Hold On

“When you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hold on”
― Theodore Roosevelt

retrieved from woman.thenest.com

I am sitting at the back of the Bayliner, watching the waves gently rock us to and fro as we idle in the water. Husband is at the helm, and I am flanked by three of our four children. The Other is awkwardly sitting in the river with water-skis attached to her feet. She bobs like a buoy as she awaits the pull of the boat. The call comes for her to ready herself and I can almost feel her nerves—taut and anxious as she grasps on the two-way handle-bar. There is a split-second, a moment where we all are unsure. Will she gain the momentum necessary? Will she hold on? Will she right herself in time? Will she let go?

We pull ahead with a forceful thrust and she dives into the water, side-long or head first. I cannot recall. This, an unplanned entry either the route. The same procedure begins again. The boat pulling around in a circle while the tow rope slowly makes its way towards her through the water. Her arms reaching and then grabbing onto the tow line, holding on as if for dear life. The tense moment of waiting and then the lunge forward.

The boat pulls as if hauling a butterfly. But she again is unable to manage the propulsion. She slips and topples back into the water. (Thankful for a patient teacher in her Dad.)

This holding on and letting go is taking its toll, is trying her patience; but I can see that she is determined. Even when the drift takes us into murky seaweed. Even when she falls for the eighth time. Even when. She is discouraged but not deterred.

One more try.

She finally makes it upright after her ninth attempt, and we all cheer ecstatically from the sidelines. You can see even from a distance that she is very pleased with this accomplishment. So she should be. She has held on and we are moving forward through clear waters, nothing but sunshine and blue skies overhead.

Holding on is hard work, but it is worth it. It requires grit, stamina, tenacity and determination. We have to have resolve. And when we let go our grasp, it is just as crucial that we reclaim our former position and hold on that much tighter the second, third, fourth time around. Because life is not just about holding on—it’s about getting back up again after we’ve had to let go.

There is much to fight for in this life, much for us to fight for and hold on to:

-Our sense of purpose
-Our independence
-Our freedom
-Justice
-Relationships
-The future
-Our faith in Providence and humanity

Whatever the reason that you are still holding on, take heart and keep on keeping on. Don’t be discouraged in your efforts. Holding on is tedious, strenuous work, but it is worth it. Holding keeps us positioned, enables us to move forward, brings us closer to our goals. Holding is the most difficult thing we might ever have to do, but when we fight for what we believe is worth it, we discover something else in the process: holding on is beneficial for our character, too. In holding, we develop courage. And courage gives us hope.

Whatever you are fighting to find or seeking to reclaim, just hold on.

You’ll make it.

SUMMER!!!

Coffee on the veranda Summer is totally the boss. She’s the queen bee, the head honcho, the top dog. The boss of all the seasons. And why, you ask? Because I am sitting on my step in shorts and a tank top, sheltering my face from the gorgeous sun while writing this post. A breeze gently rustles the tree branches and birds can be heard chirping off in the distance. And I am not cold at all. AT ALL. Would I be brave enough to face the brutal elements in fall or spring? Probably NOT seeing as we still had snow in JUNE this year. Did you catch that…JUNE. Don’t even get me started on the insanity of winter.

There is very little bad I can say about summer. There are bad things that accompany summer like mosquitoes, ants, spiders, june bugs and ear wigs, flash rain showers and drought.  Heat rash. But they are all forgiven because, well…SUMMER!!!
Last night, I was chopping onions and green pepper for supper. I had chopped for fifteen minutes and then took my cutting board with the veggies over to my frying pan to scrape into my already sizzling hamburger. As I did, an earwig crawled out of the crack in the board and scurried upwards (ARGH!!!! don’t even get me started). I was immediately TOTALLY grossed out, but then I remembered: SUMMER!!!
Summer is the boss, and if summer means a few earwigs which I will chase out of my washcloths, cupboards and sink (bringing out my attractive MURDEROUS bent), so be it. Summer rules on this one.
Two nights ago, I was working on my Master’s thesis when out of no where, mosquitoes started to fly into my computer screen and hit me in the head. They appeared insane…I have no idea what they’ve been into, but they are just plain weird this year Of course, I wanted to scream (and MAYBE I did), but then I remembered….SUMMER!!
Three nights ago, a spark flew out of the fire pit and landed inside my shirt in some nether-region leaving an attractive inch long burn mark. I guess I was having too much fun to realize it at the time, having noticed the attractive camping souvenir two mornings later whilst in the shower. I guess if we are going to play with fire, we are going to get burned. At least that’s what the motto is in SUMMER. Summer this year also brought two weeks of cloud and rain. Whatevs, people. Is it cold out? Snowing? Is there ice on the driveway? AM I WEARING A SNOWSUIT?
I rest my case. Summer trumps everything.
BOOM

