Trigger warnings and Play

Warning: the contents of this article might be offensive to some. In that, it might make you conjure up images of snot, mucous, throw-up, broken arms and the like. Consider yourself trigger warned.

Last weekend’s Globe and Mail had an article in its Focus section about trigger alerts. Essentially, trigger alerts are advance warnings that might alert one to potentially harmful, anxiety-inducing, adverse information found in course material, books, public and private settings and environments, writing and other venues of transmitting influential stuff that might need censoring.

In other words, someone could be bothered at the very least- offended at the most, by what they encounter.

According to the article, university professors are being asked to provide trigger warnings in advance of their course readings- to the extreme that any sort of ill-affect, including panic attacks and anxiety disorders, might be provoked by the influence of the potential literature, and could thus be avoided through use of such an advance cautioning system. That is, through using a trigger warning so as to alert.

Essentially, trigger warnings are kind of like car horns: they jar you so that you pay close attention. Or kind of like the jarring bellow of a teacher just before her student runs in front of the swing-set. You get the idea.

The thought of which gave me pause to consider the various trigger warnings that I should offer to all those incoming students of mine who are going to be attending my upcoming K classes in the fall. The four year-olds, that is. If I was to provide a trigger warning for them, here’s what it would look like:

Be aware, Prospective Clients of the Public School System. Entering the educational system and thus attending kindergarten classes might bring on the following adverse, unpleasant affects:

1. Sickness, after you come into contact with every cold and flu virus known to humankind, which incidentally must FIRST cross the threshold of the school doorways before filtering out into the world at large.
2. Dirty, filthy clothing, as you wear said ‘virus’ proudly like a badge (because I can guarantee: you will be wiping your nose all over those super-adorable little shirts and dresses that looked spick and span when you left home in the morning but look like a compost dispenser by the end of the day).
3. All manner of cuts and bruises, as you manage to find every dangerous corner, table, wall and other sharp object or the like inside every classroom, hallway, music room, gym and secretary’s office within the school. And yes, quite possibly even the bus.
4. All manner of broken body parts, (yes again, I said that right), as you experiment with gravity on the outdoor playground equipment. Or school banister railings.
5. Writer’s cramp, as you are reminded for the bazillionth time to hold your pencil with proper, standardized pencil grip.
6. Discriminating taste buds, as you realize halfway through the month of September that you still have twelve years ahead of you eating Flakes of Ham sandwiches.
7. Joy at discovering that mom has no idea what happens to said ‘sandwich’ when Teacher turns her head to read out the lunch menu. For that matter, neither does Teacher.
8. Cold, wet feet, upon discovering that playing soccer in mud puddles a foot deep causes one’s clothing from the hip down to become completely soaked. And then some.
9. A propensity to needing bandages, as you discover that sticky, adhesive substances are quite fun to apply to the body. And then rip off two seconds later.
10. A paranoid sense of personal space as your teacher patiently explains to you why standing one cm from a person’s mouth is not far enough away.

These are merely the top ten. I could write more. So much, much more.

The author of the Globe article goes on to cite a recent Atlantic Monthly critiqueon the topic of micromanaged kids and their helicopter parents. And he does so as to say the following: “Kids are no longer left alone to find their way, invent spontaneous and sometimes risky forms of play, to confront and overcome unknowns, to do things themselves, and to fall, fail and then get back up again.”

To which I say, au contraire. Where there is a will, there is always a way.

I was on outdoor duty Friday, and I can assure this good man: children are still testing the waters of safety, running towards the road, hiding beneath trees, escaping the confines of their boundaries, sitting on the top of the monkey bars, sliding down the slide backwards, hitting one another over the head with pinecones, branches and possibly rocks (oh my nerves) and banging into each other when playing and running.

Falling down. And then getting back up again.

And interestingly, some of these kids do have helicopter parents.

While I see that there is still a propensity towards anxiety in children of helicopter parents, by and large, most kids are running around full-tilt on the playground, as if their life depended on it. And loving every, single minute of it.

‘Cause that’s their job. It’s what they have to do.

At least, it is for the healthy, happy P.E. Island kids I know and teach.

It’s Where Grace Finds Me

Grace.
The very word speaks of something sacred. Something holy. Something undeserved.

My children are my loves. My joy. At times, my source of great frustration.

Last night, I was home alone with the two youngest while Husband had the older two siblings at piano lessons. I was trying to clean up a huge meal which I had prepared for the family whilst doing a number of other things at the same time. Typical mother stuff. So, in between peeling carrots, parsnips and preparing potatoes, I had carved out a little time to submit an essay to an online essay contest of sorts.

Realizing that time was of essence, I came back downstairs to find Husband had finished off the remainder of the meal prep and things were ready to go. We ate, and with no time to spare, Husband and the two piano players ran out the door.
Leaving Yours Truly to the meal clean-up.

I had asked the two remaining home with me, to practice piano together- while I attended to the mess in the kitchen. Things did not go well from the start. Youngest was protesting to the snickers of her older sister. I was trying to wash pots and call out (yell) directives from the kitchen. To no avail. So after three meltdowns, I sent youngest wailing to her bedroom. With no short loss of temper on my part either, I might confess.

Peace at last. Relatively speaking. As long as I ignored the far-off wails and calls for help coming from the nether-regions of our farthest upstairs bedroom, I’d have thought I was home alone. You cannot imagine the bliss.
Nevertheless, peace was short-lived, as the calls from up the stairs came loudly, frequently and persistently. I continued to reinforce to the Young Offender that she was there for a reason and that’s where she’d stay.

