An Easter Funny for Ya’all!!

Our Easter weekend is a precious time. It is treasured time to remember a Saviour. Time to invest thought and prayer and hope in a promise. Time to rest and be held.

Time.

Precious, scarce commodity that it might be understood to be, and yet, time is a sweet gift at Easter. Here at the Gard household, we never take this time lightly: for it is our reason for the season. It’s everything.

But as part of the season, we do take time as well to be with family and friends. To share in company and break bread. To laugh and relax. To meditate and contemplate. To uncover and discover. Time to talk. And to be grateful for all we are and all we have. In Christ and in each other.

However. Sometimes, all these spiritual intentions are thwarted by unseen and unpredicted chaos. Catastrophe of the most epic proportions.
Can I tell you how I spent part of the Holy Weekend- that is, my Easter Sunday afternoon? In a potato field caked in mud nearly up to my eyeballs, no less. With a crying child of my own flesh and blood a few meters away, out of reach. Actually, Dianne (my sister-in-law) and I were hiding the Easter eggs for an Easter egg hunt while our children, unbeknowst to us, were glued to the ground. Literally. The first cry I heard was M.A.’s while my nephew stood immobile beside her.  But I think he was laughing.  Sorta.  Anyways, the point of tha matter was that the kiddos were all hanging out in the potato field because that’s where we all like passing the time on a sunny Easter afternoon.  Well, the kids do, anyway.  And because we adults have nothing better to do (and there is that little part I left out about a kid who ventured off and got stuck, so his cousins had to rescue him, but I digress…)  Which is to say, obviously we all have nothing better to do than hang out in a muddy potato field on these beautiful Spring days.  We do live in the country.  So it seems.

Here’s how it all went down.  I came running as soon as I heard Daughter crying, because she’d lost her boots in the mud a few minutes prior. Me, unconvinced that I will sink in this stuff- forging forward at a snail’s pace: because I thought I could be the hero in my black Clark’s church shoes (I will never, ever get that mud out).  And oh the fun! Doesn’t take long for one to find out how easy those puppies might be to manouever in a clay cesspool of foot high muck.  I nearly left them there.  After about two seconds into the rescue plan, I was yelling at the onlookers- the older cousins and my two other children- to RUN to the house and grab me some boots. Pronto. While I stood in a quagmire akin to a suction cup. Daughter crying, glued to her spot, sans footwear. Nephew just out of reach up to his knees in sludge.

And when help does come, what form do you think that help might take? Husband with a video camera. Cheering me on from the sidelines, trying to get it all on video so that his wife can see what a fool she is in living colour.

His words of wisdom to me: “You’re doing great, Lori.”

What a gem.

He’s lucky it’s Easter.  I am on my best behavior.

Happy Easter everyone!

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!

 

 

 

 

A challenge and response: Must we choose between Love and Academics?

I really appreciate my friend for challenging my thinking, as you will come to read below.  I am providing her challenge to my thinking and perspective along with my response to her.  This welcome challenge was issued to my last blog post regarding What is Worthwhile Knowing: A Teacher’s Perspective.  I would readily open any feedback you might have to offer by way of challenge or rebuttal.  Thanks to everyone who reads my writing.  I welcome all your views.  Iron sharpens iron.

To me:

I get where you are coming from- and I agree- students learn more effectively when they know that their teachers care about them. But as a parent I don’t send my child to school to primarily feel loved, he has that from me, from everyone in his life etc- what I send him to school for is to learn and to reach his full potential. That to me is the priority. Sometimes I feel that we are moving too far away from that since there are so many children who aren’t getting the love that they need from their families. But I really feel that we have moved too far. Our academic standards have greatly decreased…students reaching university in 2013 are not as prepared as they were in 2005. We need more focus on the academics….not less. I see it at the university level- our students are not as prepared for higher learning as they were 10 years ago. This is what we should be talking about- because the education system is failing their future learning potential. Sure they feel loved….but they can’t perform simple math or spell….by grade 12….this is a major problem! This is the reality that we need to correct. You may be on a different end of the spectrum being in kindergarten where feeling secure and loved is extremely important….but I don’t think that it is the universal focus of sending kids to school…at some point we have to shift more towards the academic side. I am sad for students who I meet in my class who are very intelligent, but have not been academically prepared to fully access all that they could from university. The education system is failing those kids. My favourite teachers from school are not the ones who made me feel loved….but who stretched my mind and expanded my knowledge beyond what I thought I could know- they pushed me to be who I am today and to them I am grateful.

