Category Archives: That’s Life (not the magazine)

The Dog Days of Summer



I’ve been chewing on this one for awhile.

And I say chewing because right now, I feel like my mouthy 4 1/2 month old puppy and I are sharing parallel lives. Pathetic you may be thinking. Perhaps. Painful? Definitely.

My little chocolate lab, Hermione, started obedience school a week ago. She is so stubborn and strong-willed that she blazed right past a normal collar to a choke chain, and very quickly the trainer realized we would have to resort to one of those pinching prong ones. I grimace just thinking about it. I never thought I’d be the girl with a modified choke chain around my little puppy’s neck. But this dog is downright defiant. Look-you-in-the-eye-while-she-grabs-the-shoe-to-make-sure-you’re-watching kind of defiant. Repetitive defiant. Crazy, obnoxious, bowl over a toddler kinda spastic and unruly.

I love her for it, don’t get me wrong. It’s her spitfire personality that I think brought us together. And that’s where the parallels all begin. I’m sure some of you, ok, maybe most of you, are thinking, “Huh, sounds a lot like someone else I know… like her ‘mom’ maybe.” Yea, I know. It’s true. Which is why this whole process is well, just difficult.

The irony of getting a dog with a bull-headed but at the same time endearingly lovable personality, is never lost on me. It actually haunts me daily with the many pauses for discipline. (I shudder to think what actual parenting, the kind with humans, will be like. Humans actually have sin natures. Disgusting). Watching my little puppy get her collar yanked for the first time, and then hearing her little yelp of shock broke my heart. BROKE MY HEART. I hated it. I hated every minute of it. Especially as it took yank after yank for her to get the hint. No, that shoe is not for you. No that boxing glove is not your’s. No, you cannot jump on people. No, the couch is not your bed. No, my hand is not your chew toy. No. No. NO. NO. NO.

It feels a lot like my life. NO. That roommate is not for you. NO you can’t have that boyfriend any longer. NO your car insurance rates cannot go down, only up because you suck at driving. NO you don’t have any idea where the hell you’re gonna live or who you’re gonna live with in the next few months to years of your life. NO you can’t drive to the vets without popping two tires. NO your school loans will never be paid off. No, none of this makes it any easier to save for things likes houses. NO happiness does not seem in your future right now. Every step you take in life, I will yank harder, and harder, and harder. Until you stop.

Stop what, God? Wanting things? Desiring companionship? Love? Someone to fall asleep with at night, sharing about our days? A house that I can actually own? An idea when this girl who’s been in her career for going on five years now will actually feel stable financially? 10 years from now when all my school loans are paid off and hopefully all my stupid tickets? What do you want me to stop doing? Stop working? Stop loving? Stop FEELING?!

Maybe I’m crazy. But as I sat and watched terror and then sadness come over my pup’s demeanor, I couldn’t help but feel my own sadness heightened. It’s because I get it. I get that everything she’s wanting right now simply cannot be her’s. And it sucks. I can’t buy her enough toys to make that not suck. Those toys aren’t what she really wants. What she really wants belongs to everyone else. And there’s no way to ease that pain. Not when she sees all the other people in her world getting to play with their sneakers and eat their ice cream.

And that’s when it hit me. Does God feel sad when He looks at my life? Does it hurt Him to see me in pain? He’s holding the leash. He’s yanking the collar for a reason. He’s not the instrument of my punishment, He is the decision behind this discipline. On days, like my puppy does with me, it just makes me angry. I kick up my paws and I whine and I growl and I nip. I didn’t know I needed this discipline. Was I that bad? Could things have been so awful all this is necessary? Do You care?

I know if I care that my canine is hurting, surely God must care that I am. And I know that if I know all this discipline is good for Hermione, because it will make her a better dog in the long-run, because I’ll enjoy her more and so will everyone else, then surely God’s discipline must be doing likewise for me. If my pup and I are truly living in a parallel universe right now, then maybe God really does sigh in frustration when He sees me strive so hard to fight the direction my life is taking me. Maybe He really doesn’t want to keep yanking on my collar. Maybe He knows if I just stop striving, the collar will stop hurting so bad. Maybe, just maybe, He knows it will produce something better in me. Something much more long-lasting than this age of youthful rebellion I seem self-sabotagingly stuck in. Maybe I’ll be a better person for years to come.

Maybe the Dog Days of summer are actually still ahead of me…

But I Can’t Feel It Right Now

Tonight, I sat on the tile floor of my kitchen, puppy biting at my heels, weeping. I don’t say this to illicit pity, just writing honestly. It’s all I can do. I’ve never been much of a faker.

