I Get It, Gruene

It's Memorial Day here in the United States, 
a time set aside to remember those who've served
and given the ultimate sacrifice, their lives.
Here's what I saw at Hobby Airport today,
a White Table set so we won't ever forget.

I'd gone home to celebrate my baby brother,
who turned 50 last week.

And before flying home Thursday night,
I decided that it was time for me to retire from my comfort zone
and start my encore career.

I've been talking about and planning my retirement for some time now, especially in the last five years since my life was detoured by a drunk driver and I was forced down a road to recovery riddled with panic and pain. But at the end of each of those years, I always found the strength and energy to do one more. This year again, I thought I might do one more. But so many signs in the last ten days left me more certain than ever that I didn't have one more year left in me.

Tonight, my journal entry, written on my way home this afternoon:

As I fly 10,000 feet above ground on a plane trip home from celebrating Mark's 50th with family, thoughts quickly turn back to Wednesday night last week, when I told John I can't do it any more, that I've run out of steam for that full-time job. When his words gave me permission to turn in my retirement letter, I got up out of bed awash with relief to open the computer and start typing. A weight lifted as I thought about all of the stuff I won't have to do anymore, 
the heartbreak I won't have to feel as I listen and empathize, 
the conflicts I won't have to mediate and help resolve, 
the paperwork I won't have to organize and complete.

And as I read these words, negative self-talk rears its ugly head and tells me I'm sounding pretty lazy, selfish even. But self-care isn't selfish, so I must choose not to believe it. I've run the race with fidelity and determination, and now it's time to let someone else carry the baton and run the next leg of the marathon.

I really was determined to work full-time one more year, to help the new students who are making a zone transfer acclimate and enjoy a smooth transition to our school family, to get our students through the one-year anniversary of hurricane Harvey's trauma, to reunite with my preK kiddos from four years ago, but it just wasn't meant to be.

Two weeks ago, the Principal told me it was possible that we'd lose our leadership learning space if our enrollment went any higher. I was with Wendy, our AP, negotiating for which office we'd each end up in and we were goofing around; to add levity and decrease stress when I said, "You're going to miss us when we leave you after next year." That's when he said, "Everybody is replaceable." Wait, what? After I got over the initial sting of that statement, it gave me pause {Was I staying for all the wrong reasons? For the principal, for my husband, for the new kids, for my staff, for a paycheck rather than for passion, connection and joy?} before giving me permission and peace to go.

It was as if after that moment signs started to tug at my heart, things I could no longer remember, mistakes I'd not made before, problems I couldn't (and kind of didn't care to) solve. An awkwardly painful interaction with a former administrator.  Tears. Frustration. Hurt. 
Physical pains that were probably psychosomatic. 
Lots of events that should have been joyful,  
zone transfer tours, 
second grade tours, 
Open House for new families,
DARE graduation,
Awards Day,
 all leaving me overwhelmed instead of invigorated.
Arthritis settling in my left fingers making playing the ukulele painful.
That nagging feeling that it's time. 

Goodbye parties for our retirees mixed with jealous thoughts of wishing I could join them next week to bid farewell at our district retirement luncheon. An anxious startling Monday night at a car I'd swear was moving in my direction that Joshua assured me was not, a sign that my anxiety was threatening to come back with a vengeance. Walking on eggshells, worrying about everything, unable to do much of anything. Questioning myself and my competence, unable to get clarity. Wanting to be willing to stay but needing so desperately to 
admit my limitations, 
to be okay with leaving,
to ask to be excused.

It has taken a raw vulnerability (my #oneword2018) to be able to say "I just can't anymore." But when it's just not there to give away, that's how it has to be. So I made an appointment to go to HR by 9 am on Thursday morning, to find out it's not too late for a May 31st retirement date, called Austin for a summertime appointment, then went in to my Principal's office to deliver the news. Wendy already knew because I'd called her in tears the night before. This time, she didn't say, "Denied!" like she'd done in jest every time retirement came up in our two years together. 

This time she just said, "I get it, Gruene." 

Four little words, one huge impactful gift. 
The gift of empathy. 
Because she noticed. 
She knew because she'd seen her mom go through it. 
She added, "I don't like it, but I get it, Gruene." 
More tears. 
A big ugly cry. 
Because she gets it. 

She went on to say she was trying to help me keep our learning space and I thanked her with assurance that it's not so much about the space as it is about it being time for me to move on. I'd still advocate for the new counselor to keep that space, no question, but I don't want my decision to be about a space stand-off. I want it to be a celebration for the lives I've been able to touch, the hearts I've been able to comfort, the minds I've challenged. The problems I've helped solve, the calm I've brought to my school family, the joy they've given back to me. The mistakes I've grown through, 
the apologies I've tried to model albeit not always very successfully, 
the forgiveness that has challenged and strengthened me,
the gratitude I feel. 
Forever grateful to thousands of littles
and their families, our stakeholders,
and to my colleagues and friends.

I cried off and on all day Thursday, then came home to take a nap. Around 6 pm, I knew it was time to share my news with my staff. I hated to do it by email, but I was taking the 8:20 pm flight to WI so I opened up my laptop and started typing. When I got to the airport, I posted a Facebook announcement letting people know I'd taken this leap of faith.

Thank you, people said.
Noooooooooooo, people wrote.
What are your plans?, people asked.
How will Bales work without you? they wondered.
You have BIG shoes to fill, they added.

Tonight, there's a lot that I don't know.
What I do know is that I'm taking my shoes.
Probably taking my puppets, too.
Can't figure out what I'll do with 18 years worth of stuff yet, 
but it'll work out as it should.
It always does.

For now I'm pretty sad, but I'm also psyched at the  possibilities, no, probabilities (and pausabilities) that lie ahead. What a great retirement present, to have a world full of opportunities laying in wait for me.  

And the greatest gift in all of this, people like Wendy
 who hold my hand and my heart simply by saying,
 I get it, Gruene.      


  1. YOU are NOT replaceable! Another counselor to come and fill the space, to do lessons and groups and work with individuals? - yes, we are all trained for that. But someone who has the same passion, creativity, empathy, energy and professional commitment as you? Never. You will be missed. I am excited for your new journey to begin! Congrats and enjoy the last school year!

  2. Dear Barbara,

    I so appreciate your vulnerability. You have been a mentor and friend to me for several years. You have made me a better person and counselor. Congratulations on your new adventure! You will continue to thrive as you follow your purpose. Looking forward to your encore.

    Tara Self


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