Friday, December 11, 2009

This I Believe

For several years, NPR encouraged listeners to write an essay titled, This I Believe. So I did. I did not however, send it to NPR like I wanted to. And now they don't do it anymore. Story of my writing career. So, for the first time, oops second time--I read it this week at a Relief Society meeting--I offer my essay.

This I Believe

I believe in second chances. Not necessarily the kind that romance novels tout, although who can’t applaud that, but second chances in all respects. Rooted in a belief in redemption, my hope is that all of us hold fast to knowledge that few mistakes are fatal, nor are many first attempts completely successful.

My students roll their eyes when I remind them that I expect not just one edited draft, but several, before they turn in that final offering. No matter how good your first draft is, I nag, your second and third will be better.

Still, it’s not with student essays that my hope for second chances resonates any more than for new love. My deepest, most abiding hopes are for those who have taken a path that is in a slow or quick descent. Too many of these people have been led to believe that their journey is one way—there is no way back to higher ground. Too many others, watching them make these mistakes turn their backs on loved ones, broken-hearted but resigned to what they fear is a hopeless cause.

I reject that negative approach. I reject the cynicism that perpetuates the idea that people never change. I acknowledge that these doubts often develop through seeing a loved one improve only to regress again. Perhaps I should admit that I believe in third chances and twentieth chances. I should also acknowledge that in the large collection of light bulb jokes I’ve heard, my favorite is the one where we are asked how many psychologists it takes to change a light bulb. Only one, the teller responds, but the light bulb has to really want to change. It is an absolute truth that we cannot control another person or their choices.

What we can do, however, is give each other permission to become better people. I believe in suspending doubt, even though the softened heart that results might get bruised. I believe that while we might be culturally or chemically predisposed toward certain weaknesses, we are not powerless to change. Some weaknesses are relatively easy to eliminate—chewing gum with your mouth open or using words that are inappropriate or inflammatory come to this teacher’s mind. More difficult to amend are substance abuse addictions or long held, childhood learned prejudices. Still harder are habits that harm or exploit others.

Some people will need extensive help and may even need a space away from the general population. Would that our corrections departments truly believed in second chances. Far too many employed in these programs have hardened their hearts to the point that recidivism is expected.

I believe in our ability to stand up after falling and to climb out of the depths in which we are mired. I believe that we are stronger than we acknowledge, but that we need others to believe in us as well. Call me crazy, I believe that Miguel de Cervantes gave us Don Quixote as a role model. I’d rather be accused of being delusional while encouraging a Dulcinea than be sensible and give up on people.

I teach teenagers, I mother my own children, I associate with much loved friends and family, and I look in the mirror at least once a day. I believe in second chances. I depend on them. I rejoice in them.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Places I'm From, Part 2

My grandparents were Herbert Spencer Heslop and Leila Ida Chugg (Mom's parents) and Alexander Hunter and Nora Smout (Dad's). I knew my maternal grandma and grandpa well and loved them dearly. My paternal grandparents died just before and just after I was born, but I love them in principle and for producing my father, whom I happen to think I resemble in form, feature and funniness.

The Heslops and Chuggs came from northern England, the Smouts from near Birmingham and the Hunters from Scotland. Of the many other family names that make up my great grandparnets and great greats, most came from Great Britain, and many joined the LDS church in the 1850s and emigrated to Utah, where my own parents were born and raised.

Since my parents left Utah for Oregon and then Idaho, it's fair to say that my ancestry is from Great Britain, but more recently, from West Weber and Slaterville, Utah. Even my two older brothers were born in Utah. I was the first one who was actually born in Idaho.

I willingly claim my British ancestry (see last blog), but I wonder if I'm more hesitant to claim my Utah roots. I visited Utah throughout my childhood, went to college in Utah(BYU), and regularly visit dear friends and my own children in Utah (BYU!). Rarely, however, would I say I'm from Utah, although I've been known to boast that I'm from Great Britain (I almost always admit it's a few generations removed).

Summer introspection has required me to consider and confess the influence that Utah has had on who I am today:

1. I loved canning fruit with my mother.
2. I love quilts--especially my grandmother's double wedding ring quilt with pink and green corner squares.
3. I love family history. Thanks, Grandma Heslop.
4. I love lace curtains--wait, I think that's from England.
5. I love Utah mountains more than Idaho foothills. (Yes, I know Idaho has mountains, but Utah's are right there in front of you!)
6. I love that the Church is everywhere. Ignored at times, taken for granted by some, and used for shady business deals by others, but always there. Chapels and Temples dot the hillsides and it's nice to know that you have a million or so brothers and sisters who know they're your brothers and sisters. And mostly I'm grateful that Utah became the gathering place for converts so that I could be born with the rich pioneer heritage that I have.

