Lesson from a Student

 

 

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by Melissa Face

 

Each December, my senior English students read “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. In addition to lessons on British tradition, I also try to incorporate something a bit more modern, to illustrate the relevance of the values and morals that Dickens included in his novella.

Earlier this fall, I found an article about a woman who went an entire year without spending. She paid her bills, then said goodbye to everything that wasn’t essential. Her efforts resulted in a savings of $23,000 at the end of the year.

My students and I discussed her accomplishment and whether or not we might consider taking on a similar, perhaps shorter, challenge in the future. They agreed that they could likely do without many of their purchases, but at first it might be a difficult adjustment.

Then I heard some murmuring among students in the back of the room.

“What is it? Please, tell me what’s on your mind,” I encouraged.

One of my seniors spoke up. “Okay, that’s great that she saved $23,000, but what did she DO with it?” Erickah asked. “I mean, did she feed the homeless? Give it to charity? The article would be much more compelling if she had made a real contribution with what she saved.”

I was caught off guard and had to pause a few moments before responding.

“I agree with you completely,” I told Erickah.

Without realizing it, my student had given me great advice, a wonderful plan to begin a new calendar year.

When I went home that evening, I told my husband about our class discussion and my modified plan. “I want to go on a six-month spending strike,” I told him. “Anything that isn’t essential will have to wait, and everything left over after paying bills will go to charity.”

Our family of four loves going out to eat and shopping at our favorite retail stores. We also really enjoy weekend getaways, so we knew that cutting out overnight trips would sting a bit as well. But we also knew we could put these simple pleasures on hold if we had a really good reason for doing so.

My husband was on board. He liked the idea of us getting back to basics for a while. And even though we intended to proceed with our plan regardless, we decided to ask our older child’s opinion before we got started.

We presented the idea to Evan and Delaney that night after dinner. Evan listened intently and when we asked what he thought, he responded, “Well, sure! I already have a great life!” His enthusiasm provided even more reassurance that my husband and I were doing the right thing.

On January 1, we put our plan into action with a few modifications to the no spending rule:

  1. We could go out to eat only if we had a coupon or gift card. We had saved gift cards we received for Christmas and those we earned from credit card rewards. We planned to use them for special occasions.
  2. There would be no charging unless we had a medical emergency or a necessary car repair.
  3. We would not purchase any new items unless they were presents for someone else. We felt this exception was appropriate in the event our children were invited to a birthday party.
  4. When we needed something, we would shop at a local thrift store.

 

The early weeks of our new lifestyle were very easy. We had a couple of significant snow storms, and we had no choice but to stay home and just enjoy being together. Plus, the children were still overwhelmed with their Christmas gifts, so there was no mention of getting anything new.

A few weeks later, Evan’s rec league basketball season began, and after his first game, my husband and I realized that Evan would need better shoes. So, off to the thrift stores we went. We were only at our second shop when my husband spotted a pair of gray and black Shaq shoes. Aside from the worn laces, they looked great. Evan tried them on and they were a perfect fit. Plus, they were only three dollars, and we knew we had some better laces at home to use in them.

Our kids took to thrift shopping right away. They saw it as a grand treasure hunt and loved that each thrift store had completely different items than the one before. We returned to thrift stores as other needs came up, and we used thrift shopping as a reward for good grades and behavior.

My husband and I noticed that our plan was also forcing us to connect more as a couple. We were talking about our money when it came in, and we were discussing all of our expenses, something we had struggled with in the past. We were talking deeply about what was important to us in terms of spending and saving, and we were making long-term goals that we planned to work towards once our 6-month stretch was complete.

We aren’t even at the halfway point yet, and so far, we have found our new lifestyle to be incredibly rewarding. We spend a lot of time together as a family: checking out books from the library, making crafts, cooking meals at home, and playing with toys that the kids forgot they had.

My husband and I talk more in the evenings and we are also enjoying the simple pleasures of reading a good book or watching a classic movie. We recently decided to continue our plan for an entire year instead of only six months. We had hoped to make a difference with our charitable contribution, but we had not planned on this experience improving our own lives as much as it has.

I’m grateful my family was receptive to this change, and I’m thankful that my student, Erickah, shared her comment that day in my English 12 class.  I always look forward to teaching this unit on Dickens, but this year I was taught the real lesson on giving. I hope that we are able to give back as much as we have received.

