Saturday, December 19, 2015


Waiting.  It is something we learn from a very early age.  Wait.  Wait for me.  Wait for your turn.  Wait just a minute.  Wait up.  Then it evolves into waiting for news.  Waiting for a report.  Waiting rooms.  Waiting for graduation.  Waiting until they are grown up.  Waiting until this happens or that doesn't happen.
Last week I was waiting for something.  I can't even remember what exactly it was.  I was in the car I think.  And suddenly this peace, excitement, this buzz came over me.  What if...?  What if I get what I want?  What if the news is good?  What if he notices me?  What if she asks me?  What if?  That is the best part of waiting.  We can have the fantasy!  We are all waiting for something.  Let the buzz set in and enjoy the wait.
My students were waiting for Christmas.  Starting in late October.  I had one student tell me he was sad.  "Do you know why I'm sad?" he asked.  "Because it's not Christmas!" he answered his own question.  So we started a countdown board.  Each day he changed the number on the board until we finally got to vacation.  We were all waiting.  That excitement of waiting is part of the joys of childhood Christmases.  When I told my own children how funny this student was, Charlie said, "Mom, you have to tell him to be happy, because he has more time to ask for more things!" While I wouldn't encourage us to make our lists longer while we wait, I think we should realize that the wait is part of the fun.  Unfortunately as adults we can wait a little longer, we can use another day, another week, another shopping trip to try to make it more perfect.  (I hate to admit this, but bleaching pine cones is on my list.  Crazy.  Absolutely nuts.  Yes. But they are so beautiful!)  Our lists do grow longer and longer and we think, "If I could just do this..."  Don't get sucked in.   There are 6 days left.  Cut your list, or what's left on it, in half.  Think of the sanity you will save.  (I'm keeping bleached pine cones on the list until Monday.  If it's not done by then, off it goes.)
When I think about waiting, it seems like we try to avoid it at all costs.  Don't wait for what you want, go and get it.  Don't wait - act now!  Don't wait to fulfill your dreams.  Don't wait until it's too late.  But there is something to be said for waiting.  Warren Buffet says something about never regretting waiting to act on a decision, that time is the friend of the wise.  That's what I'm thinking - we should just enjoy the wait.
My mother teases because my kids always say, "Wait, what?"  It's like they missed some significant piece of news and need a second to catch up.  I realized it is rather funny once she pointed it out to me, but really I say it too.  "Wait, what?"  I say it to my kids.  "Wait, What do you need?  Wait, Where are you going?  Wait, What's happening?  Wait, Who are you talking about?"  The answer kind of refocuses you.  Oh, that, you say.  Yes, yes.  I get it now.  This last week of waiting, Advent, I'm going to try to refocus.  "Wait, what? Christmas?"  Oh, yes.  I remember.  Giving, loving, family, joy?  Yes. I got it.  We are so distracted by the razzle-dazzle, we get frazzled.  We all need to say, "Wait, what?"  Then, just wait!

Sunday, December 13, 2015


We are SO busy.  We can't breathe.  We can't talk.  We can't think.  We've got so much on our list.  We've got so much to DO.  It's not good.  It's the never-ending tasks that seem to put us into auto-mode, as in automaton, that we can't be creative, we can't be funny, we can't be be generous, we are just pushing through to get through.  But I'm trying.  I'm trying to keep a smile on my face and pretend that we are all under control.  And I see your smiles too.  Just stop.  Please.

I was driving through north Philly this week and got stuck.  Behind a trolley.  In rush hour. The traffic light changes.  The trolley doesn't move.  The light changes again.  No one moves.  The light changes AGAIN.  Cars are honking.  Cars are trying to switch lanes and go back.  And then I see the wheelchair being lowered from the trolley car and the woman in it is clutching her bag. The trolley conductor slowly lowers her lift, gets her off and switches the switch for the lift to go back in.  He climbs on board and traffic is moving once again.  As I pull up to see the woman in the wheelchair, her chair is stuck on the curb.  Cars are still honking.  At the same time, a boy on a bicycle drops his bike on the ground and helps the woman in the wheelchair up over the curb.  Where were we going?  What are we doing that is so important?  Why were we honking?  

