Monday, September 26, 2016

I Don't Know.

It's almost October in my final year of college. By January, I'll be student teaching. By May, I'll be licensed with a diploma. And it's all so exciting to dream about what might come. I love to dream about it for hours. Until someone asks that ever dreaded question...

So Bethany... What are your plans after this? 

And I'm torn between several answers. The reality of what I want (which everyone thinks is crazy), the many probable and stable options (which everyone is quick to recommend), and the truth that I have absolutely no earthly idea (which no one allows themselves to accept). They offer advice. They tell stories of their personal experiences. All of which is fine and dandy until I bring up one important piece of information: I'm not them. 

God's plan for me might look different than His plan for them. Do they like that answer? Nope. Do they withhold any more of their opinions because of this new piece of knowledge? Nope. But has it ever really been their place to chime in? Hah... Nope.

So to answer those questions for any reader who's waiting to ask... What grade do I want to teach? I don't know. What city do I plan to teach in? I don't know. What school will I get a job in after this? I don't know. Will I go to grad school? I don't know. (Though I am currently applying, and am waiting for admission. Fingers crossed.)

So that opens up more questions. Will I work while I get my Master's? I don't know. Probably. Really? Where? Public school? Or something with less hours until I get the degree? Will I start gaining experience while in pursuit of another degree? A-hem. Didn't you hear me?

I don't know.

Oh. Well in a perfect world... What would you want? 

*Pauses to take a deep breath.* In a perfect world, I would fly to New York City to attend a job fair in April. I would land a job in a preschool classroom, and fly up again over the summer to secure an apartment close to said job. I would return home to pack up my apartment and move. I would use June to set up my new apartment. I would use July to set up my classroom. I would take the beginning of August to attend teacher trainings and get my teaching license transferred. I would start my job when school starts, spending my free weekends walking around the city and entering the Broadway lotteries. I suppose a few years after that I would meet an awesome man, get married, move out of the city into the suburbs so it would be safer to raise my own kiddos.

Wow! the questioners will respond, Why NYC? Do you really think you can live there? Do you think you'd make enough money to support yourself? How do you plan on moving? How do you plan on securing a job? How many interviews will consider you flying out for? Would you consider moving to transition cities to make the leap of faith easier? Why is this so important to you? Would you move with a few months' support in order to secure a job? Or would you attempt to battle finding a job before you moved into an apartment? What would grad school look like with you in New York? 

And I'll flash a big smile and bat my eyelashes. Can you guess my answer? Yep...

I don't know.

Does it give me an anxiety attack every day? Yep. Do your innocent questions help me out any with that? Nope.

I'm still trying to figure it all out while also enjoying my last year of college. That's what the last year is for. Do I have all the answers? No. I don't have any. And that's okay. Yes, I'm examining all my options. Yes, I'm listening to your advice (with no promises that I'll take it). Yes, I'm trying to make what I want happen because I would never forgive myself if I didn't at least try. But I'm letting go and letting God. Trust me. I want to know the answers just as much as you do, but unfortunately, sometimes He makes us wait a little while. When He reveals it to me, you'll be the first to know.

Just know that I don't have the luxury to sit around all day and think about my future. I'm trying to sort this out while pushing up to 20 credit hours when you count my student teaching practicums with my lectures. That doesn't count guard practice, which I get one credit hour for but spend at least ten hours a week rehearsing. I work. I babysit. I blog three times a week. I send out newsletters, market, promote, and update all social media sites for the blog on a weekly basis. My grad school application isn't done. Neither is my teacher certification tasks, prompts, or paperwork. I spend time in my bible and journal at least once a day. I pray every time I'm speeding somewhere in my car for the hope of a peaceful mind.

This post isn't me throwing myself a pity party. It's me attempting to do something about it all.

I'm too stressed. I'm too tired. It's too much. I like to pretend I'm superwoman, but man. I can't do it all. After all, I'm only human. I don't remember the last time I ate a meal without running somewhere. I don't remember the last time I watched a movie without also doing homework. I definitely don't remember the last time I went out for a dinner or a night with my friends.

One of the biggest aspects of self love is self care. One of the best ways to show yourself and the world that you love your soul and the body it lives in, is to take care of that soul and the body it lives in. Yes, you should feed it healthily. Yes, you should rest it often. But you should also eliminate unnecessary stressors that are taking a toll on it and you.

As much as I don't want to, I am cutting back to writing once a week again. I will also cut back my weekly newsletter to once a month. Three times a week is too much for posting, and once a week is too much to orchestrate an email when I've done nothing that week but run around like a madwoman and try to get everything done. Writing is my release. Writing is my therapy. So, the moment I begin to dread and stress drafting a post, I know it is time to cut back. I refuse to lose this awesome outlet.

One of the best aspects of blogging is having a diverse community that you built yourself, who is dedicated to supporting and encouraging your mission. One of the most difficult aspects of blogging is potentially hurting or losing a few of those readers when you begin to post less often. But, as a dear friend recently told me, you can't pour from an empty cup. 

Thank you so much for bearing with me as I get my crazy unknown life together. As a challenge, why don't you take a little break with me? Cut out a little something this week you can use to give yourself a little free time. And as a reward? You'll be the first to know the updates and answers to all those previously listed questions.

As soon as I have the answers, of course.

Catch ya next week, beautiful.

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Build-A-Bear Bond

A strong sense of community is crucial in any large group of people who need to work together. Coaches and camp counselors have known this forever, always incorporating new and exciting games and activities to get to know teammates, form memories, and eventually create a lasting bond between members. Leadership trainings are purchased and implemented at great expense to companies and staff. Why do teachers expect our classrooms will be any different? 

One of the best things I ever witnessed in an early childhood practicum classroom was the incorporation of a daily morning meeting. It’s something my early childhood professors recommended on a weekly basis, but my cooperating teacher bit the bullet and decided to incorporate it every day. I was a student teacher, after all, so I was about to witness a leap of faith first hand.

In the first couple of weeks, I thought we’d lost our minds. Everyone was talking. Everyone was sharing stories that weren’t relevant to our class at all. One prompt about helping their community turned into a tragic story of one girl attempting to save a friend’s cat that died falling out of a tree. The class began to riot. Many wailing tears were shed by my empathetic 6-year-olds. I thought my cooperating teacher was going to cut all future morning meetings right then and there. 

