Something to be proud of

I admire the plump, white sugar cookies from afar and silently think back to the night before when I had made some cookies myself, along with my two daughters. Hoping against hope that this batch might be the ones, I could barely scrape them off the cookie tray after they came from the oven. They were literally a big, hot mess. I am stubborn enough that I scraped the entire dish into a mixing bowl, determined to reinvent them the next night as an ice cream sundae topping. I am nothing if not resourceful. Of course, they are still sitting there somewhere on the shelf- waiting for the next stop.  The garbage can.

But back to those sugar cookies. I couldn’t help but feel a little envious as I admired those delicious looking, perfectly formed culinary taste sensations.  If only I could make something akin to those.

It wasn’t until later on when we were heading out the door for home when I admitted to her- that I could never do what she does. I just can’t make cookies. In the 18 years I’ve been married and had my own home, I don’t know if there ever was a time that my cookies turned out. Funny how something so trifling could make you feel so small.

And that’s all I was thinking about right then. How I wished I could make cookies well- wished I could bake well- as I was just so sick and tired of the flat mess I am use to turning out each and every time I decide to cook.

And in that split second at the door, while I was thinking how much I wished I was better at baking, wished I was more like her. She turned and said something to me that made me think, stopped my envious thought process right in its tracks. She said this: We all have our “something” that we do- and you are doing that something each and every day.  That’s what she said.

We all have our something.  And even though she never added the following words to our conversation, I’d like to tack them on for good measure.  Because the sentiment was certainly there.

Be proud of your something.  Be thankful for it.

And I have since started to think about the ‘somethings’ we admire in other people that we wish we ourselves had. Started to think about how that thinking and wishing and, let’s just say it: that envy- gets our hearts off track. Takes our focus off what we know we are doing well and messes with our minds. Because we all have our something that we do that makes us special. All have our something that makes us unique.  That makes us special, and amazing and perfectly US.

But how often do we look at someone else’s’ something and WANT IT.

Think their something must be better than those God-given qualities we’ve been given.

And the truth is- that something we want- that something someone else has… IS special and wonderful and brilliant and unique- for the very fact that there is an amazing human being doing whatever it is we are admiring as worthwhile and beautiful and interesting and smart.

My friend IS amazing at baking.  I am totally in awe when I taste her food.  I think her gift is just amazing.

But that’s what she thinks about me too.  That’s exactly what all our truest friends think when they think about us.  That the qualities we have that are admirable and worthy are AMAZING. They even might go so far as thinking: “that woman- she’s amazing. She can do____- something I know nothing about.  Wow, to only be her…” But be sure: if you are looking at someone else admiringly, you can be sure that there are moments where someone is looking right back at you doing the very same things. Seeing in you what it is YOU do best and admiring you for it.

Because all have our ‘something’. Let’s be proud of it- and by golly, let’s own it.

I was thinking, after I had this wonderful encounter, how very much we need to be real with one another and level with each other. Maybe it is time we told each other:

“You know what? I am struggling because I look at you and you do ____ so well. I just feel I don’t measure up.”  Because I think the door would then be open for real, honest discussion about why we want what we don’t have and why we have such a hard time appreciating what we do have.

I have wanted a few things lately- qualities that I admire in other women which I should have celebrated as being wonderful and unique to them, rather than envying and wanting something I cannot have.  We are all different for a reason, so why not celebrate what others DO have.  It is so much nicer than feeling jealous.

Okay. So, I am a woman who can’t make cookies, who has a home that looks like a cyclone flew through it, along with a host of other flaws that would fill a book; but I still believe I have ‘something’. Something to be proud of.  Something worth celebrating. So I am proud to share with all of you that my something is: that I am able to authentically express my heart through writing.

It’s my something.  My little gift.

And I even though I don’t have it all, I have something.

And that is ‘something’ to celebrate.

Every Student Needs a Champion

Something has been irking me for a while- gnawing away at my soul like it is a bone. Maybe it’s a sense. Certainly it is something I have tried to understand- this sense, this feeling. I have tried to figure out where it is coming from. And I think I wasn’t able to understand it completely until I watched Rita Pierson’s 2013 discussion on Ted Talks about teachers and students. A topic I hold close to my heart.

Watching her- I just knew what it was I believed in my heart.

Have you ever been there? Ever known deep down inside that something is philosophically not resonating but been unable to articulate it? That’s how I have felt about certain school reforms I have seen come and go and then come around again- certain propensities our schools have toward standardized testing and adhering to core curriculum concepts. We focus on the MIND as if that was all that mattered. As if the brain is the only part that made a human worthy. Yes, that’s how I have been feeling: confused about why these and other educational trends to institutionalize schools even more than they already are institutions bother me so much. That is, until today. But I now can see clearly. I know what it is I believe. And that is above all, I believe that for student success to become a reality, every student needs a champion that believes in them as a being- not just a cerebral brain.

Is this earth-shattering news? Something we’ve not heard before? A new revelation?

Not really. We’ve always known that students need someone to appreciate their worth- body, soul and mind. That they need someone to look up to/learn alongside who will fight for them, believe in them, vouch for them and care for them. All of them- not just the academic parts. But I wonder if we were truly to stop and ask ourselves- what is it students need most of all…what would our answer be?