How long? she asked.
A long time, came the reply.

In my mind, I had almost decided to leave it for as long as it would take: in the hopes that she might exhaust herself and fall limply into a deep and soundless sleep while settled safely on her bed. Clothes and all. Leaving me one less step in my endless to do list.

Alas. This was not to be. She never forgot her situation long enough to fall asleep.

After a while, I calmed down. I had to take a bit of a breather for this to happen, but it did happen. I calmed down. And when I did, I started to think about my daughter’s situation. Her refusal to do what I asked. He complete breakdown in accepting responsibility. Her insistence on doing it her way. And yet, my love for her in spite of it all. For love’s enduring faithfulness still remained. As strong as ever.

Could she ever be deserving of grace, even in something so small as this? Something so insignificant as a meltdown after supper, all while she sat struggling me in a battle of the wills, fought out on a scratched and faded piano bench?

I called her down to the piano. And I told her she was most welcome to come back downstairs again under one condition: that she would do what had been asked of her initially. To practice her piano under the guidance, expertise and experience of her older sister’s watchful eye.

She acquiesced with nary a noise or squibble. For what she had rebelled against was now the ticket to her freedom. She got it. And while this might be a shallow example of grace, it is yet a practical one. For in my love for her, I found within myself, grace to give. And in her struggle, she realized that what she needed so as to gain grace was the very thing she was resisting. That is, there needed to be a laying down of sorts of her own desires and wishes so as to later gain that which she wanted in the first place: her freedom.

But freedom came at a price. It always does. A lost hour of painful agony spent separated from the rest of us. We who knew what she did not from the very start: if she had only spent the five minutes practicing, she would have had the rest of the evening to spend at her leisure. We who knew to look beyond the moment into the foreseeable future. Something she could not do in her limited understanding. For with experience one comes to understand that freedom in grace is always paid for at a cost. We must at times lose that which we hold dear. Our will to fight for what we think best is often the snare. And when we fall into the trap we blame- because something has to be held accountable. Something has to be held up as responsible. But never is it our own selfish ambition.

As for me the mother, in offering grace: I have but a miniscule glimpse into heaven’s grace. A Father’s grace.

A glimpse of Your great grace. And it is in my children’s cries that I most often find grace. That I learn the depths and heights of grace itself. It is there, in those moments of tension that your grace finds me.

Somewhere between joy and frustration, tears and laughter: Your grace finds me.

It’s there in a newborn cry
There in the light of every sunrise
There in the shadows of this life
Your great grace

It’s there on the mountain top
There in the everyday and the mundane
There in the sorrow and the dancing
Your great grace
Oh, such grace

From the creation to the cross
There from the cross into eternity
Your grace finds me
Yes, Your grace finds me

It’s there on the wedding day
There in the weeping by the gravesite
There in the very breath we breathe
Your great grace

It’s the same for the rich and poor
The same for the saint and for the sinner
Enough for this whole wide world
Your great grace
Oh, such grace

Publishing: © 2013 Thankyou Music (admin. worldwide at EMICMGPublishing.com, excluding Europe, which is admin. by Kingswaysongs) (PRS) / sixsteps Music / worshiptogether.com Songs / Said And Done Music (ASCAP) / Shout! Music Publishing (Admin. at CaptiolCMGPublishing.com)

Writer(s): Matt Redman and Jonas Myrin

Ten Reasons Why I’m Not Winning Any Awards For Best Mommy Tonight

I am not winning any golden awards for best mommy tonight.  Let’s just say that I am lucky to be just scraping by with my parenting pride intact this evening.

Phew. What a night.

Here are 10 reasons why I’m sitting here this evening feeling like a true warrior-mama.

Drum roll, pleeeease…

10. I sent my daughter to her room for one hour for having at least three noticeable meltdowns while practicing her piano tonight. Meanwhile, I went for a walk.
9. I made asparagus, carrots, parsnips and potatoes for supper in spite of my children’s calls for Greco and frozen yogurt.
8. I remembered at 3:58 that my daughter needed a ride home from piano at 4:00. Just in time to catch Husband pulling into our own lane. Just in the nick of time to save myself from feeling like the worst mommy ever…
7. I hid daughter’s ceramic kitten that Grammie gave her this weekend while Daughter was up to her eyeballs in tub bubbles. She will not notice until tomorrow, buying me a few hours of peace and bliss.
6. I tucked Daughter’s Three wishes writing sheet neatly into the recycle bin after I read her second greatest wish in all the world is to have a baby sister.
5. I made my children bathe tonight.
4. I sat while my child painstakingly read me her guided readers tonight and I only called it quits halfway through the second book.
3. I prevented tooth decay in all four of my children’s mouths by eating almost a whole bag of chocolate covered pretzels myself.
2. I bought my children electric toothbrushes so that I can now rest assured that technology will be to blame for any plaque build-up.
1. I said prayers with youngest and inserted a wish/reminder for peace and harmony to indwell our family, thus achieving two ends with one purpose. Prayers with pointed reminders.

And that is a wee little look in the window of the Gard household for you this evening.  Just another day in paradise…

Living Five Minutes at a Time: My Messy Beautiful

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It matters how you treat people.

It matters how you live your life, how you do your job, treat your friends, speak to your kids, care for your animals.  It matters. And it matters that you infuse love into what you do, through each and every seemingly small moment of the day.  Even if those moments are organized into minuscule, five minute increments.  As small and insignificant as that portion of time might seem.

And yet.  Five minutes can be long enough to make a mess of things.

