An Old Friend... : Surviving Charlie
Team Charlie Lives

An Old Friend...

by Elise Normile on 04/05/16

So, I heard from an old 20 year old friend today.

I taught Kelly McMullan as a young 7-8 year old in 2nd grade.  

She and her family moved to Colorado a few years later and we haven't spoken since she was 9 or 10 years old...  But, I was THRILLED to hear from her.

I shared with a friend my delight at hearing from one of my former students with a friend and she commented, "She must have been very special to you."

I had no words.  She was my STUDENT. 

It's hard to understand for anyone who isn't a teacher but, if  you were to spend a day with your child as a parent, I am sure there are many moments where you separate or do your own things... Check emails, call a friend, read the newspaper...  As a teacher, especially of 2nd graders,as I was for many years, you spend 8 hours a day speaking with these little friends.  8 hours a day in one room.  Imagine if you had a whole class over for a birthday party  for even two hours in  one room.  The schoolteacher spends8 hours talking to the child and listening  in return. Telling stories, walking to the playground, sitting, reading, sharing ideas.  8 hours a day, 5 days a week, for10 straight months.

Yes, she is special to me...  She was my student.

So, for any of my former middle school or 2nd grade students, or 8th graders who had me 3 different years or 7th graders who spent  two  years with me...  Yes, you are special to me.  But, you already know that just as surely as I know how I will always hold a special place in your heart.  There really isn't an explanation possible for those who weren't with us, is there?!  But, wasn't it wonderful?  Share your hellos, your memories, and your shoutouts to me or one another in the comments at the end or tell me what teachers meant the world to you.

So, to my Jacobs and Abbeys and Kelseys and Naheda and Morgans and Laurens and Noahs and  Tinos and Matthews and Mollys and Sams and Ainsleys and Treys and Brendans and Rileys and Sheltons and Erins and Kellys and Natalies and Justins and Leahs and Amandas and Lukes and Maddies and Mathisens and  Emmas and Promises and Toris and Graces and Martinas and  Josephs and Rhys and Austins and Katies and Aidens all of my other lovin children... stay young, love quickly, and always be good to one another.  Here is the note I got from Kelly...  my response... and then her attachment.

Again, give me or  each other a shoutout in the comments... and, seriously, tell me if you're one of  the dozens I forgot.  Cuz  you know I didn't really forget you or any of  our mad fun.  I'm just typing quickly on a sticky keyboard....  What was the most fun thing YOU think we did that year? What do YOU remember?

March 29, 2016

 Hi Mrs. Normile,

Remember me? I just applied for the school of education at CU and wrote about you in my essay so I wanted to share it with you. It feels like yesterday I was still in my maroon polo in your second grade class. Hope all is well with you and your family!
Kelly McMullan
April 5, 2016
Dear Kelly,
Ok, gather your parents around and read my reply to them as well (yes, you can forward this email on instead of reading it out loud to them.) But share it all with them because...

OF COURSE I REMEMBER YOU. So, read this outloud to mom and dad and Erin and Megan (who is probably saying... "Wait- Who is Mrs. Normile??!!)...

and I promise I won't tell them about your email to me about your desperate plan to marry that Buddhist hippy before joining ISIS... Wait- are you already reading out loud?  long pause...  Giggle.  Sorry.



         <<"I SAID, "WHO is Mrs. Normile???!!!", pipes in Megan breaking the awkward silence.>>

                        ((Attagirl, Megan.))

<<pause for first period, 7th grade grammar: prepositional phrases....>

So, when I saw your name and the first few words of your email, I postponed reading it until I had time to really savor it and enjoy it.  It's rare to have a good convo with someone and I didn't want to read it off of my phone or be distracted, etc....

Also, emotions scare the hell out of me.  I think (I know) there is a dark corner somewhere off to the side of my mind that is filled with really large emotions but, I stay busy and keep my head down and don't think about what is over there.  The emotions in the dark corner are large and a bit of a danger because they will take energy-- I don't know how much.... and I don't know for how long.  Does that make sense?  So, it's like if laundry was piling up but, instead of being able to do a bit of it and put it away, you're afraid that if you begin you will have to keep working at it until its all done but, you aren't really sure how much there is or how long it will take and so you ignore the pile and try not to look....