Would it only concern that grey matter in their head?

Do students need most- capable, effective instructors who can deliver the goods- inputting them neatly into the empty receptacle of the brain?

Do students need experts in science? Math? Languages? Art? And music?

Do they need great orators who can entertain with stories and interesting trivia?

Or do they need talented curriculum guides to make study easy and exciting?

Or is it an organized, crafty designer to make the class room inviting and warm that they need?

A content specialist?

A well-educated scholar?

A parent, friend or a magician?

A babysitter?

What, of all these and many other positive and negative teacher attributes, do students then really need so as to find success inside the classroom and beyond? What is the one extrinsic factor that defines clearly the success of a student- the whole student?

It’s simpler than you might think. Students need more than anything teachers that care.

They need teachers that are willing to care enough to be a champion of the students- believing in them against the odds. Students need teachers that care about their intellect- but equally alongside that grey matter that contributes to the whole, students need teachers that care about their emotional development, social development, creative capacity, cognitive understanding and physical ability. Who care about their hearts.

This is not to say that teachers cannot care about the mind. Students need teachers who care enough about them as students to infuse passion into their science programs- their math classes and beyond. Need capable, effective instructors who can live out their calling. Students need teachers who love their content area, but they need even more than this effective teachers who don’t make subject material such a focus that the kids sitting there in front of them fade into the background. Need teachers who don’t make kids play second fiddle to the content. Students need teachers who know the curriculum in such a way that they can make it fit the students’ learning- along with needing teachers who are specialists in their area of interest and thus passionate enough to care that their students learn about the world around them. But do not underestimate that these teachers care only about the mind. These teachers are more than just skill and drill. Their curriculum is the heart.

It’s what students want. What students need most- teachers who care.

Students need teachers that care enough about them to ask questions, offer suggestions, take an interest, get to know them, nudge them, listen to them, move them, inspire them.

And students need teachers who believe in themselves enough to also see that their adult minds are also growing and developing too- because teachers never stop learning. It is our students sometimes that remind us of the importance of curiosity, wonder and imagination.

For within all of the various teacher types, when observed as already being effective and dynamic, there is one more thing they share in common: care. They are all defined by and characterized by the ability to compassionately, empahically care.

And that’s exactly what students need- what they want and remember most about the teachers who teach them.

That they care.

Because teachers who care about their subject, course material and content area also tend to care about what really matters most- the people they teach.  (At least they can and they should!).

What it really comes down to is this: students don’t want teachers to see them as hollow receptacles for knowledge, as empty buckets needing to be filled.  As problems and burdens and inconveniences and annoyances. They want us to see them as human beings. As people with potential and possibility. As capable and able to do the impossible.

And at the end of the day, what students want to see in us their teachers is a man or woman who is their champion.

Because every student deserves a champion.  Every single one of them.

This messy, complicated life? {It’s worth it…}

She starts to talk, but her voice cracks. Tears are falling, even though I can’t see them over the phone-line. They’re there. Welling up in her eyes, free flowing down her cheeks. Splashing onto her hands and fingers- her chin trembling.

And even though I can’t see her- I know all about it, know that she is struggling. Struggling with accepting this. Struggling with understanding this. Struggling with living all this- putting one foot in front of the other. She is struggling with showing up each and every day to her lived reality.
Because showing up and facing this hard life that doggedly pursues us, day in and day out is one of the biggest obstacles we must overcome.

Life is hard.

She and I both know it. In fact, we all know it. And don’t we all just wish we could fix it up and take away all the messy? Take away all the trouble and pain and struggle and heartache we and our loved ones must endure? We just wish it would all vanish, leaving us with happiness and joy and peace as a trade-off. Because everywhere we look, it’s there.

Heart-ache.

It’s there. In our conversations. In our homes and our families. In our schools, and workplaces and communities. In our nation and scattered heavily throughout our world. Pain and heartache are there every time we turn on the news, turn on the television. This world is so full of trouble- it’s depressing. It’s certainly one of the surest things we can count on in this life.

And wouldn’t life be so much better without it there- without all that misery?
Because life would be so much better if it were perfect. And sometimes we look around and we compare ourselves and our lives to others. Maybe it’s simply comparing ourselves to what we see as the ideal. Maybe it is someone elses marriage. Or their seemingly perfectly-kept home. Or maybe it’s their children that we see as so amazing- and what we wouldn’t give to have our children behave/perform/act in the very same ways.

Maybe it’s another person’s career we’re after or their success in life we want. Maybe it comes down to money and health and overall happiness. We crave for what we do not have. Maybe it’s just everything at times- because things just look so bleak in our own lives. We look around and take stock of our troubled, pain-filled lives- finding they always fall short of where we’d like them to be.

Our lives are hard.

Maybe we might look around and see something we don’t have in our lives and think “if I only had that one thing”- that missing ingredient (which, if we had it, then would make everything just as it should be). Maybe it is something we see as missing within us, some imperfection:

Our struggle with weight.
Our frustration with appearance.
Our un-acceptance of our God-given personality.

