For All The Nights I’m Not…

A very thoughtful reader wrote me a comment for my helicopter parenting article which made me think once again: the minute we think we know SOMETHING, we come to realize we don’t know anything.

If you haven’t read the article, I write about a near miss for two children on bikes, a story in which I describe myself as a bit of a helicopter parent when it comes to some aspects of our children’s upbringing.  However, that is not me ALL of the time.  I wouldn’t have you to believe I am a saint or some kind of perfect mother.  So just for the record, for all the other nights I am not the helicopter parent, here’s what I’ve been known to be:

Monday evening, September 29th, 2014:

In our house, if Husband is the voice of reason, I am the voice of hysteria.

It is 6:00 p.m., and I am simultaneously cleaning up from supper, emptying the dishwasher and refereeing children’s disputes/meltdowns. Apparently, there is not enough technological bandwidth power to suitably fire up the Save Our Sanity effort in our house tonight (i.e. the computers are not working and too many people are trying to access the limited supply.) All this while I am having my own epic meltdown.

In fact, mine is ten times worse than anyone else’s about five minutes in. If there was a club of Hysterical People Anonymous, I would be president RIGHT NOW. If there were a meeting of that club anywhere- ANYWHERE- within a 500 mile radius right now, I would gladly vacate the premises and walk barefoot to that meeting on a road of hot volcanic gravel, just to escape the fresh torture that is our after-supper witching hour sans Husband.

Ah supper hour. How I oft despise thee!

If there were a meal I would gratefully skip, it would be supper. I know, I know I KNOW- there are so many idyllic ideals surrounding this mealtime that I have read about, pondered upon and dreamed about in my sleep. But PEOPLE. Suppertime was actually made for the simple purpose of tormenting and afflicting otherwise exhausted mothers so that they could quickly lose their minds. Zero to sixty, baby. Honest, cross my heart- this is the really, truly, truthiest truth. I wouldn’t lie.

But just to be sure, let’s play a fun game. True or false… Supper time is a peaceful, relaxing hour when all is well in the world (and children eat all their food and then empty the dishwasher). Ding, ding, ding: FALSE!!!!!! Suppertime is actually an hour of psychosis when mothers (and quite possibly at times FATHERS) haven’t quite lost all their marbles in the long and endless battle to get their kids to come to the supper table- because that’s what supper is for. To finish them off and kill them slowly. Supper is quite simply for the birds. Literally. Or the cats. I ended up giving the cats two platefuls tonight. The birds got some crusts earlier on today. Whatevs.

Husband, bless his heart, (while all this chaos is underway), is driving blissfully unaware in a van without children (AND HOW DID THIS PUZZLING REALITY HAPPEN???), oblivious to his wife’s complete and utter loss of her mental faculties. Ignorance is bliss they say. I’ll fix that. Luckily, he took the cell phone so he will soon be in the loop regarding all things psychotic that his wife has been fully aware of for the exactly two point three seconds that she has LOST HER FLIPPIN’MIND.
I love me some speed dial.

He answers me because he has to. We’ve got BlueTooth- no excuses. It must feel good to say, “Hunny, I am in Summerside right now…what do you want me to do?” when your wife is about ready to crawl through the phone wires. All I have to say is this: thank goodness for that forty-five minute stretch of highway. It gave Someone enough time to take a Sober Second breath before nailing the last spike into her own coffin.

All crazy things must come to an eventual, frantic end. So I eventually calmed down. What goes up must come down. I met Husband coming in the driveway as I was on my way out, (where upon I was sidetracked into investigating the back of the truck where Children had left a bunch of stuff they forgot to take in the house which I found and grumpily carted in myself). I guess the steam must have still been flying out my ears because he cleared a wide berth for me as I marched out the driveway and up the road.

This is my version of running away from home. And you have no idea how many times the after supper walk has saved our marriage. Thirty minutes of sweet, sweet solitude that brings Mother Dearest back to her senses, restores her sense of inner calm and reminds her of all she has and all her family means to her.

It’s all good- and dare I say, even worth it. Even if that means I have to go through it all again tomorrow night.

