Tag Archives: teaching

Sometimes, the apple has to defend the orange.

kaleigh kelsey at the beach

me and kels at the beach

It’s like my mother wandered down the produce section and grabbed whatever was on sale. Navel oranges and Gala apples. A bag of green grapes for good measure. And then she walked straight to the self-checkout kiosk, not really thinking it through.

What do you do with one apple and one orange? Surely you don’t make a smoothie.

But nobody told my mother this when she had to comfort her angry toddler back in 1992.

“It’s okay, honey,” I imagine her saying while she rubs her full belly. “I won’t love you any less.”

That didn’t stop me from resenting a baby before she was even born.

It took me a few months to come around to my sister. Apparently I was quite the attention hog as a three-year-old. I sat her down and tried to teach her the alphabet. And then, when she wasn’t listening, I grew frustrated.

I’m not an angry girl. But there are two types of people who upset me: those who don’t do what they’re supposed to and those who undermine other people.

At the time, I lumped Kels into the first category. She was six months old, for God’s sake. Wasn’t it about time she started moving some alphabet magnets around on the fridge to spell out words?

But now, she’s a victim of category #2. And I have sat back for oh, seven years, stewing in the comfort of my own home. Threatening, at times, to drive to a bully’s house to punch her in the face.

When my sister was almost stood up at her junior prom, she found a date in less than 15 minutes so she didn’t have to go solo. But that didn’t stop me from telling her, over and over, that she deserved better. That this boy wasn’t seeing the same girl I saw who — despite my best efforts — refused to sit still as an infant.

Now she’s in college. And still it continues. People look at a bubbly girl with big hair and a freckled nose and all they see is the poster child for Greek Row. They want to line her up and brush her shoulders off and make her stand up straight. Strip her of all her freedom to paint the world with her imagination.

What they don’t know (or don’t care about) is that she rearranged her entire bedroom when she was seven years old. She unplugged a desktop computer, mouse and keyboard and dragged it halfway across the room, rewiring it. She redesigned and furnished my mom’s office. She’s only a freshman in college and already she has 40 (I think) credits.

And she’s worried about falling behind. Worried she doesn’t have an internship this summer. Even though she’s taking two more classes and will work one (if not two) job.

The girl tried to schedule 19 credit hours for the fall, 3 of which equated to 6 hours in the classroom.

And there are still plenty of whispered sentiments behind backs that she is not ambitious. That she is nothing more than a ditzy party girl.

My mother said we each have a motto: mine is work hard, work harder and hers is work hard, party hard.

At the end of the day, I think she knows she raised two girls who push the limits of a 24-hour schedule. Who cram meaning into every minute of the day.

I’m an apple, a little more solid and sweet. She’s an orange, refreshing and zesty. But we’re both packed with nutrients. We’re both in the produce section. And we’re both worth the trip to the checkout counter.

Even if some people believe otherwise.

Not everyone makes To Do Lists at red lights.

Or in the shower. Or on the way to class.

girl car sideview mirror camera

a less stressed me

To me, it seemed simple: if you can’t get anything else done while you’re idling in the middle of the road, why not think of the stress-inducing list of things you could be doing?

Already, I can see how that might be a bad idea. Maybe.

The truth is, I am under the impression that there is only one way to learn: constantly and at the most expected times.

And what I learned last night, after that long, drawn-out sitting at a red light, was that I’m a bit of a crazy person. I mean, not only do I make To Do lists in the shower, but I also try to single-handedly control my life. Which is hard to do, considering the world is made up of more than 6 billion people, some of which I’ll inevitably encounter every day. Unless, of course, I really jump off the deep end and hide away in a log cabin in the mountains for 70 years or so.

I’m not doing that, though. Because all those other people out there with different attitudes and ideas and suggestions are the reason I’m able to recognize my own craziness and come to terms with it.

In my head, letting go of something was equivalent to failing. Letting go meant forgetting and forgetting meant failing. Mistakes have never come gracefully for me.

But the world’s filled with control-seeking individuals like me (yes, I admit it) and what we need to remember is that the world will spin on. Whether or not we want to admit it, we cannot knock the Earth off its orbit or force someone to call us back or answer our questions or care about anyone but themselves.

Not to say that the whole world’s selfish, because that’s not true, but we’re all busy. And all of us make mistakes.

So this is me, setting up a deal with myself to embrace the chaos and stress and know that, at the end of the day, it’s going to be okay. It’s going to work out. Perfect or imperfect. 

It’s my challenge to anyone who’s grappling with perfectionism or controlling everything or throwing themselves into doing something because they’re worried someone else won’t do it right or completely, to take a five-minute breather today.

Take five minutes and let the world spin without having to worry about it. And then you have total and complete rights to make your To Do lists wherever and whenever you want. I won’t judge you.

My seventh grade history teacher ruined my childhood dream.

gymnastics hershey beam awards medal

my first year of competitive gymnastics

When I was thirteen, perfection was just a misspelled word on a t-shirt from a gymnastics catalogue. Perfec10n, the shirt read.

Perfect 10.

I was obsessed with the way the phrase rolled off my tongue so easily. Nadia Comaneci and Mary Lou Retton? Now those were girls who knew how to work hard.

