Thursday, March 5, 2015

J's Favorite Things

So it's the middle of a long, long, long, long winter.  Well it's almost the end.  Just for fun, on these last days of our winter retreat, when we snuggle down with books and laptops and are all caught up on paper work and reading and SCANDAL, and are looking forward to spring and summer, let's prepare with a little light shopping.  Just for fun.  Just for us.  Just for shopping.  There is something in the brain that gets a little excited by shopping and all that eye candy out there.  I have written in the past about my grandmothers and how they taught me to shop.  (There was always lunch involved!) It's primal for women.  It's good for us.  It's therapy without price or tears.   

From Ballard Designs...  $33 with free monogramming!

From Kate Spade... sale price $106.  The image on the link is really cute.

From Mecha Chocolate ... $10 a hidden gem right here in Haddon Township.  (I Really Like South Jersey!)  I haven't been there yet, but they have baking nights where I think they teach you how to make chocolates!

Or at the grocer's... a colleague brought this to our Friday breakfast and it was the nectar of the gods! 

From paperstyle...  $60  and it's 15% off until March 9..  I love pink!

I just want this picture by my desk to remind of the sun light.
From Ballard... again.  I have too many bags!

From Tiffany's... $300 just because I can shop there virtually online, if not in reality.

And from Ballard again-this is my new home inspiration... $35/yard but discounted through March 9.

From okaB... $38... with white jeans and navy tshirt...

And lastly... Ballard again...  $49 but there is that %15 discount... two of these on either side of the black front door.  

And just because it's still cold outside, let's wrap up with this, from Pine Cone Hill...

Wasn't that fun?  Love to shop.  Love to do it with my coffee under a blanket with the snow falling outside.   Now it's time for that lunch.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Letter to a Coach

I am writing to you tonight as a parent and an educator.  It has come to my attention that there is an opportunity for boys to participate in Spring Basketball but that a decision has yet to be made as to whom is invited.  One decision would be that only boys already on the team are allowed to play and the other is that it is open to everyone. Everyone is included.

I would like to state my argument for the latter.  My son was heart-broken this fall when he did not "make the team". While he may not be the caliber player that others his age are, he should have the chance to be on the team.   Being on the team is a lot more than playing basketball.  Being on the team is building skills in a whole array of human development.  Being on the team is being included among his peers and developing socially.  Being on the team is learning from role models about coaching and listening and thinking as a team.  Being on the team is hard work.  Being on the team is representing his school with pride and confidence.  Being on the team is learning from experts how to become a better player.  Just saying "I'm on the team" is a spiritual mantra.  

I wonder as I fall asleep at night what we are doing to our kids.  Besides making them very sad, we are breaking them.  I know we are doing our best in so many ways to create the next generation of Great, but we should not be about 'survival of the fittest' in elementary school.  If we are cutting, we are about breaking down the weak to see if they are strong enough. Sorry, but 10-year-olds are not in that game, or should not be in that game.  They are still trying to figure out so much.  We have no right as parents and coaches and educators to start "breaking" them. Shame on us if we do. Telling a 10, 11, 12, 13-year-old, "you're not good enough" is abusive.  The depression rates of teens are rising.  Not just among those who are broken by being cut from the team, but even those who are broken by being pushed to excel by coaches and parents who yell and scream and force their children to conform to their expectation and standard of who they should be.  We are responsible.   

While some argue that people are leveled in all areas of life, grammar school is not the place to start.  First of all, we do not have college recruiters in the stands banking on the next Hall of Famer.  We do not only teach math to those who are experts, we teach math to everyone because we recognize that there are developmental skills to math and some just learn them earlier.  While we have accelerated math programs, imagine not teaching math to first graders who "just don't show the potential".  We don't say, let them take music because they don't get math.  We teach everyone at his or her developmental level and we provide opportunities to support both ends of the spectrum.  