Or maybe what eludes us is closer to home.

Our difficult relationships with significant others.
Our parenting mistakes.
Our chaotic households.

And when these things we hold near and dear to our hearts are in turmoil, doesn’t everything else seem to be affected? The whole world appears to be in disarray. Our lives are so colored by the success of what is going on inside our own minds. If we are not at peace within, there seemingly is no peace.

And when we live in such a state of personal discontentment, we look out and see the larger world around us and believe there is absolutely no hope.
How can there be when life is so full of pain? So full of struggle?

And so, that is exactly what discouragement and despair and disappointment can do to us. They restrain us, detain us- hold us in bondage. They pin us down, hold us back. Lock us up and leave us in darkness. For despair would have us to forget the joy and the sweet beauty that pain in its hardship can bring.

For what caterpillar in its simplicity could ever imagine that out of the pitiful ugly would come beautiful wings?

What soldier could ever explain the surrender of leaving all so as to serve a greater cause? It is a sacrifice made so that peace might come. All that hardship and sorrow and painful separation from family done so as to bring peace and freedom to the many.

What mother can ever forget the joy of delivering her precious children into this world? A journey taken for both mother and child that calls for great sacrifice and huge cost. It is hard, messy, difficult work to be born- to give birth, but what joy and precious beauty is brought because of it?

And for all of us. We forget that we are being made beautiful in time as well. Our lives count for something bigger- this is not all there is. Our pain is making us stronger. Our hardship causes us to grow more deeply in compassion. Our struggle helps us to become more empathic. And in sharing our heartaches, we help others to know that they are not alone.

We never are- for He is always with us.

And sometimes we forget to acknowledge that we’re in this life together. We are in this with other people. In this life with a God that loves us- who is always rooting for us, wanting us to win. We are in this life with a God who doesn’t expect perfection- He just asks that we show up to the imperfect, messy lives He’s given us to live and give them our all. Give it “mostly enough.” And might we all remember- not one of us humans is doing this life up perfectly. Because there is no perfect in the here and now. No such thing as flawless in this life.

Perfection is an ugly myth- it is a lie.

But for those who believe in the fullness of time, we know that someday we will have that which slips through our fingers today. Someday we will know and understand. Someday it will all be clear. And we hold fast to the hope that there is more to living life than merely surviving the messy present. More to it all than merely enduring the day to day heartache. For this world is not our home- He has set eternity in our hearts.

The story isn’t over.

And all the pain and trouble and heartache of this life are here to grow our hearts in understanding- grow our hearts in love. One toward another. So that we can come to realize: life is worth the living- worth doing it together.

It’s worth it all in spite of all the trouble we must face as we go through.

We are not alone.

Our Hope

Oh, Canada

Oh, Canada- our home…and native land.

This has been a very difficult week.  A difficult week for Canada. A difficult week for us all. And for those of us struggling personally- with private issues that remain largely unseen, what happened yesterday might feel like the straw that broke the camel’s back. The last remaining fiber holding fragile hearts together. Causing us to feel a sense of hopelessness- causing us to feel bereft, discouraged and desperate. These are difficult times by anyone’s standards. Whenever I turn on my inspirational Christian radio station these days on Sirius satellite, the songs all talk of hope. It seems to be what we crave, what we desire more than anything else in a world gone horribly wrong. Listen to the words of this song:

“Hope sleeps without me Her sweet dreams surround me, But I’m left out I’ll need a fix now To believe, to feel These rooms are dark now These halls are hollow, And so am I She is hard to find now To believe, to see Hope is what we crave, And that will never change So I stand and wait I need a drop of grace To carry me today, A simple song to say It’s written on my soul: Hope’s what we crave I won’t turn to dust now Let these tears rust now On my face Give me the spark now To believe, to see Hope is what we crave, And that will never change So I stand and wait I need a drop of grace To carry me today, A simple song to say It’s written on my soul: Hope’s what we crave…”

It is indeed- it’s what we want more than anything. When all is crumbling around us: we crave for hope. When the lights dim and the spark’s snuffed out: we crave for hope. When the embers are dying and the fire has been all but extinguished, we want nothing more than hope. Hope is what we crave.

“To live, to die, To lose, to care, To rise above To love again To love again Hope is what we crave, And that will never change So I stand and wait I need a drop of grace To carry me today, A simple song to say Hope is what we crave I need a drop of grace It’s written on my soul: Hope’s what we crave It’s written on my soul: Hope’s what we crave Hope’s what we crave Hope’s what I crave.”

Hope. It’s there- within our grasp. It stands in front of us- luminous and free. And we can claim it- it’s ours to hold onto. And all because of this- Hope was found rising just 2000 years ago. Hope rose. And Hope still lives today. Hope might be what we crave- but as sure as I’m standing, hope is what He gave.

And that hope’s in front of me.

