Because I kept my eyes open

Posted by adrionna on Feb 4, 2013 in Teaching

Today I began my experience as an “official observer” of classes within an elementary school on Chicago’s near-north side. It’s a very diverse school where, sadly, 40% of the population is homeless, or in temporary housing. I briefly (30 min) sat-in on a class last week, where I was able to get a feel for the lay-out of the school and the dynamic of having kids coming from so many different backgrounds.

My assignment today was to watch/interact with the first graders. There are about 25 students in the classroom and each love -and need- attention. This is difficult with one teacher in the room, so the school is excited that my class is working with theirs. This school stresses building relationships with students so that the students are held accountable in more than just a student-teacher relationship, but rather an apprentice-mentor, or co-partnership. I’ve been given two charges, K and D. The administrator who assigned me to them described the students as those “who have needs, but who shouldn’t be having those needs.” After interacting with the students for the first time today, I understand why. They are smart, they are creative, they are funny, they are kind. But they need to know they’re doing something worthwhile, and its through these personal relationships we build with them that they put school on a higher pedestal than anything else. It’s school that will help them escape poverty. It’s education that will open their minds to the world.

This is what a teacher hopes for, anyway. This is what I hope for.

I ride public transportation often, but I rode it more often today. I people watch sometimes, but I really saw people today. I had my eyes open all day long. In essence, I was seeing these people as the first graders all grown up. Here’s what I saw.

After I left the school, around 10:30am, I saw two women on the corner, smoking cigarettes, telling each other they don’t really care what others think about them. One smiled back at me when I looked over. That was nice, but I want more for J than that. She wants attention and thinks that being silly and acting out will get her that. She’ll get attention from me for really trying to spell words during the break-out session tomorrow morning. But what if it’s not enough?

On the train, I saw someone who looked like he wasn’t really going anywhere. With a big brown paper bag in the seat next to him, he just looked happy to be somewhere warm. I was so happy that all those kids today were able to be somewhere warm, with breakfast, lunch, and dinner to look forward to. I’m proud that we, as a society, have created a place for our most vulnerable to be shielded from the harshest elements so that they can learn and better themselves.. that they’ll better the world through their efforts. I think JA will appreciate that when he’s older; he read like a champ today, and I am so looking forward to the next time he reads me a story. He was so proud of himself, reminding me an hour later “I’m a good reader.” But what if it’s not enough?

During one of my walks, I heard a dad yelling. Loud. He was holding the hand of his little boy, while his brother was walking behind them, holding the hand of their mother. There was such a lack of peace: there were tears, loud cries, and just.. unrest. I couldn’t believe that adults would act so irresponsibly around such young children.. around Kindergardeners. Around kids that would be in the first grade next year. This is where these kids are coming from. They don’t need to know about Rosa Parks as much as they need warmth, kindness, and a sense of love and security. Someone in their lives constantly showing support and encouragement. Good teachers are ready to give this to so many kids that pass through their classrooms, but what if it isn’t enough?

At this point, you can imagine I’m getting a little disheartened. It’s late, I’m getting a little tired, and I’m seeing a world working against all of the kids I tried to reach earlier in the day. This is when a young man sits down in front of me on the train and just starts talking to the family around me. No prior meeting, just a young black man eager to start a conversation with a white woman with her two young girls. What? After living through the stark privileged/underprivileged dichotomy of the day, I was surprised. Suspicious.

Turns out that just asking “Are yall on your way home?” can incite an amazing conversation with an incredibly nice woman that gives the eavesdroppers (like me) inspiration to keep going. The young man is a math major, hoping to do something really great with it. Story goes that he had a great teacher who made math really exciting. Because of those teachers, he is all about math and science and excited about what he can do in the world with that knowledge. He doesn’t think he’ll go to grad school; but he hasn’t even considered it, really. He just has his eyes set on a degree so he can make something of himself.

I’m nearing my stop and interrupt them. I tell the young man hurriedly that I started observing at an elementary school today. I told him I hoped the kids turn out like him.

He looked a little shocked, but I know it made him feel good. I hope it did, anyway.

Because he gave me an incredibly valuable gift. It’s one full of inspiration, motivation, and encouragement. Everything that I need to give those kids tomorrow. And the next day. And the next.

Because, just like the young man who had his eyes open and started a conversation with a random stranger at the end of the day, I never know who I’m reaching.


Driving your life.

Posted by adrionna on Oct 30, 2012 in Wisdom and Life

You drive the car, but ultimately the conditions outside let you know how fast or slow you need to go, or whether you need to detour. Just keep your eyes on the road–be alert–so that you a) don’t run out of gas and b) don’t crash into a tree.

