Don’t watch your garden grow!

Sometimes I wonder if I am sending faulty messages about me and the subject matter of this blog.  As in, when you end up finding a blog about the pursuit of a joyful life, amidst the other blogs out there in the blogosphere, one might think it is written by a very positive, happy-go-lucky, Type A personality.  Someone with no troubles and a very privileged life.  How amusing to think anyone might think that about me.  Just ask my husband…

My blog is not written by a perpetually happy person who just finds life a dandy game of Candyland, where everything is pink, fluffy and full of sugary sweetness.  In fact, I have lived most of life quite sadly, joy-less.

The pursuit for me is to find joy amidst the rubble of the everyday grind, within which I often find myself living.  To take that which is potentially a joy killer and turn it into something that generates joy.  It is an irony, of sorts, to find joy in a life that is full of stress and difficulty.  Imperfection is the nature of this messed-up world we live in.  Finding joy in imperfect circumstances is the saving grace, and that is why I strive to find it all along the way.

Joy.  Living life to the fullest.  Finding purpose in the here and now.  Finding acceptance and contentment with what I have been given.  Living life looking for the best, not the worst.  Feeling fully satisfied without always having everything.  “Having it all” is a sad misconception.  Having those things which are of worth is the key.

Joy today was found in planting flowers with the children in KA English, room 103.  I had prepped the students on Monday that we would be planting seeds sometime this week.  We talked about what we might need to grow a flower.  We discussed how long it takes for the seeds to sprout.  We looked at and carefully examined seeds.  We planned a list of items to start collecting.  We read books that would inform and enlighten us on the growing process.  We talked about the weather.

It was a long week.

Every day, the students asked if today was the day.  No, I would answer.  “We have to learn about flowers before we attempt growing them.”

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday…the days crawled by.  Thursday and then finally, Friday was upon us.

I had planned to use the afternoon to launch the activity, and no sooner had I laid out the items needed on an old tablecloth, than those little hands were reaching for dirt and seeds.  It was all I could do to hold them back while I explained how it would all unfold. And finally, it was time to sink little fingers into dirt and let the rich soil fill up their cup with goodness.

After planting, we placed our beans and sunflowers on the window sill in the glow of the March sun.  Light streamed in the window, casting shadows through the blinds.  After everyone had found that perfect spot, the children went away and resumed other activities.  The plants were left to do what plants do best: sit and grow.

After ten minutes had passed, the students started asking if any of the seeds had sprouted yet.  A little throng of five-year old gardeners once again had gathered under the window sill.  “Did they grow yet,” little voices questioned one another.  “Maybe if we give them ten more minutes,” came the reply.

We are often in such a rush for the good things to happen that we fail to see that the process is where it is really at.  Life is not a culmination, it is a process.  It is the in-between moments wherein we really live.

We are born, we take first steps, we learn to talk, we go to school, we lose our first tooth, we learn to ride a bike.  We fall in love, we learn to drive, we graduate high school and perhaps university, if we are truly blessed, we find our soul mate.  We get a job, a bank account, a mortgage and a house.  Then, we have a family.  Life continues to unfold, milestone after milestone, as it speeds full-stream ahead.  Time doesn’t wait for us to live out the in-between moments; we must plan for how we live out those moments all by ourselves.

We live those moments best when we start to realize that this moment, just now, has just passed by.  And so has this one.  And this one too.  Moments fade into moments. We cannot waste time living life joy-less because time is too precious for that.  The moment we are in right now has two sides: joy or bitterness.  We embrace one emotion at a time.  We embrace that which we deem to be the best.  Our priorities, worldview, circumstances and mental outlook dictate how we view our given moments.

Like seeds, we grow into our fullest potential in the fullness of time.  But the in-between moments, those wherein we prune and water, nuture and weed the garden of our lives, are by far the longest moments we have in this flowering of life.

No moment is more real  or of greater value than the moment we are living right now. Care for your seeds, but don’t watch them grow. Life is too short for rushing the growing process.

The Joy of Outdoor Duty…

It is playground duty day, and I am trudging around outside, trying to avoid as much as possible the remaining patches of snow and ice. I am wearing a heavy winter jacket, snow pants, a hat and gloves with a pair of unfashionable black, knee-high riding boots.  I may look like a frump, but I am warding off the chill with this get-up. By the looks of some of the students, many of whom are underdressed, they might be wishing they were as prepared as fashionable Mrs. G..  Last week was unseasonably warm, but after a cold front blew through, the temperatures are back to seasonal norms.  I try to think warm, fuzzy thoughts.  I can’t wait for the bell to ring and end our frigid, outdoor education for the day.

