Kids Say the Darndest Things

Enjoy this collection of kid quotes from my work at the daycare and my volunteer work.

Me: Rain, rain, go away!

Kid: Let me tell you something. Flowers need rain to grow, so you shouldn’t sing that.

Me: I went to Wicoff school when I was a kid.

Kid: No! You’re still a kid like us!

Kid: I like to Google pictures sometimes and this one time I googled butt cracks. Don’t EVER google butt cracks.

Kid: How long are you going to stay at this school?

Me: I don’t know. How long are you going to stay?

Kid: I’m going to stay until I’m 28.

Kid: *Runs up to me on playground* I’m here to tell you a story! The story is about..the story is about…I don’t know what the story is about, so bye! *runs off*

Kid: *Cries*

Other kid: What is the reason,Catalina?

Me: *Walks in to room with unicorn horn and tail.*

Kid: You look so stupid

Me: Did you just say I look stupid?

Kid: I said you look so pretty

Administrator to teacher: Teacher appreciation week is going to be like five days of Christmas for you guys.

Kids: *Shrieking in delight* It’s Christmas, It’s Christmas!

Kid: *Cries over fact that she’s been given the last turn on the class iPad*

Other kid: Layla, I’ll switch turns with you.

Me: That was so nice of you!

Kid: *Whispers in my ear* It’s because I know that the person who goes last gets the longest turn!

Teacher: *Yells at kid for misbehavior*

Kid: *Crying* You know I’m not supposed to cry when I have a sore throat!

Me: *Cooing over kid’s baby brother* Hi Dylan! You’re so cute!

Kid: Do you want him?

*Plane flies overhead*

Kid: Obama! I always wanted to meet you!

*Kid draws pictures of her family on board*

Teacher: Does anyone have any questions for Ava?

Kid: Why don’t your sisters have legs?

*Kid at board draws legs on sisters*

Kid to other kid: You really bothered me yesterday but I’m giving you one more chance!

Teacher: You guys are being really loud!

Kid: Yeah, we know.

*Photographer takes picture of kid*

Kid: Is that going to be in the paper?

Teacher to kid: I’m so sad with you!

Kid: So sad!

Me: You need to pull your pants up before you come out of the bathroom.

Kid: *Gazes down at pants* Oh no! I must fix this!

*Kids are gathered in group, staring at a certain girl*

Other kid walking in to room: What are you guys doing?

Kid: *Pointing at the girl* We’re judging her.

Teacher to me: If Adam is still awake at 1:30 take him to the bathroom so he doesn’t pee on his cot.

Kid: Wake me up at 1:30 because I want to go on the potty, not the cottie!

 

Mental Illness in the Workplace

A few weeks ago I called out sick to work and while there was a physical component to my illness, there was also a mental component. But when my boss asked what was wrong, I described only my physical symptoms and didn’t dare mention my mental suffering. The previous night I’d been considering asking for some extended time off of work for mental health reasons, but I found the thought of  doing so terrifying. I feared I would be judged negatively and would lose my job permanently.

When I talked to my mom about it, she cautioned me against telling my employers about my mental illness, because they might think I was crazy and would hurt the children in my care. She suggested I stretch the truth and say I needed time off for “female problems.” I replied that I found the euphemism “female problems”revolting, and would rather just say I was experiencing mental illness. She said that if I was going to do that, I should specify that I had depression, so my employers didn’t assume I had a scary, dangerous mental illness like schizophrenia.

I countered that most people with schizophrenia are not dangerous and do not harm others and I said how frustrating it was that mental illness was not met with the same kind of acceptance and understanding that physical illness is met with. My mother acknowledged that all of that was true, but felt that since the fact is that mental illness is surrounded by misunderstandings and stigma, I would do well to protect myself from the consequences of that stigma.

A few weeks ago a coworker was overcome by headaches and vomiting in the middle of the workday. She told the boss she would have to leave early. I wish it would be as natural and acceptable for me to tell my boss I had to leave because my mind was hurting from all the bad thoughts and feelings I was having as a result of my mental illness, that continuing to work was impossible because I was incapacitated by all the mental vomiting going on within me.