We are all so busy doing.  We are even busy giving.  Giving Tuesday.  Just click here.  Just do it.  Just pick a tag off the tree.  Just do it.  Just give a gift, give a turkey, give, give, do, give, do, do do.  It's just doing anymore, it's not Giving.  This kid, on his bike, on a cold, cloudy day had things to do, but he actually gave.  He gave a hand.  He gave a crap. He gave more than all those car honkers gave even when they are giving.  He didn't give in, give up, or give out.  He gave back.  

It's not easy.  But I think the difference between Doing and Giving is one little thing.  I can give a gift, I can give very generously, but do I Wrap it?  One of my favorite stores is PaperSource.  I had some time to spare the other day in the city and I wandered in, just for fun.  The wrappings are so gorgeous!  The little winter animals in all sorts of bright colors, the ribbons, the coordinated wraps that go over the wrapping papers.  Picture this:  The red and white candy cane stripe wrapping, with a piece of brown textured kraft paper, little glitter snowflakes, small strip of that just wrapped around the center, then a red satin ribbon with an overlay of the red and white bakery string, tying a little branch of pine needles, with a kraft paperboard tag written in red fancy print...  You could wrap trash bags in it and the recipient would be happy!  Really, just so cute!  Last week when we were wrapping gifts for a charity someone brought their own wrapping paper!  I thought she was a little over the top, but No!  She really gets it!  Of course the Wrapping makes the gift! And it makes a difference.

So this week, as we come closer to Christmas, and closer to losing our minds, I'm going to practice Wrapping.  Not giving, not doing, but Wrapping.  All the things I have to do, all the places I have to be are getting Wrapped, with Love and and Joy and Smiles, real ones.  Wrapping someone in my arms.  Wrapping them in swaddling clothes.  Watching the huddled hockey team with their arms Wrapped around each other.  

I think I'll wrap an empty box in my fanciest leftover wraps and ribbons.  And then I'm keeping it in my car.  Just a little reminder of the Wrapping.  I'm also going to breathe.  I'm going to take 3 minutes for me before I get out of the car, no matter where I'm going.  I'm going to focus on the little wrapped gift and breathe.  Next week, on my first day off, I'm going to my mother's to wrap all of Santa - it's like the North Pole.  We are going to binge watch Downton Abbey since I've missed the whole season.  And I'll be ready to wrap.  I'll be ready to really give the gifts.  But first I'm going to give and not just do.  I'm going to Wrap. It's Wrapping time.  

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Asking Too Much

Asking for what we need is important.  Asking for what we want is a Christmas tradition.  From the very best Christmas specials, It's a Wonderful Life,  and Miracle on 34th Street, we are encouraged to ask and ask big - I mean, a House!  Really?  Yes, Virginia, really.   Go for it!  Live Big!  Dream Big! It's Christmas! It's the season of Miracles!  The new Lexus in the driveway - it happens!  All those dreams being dreamed right now, being fulfilled by little elves, from the jewelers at Tiffany's to the Toys-R-Us stock room people.  Dream and keep the dream alive!  Write the list and make it a long one!  What would your fantasy list look like, if money and time were no object?  Go ahead, write it!

Even so, we temper our wants and our desires.  My children are not asking for much.  My husband and I are not exchanging gifts this year, so no lists.  Our lists to Santa have evolved into those grownup Christmas lists, so beautifully sung about in the song by the same name.  No more lives torn apart, that wars would never start...  My list certainly echoes those same sentiments.  A little peace on earth, a quiet day on the news...  I don't think it is too much to ask.   But I sometimes wonder if what I am asking is too much.

Don't misread this.  I have to ask for certain things.  I have to ask for kids to make their beds and do their chores.  I have to ask for help.  I have to ask for advice from friends.  But when is what I ask for just too much.  Really, I suppose it's not the asking, it's the wanting.  Do I want too much?  Do I tell myself that these are needs that I don't really need?  Are my grown-up wants just like the toddler having a temper tantrum in the toy store?  I don't know.  What do I need?  What do I want?  What's the difference?  The hard part is, What do I want from other people?  A little love, a little affection, a little attention, a little recognition.  Is that too much to ask?  What do I want from my children?  Good grades, happy smiles, requests fulfilled, rules obeyed.  Is it too much to ask?  And other relationships... what do I ask that is too much.  Even what I ask from myself - the perfect meal, being on time for appointments (a real bad habit of mine), remembering all the things I am supposed to remember.  Sometimes I have to go gently and remember that I am human too.   And sometimes everything is just too much.