On Beauty in Sadness

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We spend much of our time pursuing happiness, joy, contentment. Peaceful bliss. But what of the experience that sadness brings? When grief descends upon us, enveloping with a haze of memories and emotions, do we try to escape its embrace? Do we turn our hearts from pain? Shelter our feelings from any knowledge of the unpleasant?

The sun blazes down. It is a scorcher of a day- 30 degrees in the city, where we find ourselves looking for one particular church. We are headed for a celebration of fifty years of married life, an occasion designed to praise the commitment two people made to forge a  jointly-lived life complete with its joys and sorrows. Complete with its highs and lows. But for today, of course, perspective is largely focused on the bliss. Attention is given to the delight found in exquisite beauty cultivated from meshing two lives into one.

These are for them the golden years. Just like the song says.

But there is something about the lyrics so sweetly sung by a daughter and her father that make me turn my eyes away. I find tears would come quickly- too easily, but for my attempt to re-focus my attention on the people around me. I scan the room while the duo at the front bring their song to a close. This music- it ignites within memories and feelings that are particularly tender and vulnerable today, a day marking another kind of anniversary. An anniversary within an anniversary.

Two months. Fifty-two years.

It suffices to say: it has been a beautiful day; but it has also been a difficult day.

I hear myself offering a word and the possibility for quenching the dark cloud: “I don’t want you to feel sad” I say to the one I love. But I wonder within the moment if this is truly wise. We must feel the melancholy that searing sadness and pain can bring. For grief is what helps us heal; it is what enables us to feel better. It is what enables us to find joy again. Rejecting those early feelings of seeming despondency so as to only accept the forced happiness we crave is to reject the necessary emotion that enables us to mend our broken hearts. Sadness serves a purpose that joy cannot: it is there to bridge the gap from one joyful moment to the next. Without the sadness, we are often stuck in stagnation. We are immobilized and halted.

We need to let ourselves feel.

Jonathan Safran Foer contends that “You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness.” If we are to experience a life rich with emotion, we must allow our hearts to burst with joy when the moment decrees, and then break with sadness when we experience loss and pain. This is all part of being and becoming human. Allowing ourselves to be in the moment who we must be and yet enabling ourselves to become who we are meant to authentically be in response to what is happening in our lives.

This poetic Biblical passage says with eloquence what I am feeling tonight:

A Time for Everything

3 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
9 What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. (Ecclesiastes Chapter 3: 1-9, NIV)

Everything is beautiful…in its time. Beauty in sorrow. Beauty in delight.

He has made both joy and sadness beautiful in their time.

15 Things I Know About Being a Parent

Parenting is, of course, the most consuming, challenging and exhausting task that I have ever involved myself in. Some days I ask: “what were we thinking???” And on the other days, I just don’t ask. And speaking of “we”, I readily admit that marriage is a very close second in this listing of difficult things known to humankind.

It was fifteen years ago today that I first became a mother. And how well I remember that incredible day—the moments of fear when I faced the unknowns, the moments of elation when I realized what I had gained. Holding that tiny 6 lb. 7 1/2 ounce baby boy swaddled in a receiving blanket, I knew a love I had never known before. I knew a fierce need to shelter and protect that I had heretofore never experienced. I knew so much in that instant I saw his precious baby face.

I knew so little.

Sons are interesting characters. They cling close to their mamas until they reach toddler stage, and then they can’t seem to get enough of their dads. Dads hold the world in the palms of their hands, or so it seems to bright-eyed little boys. I have watched my son and his dad grow closer over the years, and I am so thankful that they have each other. Particularly in light of the fact that they are also outnumbered in our family of six (complete with four girls). This relationship they share is a gift, one not to be taken lightly. I know neither does; never would they.