I had to tell my boss I couldn’t stay late one day because I had an appointment. I wish I could have mentioned it was a therapist’s appointment, as freely as I mentioned previous dentist appointments. My bosses are really kind, understanding people, so it’s possible mention of my mental health issues would be met with compassion, understanding and accommodation, but I’m afraid to take the risk.

It’s a moot point for me right now, because I’ve realized not working is worse for my mental health than working is, but I know that’s not the case for everyone and it might not always be the case for me. So many people are suffering in silence.

I don’t think anyone would blame me for being reluctant to discuss my mental illness with my employer or coworkers, but in being too afraid to challenge the status quo regarding mental illness in that respect, I’m part of the problem and I’m reinforcing the vicious circle of stigma and isolation.

Although I started this blog in large part to speak openly about my mental health struggles, since getting a job, I’ve held back, for fear that my employers or co-workers will stumble across it.

At least I have the courage to post this blog. As a wise man once said, courage is not the absence of fear, but the mastery of it .

And I’ve discovered that for me, wellness is not the absence of mental illness, but the mastery of it.

If Children Were Taught About Mental Health

I work at a daycare center where we have weekly educational themes and one of the themes was dental health. I knew this was never going to happen, but as I sat in the assembly listening to the dentist lecturing the children on the importance of maintaining good dental health, I couldn’t help but wish that the school would also have a mental health week. We could have a psychologist come talk to the children about the importance of taking care of our mental health. Just like the dentist was showing diagrams of teeth on the screen, a psychologist could show diagrams of the brain on the screen. Diagrams of the brain actually have been shown on the screen before, but they weren’t shown to the children and they weren’t about mental health. They were about the plasticity of the brain in early childhood, and the resulting power we have as early childhood educators to shape a child’s learning for life.

It’s known that it’s far easier to learn a foreign language if you start learning when you’re a small child. When I see the kids being taught Spanish, I find myself wishing I’d been taught Spanish at that age, because then I’d probably be fluent in it, and that skill would come in handy in my life.

It’s not just academic learning that has a greater impact when imparted early in life either. It’s hoped and believed that if children are exposed to different races, sexual orientations, gender identities, etc, they will be accepting of those marginalized groups and won’t succumb to prejudice or attitudes that perpetuate stigma.

Maybe if kids learned about mental health from an early age, the societal stigma towards mental illness would decrease, and maybe mental illness itself would decrease. Maybe visiting a therapist would be as customary as visiting a dentist, and practicing self care to protect your mental health would be as customary as brushing your teeth to prevent cavities.

Any preschool lesson plan requires an arts and crafts component. I’m not sure what arts and crafts you could do for a mental health lesson plan. Maybe kids could trace little pink brains out of pink construction paper, and then put rain clouds over them to represent depression.

My idea seems crazy, but it’s the crazy ideas that change the world. I want to change the world for crazy people.

Writing Off Writing

I haven’t written much in this blog lately. I’d like to say it’s because I’ve been busy and because I want to save my writing for publication, but while both of those things are true enough, they aren’t exactly valid excuses. If something is important enough to you, you make time for it.

Most places won’t accept writing that’s been published on your blog, but since nothing I write is getting accepted for publication anyway, I might as well just write on my blog (actually, the one piece of mine that did get accepted for publication, was a piece that had been published on my blog before.)

I feel like I’ve gotten a lot of rejections, but I actually haven’t gotten that many, because I haven’t made that many submissions, at least not compared to the amount of submissions most “serious” writers make. I spend more time searching places to submit to than writing things to be submitted. Obviously rejection sucks, but I know that even the best writers can expect to get a lot of rejections. There’s a social media movement where writers make it a goal to get 100 rejections in a year, because if you’re getting that many rejections, that means you’re making a lot of submissions.

I really want a career as a writer, but apparently I lack the drive, dedication, work ethic, time management skills, etc, to make that happen. I was enrolled in an online professional writing certificate program, and I enjoyed it, but I dropped out of it because I was having trouble keeping up with the assignments. I dropped out of online certificate programs in editing and child life for the same reason, so obviously writing is not the only area of my life where I lack drive and dedication.