Tonight, I cried for a lot of things, not the least of which was the dawning realization that tomorrow, while it starts new, starts more depressing than today. Tomorrow, I begin day two of jury duty on a trial that is, well, not easy, if I can be so bold as to say that much. It’s also the reason why I’m not with two of my best friends celebrating summer in San Diego right now. And to be honest some more, the more I thought about it, the more I feel like my whole life is some version of jury duty right now. I’m waiting, waiting to hear the verdict. I’m the defendant and there’s not a damn thing I can do to sway what will or will not happen in my life. Or, maybe I’m not the defendant, maybe I am in fact a juror, deliberating in some room, hoping against hope that everyone can come to agreement on what my life should be. But, come to find out, it’s a hung jury. Or maybe I’m the prosecutor, laying charges, submitting proof of why they should be believed, but not offering any solution that leaves a degree of hopefulness and peace.

And so, all this brings me to James Morrison’s song, tonight’s Jazz June inspiration: Wonderful World. And yes, it merits the ENTIRETY of the song. It just all rings too true.

I’ve been down so low
People look at me and they know
They can tell something is wrong
Like I don’t belong

Staring through a window
Standing outside, they’re just too happy to care tonight
I want to be like them
But I’ll mess it up again

I tripped on my way in
And got kicked outside, everybody saw…

And I know that it’s a wonderful world
But I can’t feel it right now
Well I thought that I was doing well
But I just want to cry now
Well I know that it’s a wonderful world
From the sky down to the sea
But I can only see it when you’re here, here with me

Sometimes I feel so full of love
It just comes spilling out
It’s uncomfortable to see
I give it away so easily
But if I had someone I would do anything
I’d never, never, ever let you feel alone
I won’t I won’t leave you, on your own

But who am I to dream?
Dreams are for fools, they let you down…

And I know that it’s a wonderful world
But I can’t feel it right now
Well I thought that I was doing well
But I just want to cry now
Well I know that it’s a wonderful world
From the sky down to the sea
But I can only see it when you’re here, here with me

And I wish that I could make it better
I’d give anything for you to call me, or maybe just a little letter
Oh, we could start again

And I know that it’s a wonderful world
But I can’t feel it right now
Well I thought that I was doing well
But I just want to cry now
Well I know that it’s a wonderful world
From the sky down to the sea
But I can only see it when you’re here, here with me

And I know that it’s a wonderful world
I can’t feel it right now
I got all the right clothes to wear
I just want to cry now
Well I know that it’s a wonderful world
From the sky down to the sea
But I can only see it when you’re here, here with me

And I know that it’s a wonderful world
When you’re with me

The Everyday May Society

Tonight’s gonna be short, but you #everydaymay peeps, you know why.

After an afternoon of catching some rays at Corona Del Mar, I came home and helped my roomie Alicia host a small get-together for us #everydaymay bloggers. We shared some salty and some sweet, some beverages, some lovin’ on my puppy, and several rounds of Scattegories. It was a good night and awesome to just get to know new people without any of those awkward we just met not sure what to talk about vibes. It was truly just fun and I honestly felt like I’d known some of these people my whole life, kinda weird, but really great.

And you know, I like to think, that since writing is what ties us all together, it’s sort of well, fitting, that we all assembled tonight. After all, Keats had his Shelly and his Wordsworth and Hemingway and all the modernist ex-pats had each other, and the depressed poets of the 1960’s (Bishop, Sexton, Plath), they all had each other, so hey, why can’t #everydaymay?? It’s like our very own Dead Poet’s Society… or something.

Anyways, hopeful the #everydaymay writers will continue to hangout long past the end of May. I envision summer BBQ’s, autumnal cups of coffee at Starbucks, and maybe some winter cups of hot apple cider even.

Let’s keep the tradition alive, folks.

FUBAR

Disclaimer: Before reading this blog, please realize I am by no means anti-patriotic, traitorous, communist, or ready to go join the other ex-pat writers of the 20th century (and Johnny Depp) by moving to the South of France to hang out in chic little sidewalk cafes and pubs. I believe this land is your land and my land, and God bless America for amber waves of grain, and all that jazz.

But sometimes, a girl’s just gotta vent. And today is that day. Big Brother has been getting on my nerves lately. In the last year, I have spent more money on paying traffic tickets than I have spent on a semester of grad school (at a private school!) Yeah, marinate on that. The majority of that money was because of those damn camera tickets at intersections where I got caught for a California roll. I also got two tickets (the first from a flesh and blood officer in my LIFE) in the same week. Highway robbery if you ask me.

