My Turn: Student Safety and Gun Safety

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Image: Ginger Williams Cook

I want to take you all with me on my journey last week. It is a road that I should have foreseen when I took a job as a teacher, when I turned my education into educating. But I have to be frank, and tell you that I did not clearly see that I would one day be communicating a classroom plan to each and every one of my students as to how we would “Run, Hide, Fight”– the mantra of school shooting safety.

I want you as fellow parents, and grandparents, and citizens, and teachers, and administrators, and police officers, and lobbyists, and politicians to know what it felt like to stand in front of a classroom of students and tell them that what I want most for them when they come to school is their safety and their continued ability to earn an education that will carry them into the world as thoughtful, hard-working, problem-solving, critical reasoning, readers, writers, thinkers, and speakers who are career and college ready.

I want you to know that I saw both depth of understanding and depth of fear, both depth of care and depth of concern, both the need to be loved and the need to show love, both the desire to be safe and the desire to ensure the safety of others in my students’ eyes as we spoke. If you were standing next to me in my classroom this week, your faith in humanity would have grown three sizes those days.

I hope it won’t surprise you that not one of my students rolled their eyes when we talked about our classroom safety plan. Not one of them asked why we had to engage in such a boring assignment, or if they could take a nap, or if we could talk about something else. None of the usual millennial stereotypes we place on this generation of youth. Yes, I get all of these non-plused reactions to the daily English concepts, learning assignments, creative activities, and formative assessments I give in my classroom. I’m not offended by this in the least. I teach high school English. It’s not everyone’s favorite subject, and six hours in a school desk could put anyone on the verge of a needing a nap. But not one mention of an out, an alternative, an apathetic reply shows you how important this topic is to our youth.

My students were keenly listening, hyper aware, compellingly conversational, profoundly questioning, solution creating, statistic gathering. I know one thing for sure– after this week-and-a-half spent discussing the ways we could best hide in silence, with cell-phones off, not a word uttered, backpacks filled with computers and books placed over our hearts as a best defense against bullets– my students want to live.

But listening to the rhetoric and the maligning of the essential questions about gun control, mental health, and school safety in our country I really have had to ask myself, “Do we want the same thing for them? Do we want my students to live?” Your faith in humanity may have shrunk a bit too at the apathetic responses from representatives, politicians, and spokespersons who upheld the status quo so unmoved by the honest expressions and questions of grief from our youth and their parents.

Why can my students see that the conversation does not logically need go to the extreme of revoking the Second Amendment, but that it would be reasonable for us to speak about universal background checks, and cooling-off periods, and training for the opportunity to buy a firearm? Why does the conversation become the fact that more people die in cars than by gun-shot wounds before we talk about banning assault weapons and making bump stocks illegal?

Why does the conversation become the idea that if guns are regulated they will no longer be available to citizens but only to criminals rather than discussing common sense methods of mental health screenings for those who want to purchase firearms? Why does the conversation become arming teachers and other militant policies that include more guns rather than examining societal support of those who struggle with conditions of mental illness? Do we worship the Second Amendment and its economic and political gains more than the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Because from my vantage point this week, we do.

Because if all I have in my tool-kit is to continue to train students to duck low and move swiftly to the back of the room. That I will look out into the hall to bring passing students into our classroom the way Scott Beigel did when he was shot. That I will lock and barricade the door with a tall wooden pallet that ironically bears a peace sign. That we will break the glass in the window, hurling desks at it if need be, and exit out as swiftly as we can toward the street. That they need to run as fast as they can to the road without stopping. It feels akin to telling students to “duck and cover” in the event of an atomic bomb, with the full knowledge that all that will be left is their nuclear shadow as a reminder of their existence.

I want you to know these details because I want you to know that I want each and every child in my classroom to live. We talked in specifics. But are we as a society going to work together to ensure that safety? Now is the time that will tell. “Would you carry a gun, Mrs. Dickson?” my students asked, his hazel eyes serious, his mouth poised in a firm straight line once the question exited his mouth. He wanted to know if I would carry a weapon at school, if I would get a concealed carry permit to bring a weapon into my classroom. He didn’t ask in rancor or in pleading. He simply wanted to know what I would do to save him and his classmates in the event of a mass shooting.