I rushed to my car that day after my student teaching, flying down the highway to make it to a rehearsal for the high school color guard I coach separately. I peeled into the parking lot and jerked my open bag from the passenger seat. Every single item scattered all over the pavement. Electrical tape, fabric swatches, feminine products, music scores, drill sheets, choreography notes, 14 tubes of red lipstick… You name it. If a guard member needed it, I had it in the bag. I collected all the contents threatening to blow across the parking lot before moving to pick up my team’s favorite possession: their Build-A-Bear mascot. She was dressed like them. She traveled with them. She was there to cuddle with when one of them was having a bad day. She represented them, too; that little bear contained a wish and a goal and a heart from every member on that team. 

My thoughts jumped back to the kiddos I’d just left crying over a cat. Why hadn’t I thought of this before? If my high schoolers could love and appreciate something I thought they’d perceive as completely juvenile, why hadn’t I considered its effectiveness for my first graders? 

Just for the record, there’s absolutely nothing stranger than a grown woman in slacks and a professional name tag waltzing into a Build-A-Bear store, standing in line with a bunch of eight year olds, and then requesting to buy an unstuffed animal, a bag of cotton, and sixteen fabric hearts. But out I walked with all of it stuffed inside one of their signature cardboard houses. I bought a couple of outfits too, outfits that matched the culture and preferences of my students. I went home and dug out some of my old Build-A-Bear outfits from when I had one as a little girl. Then I turned on Netflix and spent the next three hours stuffing and dressing our new classroom cat. Named Lacey, of course, in honor of the tragic story shared in our classroom circle. 

My practicum teacher loved the idea, and I introduced Lacey the next morning. I called everyone to attention in the classroom circle and sat the cardboard Build-A-Bear house on my lap. “Who’s seen one of these before?” Every hand went up: from the girl who got a new bear every year to the little boy in the back who’d dreamed of having a Build-A-Bear since his best friend got one the year before. I pulled Lacey from the box and heard everything from gasping to cheering. It was a major hit. I explained the tradition to my bright eyed kiddos as I handed out a single fabric heart to each child in the room. 

“Lacey is our classroom mascot,” I said, explaining what a “mascot” was. “One of the first things you do when you make an animal at Build-A-Bear workshop is choose a heart. Lacey will have a heart from each and every one of you. So before we get started, I want you to close your eyes, and make a wish. It can be about anything.” 

The children closed their eyes and wished on their heart. I did the same with my heart. 

“Now, I want you to think about our class, and the friends you have sitting around you. I want you to set one goal for yourself this year. It might be to read a whole book by yourself. It might be to make three new friends this year, or write your own story, or to get better at math.” 

The children closed their eyes again and set their goal. I did the same. 

Then we all stood up. “Now rub your heart on your head so Lacey will grow to be as smart as you!!” 

The kids giggled and rubbed their hearts vigorously on their heads. 

“Now rub it on your shoes so she has a soul!” 

The kids hopped around laughing, rubbing their hearts on their shoes. 

“Now rub it on your knees so she needs you!” 

That one was a favorite. 

“Now hold it close to your heart, so she’ll never forget how much we love her.” 

The students held the heart close to their chest and I opened the back of the stuffed cat. Each child took their turn placing their heart inside the cat, and watched with big eyes and smiles as I fastened the back of the animal. 

We took Lacey everywhere. She accompanied field trips as a “chaperone.” She walked around the school with us as a “hall monitor.” She traveled to the computer lab to monitor online safety. She also gave several rewards to children. We used positive reinforcement in the classroom through Class Dojo rewards, so they could cash in their reward points for multiple activities with Lacey. 50 points can be exchanged for being the one to carry Lacey in the hallway for a day. 100 points can be exchanged for changing Lacey’s outfit for the week. 300 points can be exchanged for keeping Lacey with them at their seat for a day. That little stuffed cat turned out to be a pretty strong motivator.

She’s good for assignments too. She sits in the reading corner when she’s not traveling, and guards the “prompt bucket,” where students can go to pick up a prompt during free writing if they can’t think of anything to write about. She helps us count the number line during math and loves to operate the timer for center time. But my favorite assignment she’s involved in is the weekend trips, where each weekend, a different student takes Lacey home and writes about all the fun adventures they have with her at home. She is returns to the class on Monday, along with the best writing some of my kiddos did all semester. 

By the second month of school, our first graders really started seeing some major benefits. Not only were discussion prompts far more focused in circle time, but friends were being made. My egocentric students were becoming enthralled with their classmates' cultures and lives. Lacey broke down every diversity barrier that could’ve possibly affected the class. If there was one thing everyone had in common, it was that they all loved Lacey. My creative kiddos lived for show and tell. My analytical ones were making comparisons and connections on the spot. The diversity in our classroom wasn’t just embraced, it was celebrated. These kiddos were smiling. Laughing. Resolving conflicts that arose without the aid of a teacher. They were loving school. They were loving learning. 

I probably don’t need to tell you how rare that is. 

I know what you’re probably thinking. “Build A Bears are expensive!” But when you don’t buy a sound effect, thirteen outfits, and all the furniture they sell, they really aren’t that expensive. Basic bears are 12 to 15 dollars. Hearts are about 50 cents a piece. They gave me my bag of stuffing for free, and you really only need one outfit. I even sew my own build-a-bear costume for my color guard girls so the mascot’s uniform matches the one they wear to competitions. 

Stolen from my high school guard instructor, that little build-a-bear bond has made all the difference, and truly has the potential to make or break your class or team. For my first graders, it was the difference in motivation and excitement for learning. For my high schoolers, it was the difference in stupid drama among teammates. And for the sake of my sanity, I’m not sure which I was happier to see. 

If you love the idea, but aren’t sappy and creative… No worries. Colorguard season is en route once more, so for the first time, I have documented the build-a-bear ceremony for all to steal and adapt. 

Meet Bentley! {Pictured above.} He’s our adorable mascot for our high school color guard, named after their show concept, Bent Outta Shape. He was chosen with love, stuffed with care (by a spoon and some chopsticks…), and breathed into life by the wishes and goals of ten hearts. 