“I’ve been running through rain That I thought would never end Trying to make it on faith In a struggle against the wind I’ve seen the dark and the broken places But I know in my soul No matter how bad it gets I’ll be alright There’s hope in front of me There’s a light, I still see it There’s a Hand still holding me Even when I don’t believe it I might be down but I’m not dead There’s better days still up ahead Even after all I’ve seen There’s hope in front of me There’s a place at the end of the storm You finally find Where the hurt and the tears and the pain All fall behind You open up your eyes and up ahead There’s a big sun shining Right then and there you realize You’ll be alright There’s hope in front of me There’s a light, I still see it There’s a Hand still holding me Even when I don’t believe it I might be down but I’m not dead There’s better days still up ahead Even after all I’ve seen There’s hope in front of me There’s a hope still burning I can feel it rising through the night And my world’s still turning I can feel your love here by my side You’re my hope You’re the light, I still see it Your Hands are holding me Even when I don’t believe it I’ve got to believe I still have hope You are my hope.”

God, you are our Hope

Mostly Enough

I shouldn’t feel this way.  But I do.

In spite of my best efforts, in spite of all I do, all I say and all I strive to be. In spite of how many braids I plait, clothes I fold, rides I provide, meals I make. In spite of how much I take an interest. In spite of how many emails I have sent concerning them, conversations I have struck up because of them. Tears I have shed over them. In spite of the concerts I have attended. Piano lessons I have paid for. Not to mention hockey and skating lessons, soccer and softball fees. In spite of the board games I have played and bike rides I have participated in. In spite of all the times I have lain in bed at night with them in the dark. In spite of every dose of medication I have administered and days I have taken to be home with them.

In spite of everything.

I still don’t always feel I am doing enough.

So I sat with Husband on a Sunday afternoon on the edge of a bridge, lazily watching a river trout jumping in and out of the water, while minnows swam in a school right underneath our toes. I sat watching the breeze gently rustling the river grass while birds flew gracefully overhead. I sat.  On a perfectly beautiful autumn afternoon in the beauty of nature and the perfection of a gorgeous sunny day. And all I could think in those blissful moments that should have brought me peace and tranquility was how inadequate I felt as a mom.

How “not enough” I was as a parent.

No calling to mind of any of the above list could have really convinced me otherwise in that moment and time. I simply felt that I wasn’t doing enough. Being enough. Showing enough.

Felt I wasn’t enough.

And while it seems I have been succumbing to these feelings more and more lately, I don’t always have a reasons for why I do this to myself.  Why this happens. I know the research. I know what this generation is characterized by- indulgence and lenience. It is an age of tolerance and low expectations.  And I know my own story and personality well- I am an overachiever. A perfectionist. And as usual, somewhere deep in my perfectionist psyche, I am punishing myself for inadequacies that I think are there. That I felt others in my family could see and feel as deeply as could I.

My lack of patience. My quick temper. My exhaustion that affects both my mood and my energy level. My frustration. My intolerance. My tendency to speak without thinking carefully through beforehand. All combining to make me feel shame and despair- and added to that, make me even feel less than “not enough”: more like a complete failure.

Since Sunday, I’ve been thinking about these feelings. Ruminating about them in my head, if not even a bit out loud with Husband and my mom in casual conversation. And coincidentally, I happened to come across this little blurb from Jen Hatmaker’s new book tonight as I scanned her blog. Here’s what she had to say about her beliefs about parenting:

Only our overly-critical, overly-involved generation could possibly engineer such carefully curated childhood environments and still declare ourselves failures. We are loving, capable mothers reading the room all wrong.

Can I tell you my goal for my kids? That childhood was mostly good. People, I declare “mostly good” a raging success. If I was mostly patient and they were mostly obedient, great. If we were mostly nurturing and they were mostly well-adjusted, super. Every childhood needs a percentage of lame, boring, aggravating, and tedious. Good grief, life is not a Nickelodeon set. They need something to gripe about one day.

Mostly good is later remembered as “loved and safe.” I know because I now label my childhood “magical” even though my mom slapped me across the face in 7th grade and never bought me Guess jeans and accidentally left me at church numerous times. Mostly is enough.

You are doing a wonderful job. Parenting is mind-numbingly hard and none of us will be perfect at it and all of us will jack a thousand parts of it, and somehow, against all odds, it will still be enough.

Words like cool water on a parched tongue.

Mostly is enough.

And it’s okay to make a few mistakes along the way. In fact, it’s NORMAL.

Tonight, Daughter and I exchanged a few unpleasant words- mostly from my mouth, not hers. And after we got through most of the ugly, the message that cushioned all that had been said was the fact that we both really did love each other.  A lot. I know I sure do, and she tells me the same still, every night. Sometimes we Two have a funny way of showing it, but through it all, that love is constant in spite of the bad bits that tend to color our relationship. It is there, in spite of everything that makes me feel “not enough”.  Not good enough. And thank heavens for that. Because love remains in spite of the misunderstandings, frustrations, clashes and head-butting that sometimes occurs, I can carry on- with the understanding that love will also carry both me and my family through the good, the bad and the ugly. For love is and always will be a constant in this family: even when the storms roll in.  Even when the bullets fly.  It is and will be the foundation on which our family life is built upon. And although we might fight like it is 1999, we still love each other through it all.  We’ve committed to that.

