On the Defensive Front Line

A dear young lady, who I knew as a child and has now joined the honorable profession of infiltrating the adolescent mind shared this blog with me. Reading it stirred something inside my soul. Developing relationships with students and helping them relate to each other, via understanding the dynamics within the classroom social circle is VITAL to all learning. Columbine changed the way this teacher approached the social atmosphere in her classroom. That event and others have forever changed my approach to developing an environment of social peace in my classroom too. We are responsible at the front lines. We must do more than make rules and enforce them. Being on the defensive and developing tactics to infiltrate the adolescent social mind is not something they teach us in college. As I leave this profession I hope and pray others will take this line of defense.

The world is not what it was when I entered this career. My beginning years were not easy, the violence was visible and could easily be noticed– red eyes and smells of pot smoke, cigarette smoke in the bathrooms, backgrounds of families involvement neighborhood illegalities were well-known. Our rules of engagement included direct confrontation. Not today. Signs of danger are hidden, subversive and designed to undermine us. Our current world needs us to use the unevaluated skills of humanitarianism, to go beyond the evaluation rubric and testing. Thank you to all who stand beside me, have my back and guide me through this battleground we call Public Education.



All that really matters

From Friday Dec. 14, 2012 I have been trying to compose my thoughts, feelings and search my heart, not wanting to dwell on or allow negativity to become the focus of a blog post, although really wanting to document, reflect and utilize my therapeutic tool of writing. I even thought about leaving the events in Sandy Hook alone, letting it be personal and defining to each of us without any discussion.

The event happening the Friday before the week of school prior to our Christmas Break, left little time to mull it over. In my classroom, we are all about the fun—-the fun and joy of Christmas—the good tidings.We do nice things for each other and focus on the goodwill of the season. I threw myself into the fun! We had a great week, but there was a cloud around us. A cloud I refused to talk about or acknowledge, if I let it in, then the innocence of my young people would be deflated. I stood guard and did not let the news media, discussion from other staff members or any comments get to my kids. As the leader, I am in charge, and on my watch the classroom was declared a news free zone. The students did not ask or question me in regards to the events they heard at home over the weekend and I was relieved. I was not looking forward to explaining or talking about Sandy Hook to a group of young adults who have limited intellectual functioning. So on we moved to have a very joy filled week together.

At the close of the week on Friday Dec. 21, 2012 (the end of the world according to the Mayans, a fact I heard discussed by people around me and one I found to be rather humorous) I boarded a plane to Nashville, Tn. —so ready to be with my family! I breathed a sigh and sunk down into the plane seat, pulled my leather jacket over my head and slept. The deepest sleep I have had in a week!

Disembarking the plane at the Nashville Airport, greeted by music from Tootsies Bar and the smells of Whits BBQ, it always feels like home when I walk towards the baggage area! I noticed the news on the big screen, announcing the NRA’s statement about guns, security in schools—and other stuff I need time to ponder but NO! I do not want to hear this! I also was assaulted by the Sequestration updates from the news app on my phone when I turned it on. NO! I do not want to know about what we need to face in the classroom after the Holiday, when the budget goes into Sequestration!

Here I am at my brother’s house, in front of a fireplace, feeling loved. That is all that matters.

The next few weeks will be filled with hugging the children in our little family, contributing to the next generation. Thank you to my brother for providing this loving home. And right now this is all that matters.


For some reason I am having flashbacks to my other lives. Thanksgiving seems to bring glimpses of the lives I have lived….some good, some disturbing….a writer could make these pondering  into a 4 book series–20’s, 30’s, 40’s and now midway through the 50’s!

I am grateful for every moment t it took to bring me to this glorious island, where I have been blessed beyond my wildest dreams!

As I sit on the screen porch, watching the winter light emerge in the sky, feel the cool breeze, hear the birds awake–experiencing the magic of a Key West morning— thoughts go to the people and places that influenced me, hurt me and guided me along this path–people who I am not in contact with anymore, places I have left and will never return to, I ponder on how live is for those people in those places and wonder if our paths will ever cross—I have heard it said that if you sit still on this island, eventually everyone will pass you on the road in and out!

