Love them more…

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

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

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

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

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

My child??

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Especially when it concerns children.

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

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

To love them even more.

Advertisements

That one small detail…

Everyone has at least one detail about them- one missing piece of the puzzle. One clue, one secret, one aspect of their life. That if you knew that one thing, it would make ALL the difference.

And how often do we take the time to stop and consider that people are more than meets the eye? That people are the composite of all those details- overt and subtle, big and small- details when viewed as the entire package, make a person unique and whole?

And so I did just that.

I took the time, a day or so ago, to notice. Took time to show an interest. To listen. To ask. To really feel what it might be like to be this person. I felt it, even if for just a moment. I was quiet. I spoke when necessary. I heard. And I came to realize: Unless I stop and truly see, truly listen, truly understand, those details go unnoticed. And it’s the details that make all the difference. A spotlight on the details helps to clarify and shine light on dark corners of the soul.

Everyone has at least one detail about them that if you knew it, it just might help you tolerate them, like them, love them, understand them more. It just might make the difference between writing that person off and giving them a second chance. It just might make the difference between forming a positive opinion as opposed to making a negative one. It might make the difference between acceptance and rejection.

And you never know. Looking for the beauty- the humanity in the little things (in that which is small and hidden deep inside, which we all carry around within us each and every day), just might make us more aware that those details EXIST. Just might make all the difference for us in understanding the bigger stuff that everyone sees about that person we ‘just don’t GET’. Sometimes we THINK we understand, just because things are obvious and visible.

It is often what is hidden that truly reveals the condition of our soul.

Truth: we all deserve a sober, second thought from one another. And we all need to be understood by each other, at some level or another. And even if we never choose to share that which is deeply kept within the confines of our private person, we can still offer kindness and compassion to our brother. To our sister. To the children. To those we understand and even by times, to those we don’t.

We can still offer grace (it’s been offered to us…). And sometimes that grace cracks open the door to understanding more.

On living the life we were born for…

We were born for this.  This journey, this life adventure.  This journey on which we travel in and out of days and weeks and months and years.   In and out of seasons.    We were born for this quest.   Were born for the highs and lows, the twists and turns.   The bends.  The forks in the road.   Were born for travelling up hill and down.  We were born for the good times and the bad times.

We were born for the ride.

And it is a ride.  At times a roller-coaster.  At times a meander.  And at more times than I would like to admit: a tedious crawl- face to the ground.

I’ve always liked to think that my exciting, real life is going to happen sometime soon.  Like maybe today.  Or tomorrow.  Or sometime in the not-so-far-away future.  Because this business of crawling: of living in reality.   Of working 9-5, of making meals, of chauffeuring, of settling spats amongst children.  Of living the daily grind.  This business is for the birds, really.  And it cannot possibly be what I was born for.

I was born for more.

And the real life I am so desperately waiting for looks more like this: quiet mornings sipping coffee. Uninterrupted writing time.   Long, invigorating walks.   Deep, meaningful conversations.    Face-time with my spouse.   My head stuck in a good book.  Exotic travel.    Rewarding humanitarian work.  Service to country and fellow human beings: brothers and sisters both here and abroad.

And to cap it all off, maybe just a little more time to follow my dreams.  In other words, time to pursue what I have always believed I was born for: something more.

Something more than crawling.

And there are times I wonder, “Why this?”  Why the noise and confusion and chaos and trouble and hurt and heartache and pain and sacrifice?   It wasn’t part of the dream.

Or was it?

To be sure, life is a ride.  A ride full of fearful unknowns and weary treks as much as it is a ride full of adventure.  And so it is that I will hold to the belief that I was born for the trip in its entirety.  And although the ride is not what I always envisioned the real journey to look like-this stuff of everyday living slows my travelling down.  It is this- the stuff of everyday living that has truly taught me the most.  About self.  About others.  And about God.  About life.

I was born for this.  Was born for mothering.  For teaching.   For service.   I was born to live this life that I am living now.

I was born to these callings.  Was born for such a time as this, for such a time as now.  For such a time as are a mother’s hours: 24/7, 365 days a year.  And added to that, I was born for teaching five days a week, from 9-4.    Was born for such a time as even more than those boxed-in hours.  For late nights at the computer and early mornings, my hands busy folding laundry.