Weathering the Storm

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by Melissa Face

I keep having the same nightmare: I’m outside in the middle of a severe storm, and I can’t find Delaney. I call to her, eventually see her, but am unable to catch her. She reaches out to me, and each time I get closer, the wind takes her a little farther away and beyond my grasp.

I realize that these types of dreams are likely a manifestation of my high anxiety, a problem that I’m dealing with that is more challenging than I ever imagined and not at all unrelated to being Delaney’s mother. But I also think that this dream is a reminder of the incredible force of nature that my Delaney is: strong, unpredictable, and turbulent.

Returning to full-time work was a huge concern for me this year because it meant that Delaney would need a full-time preschool situation. I feared her unruliness and defiance at home would carry over into the classroom. I worried about her saying inappropriate words and showing off her vast knowledge of potty humor. I worried about her refusing to wear her uniform. I worried about her back talking her teacher. I worried about  getting a call from the school during the first week saying, “Mrs. Face, it seems that our school is not a good fit for your daughter. We would rather our students not refer to each other as ‘fart butts.’ We wish you both the best in pursuing other educational opportunities. Please come get her.”

I kept telling myself that if we could just survive this year, then she would be entering kindergarten and the law would REQUIRE that she attend school. Public schools would HAVE to take her, and I would be able to keep my job.

Delaney has been in school for almost nine weeks. So far, there has been no call.

She really hasn’t had any negative reports, either, aside from one day of being on yellow for splashing water in the bathroom. She didn’t defend her demerit, but instead said, “I’m disappointed in myself. I knew that it was bad, and I did it anyway.” She has avoided being on yellow ever since.

The night before she began school, I read her The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn. It’s a story about a little racoon who is nervous about being away from his mama when he attends school for the first time. Mama racoon kisses her child’s palm, then places it to his face. She explains that when he goes to school, he can touch his palm to his cheek and feel his mother’s love.

After we finished reading the book, I kissed Delaney’s palm and told her to hold it to her face if she missed me and needed to feel my love. “I will,” she promised.

On the way to school a few days ago, Delaney told me to turn the music down. We were listening to “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” by Wham!. She wants to hear it every morning, and if we catch a few stoplights on Washington Street, we can hear it a full three times from our house to her school. Yay!

“Turn it down, please,” she repeated. “I need to tell you something.”

“Okay,” I said. “What’s up?”

“You know how you gave me the kissing hand when I started school?”

“Yes. I remember.”

“Well, I still have it. But I don’t really need it right now.”

“Why is that?”

“Because school is not new anymore.”

It took me a few minutes to absorb her comment. She was telling me, in her way, that she had adjusted to her situation, and I didn’t need to worry about her.

The neat thing about parenting, though, is that there is always something to worry about. We don’t run out of opportunities to worry. We worry about our kids when they need us, and we worry about the day when they think they don’t.

I’m happy and relieved with Delaney’s adjustment to full-time school. My little force has new friends, a regular routine, and wonderful teachers. I think this is where my dream comes in, though. Delaney is establishing herself outside of her home and slowly slipping away from me. It is something to celebrate and at the same time, something to lament. She will never be fully mine again. From now on, she will be influenced by her teachers and peers in addition to her father and me, and eventually, more so.

I can’t help but worry about how hard this world is for females and that I am raising a daughter in what is still, in many ways, a man’s world. Then, Delaney talks, and I hear a little of myself come out. And I know. She will be able to stand up for herself and speak her mind. She’s made of the tough stuff. She is my kid, and she’s equipped to weather the storms. She is going to be okay. We both are.

 

Be a Better Homework Helper

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by Melissa Face

Few words conjure up as many feelings of dread and doom as the word homework does for school-aged children. Many view homework as a daunting task that keeps them from playing outside, hanging out with friends, or watching Netflix. Tales of miserable homework experiences are as timeless as scraped knees and broken hearts. We all have our horror stories of forgotten assignments, incomplete homework, and unforgiving teachers – the ones who gave you an F, despite your incredibly valid excuse.

I teach high school, and I was recently swapping stories with my own parents, both former educators, about homework excuses. Years ago, when my mother was teaching seventh-grade English, one of her students presented the most famous excuse of all time for not having his homework assignment. “He told me his dog ate it,” my mother said. “Then, he reached into his book bag and pulled out a tattered worksheet. Sure enough, it was a little slobbery, and it had bite marks.” My mother was nearly positive he was telling the truth, so she allowed him to make up the assignment.