A little girl approaches, her eyes suggest she is in emotional distress of some sort or another of a concerning nature to a seven year old child.  She tells me that one of her friends is not including her, and has further tried to turn her other little female classmates against her in a revolt of sorts.  She tugs around a blue sled as she talks, her eyes dart back and forth to the group of girls now gathered to pay tribute to this calamity.  I listen to the story, and it becomes a web of twisted strands.  “She said…”, and some “then I said…” followed by more, “No, I didn’t…” ’s.  I am lost by the end of it all, and I tell them to try and work it out while I go attend to a little guy playing hockey who just got a hockey puck shot in the face.

By the time I get over to the boys playing road hockey in front of the school, everything is fine with them.  The little guy who was crying seconds before, has jumped full-force back into the game, and does not have time to stop for a minute to let me check things out.  So, I head back over again to the playground where the girls are still sorting through muddy waters for a lost friendship.  We walk and talk, and I lead them over to a sheltered area where they can sit in a circle and get to the bottom of the trouble.  I suggest that each girl tell how she is feeling.  The first suggests that she feels like a little dark cloud, another says she feels like no one notices her and she feels invisible, another says more or less the same.  We go around the circle and share.

We finally get to the instigator of all the trouble, and I ask her to share her feelings.  She says she feels hurt and upset about not being included as well.   So I ask all the girls, “Are you interested in including S. in your group?”  Yes, they all chorus.  I look at the little lady under fire and ask her if she wants to rejoin the group and be friends again.  “No, “ she says sullenly.

I am confused.

This process has taken far too much time, and we seem to be getting “no where fast”.  I tell the girls that I need to move along to keep an eye on the rest of the playground, but I encourage them to continue working at things until they find a solution for this disagreement that has come between them.

Girls fight differently than boys.  We all know this of course, but I was surprised at how deeply these little girls carried their pain, and what great lengths they took to inflict hurt on others.  And how complicated everyone’s story got in the process.  The more I listened, the more I felt helpless to provide a solution.  I have dealt with similar experiences before with other groups of girls, and each time I have felt at a loss to help sort through the issues and bring clarity.  It is a tangled web we females weave.

I have come to the conclusion that although little girls are developmentally more mature in the ways they interact in relationships than are little boys, they are not able to handle the outcomes of those relationships with as much sophistication.  Because the issues are more complex in female friendships, they require more complex understanding.  That understanding is not within the maturity of a little girl until she is far older and wiser, with more life experience and common sense.  In other words, until she is at an age where she is able to analyze and rationalize reason and motives.  Thus, little girls are left with complicated friendships that they are unable to understand and cope with.  Little boys, on the other hand, are developmentally less mature in their interactions, but their understandings of each other and the ways they interact are far more in tune with their developmental growth.  Thus, they are able to adequately deal with problems without the hassles that their female counterparts endure.

Bottom line: when little girls fight, there is no easy solution for the problem.  Whereas, when the boys had a problem, they were able to work through the trouble without the aid of an adult.

Talk about a complex, outdoor education on the intricacies of female relationships.

I lay it all down…

I hate feeling vulnerable, like I feel right now.  I just hit send on an e-mail to a colleague regarding a work issue.  I cannot talk to this person as I have never met her nor do I know where she lives. It is a long-distance working relationship within which time and space are dimensions that work against, rather than bring alongside. The issue of which I write pertains to a misunderstanding, and I have tried my best to explain my side of things through the written word.

The written word.  It lacks the nuances that are afforded with body language.  A smile can soften the blow when words become serious.  A touch, inserted in the heat of the moment can turn an argument into a discussion.  Eye contact means everything.  Body language is a close second.

So it is with great trepidation that I send off that letter.  Vulnerability is not a covering I wear well.

I have been in this place before; the written word has failed me too many times to count.  So, it is to the readers who are privy to this post that I will reveal some things about myself.

I am very insecure.  I hate being misunderstood.  When I think I have been misunderstood, I will move heaven and earth to explain myself. I also want to understand everything.  Everything.  I hate not knowing.  I want to know what, who, how long, how much, how often and where.  And I want to know why.

Because I question and analyze and turn things around, I am easily hurt myself.  I read into things.  I cannot accept simple answers.  I always think things are far more complicated than they really are.  I am often suspicious.  And very, very sceptical.

I use humour to mask pain.  If I write about it in jest, you can bet your bottom dollar that there is a pile of pain behind that story.  My life is not nearly as funny as I portray it to be, but the humor lifts me to a place where I can accept that life is not perfect.  In the imperfections, we find grace and acceptance.  We find courage to carry on.