Follow those directions and you’ll be happy once you reach your destination, wherever that might be.


A Different Way of Looking at “Opposites Attract”

Posted by adrionna on Aug 19, 2012 in Wisdom and Life

A couple posts ago, I wrote about the stay Cody and I had in an Arkansas cabin two years ago. Dark surrounded us and the dead quiet seemed so unnatural to a pair of kids who had gotten used to city noise. I had mentioned Cody’s sudden protective, almost primal, reaction to the silence and our presumed openness to vulnerability. He was hyper-aware and cautious of any potential dangers, while I was feeling pretty much the complete opposite. It seemed that the more I sensed his nervousness, the more I felt I was okay – I felt stronger and more reassured than I ever would have in such a creepy situation. I guess I wanted my tranquility to seep into his anxiety. I suppose I just wanted him to know that, even though it was incredibly gentlemanly (and attractive) that he wanted to protect me, I was okay, and he would be okay, too.

Just yesterday, Cody and I decided to grab a quick dinner at Portillo’s and got our entrees before we got 2 cheese fries orders (that’s about a 30 min wait for fries; turns out they lost the receipt). Cody was understandably upset: he was really hungry, and there’s really no reason for a 30-second job to multiply into a half hour one. While I could sympathize with Cody, I could also forgive the employees – we had arrived at dinner time and there were a lot of orders to keep up with! We just happened to be the unlucky order that got lost in the sea of receipts. Cody made a valid point when I told him to mind his temper, though: “If I weren’t upset right now, you know you would be.” He was right – if he would have been calm in that situation, I probably would have felt more upset than I did. Rather, I was what he needed – the tranquility that just wasn’t happening in that moment. I balanced him out. We balance each other out.

And isn’t that what a relationship is about? “Opposites attract” might not mean what we generally take it to mean. Maybe it’s not “good girl and bad boy” or “preacher’s daughter and high school drop out.” Maybe we are attracted to the people who are acting the way we would like to act more often. The person who’s losing her patience might feel attracted to the guy who’s holding the door open for the elderly woman who’s still feet away. Maybe the homebody-girl who’d like to get out more often finds the opportunity in the club-guy who goes out all the time.

Perhaps we’re really just looking for a balance, and we find that in people who are acting differently than we normally do. Don’t get me wrong: a solid foundation built on common beliefs is necessary for a relationship to work and grow and thrive. It’s interesting to consider however, that in the beginning, when we’re trying to find our other half – the one who’ll share the weight — the one who completes the part that’s missing within ourselves.. we’re attracted to our opposites, first.

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Fairy Tales and Adversity

Posted by adrionna on Aug 2, 2012 in Information Station, Wisdom and Life

Falling in love feels like perfection: everything falls into place, smiles are on every corner, and you listen to the sad song on the radio for the beauty of it, not because every word holds the pieces of your heart together.  When you fall in love, you countdown the days for the smile you get as a result of the smile you see. He (or she) reminds you that it’s possible to feel the giddiness and hopefulness and happiness that comes from just thinking about him, let alone having a conversation – even if that conversation doesn’t happen for days at a time.

Some people are lucky and feel that way for years. I think it’s because they never take for granted that it’s a gift and privilege that they are able to call the person they fell in love with as “mine.” Regardless of how much they might disagree with each other sometimes, or what temptations might come along the way, they never forget that what they want NOW, will never be able to fully replace what they ALREADY have. It’s this relentless determination to never back down, or fall down, in the face of adversity, that keeps people together, especially since adversity is what normally breaks up couples who should have remained together. Let me explain:

1. Instead of womenwho she should have been able to count on the most, Cinderella had the meanest bitches around. Not only did her step-crew want to prevent her from love, but once she fell in love, they tried to keep her from her guy. Good for us (and ‘relly herself, I suppose), the prince persevered and made sure to find the woman who made his heart pound like no other had before. Both could have given up and said, “Aw, screw it” but the chemistry they felt the night of the Ball was too strong to be ignored.

Fast forward:

Cinderella is a flippin’ princess and so she’s entitled to pretty much whatever her little heart desires. But if the prince was so stubborn about his woman, what makes you think he’s not so stubborn about other things, like her leaving the portcullis open after she came back from the market and forgot to have it closed, and the prince won’t drop the conversation when it could have been resolved yesterday? Stubbornness and ego get in the way of an important conversation that, in many case, you need to have to mature the relationship. We could talk about compromise all day, but if the prince won’t drop it, and Cinderella won’t lock it (portcullis), the happy marriage is gonna go down the tubes.

2. Love took Belle, of Beauty and the Beast,  completely by surprise. She was able to look beyond the exterior of the beast and see instead someone with a gentle heart – a “misiu” heart.