Among our family of teachers, we have pretty much heard all possible homework excuses: I forgot my notebook. I was absent that day. I left it in my dad’s car. I couldn’t find the page it was on. My computer crashed. There was a death in the family. My printer ran out of ink. I was sick. I had to work. It was stolen. It got wet. I lost my flash drive. In my twelve years of teaching, I have sifted through these excuses, some more plausible than others, and stood next to students while they rummaged through backpacks for homework assignments we both knew did not exist.

In the Beginning

The root of the matter is that homework is disliked by nearly everyone, including parents. And working on homework assignments and inventing excuses for not completing them have become a true family affair. Though I have been assigning homework for more than a decade, I am really just discovering the true nature of this homework animal as a parent. My child is a second grader this year, and he has had homework since he began kindergarten.

After asking my son about his day and trying to talk about highs and lows, next comes, “What do you need to do for tomorrow?” He can usually tell me if he has a story to read, worksheets to complete, or spelling words to study. We check his planner and confirm the details of the assignment, then he gets to work. He starts off enthusiastically, then we fall into the same pattern of complaints about the assignment and what he would rather be doing. We contend with the distractions of his noisy younger sister, squirrels on the patio, and his insatiable hunger.

Despite our attempts to make homework tolerable, there are still nights when the finished product is tear-stained and worn thin from repeated erasing. However, most of the time the homework is done well and without incident. Along the way, we have learned a few tricks to make homework at the elementary school level more manageable:

1. It is essential to be well-equipped with many of the same supplies your child uses at school. Homework at the elementary level often requires coloring, cutting, and glue-sticking. Purchase extra crayons, glue, and scissors, in addition to pencils and paper. And be sure to buy the type of paper your child uses at school in order to practice handwriting with consistency. Keep all homework supplies together in an easily accessible location so finding the supplies doesn’t add to the stress of homework completion.

2. Provide a homework environment that is free from distractions. It is already difficult for young children to concentrate on homework after a full day of school. They need to be away from all electronics and noisy siblings. It is also helpful to have a clean desk or table and to designate that area as the homework spot for the entire school year.

3. Create additional structure by setting a timer for each worksheet or individual task. This is especially helpful for a child who is prone to piddling or daydreaming. The timer can help keep him on task and make completing homework feel a little like a game. You can also provide a small reward as an extra incentive.

4. Include a few breaks throughout the homework session. Three or four worksheets can feel like a lot for a young child. Give him several stretching breaks or a midpoint snack break. Students in elementary school get out of their seats frequently throughout the day, so it’s unrealistic for them to sit for long periods at home without a break.

5. Read books with your child each evening, whether reading is assigned or not. Let your child see you enjoy a book from time to time, as well. It is important to model the skills and behaviors we want our children to develop.

At this young age, my husband and I are helping our second grader with homework by clarifying directions and providing examples, if he needs them. We do not do the assignment for him, and we do not correct the errors he makes on his worksheets. The only exception to our rule is if he has done the entire assignment incorrectly. Then, we explain it again, in a different way, and have him redo it. As a parent, it is difficult to look over your child’s assignment and not fix mistakes when you see them, but it is an important step in raising an independent student.

As Time Goes By

Teaching a child to be accountable for his own schoolwork is essential, and it should be a gradual process that begins in the early grades. It is crucial to remember that you are not helping your child in the long run by completing or correcting assignments for him. Furthermore, it is unrealistic to provide a great deal of help once your child is in middle or high school and subjects become more difficult. Plus, it is simply not your job to do your high school student’s economics, world language, or algebra homework.

In a few years, I am sure my child will bring home an assignment that I’m not comfortable assisting him with. Even though he is just in second grade, I have already pictured this scenario and the helplessness my future self will feel when he asks, “Mom, how do you conjugate an irregular verb in Spanish?” or “Can you help me solve this quadratic equation?” It will be outside my realm of expertise, and though I may be tempted to ask my friends on social media for help or watch a YouTube video on solving quadratics, I am hopeful
that I won’t do those things.