I was born for this.  For these crazy moments spent slogging away.

But I was also born for this: I was born to be that friendly, cheerful face by the classroom doors- greeting children of all ages with a welcoming smile.  A warm hug.  An inquiring question.  A thoughtful comment or two.  Was born to hold chubby little hands, to look intently into blue-eyed baby faces.  To hear sweet and innocent stories.  To hear stories not so simple, of lives more complicated than my own.  To hear stories told that bring me to my knees, that haunt me in my waking hours.   Stories that propel me to advocate for change.

I was born for this too.  For opening up milk cartons.  Cutting yogurt packages into a slit at the top.  Passing out pizza slices.   Issuing band-aids.  Umpteen-dozen band-aids each and every day.  I was born to look at ‘owies’- with a professional’s eye.

Was born to read books- piles and piles of glorious books.  To read them with expression, passion and joie de vivre!  To saturate the room with them.  To buy them by the dozen!  To relish children’s laughter as I read favorites again and again.

I was born for even this.

I was born to find joy in everyday pleasures.  To find joy in the mundane, the ordinary.  Joy.  In reciting the alphabet, counting to twenty and playing with play-doh.  In watching the weather and growing bean plants and using scented markers.  In playing with puppets and using brand-new crayons.  In practicing piano.  In bouncing balls.

I was born for all this.

Was born to fight for the underdog, to defend the rights of the under-privileged.  To hear the hard stories and not turn away.  To look into hearts and ask difficult questions.  To put a face to the data.

I was born for this.  What joy!

I was born to do hard things.  To make tough calls.  To follow through.  To see a story through to its ending.  To never give up.

To always hope.  To always protect.  To always believe.

I was born for this.  For all of this.

I was born to not go down quietly.  To be a loud voice, if need be.  To shout it from the roof-tops or whisper it in the quiet of a room.  I was born for even this.

I was born to be a builder of blocks, a builder of lives.  A mender of hearts- a champion of dreams.

I was born to be a mother.  Was born to teach.  To be the teacher and the learner.  To make room in my heart.  Always enough room for one more.  And true.  It has not always been the easiest space I’ve ever inhabited, nor has it always been the most pleasant.  It is exhausting work- all of it.  But these acts of service have been the most rewarding of my journey thus far.  The most worthwhile.  Because the joy I have found in giving and receiving love, in knowing and in learning about people and the world we live in.  In understanding the stories connected to the lives.   This privilege. It is unmatched in nearly any other act of service I have ever done.  And these acts of unconditional love in service to the four precious children I have borne as well as the caring and compassion I freely give to the children I have found room for in my heart.  Whom I teach inside classroom walls.  Whom teach me that life is more.  So much more.  These lives, these stories are what make the ride worthwhile.

It’s about the people.  It’s about humanity.  And it’s about the children.

Because I was born for much, not the least of which- to nurture, love and care.  I was born to do the grueling work of care-giving as much as I was born to inspire, challenge and motivate.  And above all, I was born to give back.  For in my life I have been given much.  And so much is required.

I was born for this, this life I am living.   I was born for all of it.

Little Graces…

Sometimes all the patience is sucked out, like a Hoover that tirelessly lives up to its brand.  Or perhaps like my new LG- promising that life will be good when you use the label.  But when air is emptied from within, like a sucker punch to the gut, and all patience, understanding, joy and hope follow its descent, one is left wondering.  Is life all that good after all?  And what about it is so good, anyway?

I was rushing again.  As I have done every other morning this autumn.  Trying to stay ahead of the game, living life like it is a problem to fix.  A strategy game to outwit.  And here it is, almost ‘go time’.  That dreaded time of day where all spill out onto the walkway and rush hither, thither and yon like a jar of upset marbles.  So you can understand why I am just now hollering to children to steer clear of the bathroom, right?  It is my turn.  I am mother, hear me roar.  And don’t I deserve a few minutes of alone time in here?

