Taking care of ourselves

She playfully bats at the little ball of fluff, her baby. Tousling, grooming, cuddling, nursing. But when she sees the need, setting the little kitten free to explore without the ever-present eye of Mama to govern and oversee. Sometimes, she completely appears to abandon, lazing in the sun while her tiny kitten sits alone on the top stair of our steps, wary and uncertain. Is Mama neglectful? I think not.

When mama cat lovingly stretches out languidly on our top step with baby nearby, her tiny offspring responds to her in love. There is no doubt that there is a relationship between the two. But it is one designed to set free so that the younger can one day take care of herself. To never allow for the certainty that the baby will one day be on its own would be a tragedy. True. Everyone needs love- even barn cats. But you rarely see amongst animals any form of helicopter parenting as one often sees in human parenting. Animals seem to know instinctively the balance needed so as to nurture and prepare their offspring for life after the nursery.

Care requires that we respond within a relationship. Within relationships of care, there is always a two-way exchange happening at any given time- a process which can reverse and rearrange at seemingly a moment’s notice. And all because relationships of care are responsive. A caregiver in relationship to another acknowledges a need or a requirement, responds to that need and then allows for caring to occur. This process can be reversed almost immediately, depending on the relationship. The cared-for- in response to the care emitted, can then responsively give care to the other almost immediately.

In thinking about care so much and so often, I am realizing that there are elements of care that we have forgotten. I feel we have forgotten at times how to take care. A local radio personality whom I have listened to over the years often signs off with the phrase, ‘take care of one another today’; from the moment I first heard this phrase, it has stuck with me. How does one take care? And where does care-taking begin?

I would suggest that there are dimensions of caretaking that we must heed. That we have overlooked. The first being our need to take care of ourselves.

There is an underlying assumption that we need to take care of one another in life, but in order to do this, we first need to learn the secret of taking care of ourselves. In taking care of ourselves, we need to learn to listen to our bodies, listen to our hearts. We have all heard of the spoken rule, given by flight attendants on airlines, to put on your own mask on first prior to helping your children or other dependents. I am convinced in my own life that the growth and development of care woven throughout my life experiences has been a direct result of my learned ability to care for myself, self-care guided for me by faith through the direction of a loving Father. For years, I looked to others to care for me. Why weren’t they doing what I thought was the basic of all human responses- caring? Why were people not responding to my needs? And why wasn’t I feeling loved and looked after? Why was I feeling so bereft? These feelings of a deficit in care followed me into my marriage, leaving me looking to a husband to fulfil the role of caretaker, a tremendous responsibility considering he was not even the one who had left me feeling unloved and uncared for in the first place. That was baggage I had brought into our marriage- a composite of my difficult years of schooling, my years in the public eye as a pastor’s kid and the other personal experiences of my life that directly impacted me in very private ways. We cannot first expect others to care for us if we have not learned how to care for ourselves. And I am convinced that many, many problems in marriages could be avoided if we first were able to redirect our need for care back to ourselves- as well as if we could start to see that the ways people express care, initiate care, offer care, interpret care and understand care: are different. Different. Not bad, worse, inferior or poorer: just different. Maybe we need to start by seeing the best in what another human being is offering us, starting with our partners.

I would never, ever wish the message I am conveying to be one in which we reduce the responsibility we have toward others. My life is rich because I have learned to care for others. I believe that the transformation in my life has been one in which, with God’s guiding hand, I was able to take something that was painful and difficult and see the good in it. I think this is the reason I am now able to responsively express care to others: there has been a miracle in my life. But I would never want to overstep the responsibility I have been given to care for myself in all of this. That was a first step in this process- understanding the needs in my life and slowly taking measures to meet those needs one by one through loving myself. Through accepting myself. Unconditionally. I had to learn to love myself so as to love others. And I cannot personally underestimate my faith in Jesus and my Abbba Father in this process- as I have come to understand I have a Father who loves me intimately and expressly, I can now love myself as an expression of His love. I am free to love the others in my life as I now know how much I am loved myself.

And this is the very essence of care: freedom to love and responsively give to oneself and the others in one’s life. Freely, wholly, purely.

All because of love.

Why I care

We talk a lot about white privilege, but it is a little more discomforting to broach a discussion on white poverty. Somehow it hits closer to home.

I grew up in the heart of the Annapolis Valley, a small rural farming community known for its potatoes and apple orchards. My community was aptly named Melvern Square, as it was a squared off corridor firmly anchored by three pillars: family, community and faith. My father was one of two pastors called to minister in this area, ensuring that I lived my life firmly fixed within the public’s eye- on first name basis with most everyone I’d meet.

It was an idyllic life in ways. We were poor but we got by. I remember trips to the country store- a one room building with wide wooden clapboards filling in the floor space, glass candy jars containing five cent goodies lining the back wall. When the front door was cracked even so much as an inch, an old-fashioned bell signalled both your appearance and your exit, ensuring you would never peruse the ice cream freezer or chip rack anonymously. Our house was sandwiched between the community center on the right and my father’s little brown country church on the left. Behind our property was the community pond for skating on in the winter and avoiding in the summer- as we all speculated that alligators or other forms of creepy-crawlies might live in there. Across the street was the consolidated school housing grades 1-6- a school which I never had the privilege of attending.

