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Make me safe, don’t make me armed: one teacher’s thoughts on school shootings

This past week, although I have not personally endured losing colleagues, friends, students, children of my own, I have had to stand by helplessly and watch as others in my teaching community have. I’ve had to read the horrific accounts from fellow Florida teachers within my ELA community who work at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, hearing how brave they had to be for their students while they endured something no teacher and no child should ever have to endure. I had to learn how these teachers lost their colleagues, the people they’ve been accustomed to working with everyday. I had to hear about how some lost their students, students they have bonded with, have formed relationships with, students who have impacted their lives in some meaningful way. Gone. It seems hard to imagine, I’m sure, especially for anyone working in a non-teaching position. But just picture going to work everyday, whatever your job may be, and pretend someone you’ve worked closely with, have had a working relationship with, and maybe even a friendship, is no longer there. Not because they moved, or got a new job, or just decided that career was no longer for them and quit. They aren’t there to interact with you in your place of work anymore because they are dead. And not dead because they died of natural causes, or a freak accident that no one could have prevented. Dead because of some horrific tragedy that could have been prevented. I’m sure you can at least imagine that.

As a Florida educator, I’m mad as hell. The one place children are supposed to be safe, the one place it’s my job to make sure they feel safe, is no longer safe. As teachers, we have enough to worry about with keeping our classroom managed, with making sure our students are in an environment they feeling comfortable learning in. We have enough to worry about with all the late-night grading and lesson planning, with the endless parent teacher conferences and parent emails, with the never-ending professional development required to keep our jobs, with the second jobs we sometimes have to take to make ends meet because our teacher salaries are inadequate. We have enough. So on top of all the many hats we wear during the course of our day, on top of all the things we have to juggle on a daily basis, now we have worry about keeping our students alive? What. Is. Wrong. With. This. Picture.

Look, I get it. As a teacher, we commit ourselves 100% to our students. We go above and beyond for them. We stay after school and offer tutoring to those kids who just don’t get it. We spend our own hard earned dollars on supplies we need to run our classrooms. We coach sports teams, and lead after school clubs, and give our time to any student who needs it. It’s what we signed up for when we took the job. No one going into teaching assumes it’s a regular ol’ 9-to-5 that doesn’t require any extra effort on our part. I know that. But how dare anyone who’s never set foot in a classroom as a teacher, who’s never experienced even one day in the life of a schoolteacher, come at us and say we are the ones who need to do more. Are you freaking kidding me? We bend over backwards to make sure our students are well cared for, that they have all the tools necessary to succeed. It’s not our job to be armed and ready to ward off any unstable person that decides to come at us with a gun. You want me to be armed as a teacher? Do you even understand what you’re asking of us? This is what you’re asking of us teachers:

  1. Learn how to be comfortable around guns. Because I’m sure as hell not. I respect other people’s right to bear arms, but I don’t like guns and wouldn’t feel comfortable owning one. So good luck getting me over that hurdle.
  2. Learn how to properly use said gun. Let’s say hypothetically I get over my dislike of being around guns. Now I have to be trained how to use the damn thing? And who is paying for that training?
  3. Figure out a place to keep said gun in classroom where no students will have access to it, yet will still be within reach should I ever need it to blow away an intruder. Yeah, this part is a real head-scratcher. So let’s say you convinced me to carry a gun, and you got me the training I need to know how to properly discharge it. Now where the f*ck am I supposed to keep this gun in my classroom? I can’t keep it on my person, because what if some dumb kid (and there are plenty of those in middle school where I teach) decides to be funny and try to grab at it? What happens if that dumb kid accidentally shoots me, or himself, or a classmate with it? Can’t be packing a piece while I’m trying to teach my students how to write a thesis statement. So where do I put it? In a desk drawer? It would have to be locked to prevent those same dumb kids from trying to get at it. So how am I truly supposed to get to it in the event of an emergency that would require it? Oh, and by the way, why the heck am I supposed to be responsible for having a gun?!

