Overly helpful

Today is the first day of the fall semester at the college where I work. We take great pride when new students and parents say they chose to attend here because “everyone was so friendly and helpful when we visited campus.”

So today, in the spirit of friendliness, I stood outside my office building before the 9, 10 and 11 a.m. class slots to welcome passing students and ask if they needed help finding anything. I enjoy helping students, and I like being able to answer people’s questions, so I made it a point to take a break from work and step outside to see what I might be able to do.

Most students said hello and thank you, but they did not need any help. Several walked on by with their cell phones and earbuds and did not acknowledge me. A few groups may have laughed at me as I stood awkwardly by the sidewalk hoping to be helpful. (They did laugh, I’ll just never know at what. I’m choosing not to assume.)

But, no matter how awkward and silly I started to feel, every time there were a few students who came toward me with that look on their faces – that hopeful, tentative look that says “Can you help me?” These students needed to find their parking passes, their student IDs, their class buildings, their laboratories. One student needed to find the ROTC building, which was a new one for me, but I’m pretty sure I got him to the right place.

One student came back by later and thanked me. “You probably saved me 10 minutes of wandering through this building,” he said. I felt validated for my over-eagerness.

But the best thing I’ve seen today had nothing to do with me and everything to do with the type of student and the type of family atmosphere we value on this campus.

A blind student with a cane came down a sidewalk after the main crowds had dispersed. He was coming toward my post, but turned when he reached the intersection of three sidewalks. Instead of taking the right or left turn, which would make the most sense, he instead started down a diagonal walkway that essentially took him back in the direction he had just come from. I watched him walk away and I started to think, “I wonder if that’s really what he meant to do…”. I decided to catch up with him and ask if he needed help.

Before I could get to him, another student approached from the opposite direction, obviously on his way somewhere. This new student asked the blind student where he was headed, and the next thing I knew, the newcomer had given his arm to the blind student and was walking slowly alongside him in another direction – apparently the one the blind student had intended to take.

I don’t know if the newcomer had any previous relationship with the blind student. I don’t know if he was originally going toward that same building or if he took a complete detour to help a fellow student. But regardless, the fact that he stopped his fast walk to serve as a guide for another made my heart smile. I don’t know that young man, but I hope his parents would be proud of him for doing that.

Too much chocolate milk

I will always remember my very first English class as an official college student.

(It wasn’t my first college class ever. That was an 8 a.m. Monday course on the history of music. You think it’s hard to stay awake in an 8 a.m. class? Try having the professor play classical music first thing in the morning and see how you handle it.)

But I digress.

I think it was that first Monday afternoon. British Literature with Dr. Williams. As a devoted English major, I’d been waiting for this moment all day. Would I recognize any titles on the syllabus? Would it be a 200-pages-a-night nightmare? Had I made the right choice?

I don’t remember much about the class itself. It was a typical first day: introductions, discuss syllabus and grading, give first reading assignment.

But I do remember what happened after class was dismissed.

I gathered my papers and inwardly praised myself for recognizing so many of the titles on the course outline. I lingered as the other students left the room and hurried about their lives. I wanted to meet my professor and introduce myself, because all the “start college right” articles said you should let your professors know when you are excited about their classes.

I remember taking a deep breath and walking up to the desk where Dr. Williams was filling his briefcase. I cleared my throat and said:

Hi. I’m [the Missus] and this is my first year. I’m really excited about British lit, but I don’t think it will be too hard. I’ve already read a lot of what’s on the syllabus, and I don’t think I’ll have much trouble with it.

At the time, I barely registered the odd look that crossed his face as he shook my hand. Looking back on it, I’m sure “your class won’t be too difficult” was not something he really wanted to hear on the first day, especially from a freshman.

I shook his hand and left the room, confident that I’d impressed him with my studiousness.

I went on to take Dr. Williams for two additional classes, although not of my own free will. He was a terrible teacher, and I was greatly disappointed to spend three required courses listening to my classmates take turns reading aloud from the text everyone should have read the night before.

I wanted to analyze novels and pull them apart. He wanted class to be over as soon as possible. And I could tell he never forgot my arrogance on that very first day. There was always a hint of smugness when he would ask me (what he thought was) a particularly difficult question, and he always seemed slightly disappointed when I would answer. Maybe I imagined it for three years, but I never thought he liked me very much.

I suppose I deserved it, though. I was a pretty arrogant first-year.

A speaker I heard last week said, “Confidence is like chocolate milk: A little bit sweetens your whole day, but too much will give you a stomach ache.”

That day, I force-fed my professor too much chocolate milk, and he never forgot it. Probably not the best first impression I’ve ever made.

Happy Monday,

The Missus

Where we left off

Where we left off

2013 has certainly been an interesting year, but I was blessed yesterday, at the very end of it, to be reunited with some of my closest friends and reminded of how special such a bond really is.

