Life, Teach

The Hardest Thing

Stop beating yourself up

Have you ever found yourself going about your day, thinking your regular thoughts, when a painful or unpleasant memory leaps into your mind? Do you wonder how your thoughts went from “I need to go to the store” to “the argument that ruined our trip?” It happened to me this morning. I was getting dressed, thinking about the things I needed to take to my first homeschooling job: computer, power cord, lunch, snack – and the next thing I knew, I was remembering something that happened my last year of teaching.

I taught second grade, and we had a morning snack and an afternoon snack daily. We told the children they could bring healthy snacks and sent a letter home explaining the difference between healthy snacks (crackers, yogurt, cheese, fruit) and treat snacks (chips, cookies, candy – pretty much anything you can get in a vending machine.) Like so many things, the children were great about bringing healthy snacks at the beginning of the year but had slacked off around February, so my teaching partner and I decided to crack down on unhealthy snacks and not let the children eat Doritos and Oreos at snack time. (Yeah, we were big meanies.) We sent another letter home, reminding the parents what was/wasn’t considered a healthy snack.

One day during the crackdown, a student approached me and said that her mother forgot to pack a healthy snack, and all she had was a chocolate pudding cup. I told her she had to wait until lunch to eat the pudding. I didn’t think much of it – we were unhealthy snack deniers, after all – until my principal asked to meet with me after school. The child’s mother had called the office to express her displeasure with my choice.

{You should know that this child was absolutely lovely and had never misbehaved; her mother was friendly and helpful – we had a good parent-teacher relationship. This wasn’t a case of a student who routinely broke rules or a parent who wasn’t supportive of our policies. It was just me, reinforcing healthy snack habits.)

I was surprised that the mother had called the principal instead of asking me about it, and I was even more surprised to find myself defending my decision. We were cracking down on unhealthy snacks! We had reminded the parents of our policy! Wasn’t it good that we were holding students accountable? My principal didn’t think so, and a seemingly minor issue turned into my apologizing to the student and promising to let her eat whatever she brought (although I knew that she would always bring a healthy snack from then on.) In fact. I gave up enforcing the healthy snack policy and let the kids eat whatever they wanted.

In a year that was not my best – taking care of my terminally ill mother and dealing with things going on at school had taken a toll on me – this incident was one more sign that it was time for me to do something else. Remembering it this morning, I felt remorse and shame: remorse, because why didn’t just let that sweet girl – who had never, ever disobeyed me – eat the pudding? And shame because I had literally been called to the principal’s office for doing something wrong. The length of time it took me to go from “remember to bring a snack” to “that time I wouldn’t let a little girl eat her snack” was probably one-one hundredth the time it took me to write these paragraphs, but the effect was jarring. A perfectly fine morning had turned sour in an instant.

I realized how ridiculous that line of thinking was and brushed it aside, but the feelings lingered. It is so hard for me to avoid self-recrimination, even though I know it isn’t productive. Snackgate 2011 is a thing of the past; why can’t I just let it go? Why do memories like that resurface, reminding me of my worst traits and decisions? This incident is a relatively small one in the All the Bad Things Kelly Ever Did Hall of Fame, but it is a good example of how something innocuous can affect my mood.

So how do I stop beating myself up over things I can’t change? Honestly, I don’t know. A year ago this month, my mother went into hospice care after living with stage IV ovarian cancer for nearly three years. There are a lot of things – more serious things than saying no to pudding – that I said, did, or didn’t say or do last year that haunt me. I try to push them side and focus on happy memories and how grateful I am that the treatment my mom received extended her life beyond what is expected for patients with her type of cancer, but I haven’t been able to do it completely.

I know today’s post is different from the others I’ve written he last few (my life isn’t all puppy kisses and pumpkins and pretty jewelry,) but it’s the kind of post I write when there’s a burning question on my mind. October is going to be a month of painful memories; my mom died after suffering the ravages of end-stage ovarian cancer, so it’s no wonder last October sucked. I’ll have to deal with those memories  – they are part of grieving for and missing my mother – and I hope I can find a way to put them behind me.

How do you let go of bad memories? How do you get rid of all the bad stuff in your head and focus on what is good? How do you move forward when you can’t talk to the person you wronged? (These are not rhetorical questions – I’m really asking for your help!)

31 Days of Do Over 2013

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2 thoughts on “The Hardest Thing

  1. I feel the same way – I keep getting these bad memories into my head (most I actally had forgotten I had). I find it mostly annoying because I know there is nothing I can do about it now but ut still haunts me. Why can my brain just not let go of my mistakes and failures? Some times I feel like I am just waiting for things to happen again (like I keep thinking I might get fired for reasons unknown to me because that has happened in the past).

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