So, for all the nights I am a helicopter parent, I breathe a prayer of thanks.  And for all the nights I’m not, I’m thankful too.  Every life needs a state of balance in it to remind us of our fragility- to remind us of our humanity.  So for tonight, I will say this prayer of serenity…

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.”

…because that’s all we can be accountable for in a given day.

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On Helicopter Parenting

I am paying a bill for quesadillas and Greek salad. Along with the ‘so-worth-it’ charges for that sweet slice of heavenly bliss in the form of luscious raspberry pie. It is 6:00 in the evening, and I think to myself, as I close the restaurant door behind me- of all I have to do, all I have waiting for me at home. This supper with two friends was a welcome reprieve from the busyness of my life. From the hectic chaos that is our home at suppertime.  But my thoughts are now on home and those precious five that await me.

I head out toward my van and make my way toward the corner, taking a right onto the main street in our little town. I drive about two minutes down the road when I happen to see on the left two young bikers waiting to cross the road. Mentally, I judge them to be about my two youngest daughter’s ages while I simultaneously wonder to myself why they are out on their own without a parent. As I pass by, I can see the youngest of the two starting to move out into the street. I watch as he does indeed leave the curb and then makes his way onto the street. I am just passing by as he is doing this, so I do not immediately notice that a truck directly behind me is heading straight into his path.  All I am thinking is about is the relief that this child is still waiting by the curbside. The Young Biker doesn’t seem to be noticing a whole lot and appears to fail to notice this detail of the oncoming truck as well. As I move ahead, I continue to watch in my side-view mirror this oblivious child- hoping beyond hope that he will stop and do what I have taught my children and still reinforce almost every time we ride bikes together: to look both ways and do so TWICE before crossing. He does neither. And I am horrified to see that not only is he continuing to move into the busy street, but furthermore that the truck which was approaching is nearly upon him. And then, I see it. A squeal of tires and a child- nearly sideswiped. The little boy is just in front of the truck which has slammed on its brakes and come to a sudden and diagonal stop in the middle of the road.

“Oh Jesus, Jesus…” I start to pray. I watch helplessly as the truck remains motionless for what seems like an eternity as the boy crosses over to the other side. Narrowly missing what he might never fully understand could have been a fatal end. And I wonder what private hell that truck driver has just missed enduring as well. What panic he is experiencing even at this moment, having just avoided the most tragic of possibilities.

This one moment in many moments: it is a defining one. A make or break point in time where eternity pauses for the briefest of seconds to take stock and then breathe again. Do we ever fully understand how much we’ve been given?  Does it make any difference at all?

As a mother, I have had some moments lately. Some which have been challenging and trying, to say the least. We are navigating the waters of adolescence, the waters of sibling rivalry, the waters of struggles for independence and its accompanying challenging arguments. We are constantly teaching and mentoring and coaching and loving.  Constantly called on to exercise limited and short-supplied patience.  And at times, we might come across as helicopter parents: maybe to our off-spring and maybe to others looking in. But these children: they are all we’ve got. They are our one shot at this parenting gig. We are never going to get to do this over again; these four- they’re all we’ve got. And whether or not it is easy to stay the course, hanging in there when life gets tough and frustrating is not the point. This is our life. These are our kids. And we have no other alternative than to give them our very best.

Our hearts demand this.  This is the path we’re on.

So when I see children out on a busy street without a parent to keep a watchful eye- protecting and mentoring and modelling and guiding children in safe bike practices, I think of my own four who sometimes find their old mom a little over-bearing. And I think- “thank Heavens you’ve got a mom like that. She might be annoying and embarrassing and too involved, but her heart is in the right place. And she loves you very much”; and this I know for sure: she would travel for her kids to the sky and beyond if that was needed.

Maybe that’s why they call it helicopter parenting.

What I’m Learning Today

First, let me share with you some funnies:

Me (reading a Robert Munsch book called Class Clown to my students): “Boys and girls, the teacher in this story tells Leonardo that he can’t THINK anymore—isn’t that crazy!! Teachers can’t say that…”
Little Boy: “Well, I don’t think at school anyway…I only think at home…”

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Little Boy (playing Doctor/patient with me): “Open your mouth.”

