• Chapter Two: Good Shoes & A Good Smile*

    For almost two months in the fall of 2004, I only knew M as “the good-looking-guy-from-the-dance”.

    After Hallowe’en, I immersed myself in my new life at school. I slowly adjusted to the somewhat overwhelming format of my new classes, though as a girl from small town South Porcupine, sitting in a lecture hall with 500 other students would never feel “normal”.

    I continued to meet new friends on campus, and slowly established a core group of good friends, many of which I still hold close to my heart to this day. If we weren’t in classes we were hanging out in someone’s apartment or at the Fossil, the local pub down the road with amazing Tuesday night karaoke.

    After spending a good part of my youth feeling a little like an outsider as the girl who didn’t drink, my friends at university never batted an eye. There was something happening on campus every night, and I was always included.

    That is, except for Friday nights.

    Every Friday night, my church hosted a regional activity for “Young Single Adults” aged 18-30.

    It might sound a little hokey, but the events were usually really fun and very well attended. There were dances, games, speakers, etc–but mostly it was a space and time to get together with friends you didn’t get to see all the time. Often groups of us would meet there, then go out for a later dinner or dessert and close out a restaurant somewhere downtown. During the week my life was on campus… but every Friday evening I went to YSA.

    In the weeks after the Hallowe’en, I saw “the good-looking-guy-from-the-dance” a handful of times at these activities. He wasn’t there every week, and he was never with anyone that I knew… and I was still too intimidated to just go up and introduce myself.

    So, he remained “the good-looking-guy-from-the-dance” at a distance, and I was oblivious to the fact that even as I noticed him, he noticed me too.

    This is the part of our story where my cousin G and his friend A like to take credit for helping M & I meet.

    In 2002, A served a mission for my church in Denver, Colorado. A mission typically lasts for two years, and as he was preparing to come home, my cousin G was called to serve in the same place. These two boys from Ontario met in Denver, thrilled to each know someone from the same area of Ontario. They became friends, and just before A came home, G told him about me–his “fun cousin” that was living in the city. He encouraged A to look me up when he got home, after after a few weeks…

    …he did.

    One Friday evening, as I was sitting in the foyer talking to some friends after another YSA activity, a boy I had never seen before walked up to me. He smiled and said hello, then cheekily asked if I was “H”, having fun with the fact that I was more than a little bewildered that this total stranger knew my name. I laughed a little and responded that I was, and out came the story of how he had met G and was sent to meet me. He was nice and friendly, and we talked for a bit before I headed out to take the TTC back to my cozy campus.

    Me, A and Telly at a YSA activity.

    I saw A at YSA a few times in the weeks that followed, and he was always friendly and came over to say hello. He was usually on his own, but on one Friday night I noticed he had some friends with him. As he walked over to to chat one evening, I noticed he walked away from a group of boys that seemed to be waiting for him.

    There, in the group, was “the good-looking-guy-from-the-dance”. To this day I can still see him standing there in his good brown leather shoes, fitted jeans and collared shirt, casually waiting for his friend to finish talking to me. When I caught his eye he smiled at me, and I knew then that come hell or high water, I needed to know his name.

    I coyly asked A who his friends were, and he walked me over and introduced me to the group. It was then that I learned that the tall man with the good smile and good shoes had a name: M.

    He was friendly but a little distant, though I didn’t really learn why until much later. All I knew at the time was that it was after midnight, and they all had a 40 minute drive home and were anxious to get it over with.

    So, I said goodnight to A and watched as “the good-looking-guy-from-the-dance-with-good-shoes-named-M” walked away, and I secretly crossed my fingers that I’d see him again.

    …but at least, for now, I had a name.

    M.

    ————–

    <<PREVIOUS CHAPTER: There He Was*
    >>NEXT CHAPTER: The “Good Friend”


    [Original Post: http://lifeisgoodblog.ca/2008/03/the-meeting-chapter-two.html/]

  • Chapter One: There He Was*

    In truth, M actually noticed me first.

    In October of 2004 I was 19 years old, and living on my own in Toronto for the first time. I was living in a tiny little residence house on campus with five roommates that I was slowly getting to know.

    In less than two months I had gone from being terrified of living on my own and attending university to absolutely loving it. It didn’t take long for me to meet some phenomenal people, and in between my heavy class load I found that I had the social life I had always dreamed about.

    I felt like I was really figuring out who I was for the first time in my life, and I liked what I found. I felt confident. Happy.

    It was… amazing.

    I was also absolutely dirt poor.

