Tune My Heart to Sing Thy Grace

Come, thou Fount of every blessing,
tune my heart to sing thy grace;

streams of mercy, never ceasing,
call for songs of loudest praise.

Teach me some melodious sonnet,
sung by flaming tongues above.

Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
mount of thy redeeming love.

O to grace how great a debtor

daily I’m constrained to be!

Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee.

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;

here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
seal it for thy courts above.

The wind rustles golden grain, swaying so it sounds like tinkling bells.  Tiny cymbals.  I roll down the window as I drive up the lane just to stop for a spell and listen in on nature’s symphony. The air laden with the smell of dust and a dry grassy scent. The clouds are piled high and fluffy.  Beauty surrounds every angle from which I gaze.

My heart is part wonder, part sorrow.  There is always beauty in sorrow.  And it takes every effort to tune into the grace we have been afforded when our minds so easily slip,  so quickly bend toward the stress.  Our hearts must be trained to see more than meets the eye.  We must look with discernment for what lies beyond.  What we see is not all there truly is.

There is so very much more.

I walk into the barn and take in the musty smell of manure and hay and dust and years worth of sweat and hard labour.  I follow him as he paces the length of the barn and back again.  We lean into one another.  I wrap my arms around his chest and feel his beating heart.  What is our life work worth at the end of the day?  What legacy do we leave to those following in our footsteps?

How will we be remembered?

I step back, standing just upon the threshold of this doorway leading to another life and take in one last view before I turn away toward the sunlight and warmth of the day.

How is it that we are able to tune our hearts to sing grace even when the cords of those same hearts wring with pain?  Daily, we must train our minds to think on these eternal graces: love, joy peace.

Grace sustains in the midst of trouble.  Holding us, enabling us, propelling us forward.

There are streams of mercy, never ceasing at every vantage point. Our lives a song- only we can decide how that tune will be sung.

May our songs of praise be ever heard, our lives a melodious hymn of gratitude. For our blessings outnumber even our wildest dreams, our greatest aspirations.

An Open Letter to an Island Politician

image retrieved from http://www.cafepress.ca

Dear Politician Who Says You Were Never challenged in School,

It’s election time again. With that being said, I heard your address to a large group of parents at a Home and School forum recently.

And I happened to catch you saying that you had not been challenged enough in school- that school had always come easy for you. Heard you saying, in a round-about way, that you wished that you had been given a higher bar to reach to. You repeatedly stated that school came easy to you, required little effort; stated also that your experience in school had not met your high expectations. You added that you wished for more opportunity for your own children to increase their proficiency in logic and analytical skills using chess clubs and the like. These are lofty goals, particularly for some children. Perhaps not for yours, if they follow in your footsteps.

As I listened in, I couldn’t help but think that you are one of the few that leave the school system unchallenged, and I want to give you a few things to think about that might possibly help you re-invision your formative years.

Whether or not children are academically challenged, there are certainly challenges that arise whilst children are in the care of the school system. One of the first challenges that arises concerns social manoeuvring. Starting with that first of all experiences on the bus, right on through to which side of the locker your coat will hang on and whom you will play with at recess, social development poses both rewards and challenges for many students. Learning opportunities abound. Part of the learning students endeavor to do in school has to do with learning the ropes when it comes to making and keeping friends, learning how to get along, how to solve problems, how to stand up for yourself, how to develop a healthy self-image, how to exhibit confidence, how to manage conflict, how to deal with bullying, how to learn empathy and the list goes on. From the time students come to school, they engage in social interactions and the learning never stops. Often the reason students have interference with their academic learning is due to the high priority that friendship, relationships and social encounters play in the lives of students. For good reason: if there is trouble on the social front, it is pretty hard for a kid to concentrate on the academic front.

