Why We Care

She slouches on the vinyl chair next to mine, chewing her lip, twirling her hair. Wrinkles creasing her brow. And as she sits, I wonder.  Is she thinking of what to expect, even as she knows the reason for why we are here? Or is there more to the wonder than mere childlike speculation?

The reason for why we have left the house at such a crazy-early hour to drive for two hours was not, of course, to only sit and wait. We are here for other more pressing concerns. And yet, there is always the fear of the great unknown- especially for a child.

Not to mention of course the apprehension it brings the mother.

The doctor arrives with a bluster of energy and vigour. She immediately puts at ease what was formerly a worry. What was moments ago a source of stress, a source of concern, is now an afterthought in light of this physician’s delightful presence. She just seems to do this work so naturally- without a thought to the magic she has achieved. Weaving a tapestry of compassion through her laid-back banter, silly jokes and thoughtful concern. But then again: doesn’t care always have that gentle way of easing, of lessening the burden? And as the moments tick toward the hour we will spend in this tiny little room, I find my daughter relaxing. Find her unwinding, creased brow giving way to a smile. And all this because a doctor has chosen to spend this hour in this room with us, taking the time needed to care for the person, rather than merely just diagnosing the patient.

If a busy doctor, bound by the relentless expectations and constraints that often define this demanding profession, can make the time to show caring, compassionate concern, so might we do much of the same in the field of education.

It is not a matter of should- it is a matter of how.

How can we invest in the lives of our students in caring, compassionate ways even as the demands around us increase exponentially?

We can and we must, and one way I propose this can be done is through investing in care. That is, making it a priority to value the person that is the student- along with the tandem idea of valuing the people as a whole which comprise our classroom community. Through valuing and giving worth to the human beings that represent the education system in which they are found, we give credence to the humanity of the students. We recognize the person-hood of each boy and girl, man or woman who sit in front of us day after day. And this- all achieved by seeing though the test scores, records and data to the very real hearts and souls of the children and teenagers that we are called to teach. Taking the time to know the story of their lives instead of reducing them to a number and figure on paper. Taking the time to understand the context in which the students we learn alongside- live, work and play. For when this happens, we can fully care for our students in their learning, development and growth even while the system might appear to breath heavy down our necks. After all, if we sacrifice care on the altar of academic standards of excellence, haven’t we lost everything?

Standards mean little if the people that represent them are dehumanized.

Walking humbly

I knew I had to do it- even last night as twilight gave way to darkness. But the frustration was still close to the surface. The feelings. And I found a myriad of reasons to explain my behavior, to ease the sting of my wrong done. Somehow, peace just would not come and so it was, I found myself wrapping my arms around her this morning, hugging her tight. I apologized then- for the way I handled my frustration last night. For what I did unkindly, in the heat of a moment. I asked her for forgiveness. And she offered it, freely. The ones we love the most are the ones we hurt the most frequently. And sometimes we forget that in offering those two little words ‘I’m sorry’ backed by heartfelt meaning we find the perfect way- the only peace-filled way in which to live, love and practice the art of forgiveness (that ancient art of letting go and loving wholly).

Forgiveness is a well-worn path leading to love.

Recently, I was ‘somewhere’ with our family. I am going to try to keep this vague so as to protect anonymity. Namely mine. I happened to be walking away from the washroom when I came across a person from my past whom I have not been able to speak to nor face up to for years due to a history of hurt between that person and my immediate family. There is a history here that goes back far with turbulent waters that run deep. There have been wrongs done, words spoken, vengeance taken. On both sides of the fence, perhaps- depending on whom you talk to. And over the years, I have believed that I had released the burden of offense that this person (and the persons who stand with them) had brought me. But yet, I still lived in fear of facing this person. What would I say? What would that person do? How would I react? What if I started to crack up under the pressure?

The binding of this offense from years ago still has a choke-hold on me.

It is not that this person makes me feel angry. It is fear mostly that I feel. Fear of the unknown, fear of what could happen, fear of humiliation. Fear of facing this person. I am reminded of that verse which states that perfect love casts out fear. To be exact, the words of this verse say this: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The man (or woman) who fears is not made perfect in love” (I John 4: 18, NIV) I wonder- what if I practiced loving this person instead of channeling my energy into fearing them. What might transpire were that to happen?

