Friday, April 24, 2009

Integrity... where hast thou gone?

I remember thinking that "those adults" just didn't understand. Didn't they know how hard it was to "choose the right"? Didn't they know that "all" the other kids I knew were not only not choosing the right, but were, in some cases, actually encouraging me to do quite the opposite?Surely, if they really understood how hard it was "these days" they would not be so strict when I made a mistake.

"They have it so easy. It's not hard for adults to "choose the right" because you don't have peer pressure like I do."

That about sums up my assumption of life as an adult. And, I feel fairly confident that most of my friends at the time (and most of the children that I know now) felt/feel the same.

Over and over again, I had been told that you just decide. Make up your mind before you are met with temptation, stick with the plan and decision made, and it won't be hard for you because you won't have a choice to make. You will have already chosen. Easy.

"Hey, Dawn. Wanna cigarette?"

"No, thanks. I decided a long time ago that I'm not gonna smoke. It stinks and makes your breath and hair smell bad."

"Hey, Dawn. What do you want to drink? Try this. It's tastes really good!"

"Actually, my family has a history of alcoholism and I don't wanna go there."

"Hey, Dawn. Wanna watch this movie?"

"No. I'm "Mormon" and we don't watch rated R movies."

"Hey, Dawn. Wanna go sit in my car and talk?"

"Um... I really like you, but let's just stay here with everyone else."

So... that's what I had planned for myself as a teenager. Makes everything easy, right? Right?

No. It did not make everything easy. I had made up my mind before any of these temptations came my way. It was supposed to be easy. That's what "everyone" told me. Why, then, was it so hard?

Fast forward.

"Hey, Girls. Let's go see a movie Saturday."

"Cool. Sounds great!"

"Dawn's coming, so we can't see a rated R movie."

"Oh, that's right. OK."

"Thanks, guys. I think (insert new movie title) just opened. Let's go see that."


(Saturday comes. See movie. Come out of screening.)

"Hey... let's catch a "Super Saturday" matinee. Hahaha."

"Really? Cool. What's the other movie called?"

"It's called "Whatever We Want To Watch That's Behind One Of The Doors Before We Get To The Guy Who Checks The Tickets."



"Yea, you know... we paid almost $8 to see one movie. They charge way too much for a movie, so let's go see another one. We'll figure out which one just started and go in."

"What??? Seriously?"

"Yea. I do it all the time."

"Me too."

"I've done it before, too."

"Guys! We can't do that! That's stealing."

"Oh that's right! Dawn would never do that!"


Yes. Really. That happened to me. As an adult. And I felt bad. I felt like I was some extreme "Christian" fanatic because I wouldn't steal from a movie theater... even though my friends would have done so (all of whom claimed to be "practicing" Christians, and some even went to church with me every Sunday). Not only did I feel awkward and "dumb", they actually mocked me. Adult women were mocking another adult woman because she was willing to choose the right.

Fast forward again.

For those of you who don't know, I work at an elementary school. I am an EA (a glorified lunch lady and recess teacher, mostly).

This past week I was called into the Principal's office.

Not because of something that I had done, but because of something that I had seen.

Rewind a little now, to the Tuesday before I was called in...

While eating lunch in the staff room, we (some teachers and EAs) were discussing the WASL. Now, there are some very strict and clear rules about what you can and cannot say or do during these tests.

You are not supposed to look at any of the students' tests. You are not supposed to give them ideas. You are not supposed to remind them of things they have learned in the past. Really, you are not supposed to do anything that would help them in any way on the test. You are basically only allowed to:

Be in the room while they take the test.

Make sure no one is cheating.

Remind them to check all of their answers.

That's it.

Oh, yea... and one more thing... if you see any inconsistencies or illegal activity during the testing, you are required, by law, to report it.

Now... to be fair... some of the kids have IEPs (Individualized Educational Plans) that allow us to read the questions to them. Some have IEPs that allow us to write down the answers for them that they come up with on their own. Some have IEPs that allow us to give them more frequent breaks than other students get, etc...

However, none of the students have IEPs that allow us to "prompt" them to get an answer. None of them have IEPs that allow us to give them definitions for vocabulary that is related to what they are testing for. None of the students have IEPs that allow us to spell words for them.

