Back to School

owl-47526_1280I’ve been neglecting my blog lately. As usual, the excuse is I’ve been too busy. Right now, there are several other things I should be doing, but sometimes it’s good to take a brain break.

Topping the list of my too-busy-to-blog excuses is that I am taking a couple online classes. One is a California history class, and the other is called “Single-subject Methods for Teaching Social Science”. I am also studying for the state-required exam that will deem me—once I pass—eligible to teach social science at the middle school and high school levels. For anyone who might be reading this outside of the US, middle school is what we call school for children who are eleven to thirteen years of age. High school is for students who are between the ages of fourteen and eighteen years.

I will finish both classes at the end of May and take the exam the first week of June. Then in July, I will take the same type of class and start studying for the same type of exam that will allow me to teach English language development to middle and high schoolers.

If all goes as planned, I will be credentialed to teach all grade levels.

The worst part of doing this is how exhausted I am. It’s tiring to work full time, be a mom, do adulty things, and go to school all at the same time. The end is in sight, though, and that is what I hold on to when I feel like I’m going to drown in reading and writing assignments while trying to tackle the ever-growing pile of my students’ papers to grade … all while trying to study the material I need to know for the social science exam.

Why am I doing this? Because I thrive on change and I love to learn. The end result, however, is to make myself more marketable. Options are always a good thing.

 

The Music Played

Three years ago, I lay curled up on the couch in our living room, covered in an icy blanket of hopelessness and depression. My dad was dying.

The hard truth about death is there is nothing anyone can do to stop it. We can only postpone it. My dad’s time had come after years of keeping it at bay, pushing it off each time it crept in like a fog, and I knew it.

What could I do?

He needs his music.

The idea, seemingly external in origin, reached in and took hold of me. I knew how important music was to him. I couldn’t stop him from dying, but I could give him one final gift—the same gift he gave me years before when we sat, poring over his record collection, listening to everything from Janis Joplin to the old-school folk music of Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie. I pulled myself off the couch and spent the next couple hours scouring iTunes and making a CD of music I knew he would like.

Three years ago I sat by my dad’s bed in the skilled nursing facility, talking to my mom and listening to the CD I placed into the player on the laminate wood nightstand. Together, we waited. My dad had been in a “non-aware” state for a couple weeks so my mom and I talked around him, not to him—at least until my mom needed to make a short run to her office down the road. She kissed him and told him goodbye … that she would be back soon.

I think he was waiting for that moment. I think he didn’t want to die alone, but also didn’t want to put his wife through the pain of watching him take his last breaths.

I turned up the music, which had been set to a barely audible volume and returned to my chair near the foot of his bed. I laughed when Johnny Cash repeated his famous lyrics about falling down, down, down into a growing ring of fire. That kind of imagery probably wasn’t the most comforting to a man who was about to pass from this world, into what lies beyond. I said as much to my dad while switching to the next song. We shared the same dark sense of humor, so I’m sure he didn’t mind.

During the next couple of songs, the time between each rise and fall of my dad’s chest grew longer and longer. I moved my chair next to the head of his bed and held his hand while we listened to Alison Krauss and Neil Young. I cried bawled. I wondered at times if he had taken his last breath, only to see his chest rise again. I called my brother, who was at work, and told him to call our mom.

I told my dad it was okay to go. That he had been a good dad. I thanked him for taking me fishing and camping, for always being a part of my life, for sharing his love for music with me.

I told him I loved him.

I don’t know at what point he left his body—the exact moment that he died. He left without a word, without a sign. At some point between his last breaths, he had opened his blue eyes just enough that I could see the light was gone.

He was gone.

Still, the little CD player serenaded him with the music he loved while I held his hand, tears streaming.

I smiled. I don’t know why. Maybe because he chose me to be the one to see him off; I was honored. For a moment, I felt his presence in the room. But maybe I imagined it. I like to think he stood—for the first time in years—and saw that I wept for him, for the loss of him. Then he felt … gone.

Death is a knife to those left behind, cutting deep, leaving scars that heal slowly. But, just like music, the memories play on.