I can tout myself as being a loving person but if I cannot love my enemies, the love I offer is shallow. Who wouldn’t find it easy to love those who treat us well, those who build us up, edify our character? It is easy to love when love feels good. So much harder to love when the price is our pride, our image. We shouldn’t love solely when it is easy- we must love when it is hard. For in loving, we are free. But this is hard work- it require discipline.

I have found in recent years a yearning in my soul to exemplify love in my life. This love is not my own- it is God’s love channelled through me. It is supernatural love of a divine nature. And because I feel the power and presence of love in my life, I am free to love others in the very same ways I too experience love. Unconditionally, liberally, wholly.

In thinking about the offence I have felt over the years, one of which I make mention of above, I am humbly reminded of the offences at times that I have caused. At times, unknowingly and at other times, purposefully. If I am in any way offended by those who have hurt me, how much more then are those whom I have hurt injured by my offence to them? In being human, we are prone to hurt one another by our very nature- one does not have to look far in the news to find evidence of this. We are a hurting people. We live in pain. The freedom from which comes through forgiveness.

I wonder how much of our pain would be eased if we could only take the initiative to bear the weight of any offence committed against us through arms of love. What a humbling exercise- accepting responsibility to start the reconciliation process even when we haven’t been the one who wronged. This is not to say we must accept responsibility for wrongs done which we have not committed- it is just to say that in love and through grace, we can make the first move. This is biblical principle. For we see through scriptures over and over again that love is the antidote to the pain which breeds fear. Not that love can eradicate pain- but it can help us cope with our response to pain. True, there will always be those in our lives that inflict on us the brutality of injustice- but it is the reaction to such that determines the load we end up carrying. My response to the offender is what determines the pain I carry in my shoulders, in my body. In my heart. The release is found in forgiveness.

We must let go and in love move forward.

Recently, a very special woman shared with me her decision to go to someone who had deeply hurt her and how she found grace to offer a hand in love to this person. Just today, I read of a woman whose former husband murdered her three baby boys before turning the gun on himself. And yet, this hurting woman found strength in time to forgive this man, thus releasing her own burden of despair. I think of a man in our own community who offered forgiveness to another during his own family’s darkest hour. And in my own life, I have found the greatest peace has come through laying down my own agenda and rights so as to walk in peace with another human being. So as to walk in peace with my God. I am daily reminded through these and other stories- that it is in releasing our fear, our pain and choosing love in spite of the tremendous odds that we find supernatural strength to forgive.

It is there in the peaceful still that we find quiet, humble grace.

Let me be one who cares

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

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

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

Oh, the luxury.

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

But I digress.

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

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

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

Interesting theory which I am working out in practical ways.

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

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

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

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

But here’s the sting.

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

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

But let me explain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As one who cares.

On Being a Learner

Teacher. One who influences another in their growth and development as a multi-faceted person. That we can be influential in this endeavor is an amazing bonus. Those teachers with influence are said to be difference makers. And it doesn’t take a B.Ed to be one either.

I have been thinking about that word ‘teacher’ for a while now, wondering what a teacher really is. Who a teacher is. What they do. And how one goes about becoming one. How one becomes influential as one. How a teacher can really make a difference. And in thinking about such, I think I might have found a few answers to my many questions today. And by that I mean, I was taught a few things by a few students of mine today. They- that is MY STUDENTS: they are, and continue to be, some of my greatest teachers.

Here’s why.

It is our very last day of regular classes, and I am reviewing. I am trying to use the last moments of kindergarten to the maximum of my ability. We do our morning routine, three poems and two books. This, all accomplished before first snack of the day. And then, after recess I start in on the math lesson.

It’s going along terrifically.

When from out of nowhere, I hear the fateful words: “I’m bored.” As in, this math lesson you are teaching me, Mrs.G., it is boooooring. I am a little thrown off by this. This word: boring. I really haven’t heard this word a whole lot this year as we keep a pretty frantic pace here in KA all the live long day. There really is no time to be bored in kindergarten, tbh. In fact, I rarely hear those words. But today, they ring loud and clear.

Booooring.