We are not allowed to read any of their answers. Even when we are allowed to read the questions to them ,we are not to read their answers. Never are we to look in their books to see if they answered all of the questions. Once a student has given you their book, you are to put it away. You do not open it, and you do not give it back to them.

In reality? Many people do check to make sure that all of the questions were answered. If all of the questions are not answered, they will hand the test back to the student and tell them to take it back to their desk and finish it ("No harm done there"... right?).

Many people do check to be sure that answers are correct. They may not actually tell them the answer, but they might "remind" them of a process or something else that would help them find the correct answer (I'm not giving them the answer, just telling them that what they have is not correct. That's not too bad"... right?).

Many people do assist in giving ideas for writing. "That's good, add more, where did that take place?" (I'm not actually telling them what to write, I'm just trying to give them ideas so they can write their own story. That's not too bad either"... right?)

In a nutshell, we were talking about "turning a blind eye". One teacher had said that a student had turned in her WASL packet and then told Mrs. _______ that she hadn't answered 3 of the essay questions. Mrs. _______ was just sick about it! She knew that this student could, quite possibly, fail that portion of the WASL because she left those questions blank. However, the law clearly states (and we are given refresher courses every year) that you cannot give a student back their test once they have given it to you, so she did not give it back.

Here are some the the comments I heard at that point:

"I'd have just given it back to her!"

"No one would ever have known if you would have just given it back right then!"

"Give it back to her! It's not like you're helping her with the answers. You're just making sure she finishes it."

"I check through all of my kids' tests to make sure they didn't leave any blank. I don't allow them to turn their tests in until they have answered all of the questions."

"You know that everyone does that, right?"

"They do it all over the state, so it's not like we're giving our students an advantage."

"If we don't do it, and the other school districts do, then our students are actually at a disadvantage!"

Now... I knew that we (collectively) "turned a blind eye" to some things. I am new to this, but I knew that we "just looked the other way" or "didn't hear what was said" by some of the test administrators. That is not to say that we should have done that, or that it is right to do so, but it is something that happens.

Upon hearing these things, I said, "I know that we all turn a blind eye to some things, but how much is too much?" No answer.

I had heard something in a classroom that was absolutely against the rules (against the law, really). Might I have been trying to reach out to someone who had been through something similar? I'm not sure really. Looking back, however, I think I may have meant it rhetorically... just to get everyone to think... but still, I had received no reply. I was arguing with myself concerning what I should do. I knew that the things I had seen and heard were not OK; were not legal. But I didn't really want to be the only one who stood up and said, "Enough is enough."

That was it. It was done and the time had gone. I had said my peace... gotten it off my chest. Tuesday afternoon and all was well...

Fast Forward again... to Friday afternoon.

I got a call from the principal. She wanted to know what I had seen during the WASL. I was scared. I hemmed and hawed... I tried to explain that there were things that happened all the time that people just turned a blind eye to... that what I had seen and heard may have been going on in other classes, as well... blah, blah, blah... I didn't want to be the school snitch! I didn't want to be the "spy".

However, my boss asked me specifically what I had seen and heard concerning a certain person in a certain room.

I should have just been honest and upfront about it initially; not tried to worm my way out of answering the question. But, I could not (I would not) lie when asked outright about something in particular. Yes, I took the easy way out and tried to avoid the question. I tried to justify it because everyone else was. But I would not lie.

***Side note: Since then, I have done a lot of reflecting. I have reflected concerning evasion and justification... I am thinking that avoiding something, or justifying, is pretty much the same thing as lying. That is what I would tell my kids. That is what is right... even if it's hard... and, even if it does make my life a lot harder.***

The ramifications of what I saw and heard were not pretty. I knew that they would not be. That's why I was justifying it in the first place. I didn't want to deal with the consequences of being honest. I didn't want my to be honest to adversely affect teachers, students, and others. I just wanted to do what was right. I didn't want to have to explain myself to others. I didn't want to get anyone in trouble. In other words... I didn't want to make waves.

Fast forward to the following Monday...

Upon returning to school, I was interrogated by coworkers as to what, exactly, I had said and why I had told the Principal what I had seen. They knew that I was the one who had said something because I was the only person who had been in the room with "said teacher".

