In Honor of Valentine’s Day

I wrote this a year and a half ago when my students were reading essays from This, I Believe, a book that collected belief statements from NPR’s famous radio program. We had to write our own pieces about beliefs we held and then discussed how our beliefs shape us. Today seemed like the perfect day to share it. Happy Valentine’s Day.

“Just don’t cry, okay Millie?” were the last words that my grandfather said to my grandmother before he died. He was 88 years old. In his final moments, he walked from the bedroom to the hallway whose entire wall was filled with pictures of his family. My grandmother helped him walk down the hall because he was having trouble using the new walker that the doctors gave him the week before when he started complaining about back pain that probably hurt much more than his calm, World War II soldier demeanor ever let on. He lost his footing, in turn pushing the walker against the wall and squeezing my grandmother’s hand that was holding on to the walker along with his. Tears began to form in my grandmother’s eyes from the pain in her hand. “Don’t cry Millie,” my grandfather said. And he fell to the floor. My grandmother tried to shake him awake, “Jerry? I’m going to call 911, okay Jerry?” His eyes opened, he nodded, and he said, “Just don’t cry, okay Millie?” And then he was gone.

I, along with the rest of my family, like to believe that my grandfather wasn’t telling my grandmother not to cry about her hand, he was telling her not to cry after he was gone. He was telling her she would be okay without him. He was telling her that he loved her more than anything, and that he wanted her to be happy even though he wouldn’t be with her anymore.

I believe in true love. And I believe in it because of the love that my grandparents shared. It was clear from the words he chose to say in his last breath that my grandfather cared deeply for my grandmother, that her wellbeing and her happiness far outweighed his own.

My belief in true love does not just stem from his beautifully romantic final moments, but rather from the small, routine acts of love that they displayed for one another every day for 63 years. My belief in true love comes from my grandmother devotedly cooking them dinner every day and from my grandfather dutifully making a salad for dinner every single day, without ever having to be asked. It comes from when my grandmother would scream “JERRRRRRYYYYY!! What are you?! Stupid?!” and my grandfather would sit patiently and absorb her anger until it was done. It comes from the way that my grandmother always reflected on what a good man he was and how lucky she was to have him. It comes from watching my grandfather crack chestnuts open after Christmas dinner and pass them to my grandmother without ever being asked. It comes from their ability to tell stories together, and know exactly what the other was going to say. It comes from the quiet comfort they had as they sat next to each other watching Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune, and the joy of creating a beautiful life together, filled with loving daughters who gave them wonderful grandchildren.

I once heard that true love is not Romeo and Juliet, it is the grandmothers and grandfathers who stay together for sixty or more years of marriage. I believe that Romeo and Juliet loved each other and that their love story that spanned all of three days was enchanting, but I believe more in my grandparents, who made it through 22, 925 days of marriage. I believe that love is patient, and love is kind, and love is sometimes yelling “JERRRRRRYYYYY!!”. I believe that my grandfather is watching over me. And I believe that one day, I will find a love as beautiful as the love my grandparents had for each other.

It Demands to Be Felt

“That’s the thing about pain, it demands to be felt.” –John Green

When I first received the phone call, I was on the train back from the city, one stop away from home. I listened to the recorded message from the high school that warned us to check our email, to be ready for an emergency faculty meeting on Monday morning, and to join grieving students at the school over the weekend if we were available. I thought about how sad it was that a boy had died so young and so unexpectedly. I debated if I should go to the school, but I felt I had nothing to offer the grief-stricken students who were there: I didn’t know him. I have no words of wisdom. What good could I do?

A few hours later, I was driving to Starbucks to meet a friend and Switchfoot’s “Gone” came on the radio as I was stopped at Four Corners, the staple intersection of my town. I was having a ton of fun singing along to my blasting radio, not thinking about much beyond the hot chocolate that was waiting for me, until I sang:

“Today will soon be gone,
like yesterday is gone, like history is gone.
Just try to prove me wrong and
pretend like you’re immortal.”

As I belted the words to a song I’ve known by heart for years, I finally processed this young boy’s death. I felt my throat start to close and the tears well in my eyes. I felt an overwhelming sadness take over instantly and unexpectedly. I began to think about Monday morning and how difficult it would be to face a room full of children who had lost a friend, a classmate, a fellow human; to face a room of 16-year-olds who had just been taught that life is short—in the harshest way possible.

In an instant, a young boy passed away. Our school lost a student, our baseball team lost a player, his family lost a son and a brother, his friends lost a companion…and all of the children in our school’s community lost their innocence.

He wasn’t my student, and I didn’t know him personally, leaving me with a sense of guilt for feeling so much sadness and pain in his absence; but my heart aches for his family, for his girlfriend, for his teachers, for his coaches, and most of all, for the children in my classes and in my school who had to learn too soon that life is more than just unfair—that it can be cruel, and overwhelming, and crushing, and disheartening and not make any sense at all.

Being at school today was difficult. As a 23-year-old who lives most days feeling like anything but an adult, it was challenging to stand in front of my students, with the expectation that I would be strong for them, that I would know what to say, and how to act, and that I would be able to teach them how to act. As a 23-year-old who still feels like a high schooler, who feels like there is an eternity left to live, and that there is an unlimited amount of minutes to waste binge-watching Netflix, and going out with friends, and painting nails, and doing so many other ordinary things that I wouldn’t do if I only had a limited number of days….I was suddenly faced head-on with my own mortality. I couldn’t handle the fact that we are not immortal and I have no idea how I am supposed to help students find the answers to questions that I can’t respond to myself. I told my students that I wished I had words of wisdom for them, but I had none.