I realize that no matter how much drive and dedication you have, establishing a career in writing is very difficult, especially in my preferred genre, creative nonfiction. I’ve tried my hand at other types of writing, but the problem is that while I’ve always had the ability to write well, I’ve never had the ability to write quickly, and the kind of writing that can actually make you money, tends to require a certain degree of speed. I have blog pieces that I’ve been intending to write/publish for years, but still haven’t gotten around to finishing or even starting. They’re “old news ” by now but I’d like to publish them anyway. Creative nonfiction tends to be a bit more forgiving in that regard.

If I can’t have a career as a writer, at the very least I want writing to be a hobby that I partake in on a regular basis and occasionally make money off of. I imagine this commitment I’m intending to make to writing more will work out about as well as my previous commitments, but the first step to fixing a problem is admitting that you have one. Whether the bigger problem is that I don’t write enough, or that I want to be a writer in the first place, I’m not sure.

Nothing Gets Better, Even When it Does

For a while I was so ashamed of myself for not having finished college. It was reinforced by questions like “So, are you in school?’ Then I finished college and for a while I was so happy and proud of myself for doing so. Now I just feel bad about not going to grad school. It’s reinforced by questions like “So, are you going back to school?”

For a while I was unemployed and felt so bad about not having a job. It was reinforced by questions like “So, what do you do?” Then I got a job and for a while I was just so happy to be employed. Now I just feel bad about having such a low-paying job and about  working part time. It’s reinforced by questions like “Are you working full time?”, “Do you have an evening job?”

For a while I had no friends and I was so lonely.  It was reinforced by questions  like “So, do you have any plans for the weekend?’ Then I made friends and for a while I was so happy to be socially connected. Now I just feel bad about not having a partner or child. It’s reinforced by questions like “Are you in a relationship?” “Do you have any kids of your own?”

Maybe if I ever get a partner, a child, a master’s degree and a full -time, high paying job, I’ll be completely happy and satisfied with my life and no one will be able to make comments that leave me feeling inadequate. Or maybe I’ll just feel bad that I don’t have a doctorate, a six figure job, two children, or the world’s most attractive partner. Maybe no matter what I accomplish in life, I’ll always find ways in which I’m lacking, ways in which I don’t measure up to expectations. Maybe people will always find ways to question, judge or pity my life circumstances. Maybe true happiness really does come from within.

There’s a quote that says comparison is the death of all joy and the only person you need to be better than is the person you were yesterday. While I often feel I’m not as good as everyone else, I do know without a doubt that I’m a better person than I was in the past. Maybe that is the only thing that truly matters.

A Family Vacation Sans the Family: Part 3

*No one knows what the hell I’m talking about at this point but I figure I might as well finish what I started.*

After a few hours my mother and I arrived at a congregation of houses in the woods and determined that this was where our rental house was located. We drove past a swath of pine trees and an expansive lake with a dock until we came to the house that would be ours for the next few days.

It was a rather charming house with a large foyer and cute little knick knacks for decorations. My personal favorite was the sign that said “Wisconsin State Bird” with a painting of a giant mosquito underneath (although I’m used to vacationing in Florida and the bugs in Wisconsin are nothing compared to what you find in the Sunshine State.) The room I was staying in bore the decor of a little boy (the home owner’s son.) Of course since the turnout for our family vacation was lower than expected, we had some vacant bedrooms. The only real downside of our accommodations was the shoddy internet connection, but I do realize that the purpose of a retreat in the woods is generally not to spend time on the internet.

On the first day my mom’s boyfriend drove down to Wisconsin to meet us but after that it was just the two of us. We sought out hiking trails but there was a surprising lack of them. Finally we found one. It was an uphill trail and at the bottom there was a sign that said “Show off your selfie skills.” I took a picture that proved my selfie skills were quite lacking.

There were a lot of steps to climb to get to the top and it became arduous at times, especially since I still had a cold  (I was also worried that I would drop a snot rocket on one of the steps, causing a hiker to trip and fall to their death) but it was worth it for the view.