 

To my friend: I appreciate that you wrote me with your perspective. And I appreciate that we both have different perspectives- unique to our own understandings, backgrounds and situations. It is good for me to be challenged in my thinking- to push myself to understand the ‘why’ behind my writing, of late, about love and care. About curriculum of the heart. It is something I feel so deeply about that at times I need to step away from it- step outside of my own thinking- and examine it with new eyes. New perspectacles, if you will (to use our favorite blogger’s analogy).

You mentioned that you “get” where I am coming from, but I wonder if we can truly ever get something like this. I think we have to believe it. You state that “as a parent I don’t send my child to school to primarily feel loved, he has that from me, from everyone in his life etc.” I am glad that your son has that. Many do not. In fact, it is not the norm to have what your children and my children have for experience. Two parents in the home who are university educated, double incomes, every opportunity. A comfortable lifestyle. Values that support life-long learning and ambitious achievement. These things are not the norm, as you well know.

That being said, I agree that even for those parents sending their children to school who are not in your or my position, those parents still might echo your sentiments: that they aren’t sending their children to school primarily for love. They might even agree that they are sending their children to school for the very same reasons that you state: to further their academics. Widen their possibilities. Further their potential. Whether or not parents are sending their children to school for reasons that reflect your stance or reflect mine, the fact of the matter is this: children and students learn best when their learning is cushioned in an atmosphere of love, care and compassion.

What is love? Am I talking about warm, fuzzy, sweet-talking love that always pleases? Am I talking about feel-good, low-pressure therapeutic love that focuses solely on self at the expense of all else? What is love, anyway- it means so many different things to so many different people. What I am talking when I refer to love in my writing is that which is the deepest emotion known to humankind: something so over-arching, all-encompassing and profound that it permeates our very being. When I speak of love, I am talking about everything that is good in this world which could be then funnelled into our being. So as to inspire, motivate, compel, arouse, encourage, stimulate, provoke and stir up whatever might lie dormant within us. Whatever might lie fallow. Whatever is ready for awakening.

Love as an emotion is often highly undervalued in education. Sure, we embrace it in its place: but it is always put into its box and asked to sit there until it might be of use. It is not always on top of everyone’s list of priorities when it comes to academics.   In fact, love might very well be at the bottom of the list for some, as you have expressed. It is so often undervalued through statements that contend that it is a poor reason for a teacher’s purpose in offering an education to their child. After all, and you are right here: our job as teachers is to deliver curriculum. Teach the standards. Expound the outcomes. We are expected to deliver on the core fundamentals of a solid education: the arts and the sciences. And in doing so, prepare our students for the workforce.

But what if love was the standard by which everything else was measured? What if love made me a better teacher? What if love made my students better students? What if love made people better, just through experiencing it?

What if the love I showed in my care and concern for students then allowed me to, in love, inspire them to have a passion for language, for prose? For nuances in language? For poetry, literature and classical writing?

What if love opened a door to enable me to share with my students a passion for mathematics? For precision and exactness? For reasoning and rationalizing? What if love paved that way?

What if love gave me the inch that could buy a mile? What if love was what every foundation I built upon? What if love was everything? In everything, through everything about everything?

What if love was everything?

Can we ever really know for sure if it was what really made the difference- or not-when we who have always known love are the ones calling for less of it? We who have always had love at our fingertips saying it is unnecessary? When we who are deeply loved, who have always had love at our disposal, are saying it is the drain on academics and learning? Keeping us from excelling? And by what standards, I might ask? Are we really in any position of saying that love isn’t necessary, in such sweeping statements, when we’ve always had enough ourselves? What if your call for less love was the unravelling of that one student who could have been destined for great things. But because love was removed, then became a hardened, bitter being?

Who are we to say?

