your beauty. 

Michael and I met through racing turtles (there are a lot of silly things about our relationship). But one of my absolute favorite parts is the way he so graciously shares his family with me, as if I’ve always been apart of it. 

Knowing that hugs are my favorite, his dad will randomly text me and tell me he has a hug waiting. Then, squeeze me extra tight when I see him. 

His brothers keep me laughing, watching the three of them together, acting exactly the same. But each with their own special quirk.. 

All of the special moments, either out to a nice dinner or laying on the couch watching TV. Dan, Kathrine, Tim, Julianna, Michael and I; it feels warm and safe, and right. 

Selfishly, I’ve always wish I could have met his mom. She passed away almost 4 years ago, and continues to make an impact on the world around us. I’m the lucky one who gets to squeeze Michael on extra hard days and hear all of the beautiful stories about her. I can’t think of a time the family has been together, 3 of us or 10 of us where she hasn’t been mentioned. Karen, your presence is still very real, and very much apart of this family. 

Yesterday, while visiting Bruce for a couple of hours, he brought me to the basement and showed me stacks and stacks of children’s books. Karen spent many years being a second grade teacher, changing lives of her sweet sweet students. 

Bruce said, “why don’t you see if you could use any of these books with students?” My eyes felt teary with such an honor. I leafed through all the books, time passing by that I didn’t even notice. I felt the tape on each cover for room 112. I had images in my head of how she used each book to help children learn

I took quite a few and delicately placed them on my bookshelf in my classroom this morning. I took one and used it in my morning group, maybe similar to the way she used to. Later in the day, I found one of my students sitting at his desk turning the pages and looking at the pictures. 

Karen, Mrs. Masterton, God gave you such a give.  A beautiful family, a huge heart, a son who loves me unconditionally, and the passion to teach. 

I hope as you watched my sweet boys from heaven, reading your books, learning from your books, your heart felt as full as mine. 

I’m honored to know you through your beauty. 

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Dear Daddy

Dear Papa, dear daddy, 

I could not be more proud to call you, Papa. It’s always been hard for me to understand why my biological father left, why he chose drugs over me. It was hard to understand as a child and still hard to understand as an adult. 

But, Jesus has given me so much strength, fortitude, and perseverance to face the challenges in life. He has given me creativity to create family all around me. Most importantly, He gave me you. 

When I was six and we didn’t have anywhere to live, you scooped me up & gave us a home. You and I stood at the counter together (me on a chair to reach you), making spaghetti and salad together. I always wanted to be near you, because the warrior in you is so present, warm, and caring. 

You never corrected me, you embraced my little girl. When I got worried that you couldn’t breathe when you took your hearing aid out, you hugged me close and reveled in my innocence. 

As I grew, you inspired me everyday to continue being me. Your work ethic and passion to teach the world about love, hope, and faith will always be a beautiful thing. As I trudged through college, not really knowing what I was doing, I would remember the times it must of been hard for you. But, Jesus gave this family fortitude. 

You have taught me to be a leader to those with needs. You may not have seen years ago, but I began watching you and learning how to be a leader since I was tiny. Jesus reminds me that I am serving him, being faithful, by teaching my sweet babies to talk, to learn, and just as you’ve always shown me, love them for exactly who they are. 

One of my absolute favorite things about you are your hugs. Your hugs, and the way each time you hold on a little longer to whisper something encouraging in my ear. 

I can see that you feel defeated, the world around us feels pretty crumbly right now. But last night, even though talking feels hard, and your body probably feels like it’s fighting against you, you still gave. 

You gave me one of those unforgettable hugs. You took care of me, making sure I wasn’t going to drive home too late. You prayed for me. You amaze me, which is no surprise. 

So, papa, my warrior, as we continue to fight and make days feel a little less crumbly – let’s keep hugging and praying and being the beautiful humans that God created us to be. 

You have countless hands to hold as you get your strength back. And in a couple months, let’s make spaghetti together. 