“This is boring,” he says again, shrugging his shoulders meaningfully in my direction. I explain calmly that we are playing games- that this should be FUN. F.U.N. To no avail. He is not convinced, and he shows me with every fibre of his being. This is NOT fun.

So there.

Meanwhile, I focus my attention on another student who is struggling with these fun games I have planned. I patiently explain to her what I am looking for, but after several failed attempts at making myself clear- along with a bored student or two waiting in the wings and the one I am working with nearly in tears: I can feel frustration also rising in me. This isn’t working out as I planned it. As I thought it would.

This lesson isn’t flying. (The fun and games are now over…)

Sometimes, it is in humility that we learn our greatest lessons. It is when we are humbled to the point of being brought down low – taken down to a place where our ego can’t get the credit any longer. It is then that we find what we’ve been looking for. When we find answers to our bigger questions.

But sometimes it takes time to become aware of this important realization. It takes going through the waters to find dry land.

I wish I could say that I stopped the lesson immediately and switched gears- I didn’t. I kept plodding on. And I did so until something broke. And it was that moment of brokenness that made me realize- I am not here to fix problems, to make everything perfect. I am not here to help children reach perfection, to push them farther than they are ready to go: I am here to support them in their journey and walk beside them as they travel. I am here to learn from them- learn what it is to be a beginning learner. What that feels like to be a five-year old learner- what it feels like to be tired, frustrated, hungry and sad. What it feels like to be bored. And then, I am here to figure out how those emotions affect the person each of my students bring with them to class each and every day. So that they can learn better.

And so that I can learn better too.

That is, so that I can learn to be a better listener, a better empathizer, a better caregiver. So that I can learn when to nudge and when to pull back. So that I can learn when I need to support and when I need to release. So that I can learn how to accept and let go the things I cannot change. But also learn how to graciously and lovingly embrace the things I can.

This afternoon, I made a purposeful, intentional and deliberate decision: to be mindful of my students. To attend to them as they talked and played. To allow them to be themselves. And I found that in focusing my energy on my own learning, I was a happier teacher in that time frame then when I was trying so hard to accomplish my goals and outcomes. I was more at peace.

This isn’t to say that we can’t be focused and organized, doing what it is that needs to be done- but it is a cautionary warning. We must not let our individual agendas stand in the way of our all important learning. Learning which often happens when we are least expecting it to occur.

At least, that’s the way it has been for me today. Unexpected nuggets of wisdom from the little blessings in my life.

And I am still learning.

On Practical Jokes and Spilt Milk

I was inside my classroom during afternoon centers recently when I heard a quiet knock on my door. I opened the door, looked around, and then seeing no one, turned and shut the door. This happened twice. The second time, I looked out and asked a class at the fountain if there had been anyone in that classroom knocking at my door. The teacher standing with her class assured me there had not been anyone in her class, but she knowingly looked at me and then another little guy from a different class standing at the back of the line-up, his face giving him away with the slightest formation of a guilty grin. I smiled, turned around and went back into my classroom, confident that the person who had knocked on my door would go on his merry way, feeling no further need to exercise his impulsive desires on my classroom door.

At the end of the day, the teacher who had observed this little exchange came up to me wearing a sheepish expression. “I hope you know that it was not one of my students who knocked on your door,” she said looking half apologetic. Surprised, I assured her I was most definitely not bothered by a little knock on the door- that it would take more than that to upset my emotions. But she still continued to assure me that she would be extra vigilant in making sure that none of her students would ever bother my teaching in such a way, all the while making sure I understood it wasn’t her student who had pulled the practical joke.

While I appreciated the sentiments and also realize that there are times when practical jokes such as this one can be disruptive to the flow of a lesson or instruction format, the two little knocks on my door were minor disruptions at the most. The entire exchange took about three minutes. Tops. If this student’s impulsive knocking at my door became enough to push my buttons enough to upset me, and seemingly cause anxiety for both myself and others around me, then the question begs to be asked: is it time to maybe chillax a bit and stop sweating the smallest of issues? Because truly there are worse things in the world to get upset over than a minor inconvenience in one’s day such as a couple knocks at the door while one makes their way to the fountain might be.