You are right- love isn’t everything. There is also pain and sorrow. There is hatred. There is always an equal opposing force to everything we know. And I could say that we can teach without love, but then the door is wide open for anything else to move in. Anything else but love. And while you claim you didn’t need love, and I am assuming that you are implying here that some teachers might have adopted stances that were quite the opposite to love: for some students, this would close the door to learning. And quite possibly forever. I am glad this was not the case for you. This wouldn’t apply across the board, however. What works for one scenario might not work for another. But we all need love. We certainly don’t need hatred or ill-will. Nor do we need hardness and rigidity. While learning might still transpire, it does in spite of these qualities. Not because of them. Unlike with love which paves the way.

As for taking that chance- of doing away with love in favour of dry, rigid adherence to the standards: I am not willing to take that chance. So I continue to offer love. And offer learning and opportunity to my students in as passionate a way as I know how.

So, what about academics. We are in the business of learning. How can I the teacher find balance between my call to love and my job to teach? When I offer love, I find that my passion for learning is that much easier to transmit. When I show care, I have won my students’ confidences so that I can then offer instruction. When I value their opinions and thoughts, I find they are stimulated to think above and beyond what I ever dreamed possible. When I open the door, and I know they trust me, I also know they will follow. And sometimes they even lead the way.

Why are students not ready for university, as you have so aptly pointed out? One cannot argue with statistics. But maybe they can offer some plausible reasons for such. My belief is this: I feel that quite possibly we have not offered enough in the way of love. Perhaps students haven’t known the freedom to explore, to climb to lofty heights and ambitions. Perhaps love never paved the way. Maybe students do not know the grace that is compassion-perhaps if they did we would see more students moved towards social justice and outward thinking. Perhaps students have not been shown the generosity that is passion and joy for learning. There might not have been allowances made for outside the box thinking. There are a multitude of reasons for why the stats are what they are.

Perhaps schools have failed our students in not preparing them for university. And perhaps we have also failed in not offering them a curriculum for life in stressing the importance for love to underlie their very existence.

Perhaps if we focused more on love, we might see changes that surpass even our own expectations: for learning, life and love itself.

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…

Making Donuts: The guilt and the pleasure

I have never before attempted making donuts.

They are too big a project- all those tricky steps, complicated instructions. Added to this, I have to admit: the real reason has always been that donut-making is too messy- the grease and flying fat. Yuck. And aren’t they too time consuming, don’t they have to be rolled in sugar, no less? And glazed? Ugh. Again, so many steps. So much bother. They really are just too complicated. Besides, they are the stuff of grandmothers and professionals- not a recipe for an amateur baker like myself to dabble in, a woman with more than a few projects on the go at any given time. A woman who really could be doing about thirteen other things right now- of more significance than this project, to be completely honest.

And furthermore, what’s so wrong with Oreos for dessert?

But it’s been decided: I am making donuts today if it’s the last project on the agenda for the weekend (it might well be at the rate I am going). And I am making these delectable little yummies mostly because I feel guilty.
Internal-guilty: (oh let me count the ways. I am a glutton for punishment, I am home today due to a storm- I might as well be busy, I haven’t baked in a while, I need to do something with the kids, there’s nothing to eat in this house…).

External guilty: (I just got off the phone with someone who is making baked donut-muffins; so, what do I do but feel I must go and bake too; in a friendly case of ‘one up-manship’ along with the fact that I cannot find the actual recipe I am looking for, I decide to make fried donuts, the old-fashioned way).
Guilty for the sake of feeling guilty: (it has been a loooong time since I baked anything delicious; which means I now have to over-do it and bake something delectably challenging- something as delicious as it is complicated).

Yes, I am feeling it. Guilty. Just plain old guilty. Guilt always has a curious way of motivating me to action, sad but true. But it does.

I enlist my Husband to secure me a bowl from the high cupboard. It is under a mountain of junk food. A precarious mountain that threatens to become an avalanche unless One more patient (and taller) than I takes measures to protect ‘said heap’ of treasured snacks. I have everything under the sun crammed into that pantry cupboard. I look longingly at the two granola bars I have to move out of the way first. These instant snacks are where it’s really at, so much simpler than this journey of dough and flour catastrophe I am about to initiate and embark on. I maneuver around the six bags of chips stacked on top of one another at random angles.

Yikes…

At which point, Husband comes to my rescue. He hands me a bowl, but it is much too small. I explain which bowl exactly and why, and he sighs. It is of course the aqua rimmed bowl at the bottom of everything. And I do mean everything. Eventually, the bowl is produced, while I find the bag of flour at ground level, behind my antique stove, where it has been preserved securely inside two grocery bags: in case mice get at it before I do. That’s how often flour gets noticed around here. By the mice.

