Ready or Not, It’s Summer!

So here I am, at the beginning of summer vacation.  I’ve been waiting and longing for this moment for the past several weeks.  I usually try hard to stay present and not really count down the days, but the ramped-up pace of the last few weeks of school did have me keeping my eye on this prize.  Something caught me a bit off guard over the weekend though.  I was suddenly hit with this feeling of not being ready for summer.  I was pretty much ready for school to be over.  Though it’s always a little tough and bittersweet to say goodbye to my students, that part I don’t really look forward to, most of the time, I was definitely ready for the busy-ness of the busy season to end.  I certainly don’t want to stretch school out any longer, but all of a sudden I had this mixture of sadness and maybe a little worry because I feel like I’m not quite ready for the clock of summer to start ticking away.  I need to make some plans!  I need a new swim suit! Seriously! How can all the swim suits I want be sold out already?!

OK, I really don’t care all that much about the swim suit, but I was having this weird anxious sort of feeling about summer starting. I was expecting to feel all jumping-in-the-air-clicking-my-heels-together excited like I do at the start of most summers, but that kind of wasn’t the case this year.  I’m quite sure it has to do with a whole host of factors.  A few of which I thought might be worth mentioning here.

One thing is that, endings are hard, even when you’re looking forward to what’s on the other side of the end. This year the end of school brought a few more goodbyes than usual as several close colleagues retired.  I’m often asked, as school is about to finish, about how to handle a child’s sadness and tears about the ending.  A few years ago, I started sharing Brene Brown’s Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto and directing parents to the part about teaching kids to feel their sadness instead of trying to take it away or brush it under the carpet. It’s hard to end something that was good.  It’s hard to adjust to the fact that you won’t be seeing the same people every day who you are used to seeing.  So I tell the kids that it’s ok to be sad about this. I am.  It’s ok to cry about this.  I did.  And then I remind them of an R-word (we’re big on R-words at our school). I tell them that they are resilient.  They will recover from this sadness and fairly quickly too.  I tell them that their heart can be sad and happy all at the same time, even if it feels very weird, it’s ok.  They’ll learn that this is the way of school (and life) and soon, before they know it,  they’ll be focused on pools and popsicles.  And so I’m telling myself the same thing.  (except I might focus on these grown up pops!  Scroll down for the boozy section.)

Another thing about the start of this summer that brought on some weird feelings for me, is the shift in schedule and that I don’t have all my plans all set. I don’t have a giant trip planned. I don’t even know what I’m doing for the rest of today. It feels like a little bit of a transition to go from the super scheduled and jam-packed days of June to the wide open days of summer.  Now, I know this is not an actual problem. There are people who are sick or hurt and there are huge injustices in the world, those are problems. I know plenty of people really deserve the wide-open days of rest and summer and some people never get them. I am so very grateful for mine.  I’m also very positive that I’ll come up with plenty of things to do and those wide-open days will soon be fun-filled.  I’m just saying, I felt a little uneasy about how my time would play out. I want my time to be well spent. I want this to be a really good summer.  But sometimes I fall into that whole trap of thinking that if I’m not being productive, I’m not spending my time well. And sometimes I get too caught up in planning and being “ready.” But only sometimes. I’m reminding myself of what I really know in my heart, that some of my most well-spent time and treasured memories have been those spent doing what seems like nothing with my family and friends, spontaneous happenings, unexpected meetings and unplanned moments.

I’m at that age where time seems to be going a lot faster.  I just kind of want a little buffer zone right now in between when school ends and summer begins.  Like a pre-summer, for deep breathing and dreaming and plan making. But we don’t get that.  So today I’m using a little lesson that my dear friend Regina taught me.  I can’t stop the clock from ticking, but I can notice this moment, this end sliding into this beginning.  And right here, the whole summer is stretched out before me.  Who knows what wonderful things will happen?!  I’m hoping it’s a season full of family and friends, lots of time outside, wonder and big newness.   As much as I can, I’m going to make sure it is.  I’ll keep you posted.

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I really love this line from the book I’m reading right now. It’s called “Phenomenal” and it was written by Leigh Ann Henion about her explorations of some of the world’s most extraordinary natural places. Her life and my life are quite different, but still…I love being wondrously astounded! I hope you also can’t believe your life in a good way this summer and ten years from now. I wish us all many moments of being wondrously astounded. Happy summer!

