Grown-up Topics

Mugs -The blue one

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My grandmother once told me that a woman chooses her China pattern beginning with the cup. Teacups come in so many shapes. In those days, the cups were well used. Now, they mostly collect dust.

I prefer mugs. Perhaps it goes along with the age of coffee drinking overtaking tea drinking. But my mugs do not match. Each represents something meaningful to me. Starting with the blue mug in the picture.

I had decided when I was 8 years old and in Mrs. Buffa’s 3rd grade class that I wanted to be a teacher. I loved everything about school (yes, an odd child, perhaps). I wanted to be like Mrs. Buffa, be in charge of the class, call on students, write on the blackboard – I loved all of it.

Although I tried on for size many other fields, everything other than teaching went back on the rack.  So after high school, I went to Glassboro State College in New Jersey, where there was a respected program in elementary education (It is now called Rowan University).

In my junior year, and after a first round of two student teaching experiences, I got a summer job in a school as the assitant teacher in a Title 1 program which would run for 8 weeks for students who needed enrichment.

All schools had a teacher’s room, and everyone who used the teachers room had a mug there for that elusive and badly needed short morning break. I went to a grocery store and bought myself a mug. The one in the picture.  I think it cost $2.00.

On the last day of school, I collected my mug with other belongings teachers accumulate. The mug went with me to my student teaching in Paulsboro, New Jersey. It went with me to my first job at St. Mary’s School in Bangor, Maine.  Then to Searsport Elementary School where I taught 6th grade. I had it with me summers when I taught at the University of Maine. Then at the University of South Florida, and finally at Kent State University, from where I retired. All in all, 1972-2013.

When I found my mug today, having gotten pushed to the back of a cupboard in favor of prettier and newer ones, I smiled, An old friend. I have other mugs, and they tell stories, too. But this one is the oldest.  I might write about the others sometime.

w.c. kasten, all rights reserved.

Grown-up Topics

Essay on Decisions


Essay On Decisions

Wendy C. Kasten

Looking over my life, I would say I made some good decisions and some poor ones. Oddly, the poor decisions were more about people. And especially men. The good decisions were about work and career.

Growing up, people talk to you lots about “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Seemed like every relative visiting for any occasion always asked my brother and me this question. So, talk about careers and futures was always ongoing. I think now that this enabled me to think and keep thinking about what I wanted to be.

In narrowing down what I thought were my career choices (there were fewer choices for women then), I considered where my natural talents lay. I loved playing the piano, but I observed other kids doing it easily, joyfully, and for me it was hard work.  I concluded, correctly, that music was not my natural inclination or talent.

“I should do something I am good at,” I told myself.

One summer, I had a temporary job in a doctor’s office. My Mom worked there, managing the office, patients, and the commitments of three surgeons. I learned lots that summer, like decoding big medical words (which are just a jigsaw puzzle of Latin roots and pieces).  But my most important lesson was when I dropped to the floor, fainting at the sight of blood, being caught by my mother and one of the doctors, so as not to hit my head. Similarly, I felt physically ill sorting the doctors mail because medical magazines have lots of colorful and graphic pictures – hearts splayed open, oozing ulcers, even on the journal covers!

“Hmm, I thought. Probably medicine isn’t a good choice for me.”

Another summer, I had a job as a waitress. In that region it was about the only way to earn a decent living during a summer, as it was a popular tourist destination. I went through the training. I learned to bus tables, take orders, clean tables, set tables, and wait on customers. The only redeeming part of this job was talking with customers sometimes. I learned that summer that I detest repetition! Doing the same thing over and over in the same day makes me feel crazy. I am aware for many other people, repetition feels comforting, soothing, and satisfying. Not me! I learned something important about myself.

“I will never ever work in a restaurant again!” I promised myself.

What am I good at? Where are my talents? These are the ideas I sorted out in my teens and young adult years. What brings me joy and satisfaction?  My talents were (and are) teaching and writing. Somehow, the thing I understand the best in the whole world, is what somebody needs in order to learn, and how to help them get there. And, after decades of teaching, I still fall in love with someone else’s learning every time I sense the proverbial light bulb go on.

I recall a day during a summer school reading program, where schools sent struggling readers to the teachers in the class I taught. My role was coaching teachers to hone their skills teaching reading and writing. One day, a teacher put a humorous poem on a huge sheet of paper, tacked to the wall. The small group of students were delighted to read it over and over as the teacher in my charge pointed to the text with a ruler. Subsequently, she invited a little girl named Princess to come up to the poem and find all the letters in her name. Then this teacher challenged her to find the word alligator, which repeated throughout the poem. Then to find other words starting with /A/ and asking if she knew what they were. I was coaching the teacher how to mine the most of this momentum and attention the little girl was giving to this lesson.

The lightbulb in this little girl, wiggling with glee in her yellow sundress, was palpable. Like wheels in her brain became visible. At that moment, that little girl began to understand how reading worked. She stood there, noticing more and more things about written language, and my heart felt so full. What a priceless moment.

So, I guess I am saying, we all need to find what fills our heart, and make it a life work, and then it’s a joy going to work, at least most of the time.

Decisions about my personal life are another story. After my first divorce, I was visiting my uncle, who was the only other divorced person in the family.

“You know, love, and who you marry is the most important decision of your life, and NO one ever teaches you anything about it.”  Wow, isn’t that true! There are no units in school about love and relationships. There are no courses in college on choosing a life partner. This is the one thing everyone needs to learn, and how to learn about it is elusive.

I learned the hard way. Here are some things I learned:

  • In order to love someone, you must also respect them.
  • Respect in a relationship needs to flow in both directions. No exceptions.
  • You cannot plan on changing someone. It does not work.
  • You can love someone until you are blue in the face, and you cannot make them love you back. Love must flow in both directions. No exceptions.
  • People who yell at you, disparage you, call you names, belittle you, or put you down are NOT relationship material. Keep searching.
  • Anyone who hits you, harms you, or scares you, is NOT relationship material. Get out of there, keep searching.

Making big decisions – now that’s a category all its own. Whether or not to marry. Whether or not to take that job. Whether or not to move. Where to move to.

I confess I use lists. A list of all the “pros” and “cons” of each choice on paper can make things more clear, especially if those lists end up being lopsided. I have prayed over decisions. Talked to people I trust and respect. Ultimately, no one else can make a big decision for you. You certainly must consult immediate family, as it impacts them. But here is my rule:

If I make this decision, how will I feel about it in 5 years? Will I appreciate my choice? Will I rue a missed opportunity? As a teen, I loved the Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken.” There’s this line that resonates with me –

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I

I Took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

So, in closing, I would say the best decisions of my life were never the easier ones. The good choices all involved some risk, some discomfort.