It just doesn’t seem feasible, not to mention it’s not something we as teachers should have to do. We shouldn’t have to worry about how we are going to protect our students from murderers. We shouldn’t have to make sure we have a way to defend ourselves when that crazed killer shows up on our campus. As teachers, we have to keep our students safe, yes. We have to keep them safe from bullies. We have to keep them safe from lack of confidence. We even have to keep them safe from their families if they don’t have a stable home life, or keep them safe from themselves if they’re thinking of hurting themselves. We shouldn’t have to keep them safe from disturbed individuals with easy access to a gun.

Guns aren’t going away. Mental illness isn’t going away. I’m not some delusional, irrational person who thinks the answers to all our problems lies in banning all guns. I’m actually a very rational human who just wants my students, and myself, to be safe everyday when we walk into our school. We can have that again if we just reform certain laws, like the ones that allow anybody to purchase any type of gun they please. No average person outside the military needs to own an assault rifle, so why allow them to? Give us better funding to support students with mental illnesses so we can prevent these thoughts becoming a reality. Tackle the issues before they have a chance to manifest into such tragedies. I would rather be armed with knowledge and resources on how to prevent my students from ending up as that crazy ex-student who shoots up a school. I don’t want to be literally armed and just twiddling my thumbs doing nothing, awaiting the day I have to use my gun to fight off a killer. Why can’t we just prevent the killer from manifesting in the first place?

Watching some of these brave teenagers address the president earlier today during the White House listening session brought tears to my eyes. One brother of Meadow Pollack, one of the 17 victims, said we just need to let all these ideas free-fly, that it’s important to let everyone be heard and then decide what to do with the information. How is it that a high school student can be so wise when the politicians we’ve elected to have that same intelligence are incapable? It really shouldn’t be this hard. Schools are supposed to be safe havens. Make them safe for us again. That’s all we want.

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A day in Cozumel, Mexico (NCL 7-day cruise, Day 6)

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Just one of the many stunning shots on the paths inside the caves.

Our final day in port wasn’t actually spent on the island of Cozumel, but on the mainland in Playa Del Carmen, on the Riviera Maya. A 45 minute ferry ride and 15 minute bus ride took us to our destination of Xplor Park. Here, we spent a few hours ziplining, swimming through underwater caves and exploring the jungle on an ATV. We sped through the treetops on the Jaguar Run, which was the faster and higher of the two lines. Our final zip splashed us into an underwater cavern, which was an exciting way to end the ziplining part of our day.

Never having been ziplining before, here’s what I have to say on the matter:

Get ready to climb a lot. How else do you expect to get up high enough to experience the rush of careening through the treetops? I didn’t quite expect the magnitude of stairs, but just remember not to rush, stop if you feel winded and just take your time and enjoy the experience.

Wear a comfortable outfit. We knew we’d be getting wet, so we had bathing suits on (thankfully I left my board shorts on over my bikini), but if you’re just doing a zipline tour, wear comfortable shorts that will protect you from the unforgiving harness. And guys, consider a pair of compression shorts under your regular shorts, those harnesses tend to rub, and I imagine chaffing there can’t be much fun. Also make sure you wear comfortable shoes. I recommend sneakers because of all the climbing, but also because, if you wear flip-flops, you’ll be holding them every time you go down a line, and that will just get annoying.

If you have a Go Pro, bring it. I wish we’d had a camera to snap photos and video along our run. The facility took photos, but I wasn’t pleased with their package options, so we went home without any pictures of the ziplining.

After the ziplining was done, we donned life jackets and floated down the underground river, which took us about 30 minutes and wound through a large portion of the cave system. This was probably my favorite part of the day, because I think caves are awesome and I love exploring them. The water was brisk and refreshing. We kept our shoes on, which I’m glad we did, because there were some spots that got shallow enough to stand (off to the side) and explore a little further and take pictures. I had an underwater camera, but without a flash, (and with facility lights only so often along the river) who knows what actually came out. I guess we’ll see when I get the film developed (in 2-3 weeks, because apparently Walgreens doesn’t develop single-use cameras in house anymore). There’s an antiquated ritual though; who gets film developed anymore? Oh wait, I do.

