He’s been my worst case: practically truant (if I knew what the official requirements for declaring a middle schooler truant are), frustratingly disrespectful in class, absolutely no organization, and little motivation for math and science—the two subjects I tutor him in.
I did everything they say: be alternative, get to know the kid, connect to them. I found out about his family, his dreams, his hopes, told him when I was proud of him and when he disappointed me, praised his efforts and tried every way to show him how to succeed. Still, the behavior continued: skipping school, refusing to work or pay attention in class, unmotivated, and disorganized.
In the midst of a math class where I was working with four students at once, and he was distracting his peers, making jokes, and refusing to do his work, I confronted him. I’m lucky that he trusts me and listens to me. When I push him, he responds, and I can be upfront. He told me, “I just can’t do math.” Right away, I fired back, “Is that reality? Or is that just something you tell yourself?” He said, “It is reality.” I said, “No. The reality is, I work with you on this every day, and you can do it. I’ve seen you do it. You’re not bad at it. It takes work but you can do it. Come on, let’s do it.” The rest of the class, he focused. He finished his homework, which he rarely does. The next day, he looked up only once from his math to nudge the girl sitting beside him, “Hey, I might have to quit school because I’m starting to think this is fun.” He finished his work in class two days in a row.
Is that it?
After working with this student since September and exhausting every possible way to get him to try, all I had to do was tell him that he can?
So, this relates to winter because I hate winter as much as my student hates math. I can’t do winter. I could never imagine living in a place where there is real winter. I would be happy if winter was eliminated from the four seasons. Then, I moved to Maine.
I got a job that drew me in, enticed me. I thought, winter is a reality, winter is a part of life. I am eliminating half the world if I refuse to travel or live places based on the fact that they have winter or not. More than anything, I was afraid. I was afraid of being cold. I was afraid of driving in snow. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be happy in a place so far from my comfort zone. I wanted to overcome my fear.
Then, I fell in love. I love ice skating, walking in snowy woods, the way snow falls on cold nights and shines under lights. I love the way the moon and stars glimmer on icy nights. I like seeing my breath and ice scraping my car. I feel brave in winter. When I sit by my fire listening to the wind howl, literally howl around the house, I feel the world is cold out there, but I am not afraid of it. I could stand in that wind and feel alive. I pray for snow sometimes.
Is that it?
After spending twenty-three years afraid of the cold and hating an entire 1/4 of the year, all I had to do was embrace it? All I had to do was tell myself I can?
I similarly dislike exercise. In the past, I was sporadic with exercising and mostly would do it in an obsessive way, all about skinnier; it had nothing to do with being healthy. I exercised and hated it. I thought, I hate exercise. Why do people do this? It doesn’t make me happy.
Then, I started working in a summer camp where I lived with children 24/7. I was waking up children in the morning and caring for them up to the minute where they went to bed. I slept in practically the same room, woke up to their nightmares and fevers. I lived like a mom to seven active girls. There, if I got a free period off during the day, it was forty-five minutes midday, hardly enough time to sit down and think. For some reason, I began to fill that time with a two-mile run down Echo Lake road, which wound along a beautiful Maine lake, through trees and the smell of water and forest. It became my happiness, my moment away from children, to connect with myself and feel my heart pump, connect to the world, charge myself with health, sun, and energy.
Then, I fell in love. My runs and exercise have become my joy. When I leave the gym on nine degree day in Maine, breath in my lungs and my skin glistening, I drive home with the windows open and feel alive.
That’s it? All I had to do, after spending over twenty years avoiding something, was embrace it? Enable myself. Believe I could enjoy it.
I also never thought I could grow my hair out. It’s too thin. It gets gross when it grows long. When I was a kid, my mom wouldn’t let me have haircuts. It grew lank, untrimmed. After twelve years without a haircut, I took scissors to my own hair and never went back. Though I admire beautiful, long hair, I’ve always thought my hair looks awful long.
In that same summer camp, one of my best friends there had gorgeous hair. Whenever we were sitting around in her cabin, she’d always open a bottle of gummy multi-vitamins and offer, “Gummy? They’re good for your hair.” I always laughed and just ate a vitamin. Then, it became a habit. I started taking vitamins and eating more, finding out which ones I didn’t have in my diet and supplementing. I still eat gummies. My hair got shiny, not just from the sun, and now it’s growing long— it’s how I’ve always wished it could be.
To get what I wanted in life, all I had to do was release myself from my own beliefs about myself.
We think in boxes. I do. It could be about a little things like math or exercise or a big thing like how we think about ourselves and the world. We think, “I am like this. I am good at this. I can do this. I can’t do that.” I hate winter. I’ll never be a runner. My hair is my worst asset. Math sucks. But is that reality or is that just something we tell ourselves? Every day, I learn a little more. I learn we are what we allow ourselves to be.