Same with the soloist in the orchestra.  The child who plays the solo or who is the lead in the play has great natural talent, or has had countless hours of tutoring and coaching.  I take nothing away from that child for excelling. Awesome for you.  But there is a whole group of kids who are doing their best to play the triangle and their music has to be heard too.  I can take nothing away from that child for trying.  There is a whole stage crew responsible for the make up and costume changes that allow the lead to perform in her magical way.  Without the whole team present, the lead fails.  

One of my great mentors in teaching once told the story that he did not actually read a book until he was in college. The only reason he got to college was his passion for running.  Once there, he was given a book on running by a friend.  It changed his life.  After that he wanted to read everything he got his hands on.  He got it because he saw that reading could help him with his passion.  Imagine if he never made it to college because he just wasn't good enough.  He went on to get his doctorate in education and has countless accolades in his career.  He is the greatest teacher I ever had and I was already 35 when I met him.  Everyone develops at his or her own pace.  

A good coach, like a good teacher, can teach something to everyone.  A good coach realizes that each kid who goes out for the team has a drive and a motivation to do his or her best.  A good coach accepts that they cannot only focus on the 'elite' player, but must also bring out the best in each and every player in front of him.  And that in doing so he is setting the bar high for all, as well as setting a good example for how we treat others.  We are a school, a place to learn, a place that believes in the potential of all to learn, not just those who already get it.  

Friday, February 13, 2015

Dancing Eating Goldfish

Well, there should be a comma in there to show that I don't mean the goldfish are dancing.  Or something like that.  I am referring to a first grader of mine who, with utter abandon, was dancing to a video with a mouthful of goldfish that he was trying to eat while singing Apples and Bananas by Raffi.
For a split second I just wished I could have been him.  The pure expression of joy on his face, the complete surrender to the music, the total engagement with the sounds and the rhythms did nothing to distract him from what he also needed to accomplish, which was eating his snack.  Others sat and passively watched the video and then watched the Dancer with a bit of confusion.  "How do you do that?" they seemed to think, while they hurriedly tried to finish their snacks so that then they would be able to get up and dance.  He was the Dancer, the Singer, the Eater, and the Participator all in complete flow.
Most of my days are spent Dancing Eating Goldfish.  I am trying to be mom, be teacher, be employee, be wife, be daughter, be sister, be friend, not to mention be cook, be housekeeper, be decorator, be washer, be picker upper, be banker, be, be, be.  Just like I thought about the Dancer, sometimes I think I might choke.  Just spit this out and let me do one thing at a time.  But it doesn't work that way.  Life comes at you with all things at once.  You can't put one thing down before another is flying at you.  It's not juggling.  That would be easy.  No, it's Dancing Eating Goldfish.  Try it.  It's not easy.  And I mean keep your feet moving, grab a few more goldfish, get those hands in the air, now sing along with the words.  Then grab a few more goldfish.  But the Dancer was having SO MUCH FUN!
So there is the secret.  He was loving it.  Utter Abandon.  Don't worry about the untied shoelace, the pencil on the floor that you might trip over.  Just dance and keep singing.  And keep eating.  Just don't choke.

How do we not choke?

I've been looking forward to today for several weeks now.  I am home alone.  No kids.  No obligations, except that I should be reading but I'm writing.  The kids have a half day.  I have 4 hours to myself.  It is a mini-retreat.  I will not be Dancing Eating Goldfish today.  At least not until 12:30.  I am sitting in my family room trying to keep the fire lit.  (Literally.  I'm just really bad at lighting fires.)  I have a pile of books to read.  But this is my stuff.   I have my tea, my oatmeal, my blanket and my Netflix if I get bored.  I won't.  It is peaceful.  I just need these moments once in a while.  Once every few weeks.  Then I can go back to Dancing Eating Goldfish.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Changing Seasons

Today is the first day back to school after break.  We are breaking into my mother’s house to steal an Ugly Sweater at 5 in the morning because it is Ugly Sweater Day and we have driven home from a gathering through the night up and down hilly, unlit, back roads where we saw a family of deer who spoke to us to tell us we were on the wrong road and they directed us back to a traffic-filled highway and on the roof we have tied some old evergreen branches that we will try to form into a tree because we forgot to get a Christmas tree when we had to take my son to the emergency room because he was spouting blood from his finger and while we were there my other son had a bloody nose and they were going to take him into surgery… But then I woke up.  The first day of school is not until tomorrow.  Today is January 4. 

