• Haines Eason

Proud to be a disaster

Updated: Apr 4

Sometimes I run into former students' parents. Maybe the kiddo's dropped out or has had other troubles. These are easy conversations for me.

I've hit rock bottom ... well ... more than once. I dropped out of a great college after earning a 0.5 GPA. (Truth: they told me I better not come back or there would be some serious hell to pay). I'm a recovering addict. In high school I was, at times, a bully, and I was often violent. I think I skipped out on half of my final semester? And, in those years and later, I ran afoul of the law. More than once.


Several stars aligned to keep me in this world. More often than not, people showed up for me. But, on a few occasions, no one did. Both outcomes were immensely instructive. But on those times when I found myself alone, the voices of people who had come to me time and again over the course of my life were in my head. I was not alone, no matter how hard I tried, by screwing up, to be.


But the best reward earned from those solo rock-bottom moments? Everything gained from there was mine.

But the best reward earned from those solo rock-bottom moments? Everything gained from there was mine. I was spoiled rotten when I left home for college. When I finally earned my bachelor's at the age of 26 (with roughly 240 undergraduate credits to my name), that degree was mine. Now, I am an only child. I am a white cis (-ish) male. I have parents who had saved for me and who could afford for me to make mistakes. But there came a point when they had to let me go my own way. I know they won't say it out loud, but they were so totally done with me.


But they were with me. And, I clawed my way up because of them and so many others. On the way up from the bottom I finally let myself be humble and began to admit my brokenness and my traumas (I've got so many posts to write...). Then, I cautiously allowed myself to be brave again. Then, vulnerable. That last lesson has carried me so tremendously far.


Vulnerability carried me through my years as a teacher when I was able to make space for so many scared, scarred kids and, years later, their scared, scarred parents. In those years when I was in and out of college and in and out of the bottle, I worked in kitchens, in the trades, I even worked for Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville as an Americorps*VISTA (speaking of people showing up for me and believing in me when I had no reason for them to do so...).


Want to know a heavy secret I have carried with me since those years? For the longest time I regretted them. Considered them wasted years. But, they lead me to poetry. Poetry led me through college, all around the U.S., to graduate school (fully paid for by a fellowship) and to my wife, the pure-hearted and loveliest Joni Lee. My reason for being. She gave me my beautiful boys. They led us to our first true home. All this is supported by my being brave enough and vulnerable enough to believe I belong in a place like Lawrence, living this good life, working an amazing job at The University of Kansas.


You know what else? Check out this picture:

It might not look like much: just a guy taking a selfie in front of his very midwestern house. But what I want you to see are some of the skills I learned while bouncing in and out of roughly four colleges on the way to my BA. In this instance: installing hardscapes (just those light-colored timbers here), installing a weed barrier, mulching, etc.


To date my wife Joni and I have repainted almost all the inside of the house, nearly restored the lawn, installed several garden boxes, installed several mulched beds and new plantings, updated fixtures, updated trim, built rolling garage shelving from raw lumber and on and on and on. I learned my share during those "wasted years." And I'm still married with kids, working a great job... And I've had my adventures besides.


And, you know what? I have saved thousands and thousands of dollars thanks to the skills I acquired during those "wasted years."

And, you know what? I have saved thousands and thousands of dollars thanks to the skills I acquired during those "wasted years."


This is what I tell those parents. Or, at least a shortened version. More often than not, their shoulders drop a little. They smile. They maybe let slip a little sigh of relief. It's going to be okay.


And that's the truth. It will be hard. But it will be worth it. It is going to be okay.

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