The school I attended was a private institution located in a neighboring community. When I entered the educational milieu, I quickly realized that my life was not what it had seemed to be. I became the “other”- teased for my different religious affiliation, tortured for my family connection, belittled for my appearance. Separated for my difference. I was disconnected in many ways. And I soon came to understand the term “white trash” and its unflattering connotations, as that is what I began to feel I was while in this school. Trash. Unloved and undesirable.

My schooling experience was thus one in which oppression was very visible. This same private school I attended later came to be exposed regarding “issues” of a very serious, abusive nature. These privately held secrets of the upper echelon came to be outed in a very visible way via news media when I was in high school. When I now see images of residential schools, it brings to mind sordid mental pictures of what that time of life was like for both me and my classmates. That experience has forever changed the way I look at education.

So then. As long as I have been a student, I have been interested in ethics of care in classrooms. As I did not have the privilege of being exposed to ethics of care in most of my formative years of schooling, I now spend my life advocating for these pedagogies of love and care along with the foundational rights that I believe all people- young and old- are worthy of receiving and deserve to experience as a basic human right. By virtue of their humanity.

One of the specific memories I have as a student took place when I was in Grade 7, attending this same school mentioned above. A young man in Grade 10, who had been having a particularly difficult time in his life, went around one day after school saying good-bye to everyone he could see in the hallway. It struck me as strange that he would seek me out, as I was quite a bit younger than him and outside his social circle. That night, as I would come to discover, he drove his car into a wooded area and shot himself in the head. This was my first exposure to suicide.

Rather than taking time to counsel us in our grief and confusion, the teachers at this school used this opportunity to tell us how this boy, and thus his classmates, had been and were heading down the wrong path and needed to get things straightened out. It was one of the most poignant memories of my schooling. I can still hear the judgemental voice of the female teacher who told me and my classmates that Donnie* had obviously been in the wrong, and I will never forget that mental picture of him the day before he died, his face resolute: epitomized by soft spoken words and a calm demeanor. Although there are many layers to this story that I could pursue at length, my experiences as a student living through a deficit of care in my schooling, along with the many, many others of my classmates who echo this sentiment, has convinced me that care is the absolute number one priority of educators in the classroom. We are educating students for academic learning, yes. But I trust we are first and foremost developing caring, compassionate human beings in the form of both students and teachers who will live empathically in an interconnected, interdependent world. As an educator, this is fundamental to my practice.

I believe that when people learn to care, their learning is enhanced and their growth is furthered. Students and teachers are all the better for the care that they have cultivated, and I am not alone in holding this belief. Miller (2010) cites Nel Noddings’ work as being premiere in the encouragement of educators in fostering this care ethic. She suggests that educators pursue caring as one of their main goals in schooling and education, teaching students to learn to care for themselves, others and the environment as well as to care for ideas and learning (Miller, 2010, p. 63). Noddings has laid out a very systematic, comprehensive approach to caring that entails teachers be clear and unapologetic in their goal: “the main aim of education should be to produce competent, caring, loving and lovable people” (Noddings in Miller, 2010, p.64). I can attest to the fact that many, many others hold this belief as I have heard from people writing in response to my blog on what students remember most about teachers. They almost unanimously stated the same: students remember that their teachers care.

We are a culmination of our past and present experiences- and the breadth and depth of these same experiences will hopefully lead to a brighter, more positive future as we learn and grow.  When we know better, we do better.  I trust that this statement will always be true of my life and that my legacy will be one of care and love.

Rage against the dying of the light

We tread side-by-side at dusk, rain still shimmering on summer leaves while sun fades fast behind heavy clouds. He divulges to me the secrets we both keep hidden away through daylight hours from Little Ears, sacred documents of the heart that must be locked away. As I walk the inside track, closest to the gully that leads down to the prolific birch trees spreading helter-skelter towards the field, he tells me this. Doctors have given very little hope, very little promise.

“What about that treatment?” I ask.

“It won’t prolong life,” the resigned response. And then he says to me, “I keep thinking of that Dylan Thomas poem:

Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rage at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

“I am resigned to the fact that the doctors know best,” he then offers uncertainly.

I cannot think of anything profound to say to that. But I think to myself: I would rage.

I would rage.

If radical pedagogy must insist that everyone’s presence is acknowledged (hooks, 1994, p. 8), then radical care vows no sacred Presence goes uncared for. Radical care upholds the individual’s right to love, compassion, empathy, concern and kindness. And when the need necessitates, the individual’s right to be cared for in radical ways.

I think of my little Sianna* of the just-finished kindergarten class from this past year. I think of the fears expressed to me by her parents and my inner vow to fight for this child. To be that advocate for her parents that they seemed to need. I remember the ways I fought for her right to be medically cared for- how I contacted the public health nurse numerous times to arrange for the appointments with an Audiologist. How I advocated for her parents’ right to a second chance at such an opportunity.