We love each other. And that love, while imperfect, is never mostly enough.

It’s everything.

The problem with schooling: We don’t value the whole child

I am sitting here at my desk in the far corner of my kindergarten room. My room is bright and inviting, full of interesting things to discover and explore.  There is a play-kitchen center where children can use their imaginations to pretend they are a short-order chef or a store-owner.  A puzzle and games center for problem-solving.  A wooden theatre for using puppetry in the telling of creative stories and singing songs.  There is a writing station, a book area, an easel and a chalkboard.  And there are lots of toys that can be used for a multitude of purposes for which the imagination holds no boundaries.

In my classroom, there are little people.  Some of these little people like to sing.  Some like to dance and jump.   They love to roll and skip and hop and run. They love to talk and share and discuss.  Every one of them will often have so many ideas bursting through their amazing minds that they will share things with me all at once- their voices creating a cacophony of overwhelming sound.  I often have to remind them that only one person can share at a time, as Mrs. Gard (in her (ahem!) seniority), has ears that can only pay heed to one single voice speaking at once.  The fact that they delight in the ‘telling’ cautions me to never discourage them.

In my classroom, we learn how to read and count.  These foundations of learning are certainly a priority.

But we also learn the following:

*how to work out problems with a friend

*how to grow a plant

*how to share our feelings

*how to be a friend

*how to co-operate

*how to participate in group activities

*how to respect individually-owned and classroom-shared property

*how to take responsibility for our belongings

*how to ask for help

* how to take care of personal needs

*how to express ideas and feelings through play, through music, through art, through dance

* how to choose materials in our day-to-day learning and then use them in a variety of ways (one of which is our recyclable bin which often has supported the building of airplanes and robots)

* how to respect another individual’s personal space

I think most would agree- these are worth-while endeavors for learning, both in the kindergarten classroom and beyond.  Yes, reading and counting (literacy proper and numeracy proper) are valued in our kindergarten classroom.  But these ideals are not everything we believe is important for learning. For in this room, we place importance and value on more than just the children’s minds: we place value on more than merely the use of anyone’s mind-my own mind included, for that matter.  In this room, we value hearts and hands and feet and whole bodies.

Our learning is not just centered within our heads.

One way we accomplish this goal is through learning using the five senses.  When we learn about apples, we don’t just count them- we pick them and touch them and smell them and taste them.  When we learn about plants, we grow them- feeling the dirt beneath our fingernails.  When we learn about pumpkins, we plunge our hands into their slimy centers to discover the seeds that lie within.  We don’t just read about them in books or count manipulatives meant to represent them.

We discover them.

And to be honest, these things are really not all there is to the learning accomplished.  For when we are learning about apples, what we are really learning to do is appreciate that food comes from somewhere- that if we don’t grow food, we will have nothing to eat.  We are learning that  fruit growers (among other farmers) are necessary to our economy.  We are learning to value and appreciate the important work they do and the products they provide.

And when we learn about plants, we are learning how to work together in community- how to share the workload so that everyone has a job.  We are learning social responsibility and citizenship and ecological awareness.  And in learning about pumpkins, we are discovering that we can take creative risks- even for the ones who have never done something like this before.  For some have not ever experienced the joy that is pumpkin-carving. The joy that is a pumpkin seed bursting on their tongues. We are learning how to share and take turns, and in so doing- learning to value and respect one another.

In kindergarten, there has always been a strong emphasis placed on the whole child.  The child’s mind, their heart and their body.  We don’t separate the mind from the body or the heart from the mind- they all work together in harmony in this milieu.  So when we are learning in kindergarten, there are always multiple, myriad lessons underway- the most important of which are not usually academic.

I fear that in following and ascribing to the school format we have inherited and adopted that is focused on standardized testing and outcomes, we are valuing only one aspect of the child: that is, their head.  What could be defined as the cerebral. And while that is important and worthy, we are doing children a disservice if we are not appreciating the various aspects that make the whole child.  Particularly for children for whom the cerebral is not their main area of strength.  Their area of gifted-ness.

I would ask you to consider the following:

“The purpose of education has been debated for centuries.  Many educators and child development experts argue that the overarching goal of education is to promote the highest possible levels of cognitive, social, emotional, physical, and ethical development for each child.  The whole-child movement is based on the proposition that education must move beyond preparing children to become “well educated” citizens who are productive participants in the economic system.  Education must also cultivate in young people spirituality, reverence for the natural environment, and a sense of social justice.  Education must inspire children’s creativity, imagination, compassion, self-knowledge, social skills, and emotional health.  In this way, the term holistic education simply means cultivating the whole person and helping individuals live more consciously within their communities and natural ecosystems”(Miller, 2005).