The emotions won't demand that I deal with them nor will the laundry UNLESS, I happen to pick up just one little piece that I need cleaned and then I have opened up the entire job....  So, I haven't opened your attachment because it has emotion written all over it (believe me, when you are trying to avoid it you get good at spotting its tracks)...  and I want to be in a good place and with a block of time to accept and deal with whatever other emotion comes stumbling out of me, when your letter shines a light on that dark corner.  And, by the way, the release of emotions, is WONDERFUL... so don't worry.  I just want the time to enjoy them and let them wash over me.  I'm a thinker.

pause for 2nd period... earth science, 8th grade boys...

ok, back for a second....  Also, I wanted to tell you that, Not only do I remember you but, I was SO excited to get your email that the first person I thought of texting was James.  REALLY.  After all this time.  He was the first thought.  i really wanted to tell him I heard from you. ((pause for sympathy))...  Sympathy not needed.  Grief and loss are just things.  Nouns.  They are and they are unchangeable.  I think the more we talk about these things that are spooky or uncomfortable or blushy for both parties the more accepted this phenomenon- which we all will face - will become. Acceptance is important because on top of all of the other mess of emotions a griever must face, embarrassment or awkwardness isn't needed.  Make sense?  

I've always been a "plant my feet and speak my truth" kinda gal and so it is with grief....  Who we are is how we do.

BTW- THAT is so important to know.  So many people think that when life hands them a challenge it will toughen them up or change them or they will have to step up or they will have to mature.....  NOPE.  Not possible.  When we go through times of difficulty- heartache (you'll have it, if you haven't already)... divorce, job loss, health scares, etc....  We have a lot to process and recover from...  The last thing we are going to want to do or be able to do is start a new set of habits and behaviors.... PUH-LEASE...  In our grief-  it is SO bad- and shock- even worse maybe?!- we fell into automaticity with our decisions and actions...  Who we were is how we did.

So, why is THAT important?!  Because, if you are self indulgent, a quitter, an excuse maker, a spoiled child, a victim than you will slide very quickly and by your own hands into some very dark and dangerous places at the worst moments of your life.

I want to run through the hospital nurseries and shake each parent to tell them this...  I want to burst into Lamaze classes and say.... "DO YOU KNOW??!!!  Far more important than your breathing during labor is your parenting!! IF you love your child you will have high expectations and demand excellence with  loving confidence for them to succeed.  Parents must not baby or excuse or carry too long or scaffold or protect or allow a child to do less than they can.... 
 Because, WHEN the worst case happens in life to that child it will be too late for them to grow up and handle life maturely.  THIS is why teens have babies and fail at raising them.  This is why people become addicts....  or gamblers... or losers. and victims...

And parents of success stories say, "I love them so much and childhood is so brief that I want them to walk, run, fall, fail, and cry while they are still in the shelter of my home.  Because they are safe to see these things with me.  I don't want them to experience these things for the first time without me.  They will be adults for 3/4 of their lives and I want them to have great lives"

In other words, a successful parent is harder on their children than the real world is because the child KNOWS that they love them... and so if a parent expects and asks more of their child (say please, strong handshake, make eye contact, be clean, do it again, do it neater, watch your tone of voice....) then the real world asks of them then they will find life very easy.  Kind of like swinging with two bats before stepping up to the plate.  they'll be more than prepared for life.

pause for another class....

Here is the good news- YOUR parents are on the winning side.  They did it right.  I've known that since you walked into my classroom... It was confirmed when Erin did. 

The good news is that you will be strong enough to carry what you must....  So, while I can't prevent the worst from ever happening to you or anyone, mom and dad can be satisfied in knowing that you will walk through any fires and emerge stronger.  I know that in many ways about you.  Who we are and how we are is for the most part set by the age of 8 years old...   So, without knowing what you've been doing or where you have been since I saw you as a small child...  I know who you are. 

You are probably still reserved.  Not shy.  that has a negative suggestion.  Reserved.  James was reserved.  Cautious and observing.  A little bit of a higher requirement to be your friend and to be close with you.  Some people give their souls away easily- wear their hearts on their sleeves- I'm not sure you do.  I bet you remain sweet and kind to any and all but, really pause before bearing your soul to people.  That makes your relationship/friendship MORE valuable i  think when people DO earn it.

Erin on the other hand, I suspect is still fast, bubbly, and a social butterfly. This is Gaela. Conscientious and a disciplined worker but, an extrovert, where you are more of an expressionist. She speaks. You think.

But, she is also sensitive...know that.  if Erin slammed her little 7 year fingers in a door, in her pain, she would be smiling as she came gripping her finger tips to me... and their would be pained tears in the corners of her eyes as she smiled.  As if it was difficult to let others know that she hurt.  She is eager to be happy and often she is, but, always remember the tears in the corner of her eyes as she smiles...  In other words, when things don't seem to bother or affect her as they do to you, remember, she won't always show it in your way.  It's important to know that about your sister and for her to understand your ways because you will probably marry a man like her.. and she will be most happy with a man like you.  THAT is how you will know when you have found THE ONE... Hopefully, 20 years from now.  But, when you find someone who feels like family.  When they are similar but different from you.  When they have the heart of Erin and her bravado you admire, you will know...  Because she was the first little relationship that you have ever had, that you grew to love and you know you will love her until death do you part.  You know when to give her space and you know when to express your anger to her and how to express it.  You know when to encourage her to do something or when she is worried... or when she hurts because she won't always show it...  and that will be tremendously helpful when you find a husband....