Still, I'd rather live in Idaho and holiday in Scotland !!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Places I'm From

I waited 50 years to go back to England and when I say back, I mean for the first time. What anyone who knows me understands, however, is that I was always from England. How can you explain the absolute evidence of my junior high insistence on spelling everything the British way. "Pamela, color is not spelled with a 'u'." "It is in England."

I was only 10 years old in 1964 when the Beatles arrived, but Elvis could never have made me feel the way that Paul McCartney did. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was my favourite show. When the Monkees came along, Davy was the only one I liked.

My ancestry (both my parents lines trace from Scotland and England) was also reflected in my choice of literature. In junior high, I read Tolkien, Bronte, and Austen. I also loved Milne, Dahl and James Herriott. I loved Screwtape Letters before I knew about Chronicles of Narnia and I memorized Woodsworth's poem about daffodils. Embarrassingly enough, I didn't know they were all British back then, so it's not as if I was deliberately doing the wanna be Brit thing. After college, I started reading Agatha Cristie and someone told me to read Dorothy Sayers, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh. I still would rather read a British cozy than almost anything else. (Unless it's J.K. Rowling, Eva Ibbotsen, or a handful of other Brits writing for children and young adults.) Even my TV viewing is proof. I don't fight it anymore. I love Jeeves and Wooster, MI V, Dr. Who, and almost anything else BBC sends PBS.

So naturally, when my nephew Dave chose a beautiful girl from England to marry, I was thrilled to get an invitation and even more thrilled when my son and I figured out a way to attend. Two years later, I fulfilled part two of my dream and went back, alone this time and for 3 weeks, adding a week in Scotland, where the Hunter side of my ancestry is recorded.

I decided then, two years ago now, that if I could spend July in Great Britain for the rest of my life, I would ask for no other travel luxury. This July would have fit in with the every other year, but I'm thinking Christmas time might be nice as well. And even if I have to delay the trip for another year or two, I know that I will go back. It may not be in my blood (that sounds creepy), but it's definitely in my heart.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Biggest Loser

Oops, I did it again. I made my daughter feel bad about something she shouldn't feel bad about. My weight. She's a fan of Biggest Loser as are about 300 of my closest associates and friends. I've watched it, but I liked it a lot more two years ago right after I'd lost 30 pounds. Now that those pounds have found me again, the show is not my favorite and I get defensive when anyone a) watches it, b) talks about it, c) finds inspiration in it, and d) wonders why I can't just hunker down and lose the extra 80 pounds that are tearing my seams and my self-confidence apart.

To be fair, the people I know only do a, b, and c. But I suspect them of d. I mean, I wonder why I can't do it. Eat less, move more. It's an easy solution when you break it down. True, the contestants on Biggest Loser have a support system like no other, but I have everything I need. Meanwhile my daughter is quite sure that my weight is going to cause health problems that will shorten my life. She's probably right, but not many of us are motivated by what may happen some day. No one in the world would smoke if they could see future lung cancer or emphesema in a crystal ball (or a hazy ball as the case might be). The odds are pretty overwhelming that I will have weight related issues--I already do, but that likelihood doesn't seem to keep me from eating four extra cookies.

Have I mentioned that I eat too much of certain kinds of foods at specific times? Actually, I could come up with all of the usual excuses: slow metabolism, carbohydrate addiction, my mother's hips, my father's height, too much stress at work, too much stress at home. And exercise? I have a little sign on my desk that sums it up pretty well: I get enough exercise just pushing my luck. Also, I run late all the time. Does that count?

Here are some other pithy little sayings some of my dear, if rare, readers may enjoy:
*The advantage of exercising every day is that you die healthier.
*Exercise is a dirty word. Every time I hear it, I wash my mouth out with chocolate.
*The first time I see a jogger smiling, I'll consider it. (Joan Rivers)

*I believe that the Good Lord gave us a finite number of heartbeats and I'm damned if I'm

going to use up mine running up and down a street. (Neil Armstrong on jogging)
*I might as well exercise - I'm in a bad mood anyway!
*I'm in shape. Round is a shape... isn't it?
*I'm not into working out. My philosophy: No pain, no pain. (Carol Leifer)
*Jogging is good for your heart, but it makes your feet mad!
*Running is very good for you, if you don't overdo it. You should stop when you know

your body can't take it. For instance, I stopped running when I was eight.
*People who exercise regularly are prepared for pain. Take joggers: you see them
plodding along, clearly hating every minute of it, and you think, "What's the point?" But
years from now, when you're struggling to adjust to the pains of the aging process, the
joggers, who have been in constant agony for 20 years, will be able to make the
transition smoothly, unless they're already dead. (Dave Barry)
*The trouble with jogging is that by the time you realize you're not in shape for
it, it's too far to walk back. (Franklin Jones)

