Beginnings, culture, know thyself, parenting overseas, S-bee, vocation

Thar be dragons

It is December.  I am not in the Dutch Caribbean, there will be no returning there.

I couldn’t be more ok with this fact.

And so, I made the road by walking, and, in confidence, and unlike other ventures, this one lead us back home sooner than expected.  And there is not the ever so slightest crumb of remorse or regret.  Each decision was made with deliberation, with weighing and carefully considering all the real and potential;  the red flags, the “wow, that would be cool,” bonuses and the reality of what I woke and did every day, and how that would play out in the long run.

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Most proud, I am, that I had the courage to make the hard choice of saying no to what I could see was a SNAFU situation.  In the past, I have not had that courage, and I have endured the unacceptable, I have persevered through that which left me forever different, but maybe not in the way that was best.  I could tell stories of harassment, toxic workplaces, unwanted advances and watching co-workers day-trade, sell and take drugs or steal on the job… and let it roll off (as best as I could).  It’s not even hard to think of ridiculous circumstances I have tolerated.  But this time, I said “No.”, and it was the right thing to do.

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One of my favoritest and sweetest and most needing students wrote this the day I left. It says “Bye Ms. Heather,” with his Spanish native language phonetics.

Behind me are some wonderful people I met there, ones who saw what I walked into, ones who sussed my character and motivations, ones who knew the backstory and every day expressed concern.  Co-workers who wondered out loud what the decision-makers could have been thinking, who inquired if I was okay, who asked how it could ever work out and expressed concern for my handling of the case before me.  When I departed I was hugged and kissed and delivered to the airport with grief, understanding and mutual admiration.

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This energetic, intelligent student wanted me to share his gymnastic feat so I got a picture of him to share with his mom.

Was there a failure of creative problem solving?  Yes, but not on my part.  Was there massaged truths and misrepresented circumstances?  Yes, and they were of the variety I have handled before.  Was there dear little children and families in the balance?  Yes, and they may be better off with the light shone on the mess after my departure. Was I brought in to be a savior to a situation that I had no impact to change?  Yes.  A situation of questionable management?  Yes.  Were there good actors, hard workers and amazing families?  So much yes.

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It was speculated that our leave-taking was caused by the intensity of the sun, but any international teacher knows that one just decides to like the place before they even arrive. Whether the place is liked or not just can’t be left up to the whimsy of chance.

My motivation for the trip was professional.  My reason for leaving was also professional.  We had settled in with a lovely apartment, a pool, a car, begun the school year and for over a month, daily ended the day with an unrelenting stress having to do with a situation I did all I could to insure against, and ultimately curtail and turn around.  Were it only me on the trip, I would have very possibly kept at it, but with my children in tow, it had turned into the very situation I had most wanted to avoid because I recognized it to be beyond my place to change.

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The degree of settling in I did revealed my every intent to stay and make the best of the situation– the mess of which left me not sure of where even to begin to de-escalate.

Teaching overseas will always bring challenge, it is part of the immediate excitement, particularly in the initial stages.  Sometimes, part of the challenge is being dropped into a role that simply no one else will do, either because it is futile or for a whole host of other reasons.  I have taken those roles previously, and endured.  My two year teaching stint in Russia was precisely this way, and while I may have daydreamed of other options, my feet were firmly planted and I wasn’t going anywhere.  Same in China, where I was asked to require more of the students I was given than any 7th grader should be asked.  I lost a bunch of weight, worked my behind off and got it done.  But now, mid-career-almost 20 years of teaching under my belt, with children coming along with me, to pretend there weren’t considerations beyond myself would be obtuse.

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This little lady was a champ to end all champs. She saw that I was struggling and wrote me encouraging notes, hugged me and ate lunch with me in the middle of the day, and did the best I have ever seen in stretching herself and being brave in a new place. I am very proud of her.

 

I hear “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” but families who follow into those situations causes one to question the old adage and how far its wisdom can go.  There may be unspoken judgements ascribing insufficiency to my capacity or character, but I know otherwise.  I am proud to have been courageous enough to evaluate the benefits and costs of persevering in the circumstance that I had been cornered into, and I am grateful that my partner stood behind me when I said “Not under these circumstances,”

 

Beginnings, know thyself, parenting overseas, vocation

Surfing, trails and hearts

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Sometimes in life we make big, daring choices.  We dream big dreams.  We ride the very crest of our own learning curve, pushing ourselves and maybe those around us a little in the process.  Like a surfer balanced on the tip edge of a wave, using only luck, skill and practice to keep afloat and not get swallowed up, we lean into this gift we have to live.

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The Dutch Caribbean experience I embarked on was a little like this.  Challenging myself with Montessori curriculum and method I hadn’t previously used and was still learning,  taking on an age group in a way that I hadn’t previously, going to a new country, a new school, a new culture, a new job and bringing my amazing 9-year old along for the ride, leaving family and network of people and coping tools back home was the crest of the wave for me.  Even if everything went as smoothly as could be, it still would be a leading tip of the wave challenge.  I was ready, all in. A racehorse at the gate.  I understood each area that I would be learning.  The school, the staff, the kids, the families were all kind and supportive.  My daughter was brave and courageous every day.  My husband worked hard to support me in this foray, and my family too.  I knew it would be hard, I knew that it was a challenge up.

What could go wrong?

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Using the metaphor of backpacking, I carried an unusually heavy pack of learning.  Additionally I had people following behind me, relying on my lead.  Understanding that, I was ready and met that challenge.  I had agreed to one high challenge experience, and was given an even more challenging one.  At my peak level of challenge, I was given a challenge I would never have chosen with a crew of 30 following behind… all while watching my support network slowly step backward.  I can give only this pixelated view because it is sensitive.  Each time I evaluate what happened, I come up only with no regrets for any of it, grief that the situation ended as it did, but not regrets.

The challenge had been chosen carefully, and I knew the limits of my own capacity.  At a certain point, it became clear that the additional weight I was handed was beyond reasonableness.  It wasn’t just me hitting the bumps on my tuccus, my husband would grow weary of being leaned on, my daughter would deal with me shutting down each evening or watching me struggle as I coped without my usual support networks, the children would receive a teacher that was unable to bring her best because so much of my energy would be spent dodging attacks or coping with trail slides.  I bit off as much as I could chew and then more was heaped on my plate.brown

It is no news to those who know me:  resilient yes, also a soft heart.  I have made choices that work with my strengths.  There are no regrets.

This morning I received tandem emails: one that slammed a door shut and another expressing encouragement, support and positivity.

For my choices, they were well-considered.  I have no regrets.

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culture, island culture, language acquisition, montessori, parenting overseas, photography, S-bee, Uncategorized

Arriving

The title makes it sound basic…

But arriving to where I am this evening with the fan palm fronds crashing together at the whim of the tropical trade winds has been anything but basic.  I have been planning some semblance of this since about 1996 as a college graduate:  to work in an international school in South America.

This goal has centered me when my ship was tossed on the waves, has been given up as unrealistic and caught again through persistent daydreaming, and has been delayed because sometimes it’s more important to be present in the lives of others.  My goal has been at times the reason to wake up the next morning, the reason to persevere, the reason for hope and a compass to help me understand who I was and where I was going.

Studying Spanish and Applied Linguistics, professional choices, personal choices, financial choices were all held to the degree to which they would facilitate or postpone the desire to bring the family with to live in a community entirely apart from the small world of bedroom community America.

For the next couple years I will be a guide in a lower elementary Montessori in the Dutch Caribbean.

Now that I am here, what will be?