I know, I know...  We aren't supposed to talk about things at such a young age. But, we talked about college in 2nd grade!  Even in vague ways or plans... And so it is with marriage.  You see, you will want someone to fill the role of your parents as you grow into their adult peer group and friendship.  You will want someone to hear about your work day and coworkers as mom heard about your teachers/bosses/classmates...  You will want someone to take you to dinner for your birthday or help plan your party or put a card on the breakfast table or rush you to the hospital when you are ill.. You will want someone that you can wear your terry clothed robe in front of and not think twice....  And the young wife will huff and puff because her husband didn't notice that SHE LOST 10 pounds while the wise wife will find it comforting that he never noticed you gained the weight in the first place.  Pick the man that will always let you be the "petite with the receipt" if you know what I mean.

Ok, so, enough for now.  I wonder if I'll open your attachment this evening.  I think I will.  I knew last night and again this morning that I would read your email when I got to school.  And I'm glad I did.  It was lovely to hear from you.

And, I'll let you know when I read the attachment but, in the meantime, tell me how you are doing. How you all are!

Tell Mom I've thought about you, about all of you, over the years.  I saw your pic at SJA last year. Some display about SJA graduates.  Holy smokes- you look good. Well played, Kelly.  Well played.  You really paced it and stayed young and cute while you could and then pulled off this, "Wait, THAT'S Kelly??!" gasp from admirers moment... That moment that seems to be in every formal dance scene of Disney movies...  

Soooo... before I go, tell me how everyone's doing and also ask me ANYTHING...  about their deaths, about the last moments, about the ugliest moments, about what it was like, about what shock feels like, about what I remember, or forgot, or anything related to their deaths and/or my experience with it... or with kids experience with it.  Really.  I told you before, I can speak my truth.

And you may never know somebody again who is this open with something most of us fear the most.  Ask away- cool opportunities to get some answers.  By the way, I am NOT afraid to die.  Not a bit.  So THERE'S an upside to the whole experience.  Can't wait to die actually.  Actually, all i can do is wait.  

And the experience of death wasn't THEN... it remains.  It's now.  Lola- year younger than you were in 2nd grade Kelly- will draw a cute family picture which has two tombstones in it.  So, that sucks.... Cuz you can't tell her not to and you can't be upset by it.  Not if she's not upset by it  Not if that's how SHE wants to speak.  She has to speak her truth as well.  A lot of parents ignore their children's truths and wrap themselves in their vision of who their child is... and THAT makes it very difficult for a child to be close to their parents.

Anyway, this has been written over the course of many hours and stops and starts and so it will probably feel a bit disconnected but, it was great to hear from you.  Again, ask me anything that you are curious about.  I'm a teacher.  I teach.  Ask me what hell is, how I know theres a heaven now, what purgatory is, what God is like... I talked to Him once and I got a lot of answers.  So, maybe, this is why you wrote... Without knowing it.  Maybe i needed to tell you something.  Or you needed to hear something and I'm supposed to be the messenger.  That's how God works.  Not so much is as random as we think...  it's very cool that way.  Very comforting.  But, ya, God isn't going to burn a bush outside of your dorm or speak to you from a mountain....  For any time you've ever wanted to hear from Him or thought he was some bearded guy in the clouds and prayer/conversations with Him were just formal prayers with "thee" and "thou" where you sound like a pilgrim or a leprechaun, maybe you should know that He actually speaks the language to the people.  He adjusts His words to who He is speaking. So it makes sense and connects with you.  He also will use the voice of someone you will hear the message from.  So maybe today he sounded like your 2nd grade teacher.  Ha.  That would be cool.  He's a good guy and adores you very much.  Life is beautiful, isn't it?!

Take care and give me a shout.  Tell me if any of this didn't make sense.

Or if any of it DID for that matter.

Rushing out of cafeteria, lunch over,

Mrs. Normile


THIS IS KELLY'S ESSAY!!! Oh My gosh... I am only JUST beginning to read it and already, I am so tickled and delighted.  I would totally give this thing an A+ and a Smiley Face sticker before putting it front and center in our hallway bulletin board.  Words are totally my favorite gift of all.  They are the medium I love to work  with... I am a word shaker so to receive such beautifully chosen words so carefully placed and  strung with care...  my, my.  What can I say?  There are no words. (Awesome- I'm a big fan of irony.)

A famous Chinese proverb states :

A child's life is like a piece of paper on which every person leaves a mark.