Put it on your side so your friend is always by your side! 
Put it on your head so it’s super smart like you!
Put it on your muscles so it’s big and strong!
Raise it up high so it grows big and tall!
Put it on your knee so you know it needs you!
Put it on your tummy so it never goes hungry!
Put it on your lips for lots of smiles!
Put it on your toes so it’s TOE-tally cool! 
Put it on your hair so it never has a bad fur day!
Put it on your ears so it always listens! 
Drop more suggestions in the comments! 

I’ve found that the more significance you can give it, the better it will be. And if you’re worried about your high schoolers not receiving it well, I’m here to tell you… The second I brought out a bear that was dressed like them, made for them, and was soon to contain a part of them, they turned into six year olds again. Some really bought into the whole thing. Sure, some of them think it’s cheesy, but I have yet to complete the ceremony yet without each person doing every movement. They may talk like they think it’s stupid, but they wouldn’t rub a silk heart on their head, their knees, and their shoes if they truly thought it was dumb. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that there’s a little kid in all of us, especially when we’re contributing to something on a personal level that ten of our best friends are doing with us. 

It’s worth the extra time. It’s worth the extra pennies. It’s my students' favorite part of the year, and it’s quickly becoming my favorite as well. 

If you have any questions, don’t hesitant to email me at, and make sure to show off your own adaptation on the tradition by tagging me {on instagram: @taxistotsandpolkadots} {on twitter: @ttandpd} {on facebook: Taxis, Tots & Polka Dots}. I can’t wait to see what you guys come up with, but more than that, I can’t wait to hear the stories that come along with it. 

(Though I seriously doubt you can beat my cat story. R.I.P. Lacey… ) 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Kristen's Story

If you're new around here, I'll let you in on a little secret. I never planned on being a blogger. When I first started writing publicly, there was no guarantee anyone other than my parents was going to read it. Did I want to be well followed? Sure. Did I think I could write enough that a reader could relate to? I hoped so. Did I ever think I would be a public beauty distortion warrior? Heck. No.

It's easy to forget the impact of the things we do. As a teacher, I get so caught up in lesson planning, classroom management, and teacher trainings that I forget I'm literally changing the lives of children on a daily basis. They're learning because of me. They're growing because of me. 

Being a blogger is really no different. There are nights I wake up in the middle of the night to write something profound, and there are nights I sit at my computer twiddling my thumbs because I have no idea what to say. I throw around important words. Important topics. Beauty distortion. Toxic culture. Self love. Depression, eating disorders, suicide... You name it. I seek to provide positivity and comfort for these dark subjects because while they are not ignored in today's society, they are not fully considered either. The real impact of them remains unseen because these warriors feel it is necessary to struggle silently. After all, they're better seen and not heard. Right?

I write about these things so often that I find myself numb to the subjects themselves. Have you ever noticed that a good majority of the people fighting for these things never seem to have dealt seriously with the issue themselves? That's because most of the self-help supporters are fighting while hidden. Because it's okay to fight for someone else who's hurting, but it's somehow not okay to fight for yourself.

One of my favorite things about blogging is hearing from my readers. I love getting emails and social media comments about everything from their stressful day to their identity and purpose in life. But every now and again, I have a reader who feels compelled to share her story. I usually listen with eager ears, because people fascinate me and each story is a little different. I find myself responding in an email with a thankful introduction, an empathetic body, and an encouraging conclusions. That's the  inevitable anatomy of a testimonial response.

But I recently received a story that threw me for a loop.

When Kristen Arata messaged me on Facebook saying that she had written a little something along the lines of my beauty distortion platform, I thought she was interested in appearing as a guest writer. I didn't know she was ready to share her story with me...and all of you.


I, like so many people -- young, old, male, female -- suffered through an eating disorder. For a decade, this illness controlled my life. Not a day went by that I didn't plan out everything I put in my mouth or even worse; didn't follow the plan and then felt guilty to the point where I had to do something about it.  
It completely consumed me. I missed so many dinners with family, conversations with friends, and unforgettable memories to sit at home and either decide to be stronger than my temptations or spend twenty minutes in the bathroom afterward because I couldn't hear what anyone was saying over the sound of the voice in my head.  
As I have grown older, I'd like to think that I have outgrown these habits; that I am more mature and in control of myself, but this is completely off base. Eating disorders are not something that you simply outgrow or conquer over time. They can affect anyone no matter how old or in-control they may seem.  
Each day is a task in itself: a fight with yourself to either do what you know you should, or do what your brain is telling you to do.  
Every shower I take after a big meal is a fight to keep my food down. Every day I choose to eat three meals, and I have to remind myself that I should be eating that often. Every delicious dessert I consume is followed by a necessary pep talk that I should love myself the way I am.  
The more I think about these daily battles, the more I have realized that eating disorders are not something that you simply get over. They are not something that can be conquered and forgotten. Instead, they are lifelong struggles that you live with for as long as that voice is inside your head. They are choices you make each day to live a healthy life.  
An eating disorder is daily fight. One that I will continue to win. 


Some stuff I knew about Kristen prior to this story: 
-- She attends Missouri State University with me.
-- She loves colorguard.
-- She is ridiculously flexible...
-- She has a boyfriend who golfs.

Pretty normal gal, right? Now...

Some things to note about my relationship with Kristen: 
-- Outside rehearsal, we've talked very few times.
-- I have been admittedly jealous of how she looked.
-- I see her every day. 

Mondays and Wednesdays I'm with her for an hour and a half. Tuesdays and Thursdays are two hours. Fridays are sometimes more. If we have a game or a competition on Saturday, I'm with her from sun-up to sun-down. And winter practices on Sundays have us together for a solid four hours. At least. I've known Kristen for four years now.

And I never knew.

I won't sit here and tell you that you probably know someone fighting an eating disorder. I'll blatantly tell you that you do know someone fighting an eating disorder. At least one. Probably more. The statistics are frighteningly high.

I don't write about this stuff because someone out there in another state might need to hear it. I write about all this because there are people in our class, in our workplace, and in our families who fear we don't consider their biggest fight to be worthy of our time. And I truly don't believe anyone is that heartless; I just think they're uninformed.

