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The entire drive I stopped my mind from conjuring thoughts that brought tears to my eyes. I needed to hold it together yet the more I pushed my emotions down, the more they rebelled, bubbling up to the surface.

Hospice. The last time someone I knew was in Hospice, she passed before I could get to her, hold her hand, and tell her much I loved her. She was my everything, my grandmother.

I arrived and walked down the quiet halls carrying the hope that some people leave hospice and return home. Maybe I wouldn’t have to say goodbye.

Goodbye. The thread that ties us all together. Many of us know the pain of never again. Some learn it too soon.

A week later I drove with my son and two friends to her celebration of life service. My mind raced from thoughts of her husband and two young sons to thoughts of her mother sitting in the hospice room rubbing her daughter’s arm.  Breathe.

The school auditorium was packed with people who had been touched by Maiya’s life.

Memories. Wasn’t it just yesterday that she walked through the hallways helping, organizing, laughing, everyone knew Maiya. Everyone knew Maiya’s heart.

Holding back the tears, I turned to my friend. “I can’t watch the slide show; it’s too sad.” My friend reminded me it was a celebration of LIFE! “When I go you better be at a bar somewhere toasting my life.” Reality. We never know when we’ll have to say goodbye. Even in death, Maiya reminded us all to live.

Teens to young adults, students from years passed, played the steel drums. How many times had I seen Maiya in the band room making sure kids had what they needed?

But the words of one woman hit home in a letter she wrote to her daughter in law when she first found out Maiya had cancer. “I was afraid to love you too much because the divorce rate is 60%.” The honesty in those words cut straight to my heart. Being afraid to love because one day we will lose what we love. The fear of goodbye outweighing the freedom and greatness of love. It wasn’t until Maiya’s mother-in-law knew she’d lose her daughter that she chose to love her with her full heart. In that moment I knew I was the same. I needed to love more and fear less.

Maiya loved with all her heart.  She had less time here than anyone ever would’ve imagined, but in that time she taught us to see the need in our community, care, and do something to help. That lesson was a light within Maiya. Now it’s been passed on to all who knew her. Even though we said goodbye Maiya’s light will continue to shine.

If you follow me on Instagram, you know how much I love my dogs Roscoe and Smudge. I’ve been posting pictures of them since they were tiny pups. #Roscoeandsmudge I’ve had to learn a lot about dog training this past year thanks to them. I found that there are similarities between managing a classroom and managing two ninety pound dogs.

I was a classroom teacher for five years, and I’ve been a substitute teacher for eight. I’ve learned a thing or two about classroom management especially being a substitute teacher. Training dogs is similar to classroom management in that it calls for me to always be in a position of leadership while continuously assessing energy levels.

I once heard a teacher say, “Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness.” I thought it was brilliant because she let her class know the importance of kindness in leadership, but also strength in that kindness. She let her students know that she was in control thus allowing them to sit back and learn. And as any teacher knows classroom management always comes before learning. Learning can only take place when students feel safe.

Roscoe and Smudge are my boxer/pit mix pups I’ve cared for since they were two weeks old. Now they’re a year and a half. When they were little and I could hold one in each hand training was easy. There was an understanding that I was the leader. Looking back I realize the understanding was there because I knew it. Then Roscoe and Smudge grew and grew! They began to exhibit typical dog behaviors like barking, curiosity toward small creatures, and excitement which resulted in pulling on their leashes. The more they pulled, the less I wanted to walk them. Suddenly I began to question my leadership skills. I started to believe that there was nothing I could do. A dogs will be dogs attitude which was not helpful toward my relationship with them. I started to miss the little pups that listened and didn’t nearly knock me down every time I tried to get the three of us out the front door.

Then I remembered the classroom. As a middle and high school substitute, I walk into a room full students I’ve never met. My job is to manage the class and teach the lesson the teacher has left for me. My years of experience have taught me that being too relaxed or too strict result in disaster. An attitude of strength in kindness is what’s necessary. I must walk in with kindness and calm carrying a positive energy that lets everyone know I’m in charge. Sometimes it’s a complete act. A fake it until I feel it attitude, but most of the time it’s exactly how I feel.