Parents have a visceral need to help their children. And there are many ways to help students at the middle and high school levels without auditing a college algebra course so you can combine like terms and practice completing square roots with him after dinner each night. There are many resources available for older students, and it’s our job to make sure our kids are using them and not depending on us to do their work.

Here are a few strategies to help make homework more manageable for middle school and high school students:

1. For starters, there is no substitute for being in class and hearing a lecture or participating in a discussion. It sounds obvious, but school attendance is essential for academic success, and chronic absenteeism is a problem in many Virginia school systems. Missing school for illness is unavoidable at times, but if your child says, “It’s no big deal if I miss; we aren’t doing anything in class anyway,” you need to dig deeper. It’s either an excuse to avoid something or a symptom of a much bigger problem that should be addressed with school administration.

2. Organization plays a major role in school success. Encourage your child to write down deadlines and assignments in a daily planner (many schools provide them), or keep track of them electronically – or both, if it helps. It doesn’t matter what system your child uses, as long as it works for him.

3. Encourage your child to communicate with his teacher(s) when he is having difficulty with a concept or doesn’t understand an assignment. By high school, students should be able to approach teachers and advocate for themselves. I have received emails from parents letting me know that “Johnny is not prepared for his reading quiz because he didn’t understand the pages of Beowulf he was supposed to read.” While there are many things wrong with this particular scenario, the most concerning is that the student was unable to tell me himself that he was having difficulty comprehending the passage. At the high school level, most of the communication should be taking place between the student and the teacher.

4. If your child missed class or has questions about an assignment, make sure he is using the resources available to him before you become involved. Many secondary teachers maintain websites with links to assignments, and some even post lecture notes and videos for students to review in the event of an absence.

5. Keep tabs on what your child is doing when he is supposed to be studying or working on an assignment. Remember, I teach high school students. Parents have told me, “I don’t understand why Susan didn’t finish her paper. She was up until midnight.” Susan may very well have been up until midnight, but she also may have been Snapchatting with friends or adding to her Instagram story instead of writing her paper.

6. If your student is struggling, consider a tutor. In addition to hiring adult tutors, investigate peer tutors. Peer tutoring is a wonderful option because besides the affordability factor (peer tutoring is usually free), students are often more comfortable around their peers, and they relate to each other better. It can also be helpful for your child to see for himself that other children their age understand the content. Many schools offer peer tutoring through Beta Club or National Honor Society. Check with the school counseling office to learn more about peer tutoring options.

7. Demonstrate a positive attitude about education. As much as you might want to relate to your child, these are not the years to share stories with your child about the times you skipped school, cut class, or barely passed sophomore English with a D-minus. Reveal those details after your child graduates from high school.

A new school year is the ideal time to adjust habits and routines that will point children down a path toward educational success. Our job as parents is to provide our children with supplies, space, time, and fuel to complete their assignments. Then, we need to step back and watch the child do the work. Perhaps parenting is one of the few things that can be accurately compared to rocket science. We have given them equipment and snacks, and now the countdown to liftoff has begun. The rest is up to them. It’s time for us to head to the viewing area and watch the launch.

Balancing Life With a Teaching Workload

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by Melissa Face

It’s not unusual for me to trudge out to my car in the afternoon with several bags of papers that need to be graded. I have watched with envy, however, as many other teachers left the building empty-handed, and thought, “What am I doing wrong?”

I know I’m not the most efficient person in the world, but I imagined myself having a more manageable schedule and workload at this point in my career. I regret that I am often unable to indulge in an evening sitcom, read a new book, or go out to dinner.

I regret even more so that I frequently shush my own children when they approach me with something important or ask me to read them a story. “Mommy’s grading essays,” I say. “Come back in a few minutes.” I feel guilty for ignoring my children when I need to grade or plan. I have not achieved what many refer to as a work-life balance, and I have wondered if this concept is even possible in teaching.

On the drive home from a writing conference recently, I explained to a coworker that I sometimes feel I am not doing enough for my students, despite my overwhelming workload. I worry they may not be prepared for the next grade level or for college, but what more can I do when I already spend many of my evenings grading and planning?

“I think you’re being too hard on yourself,” my coworker Patty, said. “Teaching is a job, like any other job. Yes, it’s important, but so is having a personal life.” We then discussed how teachers are often portrayed in movies and that the expectation from society is that we ARE supposed to sacrifice personal relationships and families in order to do all we can for our students. Completely selfless is the way teachers are envisioned, but that should not be our reality.