Every day at dusk we were treated to a beautiful sunset over the lake that we got to enjoy  from the dock. I feel like at this point, if I was a better writer, I would describe the views of the forest and the lake and the sunset in vivid detail. I would make my readers (if there even are any at this point) feel like they were there and I’d make them marvel at the wonders of nature, but since I’m not that kind of great writer, you’ll just have to take my word for it that the views were spectacular (or I guess I could just post a picture or two.) Okay, spectacular may be overstating it a bit, but I’m judging by the kind of standards I had for a vacation destination like Wisconsin.

The lake was enticing to me. I wanted to go swimming in it and I wanted to go boating in it, but it was too cold to swim and with our rowing skills, my mom and I feared that if we went out on a boat we would never return.

On the day before we left we found a place to go horseback riding. In addition to horses, this farm had other animals such as llamas, goats and dogs. When a dog came up to greet us my mom said she thought it was an Australian shepherd and I said I thought it was a blue heeler. His owner informed us he was an Australian Shepherd /Blue Heeler mix.

The horse I rode was named Leo and the horse my mother rode was named Rowdy. Or maybe it was the other way around. Or maybe I’m misremembering and their names were nothing of the sort. I have no recollection of the name of the guy who led us on the horseback ride through the woods, but I remember he wore a cowboy hat and smoked like a chimney. He was a nice guy, although the anecdotes he shared in the beginning about horses throwing people off their backs didn’t exactly leave me feeling reassured.  The horse I was riding gave me a scare as we crossed from the road to the forest. He started whinnying and trotting quickly and I had this vision of him dashing madly down the highway as I clung helpless to his back for dear life. The tour guide noticed my panic and reassured me that everything was okay-my horse was just trying to catch up with his friends. After that it was all smooth sailing. I mean riding.

In the evenings, after we’d watched the sun set, my mom and I would eat dinner in our cabin, enjoying such delicacies as steak and corn on the cob.  There was a sense of peace and comfort but feelings of wistfulness also permeated the air. As we noticed all the empty chairs around the table and the sofas that had room for several more occupants, we couldn’t help but think of the family vacation that could have been. We couldn’t help but imagine my grandfather sitting there surrounded by all his children and most of his grandchildren, as we told stories and played board games and the sound of our laughter reverberated throughout the cabin.

Since the amount of time we spent in the cabin in Wisconsin ended up being abbreviated  due to the lack of family participation, our stay was over before we knew it. Even after we got back home, we continued to experience sadness over the “family vacation that wasn’t.”

On his nightly phone calls with my mom, it became apparent that my grandfather’s health was declining. I thought of what a shame it was that he wouldn’t have a grand family bonding experience in the woods in his cache of final memories and I knew such an opportunity would never again arise in his lifetime (I suppose if I wanted to put a positive spin on it I could be grateful that I got to spend quality time alone with my mom and we got to strengthen our relationship, but we live alone together so we already spend plenty of time together, and we’ve always had a good relationship.)

Oh well,  at least we tried. And at least I got to see Wisconsin. Now in my mind it’s more than just the cheese state and the state that Hillary should have campaigned in. It’s the site of the family vacation sans the family.

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Reflections on 2018

I was looking at my New Years Resolutions for 2018 and I see that I failed miserably at nine out of ten of them. Yet I consider 2018 to be my most successful year ever.

The one resolution I did keep was to go back to college but I did even better than that. I graduated from college. Doing so well on that resolution was part of the reason I did so poorly on my other resolutions. Who has time to read one book a week and write three blogs a week when they have a bunch of reading and writing to do for school? Maybe people with good time management skills do, but time management has never been my strong suit.

I’m okay with failing at most of my goals this year because I achieved goals I was too afraid to set and wouldn’t have thought possible. I was published in Chicken Soup for the Soul and I got a job at a daycare center. The Chicken Soup for the Soul publication was a dream come true and gave me some real bragging rights. Getting a job at a daycare center probably doesn’t sound very impressive, but for me it was a big deal because I feared I was unemployable.