I know.

Lately, I have been living my life either five minutes ahead or five minutes behind where I ought to be.  It’s like I am either rushing too fast or moving too slow.  In all, I am not thinking/living in the moment like I feel I should be. That is, if I was to be ‘living up to’ my best, ideal vision of myself.  That ideal I hold so dear.  And when I sat down to really contemplate this thought, I came up with eight random things I wished I had known about, five minutes before/after they happened.

1. That bag of dirty laundry that I left behind at my lovely friend’s house in N.J. (while traveling during Spring Break)- wish I had known it was sitting there in her man cave five minutes before we left (instead of ten hours later). #nicepartinggift

2. That curb that I sideswiped while backing out of my sister-in-law’s driveway (causing Husband to curl up into the fetal position)- wish I had thought about it five minutes before getting behind the wheel. #soyouthinkyoucandrive

3. Those three fish tacos I ate recently at the Ground Round- wish I had purused the menu five minutes longer before deciding what I was going to eat that particular night. #intestinalgrief

4. That one hour trampoline privilege (Sky High, N.C.) that I paid a left leg for- wish I could have traded it in for Twinkies five minutes after I started jumping (like my life depended on it).

5. And while on that thought… regarding the one hour trampoline privilege that I recently paid a left leg for- wish I had a catheter inserted because five minutes after I started jumping (like an Olympic gymnast on steroids), I was making like a crazed woman for the lady’s room.

6. That email that I was recently trying to save- and all those pictures and other important stuff that seemed so NECESSARY at the time- wish I had remembered that PURGE means GONE FOREVER about five minutes before cleaning up my email queue.

7. But then too. Those beautiful children that I mama-bear growl at, for various reasons or another, and whom I rush along and nag- sometimes I wish I could just remember- five minutes before those words and frustrations pour out of my mouth- that these are just moments in an otherwise beautiful life.  They are not worth getting in a blathering dither over.

8. And this one.  Ouch. This one hurts my ego a little. That conversation I had with my mom recently- that one during which I proceeded to unload all my petty little troubles- wish I had been able to go back five minutes in time to the moment before she proceeded to tell me about a very tragic loss that had occurred in her life when I was away on my trip.  While I was going on and on and on about my bladder troubles and other petty little worries.

Sometimes five minutes is all we need to put life into perspective. 

Five minutes is enough to show me how beautiful my life can truly be. How beautiful it truly is.  If only I am willing to stop and take the time to see the beauty in the moment.

Want to hear five of the best minutes of a day in my life recently? It was without a doubt, when I went to a small grocery store in the town of Cornwall, P.E.I., Canada. Not an event I would usually connect with morphing into daily high points, but that day it was. The cashier: she was friendly, pleasant, affable. I could hear in her voice, as she talked, that she just genuinely liked people. Liked her job. She called me ‘hun’ three times. And while that normally wouldn’t rub me the right way, that day those words seemed almost soothing.

“Anything else I can get you hun?” she said smiling.  Then later…
“Are you paying for that with debit or credit, hun?”
“Thanks, hun. Have a nice day!”

And maybe it was her smile. Maybe it was the respectful way she talked to the meat manager as he brought up a box of seafood to be priced. Quite possibly it could have even been the combined effect of both she and her colleague in the cash right next to her, a woman whom the older gentleman in line after me greeted her warmly with, “Ah Lyndsay! This makes my day just to see you here!”

And with all that love, it isn’t too far-fetched to surmise that this little grocery store is a good place to work. A good place to BE.  It exudes an atmosphere in which love is valued.  In which small moments are valued. For you can feel love palpably. People in this store genuinely seem to like being here, and perhaps the reason is because they just feel like they’re with friends.

It’s that kind of store.

And I couldn’t help but think of that well-touted line, ‘whatever you’ve been given to do, do it well’, in reference to these two women and their ethic of care towards their customers. Because they weren’t just delivering a service that day: they were offering love. Five minutes at a time, and in the process, the whole ordeal had the effect of moving me in a very profound, emotional way. I really felt touched by the kindness I observed and experienced.  And I can only hope to live up to that high ideal as I also go about my life’s work, inside my own home, workplace and classroom, living with and teaching the little and big people I’ve been called to learn alongside.

What a great inspiration it is to watch people doing what they love to do and seeing them doing it well.

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Because really, when it comes down to it: we’re just people living our lives, five minutes at a time.

Five minutes: it’s all we need to put everything else in our messy, beautiful lives into perspective.  Because that’s what this is all about- the messy in our lives is really the beautiful.  And if I was really being honest, it’s not about five minutes before or five minutes later- it’s really about living out both the frustrating five and the pleasurable five in life- at one and the same time.  Does this mean we cannot talk about the small stuff- the random things we wish we could do-over?  Of course not. In talking about them, in VENTING at times, we realize that they are just small moments that comprise a bigger life.  In validating our small moments- and learning to laugh at them, we come to appreciate the bigger picture that much more.

And in the process, we realize- life is full of moments that we live.

Five at a time.

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This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

 

 

 

 

Living love- it’s harder than it sounds on paper

It is much easier to write about love than to practice it. Much, much easier.
I want to be very real with you tonight. Intimate in my transparency, if possible. I want to talk about what love put into practice looks like in my life. Right now.

But to preface this revelation, I must say at the outset: when we preach the loudest and proclaim the most vocally our thoughts, beliefs and feelings, words that are written down or easily spoken have a funny way of coming back to you and challenging you to live up to what you believe.

Isn’t life funny that way.