In this way, education that is holistic in focus and purpose has at its focus yes, the intellect, but also the emotional composition, the social relations, the physical health and ability, the artistic sense, the creative capacity, and the spiritual potential.  “It seeks to engage students in the teaching/learning process and encourages personal and collective responsibility on the part of professionals charged with student’s development.” (Kochar-Bryant, 2010)

I believe that all classrooms are at potential risk- all classrooms are at potential crisis point.  We have sadly erred from the purpose of schooling in developing the individual as a whole in all aspects of being. But since I teach in a kindergarten classroom, I will write focused on this.  Our kindergarten curriculum is special.  Our classrooms are precious places set apart for discovery. We must not allow anyone to take away from us the joy we find in learning using our whole selves.  We must preserve the right children have to a curriculum that appreciates and understands the child as a person in all the aspects of their development. And we must encourage teachers to fight for what they believe in.

In my kindergarten room, we will (as we have always done): learn to count the desks, chairs and tables in our room and arrange geometric shapes into patterns.  But we will also learn how to care about these materials- how to respectfully use them and store them away when we finish play.  We will learn ideals about how to share and cooperate while playing and discovering.  And we will learn how to care for the materials and people with whom we interact in applying math principles to everyday living always with the intent to care and invest.

And in this room, we will also (again, as we have always done), value literacy goals like speaking and listening, reading and writing.  But we will do so for a higher purpose than just a check-mark on a report card.  We will value these foundational pillars for the ways in which they help us connect to the essential others in our world, having as our focus that learning is done so as to become the incredible friend, classmate, companion and group member we were meant to be.

This is the goal.

Nel Noddings (2003) has said that many of our schools are in a crisis of caring, failing to enable students to become caring, compassionate individuals as well as failing to model for them the same.  Let us not fail them in continuing to perpetuate the agenda that their mind was only made for the purpose of being a mathematical computer spitting out data.  Or as an empty vessel to be filled with knowledge.

Let us remember: the mind was made to care.

Keeping an Open Heart

13a But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened…

― Hebrews 3:13New International Version (NIV)

“If we learn to open our hearts- anyone, including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher.”
Pema Chödrön

“I used to be very suspicious of other women. I felt it was my duty to prove myself to other women. To defend my imaginary superiority. To hide my imaginary inferiority. I felt like I could never let my guard down, never relax. This was before I found my perspectacles. Now, mostly, instead of perceiving other women as competition, I put on my glasses and I see each woman God places on my path as a gift, an invitation, a resource, sent to teach me something I don’t yet know. Sent to help me heal in a specific way that only she can. Even when it becomes clear that the relationship is not going to work out, that we will have to part ways, she is still a gift because I am learning how to part ways with another child of God lovingly and gracefully. And so I get to practice taking care of myself and others. And I am able to relax. To stop grabbing and hiding. To understand that God sends exactly who we need, 100 percent of the time.”

―Glennon Melton

I was sitting at my desk sifting through emails and other life-related stuff- trying to balance my work and life and everything in it, when that feeling surfaced. That itchy-soul feeling. The kind of feeling you get when you know life and seemingly everything in it is driving you stark, raving mad.  Making you feel crazy.

It starts small- a slip of the tongue or a minor offense that can easily be apologized for and then swiped under the table, brushed off as an anomaly. But then it comes again. That itchiness- worsening when something else in your life goes horribly awry. You have ‘one of those days’ which leads to another of the same. To another and another. Someone hurts you, you hurt someone else. And the offenses grow and develop into something ugly. So the cycle continues, the itchiness growing into discontentment. Frustration. Anger and resentment.

Patterns become cycles which grow into lifestyles if we are not careful.

And those days which begin as just small inconveniences can lead to a quantifiable measure of difficult days before we know it, causing us to believe and harmfully develop a mindset that says ‘life is just plain, downright horrible’. And that it’s sometimes just not worth the effort.

Not worth the effort to understand and listen from the heart, that is. For that is the moment we realize: we must examine the heart to see if the issue was stemming from there in the first place.

Sometimes we need to have an open-heart surgery. A figurative open-heart surgery, that is.

Today I had to perform one on myself. A procedure to open my heart rather than close it off to the circumstances and concerns I was facing. And instead of feeling hard and angry toward the issue I was presented with- which might have been my normal bent, I was able to, little by little, see the issue at hand through some dandy perspectacles. Able to claim love over frustration.  Embrace joy over resentment. Anne Lamott says sometimes experiencing glimpses of heaven is just wearing a new pair of glasses, and I concur. Seeing our troubles and concerns- our frustrations and grievances- through fresh eyes, as how it might look like from another vantage point is sometimes all we need so as to open our hearts to one another.

Because sometimes those perspectacles put everything we thought was horrible into crystal, clear focus. Causing us to see that things weren’t as bad as we thought they might have been. Not as insurmountable as we first envisioned.

And all because our perspectacles enabled us to keep both an open mind and an open heart.

Fight for Joy…

We walk through a shorn grain field- all prickles and stumps, toward the thirty-acre stand of stalwart hardwood that situates itself behind our property. Sun streams unfiltered on our head and hands, warming us as we stroll. Our feet scuffle along through the brittle roughage that remains rooted to the earth while our eyes remain fixed on the tree line just over the horizon that awaits in the peaceful quiet of the wooded center, serving as a promise. A promise of what is yet to come.   But first, we will push our way inward through brush and saplings, through tall grass and undergrowth that will slap and poke at our legs and hands leaving marks and tufts of some unknown weed on our pant legs. Young tree branches smack our arms when we forget to keep watch. We trip and stumble.