When I was accepted into UT Martin in 2008, I agreed to be roommate’s with a girl I’d gone to Governor’s School with the year before, simply because she is also a Christian and we both wanted to avoid situations like boyfriends trying to sleep over and drunken parties in the bathroom. It was almost purely a logical pairing, since neither of us knew the other hardly at all at that point.

Since then, that girl has become my best friend, my Person, my Goose, my closest sister, my maid of honor and (one of) the future “Aunties” of my children. We lived together all four years of college and have learned to both tolerate and anticipate each other’s annoying habits and quirks over time. I know that Goose is not going to take the trash out, no matter how high I let it pile up, and she knows that I’m not going to wash my share of the dishes until the sink is full and I feel like the job is worth it. But I also know it’s ok for me to borrow her hair straightener or her clothes, and she knows I’ll leave her part of whatever I cooked for dinner when I know she’s out studying and will get home in the middle of the night. She ultimately introduced me to (and helped me Facebook stalk) the Mister. I always wanted a sister, or at least a friend that was comfortable enough in my house to move about as she pleased, get her own snacks from the fridge and call my parents “mom” and “dad.” I finally have one, and the feeling is good.

I was the maid (technically matron) of honor in her wedding too, exactly three weeks after mine.

I was the maid (technically matron) of honor in her wedding too, exactly three weeks after mine. (June 2012)

We somehow managed to pick up four other young women over that first summer, and the six of us lived in one big dorm suite on campus for two years, adding two new freshmen during the second. The eight of us are known to each other and a few outsiders as “The 4D Girls,” since that’s where we lived and learned and learned to love each other. (The ladies in the cafeteria actually came to recognize us as a unit and would ask when people were missing.)

All but ML. Being cheerleaders? Who knows. (Winter 2010)

All but ML. Being cheerleaders? Who knows. (Winter 2010)

We eventually left suite 4D, two becoming resident’s assistants and living in designated dorm rooms and five eventually moving off campus to more grown-up apartments nearby. One stayed and made new 4D friends, but the feeling was never quite the same.

All eight of us at my wedding in 2012 - the last time we were all together

All eight of us at my wedding in 2012 – the last time we were all together (May 2012)

Yesterday I was able to spend the afternoon with four of them, making it the largest group of us that have all been in the same room since my wedding. People often say that best friends can pick up right where they left off and keep going after a long separation, but I want to alter that somewhat.

Reunion - Mexican food, as per tradition. (Dec. 2013)

Reunion – Mexican food, as per tradition. (Dec. 2013)

Even with as close as we are, we can’t just pick up and keep going without pause. We’re not the same people we were back on campus, or even at graduation. We started off students, not completely sure of where we were going or who we were going to turn out to be. Now, three of us are married and one is getting married this coming August. Three have full-time jobs, two are in graduate school and one is headed that way. One of us is even a mother with a seven-month-old son. We live all across the south, from Kansas to Texas, across middle Tennessee and down into Mississippi. And then of course there’s me, floating out in the ocean.

So we can’t just pick up without pause, but we can fill in the gaps and keep going, marveling along the way about how in the world we ever got to be adults. I am grateful beyond words for these girls and their families, their quirks and their dreams, and all the ways they have all helped me into adulthood and taught me to be the person I am today.

Probably one of our first group pictures, at I think our first football game as freshman (minus PM) (Fall 2008)

Probably one of our first group pictures, at I think our first football game as freshman (minus PM) (Fall 2008)

Taking cute spring pictures on campus (minus ML and AA) (Spring 2011?)

Taking cute spring pictures on campus (minus ML and AA) (Spring 2011?)

One of our annual Christmas pictures (2010)

One of our annual Christmas pictures (2010)

Me and Goose :) (Spring 2011?)

Me and Goose 🙂 (Spring 2011?)

Confessions of an Over-Achiever

It may come as a surprise to many of my professors over the years, but I am actually a slacker. I am a procrastinator. I take advantage of the system.

My personal motto is “work smart, not hard,” and if I can repurpose an old essay, project or idea I will do it in a heartbeat. I really don’t want to do any more work than I have to.

I work really hard at the beginning of semesters for the sole purpose of being able to slack off later in the year. If I rack up 50 bonus points early on, and then only have to make a 40 on the final exam to keep my A in the class, that means I get a free ride. Do I study for that test? No sir, I do not. I go in and answer the questions I know and fill in random bubbles for the questions I don’t. Confessions of an overachiever: We’re not overachievers to be the best. We’re overachievers so we build wiggle room to be lazy.

Sometimes my definition of “bare minimum” is different from that of others’, however. For some, the bare minimum is whatever is necessary to get a C and graduate. For me, it’s whatever is necessary to get an A and graduate at the top. But it’s still the bare minimum.

