire that.
- 4) Forgive yourself for not being perfect.
- 5) Trust in the universe. The right things will happen. The right people will show up at the right time. And let yourself be part of that universe so you can show up when someone else needs you.
Five ideas I can really believe in, all the way to my core. One for each decade. I’ve accomplished some really cool things in my time on this planet, from raising three genuinely good human beings to adulthood and not screwing them up too much to finding a passion in an area where I’m good at what I do and it makes a difference. And I have a solid concept of who I am and what I believe, and I am content with that. I think that might be the best thing.
Fifty? Bring it on.
I’ve been parenting for about 58 years, served concurrently, and this week, my youngest, my daughter, begins her college life. I have three of the most extraordinary children (who hardly qualify as children anymore); yes, I am admittedly biased, and I’m under no illusions that my children are any kind of perfect, but here’s a fun fact:
They’re better people than I am.
They know themselves fairly well, as well as you can know yourself at the tender ages of 17, 19, and 21, and they have strong passions and beliefs that they each have carefully considered and frequently have defended (better than many of their seniors have). They are independent, but they value support as something that should be given and received. They are kind, but I highly advise against crossing them without a good reason and the time to explain it (you will be asked questions), especially if you are treading on an area of equality or individual rights. As different as they are, they all have the running thread of fierce advocacy for individual rights.
So, World, here you have them, the best I have to offer:
My eldest loves politics and will champion anyone less fortunate than himself. He believes that there is such a thing as good policy and that we are not doomed to hell in a handcart. Because of him, I believe that the future can be a better place because he is one of the good people who will provide governmental leadership that will enable the structure for it.
My well-adjusted middle son (this has been a running joke as long as he has been a middle child) eschews the perils of working with people; he prefers numbers and scientifically-proven data. He may end up in chemistry, he may end up in space. He may end up doing chemistry in space. He makes me believe in a better future because we learn and understand new things all the time and he innovates to improve what we have and to solve the problems we will encounter.
My daughter, my third and final offer to the planet, has a firm hand, a clear head, and the ability to organize and inspire people to work to a collaborative conclusion. She loves the stage (usually as long as she’s either behind it or in a booth controlling it, although she’s excellent on it as well) and wants to use her skills to make people think. She gives me hope for the future because she proves to me that we can analyze ourselves and question how we can be better people, then act on that understanding.
I am so proud of these three unique individuals. I’m proud of myself, too; I worked hard to give them opportunities to find their passions, to exercise their minds, to discover themselves, to practice being people and to succeed and fail on their own so they could learn from that. I’m not perfect, but I didn’t screw this up. And while I have much to be proud of, the fact remains that they are better people than I am, which leads me to my next challenge.
It’s my turn to become a better person. So apparently there’s a fourth offer somewhere down the line.