I admit that I am struggling with my workload and family life, and I doubt that I am alone. So, I spoke with some veteran teachers to gain advice about efficiency and leading a more balanced life. Here is their advice:

 

  1. “Try to get grading done before leaving school so you have quality time at home. I tried to get graded work returned to students in two days. If I didn’t, I couldn’t move on to the next thing.”

-Loretta, Retired English Teacher (33 years of experience)

 

  1. “Pick and choose the things you will grade. I wish I hadn’t graded so many assignments. I’ve had 40 assignments in a quarter before, and it’s way too much. Also, find a place to hide to get a few things done. I usually come in early to get uninterrupted work time.”

-Kristie, Current English and Journalism Teacher (8 years of experience)

 

  1. “When lesson planning, write down all materials needed for projects. Prepare in advance all cutting, paperwork, games, books, and related themed teaching aids. It is difficult to wing it when things start falling apart. Preparation worked for me. If I spent one day working after school, it set me free for the daily trials and unknowns that inevitably happen.”

-Linda, Retired Early Childhood Teacher (39 years of experience)

 

  1. “Work out a strategy for grading small and large scale assignments so they don’t all happen at the same time. To be efficient, I have to use every crevice of the day. This means extreme time management, not getting bogged down by trivial things, and keeping a good calendar and sticking to it. If I have a 10-minute stretch, I tackle a small task and leave more time consuming tasks for my planning period. I try not to plan heavy graded work before holidays and other breaks so that my time with family is not fragmented.”

 

-Sigita, Current English Teacher (16 years of experience)

 

  1. “Work/life balance is a real thing, but it takes conscious effort and is not easy.  Clear planning and clear expectations are key.  As a teacher and a parent, you do not have to be perfect.  Teaching is ultimately about relationships and students need to know that while they are a priority in your teaching day, you have a life outside of being “their teacher”.  While I was learning these lessons as a teacher, my then five-year old precocious son said something to me that stopped me in my tracks. He said, ‘Mom, sometimes I feel that your students get the best part of you, and I am jealous.’ WHOA….that is when my life as a teacher totally changed. I had to re-examine what I was doing in the classroom, how that impacted my family, and then make those changes that made me more effective in the classroom and, more importantly, more effective as a mother.”

-Lisa, Retired English, Theatre, and Speech Teacher (33 years of experience)

 

Perhaps schools should address managing teacher workload as part of new teacher training or even through ongoing staff development. Sharing strategies and experiences is so helpful, and it may reduce teacher burnout and keep quality teachers from moving out of the classroom and into positions that have far less take-home work.

After reading these snippets of advice, I found myself wishing I had posed these questions to experienced teachers years ago. I know I can learn to work more efficiently. I’m grateful that one of the benefits of teaching is that each year we get a clean slate, a chance to do things better, or at least differently.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why I Went Camping

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by Melissa Face

 

“Why do you want to go camping?” my friend Dawn asked.

I thought about the question.

I don’t love camping. I really don’t even like it. My family didn’t camp as a form of vacationing when I was a child; we stayed in hotels like civilized people. Camping is really not something I long to do.

“I don’t want to go camping,” I told her. “But I also really don’t want to miss it.”

Because my husband knows me well and realizes I can get a little grumpy in certain situations, he was wary when I asked to tag along on his family’s annual trip to the Red Wing Roots Music Festival in Mount Solon, VA.

He feigned excitement as the date approached. I have to give him credit: he really appeared happy to have me there. But he and I both knew this trip wasn’t about me. It was about our two kids and giving them the opportunity to spend time with their uncles and cousin. That is why I wanted to go.

When we arrived at the campsite, I had a beer (I like that part of camping) while my husband unpacked. Fortunately, his brother, Bryan, had set up our tent the day before, so Craig’s workload was pretty light.

I looked around at the tents, gas lanterns, cooking equipment, and water filters and I thought, “people spend a ton of money to live the way our ancestors did when they had no other choice.”

I kept my mood positive the first two days. I enjoyed the festival, the variety of food trucks, the beer garden, and family time. I loved staying up late by the campfire and getting as sleepy as possible in hopes that I would be somewhat unaware of the fact that I was sleeping on the ground.