In my transit, I forget a thing or two.   En route to retrieve a mug of coffee and other odds and ends left lying on counters and chairs, I pass by Husband and my two youngest daughters.  He is holding Little One on his lap, and the bigger Sister is draped over his shoulder.  Youngest, softly whimpering, appears to have yet another headache.  And, yes, I am ashamed to say I think it: “Oh please don’t let her be sick.  Not now.  I haven’t got time for this.”  I rush quickly past the trio and on up the stairs.

I have things to do!  Places to be!  I don’t have time for this speed bump today.

But she is suffering and needs some loving and cuddling. TLC.  And sometimes daddies do it best.  Husband calls for the Tylenol.  I rummage through bathroom shelves, overcrowded with products I thought I needed, along with those I just bought for the smell of it.  And then.  I turn and move like the house is on fire.  I know there is precious little time to make a quick judgement call on whether or not this ‘one’ deems a sick day home with mom.  Or not.   For if this is a false alarm, I am late for work.  Again.

Turns out, I will be calling in for a substitute today.  But before she arrives, I make a grand entrance, sheepishly pulling in late for work again.  Lesson plans inside my head, not yet on the page where they need to be.  I arrive just after the first bus pulls into the parking lot.  This, just great.  I pull my own darling children ahead with me and scurry into the school. But first, I am asked at the door, “Would you walk this little one to class?”  She who is shy and a wee bit homesick.  But of course I will.

And I start to feel it.  The patience slowly calling me through the fray.  Calling me to slow down.  Breathe.  Focus.  Relax.

I try to exercise extreme patience.  At the very least, I breathe.   Another little fellow stops me cold in my tracks; he has a toy to show me but has forgotten the part of the story which tells me where he has purchased this delightful object.  It takes painful minutes for him to remember what it was he would like to say.  I smile, and wait. Tick, tock.  Tick, tock.  I work very hard at scrounging up a bit more of that elusive patience.  And when all have been greeted and welcomed to another day, I rush back to my hide-out in the corner, while my competent Educational Assistant helps to deflect attention away from the derelict teacher hunched over her computer.   It, a battalion and I the soldier readying for war.  I type, one key at a time, striking them in reckless abandon.  I know not what I write this morning; I cross my fingers that this will all make sense to the one who must use it like a map.

Another little lady has located me back here in my bunker.  And I remember.  She needs a little extra understanding today, for yesterday her belly was sore at school.  A case of the Kindergarten Butterfly Syndrome (a.k.a. anxiety and stress).  She needs me today, if for but a moment.  I reassure her that I will have everything looked after for her, just as she needs me to do.   So as to ease her worries.  I feel it coming back to me.  Like a long lost friend, a beloved companion.

Patience has returned, along with a little understanding, to boot.

It takes longer than expected to finish my planning, and wait for the sub to arrive.  And there are other pressing concerns in the office and people to confer with in the hallways.  Pressing concerns.  Always calling to me, wanting a piece of me.  I forget to photocopy another item and rush out to my van for the book.  And I start to unravel.  I need to go to my baby.  I feel the urgency to pick up the tempo.

When I arrive to get her at Grammie’s house, she has just woken up.  The headache is still there, so we will make a trip to the hospital for reassurances.  Grammie reports that she asked for me upon opening her eyes, and for a brief pause, the guilt sets in.  I reach for her then, and choose instead to feel weighed down with little graces.  The joy of children.  The fullness of these moments.  The gift of being here, for today.   And for now, I am where I need to be.  With the child that teaches me of grace and joy and patience.  And love.    For this very moment, I have the patience of Job, the understanding of Solomon.  The hope beyond hope that good things will come to those who stay and wait a while.

Peace.

For I am finally where I need to be. With whom I need to be with for today.  And for these precious, fleeting moments, this grace allowed for me today is again: enough.

Joy in the middle…

Do something with your days of which you can be proud.  Even today.  Start right now.  For it is never too late to begin making moments count.   Make your one life meaningful, and make it worth the breath it took to get you through the day.  Do something worthwhile.  Do this for yourself.  Do this for the greater good of others.  And in doing something worthwhile, it will leave you unafraid.  Unashamed.  When people ask questions about who and what you are, about the meaning for living your life, you won’t be afraid to answer.  You won’t be afraid you haven’t got an answer.  And even more importantly, do something of which you can be proud for it is your own legacy you are building.  Care enough to have high standards for yourself.  Care enough to believe in yourself.  Care enough to want to make a difference for others.  Care enough.  Because at the end of the day, no one else can do the living and the caring in your life but you.  It’s all on your shoulders.