I think too of the assisted speech technology that I raced against time for- buying an i-pad for Jake* at a moment’s notice- literally. Then the race against the clock to meet a deadline with a man. A man who held the keys to open a door leading to a world of words for that same little boy, who had so few words at his disposal. I think of the sweat that broke as I ran, as I ran- just so as to obtain a program I could otherwise not afford installed on that same i-pad I had just bought: so that a little boy could somehow communicate with me. So that he could somehow find his voice therein. And I think of the tears that fell freely as I got there just in time. The sheer relief in knowing, this was really going to happen.

Radical care allows for the impossible to occur. But the challenge is first to initiate the care process, giving attention and acknowledgement to the presence of another human being. Through awareness of the people with whom we share our communities, be those groupings of a familial nature, a learning community or a neighborhood- we start by acknowledgement. And we move forward from there.

Husband and I head back, on the homestretch now. The sky is darkening and night time presses in, enveloping. But I do not go gentle into the thickening darkness.

I press on as one who sees the light.

******************************************************

Dylan Thomas’s Do not go gentle into that good night

 

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Taken from this URL: http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/do-not-go-gentle-good-night

Kindness is a Muscle

I am in Charlottetown-area for a five night camping expedition with the fam-jam. One of the highlights of camping here in Cornwall is the bakery just around the corner from the campground. I’m serious. You have never tasted anything until you’ve had their bread. Or their cinnamon rolls. Or their scones.

Don’t get me started.

So the other day, I went into the bakery to pick up a coconut cream pie for dessert when I remembered that my daughter had specifically requested raspberry scones. These scones that she asked for are to die for- my children would fight to the death for the last one. Actually, they would fight to the death anyway, but a scone never hurt as incentive.

Anyways.

I asked about the scones, and they were all out but suggested I place an order for the next day. I never place an order for much these days because I am so unpredictable with my commitments. Especially when camping. But the cashier was so sweet and my daughter’s crestfallen face imprinted in my memory made me do the unthinkable. Place an order and commit to a time frame wherein to pick them up.

The next day, and hour and a half late for the designated pickup, I roll into the bakery. I had almost decided I was going to forgo, because who knew if they were even there anymore, right? I walk up to the counter and request the scones I had placed an order for, and the cashier goes over to a shelf and brings back to me a bag with the most beautiful, plump, delicious-looking scones I have ever laid eyes on. The raspberries were practically falling out of them. I had near heart-failure wondering how they would ever survive the two-minute drive home without being devoured, bringing new meaning to the words child-abuse (a very specific form of such which involves one’s children discovering their mother has eaten all their highly preferred treats and as a result of which, emotionally fall apart on the spot).

I made a remark to the cashier that these scones looked really good, and she replied back, “The baker knew you had placed an order for these and she wanted to make them look really pretty for you.”

Say what?

I was stunned. I have never seen the baker. I just eat her stuff. I have never thought to thank her, never thought to ask of her and her well-being. And yet. She thought of me- the faceless, nameless customer and tried to make these scones pretty and tasteful for me and my family.

Absolute, pure kindness.

I never cease to be blown away by the impact of kindness. While complicated at times, yet ancient in scope and influence- it’s everywhere. Kindness is what makes the world go round. And without it, we are left feeling lost and aimless.

This morning, I am again driving- this time with my mom- when she relays to me a story. A story that she has no idea will completely sync with my line of thinking about kindness as soon as she tells it. For all I can think of lately is kindness. It consumes me. How to show kindness, who is showing kindness, whether or not I am showing kindness, how kindness impacts the lives of others.

I can’t get it out of my head.

So as I drive she tells me a story about being at the drug store in the line up and while there, she is using a points card to obtain incentives to shop at this particular store again in the near future. She then tells me that after having finished her purchase, the woman behind her in line, who has a sizeable pile of items to put through, tells my Mom that she can use her points card to include the purchases she is about to make, as she has no points card of her own. My mom then strikes up a conversation with this woman, all around that fact that this woman has no point card of her own and thus this is why she is offering my mother the opportunity to obtain more points at her expense.

My mom remarks, “That is so kind of you!” to which the woman replies, “No, I am not a kind person ordinarily.”

Mom is a little dumbfounded at this revelation. Who tells a complete stranger in a store line-up that they are not a kind person under ordinary circumstances? My mom says to the woman, “Well you were kind today” so as to affirm to the woman that she does indeed see the good in her as an individual, but the woman asserts again the fact of her nature to not be kind. Twice she makes this statement. My mom in the telling adds the detail that, by now, the cashier’s eyes are like tea-cup saucers. She can hardly believe the conversation going down.

As Mom and I talk, I start to remember an article I just read the day before about kindness in marriage. And how kindness is like a muscle we exercise- the more we exercise it, the stronger that muscle becomes. And it confirms in my mind that kindness is indeed the very balm that soothed a thousand wounds. Because who knows what this woman will do now. Now that she has made the choice to act in kindness to a total stranger. Maybe it will be the catalyst for a lifetime of kindness. Maybe it will not. But this I now for sure- even those who say they are incapable of kindness do not give themselves enough credit. We are all capable. It’s just a matter of using that muscle more often and exercising it more deeply.