The baggage that was left behind, the emotional investments that were not returned, the financial losses, the personal items–things I thought I could never live without, all that is  left behind–takes its toll, and yet, I am alive still creating chapters in this recent book,  full of gratitude because I choose to believe God has a purpose — which I continually seek.

I wish I had stayed in one place, stayed in one relationship that would have developed roots, grown strong and developed branches of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren—for some reason those desires, no matter how strong did not materialize. Maybe my people chooser was not developed or the instincts needed make good choices were not strong enough–for what ever the reason, my 20’s, 30’s and 40’s have all been lived as separate books, now into the middle of the 50’s edition–with starts and endings that brought me to this spot.

One commitment has stayed constant, no matter what turn the relationships or financial investments took–marriage, step children, parents, in-laws, step grandchildren, boyfriends, business investments, houses purchased and sold—As each book ended and another one started…..

My commitment to Special Education–all the bad choices I made, the joys that tried to distract me, the brilliant ideas that caused me to look away, the self delusional moments, did not erase the deep-seated commitment in my heart to special needs youth.

This is not a bad place to be–in my mid 50’s, looking at 8 years left of a very satisfying and constructive teaching career. The blessings that my students have given me through the years have  come back to me 10 fold!

Gratitude for the privilege to experience the subtle and sometimes minuet  learning moments in each child’s life overwhelms me. Realization that I have been blessed with moments in the lives of my students that others will never see.

I am pondering starting another book—-going after my Doctorate Degree, putting my life’s work into a dissertation that will be my legacy. This is not societies norm–most folks leave a legacy in their families–children, grandchildren and marriages–mine will be in the world of academia–where I have grown deep roots, roots that hold a huge tree of children, young adults and their families.

Reflections at 54

My birthday is not such a big deal to me—it never has been. Falling in September it seemed to get lost in the mix of school starting and others birthdays falling near it—my younger brother Mark was born on Sept. 11 and my mom’s birthday was on Sept. 30.

When I was 4 the group parties started, Mark was born the year I turned 4. I will never forget that birthday. Before I expound on why that birthday is so significant, it is important for a bit of a back story. Please stop reading at this point, if you become bored easily with family stories—for me, this story is begging to be told, if only to stay within the walls of this blog!

I remember my mom’s pregnancy and looked forward to having a baby brother, I was already a big sister–my brother Brad was born 18 months after me and our family of four was a happy one. We had lived in Fairfax, Va. where I was born at Ft. Belvoure and Tacoma, WA, where Brad was born. My dad was in the military serving his ROTC years after college, and I remember him coming home from whatever he did during the day, playing with us, he was larger then life to me, my daddy. Daddy would always make everything better, but there came a time when he couldn’t no matter how hard he tried, but in later years he gave up–he could not fix Special Needs. We learn to live with it or we run from it.

By the time Mark was born, my dad was out of the Army and we had relocated to Jupiter, Florida. Dad was working for Pratt and Whitney—we were to become known as Pratt Brats within the community. In the 50’s the space program was growing, the history of those years, the growth of South Florida are ingrained in me—part of who I am today–and another blog topic for another day!

Mark was born in West Palm Beach, accessed by US1 or A1A, I remember waking to Grandma Sears (my mom’s mom and one of the women I am named for–Ruth Marie Sears–a beautiful lady!) telling me mom and dad were going to the hospital and soon I would have a baby brother or sister. I was so excited–to me it would be a baby doll come to life! Little did we know that the baby doll would fill our lives with joy and extreme sadness at the same time for many years to come.

Mom and dad brought Mark home, after an extended stay at the hospital, due to complications at birth. I was told he was sick and he needed to stay with the Dr. a little while. I thought he was the most beautiful baby, of course at 4 years old, my point of reference was a bit limited! I held him in my arms and loved him! He was born with a club foot and soon would need surgery to correct it. I am unsure of how all that went down, if he came home and then went back to hospital or it was done in the hospital before coming home, all I knew is that my baby brother needed special care and mom told me she was counting on me to be her helper.

This all happened somewhere between Sept. 11 and my birthday on Sept. 21—Grandma Sears was still staying with us and I think she tried to give me a special birthday and baked a cake, angel food—-my favorite to this day! I was told I got a baby brother for my birthday—I was so happy! And when mom told me she was counting on me to be her helper—I took that very seriously! Little did I know the road our family was starting down and how much of a helper I would become.

