Thursday, December 28, 2017

A Year With The Music Man

I suppose you could say the madness of it all started five and a half years ago, when his high school graduation cap flew in the air.

I did not partake in the graduation parties with all of our friends, because I was not graduating. I was a year younger than him...and a year younger than everyone we hung out with. They all ran off to one another's houses to enjoy cake and games and parties.

I, however, cried all the way home, listening to every CD I had of his music. It reminded me of our trip to my favorite city, New York, where he first played his music for me. It reminded me of Christmas, driving around and listening to him sing in the car. It reminded me of spring, laying on a blanket at the park with his guitar.

I was basking in a pool neck deep in nostalgia. It was clearly the beginning of the end.

He had announced that he would attend Belmont University in Nashville, TN, in pursuit of music business and audio engineering. His guitar echoed through my parked car. He was already so good at it. And I knew that however he wanted to pursue this, with or without me, I would absolutely have to support.

He had told me a few days prior that the decision had been hard to make because he loved me. I didn't believe a lot of things men said. But I believed him. And he assured me that while it would likely have to be over at the end of the summer because "long distance never worked," that we would soak up every last bit of our time together.

It wasn't three weeks later before he decided he should benefit from some time being single before moving to Nashville, and he took me on to a nice date at a Japanese Steakhouse. He spent the dinner re-capping everything I would want for my senior year of high school, and then telling me how he would be ruining that by sticking around. He told me that he didn't know if he'd be able to come back for homecomings and proms and graduations... As if I'd somehow rather go with some random guy I had no connection to than go in a group of friends knowing that I had a wonderful guy in another state who tried his absolute best but just couldn't make it. According to him, we still fit together, but the futures we both wanted did not.

He didn't present the chance for me to counter his argument, and I'd seen Legally Blonde enough times to know how this would end.

We broke up in the parking lot of that beautiful Japanese Steakhouse. It was "mutual." Not only did I almost have a wreck driving home in my emotionally compromised state like that female teenage all-state commercial, but I didn't step foot back in that restaurant for two years.

And I kept waiting. Waiting for him to call and say it was a mistake. Waiting for him to come back to our hometown and say that he wanted to try again. Try long distance. Or at least tell me that he missed me.

Every time he came back into town, I met with him. Lunches. Coffee. Frozen yogurt. Each time I had been decked out, dressed to the nines, ready for him to cave at any moment. And he never did such a thing. He never even told me that he missed me.

And so I decided that I couldn't keep doing it anymore. I was hurt. I was angry. And I was tired. He had made it very clear that he didn't want me to be a part of this next chapter of his life by my side, so why were we still meeting up when he came home like I had any real significance in this new life of his? He had never given it a chance. I never said we would've succeeded (in fact, I realized that we might have miserably failed), but I wanted the chance. I wanted to know. And he hadn't even wanted to give us that.

So I swore him off. Made up excuses when he called for coffee. Kept myself busy when he was in town so we wouldn't run into one another. And eventually, I stopped answering calls and texts altogether. The way I saw it... When he broke up with me, he got a whole new life. In a new town, at a new school, doing a totally new thing. Following his dream, really. And I had been stuck, in the same town, in the same school, doing the same things...without him. It was clear that I was still far more invested in him than I should've been, and it was holding me back.

I had no way of knowing that he would carry our prom photo in his wallet for three years after we last spoke.

A year went by. I started dating a guy from our hometown within my first semester of college. And while the relationship wasn't everything it should've been (heavily flawed on both sides), my vengeful self was extremely happy because I discovered for myself that long distance did, in fact, work...if both parties were willing to put forth the effort. I'd hoped my high school sweetheart had noticed that.

A few more years went by, and while I had broken up with my long distance guy, I had started talking to guys at college in Springfield. None of it worked. And so, my knees hit the floor.

"Hey God, it's me again down here... You're supposed to really find yourself in college, and they say a lot of people find their other half. Or they're at least supposed to successfully date a little... So if you could... Could you please send Dylan back into my life? Or at least a guy just like him?"

That was the night my roommate and I lay in bed flustered about boys after eating way too many donuts. "Sounds like you and your high school sweetheart had it the best I've ever heard of."

"Yeah..." I told her, "But that was years ago. He could be a completely different person now."

She sat up in the dark. "Only one way to find out."

The lights flicked back on and we huddled on the bed around a computer, ready to do what any millennial ex-girlfriend would do...full fledged social media stalking.

He had phases where he was active on twitter but his instagram was practically deserted. And while he wasn't half as active on facebook as he had been in high school, it was quickly becoming clear that the red-head frequenting his photos was a little more than a friend.

I shrugged. Alright God, I whispered, I guess my answer's no this time. 