It’s a matter of working it. And choosing to do so often.
For we all have the potential for kindness. Even the ones who think they don’t. Even the ones whose muscle for kindness is a little neglected and shriveled up. Even for them. They have the goods- they just have to use them.

So don’t we all.

This is what Sunday normal is…’round here

So here we were this morning.  The family (typically) fighting and snapping at one another—as is our usual and preferred custom on the Lord’s Day. What else would any family of six choose to do to prepare their hearts, souls and minds?  I can’t even imagine.  During which time, Husband reminded the children to remember the old adage (snazzed up with a new twist): “If you can’t say anything nice, keep your pie-hole shut.”

M.A.: “What’s a pie hole?”
Me: “Where you pie goes in.”

In other news…we are getting ready to go camping (because fighting in a camper is a whole lot more fun than fighting in a 2000 square foot home- so is negotiating sleeping arrangements: its way, WAY more fun to do in a cramped little camper). So we are going camping which means that everything I have stuffed into the camper over the last year now has to find a new home in Husband’s truck. Or elsewhere.  Which means school supplies, winter gear, a car seat, old shoes, a deflated birthday balloon.  All the important stuff I can’t bring myself to throw out, because who knows?  It might come in handy some day. 

I was reminded at church today that there are several pairs of my children’s skates, a suitcase, some books and who knows what else of mine stuffed into a Rubbermaid tote in a SUNDAY SCHOOL ROOM AT CHURCH.I was not even able to sneak out without it.  Fortunately, I found a new home for it in the back of my in-law’s van.  She doesn’t read this blog so she’ll never know it came from me.  Meanwhile, downstairs in the boxes and boxes of MORE STUFF, I was unable to even find a pair of sandals for Youngest to wear to church.  She ended up wearing a pair that fit her last year, which will work in a pinch.  Literally.

There is just TOO MUCH STUFF to keep track of.

As the children went through a phase this spring where they wore (ahem: their mother made them wear) winter touques underneath their bike helmets to protect their freshly washed hair to prevent them from getting a shed-like, skunk-like, raccoon-like smell, we are now also finding touques in the stow-away at the back-end of the camper. Husband found one that would fit a newborn preemie and stuck it on his head— to which Son asked: “Where did you get that hat, Dad?” and to which he answered back: “It’s not a hat—it’s a STATEMENT.”

I give up.

Son and Husband are now on their way to Camp Seggie. I had to change Son’s pillowcase as John Deere tractor pillow cases are apparently not cool enough for camp. I guess Son also got flack for the extra blanket I packed him on the overnight camping trip they took last week.  Someone called it a blankie, so Husband has been cracking jokes about Son taking a teddy bear along too ever since.  I still don’t know all the rules yet of having a teenager. When I ever get five minutes to myself to sit down and close my eyeballs, I might try thinking about what those rules might be.

Until then…Happy Sunday, everyone.

Let me be one who cares

It’s Friday. I am so weary. SO tired. Actually, my brain is fried. I feel like the cerebral part of my Members has turned to mush. But then again—it’s Friday. So there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

Thank you, Jesus, for that. Gotta love the creation of the five-day work week.

I am in class all morning with my cohort- a mix of teachers from all over the country. We break for lunch on the last day of class ready for a diversion. I decide mine is going to be a short trip taken to a local restaurant with a couple of friends whom I have not had as much time for (as I would really have liked) over the past couple of months due to the crazy busy schedule I keep. Crazy schedules we all keep, for that matter. Time I have not had for the Others in my life due in part to the lack of number of hours in the day to ‘get it all done’. Something I am constantly dealing with in my desire to find work/life balance. At any rate, I am delighted to have the time to eat lunch with these lovely ladies and am so looking forward to catching up on missed time. To having actual real-life CONVERSATION.

Oh, the luxury.

We cram into an over-heated car and wait for the air-conditioning to kick in. And then we pull into the Wendy’s parking lot and make our way towards the lunch counter. We order lunch. I order a Summer-Fresh Strawberry Salad, a grilled chicken wrap and a strawberry milkshake. They have no milkshakes, so they replace the latter with a very miniscule chocolate milk. Not that it really matters. Later on- in the course of my eating, I discover something hard in my salad, of all things- like the bits of teeth that I have become accustomed to finding inside my mouth when breaking such while eating. This is a side note, but important to show that I am always under some stress while eating. And that fast food does not always mean good food. Funny about that.

But I digress.

We hoe into our lunches and start to converse right away about this, that and the other when the conversation takes on a more reflective nature. The question is posed: “How do people perceive me?” by one of my lunchmates. And so, thinking this might be a good thing to know about myself, I ask the same. “How do I come across to the people I interact with?” “What do people really think of me?”

I am really curious after all. How DO people perceive me? An honest question, to which I thought I was ready to hear an honest answer.