Today was a challenging one in terms of love for me. I really had a hard time living up to the standard of love of which I preach. Of which I write. For I write often about love- it seems so easy to say it. But living it? That’s another story. But I press on. I continue to seek love, in spite of myself. And all because- although I aspire to love, I am still an amateur. I am a work in progress (as are we all). When I say I believe in love- I truly do. When I say it is the reason for everything, I really mean that this is my life conviction. But would I go so far as to say I have arrived? That I personify love?

Heavens, no. Hardly.

I had a headache all day today. I knew from the get-go, it was going to be a tough one. Pressure seemed to be rising from the minute I placed my cold feet on the bare boards of our bedroom floor.

I felt that pressure- that responsibility: to live out what I believe. I am accountable for my words.

There were so many times today that I just wanted to pack it all in. To say, ‘look, it ain’t worth it.’ To curl up and say, ‘its too hard- too demanding to love.’ Love is too hard. It is. There were so many times today that I just wanted to do what I naturally feel. My nature is one that is not naturally prone to love. I would rather criticize. Would rather find fault. I would rather complain or point fingers. Or take offence and protest.

By nature, I am prone to rigidity. To exactness. I am a perfectionist. I am not naturally loving and patient and kind. I was not born empathic. Not born to be understanding. Those qualities have come to me through supernatural intervention. And I do mean that. Anything I am or hope to be is through the grace of God. The work of Jesus- His love and light shining out through cracks and crevices in my broken life. And I promise you that if there is any evidence in my life of love, it is the love of God shining through me. I am not naturally this way.

Baby, I really wasn’t born this way. And I would never have you to believe otherwise: that I have this all wrapped up. This handle on the power of love. I am love in progress, as evidenced in a broken life.

Yes, today- I was faced with challenge after challenge. I wanted to react to each of these challenges- retaliate with words that were cutting. Because that is naturally who I am. I am not kind by nature. Not caring by birth. I am actually critical, if I were to be really honest. Judgemental. I am no saint.

But I have felt compelled toward love of late. I have felt drawn. And although my nature is one that would lead away from love, I have felt the power of transforming love in my life to such a degree that I have chosen love over what comes naturally.

And the fact that I am so drawn by Love is enabling it to become more natural as the days go by.

When I feel pulled toward a critical spirit, what I am faced with is a choice. And I am learning- as hard as it might be, that love is a choice. Love is one of an array of options that I am faced with daily. I can choose criticality, or I can choose kindness. I can choose impatience, or I can choose tolerance. I can choose frustration or understanding. Anger or empathy and gentleness. And although it is not my natural bent to do such, to choose the latter of that array of choices, it is who I want to be. It is who I am becoming, this person who loves. A lover: of people. Of imperfect, broken people, just as I am. So I choose love, over and over and over again.

I willingly choose love.

I chose love today when all I really felt was frustration. Frustration with circumstances. With people. With the ways in which I am interpreted. Frustration with not being heard. Frustration with not being listened to- I chose love as a response . And rather than react to those things in my life that get my ire up- that work against me, causing me to feel annoyed or inconvenienced, with the grace of God, I chose love. I continue to do so.
It is only by the grace of God that I can.

I do not share this intimate look into my inner self so as to self-denigrate my being or to paint a pitiful picture of myself for good wishes. To disparage the person I was born to. I love this person I am. She is me- I am her. I am coming to love the person I have been and hope for the person I will be in the process of my becoming loving.

No, I don’t write all this so as to garner support and accolades. I tell you all this so as to say: it is through weakness that we are humbled. Through loss that we experience gratitude. Through pain that we overcome, so as to know the heights of joy. It is through self-denial that at times we come to understand the power of love.

So when I feel frustrated that my students aren’t listening as best they should. When my own four children fight and argue. When my spouse takes an opposing view. When I run into a professional obstacle or hurdle . When I find myself disagreeing with another human being. When people just plain rub me the wrong way. This I know- I am a person too: and I am humbly both the irritator and the irritated at one and the same time. Imperfect as I may be.

I am so very aware of my imperfection- of my own personal need of grace. As are we all. Every single one of the human beings we encounter in this life are needing of grace. So, there is no other choice but to love. It is truly the best option.

Nevertheless, I am faced with a choice. Love or intolerance. It’s mine for the choosing. And with the grace enabled me through transforming Love Himself, I choose love. By the grace of which I stand complete, I choose love. Because Love chose me, I make the effort to choose love as well. Because it is the better way, I choose love.

Because it is the only way in which I can transform the person I am into the person I want to be, I choose love.

And through the power of love, I continue to make that choice.

Daily, I choose love.

What is worthwhile: A Teacher’s Perspective

Not long ago, I wrote an article called “What Students Remember Most About Teachers” to which I received a phenomenal response from my readership. I continue to hear daily from people with stories to share about the teachers who made an impact on their lives- hear from those as well who share about the teachers who have chosen worthwhile ways in which to interact and be with their students, in the day-to-day lives of their classrooms. Last week, I received this comment, a comment which stopped me abruptly in my tracks, causing me to consider to an even greater degree the message behind that article I had written. Here is the comment in its entirety:

I’m new to the world of teaching – just finished my internship in a lovely kindergarten classroom. However, at the end of my experience three months ago, one of my students unexpectedly passed away. It has had a profound effect on my view of a teacher, but it has been difficult to put into words how my priorities changed.

This letter explains it.