And we are a go. I am ready to begin.

I quietly call a child to help share this journey into uncharted territories with me (because that’s really what this is all about- spending time with the children doing something productive, meaningful and memorable). Quietly I call a child over. Yes, QUIETLY. That’s because this mama can only handle one child in the kitchen with her at a time. Immediately, however, there is tension in the air as everyone hears the rattle of glassware and dishes in spite of my precautions, and they all come pouring into the kitchen wanting to help.

Just what I need to make the guilt levels ramp it up a notch. Great.
I negotiate. Distract. Plead, beg and nearly cry. And the Others not involved in the Project are finally sufficed with a promise from me that they’ll get to help next time. That is, in my next life. When I make donuts again.

We begin. I mean, really. We begin.

I set the recipe on the counter, and Daughter begins to stir melted butter and sugar. Eggs, milk and vanilla. It’s dreamy, actually- this mixture of yellow liquid froth and foam. Daughter looks almost entranced. I feel a sense of calm wash over me. Maybe this won’t be as bad as I thought.

We mix the dough. I add flour and so does she. The lard is on the stovetop and things are pretty much at that point of no return. As the Daughter who is helping is getting tired of stirring in flour, I recruit another child to take over where she left off. Actually, two others.

They pat down the dough with their fingers and make cut-outs with my donut maker. The flour puffs up in little bursts. Reminding me of steam.
Surprisingly, the atmosphere in the kitchen is one of calm and repose. It is almost cathartic, this process. And I even get Husband to help fry the dough.

We sit in to a brunch meal of eggs, sausages, toast, oranges and homemade donuts. And I decide: even though I began this process for all the wrong reasons, things have a way of working themselves around for good.
These donuts were well-worth the effort it took to make them. Well-worth the elbow grease and time. And right now, listening to quiet munching around the table, I also realize: some things in life are just better done the old-fashioned way.

(Although I could do without that little side-motivation of guilt…I’ll know better for next time).

And yes, Children: there really will be a next time. Scouts promise.

Now, where’s that bag of Oreos…

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.

Love and labels…

When he was a little boy, he was never called gifted.  He never went to formal school.  He was a Down’s baby.  Not a baby or child with Down Syndrome, among other distinguishing characteristics. Not a child with exceptionalities.  Not a person with special abilities.  No.  He wasn’t all that.  He was mostly a label.  To his extended family- a bit of an embarrassment.  But to his Daddy, Mother and Sisters- a little boy to love.  A brother.  A child.

A human being.

Today we are very careful, for the most part, to avoid labeling human beings in our speech and dialogue.  It has become a bit of a political issue, in part.  A bit of a cultural taboo.  But although we don’t outwardly label per say in our public conversations (particularly in our professional ones), we still internally characterize people based on distinguishing features.  How large or small they are.  The color of their hair.  How tall or short.  How light or dark their skin color.  And in more careful ways, we distinguish people based on race, gender and class stereotypes, among other classifications, so as to compare and contrast. So as to distinguish and remember.  And at times, so as to stereotype.

Within school settings, this classification system is certainly apparent.  We level children based on reading and writing abilities, we stream them according to academic or more generalized capabilities. We offer modifications and adaptations according to learning abilities.  And we individualize programming where warranted. We’ve gotten very good at classifying students.  Boxing them into their little slots.  But the one thing we aren’t so good at is blurring the lines that separate.  We have a hard time taking people at heart value- never mind face value.  We have a hard time seeing the human being inside the `casing`, if you will.  And sometimes I wonder if we at the school level are really helping anyone at all.  Throwing around medical/academic labels and soaking up diagnosis.  Trying to fit everyone into boxes.

There are two ways of approaching this issue of classifying people (particularly students as people): personally and generally.  When I think of the issue of classification in schools as a teacher (or by way of a teacher`s perspective), in allowing each student their distinctive category of existence, I see that it gives individuality to the child.  It helps us see them for who they are as well as support them in their specific needs.  Being able to support children in specific ways levels the playing field.  It allows children of varying abilities to all get whatever they need (academically, physically, emotionally) to grow and develop into wonderful, unique human beings.  This is why schools whole-heartedly endorse inclusion in education.  Because school should ideally be a place for everyone.  Regardless of ability.  Because of ability.  And teachers should be very good at meeting students where they are at.  At seeing potential in kids.  At helping them achieve their personal best.  At assisting them to strive for higher and more.

