This year will be different

I spent the first day of school on an international flight from Munich, where I attended the most spectacular wedding I will ever experience. I’m so glad my nephew married a German girl so that I could visit that Bavarian city and get a taste for lederhosen and dirndls, bier gartens and trains that run on time. This is the first time in 16 years I’ve missed the first day of school and it was well worth it.

The reality check came when students showed up this morning expecting something from me and I could barely remember how to turn on the smart board. As an ESOL teacher I get to know my students pretty well from year to year. The best part is seeing last year’s students after a long summer. They look a little older, a little more relaxed and happy to be back. M.B. told me she spent six weeks in summer school, has passed all her exams and is proud to be a senior. Finally. She gave me a hug. I love the nervous smiles of the new kids in each class, the posturing of the familiar faces back for a second (or third) year of Ms. Sullivan. Poor things! And I love the excited wishes and goals that each student brings at the beginning of a new school year.

What’s going to make this year truly memorable is that I will be teaching Honors English 12 for the first time. And what happened today leaves me feeling both nervous and thrilled at the same time. First of all, they asked me how the wedding was. That means they read my letter to them. Second, most had completed the homework assignment and written a letter back to me! A couple of students even asked how to turn it in online! They were already ahead of me. (They don’t get their new passwords until tomorrow.) I quickly calculated the rapid succession of successful events that must have taken place, and I stood with my mouth agape. Or maybe it was jet lag. Not one of the 29 students asked to go to the bathroom. Wow, I thought to myself. This year is going to be a really different experience for me.

Don’t get me wrong – I love teaching ESOL. But after so many years, it’ll be a welcome challenge to work with students who already know the culture, whose language skills are developed and who understand the idiomatic expressions in my lame puns. I shared some of my hopes and goals with them and I can’t wait to read about theirs. I hope to learn from them as much as they learn from me. I have high expectations for all my students, but today I realize that these Honors students will also have high expectations for me. This is the best kind of challenge to come back to. Each of us will work hard because those around us are motivated by the same thing. Seniors. Who are motivated. This year will be different and better because of my students.

It’s hard to believe I was in Munich yesterday morning. Now can I go to sleep? Gute Nacht!


How to get over your mid-life crisis

Last week my midlife crisis ended. Just like that, from one day to the next. It was ushered out with great fanfare while I was surrounded by friends and family at a Mexican restaurant in New York City. Everyone toasted to my health, we drank margaritas, ate delicious burritos and fajitas and took lots of photos. I particularly like the one of me in an enormous black and gold sombrero blowing out the single candle stuck into a small lump of flan. People came out of nowhere and started singing and clapping. The next morning I woke up and my midlife crisis was gone.

You may have figured out that it was my birthday. And the reason my midlife crisis is gone is that I am no longer middle aged. Last week I celebrated my 60th birthday and (to misappropriate Sartre) I have entered the infancy of old age. I’m trying to digest the fact that I am now old. I continue to fret about health issues, my career, my marriage & family, and the long bucket list of things to do while I still can. But it’s different now. I feel like a huge burden has been lifted. Being 60 makes me feel free to do what I want without apologizing. Skip dinner to keep working on my memoir? Sure. Head off to the beach for the weekend with a good friend from college? Why not? Buy a $200 pair of shoes? I’ve worked hard for my money, and I can finally spend it on a luxury item. I’m fortunate that my husband is supportive of my pursuits. We’ve weathered the middle-aged storm together and, like victims of a flood or fire, we’re looking around for the best of what we had together to take into the future. Most of what we had is good, and now we can leave behind what wasn’t.

After a lifetime spent fulfilling other people’s expectations, my time has finally arrived. I no longer feel guilty about going in my own direction, sometimes alone, sometimes with others. I no longer have patience for people and situations that drain my energy and make me doubt myself. I am grateful to be surrounded by good colleagues, caring neighbors, and friends and family to help me take the baby steps into old age. Just as new parents coo and clap when their baby learns a new skill, my social network is cheering me on, sometimes literally – as they did at the Mexican restaurant. I know it’s a cliché but “we’re not getting older, we’re getting better” is really true.

My advice on how to end your midlife crisis is this: find people who support your crazy ideas and reach out to them as often as possible. Stop focusing on your imperfections and start taking steps toward one goal on your bucket list. For me, my goal was finishing my memoir and taking it to New York to try to find a literary agent. I pitched it to eight agents at a conference, and all of them would like to see my manuscript. I think good things come to those who are plodders. I’ve worked on this book for nearly five years while teaching full time, coaching a rowing team and raising two children. Writing was always a secret passion of mine, and now I’ve got a finished book and a blog where I can write whatever I want. Maybe somebody will read it and be inspired.

Just as an infant takes baby steps before learning to walk, I am taking baby steps into publishing. I’ve kept a diary or journal all my life. It’s a new experience to share my thoughts and opinions with others. I am thrilled to realize the power of my words. I’ve had a lifetime of hiding my truth because I didn’t think anybody would be interested. What turning 60 has taught me is not to be afraid of being judged by others. I have something to say and I’m putting it out there. I don’t expect singing and clapping, but I’m kind of enjoying this second childhood.

“I wrote in order to write. I don’t regret it; had I been read, I would have tried to please. I would have become a wonder again. Being clandestine I was true.”

– Jean Paul Sartre


Why ignore champion women rowers?

While most of America is focused on the darling gymnasts and the freakishly talented swimmers from my great state of Maryland, there’s almost no coverage of America’s greatest athletic success story: the U.S. women’s rowing team! For 10 years the women’s coxed Eight has dominated international competition. In this this wonderful New York magazine article there’s a complete story about their wins. But there’s almost no coverage of their phenomenal racing during the Olympics. What gives? Is this more of the sexism that’s been on display? Like the Chicago Tribune story that, instead of reporting on the Bronze Medal winner’s success, mentioned her only as the wife of a Bears football player.

I’m proud to be a long-time member of U.S. Rowing. I’m old enough to remember when it was the National Association of Amateur Oarsmen, but fortunately that name changed as more and more women poured into boathouses and insisted on equal treatment. Why hasn’t the coverage of women’s sports on network TV kept up with the times? Is it because they’re not wearing sparkly outfits? Come on, NBC, you can do better!

Speaking of outfits: one of my coaches participated in the 1976 Olympics, the very first one that allowed women to compete in rowing. In one way, we’ve come pretty far: she told us that their uniforms for the Opening Ceremony consisted of a purse and a hysterically funny and anachronistic undergarment – a girdle! Can you imagine asking Olympic rowers to wear something designed to hold in a fat stomach?! It makes me angry to think that our news coverage hasn’t gotten much past this era.

I am so proud to be part of a sport that offers such powerful, confident women a chance to compete and dominate on the world stage. I know that they don’t look anything like me – or like most Americans, for that matter – but they are my heroes. I have some idea what it takes to get to their level (and I don’t mean height), and I wish that they were getting the respect that they deserve.

So here’s to Katelin Snyder, Amanda Elmore, Eleanor Logan, Meghan Musnicki, Tessa Gobbo, Lauren Schmetterling, Emily Regan, Kerry Simonds, and Amanda Polk.