I wonder how much energy we could save ourselves if we only chose to resist getting upset about minor issues. Things that don’t really matter all that much. Like knocks on doors, small frustrations, little bumps in the road. Spilt milk. What might happen if we were to just let those things go- and not let them bother us quite so much?


Today, I was just about to plow into a beautiful plate of breakfast, compliments of our amazing breakfast program at Bloomfield, when a student in my room upset the contents of her chocolate milk, leaving it to spread out in a circle formation all over her desk and then subsequently drip onto the floor. My immediate reaction was to feel annoyed. It was an inconvenience. I was also in the midst of another interaction with a teacher at the time, so there were actually three things underway at once. My immediate reaction was also to internally blow steam through my ears. It’s frustrating when things like this happen. Instead, I began to calmly wipe up the milk, while finishing the exchange going on with my colleague after which, I then ate my coldish eggs and pancakes.

Was it inconvenient? Yes. Did I have to put myself on hold? Yes. Was my first reaction patient, calm repose? No. But that’s okay. I am working on it- and the first step is to understand the issue. And that issue is the need to step back, relax and breath. Let the negative emotions flow away and realize that this too will pass.

And it did. The feelings of frustration passed. They always do. And I am finding that the more I practice this fine art of letting go, the better I am at it. At least for today, anyway. But that’s all I am truly accountable for.

Right now.

Pray For Moncton, New Brunswick

“Can you stay with me until I fall asleep?” she asks trustingly. I kiss her baby cheeks and cuddle in close.

When disaster strikes, everyone is afraid. And while it is hard for us as adults to understand the travesty of it all, for children it is unthinkable. Hard to believe in hope when all you feel is fear. Children everywhere are scared- I cannot even imagine what terrors are being played out in the minds of those children directly affected by this tragedy. I cannot even fathom.

We are two short hours and a bridge away, but even with that safety net, there is fear. Tonight, my children are fighting sleep because they are afraid. And as one daughter said, “I never had something happen this close to me before in my life.” Even earlier in the evening, another daughter weathered a cramp in the side just to go for the walk that Husband and I take in the evenings to catch a bit of sun and fresh air. She didn’t want to be at home without an adult. And at bedtime tonight, there were a lot of questions. And many, many prayers. Lots more reassurances.

We have family in the triangle currently being cordoned off for the search effort. In talks with my Great Aunt this evening, her gentleman friend’s driveway was two over from the scene of one shocking tragedy last night. My Mom and Dad, traveling through the area yesterday, were on the very streets only three short hours earlier where the horror unfolded last evening. Second and third cousins warned by police to vacate the premises were thus unable to get down their streets to their homes. Little did they know that at that very moment, the unbelievable was happening.

This is real. And it is frightening.

And because it is real, it is hard to know what to say to the little ones who are fearful in my house tonight. We take comfort in knowing that there is one Wiser and Stronger than we are who holds the whole world in His loving hands. Who holds us together in those moments in life when we fall apart. Who has knowledge and understanding of all things and Who can keep us in His perfect peace as our mind’s are fixed on Him. But we are so frail and prone to our humanity; this is so real.

So close to home.

Pray for our men and women in uniform tonight. Our heroes. We are so grateful to the ones who put their own lives in harm’s way to protect the greater good. Pray for courage and for safety. Pray for a quick, swift end to this nightmare, a return once again to the peace we so often take for granted.

And may the Good and Right win out over the evil we have seen. An evil which some have tragically experienced.

And may justice prevail. As we know it will.

As we know it will.

‪#‎PrayForMoncton‬

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/06/05/justin-bourque-moncton-manhunt_n_5450318.html?utm_hp_ref=canada

To The Teacher Who Is Considering Leaving…

Dear Teacher Who Wants to Quit:

I am sorry.

Sorry too that I must start first with regret. What a poor way to begin. But then. You are leaving teaching. And a void has already been left in the wake of this momentous decision. I feel that void. And sorrow too; for when decisions like this are to be made, it is grievous. It is hard. And it brings with the complication of the matter a complexity. Complemented by muddled thoughts and sincerest compassions.

I wish this were not so. But you must do this for you. I understand that. I respect that. I get it.

It’s still hard. For everyone. I hope you get that too.