In honor of my son’s 15th birthday and due to the fact that it is also the anniversary of my 15th year being a mama, here are 15 things I know now that I didn’t know back then…

1.) Every moment is a gift, and of course meant to be cherished; but some moments are meant to just be ‘lived’, and then we move on. We don’t have to make everything special. Everything extraordinary. Sometimes life is just meant to be experienced mundanely, in the everyday ordinary routine of life. This too is precious.

2.) Kids don’t always need entertainment; the more entertainment/amusement, the less imagination/creativity (at least in the world I grew up in—which means it still holds true for my Fearless Four. Because I say so.).

3.) Sincere apologies are best taught through humble parental modeling.

4.) Some things like burps and flatulence and mysterious smells from the bathroom and spilled popcorn on the bed and Vaseline on the couch and chocolate chips all over the floor and canned goods on top of the baby…and the like: these things (while startling) are not worth blowing a gasket/major artery over. Live and learn.

5.) Seeing your child show kindness to others will make your heart swell in ways that temporary academic or sporting accomplishments never could.

6.) Patience is a virtue, but when in short supply, time-outs for mama in the bathroom/quick exits from the scene of disaster also work.

7.) Four kids is a lot of kids. But then again, so was one.

8.) The question “will I love the second (third, fourth) as much” is entirely not worth entertaining for even one little second; the answer is always yes, Yes, YES! : “to the moon and back again.” Every single time.

9.) Sometimes Mamas make mistakes. Moving on…

10.) Screaming is not the most effective form of communication.

11.) Mamas are not meant to be their childrens’ best friends (that is, until said offspring start to pay for their own bills and have an income. When this miracle occurs, the boundaries are redefined).

12.) The crucial life lessons your mama taught you about responsibility, safety, security and common sense (lessons and rules that you loathed back when you were ages 5-19): they will fall from your own tongue like pearls of wisdom to your precious babies AS IF IN YOUR OWN FORMER CHILDISH OPINION THEY WERE ALWAYS GOLDEN.

13.) There is next to nothing you will not do for your child, including acting like an idiot in public on occasion (think: jumping up and down at photo shoots), going to the ends of the earth for them and resorting to begging/bartering on their behalf. Incidentally, these rules do not always apply after fifteen years parenting as you have prioritized your ability to please and thus included yourself in this lottery.

14.) Parenting in year one is very different than parenting in year fifteen. For one thing, where you once were completely trusting and naïve, now you are a bit of a sly old shrew. Also, you are more sarcastic.

15.) You realize that although there are still some days you threaten to jump ship and escape to the nearest available carnival troupe, there is nothing on this beautiful planet you would rather be doing than mothering four of the brightest, most beautiful children God’s Hands ever fashioned. And that is the plain and simple truth.

Parenting has been said to be “one of the hardest things you’ll ever do but in exchange it teaches you the meaning of unconditional love” (Nicholas Sparks). I am thankful for the ways in which my heart has learned to expand and grow in four different directions these past 15 years.

To my Son: I will love you and your three sisters forever and always. I love you all- to the moon and back again.

Precious times, these years…

The other day, I left Alberton with four belligerent children and three others (people who were, incidentally, astonished by the commotion going on in our van). I departed the area absolutely stunned by the severity with which we battle it out over here in the Gard Household: it matters not where we find ourselves. Mill River, Florida, Dominican Republic- you name it. We fought there. Actually, we no sooner hover a toe over the threshold of the van and it is like a switch is turned on inside our brains that releases our inner warrior/dark side. Darth Vader has nothing on this family. We fight about seat positions. Fight about farting. Fight about burping. Fight about whether or not the sun sets in the west and rises in the east (maybe it does/maybe it doesn’t). Fight about music, about books, about universities that ten year olds wish to attend when they are 20.

We fight- and we do so incessantly. And because of this marvelous fun family fact, I can attest to our permanent membership in the infamous FightClub as members in good standing, with our family having the most experience tearing one another’s heads off/emotional collateral.

