Today I am sad. The gray clouds and rain seem cued up to match my mood. Luke is constantly on my mind these days and the inescapable truth of what I have to live with and hold on to and what defines my every living breathing moment is following me around every corner and crushing me like a weight.
It has been a hard week. The news is full of three recent suicides: Two of the young people involved in the shootings in Parkland, Florida and most recently, the father of one of the victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School. My heart was broken in all three of these cases, but particularly for Mr. Richman. I understand all too well how hard it is to live after you lose a child. And it is so hard!
If you haven’t lost a child or someone equally important in your life, you may not realize the high percentage of people who talk about the darkness or thoughts of suicide that prevail following an event such as this. Sixty-five percent is the official number. What has been expressed to me are the feelings of hopelessness that follow a traumatic loss.
“What’s the point of being here?”
“How can I go on without my baby?”
“I just want to end it all so this pain will disappear.”
The hurt around grieving is never ending. I have written before about how John just wanted a number… how many days did he have to endure before this ache in his heart would go away? He wanted there to be an endpoint to his grief because we believe anyone can do something for a short period of time. I say this to my students all the time when they are frustrated. Anyone can do one day. Or my co-workers after a particularly busy week – anyone can do the six weeks till April vacation. We humans work best with an end date to anticipate. But therein lies the problem. Grief has no end date. It ebbs and flows like a wave on the ocean, but it is always there. Personally, I wake up with it every morning, I hold it in my heart all day, and I take it to bed. Every. damn. day. And like the five pounds you have been trying to lose since the holidays, grief has a palpable, real weight to it. And for some, it becomes more like a noose around the neck or a cinder block on the chest. Too hard to escape from.
So cry with me over the friends and the father who reached their limit. Don’t judge them, but instead, hold them for a moment in your heart, imagine the depth of pain they had endured, and then send them love and understanding on the other side.
As for me, I know today is a hard day. It might be hard days for the next two weeks or more and yet, I understand that this is my new normal and I am okay. It isn’t always pretty, lol, but after four years I know that hope is always just around the bend.
Joy, love, happiness, and gratefulness are part of my every day, but so are death, loss, heartache, and grief.
Scribbles and Crumbs
So here’s what I want you to know: No one ever tells you when you lose part of your heart, that going on without them might actually be the biggest challenge. Be gentle with yourself and take it one day at a time. Rivers and Roads, my sweet friends, Rivers and Roads. And remember – Living, loving, losing – it can all be hard and it isn’t always visible. So be kind to one another. Love one another. Hug one another. It’s only together we get through. Xxx
Please note: If you are struggling, don’t be alone. Tell your momma, or your doctor, or call The National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.
Jen Schmohl was Luke’s science teacher in middle school, not once, but twice. I often wondered what she had done in a previous life lol to deserve this, but it’s just the way it turned out. Jen had Luke at the height of his challenging behavior and for this she should have been paid a million dollars. Turns out she and I had something in common back in 2009: a desire to give directions and run a tight ship and a young man who didn’t want to be told what to do. It also turns out we were probably Number One and Two on his list of Most Annoying People. Sigh.
Jen has been brave enough to reflect and write about Luke as her student. If you thought reading about his running away was hard, buckle up. Jen’s recounting of Luke brought John and I to tears and dredged up all those feelings of agony over his disrespectful actions at school. He was a hard kid, friends. Not every day, not every year, but in 2009… this is what it looked like. My thanks, Jen, for the honesty. Xxx
I was Luke’s 7th grade science teacher. I honestly don’t remember much about him that year which means he was probably being a typical 7th grader. At that point I had been teaching 7th grade Life Science for about 16 years and had that number pretty down pat, engaging lessons and a strong sense of how to manage a 7th grade class. Life was good!