Now for the moment of truth. Since starting this entry, I have spent 6 weeks following a protein shake diet my son suggested. I have lost 15 pounds (re-lost, so I'm not thrilled yet, but when I've lost another 5 or 10, I will start losing weight I gained 15 years ago and that will be cool). I have been riding my bike, putting 10,000 steps on my little pink pedometer, and I feel pretty good overall. I've thrown away the voodoo doll I made of my son after he yelled at me for eating watermelon ("I did not yell at you Mom; I just told you not to eat fruit in the morning or your body would burn those carbohydrates and not the stored fat on your body.") and called to thank him when I put on a previously tight dress.

Let me just say this to those of you who are naturally thin and who enjoy exercising as much as I enjoy reading: Sometimes I don't like you very much.

Friday, March 13, 2009

An addendum to "Hilarious"

The minute I hit 'post,' I knew I would remember lots more funny things. And I did. A few need recognition:
1. The time that Leslie, Jeanette, Jana and I went geo-caching at the Boise mall when Jana was a few days from giving birth to my first grandson. Never mind that we're acting like Nancy Drew wannabes searching for some invisible prize, crawling around behind shrubbery, looking into the potted plants in the mall itself (yes, we found it). What was hilarious was when Jana had to go to the bathroom. HAD to go. And was laughing. And was outside the mall. No, she didn't do that!! She just ran (as only a 9 month pregnant woman can) into Sears, demanded that the nearest clerk tell her where a bathroom was and then gave him a withering stare when he whispered, "Upstairs." We were right behind her and the man was literally trembling. She made it!
2. The Pam and Jana Detective Agency. Our most famous case (infamous--that means more than famous, Three Amigos quote) was tracking down an elusive painter on his lunch hour in the Collister area. We staked out one poor house for an hour whose workers had taken some time off, only to not recognize our painter when they came back. We went into a nursing home to ask directions (? to what? we didn't have an address) and somehow cleverly found the person, who married Jana anyway even though she and her mother are dorks.
3. Cody driving backwards in the middle of Missouri or some nearby state while we were looking for Amish people. "It can't be over there--I see power lines." Sam, you missed that trip. Another reason to be thankful for your mission.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Things That are Hilarious

I've noticed a rather somber tone in my blogs thus far. Since what I'm writing are essays, I could just excuse myself by saying I'm a serious person writing about serious things. That would be false, though. I'm a funny person writing mostly about serious things. So, in the event that I'm creating a downer blog for the huge group of 5 people I've given this address to, I'm going to record things wherein I find humor.

Really stupid jokes. Here are my current favorites: What did the fish say when he ran into the concrete wall? Dam. What did one cannibal say to the other cannibal when they finished eating the clown? Did that meat taste funny to you?

Really funny movies. 1. Sgt. Bilko (Steve Martin version) Ooh, bad turnout.
2. The Three Amigos (again, Steve Martin, hmmm) Could it be Jefe, that once again you are mad at something else and are taking it out on me? (not verbatim) 3. Get Smart I'll have to wait and see it again with Quinn to find my favorite lines. We laughed so hard it hurt.

Pretty funny TV shows. Anything Tina Fey writes or stars in is hilarious. It's true.


Memories. Singing a hymn in Church with David about 40 years ago in Twin Falls. We'd finished the third out of 4 verses when he vigorously closed the book and prepared for the closing prayer when we immediately (duh) noticed everyone else was still singing. We laughed so hard during the prayer I could feel the pew shaking.

Playing any number of games with Hunters at their house with all or several of their children and mine. Justin and Ryan are almost as funny as their father and their Aunt Pam.

David and Sage introducing us to the game Who, What, Where. If you've never heard of it or played it, I feel very sorry for you.

Playing golf one year with Larry and maybe David but mostly I remember Ryan and Justin and Quinn. Quinn was playing for his first time and Ryan kept calling him Lucy or Sally or something. I just remember it being very very funny. And since I believe we were playing on Dec. 17, the anniversary of my father's birth, it's nice that I remember laughing and not freezing.

Telling jokes, watching Get Smart and My Favorite Martian, and just hanging around my father, the original very funny Hunter family member.

Flocking a Christmas tree in our patio in Twin Falls and Larry and David making me laugh so hard that, thank you very much, I did actually wet my pants, not that it's any of your business!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Moods--Good, Bad and Ugly

Emotional lability. Not many people know what this term means, and sometimes confuse the second word with liability. They are not far off. Sometimes emotions can be a liability. Even though an excess of emotion or a lack of control of such has been a burden in my life, I have always maintained that I would rather battle too many moods than too few. It's like seasons; I'd rather live in four seasons than have mild weather all year round, even though I dislike winter and loathe summer (just the heat). As long as I can see out of the windows of my warm house in December and my air conditioned house in July at the beauty of the world, I like all four seasons. But I digress.