    Thanks to my lack of planning (and my shoe obsession), I had more shoes in my closet than I did money in the bank. I lived as frugally as possible, and may or may not have done a few questionable things to keep my grocery bills in check. I went on a few dates just for the free meals (I’m not terribly proud of that) and even participated in a research focus group to earn some grocery money.

    Despite not having two nickels to rub together, I was having the time of my life.

    As September rolled into October, I began to meet people outside of my little campus block. At a party one evening, I met some people down the “block” from where my house was. My housemates and I found out about a Hallowe’en event happening the next Friday evening and decided to go.

    I had already made plans for Saturday night with my best girl friend, so now that I had TWO Hallowe’en events to attend, I knew I needed a costume. After bumming a ride to Walmart, I rummaged through their costumes looking for something that I could afford. There, on the kids clearance rack was a cute Ladybug costume–for $5. Thankfully it fit, and the price was right.

    I wore it first to the campus Hallowe’en event on Friday. I went with friends and had a marvelous time.

    The next night I attended a regional Young Adult (YA) church dance with my friend Telly. She is vibrant and fun– full of the kind of enthusiasm and excitement that you can’t help but be drawn to. I donned my lady bug costume for the second time and met her downtown, ready for a night of fun.

    After excitedly greeting each other in the lobby, she and I burst into the dance, with the kind of confidence only a 19 year old can possess.. The building was packed with friends, and she and I danced our hearts out.

    There, leaning against the wall near the doors, was a boy I had never seen before. He stood out a little as he was not in a costume, but instead was casually wearing a collared button down shirt, nice jeans and good shoes.

    (If it wasn’t already plainly obvious, I was a sucker for good shoes.)

    He seemed a little aloof, but I was instantly drawn to him. He was so good-looking that I found myself too nervous to go talk to him, even with my ladybug disguise. As I danced with Telly, I found my eyes continually following him around the room, looking to see who he was talking to, and if I knew anyone who knew him.

    At one point I looked over and he was gone, and I found myself disappointed that I had absolutely no idea who he was. I went home that night thinking about the cute boy I had seen, and wondered if I would ever see him again.

    At the time, I didn’t know that he had also noticed me. From his spot at the side of the room, he saw me burst through the doors as I entered the dance, laughing and dancing with Telly. He wondered who this “Lady Bug Girl” was, but neither one of us worked up the courage to approach the other that night…

    …and it was almost two months before our paths crossed again.

    <<PREVIOUS CHAPTER: The Prologue*
    >>NEXT CHAPTER: Good Shoes & A Good Smile*

    ___________________
    Original Post: http://lifeisgoodblog.ca/2008/03/chapter-one-love-at-first-sight.html/

  • The Prologue: Thanks Dad*

    Many years ago, when I was still a young university student with more free time than I knew what to do with, I decided to write out the story of how M and I met, dated and got married within eight short months.

    I’m so glad I made a record of it then, because my old brain has since forgotten many of the little details of how our story unfolded. I’ll always keep those entries, but I felt like it was time to go back through and “polish” them a little–my writing style has evolved just a touch since I was twenty two.

    And so, without any further ado, I give you Our Story: The New Edition.

    ____________________

    To understand how I was even able to meet M, I need to preface things a little. I ended up at the university I did because I was mad at my parents… and it ended up being one of the best years of my life.

    But let’s go back to the beginning, shall we?

    I started university a year late.

    Even now, years later a high school teacher, I often think it’s a bit asinine that we expect kids to know what they want to do with the rest of their lives at 17.

    When I was 17 the only decision I felt confident making was whether to order a panzarotti or pizza fingers from our school cafeteria at lunch.

    When university application time rolled around during my final year of high school, I knew I wasn’t ready. My family had just moved seven hours away from the tiny town where I had spent my youth, and it all just felt like too much change. I was already at a new school in a new city, pining for the boy I had left behind. I told my friends it was because I was missing credits, but what I was really missing was my home in the north… and I just wasn’t ready to move again.

    I spent half a year taking high school courses I didn’t need, and the other half working part-time at Payless Shoes while I lived at home. I worked just enough hours to not be broke, and bought just enough shoes to save absolutely nothing.

    With a fabulous shoe collection nearing 100 pairs and no rent to pay, I was living the dream.

    I applied to three universities half-heartedly at my parents request, but I still had no desire to go. The applications went out, and the acceptances came in, but they sat untouched on my kitchen counter for weeks as the deadline loomed.

    Finally, my Dad pulled me aside for a chat that my siblings have lovingly mocked me for ever since. My family nickname is “Beef”, and my brothers and sisters have condensed what my Dad talked to me about that night into three little words: “Git, Beef! Git!”