To me, it is of course important to cover curricular objectives and make sure students are learning and growing. That is what teaching is. However, at the end of the day, the most important thing to me is that my students enjoy themselves and know that they were cared about. Because if, god forbid, it is their last few weeks on earth, I want those weeks to hold as much joy as possible.

I know that’s not quite where you were going with this letter – but it rings true anyway. Thank you.

As I read this teaching colleague’s letter written personally to me, images immediately conjured up in my mind of the horrific days just a little over a year ago whereby I found myself to be in a very similar place as she finds herself now. Because at our school, a sweet little boy just down the hall from me, one grade level up- fell ill and later died on the heels of a busy school week. He was in school Friday, dead on Saturday. No warning. One last picture taken the day before, during Show and Tell, to hold a lifetime of memories. In fact, I sang and played the piano at his funeral. Jesus Loves Me, This I Know. How can one ever forget the image of a small casket holding one so precious, so full of potential and promise. It is a mother’s worst nightmare. And although I was not his mother- nor was I his classroom teacher, I am a mother to four other sweet children whom I held that much more tightly, that much closer because of this tragedy. And teacher to countless others I call my own. I hold these all a little closer, a little tighter, now that I know better. Now that I know more. Because one never comes through an event like that unscathed. Unbroken. It was heart-breaking- words fail to adequately sum up the emotions that were experienced at the time.  Experienced still, for many of us. It affected all of us in our school- and indeed in the surrounding communities as well. Such a profound and senseless loss.

And when one has experienced loss in such a way, I don’t think you ever look again at things in quite so casual a manner. No longer are you asking the same questions, going through the same rote motions. Habitually living your life. Rather, you ask yourself this: if this were my childrens’ or any one of my students’ last day here on earth, would it be a pleasant, happy, peaceful one for them? Would I in any way be a hindrance to them in living out their last moments here on earth with joy and hope? Would I actually be a help, offering them kindness, love, compassion and concern? Would their last day on earth be the best day imaginable, the most fulfilling one possible: and all because I stopped to consider what might be the most worthwhile way in which to spend that day with them? All because I chose to show care and concern over frustration and impatience? Important considerations for teachers to keep in mind. Because when it comes down to it, it really isn’t about the curriculum we teach: it is about the heart with which we teach that curriculum. It’s about the love we show in our words and in our actions.

It’s really about love, when all is said and done.

Donald S. Blumenfeld-Jones poses an important question in an article on curriculum as to what the right question must be for determining curricular studies. In order to get at what is important- what is CORE in terms of schooling and time spent “on task”, one must first ask “What knowledge is of most worth? Or even, “What knowledge can we not do without?” In other words, what is worth giving our time and attention to- our thoughts and intentions towards- in terms of learning.  In terms of mental, intellectual and physical growth?

William Schubert in his article “What is worthwhile: From Knowing and Needing to Being and Sharing” poses thoughts on what is worthwhile in terms of learning. In terms of needing. Experiencing. Doing and being. In terms of becoming. And he extends these thoughts to what’s worthwhile in terms of sharing. In terms of contributing. What is worthwhile in terms of wondering. In other words, what is worth spending our precious time on earth as we live life, from second to second. Minute to minute. Day to day. Year to year.

We only have this one opportunity: what is worthwhile doing and being while we’re at this job of living our lives? Or as teachers, we only ever have the day we are in RIGHT AT THAT MOMENT with our students: we are only ever guaranteed that one day in which we are living. Are we doing our utmost to make that one day the best one possible for our students? As if it could be their very last?

Today, we are on our thirteenth storm day. Meaning, there have been thirteen non-consecutive days thus far in the school year here on P.E.I. for which school has been cancelled due to this unusually brutal winter we are having in Atlantic Canada (a winter which seems to be brutal in much of the rest of North America as well, I might add). Currently, there have been five consecutive days of cancelled classes, stimulating much talk in public and private circles which concern themselves with educational matters. People concerned with outcomes and expectations. People concerned with time off task and focused in-class instruction. People concerned that students might not be absorbing information and skills within the four corners of the school walls, thus they must needs not be learning. People concerned with the matter that students need to be gaining knowledge in school rooms, not whittling their time away doing what kids like to be doing: whatever that might be. There will be calls that extra-curricular activities should be cancelled and that there must not be any wasted instructional time.

But what is really of most worth will never be discussed: that is,  that students need teachers for more than merely instruction. They need teachers because teachers care. Care about them. Care about their person. Care about who they’ve been, who they are now and who they will one day become. Care to listen and to offer advice. Care to empathize and offer compassion. Care in little and big ways. That’s because teachers are interested in students as people- not just as consumers of knowledge. Not just as sponges who must soak up information. Buckets to fill up with important knowledge and skills.  Teachers care about students because intrinsically we believe deep down that what is of worth knowing the most is this: our students.

We want to know our students.

And while we might be taken to task on matters of educational import, matters of the heart are really where it matters. And those matters are what teachers like myself will continue to spend their time on in spite of the call to “time on task”. Because what is of worth your last day of life should ever be in our minds: should be ever compelling us to stop and take heed. We have no idea how long- how much time anyone on this earth will be given. If this were the last day for anyone in my circle of influence, I should hope that the time they spent with me was worth their while.

Was worth spending it with me.

What a precious responsibility we have been given.  May we never take it lightly.

What is of most worth? Is it love or curriculum? Kindness or literacy? Compassion or numeracy? Empathy or time on task? Teaching to the test or teaching to the heart? The answer to each of these questions lies somewhere within us all. It is up to us to answer the questions wisely and carefully.