Students are also coming to school so as to develop their personhood- and this type of learning begins at birth. From the time they first discover that they have a fist and tiny fingers that they can plunge into their infant mouths so as to self-soothe, to the day that a child babbles and then speaks their first words, children are learning their place in the world and how they matter. Students come to school having experienced many different aspects of life. Many children have already known what it is to lose a loved one- a family member or pet, even at the very young age of 4 or 5. Children know what it is to experience the separation and divorce of a parent, the impact that cancer or other terminal illness can have on a life. Some children know first-hand the challenge of mental illness, having dealt with it personally. Many children come from impoverished family situations, knowing the reality of what hunger truly means. Which goes to show: children come to school with all sorts of complex, complicated intervening variables that contribute to the learning that takes place at school. Some live with anxiety and fear. Some come with reluctance and tension. Some come angry. Some come sad. There is much strain and stress that children are under, and children from all walks of life are impacted by such. No one is immune to the pain of life.

While children come to terms with the reality of the life they are living, they are also learning how to deal with these realities in hopefully healthy ways. While in the care of the school system, they are given opportunity to develop resiliency, authenticity, confidence, and self-awareness. They are given the opportunity to be enabled, so that they can come to see who they are and who the people around them are as well. This process can be a smooth one for some kids, and can be a very difficult, challenging one for others. For some children- even as young as 5 and 6 years old, they can begin to compare themselves against the others around them, and their negative self-image can start around a little seed of doubt: “I am not as pretty as X.” “I am not as smart as Y.” “Z has more (fill-in the-blank) than I do.” These little niggling fears can lead children to compare on more specific subjects: “I am not as good in French as X.” “I got lower marks than Y on that last test.” “I must be stupid- Z always finishes first and I am always last.”

Learning to become who they were meant to be is probably the biggest learning endeavor that a child will embark on while in elementary and secondary school. Certainly it poses both challenges and rewards for the learner. And while I would never say that the school system can take credit for all the learning that takes place around this aspect of child development, I will say that teachers spend most of the daylight hours with students; if there are issues to be explored and concerns to be addressed, they often come into the light of day within the school day. If a child is afraid, that child will in one way or another convey that message to someone who cares. If a child is feeling at risk, this feeling will surface somewhere along the line. Teachers get well-versed in how to pick out differences in body language and behaviours so as to help students who are dealing with challenges- both those that have risen prior to the school day as well as those that come as a result of the school day.

Along with the learning that comes as part and parcel of social development and personal growth, there is the very real challenge of how to meet students academically. You seemed to say in your address that you were not academically challenged in school, as if to say that this is the most important area of learning endeavored in school. While I agree that academics are the most privileged learning in schools, I also hold that life is also about more than just intelligence development. The very real learning and growth that takes place in school includes emotional development, physical development, spiritual development, character development, along with learning for social justice and citizenry. While school supports many types of learning, I do see that academic learning weighs in heaviest within the minds of the public, when school is discussed. Of course, any well-meaning teacher is going to strive to impart a love of learning to their students, one area of which is content mastery. One aspect of care-giving certainly concerns the ability to exhibit care for the world around us and then strive to impart understanding about that world as much as is humanly possible, using the arts and science, literacy and numeracy, technology and creative and collaborative instruments so as to engage learning and knowledge. We want students to be critical thinkers. To use good judgment. To be fair, just citizens of the world. We learn partly how to do this through our standard curriculum.

But we learn the other part of this through the hidden curriculum. Those life lessons that occur in-between the content mastery and the teachable moments. Consider some areas of opportunities for learning…

Learning how to appreciate difference- classrooms with students of varying abilities and strengths can all contribute to the learning that happens in such a classroom.
Learning for social justice- again, classrooms with varying socio-economic statuses, cultural backgrounds, beliefs systems and diversity can be rich sites for such understandings.
Learning for conservation- modern classrooms are the ideal site for theories to be tested, experiments to be conducted and ideas to be generated.
Learning how to be empathic- we have a program called The Roots of Empathy that invites a mother and her baby into elementary classrooms so as to grow feelings of empathy amongst students. When we talk about why this is important, other learning opportunities can also take place.
Learning how to be kind- there is endless opportunity to learn the trait of kindness. In our school, we call it ‘bucket-filling’ and it has become part of the language and culture of our school. Being kind is something we work on improving for the rest of our lives. School is a perfect site to learn the whys and hows for this important skill.