Being Youer

A few things have happened with my students at school recently that got me thinking even more than usual about how hard or easy it is to be yourself. I probably think about this on a daily basis as I try encourage my students through peer pressure situations, to do what they know is right or want to do no matter what anybody else says or does.  That last part about “no matter what anybody else says or does,” is from a wonderful program the kids went through from the Camp Fire organization, and we say it so often that the kids finish my sentence in a sing song-y kind of way.  But still, they struggle with it. And it breaks my heart sometimes.

It was recently Dr. Seuss’s birthday. In many schools, and in years past at our school, this is cause for celebration of the dress up like a cat in a hat variety.  Except that, this year, for I don’t know what reason or no real reason at all, we didn’t plan a dress up day.  One little girl did her own though. Picture cute painted on whiskers and a fluffy black tail pinned to her pants. Adorable, right?  Except she didn’t think so.  I imagine she loved it at home, but changed her mind when she walked into school and saw no one else dressed up.  She had washed the whiskers off before I even saw her.  In fact, I didn’t even notice the faint remnants of them on her cheeks when I greeted her at the classroom door.  What I did notice though, were her red eyes, though she was trying hard to look like she wasn’t crying. It took a bit of cajoling for her to tell me why she was upset and to reveal the tail that she was hiding under her jacket.  I offered all kinds of ideas and tried my best to pump her up to stay in costume and wear what she had planned, but she wasn’t having it.  She wanted the tail off and to wash her face even more.  I wished I could have encouraged her to celebrate and wear what she had planned even though no one else was, but I had to respect her feelings, so I took the tail off for her and I could see the relief flood through her.

On the flip side of this being yourself thing, a few days later we had a book fair at school and a family night when kids from all the grades and their parents came to school at night to shop for books.  I was there chatting and visiting with the kids and their families, when one of my students yelled my name across the very crowded room.  And as I started to walk over to him, he yelled some more, seeming no to care at all who heard, “None of my friends are getting historical books! I’m the only one!” I started to respond with what I thought was some good teacher cheer-leading, “That’s okay.  You can get whichever books YOU want.” But he didn’t need it.  He was already shouting again and smiling, “I don’t care if no one else gets these books! I LOVE history! I can’t wait to read these!”  High five, buddy!

What is it that makes it so easy sometimes and so hard other times?  So easy for some kids (and grown ups!) and so hard for others?  I feel like we’ve come so far as a whole society in what we know about how to help people build self esteem.  We teach kids so many coping skills now that I know I wasn’t taught in elementary school.  But still, that doesn’t take away the individual struggles and learning that each person must go through.  I wish I could take away the struggling times for my students (and family and friends and self), but I know I can’t and, as hard as it feels, I know that taking it away might not even be best, because it is often those times of struggle that build who we are, who we become.  I came across this sentence in my morning book by Mark Nepo the other day and it beautifully reminds me of this lesson,  “Too often we struggle stubbornly in an attempt to protect ourselves from the friction of being alive, when it is precisely that friction that works our spirit into a seeable gem.” So if I can’t take the struggle away, I’ll try to do what I can — love them (us) through it and bring attention to the shining gem that is always peeking through. Shine on, kids! Whiskers, history books and all!

Today you are YOU, that is TRUER than true, there is NO ONE alive who is YOUER than YOU! - Dr. Seuss

‘Today you are YOU, that is TRUER than true, there is NO ONE alive who is YOUER than YOU!’ – Dr. Seuss  Special thanks to my friend MC for making this pic of me!

 

 

Be a Mind Pen Pal

That little gem of advice up there is brought to you by one of my first graders.  Allow me to explain and then maybe you’ll want to join us in sending some love notes.