Why did I share her story with you? Well, a lot of reasons. One, because she felt it was important enough to share with me. But mostly to give you a wake up call. Friends, I'll say it again... I see this girl every day. The warriors I speak of each day on this blog don't just exist in rehab centers and TV shows. They live in your town. They go to your school. They laugh when they're happy and cry when they're sad. They're really no different than you.

The only difference is: they're hurting in some ways you might not be able to understand. That's scary sometimes. You might not feel prepared to be confided in. You might not feel like listening. But if they choose you, it's important that you take a moment to consider how difficult, how frightening, and how downright-nauseating that might have been for them to do. If you are in a position to help someone, please lay down your pride long enough to listen. If you feel a love and compassion in your heart towards someone, you are being handed an opportunity to make a difference in that person's life. You have to follow that love. Don't ignore it. Act on it. Somebody needs what you have.

Before I go, I want to personally thank Kristen for sharing her story. It is so rare to see someone confident enough to share a private struggle without letting it define them. To be so strong, yet so vulnerable, is a powerfully beautiful thing. Thank you Kristen, for the wake-up call that I, and so many of my readers, need to be reminded of. Stay strong. Stay powerful. Stay beautiful.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Don't Let Her Think This Way.

"Kids are born thinking people are people," my early childhood literacy professor told us, "Kids are taught that people are different." 

I felt my heart melt into the bottom-most pit of my stomach, and immediately scrambled for a pen. Blog post, blog post, blog post, my head chanted as I practically emptied the contents of my bag directly onto the table. There was one pen and one small spiral notebook amid the textbooks, flash drives, a family pack of Skittles I was using for a math lesson later that afternoon.

The quote itself concerned multicultural literacy. Race. Ethnicity. Gender. Culture. Socio-economic class. These are the things children are literally designed to ignore, and if you don't believe me, you don't spend enough time around children.

One day, I had two students in class who were very good friends. One lived in an absolute dump, and the other had everything she could dream of except a pet. Well, the one who lived in a dump had seven cats, and the girl who lived the life of luxury desperately wanted to be like her friend. She did not notice that her house was old, that the utilities were never on, or that the neighborhood wasn't particularly safe. She noticed that she had cats, and therefore, thought the girl was absolute royalty.

That's only one story. There are thousands more just like it. Kids don't notice differences in people. But you know what they do notice?

When their parent calls someone "that black girl" instead of "that funny girl."

When their family prohibits them from spending time at another child's house because the child is less fortunate.

When girls are told they can't run because they're girls, and boys are told they have to run because they're boys.

I'm sure you get the picture. Even if you know absolutely nothing about children, you probably know three things. They require a lot of attention, they don't mind making a mess, and they are extremely observant.

If a child can pick up on these social-cultural cues from those around them, why do we assume they don't pick up beauty distortion cues as well? Just as you don't have to call an African American by a dirty name to qualify as a racist, you also don't have to tell a child they are fat to be part of the self-esteem problem.

Just as children are born ignoring the differences in people, they are born appreciating the differences in beauty. Children don't just grow up hating themselves. We teach them to.

How many diets have your children seen you go on?

How many calories have they seen you cut?

How many meals have they seen you skip?

How many times a day do they watch you weigh yourself, or how many hours do you spend at the gym instead of playing with them? Where do your priorities lie, and do you honestly think they don't notice? Do you honestly think they can't see?

Not to be the bearer of bad news, but if you answered yes to those last two questions... You're wrong.

I have so many people question why I am going to be a teacher if my passions lie with beauty distortion, self love, and blogging. There is no clear-cut answer, but allow me to try. One, my passions also lie with teaching. Two, I want to work on the front end of the self-esteem issues rather than on the back end as a social worker or therapist. And three, it is important that there is at least one person in a child's life who convinces them they are worth it. I had 2 years in an early childhood program. 13 years of public school. 4 years of college. And will have additional graduate coursework after this. All those years of education, and no one taught us to love ourselves.

If we don't actively work towards teaching our children to love themselves, the world will teach them not to.

So that's my thought of the day, and here comes the dose of advice to go with it:

Be careful of the messages you're sending to your children. Your actions speak louder than your words. If there's one thing in the whole world a child wants more than anything, it's to be a grown up. Your world is enchanting to them. I know you can't understand why. Quite frankly, it doesn't really matter. The point is, they are watching. They are learning. And they are following what you do.

Don't set them up for failure because you aren't confident enough in yourself. Both of you deserve to be happy and healthy.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Most Powerful Art

Back at the end of August, I completed a Birthday Challenge Vlog for my 21st birthday, where I sought to answer 21 readers' questions in 2 minutes and 10 seconds. The cool thing was: I actually received more than 21 questions to answer. The bad news was... Most of my answers took way longer than two minutes.

So if your question didn't make it to the video or I didn't email you back an answer, chances are high that it's been added to a list of blog prompts. If you hadn't figured this out, I'm just a weeeee bit wordy... So most of your questions have inspired full length posts rather than basic answers. Some questions were deep and some were things like my favorite ice cream flavor, but all were welcomed equally. A few questions, however, threw me for a loop, where I quite literally talked myself in circles trying to answer. One of them being this: 

Some fashion choices look more flattering than others on different body types. Since you call yourself a "fashionista" and a beauty distortion blogger, do you support unflattering or revealing styles to promote self love? 

Wow. Props to you, beautiful reader, for coming up with a question that not only requires an extensive answer, but also an extreme bout of self reflection. 

I value self love. Obviously. That's about 90% of why this blog exists; because it takes years to rediscover an identity of pure beauty in Christ, to break the boundaries society sets up for us, and unlearn everything we've been taught to feel sorry for. But there's no reason this newfound confidence has to be coupled with unflattering fashion choices, nor should it be. 

There's a common trend in the self-love world where strong, feminine warriors crusade against the prejudice and discrimination of society. I can't tell you how many body positive, self esteem bloggers I've read who praise women for rockin' the bikini despite their weight, who encourage skin tight ripped jeans despite curvy thighs, and justify women who wear crop tops even though their stomach isn't flat. And there's some accuracy to this as far as I'm concerned... A woman's confidence is the bottom line, after all. No woman should be confined to certain fashion choices because of her weight, shape, and natural body scars. 