Me (with my mouth wide open, tongue hanging out)

Little Boy: “You have two golden teeth. You’re going to die soon.”

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Little Boy (speaking of his parents who are about my age; which is to say- very, very young: “My Dad is older than my Mom. He’s going to die soon.”

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I am a teacher.

I write about love, care and compassion, among other topics of the heart. I teach real people- some of them ‘Littles’ with outrageous personalities and larger than life imaginations. Some of them ‘Olders’ who join in with our class for special times of painting, crafts and reading. I teach children with many abilities, talents, dreams, imaginations, wonders, fears, worries, questions, concerns, passions and joys.  Just like me.  So much like me.  And so, I teach to learn.  To learn about myself and how I relate to the world around me.

And here’s what I am learning about myself through teaching.

  1. You can’t have too much laughter in a day. There is never enough laughter. Never enough joy. We need to smile more, laugh more, find pleasure more in the everyday moments. There are times in my day where I find myself slipping into that all-too-familiar pattern of sense and sensibility. I call it teacher mode. It’s a way of thinking that calls to mind order, organization, structure and routine. And all this is well and good- even necessary. But at times, when I am in this mode of thinking, I find myself feeling a tightness in my center. A feeling of pressure right on my gut. Pulling me inward even as I grasp outward for something to ground me. This feeling is one brought on by stress- brought on by pressure. And there are many, many pressures in my line of work. Outcomes to be met, expectations to be exceeded, guidelines to be followed, programs to be delivered. So much to adhere to and so many rules to follow. It all comes together to a crest inside my inmost being causing me to feel panic, fear and desperation.

Causing me to lose my joy.

So I have taken to reading Robert Munsch in the middle of my day- every day. I love Bob. I once wrote him and he responded back- writing me at least twice. He is a hero of children’s imaginations and my class knows him by name- we look at his picture, name his line of work and talk about his job every day before we read his stories. What Bob has done for me and my kids is make us smile- on more than one occasion. Sometimes, he even makes me laugh. I know one thing for sure- he makes the kids laugh. He’s just that kind of guy.

We can’t ever have enough of this kind of stress-release. We need more laughter, more silly and more release from our uptight, tense and edgy state of being induced by too many mandates and protocols. We all need a little more Munsch in our lives. A little more silly.

  1. You can’t ever have too much love in your heart. There is no reason why teachers cannot love their students. No reason at all. Who dictates the ways of the heart or tells a soul not to love? Our hearts are wide enough, deep enough and capable of enough- why can we not then allow love in freedom to flow?

I am always amazed when students wrap their little arms around my waist and declare their love. I was on duty today and I had a circle of little girls that clung to my hands as I walked around. I could feel their love for me as palpably as I could feel the balmy autumn breezes. If a child can be open to love, why not us too?

The other day, I met a former student of mine in the hallway. I asked him for a hug and he responded with the biggest bear hug I could imagine. Nearly knocking me off of my feet. And while this might seem commonplace for many teachers, for me- knowing the child who gave this hug and knowing their story, it meant so much more than just a gesture. What I felt in that hug was a connection- a bond. Built on layer and layers of shared experiences, trusts and understandings. What this little boy with the absence of speech told me in that moment was this: I love you. And I felt that love with every fibre of my being.