Anyways, back to today, the source of inspiration for this post. Today, my friend Natalie came to visit. When she left, she was greeted by a $45 parking fine. Yes, for parking in front of our house for a friendly neighborhood chat. Apparently, there is an obscurely placed sign somewhere near our street stating that on every second and fourth Tuesday and Thursday of the month, from the hours of 2:30 – 4:30, it is illegal to park on the street. Um, excuse me, what?! This needs to go in the most absurd laws every written book. But, what is more absurd is that this law is actually policed and enforced. I actually pay, via my taxes, some cop eating donuts to drive down my street every other Tuesday and Thursday afternoon to see if some person (probably myself, a roommate, or a friend) is parked in front of my house.

The cops are not chasing bad guys, fighting villains, or decreasing crime rates. Nope, they are charging recently graduated college students the price of a textbook for kickin’ it with the homies, instead of out apprehending the real homies probably smuggling weed across the street.

And on a more serious note, I would like to point out this problem with our governmental system. Now, mind you, I realize our government is not bombing us, butchering us, or starving us, like many places around the world, so I will be thankful. But, and that’s a big BUT, I called in a CPS report on a 6-year-long case of sexual assault on a minor on Monday and it has yet to be investigated. Oh, but mind you, Natalie is getting ticketed for parking on a residential street in the middle of suburbia.

Yea, rapists are on the loose, but not traffic violaters. Oh no, those people are safely being punished. This is not only punitive, but preposterous and unsettling. It’s what our military would consider a fubar. F*cked up beyond recognition. Now, Lady Justice isn’t so screwed that she’s unrecognizable, but I swear, some days, I think Big Brother has aged her considerably.

Busy but Blessed



I don’t teach to coach, like some do. I don’t coach to teach, like others must do.

I have simply found coaching to be one of the greatest blessings of teaching. Although I often rant and rave and stress and worry about the two activities I coach: the ASB class of 2013 and the school newspaper, I wouldn’t trade the opportunity to work with these kids for anything. This last week has been a prime example of the two-sided nature of coaching: banquets.

Banquets are a lot of work: gift shopping, card writing, restaurant arranging, etc etc. But, more than anything banquets are a unique time to simply celebrate the family that has come into being. On Monday, I got to celebrate the lives of some amazing students in ASB. Our little family started this summer at a beachhouse retreat in Newport. Not bad, right? From then on out, those 30 some-odd kids, their director, and 7 other class advisors and myself have become a little community of leadership. I have loved seeing these students take on new responsibilities, love and lead their peers, and I have so enjoyed being affectionately nicknamed “Auntie Loh.” I have loved the dance practices, the rally routines, and the Christmas party. Yes, this comes at the cost of fundraising and meetings, and failed attempts to fundraise, but if learning happens, and I think it does, then it is all worth it.

Tonight, I partied with my newspaper class at the California Pizza Kitchen. I love these kids. SO MUCH. The inside jokes, the gifts, the laughs, the pride in a product well done, my little teacher heart is full. This year, the kids annual advisor gift to me was two-fold: a Starbucks mug inscribed with all my collected “Lohmanisms” from the year with a gift card inside, and an artistically decorated card. The card was no ordinary creation, however. It was plastered in animal print and said “Wild Thing” inside and was also covered in facebook pictures the kids jacked and wrote their own captions for. Quite clever. Quite embarrassing. But really, quite endearing. Oh, how I will miss this group of seniors. I eavesdrop on their conversations, they have nicknamed my dog (who my roommate graciously brought for show and tell mid-dinner), and I have watched them get accepted into the colleges of their dreams. I have been astounded by their leadership and awed by their intellect and orginality. There’s simply no replacing them. And so, yes, while deadlines frustrate me, and procrastination often irritates, and students’ lack of responsibility and perfectionism often rubs their OCD teacher the wrong way, I love being their newspaper advisor. I love getting to watch them grow and I understand the humongous privilege I have of getting to spend so many countless hours with them as they work, play, and learn.

And so, on weeks like tonight, I am heavy, burdened with work, but also filled to the top. It’s why I teach. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but it is worth it. Always.

Rwanda Revisited


Lately, my tattoo has been stinging. Today I felt the razor slice most sharply.