    A few days before the acceptance deadline, my father sat me down, and firmly told me (with love) that it was time to stop coasting through life. He offered me three choices:

    1. Continue to live at home rent free, but find a real full-time job.
    2. Continue to live at home rent free, but take SOME kind of post secondary educational program.
    3. Accept one of the university program offers I had left sitting on my counter for weeks.

    Continuing to live at home while working part-time on my full-time shoe obsession was not an option.

    I remember feeling SO angry. I wasn’t old enough to understand that what I was really feeling was fear, so I rage-cried on my bedroom floor while I considered my options.

    For two days I did nothing. Then, on the evening before the university acceptance deadline was due, I lay on my bedroom floor looking at the letters before me. I knew which school my mom and dad hoped I’d choose: the small school in a safe little community.

    Still feeling bitter, I chose the other. I chose the school in the big city, which couldn’t be any more opposite from the tiny Northern Ontario community I had grown up in. At midnight, long after my parents had gone to bed, I signed the acceptance letter and sealed the envelope. I left it on the kitchen counter for my parents to find and went to bed.

    I didn’t fully appreciate what happened the next day until many years later. That morning, the day that the acceptance letter was due, my Dad quietly got into his car and drove the two hours each way to hand deliver my university acceptance letter to the OUAC center in Guelph. He and my mom didn’t want me to miss out on the chance of going to school, so he spent half his day in traffic driving it there for me.

    So what does all this have to do with me meeting M?

    …if my Dad hadn’t (lovingly) told me it was time to make some decisions about my life, and then made the sacrifice to drive that letter to Guelph for me, then I wouldn’t have moved to the city and met M.

    If he had known that driving that letter down for me would also mean I would be engaged to someone he had only met a handful of times less than a year later, he might have made a different decision. 😉

    A few months later, I made peace with the fact that I was moving out and decided to make the best of it. I still didn’t know if I was ready, but my parents helped me pack up our vanimal, and my shoes and I moved to the city.

    I was 19, and I knew absolutely no one at the school I had chosen.

    It only took me a week to fall in love with my new school and the people there. After months of worry and not feeling ready, I took a deep breath and stepped into my new life: a single girl in the city ready to learn all the things (and date all the boys).

    That second part lasted a whole four months.

    And the rest, as they say, is history. ❤️

  • This job is hard, but it’s worth it.

    At the end of each course I teach, I have my students complete a small reflection assignment. (Sorry, this is a long one.)

    It’s evolved over the years, the most recent addition to it being a short clip from a TED talk by a former pro wrestler. I feel like it ties in the message I try to thread through everything we do in my class: have confidence in your abilities– you can do anything you put your mind to.

    I have my students watch the video, then answer a series of questions about their growth and progress through the course. I ask them to think about a piece of work they are proud of and WHY they are proud of it. Something they learned. Something they struggled with. Something they love about themselves that they can work on “turning up” in the future. (It’s from the video. Once you see it, you’ll get it.)

    At the end, I often leave a space for them to write any final thoughts. Some students choose not to write anything, others sometimes write about an experience they had in class that meant something to them. Sometimes they vent about something they weren’t happy about. Sometimes I have a student who expresses gratitude for something that happened in the course.

    And sometimes, I have a student who catches me off guard and leaves me a note that will stay with me forever. I’ve had a few over the years–messages and comments from students that serve as reminders for why we do this job, even when we can’t remember ourselves.

    This year, I had a grade 12 student who came into my class with (I think) a bit of a chip on his shoulder. Early on in the course I heard him vent about some of his previous teachers, and some not-so-great experiences he had had in the classroom.

    I could tell he was someone who came into my class already having decided what kind of experience this would be, based on his experiences in English in the past. He came in with an attitude of “I’m not good at English”, and didn’t seem all that willing to challenge that perception.

    Well, that doesn’t work for me.

    Over the course of the semester, I watched this kid let go of what thought he couldn’t do, and instead begin to believe in what he could. I watched him learn the value of hard work as he learned that asking questions is sometimes a sign of strength, not weakness. I watched his confidence grow as a writer and critical thinker. I watched him step out of his comfort zone and really engage in our class discussions, sharing thoughts and insights that sometimes even blew *me* away.

    I watched this kid begin to believe in himself, and believe ME, it was magic.

    This student, who told me he had had trouble breaking 80% in all of his previous English courses, is going to finish my class with a 95%.

    I think I might secretly be prouder than he is.

    On Friday, he handed in his course reflection, and I made the mistake of reading it before class. I was BAWLING. I can’t share the whole thing because it’s long, but he shared with me that for the first time in his young life, he felt “awake”. He felt motivated to go after the things he wanted in life, and for the first time, he actually felt like they were possible. My students all groaned when they saw the size of the novel we were going to read, but this student told me how reading it had changed his life… how “digging in” (what I call discussing and analyzing) helped him find the joy in reading again.