I have been writing this blog for a while now with the understanding that I am pursing a path that will lead to a more empathic, caring, loving Self- as a teacher, a mother and as a friend among the other hats I wear.   I am also pursuing this path as the direct result of my choosing to do so. In other words, in choosing this path of ethics of care and pedagogies of love- in choosing love as the focus of my life and writing- I then would hope that I exemplify it more and more in my day-to day life.

Interesting theory which I am working out in practical ways.

So I have to say, I was expecting a response something like the following: “Oh Lori, you are so caring and kind and sweet and empathic…” All the things I write about, in other words. I was waiting for my ego to be fed a little bit.

What was actually said surprised me. I don’t know why it did, but possibly because I was so prepared for the former to be spoken that I hadn’t quite readied myself for what was actually to be divulged.

So, with this in mind, I sat posed to hear some really sweet things spoken.

Never have expectations when asking deeply personal reflective responses to questions you have posed. WORD TO THE WISE. At any rate, what was told to me- about how I was perceived and how I come across was this: I often make people feel uncomfortable due to my verbosity or ‘wordiness’- but even more so than that, I am intimidating at times to people, possibly due to my own reflective nature and the questions I pose to myself and others.

But here’s the sting.

It came out in conversation that I am not always caring in my interactions toward others.

Ouch. That did really hurt and I could feel tears immediately welling up in my eyes. Because despite my lack, at times, of being aware of my nature, I am very sensitive and tender. I can cry when the bee stings, the dog bites. And believe me- I can cry for much less than that.

But let me explain.

This week, I have had almost a tunnel vision at times in my focus on the academics and work at hand. So much so that there were times someone would pose a question to me- to which I completely tuned out that question or ignored such in my focus and intent on getting things done. In other words, I was not aware of how I was making people feel all the time. And I was making people feel like I didn’t care merely by my intent on barrelling through and getting the work done.

Hearing this feedback, I won’t lie- hurt me. I felt, as I have already suggested- stung. It is not easy hearing that you’ve been uncaring in your dealings with others- that you’ve been so focused on your own work that you’ve failed to take into account other’s work and questions. Other’s feelings and concerns. But hearing this feedback was also extremely beneficial. I needed to hear this. Because I am now more aware of myself as a friend and a colleague than I otherwise would have been had the question not been posed and answered.

I know more because I asked. Even if it hurt a bit in the hearing.

In doing a thesis on caring and love, I think the most revealing findings I will uncover are that we are not always what we perceive ourselves to be. The challenge is to improve and then rise above our failings and overcome. I would never assume that I have an interest in love and caring because I am an expert in such- I would want people to know that I have an interest in love and caring and all that encompasses because I want to BECOME this. And that act of becoming is a process. One can become something because they have a natural inclination toward being thus or one can become something because they have deliberately, intentionally chosen to be that. I am daily- moment by moment- choosing intentionally to BE what it is I write: a more caring, more understanding, more empathic, more loving person than I was yesterday. Each and every day I live my life as a human being.

It is the act of choosing to be caring that I would hope defines me.

After the conversation, I reflected on what had been said quite a bit and in doing so, I realized a few things about myself:

I am not doomed to be the focused, intense person I was born being- I can evolve into what I want to be by my awareness and consciousness to CHOOSE to be otherwise. I am also not left to feel inadequate by my obvious deficiencies in this aspect of my life because I see my life as a journey. I am moving forward. I would hope that I am more aware today than I was yesterday. And further, I see that my caring has come out even in my questioning: because I truly cared enough to ask the question: How DO people perceive me?

I hope they still might perceive me as one who wants to care. Who cares to care.

As one who cares.

Spinnaker’s Landing

I live on picturesque P.E.I.  This place is a glorious haven, a feast for the senses- particularly at this time of the year.  Summer is peak tourist season here.  Our little Island depends on places such as the one I describe below, found by the water-front in beautiful Summerside, a city located in the western part of our fair isle. I spent some time people watching, sensory-probing yesterday afternoon.  Here’s what I discovered about…

Spinnaker’s Landing

He saunters by with his green flower pot swinging, heavy and full. His keys jangle at his side, a full key ring of silver metal clicking and tinkling like little bells. I watch him walk over to the bed of geraniums and petunias, wind-blown and fading in the summer heat. He over-turns the pot of water so that an arch of water sprays generously on top of parched greenery. Then he turns and heads back from whence he came.

It is a windy day to say the very least. Between a blue clapboard shop and a muted pink one, the corridor acts as a wind tunnel complete with sound effects. A garbage bag ripping about at the far end adds to the dramatic effect, sounding like a miniature replica of a jet engine. Sounds abound everywhere I turn.

A man and his young apprentice work at installing a new walkway to replace the old. As the rotting structure is thrown out, it lands with a loud thud, startling me. Not long afterwards one can hear the intermittent blare of a drill as the new triangular wooden ramp is set into place. There is no hurry or rush to the labour. Everything appears to be very relaxed and easy here. The young helper sits on the porch as he waits for instruction about what next he must do. It appears as if this is a dream summer job- outdoors in the warm, fresh air.  What I wouldn’t give right now for that luxury!

