On Public Speaking

Sweet

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Mr. Bluestone’s Class, seventh grade

The first time I had to speak publicly was in seventh grade in front of my science teacher, Mr. Bluestone and the class. I remember I did it on the TWA 747 and I practiced for hours and hours, for days, weeks. My dad, who worked at TWA at the time, brought home a 747 model jet for me to use. I practiced my speech on my dad endlessly and he was patient and kind.

I remember being in the class, Mr. Bluestone first asked for volunteers and he said, if no one wanted to volunteer he would just pick randomly. The classroom was absolutely quiet, albeit the sound of us all breathing nervously.

All of a sudden, my hand shot up and I decided to volunteer and “get it over with” basically my philosophy in life now as a grown-up.

I went to the front of the class and to the podium, I had practiced so much that the information was like that of a soothing lullaby sung by a mother to her newborn. I finished my presentation, showed my TWA model and finished speaking. There was silence in the room until Mr. Bluestone stood up and said to the class:” well, well, well.” Now, I was frightened. He continued to say that “by being first I had set the bar really high and that other presentations would be compared to mine.” I got an A plus and it gave me the confidence throughout my life to know I can do it; know your material really, really well, find your confidence and strength and speak. Jump at the chance to go first,  you can do it and you can do it really, really well.

Dedicated to Mr. Stuart or Stewart Bluestone, wherever you are.

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The Moment ( HS Graduation 2011)

Cap Toss

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I never knew how high and wide the big white High School graduation tent was until I stood under it. I didn’t realize how massive it was until I wandered through it.  I walked through the aisles under the tent saying “Hi” and “Congratulations” to people I hadn’t seen in years.

I didn’t know how I would react when my son’s name was read over the microphone yet instinctively we stood and clapped and cheered and roared. I saw a young man walk back to his seat in slow motion; I didn’t realize it was my son; his face  looked so grown up. Teenagers age, I think,  once they put on their High School graduation caps and gowns; he looked six inches taller and six years older too.

It’s all a blur, the speeches and the people you smile at, familiar faces that you have seen in elementary school recitals or a middle-school play. The friends that you hug warmly are the best, closest friends that you have, that you have talked to all year, day in and day out, wondering anxiously if you and your child would ever make it to this grand day. We hold on to each other for an extra minute, sharing this surreal moment, not believing we are actually, finally, here.

They officials on the podium made an announcement to please refrain from clapping until all the students names have been read. Yeah, right. I felt sorry for the first few kids whose last name started with “A.” Those parents were very well-behaved; it just took one family to start…  There were further instructions from the podium to NOT clap for each student so I felt perfectly justified playing my silly game of selection. I did NOT clap for the kids that had ever been especially mean to my son (starting with kindergarten through 12th) and for the mean-spirited moms, dads and kids that everyone knew, were the culprits of spreading ill-will. It was like a silent victory lap for moms and dads; besides we all did the same thing.

I was proud of my self-control, all my sadness, tears, and sobbing began months before the actual event. On the day of graduation I smiled and laughed and was so proud of my son and the amazing young man he has turned out to be.  I was also filled with pride when his three best friends names were called, we shouted and clapped for each one. I will, undoubtedly, miss my son when he leaves for college but also, I will miss his friends, “the posse” as I called them or “The Entourage.” I have no doubt that they will see each other when they come home from college, but this long, lovely chapter of best friends and video games, parties, dinners, dates and diners has ended. I will miss that and my special group of “The Moms.”

Just when I thought the ceremony was over, the President of the High School, told the students that they had officially  graduated. The blue caps were flung in the air with unbridled joy and excitement. There was a deafening roar from the students and all my self-control evaporated in that moment; I burst out crying. It was so emotionally intense; it was captured in my mind and heart forever.

The graduates beamed so much that it looked like they were lit up from inside with joy and pride.  They were shining, like new copper pots or brand new pennies, excitement dancing in their eyes. Congratulations to my son and to all his friends and classmates; Congratulations to the Class of 2011!

It’s Time To Skip, Again

My 2 children spontaneously hold hands and joy...

Fear: I know your name and how you make me feel. My fingers are deep in the inner pocket of my blue fleece jacket rubbing my thumb and forefinger over the soft texture again and again. It is part of my life and everyone’s life at some point. It takes a long time to get over it but eventually you have to and you do. It is like a lazy turtle hiding in its thick green shell and only slowly, with caution, it sticks it’s leery head out and barely looks left and right. It retreats, yes, we all do but we do come out again. Maybe it’s a little easier the next time.

Life is like that, everyone can be terrified at some point and it took me years to accept that it wasn’t just me. I am still cautious, I still get those annoying, tight anxiety strings that pull and tug until they think they can wear me down. I try to push back but sometimes I fail and that is alright. There are solutions because we cannot handle everything ourselves. We need other people or we need medicine or we need to write down our fears or do a collage to rid ourselves of the scary lion, in our minds, attacking its innocent prey. Sometimes, we need to force ourselves to jump or to take a baby step or to skip like when we were innocent children. Remember the feeling of skipping down the street with your best friend? Pure joy and innocence and no fear whatsoever. Maybe we can still be that person once in a while.