I had forgotten that Roscoe and Smudge are always looking to me to be their leader. The minute I started to believe that their pulling on the leash was something dogs do and I had no control was the moment they took control. That’s what dogs and students do when they don’t have a leader. They take control; chaos ensues because no one feels safe. The good news is that when the energy levels get too high, they can quickly be brought back down through a calm yet strong presence. Take a look at this video for a great example.

Negative energy and positive energy fluctuate with each thought or belief. As long as I’m aware of the energy, I’m bringing to a situation I have control over adjusting it whether I’m in a classroom or training Roscoe and Smudge. It doesn’t mean that I’m always the perfect leader. It means that I’m aware that my thoughts evoke emotions which result in either a negative or positive situation. If my energy is negative, the minute, I sense it I have the ability to change my thoughts which change my emotions, and influence those around me whether it’s dogs or students. Good leaders don’t yell, criticize, insult, or use violence. They understand how to bring positive energy into every situation. They lead through kindness which is a strength far greater and more developed than its opposite. In other words, it’s easy to get angry and yell it’s much more difficult to face your anger/fear and turn it into positive leadership.

It’s not about being perfect. It’s about understanding that if the moment isn’t perfect, you have the ability to change it. Change your energy to change your environment. It works for classrooms and dogs!

I’m back from two weeks of traveling with my daughter. We flew to Switzerland and then to Los Angeles. What a wonderful, exhausting, and crazy experience it was. I drove a HUGE van in Switzerland! Yes, I’m the roundabout queen now. I can still hear Arielle yelling, “second exit, take the second exit!” I met Harrison Ford, slept in an airport, survived without my luggage for two days, and ate more bread and chocolate in two weeks than all year! Yum!

But the best part of the trip was being with my daughter Arielle, meeting her teammates, talking with her coach and watching their track meets. I had the opportunity to be a part of her world. Since she graduated high school and college we’ve been on different paths. She has her own business and trains with her team in Illinois. I’m here in Florida sitting behind a keyboard. Even though we text a lot it’s not the same as shared experience. Like the moment I saw the van in Switzerland and panicked! Arielle sitting next to me laughing, cheering me on while trying to figure out the navigation system. Then there was the cable car ride in Austria, Arielle’s friend declaring he was happy because he was, “safe as a kitten,” on our way up the mountain. None of us were prepared for the magnificent views at the top. There were memorable moments, some stressful, some glorious, filling me, making each day a new adventure. Sometimes exhilarating moments appeared at the most unexpected times. For instance…

When we were in Los Angeles Arielle’s coach suggested we go to a camping store to buy foam for her racing wheelchair. My friends know I’m anti-camping since a failed attempt many years ago at the Disney Campground. Yep, I can’t even handle Disney camping. So, when I entered the LA  store I was in awe. They had things I’d never seen before like a device for women to pee standing up! There were few customers which made me feel at ease to continue browsing. Arielle started talking to a nice young employee about her upcoming trip to Bonnaroo. They talked about the bands that were performing and when I interrupted and cheered for U2 they gave me a look. It was a “you’re old” look. What? U2! Immediately I turned around searching for someone my age and spotted a gentleman close by with white hair. My first thought was good, I bet he likes U2. Then he turned around, I saw his face and couldn’t believe it! Harrison Ford!

Many years ago when I was a struggling actress in LA I saw Meryl Streep at the Westside Pavilion. I was too shy to say hello. That was over twenty-three years ago and I always regretted not telling her how much I admired her work. I knew if I didn’t act how I’d feel afterward. So, I marched right up to Harrison Ford and introduced myself.  It was as if I had gathered the courage to jump off a cliff and then suddenly found myself falling, screaming what the hell did I just do! The interaction was beyond awkward. He was kind, shook my hand, smiled, but then the introvert in me took over and instead of asking him any of the hundreds of questions I had about his incredible career I turned beet red and bolted. As soon as I introduced myself I could see the world from his point of view. I wondered if he could go anywhere without someone coming up to him. Perhaps that’s why he was shopping for camping supplies. Wild animals are safer than fans. Although I may not have had the conversation I had hoped for with Harrison Ford I’m happy to say I do have tickets to U2 in Tampa next week. Woohoo!