I would challenge you, then, to re-consider: were you unchallenged in school or were there some learning opportunities that you might have missed out on while you spent your time there? While logic and reason and analytical skills and the like are important and worthwhile things to do and learn while in school, so are learnings centered around care and compassion and kindness and justice. If you were not challenged in school, I would ask that you look back on those years and truly ask yourself:

Even though I might have been unchallenged in certain aspects, were there in other areas- some missed opportunities, if you will- for learning that might have enriched my life? Which, if I had explored them in greater detail, I might not have felt like school was such a waste of time after all?

I leave you with this story. A while back, I participated in a workshop in which each person was to describe their experiences with bullying as recollected from their childhood. One man, a tall handsome guy with great appeal and charisma, proudly told the rest of the participants that he had nothing to recall- he had never been bullied. I left that day mulling this fact over in my mind. Trying to reckon his story alongside mine, making sense of the fact that I could recall dozens and dozens of stories from my childhood in which I had experienced unkindness or bullying of varying degrees, while he could garner up none. And my final conclusion was this: I will never be glad that I was bullied. It is a painful part of my past that required many years of self-reflection and introspection- as well as time- to help me heal. However, I also am very aware of what I have learned because of what I endured throughout those years, and I believe the most important lesson about life that bullying taught me was that kindness matters. And it is so very vital in our world today. I am a better person because of the pain I experienced as a child, and I can honestly say:

I might never have learned this lesson about life had my time in school been as un-challenging as yours was.

Sincerely,

A Caring Teacher

My Five Wishes for the Upcoming School Year

It’s August. And as it happens to be my holidays, I am knee-deep in summer lovin’. I have paint spatters on my legs from the fresh coat I applied to the veranda this afternoon, a good book waiting for me on the couch and the idea in my head of a glass of iced coffee just waiting for me to drink it. Thoughts of school, teaching and work might be a million miles away from my immediate consciousness.

But are they?

As a teacher, this time of the year is one where my mind drifts to ‘what ifs’ and ‘how abouts’. To possibilities. Summer is the time of year when teachers are finally afforded the TIME in which to breathe, take stock and think about what is yet to come. So while I am not ready to cash in on summer yet, here are a five wishes I have for the upcoming school year, set to start in a few short weeks.

1. I wish for this upcoming school year that we as teachers act on the principle that education be not only about the mind. It be about the person. That is, the whole person. I love what Nel Noddings has to say on the topic:

“…school, like the family, is a multipurpose institution. It cannot concentrate only on academic goals any more than a family can restrict its responsibilities to, say, feeding and housing its children. The single-purpose view is not only morally mistaken, it is practically and technically wrong as well, because schools cannot accomplish their academic goals without attending to the fundamental needs of students for continuity and care” (Noddings, 2005, p. 63).

What Noddings is saying here is that school must function in continuity for the purpose of caring for students as whole persons, not just merely as empty minds which require regular and constant filling up of knowledge. Students have minds, yes- but they also have souls and bodies which both require care and attention in the course of the day, along with caring for the student’s mind for academic, physical, emotional and relational pursuits. My wish is for educators to remember that there is more to student learning than simply pumping the mind with facts and information. The possibilities for growth and development are endless.

2. There is a lot of wasted time in school. Time wasted before school while waiting for all the buses to arrive, time wasted in line-ups, in wait time, in coming and going places. Another wasted time of day is lunch time. Sure, it gets used for eating and sustenance- but wouldn’t it be great if lunch time was an opportunity for growing community, in the very same ways that those families who see it as a priority use it to grow family attachments? What I am talking about, and this is another one of Noddings’ beliefs as well- is the importance of mealtime. Breaking bread in the very real sense of the word. Mealtime is a time to talk and listen, a time to discuss and reflect. A time for sharing and caring. A time when what is said is not evaluated and assessed- but taken at face value and respected. If students were given this opportunity, to sit face-to-face, as might a family eating a meal together, how might that benefit in a positive way the dynamics of social interactions amongst students? We’ll never know until we give it a try.