I thought that if I pointed my toes hard enough and stayed at the gym extra hours, working on stretches until my arms and legs were sore for at least two days straight, I could make it to the Olympics.

But then I went to seventh grade and my history teacher told this other girl that she was too old to be an Olympic gymnastic. And since we shared a birthday, I knew what that meant.

It didn’t matter anymore if I was short and skinny and ready to dedicate my whole life to being America’s next Shannon Miller. I was already too old.

I remember looking at her from across the classroom, my pulse skyrocketing as I thought quickly before he reached my desk in the back corner. What did I want to do with the rest of my life? I didn’t know. I didn’t even remember what I’d packed for lunch.

From then on, perfect was unattainable. Out of my control. Sure, I could spend 20 hours a week caked in chalk and sweat until I literally couldn’t smell myself anymore. But that wouldn’t be enough.

And so began the pattern of always being perpetually behind.

My coach would make us do five perfect beam routines in a row. No falls, not even a wobble. For some of the girls, cleaning up minor missteps on a dismount or over-rotations on a front tuck was easy. They’d focus and knock all five routines out in no time.

Me? I’d do one or two then fall. Two more and another fall.

And then, of course, I’d be late to the next event — uneven bars — which was, consequently, my worst event.

It was a cycle that drove me crazy. And I watched the rest of the girls master it, so why couldn’t I?

What I know now is that perfect’s just the accumulation of mistakes we make leading up to a self-determined ‘final destination.’ I was so busy being paranoid over the notion of “5 perfect beam routines in a row” that I couldn’t focus on the block of wood under my toes.

When USAG stopped handing out 10.0’s like candy, I’d already quit. Not because I wasn’t perfect, but because I couldn’t accept that fact. I drove myself (and my parents) crazy when I played mental games, reverting back to basic skill levels like a child forgetting how to walk and talk.

On those nights, I ran upstairs and jumped into the shower, because at least I didn’t have to think about how to wash my hair. But the truth was that all I needed — and all most of us need at one point or another — was to be shaken and reminded that perfect’s boring.

And really, perfect is a lie. USAG decided that for me. Not long after my seventh grade history teacher.

I pray there is a generation with fiery red hair and painted in freckles, dedicated to eating dessert first.

My grandma & I at Long Beach Island

My family will maintain that my grandmother is buried six feet under the ground at Fair View Cemetery in Red Bank, New Jersey. But that’s not true. Not really.

The truth is that she’s alive. More alive than most people in my life. She’s strategically spread herself, clinging to everything in sight like the smoke from the cigarettes she used to smoke.

When I was eight years old, standing in front of an open casket, I stumbled silently over my Hail Mary’s and Our Father’s.

The scents of fresh cut flowers, too much cologne and Mint Milanos distracted my brain, forcing me to start over.  I kneeled until my kneecaps imprinted themselves into the maroon plush, until I wrapped my head around the concept of death.

Back then, my biggest gripe was not being allowed to miss school to attend the funeral.

And then, instead of just abiding by the rules of death — you know, the gone forever part — she played a trick on me. Her presence crept up on me, bleeding into the remaining members of her family.

I should’ve forgotten her. Thirteen years ago. Instead, what I do remember is distorted. Like fragmented pieces of glass that — when glued back together — won’t be enough to reframe a mirror.

My first memory of my aunt is in a hospital room. All the lights are turned off; the glow from the whitewashed hallway is the only light penetrating the darkness.

It’s an intimate moment. A woman just six years older than I am now is hunched over a bed. Her shoulders wrench up and down. I stand back, hoping to fade into the background as she pleads. Bargains with her terminally ill mother not to die.

Motherhood, I’ve come to realize, is a legacy passed on to the next generation. Maybe a mother doesn’t sit her children down and tell them how to behave and how to raise a child, but she prepares them silently.

My grandmother, in fact, grew quite good at sitting her children down and telling them how not to behave.

“Do as I say,” she insisted, pushing vegetables around on her dinner plate but not eating them. “Not as I do.”

I see her in my own mother, who lays on the couch wrapped in a blanket even in the middle of June. Devouring novels of love and morality and conflict as if they were crossword puzzles.

And in my aunt, who believes in the “always have something prepared for dessert” theory. Maybe, with three growing boys, you’re obligated to abide by that rule.

And now, long after she is gone, I see her in my roommate whose parents, ironically, were from Red Bank, too.

“Desserts first,” my grandma would say. And I’d joke about opening a restaurant with the same name.

My roommate believes in relaxing; she’s an expert in it, really. She doesn’t take herself too seriously. And she bakes three times a week.

So the years will pass; the leaves will change colors and the people in my life who most reflect her will grow older. But I will find new ways to find her in the strangers on the sidewalks or the grocer at the store. Her fiery red hair will crop up in someone else’s DNA and her freckled skin will splatter itself across someone else’s cheekbones.

And I will pray that there is a generation dedicated to tough love, desserts first and romance novels.

Because there’s a large piece of that glass stuck inside of me. Absorbed into my blood and clinging to each generation until Cissy Rossetti is a legacy.

Quite frankly, she already is.