I am resilient.  I have a story within a story within a story.  Some layers tell of very painful things.  Other layers tell stories that are light-hearted in spite of the pain.  Some stories are unbelievable, but all are true.  I do not write fiction.  I tried.  I could not find anything of worth to right down.  The only stories I can tell are those that are real.  They are my stories, for better or for worse.

I am tenacious.  I do not tire easily when I am working towards a goal.  Most goals are bigger than myself, and possibly unrealistic.  I have dogged determination that I can do that which my minds sets out to do.  I will make myself finish things even if it kills me.

I believe in truth bigger than myself.  I am not the be all and end all of my life.  There is more for which I live than myself.  I am self-sacrificial to a fault.  I live my life for others, but in doing so I hope to gain it all back.  My purpose.  A deeper reason to live other than that which is self-serving.  God, my family, my friends, myself.  In that order, most of the time.

I’m only human.

When all is said and done, I am simply a girl, not a mother or a wife or a daughter or a friend, teacher or colleague.  At the end of the day, I’m just a girl.  That girl wears her emotions inside out most of the time, but she is honest and real.  I will be that girl until I breathe my dying breath and let her go.  She is the essence of who I really am inside.

That is the best I can really hope for in this life.  This imperfect here and now.

To be human, damaged yet perfect, just the way I am.

When it seems joy eludes me…

I am trying to make sense of myself tonight.  It has been a long day, not conducive to thinking.  I got up late this morning, missed the alarm altogether.  That means I am half an hour behind all day.  In my subconscious, the thoughts linger from our argument last night, but I am able to push them aside with thoughts of bed-making, clothes selections and hair doing.  I am able to push thoughts of our disagreement completely to the back of my mind by the time I rush out the door to the van, shouting at children to get on board as I search for my key.

A long day begins and ends with children.  I am a kindergarten teacher.  I wipe up crumbs, pull on mittens, adjust snow pants, and look for dry socks amongst the clutter of messy lockers.  I am as comfortable discussing bathroom routines with my students, as I am helping my own little one rinse soap suds from her hair in the tub.  I am mother, to one and all.

I am also wife.  I sometimes am confused how one can be both, interchangeably.  These roles are often tapping into an emotional reserve for which I sometimes feel has a limited supply.  I am drained tonight.  The well is dry.  There is seemingly not a drop of feeling left inside the reserve from which I draw my energy and emotion.

I said selfish, cutting remarks to him last night in the heat of the moment, and I want to say I am sorry. I just can’t bring myself to do so. Yet. One must admit they are wrong to say sorry, and I sometimes question how feelings can be wrong.  I feel tired. Is that wrong?  I also feel inadequate.  Many deep hurts begin with feelings of inadequacy.

I know a little boy.  He has anger issues.  He likes to make snide comments about the little girls in our class.  He is physical in his anger, and he has little control over his emotions.  That little boy can make or break my day.  When it is a bad day for him, it is a bad day for me.  On a good day, I see him for whom he really is.  A little boy who knows hurt and can do and say only what he has seen to be real.  He is what he has experienced in his short, five years of life.  I understand him because I know from whence he comes.  He is what he is, and I accept him faults and all.  He comes from a life of pain.

So do we all.

We all feel pain and we can understand suffering.  We can understand ourselves by understanding that which hurts us.  We can help others understand us too by allowing them a view to our deeper selves.  We are more than the obvious stuff that easily floats to the surface.

This I know.  That joy overrides sorrow.  In life, joy is the trump card.  When life throws you an onion, peel it back and expose the juices that flow.  They are the flavouring of life.  They bring rich goodness to season our lives, in spite of the bite with which they present themselves.  We will always have sorrow and pain, but joy comes new in the morning.

Joy is a gift, and it will ever be mine for the choosing.

The Joy of the Public Washroom…and other adventures

MacDonald’s restaurant might just be the last place on earth where anything goes.  If it was up to me, I would never darken the doors of this particular fast-food joint, but with four children in tow, regular visits come with the territory.  I, for one, generally do not leave saying “I’m lovin’ it.” 

We are in some small town off the I-81 S in West Virginia, and it is decided that we need a bathroom break and a bite of lunch.  Although we have been rationing the liquids, we do have to pull over for a washroom break every few hours.  Since McDonald’s offerings include Wi-Fi and French fries, it is the place chosen for our pit stop.

I am still wearing winter boots, not exactly what the locals are sporting in these parts due to the double digit temperatures.  My husband maneuvers my suitcase out of the car carrier, while my son makes smart comments about me always needing the right pair of shoes.   Turns out I am not the only one changing outfits at McD.’s, as I will soon come to find out.