Some of my students presented on the Rwandan genocide for their social justice project today. The video they showed was one I have yet to see on the topic. Like Harry Potter’s scar, my tattoo burned. It burned for the people of Rwanda, it burned for the hope that so many still need there, it burned for the beauty of the thousand green hills, it burned for the red dirt, for the crowded packed streets of Kigali with kids selling you small nuts on the side of the road as your bus drives through, it burned for the monkeys frolicking across the grasses on the campus of the National University of Rwanda (NUR), it burned for the smiles and jokes of friends on long dusty walks and bumpy car rides, it burned for a Fanta Citron, and for a dinner sitting around a small round table at the Falcon. And for croque madames. For the Copabu, the artisan and craft store. For rooms of college students sitting eager to learn and talk and share.

It burned for so many more things I couldn’t even begin to categorize on a blog because they can’t be written on keyboards and white cyber space. They’re written on my heart, and well, my right hip.

This summer will be the first one since 2008 that I won’t be traveling to the Dark Continent. Part of that is shear relief. No 3 days of traveling and 11 hour plane rides, hoping against all hope that our luggage arrives. No malaria pills that make my skin so sensitive cold water sends shooting nerve sensations up my entire arm. No cold showers every morning at 6:30 am and no tough, chewy meat. But, in a strange way, even those small discomforts seem romantically endearing to me right now.

I decided at the end of last summer that I wasn’t going back to Africa for only 3 weeks this summer. If I was going to Africa this summer, it would be for at least a year, maybe two or even three. But, the cares of this year and a thesis and teaching students and advising newspaper and ASB and working with kids at church all somehow halted the progress of being Africa-bound. And don’t even get me started on boys. Africa as a word has sent at least one eligible man running.

And I got to a point where I didn’t want to go to Africa alone. I still don’t. I would hop a plane there tomorrow if I could bring two things: another human, and my puppy. But that is not a guarantee. And so I don’t know what to do. Maybe Africa is just meant to always burn a whole in my skin. Maybe this tattoo is like a scar that just won’t quite heal. Can the salve be found here in America? Can I have a “normal” life? What is that even, and is that what I really truly want? Or will Africa only stop burning my skin if I go?

These are things I ask myself on days like today when the pictures of the beauty and pain of places as real and near to me as Rwanda make themselves impossible to ignore. Like my tattoo. A lot like my tattoo. Impossible to ignore.

Where’s the Good in Goodbye?

Push ups you can get good at. Math can get easier with practice. A love for cleaning can be acquired.

With enough time and enough repetition, most things in life can become learned, easy, or at least adjusted to.

But Goodbyes, well they never get good. They never get easy.

I say goodbye every year. Every year. King High has this really touching annual tradition. At the end-of-the year pep rally, just as the seniors are about to exit the gym, all of the teachers grab a long balloon and form an arch at the exit. The seniors walk through, crying, hugging teachers, and taking in this watershed moment. You see, they enter King High School this exact same way on Freshmen First Day. Us teachers create a balloon archway as they enter campus for the first time and officially welcome them to high school. So when they walk out this same arch four years later, a different person, well it’s an emotional event.

Amidst the tears, sobs, and latex, I usually don’t cry myself. I’m the girl who doesn’t cry at weddings, or movies, and rarely in books. So, this particular event, while it makes me nostalgic, isn’t usually a tear-jerker. This year was a little bit different. It was MY watershed moment. My first class of freshmen from my first year of teaching are graduating in a week and a half. Call me Softy Sondra, but I almost lost it. I felt the water well up in my eyes as I remembered their middle school munchkinness, their silent stares on that first day, their “holy palms kissing” as they performed Romeo and Juliet, their squirrely antics, and their eager to learn hands raising.

And I look at them now, young adults. Time has narrowed their faces, straightened their shoulders, matured their voices, wisened their eyes, and emboldened their spirits.

And all of this, doesn’t make it any easier to say goodbye. I know they’re ready, and I hope they’re equipped, but for just a moment, I wanted them to stay in that balloon archway, crying, not leaving. Not forcing me to have to say goodbye. Again.

Because, for all the practice, I’m just no good at goodbye.

Prom


Prom. It has been the source of countless high school movies, musicals, and tv shows -everything from the horrific Carrie to the overly cheesified Twilight. The stereotypes are endless. The scenarios cliche.

And yet, having chaperoned this antiquated dating ritual for three years in a row now, I must claim there is some validity to it all.

Here, in no certain order, are the various thoughts that surface through my mind in the four hours of dance floor duty, bathroom patrol, and portrait stationing that I endure.