It is a struggle to push through. Yet we labor through this minor inconvenience for the joy that awaits. For the promise that is the sun trickling down like a waterfall through the branches of a reddened maple. Or for the delight that is a bed of leaves arranged just so on the forest floor. Daughter catches hold of a tree and swings around it dizzily as if it were a Maypole. I later find her gathering fallen leaves and fern growth in her little hands which she brings to me declaring her intent. We are to put them in a vase when we get home with a little water and voila! An instant bouquet will have been formed.

But all this, still yet a promise as we struggle through the entry point, as we manoeuvre our way along through the narrow passageway that leads to more. Sometimes we have to fight for the joy.

And didn’t the pastor say as much in his prayer? That he would have us fight for joy, contend for delight? He would urge us to not give up when the going gets tough, when the contentment starts to vanish. We must fight all the harder for joy when things are hard and life is challenging. Joy might seem elusive but it still lays waiting for its claimants to find it. To declare it as their own.

Joy is nothing special if it always comes to us easily.

For those things and people in life we have cried over, longed for, carried on about, cared for, thought deeply about, prayed greatly over, hoped for, believed in, desired for, sought after and belabored on behalf: those are the things and people that will illuminate our understanding of joy, piece by painful piece. Little by little. What will bring us joy is that which we have sacrificed for, one way or the other. What we will have invested in deeply. The returns might not always be as forthcoming as we might hope in the short-term, but the long-term investments are mostly more than worth the blood, sweat and tears.

So we press on.

Fighting so that we can find joy, have joy and live joy with the ones we love right now. Fighting so that we can live joy for the ones we’ve loved (past). In the life we live (present). In the life we plan to live tomorrow (future). But always fighting so that we can experience joy- right now and again tomorrow. We can’t change yesterday but we can fight for today, fight for tomorrow. And we fight knowing that what we’re struggling for is worth the effort.

Because joy is always worth the fight.

So I fight daily for joy- believing: hope against hope that the struggle is worth it.  And I watch the joy begin to grow, inch by precious inch.  One day at a time.  One small gain made after the other.  Knowing that I will always find joy if I keep my heart open for it.  If I keep my heart tender.

The joy of field trips…

Retrieved from Johnston’s Schools website

I came home tonight after watching a killer last set in my daughter’s volleyball game (please do not ask a whole lot of questions about the first four sets, ‘cause that score was kind of private) to which I heard the following anguished cry from Youngest not even five minutes after lighting the home fires:

“Mooooooooommmmmm….(heave, heave, sob, sob)…..I just….(sobbing) burned down my house on Minecraft…accidentally. And it was my favoritest house ever. And I just had made it…..(sobbing).”

It’s interesting how these funny little things follow me around- just begging for me to write about them. We were at the dentist today about a permanent tooth that Daughter had broken two weekends ago on a Saturday afternoon. How do you tell the inquiring dentist that your child broke said tooth playing “Abduct the Baby” with her little sister? It’s just not the normal excuse. And just for the record, the dentist did ask. (I was very vague). I mentioned this all to a friend at the store and she said that her child had also had a similar catastrophe, only to another part of the body while straddling the black bin in their driveway, singing at the top of her lungs.

I could just totally relate- neither one of us thought either occurrence was less than normal. But I guess the average person does not live this way.

So what this story is REALLY about is our school field trip today. Wow, just wow. Where do I begin…? For the record, the above stories were just my warm-up.

How does one frame a blog article about a field trip adventure in which a bus full of three kindergarten classes of children ages 4-5 is pulled off the road for an hour and a half because its crisis exits are screaming “Emergency! Emergency!” in a language all their own? How do you even start discussing bathroom issues? Or temporary bushes with prickles that can serve as the restroom when all else fails? Thank goodness for Kleenex.

All I have to say is this: to those passer-bys that saw a woman jumping up and down, touching her derriere, rubbing her belly and then doing scissors jumps/jumping jacks, you try entertaining 35 youngsters for an hour and a half on the side of the road. I dare you. It’s a game called Simon Says and kids love it. Maybe you’ve heard of it.

Okay, seriously. I am just so thankful for the neighbors who saw me (obscurely, I swear) hiding in the bush with one Little Person and then kindly offered their “facilities” to the rest of the kiddos on the bus. Thank you. Words cannot express… I am sure I looked like a wild woman because at the time I was also trying to protect said child from the dog that kept barking at us from across the road. I was sincerely concerned for everyone’s safety, not the least of which was my own.

Back to the woman across the road. She was simply the best. And what she did was humbling, it was simply just too kind. (Now that I think about it, were we doing them a favor by removing ourselves from the bushes on the sides of their road?) At any rate, that woman deserves a Good Neighbor/Good Citizen award- she was amazing. Simply above and beyond amazing. She turned her television on, offered us her washroom (which we paraded in steadily for the better part of an hour, boots, dirt and all) along with water to drink from her kitchen faucet. And she trusted us enough that she left and drove off with all of us still on her lawn. I mean, really: where but the country would this ever happen. We then continued to enjoy the property, playing numerous games of Duck, Duck Goose and the afore-mentioned Simon Says until the Department of Transportation showed up in all their glory after having got lost a time or two on the back-roads of P.E.I. and generously fixed the bus

It was a time. A TIME I say. I sure had fun.