I said goodbye to Arielle in LA and headed home grateful for our time together. Once upon a time, I held her in my arms in Santa Monica, California fearful of the word mom. I was twenty-three the same age she is now. Never would I have imagined then that one day we’d be flying around the world together. That’s the magic of life you never know where the journey will take you. You just have to set a course, believe, adjust, hold on, and trust. And always keep your eyes open for opportunities for adventure!

 

My grandmother always had a camera in her hand. As I spent her final years with her here in Florida one of her great joys was taking pictures and then anxiously waiting for them to be developed so she could show her friends or mail them to relatives. Even though I saw her every week she’d still have an envelope with my name on the outside and photos of our time together on the inside.

I thought it was her hobby. Once she showed me a picture she had taken as a teen. It had won first place in a photography contest. My grandmother, a quiet woman who showed little emotion, seemed proud of her award. Having lived her life for her family this was something she had done for herself. But now I think my grandmother took so many pictures because she knew what I didn’t fully understand when I was in my twenties. Everything changes.

By the time I moved to Cape Coral my grandparents were in their eighties. My life was beginning and theirs was ending. Even though I recognized my time with them would be limited I never fully understood that when they held my children they knew they probably wouldn’t see them grow to teenagers. Grandmom took pictures because she wanted to capture precious everyday moments of our time together. She knew what was important and that’s time with the people we love.

I’m going on an adventure with my daughter! I get to experience her world as an athlete as we travel to two track meets. The first is in Arbon, Switzerland. Then we’re off to Los Angeles. Of course, I’ll take lots of pictures! Hopefully, I’ll be tech savvy enough to post notes and photos of our journey here as we travel. I’m also a fan of Instagram. Check for pictures there too.

Moment by moment we experience life. We get to choose whether or not to see those moments as a gift. My goal is to live every day knowing I remembered to say thank you!

What I’ve learned so far. 

If you want to be really good at something there are no shortcuts. You have to do the work. You must put in the hours. 10,000 hours? Probably more.

Friendships are important. They’re like planted seeds. If you want them to grow pay attention and care for them.

“The language of friendship is not words, but meanings.” Henry David Thoreau

Don’t make yourself so busy that you forget to be grateful. Gratefulness is the key to happiness because when you’re grateful you feel joy and when you’re filled with joy you’re happy.

Marriage is difficult. Don’t always trust your feelings because they change. That thing I wrote about working really hard to be good at something. It applies to marriage. The thing I wrote about friendship. It applies to marriage. There will be good days, days that carry frustration, and many days where you’ll be grateful to have such an incredible person in your life. keep those days close to your heart. The thing I wrote about gratefulness….

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” Henry David Thoreau

Your kids are not yours. You may forget this for a while and stress about their behavior, grades, their future, but in the end, the most important thing to think about is what kind of relationship do you want to have with your children when they become adults.  When they look back on their childhood will they feel your love and acceptance?

Your thoughts are really important because they tell stories you believe which can evoke many different emotions. Tell yourself more good stories than fearful or angry stories and you’ll have a better day.

“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.” Henry David Thoreau

While routines can bring comfort they can also bring stagnation. Get out of your comfort zone and travel before you get stuck.

It’s good to have goals and dreams, but if you become too obsessed with them you can make yourself and those around you miserable. Work toward your dream remembering to enjoy the climb. Take breaks to breathe and celebrate your work along the way.

“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” Henry David Thoreau

Live! You must listen from within and find the strength to live your life your way. Don’t wait until you’re eighty to look back, wonder where the time went and wish you would’ve done things differently. Live the gift of life.

And finally, I’ve learned that there’s so much more to learn!

“Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.” Henry David Thoreau

Pieces of eggshell were scattered across my lawn. Mama duck’s nest of mulch next to our front door lay empty. A critter had found her hiding place and enjoyed a midnight snack. My heart hurt for Mama. I had watched from my window as she and Papa had visited the nest every morning. He protected her as she sat on her eggs. That morning they returned to emptiness.

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