I can’t believe your mother let you out of the store with that dress.
I hope there is a security checkpoint in less than a mile because I’m pretty sure chanting the words “Let’s get effed up” as exiting the Prom is not evidence of responsible behavior.
Oh Lord, bend down any further and we are gonna see that girls cookie.
Please, no freak dancing.
Ohh, the hor’ doeurves this year are legit.
That’s a wedding dress.
Capsleeves. Morman for sure.
How many hours do we have left?
My children are never going to the Prom.
Of course the black kids were the first to hit the dance floor.
No, no now that you’re 18, we cannot go on a date, or dance right now.
Lord have mercy, I need a drink. Oh wait, I’m on the job.
Girl, please don’t lose your V card on the swing set tonight. At least make it to a hotel room.
Why can these 16 year old kids dance better than me? Jealous…
Booze, you lose.
Dang, I wish animal print were in vogue when I was in high school. I’d rock the leopard for sure!
Make wise choices, kids, guard your carnal treasures.

Yea. Prom. A legalized orgy for minors. Bless those kids who really do just awkwardly dance, maybe sneak in a kiss or two, and go to Denny’s afterwards. Bless them.

Motherhood


I feel a lot like the woman in this picture, sans small human. I have a small canine. But the effect is the same: sleepless nights, endless worry about their well-being when you leave them, lots of clean up, lots of watching for potential hazards, and lots of trying to keep them awake at all the right hours so they don’t want to play in all of the wrong hours.

The little puppy I thought maybe didn’t have a personality, definitely does. It is mostly defined by her numerous barks, whines, grunts, growls, and howls. Yes, imagine that, I got a verbosely expressive dog. Yeah, there’s no poetic justice in that or anything.

And because it’s taking all of my energy and thought to just stare at this screen and type right now, it’s bedtime. Tomorrow is Saturday, the day I usually sleep in. I still plan on doing that, but I’m sure every other hour or so will be interrupted by the “I want to sleep with you” whine, or the “I hate this crate” bark, or the “I need to pee” howl. Thankfully, roommate, like a loving co-parent, offered to take her potty and entertain the fur baby some tomorrow morning as she wakes up before me. Bless her. Maybe, just maybe I can crank in 8 hours total. Non-interrupted 8 hours? Yea, I’m not planning on seeing that again for a while.

Catharsis

Child abuse makes me sick. Physically sick. And no matter how many news reports I hear, how many conferences I attend, how many instances I read about, nothing really ever prepares me to hear a student share their personal story, tearfilled eyes, pain etched in every glance.

I spent my lunch yesterday having both the unfortunate and fortunate privilege to hear Emma’s (name has been changed) story, thanks to a poetry assignment.

Poetry assignments, oh how I both love them and hate them. This year, the feelings are amplified. Emma told me about her abuse in a poem. I wrote back that I wanted to talk. She found herself sitting in my blue butterfly chair, complaining of a headache, but ready to share her heartache. I listened as she told me of 6 years of sexual abuse she has endured at the hands of a family member. I was amazed by her strength, impressed by her maturity, and proud of her courage. I asked questions, I listened, I held her as she cried, and did my best to keep my own tears back. With as much gentleness as I could muster, I tried to offer Emma the push she needs to tell the adults in her family what has been happening since she was 10 years old. She knows she needs to, but its hard. It’s hard to talk about. Which, while this has been painful for her to share and me to hear, this is why I am thankful for poetry.

At 3:20 yesterday afternoon, after Emma had been home for less than an hour, she emailed me and told me she was thankful for the poetry assignment because it gave her a chance to talk about the devastating circumstances in her life. She also told me she was thankful I’m here for her to talk to.

In the past four years of teaching poetry, I’ve heard about kids with alcoholic parents, students who just found out they’re pregnant, teens addicted to pot who wish they weren’t, and isolated incidents of abuse. But the confession described in this one poem has by far been the most extreme and extensive. And although I dislike filling out mandated reporter forms more than just about anything else in the world, I will continue to assign poetry for this very reason. It’s catharthic. It’s a chance to talk. It’s a chance to confess, to heal, and to move forward.

I don’t know why I’m sharing this post per se, except that there’s something in it that’s cathartic for me too. But I do know this, people want to talk. They want to share. They just need a forum. They need a voice, and they need a listening audience. They need another human being who will take the time to read the details in a poem, in a phone call, in an off-hand comment, in a sweatshirt worn every day. The question is, will we answer these cries for help? Will we fight the statistic that says 1 out of every 4 people in America have been victims of abuse? Will we grant them the opportunity for catharsis, and from that, a true cleansing, one that can only be found in the blood of Christ?