3. There is very little choice for students in school- very little choice for teachers either. We have all been given the required curriculum and asked to adopt it as our own. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if students and teachers were able to work together to come up with themes and pursuits that might reflect curriculum ideals, using them as springboards for further areas of study and exploration. Using curriculum jazzed up with a healthy dose of imagination, critical thinking and creativity to make these extra-curricular projects work within the existing structure? I think the sky is certainly the limit for those who give it a chance. Who knows what new interests might be sparked for learning amongst students who are currently disenfranchised, disengaged and disempowered. The time is now for outside the box thinking and teaching..

4. My wish for teachers and students is that we remember that each person we see sitting in front of us each day, standing beside us at our desks, walking along in front of us or behind us in the hallways- each person going and coming in the hustle and bustle: each person is a person. A person with feelings, thoughts, emotions, complicated baggage, issues, story, problems, joys, sorrows, hurts and pains. They are a person with more than meets the eye. And I wish for all those who find themselves in the educational milieu, that is MY HOPE would be, that we never lose sight of the humanity of the people in our schools: the humanity of the students, the staff, the parents, the volunteers, the administration and any visitors that might find themselves walking through the hallways. May we always be known as a People that care. And may that define each and every one of us this year.

5. And as a final note- may we have fun! Is it too much to ask that we find time to play? Time to laugh? Time to breathe, and wonder, and imagine, and daydream? Time to doodle, and draw and sculpt and create. Time to rest and time to work. And may we never forget that learning is a life-time pursuit. We don’t want to burn out the creative fires until the very last embers of life have been snuffed out, when we find ourselves breathing our last. May we always be found learning each and every day of our life- and may it be a joyous, delightful, exciting, inspiring and worthwhile venture.

These five are among my wishes for you all- for we are all learners. And for those of us who call ourselves teachers, staff and students, as we set off in another few short weeks for another voyage, another adventure of learning, wonder and discovery: let’s not forget to take care of each other in the process.

Carry on, comrades!

{You can read this again on the Huffington Post by clicking on this link: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/lori-gard/back-to-school-2014_b_5656507.html?utm_hp_ref=canada-living }

 

Kindness is a Muscle

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

Don’t get me started.

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

Anyways.

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

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

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

Say what?

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

Absolute, pure kindness.

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

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

I can’t get it out of my head.

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

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

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

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

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

So don’t we all.

On Boredom and Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life is too interesting to be boring.

William Ayers had this to say about teaching:

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

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

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

I never heard the words, “I’m bored.”

Turning Ten…For the Fourth Time

I turn ten for the fourth time tomorrow.

That’s the big 4-0 to the rest of the world. As in, four decades.  Bless it.  I still can’t believe it. So cliche, I know, but until you’ve arrived, you will never fully appreciate how much your youthful brain is still telling you you’re not a day past 25. Seriously. The other day at school, I told my students that my Husband was planning a surprise for me, and one little guy who has taken to giving me engulfing bear hugs about five times a day looked at me incredulously and said, “You have a HUSBAND????????”

Which is to say (or, what I think he meant): “Your youthful appearance defies that you be old enough for such adult behaviour.” Something akin to that thought.

Whatever…

I am not dealing well with this “going past the thirties” birthday business, so thankfully Husband skipped the Over the Hill party and booked a weekend getaway instead.

Good call.

Except.  Now I feel like the comraderie would have helped- what with the onset of depression and all.  Feel free to message me with tips, if you have already reached this milestone. Every little bit of moral support I can muster helps. We need each other, Seniors. Or at least I do- for emotional reinforcement. And the odd back-rub or two.