Unfortunately, the following year I would need to teach 7th grade AND 8th grade because Rutland’s student population was growing so much. This meant I’d need to teach physics and chemistry! Ugh! I’d never taught Physical Science as a full time teacher and I really didn’t want to change what I had been doing. I even went as far as taking (and passing!) the Biology MTEL so I could be certified to teach high school and get out of teaching physical science, if the opportunity arose. All summer I was dreading the new schedule. I studied up on the subject as much as I could. I felt like a first year teacher all over again, which may be why I can still remember so many of the students from that class.
A week before school began we got our tentative rosters. I saw some familiar names, like Luke Inwood, some not so familiar names, and some notorious names, if you know what I mean. I was glad to have several students for two years in a row, including Luke. I was hoping they were glad as well.
The jitters faded and I managed to do my job. Physical science was actually really great. There are so many hands-on labs to do; way more than life science. That October I planned for my 8th graders to teach “properties of matter” to a first grade class at a nearby primary school. We had learning stations planned and our science pals were assigned. We were ready to walk to the Primary School and share our lessons on Physical Properties of Matter. Everyone was excited but I was nervous. How would these 8th graders behave? Would they be good role models? Would they actually teach what we had practiced? My concerns grew as we walked up the road because I had a couple of students who couldn’t “walk on the sidewalk, not on the road.” Even though Luke did oblige to getting off the road he continued to walk far off the sidewalk, the other way, to pick up a wire that had fallen from the telephone pole. It wasn’t live, of course, but who knew at the time? At that point I decided there was no way I was chaperoning the 8th grade trip to Boston that year, even if I was an 8th grade teacher now. I remember thinking, “Luke Inwood will walk into traffic!”
Well, something magical happened in that first grade classroom. Luke and all my students were amazing with the little ones. They were so kind and patient. They smiled and laughed and hugged their science pals. They also did a fantastic job teaching their topics. Our walk back was light hearted and we were all proud of ourselves and of each other. (And everyone walked on the sidewalk!)
I think it was about February when my 8th graders started getting senioritis and began challenging me. There was nothing I could do to keep them all engaged. I recall making ice cream with them and they complained that it was just vanilla! I resorted to assigning chapter sections to groups and they had to design lessons to teach each other. Ha! they’d see how hard it is to teach these guys. Joke was on me, they loved it. So now teaching a new subject and a new grade was proving to be the challenge I’d imagined it would be.
Luke was definitely the most challenging of the bunch. If you’re a teacher I’m sure you’ve had students that occupy your thoughts evenings and weekends. You find yourself talking to yourself, rehearsing what you really want to say and what you really should say. You think of that student while you read articles about how to manage difficult classrooms and challenging students and then you eventually remember all the others and try to make them a priority too.
The worst day of my teaching career happened when Luke turned his angst towards a classmate. Luke was slowly pushing his table into the back of a girl’s chair. I told him to stop. He didn’t. She was trying to scooch her chair forward but she was getting squished up against her desk. I told him to stop again. He didn’t. I don’t know what I said exactly but, it was like an out of body experience. I was shaking after. I held back the tears. It was one thing to antagonize me, but it’s definitely not alright to make one of my students feel uncomfortable.
As the year went onLuke would push my buttons so much that my administration suggested that I tell him to go to the office whenever he was not cooperating. When he refused to leave, I’d call the office and ask someone to come and get him.
I can’t recall perfectly about my communication with Patty but I recall emailing her often. One time she said she needed to stop getting my emails. They were never good news and they didn’t seem to be helping anyone. She was right. It was not helping my relationship with Luke at all. At one point Patty suggested the three of us meet face to face to talk. We met in the library, in a sunny window and comfy chairs in an attempt to keep everyone relaxed. I told Patty and Luke that I felt like I’d tried everything. I tried tough love, kid gloves, joking, giving him leadership jobs and ignoring him but nothing seemed to work. Patty said she was surprised to hear about his uncooperative nature because he did everything they asked him to do at home. She wasn’t joking either. He would take out the trash when they asked, for example. He wasn’t having any problems with his other teachers either. So I left there feeling like the worst teacher in the world.