I explained that I was asked outright and specifically. I explained that I had tried to evade the question. I explained that I felt I could not lie when I was asked a specific question. That didn't seem to matter.

"I would have lied!"

"I would have said that I didn't remember."

"I would have just made up something that wasn't so bad."

Those are the responses I received. From "good", "honest" people. People that actually claim to be "good" and "honest". Most of them were people that I would have never expected to hear these things from. I was appalled by the lack of integrity in these coworkers of mine! Most of these were women that I had admired and would have gone to for advice concerning something like this. I now know that this is not an option. My decisions must always be decisions that I make between myself and God.

Why was I feeling like the bad guy? Why was I feeling like I had done something wrong? Why was I feeling like I had to explain myself to others?

I had made up my mind many, many years ago that I would be honest. That should have made this decision easy.

But it didn't!

I am an honest person. I don't lie.

Or do I?

I was willingly turning a blind eye to those things that might not have been, in the opinions of myself and others, "so bad". I was picking and choosing which rules (laws) I was willing to follow.

I must admit that there have been times that I have "been busy" because I have made sure I was busy. There have been times that I have not answered the phone when I was home... just because I knew someone wanted something from me.

What is the difference between a "small" lie (or "stretching the truth") and a big lie?

A lie is a lie.

Honesty is honesty.

If the problem is big or small... honesty is honesty.

If it's a hard choice or an easy choice... honesty is honesty.

It's easy to give back the dollar to the clerk when you've been given too much change. It's right there... it's only a dollar or two.

It's easy to not take a shirt from the store without paying for it. That would be stealing! "Good" people don't do that!

It isn't, however, easy to do what is right when you feel like the only one (or you actually are the only one) who is doing so.

I am amazed at the lack of integrity that I see these days. There are many people that don't even know what integrity is. That is so sad to me.

Unfortunately, I have noticed, within myself, that there are times that I have kept quiet about something, or have not stood up for what I thought was right. That, to me, shows a lack of integrity.

Where has integrity gone? So many claim to be people of integrity. Yet, I think most of us are people of convenient integrity.

Convenient Integrity.

Yep. That about covers it. That is what I see in the world today.

Convenient integrity.

While I still feel awkward and odd, I know that what I did was right. I would tell my children to do the same thing I did... and I am glad that I did it.

Was it easy? No.

Had I decided to be honest years and years ago? Yes.

Was it still hard? Yes. It was. Extremely difficult.

But right is right.

Honest is honest.

Good is good.

These things (what is right, what is honest, what is good) are not dependent upon my own feelings of comfort and convenience.

In the end, I am glad that my Heavenly Father is pleased with me. I know that He is (I sure wish I could see Him and hear Him tell me, though). But right now, it's a lot easier to feel what is here on earth with me... awkwardness, guilt (because someone got in trouble), embarrassment...

I now those feelings will go eventually. They are already fading.

But my Heavenly Father's love for me will not go away.

I will always find comfort in the knowledge that I chose what He would have had me choose. Even though it wasn't easy.

And that is worth it.

But don't ever mistake "being worth it" for "being easy".

They are two, very separate (and quite often, polar opposite) things.

Monday, March 16, 2009

My Gift

So... last Sunday we went to church. While we were there, the power went out. It was very strange. I kept feeling like I was supposed to write down what I was feeling, so I did. In the dark. On little, tiny pieces of paper that Jeanalice had brought with her. With a half-sharpened pencil.

Here is what I wrote:

(Unedited even now... as much as that drives me nuts!)

As I sit here in sacrament meeting, I find myself overwhelmed by the Spirit. I am constantly fighting back the tears that come to me when I have an overwhelming amount of emotions. It is not that I have heard anything that has struck me profoundly, it is just a sense of calm and peace.

Yes, the kids are still bickering and wiggling. Yes, other children are still playing with noisy baby toys and whispering. Yes, there are all sorts of distractions to be seen and heard.

Usually just one of those things would be enough to distract me and make it so that I am unable to recognize or feel the Spirit as I woudl like to. Today, however, I am able to feel the Lord's Spirit overcoming me. I am grateful to the Lord for this blessing and gift.

