Just Look...

Just Look...

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

What Sort of Work do YOUR Shirts Do?

So I might have a tshirt problem. I kind of love them. And I've decided they are a great way to raise funds. We all wear them, why not support a cause???

So here are two opportunities to help a worthy cause, make me happy, and get an awesome new shirt.

First of all, have I mentioned I went to Cambodia last summer? ;) My poor Holocaust Lit kids probably wish I would SHUT UP ALREADY ABOUT CAMBODIA. Haha! But anyway, I'm going back this coming summer and I have started making shirts (using transfers) to sell to raise money for my trip. I can do (or at least try) pretty much any design you want, from school spirit to event to silly stuff, but the ones I am selling pretty actively are state shirts. You can put any word you want on them but I have mostly been putting "home" or "y'all" on them. I can do any color or size shirt, any state, any color of the state, and any color font. Long sleeve are $20 and short sleeve are $10. If you want to order, feel free to comment here or email me at athenajdavis@yahoo.com. The profit from these shirts will go in my Cambodia trip account.

The other cause I may or may not have mentioned here is Royal Family Kids' Camp. ;) Anyway, we are selling some incredible shirts (designed by a student in my Holocaust Lit class!). You simply go to this link and you can order the shirt. It will ship straight to you. The big thing we would love for you to do is share the link to our Royal Family shirts! They are only for sale until November 18.

Go to
https://www.booster.com/royalfamilykidsfundraiser and click, buy, and SHARE! Please repost/retweet/share! 

Happy shopping! 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

To the ICU Nurse, A Beautiful Character in So Many Stories

Dear ICU Nurse,

I hope it doesn't offend you, but until very recently, I didn't think about you very much. To be honest, I was relatively unaware of your existence. You are one of those people who aren't really at the top of the list when it comes to "People I Hope I'm In a Situation to Get to Meet". However, you are now on the top of my "Just Exactly the Perfect People for their Job" list...

I can't imagine what it must take to do your job. You encounter families at their most vulnerable, meet patients at their most broken. Many of your patients aren't even in a responsive state and visiting hours are few, so your job is a very lonely one. There are only two endings for patients in your care and neither involve much positive affirmation for you. In my job, I get visits from former students and am able to watch them grow and succeed. Your patients either don't make it at all or they move to a regular room and I suspect families are so eager to see improvement, it's doubtful they linger long to thank you or visit later.

Your job is also one of hyper-vigilance. You don't get the option of a "day off while still at work", a day to just go through the motions. If you slack or daydream or don't pay close attention, a person could die. That is quite a burden to carry.  If you're like most people in service professions, you connect to people. There are likely days and nights when you are at home, worrying and wondering about different patients in your care. I bet there are heart-breaking cases where you know the patient has no support system, no visitors, no one who is wishing them home.

During our ICU experience, I noticed your gentleness and kindness not only with your patients, but with their families. We tried not to be "that family" but I know you sensed our desperation as we asked you question after question regarding Grandmother's care and prognosis. We were often asking you to do the impossible, or at least the job of the doctor, and predict the future. We knew in our heads that you couldn't promise us any sort of outcome, but in our hearts we knew you wished you could as well. You just had a sense of when to be close and when to give us space. You turned a blind eye to the restrictions on number of visitors, seeming to understand that we all drew comfort from the presence of the others and wanted to milk every possible moment of time with Grandmother that we could get. You brought extra blankets when we mentioned that her feet felt cool, even though you probably knew she was comfortable. The blankets were ultimately for our own comfort. You lingered near when various family members had questions about care and you gave us distance when we held each other and cried. I saw you close your eyes one dark night as we gathered around her bedside and prayed. And to the older male nurse who, seeing us try to hold the door open for three frightened children to try and catch a glimpse of Grandmother, waving furiously, as she strained to see them and glean a little bit of hope, asked their ages and quickly ushered them all in for a quick hug and visit-- you honestly may have provided the turning point in her recovery.