But no woman should draw attention to those things either. Not because they're ugly or outside society's realm of acceptable beauty, but because outward beauty isn't what this is about. 

Do I think women should wear baggy tshirts and basketball shorts to cover their shape and outward beauty? Heck no. You better believe if there's a high-waited polka dot skirt in my closet, I'm rockin' the high-waisted polka dot skirt. But the goal of fashion is not to mask, flatter, or even create a sense of beauty for your body. It is to enhance what is already there. 
"Fashion is the most powerful art there is. It's movement, design, and architecture all in one. It shows the world who we are, and who we want to be." -Blair Waldorf 

Any Gossip Girl fans in the house? Whether you love our Queen B or not, she certainly wasn't wrong. Fashion. Style. Elegance. We throw these words around as we flip through our magazines and critique our closets. But what do they really mean? Surely it is more than merely clothes. 

Actually, it turns out, fashion is just that. A popular trend, especially in styles of dress and manners of behavior, as defined by the dictionary. Fashion is defined by society. Fashion has an expiration date. You can bottle up fashion and put it in an hour glass and glue it to the table. Fashion will fade. 

You, dear reader, will not fade. You are stronger than fashion. You are prettier than fashion. You will endure. Fashion may not. So if you are chasing fashion, just as you are chasing society's toxic boundaries, you are selling yourself short of that new identity of pure beauty you fought so hard to attain. 

Style, however, is defined as elegant sophistication. Another definition {my personal favorite} reads: a distinctive appearance, typically determined by the principles in which something is designed. *cough* Or the principles in which someone was designed. 

You should feel comfortable in what you wear. You should feel confident in what you wear. You should feel beautiful in what you wear. Not because your body deserves it, but because you, as a whole, deserve it. 

In our self-loving attempts to ban beauty distortion, we often find women encouraging others to rock society's fashion trends even though we don't fit society's beauty trends. My question is... If we've fought our toxic world for so long, why are we trying to take our unparalleled, extravagantly beautiful self and clothe it in toxic trends? That seems a little counter productive. 

No, we should not alter our bodies to fit fashion's trends. I agree with these body positive, self love enthusiasts there. Likewise, I don't think we should alter our fashion trends based on our bodies. 

I think we should alter our fashion trends based on our identities. I don't know a single woman who doesn't believe her soul is more important than the body it lives in, or that her heart is more important than her weight, or that her mind is more captivating than her complexion. And yet, we select our fashion choices based on our bodies, our weight, and our complexion. 

What if we started selecting our fashion choices based on our soul, our heart, and our mind? What if, instead of fighting society to put beautifully diverse girls inside trendy clothing, we began to clothe those same beautiful girls in a style that reflected their design? Their identity? Their stunningly, captivating uniqueness that is unable to be duplicated? 

So, to answer your question dear reader, I don't support unflattering or revealing fashion choices because I don't believe any woman is unflattering, and I don't think her clothing should be what reveals her. There is far more to her than the way her body looks, so I don't think she should dress to draw attention to that aspect of herself. I don't think she should dress to mask it either. I just think she deserves to look the way she feels. She deserves to look the way she is, and unflattering / revealing fashion trends won't work in her favor because they won't take the strides necessary to unveiling her beautiful soul. 

Is your style reflecting who you are? Or is it reflecting what you wish society would let you wear? I know I'm just one person with one opinion, but it seems a lot more flattering to clothe yourself based on your beauty rather than your defiance. With that courageous soul, loving heart, and fiery mind, chances are high that the world already knows you're strong. Let's show them you're beautiful by showing them you, not your version of what they want you to be. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Never Forget

It seems like everyone completes an obligatory 9/11 post. We share a lot of the remembrance posts on social media, and every blogger I've read this past weekend sought to make the event fit their platform. Of course, one never intends to ignore the event simply because it doesn't fit their platform, but to revise the event itself to adhere to a personal blogger's standards is nothing short of selfishly disrespectful.

But 9/11 hits home for me. No, I didn't know anyone who was on one of the planes, or worked in one of the towers, or even responded to the tragedy in a police car or firetruck, but New York holds a special segment of my heart (hence the Taxis part of my blog's name). I first visited the intense yet magical city when I was seven years old, not even one complete year after the attacks in 2001. Though I never got to see the twin towers themselves, I spent a good amount of time at Ground Zero with my parents when debris and cinderblock remains still plagued the site itself. I returned to the site in 2008, and again in 2011, and in all that time, the new World Trade Center had yet to be completed. The families had yet to fully cope.

Sometimes I wonder if they have fully coped, even today.

Not even two whole years ago, I had the privilege of returning to the site to view the memorial they had been creating for more than ten years. Two fountains stood erect on the exact same coordinates in the exact same parameters of the original towers, plunging into the ground endlessly, representing how the sacrifice of each fallen hero and member of society lives on today. The name of each lost life rimmed the fountains themselves, no single life left out. Even the listings of unborn children were carved into the fountains' walls; roses stemming from the names in commemorative remembrance.

My heart strings were tugged and tears were shed. But as beautiful as that memorial was, my memory kept returning to the memorial we visited in a church in 2011, to a single piece of paper shaped like a hand. Decorated in red, white, and blue, someone had written:

Everything will be okay in the end. 
If it isn't okay, it isn't the end. 

This year's high school freshmen will be the first batch of students to learn about 9/11 from a textbook, as an event that they were not alive for, much as my generation learned of JFK's assassination or the previous generation learned of the Civil War. By the time my children have children, the impact of the tragedy will be lost in the pages of a history book that kids will skim to save time and get a good grade. The lives lost will be a statistic in faded ink rather than names of a father, of a mother, or of an unborn child who never even got to see the light of day. 

I'll be the first one to admit I don't appreciate history half as much as I should. Part of that is because I'm admittedly too selfish to take the time to recognize those numbers as someone else's loved ones, but part of it is because I had teachers who were far less dedicated to teaching us the importance of historical events as they were the facts themselves. 

As a future teacher, I don't have much to say about the Civil War or JFK's assassination. Since I am only 21, very few think I have much to say about 9/11, but they couldn't be more wrong. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I remember my first grade teacher gathering us on the carpet, dabbing her eye with a tissue as children were checked out by their parents one-by-one. 