  1. There is not enough time in this world to devote to listening. And by listening, I mean from the heart. I told my students by way of the morning message this morning that they were great listeners. And by that, I meant to inspire them to become more and more the great listeners I know they have the potential to be. Listening to each other, the world and its many voices- but most of all, listening to that voice that speaks to them from within. Listening is a learned art. A valuable asset. Through listening, we can understand ourselves and others around us. We can come to know ourselves better and know others more intimately. And through listening, we can come to find out that as people, we are more alike than different. When we find common ground, we are less likely to find fault with others. Listening is not a passive thing. It is perhaps the strongest thing we might ever choose to do with our minds.
  2. There is always tomorrow. There are days I drop the ball completely. Days that still haunt me for the ignorance I displayed, the callous I showed to those I hold most dear. I am still troubled by past mistakes at times, as we all can be when we choose to focus on the negative. But there is always another day. Always another opportunity. When we fail or disappoint ourselves, we always have tomorrow to try again. This is the grace we’ve been given- the grace of second chances. And when we offer second and third and more chances to others, we show them that grace is full and free. It is wide and open. Just as we desire it to be with our own situation. Just as we need it to be in our own lives. That there is tomorrow is a clear sign of hope. And classrooms without hope are among the most dismal places on earth. May we never forget: there is always room for grace.

At least, that’s what I am learning in my journey today.

I press on

I nearly missed their beauty, walking by them quickly first before making the conscious decision to turn back. Before making the conscious decision to stand quietly looking for simple, untouched beauty on this ‘first-of-many’, warm autumn day. I stood for that brief moment at the guardrail- connected to the ducks in presence only. There were five of them swimming in formation in the shallow waters of the inlet. Swimming where the river lazily makes its winding way through meadows and marshlands lined with cattails and long, wavy grasses- to where it will gently widen and join the river proper. The five were headed away from the bridge where I stood. But an innate sense of knowing made them suddenly take flight. First swooping in one direction and then the other before landing out of my range of sight. Landing softly to swim again without the introspective eye keeping watch.

Birds are like that. Flighty. Capricious, if you will. They never know who to trust.

I am feeling a bit of the same. I write extensively about love, ethics of care, hope and kindness. But lately, I am finding I am challenged by this writing insomuch as I feel that showing love is easier said than done. I feel slightly inconsistent with what I ‘preach’ for I am not one who easily trusts. Who easily gives her love away. Not one who easily gives in to love neither, nor one who gives way to the generosity of spirit that love affords.

Under the watchful eye of those around me, I would take flight rather than stay and expose my weakness. So here I am tonight. A fragile being open to vulnerability. Examining her weakness and limitations.

A sitting duck.

I choose to write about love largely because it fascinates me. But beyond that, I feel my limited ability to express love, while falling short at times only to give way to being generously giving at others, is not lived to its full potential. So perhaps I am fascinated with love because of my perceived limitation. Perhaps it is what I feel is my greatest challenge: to love unconditionally. In my defense, I am in possession of a very tender heart and compassionate soul by nature, the endowment of my gracious Creator. I am Woman who can emote easily and express her feelings. Woman who can convey love as evidenced in the overwhelming sense of care I feel for those most precious to me. But the sheer physicality of showing love- demonstrating it to those same beloved leaves me at times in a panic. Leaves me wanting.

I often have to walk myself through the desired and expected responses, telling myself what to do and how to do it. As if I were alien to the languages of human love. This fact of my life intrigues me.

It is not that love eludes me. I have a very sensitive Husband and four loving children. I am the daughter of two loving parents, one of whom has been a kindred spirit to me for over half my life. Added to this, many people I am connected to who I love and whom I have a sense that they love me too.  But in experiencing love, I sometimes wonder: do I truly know what this feels like? Do I really know how to show love? Receive love? Express love? Offer love? Understand love?

And why the pull to know about love and its subtle nuances anyway? Why is love the consuming influence in my life and writing?

Culturally, we are in a time when love is a consumable. A thing to use and throw away. When the love grows cold, let the fire burn to embers. And then start a new fire somewhere else. Even familial love is expendable. Why love if it has nothing to benefit me?
But love is more than this and in our heart of hearts we know: love’s promise offers us hope to be strong in the face of adversity, joyful in light of fearful circumstances, compassionate in spite of offense. Love transcends.  And it calls us to stay and be who we are, vulnerable and defenceless at times, so that we can first offer ourselves fully.  Being present with the experience of the moment.  Understanding then the value of the gift we are being offered so that we can then receive it fully and know that what we’ve been given is a treasure. A gift not to be taken for granted or lightly perceived, but something to be valued.