On a recent January morning, we were having a class conversation as we prepared to attend an all school meeting.  We were talking about how to participate in a meeting with all the kids in the whole school, and I was trying to push my students past their usual responses geared toward politeness – be quiet when someone is speaking, sit still, don’t put anything in the person next to you’s ear – that kinda stuff.  I was urging them to participate actively.  I said something like, “If someone asks a question, really try to think about the answer in your mind. It’s not enough to just sit there like a cute, little ball of first grader being still and quiet.  You have to be engaged. Maybe even raise your hand and say your ideas out loud.” Then a little girl warned, “But if someone says the wrong answer, don’t laugh at them.”  I started to smile and nod, but she followed up with a question, “Well what SHOULD you do then?”  It was kind of a dose of my own medicine because I’m always asking them that, “If you’re NOT going to _______, fill in the blank – run, hit, use your pencils as swords – what WILL you do?”  A few kids started to pipe in their own answers, “Nothing.”  “Yeah, if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”  Fine choices, really.  Wouldn’t we rather them sit quietly than laugh at someone? But what if I pushed them a little more here.  There was a little seed I’d been wanting to plant in them.  “Well, maybe you could do better than nothing, maybe you could send them a little love.”  To which they replied, “EWWWWWWW!!!!”  With grossed-out six-year-old  faces, giggling and some kissy noises.  “No, not that kind of mushy-gushy, boyfriend-girlfriend kind of love.  That’s not even allowed in first grade.  I mean kindness.  What if you just thought a little message of kindness in your mind like you were talking to that person, something like, ‘It’s ok, friend.  We all make mistakes.  You’re still a good person.  And we love you.’  Maybe think that.  I wonder if the person would be able to feel those thoughts. ” And that’s when a little guy in the front row chimed in with, “Be a mind pen pal!  Like you’re writing nice notes to people, but in your MIIIIIIIIIIIIIIND! (taps head for emphasis)”  YES! Right on, dude!

I’d actually been trying this out myself for a few months before I urged the kids toward it.  A few times recently, the idea of purposely sending positive thoughts out to others has crossed my path.  Over the summer, I read a book called ‘The Celestine Prophecy’ by James Redfield.  Early in the book, a few characters are discussing an experiment testing the effects of positive human attention on plants.  I’m not sure of the scientific validity of the whole thing, the book is a novel geared toward spirituality,  but in the story, they ask a person to sit with some plants and mentally ask them to grow stronger and to focus all his attention and concern on their growth.  Can you guess what happens?  They grew faster and stronger.  When I read this part, I pictured myself in my classroom with my students gathered around in a circle as we do before we start each day.  I imagined myself mentally asking them to grow and learn.  I wondered what impact my positive thoughts might have on them.

Fast forward a few weeks into the school year, after I’d been mentally urging my students to grow and learn every morning when I remembered. I came across another inspiration about sending silent messages to others.  I’m a big fan of Elizabeth Gilbert’s.  She wrote a post recently in which she asked her readers, “Are you searching for the light?”  Her advice, if you are, is to BE the light.  Liz went on to describe how, in a time of deep depression,  she developed a practice of silently wishing blessings upon the people she passed on the street.  She would think to them, “May you know happiness.  May you be free from suffering.”  She told how she often wished these blessings to strangers, so she wasn’t sure if it was working for the people she blessed, but that she began to feel it working in herself.  It made her move her focus off of her own sadness and on to others in the form of positivity.

So I’ve been trying to expand my mind messages beyond a morning wish for learning.  I send them often now during my days, to strangers when I’m out and about, to my friends and family near and far,  but I do it especially at school with my little learners.  When they’re distracted and I’m waiting for them to pay attention, “May you have good things on which to focus your attention.  May you develop self control.”  When they’re sad because someone teased them, “May you know you’re worthy, no matter what anyone else says.”  When they’re nervous and don’t want to try something new or hard, “May you know your own strength. May you be surrounded by people who will encourage you.” When they make me laugh, “May you experience so much happiness.”  Of course, I very often speak these words out loud to them. Sometimes, it doesn’t seem to be changing them, but it’s definitely changing me.  It sets my focus on the positive leaving less room for worry or frustration when things get uncomfortable.  It cultivates a calmness in me and I hope that seeps out into the classroom… and beyond.

A job perk of being a teacher is that the kids give me lots of cute little notes, and while the ones I give them aren’t often made with crayons, I hope they know we’re pen pals.

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#18 – An Invisible Thread

It’s a book I read.  I read it in the summertime actually. I’ve been taking advantage of some Christmas vacation days to catch the blog up to real life time.  Here’s a little something…

There’s an ancient Chinese proverb that says, “An invisible thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place and circumstance.  The thread may stretch or tangle.  But it will never break.”  This book tells the story of the connection between the author, Laura Schroff and a little boy named Maurice.