Husband told me last night that he wasn’t going to lie: “Getting old is not that much fun.”

Thanks sweetie.  That’s just what a girl needs to hear from her OLDER spouse.

However, I do have to give him props for this: planning a semi-surprise for his wife and not letting her in on the secret. That is, not letting her in on the secret until Thursday.  Just three short nights ago, I was at this very instant (or close to it- who’s keeping track) walking hand in hand toward the setting sun, with Husband by my side, as we lazily travelled along the boardwalk at Peake’s Key. Kid-less. That’s “walking sans kidlets”, for those who are not yet fluent in this language. It all seems like a vague and hazy dream right about now.

I half wonder if it was.

Earlier that day, we had packed the van to the gills, dropped off one child’s stuff at Black Grammie’s house. Packed for another to go to across the road. And then packed snacks, games and more stuff for the other two to go to Charlottetown for the night to White Grammie’s house.

It is a lot of work to get away, people. And age has nothing to do with it…

Thankfully, Hubbie remembered this tedious fact and gave me a forty-eight hour heads up. So, it was with exhaustion and anticipation, we made the trek to Dundee Arms Inn in historic Charlottetown. Meanwhile, all that packing wore me out.  I won’t lie: I had a short catnap en route.

I am forty, hello.

At exactly 5:30 p.m., as we pulled out of my parent’s driveway, Husband looked at me and said with a smile, “It’s officially the weekend!”
And so it was. A beautiful weekend, complete with a lovely quiet supper with delicious food and a beautiful room furnished with antiques and an ornate four poster canopy bed. Such a luxury, this weekend getaway. Dearly needed and much appreciated.

And now it’s over. OVER.

I am back to reality once again, only three short nights later. Dirty dishes sitting in the kitchen waiting to be washed. Crud on the floor to be wiped up. Laundry waiting impatiently to be washed and folded. Children needing baths and stories and tuck-ins. Floors to be vacuumed and on and on the list goes.

Because life goes on.

It always does somehow.

Those moments we want to last? They sadly come to a close. As much as we try to hold on to them, they dissolve and fade into our memory. Leaving us with a sentimental feeling as a lasting token of their occurrence. Wondering if they truly ever really happened after all.
As much as we try, life just keeps forging forward.

And don’t we just wish we could, at times, press the pause button? Maybe not for every moment of the day, but certainly for some of them. Life is just moving past us too quickly.
I for one can hardly keep up.

And now that I am forty years old, I think time will speed by even faster.
It can seem just so discouraging, at times.

I was thinking about this thought the other day- about wanting time to slow down- and my thoughts wandered to some precious loved ones I hold dear. Loved ones who have suffered in various ways and through difficult circumstances. And I realized that for some, time  has been very long. Drawn out. Difficult to bear with and challenging to stay through.

For some, time has been short.  Abbreviated.  Time has quickly come to a close.


For time is only fast and full when we are enjoying and really appreciating  the circumstances of our lives. It’s extremely slow, and at times can even be short when we are not.

For those of us who are finding time is slipping away. Revel in it. Enjoy it. Take pleasure from that time and don’t try to squander it. Time is here for us to use. It’s ours for the taking. We need to make every effort to use our time to benefit the life we’ve been made to live.
And for those of us who wish for time to move a little faster: take heart. This time we’ve been given will soon move us to new horizons. The difficulties of this life and the pain of the here and now: this too shall pass. Time is still here for you who wish it away- it is here for the taking. Make every effort to use the time you’ve been given to benefit the life you’ve been made to live. All too soon, this present here and now will be gone.

We can never get this moment back again.  These moments- they are fragile.  Precious.  Take pleasure in them.
And neither should we want to live them over- there is just too much time in the present here and now to enjoy. To live and experience. To wonder and revel in. And there is always time enough to dream about our hoped for tomorrows.