It is alright to make mistakes and to make them all over again. Some lessons are hard to learn but not impossible. I know that I feel that too. Some people hide it better than others, some quake, some sweat, some can’t speak for a moment but eventually you find your OWN path. Don’t think it’s just you because it isn’t. I promise. Think of someone who you think has absolutely no fear and then think again. Everyone feels frightened some time in their life. There are some of us that wear our hearts on our sleeves, like me. You can notice my feelings on my face ten feet away, at least some people can; others, don’t notice a thing.

Sometimes I have to play a game. You can play it too. Plaster a great big fake smile on your face and pretend you are absolutely confident. Once my college teacher called it “the confidence game” and I needed it as much as anyone else. It takes time to master it but give it a chance. You might be happily surprised.

“What if I fail?” asks the nervous me. “What if I made a really big mistake?”  I wept to one of my son’s teachers when he was in first grade, “Stand in line, she said “do you think you’re the first one to make a mistake?”  To me it seemed colossal and I did fret with worry but it made me think. My son is now eighteen and I still think of her words, I can picture the teacher’s red hair and the tears on my face streaming down like a small but steady waterfall. When I finally stopped weeping and gave her a hug, I left feeling a tiny bit better. As years went by I always remembered that and now I give other people the same advice I was given. It is okay to make mistakes, everyone does.

If I had any failures in my life most of them were because I was “scared to try.”  I look back at my life and think it might have been really healthy to have been fired once or twice, or scolded and reprimanded instead of TRYING to be the perfect me. My one badge of pride is that I did not pass on my own fears to my children. For this, and this alone, I have succeeded in a spectacular way. I have also forgiven myself for the mistakes I have made, because the decisions I made at the time seemed right. Now, knowing more and being older if I try really hard, I can make different choices. Not always, but sometimes and that’s perfectly good enough.

Buying Yodels For My Family Is A Big Fat Lie

Yodels

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The year of tension and excitement and dread is upon us. We have a Junior in High School and  Senior in High School at the same time. I get mixed up when I write a check, is it for the PSAT? Senior dues?  Homecoming? Does my daughter have driver’s ed the same time she is babysitting twice a week or will that work out? Will my son and husband’s EMT class conflict with my son’s attention to applying for college? How will he get all his homework done? How will my daughter do all these things at the same time?

Our guidance counselor is on medical leave and I do feel bad for anyone who is sick. But, to my own chagrin when we heard the announcement my husband and I both thought: “What about our kids?” They are in their Junior and Senior year and they have no guidance counselor. It was totally selfish and somewhat unkind but it is reality.  I’m sure they will figure out things at the High School but becoming one of  “those parents” was totally disheartening and disturbing.  It wasn’t right, it wasn’t nice but it I admit it, it crossed our minds.

Tonight, we thought we had our son’s Senior essay all set (and since when do the parents have to do the work and write an essay?).  We wrote a beautiful, succinct paragraph that truly summed up his character and learning style. All was fine until I heard people wrote pages. Not one page but two or three, one parent wrote five. Granted, this is a bit much but I had the horrible feeling that we had done too little. So, after calling friends, taking polls and freaking out, I tried to expand his essay and elaborate so we will have at least another paragraph, two if they are small.

This added news sent me into a frenzy. I panicked, I stressed out and of course, I ate. I went straight to the kitchen where a lone pack of Yodels sat in their pretty white box with blue and orange trim. They were basically begging for me to eat them. What could I do?  I ripped that cellophane pack into shreds within two seconds, and ate them as I was climbing, with pain and soreness, upstairs to the bedroom. I literally stuffed them into my mouth. Sure, I ate them one at a time but I did not linger, I did not sit down leisurely and peel the chocolate, I just ate them.  I didn’t even ENJOY them. That, my friends is stressful eating. Next time I go grocery shopping, I cannot kid myself that buying the Yodels was an altruistic act for my children.

I can tell I am overwhelmed because my jaw has stiffened and my TMJ hurts. I am trying to relax but I can’t. There is so much going on now that I can’t even “breathe” myself down. If Yodels didn’t help, nothing will.  This is not good for my auto-immune disease or my fibromyalgia because I think the stress makes the symptoms worse. I am in pain and I am very tense and my body hurts in places it shouldn’t hurt. Even if I slow my body down, my mind (probably still from the aforementioned Prednisone) will not. I just can’t stay up much longer, I’m tired and need to sleep. For a person who never procrastinates I am thankful for one extra day. One last day to finish all the things left to do, retype the essay, clean the house, do laundry, go to pick up a prescription and most importantly, not eat Yodels.