You and I have never met. Our paths have never crossed. And oh!, but I desire they would. Would that they could. I felt the weight of the words I read tonight. Your words. You are done teaching now, after twenty-one years. Done. You say it’s over, even though doors have still been left ajar. Open in the event you change your mind. You won’t, you say. And so this decision (you so plainly express), it is thus a painful one. A pulling away, a separation. The full effect of which you have not yet felt, its raw intensity the afterglow.

You are leaving teaching.

Permit me to say this: what loss we as educators feel tonight. What collective pain we bear. You are a needless casualty. Sidelined. Left injured on the battle grounds. What other words to use but wounded, for we as teachers fight wars we’ve never bargained for.

Those left standing, one of which am I- we feel weak. Feel lacking without you. We do not know each other, you and I, but we joined forces when we stood united in our common desire to educate. Fellow comrades from different points across the globe. Teachers: called to inspire and educate and lift our students. We are fellow cohorts even though our life path lead us down different winding roads.

We have not met. But my heart aches. For your presence will be missed. You leave a void. Your spirit, soul and heart will forever carry forth your call.

You are leaving teaching.

As are so many, many others.

There are battles raging even now that we as teachers seemingly cannot fight. There are forces by which we feel overpowered. All around us, the pressure is to standardize, regulate, assess, quantify, qualify.   It seems teaching is currently more about data than it is about children. It is seemingly more about numbers than hearts. More about facts than about minds. More about records and statistics than about the big and little bodies which come to school as their very best selves, ready to face the giants day in and day out. Ready to climb mountains.

The children we teach are people. Not numbers to crunch. Figures to analyze. Data.

They are souls.

But so are we, dear friend. So are we.

So you are leaving teaching.

Could I ask you to humor one last request? Think back to the first day you knew- knew that you would one day be a teacher. Think back to that one, isolated moment. And ask yourself to stay in that moment. Rest there. Remember. Can you recall that reason you chose to teach? It’s meaning for you personally? That call to teach- it still matters. It does.

The why for what brought you here is still alive, buried though it might be.

Could you ever find it in you to reclaim it? Can you stir to life the embers of a dying dream?

You said you thought you’d be a teacher until you die. I wager a bet. You will be.

A teacher is less a profession and more a mindset. More an outlook than a physical position. Teachers teach because they are hope spreaders, love sharers, compassion spreaders, grace bringers. Teachers teach because they believe. Because they believe that there is something good in this world to know and be. Something good in this world to remember. And something good in this world to aspire to, to reach for. To hope for. Teachers must then teach for freedom and justice. For awareness and love. William Ayers has said it better than I in his writing on headaches in teaching:

The teacher in this way of thinking is one who challenges the taken-for-granted, problematizes solutions, and questions received reality. The teacher, like the writer, can be a philosopher, a scientist, an artist, a citizen, and even an activist, but only if he or she stays alive to the possibilities and attuned to what has yet to be achieved in terms of freedom, justice, understanding, and beauty.

My friend, do not forget that you are still a teacher. And wherever life leads you, whether away from the chaos of our schools or back into the fray, never stop believing in the hope of possibility.

You are a teacher. And you always will be.

Where there is life, there is potential. Wherever desire and stubborn resolve are found, there is a hope of achieving possibility.

Yes, you are leaving teaching. But dear friend, teaching will never quite be done for you. You will always be a teacher, it’s written on your heart. So go forward, do what your heart is calling you to do. Heal. Mend. Grow. Love.

And always keep alive the possibility that there is room for you here. There is a place for you. If you should ever feel the call within you rise up once more.

Sincerely,

The Teacher Who Has Been There Too

Twleve years Later, You’re Still My Baby Girl

Daughter, you are now twelve. Such a tender, impressionable age. You are in between two worlds from which you still slip so seamlessly. The confident role model. The energetic gymnast. The mature older cousin. The fun-loving friend.

The Big sister. The Little sister.

And all the while, you are still my baby girl.