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Our meeting point, the heart, the center of the cave system.

After the river swim, we got in line for the amphibious ATVs and waited. And waited. And waited some more. Just when I thought we’d have to abandon the line to make a dash back to our bus, we finally got on one. It was a cool drive through the jungle and into more caverns, but I’m not sure the wait was worth it. When I booked the tour, reviewers said you could tell employees you were on a cruise and had limited time and they’d bump you to the front of the line, but I didn’t see anyone to even inquire with until we were already far enough up in line to be next for a truck. I think our tour guide Jesus was supposed to shuffle us through, but another group had cut us off at the ziplining, so we had gotten separated from our group and had to solve it on our own. We ended up coming out of the ride exactly at the time we needed to leave, which worked out well (so that we didn’t get left behind) but it meant we didn’t have enough time to get our complimentary lunch. Thankfully I’d eaten a complimentary banana when we got out of the river, so I was able to not die on the ride back to the ship, where we were able to finally get some food.

Even though it was a very rushed day (3.5-4 hours wasn’t enough time to do everything in the park), we still had a great time. It was definitely much different than Xcaret, which I’d done as a kid with my family. The main difference (at least from what I could remember, it’d been 10+ years since I was there) was that Xcaret was mostly above ground fun (although I know there was an underground river, I just never went in it) and Xplor was more for adventure-seeking individuals, in which all activities included the caverns somehow. Just getting inside and around the park required walking through vast underground paths that wound through the caverns so immensely that, in some places, you’d be completely alone and feel so turned around you were positive somehow you’d wandered into another dimension (or at the very least, another town). Except when we were up on the ziplines, high above the trees and could visibly see the highway and other forms of civilization, everything else about the park was nestled in between the jungle vegetation or tucked away underground, giving it the overall feeling of being deep in the heart of some lost world, which was exactly what I was hoping for.

Favorite moment: splashing into a refreshing cavern at the end of our zipline run. It was a bit of a shock at first, but afterwards it was a lovely end to a fun, albeit hot and sweaty, zipline experience. That, and our tour guide Jesus (pronounced Hey-Seuss, not Jesus like not the dude on the cross; we were in Mexico, not America, after all) constantly looking for us to make sure we didn’t get left behind, since other tours kept separating us from our group. He was a scrawny, 19-year-old with a lot of enthusiasm, who liked to use the phrase “ladies and gentlemen” before and after everything he said. He was good people.

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If you haven’t yet, check out my 12 tips to cruise stress-free post to help you plan your own cruise vacation.

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A day in Roatan, Bay Islands, Honduras (NCL 7-day cruise, Day 3)

The first thing to remember when traveling on vacation anywhere, anytime, is to prepare for anything. And learn how to roll with things when they don’t go the way you planned. Because it will happen at least once. And you will make everyone else around you miserable if you don’t get over it fast.

Our first port of call was Roatan, Honduras. We had originally booked a snuba excursion for the day and I was super excited to dive the world’s 2nd largest barrier reef. I was also very much hoping we’d be lucky enough to see whale sharks, since Honduras is known for sightings. Needless to say, I was definitely more than disappointed when our excursion was canceled due to weather and poor visibility. It was cloudy and only rained for about 5 minutes but whatever. I probably wasn’t going to see whale sharks anyway so who cares.

But really, it sucked and without wanting to risk booking a 2nd trip and getting rained on, we opted to just wing it and figure it out when we got ashore. This doesn’t always work out (and for a hot minute I was definitely sure we were going to be robbed and murdered, or at the very least dropped somewhere in the jungle), but somehow it worked out well in the end and we were able to see some of the small island on our own terms.