I suppose I was disappointed in the way you get when your ex is happier and more involved in a relationship than you are, but the logical part of me was still somewhat indifferent. I hadn't talked to him in years. I definitely wasn't still waiting. And I was walking back to my side of the room, when the "oh no" escaped my roommate's mouth.


"Get over here."

She had ventured away from his facebook page and was now on the red-head girl's from his photos. That's when the anger and jealousy welled up inside of me.

This red-headed girl didn't just have him... She had him in a long distance relationship (which we all remember he said would never work) and she lived in New York City!!! This pixie cut musician girl I didn't even know had everything I'd ever dreamed of, and I was not okay with it.

My roommate huffed. "Well," she said, "Promise me that if he ever comes back for you that you'll give it another go?"

"No," I shook my head, tired of being held back and breaking every last possibility of rekindling a romance with Dylan Roth, "I'm moving to New York."

Her eyes widened but she knew better than to try to stop me. And frankly, so did everyone else. I researched neighborhoods. Cost of living. Jobs. School districts. Transportation. Apartments. I contacted friends who had moved there. I contacted family who'd lived there previously. And I had a plan. I would spend my final year of college preparing for my move to New York City. And I fully believed that if I were to ever see Dylan Roth's face again, it would be on the streets of New York while he was with her.

So I didn't go completely solo that next year of college. I dabbled in the dating world and talked to a couple of guys. But my eyes were set on the city, so I never took anything too seriously.

And so it was late October of 2016 when I was sitting in class, half my laptop screen open to lesson plan notes and half open to a New York apartment finder when my phone buzzed and Snapchat lit up. Which was weird, because everyone I knew had stopped sending me Snapchats because I never answered them. I could text and instagram all day, but something about Snapchat was just not my forte.

Dylan Roth has added you as a friend!

I felt like I might throw up. 

I clicked accept and slid open the chat window to take care of this quickly. "Hey good to hear from you!" I typed, "Just so you know, I'm really bad about responding to snapchats so I'll probably open them and not respond a lot." 

"It's nothing personal," I decided to add. Because in the past I had meant for my silence to feel extremely personal. 

But that vengeful side of me kicked in fast, and I suddenly had the urge to tell him how wonderful I was doing on my own. How I was in my last year of college and was graduating earlier than I thought I would and how my guard team had made finals and world championships nearly every year I'd been there and how I was moving to New York City. And so I just...did...and proceeded to respond to every single one of his snapchats until our messages got too long and we had to switch to text. 

Good job Bethany. 

A month went by of this constant texting and I was on my way home for Thanksgiving break when he said, "We should grab coffee while we're in town for the holiday!" And we set a date. 

I met him for the most awkward initial reunion of my life in a local coffee shop downtown. But once the awkwardness was (mostly) out of the way, we proceeded to talk. And talk. And talk. And then go for a walk. And we walked. And walked. And walked. And we sat down on the ramp of the town's performing art's facility. And talked and talked and talked some more. The red-head was nowhere in sight, and he explained that she hadn't been a part of his life for awhile. 

So I accidentally let six hours go by. 

And finally he had to go because he was meeting his family for a football game, but he was acting as though he didn't really want to leave. We set a date to hang out again at Christmas before we'd even left. I glanced at my phone. I had three texts from my mom asking when on earth I would be done so we could go and get dinner. Yikes. I'd been so busy talking I hadn't even noticed I was hungry. 

But it had been let him in again. And I had this awful feeling in the pit of my stomach...that my plans for New York had just gotten a lot more complicated. That God's answer to my prayer for Dylan so many years ago hadn't been a clear "no," but rather a quiet whisper, "Not yet." 

And so, I willed myself to realize that God's plan for me was not a move to New York City. And the time between that moment and that Christmas would be solely dedicated to me deciding whether or not I was going to listen. 

When Christmas rolled around, I still hadn't decided. He hadn't come right out and said it, but a few talks until 2am led me to believe that we were becoming more than friends more than quickly. We met for another multi-hour coffee session around Christmas, where it was finally vocalized. That he had feelings for me again, and he didn't know what to do about it because I was moving to New York. And I realized we had gone five years without seeing one another, only to be right back where we started. Where I was now moving to pursue my dream, and didn't know if I wanted to chance being held back. 

I kissed him anyway. That was a mistake. 

I spent the entire next day looking at jobs and apartments in Nashville. Was it enough like New York for me to be happy? Would I still be able to work at the type of at-risk urban school I wanted to? Would I be able to afford a place to live? Yes, yes, yes, it seemed. Check, check, check. 