Today was a day where aching and hurt could be heard in the silence of the hallways, and seen in the tears of his classmates, and felt in the sorrowful looks that were exchanged.

Today, we grappled with the fact that life is short and life is unfair.

Today, our pain demanded to be felt and it hasn’t stopped demanding yet.

Teacher Talk Tuesday: Slob My Knob

I’m naïve, for sure.

When I was in middle school, I got into an argument with two boys on the bus ride home from school who believed I didn’t know what a condom was, but I insisted I had lived in one until I was 4 years old (I had lived in a condominium…).  At the beginning of high school, I was sure that “oral sex” meant that people sat around and talked about doing the deed. I only recently learned that “Johnson” was more than just a common last name.

Like I said, I’m naïve, for sure.

So, when I student taught at a high school a little over a year ago, it’s no surprise that one of my students taught me a new phrase that I could add to my limited sexual vocabulary list.

During the first few weeks of student teaching, my job was mostly to observe: to see how the students interacted, how the teacher set up routines within the classroom, and to start planning a unit that would work with the class dynamic. In the weeks I observed them, the kids were working on a research project and spent many of their days in a computer lab, which made it hard to get a feel for who the students were, let alone learn their names, since their day was spent clicking and clacking away behind a computer.

As the end of the period approached, the kids began to turn off their computers and line up by the door. I was sitting at a table in the corner of the front of the room, gazing into space, counting down the minutes left that I had to spend in dress pants, staring at students who were staring at a computer screen. All I wanted was to go back to campus and return to my normal life as a jeans-wearing college student who could gossip with her housemates over a snack at our kitchen island.

“Yo, Ms. Urban,” said a small, ninth grade boy who looked like he hadn’t hit puberty yet. His “yo” shook me out of my daydream about the Sabra classic hummus and Wheat Thins I was planning to devour as I told housemates the latest news from my weekend.

“Yes?” I said and smiled at him, happy that one of the students knew my name, let alone was engaging in a conversation with me.

“Stomp my knob.”

“Huh?” I said, still smiling excitedly that a student was talking to me.

“Stomp my knob,” he repeated.

The bell rang, and he began to walk out of the classroom.

“Dude, did you really just say that to her?” asked one of his classmates, and they disappeared out of the door.

I sat, confused, for a few seconds wondering what on Earth “stomp my knob” could mean, why he had said it to me, and why his friend thought I would be offended by it. The next class started to file in before I could think about it any longer, and as I helped get them settled, I forgot completely about our conversation.

Later, I went to dinner with two of my best guy friends, Ryan and Rob. We were chatting about our days and the Stomp-My-Knob-boy popped into my head.

“Do you guys know what ‘stomp my knob’ means? Because I think it might have been something bad, but I have no idea and I feel old because they’re using slang words that I don’t know and I’m only 21, so I should know but…”

My two friends just laughed.

And laughed.

“Are you sure he didn’t say SLOB my knob?” asked Rob.

“I don’t know…he could have. I didn’t really hear him. Why, what does that mean?”

“You’ve never heard that song: Slob my knob like corn on the cob?” rapped Ryan.

That was when I learned that I had not only failed to tell the rude child that it is completely inappropriate to command any girl to treat any part of his body like corn on the cob, let alone his teacher, I had, in fact, smiled at him after he told me to slob his knob. Twice.

And that, my friends, is why one should study before joining the teaching profession.


Dear Marist: A Break-up Letter

I wrote this one year ago today to help me cope with graduating. Now, 365 days later as the new class is graduating, I felt like I needed to share it. So, here’s my first blog post of many:


Dear Marist,

It’s not you, it’s me. I promise.

Well, it’s not even me so much as circumstances that are beyond either of our controls. I don’t want to leave you, but I have to. I have to move on with my life, I have to experience so many things. I hope you understand.

I know what you’re thinking: haven’t I given you experiences? Why do you need more? Well, that’s exactly it. You’ve showed me so much: I feel like my entire way of thinking has been changed because of you. You helped me realize what I was passionate about, you helped make me more organized, you helped me realize that it’s important to make time for people you care about in the midst of a hectic, stressful life. I don’t know where I’d be without you. But now, I need to develop myself outside of you.

Knowing that our relationship is about to change is making me nostalgic. Do you remember how we met? When I first saw you, I was taken. You were breathtaking. And, as I quickly came to learn, you had substance. You were smart, you would challenge me, you would be fun for me. You were a perfect fit, and I knew it right away. It was love at first sight.

Our relationship wasn’t perfect though. We had a rocky start once I actually committed to you. I was scared I had moved too fast, that I wasn’t ready to live with you, to devote myself to you after dedicating so much of my time and energy to people and places I’d met before you. I was unsure for a while if I’d made the right choice.

But, it soon became clear that I irrevocably did.

After a few months, you became everything to me. I can’t begin to count the nights that turned into mornings as we hung out with friends, the hours spent doing everything but work in the library, the thought-provoking discussions we had in class, the walks around campus, the sunsets we shared, the tears, the laughter. You were my everything.

But now, it has to end. I need to find myself outside of you, although you’ll always be a part of me.

Please don’t think that I’m leaving because I don’t love you. That’s not it at all. I love you very much. But I think I’m beyond you now. You gave me exactly what I needed at the time I needed it and I’ve never loved anyone more.

Don’t ever change. Thank you for all you’ve given me. I know you’ll find someone else who will love you like I loved you.




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