You could learn a lot about a person just by hanging out in a McDonald’s restaurant, and in particular, by spending any length of time in the washrooms.  I need to use the restroom but make a wrong turn, and find myself face-to-face with a tall man wearing a white shirt.  Turns out in this McDonald’s, the urinals are right next to the door.  How convenient.  I slink back to my seat in the dining area, and watch as the man walks out and stands within close proximity to my table while he waits for his wife.  I pretend to look out the window, while my husband laughs at me for my disregard of the gender signs. 

Let’s try this again.  I head back towards the women’s room , this time with my three daughters along to act as a safeguard, and we wait patiently for a young lady to finish taking care of business in the wheelchair accessible washroom.  She not only is without a wheelchair, but she has been using her fully able-bodied self to change outfits in this bathroom stall cum makeshift changing room.  Realizing that there is a line-up outside, she proceeds to leave and then finish the process of dressing herself in the open area, all while holding a pair of jeans turned inside out over her right arm.  In the adjacent stall to the one she has just vacated, there is another woman who has apparently decided that life is too short, and sometimes you need to take multi-tasking to a whole new level.  She is doing her business whilst talking on her cellular phone, and it appears that she is in conversation with a university about an upcoming semester of schooling.  I’m sure they would not have minded the heads up that the gurgling noise they hear in the background is not a waterfall of the outdoor nature.  She patiently discusses her options, all the while decreasing our own odds of getting in and out of this restroom in the next hour.

I have had bathroom adventures before, so I should say that nothing really shocks me anymore when it comes to happenings inside the four walls of any given washroom.  I was once at a beautiful beach in Prince Edward Island, when I needed to have a bathroom break.  Hoping for a quick in-and-outer, I was just about to open the door to wash my hands then head for the sand, when I heard a small cry in the stall next to mine.  Normally, I don’t like to pry when it comes to noises I hear in the echelons of a public washroom, but this time, the sounds actually sounded desperate.  Not natural.  And those sounds I heard were certainly, unmistakably needy of another human being’s assistance.  I did what anyone would do.  I looked around to see if there was anyone else who could come to the aid of this poor soul crying for help.   And there was not another person inside that bathroom.

I am one of those people who was gifted with a strong constitution, but not a strong stomach.  Smells make me shiver.  Bath and Body Works Wallflowers are my best friends.  Getting used to changing my own children’s dirty diapers was a learning curve for me, if not a lesson in how to talk to babies while holding one’s nose.  So, when I opened that door to the toilet, wherein I heard the cry for help, I was not prepared for the sights and sounds and indeed the smells that would await me. 

She was a very large woman. With all due respect, I have never had to unplug a person from a toilet before, and with good luck, I will never have this stroke of misfortune again.  She was as stuck as an over-sized beach ball thrown into a basketball net, and without me, she might still be there.  It took a few good pulls, but we finally unlodged her from her perch on that porcelain throne. I say we, because she was pushing as hard as I was pulling.  I am no weakling, but I should make clear that I weigh about 120 pounds dripping wet.  How I ever manage to set her free is beyond understanding.  After it was all said and done, and she had been popped from that toilet like a corkscrew on a good bottle of wine, I did a complete 180 degree turn and closed the door behind me.  As I was walking away, she thanked me graciously.  The very least I could do was give her the dignity of not a backwards glance.  I never did see her again.

These kinds of experiences just seem to follow me, from washroom to washroom, like a bad dream.  It makes me wonder how I am still able to use a public facility and vacate the premises without emotional scarring.  And in more ways than one, it has given me new reason to be discriminating about what room I take a rest in.  So, when I happened upon this McDonald’s washroom today, it was like a flash of memories in one long string of bad luck encounters.  I now understand why some wise and discerning inventor dreamed up the Port-a-Potty, bringing new meaning to the catch phrase, I’m lovin’ it.

This wonder of an invention is the traveller with children’s salvation from a McDonald’s (or some other public bathroom) inflicted nightmare, so long as you don’t forget to bring the toilet paper.

 And a generously over-sized bottle of handsanitizer for good measure.

 

 

 

 

 

Is there joy to be found in grief?

I am pushing a cart with my three noisy daughters through the grocery section of Walmart.  I bend down to adjust the box of grape canned pop on the bottom wire rack, when I straighten and see her.  She is pushing past me with her own teenage daughter in tow, looking in a hurry and not appearing at all interested in chatting.  I duck again to check on things below my cart then catch her eye just as she passes me on the end of another aisle.

“Hey there,” I call out, trying to catch her attention, yet still hoping for a quick getaway.  “How are things?”

“Oh, um…well; we’re just, er…we’re getting a few things,” she says.