The wind over-powers many of the more subtle sounds to be heard, but if one leans in close, they might hear the soft rustle of two pinwheel wind-catchers, brightly coloured and spinning in the breeze. The easy banter of tourists as they amble the boardwalk, walking in and out of shops as if they have not a care in the world- this is the sound of summer. Wind-chimes tinkle musically while nearby flags flap frantically as if signalling an S.O.S.  Over head, a plane flies by- while in the water, a Coast Guard employee sprays off his boat with a hose in preparations for some kind of journey or another. Waves lap the shore, slapping the side of the boat while a lone walker passes by.

Feet also are heard slapping the walkway.  Sandals which make a ‘suck, suck’ noise are sported on another person’s feet. Feet are such curious things. Feet in shoes, in sandals, in boots, in sneakers. What choices are behind the decision to choose which footwear?

A door closes with a slam even while the open warmth of friends conversing on the deck house patio adds background noise to the sights and sounds. I am drawn to a little squeaking noise in a narrow corridor between two other buildings, a sound resembling the squeak of a bird. Might I find a nest- should I be so fortunate? I follow my ears but am disappointed to find that it is only a door fastened shut with a lock and hook. As the wind thrusts and pulls it in repetitive motion, the lock rubs against its metal casing.  Sounding for all the world like the squeak of a baby bird.

Smells are ready at hand as well. The closer one moves to the far corner, the better to catch the fragrant whiff of frying food. And the air smells like summer- of salt water and humidity.

So much to see, from the grey clapboard structure that is the complex to the individual buildings, the shops and restaurants. To the displays, the signage, the products for sale. Monkey and flower bobble heads are carefully displayed at five dollars per item. The colourful paint on each building draws the eye and catches the attention of shoppers ambling by while the dirty water that flows below the large deck is a detractor if one should decide to take note. A lone pencil and white straw float listlessly along the rocks where water slaps the shore. A single oyster shell sits on the rocks looking rather lonely and forgotten.

Yet in spite of the odd piece of garbage, the walkways and main gathering area are clean and inviting.  It feels relaxed here. It is an easy place to be. And the wind seems to carry that sentiment as it moves me along from place to place, almost overpowering at times.

I accidentally knock an earring off from my ear and it falls to the board below, only to tumble out of my grasp and then through a crack in between two boards. I stick the second one in my pant pocket as I walk toward a group of people chatting on the benches at the center of the theatre. They are asking questions of my partner, initiated by a T-shirt she is wearing. I wait for the conversation to end before I head back to my Master’s of Education class, bidding a farewell to the couple who has struck up the conversation.

On Boredom and Wonder

It’s a day to be filled with wonder and gratitude.

The water is absolutely crystal clear- so clear I can see the lines along the sandy floor of the ocean bed where little hermit crabs have dragged their hard-shelled home along for the ride. It is one of those blissful summer days and we are spending it, more or less, here at a little piece of P.E.I. paradise called Canoe Cove. My daughter remarks, “I don’t know why they call it Canoe Cove- nobody canoes there.” No, but they do search for bar clams, and skim board, and throw Frisbees and build sand castles and make fairy forts and carve out time for seal sightings. Oh, and swim. The swimming here is glorious. If you catch it at low or high tide- any time at all really, it is worth a swim. The pools of water just perfect for families with young children. Later in the summer, we’ll be back to swim again in warm August waters and then we’ll climb out dripping wet, ready for a rest on shore before combing through low-lying blueberry bushes just for a taste of that juicy summer sweetness on our eager tongues.

One summer, the daisies grew so plentifully, I plaited them into winding crowns and placed them on my daughter’s heads before posing them (safely) along the edge of a cliff so as to take their picture.  They obliged- as long as I promised to have a swim with them as soon as our photo-shoot had ended. We have had family reunions here in this place: birthday parties and rehearsal suppers the night before the wedding day. This place is home to me and my family.

It is a little bit of God’s glorious heaven here on earth.

Later on, we change out of sandy bathing suits and pack up our faded sheet and books and all the other beach trappings we’ve brought with us to whittle away the day. We pack it all in, and then we bid a wistful fond adieu to those we’ve left behind. Two grandparents, an aunt and a family friend. Beaches are the best places to re-connect. And then we drive the winding dirt lane, past the country church with noble steeple reaching high to the sky, so as to cross the bridge over waters lined with bulrushes. We then turn down towards farm country.

As we drive past the first field green with summer grasses, I notice a whole herd of Brown Swiss and Angus moving quickly towards the corner of one fence. It is the fence closest to the road, thus why I noticed this strange convoy. I can’t imagine what the commotion is all about as this is not milking nor feeding time, nor is this the well-worn path to the barn. What I do catch lying there on the ground, something I just happen to notice out of the corner of my eye as we drive quickly by, is a bright, red balloon sitting motionless on the grass at that particular corner of the fence- wayward remnant from a birthday party next door. The cows move toward it in frenzied furore. Their sole focus- the object of their intent driving this processional is the perplexing thing which has landed just inside the perimeter of their territory, an area they know is clearly marked for them. They stand back a distance, but every one of their soft muzzles points expectantly toward that bright colored, mysterious object.

