Heels in the Hall

(A quick, writing-on-the-airport-floor reflection)

The keynote speaker, a storyteller, says she will tell us her leadership journey (the conference theme) by starting at the beginning. In a split second, something in my subconscious asks me what my beginning is, and without thinking, I am back entertaining myself in a somewhat sterile office, appropriate for a hospital, the people shuffling outside in the halls as background noise.

And I hear it. The unmistakable sound of heels on the hallway’s tile floor, and not just any heels, but my mother’s. I’m not sure how I can recognize her gait from the other female footsteps, but I can. I can tell it’s her, walking deliberately down the hall. Maybe she is coming from a meeting. After all, that is what I once told people my mother did for a living – attend meetings.

In reality, she was a hospital administrator, director of the physical therapy/rehab services, at a time when none of my friends’ mothers worked outside the home. I know now how hard it was for her. I know now the harassment she endured. I know now how others looked down on her for her choice.

Or, really, I don’t know. While I have experienced all of these scenarios in my own professional life, I’ve done so in a different place and time. The culture has shifted…slightly, but it’s shifted.

I will never fully know my mother’s experience, but I do know that when I heard those heels in the hall, I thought, “That’s my mother.”

And decades later, I find myself in a convention center, listening to a keynote speaker tell her leadership journey “from the beginning” and am caught off guard when the beginning of my leadership story comes to me as the sound of my mother’s heels in the hall.

I know now how many physical therapists she mentored. I know now how many patients she helped. I know now how many trails she helped blaze. And I know now, from that moment at the conference today, how my leadership journey started in my mother’s walk down that hall.

Happy International Woman’s Day, belated!

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Five-Minute Friday: Abandon

(Note: “Five-Minute Friday” is an activity I participate in based on Kate Motaung’s blog. Each week, Kate posts a one-word prompt, and people write for five minutes straight, free-write style with no editing and no over-thinking.)

Abandon.

There was a post going around on Facebook attributed to Pope Francis, suggesting what Catholics give up for Lent. Not the typical vices like alcohol, swearing, or sweets, but giving up negative mindsets, harsh words, etc.

What thinking, and resulting language, do I need to give up?

Last night, I had a new learning related to this idea.

Our son is a Type 1 Diabetic, and when he was first diagnosed, I tried to find books, tv shows, or movies with diabetic characters (for him or for me).

The search was dismal.

There’s Stacey in Ann Martin’s The Baby-sitter’s Club series, but other than her, just about every time a character has diabetes, it relates to a negative plot twist (often the death of said character, as was the case of the wife who died in Memento, or Julia Roberts’s character in Steel Magnolias).

I lamented this discovery to my husband, who at that point had written a book. He vowed that the next book he wrote would have a diabetic character that kids like Owen could relate to.

Fast forward to that book’s completed draft. Brendan (husband) gave a copy to one of the nurse educators at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital for feedback on the medical aspects mentioned in the book.

One of her comments gave us serious pause: a few paragraphs ago, I referred to Owen as a “Type 1 Diabetic,” yet this phrasing bothers the diabetic community, as the preferred language is “a child with diabetes” (or some such variation).

I understand the logic, as it aligns with the terminology we use in education. A child is not “a dyslexic” but rather has dyslexia. The diagnosis is not the person; it is what the person lives with.

I get it.

And yet.

I have always referred to my father as “a diabetic,” not someone who had diabetes. As far as I can remember, I learned this language from him, who referred to himself the same way (if he mentioned his diagnosis at all, which was rare).

Maybe this is the problem. I have been operating under terminology from the 1960s, when my dad was diagnosed. And, from an English teacher standpoint, economy of language matters to me. Why use 4 words (“a child with diabetes”) when you can communicate the same idea in 2 (“a diabetic”)?

Times have changed, though, and, actually, it’s not the same idea, which was the nurse’s point.

Brendan and I discussed the nurse educator’s note. Brendan was going to change the wording. I disagreed.

“I see the politically correct language she’s promoting, and I get why,” I said, “but if the book is written in the first person from a teenaged diabetic’s point of view, is that really how the character thinks of himself?”

He pondered my point, and I might have convinced him. But I had an idea, one that I thought would confirm my point of view.

“Why don’t you write that sentence both ways – the original way and the way the nurse suggested, and let Owen decide?”

Brendan gave Owen the two passages, and at first Owen said they were the same.

Brendan said, “No, there’s one slight difference. Which one is what you would say? One is the way a nurse said it should be, and one is the way I wrote it.”

For the record: Owen is not a diabetic. He is a child with Type 1 Diabetes.

Abandon any ideas or words to the contrary.

Five-Minute Friday: Happy

(Note: “Five-Minute Friday” is an activity I participate in based on Kate Motaung’s blog, linked at the bottom of the page. Each week, Kate posts a one-word prompt, and people write for five minutes straight, free-write style with no editing and no over-thinking.)

As my summer winds down and I prepare to go back to the scheduled life of school, I thought this was a good week to get back into the 5-Minute Fridays, too. How fortuitous that the word is “happy” given that I have just had such a happy time off.

This week, I returned from a 7-day diversity leader training with an intense schedule. From 7:30 am until 9, 10, 11 pm, I participated in sessions with 55 other educators from across the country (and beyond). While I was happy to be there, that is not why I am including it in this post.

One of the videos we watched when discussing gender was this amazing poetry slam, “Pretty,” in which the poet includes a line that says the poem is “about women who will prowl thirty stores in six malls to find the right cocktail dress, but haven’t a clue where to find fulfillment or how to wear joy.” (Warning: if you watch the clip, there is one use of the F-word.)

The slam is powerful, but upon listening to it, I felt relief that I am not one of those women. I DO know how to find fulfillment and wear joy.

Here is what makes me happy, in no particular order:

  • My family, especially when we are all in the same place
  • Knitting
  • Running
  • Kayaking
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Being quiet, enjoying the stillness
  • Coffee
  • Working to leave the world better than I found it
  • Ice cream
  • Time off to enjoy all of the above

At this new job that isn’t so new anymore, administrators have the month of July off. This perk was one of many that ultimately drove me to accept the position, and I have to say, I underestimated the power of having such a large chunk of time off to recharge, regroup, and restore my soul.

Will I return to work next week happy? Indeed.