Your patience with my grandfather as he vacillated from almost frantic hope, continually predicting that she would be home by the weekend, to low moments of despair was beautiful. You listened to him do the only thing he could do at that point... tell the details of their lives together and the stories of our family. You listened, and you didn't act like you had somewhere else to be, or you had heard the same things at the last visiting hours, or that he needed patronizing. You listened like he needed you in that moment as much as your patient, and you know what? He did.

I am in awe of your calling. You are capable and compassionate and courageous. You operate machines that hold human life in the balance, yet you also stroke an elderly hand and put warm socks on cold feet. You watch life return to broken bodies, but probably just as often, you stand guard as it leaves. You carry all that, watch the monitors, smile at the visiting families, and encourage your patients. I am so grateful you were there for our family in our time of trauma, and I pray that you are refreshed and renewed daily, given a supernatural strength to keep pressing forward. You are a beautiful character in so many stories.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Case for Field Trips

So this week I went on two field trips...

One as the teacher who coordinated the trip, taking almost 20 teenagers to a Holocaust conference,

The other as a parent, chaperoning a group of four 3rd graders to the Knoxville zoo.

Though these two trips were as different as my roles and responsibilities on them, both had the same effect on me.

We have to preserve field trips in the educational setting. I understand all of the downsides to them, especially from the teacher's perspective. Every. single. time. I take one, I struggle about halfway through the process with giving up and canceling it.

For the uninitiated, here is what goes on behind the scenes each time you sign a permission slip for your child to go on a field trip:

  • Research of the field trip, from location to transportation to dates and times, etc.
  • Plans made in regard to time, other people involved, etc.
  • If the field trip has a cost, you cannot require students to pay. Therefore, you have to decide on an amount to ask for donations, then figure out the plan if you DON'T get enough money. Options would be to cancel the trip or seek alternative funding. 
  • Field trip approval form completed and submitted to school administrator
  • If field trip is an overnight, it must be submitted to the school board for approval. If not, it's in-house.
  • Transportation-- if you are using charter busses, book the busses and figure out funding. If school busses, you have to decide who you are using. If it's city, they have to be back by the time the school day ends. If you need them longer, you have to find an independent contractor and work on funding. If you choose instead to use teacher/parent transportation, you must submit proof of driver's license and insurance to the school for each driver. You need to recruit parents who are willing to drive and use their own gas, perhaps pay for parking, and give up time. Once you hear of the approval by the school for each driver, you can then determine how many students can ride with each parent.
  • Participants-- you have to find out which students are going on the trip, send home a permission form and also give students a form to get filled out by teachers at the school for classes they miss. You then have to collect all forms and money.
  • Wherever the field trip is, you need to either register students, buy tickets, or plan with the venue.
  • A list of students must be sent to the attendance secretary ten days before the trip.
  • Forms must also be submitted to the cafeteria.
  • It is only after all of these steps have been taken that you are then free to simply stress over the trip.
  • The night before a field trip is almost always spent worrying that something important was not done, that you don't have good directions, that an accident will happen, that some other issue will arise.
  • Most often, teachers pay for their own gas and their own admission to the trip.
  • You almost must book a sub and leave lesson plans for other classes for that sub (on the high school level).
  • The day of the trip is spent dealing with students you took with you on the trip while also often trouble-shooting things at school.
  • If the trip extends past the school day, it's all your own time.
So ... field trips? They are a JOB for teachers. They are incredibly stressful and often feel like they aren't worth the trouble. That is, until they are over. 

I come home from this Holocaust Conference every year feeling so very grateful for so many things. First of all, that the Tennessee Holocaust Commission puts this conference on every year for high school students. Secondly, that I have students who care enough about the things that matter to go on the trip even though it takes about three hours of time after school and means that they have to get to school at 6 AM. Finally, that I took the time and energy to plan the trip even though it is a giant pain. 

It is an invaluable experience for students to get outside the walls of the school and extend their educational experience. Because you see, whether they are high schoolers who are hearing Holocaust survivors tell their stories for what may be the last times or those third graders, some of who have never been outside of Bradley County, seeing animals and hearing a presentation on habitats, it's something that cannot be replicated in the classroom.

