Archive for August, 2013

August 19, 2013

Off the Map

by Tabitha Kidwell

Last night, I had a dream that I had returned to Kilbourne Middle School to teach for the year. All my colleagues were super excited to see me for, like, five minutes, then the kids arrived and they turned their full attention to their students. Which is exactly what would happen in real life.

Well done, subconscious!

My facebook feed is full of teacher friends saying things like Back to school tomorrow; Going to miss summer with my babies; Starting my 7th year of teaching. It is KILLING ME! This would have been my 10th year as a teacher, and it is the first year since I was FOUR that I’m not going back to school. I’ve always felt a strong call to be a teacher, so it feels weird not to be in the classroom this year. I have a fear that I will never get back to public school teaching, and it makes me justalittlebit question my decision to leave for Indonesia two years ago. I had been so happy at Kilbourne – I loved the kids, and I had what I believe are the single greatest group of teaching colleagues on the face of the planet. Everything was great, but I had this little voice inside of me that said “you should move to Indonesia” “you should get your PhD” “you should go see the world” “you don’t need a normal job.”

Shut up, little voice!

So here I am, taking the road less travelled, and it’s hard. In fact, it kinda sucks right now. I’m really struggling with not knowing what the future will bring. I probably would have been really happy teaching middle school French and Spanish for the next 25 years, but it would have been less exciting. That is not to say that teaching middle school would have been boring or easy (in fact, the words boring, easy, and teaching middle school really have no place in the same sentence). And I don’t mean that my former colleagues don’t lead exciting enough lives (three sets of twins come to mind). But that life for me would have been less exciting than moving to Indonesia, going to grad school in a new city, and… doing whatever it is I’m going to do the rest of my life. Unfortunately, the process of living this more exciting life is also way harder.

So that’s what I was thinking about when I listened to Dan Ariely’s TED talk about motivation:

My takeaway was that when people have to work harder, they love their work more. When they are confronted with a challenge and overcome it, they are happier than if they had just continued doing the same thing. The path I have chosen may not be the easiest I could have taken, but it has brought me incredible experiences. I am absolutely in love with this life I am leading, challenges and blessings alike. My route may be all over (and off) the map, but it has taken me to Balinese beaches, European cathedrals, and African villages. It has brought wonderful friends into my life and has given me countless happy memories. It may be rocky at times, but it still totally rocks!

August 17, 2013

I’m Rich!

by Tabitha Kidwell

When I lived in Indonesia, I had the habit of exclaiming “I’m rich!” accompanied by an Oprah-esque sweep of the arm. This would happen in situations like being swindled by a taxi driver or offering to buy the next round of drinks. By American standards, I was by no means rich – I made even less than I had as a first year teacher! But Indonesia, where many of my colleagues were making a few hundred dollars a month, was a different story. I could basically afford to buy anything I wanted. (Within reason – the Cartier and Louis Vuitton stores were still out of reach). And I did end up spending a lot of money – I went on adventurous vacations, indulged in spa treatments, and ate out whenever I was in a big city. I don’t regret any of this, even though I didn’t save any money. The scuba diving, mountain climbing, massages, and long dinners with friends were part of what made my 2 years there so amazing. Even if I had tried to keep a tight budget and save, I wouldn’t have had all that much money to show for my efforts.

Of course, now that I am unemployed and living with my parents, it seems like it would have been a good idea to take a few fewer trips or skip a few mani-pedis. I’m definitely not rich now. And I am even less rich after my car got towed while I was visiting friends in DC last week. The towing fee was $245, plus a $250 parking ticket! Ouch!

But the truth is, even though I don’t have a paycheck at the moment, I am rich. I was able to go to the ATM and pull out enough cash to pay the towing company. If my efforts to contest the ticket don’t work out, I’ll be able to write a check for the fine. While I’m not thrilled to hand over almost $500 for nothing, I have the money. And in a year, I probably won’t even notice its absence from my bank account.

For a lot of people, especially many DC residents, a $500 parking violation would be ruinous. Someone on minimum wage making $8.25 an hour would have to work 60 hours to earn $495! That’s a week-and-a-half full time, and that doesn’t even factor in taxes! For a minimum-wage employee, a parking ticket like this would mean a month of eating peanut butter and jelly at best and eviction and homelessness at worst. It could mean losing their car, which could mean losing their job, which would mean being forced to rely on charity, even if they want a job and are willing to slave away for 8 measly bucks an hour. It would mean many things that someone like me, who grew up in the suburbs, can’t begin to understand. That sucks, America. We should be able to do better by the most vulnerable people in our society.

So, at least if I have to pay $495, I am getting something in return. I’m being reminded of how incredibly fortunate I am in so many ways. I do have savings I can fall back on. I have an education that qualifies me for a job that pays a living wage. I have family I could turn to in an emergency and that I am turning to at the moment. It just really would have been nice to learn all that from, say, a $50 parking ticket.

August 7, 2013

Movie Montage Race Day

by Tabitha Kidwell

When I was in Indonesia, I pictured life in America like a movie montage: ¬† a parade of one wonderful event after another, surrounded by friends, under a bright blue sky. I quickly realized, however, that most days in America consist of dragging yourself out of bed, spending a few hours on the internet, going to Target, and maybe staying awake long enough to see a friend or two after they finish work. ¬†Yesterday, though, the dream became reality – just in time for my friend Jackie’s 30th birthday!

We started the day by waking up at 5 AM for the Cleveland Triathlon. (Okay, that 5 AM part was terrible, but it gets better, I promise.) Jackie and I started doing triathlons together in Indonesia – we even bought our (identical) bikes at a Jakarta bike shop together. We did a few triathlons in Southeast Asia, and did fairly well, given that most of the races (and racers) were tiny. So we were nervous for a normal American triathlon with lots of normal American people with fancy bike gear.

It was so cold before the race that we were actually happy to get into the polluted but warmer-than-air waters of Lake Erie:


After a cramped, treading-water start that left us out of breath, we swam…






…and got medals!


Then, just as we were about to leave, we stopped by the results board and were shocked to see this:


To celebrate, we went to Gospel Bunch at Cleveland’s House of Blues, where we listened to amazing gospel music and ate chicken & waffles.


Then, we went to a festival in the Warehouse District where I played cornhole with cute boys and Jackie danced in the street.


I mean, can you get any more “movie montage” than dancing in the street?!?!

Though I understand that this isn’t typical of an average American day, it holds lessons for me as I re-adapt to life here. Jackie explores this connection more poetically in her blog about the day. So I will just say this: at the moment, I may be metaphorically kicking and scratching to keep my head above the stinking waters of Lake Erie at 7 in the morning. But once I move past current challenges (e.g., unemployment, living with parents, love life going nowhere) and get started on this race called life, I’m basically going to kick butt. And really deserve some chicken and waffles.