Thus, teachers then often utilize labels to assist their students in gaining access to supports within the school setting so as to allow them opportunities that might not be afforded them otherwise.

The other way to approach the issue of labeling is personally.  As a parent.  A mother or father.  A sister or brother.  When labeling becomes personal, there are a whole host of things to think about.  First of which is seeing the child as the person the adult or caregiver unconditionally loves.  Because this child is someone they have dreams and hopes for.  Someone they want the absolute best for.  And when they see this child, they do not see the label first.  They see the person.  The possibility.  The potential.  And true, they know that diagnosis and classification are part of becoming human in the literal sense, in the spiritual sense- these little people in their care and wrapped around their hearts are already realized potential.  They are already the whole package.  There isn’t anything about them needed to make them more `worthy of love`- they already are loved.  A diagnosis, a label or any other way of classifying these little and big people with exceptional abilities won’t change how much they are truly loved.

When you love someone, you react to labeling in different ways.  Some embrace it as a means of hope.  Others repel it as a means of differentiating.  Labeling can met with both reactions at one and the same time.  The thing is: you love this person.  And you want the best for that loved one. Is that best achieved via a label?  Is that best better off without a label? Hard questions to answer.

And for the teacher, we must be extremely sensitive to this dilemma.  Because while it might be prudent for efficiency and streamlining- for services: to have a child labelled.  For the parent, it is a fragile decision which they must weigh heavily.  Against the individuality and unique person-hood of their child.

As a teacher, I am becoming more and more romanced with the notion that we are more alike than we are different.  I must preface this with an acknowledgment of the fact that I certainly realize and am sensitive to the truth that we are indeed different by virtue of the fact we are unique, special people.  By virtue of the fact that we are unique human beings.  But within that thought is an even lovelier one that compels me to think thus.  We are similar by the very same token.  We are similar to one another by virtue of all the qualities that make us human- our emotions, our feelings, our biology, our chemistry, our spirituality. We are the same by virtue of the fact that we have so much in common.

We all bleed red blood.  We all breathe in air.  We all need nourishment and fluids. We all need love.

Sometimes as teachers we try to express this need for recognition of the similarity and it gets misunderstood to be an over-generalization.  In other words, if I were to say that all children were exceptional- by virtue of the fact that they are all human beings and  ALL HUMAN BEINGS ARE THUS EXCEPTIONAL!  It might get misconstrued to read: “All children are the same and should be treated the same.  Every time.  Period.” Which is certainly not what I would want to express by saying all children are exceptional. Not at all.

What I would really be saying in that statement is this:  all children are fundamentally human beings.  That is our label.  It is our essential label.  It is what unites us together as people.  We are the same in that we are all part of this thing called humanity.  And as part of humankind, we are all alike in many, many ways.  One way of which is that we are all exceptional.  We are all gifted in different ways.  We all have abilities. It is our exceptionalities- our own unique bent toward being ‘able’, if you will, that make us different.  We are all able and dis/able in different areas.  And that is also what makes us similar and different at one and the same time.  The fact that we all have these similarities makes us same.  The fact that we are all different in these similarities makes us us the same.

We are similar by the very things that make us different.

Which leads us back to the original theme: to label or to not label- that is the question.  What does it achieve?  Do the key stakeholders in that label have a voice?  Does being labelled get them something they need that they otherwise would not have?  Is that label a comfortable one?  And if not, why must it be used?  Does it create division or does it bring them closer to being the same?  Is this important (to be similar)?  And if not, why not?  Is it important to be different?  And if so, why is this so?

In the end, we can wear our labels only for so long.  Because when it comes down to being essentially human, that label really doesn’t make much difference.  We don’t need it to be loved.  To be cherished.  We don’t need it to be a brother or sister.  A child that is loved. A human being. And perhaps that is what levels the playing field in the end.

Love.

For true love eliminates the need for labels by virtue of its existence. And it does so once and for all.  Bringing us together under its all encompassing umbrella of humanity.  Bringing us together in hope.