And that still only applies to classes and assignments that I feel are relevant and useful. Intro to music? History of theatre? I think I only went to class for the exams. Last-minute busy work assignments that I know won’t get graded before grades are due? Forget it. Final exams in courses that drop the lowest score? I won’t even look at it. (Almost lost my 4.0 that way once, but that was a long time ago and I’ve refined my method since then.)

I know people will say, “When you get out into the work force you can’t count on racking up points. You’ll have to do the work.” Yes, and I plan to. I’ll work hard when it benefits me and the work is applicable. This is not always true in the classroom setting.

Another confession (pay attention Dr. R): I do not like to be at the top of everything all the time. In the English department here, there is one particular student who is a wonderful writer; we’ll call her “Christy.” Every spring the department hosts a writing contest with four categories, and Christy wins every category every year without fail. She’s very good at what she does and her pieces deserve to win, but it’s very discouraging to all the rest of us who work all semester only to know we don’t stand a chance of winning.

This past spring, I finally got an email saying I had placed in a category. I was so excited! The mister and I attended the awards banquet and the first three category winners were announced. Christy won two of them and I got honorable mention in one. The last category came up and I was on the edge of my seat, so excited to hear my name finally called as a winner. I had gotten a notice, after all. But, to my great shock and disappointment, I was called honorable mention again. . .  and Christy took home the prize for a third category. There’s nothing wrong with honorable mention awards, but I was crushed to have come so close and still lost twice to the same person I’d been fighting against for four years.

I don’t want to be someone else’s Christy. I don’t want to be that student that makes others not even want to compete because they already know the outcome. There are lots of students in my department that work very hard and are good at what they have chosen to study. They deserve honor and praise as much or more than I do.

When my advertising class had a campaign competition earlier this semester, I was chosen as a top-five finalist and I had expected this, to be frank. But I was hoping I would not win – that someone else would have that chance. And I didn’t. The girl who won had a good campaign and I had enjoyed her materials; she deserved it.

She wasn’t in class the day the winner was announced, and one of her friends told us all she had gotten a text from the girl earlier that said, “Just text me when Erin wins.” She had given up the fight, assuming I would take home the prize, and hadn’t even come to class that day. I’m glad she got it. I’m glad it wasn’t me. I don’t want to be someone else’s Christy.

The Butterfly is Dead

The mister is convinced that, when I almost stepped on the beautiful butterfly on the sidewalk, it was merely cold and would be good as new after it warmed up. I am convinced it was already dead.

I have to admit, though, that it is rather strange for a fully-grown butterfly to be lying on its side on the concrete, in perfect condition, without any signs that it had fallen, been attacked, broken a wing or a leg or otherwise suffered any type of injury. It’s brilliantly colored wings were folded perfectly together and all six legs completely intact. Odd.

But I still think it was dead.

Regardless, it is dead now, as it’s been inside warming up for about a week with no independent movements.

It currently lives between two cotton makeup pads inside the plastic case for an old Gameboy game until the mister can decide whether or not (and figure out how) he wants to display it. It’s not every day you find a butterfly perfectly frozen and naturally preserved.

I, on the other hand, find this to be a perfect (albeit slightly morbid) example of mine and the mister’s attitudes about life.

To him, the butterfly was merely cold and would fly free and beautiful again after sitting in front of the heater for a while. To me, the butterfly was dead before it came in the door.

Even while I watched him try to revive the insect in front of our living room heater, he was saying, “I think he just moved his legs!” and I was saying, “Well it’s only going to live another few days anyway.”

The mister sees potential in all things and all people (most of the time). He believes diseases can be cured, accidents can be fixed and mistakes can be corrected. I, on the other hand, tend to believe that stains will never come out, injuries will always be excruciatingly painful and stupid people will always be stupid.

The mister has the patience of Jesus and I dissolve into uncontrollable panic at the smallest things. I have periods of ridiculous frustration and uncontrolled rage, while the mister sits on the couch and tells me to take a deep breath, Walmart will restock chicken broth soon.

And that’s the thing: what makes me angriest, the most upset and the most worried are smaller, typically insignificant things.

I freak out about whether or not Walmart has ingredients I think I need. I rant and rave about having to explain the same simple procedure to a classmate fifteen times in an hour. I am reduced to tears because I don’t have time to go play with the puppies at the companion animal lab.

I don’t worry about Tuesday’s election and the future of our country. I don’t spend time wondering if our children will be able to grow up with the same freedoms the mister and I have always enjoyed. I don’t even put much thought into what we would do if we were to have children too early (which is going to jinx me, I know). My problem-meter is completely screwed up!

But, regardless of whether or not I admit that I have a problem, the butterfly is still dead. The mister will graduate from vet school and spend his life trying to provide comfort to the injured and dying and save those that can be saved, and I will spend my life wondering why people put Chihuahuas on life support.