In addition to my paid work, I’ve gotten involved in some amazing volunteer work. In 2018 I started facilitating support groups for grieving children, providing online educational correspondence to prisoners, and blogging for a tiger sanctuary. I also continued with my ESL teaching and tutoring and my blood donations but unfortunately I fell short of my blood donation goal because my last blood donation of the year was a failed one. The phlebotomists tried so hard to get my blood but their efforts were in vein (I just crack myself up sometimes!)

I’m proud of all my accomplishments and they make me happy, but unfortunately I can’t say I’ve been happy overall. New Years Eve and New Years Day were miserable for me and I shed a lot of tears. I suffer over the things I want but don’t have and don’t know how to get. It’s painful to see all my peers getting married and having kids, while I remain a 33-year-old virgin. While I was happy to become a published author, I feel frustrated over all the writing of mine that gets rejected. While I was happy to get a job, I get upset when I’m unable to perform my job tasks adequately and I’m reprimanded by my co-workers.

The last few months of 2018 were an emotional roller coaster. There were periods where I was hysterical and hospitalization/ECT were considered. Then the next day my outlook would shift and I would feel fine. Sometimes changes in my mood would be precipitated by life events, but I think a lot of it had to do with medication changes and the shift in the seasons/weather.

I often feel worthless and inadequate when I compare myself to other people but I’m trying to live by the mantra that comparison is the death of all joy and the only person you need to be better than is the person you were yesterday. I’m certainly a much better person today than I was “yesterday”. Here’s to becoming an even better person in 2019.  I’m sure 2019 will be a rollercoaster as well. May it have more ups than downs and may impossible yearnings become possible realities.

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A Family Vacation Sans the Family: Part 2

My mom and I flew to Chicago and before we went to see my grandfather in Orion, we spent the night at her boyfriend Paul’s house. In addition to Paul’s company, we enjoyed the company of Paul’s cat Seven and Paul’s assortment of aquarium fish. When I posted a picture of Seven on Facebook and said it was my mom’s boyfriend’s cat, a friend commented that any guy who owns a cat must be a good guy. I tend to agree.

The drive from Chicago to Orion, which we made in our rental car, was about three hours. In the course of our conversation on the journey, my mom revealed that a few years ago she had eaten a box of dog biscuits and enjoyed them. I looked at her like she was crazy.

Along the side of the road she pointed to a large building and said “That’s the mental hospital I went to.”

“You mean the mental hospital you volunteered at in college or were you put in a mental hospital?”

“The mental hospital that I volunteered at. You think I was a patient at a mental hospital?”, my mother replied incredulously.

“Well, I don’t know. You did reveal that you ate dog biscuits…”

I had no desire to eat dog biscuits but about halfway through the journey I did get hungry for human food. We stopped at a rest stop, where my mom handed me a ten dollar bill and headed to the bathroom. I decided to go to Sbarro. The pizza looked good, so I decided to get two slices of it and the breadsticks looked good too, so I got two of those as well, and of course I needed a drink. It ended up being more than ten dollars and I was left in the embarrassing situation of not having enough money to pay for my food.

I called my mother over and she came to my rescue….shouting at me in front of the cashier, “You spent more than ten dollars? How much did you buy, Fatass?!” Of course she just made an embarrassing situation even more embarrassing but perhaps she had a point, since I ended up not being able to eat all the food I got.

Perhaps it was my mom’s turn to be embarrassed when in the homeward stretch of our journey to Orion, she rammed in to another car. The car stopped and when I saw that the man who got out of it was wearing an NRA shirt, I felt nervous but thankfully there was no damage to the car.

Before we arrived, we had to figure out our hospitality arrangements. Uncle Jeff and his wife were staying at my grandfather’s house so there was no room for us there. My mother discussed the situation on the phone with my Uncle Chris. Afterwards she  discussed the conversation she’d had with Chris with my Uncle Jon, who lives with my grandfather. She reported that she’d dropped all kinds of hints to Chris that she wanted him to let us stay at his house (i.e, “I just spent all this money on renting the house in Wisconsin. The last thing I want to do now is spend money on a hotel”) but he hadn’t bitten so we would have to stay at a hotel.