In the 1980s, Laura was successfully working in the advertising business in Manhattan and admits that she barely noticed 11-year-old Maurice begging for money as she passed him on the street one day.  She said that his call for spare change, at first, seemed like nothing more than noise.  She said it was the kind of noise that New Yorkers learn to tune out.  She ignored him.  She kept on walking. Until something made her stop. Something made her go back to him and she took him to McDonald’s for dinner.  Then she went back a week later and took him to dinner again.  She went back again and again and what started as a weekly meal developed into a life-changing relationship for both Laura and Maurice, a connection that would last for decades and counting.

Throughout their meetings Laura learns the difficult details of Maurice’s life, living in poverty, surrounded by drugs and crime.  She buys him a watch so he will not be late for school, packs him lunches, takes him to baseball games, meets his teachers, does his laundry, worries about him, listens to him.  She becomes a sort of mentor/parent to him. Throughout the book, Laura also shares stories of her own childhood and how her relationship with Maurice expanded her family and happiness.

Something about acts of kindness always gets my attention.  I almost just called this a “random” act of kindness, but really that’s exactly the author’s point. She didn’t think her actions that first day were random at all.  She felt there was some force that drew she and Maurice together, that they were destined to meet, connected by one of those invisible threads. What if that’s true for all of our lives? I think it’s a nice thought – to imagine all those invisible threads connecting me to the people in my past, present and future.  It makes me think of lots of happiness and fun, family and friends and love and lessons learned. Plus it’s kind of exciting to think about who I’m connected to and haven’t even met yet! Do you believe that ancient Chinese proverb?  Either way, we definitely need more courage and kindness like Laura’s in this world. Read the book! Or at least go be kind to a stranger.  I’m going to try to.

#18 – Wild

It’s the book I just finished reading!

Wild is the true story of Cheryl Strayed’s eleven-hundred-mile solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail.  At the age of 26,  a few years after her mother died of cancer and her marriage ended, Cheryl decided to start walking, all by herself, in the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon all the way to Washington State.  She was not an experienced hiker and was at a very low place in her life.  At times, her journey across the land seemed to break her down even further.  The book starts like this: Continue reading

#18 – Then Came You

It’s the book I’m reading.  Then Came You by Jennifer Weiner.  I was into her books a while back.  Did you read Good in Bed?  How about In Her Shoes?  Cameron Diaz starred in the movie version of that one.  I sort of lost interest in her books after the first few, but I decided to read this one after I listened to an interview with Jennifer on NPR.

The book is told from the perspectives of four very different women.  Jules is a student at Princeton, deciding whether or not to donate her eggs and use the money she would be paid to send her father to rehab.  Annie is a wife and mother of two, also looking to make money for her family.  She considers the role of surrogate, but has to grapple with the feelings of her husband and children.  India has recently married the man of her dreams and desperately wants to have a child with him.  Bettina, India’s step-daughter, thinks that India only wants a child in order to assure her inheritance.  Their lives converge as they deal with the issues of motherhood, family, and finances.

Then Came You by Jennifer Weiner

It’s chick lit, easy to read, even though the topics at hand are big ones.  Weiner is a Philadelphian, just like me, so I enjoy how she works the city into her books.  The story keeps reminding me of a conversation that I had with one of my college girls in which we realized that we are now too old to donate our eggs.  Not that I ever really wanted to but, boy, that growing old thing just comes at ya early and from everywhere!  Good thing I have my list to distract me from my rotting eggs!

See my nook?  I love it!  Didn’t think I would.  Got any good reads to suggest?

#13 – No Tomato

If you know me, you know that I do not like tomatoes.  Specifically, it’s raw tomatoes that I have a problem with.  You will never, not ever,  catch me eating tomatoes in my salad or on a sandwich.  At a restaurant, I always place my order with “hold the tomatoes.”  It’s one thing about me.

Tomato (Tamatar)

Tomato (Tamatar) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I really wanted to name the blog “notomatoes.”  But, alas, that is taken.  Of course, it is.

Because tomatoes are gross and lots of people hate them.

I just wanted to clarify.  I won’t be posting tomato recipes, or planting tomato plants or saying nice things about tomatoes.  Just so you know.

I probably will be reading this book.  And you should too!