School Supplies: A Teacher’s Last Wish

      “I don’t have a pencil.” The over-sized middle school boy explained his plight to me, while staring into space and not doing his assigned work. “My mom’s dead,” he said matter-of-factly, offering this as the reason why he was without a pencil. I swallowed the lump in my throat, refusing to let the adolescent see my look of unchecked sympathy, because no teenager wants to be the object of anyone’s pity. I grabbed a pencil off of the teacher’s desk and handed it to him with an encouraging smile.

The other students in the class were quite vocal about the fact it had been a couple of years since the juvenile had lost his mother, and that he always offered up this excuse when it came time to do work. But two decades ago, I was a substitute teacher without knowledge of the teen’s history.

Yet as a former single mom, I did understand that school supplies can be a precious commodity for disadvantaged children. Specifically, as back-to-school season looms on the horizon, there is often enormous stress for a family with financial struggles. There are back-to-school clothes and shoes, pictures, school fees, electronics, and of course, back-to-school supplies.

Last year, USA Today ran CNBC’s David Gernon’s article, “The surprising expenses of back-to-school shopping” on August 15, 2017. “Parents of elementary school students can expect to pay an average $662, up 1% from last year,” Gernon reported “Middle-school students’ parents will fork over $1,001, a 4.6% increase.” High school students’ back-to-school expense will be even higher with clothes and shoes being their priority items.

On July 12, 2018, Good Housekeeping posted Carol Picard’s, “The Ultimate Back-to-School Shopping Lists From Kindergarten to College.” The Good Housekeeping associate editor compiled recommended lists for different age groups complete with Amazon prices for the products. For example, Picard suggests a kindergartner might need: a pencil box ($5), crayons ($5), colored pencils ($3), washable markers ($6), No. 2 pencils ($6), pencil sharpener ($5), erasers ($6), glue sticks ($5), blunt-tipped scissors ($3), plastic folders ($15 for six), assorted construction paper ($9), wide-ruled notebook or pad ($4), tissues ($4), backpack ($20 and up), and [possibly] a lunchbox ($17). Hopefully, most kindergarteners won’t require a list this extensive, but there are still quite a few supplies a child needs to begin the school year. And these items cost money, money an economically disadvantaged family doesn’t have.

Many caring teachers donate their own hard-earned cash to buy supplies, but they can’t possibly fill the vast demand. That’s why, local and national organizations, churches, companies, and individuals step up to the plate by donating back-to-school items to guarantee students will have what they require to start their year off right. When I see the advertisements for back-to-school products, I am grateful for these generous human beings who contribute their financial resources to equip the community’s less fortunate children.

So, recently when I read the Internet headline, “Teacher’s Unusual Final Request for Her Funeral Goes Viral,” I had to take a look at the inspirational story of Tammy Waddell. The late Mrs. Waddell was a dedicated teacher who lost her battle to colon cancer on June 9, 2018. According to the Faithit article, “Two weeks before her death, in lieu of flowers, the 58-year-old asked that funeral attendees bring backpacks of supplies for children in need.”

When Tammy’s cousin Dr. Brad Johnson @DrBradJohnson posted a photo of the backpacks filled with supplies lining the chapel where the late teacher’s Celebration of Life was held, thousands of folks reacted to the emotional twitter picture. Johnson’s touching tweet about his late cousin read, “…A teacher to the end.”

The obituary of the Georgia educator describes her, “Tammy served the children and community of Forsyth County for thirty years as a paraprofessional and elementary teacher in Forsyth County Schools. She had a passion for literacy and believed that every child deserved an opportunity to learn.”

But children can’t learn if they don’t have the necessary supplies to do classwork. In honor of Mrs. Waddell and of the countless compassionate teachers in our local school systems, may we band together once again to ensure no child is without a pencil like the teen I met as a substitute teacher. Instead let’s make sure every student has the tools they need to have a productive and successful school year.

 

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy/Ohio AP award-winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Her novel, Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife will be available in Fall 2018. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

 

 

 

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About Alzheimer’s: The Long Good-Bye

Shopping Good Friday“Could you please help me find some sheets?” I was surprised when an elderly man asked me for assistance while I was shopping. Instantly, I realized that the eighty-something senior had mistaken me for a store clerk. It was an autumn Sunday afternoon in an Ohio mall, and the slight-built male was dressed like a farmer in his best church clothes. He was neat, in a non-fussy sort of way, but he seemed so alone. I wondered where his spouse was, because you could tell he was the kind of man who had had a wife for so long that he wasn’t functioning well without her.

“Is your wife gone?” I asked guessing he was a recent widower used to his mate buying the household goods. There was a gold wedding band on his small wrinkled hand. It hung on his finger like he had once been larger than he was now.

“No, she’s still alive,” he answered. “She’s in the nursing home, and I go to see her every day.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry, that must be difficult,” I said saddened for his situation. “Is she ill? How long have you been married?” I wasn’t trying to pry with my questions. Rather I learned a long time ago, that sometimes the best gift you can give an elderly human being is to simply listen.

Bride and Groom Cake TopperHis eyes brightened as he told me that they had been together for more than six decades. Then he shared the dreaded diagnosis, “Alzheimer’s. My wife has Alzheimer’s.” In that moment I understood his circumstances.

“More than five million Americans are living with the disease” according to statistics from the Alzheimer’s Association Website, www.alz.org. In addition, “In 2013, 15.5 million caregivers provided an estimated 17.7 billion hours of unpaid care…. “ The progression of this cruel malady is sometimes titled, “The long good-bye.” The physical body of those afflicted might remain intact, but right before your eyes, they die gradually to the person they once were, and a part of you often dies with them.