Although I’d never stayed at the hotel we were staying at before, it was familiar to me because it was attached to a Friday’s restaurant we always go to when we visit family. This trip was no exception.

At this dinner the family had some scholastic achievements to talk about. In August my cousin’s wife Lexi had graduated from nursing school and I had graduated from college. At around the same time my Uncle Jeff decided to go back to college. He’s such a dedicated student that he was doing his algebra homework at the restaurant table. I wish I could have helped him, but math is not my strong suit.

Unfortunately there was also some less pleasant conversation around the table, such as political disagreements and my Uncle Chris’s rage over Fridays not having baked potatoes. As for me, I was pretty satisfied with my dinner. I’d gotten my usual Friday’s dish of steak with sides of mashed potatoes and broccoli. For dessert I decided to try something new. I can’t remember the name of the dessert I ordered but it was some kind of S’mores drink that included chocolate and marshmallows. It looked delicious but it was disgusting.

Even more dismaying than the drink was the discovery that I had a cold. Colds in September and colds when you’re on vacation feel especially miserable and unfair.

The next night we celebrated my grandfather’s birthday at Red Lobster. My grandfather has hearing problems and restaurants like Red Lobster are loud, so he didn’t say much of anything and he isn’t smiling in any of the pictures we took that night because he has no fucks left to give when it comes to pictures, but I think the celebration made him happy. Having to pay the bill for everyone at the table did not make my mother happy.

The next morning my Uncle Jeff called the hotel room to ask us to meet the family for breakfast at a diner. He said the specified diner was about fifteen minutes away from our hotel but it ended up being more like forty-five minutes away, which also did not make my mother happy.

After breakfast, it was time for my mother and I to go to Wisconsin.

“Where are you going?” my grandfather asked as we prepared to exit the diner.

“We’re going to the house we rented in Wisconsin”, my mother replied.

“Oh”, my grandfather replied with what seemed like a twinge of sadness and regret.

“It’s not too late for you to come with us. Do you want to come?” my mother asked hopefully.

“No.”

I knew it had been a long shot.

My mother and I said goodbye to the family, got in to our rental car, and headed to Wisconsin.

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A Family Vacation, Sans the Family: Part 1

I was hoping to go somewhere really awesome this summer. Iceland was my first choice. For a while it looked like Iceland might be a possibility, but then it became apparent that due to financial constraints and academic obligations, it just wasn’t feasible.

My mother suggested a family vacation at a cabin in the woods somewhere in the midwest. at the end of September. In this case the family would include me, my mother, my grandfather, my mother’s three brothers-Uncle Jon, Uncle Jeff and Uncle Chris-and my aunt, Ana Claudia. It wouldn’t be the most exciting vacation, but we would all be together as a family, and that was the most important thing.

The problem would be convincing my grandfather to go. At this point in his life he is not very adventurous, and not very open to travel. When my mother asked him if he would like to go on a family vacation in a cabin in the woods, as predicted, he said no way, but my mom was not ready to give up. She decided to try to convince my uncles to go on the vacation, and then convince them to force my grandfather to come with them.

I don’t want you to think that my mother wanted my grandfather to be dragged in to the car kicking and screaming, or that she was advocating the use of restraints or handcuffs. My grandfather lives with my Uncle Jon and he lives not far from my Uncle Chris. He relies on them for transportation, food and companionship. My mother figured that if my  uncles told my grandfather they were off to a cabin in the woods for a week and then jumped in the car, my grandfather would have no choice but to jump in the car after them.

My mother talked the situation over with my uncles for a while, did some internet research, and then presented them with a few options for our vacation destination. Eventually they decided on a lakefront house in Wisconsin. The house was beautiful and spacious, as was the surrounding area. It allowed dogs, so my grandfather’s dog, Riley, and my Uncle Chris’s dog, Lola would be able to accompany us. My uncles agreed to go and to make my grandfather go. My mother made the reservations and the payment.

Meanwhile, visions of us all spending quality family time together danced in her head. She pictured us playing board games together, watching TV together, and chatting late in to the night. It would be a vacation and then a memory, that all of us, especially my grandfather, would treasure.