She wants to avoid me.  I can tell this is so, yet I am surprised that she is so uncomfortable seeing me.  Truth be told, I want to avoid her too, as this is a delay in the shopping schedule.  It’s been a long day, and I’m tired and pushing a cart with two in it, and one beside.  The three of them are hungry, thirsty and weighing my cart down with the sheer heaviness of their spastic energy.  I try to avoid looking at my children, while I smile widely at her.  I hope for a quick response from her, and then I’ll be on my way.

“How are the kids?” I ask.  She gives an answer.  Or two.  Both are short and vague.  I know she wants this conversation to be over, but I just can’t help myself.  I pointedly ask her one other:

“How are you doing?”

For the first time, she looks into my eyes, and I can now see the pain that lies in pools behind the trite answers and abrupt responses of moments ago.  She looks with eyes that are pleading for me to stop now and run, or prepare for the worst.

I stand my ground.  A river pours out.

Her little boy would have been almost two.  The anniversary of his birthday is Sunday, she says.  The loss is still all too real.  The pain has only subsided enough that she can talk about it in short spurts without crying.  She has so many questions, and there are so many unknowns.  He was a full term baby.  He should never have died.  Not in this day and age, with the advances in medicine.

As I listen, I feel a loss of control over my own sense of reason.  I have no answers, no responses that befit the magnitude of her grief.  I can only listen, and even then I feel inadequate.  How can I, a mother of four healthy, vibrant children, help another mother deal with the death of a full-term baby boy?  And do so in the grocery aisle of Walmart, nonetheless.

As she talks, I think about my purpose and that God must have planned for me to be right here right now in this very spot, because I can see that she is clinging to this conversation we are having as if it were a lifeline.  We were meant to speak.  I have no answers, and I certainly have never been through this private hell; and yet, I can offer her an empathic ear to listen and give my own mother’s heart over to share her pain, if for but a moment.

And so we talk.  She cries, and I listen.  We stand in the canned pop section, and while she leans against the shelf, she shares her soul.  I want to say something that will take away the sting.  What can one say to all of this?

I will never know what purposes the mind of God might have for me in each day and each moment.  Truly, I have no answers for her tonight, in this quiet moment.  I am at a loss for words.  How can a good God allow pain and death to one so precious as a newborn baby?  Why does God allow evil in this world?  How can we reconcile our faith and our reality?  How do we ever move on?  How can we keep our faith from crumbling?  Can we ever regain the faith we lose when life rips our heart from our chest?  These are questions for which I have no immediate answers.

We part with an embrace, but then meet again as we both go through the same cash register.  As I walk out beside her to the parking lot, she gives me a warm hug.

“Thanks for listening, and not trying to explain anything,” she says.  “Most people try to give me answers.”

I am wondering right now if part of the purpose of pain is to reveal our fragility, but still teach others about empathy in spite of those experiences.  Perhaps pain in life is less about us, and more about others, for our pain is a channel by which we are able to connect our experiences with those of others.  In doing so, we are able to make sense of our world.  Or, at the very least accept the reality of here and now.  And the response to pain is perhaps to accept it, not always try to explain it.

I get in bed with my own two daughters tonight, and snuggle under the covers.  They giggle as if this is a great joke.  I put my arms around their warm little bodies and draw them close.  I listen to their stories, their little girl voices full of laughter.  I am aware that this is a gift.  It may not always be mine to hold, but it will always be in my heart.  They are mine for now, these precious treasures, and for tonight I will bring them close to me so as to not let them slip away.

I have been reminded tonight that life is a gift; we should never take it for granted.

Joy is a sense of humor!

We are all, more or less, standing around the kitchen trying to decide how to spend a rare free night.  My eleven year-old son wants to watch a movie, and is very vocal about his choice.  I think it would be quite nice to play a family game, despite the varied ages of our four children.  In my mind, I picture us all sitting around the kitchen table, slurping smoothies and eating pretzels, while enthusiastically cheering one another on regardless of who wins or loses.  The stuff Disney movies are made of.  Who needs to sit down and watch it when there is potential to live it out, right here and now?  From past experience, I can vouch for the fact that this little pipe dream is certainly no reality.  Nonetheless, the idea of playing a rousing game of  Apples to Apples  or Uno Spin beats laying around watching yet another prescriptive kid’s movie, while my husband falls asleep on the couch.  I suggest several more games, and my oldest doesn’t bite on any of them.  He is quite sour that the movie idea has been nixed, and he lets it be known in no uncertain terms.

“You know, in a few years I won’t be around to watch movies with you guys,” he says using every ounce of persuasive energy he can muster.

“Why?” fires back my husband.  “Where are you going when you’re thirteen?”

Score one for hubby.

We who are parents have probably experienced it in greater or lesser degrees.  And if not as parents, we have most certainly used it in the past on our own parents throughout our growing years:  the power of kid-pressure, cousin to the better known peer-pressure, an agent of guilt infliction with the purpose of bringing about selfish gain.