Emotional lability in a person tends to make their moods swing more often for less reason. It can be a profound symptom in something like bi-polar disorder or an annoying symptom of PMS. I don't know enough about it to label it a condition on its own accord or solely a symptom of other conditions, although I do know something about the latter. I am not bi-polar, but emotional lability is a symptom of a disease I know well. Multiple Sclerosis.

I was diagnosed with MS about 12 years ago. It's as scary as they say it is to be diagnosed because the unpredictability of the course the disease will take is considerable. Over a decade in, I appear to be one of the lucky ones in many respects. I look okay. Only in the heat do I limp and them almost unnoticeably. No one sees out of my left eye but me, so they don't know things get blurry. There are a few symptoms I actually spare my friends and family from knowing about and some that come and go. Fatique is my constant companion and although my IQ is as respectable as ever, there are times that I know my memory issues are MS related rather than because of age. This past week, I have discovered that something I have been dealing with a great deal in the past year may very well be a worsening symptom of my MS. Emotional lability.

Here's a short synopsis of the way my emotions malfunction, especially when I'm tired. (I teach middle school 25 miles from my home and am an assistant coach for a high school debate team which has many Friday night and Saturday tournaments. I'm always tired.) My feelings are fragile. My students don't hurt my feelings. I am an adult. Other adults hurt my feelings. Unintentionally. My adult children hurt my feelings. Regularly. Although my kids know I misinterpret their comments and am hurt, they think I should be mature enough to realize they don't mean anything bad and that they love me profoundly. I cry when I don't mean to. I don't mind crying if I have a good reason, but it's humiliating to cry when I think someone has been mean to me. My goodness, I'm not seven years old.

As I look back over the last twelve months, I realize that things have been worse for awhile. The daughter I adore can barely say a word without me taking it in the worst possible way. One administrator at school finds reasons to send me emails at least once a year correcting me for something I'm not doing right and I react to these emails with about 6 different emotions, all of which make it worse. The thing that bothers me most is my own reaction to my over-reactions. I am not only embarrassed, but demoralized. Questions run through my mind as to why I'm not more mature, why I need approval, and most of all why I keep doing things that make other people mad at me. Now I wonder if they're any madder at me that any given person is toward any other given person. Am I paranoid or is there really someone out to get me?

My initial thought when realizing my bounty of emotional responses (when I am happy, I am very, very happy; when I am sad I am hopeless) was quite likely to be linked to my MS, was pure relief. I can accept my difficulties with mood swings much more readily if I think it's part of the disease instead of some unfixable flaw in my character. After all, if my legs were weak and I used a cane, would that bring negative judgment from others? Of course not. But moodiness and depression bring out quite different reactions from people. Most of us acknowledge the weakness and limitations of our bodies, but our minds are not supposed to be weak. We should have control over our minds. Only in the last 30 years has depression been accepted as an illness, and even then, once you're on medication, you are expected to cheer up and not talk about it.

My relief quickly turned to a probable reality. I could imagine what would happen if after a conversation left me in tears, I explained, "Sorry. I have MS." It reminds me of students at school who act out and then say, "It's not my fault. I have ADHD."

I thought about times when my daughter and I have switched roles of parent and child. This role reversal is due largely to my habit of relying on her too much when I was first diagnosed (in the midst of a divorce and my oldest son's downward spiral into life-threatening habits). It's only when I go through overly emotional bouts (which I rarely see coming or even see afterwards) that she and I return to this role reversal, usually leaving me with hurt feelings and her frustrated with my neediness.

Meanwhile, what will I do with these new realizations? I can get away with crying over things that are moving or tragic. I can avoid situations where I might take a comment too personally, but working with other teachers, parents and administrators makes that unlikely. I know getting more sleep would help since fatigue--sorry everyone who stayed up too late last night, but I'm talking about MS fatigue here--makes every symptom exponentially more severe.

One thing I know for certain. My time of denial is over. I have MS. Even though I don't think I'll ever be in a wheelchair or a nursing home because of it, it's time to admit what part it does play in my life. It's not the worst thing to ever happen to me. I am lucky that the course it's taking seems to be slow. Still, although I don't need sympathy, I may need understanding on a level I have not asked for. Maybe people will just have to cut me some slack when I seem to cry over unimportant things. Being loved unconditionally, sensitive moods and all, sounds pretty wonderful to me. For my part, I'll try to act like an adult--but even adults need a little patience once in awhile.