When I arrived home that particular day of which I write, I literally fell out if the van, a dazed expression on my face and asked my Husband, above the cacophony of noise, if he had missed us all that morning. His reply:

“Like the plague.”

He was not joking. Not even a little bit.

As I was a Kid Vid Cinema leader at DVBS all week, I had the extreme pleasure of waking my children up at what appeared to be twelve hours before daylight (hard to tell as we had no sun at all this week), coaxing them out of their warm, cozy beds (where in sleeping, they could not make any sound of retaliation/noise) and then driving my children plus three to programming at eight (or whenever) every morning- programming which I must admit that I personally enjoyed almost more than the children as I was able to exercise/hone my dance skills each and every day (to the absolute horror/disgust of my two oldest).

The best part of this experience was that this four hour stretch was a glorious time of no fighting. For four hours, my four children were not clawing each other’s eyes out, were not tearing one another apart. And even better, for most of that time, they were someone elses’ responsibility (so even if they did happen to fight, I could feign ignorance and complete unawareness of what was happening). You cannot even imagine what this opportunity meant to a mother like me who has permanent damage in her ear drums from shrill, ear-splitting screams.

DVBS, while similar to real school, is a wonderful opportunity for mothers such as myself to release their precious offspring into the wild, I mean world, for a few brief and precious hours; handing off the responsibility of breaking up their fights, following them around like a hawk, rescuing them from imminent danger, feeding them snacks, protecting them from injury and in general, basking in their presence. They also get to learn, discover and grow spiritually while there. Bonus! And in doing such (that is, releasing them/freeing yourself), they come to find themselves in the extremely competent and capable hands of other adults who do this kind of stuff for free. For any mother, it is a no-brainer.

Next summer, if our numbers haven’t quadrupled by word-of-mouth advertising I will personally sign on for therapy due to stress incurred from shock and surprise.

The fighting unfortunately does resume once the troops have landed back on home soil. I am sorry to say. We have taken to playing a particular hymn called “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love” at meal time. Thankfully there are different versions of the song because for quite a while (until we found an electronic version), Brian just sang it himself. He also has been working on “You Picked A Fine Time To Leave Me Lucille” for those days when even the hymn won’t work.

He is learning extra lines of that one.

Interestingly, at bedtime- at the very last possible moment before the kiddos lay their heads on their pillows, there is a brief interlude of peace in which my mind goes blank and I forget any and all bad things that might have happened during the previous fourteen hours. This glorious experience is known as parental amnesia and it is vital to the proper functioning of any mother/father wishing to hang tight for twenty-five or so years of steady parenting and live to talk about it. (Relax: this extended time frame only applies if you have as many kids as me!) Parental amnesia has saved my sanity. It is the reason I poke my head into their rooms each night and say to myself:

“It really wasn’t all that bad of a day”…

…before waking up again the next morning to the precious sounds of kids yelling for their brother/sister to “get out of the bathroom- you’re taking too long!!!!”

Precious times, these years

People, I need you to hear this…

It is disheartening, to say the very least, to realize yet again that the public’s perception of your work as a professional is characterized as being whiny, over-paid, indulged, lazy, self-centered and existent so as to be servile.

I have spent the past number of years in deep contemplation of my teaching practice- writing, thinking, reading and reflecting almost daily. And I am coming to comprehend that the overall public perception of teachers who run in North American circles, anyway, is extremely negative and it probably will stay that way until we as teachers re-invent ourselves.

Interestingly, I am conducting thesis research on the ethic of care and its relevancy to classroom experience. In this endeavor, I am coming to realize more and more that care is the absolute primary concern of teachers. We teachers are there in our classrooms because we care about what we are doing and the people we are doing it all for. However, unlike caregivers such as doctors (who at least have the potential of making sick people well), teachers do not always seem to serve the immediate betterment of the children they work with. While a doctor has the immediate function of providing relief (through medication and treatment), a teacher’s impact often is never realized until well after the children they have taught are moved on to another classroom and grade level. Furthermore, unlike doctors, people do not come to us of their own free will. There is compulsory attendance in school. Generally, no one is going to force you go to the doctor’s office.

