WOW! This pic is from 9 years ago. This was the last unit I taught to the 4th graders. This is possibly the last picture of me before becoming an entrepreneur – before knowing I would spend my life running businesses instead classrooms. It was just before I drove to New Jersey to see my mom through her last few weeks of life.
I remember this moment so clearly. My teaching partner and I blew the minds of our supervising teachers by creating a hands-on fully integrated renewable energy unit…
We taught language arts through a Harry Potter wind energy spoof one-act. (Learned an anemometer measures wind.) The kids did science and math together, with experiments to measure solar vs hydro powered toys. (Solar won short term, hydro long.) A fellow teacher shared about geothermal (common in Wisconsin) via architectural blueprint planning from her recent installation. A local farmer came to the classroom to teach about biomass (ew). Social Studies was examining fossil fuel political cartoons and then creating their own pictures. This picture was from auditing the classroom’s energy usage.
Similar to the integrated content plan I started building for my step-dad’s legacy, book, business, and online presence just a few months later…
This was the day my supervising teacher told me that the education field needed me.
She said the work I was doing as an undergraduate student was more advanced than any of her master’s, on par with her doctorate candidates.
She worried the typical classroom would be too small for the level of work I was doing. My first pen name would later be named after that teacher, Dr. Ava McCall.
When I returned to finish my coursework a year later – not the 3 months of summer break as planned – Dr. McCall searched me out on campus…. Where had I been? And why had I returned?
Where had I been?
I’d been in New Jersey, bending over backwards to let my mom die as comfortably as possible, running an art business, publishing my step-dad’s autobiography, collaborating on the dual-text biography/layout/design, building out the online marketing system, selling the business to the publisher, and flying every few months for required caregiving duties with my grandma.
And why had I returned?
I had 3 courses left before student teaching. And by golly I was going to finish my degree. I was awarded membership to the Golden Key International Honour Society, and graduated Magna Cum Laude.
It meant a lot to me to finally walk across the stage to get my diploma.
I didn’t go to my own graduation.
My mom had talked about how she’d fly back for it and take my grandma too. How she wanted to see me get my diploma.
I had never walked across the stage to get a diploma before. I didn’t attend my high school graduation (graduated early for a job contract). I skipped my graduation when I got an Associate’s in Writing – I was the event photographer the 2 years prior. (both stories for another day).
I really wanted to finally walk across the stage to get my diploma. And my mom really wanted to be there.
I remember crumpling into a teary mess on the staircase into my apartment when I opened the envelop announcing my graduation ceremony.
I just couldn’t do it.
Every time I thought about it, I’d start crying. Still makes me tear up.
I don’t know how long I sat there crying as I processed the fact that I couldn’t be with the graduates and chaperoning grandma at the same time – it just wouldn’t work. And how my siblings were too busy to travel to Wisconsin for my graduation only a month after Christmas – they didn’t want to come twice, and how my grandma’s sister and next-door neighbor was down in Florida for the winter, and really what did it matter because my mom wasn’t going to be there anyway.
So I had no family to attend my graduation – no one to witness me walking across that stage.
My friends and fellow graduates urged me to still walk anyway, to celebrate with their families. Didn’t they understand how that broke my heart even more? Even though their intentions were great, the wounds were too raw?
I didn’t attend graduation.
Another diploma mailed to me.
That long moment on the staircase might have been the same time I realized I couldn’t be a teacher either. I couldn’t be a solo teacher in the classroom while also being on call 24-7 as a caregiver.
It was a life altering realization.
So I took a few months to figure it out.
I spent the extra time with my grandma, catching up her non-essential needs after a year of long-distance care and paid helpers…. Shopping trips and specialist doctors, me oh my, didn’t we know how to have fun.
And then my brother called me one day. He knew a guy who had a great book idea but wasn’t a strong writer.
I rewrote the guy’s homepage and a week later I was on a plane, traveling to the northern California redwoods to begin writing my 2nd book project – a book about vegan organic gardening, that also positioned him as a teacher of his methodologies and soft-sold his product line. Website copy and preview articles were just part of the integrated content package.
The preview article I wrote got picked up to be published as the centerfold of a special collector’s edition of a magazine – the longest article they’d ever published… with a circulation of over 500,000 copies.
That’s the project where I chose the pen name Ava in honor of the teacher who told me my integrated content methodologies were extraordinarily valuable for creating lasting change.
What a journey!