I could say that I don’t know where the time has gone. But really, I do. We have spent it well, you and I. We have packed into your short twelve years as much fun as a girl could expect to have at this young age. Camping trips, picnics, play-dates, visits to the park. Library outings. Fun park excursions. Summer boating escapades and winter sledding adventures. Skating on the river. Lazy afternoons whittled away at the log cabin- in the water, on the raft, lying helter-skelter on the hammock. Afternoons sitting with a book or two on the creaky porch swing that graces our own veranda. And hours and hours and countless more hours spent bouncing on our faithful trampoline.

We have both spent many more hours at our school, in the piano studio, at the soccer field, in the rink and in various gymnasiums. I have watched you blossom as an athlete, musician and student. I have observed you as a community leader, a student leader, a friend, a cousin, a sister, a granddaughter, a great- granddaughter and an assistant coach. In each role, you excel.

You have had many interests, many passions and many areas of expertise over the years. And I am at times in awe of your easy style, your ability to roll with the punches. You are so beautiful, so full of life. And in spite of the fact that your height has nearly matched my own, there are still times when I nearly forget that you are almost a teenager. Although those moments are fewer and fewer all the time. And as your mother, I know what lies ahead. I was a twelve year old girl once myself.  Young, eager and waiting.

Time will only fly by faster now that you are twelve.

Guard your heart, dearest daughter.

Guard it with your life, your soul, your all. Do not entrust it to just anyone. Your heart is so precious, so exquisite. It deserves someone to care for it of equal worth. Equal exceptionality. So easy it is to let down the defences and find what is most precious to us has been taken away- lost forever. Guard your heart and always be aware. There are those who do not appreciate the rare value and tremendous worth that we see, we who love you so.

Do not sell out, give up, put out, hand over, release or let go of that which we have cultivated in you for safekeeping. You are so precious. Never forget this truth.

A young friend, a childhood playmate, came knocking on our door this evening- a boy. The same boy, I might add, who walked through a snowstorm so as to hand deliver a tub of carefully wrapped eggs so that I might finish a recipe for banana-chocolate chip muffins to share on a cold winter’s evening. The same boy who made a little snowman with your youngest sister that snowy evening. And the same boy who I drove every second day or week to kindergarten, six short years ago.

Again- where does time slip off to in such a hurry?

Tonight, he was the consummate gentleman. He had a card for you, which he walked over from the house next to ours, only a field away.  A walk made in twilight so as to deliver in person, hand-written birthday greetings. I was struck by the sweetness and sincerity in his demeanor. And while I realize that this was purely a platonic gesture, it gave me pause to consider the kind of boy that I would wish for you. When that time comes.

A boy who is kind. Like your father.

A boy who is respectful, considerate and courteous.

Someone pleasant and friendly.

Someone who truly sees you as unique and special.

Someone remarkable- just like you.

I don’t want to make this short list into something which has as its intent to handpick for you a suitor- that wouldn’t be fair. Darling, I trust your judgement- you are very wise and discerning, even at this fresh age of twelve. I know well your own astute sense of what is best. But I guess what I am trying to say is this: that as your mother, I too want the very best for you. I always have. And I can’t stop wanting this now, even as I see you starting to slip into greater independence.

Happy Birthday, my sweet middlest daughter. You told me tonight that you feared slipping back to the ordinary tomorrow, settling back into your role as “that middle daughter” again. You could never be anything less than my sweet, amazing, beloved Maggie. And being in the middle only means you have been sandwiched in love, enveloped in devoted adoration.

Love to you forever and always,

Mom

And when we are unkind…it hurts.

I was shopping a few weeks ago with the girls and happened upon a trendy pair of distressed American Eagle jeans and a white Dri-Fit Nike shirt I thought my son would like. I bought them then kept the purchases tucked away until I thought they might be of use.

Last night, Son announced that his jeans were too small and wondered when the wash would be done (because apparently the only ones that FIT, happened to be in there right then. And I am Chief Washer, for some reason). I thought to myself, “Perfect timing. I’ll go get the new ones I bought and save myself a job.”  And in the process, I thought I would surprise him with a little gift.  And so that’s just what I did. I got the items and laid them down on the floor in front of him in our living room, as he packed up his trombone and back-pack for an overnight band trip the following day.