Why do I keep asking?  Why do we keep expecting these things, from our family and friends, and from ourselves?  We do this because we believe.  Not just in Christmas or Santa or Elves, but in Hope.  We believe that we can have our dreams fulfilled and our hearts filled, at least on Christmas Day, if not the whole year through. So, I'm going to keep asking.  I'm going to keep the list going, all those simple things that I want.  I'm going to keep hoping and wishing and dreaming for my very own Christmas list.  But I won't be disappointed either.  And I won't have a temper tantrum when I don't get what I want.  I'll smile and hope again next year.  And maybe make a better list.

Friday, December 4, 2015


Last weekend I was inspired to try to write for 25 days of Christmas.  I had some pretty good ideas.  I just didn't write.  And here we are 5 days later and no writing.  So this morning, in the shower, I thought, maybe 12 days?  12 days of writing?  Is that too much to ask?  I don't think so.  And here's why...

Last week was Thanksgiving, co-mingled with lots of pre-Christmas shopping, on Thanksgiving, after Thanksgiving, on cyber Monday and before cyber Monday.  I didn't engage until late on Sunday afternoon, when I thought I might be missing deals.  This year we are on a strict budget.  The kids have every electronic known to man, or at least to adults, or at least to me, and I can't imagine they are in need of one more device or screen.  Toys are pretty much outgrown in this house and we aren't quite into the luxury teenage items, thankfully.  Still, the lists may be lean, but they are a little long.  So I found an online guide this year.  Each person will be granted 'Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.'  It's a perfect formula, especially with four kids.  However, I always over-analyze.  So here I go.  First, everyone has everything they need.  I can't imagine them lacking anything or truly needing anything.  Do we?  Something you want, yes.  Something you wear - they are growing so they always need clothes, so that is being merged with something you need.  Something to read - I am a reading teacher, so yes, yes, and yes.  Now I picture Christmas morning in my mind.  I have four grown-ish children, walking down the steps, eyes sleepy but wide with anticipation.  "Maybe, just maybe, they got me a car?  I did get good grades this year..."  After all, I used to have that hope in my eyes too.  Christmas-believing really doesn't end when you stop believing in Santa, it's when you wake up to the reality that not everyone gets cars with big red bows for Christmas, and that's really just for fancy commercials.  Sorry, kid, no car.  I'm not trying to be shallow here, just trying to see Christmas morning through my kids' eyes.  They'll eventually come around and the holy awe will fill that spot again.  So, Christmas morning, no cars, no bikes, no big ticket video game systems, no Rescue Heroes battle station... Those were big impact Christmases.  A few screws and the PlayMobil Pirate Ship came to life and we were Christmas heroes!  Not in their eyes, but in our own eyes.   No, this year is just a bunch of wrapping paper and red bows, the small ones.  So what can I do to make Christmas special?  Something Fun!  Something that will make them laugh!  Something that will make them say, "Wow!  It's not a car, but it's pretty darn close.  Besides, I don't even drive yet!"  So back to the formula - Something you want, something you need, something FUN and something to read!  Easy, peasy!  I haven't yet found something fun for, well, anybody.  What is fun these days?  Rubik's cube is more of a headache than fun.  A coloring book, one of the cool new ones. There are so many cool ones out there now! They are even toting titles like, Coloring Therapy Books!  A camera lens for your phone - really cool!  Lessons for cake decorating?  Maybe.  I have a ways to go to think about this.  But this is what really hit me...
I will not be self-gifting this year, either, as I hustle about from store to store.  That is definitely not in the budget.  No strongly scented candles, no extra bath bombs, no junk jewelry or big bangely bracelets.  But, I can give these to myself: something I want, something I need, something fun, and something to read.  I can self-gift these things everyday!  It may be the only way to get through December.  The thing I need is just this - Writing.  I love to write.  I write in the car.  I write when I'm at work.  I write when I'm in the shower, in bed, walking the dog.  I fantasize about sitting in a coffee shop all day and writing.  I have the plan for the sun porch where my desk will sit facing the sun and I can just sit in pajamas and slippers and write all day.  I write, just not in black and white.  Not on paper.  Not on the computer.  So it just kind of drifts around in my head.  I need to get it down.  So that is one gift to myself.  
Something I want.  I suppress a lot.  I want a lot.  I want to paint the family room.   I want to sit and drink coffee early in the morning and stare out the window.   I want to move my desk to the sun porch!  I want to take a bath.  I want to try curling my hair.  I want to try to wear one of those dark new nail colors.  I want to drive somewhere peaceful and just get out and take a walk.  I think I can do this.  Not bad.  
Something Fun.   I have a hard time having fun.  I have responsibilities, but not fun.  I have a job, I have a family, I have things to do, but not fun.  I'm going to try to have fun.  How hard can it be?  I'll let you know.  See, I can't even write about it!
Something to Read.  I love listening to books in the car, when I'm not writing in my head.  Even St. Ignatius encourages us to read something everyday.  I have a few books from the library stacked next to my bed.  I think I can gift myself this way.  I think this would not be a bad way to live.  
So, in spite of a budget crunch, I'm searching for something special this holiday shopping season.  Something fun.  Something fun for each of my children.  Maybe when I find it, it'll be easier to find fun for them too.   Happy Searching - for the perfect gift!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015