It is the Changing of Seasons around here.   Changing from the season of sleeping in and wearing pajamas, drinking 5 cups of coffee, some with Bailey’s, while watching missed tv shows on Netflix.  The season of family and eating and memories and lights and fires in the fire place and singing and dancing in the kitchen when your favorite carol comes on and baking and eating and drinking some more.  For my kids it’s the season of can-i-go-over, can-she-come-over, can-you-drive-us, can-we-stay-up, can-they-sleep-over and mom never says no because it's Christmas.  I think I’ll call it the Season of Bliss. The season of coming downstairs late and eating the donuts your brothers generously left you, two if you like.  Those steps coming down have changed with the Seasons too.  They used to be the pitter-patter footed-pajama steps that raced down the hall and down the steps like a professional tap-shuffler to get cereal and watch cartoons and that jumped into my arms with a jubilant Good Morning!  Now they are the hard, weighted, laborious steps of a tired ice hockey player who mumbles a ‘hlo’ and watches Sports Center.  Nevertheless, they still bring a smile to my face in the same way.  I don’t want those steps to change because the next time the Seasons Change, the footsteps will be gone. 

There are lots of seasons around here.  I invited my brother to Annie’s field hockey game and his first thought was, Are you crazy?  It’s raining and it’s thirty outside.  But see, this is the Indoor Season of Field Hockey.  Raise your hand if your first thought about seasons had to do with sports!  For my mother Football Season is of high import.  You can’t call her on a Sunday afternoon from September to February because she’s watching The Game.  If you do call, you’ll hear my father yelling in the background, “Doesn’t she know The Game is on?”  Frankly, no I do not.  Football was never a part of the Seasons in our household when I was growing up.  One Sunday I returned from college for a visit and my whole house had been taken over by football fans.  Apparently my brother learned about football from a high school friend and everyone jumped on the bandwagon.  My family had entered a new season without me.  That is a hard change to accept. 

So back to Indoor Season of Field Hockey:  ‘Winter I’ they call it, not to be confused with Winter II, because then they can charge you again for fees if you really want to keep playing, and of course she does, because The Whole Team is Playing Winter II.   So we can’t say no, even though this is the Season of Broke and I’d really like to tell somebody to just call it Winter Season and not force us to go through this again. 

Now we are entering the Season of Back to the Grind.  School lunches, school homework, school bags, school books, which were gladly shoved to the back of the closet to make room for roller blades and ice skates for the Season of Let’s Go Play. It is hard to get going again for school and waking up early, but that feeling will pass and we’ll be happy to be back with friends and to be learning again.    For Annie it’s also the Season of Where Will I Go to High School and Who Will My Friends Be.  For Matt it’s the Season of When Will I Be Able to Play Basketball Again, because that dream I had?  All of it actually happened this break in some way or another.  We did go to Urgent Care and he did break his thumb and I did have to help ‘drain’ the blood that had accumulated because we didn’t take him until five days after the incident.  (I was passed over for Mother of the Year.) Not pretty.  And my other son did have a procedure, not surgery, on his foot the very next day.  And we did drive home from West Chester on a crazy back road and we did see deer, but they weren’t talking.  Because that would be crazy.  But you can see how all these seasonal changes do make a mom crazy.  Normal, right?

Even so, I’m looking forward to the changing of season.  This has definitely been a Wonderful Christmas Season.  Despite the Urgent Care, we have enjoyed every minute of it.  But the Seasons always pass.  It is over now and this week the tree (not just old branches) will come down and we will set a snow scene tablescape in the window where the Santas once sat.  We will hang a Snowflake on the front door and take down the browning boxwood wreath that I’ve had up since the Christmas Bazaar in early December, so happy that I had snagged the last one.  We do like to change things after a while.  Change is good.  I know some people say they have a hard time with change. But if I were still changing diapers, I think that would get old.  I’m glad that Season has passed and that the kids can make their own breakfast.  In this Season of Teenagers, and we have three living here, they are engaged in the world enough to have a conversation about things.  Charlie turned 11 and I’m glad.  He’s a really great kid and I enjoy watching him change.  Seasons of Kids are good.