It started when he was in kindergarten.  My son wanted a John Deere Gator.  When his teacher asked him what it was that he wanted more than anything else, it was a Gator.  He poured over John Deere catalogues, and visited the dealership any opportunity he could get his doting parents to drive him there.  That part was easy, and we even left each visit with free reading material, complements of the store.  But as time wore on, I almost had myself convinced that to not buy one might bring about permanent psychological damage in the form of repressed desires sometime when he hit the age of forty.  With the best of intentions, we found and purchased a used pedal tractor at a yard sale that sufficed for a while.  Not good enough; it always came back to the Gator.

The years flew by, and the year he turned six, we finally had the money to buy a brand new Gator for him as a birthday gift.  The box was delivered and set on the lawn.  We waited expectantly for the expression that would cement in our minds that this ludicrously over-priced child’s toy would be worth the wait, but alas.  Six was too old.  He rode it around the yard a few times, and quickly lost interest.  The highs and lows of kid-pressure gone awry.

Or perhaps it was not kid-pressure.

Sometimes kid-pressure is just misinterpreted mommy-guilt or daddy-guilt.  I think I am doing my child a disservice to not keep up with the others cool parents who are ravenously buying up all the Aididas, Abercrombie, Aeropostale or some other brand for which I cannot find a way to show alliteration, at outlet stores all over North America.  Not to say I won’t buy, of course I will: I just don’t want to be “guilted” into it by kid-pressure.  Of course, we all know that peer-pressure is often times directly proportional to kid-pressure.  What is a parent to do?  When in doubt, don’t.  Kids get over it.  So, whether it be an activity, a brand name, an event or a destination of desire, do not be “guilted” into making hasty decisions influenced by your child’s need to have or do.  There will be a new trend next week anyway, and you can catch that one instead.

Long ago, back in the Ice Ages when my children think I was born now that they have watched the movie, I wanted to go to that never land of dreams, Disney World.  I am sure I used every trick in the book to kid-pressure my parents into taking me there.  They tried the old distraction trick on me a few times, and then used the “cheaper and lesser known” theme park second option card, as well as just plain told me straight up, we would not be going there because it was too expensive.  End of story.

But wait for it…

The other night, I announced to our own little family that although we are not going far south this winter, next year we will be going on a family vacation to Disney.  My girls got excited.  My son told me that if we didn’t hurry up and get on it, he would be too old to care.

My point is this: I wanted to go to Disney as a child, and that dream was never accomplished.  Now, as a parent of my own little brood, I am living out vicariously through them the unrealized dreams I had as a child.

So parents, take heart.  When you say no, understand that you are paving the way for your offspring to one day live out their dreams of whatever it is that you are refusing, and they will do so when they have their own children and their own bank account.  It’s a win-win situation, and eases up the parent guilt load.  Parents win and kids eventually win, although it may take a few years.

And who knows, one day you just might find yourself on a plane headed for that balmy Floridian park of all parks, sitting in economy with your grandchildren, courtesy of your children.

Score one for you.

The Joys of the parent-teacher interview…

I have all of ten minutes, yet that is just enough time to find out that the two girls are doing well and meeting all expectations and outcomes per their grade level.  I am glowing with pride at their success.  I listen as teachers gush over their writing and leadership abilities.  I almost feel embarrassed at the exclamation points I can hear at the end of each comment made.  I am truly grateful and proud (dare I say joyful?) in regards to how I feel toward my children, as each one of my four has special, unique abilities and a desire to learn and improve.  Keys to lifelong learning are well established which will open doors for them long past the elementary grade levels.

I am in and out of two classrooms before I can even look at a single piece of writing or even read the cover on a report.  I’ll save the writing folders for home when I have more time to linger over the delightful stories and thoughtful word choice used.  These stories never disappoint, each one containing nuggets of child-like wonder.

Although for me, there really is not any need to prolong the visit beyond the time allotted, one does wonder how ten minutes could ever be enough time to really get a feel for where your child sits in their academic, social and intellectual development.  Of course it is certainly not time enough for the parent of the struggling child.  Nor is it enough time for parents of the average student.  I realize that I would have been given a longer interview within which to meet the teacher had my child been failing to meet the curriculum outcomes, but what of the children who are not struggling?  Do over-achievers not warrant time for discussion on ways to challenge and stimulate learning for them beyond the prescribed outcomes?  It is an interesting reflection to make, as the time we give something often speaks of the importance and priority it holds in our life and work.