If you need the chair to lean on this time, I’d be happy to share. 

I love you. 

disclaimer: I see a therapist. 

disclaimer: I see a therapist. (insert pause for jaw dropping, roll of the eyes, sigh of relief, irritation that I didn’t tell you). 
well, I’m not about to hang all my problems out on paper for social media to see but it’s true. I see a therapist. 

the ones who dropped their jaw may be surprised because “I was sure Nicole had her shit together.” well guess what? I have a lot of my shit together, and one of those ducks in a row is seeing a therapist. because nobody has it all together. 

the ones who rolled their eyes could probably use a therapist of their own. I said it. give me a call, I have plenty of references. but don’t worry, I have rolled my eyes before too. at the thought of having a therapist, at my therapist. she just rolls them back. it’s just easier to roll your eyes at the thought because being vulnerable is hard. saying outloud that you have a therapist is hard. trusting your therapist with one of your deepest secrets is hard. trust me, most days I would rather just roll my eyes. and a lot of days I do. 

the ones who signed a big breath of relief, it’s because you have a therapist too. and I was the moron who threw it on paper for the world to see. you have a therapist who could be saving your life right now, helping you learn who you are, learning with you ways to hold on to moments of joy. for some of you, you are counting down the days until Thursday morning at 10 because your therapists office is the only place you can be 100% you. 

those of you irritated because I haven’t told you. well let’s jump back to, I don’t have all my shit together. being vulnerable scares the hell out of me. and sometimes my therapists office is the only place I feel like I can share “secrets.” 

a therapist isn’t some scary person, like the oz hiding behind the big green curtain yelling the things you’ve done wrong that week. (have I dated myself?). a therapist is the relationship that you make it. it’s a friend. it’s someone you trust. someone you cry with, laugh with, challenge yourself with. 

my friend, my therapist moved yesterday. at first I was angry. “you don’t get to leave. I’m the broken one. I call these shots.” then it turned into sadness, grief, and a lot of understanding. my therapist is a human just like you and I, with needs, changes during life, and emotion. I felt ridiculous for feeling so many feelings. “it’s just a therapist.” the ugly oz voice said in my head. but just a therapist is a friend, someone you trust, someone who may know more about it you than most people. and someone who has made a huge, unforgettable impact on my life. 

I cried big ugly tears last night. first angry ones, then sad, understanding ones. 

don’t worry I have another therapist already, and she’s super great. 

disclaimer: I have a therapist and being vulnerable is really hard. 

happy untraditional day. 

it’s interesting how a day with a simple, human label can tug at your heart. pull on emotions that you’ve stored up for sometimes an entire year. an anniversary of a death, a loved one’s birthday, Father’s Day. 

it’s easy to say, “I’m fine.” until you walk through target and see the racks of once full cards, now sealed up with sweet words, memories, hand drawn pictures of love. “I’m fine,” until every pause on the radio is wishing fathers a memorable day with their families. “I’m fine,” until I try to avoid, but catch a glimpse of a dad scooping up his little girl, face beaming with pride. 

I’ve never had a Father’s Day. I was never looked at with unconditional pride. I was never scooped up, twirled around. I walked across the isle of graduation each time knowing my dad was thousands of miles away, not even aware. I’m not sure my babies will ever be held by my dad, their papa. I’ll never traditionally be walked down the isle at my wedding. 

The emotions hidden the past year start coming to the surface as I write, as I remember. But, as the tears sneak out without my permission I am reminded of an eternal daddy who has loved me through the pain. He has reminded me that I am strong, I am brave. 

Do not be discouraged or dismayed of this vast army, for the battle is not yours, it’s Mine. 

I may have grown up with the farthest thing from a traditional family, but I never grew up alone. I know Jesus knows that nothing will replace my dad, but he’s given me a life full of so much family. I’ve learned, grown, and become deeply empathetic, and eternally grateful with my untraditional life.