What would I do? I had already asked myself this question many, many, many times from the day that the massacre happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida to the day that a student threatened the school I teach in on social media. What would I do to keep my students safe?

It was one of those moments where time took on an eternal quality– still, gaping, telescoping toward my need to answer him. “I didn’t take this job to be in law enforcement, or to carry a gun,” I replied. “You have asked me a deep and philosophical question. I do not believe in guns for the taking of human life. You want to know if I would carry a gun to protect you, but I want to know why [a teacher] carrying a gun would be our first line of defense on your behalf?”

Perhaps it felt like a dodging, ducking, pivot, a non-answer like the many politicians and spokespersons we’ve heard from this week.  Maybe it felt to him like I fractured that student’s trust. My students, who will have to trust in my coping mechanisms in the event that a deleterious person plans our death, deserve answers. But I do know my answer to his question. “No.” No, I will not carry a weapon on a high school campus.

The words Alfonso Calderon, survivor of Parkland’s school shooting, rang in my ears, “That’s a terrible idea… As far as I am aware, teachers are meant to be educators. They are meant to teach young minds how to work in the real world. They are not meant to know how to carry AR 15s, they are not meant to know how to put on kevlar vests for other students or for themselves. This is not what we stand for. We stand for small policy changes, and possibly big ones in the future. Because right now I am pretty sick of talking about teachers being armed. That is not even a possibility in my mind. I would never want to see that and neither do they want to do that.”

I care about each and every one of my students deeply. Yet when an administrator asks me “How are your kids?” like Rebecca Berlin Field, I immediately jump into my role as mother to two young boys at an elementary school that seems impossibly far, and feels unpredictably vulnerable and reply, “I was so grateful for the Principal and over thirty staff and faculty who welcomed each and every student to school today. They were standing on the curb in six degree weather when my husband dropped my boys off.” Then realizing my mistake, I quickly say, “Oh, you mean my students. They are scared.” Because this question reaches further than the doors of my high school onto elementary campuses where tiny humans go to learn and to be safe, too.

How will we protect those young students like those in Sandy Hook? I realized this week that it is my turn. If I believe that laws should change, or that monies should be appropriated in a different or particular way, or that students should be protected it is my turn to step up and voice these opinions.

It is my turn to stand beside these brave students from my high school who are looking for real and actionable change to come from the debates surrounding the Parkland, FL shooting. Small changes in national policy can lead to big changes in the safety that exists (or doesn’t) in our schools. It is my turn to be part of solutions that keep my children safe every day at school. The debate doesn’t need to be mutually exclusive, citizens can and do have the right to bear arms, alongside more reasonable regulation of these weapons. We can allocate funds for more sustained support of the mentally ill. We don’t have to throw our hands up in defeat simply because we’ve been asked to do something difficult. If I tell my students every day that they can do hard things, then I should be able to do hard things too. I hope as a parent, a grandparent, a teacher, an administrator or a concerned citizen you’ll consider speaking out on these matters.

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Four Eyes, New Glasses

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Oh yes, friends, it’s Friday! I have really enjoyed publishing theses posts each week because it means that the weekend is always in sight! Speaking of sight, how do you like my new specs? I decided to go with Warby Parker’s Blair.

Simple, a little bit classic, a little bit funky, they are working for me. I’ve linked the glasses below, along with this outfit which is also working for me as we are finally experiencing a mini-winter. This week it actually snowed, twice!

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Glasses, Sweater, Hat, Jeans, Shoes (in the collage)Shoes (in my outfit)

On of my biggest triumphs in terms of my No New Things Challenge this week has been that I feel like I frequent online shopping sites a lot less. When I set out on this challenge, I unsubscribed from updates to these sites so that I wasn’t constantly barraged by email that would tempt me to buy, buy, buy.

I write that last line with an itch to hop over to one now and just peruse. But another goodness of this challenge is the fact that I have been able to really look at my closet and come up with wonderful remixes, repeats, and even some never-before worn combinations. I will have a post about this idea of shopping your closet at some point soon. It has been so worth it for me, thus far, and I expect that this will continue.

I’d also love to know if any of you have or are doing similar things with your spending? Have any of you done a shopping fast? What were your results? Have any of you begun shopping for more responsibly made items? What prompted your switch? In short, I’d love to hear about any of your experiences in this vein. I hope you all have a fantastic day, and that your weekend is filled with those you love most!