This vision sounded nice to me, but I was careful not to get too attached to it. I know that life, especially life in my family, often doesn’t work out as planned. My mother had had a similarly idyllic vision for our move to the house across the street from Uncle Chris a few years ago and that had been a total disaster. So much so, that we moved back a month later.  Furthermore, I did not think it was a good idea to plan a vacation that included my grandfather without his consent.

About a week before the appointed vacation time, my Uncle Jon announced that my grandfather really did not want to go to the cabin in Wisconsin and he was not going to force him (it was pretty clear that he himself didn’t really want to go either.) My mother tried to convince my grandfather to come, but her efforts were in vain. It was too late to get a refund on the reservations.

My mother lamented the situation she found herself in and questioned how her family could do this to her. I hated to say “I told you so” but…oh, who am I kidding, I enjoyed saying I told her so. “There’s no way you could have possibly foreseen this outcome”, I uttered sarcastically.

I, for one, was falling over in unsurprise at how things had turned out. In fact, I would have been more surprised if everyone had happily agreed to my mother’s vacation idea and kept their promises.

The beginning of the planned vacation coincided with my grandfather’s 92nd birthday. We wanted to spend time with him but we didn’t want to entirely lose out on our investment in the cabin in the woods. We decided that instead of immediately going to Wisconsin, we would go to Illinois first and spend a few days with my grandfather and family. Then she and I would drive to Wisconsin by ourselves.

On Voting in the Midterms at my Elementary School

On the morning of November 6th, 2018, it is raining heavily. This is a disappointment to me, because I have a mission to complete that day and I want to complete it as soon as possible. I also can’t help but fear that this terrible weather is a harbinger of a terrible outcome at the end of the day. On the other hand, the day of the last major election had started out beautiful and sunny, but had ended in disaster. The heavy rain the following day had reflected the overall mood of the nation.

Finally, at around 2pm the rain starts to let up. I put on a rain slicker, and walk out among the puddles and fallen leaves. It’s time for me to vote.

The path I’m walking is a familiar one. My destination is a place I have been to many times before, a place where I spent many days of my childhood. Yet it has been many years since I’ve set foot in the building.

I can’t help but question the wisdom of allowing the public to vote at an elementary school while school is in session. Ten years ago I wouldn’t have thought twice about such a practice, but a spate of national tragedies has made me see things in a horrifying new light. As I walk to my former elementary school to vote, I don’t know that the next day there will be a mass shooting at a bar in California, but if I’d been told that then I would not have been surprised. Mass shootings have become commonplace and expected. Our country has a major gun problem but most of the politicians in power won’t do anything about it. I wrote to a state representative about gun control earlier in the year and was pleasantly surprised to a get a response. I hope to vote for candidates who will advocate for gun control.

As the stone face of my elementary school comes in to view, so does the tiny Special Services building, which served as the town’s library when I was a small child. I made use of special services all through elementary school and beyond. When I entered Kindergarten, I had a diagnosis of elective mutism. That meant I could talk, and I often did talk with people I knew and was comfortable with, but with strangers or people I wasn’t comfortable with, I would remain silent or near-silent.

It is not lost on me that elective has the same root word as election, that as an adult I am going to symbolically make my voice heard at a place where as a child I often refused to literally make my voice heard.

I follow the signs pointing to the polling location and realize I am standing in back of my first grade classroom. The sign plastered on the window of my first grade classroom says “Vote Here” in English, Spanish and Chinese. Gazing in to the window, I can see the students sitting at their desks. I can’t help but remember that in 2012 a man walked in to a first grade classroom with a gun and murdered 20 children.

While some people have only blurred or faded memories of elementary school, mine are quite vivid. Wicoff School holds a special place in my heart, and I have many fond memories of it, but I also have some bad memories. The worst memories relate to complications from my elective mutism. They relate to times when I was too afraid to speak up for myself, to defend myself, to advocate for my basic needs.