My mama was my mama and my dad growing up. She made sure that no matter how tired she was, she made it to each school party and cheerleading event. My papa is my warrior. My papa loves unconditionally and will have the utmost honor of walking me down the isle one day when I’m married. I have my church family, who aren’t just a body of humans, but relationships, sleepovers on tough nights, prayer, and sweet hugs. 

Jesus has given me this sense of family that never goes away. My children at work, my sweet boys Skye and Evan, Michael’s amazing family who has just seamlessly scooped me up and wrapped their loving arms around me. 

Just a couple days ago, a family from my first teaching job emailed me and said, “we miss you. you are family. thinking of you and can’t wait to see you soon.” 

I am so sad. I want tradition. I crave normal. I deeply empathize each one of you missing your daddy today. But goodness, I am so blessed. I am so so blessed. Sometimes I think being untraditional is even better, because I have so much family. And so much love surrounding me. 

Happy Untraditional Day. Make it your own. 

kiss your baby.

kiss your baby today whether or not he is 2 or 28. kiss your baby if he is healthy, kiss him if he is sick. 

my heart has been heavy with gratitude and empathy. all I keep thinking about is wrapping my arms around my loved ones every chance I get. last Friday, one of my students was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. his severe autism and OCD was causing him so much torment, it became impossible to keep him or loved ones around him safe.

kiss your baby if they told you what their name was the first time you asked, after 7 years of practicing. kiss your baby if he wakes up with a smile on his face. 

while we spent the week with this hospital essentially on speed dial, waiting for a bed to open my heart was screaming with terror for this boy, and relief that he may get some additional help he needs so badly.

kiss your baby if she just got accepted into grad school. kiss your baby if she just lost her first tooth. 

a woman picks up on the other line and said, “are you still at school?” go ahead and call 911 to have him transported, we have a bed.

remembering the red and white iridescent flashing lights and loud sirens of the ambulance have kept me up at night this past week. 

he was admitted. we got what we needed, my heart is full of sadness and relief.

kiss your baby if she was born with autism, Down syndrome, or any other disability that no matter how hard we work, it will take it’s opportunities to rob good things. kiss your baby if he just got married and can’t wipe the crooked smile off of his face. 

yesterday, another one of my students had his annual meeting to talk about the progress and goals we will work on for the upcoming year. the mom sits down, looking absolutely gorgeous. she must have gotten ready for hours. I present these meetings dozens of times a year, but this is her one meeting.

a tear dripped from her eye and she brushed it away, quickly apologizing, embarrassed and sitting up straighter to compose herself. we all gave her a quiet moment, a hand on her shoulder, but then continued with the routine of presenting. 

kiss your baby when she’s on her way to her son’s IEP meeting at school for the first or tenth time. kiss your baby when she wakes you up begging to play princesses at 5 in the morning. 

with autism, symptoms typically show up around the age of 3. however, in many cases children will appear “typical” until 3 and then lose the majority of their skills in a matter of weeks. with this particular child, his diagnosis of autism was not new to his mother, but when he was 8, functioning much like an 8 year old (still with the corks of autism that I love to embrace) is when he lost the majority of his skills.

kiss your baby if they are healthy. kiss them if they are sick. 

“last night I was helping my older son with his homework upstairs and flipped off the kitchen light, encouraging my younger son with autism who had just finished a snack in the kitchen to go play. I came back an hour later and my son with autism was still sitting in the dark kitchen, unable to initiate movement, speech, desires, wants.” – mom 

another tear fell from her eyes.

kiss your baby the first time she says “mama,” kiss your baby when she runs off into the living room to watch TV, on her own, after you’ve said no a thousand times. 

the mom turned to me and said, “why, why is this happening? is it too late to help him?” my words about his newest ability to feed himself, twisted in a giant ball, sitting heavily on my heart didn’t have importance anymore. he used to know how to do this. all the very broken human part of me could do was put my hand on her shoulder and tell her, I am doing everything I possibly can do help him everyday.

another tear fell from her eyes and in her very broken English she said, “I can see the love you have for my son. I am very grateful.”

kiss your baby when he cries. kiss her when she laughs. 

while my heart is heavy with grief, relief, and a new sense of gratitude, I feel a sense of honor, hope, and dispair.

kiss your baby when you see red and white flashing lights. kiss your baby when she learns new things. kiss your baby when she forgets how to do things. 

kiss your baby. 