When I walk back again toward home, the ducks are still in hiding down along.  I glance, but don’t take the time to ruminate. For I am no longer wistfully looking for them to return. Instead, I fix my eyes on the horizon and see within my sights the familiarity of a country road that leads my heart toward home.

And I press on.

Here’s to Tomorrow…

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Our Two Youngest, Husband and I watched kindergarten videos featuring our children after supper for the better part of an hour. Myself, I had a hard time keeping dry eyes, and not just for the frames my kiddos were featured in. The music, the baby faces, those chubby little cheeks. Ah…when I think of kindergarten, I think of the joy and innocence and pure pleasure children appear to exude at this age. They are so pure. So free to BE. Teaching kindergarten keeps me connected with the mystery of wonder.

Later on, Husband and I went for a walk during which I discussed/complained about something hard I was going through- something I was being less than understanding about as it concerned the Other involved. But it wasn’t until much later that things beyond what I ever expected- “hit the fan”. Leaving me longing for the innocence of five years old again.

Which is to say: we are navigating difficult waters tonight. Trying to figure things out, keep our heads above the surface. Life is challenging when you involve people. And people are both the reason for our joy and the cause of our sorrow.  May we never forget that it works both ways and often simultaneously.

As parents, we are learning that our teenagers have lives apart from ours. This is a big thing. A very big thing. And as parents, we are also learning that we need to have some bird’s eye views/front-door access to these lives so as to be able to really KNOW our kids, just as we knew them when they were younger. Technology also complicates the ‘knowing’ part because being a kid/teen means making choices. And making choices for oneself can be a learning curve. A learning curve that involves other people with thoughts, feelings, connections and ideas. This is both the joy and the frustration of growth and development.

It sometimes makes life hard.  And tricky.

But as adults, we are not off the hook. We are still learning that we don’t have all the answers. Neither are we always perfect. And sometimes it is our own willingness to admit failure that allows our children to see that to err is to be human. And to admit wrongdoing is to keep the door open for change and growth.

We can do hard things- all of us. Kindergartners, teens and adults.

And although life can sometimes look simpler when viewed retrospectively, it is full of potential and possibility when viewed with a forward-angled perspective. And the Great Grace that covers the multitude of mistakes made gives us hope for tomorrow. Gives us eagerness to wait for tomorrow for a fresh, new start.

Here’s to new beginnings and here’s to tomorrow…because we all need a do-over once in a while.

The Dot- It’s What We Leave as a Legacy

She asked me tonight how the blog was doing. And I told her that it was not where I’d like it to be. After its second wind in early August and the contact I’d made with Arianna Huffington, I had been floating high on the hope that things would really fly. Really take off.  Just like they had twice before. So when she asked me tonight how things were going and my answer was a little lacklustre, I guess what I was really thinking was “Writing blogs is hard.  Writing blogs for people to read is hard. It’s too hard, sometimes.  Maybe I’ll never be the writer I want to be.”

Sometimes we just have to speak the words we really feel- not to embrace them.  But to release them.

A bit later on, I stumbled across a little electronic reminder that today is International Dot Day, in celebration of Peter Reynold’s book called The Dot. A book written in celebration of starting small and making one’s mark…one little dot at a time. One little word. One little sentence, one little phrase. One little blog article at a time. And when one starts small, they find that one thing leads to another.  One little blog piece leads to another little blog piece. To another and another. It’s kind of like putting one foot in front of the other.

You just don’t know where you’ll end up.

But you know where you’d like that destination to be.

I’ve always wanted to be an influencer. I’ve always wanted to make my mark on this world. Find my place in this world.  Be somebody.  But at the same time, I have thought to myself: “I don’t have everything all figured out yet…I don’t know everything there is to know about what I want to talk about.” So I found myself starting small. I first wrote vignettes about our life as a family. About my role as a mother, wife and woman.  And in time, I found healing in those words. Found healing in the process.  In the beginning, I wrote solely on the topic of joy.  For I was on a pursuit- a pursuit to find joy. And in letting myself lean into the pain, the sadness- and even the grief at times, I found the release I was searching for.  Found the healing. And I began to start over.