And the ways in which we answer these questions speak directly to where our heart is calling us.  That is, speak directly to whether our heart is calling us toward love or away from it.

Eleven Ways To Tell You Need A Break From the Fam

Eleven ways in which I realize the Family has spent a bit too much time together lately…

 

11. I suggest that the Fam go snowshoeing at Trout River and Oldest Daughter states, “Sounds like death.”
10. I suggest that we all go snowshoeing at Trout River and youngest says, “But I would only have to go the bathroom, like,  the whole time.”
9. I find a play medical report one sister has drawn up on another sister, in which the diagnosis she’s written down for ‘said sister’ is mental illness.
8. The toilet has been plugged one too many times.
7. Everyone is getting on everyone else’s last nerve.
6. We’ve only got one can of Zoodles left.
5. Mama has taken to going on long walks, twice daily. Plus snowshoeing treks. Plus long respite breaks on the porch swing. Plus locking herself in the bathroom.
4. Husband, the only one in the family who got the flu shot, has mysteriously been the only one to come down with the flu.
3. We are getting sick of eating donuts. Together. In fact, I have decided I will never make donuts again.
2. Mama has started to expound the benefits of fresh air, to which Oldest Daughter has taken offence when it is mentioned that we’ve all been breathing stale, dirty air for the past four days (“so it might be a novel idea to go out and PLAY”.)
1. Husband is wearing out the knees in his jeans playing Gallup the Horse and has taken to asking that Gallup be allowed to “rest” (while Youngest barks orders at the poor old stud like a drill sergeant). Meanwhile, I clean dust found in every nook and cranny of this house, thus wearing out the knees in my own fine pair of yoga pants.

Honorable Mention: Husband (a.k.a. Gallup) has just said to the Drill Sergeant that he can’t keep it up. And that in fact, he is pooped. This, after she has come wailing out to tell me that Gallup is not playing by the rules.

I could go on like this forever…

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

What’s love got to do with it, anyway? Got to do with education? Got to do with teaching?
What’s love got to do with it?

Everything. It’s got everything to do with it.

I am delivering a dynamic lesson on adding detail to writing. It has spanned two days of teaching, and I have covered the gamut. I have used mentored text. I have used my own illustrations. I have allowed more than enough time for the students to think through, talk through and share ideas. I have all the bells and whistles- anchor charts; word walls; alphabet and number charts; soft music. Nice sharp pencils, which I just barely finished sharpening this morning. In spite of the rush. The classroom has even been designed so as to be conducive to writing. We have a writing centre and various writing stations, but there are of course other spots in the room that a writer could settle down for a productive writing session. I can’t imagine what stone I have left unturned.

“Okay, everyone!” I urge. “Let’s get writing!”

And with that send-off, I see the students scatter into all four corners of the room, ready to write. And I think to myself…”what a wonderful—”

…wait a minute.

All but one has settled down for that intended writing session. There is always one.

In a matter of minutes, I can see that the best laid plans are still only plans. For this little writer has not been inspired to write today much more than a scribble. And when I approach and ask why, I am met with a bit of defiance. A little bit of defensiveness.

And some little feet propped up on the table.

This was not what I envisioned the writing session to be.

No not at all.  Rather, I had pictures in my mind of children, heads bent low over papers, hands moving furiously. But never did I conjure up images of students sitting back, smug looks on their faces. Telling me “I’m done” after three minutes have barely passed since the send-off.
This is not what my ideal vision would be under any circumstance.

I approach the student quickly and ask how the story is unfolding, as we have spent considerable time developing the idea for this book that he is making. He points to a circle on the page. I ask what it represents. “A circle,” he says smugly.  I am not ready to admit defeat, so I probe further.

“What is it suppose to be?” I ask.

He looks at me and shrugs.

“A circle,” he repeats.

I know and he knows- that the story he had told me he would working on today was about a movie he had seen over March Break. He had left our gathering place on the blue rug with ‘next steps’ already in place. But here we are- with circles that look more like scribbles than they do circles. And these ‘circles’ are covering his page.

It’s easy to forget that teaching, like all of life, is not about us. It’s not always a rejection of what we hold near and dear to our hearts when plans fail to follow through. Sometimes, it’s just that people are different. Some of us enjoy writing. And some of us do not.

I later talk to this student’s mom about our writing session, and in the process I realize a few things.

I really like this boy. A lot. And the more I try to understand him, the more I realize I can accept him: just as he is.
• I need to work harder at helping this student see the value in writing. If what we are doing is not connecting, there needs to be another way. Another approach taken.
• This student is more than just a would-be writer. He is a comedian, a reader, a brother, a son. He is a strong personality with the ability to stand his ground. He isn’t easily persuaded. He has resolve. This child is going to be fine- so what if he decided this week to just draw circles? Next week might be a whole different ball game.

Which brings me back to my first question: what’s love got to do with it all?

There are many aspects of my job that I am required to do. I am required to deliver curriculum. I am required to teach certain skills and knowledges. I am required to prepare my students to enter the next grade- the next level. The next unit. I am required to look after my students in their parents’ absence. Overall, I am required to begin preparing them for life. Real life.

But in all the descriptors that I have been given, no one has ever required of me to love them. Interesting, really. Their parents have much the same job as mine, but love is always underlying the relationship. Why is this so? And why is it not something we think that we as educators should be compelled to feel as well?

In spite of this fact, I find that love happens anyway. We come to love our students, in spite of ourselves. In spite of the odds. They wrap themselves around our hearts and we are not easily able to let them go. We think about them after the buses pull out of the parking lot. We consider their needs as we prepare lessons for the next day. We care about their lives as we make after-hours phone calls. We enjoy when we run into them at Wal-mart on the weekend.