XX, Megan

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Hearts, Flex Spending, and Real Savings

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The day of hearts and love is upon us. I don’t really care whether you celebrate Valentine’s Day or not, I hope you still take a moment for some self-reflection and self-love sometime this month. This top adds the perfect amount of be-hearted spice to my wardrobe. I actually bought it last year in anticipation of V-day before I began my No New Things Challenge. Bonus, it’s now on sale!

I’ve linked the details below, along with some other fun heart-celebrating wardrobe items. Note: you never have to wait until February to break out these cute little love extras in your wardrobe! My update to my No New Things Challenge continues below.

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Shirt, Jeans, Mules, Bag, Necklace

Sweatshirt, Shirt, Shoes, Sunglasses, Earrings, Striped Shirt

So I have some more exciting updates on my No New Things Challenge today. First up, the  Flexible Spending or Health Savings Account. I always have to smile at myself as I write these posts. I realize that for SO MANY of you this information is neither exciting or groundbreaking. Some of you have had FSA or HSA accounts for years!

That said, please note that I am really opening up these discussions for persons at every stage and every style of spending habit or money consciousness. I’m not even remotely an expert (nor do I intend to put myself out there as such). I am simply sharing some of my baby steps in my money journey as well as some of my experiences, emotions, struggles, and successes.

So this past week I checked in on my FSA. I had signed up at the beginning of last year, and I hadn’t even activated the card to my account. I was pleasantly surprised (read: enthusiastically stoked) to find that I had accrued a nice little nest egg in my account. In fact, I had great reason to celebrate this little savings because I was in dire need of new eye wear.

If you remember my post from two months back about Warby Parker’s eye glasses, I was seriously looking at some of their frames. Fast forward to this month, where I realized that I had some actual savings in my Flex Spending Account. The time was right, the savings was there, and I ordered a pair of Warby Parker glasses. I’ll show you the details of my frame choice next week.

I’ll say again that I realize these are not only baby-steps in money management, but they are steps that many have trod before me. One of the great things about a Flexible Spending Account is that your money is set aside pre-tax, so you have a little bit of savings on both ends of the spectrum— both the fact that you have set it aside, and the fact that it lowers the bottom line of your take-home pay. It also allows you to save for more expensive investments like braces (we haven’t crossed that bridge yet), or larger medical expenses that would otherwise really wreck your budget. I cannot tell you how happy I was to be able to purchase glasses, contact lenses, with enough left over as a cushion for unplanned for medical expenses.

What do you think of these combination posts? Should I have broken this one in half? One post about hearts and Valentine’s Day dressing and another post about the No New Things Challenge? I’m trying to get a feel for what you’d like to read! You can comment on this post, or leave your thoughts on Instagram or Facebook. I hope you have a fabulous Friday and a spectacular weekend!!

XX, Megan

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Groovy Stripes: Outfit Repeats and a NNTC Update

Remix Spring 2018

This week was an absolute bear. Work was pressing. We had a sick little babe at our house. I have to give thanks and praise to my husband and my mom and dad for helping our sick kiddo to have time to heal and get back on his feet. We found out on Thursday night he had step throat, now with antibiotics he is finally getting better!

I still think that the lower light of winter is messing with my energy levels. I am chalking it up to a combination of all of these– a little seasonally affected, a little bit sick, a little bit stressed. I did get back on the bike commuting this week as temperatures cooperated, and that helped to smooth out some of the stressed edges.

I also had some personal triumphs on the No New Things Challenge front this week, and some funny lows which I’ll explain in a minute. This past week I opened a savings account. This might be small for some (read: you may be laughing at the simplicity, you’ve had a savings account since you were twelve, you have millions of dollars in the bank, or you are simply just very good at saving so it seems absurd that someone would not know how to do so). But for me it is a major win.

Remember when I talked about my perception of money as the tide— it comes and goes, it is generally needed for life, but the supply may wax and wane without really bothering me. This is why a savings account has always been so hard for me. If the savings was there, it was a nice cushion. If it wasn’t, I was never overly stressed. But there always seemed to be a slow leak between my savings account and my checking account. Let’s just say that this leak out the bottom method of savings doesn’t really work. Shocking, I know.