Today at 54, I can tell you the journey from that 4th birthday to today has been a wild one—lots of stories, but I shall spare you many gory details!

When Mark finally came home with a cast on one of  his little legs, mom and Grandma Sears noticed that he was not achieving the milestones of a newborn, and as he approached age 1, he did not roll over or recognize mom or dad–things he should do—he did push himself up on he hands, smile and start to say AHHHH! I would lay next to him on my tummy, after I came home from kindergarten and push myself up and say HI! He would copy me and we played like that for hours! It was pure joy to see the little developments he made. His laugh was so infectious.

Mark never progressed past that newborn pre rollover action—he remained a baby—but his body grew into a young man—needing all the care a baby needs. Requiring hours of feeding to nourish his body, bottles and baby food. Mom and I become hooked on the “stories” on TV–I would relieve her from feedings when I came home from school at 2 p.m–just in time for General Hospital (still my favorite soap opera!), so she could get housework and dinner ready for the family. Brad would help too, but I took the roll of Mark’s helper very seriously and never thought Brad could do it “right”–I became very assertive about my baby brother. To the point of kicking a lady in the store when she  and her friend pointed and laughed at us—Mark must have been about 10 then, to take him to the store mom had to fit him into the baby seat in the cart, doubling him over, he had no muscle tone and folded up quite well (no ADA accommodations or adapted carts back then ) —the lady and her friend even told my mom, she should not bring Mark to the store and that her other two kids were running wild and being neglected, I think the lady even told my mom to put Mark in a home–Brad and I were playing, being kids in the store–today I marvel at how my mom did it! When I saw my mom cry, I kicked the lady. That is one of my most vivid memories of those times.

There are many happy memories too—Driving in the station wagon, with Mark laying in the back, along Skyline Drive, picnicking at the Gettysburg Battlefields, with Mark on the blanket while Brad and I climbed cannons, Sunday drives through the backroads of Va. rooting through barns for antiques with mom, flying to Indiana to visit grandparents in a small Cessna my dad piloted–My parents found ways for the family to travel and enjoy the outdoors, still accommodating Marks’ limited abilities –it was easier for them to find ways for us all to have fun when he was small, but as he grew our family activities became limited.

My dad progressed with Pratt and Whitney, becoming an executive, his job took him back to Washington DC to work with the Defense Dept. as Pratt’s liaison and then back to Jupiter again to work out of the Jupiter plant. When we moved to Country Club Drive in Tequesta, Brad and I joined the ranks of the Pratt Brats at Jupiter Middle/High School—we were in Paradise–Jupiter in the 60’s and 70’s was AWESOME! I am so grateful that my life is influenced by those years. Playing in the Lox River with manatees and dolphins, camping and surfing on the beach, riding in swamp buggies and airboats—the best way to grow up!

As we prepared to move into this awesome house, and dad’s position in Pratt required more travel, along with entertaining influential government people (my mom could pull together and diner party in 10 minutes, she was amazing!) to sell the Pratt Engines, it became harder for mom to care for Mark at home, his medical needs were increasing.

Our parents made the difficult decision to have Mark placed in a facility in 1970. Back then, these were not nice places, my mom resisted it for a very long time.  Needless to say the care of Mark over the years put a big strain on my parents marriage, resulting in an ugly divorce many years later. They both lived with many demons connected to being the parents of a severely disabled child. Today I embody their best qualities, no demons—only joy– coming to this place has been a process of many tears, grief and love—I miss them both deeply on days like today.

When we moved to Tequesta, I enrolled in Jupiter HIgh School, I was Ruth Finch and I had one brother known to the world. Mark was living in Maitland, Florida at the Kraddle Kare home. I cried and cried the day we left him there, it was a nice place but I was confused.

Mark had been the focus of my youth and preteen years, any plans that were made for me to participate in activities with other kids revolved around his feeding times and when mom would be available to take me—it must have been a nightmare for her to plan Brad’s and my activities. Often I did not get to do the things other kids did. She did her best, becoming the leader of my Brownie troop so we could meet at the house, she could be my mom and still be near Mark—I was not always the most grateful kid either, battling for her attention or displaying passive/aggressive kid behavior.