I think I have a harder time with the things that don’t change.  I still miss my brother and wish that that season would change.  There are other things that seem not to change no matter how much we wish they would.  Soon, we will want the Season of Summer to come more quickly and to open the pool and go swimming again.  The thing is, it will come if we are patient.  Right now we just have to enjoy the season we are in.   A Season with all my kids at home.  A Season to drive to another hockey game, Indoor or West Chester or wherever.  A Season to hibernate and pray for snow.  A Season to bake and enjoy the soft light of winter.  We have a wooden sign that says, “Winter:  A Calming, White Renewal.”  So for this I will pray – to be calmed, to be renewed in time for the next Season of Change.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Bittersweet Symphony

I've never been good at song lyrics. I make them up as I see fit even if they make no sense. As long as they sorta make sense to me. My cousin has always been better at this. She knew every commercial jingle when we were tweens, back when that word didn't exist.

Anyway, all day the only song that comes to mind is Bittersweet Symphony, by the Verve. Today we said goodbye to our German exchange student. Paul was here for two weeks and was with us 24/7. Two Saturdays ago, it was like bringing a new baby home from the hospital. Will he like us? Will we like him? Will he eat? Will he sleep? Will he get sick? What will we do if anything happens? What if he wants to leave? Yet today, after he left, our daughter said, "It's so sad. We'll never see him again." Although we assured her we would, or at least that she would and her brothers would, it is so bitter to say good bye. There is an uncertainty, a longing to have what you had. We will really miss this wonderful person who came into our lives full force, who melded into our family seemlessly, and played with the boys like they were his brothers. Brothers - the tussles and the hugs.

I have tasted plenty of bitter foods in life, the ones that leave you despairing and sad. And I have tasted deliciously sweets fruits too, the times that happiness kisses you. So today is bittersweet. I am so sad to see Paul go. It should be longer, I keep thinking. But I am so. so. so. so. tired. It was exhausting hosting and entertaining and keeping on keeping on. The house is a wreck. The fridge is full of god-knows-what. I don't remember my children's teachers names, or any of the paper work I am supposed to fill out by Monday. So there is a sweetness in knowing I will eventually get my life back. And back in order. I ran today for the first time in three weeks. For all the sweetness in having him here, there is a sweetness in returning to the normalcy of life.

But back to Paul and the Symphony of life. The song lyrics are this:

'Cause it's a bittersweet symphony, this life
Try to make ends meet
You're a slave to money then you die
I'll take you down the only road I've ever been down
You know the one that takes you to the places
where all the veins meet yeah,

So we were trying to mix it up, you know. Trying to make it not be about "slave to money then you die". This was our thing. Something out of the norm. Giving our children a gift of an exchange student with whom they will hopefully remain in touch. But what did he see? Just the only road I've ever been down. The same thing I've done every day. But there is a real beauty in that and that is the symphony. I thought the lyrics were "where all ways meet", which could mean that we all intersect at some point, but the veins? They only intersect in your heart, right? Did we show him our heart?

The thing about a symphony is that it is LOUD. It's not a quartet, or a chamber group, or an orchestra, it's a SYMPHONY. To show someone your life, someone who is a complete stranger, a complete outsider, and say, This is what we do. This is our life. really risks them saying WHAT? are you kidding me? It's someone shouting at you "THIS IS WHAT YOU DO? THIS IS YOUR LIFE?" But you know, it was awesome. It was someone asking and answering questions, someone pointing out to you, WHAT IS THAT? WHY DO YOU DO THAT? It was someone giving me perspective. Completely innocent, impartial, non-judgemental perspective. Don't we all want a little SYMPHONY in our lives? Someone who says, "REALLY? INTERESTING!" Someone who shouts at us a little. "REALLY? YOU KNOW ALL THIS? WELL YOU DON'T KNOW ME YET!" He did not say that. He was super-polite, saying things like, "I am fine. Really." or "I do not know how to say..." and "It is not necessary". Um, yes, it is necessary for me to do your laundry once in two weeks. "I do not think so." It was a casual conversation with ultra-correct English being spoken. "It is not a problem." Someone who wakes us up to what we do and why we do it. It's refreshing. It's inspiring. I love the people I meet who teach me something new - about myself, about my life, about how I do things.