So with this new savings account there are some ground rules I’ve set for myself. I haven’t started HUGE but small. The one rule is that it doesn’t get to leak into my checking. This is the saving account that I plan to let sit and get fat. At some point I’d like to get fancy with things and invest. But for now, I’ll take the year and see where this savings leads. When I was with my sisters around Christmas, they shared some of their tips for savings and I am incorporating some of those into my own money mindfulness as well.

I also set up account tracking through Mint which has been a big win. I have long needed to set up a way to track what I am spending and look at what I am really spending it on. In The Art of Money, Bari encourages everyone, anyone regardless of income, prosperity level, or wealth to do this. I obviously have known and heard this advice before, but I really had never implemented it!

As I have been more conscious of my money spending habits, it has also brought me to some funny little internal junctures. I don’t know how to frame this other than to try and describe what I think happened, but I believe this was one of my first experiences feeling “cheap.” Let’s actually change that to “frugal.” Let me try to tell this story in three sentences. I called to order a gift basket from a Groupon I’d been gifted. I found out that the shipping would be half as much as the total gift card value. I was flabbergast at the shipping cost, and I was upset at the fact that I had to PAY to have my gift shipped. I was annoyed at their customer service person who didn’t seem to know what they were talking about. I ended up telling them I didn’t want to order and I hung up.

I went home (yes, I realize this is more than three sentences). I had a chance to examine some of my feelings regarding this exchange. Why was I so annoyed at the shipping price? I had the money, it wasn’t about that. Why didn’t I want to pay the cost? I realized that I was feeling overly frugal. This was new for me. I was annoyed at both the feeling, and at myself for feeling “cheap.”

I called my sister. I told her that I was experiencing something new in this money mindfulness journey. I was actually having a feeling when I went to spend money. It wasn’t guilt. It wasn’t sadness. It wasn’t excitement. It was begrudging. I didn’t want to spend the cash to have my package shipped. We laughed. Both of us. Together. Because it was actually an awesome new moment in my money spending experience. I cared. I cared about the money that was leaving my checking account.

I was aware. I was aware of this moment for ME. I got online, used my Groupon voucher, ordered my gift basket, talked my sister through the same process, and went on with my day feeling happy. I felt that I had turned over a very important piece of money mindfulness for myself that day. More to come on this money mindfulness front next week. But for now, I want to thank you for following along on my No New Things Challenge. Oh, and I wore this same outfit from two years ago this week and subbed out a different necklace. Still such a nice transitional combination in the mid-season!

There have been some wonderful moments for me this week, and there have been some lows, as I described. So I want to leave you with this little clip, and a reminder to “stay on your bike” as you move through life’s crazy twists, turns, log jumps, and loops. Yes, above all, “stay on your bike!” And, you know, if you are feeling it, don’t be afraid to do the WHIP! Here’s Danny Hart winning the UCI Downhill World Championship in 2011*. I wish you just as much success, luck, and seamlessly nailing of life’s rough course, as these announcers gave Danny Hart. I’m cheering you on!!

XX, Megan

*This clip may not be for little ears.

Bright Shoes Friday

No New Things Update

Woman and man jumping with shopping bags

First, let me say thank you for the words of support, encouragement, interest and excitement in my year of no shopping challenge. I will need all of the good karma out there to nail this. (Big wry smile on my face.) That said, I had some really wonderful breakthroughs this weekend in terms of my “No New Things” challenge.

Breakthrough

My highly fashionable, but extremely socially conscious friend Kevin came to town this weekend. We attended the Sundance Film Festival, ate far too much delicious food, and generally had the chance to hang out and catch up. It was wonderful. Though shopping was not on our schedule, we actually had the chance to pop into some shops in Park City with my husband while Kevin was here.

I was worried that my inner shopper might kick in with Kevin around (no offense, Kev). Not because of Kevin, but because of ME! I have this vivid image, thirteen years ago, a tiny wood-paneled office in the middle of nowhere, scoping out a killer pair of Manolo Blahnik heels that I was drooling over for an upcoming wedding. On this particular day, in Skagway, Alaska, I would find a pair of shoes on my computer and then turn to Kevin for his review of the item online. We simply have always had that kind of exchange over style and fashion. I love it.