But if doctors can be perceived in a positive light as care-givers, well so then can teachers. It just might take a little blood, sweat and tears to get there.

In writing about teaching as a profession (and in turn, trying to debunk the myths that teachers are money-hungry, union slaves that think solely of how to raid public coffers), I am also realizing the need for teachers to present another alternative image to the world than the one currently being upheld. I think what is needed in our profession is for teachers to show those that are unclear about what teachers really care about- that is, the public at large, the truth of our identity. As young people fresh out of high school, we were not drawn to the teaching profession because we couldn’t wait to one day be part of a union that would help us get rich. Hardly.  We were drawn to teach because we cared about the ideals of the profession and because we cared about connecting kids to those ideals. Then, as we became employed, we realized something even more important (if we hadn’t come to the conclusion already): we realized how incredibly important the kids in our classrooms were to us.

They in fact were everything.

As such, we started to care for them personally- and deeply care. Care about what they were eating both in school and without. Care about who they were friends with. About how much sleep they were getting on school nights. About what they were watching on television/social media. We started to care about their personal history and their present situations. We began to notice when they looked sad. Started to tune into their moods and feelings.

We noticed when things began to change from their typical interactions. Started to notice so much more than even this. In short, we were not really expecting this part of our calling to occur. It wasn’t exactly what we trained for in university; but somehow, in conjunction with the first day of our teaching contract, we realized that teaching content would sometimes take a backseat to caring for kids as people. Actually, we learned rather quickly this would happen A LOT of the time. Because our job as a teacher was profoundly about the students- their concerns, feelings, beliefs and identities. Our calling was wrapped up in the whole student- not just concerned with their brain. Wrapped up in the health and well-being of their body, heart and mind.

When I read comments like this one: “whine , whine , whine , move on and get a different job”; and this “what teachers want is more money”; and this one “get back to work, public servant! If you don’t like your job, get another one. Got that , public servant?”, I am extremely saddened. I think what bothers me the most is that we as teachers have not been enabled to truly represent ourselves in the media so that people can understand what we truly care for- after collective bargaining time is over and done with. I think the public MUST know about the absolute and incredible gift it is for us to be a teacher all those other days of the year. They must hear directly from us and often about what exactly our job entails. The highs and the lows. We need to share with the public about our well-founded concerns as well as our ample ‘gratitudes’. Need to tell what it is like to struggle with meeting the needs inside our classroom and what it is like to triumph in spite of the shortcomings. And we need to continuously share the importance that a teacher can make in the life of a child.

In my blogging, I have made this my goal: to raise awareness about teaching. To be a voice in the wilderness, if need be. To be a rally cry for teachers to unite and care about our profession enough to invest in it. To be a clear and concise storyteller so as to draw people into the world of education. I want people to care about what we do because we are teaching the children that people care about. What we do inside classrooms is incredibly significant, particularly when it gets personal. I have written before the following words:

Until we as people are impacted personally by this care-giving aspect role that describes a true educator, we really don’t understand how important it is.
And what I mean by this is the following:
Until your child has been bullied, you don’t realize what it means to have a teacher calling you to see what they can personally do to rectify the situation.
Until your child has been without a lunch, you don’t realize how much it means to have a teacher offer half of hers to your child.
Until your child has been excluded, you don’t realize how much it means to have a teacher notice your child and seek them out.
Until your child has been owing money for an event, you don’t realize what it means to have a teacher notice and make up the difference in the amount.
Until your child has lost a loved one, you don’t realize how much it means to have a teacher take the time to make a homemade card for your son or daughter.
Until your child has been scared, anxious, worried, fearful, hurt, overwhelmed or endangered, you don’t realize what it means to have a teacher in their corner- rooting for them, whatever it takes.

Because until it hits you personally, it is really hard sometimes to remember what a monumental role care-giving plays in the day-to-day life of a school.

Care-giving is the heart of teaching.  And it is absolutely crucial that the outside world- the one not caught up in education- become aware exactly what this adage means.

What Teachers Really Want

It is becoming very difficult for teachers across North America to convince the public of the need to fight for education, to support the deeply felt emotions and beliefs directed toward ideals and professional standards that we teachers have come to espouse. Why is this? When the issue at hand for everyone in the ‘real world’ is about money and teacher salaries, the educational profession is suddenly reduced to something smaller than a calling.