My first graders do the same. This year I feel like they are saying, "REALLY? YOU THINK YOU KNOW HOW TO TEACH? WELL YOU DON'T KNOW ME YET!" It's awesome. It's a new perspective. It's inspiring.

No change, I can change
I can change, I can change
But I'm here in my mold
I am here in my mold
But I'm a million different people
from one day to the next
I can't change my mold
No, no, no, no, no

So I always thought the lyrics were "I'm here in my mind", not "here in my mold". Now I see how different the meaning is. "Here in my mind" is a good thing. You're settled. You're secure. You're you. "Here in my mold" - not so much. You're trapped. You're conformed. You're like everyone else. So I don't know. Am I like everyone else? Every other American Paul met? Does he see any distinction? Do I?

The other funny thing is that of all the billions of people, how did this one single person, male, German, age 15, come into our lives? He was funny, smart, kind, cute. He was so much like us. So much of the million different people we are were in him. It was a wonderful bittersweet symphony. We will miss him. We will miss our time together. He spent a good 40 minutes swimming in the Atlantic Ocean in October last weekend. He was so happy. How do you recapture that? How do you find words to explain that symphony of life? But we said goodbye to the ocean, and we said goodbye to Paul.

Well I never pray
But tonight I'm on my knees yeah
I need to hear some sounds that recognize the pain in me, yeah

I do pray. But tonight I'll pray for one more person in the world. One more family that is so like my own. One more family that knows the lyrics to the Bittersweet Symphony, because, don't we all? Tomorrow they will wake to meet their son at the train station in Frankfurt. Their son who they haven't seen in two weeks. What a symphony it will be.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Know Me Best

As I sit here on a Sunday morning, consumed with thoughts of lesson planning and wondering, perhaps wrongly, why we don't teach the whole dollar first and not the penny, which is 1/100 of a dollar and that just doesn't make sense to a first grader necessarily, I am distracted by the words of one of my old students ringing in my head.
He came to camp this summer after being on vacation and he was surprised and happy to see me standing in front of the amphitheater in the woods.  He said, "You know me, right?"  I said, "Of course I know you.  I've missed you.  How are you?" and we shared a hug.  As the others in his troop filed in he asked them, "Do you know her?" pointing up to me.  They nodded and shook their heads unsure of how well they actually did know me.  Then he would ask me, "Do you know her?", "Do you know him?"  And I replied, "Yes I know them, from camp.  But not like I know you."  As we ran through our activities, he made sure to ask the question over and over.  "Do you know her?"  Finally at the end, as we gathered our materials, he ran up to me, "You know me best!  Right?  You know me best!"  I laughed and hugged him again.  "Yes, I know you best."  I had been his teacher for nine months.  I had seen him each morning at 7:50 am.  I saw his mother and his sister bring him down the hall to class.  I spent eight wonderful hours a day, learning, laughing, and watching and talking with this little boy.  I did know him best.  I had seen him sad and happy, confused and awed by learning, learning about others, and about the world.  He announced to the rest of his troop as they marched off, "She knows me best!"  His voice rang with the pride and pleasure of someone who is loved. That is true.
Perhaps that is all we need to be as teachers, not the lesson planning gurus but the people who know them best, at least for these brief, long days in first grade and elementary school, where they are trying to figure out the world and need someone to ground them in the familiar.  What they know best is being loved.  My own children are the same - they know I know them best, love them best, but they need to go out in the world feeling that there are others who know them, if not love them, best.  It is part of my responsibility, my job to find those people who can care about them enough to get to know them best.
I will go back to lesson planning, I can't imagine getting through a day without a map for these little boys on which to guide their steps.  But the new common core would have us forget that they are children who, before they can know anything, have to believe they have someone who can 'know me best'.  I heard a teacher once say excitedly, "The common core is wonderful.  The students are entering the classroom asking, Mrs. B., What is our objective today?"  Sorry, I just don't get that.  I want students who are excited about learning, but not concerned about the objective.  Leave that up to the teacher.  I want them to say, What are we going to read today?  What are we going to do today?  What are we going to write and see and explore today to learn and find something new?  And it's not that different for older students. Really, it's no different for us as adults either.  We all want someone who can know us and try to understand us, in our families, our friendships, and our work environments.  Someone we can know knows me best.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Living Here