That’s also how I felt when I received a note from Luke the next year. His 9th grade science teacher had her students write to their 8th grade science teachers telling them what they really remember well from their classes. Luke’s letter said, “I didn’t learn anything in 8th grade cuz me and Schmohl didn’t get along.”
Four years later Luke would be gone. I felt so horrible that I couldn’t bring myself to attend the Calling Hours. I felt I didn’t deserve to go because I let him and Patty down. On a card to the Inwoods from the CTMS teachers, I simply wrote, “I’m sorry for everything.”
I thank you, Patty, for writing your blogs with such honesty for the sake of helping other parents. They’ve helped me as well. I didn’t know until I read your blogs that Luke had difficulty in high school classes and with his parents. I always thought it was just with me.
I feel vulnerable writing these memories but I want to help other teachers, parents and children, if I can. I have reflected a lot on my relationships with students since knowing Luke. I have been better at identifying students whose outward behaviors are signs of hurting inside. I’ve been more frank with parents of these students as well. Thankfully our middle schools have counselors now, which we didn’t have when Luke was in middle school. We also are learning more and more about SEL, social emotional learning.
What I’d like parents to know: If your child is getting in trouble at school, please don’t instinctively find blame in the teachers. Do not fall into the excuse that your child’s behavior is poor because they are not being challenged or that the teacher doesn’t like them. Accept it as a sign that your child needs explicit counseling on ways to manage their emotions. Middle school is a tough age to get through and it doesn’t matter which middle school they’re in. If your child is having difficulty with authority and boundaries in middle school, don’t ignore the need to have a professional work with your child. I believe completely that depression and other mental health issues can not be managed without professional medical help.
My child was a runner. Not a cross-country runner, but a run-away from home runner. And I am not talking about the cute “I’m going to Grammy’s forever” kind of running away from home, either. Although there was that one night a neighborhood friend, Austin, decided he was done with his family and took all his worldly possessions to the fort the kids had made in the woods. Luke, in classic Luke Inwood style, decided he needed a wingman. That joint venture was quickly ended by a visit from Bob the Bogeyman that had both boys headed for the comfort and safety of their own homes. Thank you, Bob!
Ugh, it is actually hard to add any humor to this post because if you have had a child take off, and you honestly don’t know if they are coming back, it is not freaking funny. It is actually one of the worst emotions I have every experienced. It is a heaviness, a sick feeling, an ever-growing panic that wraps itself around your throat until you can’t breathe. And it doesn’t matter if it’s the first time, or the second, or in Luke’s case, the third. Every minute is awful.
John and I don’t even remember what was happening that prompted Luke to take off that first time. Isn’t that incredible? It was significant enough for Luke to run, yet neither John or I can remember the words that must have been exchanged. SO, I am going to go with John and Luke had a fight. It didn’t happen often, but Luke went through this phase where everything his dad said really rubbed him the wrong way. So, words are exchanged and Luke storms out the door and we have no idea where he is going. He can’t drive yet so his options are limited to where he can walk to. It is the first time this has happened and Luke is prone to drama so John and I decide to give him a few minutes to cool down and we figure when he gets cold, or scared, he will come back. After all, he is only eleven or twelve, and it’s pitch black. A few minutes turn into twenty and as we discuss what to do next, the phone rings. I pick it up – remember those days? – and Carissa Mailman is on the other end. Luke is at their house and he is telling her he is scared to go home because his dad might hit him. Yes, you read that right. HIS DAD MIGHT HIT HIM. If you know John Inwood you know this is the most ridiculous thing ever. The man stops for turtles crossing for crying out loud! So I am parts appalled, alarmed, and annoyed, but I thank her for calling and tell her I will be down straight away.