Needless to say, I had planned a full slate of activities for the day. I am nothing if not a glutton for punishment. I had invited a professional chef to come into the school and bake apple pies with each of my students as a surprise for their parents. Boo hoo, ’cause that unfortunately never happened. But then again: the apples were not ‘all there’, shall we say, by the end of the day anyway (became the snack); even if they had been, cooking pies in a half of an hour would have been even an absolute miracle even for her and she’s one of the most amazing chefs I know.

So, it’s been a slice. A slice of every kind of apple I know, including Honeycrisp (which the bus driver ended up finding and picking for me after I had run all over the orchard looking for them during my five minute break (or I could call it my ‘break your neck’ as that’s my kind of luck), I spent my time aimlessly running around the orchard only to find these beauties were growing in the row marked “Jona Gold”. So that’s how they keep ’em a secret. Who knew.

Can’t wait for the next field trip.

When You Don’t Feel Thankful

Retrieved from Clouds 365 Blog

She stands folding clothes as they talk on the phone. A small stack of washcloths emerges as she reaches the end of the pile. She starts in on the socks trying to find matches while the other voice carries to her over phone wires. And all the while she is listening. Sometimes God speaks loudest when we are doing the basest of tasks. The laundry room can be a holy place.

“I am having a hard time feeling thankful,” she admits. It’s hard feeling thankful when you reach breaking point. When you are falling. When you lie face to the ground. This is not a place to say ‘thanks’- it’s a place to ask ‘why’. A place to demand answers, reasons, explanations.

Ground Zero is not a place for gratitude.

She closes the laundry room door and starts walking, phone to the ear.

There are so many biblical verses that tell us we will never be given more than we can handle and that there is always enough grace- but it is hard to believe. Sometimes. Hard to believe that God is enough. That we can live life. That there is more than enough strength thorough steady, common grace. Hard to believe that God’s grace is sufficient.  It’s a matter of perspective really. Not always circumstance.

For even in our darkest moments- there is light that shines.

I tap out words many hours later. The sun is just rising on a darkened world. Through the trees, I can see the beginnings of light. Through all obstacles, light shines through. Soon, there will be a brilliant display of glorious, epic proportions. There will be a wash of colour, a splash of pinks, oranges, yellows and reds. There will be a glorious sun rising. And it will be beautiful.

But in this given moment, it’s just a peek of light. A promise that more is on its way.  There is still darkness all around.  And if we didn’t know otherwise, we would think it would be like this forever.  But this we know: there is always the promise of a new day.  If yesterday wasn’t all it was suppose to be cracked up to be, well there is always today. Bleak night will turn into morning light.  We have this surety.

And even if that isn’t enough- if the promise of a new day with new hope isn’t enough, and I don’t really feel thankful or particularly grateful in spite of that hope, there are some things that can draw in in spite of my feelings, in spite of my circumstances and the particular place I find myself occupying in life RIGHT NOW. There are things I can still be thankful for…
1. Thankful that I have a choice in how I view my life. I can view it through a lens of despair or a lens of hope. I have at my disposal a choice: how am I going to view this. It’s mine to make.
2. Thankful that I have a choice in what I voice about my life. I can describe it in gloomy terms or in glowing terms. I have at my disposal a choice: how am I going to talk about this. It’s mine to make.
3. Thankful that I have a choice in how I interpret meaning for all the events in my life- both difficult and joyous as they stand right now. These events can be interpreted as disastrous shards that should be discarded or as beautiful pieces fitting for the masterpiece in the making that my life is.

I have at my disposal a choice: how am I going to talk about this. It’s mine to make.

I stop looking out the window and look deep into my soul- searching for light, for some kind of illumination. And I remember that I had found some earlier this week in an exchange made between two dying women, both of cancer- but one full of hope and promise, the other without either of those spiritually speaking. And this is what the latter said in her beautiful letter to the woman bent on ending it all:

“Suffering is not the absence of goodness, it is not the absence of beauty, but perhaps it can be the place where true beauty can be known.” (Kara Tippetts)

Although life is full of pain and suffering and tears and unknowns, our lives are not meant to suffer through, to log as if in a chart book- ‘glad that day’s done’, to check off as over and finished. They are meant to be lived. To be experienced. Enjoyed and known. To be analyzed and understood as part of a Master Design. Meant to be celebrated. For each single day on its own is beautiful or terrible, depending on the perspective I might have had that particular day: but the entirety of the life is beautiful. And in our suffering, along with our joy, we find that God is making something incredible of all the pieces.

But He’s not finished with us yet.

Sometimes when things seem the messiest, the most work on the exquisite design is underway. And even when we don’t FEEL thankful, we can still BE grateful that the design is still in process.  It’s not completed yet. It’s just getting started. And it will be something beautiful- a breathtaking display of glorious wonder. When all is said and done.

We just have to strive to believe.