That cluster of desks in my first grade classroom evokes memories of the little girls who sat at the desks that bordered mine, accusing me of cheating on my spelling test by copying their answers. Rather than accusing me directly, they complained about me amongst themselves and within my earshot. I wasn’t really cheating on my spelling test. I had no need to, as spelling was my strong suit, but rather than tell my classmates this, rather than defend my honor, I sat in silence, my head pressed down close to my paper, tears pooling in my eyes.

One time, in first grade music class, I had to go to the bathroom really badly, but I was too afraid to ask the teacher if I could leave the classroom. Finally, after about half an hour had passed, I stood up in front of the class and said I had to use the toilet. The words had barely left my mouth when a stream of urine trickled down down my jeans and gathered in a puddle on the music room floor. I had peed my pants in front of the whole class. I had waited until it was too late to make my voice heard.

****

When I was in Kindergarten, my father became a U.S. citizen. He had immigrated to the U.S. from Romania a few years before I was born. When he achieved his citizenship, my family threw a citizenship party for him in our home, which was located across the street from my elementary school. My father still lives in that house and I visit him frequently, so the elementary school is often on my radar. I see and hear the children playing and shouting on the playground.

My father’s citizenship party included red, white and blue streamers, miniature American flags and a cake that said “Congratulations.” My godmother composed a song about my father’s immigration journey and serenaded him as she played her guitar. I got the impression immigration was something to be celebrated.

In third grade my class went on a field trip to Ellis Island. I proudly pointed out the names of my father and sister on the wall of immigration and I traced over a sketching of them with a pencil and notebook paper. Of those children in my class who had a relative on the wall, none of them had a relative closer than a grandparent, but there I was with a parent and sibling on the wall. I got the impression that immigrants were welcomed in this country with open arms.

The public discourse on immigration has changed now. The president of our country ran on an anti-immigration platform, and he regularly flings vitriol at immigrants. The immigration wall in this country that gets the most coverage is the hypothetical one, which is being proposed to keep immigrants out. As his presidency progresses, the president’s rhetoric against immigrants becomes more brazen and outrageous. Now he’s proposing an end to birthright citizenship, meaning babies born on American soil to immigrant parents who are not American citizens would not be considered American citizens themselves.

I know that Trump’s ire toward immigrants and their families is really only directed at those with dark skin, so people like my father and I are ostensibly safe from its ramifications, at least for now. The Latin American immigrants who I teach ESL to are not so lucky. I hope to vote for candidates who will advocate for immigrants and push back against anti-immigrant policies.

***

I did not vote in the 2008 presidential election, because I was locked up in a mental hospital. By the time I left Wicoff School, I’d shed my diagnosis of elective mutism and learned to talk to strangers but throughout my life, I would be plagued by all kinds of developmental and mental health problems. In 2008 my mental health was at its absolute worst.

“Obama’s going to lose by one vote,” my mom joked, as she visited me in the mental hospital on election night.

Another diagnosis had recently been added to the litany of diagnoses I’d received throughout my lifetime: schizoaffective disorder. My behavior had become so bizarre, that doctors assumed I must be experiencing hallucinations and delusions. I was not. My behavior was a reaction to mental anguish that I could not voice.

The doctors asked my mother if she wanted to become my legal guardian. My mother elected not to do that, but if she had, my right to vote may have been taken away.

***

When I was in elementary school, I had no way of knowing what the world would be like once I reached adulthood. I had no way of knowing that an invention called Facebook would allow me to reconnect with some of my classmates and teachers from elementary school. I had no way of knowing that the day of the 2018 midterm elections, Facebook would also allow me to have an argument with strangers over the importance of voting.

I had no way of knowing that one day my country would elect a president who had less maturity and self-awareness than most of my elementary school classmates and who displayed behavior that would not be tolerated at my elementary school. I had no way of knowing that one day I would see my country threatened by a mainstream agenda that went against all the morals, values, and even the science I was learning in elementary school. I had no way of knowing that one day I would return to my elementary school to vote.

As I step in to the voting booth and use my fingers to light up a vertical row of X’s in the column that says Democrat, I have no way of knowing how the midterm election is going to turn out. But I’m glad I’ve made my voice heard.

Image may contain: Kira Popescu, smiling