Unfortunately, in this busy world today (full of appointments, commitments, and activities), I do not feel this gift as often as I would like to. That is not to say that I do not feel the Spirit regularly. I do. But not to the extent that I have felt it today... all encompassing; like my Heavenly Father is right here with me. I feel the Spirit often in life... while watching my children be kind to each other, while seeing a beautiful landscape in nature, while singing or listening to music that touches my soul... but not like this.

I do not remember ever feeling like this before.

I am grateful to my Heavenly Father for this experience. Only He knew I needed this. Only He could have given me this gift!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Goodbye Paxil... Hello Mr. Amazing

Alright friends.

Time to be honest. I quit. Cold turkey. I did it. What is it that I quit, you ask?


I am officially off Paxil.

(Feel free to call Michael and/or my children to offer your condolences, support, shelter, etc.).

For anyone who knows about Paxil withdrawals, you understand what this meant for my family. For those of you who are not familiar with the withdrawal symptoms, think The Wicked Witch meets Mommy Dearest. Add unprovoked tears, extreme irritability, and horrible electric zaps running through your body with every move. Don't even dare to add loud noises or chaos (in a family of six... yeah right!).

You also must know that the phrase we have lived by in our house for the past many years is this:


My poor family.

Through this experience there has been a few things that have occured that I think are worth writing down. Please forgive the lack of elequency as I write, for I am simply typing as I'm thinking... not something I do well (typing OR thinking)... especially while not on Paxil. Hahaha (it's true).

When I first decided to quit taking Paxil so that I could find something better suited for what I need, I told ("warned") my family. I explained to my kids that it had been 4 days since I had taken my Paxil and that I was starting to feel the physical side effects of not doing so. Because of this, I was irritable and frustrated. I also TRIED to assure them that I was aware of my irritability and lack of patience and was taking whatever means necessary to remain calm.

Gladi-Rose quickly came up to me and sat right next to me on the couch. While gently resting her hand on my forearm, she tilted her head to the side, looked into my eyes, and patted my arm. "You're doin' real good, Momma."

What a big girl. She is truly a blessing to our family. Heavenly Father knew we needed her! She is such a peacemaker in our home. She is often the first to give in to a conflict or to try and find a solution for arguing (fighting) siblings. She craves harmony and really helps to create it.

Another thing that has happened is that I cried. I don't mean sobbing because I'm sad, or crying because I'm feeling hopeless. I just mean crying. And a lot of it. Not really for any good reason.

Last Sunday the girls were still sick and I was still "zapping" off my Paxil and not coping well. We decided that we would not go to church (they'd get everyone sick and I needed family time). We went for a drive instead (I needed this and God knew it, so no preaching, ok?) :-).

Here's about how the drive went:

No sunshine nearby. I cry
Decide to drive North to follow the blue sky. I cry
Feel like we're NEVER going to make it to the blue sky. I cry
Finally make it to the blue sky. I cry
Look at the pretty Eagles. I Cry
See the guy standing on the corner with the HOMELESS sign. I Cry
Listen to Weird Al song. I Cry
Pass the cemetery. I Cry
Laugh about camping memories. I Cry
Realize Austin is going to the dances this summer. I cry
Talk about Michael's grandma passing away. I DON'T CRY (Huh? That's odd)
Kids point out that I didn't cry. I CRY!

I cried because I didn't cry?!?!

It was actually quite comical. These weren't full-on crying fits. Just tearing up and spilling over, onto the cheeks enough that I couldn't hide it from the family.

I believe that memory will actually be something that we will continue to look back on with fond memories. I know... my family's a little (ok, a lot) strange.

The most wonderful thing that has come of this experience so far, though, has got to be my husband. He is amazing. He has been beyond supportive. I could not have even imagined the amount of support and love he has given me through this.

He has sent me away while he puts the kids to bed.
He has told me I'm "doin' real good" in grown up terms.
He has brought me flowers.
He has cleaned the house.
He has not taken it personally when I have bitten his head off for what I thought was a perfectly good reason at the time (it was trivial and childish).
He has gone out of his way to communicate with me when he will be late from work.
He has not freaked out when he gets home and I have done no housework.
He has done so many other things...

He has shown me unconditional love in its true form.

Never can I doubt his love for me (not that I did before, but I now have proof).

I can only hope to be the kind of friend and love to him that he has been to me.