    He told me that he now felt like his thoughts and opinions on things had value, even if they weren’t the same as someone else’s.

    He told me he felt proud of himself… it was the first time in a long that he had felt that.

    At the end of the assignment, he wrote me a letter. As much as this student struggled with confidence, so did I. I’ve spent the last few months wondering if I’m really cut out for this… if all the sacrifices that come with this job are worth it.

    As I’ve drowned in marking and planning and emails and meetings, I’ve wondered If I’m any good at it at all.

    …and then, every once in a while, I am given a reminder for why I became a teacher in the first place, and it’s not for the pension or summers off.

    I became a teacher because I saw the magic that happens when you see a kid really learn something. When you see a student come into their own. When you see a kid really begin to believe in themselves.

    When you see that you’re making a difference in someone’s life, and that what you’re doing, matters. Even if it’s just to one person.

    At the end of his reflection, I found the reminder I so desperately needed:

    “You really did open my eyes, Mrs. ______, and helped me grow as a person, even if you did so from behind a screen. My goal is to become a teacher in the future, and I remember you once telling us about an English teacher you had in Grade 12 that changed your perspective on English. Well, you’ve done that for me 10 fold. You are the teacher I aspire to be, if not the person I aspire to be. I really can’t thank you enough. Thank you for one of my most favourite high school semesters and memories ever. I’ll never forget you.”

    I’m still exhausted and overwhelmed, and the marking is still oppressive. I have a mountain to climb before I’m done tomorrow, and I am just so… tired.

    But…

    I did it. Even if I only helped one kid see his own potential, then that is a win in my books.

    This student may not ever really know how much his words mean to me. It was the lift I needed to get through this last weekend. At least now I know I’ve done something good. If nothing else, I made a difference in this kid’s life.

    Somehow, that makes all the hard bits worth it. ❤

  • I haven’t been here in a while.

    I started feeling a little overwhelmed in early August and I could feel myself drawing inward. It’s funny–at the moments when I probably have the most to write about, I find myself the most quiet. I been this messy ball of emotion these past few weeks and I couldn’t quite put a finger on what I was feeling. As I talked about it with my mom this weekend, I realized that it felt like: grief.

    It feels like grief.

    I expected this wave of relief to wash over me once I finally made the decision to homeschool this year… but it never came. I definitely feel it was the right decision for our family this year, and I feel at peace with that, but my thoughts about school have been in utter turmoil.

    One part of me is excited to try this. I honestly think that if I can pull it off, it could be really great.

    The other side is mourning the fact that this is where we are: I hate that this is our current reality. I get that I can’t change it, and that I probably need to let that go, but honestly… covid sucks. The end.

    My heart has been so heavy as I’ve followed the news and talked with friends all over the province. Even through their optimism and hope, worries bleed through. How could they not? There is still so much that isn’t organized. So much that isn’t safe.

    So much unknown.

    I know somehow this will all work out. It has to. I refuse to believe otherwise. But oh… thinking about people I care about deeply walking back into situations where so much is out of their control has weighed heavily on my heart.

    It’s the downside of being an empath, I think… but I can’t help it.

    These are some of my favourite people on the planet. The people who have been with me through some of my highest highs and lowest lows. The ones who made me laugh again after my miscarraige. The ones who were there with me, picking up my pieces in the first moments after I learned that my friend had been killed in a car accident. They are more than just coworkers.

    They are my friends.

    My brother-in-law.

    My big sister.

    Thinking about them heading back into work this week has been heavy. Thinking about me not heading back into work with them this week has been heavy. I feel guilty feeling relieved when I have this option to stay home when so many others don’t. It feels a little like I’ve been at war with myself in my heart.

    And so, I’ve been quiet.

    I’m mourning what COVID has stolen from our education system. I’m mourning the fact that my children might not see their friends from school for a while. I’m mourning the fact that people I care about might get sick. I’m mourning the fact that I might not be doing a job that I love this year.

    I know this is temporary. I know this will pass. I know there are so many bright sides… and I promise I do see them.

    But I also know for this weight to feel a little less heavy I have to speak it out loud and send it off into the universe. I need to let go of the fear and let that space fill with light.

    So that’s where I’ve been… it’s not been a particularly sunny place so I didn’t want to drag you all in with me. But I’m moving through it and holding on to the hope that everything will be okay. I feel ready to start planning my homeschool program now… and I’ll try hard not to feel guilty about it.

    Even in the face of all this uncertainty, there’s still so much good.

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