We hired a driver to take us around the island and then to the West End Village for lunch. He spoke very little English, which we were not aware of until we were already in his cab and out on the road. I like to have conversations with our drivers so I can ask questions about the country, so I was definitely bummed we couldn’t get info about the island while we cruised around. It was also slightly uncomfortable knowing he could just take us off somewhere sketchy and we would have no way to ask what the fuck. Although I’m sure if that were to happen, by that point speaking the same language wouldn’t really even matter.

But as far as wanting to get some extra tips and education about the country you’re visiting, definitely request an English-speaking driver when you pay for a tour or service on your own. Or just be better at languages and make sure you or someone in your party is bilingual.

After I realized we weren’t going to be murdered (it’s a legitimate concern in some of these countries), I just enjoyed the quiet in our cab as we cruised the countryside. I’ve been in other countries with similar geography, so I wasn’t too alarmed by the narrow, winding roads and how fast and close to each other everyone drives. But if you’ve never been to the Caribbean or Central/South America, be prepared for this. It’s really not as terrifying as it seems at first.

birdWe stopped for a quick tour of a local monkey farm (which I didn’t really want to do, but apparently “no” doesn’t translate the same from English to Spanish…). I don’t like seeing animals in cages, but we went anyway and I got to have a local monkey and bird sit on my head and eat things off my shoulder. So if you’re into that sort of thing, it was $10/person and I don’t remember what the park was called, so figure it out yourself. Sorry.

We ended our private cab tour at Half Moon Resort for lunch. I had the coconut shrimp, which was delicious. Probably the best coconut shrimp I’ve ever had, hands down. We enjoyed our lunch on their oceanfront dining deck, with the surf crashing up and around us. It was picturesque. I also quickly realized it was a dive resort, which made me wish Kevin was certified already. It definitely seemed like a place that I’d want to go back to and stay at specifically for that reason, so anyone who’s also scuba certified, check it out and let me know if it’s worth it.

All in all, visually, Honduras was a beautiful, tropical paradise, one I hope to revisit again someday and see what its ocean depths have to offer.

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View of Half Moon Bay from Half Moon Resort

If you’re planning your own cruise, check out my 12 tips to cruise stress-free post.

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“Not sure if you’ve heard, but Dan is dead.”

I was not expecting to see those words in my email this morning. I don’t think you can every really be prepared for something like that. Because honestly, I probably never would have known that my ex-boyfriend was dead unless someone reached out like that and told me somehow. Why would I know what’s going on in his life? We stopped talking several years ago, and we stopped dating even before that. I don’t follow his work anymore, we don’t talk anymore, hell, we don’t even live in the same state anymore. Or didn’t. I still can’t get used to talking about him in the past tense. He wasn’t anyone I ever wanted in my life again, or ever wanted to be able to talk to again, but now that I know I never can, ever again, I don’t know how to feel.

It’s weird to lose someone like this. Someone who had no part of your life anymore but who, at one point in time, meant everything to you. Because even though I can’t imagine my life without Kevin, my favorite person, the man I want to marry someday and be old farts with, there was a time when I didn’t even know Kevin. All I knew was Dan. We spent a year and a half of our lives together, and at that moment in my life, that blip on my timeline, I loved and cared about him. I know I had to go through Dan to get to Kevin and my happily ever after (as ridiculous and sappy as that sounds), but it doesn’t make this any easier. I still feel shocked and confused and sad.

And I feel guilty. Guilty for feeling sad. I know I shouldn’t, because it’s a normal thing to grieve someone you’ve lost, even if it’s someone you parted ways with negatively and never cared to hear from again. You know you don’t want that person in your life anymore, but you know they will continue on with their own lives and you still wish them a good life. I guess the guilt comes from feeling sad over someone you used to love, even though you shouldn’t feel guilty over what’s done because you can’t change what’s in the past. Although I wish I could change this.