They appear transfixed. With wonder, and awe and curiosity.

If animals can exhibit this beautiful combination of attributes and character, how much more then should we too be in wondrous awe at the beauty and miracle of the life we are living. And yet, twice this past week, I have heard school-aged children speak the ill-fated words: “I’m bored.” I wonder myself, what dis-service are we doing to our children that this little word has even become part of their vocabulary?

There is so much to wonder in, gaze at, fix our attention upon.

Life is too interesting to be boring.

William Ayers had this to say about teaching:

“Teaching is hard work, tougher than learning, because you must find an infinite number of ways to let students learn. And teaching is all that much tougher when you retreat from the spotlight, redirect the focus of attention to the students themselves, now at center stage. You place yourself to the side and become something new: the guide and the mentor, the coach and the conductor. You notice modes of energy everywhere, life and effort in a thousand directions. You need to summon new courage to teach in this place, a keener attentiveness, a more responsive style. One new challenge will be to create an environment for learning and living that is rich enough, deep enough, and wide enough to embrace and challenge the students who actually walk through the door (Ayers, 2003, p. 27-28)

The challenge: to summon the courage to teach in this way and to be ready to rise to the occasion for learning that is deep and soul-changing.

Recently, I took my students on a listening walk. Run down emotionally from constantly asking them all to settle their inside voices and classroom energies to a dull roar, it was a move done initially in desperation.  Rather than sound like a broken record, we took that excitement and passion and channelled it into an exercise in concentration. We walked as a community of learners on a dusty dirt road with the sole purpose of noticing things- both with our eyes and ears. With our hands and feet. We saw so much that we came back and wrote about it as a class, compiling our findings in a classroom book about bugs, and birds and flowers. About a farmer driving his tractor as he ploughed a field in preparation for planting. About cars whizzing by. Things we’d otherwise have missed had we not taken the time to be present in those precious moments of learning and discovery.

I never heard the words, “I’m bored.”

Mothers Also Need to Be Inspirational

We all know that motherhood is a balancing act. A fine art of juggling many breakable plates whilst appearing like everything is under control. As was the case recently when I was on my way to Charlottetown, P.E.I. for a radio interview related to my day job.

I am driving when I remember that my kiddos are heading on a field trip this particular morning and I haven’t paid for the park pass they need to get into the attraction of the day. I haven’t got the pass, paid for the pass- haven’t even made an attempt to call about the pass. It’s not that I haven’t thought about it. The pass, that is. It’s just that I have been thinking about too many other things. Things like, whether or not I can get myself to an interview and my three children to school on time (probably nope). Or even more pressing things like ‘Did I remember to take my lunch/carafe of coffee/grocery bag of stuff with me when I left the house mere minutes ago?’ (nope again) Which is the problem (of my life/reality within which I live) most of my waking moments.

Thoughts of ‘passing out‘ with all this last minute pressure on me to perform ‘pass‘ through my mind.

With that in mind, the count down is on. T minus 30 minutes and counting. I tell my childrens’ teachers when I drop them off that I will text them the pass number, which I proceed to do later on that same morning with one hand as I pay for the pass using a debit card with the other. This Mama might be absent-minded, but she can multi-task like nobody’s business. I turn and make a lame excuse to the cashier and then the person behind me- something about being a mother with lots to do. I get a few nods of sympathy from the curious onlookers witness to my desperation. Or maybe they are just glad that they were more organized than me. Smiles of pity- the worst kind to receive.

I do eventually get the pass. But as I am driving, I remember that our three cats at home have no cat food (because we also have a family of racoons living in the barn which eat us out of house and home). So I slip in to pick that item up en route. And while there in the grocery store, I also realize that my three children are going on said class outing without ready access to a water fountain. As I have a sinking feeling that Husband forgot to pack water bottles, today it is going to be blue Gatorade juice bottles to the rescue. All the better in the unfortunate event that my children happen to approach dehydration from the scorching hot sun. In which case, I will be the mother who is ahead of the game. Ready and prepared. Never mind the fact that Kiddos will probably all come home with only a cap full of the stuff drank and I will therefore have to pour the whole thing down the drain. It’s worth it.

And so it goes. Just another day in a mother’s life.

If I was to sit down and contemplate my life right now with all of its busy moments and crazy ups and downs, there is no doubt in my mind that this parenting gig is one of the hardest jobs I’ll ever have to do. It’s grueling being a mother. No words can adequately describe the simply hard, exhausting physical (yes) and mental work mothers do. And the above is just the tip of the iceberg.