These past two and a half weeks have been misery for me. Probably the darkest days of my life. But, thanks to Mr. Amazing, they have not been as dark as they had the potential to be. And, also thanks to him, my children have not suffered as they could have.

My prayer for you (whoever you are) is that you, too, will someday experience such true devotion and love.

This is the kind of love I imagine my Father in Heaven having for me. For you.

Gain a testimony of this love and you will never be the same.

I know I won't.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

"Mom... I'm so sorry... I didn't mean to do it."

What do you get when you combine an 11 year old, a BB gun, and a sleeping mom? A broken van window. Is it your own broken van window? No... it's your sweet, elderly neighbor's broken van window.

I was half-awake this morning and trying to go back to sleep when I heard a strange noise. I thought about getting up to see what it was, but decided that I could get in an extra 1/2 hour of sleep if I didn't sit up and look out my bedroom window. Just as I started to doze back into my wonderful land of oblivion, I heard my bedroom door being quietly cracked open. I opened my eyes to see Benjamin staring at me with huge eyes and tears spilling onto his cheeks.

"Mom... I'm so sorry... I didn't mean to do it."

These are not words you want to hear from your child.

It turns out that Benjamin was bored and decided to occupy his time by getting his BB gun out. And using it. Without permission or supervision. Without safety glasses. Not in the backyard. Not aiming at the specified target.

No... he decided that he'd try shooting the leaves off the cherry tree. In the front yard. With the road right past the tree. With the dear, sweet neighbor's van right across the road.

This was one of those moments that parents hope they never have to deal with. But here it was and I was faced with a decision.

Was I to start yelling and nagging about rules and safety and responsibility? Or was I to help him clean up this mess (both literally and figuratively)?

I went with the latter. I held him as he sobbed with remorse and fear. When he finally calmed down we talked about what should happen next. He decided that he needed to talk to our neighbor before he did anything else. I was almost as nervous as he was. Fortunately (it gave us both time to calm down), our neighbor wasn't home. Benjamin sat down at the kitchen table and wrote a very nice letter explaining what happened and asking our neighbor to call him so that he could find out how much money it would cost to replace the window. He then went to her door and pinned the note where she couldn't miss it upon returning home.

The next thing to do was to call Dad. The tears started again. This time he was so distraught that I couldn't calm him down. He wasn't able to tell his dad what happened, so I broke the news. Lucky me.

We decided that Benjamin needed to go and clean up as much of the glass as possible before our neighbor returned. So off we went with a very large dust pan to put the glass in. As he started picking up the pieces of glass, I sat down near him and started helping. Benjamin seemed to be surprised that I was helping him instead of yelling at him. I explained that right now was not the time for lecturing. Right now was the time for getting this taken care of... the talking would come later.

As we were cleaning, the neighbor came home. She was very understanding. Having raised many children of her own, she had seen many a broken window. I was grateful for her attitude. She called her insurance company and found out the cost of the replacement. She has a $100 deductible. Michael and I will pay her tomorrow, but Benjamin doesn't know this. He will be spending the next few months worth of Saturdays working to earn money. At $5.00 per hour, that's a lot of work to be done. He will be taking the neighbor money as he earns it to pay for the window. She will thank him and then return the money to us (without him knowing).

My brother got into some trouble as a teenager for egging the car of a gentleman from church. My parents paid for the damage up front, but Shane had to face that man every Sunday and remember the consequences and severity of his actions every time he handed him money to go towards the total amount owed. This kind man would thank Shane and promptly hand the money over to my mom or dad.

Shane said that facing this man at church every Sunday was worse that the work he had to do to earn the money. Every time he had to give him money, Shane was reminded of his actions... and even more determined to not be so stupid again!

I pray that Benjamin will learn from this. That, as he faces our neighbor, he will learn (again and again and again) that every action has a consequence. And that part of life is learning to be accountable and responsible for your mistakes.

It has also been decided that Benjamin will not be using a BB gun, slingshot, bow and arrows, or any other "weapon", until he completes his hunter's safety course this summer.

I truly believe that the Lord blessed me today with patience and understanding. I believe that we handled this the right way... I pray that Benjamin (and our other children) learned enough from this incident to never do anything like this again.

I hope.