Fast forward:

You could tell me the Beast realized the error of his ways and is a better “man/beast,” but I will tell you that those temper tantrums are going to come out even if Belle didn’t do anything wrong, because it’s the Beast’s way of handling his anger. He takes it out on something else – someone else – that’s fragile. How does Belle even begin to react? Well, she can shut herself up in her tower and cry all day, or she can say, “Suck it up, Beast. Here’s what happened, and you can’t change it. Think about it this way…” and offer him a new perspective. If she does it long enough, he’ll eventually learn how to do it on his own later, which will hopefully help curb future temper tantrums.

3. Let’s talk about real, human love. We overcome the initial adversity – it might be a big deal, like letting fear get in the way of telling the person you care about the truth (she probably feels the same way you do), or it might be the normal dating experience, whatever that means to you. Point is, it means “getting over” something, turning a problem into a solution, and realizing that a fairy tale can be compared to reality, if you delve into the reality of the fairy tale, and know that neither will ever be perfect and free-flowing all the time.

Fast forward: Unlike the fairy tales we see on the big screen, adversity is relentless. It seems to never get tired of trying to pull the same two people apart, that it had brought together. Unfortunately, a lot of people see that as a sign that it won’t work out, or that it wasn’t meant to be. I call bologna and say that adversity is to be seen as a learning, growing opportunity instead of a hurdle in the track that can’t be leaped over. Of course there’s a limit to how much difficulty should be in a relationship – if it’s sucking the happiness out of you, it’s not healthy. But if you’re going through a week when things aren’t as giddy as before, that’s NOT an indication that the love has died. Simply spend more time with the one you fell in love with, pay more attention to their needs and focus on the little stuff, like leaving notes in their e-mail inbox or texting them what you were never able to get out of your mind in the first place, when you met your sig fig.

No, adversity isn’t the sign of doom. Think about it: when it comes up, it seems like it’s pulling you apart, but really? Really, adversity is the thing that brought you together in the first place.


Becoming Resilient – Countdowns, Part 2

Posted by adrionna on Aug 1, 2012 in Random Ramble, Wisdom and Life

I always agreed with my uncle’s notion that “Life is a series of countdowns.” When the event I was waiting for didn’t work out, however, I was crushed. I had counted down MAJORLY (I’m talking about 8 months of crossing off days on my calendar). And this didn’t just happen once – no, I didn’t learn my lesson. This happened twice. I finally realized that just because I counted down didn’t mean it was automatically going to be perfection and bliss. I told myself I would never count down again and I have kept that promise. Instead, if I’m planning on meeting someone for dinner, or looking forward to a fun party, I always take into account the option of it not working out. It prevents me from getting too excited so I’m not heartbroken 8 months later.

Even though I started believing this, however, I didn’t apply it to the long-term plans I always let myself plan. I’ve always pictured my life the way girls usually do: I want to get married, have kids.. live a long, full life. When I was 17, I had the incorruptible determination to have all these things happen, and them not happening was just never an option. Now, at 20 (and a half!), I have experienced my dear friends lose their spouses. I can’t imagine the pain of losing someone you’ve been married to for 30-50 years. I’ve also heard horrific stories of parents losing their children, who never got to celebrate their 20th birthday, much less their 5th. I understand now the possibility of losing everything in the blink of an eye. I understand that maybe the wheel of fortune might land on me and throw me something unimaginable that would prevent my plans from working out the way I’ve always imagined.

So I dream big, but with hesitations. Just like I give my short-terms plans a little slack, in case they change and surprise me, I leave the option open for the “big stuff” to have different ways of ending: the wedding of my dreams, the lifestyle I’ve always pictures, etc. I don’t know what my wedding dress will look like, because I wait to see a ring on my finger first. I try not to imagine how many kids I’ll have, or whether I’d like a girl or a boy more, because I don’t even know if I have a “baby-makin'” body. It hurts to think about the possibility, but I think it’s healthy to discipline my hopes this way. It’s interesting putting myself in a foster parent’s shoes while still dreaming about holding a little one of my own one day.

Ultimately, it’s okay if the world ends tomorrow, because I know I’ve lived the way I’ve wanted to today. I try to live positively, never allowing myself to wallow in self-pity for too long. I let go of anger quickly, knowing that the fire of hate burns quickly, and I love the freedom I feel when I extinguish it and replace it with positive thoughts and calm energy.

Even if the wheel of fortune lands on me and hands me the great misfortune of my life, I can’t suffer forever.
Besides, it’ll hurt, but the mental preparations I had given myself earlier will have made me more resilient. And in this case, resilience is peace and happiness, despite adversity.

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