It didn’t work.

I remembered I was on the ground each time I turned over that night. And I turned over many times.

It rained on day three, all day and all night. It was still drizzling at bedtime, and though it was technically dry inside our tent, the dampness permeated the fabric. I felt it everywhere.

It is possible that I was a little grumpy that evening. I may have even suggested going to the nearest hotel. My lousy mood heightened later that night when our car battery died. I wanted Craig to take us home right then in case it died again, wouldn’t recharge, and left us with no choice but to live at the campground for the rest of our lives.

I imagined being stuck at the campsite forever, where I had to walk down a steep, dirt path each time I needed to use the restroom and where I had to go to bed each night on the hard, damp ground.

Day three was miserable. It tested my patience and my ability to remain in a calm, pleasant mood. Others in our group weren’t as bothered by the weather as I was. They are better campers than I am, or perhaps just better people.

So why did I go?

Why did I subject myself to a buggy bathroom, a damp tent, and no air conditioning in the middle of summer?

I did it because of the things I did not want to miss. My life has taught me to not miss the good things, if I can help it.

I didn’t want to miss my son, Evan, holding a flashlight under his chin, trying so hard to tell a spooky story by the campfire, while the rest of us tried not to giggle.

I didn’t want to miss the excitement on Evan’s face when his Uncle Scott took him to the front of the stage because the Steel Wheels were playing Evan’s favorite song.

I didn’t want to miss my sassy daughter, Delaney, telling Uncle Scott he needed to “trim his beard” or watching her laugh until she got the hiccups from pouring water on herself and everyone else during the first hour of the festival.

I didn’t want to miss Evan eating grilled cheese sandwiches from the food truck three days in a row and saying it was the best thing he had ever tasted. I’m not a cook, so I wasn’t the least bit offended by his comment.

I didn’t want to miss witnessing the joy both of my children found in playing with Bryan’s dog, putting twigs on the fire, and gathering rocks…just because.

I didn’t want to miss the ice cream, kettle corn, pizza, s’mores, and doughnuts the size of small tires.

And I really didn’t want to miss dancing with my daughter to “Angel from Montgomery”, holding her close, twirling her around, and relishing in her littlehood.

The discomfort I endured was a small price to pay for what I would have missed if I had passed on this trip.

That is why I went camping. And why I will probably go again.

 

 

Trying to Forget August 8

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by Melissa Face

The day I dread most is on its way.

It is the one day out of the year when it’s impossible for anyone to do the right thing for me. If people don’t acknowledge today as the day my sister died, I will feel slighted, even more than I already do. For most people, it’s just another August day spent swimming, back-to-school shopping, or vacationing. For me, this is the day a downpour and a minivan ruined my family.

This is the day nothing feels tolerable.

As annoyed as I am by people overlooking it, sometimes that is actually the better option.

Let’s say someone does acknowledge this anniversary by sending me a text or Facebook message. They tell me I’m in their thoughts, they know today is difficult, and they are here to talk to me if I need them. Their messages are heartfelt and well-intended.

But what they don’t realize is that this year, I was trying to forget today’s significance. And they just helped me remember.

There are so many things I still remember that I’ve been trying to forget.

I remember the phone call from my mom about a terrible accident. “It’s very bad,” she said. “She didn’t survive it.” I remember calling back and asking for my dad, hoping he would tell me something different, something better.

I remember the rain and how it poured my entire drive from South Carolina to Virginia. I remember that rain was one of the last things she saw before she was taken from us.

I remember the line of people twisting out the doors and around the church at her visitation. I remember smiling and shaking hands with some people I hadn’t seen in years, people I really didn’t need to see and probably wouldn’t have seen again – if my sister hadn’t died.

I remember tomato pie on my parents’ counter, more food than their deep freeze could hold, and not being able to eat a single bite of any of it.

I remember smoking cigarettes, one after another, until my throat burned. I remember half attempts at hiding them, yet not really caring if anyone knew I was a smoker.

I remember picking out a gray suit to wear to her funeral because I didn’t own anything appropriate for the occasion. I hated my funeral suit, and I threw it in the trash a few months following her service.

I also threw away sympathy cards people sent me that were filled with ridiculous and uplifting poetic messages. Hallmark writers don’t know how it feels to lose a 19-year-old sister. No one has accurately captured those emotions on a greeting card.