No matter now much work it is for the teacher or how much expense there is for the trips, they must continue to happen. I believe this should be a consideration of philanthropists and companies who are donating money to schools-- donate money and fund field trips! I am concerned that the way of the future is going to be away from field trips, and I desperately hope that is not the case. Hearing those kids giggle at the giraffes and squeal when the bear lumbered by is enough for me... 

Teachers, thank you. Thank you for doing all the hard work to make every single field trip my elementary school daughters have ever been on. It has truly enhanced their education. Administrators, thank YOU. Thank you for seeing the significance of these trips and willingly approving them. School board, thank you. Thank you for understanding that some trips require an overnight stay and being willing to accept liability issues that are more possible with longer trips. And parents, because times are changing in regard to funding and payment for the trips, thank you for your willingness to donate toward these trips. If you can ever donate extra and pay for multiple students, please do. It makes all the difference to these teachers and these students.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

In Which I Convert and Worship at the Altar of Fall Break

I have a theory about Fall Breaks. I think they are the single most beneficial and almost medicinal breaks in an entire school year. (It should be noted that I am the person who, when calender talk comes up, ALWAYS says I prefer longer summers and fewer breaks in the school year. I have been converted, at least as far as Fall Break goes.)

Summer break, though wonderful and perfect, has some sort of "slipping through your fingers" feel to it. I can hardly enjoy the days because I am so conscious of their passing. Thanksgiving and Christmas both are full of so many other obligations and traditions (though these things are wonderful, they do tend to take as much out of us as they put in us). Spring Break just seems like it comes with lots of expectations. I guess it's been Hollywoodized so much or something, but my Spring Break never feels like it measures up to what a Spring Break should be.

But Fall Break....

Oh my, what a breath of pure oxygen, a soul-rest, a time to pull your family in close and accomplish so many tasks...

This week, I have felt closer to my people, closer to my Savior, and closer to my inner self than I have since early June.

Our trip was so meaningful to us. I know it's not always possible for everyone all the time, but I can't put enough emphasis on how important it is to take time for only your in-your-household family. Every single year, I try to get friends or other family to accompany us on our fall trip. And every year, everyone has a reason they can't go. But you know what I have discovered? God knows that we need that time to grow closer to each other. It would be fun with other people, sure, but it matters so much to spend time with only our four, especially as the girls grow older (and more distant?). So I decided this year that I am glad no one can ever go because the memories of two trips to Disney, a cruise, and now a trip to DC are filed away in my little golden treasure chest in my mind, only to be taken out and handled carefully with a smile every now and then.

The four days since we have been back home have felt almost supernaturally long. We have cleaned and organized and laundry'd, trampoline-jumped and grocery-shopped, soccer and football-gamed, Raider-supported, Bear-stomped, errand-run, grandparent and great-grandparent time-spent, cooked and biked, Buck the pony-ridden, photo-taken, Jesus-worshipped, late-slept, read and painted, fall-decorated, and used book-shopped. The night before our trip we play-watched and student-celebrated. We end this evening well-rested and happy.

I could not ask for more from a school vacation than what we received from this one. There was no pressure, low expectations (thanks for that, government shutdown!), and lots of together-time. (9 hours in a rental car, to be specific...)

So Fall Break 2013-- we bid you farewell and thank you. You were a blessing at a most-needed time and we are grateful. We feel revived and energized to go back to Mayfield and CHS and Lifecare and do what needs to be done.

These are the memories that last for lifetimes...

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Ones the World Forgot

This morning, a two year old son of an NFL player was taken off life support and died soon after. This two year old was a victim of child abuse allegedly by his mother's boyfriend. He died of blunt trauma to the head. This story is filling up the media, as it should be. However, the sad part is that this is only one child who happens to be related to someone famous. There are so many tragic stories that don't end in death, although many come very close. And truthfully, death sometimes isn't even the worst ending to a story-- sometimes living through the abuse only to suffer it again and again and again and again... that's almost worse.