I know that school is fast becoming an institution wherein students are targeted by differentiated teaching styles and wherein learning can be driven by what interests the learners.  Certainly, within this format there are basic areas that all students must be taught.  However, often those that learn the basics quickly are left unchallenged while those in the low to mid academic range garner the bulk of the teacher’s time and attention, at the time expense of the rest of the class.  There is a struggle to retain and understand key concepts and ideas while the student who excels struggles to not become laden down by apathy and disconnect.  Which is the worse of the two?   Neither student group is really being targeted in this environment.

As a teacher myself, I support inclusion in all its facets and terms of usage.  I think more supports should be there for students on both ends of the equation: for students that struggle as well as for students who excel.  Priority should be placed on not just meeting in the middle, but targeting teaching to truly meet the learner where they are.  If that means differentiated teaching, then so be it.  We need to teach to the learner, not the outcomes prescribed for the learners.

Ten minute interviews are great for busy parents with over-booked daily itineraries.  But, as a parent, I would like to think that small window of time is not a reflection of the attention my children are truly given in the classroom.

The joy of nightly bed-time rituals…

I am cuddled in bed with my youngest.  This, after she has jumped all over the bed and I have calmed her down by rubbing cream on her hands and feet, a nightly calming ritual as much as the bedtime story we are about to read together.  Tonight’s selection, Stellaluna by Janell Cannon, is the story of a fruit bat separated from her mother after an encounter with an owl.  We have read this book before, many times.  We settle in, propped up by pillows to enjoy the read.  She listens attentively, pausing to ask questions when necessary.  I read, holding on to this quiet moment.  It is a rare treasure to sit quietly anywhere, what with our typical busy family life.

I love this time of the evening.  It is special time, alone time, just the two of us sharing an imaginary world found between two slipcovers.  We are transported to places far away and dreamy.  I wonder, as I read, where fruit bats really live.  My daughter wonders about the trees in the illustrations and why they have been drawn to look like poles instead of the leafy green towers of strength we are accustomed to here in P.E.I.

Down the hall, my two daughters are reading their chosen books.  My second youngest is waiting for a turn at the read aloud, and she comes down the hall to check on me.  “I’ll be down to read to you next,” I reassure.  My older two no longer need me to read to them, although occasionally I still do.  For old time’s sake.

The benefits of reading to children, according to all kinds of research conducted by many institutes have been found to be exponential.  We see as teachers in the school system.  Consistently, those children who have been read to or encouraged to read at home, are the ones whom meet grade level requirements and beyond.  And yet, so often reading is shoved to the back of the agenda in the after-school slate of activities.  We can find time to do most everything else, but read to ourselves and our children, it seems.  And our children are finding the same: reading is often as much of a chore as it can be a bore.

We must do better than this.  And we can!  But it takes commitment and practice.

I was talking to a friend today about my newest interest in blogging, and she made mention of my lengthy posts.  “I see how long it is, and I just have to say “sorry”, it’s too long to read!”  I realize that there are many valid reasons for why people choose to read some things and not others, and that not everyone can take the time to read a personal blog.  But it got me thinking: we live in a fast food/fast fix society, and most of the time, we are not afforded the luxury of slowing down our busy schedules enough to read anything more than a headline, synopsis or summary.  We want the bottom line, not the explanation.

In a world where life is expected to be a blur of commitments, expectations and time on task, isn’t it a wondrous pleasure to take the time to read, word for word, line by line; savouring each pleasurable description as if it were a tasty morsel, instead of just cramming it down one’s throat for the sake of sustenance?  The utter joy of reading and the ability to read and comprehend: it is a pleasure and privilege beyond comparison.

I check in on my son.  Over the past month, I had read to him some of the classic, Swiss Family Robinson,  but of late we have not had time in the evenings to do so.  He goes to bed later now, and we do not always take the time to read together.  Tonight, he is under the covers and settled in for the night with a book on dinosaurs that he got from our church library.  I ask him if he would like for me to read to him.  He is intent on his own reading and barely lifts his head.  That is to be expected of a serious reader, engrossed in another world, another time and place.  I leave him to do what I have always had as my goal: allow him the pleasure of independent reading.  Although I will not read as much to him in time, I will reap the benefits of having read to him as a child for many, many years to come.

where is the joy?

It is 5:45 a.m., and the alarm goes off.  I think it sounded, or it could just be a ringing noise in my head.  Oh well.   I’m up anyways, as is my husband, and my second youngest.  I drag my sorry self out of bed, and send my sweet little one back to bed.  She is crying because she wants to get up at this ludicrously early hour of the day.  I would rather get a cavity filled, a bikini wax or choose any other mildly irritating menace, than this: to rise and shower without sunlight.  On “five-ish” hours of sleep.