We end up loving them. We really do.

Because in the midst of teaching and facilitating and preparing and instructing, I find myself caring about the students I teach. In the midst of guiding and disciplining and leading my students in key areas of fundamental learning areas, I find myself empathizing with them. In offering to assist them during writing workshops, I find myself coming to understand them better. In watching them discover key math principles, I find myself delighting in their learning- appreciating the young wonder that is a five-year old mind. In listening to their stories- as told by them and by their families, by their parents: I find myself coming to love these children. As if they were my very own.

I can’t get them out of my heart. It’s about love, really.

And even though I am passionate about writing and reading and math and science- and passionate about learning in general: I am more passionate about people. And I have come to believe that my calling is relationship, not teaching. The teaching is secondary to my calling to connect and relate and commune with those little people who show up in my room every day. It’s about reaching my students through relationship so that I might later on influence them to use their learning to develop their own relationships with people they trust. So that they might come to see that getting an education is about finding ways to connect with people in the world around them. So that they can thrive and flourish in this wild and beautiful life we have been blessed to live.

It’s about using the learning of writing so that they can then encourage, persuade, inspire, motivate and compel.
It’s about using the learning of math so that they can then reason, problem solve, analyze and explain.
It’s about using science to wonder, imagine, discover, uncover, explore and investigate.
It’s about using social studies to remember, consider, understand, appreciate and recollect.
It’s about making school a place that we learn the art of relating to people so that we can use the knowledge and skills we learn there in that place we call school- so that we can then go out into the big, wide world we live in with other people, and use those skills to better the world around us.

So that we can transform the world through love.

Through LOVE.

So you see, love has everything to do with it. Without love as the basis for learning, how are students to then know that love underlies everything we do? Everything we learn? Everything in life?  Love is everything.

And love has everything to do with it. For without love, writing is just a subject. It’s just writing.  So is reading and math.  They are just a skeleton.  Love makes them whole.  Breathes life into them and makes them come alive.

We will have more writing sessions much like the one I have described above. I realize this. I am no naïve fool.
But what else I understand- what I know for sure about our future sessions is this: I teach people, not subjects.  I teach boys and girls, not writing.  I teach human beings full of potential and wonder and possibility.

So when we have those kinds of days, we’re going to get through them. Together.  And always through the power of love.

8 Random Things I Wish I Had Known Five Minutes Before/After they Happened.

Lately, I have been living my life either five minutes ahead or five minutes behind where I ought to be.  It’s like I am either rushing too fast or moving too slow.  In all, I am not thinking/living in the moment like I feel I should be if I was to be living up to my best, ideal self.  And when I sat down to really contemplate this thought, I came up with eight random things I wished I had known about- five minutes before/after they happened…here they are for your reading pleasure:

1. That bag of dirty laundry that I left at my lovely friend’s house in N.J.- wished I had known it was sitting there in her man cave- five minutes before we left (instead of ten hours later). #nicepartinggift

2. That curb that I sideswiped while backing out of my sister-in-law’s driveway (causing Husband to curl up into the fetal position)- wished I had thought about it- five minutes before getting behind the wheel. #soyouthinkyoucandrivebaby

3. Those three fish tacos I ate at the Ground Round- wished I had looked around the menu five more minutes before deciding what I was going to eat that night. #intestinalgrief

4. That one hour trampoline privilege (Sky High, N.C.) that I paid a left leg for- wished I could have traded it in for Twinkies- five minutes after I started jumping (like my life depended on it).

5. That one hour trampoline privilege that I paid a left leg for- wished I had a catheter- five minutes after I started jumping (like an Olympic gymnast on steroids).

6. That email that I was trying to save- and all those pictures and other important stuff that seemed so important at the time- wished I had remembered that PURGE means GONE FOREVER- about five minutes before cleaning up my email queue.

7. Those beautiful children that I mama-bear growl at for various reasons and rush along and nag- sometimes I wish I could just remember- five minutes before those words and frustrations pour out of my mouth- that these are just moments in an otherwise beautiful life.  They are not worth getting in a dither over.

8. That conversation I had with my mom today- in which I proceeded to unload all my petty little troubles- wish I had of been able to go back five minutes before she proceeded to tell me about a very tragic loss that had occurred in her life when I was away on my trip.

Sometimes five minutes is all we need.

It’s all we need to put everything else in our messy, beautiful lives into perspective.  Because that’s what this is all about- the messy in our lives is really the beautiful.  And if I was really being honest, it’s not about five minutes before or five minutes later- it’s really about living out both the frustrating and the pleasurable in life- at one and the same time.  Is it frustrating to leave behind your dirty undies at a friend’s house you just met?  You betcha.  But, taking away the memories of the wonderful time we had acquainting ourselves- after a two year journey over the Internet- well, that bag of smelly clothes I left behind (and will spend $44 American to recover) is small things.  (Mostly for me, by the way.  Not her.  I bet she’s also wishing for that five minutes back because let’s be serious- who really wants dirty laundry from a new acquaintance kicking around your man cave??)    Five minutes- it’s enough time to put life into perspective. Particularly when comparing small loss to the loss of a life, as I would come to find out in conversation with my mother.

Does this mean we cannot talk about the small stuff- the random things we wish we could do-over?  Of course not- in talking about them, we realize that they are just small moments that comprise a bigger life.  In validating our small moments- and learning to laugh at them, we come to appreciate the bigger picture that much more.