Something else happened today. In Chattanooga, a teenager who had been in the foster care system for seven years was adopted. He is now 16 and was granted a new life of sorts in a courtroom this morning. In the span of one morning, he received a new name, a family, a place to go home to at Christmas with his own family one day, and a birthright of belonging somewhere.

I'm not certain, but I think the first stories outnumber this story by about five to one.

Two weeks ago, we held our 10th annual retreat for middle school foster children. It's such a different time than our summer camp for elementary kids in foster care and I really felt it very acutely this year. I sat in the boys' service and looking around me at these boy-men... I saw them listen intently to Kevin's message and considered their futures. I watched that afternoon as they played in the field with the male staff members... one pair playing soccer, another throwing horseshoes, yet another tetherball, and a big group playing football... So many of these boys have no males in their home, no positive role model to look up to. You could feel their desperation for these men to be proud of them, to clap them on the back and tell them they had done well.

I listened to the girls talk to each other about school and friends. I knew without asking the struggle so many of them probably have socially, the way they feel isolated in their classes and among their peer groups. See, I don't know what it feels like to not feel wanted. I don't know what it would be like to seek acceptance from all the wrong people because you never got it from the most important people in your life.

The sad facts regarding foster care? 80% of the prison population was once in foster care and girls in foster care are 600% more likely than the general population to become pregnant before the age of 21. This is not to blame the foster care system or say that these are bad kids. They aren't. They are kids who have very little chance in life unless something dramatically turns around for them.

The turn could be in a mentor or a program like the Boys and Girls Club. It could be an experience like Royal Family, where they learn that people truly care about them. It could be one of those phenomenal foster homes or a group home that nurtures them like Tennessee Baptist. It could be a teacher who sees a potential in them that needs to be cultivated or a church that emphasizes orphan care and urges its members to involve themselves in foster care and adoption. It could be a social worker who pushes and fights and claws for them, against all odds, and for very little compensation or even thank you's.

Whatever it is, I pray it over them tonight and every day. I was overwhelmed this year as I looked at the middle schoolers at our retreat because it struck me that this is where the shift happens. Those kids in the summer get my heart because I fear what could happen to them and so desire to protect their vulnerable selves. These kids are at the point where their future is being determined. I worry more about what they will do themselves rather than what might be done to them. Boys, especially in certain geographic areas, will be heavily recruited by gangs. Girls will be at high risk for sexually active behavior, bringing with it pregnancy and STD's. Both will be in great danger of dropping out of school in the next few years.

We did something new this year at Royal Connection. We got paper lanterns and the kids wrote a hope or dream on them, then we lit them and sent them off into the night sky. It was beautiful and moving to consider the symbolism of the whole thing. They, who are so weighted down by this world and its difficulties, even at a young age, watching their dreams and hopes for the future rise above present circumstances.

I know what we do at Royal Family matters. And it is in moments like these that I know that we are making a difference in the life of one the world has forgotten.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

That Time I Cost My Family $200+, My Girls Learned 3 Valuable Lessons, and I Saw Grace in Human Form

Every time I imagined the end of our fall break trip to Washington, D.C., let me tell you what I never pictured...


Yes, that is the sight of Megabus. In our REAR VIEW MIRROR. Almost to KNOXVILLE.

But let me back up. We left last Saturday for a family vacation to Washington, D.C.. We are trying to save money for one or all of us to go to Cambodia next summer (and, let's be honest, we are cheapskates), so we did this trip on the cheap. We travelled via Megabus ($162, total) and stayed in Alexandria (thus saving lots of money on the hotel). The hotel ran a shuttle to the airport, so we took it to catch the metro every day. (This part wasn't so bad, though it sounds it.) The best money-saving part of any trip to DC is that the attractions are... you've got it! .... free

Of course, if the government shutdown that hasn't happened in 17 years happens to coincide with your trip, you're in to spend a bit more money. However, it ended up working out just fine and we had an absolutely fantastic trip. And then....