Understanding Alzheimer’s, enabled me to support my husband in healing from the loss of his late father. Traumatically, the doting dad he adored didn’t even know who my spouse was by the end. I had also experienced the trauma of having someone I loved not recognize me. My great-grandmother had some type of undiagnosed dementia. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, but in the 1970s many folks used the general term, “senility.”

Back then, my formerly wonderful grandma falsely accused my poor mother of starving her. Once, shortly after eating a big dinner followed by a couple pieces of pie while visiting us, I overheard her loudly complain to relatives about not being fed. She was petite in an emaciated sort of way, causing her accusations to seem believable. After my mother’s grandmother went to a nursing home, the last time I visited her, not only did she not know me, but she accused me of stealing money from her bedside bureau. I felt shame and hurt, because as a teenager I didn’t understand how common a false allegation from someone struggling with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia could be.

All of these thoughts came rushing back during my conversation with the elderly stranger who wanted new sheets. I was encouraging him to avoid polyester and look for 100% cotton. I was wondering too, what it was like for him at the nursing home. “Does she know you?” I asked hoping that he was one of the fortunate ones. That despite the ravages of this hideous illness, his wife would still know who he was. Maybe not say his name, but at least that her eyes would light up when he entered the room.

A terrible sadness passed over his countenance as he replied, “Today was the first time that I don’t think she did.”28334354-elderly-eighty-plus-year-old-woman-in-a-wheel-chair-in-a-home-setting-with-her-husband

I was so thankful that I had slowed myself down that afternoon and taken time to listen to his heartbreaking story. I was hopeful that somehow just sharing had lessened his burden of this new loss, because Alzheimer’s is all about stages of grief. Besides, once we have experienced Alzheimer’s firsthand, it can become a calling to lighten the load of another who is walking the treacherous path of the long good-bye, because no one should have to walk that difficult journey alone.

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor. Her Website is www.christinaryanclaypool.com. For more information the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 helpline is 1-800-272-3900.

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Battling the Day after Christmas Blues

Christmas tree with presents and fireplace with stockings --- Image by © Royalty-Free/CorbisTwas the day after Christmas and in every store, shoppers were returning presents galore:  an ill-fitting sweater, a calendar of cats, unwanted perfume, and NFL hats. They stood in long lines, their foreheads glistening with sweat, disgruntled that they hadn’t been waited on yet. You see, the clerks were all tired and too burned-out to care, while the recipients of gift cards were finding sales everywhere.

The above lines are my brief parody of the well-known Christmas poem, Twas the Night before Christmas written by Clement Clark Moore in 1822. This poem is also commonly referred to as A Visit from St. Nicholas because according to www.carols.org it “redefined our image of Christmas and Santa Claus.” The poem is a classic read for many American youngsters on Christmas Eve, as today’s “visions of sugar-plums dance in their heads.”

The problem is that in our society, children are not fixated on receiving small pieces of sugary candy, but rather on big ticket items that most parents cannot afford. Likewise, the jewelry store commercials have led countless bewildered mates down the path of purchasing a budget-breaking bauble on credit.

No disrespect intended, but maybe you’re one of the sentimental suckers who fell for these ads. Now the day after Christmas you’re experiencing a massive case of post-purchase dissonance. That’s a technical term for the sick feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you’re concerned that you’ve spent more on an item than you probably should have. Take heart, I’m sure you did make someone very happy, despite the fact that the gift probably won’t be paid off until Christmastime next year.

Even more depressing are the commercials portraying perfect families gathering to sing carols and toast eggnog. The truth is that many of us spent Christmas alone, or with a tiny remnant of our geographically dispersed families, possibly mourning either deceased loved ones or broken relationships.

Just days ago, the gaily wrapped presents under the tree promised some kind of hopeful Christmas spirit. Now, trash bags filled with ripped wrapping paper and torn cardboard boxes might be a mocking reminder of these unfulfilled expectations. However, the true gifts of Christmas are rarely presents in a box that can be returned the day after Christmas. Rather, they are simply unexpected gifts of love that create memories that can be cherished forever. The greatest example is the origin of Christmas itself, when a baby was born in a Bethlehem stable bringing love to the entire world.

Besides remembering the true reason for the season, it can also be helpful to recant the blessings of holidays past, to battle the day after Christmas blues. One of my miracles happened when I owned a thrift store near the Lima mall and my now adult son was a preteen. Our car had a flat tire the day before Christmas Eve, and Zach and I walked blocks in the sub-zero temperatures back to my store.

Besides the car, I had an old van to haul merchandise, but it had also refused to start the day before. As a single mom, there had been some rough moments, but when I woke up that Christmas Eve, I had no idea how things could work out. I opened my store, praying that I might make extra cash for the vehicle repairs. But where would I find a mechanic on a holiday?

Then early in the afternoon, a slight built young man with dark hair came in and asked if there was any work that he could do to earn $50.00 for a bus ticket, so that he could get home for Christmas. When I asked him what kind of work he did, he told me he was studying in the automotive program at University of Northwestern Ohio. Less than an hour later, he had changed my car’s tire and got the van running again. I gave him the money he needed for his bus ticket, thanking him profusely for his help.

After he left, I stood frozen and speechless, awed by the power of divine intervention. I never saw my Christmas Eve angel again. But this year, when I needed to be reminded of Christmas miracles, I remembered his visit. I’m hoping this column reminds you of your own memories of past holiday blessings, and of all the miracles still to come. These blessings will never be found in a material present. Rather they abound when we come to know the tiny baby born in a manger who is our heavenly Father’s greatest gift of love.

Tis` the day after Christmas, but there’s no need to feel down. Just remember that miracles of love still abound. Happy New Year to all and to all a good day!

Christina Ryan Claypool is an author, inspirational speaker, and wanna-be poet. Contact her at christina@christinaryanclapool.com. This column was originally published in The Lima News.          

                    

 

 

 

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