It becomes a job.

Money is certainly a separating line between groupings in society. Whenever money comes into play, there are going to be divisions. It is just par for the course. On the continuum of how well people are compensated and valued for their lifework, teachers could surely be said to have been given a fair shake, at least in comparison to most other employment found in communities where schools are located. Retail work, customer service, industry and manual labor positions are all found to be less compensated. And in other caring professions concerned with people, we are again found to be better off. For instance, we as teachers get more compensation for our work than certainly parents are paid for their efforts/commitments (as evidenced in the governments pithy attempts to provide tax relief and the child tax benefits- compensation that could never be called a salary for a SAHM); we make more than foster parents, more than human services workers, youth workers, probation officers, community liaisons, coaches and non-profit supports; and depending on who you talk to (and in what province) teachers make more than social workers and quite possibly even more than some nurses, who require similar educational standards and rigorous training (side-note: a quick Google search showed salaries to be comparable across most provinces).

When teachers sit down at the collective bargaining table, it appears to the public that all we are talking about are salaries. This is just not the case. Bargaining is conducted first concerning the student’s educational experience, and this is of utmost importance. How many teachers will a school have? What sizes should classes be? How much money is allocated to supports (both internal and external)? Who is in charge of curriculum delivery? What role will specialists have? How many EAs will be provided? These, among other concerns, are dealt with first. It is therefore unfortunate that teachers are only given ‘air play’ when it appears we are whining about wanting more money; I believe that teachers have more ‘at stake’ than merely our salaries.

As teachers, we came into this profession because we deeply care: care about teaching, care about student welfare, care about ideas, care about the future of our current generation, care about subject matter we believe is relevant, care about critical thinking, care about social justice, care about tolerance. And certainly we care about so much more.

We care.

Since teachers are essentially people who care, the care we invest takes teaching from just being a job and elevates it to something more worthwhile. Teachers should ideally be called into this profession- a calling of the heart. One that serves to inspire, motivate, encourage and arouse within young people the seed for greatness.

Teachers talk about choosing this profession because we want to make a difference in someone’s life. We want to be known as the catalyst for someone elses’ greatness. We believe that we truly are the wind beneath our students’ wings. We even desire to see our students surpass our wildest expectations.

Therefore, teachers want the general public to understand that there are different components to being a teacher. Unfortunately, what the public sees is the negative side: the side that is presented in the media when it is contract time and negotiations are underway. But what our students see is something entirely different. They see us as advocates. As role models. As mentors and guides. They see us as a listening ear. As caring yet effective examples. As supportive coaches. Sometimes even like a family member. This side rarely makes the news, but it is the authentic side of who were are. It’s the side that our students know and appreciate.

I wish that the public could understand that the negotiating that is done behind closed doors in provinces across Canada and then held up for public scrutiny is not the true reflection of what a teacher is at heart. We are not money hungry. We are not selfish individuals thinking only of ourselves. We care deeply about our students and that is where 95% of our thinking is invested while we are on the job. Of course, there are always going to be reasons why teachers feel they should be monetarily compensated for the work they do. This is only fair to expect when people invest their lives, education and extra time into providing the best possible service and practice they know how.

But money isn’t everything.

Even more than money, I think what teachers truly crave is to be valued. We want to be appreciated for our lifework. Maybe not every day, and not with loud broadcasting voices. Just quietly offered a word of appreciation. Not because we are entitled, but because we are human. We all appreciate praise. And it is my belief that gratitude can sometimes mean more to people than money ever would.

It is like anything: when we are appreciated, we as people want to do so much more to please, above and beyond our job description, because of that little motivation we’ve received. Everybody does better with thanks. Perhaps if all our life-work, employment and professions were more appreciated- from SAHM to retail workers to farmers to nurses… to the girl that just gave you your coffee at Tim’s: it would not be quite so difficult for us to understand each other. If we all valued one another more, thanked each other more often, and showed one another gratitude more regularly, we would see less of this negativity in the media that drags us all down.

It’s certainly worth considering.