We left this morning with time to get to Union Station about 45 min early. That way we could go to the bathroom, get breakfast, and then get in the front of the line for Megabus to ensure that we picked our seats. All went well and we got to the line by 9:17, a full almost 30 min early for our bus! We were excited that no one else was in line yet and even joked that perhaps we would have the bus to ourselves. If only.... ;) 

Instead, we checked to make certain we were in the right line, only for the Megabus employee tell us, "Oh, that bus left at 9." Yes. Please imagine for one moment: You, your husband, and your two children, fresh from a fabulous family vacation, loaded down with luggage and checked out of your hotel, hearing these words... Certain that he was confused, I quickly pulled the email on my phone... Um, yes. Very clearly, plain as day: 9:00 AM. 

What do you even do in that moment???

Well, we walked to an open area rather in a daze and I had Kraig and the girls sit down while I figured out our options and called Megabus. (They ate their breakfast, in fact.) I hated to have to pay another night's hotel and even more so, I hated for Kraig to miss work and for me to miss a (much-needed) fall break day at home, but options were rather limited. Bad news? We lost the $60 (total) for today's tickets. Worse news? Tomorrow's bus had only two seats open rather than the four we needed. After sharing that info with Kraig (who had yet to say anything negative to me at all), I took off to the Greyhound office. There was a bus leaving for Knoxville in 15 min with seats-- at $130 per ticket and not arriving until tonight at 11 PM. I was shaky talking to that agent but still largely in control of myself (though starting to get extremely fearful that we were never getting home). From there, I headed to the Amtrak counter, by which point I was weeping openly. Amtrak was $170 per ticket and would go to Atlanta (our van was in Knoxville). My next (and last) option, since I knew airfare would be through the roof, was the rental car agencies. I cried to multiple agents (telling one, "I don't even cry in front of people I know, much less strangers!") and found the best rate was $213. I called Kraig and the girls to come to that counter and presented him with all of our options, explaining that rental car seemed most cost-efficient. I promised to pay out of my fun-money and also that I would drive the entire way so that he could rest. 

We got the car and headed south toward home, with Kraig at no point ever berating or fussing or even saying a single negative word to me about the entire situation. We had a lovely (private) ride, stopping when we wished, eating at Cracker Barrel, getting incredibly good gas mileage, and finally reaching the point where we could joke about the whole thing. Emma said, "Well, we didn't have wi-fi" and I said, "It didn't work anyway" and she said, "But we could charge our Kindles". I responded by saying, "We couldn't have eaten at Cracker Barrel" and Kraig finished with, "But we could have had Christmas." HAHAHAHAHA!!!!

Even leaving two hours later and stopping for a long Cracker Barrel meal, we still caught and passed Megabus. I have to say, it was kind of a surreal and hilarious moment. On the way from the bus station to the car rental place, I told the girls that they learned three valuable lessons:

1. Always check and double check tickets. To anywhere. All the time.
2. If something does go wrong, there's no point in crying in a corner. You can cry, but take action. Step forward, come up with a Plan B (or C or D or E or F) and make it happen. 
3. If another person in your life makes a completely stupid mistake, show grace. Kraig certainly knew how terribly I felt about the whole thing and he was so kind. He also can read me well enough that he knew at what point it was ok to joke about it. I have probably never in all of my life been so grateful that I married him than today. I cannot think of another man (other than maybe my dad) who would have been so gracious and I know of several husbands of friends (you know who you are! haha!) who would have gone absolutely crazy. ;)

So thanks to my stupidity, our cheap DC trip cost a bit more than we had planned. Kraig said on the way home that he thought the entire ordeal only cost us about 20 min, to which I replied, "at a rate of about $10/minute, I guess". 

It's just another situation in a long list that feels so desperate at the time but turns out to be rather trivial in the grand scheme of life. This trip was a perfect five days for our four, and I include today in that perfection. It will be part of our family lore from this day forward, no matter how many tears it caused me this morning. 

Just one more look... A view I will never forget. :)