No pressure.

We had dessert (strawberry shortcake with whipped cream) with a gentleman this evening that has parked his camper three down from ours.  A charming seventy-nine year old widower, he was full of stories of the people in his life up until the point that I asked him about his career in the military.  “I don’t talk about those days,” he said. “I didn’t do anything I was proud of.”

Hmmm…that stopped me in my tracks.  I haven’t met too many military chaps who can’t weave a yarn or two about life ‘way back when’.  And certainly, most are proud of their accomplishments.  It got me thinking about my own life.  What am I proud of?  Or rather, not so proud of?

There are a lot of moments in my life that I am not proud of.  Many more than should be.  I am careless with my words, thoughtless with actions and uncontrolled in my emotions, by times.  To be fair, I am working on these shortcomings, but change does not come easy.   As a mother, I have often felt that I am a poor example of a mother.  I do not live up to the stereotypes that are imbedded in my head.  I am not a comfortable fit for the role of mothering as I perceive that role in my head.  And so, I see the worst in myself.   I am not naturally patient, I don’t particularly enjoy spending large chunks of time with young children, I find being silly a drain on my energy and I have a very short temper.  In short, I am certainly not the ideal.  In talking with my sister the other day, I expressed this very thought, and she assured me that there were as many different ways of being a mother as there are mothers themselves.

So, I guess I might be doing okay.  The jury’s still out on that one.

To say I am not proud of my life as a whole would be a misrepresentation.  More accurately, I feel  I haven’t done anything of great worth.  I read the eloquent words of others who write nobly of being parents to children with life-threatening illness, or words they penned of their own struggles and how they deal with long-term illness.  Others write of their love of being mothers and ream off endless treatises on how to be better mothers than they already appear to be.  If I could be but a particle of those highly touted examples found in these essays, I would have it all under control.

Still others write inspirational words to uplift and motivate devoted readers who follow their writing regardless of their philosophical differences or placements in life.  It must be something to write words that carry that kind of weight.

Inspiring.  Makes me want to try to write like that.

The words these writers I so admire weave into thoughtful prose and heart-wrenching  essays are often difficult, awe-inspiring and challenging for the reader to read.  But their words are read because they are worthwhile.  They are important words.  They lift the reader to another place, a higher place than they were before they read, so as to help them to understand.  Their’s are words of which one could be proud, for they speak of lives lived well in spite of circumstance, material possessions or choice in the matter.

When I read their words, I often shamefully think, “What do I have to be proud of?  Why bother writing such useless, boring essays on my uninteresting life?”  I am like this gentleman whom has intrigued me by  refusing to share stories of his life: he and I- we have done nothing that we’re truly proud of.

Or haven’t we?  Is not all the schema of life important?  For there needs be some of us whom act as scene extras or there would not be a realistic element to the film.  There needs be an audience or there would not be reason for the entertainment.  There needs be average, every-day people for we are the gauge by which the extraordinary measure their worth.  There needs be the mundane or there would never be a moment of normalcy to this world.  There must be a level by which we measure what is both extraordinarily wonderful and unbelievably horrible in this world.  And that is us. The middle men and women.  The people who are living out their lives ‘outside the fishbowl’.  We live without scrutiny.

But this I know: all of life matters.  Especially the lives of those in the middle.  But still.  Knowing is not always enough.  There is inside some of us a deep desire to matter to more than just a few.  We want our lives to COUNT in a larger way.   And count they will when we first strive to matter to the ones that matter most to us.  We must focus on that circle that forms our intimate bonds of friendship and other relationships.  And at the end of the day, it is once again perspective that brings my heart and thoughts towards home.  For home is where the heart is.  And the heart if the wellspring of life.

This I also know for sure.  I matter; even from my place here in the middle ground.  I matter to God, to my family and to my friends.  And you matter for all the same reasons.

And that is something we can both be proud of.