A dear friend reminded me tonight: we don’t need to dread growing older.  It is a gift that many are unable to enjoy and experience.  So turning forty for the first time is a new pleasure I will revel in.

And I think I just might make this fifth decade of my life the one I cherish most.

Thank you

Over the years, I have had moments as a teacher so memorable they have left a significant, lasting impression. Imprinting forever in my long-term memory the emotions that were felt when that experience occurred.

I remember a particularly difficult teaching assignment in which I took over a short-term social studies position at the high school level for a teacher with long-term illness. Who actually passed away during my time in his classroom. I was seven months pregnant with our third child, taking on three new-to-me high school courses, mid-way through the term. Not only that, there were special circumstances surrounding my hiring, along with some very special students in the classes I would be teaching. Students who were not easily persuaded or motivated to tow the line. To say it was a challenge would have been an understatement.  Overwhelmed was more suitable a word in describing how I felt about my assignment at the time.

Towards the end of June, after exams finished and marks had been submitted, I was helping the school’s graduation committee one day with various tasks associated with the graduation ceremony.  At some point, and truthfully- I can’t remember exactly how it happened,  a Grade 12 student arrived at my classroom door with a note in hand. After he left, I opened the card, and this is what I read:

Ms. Gard,
Thank you for everything you taught me. I know it was not easy to step in and take over the class, and we had to deal with a lot of unfortunate things. All things considered, you did an excellent job. Thank you for being there and seeing that we learned all that we needed.
Thank you.

Two little words. So simple, yet so powerful. So meaningful. And oh! how motivating to me as the teacher.

The whole of that message was really condensed into two little words of gratitude.  Of thankfulness.  Words that we  use at times without realizing their incredible importance in the life of another.   Have we ever stopped to consider them? For there are times when those two little words are the only ones necessary, all that needs to be spoken.  For truly, those two little words have all the power to change and impact like no two other little words in the English language. They are influential.

Game changers of the best variety.

They can melt a heart of stone. Can break a cycle of apathy. Can mend a broken fence. Build a bridge. Heal a wound. Make everything worthwhile. Those two words have sway. Gentle authority. And while there are many ways in which these two little words can be spoken. Many ways in which they can be used to convey the full sense of gratitude of which they speak, there really isn’t anything more powerful than the simplicity of those two little words.

Thank you.

Tonight, I want to say thank you.

Thank you to all those students who have crossed my path in years gone by and in these present days.
Thank you to the girl who recognized me at the drugstore two weeks ago as her music teacher back in Grade 1.
Thank you to the young man at Walmart a while back who remembered me from his junior high days.
Thank you to my neighbour’s son who walked with me the other evening and shared his heart as well as happenings of his day with me.
Thank you to my little friend from Grade3 whom I see at the pool twice a week now. Whom I love to chat with and sometimes like to tease.
Thank you to my own seven little ones in kindergarten who have taught me how to love unconditionally.
Thank you to the little boy who met me at the door today and confided to me a heartfelt sorrow. I treasure that trust.
Thank you to the boys and girls of Bloomfield- every one of them. The ones who ask me to supervise hockey games, the ones who chat with me in the halls, the ones whom I work with in extra-curricular activities, the ones who keep me company on duty.
Thank you to the little one who always writes me love letters.
Thank you.

You have blessed me in ways I could never express. My life is fuller, more beautiful. Because of all of you.

And for that and so much more, I am forever grateful

Trigger warnings and Play

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Falling down. And then getting back up again.

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

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

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

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

Living Five Minutes at a Time: My Messy Beautiful

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It matters how you treat people.

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

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

I know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s that kind of store.

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

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

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

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

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

Five at a time.

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

 

 

 

 

Is missing school a disaster?