When he passed away, I was 17 and it was my senior year of high school. It felt so strange to have this huge life event happen, the death of a brother, without a community to share it with. None of my friends knew much about my brother, nor had ever met him. As a family, we went out to the ocean and sprinkled his ashes. It was odd, it seemed we had been grieving for so long and now it was over. My parents were not getting along much at that point—my memories of that boat trip are very hazy.

One thing my mom did, and I was a part of with her, is to lobby the US government in the Kennedy years for laws under the ADA to give assistance to families who have disabled children. The premise of that first parent group, which she founded, was paying school taxes and paying for private services for their special needs children was unfair.   Special Needs children were being denied school services due to disabilities, and affordable respite care was not available.  Her work resulted in the passing of PL 94-142, the precursor to the current IDEA laws. This would help me later in college–it is amazing what a kid learns by osmosis, when taking care of her brother and listening to her activist mom at the meetings!

As a teenager, entering into High School, I was not very socially prepared, boys and the teenage social stuff confused me. My High School memories are not supper awesome, not do I have many bonds from that time in my life. The one area I excelled in was the Student Council For Exceptional Children and volunteer work at the local ARC preschool. Go figure!

Mark not being in our family, gone and out of sight, left a hole for my mom too—our family dynamics changed quite a bit. Dad traveled a lot for his job, mom went with him sometimes, but most of the time she was stuck with me-an angry confused young lady. She became active in the local ARC and was hired as the first Child Find Advocate in Palm Beach County. She was amazing, but I did not see it then.

Brad, who was going through his own things. To me it appeared he was the new favorite child, gaining all the attention, today I know he had his own issues, we never talked about them back then, nor do we dwell on it now.  Brad jumped into Jr. High and High School, excelling at sports, he made a fantastic niche for himself, going to college on a sports scholarship, meeting an awesome lady, who is now his wife—he has become THE BEST Dad and Grandpa I know! His legacy, he is giving the world through my military nephews is amazing! It was not easy for any of us, but we are stronger people today for what we went through, we are able to embody the Grandpa Finch’s motto—“It does not matter if you become a ditch digger, but be the best GD ditch digger you can be!” We are a blessed family!

Today at 54, I realized that 50 years of my life has been influenced by Special Needs. When I went to college, everyone said I should major in the new and upcoming field of Special Education—I tried to run from it in many ways—almost got kicked out of USF! When I took an intro to Special Ed class, I got the first college A in the two years I was enrolled, and here I am today! I have been married and divorced—never had children of my own, regretted that at one time—but now am grateful God set my life up in this way. I see how His plans have pushed me to be part of something REALLY BIG and REALLY GOOD!

Happy Birthday to me! God has blessed my life in ways I could never have imagined on that 4th birthday! Pondering on the next 50 years fills me with wonder—–My God will ensure it is going to be a wild, crazy and fun ride!

This was taken shortly before Mark passed away. I still wonder what gains he would have made if he could have experienced the Special Needs services we have today.

A Gratitude List

Thanksgiving Day, a day to reflect and be grateful, although if this attitude is not cultivated everyday, it does get a bit difficult to summon it up for one day. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the Season, not because of the food, although the food is great (sometimes a problem for me), it is my favorite because it is not focused on anything but being grateful, no gifts required, just ourselves, our loved ones and a grateful heart.

We can celebrate the day anyway we choose. Families develop traditions that will express the joy and gratitude of being together without the extra baggage that Christmas can bring. Even though Christmas, just around the corner, is exciting; Thanksgiving is the day to breathe, enjoy and gather together to celebrate life.

So as I breathe in the salt filled air of my home, drink a cup of coffee on my front porch, I develop my Gratitude List that will carry me through the next few weeks, which are sometimes the hardest ones of the year for me, at work and on a personal emotional level.

Things I am Grateful Video is a compilation of people and things that I thank God for allowing me to enjoy. Each day, I hope and pray that I will not sit on the sidelines of life, that I will dance every dance, while I still have the chance. (lyrics from Julie Roberts, The Chance)

Pictures from the Sears, Finch family events, School Events and other stuff.  Music by Julie Roberts “The Chance”, which was released the year my mom passed away, hitting home with me after I read mom’s journal.