“Here’s a new pair of jeans for you- and a new shirt too,” I said, trying to sound as non-chalant and uneager as is humanly possible for an uncertain mother of a thirteen year-old boy. Not that I am one of those- but IF I WAS, that’s how I’d appear. I waited edgily for the response, knowing that there might not be a welcome reply.  I had a funny feeling about what was coming next.

“I don’t need them” he tells me. “I already have too many clothes.”

“Okay,” I countered. “I’ll give them to one of your cousins then, for their birthday.” I looked down at the jeans- willing him to just accept them. I waited for another moment, still hoping that this threat of giving them away would make him change his mind. They were an especially nice outfit together, if I did say so myself. And really- I had no immediate plans to give those jeans away. I just was looking for him to accept them. But son wouldn’t budge on his decision: he didn’t want the outfit even when Husband came out to see what the rigamarole (i.e. whole conversation we two were having) was all about.

After a moment or two, Husband decided to enter the fray.

“What’s going on? What’s with the jeans?” he asks us both.

“We’re giving them to someone for their birthday,” says my son. Pointedly rejecting my gift to him on not-so-subtle terms. “I already have too many clothes.”

I try to make him change his mind, recounting to myself that my threat to give the clothes away was obviously a fail. When that didn’t work, I tried another method- matching his reasons for why he doesn’t need this new outfit with my own equally compelling reasons for why he does need them. I even capitalized on the too-small-jeans in the wash thing.  Thinking that might work.

Didn’t matter. He wasn’t moving on this one. And he wasn’t taking the jeans.

I later find the clothes on the floor in the same spot I left them, a signifier that my paltry offering would go unaccepted this night.

And I have to say- it hurt a little.

Sometimes we hurt the ones we love the most. That’s why any discussion on kindness and why it matters must be accompanied by discussions on why sometimes we are not kind. Why sometimes we choose to be abrasive. Hurtful. Rude, even.

Sometimes in our best efforts to be kind to most people we encounter, we forget that the one or two we let off the hook are the very ones that it matters most to. For they are the very ones who need it more. And then, when one is unkind- we on the receiving end must also consider: Why? Why has this one or that one been so unfeeling? So uncaring? Trodden so heavily on our emotions and goodwill?

Why must we be mean to one another? What good does it accomplish?

As a teacher, I am fully aware that even as I preach kindness and love and caring, there are moments that I am none of the above. And those moments when I lose sight of the three- kindness, love and caring- those moments are the very ones that the person on the receiving end of my impatience will use to define me. And they will ask the same questions I have asked above.

Why are you so cruel at times?

And the answer is simply: we are human. We all have our moments of weakness. Moments when we slip into the person we’ve tried to grow out of. The person we see as our less-mature self. All it takes is a moment, and we are back where we’ve begun. Unfortunately, a moment of our day can sometimes break us in two. Taking an otherwise pleasant, enjoyable day and turning it upside down. Both for us and for another.

I had one of those moments today. In fact, I often have those moments. But today, I was cranky at someone for a mistake they made. It was a mistake that ‘put me out’, made more work for me because of it. And I was cranky. Annoyed. And I felt my anger and aggravation rise too quickly to the surface. I felt emotions come to my defense too hastily. And in doing so, I wondered later- what was that like for the One on the receiving end of my quick- temper? And how did they view me- ME? Someone who prides herself on being loving and caring- someone who writes about love every chance she gets. How could I let it all unravel in a moment? What did the person think whom I hurt with my quick temper and sharp words?

One can only hope that the person of whom I speak had some genuine compassion for me. I hope and believe that they would. And I also hope and believe that I would do the same as well- for them. Would do the same for them in the moments that I am slighted.   In the moments when I am offended or put off in both small and large ways by the ones I care about. One would only hope that I too could bring myself to quickly forgive and move on. So that the One who has hurt my rather fragile emotions would not have to suffer at the expense of my ego. At the expense of my pride. My sense of my own self and its importance.

We are all in this together.

And there are moments like I described at the beginning of this post in which I am the one who suffers hurt at the hand of Another’s uncaring moment. But there will be many more moments in this life when it will be I inflicting hurt on another. May it always be said of me that I was quick to forgive- as that is what I certainly desire from others.

But I still ask this one question: why do we hurt one another? Why are we unkind? Why must we say and do things that are unloving? Why must we be so often, uncaring?