“The loss of these last five days has been a disaster, with the loss of instructional time…and we need to gain back as much (of that time) as we can.” P.E.I. Minister of Education, Alan McIsaac, as quoted during a CBC radio interview which you can listen to here

 

We have accumulated thirteen storm days thus far this school year. Meaning, there have been thirteen non-consecutive days thus far in the school year here on P.E.I. for which school has been cancelled due to this unusually brutal winter we are having in Atlantic Canada (a winter which seems to be equally as brutal in much of the rest of North America as well, I might add). Last week, added to the mix a total of five consecutive days of cancelled classes, stimulating much talk in public and private circles which concern themselves with educational matters. Talk by people concerned with outcomes and expectations. People concerned with time off task and focused in-class instruction. People concerned that ‘students not learning within the four corners of the school walls must then not be learning’. People concerned with the matter that students need to be in school, not whittling their time away doing what kids like to be doing, whatever that might be.

Yes, there have been lots of missed classes. Extreme weather conditions being the reason for such. These weather conditions can and may include blowing snow (thus reducing visibility), snow accumulations exceeding 10 cm, blizzard conditions, freezing rain or poor road conditions (impassable laneways). Fortunately, we have not gone so far here on P.E.I. to sacrifice student safety for the almighty tax-dollar. Or should I say: we haven’t done so often (there was that one day, but that was back in February- we have moved on since then). Thankfully, there would not be too many people here in our parts who would fault the schools for cancelling classes, but there are always a few who believe that classes must be made up. In other words, compensated for. By way of a sacrifice of some sort on behalf of the teachers and the schools. Which is to say, that something has to give. For that money has been invested in student learning; there must be a way of making good on our students’ education. So as to not lose said valuable education to such an unpredictable winter.

It has even been said, as evidenced in the above quote, that missing school is a disaster.

Thus, when school is cancelled to this excessive extent, there are often calls from the public that the School Board and government examine the school year thus giving consideration to whether or not the days allotted to instruction should be extended. Or at the very least, giving heed to the preservation of such instructional time via cancellation of any upcoming scheduled professional development days or other holidays in light of the missed class time. Class time deemed suitably important in that missing such time which would have been spent achieving curricular outcomes and meeting grade level expectations is too great a trade off. Thus, the reason for extending school years, decreasing P.D. days or cancelling holidays.

The debate for me is not the loss of professional development so as to preserve instructional time. If there is a benefit for students and a way to show good will to the public, I am all for that. What bothers me about all the debate and hullabaloo are comments like the Minister’s above which infer that missing school is a disaster (of epic proportions). Which, I would submit, it is not.

What is worthwhile? Knowing? Doing? Learning? And where?*

If you live here on P.E.I., there are a few things worth knowing. One of which is how to survive an ice storm (in which there is a pretty good chance that the power will be lost). Here’s what my kids learned last week about that worthy topic:

  • Board games are just as fun as video games
  • Snow forts are fun and challenging to make
  • Homemade donuts are just as good as Tim Horton’s donuts
  • Reading a book is both challenging and rewarding
  • Charades is a fun way to spend time with your family
  • Fireplaces are both cosy and warm
  • Melted snow can allow one to flush a toilet

 

And low and behold, my kids were not the only students learning last week. I met up with a friend in the grocery store the other day and inquired about a Facebook photo she had posted in which her daughter had rigged up a warming rack and candles so as to cook a can of beans during their family’s foray into powerless living. Her daughter played around with her design until it was just right and she eventually cooked a warm meal for her family using flame and metal. Ingenious. Did a teacher stand hovering over her micro-managing her design? Did someone grab a textbook so as to show her what to do? Was she told she needed to read the theory behind such a contraption first so as to make it work?

 

No. She just did it.  All by herself.  Fueled by her own desire to solve a real world problem related to her lived experience.

 

I do not mean to undermine our elected government officials and their priority placed on schooling. However, I do not share the same alarm with them that missing schooling is a disaster. If innovative, creative thinking is the result of a few missed days, then I say that was time well spent.

 

*Reference:  The questions you found me asking have also been asked by William Schubert (University of Chicago at Illinois)  in his article What is Worthwhile: From Knowing and Needing to Being and Sharing.