 

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Hope in the hopeless. 

I love quotes. I will look them up, friends know to share them with me, and there are a few that I remind myself every day. Some days, every moment. The one I keep going back to this month is:

“It may not be easy, but it’s worth it.”

Good Lord. Seriously, goodness — anoyher quote that I’ve always hated, about how God will never give you more than you can handle. It hasn’t felt that way this month.

While swimming with such a tired heart I got a call. My heart just broke in a million pieces when a friend, so so dear to me called crying from the hospital that she had just attempted to take her own life. I am so angry and so sad at all the unfairness in this broken world I could take that quote and stomp on it. I want to hate, I want to ruminate, I want to break the people who have caused brokenness to the people I love so much. And while I still want to do all of those things — I’ve chosen this morning to write a gratitude list. A reminder to myself, and hopefully others that among so much hurt, there is hope.

1. Jesus loves me unconditionally (and I would be in trouble right now if there were conditions!)

2. The friends in my life are more than I could ever ask for. They laugh with me and live life with me when it’s simple — or when it’s hard.

3. My strength. I don’t know where it’s coming from, but I’ve been granted the ability to still love and care others even when I’m so weary.

4. My kids. My goodness, they just KNOW when I need a little extra love. They are so perfect. And they bring me so much joy.

5. Hugs.

6. Grace.

7. Family. All kinds of family. Blood family, all the families that for some reason have adopted me as their own.

8. Lou, who in the past month has started sleeping right next to me — and on top of me when I need an extra reminder that he’s there.

9. Percy. The way I feel so grounded when we move together. Or when I laugh while he runs around and plays in the mud.

10. The passion to help others.

11. Coffee every morning.

12. A career that I love & a car that gets me there every day.

13. Finances to run away to Florida for a few days.

14. My roommate who always makes coming home feel a little warmer.

15. The fortitude to write this list.

There is hope in the hopeless.

bravery. 

Today as I was driving, I gave myself permission to say out loud that my job is hard. It’s not hard because my patience is continually tested, or my hair gets pulled daily, or I spend hours mulling over programming that, some children will never forever remember. It’s hard because my heart and soul does life with these kids. I feel their sadness, I can see the sheer frustration in their eyes. I hold them when they can’t express themselves in any way other than hitting their own head and crying out. It’s hard because I can’t fix it. I can’t forever take the moments that will forever be hard for them. 

“Not having a voice to say I’d had enough food or the bath water was too hot or to tell someone I loved them was the thing that made me feel most inhuman. I wasn’t willing at first to see that someone wanted to communicate with me. I was scared to believe someone might, but when I realized she wasn’t going to give up, I gradually opened up.” -Ghost Boy, Martin Pistorius 

This story that I’ve been reading reminded me that my own bravery every day is showing them I believe. It’s giving myself room to make mistakes and learn with them through it all.

I saw bravery today through my most admired co-teacher, Meghan Gullen who, kneeled down, heart, soul, and mind poured into believing in her students, and all their complexities, tears in her eyes, and said-I need help. Her bravery to not only be with her student in such hard moments, but surrender to ask for help reminded me of such strong bravery. 

Another moment was through a 7 year old little girl with words that the world doesn’t deserve to hear, but words we should all live by. After a seminar at her elementary school teaching her about children with special needs she said this – 

“I would treat them the same way that other people treat their kids because I don’t care if I have a kid with special needs, like, it’s fun to have kids with special needs. It’s way more fun when you get to have different kids with different kinds of kinds.” -Bryn S., age 7 

Bravery isn’t simple. I’m so grateful for all the different ways I’m shown to continue being brave, not only for my students, but for myself.