I keep looking at the news articles (and there are many; he was a renowned college media journalist and professor, after all) and seeing his picture everywhere. He looks exactly like he did the last time I saw him almost 3 years ago. In fact, he looks exactly the same as he did when I walked into his Journalism I class 4 1/2 years ago. I remember thinking he was too young to have the title Ph.D. I remember thinking a few months in that it didn’t make sense that he’d be chasing such a snarky, disconnected student like me. I remember thinking a few months into our relationship that, even if it was wrong, it was just so surreal that we had even wound up together. Kind of like this is so surreal. That I keep looking at his picture and thinking there’s no way he’s just lying in a box somewhere, getting ready to be put into the ground. He should be at home, up all night furiously carrying on his work, the clacking of his computer keyboard the only sound in an otherwise quiet night. I remember falling asleep to that sound.

I wish I could talk to him one last time. If I had known the last time I heard from him would be the very last time we would speak, I might have said things differently. Of all the tears I shed over that man, these are the tears that sting the most. Because I will never see him again. I will never have the chance to ignore his calls again, or to delete his texts and let them go unanswered. When we broke up and I was at my weakest, I could still call out to him, even if it meant I was hurting myself. I could still find a way to get to him if I needed or wanted to. Now I can’t even remember what he sounded like when he said my name.

I had to dig, but somehow I managed to find old pictures of him hiding on my junk laptop. I’m not even sure how these survived, because I practically deleted every trace of him when we broke up. I’m glad now that a few managed to slip through the cracks, because these are the only memories of him that remain. We weren’t meant to stay together, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t have some good memories that I look back on fondly.

At my sister's bachelorette party, roles were reversed.

At my sister’s bachelorette party, roles were reversed.

Only a few months into our relationship, yet he still escorted me to my sister's wedding and dealt with meeting my extended family.

Only a few months into our relationship, yet he still escorted me to my sister’s wedding and dealt with meeting my extended family. This used to be one of my favorite pictures of us.

He always joined me in childish antics.

He always joined me in childish antics.

He never really related to animals, but that never stopped my cat from laying on him.

He never really related to animals, but that never stopped my cat from laying on him.

I’m not sure if I should share this with anyone other than my mom, but writing has always been therapeutic for me, and my passion for it was what Dan loved about me the most, so it would almost feel wrong keeping my thoughts and feelings to myself. I only hope that wherever he is now, he still has a laptop or iPad in hand and is reading this and all the others and knows he will be missed.

R.I.P. Dan Reimold, 1981-2015

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That’s it, I’m moving to the sun

I don’t know how I ever survived as  Northerner. Because I fucking hate the cold.

Even by Florida standards, winter is freezing and miserable for me and all I want to do is curl into a little warm ball under my bed covers and stay there until spring. Which is technically only a month or two away (perks of living in a warm climate state), but still, a month or two too long. My 17 years of actual winters in Pennsylvania have done nothing for me; almost 9 years of living in Florida have completely erased that.

Being cold and “surviving” through winter makes me want to do nothing but sleep or stay in bed all day. Which doesn’t bode well for me, considering I’m a (somewhat) active member of society, at least in that I have a full-time job I have to actually get out of bed to go do on a daily basis. If only my school participated in virtual classes, then I could just teach in my sweatpants from my couch. Damnit, how do I get that job? Stay focused, Julia, that is a whole other topic.

As I was saying, I can’t stand it when I can’t get warm. I absolutely hate it. In fact, even as I type these words on the keyboard, my fingers are numb and my toes have lost the feeling in them. I’ve quickly realized there are many everyday actions I’ve taken for granted when it’s warm, because when it’s cold, I hate my life.

Some things I hate when it’s cold:

Putting your bare feet on hardwood floors.

Curling up on a leather couch.

Sitting down on a toilet seat first thing in the morning.

Sitting on vinyl kitchen chairs.

Because all of these objects are freezing, and all of these actions yield less-than-pleasant feelings.

My apartment possesses all of these things.

You know what else I hate? Heating units that don’t properly warm your apartment. Instead, they warm the living room where they are located and leave every other room in this joint a walk-in freezer. Thanks a lot, wall unit.

I really don’t know what I’m going to do until spring.

Tomorrow is supposed to be warmer though, so maybe I’ll survive. Otherwise I’m moving to the equator. Or the sun.

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