My dot has been this blog.

I want to thank everyone who reads this blog. Most of you have found me through “What Students Remember Most About Teachers” and for the success of that piece, I will forever be a jumbled mix of surprise and gratitude. For anyone who reads anything else you might find here, I offer a simple word of thanks. You have made the Dot I placed in this interweb of technology meaningful and worthwhile for me. My readers sustain me. You are the other half of this equation and I write as much for you as I do for myself.

In celebration of International Dot Day, I want to celebrate the dots we are placing on this world. Celebrate the work we do in our homes- as parents, children, siblings, cousins, friends, uncles, aunts, grandparents and guardians. And celebrate the service we offer up in our places of work- as employees, leaders, followers, doers, visionaries, role models, facilitators, mentors and steady, reliable workers. Paid and unpaid. In our communities, we must never forget to appreciate and recognize the countless volunteers, board members, trustees, committee reps, and more.  All making dots on our community landscape.  And in our world, as people who stand by one another and help one another through both the good and the bad.  Let us celebrate the dots we represent around the globe.

We are all making our mark. Let’s be proud of the dots we leave behind each day as a remembrance of our calling.  Our daily offering to this world of ourselves and our love.  And may we never undermine the importance of the dot our lives represent.

Each Dot is a beautiful mark of impact on this world that only we can make.

What No Test Can See

I wasn’t prepared for it really. Wasn’t prepared at all. When the results were unveiled and the cursor moved down the Smart Board showing individual achievement results and my child’s name slowly rolled by- I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to see. Wasn’t prepared for the label, the category she was pegged in. I wasn’t prepared at all really. And as much as I dislike standardized testing on my kindergarten students- having fought to have the richness of their stories brought to bear on the results of recent moderated student writing, it really hits close to home when your own child comes up having not met grade level expectations. It brings the dislike to a whole new level.

Thinking about students and standardized testing. These two quotes from Clandinin and Connelly (2000) really put things into perspective for me tonight.  Here’s the first quote:

“We take for granted that people, at any given point in time, are in a process of personal change and that from an educational point of view, it is important to be able to narrate the person in terms of the process. Knowing some of the immediate educational history of the child- for instance, the lessons recently taught, as well as the larger narrative history of each child as that child moves from what was, to what is, to what will be in the future- is central to narrative educational thinking” (Clandinin and Connelly, 2000 p. 30).

And this one as well:

“In narrative thinking, an action is seen as a narrative sign. In our case, we intended that curricular actions be interpreted as classroom expressions of teachers’ and students’ narrative histories. For example, a child’s performance at a certain level on an achievement test is a narrative sign of something. It is necessary to give a narrative interpretation of that sign before meaning can be attached to it. Without understanding the narrative history of the child, the significance or meaning of the performance, the sign, remains unknown. Student achievement on a test does not in and of itself tell the tester or the teacher much of anything until the narrative of the student’s learning history is brought to bear on the performance” (Clandinin and Connelly, 2000 p. 30-31).

So with that in mind, here’s what people who decide those expectations don’t know about my daughter.

Her smile can light up a room.

She’s a loving friend, a loyal listener.

She loves to bake, invent, explore, create, move, dance, play and read.

She is wonderful with children.

She has an ear for music and is learning the trombone.

She loves to work with hair and can create braids that fall hopelessly apart in my hands.

She just made the volleyball team.

And what’s more: she might not have met expectations of some remote board who have determined that certain standards must be brought to bear, but I can say for fact that she liked that math class. She liked her teacher, loved her classmates, enjoyed the work and she never, ever complained.

She studied, worked hard, did her best and in the words of her teacher “did well’.  And confusingly, got great grades all year long.

And if her story were to be factored into those cold numbers that represent her on that isolated test representing one moment in time, there would be so much more to show for the amazing life that story of her’s represents.

She might not have met test expectations, but she will forever exceed those of her father and me.

We love her to the moon and back.  We always will.

And we’ll always be proud of our little girl.