Something important has happened today, she told us with a sniffle, Something that will change the way you live the rest of your life from the way your parents lived it. 

We were too young to understand. I had just turned seven only two weeks prior. But I felt the urgency to hug my teacher since she was clearly hurting. She held me longer than usual. 

I could sense the tragedy even then. The classroom cleared out quickly. My parents were quiet at dinner, and my dad kept running into the living room to watch the same newscast over and over on television. Everyone I came in contact with for the next few days were not themselves. As a kid, I was obviously not experiencing 9/11 with the same fear and uncertainty that the adults around me were experiencing it with. But as a future educator looking back, I realize just how unique my 9/11 story is to share. 

Perhaps one day I'll have a first grade class of my own: a room full of bright-eyed, lovely, innocent children who are incapable of fully understanding such tragedy. How can you possibly explain such pain in a way whole minds and pure hearts will understand? Why would you want them to understand such a thing? Keep them innocent as long as you can, my heart tells me, Don't make them understand the trials of life any faster than they have to. Keep them little. Keep them innocent. 

But that's not my job. My job is clearly to prepare them for life. How much is too much to say? How much is too much for them to understand? When my first grade teacher saw the second plane hit the second tower in the break room while we were at recess, what was she thinking? How did she come up with what to tell us so quickly? How did she hold it all together? Was she scared for herself? For her family? For us? Or was she so stunned that she simply did what she had to do to get us through the day? 

What was running through her mind when parents started calling out her precious students? Did they not trust her with their safety? And why did other parents have jobs they could leave to retrieve their own children when she had a class full of twenty that weren't even hers to comfort and console? 

These are the moments of teaching that no one thinks about. It's not all apples and composition notebooks. It's not about standardized tests and sharpened pencils either. It's about love, and selflessness, and making as much of a difference in a small child's life as you possibly can in only nine short months. It's about preparing kids for life, while also reminding them that it's okay to stay a kid. 

As a future educator who wants to move to New York, my heart aches a little extra on 9/11. If it was a difficult situation for my teacher in Fayetteville, Arkansas, how difficult was it for a teacher in Queens? Brooklyn? Or worse, what about a teacher in the financial district of Manhattan? A teacher whose classroom itself had a direct view of the towers themselves? A teacher who had a student with a mommy who worked in the World Trade Center, or a daddy who was an airplane pilot flying out that morning? A teacher whose husband was an EMT in New York City, or whose child's daycare was next door to the fire station sending out wailing engines. What would that poor teacher possibly have said? What could she possibly have done? 

These are the things that are lost in textbooks. These are the things overlooked in high school history powerpoints. Why do teachers spend so long teaching "history" when they could be teaching someone's story? Someone's tragedy? Someone's victory? 

As a student who hated history, I sought to become a teacher of an age where history was not in the curriculum. And it's not in early childhood curriculum, because my kiddos are too young to understand, just as I was too young to understand. But I'm not so sure ignoring it is the best thing for our young children either. Since I didn't understand it as a child, I sought to understand it more as an adult. I was curious. I was interested. 

If we wait until our students can fully understand, they'll learn about 9/11 as one more date that they'll have to remember and one more statistic of dead people they shouldn't forget. And some creative teacher will numb herself so she can make up a song and an acronym to help them remember, even though she remembers the impact of the event itself. 

Believe me... If there's one thing I never thought I'd be writing to defend, it's the importance of history. And maybe history itself isn't all that important, but I firmly believe that other people's lives are. We certainly don't want everything we accomplish in our lives to be forgotten when we die. Why do we assume the digits in our history books felt any different? 

I waited to post this until today because it's only eight hours after the 15th anniversary of 9/11, and most of you have already forgotten about it. And just yesterday you shared ten posts with the hashtag #neverforget. If it was that important yesterday, it's still important today. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

The Art of Letting Go

Allow me to take you on a little journey today, straight into the environment of a typical early childhood lecture hall. Picture Nike shorts galore, topped with oversized tanks and sweatshirts that make you wonder if the top was stolen from someone three sizes larger or if the wearer herself has on any shorts at all. Sorority girls with their Starbucks coffee who want summers off, like free weekends, and just love kids! Oh yes, that's what my morning looks like.

And in such an environment, we are often presented with questions regarding our future classroom, credentials, and teaching philosophies. A few days ago we were asked What do you consider to be the hardest part about being a teacher? Some said lesson planning. Classroom management. I probably wrote down assessment because I hate tests. We ramble on like we know what we're talking about, but in reality, the answers to these questions don't hit you until you've had some experience actually teaching. And today, as I was standing on a 25-foot tower with a microphone headset instructing a bunch of high school guard girls, I was itching to change my answer to that question.

What do you consider to be the hardest part about being a teacher? 

For those of you who are new around here, I only do about three things with my life: I teach, I write, and I spin guard. And if you don't know what guard is, click the link because that's a topic for a whole other post.

Guard consists of three things, too: contemporary dance, marching technique, and chucking random pieces of equipment into the air for artistic effect. We like to call it "tossing." And if you aren't familiar with the guard world, there are three crucial elements of a toss. The prep, the push, and the release.

The Prep. 
Set up is everything. The toss will not be successful without proper technique. Details must be addressed. Equipment angles. Body placement. The elbow, the forearm, the wrist, the fingers, the core, the feet, the projection, the energy... In this stage, there's no such thing as too much information. This split second contains everything required for the toss to be executed.

The Push. 
What goes up must come down. Everyone knows that. But nothing can go up, no toss can be thrown, and no performer can grow, without a little push. A little extra knowledge. A little extra work. You put the finishing touches on everything so you can finish out strong.

The Release. 
This is it. The finishing touch. The cherry on top. The equipment is in the air. You can watch it. You can track it.

But you cannot control it.

Ironically, the release of a toss is often accompanied by a breath. As if to say, Relax. The more you try to control it, the worse it will be. 

Performers rely on muscle memory in the release stage. They have all the information. They've had their questions answered, and they've given it all the extra push. All that's left is to rely on everything they've learned to actually make it happen.