We met up that night to see the movie La La Land, and I truly believe he expected it to be our last night together. Until the movie had a frighteningly paralleled ending to the conflict we were facing, and we kept putting off the conversation. We drove around. We went for drinks. We even drove back to the movie theatre parking lot and sat in silence for fifteen minutes before I looked up and saw that same dreaded Japanese Steakhouse that we had ended it at so many years ago.

I presented my case instantly. That I would move to Nashville for us to be together. And it scared the living daylights out of him. 

"No. No, no, no, absolutely not," he told me, "You've wanted to live in New York since we dated the first time. I could never take that away from you. You'd always regret it. You'd never be as happy in Nashville as you would in New York, and..." 

He was starting to make me mad, so I cut him off. "Will you quit telling me what I want for myself, as if you know?!" 

He stared at me dumbfounded. I don't think he'd ever heard me raise my voice in his life. 

"You laid down the law five years ago!" I spat, "You just told me the way it was gonna be because you'd made up your mind. Well now it's my turn. And you don't get to sit there and tell me that I would be happier in New York than I would be with you because you don't know that. You have no idea where my head has been all this time. And you have no idea how hurt, and how angry, I was at you for never giving us a chance. Well it's been five freaking years Dylan!! And we have another chance! And if you can honestly sit there and tell me that you don't want to try, then fine. We won't. But the way I see it? There's no harm in trying. You know me. If I move to Nasvhille, and we don't work out, then fine. I'll throw my middle finger up at you, pack my bags, and go right on to New York City. At least we'll know. Because for the past five years, I haven't known. In fact, I've wondered. Every. Single. Day." 

He proceeded carefully. "And what if we do work out?" he whispered, "And you never get to live in New York?" 

I had no hesitations. "Then you're just going to have to trust that I'll be happy enough to not care."

We sat in silence for a good while, and I honestly thought he was still going to say no. And I wasn't sure what I'd do then. Because if me screaming a monologue in his face didn't work, I didn't know what would. He was leaving tomorrow. I would have to think fast. I would have to do something quick. I would have to...

"Let's do it." 

My mouth hung open. "...what?" 

The corners of his mouth curled upwards. He threw his head back and let out a laugh. "Let's do it!" 

He left town the next day and I booked a plane ticket to Nashville to see him again before my last semester of school started. Telling my parents was next, and my mom wasn't surprised in the slightest. She'd always loved Dylan, and I, after all, was just like her. I was repeating her love story with my father first hand. 

My dad, on the other hand? Blind-sighted. The only way to possibly give him the news was to give it to him straight and blunt. 

"How's Dylan doing?" he asked, "I'm so glad you have a friend to go do stuff with when you come back into town." 

"Yeah dad, about that..." I took a breath, "He and I actually got back together so I'm moving to Nashville when I graduate. Also, I'm going to see him in a week." 

He just stared at me. 

"...what do you think about that...?" I asked him. 

"I think I need a beer." 

I feel the need to pause here and make something clear. He always loved Dylan, too. But far more than he loved Dylan...he loved Nashville. So he was fully in support of this decision. As was my mother, because Nashville was a heck of a lot closer to home than New York City. 

Long distance did suck, but it did work. We made it through my last semester of college, FaceTiming every night and visiting one another every six weeks. Not even a full week after my college graduation cap went in the air, I loaded up my car and moved to Nashville. I had nothing but a duffel bag and excitement. I'd pick up the keys to my apartment in three days. The moving truck would come the following week. I'd have a job teaching kindergarten at an at-risk urban school within the month. I'd even be offered the position at the end of the first interview. 

A year ago today, we met up one night to see the movie La La Land, and Dylan truly expected it to be our last night together. 

It turned out to be the first of many. 

Since then, we've spent an awful lot of nights dressed up at weddings and parties and music networking events. We've spent even more nights in our sweatpants eating pizza. But no matter what, we're making memories one day at a time. 

People wait until I'm alone before they ask... "Do you ever regret it? Do you ever wish you'd moved to New York?" 

I had no hesitations the night I yelled at Dylan to quit deciding what I wanted for me, and I have no hesitations answering these questions a year later. 

Not in the slightest. I wouldn't trade this for anything. 

My Dylan, we celebrate today. A year of adventure. A year of uncertainty. A year of new jobs, new beginnings, and crazy spontaneous decisions that led to one of the best years of my life. A year of midnight donut runs and a year of goodnight kisses. A year of "I still love you." 

Thanks for giving me the best life I could've wished for, straight out of college. New York would've been pretty cool. It would've been loud and busy and adventurous and everything I'd ever wanted. But I can't help but think about what it would've been like after I was in for the night, in my sweatpants, eating pizza alone, looking out my apartment window and wondering what you were up to. 