My son loves me. This I know. And I love him too. This I believe he understands as well. I tell him so every day. But I also know this: I am his comfort zone. And there are times when that line of intimacy allows for less formality, less expectation. As we all know, our guards are often down with those in our immediate family. We don’t try as hard.  And we often don’t worry about the people closest to us quite so much- their emotions and feelings are not as closely considered as much as might be those of someone outside our comfort zone. Our immediate circle of influence often have to take the brunt of our emotions.

It’s something to think about.  And something to work on.  For sure.

And I feel it is also important to be aware of such each and every day. Important that we be aware of why kindness is important- every moment of every day for everyone. And important to be aware of who kindness affects.  Prudent to keep in mind the effects of missing kindness on our psyche. Our self-esteem and well-being.

For kindness matters. It does.

And when kindness is gone, we all know it. We all feel it. And when it is there, while we sometimes take it for granted, we really do appreciate it. The key is to truly appreciate and value it.  Hold it up as a standard to live by. And then to impress on each other why it matters so much.

Because it does.  It really does.

To those who’ve been shamed, let me be the one to say…

“You’ll never amount to anything. You’ll never be much. You’re a problem child.”

So he was told.

I had forgotten, but she reminded me yet again as we were talking: about the cruelty of  words and how shattering they can be when ill-spoken. When hastily proffered. When handed over without any thought or consideration to the receiver.

And how excruciating when those words are held out to a child, a teenager: as evidence of their failings, flaws and weaknesses. As evidence of their shortcomings. When spoken as a statement to their individual worth. A testimony, if you will: to their person-hood. And when these words of shame are spoken by a teacher, no less: the damage they inflict is often irreparable.

“You’ll never amount to anything. You’ll never be much. You’re a problem child.”

Those words- they have still, at times, been spoken.

And he’ll never forget those words, no matter how much time and space come between. She’ll always remember. For they are there. Forever imprinted in his memory. In her memory. Impressed on his subconscious and thus filtered in and out through his more aware consciousness in the here and now. She’s trouble- or so she thinks; and so she’ll spend the rest of her days either seeking to live up to that reputation or finding a way to prove them wrong.

It’s how the story goes.

And to those students dealing with their own insecurities, anxieties and fears about who they are and what they might become, this is either a death sentence or a fire lit beneath them. A motivation or a deterrent.  It’s pivotal.

This piece of writing I’ve composed: it is not a reprimand to students- goodness knows there are enough of those out there to fill a book. This is a reminder to those of us as teachers to choose our words carefully before we speak them. We can never get those words back again. This is a memo to those of us who educate: to watch our collective tongues. Carefully. To form our opinions with awareness to those around us. To say what needs to be said, but to do so respectfully. With dignity. In honor of the life that stands before us.  For all life is worth that at the very least. Is worth a semblance of regard, out of respect, if nothing else, to the person and all those others they represent. The parents, family and friends. A person is not an island. And words have a ripple effect. Do not think they will fall like a stone to the bottom of the ocean. They will be carried away on the waters and they will oft be repeated. And never forgotten. Do not offer words without thought to what message those words are truly conveying. Words can have more than one meaning. And what we think we are saying lightly can be taken heavily by the hearer.  And buried deep within.

This is a message to we who are adults- we are the forerunners. We have been there before. We know the pain of derision, the wound that is a sarcastic comment spoken in scorn. We remember. And so, we who know better must live better. We must watch what we say and say it with care. There are others listening. Believing what we say. Taking it to heart.  Living up to it, those words.

“You’ll never amount to anything. You’ll never be much. You’re a problem child.”

To that one who has had these words flung in your direction, let me be one to stand up and boldly say:

You are more than the sum of one man or woman’s opinion. You are more than one person’s point of view. You are capable. You are able. You are competent. You don’t have to live down, stoop low to anyone’s minimal expectations of who they think you’ve been destined to be. Prove them wrong. Be more. Do more. Live for more. Aim higher, reach farther. Be inspired to make the change you need to make so as to become the person you were born to be. It’s in you.
You can do this. Be the person you were made to be. The sky’s the limit. And you’re full of potential and possibility.

You’re amazing, I know you are.

Believe it.

I do.