And we realize- life is full of moments that we live.  Five minutes at a time.

Love them more…

There are few things in life compared to the intensity of a mother’s (father’s) love for a child.  Falling in love is full of wonder.  The joy of friendship a gift.  The feeling of being a cherished son or daughter- a comfort and a consolation. But the love one feels for their child is without compare. It is raw in complexity.  Primeval. Complicated yet so very simple.

Understanding this kind of love has opened up a whole world of relational connection for me- as a parent, a friend; as a child myself of two loving parents. Whom I still look to as stalwart pillars in my life.  And I understand this connection of relational love in my role as a wife, sister, aunt; and further, as a teacher to kindergarten students.  For each of these roles allows me a glimpse into these various worlds of love.

With reference to the connections I feel as a teacher, loving my own four children has allowed me a window of opportunity in my professional life to briefly glimpse inside other parents’ lives and the love they feel for their children.  It has allowed me the rare opportunity to identify with the parents who twice yearly sit nervously across from me- waiting for the fate of their child’s academic journey to be revealed. And this position of privilege is not one I treat lightly.  I am all too aware of my accountability to the ones I represent.  I realize that I have a position of responsibility.

I remember when Parent-Teacher Interviews first became a challenge for me as a parent.  A bit of an anxiety. I remember when hot words stung me like a bee’s venom.  I remember, for I am still there, sitting on a small chair at a semi-circled table: listening as words are flung at me, defining my beloved child.  Words that might well have been true.  In a certain context.  For we all have moments when the guard rails are lowered and we reveal thoughts and feelings in less than savory ways.  We all have moments when we speak words about the ones we love in ways that are truthful, yet harsh.  Moments usually defined by a lack of patience or understanding, if we were to be honest.  And if these same words had been spoken lovingly in truth, by me- the mother (as within private conversation with a close ally or best friend- someone who understood the child I was referring to…), well, I could understand them better. But in this context, to hear words like “rude”, “ignorant” and “bold”- they just seemed ill-chosen, hurtful and insensitive, especially when delivered in the sterile vacuum of an empty school classroom.

It took me a few moments to register that this was my child we were talking about- not someone elses’ kid.  This was my child the teacher was labeling as problematic.  This was my child she seemed to have a general distaste for.  My child she seemed to think was an issue.  This was my child.

My child??

And I know my child well.  Believe you me.  It is not that he, or any one of them, for that matter, are perfect.  They are not, as I am not.  As none of us are.  But to hear words used so loosely compelled me to believe that the essence of my child had been ignored.  Had been left unheard.  Unnoticed.  And while this child can at times be rude and ignorant and bold (it’s true)- he is also patiently kind when talking with his grandparents.  Is meticulous in manners and etiquette when out in public. Is thoughtful and careful to please family and friends.  Is loving in understated ways. Is helpful.  And compassionate.  And above all, is my beloved child. Is my beloved child!  Whom I love regardless of those moments when he slips from the path, errs from being/living up to his ‘best self’.

It is love that defines our relationship- not a narrowly constructed set of terms used carelessly to define him.

As a teacher, I am careful to use words that are kind.  I want to weigh my choice of words against the ways in which those words might be received.  For I realize that once a word has been spoken, it can never be retrieved.  It is gone out into the atmosphere to be swallowed up by ears that are ready to receive.  Ears that are waiting to hear.

This is not to say that words cannot speak truth.  I am in no way saying that we must withhold truth to protect the hearer.  There are words that need to be spoken.  Need to be said.  There are words that must be offered.  Because they lift, support, aid and assist the hearer in understanding the truth.  So that they can go forward and become a better person for having heard.  For having listened.  But the ways in which we offer our words- our presentation.  Our pitch.  Our tone.  Our voice.  All these work together to influence the receiver in understanding what the true message is.  Is it the message?  Or is it the underlying message that is being heard?

For me that day, in that empty classroom with nothing but books to separate me from her, the message I heard spoken across the divide was this: “Your child is a problem.  And I don’t like him enough to see through the behaviors- all I see are the issues.  And those issues are also becoming a problem too.”

Had the words been spoken in another way, delivered in kindness and compassion, perhaps this one Parent-teacher interview among many might not have left such a significant, lasting impression in my memory.  Had the words been cushioned in love perhaps they might have been easier to swallow.  Like a pill smothered in honey. Not to say I couldn’t swallow that pill otherwise- it’s just that it would have been an inconsequential pill for me to take had it been done in a caring manner.

Instead, it became a mountain of pills to ingest.  A mountain of words to absorb.

When the words are fitly chosen, it is at times a pleasure to be the listener.  A joy.  It builds the hearer up to greater capacity- to greater possibility.  It builds bridges. Mends fences.  Words chosen to affirm and encourage are the lifeblood of our relationships with people- particularly people outside of our closest circles of influence.  And without the cushion of intimacy, as afforded in an intimate relationship such as a parent-child relationship, words that harm and wound have no place.  And they certainly have no place in our professional vocabulary.  Particularly as it concerns the children.

Especially when it concerns children.

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

I sit across from them- the many parents I have the privilege of working alongside in the development of their children’s academic, social and emotional well-being.  And I breathe.  Exhaling out anything that might hinder this important conversation.  For I feel the responsibility of what will be said over the course of the next twenty-minutes.  And I realize this for sure: nothing I say will ever make that parent love their child any less.  And some of which I choose to speak can open the door for both of us- both me and them: to come to understand and love those same beloved children even more.

To love them even more.