I'm so glad I don't have to wonder. Thanks for inspiring a home for me in Nashville, where it is still loud and busy and adventurous. Thanks for letting me back in and allowing me to be a part of your dream. Thanks for giving me a completely new dream. And thanks for taking a chance with me this time...

It was always you. 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Gifts Your Kiddo's Teacher Actually Wants This Christmas

Alright parents, it's that time of year again. As if you're not stressed enough with the Christmas Party dates, the holiday program reminders, and gift shopping for your actual family, you realize you have three days before school is out and you are expected to present your child's teacher with a Christmas gift.

Your kid probably wants to get her an Emoji water bottle or something equally as random. And all you can think of is a Christmas ornament or a mug that says #1 Teacher. You're pretty sure she already has a thousand of those. And let's be honest... Would she even use it?

I love my readers on this blog, so I'm just going to give it to you straight...

She does have a thousand of those and she can't possibly use them all.

You're sure that there's something out there she could use and actually enjoy, but you aren't a teacher. So how in the world are you supposed to know what that something is?

You aren't.

Allow me to share with you where every teacher's mind is at this holiday season, so you can give something that will really count.

Something she can eat. 
I'll let you in on a little secret... Her family's favorite time of year is Christmas. Why? Because she brings home all kinds of stuff. They never have to bake any cookies or make any candy because they have plenty. 

I had a teacher one year who talked about my chocolate peanut clusters for months after I gifted them to her. I returned to give her a batch every year until she retired.

So help your teacher add to her stash with your special family recipe. It may even end up being the thing she looks forward to each season.

Something she can drink. 
She will carry her favorite drink to work daily. ...or she'll have it stocked in the workroom refrigerator so she never forgets.

So ask your kid. What does she always have with her? Get her what she feels she needs to get through the day. Soda? Coffee? Tea? Something a little stronger...? (Hey, you know your kid better than I do.) Use this knowledge to create a small little gift basket.

**Legality Note: Your child WILL get in trouble if you send alcohol to campus. And so will you!!! A cute wine glass, bottle openers, reusable wine corks, or a gift card to your local alcohol store could serve as a thoroughly used alternative. 

Something she can use to relax. 
She spends 8 hours a day with your children, a few more hours a day preparing for them, and the remainder of her time worrying about them. A bath bomb or two would be more than welcome, along with some lotion or candles to give some of that time back to her. Trust me. She doesn't give enough of it to herself.

Something to give her store credit. 
Ask your kid (because I can guarantee they'll know)... What does your teacher always have with her? And where does it come from? Gift cards are your friend here.

Is she one of those teachers who frequents the vending machine for her diet coke on the reg? Sonic.
Does she inhale coffee like it's oxygen? Starbucks.
Are your kids always bringing home cute little educational crafts? Hobby Lobby.
It might also be worth it to include some credited money to your local educational supply store, or to JoAnn's, or the Dollar Tree. (Yes they make gift cards to Dollar Tree, and yes, your teacher would eat them up.)

Your kid knows her better than anyone, so ask them. What does she like? Where does she spend her time? What does she do when she's not at school?

And if you're still stumped and all else fails... Amazon or Target. If she isn't at least mildly obsessed with these gems, then is she even a real teacher?

Something for her classroom. 
I know what you're probably thinking. "I'd kind of like to get her something to take her mind off work...not something to remind her of it over the holidays!" But look at it this way...

Providing her with classroom supplies, kleenexes, tissues, games, puzzles, or even organization pieces is less money out of her own pocket she'll spend next semester. It's something to make her long, stressful days a little bit easier. And she will remember you each time she uses it.

Something personal. 
Teachers get so caught up in the day-to-day stressors of our jobs that we forget why we're really there. For example, if your child is in kindergarten, there's a good chance they didn't even know all their letters when they walked into your teacher's room. By Christmas, they are beginning to read, write, and even complete some addition and subtraction without any assistance!

The sweetest "teacher gift" I've ever received was a framed piece of student work: on the left, an assisted writing assignment from the first week of school, and on the right, a writing piece constructed at home without any help about how much they loved school. Attached to the frame was a thank you note from the parent, showing that they had noticed the progress in their daughter and were expressing how appreciative they were of everything I had done.

I will keep it long after I retire.

Tips To Consider...

  • Teachers work hard. So anything to make our winter holiday seem longer and more relaxing will be received with great joy. 
  • Teachers are cheap. We aren't paid much, so we don't expect a lavish gift. In fact, chances are high we enjoy the simple, useful ones more. 
  • Teachers are unappreciated. The simple fact that you included us on your gift list at all lets us know that you are grateful for what we are doing. You really can't go wrong. 
So please don't let the stressors of the holiday season become an excuse to forget your child's teacher this Christmas. I promise you, she hasn't forgotten your child.