Fast forward to now, as we shopped around Park City I paid attention to how I felt looking at clothes, looking at goods. Maybe one of the small breakthroughs for me was that I didn’t feel that persistent need to buy something. It was as if I had released myself from the burden of purchase. I’m not saying that this is how it will feel every time, but it felt really, really good to simply look. To take in the stores, the displays, and even to try on items that are on my “wishlist” like an upgrade on my knee-length puffer jacket without feelings as though that sale was going to allow the “thing” to slip out of my grasp.

Research and Support

One of the other things that has helped me with the emotionality of this no shopping challenge (yes, I realize that I am not even a month in) has been The Art of Money, a book by Bari Tessler that I picked up at my school library. In all honesty I grabbed it because it was one of the books displayed on the top of the shelf, and Bari smiles from the cover with a gorgeous wine lip, the perfect over-sized jade ring, kind eyes, a generous smile, holding an inviting cup of tea. You can almost sense the warmth in it and in her.

There have been two important takeaways for me at this point. One is that I should take the time and space to examine my history with money. Bari talks a lot about how shameful many of us feel about our current relationship with money, but she also suggests that one of the reasons is that many of us don’t trace the roots of our relationship with money back very far.

We look at our present and judge our financial literacy based on where we are right now– “I was given my money through an inheritance, but I don’t deserve it because I didn’t work for it” or “Money is impossible to save, you just need to spend it when you can, as fast as you can” or “I don’t feel safe if I don’t have money so I am going to save as much as I can, I can have experiences later.” But why do we feel this way? Where do these feelings come from? Of course some of our present informs how we interact with money, but there are also many chapters in our history with money that we may not have looked at. I’m looking more at my money history now.

Second, I appreciate Bari’s emphasis on completing some aspect of our relationship with money. This year, along with no new things, I plan to FINALLY set up a way to track my money, get on top of a budget, and release myself from the burden my own perceived money ignorance. There is not better time to start than today! So I’m going to carpe my reality, load Mint onto my phone, track my expenses for a month, set up a savings account that I don’t touch, and generally reorder my finances this year.

Rules

The first rule of my year of no shopping is simple– I am not going to buy any clothes. But some questions have already been posed that have allowed me to further define this more general goal. What about consignment? What about replacement items? What about accessories? What about gifts? What about clothing items for my family?

First, I am only limiting my fast on shopping to clothing for myself. If I feel that I have the need to purchase a replacement item I will cross that bridge when I come to it. I honestly don’t think that this problem will arise. When thinking about this challenge, the only thing I could think of that I thought might need to be replaced was my white jeans. They are old, spotted, and sort of worn from my Clorox addiction. But I honestly don’t think they will need to be replaced and I’m not gunning for it.

Clothing for other family members is fair game, though just like replacing any worn out clothing in my own wardrobe, the idea here is not to go nuts shopping for items my boys do not need simply to have the feeling of new. I am limited in giving gifts to others, and I have made it clear to my husband and immediate family members that I can, let me say that again, the I CAN accept gifts.

As far as consignment shopping, thrift shopping, or online purchases of lightly worn clothing, I have removed this from the okay category. I joked with a couple of my friends that I didn’t want them to catch me every weekend at our local thrift store with my reusable grocery bag culling the racks for something, anything that I could BUY. No, thrifting is out for me on this go round. The idea is to use the clothing I have.

Updates

At this point, I hope to write weekly updates about my progress. These will be designed to be somewhat short and lively, and combined with other content material. I don’t want to overburden with every detail! In other words, I hope to keep you posted.

The item that really caught my eye this week was a dress from Madewell. It was a beautiful raw umber silk with perfectly placed peacock feathers, and just the right price (read: on sale). I looked at it all week. I put it in my shopping cart, I almost clicked purchase. Then I thought about some of the reasons that I was embarking on this challenge. I do not need to buy a dress simply because it is on sale.

Frankly, I don’t even need to buy the dress simply because it is beautiful. I can appreciate beauty and form in style and fashion, and still not have to be the purchaser. This was another big breakthrough for me. I hope you are finding joy in practicing better habits in 2018, and I hope you have a wonderful Friday and a fabulous weekend!

XX, Megan

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