When Carissa opens the door, the look on her face puts me in full-blown panic mode. She seems … hesitant. She invites me into the living room and asks me to sit down, but I don’t want to sit down. I want to grab my child, hug him, and then kick his ass. Instead, Carissa lays out the details of Luke’s arrival at their home: How he was upset, visibly shaking, and of course, that part about his father. She then begins to ask questions about Luke’s relationship with his dad that have me realizing that there is a chance she is not going to let Luke leave with me. You haven’t been there before, friends, but sitting there, recognizing that another human being could stop you from being with your child, is a horrible feeling. It destroyed me. You need to understand that this family had been in our lives for a while. They knew us. But when a young man shows up at your door with claims like that, well… I understand she thought she was doing the right thing to protect him.
So here’s what I need you to know: All’s well that ends well and Luke ended up under our roof that evening. We never really got to the bottom of why Luke said what he did about his dad, but I think he was trying to make the situation more than it was to justify his behavior. As I mentioned previously, this was not to be the last time Luke would use running away as a strategy when he was pissed off. So YOU need to know that running away is not expected behavior. It is an indicator that things are going on in your child’s life that he or she cannot handle. Knowing what I know now, I would tell a parent if your child runs away, even once, that a trip to the therapist is in order. If running away is their best option it means your relationship is fragile, that talking with you is not working, that they don’t believe in their own selves enough to handle whatever problem or problems is plaguing them. They need Help. Don’t take it personally. Parents don’t sign on to be psychologists. We sign on to love them, to love them, to love them. So love them by not ignoring this. It’s a sign. Xxx
My boy Luke was really coming into his own in seventh grade. I, unfortunately, had started to become undone. I had gone back to school to get my Masters in Education and was also working full time as the librarian at Glenwood. Plus raising my family. Twenty-four hours in a day was not cutting it. lol I was having my own health issues and was still unaware that they were stemming from my anxiety. I was tired, frazzled, and tense. In short, I was a burnt out mess.
I was listening to a podcast today with the author of Present Over Perfect, Shauna Niequist, and she was describing a similar time in her life and how the more crazy her life became, the more she desperately wanted to control every. single. element. This was me. I wanted everything, every moment of the day scripted and going the way I needed it to go so I could complete all the things on my long to-do list.
Turns out Luke didn’t really like being on my list. lol He was always more of a free-style it kind of guy. In seventh grade Luke was spreading his wings. He didn’t want to be told when he had to be home for dinner, or how long he was allowed to be on his phone, or how much homework he should be doing. He didn’t want to be told anything. Cue the mother. I, of course, had opinions about everything. A voice about everything. His hair, his clothes, his sleeping habits, his school work. UGH. The NAGGING I did about the school work. But Luke and school was one of those things I didn’t want to have to worry about. I wanted it all tied up in a pretty package and taken care of. I was desperately trying to control this, but turns out you can’t control the course of another human being’s life. Even your child’s.
PowerSchool had come into our lives when Luke started at Central Tree and I thought it was the best thing ever. Every day I could go on and see Luke’s grades. Every. Day. I am sighing now thinking about how insane this practice was. What happened is it then became a daily conversation about what homework or assignment he hadn’t completed or turned in or done his best on. School had become a bit more work for Luke and he was just putting in the perfect amount of effort to get it completed. Getting an A or doing better than his peers was not his number one concern anymore and as a result he became a B student. Oh, the HORROR! It seems funny, now. Then, not so much.
There I was, one Sunday morning, looking at PowerSchool. Grades had closed and his report card, per se, was up and Luke had mostly Bs. And I was devastated. Luke was a smart kid. Really smart, actually, and should have easily been able to get grades to reflect that. But here I was staring all these Bs in face and I cried. Yep, not my finest moment. But wait for it, it gets better. Luke loved to tell the story about the day he was sitting in the great room with his father, watching something on TV, when his mom walked in with her laptop, crying, literally losing her shit, and announced, “Well, my son is officially a B student.” Ugh. It pains me to admit this to all of you. I am hoping someone out there can relate to creating this level of drama around grades and looking back, I try to forgive myself knowing the strain I was under at the time. Regardless, let’s have a moment of silence for this stellar parenting move.