Living here is really great.
There are five other people who live here, and
while my husband might be from Mars,
and I might be from Venus,
I am not sure where my kids are from.
Yeah, heaven and all that stuff,
but sometimes, I'm just like, "Where are you from?"
"Are you new here?"
Like they don't know where their bedrooms are,
because I say, Put That In Your Bedroom
and five minutes later it's on the stairs.
That is not the bedroom, that is the stairs.
And I feel a little crazy explaining that
to 13 and 15 year olds.
My ten year old knows where his bedroom is.
He doesn't know where his feet are.
Today I came in from my run
and on the Kitchen Counter
are about 4 pairs of rolled up dirty socks.
I cannot explain this.
Either my husband had a Meltdown Moment
and gathered up all the socks from the floors and put them there
so they would be noticed and put away
Before Mommy Gets Home
or the kids are losing it.
I just want to walk into my kitchen after a run and start a pot of coffee
and I'm greeted with dirty stinking socks.
So I proceeded into my Meltdown Moment.  I Went There.
"Why are there F***ing socks on the Kitchen Counter?
There are about three places socks belong:  On Your Feet, In the Drawer, or In the Laundry,"
I say.
But when I say this to them, I can see what they are thinking.
"She's wrong.  There are actually Five Places..."
So living here is great,
but it's a little weird sometimes too.
Things seem to change without any warning.
I asked my son how crew practice was and he said,
"Oh, I'm not doing that anymore."
And I'm like, What?  I live here
and I don't know this.  How does this happen?
When did this happen?
And I want to say, "This was not approved by the Activity Committee."
And I feel like that is how things get done in the world,
there are committees for things and
obviously we are need of a committee here.
And the other side of my brain is like,
Don't go sounding like one of Those Moms.
So while we don't actually have an Activity Committee,
I feel like we might need one.
It's just a little weird.
Having teenagers is suddenly about Decisions Being Made Without Approval.
Stupid Decisions.
I thought my husband and I were the CEO/COO/President/In Charge Person
And now suddenly we are not.
Well, we are, but not in the minds of these people who are Obviously New to the Planet.
There are no questions being asked about Can I do this?  Can I eat this?  Can I go here?
It's a little shocking.
And again, I just say, "Are you new?"

I asked my other son to put the chairs we use for parties Down In The Basement.
I know it sounds like I'm always asking my kids to put stuff away, and honestly
that might make up about 90% of our conversations.
Again, really weird.  But that's living here.
So anyway, one chair is red and one is white, so I'm thinking, I'm picturing,
Ok, the chairs are down the basement.
And then I look out the window
and something thin and red and chair-looking
catches my eye.
I look again and see that the chairs are outside
and that they are up high,
high like in the trees.
And I'm like, "Squirrels?"
"Squirrels took my chairs?"
And then I'm like Crazy Mom again,
thinking I must need medication.
But no, the chairs are indeed In the Trees,
precariously perched on some old wood boards that he, my son,
who cannot get off the couch to put socks away,
has nailed into the side of these two trees,
like some kind of weird tree house.
And again, I'm like, "This was not approved by the Activity Committee."
But I don't want to sound too crazy.
And my next thought is This was not approved by the Safety Committee, either,
so we really need like a Summit Meeting.
This is larger than just one committee.
We'll have a Summit or something,
because this summer is Not Going to Go Well.
Maybe I'll just start with drawing everyone a map.