It’s not that I don’t love my kids — I would die for them. I would. And I would drive to the ends of the earth for my children, if not for a park pass — certainly if it was a matter of life or death. Not that I don’t enjoy being a mother either, because really (most of the time) I certainly do. But I do have to say that being a mom is HARD for many reasons that are not always visibly apparent. Not only am I tending to the physicalities of the daily grind like laundry, bed-making, hair brushing and the like, but I also care- and care deeply about what’s going on inside my children’s hearts and minds. I care that my multi-tasking creates anxiety for both my Youngest and Oldest and I wish there was an easier way to do large-family living up in a more effective way. (I think I would start by hiring a live-in nanny.) I care that my children sometimes feel sad and alone. I care that they have important questions to which they are searching for answers. I care about the little and big things that affect their life.

I care.

Peter McKay has made recent comments about the day-to-day essential tasks associated with being a mother which would very much be in line with the first part of my little diatribe above, the part about what moms naturally are known for. But what he forgets to make note of is that moms also care deeply about “the immense and life-long influence we have over our children” every bit as much as do the dads. We certainly are in the business of shaping minds and futures alongside the other important adults in our children’s lives, namely fathers, grandparents, guardians, teachers and coaches to name a few. Although I am not a woman applying for a judicial position, I am a woman who cares deeply about her career and where it is heading, even as I ponder the ways in which I can influence my children to reach higher and probe further themselves — all things I think about while I cook up pork chops for supper or type out a blog post on the computer.

What I wish Peter MacKay could understand is this: a mother’s work is not just about bonding and balance, it is about inspiration. While we do have a lot on our plates and many of those plates to juggle, our children are watching us. They are inspired by the choices we make. And it is up to mothers and fathers both to provide good role models for children to follow and pattern their lives after. Parents with decidedly different roles at times but both important for the function of encouraging the next generation to be all that they can be. And that missive includes clearly showing that men and woman both have contributions to make both inside and outside of the home.

One thing Peter and I would agree on I think is this: being a parent, while exhausting and challenging, is worth ever little second of worry and exhaustion and tears that comes with it as part of the package. It’s exciting to see growth in our children and it’s important that they in turn see growth in us. When we give our children a picture of the possibilities they have, they are always the better for it.

And just for the record: a sense of humor never hurts either for all those crazy in-between moments when we are just hanging on by a single thin thread. At least that’s how I roll.

What Makes A Teacher Influential

I have been asked to guest on CBC’s Maritime Noon show today talking about influential teachers.  They gave me a few questions in preparation for the interview which I have written out below for those who will be unable to listen in.  Thanks again everyone for your support!  Here is the link where you can listen in!

What makes a great teacher (qualities, maybe a personal example or two.)

Some things that make a great teacher are compassion (the ability to feel for the children with whom we work, putting a bit of ourselves into their shoes- that feeling of empathy that results), kindness (in general, being a caring person with a belief in the good in people), availability (being there for your students when they need you- to talk to them, to listen to them, to support them, to encourage them), humility (realizing yourself that you are not perfect and then allowing your students to see those imperfections- not having all the answers, not always being right, accepting your limitations and embracing your frailties), thoughtfulness (finding ways to do little things for the students that make a big difference), passion (in your subject matter, in people and in the life you lead). These are a few of the qualities that make a great teacher.

In my life, I have had many great teachers- traditional teachers as well as those who I would consider just as influential who did not hold a B.Ed. It’s important to remember that teachers can be anyone who is willing to invest in the life of another person for the purpose of that person’s growth and development. Sometimes my greatest teachers are the students themselves for they remind me of why I am here- they ground me in the here and now. I have learned some of my hardest lessons about what it is to be a teachers from my students. And we cannot forget the absolutely most important teacher that every child will have- their parent or guardian- the adult person in their life who is there for them in their life to support them. I have written about this on my blog- that parents are the most important, influential teachers that students will ever have. That being said, in a traditional sense, yes: there are many, many influential teachers out there in our school systems who make a direct impact on children and young people’s lives. I have had some, and I know many, many whom I work alongside as a teacher in the system.

I often say that my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Jenereaux was one of the most influential teachers in my life because she was my first formal teacher and she taught me how to read and write, a gift that has opened the world to me. From there, the teachers I remember best were those who brought personality into the classroom and gave us a glimpse into their humanity.

Why does it matter that teachers strive for greatness (what is their impact?)

Teachers need to strive for greatnes. Why choose to do anything less? Striving for greatness does not necessarily mean being the best on a grander scale, the most accomplished teacher in the building- rather, I think it means making a difference in little ways that end up adding up to making a huge impact. I am reading a book right now called Whole Child Education by John P. Miller and this quote by novelist David Duncan in the book caught my eye recently:

“When small things are done with love it’s not a flawed you and me who does them: it’s love. I have no faith in any political party, left, right, or centrist. I have boundless faith in love. In keeping with this faith, the only spiritually responsible way I know to be a citizen, artiist, or activist (and I would insert the word TEACHER here) in these strange times is by giving little or no thought to ‘great things’ such as saving the planet, achieving world peace, or stopping neocon greed. Great things tend to be undoable things. Whereas small things, lovingly done, are always within our reach.”

I believe that this is the joy of teachers: to do small things that make a difference in our students lives.   In the words of Aesop, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”  I think this would clearly be the vision of a great teacher.