Teaching is like a toss. The prep is my favorite part. I love instructing. I love learning. I love reading, and singing, and acting stuff out in a room full of kiddos. I love nurturing, laughing, and taking the time to do things right. But this stage is never long enough. It only lasts a second.

The push is pretty great, too. Assessing. Analyzing. Making sure there's nothing else to teach. Nothing else those kiddos need. They're so close to success they can almost taste it. This stage is so exciting to watch.

But the release... Man. That, to me, is the hardest part about teaching.

In the Broadway version of Mary Poppins, there's a verse that wasn't written in either the book or the original movie script.

With every job when it's complete
there is a sense of bittersweet...
That moment when you know the task is done.
Though in your heart you'd like to stay
to help things on their way,
you always know they must do it alone.

There comes a point in every child's life when you have to let them go. Teacher, nanny, parent; whatever. You have to let them go. You have to trust that everything you've taught will be applied. You have to hope that they use what they learned to flourish in new situations. You have to pray that the confidence they gained in themselves will be enough.

The hardest part about being a teacher is that there's only so much you can do. Some kids will be ready to move on quickly, so you can't hold on. Some kids will have terrible home lives, but you can't take them home with you. Some kids could use your help for the rest of forever. But you can't always be there.

For my high school guard girls, it's time for that transition to start taking place. You know, that time when you're ready to give the next level of instruction and you can't wait to get there, but you can't move on quite yet because they haven't quite mastered the previous skill? They're close, but they haven't quite made it to the next step. That's where we are right now. And it's one of the most frustrating times of the year.

Soon, my girls will take the field to perform in competition. They will get one shot. Not two. Not three. Not seventy-five like they do in practice. They will get a single shot to prove themselves. And I will be helpless; standing on the sideline, hands folded in front of me, praying that everything I've said and everything I've done will be enough. You have to trust that, at some point, your little kiddos can make it on their own, and you have to trust yourself enough to know when that time comes. You've spent a lot of time prepping. Now they need a little push. And when it's time to release, draw up your courage, take a breath...

And just let go.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Anxiety, Humility, and A Whole Lotta Prayer

I'm not here to make a point today. I'm not here to respond to anyone or counter any opinions or even to attack beauty distortion. Other days, absolutely. Just not today.

Today I'm here to write. Because things have been completely overwhelming in my life. I could list everything that's been swimming around my mind; everything that's been happening to me and everything that hit me out of nowhere. But I asked myself a very important question just now: Is that really necessary? 

No. Honestly, it isn't. Writing all of that out for you to read will only do two things: one, annoy you to no end {it's not like you don't have enough stuff to worry about on your own, right?}, and two, stress me out even more than I already am. I just had a long meltdown in the shower and handed it all over to God. There's no sense in trying to explain it all or harp on it anymore.

But it sure is nice to not go at it all alone.

Among everything else I've been praying for recently, I started a new prayer. Send me support, Lord, I found myself in need, Send me friends to comfort me. Send me family to encourage me. Send me someone to hold me accountable, and send me your presence to get me through it all. 

I also really started buckling down on my daily quiet time. I know, I know, that sounds so goody-goody Christian girl. I don't mean it that way at all. If I'm being completely honest, I hadn't opened my bible since the semester started. Nor had I attended church, journaled thoroughly, or confided in anyone about how my faith or life was going. No one had asked, so I simply never answered.

Starting this past Friday, I decided to change some things around. My schedule changes each semester, and I'd already made the huge mistake of not allowing time for myself and faith in the midst of my daily routine. I began praying again. Reading again. Journaling again. And I felt comforted. Rejuvenated. Rededicated.

Until the first five seconds I left the quiet peace of my bedroom.

Retraining your mindset is no easy task. Staying comforted, rejuvenated, and rededicated to your faith and positivity is practically impossible with life slinging hurdles at you every second of the day.

Was I successful? Goodness, no. Even as I lay here writing this post, I'm in bed under a blanket with a hot cup of tea because my body feels like it's been hit by a truck. {I usually write my posts the night before they're published, for those who didn't know...} My list of things to do is still three times longer than my list of what I've already done, and I still can't shake two specific instances where I'd been treated harshly today. That's life. It doesn't leave much room for successful comfort and rejuvenation stories. But it can leave room for gracious comfort and rejuvenation stories, especially when you're not trying to accomplish them on your own.

I had asked for support. I had asked for friends, for family, for accountability partners, and for the known and felt presence of God. But I hadn't asked because it would be pretty cool to have; I asked for it because I knew I was desperate. I knew I needed it.

The first saving grace came from my family when I returned home for Labor Day weekend. I brought a laundry list of questions inspired by my latest anxiety attack and my parents sat right next to me as we checked every single one of them off the list. Were any of my deepest questions answered? Not really, but at least I'm heading in the right direction.

The next surprise came from a blogger over at Unfading Beauty Ministries. We had been liking each other's instagram photos and reading each other's blogs for a long time. Kristen was one of those people I'd never spoken to, but just knew I'd get along with if I knew her in real life. That's when her friend request came on facebook, and the awkward I-don't-know-if-it's-acceptable-to-talk-to-her-outside-of-blogland barrier was shattered. Suddenly, I had a friend in another country who was going through similar struggles messaging me, encouraging me, and including me in her own writing. What an unexpected and much needed surprise!

Two days later, it was time for small group bible study. It would've been easier not to go. Believe me, I had ten thousand other things to do. But I found myself wanting to go, and for the first time ever, I didn't feel anxious enough to stay home under the excuse that I needed to make the to-do list in my planner a little smaller. If I could sacrifice my time for anything, I should sacrifice my time for this.

It wasn't wrong to make that decision. In a room full of girls, we talked, we laughed, we prayed, and we shared stories. I hesitate to use the word fellowship because I know how churchy it sounds, but there's something to be said for it. It is definitely not credited enough. Suddenly, everything I had been stressing about seemed so much less important. At least for the moment. In complete honesty, it hasn't been diminished in importance at all, but it's been diminished in priority. We set goals for ourselves for the week, and picked accountability partners for the week.

I felt so much better. And after a phone call with one of my best friends on the drive home, my anxiety had practically vanished. I couldn't remember the last time I had truly been anxious about nothing.

It wasn't until my shower though, that I realized I had been given everything I had asked for. Support? Check. Friends? Check. Family? Accountability? Comforting presence? Check, check, check.

