More Than a Teacher

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In the halls of Northwest Whitfield High School, circa 1997

Today I had lunch with a woman I hold oh-so-close to my heart, and have held her there since I was 15 years old.  She is one of the most influential people in my life, and in many ways, she made me who I am today.  Her name is Ann MacKinnon, and she was my high school science teacher for three years: Physical Science in ninth grade, Honors Chemistry in eleventh grade, and Honors Physics my senior year.  She is hands down the most intelligent woman I have ever known, but that is not why she is who she is to me.  You see, Mrs. MacKinnon saved me.  She went so far beyond what was expected of her as a teacher–she looked past my own view of myself and saw something she believed in, something she knew I needed to discover in myself.  Every morning before school, I went to her classroom to talk to her.  Many days I was back in her room after school, reaching out to her to help me figure out who I was.  Who I now am.  You see, I had a rough go of adolescence.  As so many teenage girls do, I hated my body, struggled to make good friends, and battled constantly with my parents who, I now realize, had absolutely no idea what to do with me. Mrs. MacKinnon reached out to me, pulled me close, and simply loved me.

ImageSince graduation in 1999, I have stayed in touch with Mrs. MacKinnon, who I later began to call AA for Aunt Ann, as she transcended the role of a teacher and became like family to me.  She and I try to go to lunch or dinner as often as we can, and whenever we do get together, we can’t help but look back on those tumultuous years and smile.  She always tells me how proud she is of me, how happy I am now, and how impressed she is with who I have become.  Is there any greater, more meaningful compliment?  I don’t think there is.  I always think of Ann when I stand in front of a room full of students, like I will be doing about three weeks from now, and I remember what she did for me, how many hours she gave me of her personal life, how many encouraging notes and gifts and hugs I have received from her over the years.  I can only hope that I have loved my students the way that Mrs. MacKinnon has loved me.  When teachers allow themselves to be more than a teacher to a kid, lives change.  I know this much is true.

ImageThis is a gift she gave me at lunch today, and as I opened it, she said that she thought of me as soon as she saw it, and she has had it wrapped for months, waiting on a chance for us to see one another.  I am humbled by her thoughtfulness and her love for me today.

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Girls’ Trip?

Generally speaking, I am not a girls’ girl.  Growing up, I was awkward, terribly insecure, and much more interested in climbing the magnolia trees in my front yard with Patrick Ricker than playing Barbies inside the house with my sister.  In high school (notice I skipped middle school–no need to revisit those hellacious years), I made a few girlfriends through tennis, but those ended up being years I would generally rather forget.  And then through college, my insecurities kept me from getting close to girls because I couldn’t stop comparing my imperfect self with their (seemingly) perfect selves.  So…all that background to say, I do not have a strong background in female friendships.  Some of that has changed since my divorce and since Taylor moved to Bolivia three years ago, but I still never had a group of girls whose company I enjoyed.  I thought I was just a one-on-one type of girlfriend.

That said, I did not imagine myself ever going on a girls’ trip…and enjoying it. But last week I spent five days with three other girls and had a damn good time.  A fantastic time, even.  We giggled.  A lot.  We sang 90s music at the top of our lungs.  We talked about boys, about relationships, about hair, makeup, fashion…all those girly things that I didn’t think I liked talking about.  Well you know what?  I do.  I had a freaking blast with these girls, painting nails with them, letting them do my makeup and hair, and just being silly and ridiculous.  I tell you the truth:  I had NO IDEA I was capable of such behavior.  Seriously!  Going into the trip, I was so afraid of having one of my insecure meltdowns or worse, not knowing how to just be a girl around girls.  Neither fear manifested itself.  (Hallelujah!)

So contrary to my long-held belief that I just preferred being around guys or doing things on my own or with one other girlfriend, I learned that not only can I survive being in a room full of girls, but I can actually enjoy it.  I am so thankful for this realization, and thankful to the three girls who made my first-ever girls’ trip a raging success…already looking forward to next year!

Love love love to you, Jennifer, Robin, and Stacie Jean!