Luke thought the whole event was laughable. “I don’t care, Mom! WTF?!” But obviously I did. It took me a few days to recover from this run-in because doing well in school meant something to me – too much, I realize now. Turns out, one short year later, I would give anything to see those Bs again.
So here’s what I need you to know: As a society, we put so much emphasis on grades. I witness so much disappointment and elation for parents tied to the numbers and letters we teachers hand out to let you know how your child is doing learning their curriculum. We fight about school with our kids, and argue over homework and projects. We give them money and rewards when they do well to encourage those high grades. And to what end? I see the faces of my kiddos who absolutely give their all and end up with a 70% and feel like they are less than their classmates who received the 100% maybe with half the effort. I don’t have the answer, but I do know we need balance. I tell my students all the time that who they are at school is NOT the full measure of who they are as a human being. That they are valued for being a wonderful son or daughter, for helping their community in Scouts or at church, for the dancer or basketball player or whatever passion it is that they chase. I try not to preach, but please try and put this practice into your relationship with your children. If kiddos believe that the most important part of who they are is tied to how they do at school, and school is not their thing, well, it’s a long, long road to Senior Year. Here’s to celebrating the whole child. Xxx
I don’t know what it was about Luke’s friend group that made them seem more like small adults than pre-teens in middle school. Half of them didn’t even have armpit hair lol, but they just seemed so dang worldly that you couldn’t help but treat them more like peers than as someone to parent. The lads were quick witted and smart and talking about things I certainly didn’t know anything about in sixth grade. It was definitely like watching a group of college friends horsing around and my mind just stayed with that image. Thirteen Going on Thirty.
In sixth grade this group was definitely not what we teachers would classify as *young*. They were constantly talking about girls and I remember stumbling into a conversation one day where they were calling one of the boys a *player*. How the heck did they even know what that was? And how is one a player in SIXTH GRADE for Pete’s sake?! But after hearing the escapades of said young man it turned out the label was, well, accurate. lol The *who is dating who* scene was a hot topic and everyone wanted to be attached and wanted to experiment. I didn’t think one needed a first kiss till high school. Boy, was I wrong.
Speaking of experiment… I am not sure what else these kiddos were up to that maybe they shouldn’t have been. I don’t want to sound naïve, lol, but I am pretty sure middle school is when some of the kids started smoking – cigarettes and otherwise. I am also aware of the stories that circulated about alcohol at school dances. And I already mentioned the male-female interactions. Truth is friends, Middle school is that stage, developmentally, where kids start pushing boundaries and trying on different personas to see which one fits. They want to try things to fit in; they want to try things to be different and edgy; they want to try things to piss off their parents. lol What I also know is middle school is the beginning of that stage in life where FRIENDS have way more merit and influence and importance than PARENTS. Heaven help us.
So here’s what I need you to know: My good friend, Heather LeMay gave me the best advice when all the antics started in sixth grade.
“Patty, ” she said, “They all swear and they all lie. Don’t forget it. “
Lol I didn’t and you shouldn’t. So was Luke swearing on the school bus? Definitely. Was Luke saying he was headed to Jeff’s house and actually hanging out with girls in somebody’s basement? Probably. But we rolled with it. If Logan had done these things I would have been mortified and concerned. He was so little in sixth grade. But for Luke and his crew? It just seemed like the expected behavior. Looking back, these were really good kids just having a really good time. And where is the harm in that? One more thing- if you Think you should maybe have a conversation with your child about sex, or drugs, or alcohol you are already too late. lol Your child was thinking about it six months ago. So be proactive. Keep the communication open. And as much as they might try and act like adults most days, middle schoolers still need a mom and dad, and your LOVE every day. Their words might say they hate it, but their heart would tell you otherwise. Xxx