You don't have to tackle life all on your own. You shouldn't. You weren't meant to. Sometimes you have to humble yourself and ask for help. And that's okay. It doesn't make you weak, or needy, or incapable, or whatever else you think you are. If you need help, get help. Sometimes it comes in the presence of friends. Of family. Of mentors, accountability, or even God himself. It's amazing who and what God can use to save you from anxiety and pain if you'll simply give Him the opportunity to do so.

I'm the absolute worst at handing Him those reins. But it never fails... Once I do, the carriage rides much smoother. So if you take anything from this otherwise extremely personal blog post, let it be this:

Everything that's on that list of yours? You don't have to do it all in one day. In a week. In a month. In a year. You don't have to get your life together in the same way, or at the same time as someone else. You don't even have to worry yourself about it to the point of exhaustion {but you're probably doing that anyway}. The best part is, whenever, wherever, or however you decide to start tackling your list, you don't have to do it alone. You never have, and you never will.

A little support and a lot of a faith can go an awfully long way.

Friday, September 2, 2016

To Needy Girls: You Have An Unknown Advantage

When was the last time someone looked you in the eye and asked, "Are you okay?"

When was the last time someone asked about your day and actually wanted to know?

When was the last time you answered honestly to these questions whether the person was asking out of empathy or obligation?

For me? It's been a long time. Recently, I have been so overwhelmed with how few people I know who are like me. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, until I felt like very few cared.

I am the epitome of a "needy" girl. Not in the sense that I'll text you eight thousand times a day or stalk your whereabouts or anything... But I'll be the first to admit it: I am deeply sensitive. I require way too much attention. I can be wounded to tears by the simplest statement and I can take one sentence and analyze it until I've made it the complete opposite of the way you intended it.

Likewise, I never share what's on my mind because I'm always called needy. I've been called overdramatic. And maybe I am. But those statements hurt, too, because to me, it's all so real. It's all so valid. It's all so important. 

Being "needy" implies such a negative connotation in our society. So I looked up the definition of a "needy person" the other day. Turns out, a "needy person" is "someone who has needs and feels comfortable sharing, expressing, and communicating those needs."

News flash: everyone has needs, but "needy" people are better and stronger about communicating those needs. The biggest problem I've seen in my own experience is that those who were once confident in expressing those needs have been told to sit down, shut up, and keep hidden because the non-"needy" people don't want to deal with those needs. Are "needy" people really needy? Or are non-"needy" people selfish?

Perhaps a little bit of both.

You see, I'm one of those people who's either all in or all out. I don't just "like" things. Nothing is ever "okay." I'm either totally in love and deeply passionate about something or I'm completely indifferent. I can't blow things off. If something has impacted me {positive or negative!} I'll think about it for hours. Days. Weeks. It will consume me.

What a terrible life... you say. Always thinking. Always dreading. Always worrying. 

Yep. My brain is like an internet browser with 7,372,864 tabs open all at once. But I ask that you look at it differently for just one moment...

What if you were the topic consuming my mind? What if you were that important to me? What if I asked how your day was, and even though it had been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, you said, "Oh, it was okay," because you don't want to feel like a burden...but what if I actually wanted to know? I'm the girl who really wants to know what happened. I want to know who hurt you. I want to listen to you talk about it, or hold you while you cry, or let you vent until all the steam is out of your ears.

I totally suck at being low-maintenance. But when the tides have turned and you need to talk, you won't feel the need to be low-maintenance. You won't feel needy, emotional, or over-dramatic when you're confiding in a needy, emotional, over-dramatic person.

But no one sees it that way. And if you're like me, I'll bet you get tired of being called needy. Emotional. Over-dramatic. 

You are nothing of the sort. You may seem that way to those around you. For example... A few of my friends? Definitely not nurturers. After a bad day, they prefer to lock themselves in their rooms and unwind. They do not want to talk about it. To them, I'm sure I'm too needy.

But to me? Sometimes they're too insensitive.

Today's post is an ode to the needy girls of the world. The girls who are just like me. The ones who have been ignored and insulted for the way they approach others, when they were just trying to love the best way they knew how.

Needy girls? You have a definite advantage, and it is overlooked every day. You are such a rarity. A true diamond in the rough, if you will. While others are stuck ignoring problems, concealing pain, and struggling silently, you are there when life catches up to them. You are there when the problems get too big. You are there when the pain crushes them. You are ready, waiting in the shadows, when their deepest, darkest struggles become to heavy to carry on their own.

If you've ever called one of your friends "needy..." I urge you to think about where you were when they needed you, and where they were when you needed them. I urge you to look at life from their perspective every once in awhile. I urge you to get to know those you love so you will be able to love them better. The way they need you to love them, rather than the way you think you should love them. Sometimes what you think they need isn't what they need at all.

I've found so often that we express love in the ways we need to receive it. Instead, we should attempt expressing love in the ways they need to receive it.

Many times, in our genuine efforts to make life easier, better, and brighter for those we love, we fall into the trap of looking for ways to "fix it." We find ourselves asking, What can I do so she won't hurt as bad? or What will make this pain subside the fastest? The intentions are golden, but the results will falter.

Sometimes it's not about the fastest way to heal. It's about the most thorough way to heal. It might take awhile. You might have to pray for more than a couple of weeks. You might have to check in on them more than twice. The process might require a little more selflessness on your part.

Sometimes people don't need to be fixed. Sometimes people need to be loved.

If you need love today, know that you aren't too needy. You aren't too emotional. You aren't too overdramatic. You just aren't afraid to admit when you need a little help. Sometimes, when you admit you need something from someone, it annoys them. Sometimes, it frightens them. But the way they respond to you is not your problem. They might not know how to handle it. They might not be ready to handle it. And it will be easier for them to make it your problem. It will be easier for them to call you "needy" or "high-maintenance" or "over-dramatic" than it will be for them to love you.

So try not to take it too personal. Because when you take a step back, it's not always about you being weak and needy. It just might be about them being too afraid to tackle the depths of your heart.

We would like to give a special photography shout-out to Wendy at Wendy Dunn Photography for capturing and allowing me to edit & redistribute this photo on the blog and social media!