We are all going different directions this Friday morning, and thus there is a tight schedule to follow.  Of course, this means nothing to my four- year old, who screams incessantly to “get her some breakfast”, all the while I am upstairs contemplating pulling out all the hairs on my head, eyelashes and eyebrows, just to relieve the stress.  Actually, I am really making the beds, but again, I’d rather be getting a cavity filled, and so on.  I digress… And yes, breakfast would be nice right about now.  I’ll hold out for our school’s breakfast program later on, being as the chances I’ll be eating breakfast around my kitchen table this morning are slim to none.  My daughter, on the other hand, can wait until her dad gets out of the shower.

7:54 a.m., and we are all on our way out the door to our various destinations.  I am the main drop-off person today, so I quickly pack ‘em in, and off I go.  I spend exactly 27 seconds at the babysitter’s house, during which time I am able to kiss my daughter, listen to my babysitter’s son tell me a very short story, pass over my daughter’s belongings, and then wish each child there at the daycare a personally tailored, heartfelt goodbye.  I boot it down the steps, and fly into the van.  As I drive out of the lane, I narrowly miss driving the van into a snow bank.

Small blessings mean so much.

I arrive at school fifteen minutes late for the breakfast program, for which I am chairperson and organizer, only to find out that a registered dietician with the Healthy Eating Alliance is there to observe our program.  How lovely.  I start to butter toast and remember that I forgot to wash my hands.  As I sneak out of the kitchen to the washroom, I avoid eye contact at all costs and pray that she thinks I keep hand sanitizer in the van.

Breakfast program is running along smoothly, and we are all in the zone.  I start to smell burnt toast, and as this is a familiar smell at our breakfast program, I don’t investigate too thoroughly.  However, it becomes apparent when we open the oven, to shove more toast inside that flames shooting from the bottom and up the sides.  The 150 slices of toast that we’ve managed to stuff inside this unfortunate cooking appliance have ignited and all under the watchful eye of the dietician.  Since we have not located the oven mitts, a fellow team member grabs a very flammable apron and uses this to manoeuvre the overloaded tray from the oven.  Other team members, hypnotized by the unfolding drama, watch in awe as the apron narrowly escapes becoming a torch due to its proximity to the searing hot oven elements that started the initial fire.  We eventually locate the thermal protective mitts in the drawer next to the oven.  How clever.  One wonders why we didn’t think of looking there in the first place.

At this point, I am myself at risk of burning up, what with my temperature rising exponentially from the stress I am experiencing due to all the faux pas (paux? since there are more than one?) that have just been committed in the short span of half an hour.  This breakfast program is quickly becoming an example of “what not to do” and will probably end up as illustrations of such in a future breakfast program handout.  We could possibly use the exposure to our advantage, I’ll just have to think of ways to do so.  As well, there is no toast left.  I guess I’ll just have to hold out for first recess and eat the Treat of the Week.

I head back to class, hungry, tired and a little bit “burned out”.

The day continues to head down a crash course.  Literally.  Discipline issues with students before I even start teaching, craft time in the afternoon that consists of me tying a dozen or more little tiny knots with string so as to make each child a farm mobile, all the while some of the children smash cars together in the math and Science center while others zoom cars around the room, and finally, the crowning glory of our day wherein I am getting a lack of attention during a pertinent read-aloud about  “The Golden Rule”, a book that instead comes across as hilarious and completely misses driving home the message.   Oh, and I forget that I have booked a Pep Squad practice in the gym during first recess.  Treat of the Week is not going to happen.

After school, I make another quick trip home to change clothing and then I head off to pick up my youngest from the babysitter’s; and after all this, I head to a skating competition.  As luck would have it, we are the very first competitor’s of the day, and they are looking for us.  I have two little ones on either side of me as I do hair for the third.  She is on in about ten minutes.  At least we are early.

About halfway through the competition, for which I am volunteering my time to sit and sell flowers and other such paraphernalia, I decide I need a coffee.  To show goodwill to all my other cohorts at the rink, I go around and take orders for Tim Horton’s and I tell them, “It will be my treat.”  I arrive at Tim’s only to find my debit card M.I.A. and that I also have no small change.  In the van, I find just enough to buy a cafe mocha for the lady responsible for playing the skating music.  Unfortunately, I have no money left to by anything for myself.  Seriously?  I mean, really…

After my allotted time at the rink, I am wiped.  This day has been such a roller coaster ride, to say the least, but at least I’ll be home soon and I can relax a bit before bed.  I head down the snow-filled lane to my mother-in law’s house, pick up the girls, and as I am heading back up the lane for the final trip of the day, I drive the van into the ditch.

Worst.day.ever.

At least, worst day yet this month. Hey, it’s March 2nd, and my luck can only go up from here. That’s the little line I tell myself, anyway.