I remember the look on my dad’s face before I returned to South Carolina. “You’re leaving us, too,” his expression conveyed. “When will we see you again? WILL we see you again?” He hugged me and watched me back out the driveway.

I have no idea what the following days and months were like for my parents. They didn’t have the luxury of leaving town like I did. They were left to face the constant reminders of her room, her clothes, her friends, and the maintenance of her gravestone.

They had to answer the phone when an old boyfriend called to see how her summer was going. He had been away in the military, so he didn’t know. They had to tell him she was dead.

They had to deal with insurance, legal matters, and the disposal of the car in which she died.

I had the privilege of leaving it all behind. I was in a position to try to forget.

But I still remember.

I regret the times I have denied my sister’s existence, even though it stings when others don’t acknowledge her life or her death. Being asked if you have any siblings is a common introductory question, and I don’t have a pleasant, honest response. It’s easier to say that I don’t. The person I’m speaking to doesn’t have to feel awkward or apologetic. And I don’t have to open up a wound that is partially healed.

If I’m being completely honest, some days it doesn’t seem like any healing has taken place. Today is one of those days.

It’s a day I’m trying to forget, and I can’t help but remember.

 

 

 

 

We Love You, Miss Hannigan!

Melissa and the Annie Wig

by Melissa Face

Published in Prairie Times – July 2018 http://www.prairietimes.com/currentissue.pdf

 

I recently woke up from a dream in which I was starring as Miss Hannigan in a local production of the musical Annie. I messaged my friend, Dawn, that morning and told her jokingly that it must be a subconscious hint for a new venture and that maybe I should give acting a try.

A few minutes later, Dawn responded, “I just got in my car to go to lunch, turned on my radio, and Jay Z’s “Hard Knock Life” was playing. No lie.”

“It’s totally a sign!” I wrote back.

“Right? What else could it mean!?”

I don’t have a background in musical theatre. I’m neither an actress nor a singer, unless you count the kitchen productions I’ve starred in to entertain my children while they eat breakfast. But if those do count, I’ve played Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, Roxie from Chicago, Sandy from Grease, and of course, all of the characters from my favorite musical of all time, Annie.

Even though my current audience is comprised of only two members, I don’t hold back. I give them a full show, complete with choreography, props, and all the enthusiasm and stage presence a tired mom can muster. And they’re worth it. They applaud and cheer; I’ve even had a few standing ovations.

My son, Evan, is most complimentary. “Mom, you are a really great performer,” he says. “You need to be in a for real show.”

This kid is the sweetest. And I like to think that he has great taste, but he also tells me I look beautiful in my bath robe. Still, with so many critics in the world, every aspiring actress can use someone like Evan to keep her spirits soaring.

My obsession with Annie is one that stems from childhood. I can recall watching the movie for the first time in complete awe. I was terrified of Punjab, Daddy Warbucks, and Miss Hannigan. Annie, on the other hand, quickly became my idol.

I dressed as Annie for Halloween one year, complete with a blue cardigan, heart locket and a horrible orange wig that I received as a birthday gift. I still have the locket; the wig had to go. I also had an Annie purse, nightgown, lunch box and a few other accessories. I was the ultimate fan.

While it would have been amazing to have played Annie in my younger years, that dream is one that I can no longer entertain. But what about Miss Hannigan? That could still be a possibility.

I can see myself lounging around the house in a silk robe and costume jewelry. Relaxing in the bath tub? You betcha.  Shouting orders at children? I already do that every day! I am the ideal Miss Hannigan!

I do love the idea of starring in a production, but the reality of it is terrifying. I haven’t been onstage since I was a junior in high school. And I’ve certainly never sung onstage.  I would probably forget my lines, sing off-key and eventually pass out from sheer embarrassment.

I’m much more comfortable performing in my own home, with my own small, yet appreciative audience. I crave the applause of tiny hands and the cheers of little voices who simply adore their mother’s version of “Little Girls” and how I change the lyrics to fit the most recent annoying thing my kids have done.

They love my singing and silly accents…for now. The day they stop clapping for me will be the day I seriously entertain the idea of a larger venue and a new audience. I may have no choice but to audition for the role of my favorite female villain. But first, I have to make these kids clean my floors… until they shine “like the top of the Chrysler Building!”