In my life, one of the people who left an extremely positive mark on my life was Mrs. Normile.  Mrs. Normile was my second grade elementary school teacher at a small Catholic school in Virginia Beach. To this day, she was one of the most influential teachers I have ever had.  She had that unique capability to make each and every student in her classroom feel important, intelligent, and talented. What a rare gift and it is for this reason that I  want to be a Mrs. Normile. I want to leave such a positive mark on a child’s life that I may have a student of mine, 20 years from now, writing about Ms. McMullan. I want to be the kind of teacher that makes such a lasting impression on an 8 year old, that they feel  important, intelligent and talented and ready for the world.


            For as long as I can remember, I was the little girl who loved going school.  I loved going shopping for school supplies with my Mom and I loved playing teacher with my dolls.  I even remember, lining up my dolls and stuffed animals,  giving them each names to write on my “school roster”  and then I would make up homework assignments and lesson plans for Winnie the Pooh or Barbie.  I even practiced writing the ever-so important smiley face at the top of the assignment.  Why did I do this ?  I just always wanted to imitate everything my teachers did. Aside from my parents, my idols were my teachers.  I think even then in my heart I knew that I wanted to follow in their footsteps.  However, we all know that in elementary school, most kids see pop stars, athletes and astronauts as their idols and then when they grow up they pursue a completely different path.. For me, I think I always wanted to be a Mrs. Normile.


            That said, it really wasn’t until high school that my passion for becoming a teacher became very real. I started understanding the importance that teachers have on my generation’s future, and began to appreciate the time and effort they selflessly put in to making that future possible for us. Teaching requires so much more than showing up in the morning and reading from a textbook. It requires a self-motivated professionalism, a perception of student needs, a sense of understanding individual talents and an innate  ability to  engage and inspire the student. It also requires perhaps the most important qualities; the ability to be compassionate, patient and understanding. It also requires the ability to inspire mutual respect. I could go on and on, but my high school experience was important to establishing, in my mind, that this was the career path I must take.  Developing a real passion for teaching in these formative years allowed me to balance my experiences with not only some of the best teachers, but also by comparing these individual’s positive characteristics  with those of the worst of their peers.


            We have all had a bad teacher at some point in our lives. These people, given the privilege of teaching the young, don’t embrace the opportunity ….they abuse it. Generally speaking from my limited experience, they appear unmotivated, are easily agitated, and feel entitled. When I say entitled, I do not mean it in a sense of wealth or status, but more in a sense that they give the impression that they are “better” than their students and thus they feel omnipotent. They do not respect the ideas of their students, rather they discard them. So, one may ask, why would this encourage me still be a teacher?   Well, they motivate me almost as much as the good ones inspire me.  I want to help cancel them out, I want to make more Mrs. Normiles and help the system weed out those teachers who are simply just going through the motions. It is teachers like that that make you appreciate the teachers who dedicate all their time to help leave a positive mark on their students.


            Although some teachers are content with sliding by and doing the bare minimum, I would do the exact opposite. I promise to challenge myself daily to create the ideal environment for my students, understanding  their needs while inspiring them to great deeds. I want my students to feel safe and comfortable enough to share their ideas and opinions, without the fear of being belittled. As a teacher, my goal is to be friendly, warm, and approachable, but still maintain the respect of the teacher –student relationship.  I also intend to hold my students to a higher standard by setting high expectations for them.  I understand that it will be tough and there is no magic involved in how to convince a student to learn . However, if they see how much I love teaching, feel that they will want to learn from me so I can make that positive mark on their lives.  I not only want to be a teacher but a mentor; someone that my students can talk to, someone that not only educates students but also helps build their character towards being model citizens.

            I am so excited to dive into this experience with the help of the School of Education at the University of Colorado. I cannot wait to broaden my knowledge and take all the steps necessary to become a great teacher. As a teacher, I have the responsibility of teaching the future inventors, doctors, mothers, and fathers of this world. I want to be a little piece to the puzzle in helping to them create the best version of themselves possible. In my eyes , there is nothing in the world more noble than that.

            Aristotle, perhaps one of the world’s greatest teachers, once said, “Those who know do, those that understand teach. “  Well, I might not be an Aristotle, but I know in my heart I could be a Mrs Normile.

- Kelly McMullan


Jaysus, Kelly.  Shut. The. Front.  Door.  You want to be a Mrs. Normile.  Imagine that.  You ARE talking about teaching and not actual identity fraud.  Right?   Love you to the moon, Kelly.  Let's do a project together when you get into the school of education.  I'm so very, very honored.  I feel so so so satisfied.  Thank GOD, the years of crayons up noses and middle school nonsense and cooties and head lice and girl drama and parent conferences and long days have all been made worth it with your letter.  Attagirl, Kelly.  Go get your goals, girl


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