The mister knew all this about me before we got married and apparently thought this, like all other problems, could eventually be overcome. But, in the meantime, opposites balance each other out and maybe someday the butterfly will live again.

(But I doubt it.)

My Un-countdown

As the Keith Urban song so accurately says, “Days go by, I can feel ‘em flying’ like a hand out the window in the wind.”

Most days, this just feels like any other semester. Another class schedule, another set of professors, another list of assignments. At least once a week, someone will ask me about life after graduation and we discuss the possibility of school in the Caribbean. This seems like endless years into the future.

But every other week or so, someone will specifically mention graduation. I always have to stop and consider the question for a moment.

“When do I graduate?”

It’s not just a matter of what year or what semester anymore. It’s a matter of what month. What day. How many weeks left of life as I know it.

The night before I graduated from high school, I had a panic attack. I was sitting in the stands of a friend’s graduation, at exactly the same time as mine would be the following night, and “Pomp and Circumstance” began to play. I glanced at my watch and the reality hit me: In exactly twelve hours, I would be down on that floor preparing to cross the stage into a completely unknown phase of my life.

Until that moment, I could have told you the weeks, days and probably the hours until graduation. But I had never considered the great weight I would be taking on when that countdown was over.

In college, I watched my best friend count the days until graduation, and now I think she may have been happier if she had stayed. I have finally learned not to wish away the days. Now, I am determined to enjoy every day (or at least try) until I am made to cross that stage in December.

While I am proud to be graduating with my husband and excited to receive my degrees (yes, that’s plural), the voice in my head will still be screaming in protest.

I suppose the lesson of this long, somewhat philosophical rant is to remember to value the time that you have. Don’t keep countdowns.

Don’t look around at your little apartment and count the months until your husband will be able to afford a real house (you think). Don’t count the days until you can get a different job. Don’t wish the years away until you can have children, buy a pet or afford “nicer” things.

Just go out every day and try to learn something useful from your situation, whatever that situation may be. Appreciate the sunshine, but learn to dance in the rain. And when that song, “you’re gonna miss this,” comes on the radio, take it to heart.


“You’re gonna miss this. You’re gonna want this back. You’re gonna wish these days hadn’t gone by so fast. These are some good times, so take a good look around. You may not know it now, but you’re gonna miss this.” (Trace Adkins)

The Beginning of the End

One of my best friends told me last spring that she was excited about graduation and looking forward to getting her diploma, but the day after graduation “scared the poop out of her.”

Well, now I understand how she felt. The mister and I will graduate with our respective bachelor’s degrees this December, and while I will miss our college days, I’m looking forward to starting the next phase of our lives. December 15th can’t seem to get here fast enough; but December 16th scares me to death.

Today is the first day of our last undergraduate semester, and I can’t believe we’ve already come this far. I could spend hours talking about memories of the first day of my first semester, the girls I shared so many good years with and the things I’ve learned along the way. But I’ll focus on the future instead.

I’ve decided not to go to graduate school, despite the frequent and increasingly annoying assertions from my boss that “he knows I will.” (Sorry Dr. R, but you can’t change my mind.) However the mister needs to go somewhere. . . but “where???” is the question.

He could apply to graduate schools and earn his master’s and maybe even doctoral degrees. He could go straight into the work force anywhere in the country. Or, as I suppose is no longer a secret, he could go to vet school. . . in the Caribbean.

Yes, the Caribbean. The islands of St. Kitts and Nevis, to be exact. The school is called Ross Veterinary School and it has all the same classes, licenses and accreditations of a regular U.S. school. Our reasons for choosing this location are many and varied so I won’t get into them now, but it is an option we are seriously considering.

When I tell people their first reaction of course is “Wow that’s so cool! Who wouldn’t want to live in paradise for two years?” Well. . . it’s not that simple. We have to go through shipping our essentials and storing the non-essentials, for one thing. Then there are the residency laws and the fact that I probably won’t be able to get a job at all on the island. My only hope at this point seems to be finding freelance writing I can do over the internet.

Some I know would say, “No job? No problem! Just go to the beach!” But I am the sort of person who HATES to be bored. I hate not having constant things to do. I hate being useless. And we’ll need extra income somehow, because the mister will be in classes and clinicals full-time and sure won’t be working. And even the laziest of people would go crazy with NOTHING to do for two straight years!

But this is something he needs to do and this is the only way he can do it. He was born to be a vet; he’s good at it, it comes naturally, and animals of all kinds flock to him constantly. And I will go with him. I don’t know how it will all work out yet; I may spend my days scavenging the beach for food, but somehow it will work.

The mister and I would appreciate the prayers of all my readers that we lean on the Lord to help us choose the right path, that the mister is accepted and that we can find a way to support ourselves.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)