When I first came to this place over twenty years ago, I think we were engaged.   It seemed odd then to be invited in when we weren’t married yet.  I remember the anxiety I felt as we climbed the mountains and took the hairpin turn.  Would I like it here?  Would they like me?  I slept in the small open bedroom (yes, there is no door) and he slept on the sleeping porch.  I fell in love with the place.  And now we have come back countless times, each time with one more notch, one more step our milestones.  Married.  Married with one child.  Married with two children.  Married but only he went with one child.  Etc. Etc.  Each time different.  Each time magical.  Each time the promise that we will return.   That first year, I never knew.  I never knew that this would be our place.  I never imagined that we would keep coming back.  I imagined it, maybe, but didn’t know it would last the way it has.  Now our children have fallen in love with it.  How could they not?  A lake, a beach, a blueberry bush, a bed on the porch.

We are picking blueberries together, just he and I, here and now.  We have never done this before, like this, just the two of us, quiet and serious and concentrating on the task at hand.  A promise to get blueberries for breakfast.  We can hear our four grown (almost grown up) children out on the lake, their laughter echoing across the water.  Then a splash.  Then another splash.  Then the barrage of splashes between two of them before their sister calls out to stop.  We are keeping promises.  They are too – for we wait for those calls, like a promise.  They let us know everyone is okay.

The blueberries themselves hold promises too.  Right now, in early July, there are only a few precious Blue ones demanding our attention.  The others are green and won’t be ripe until August.  By then they’ll be fat and ready, a perfect shade of indigo.  Other promises lie around the camp.  Fishing rods and bait.  Rafts and paddles.  The uncut watermelon.  The chocolate for melting on smores later.  So much to do in too short a time.  But it’s not a vacation.  It’s a return to something.  Not new, not unfamiliar, not about discovery. It’s about the family we have and revisiting our memories.  It’s about going backwards.  In time and in pace and in our hearts.  We have rehearsed these routines until it is a ritual – one that renews us and reminds us of the promises made.  Grandfather’s promise that this place would belong to us as we belong to it.

I’ve broken promises over the years.  To friends, to commitments, to ideas I once had.  It is sad.  I’ve had promises broken too.  But… People evolve, or learn something new, or decide to think differently.  Things change.  Even the paddles left underneath the porch are beginning to rot from termites.  There’s a old rusty bike leaning against the shed that we don’t remember ever seeing before, except that this year someone cut the hedges back way far and now we can see an old tire, barely hanging on and the bike with no seat attached to it.  Almost perfectly preserved.  A promise to ride it again one day, but a promise unkept.  The golf cart, which Grandfather loved, sits in the shed with an empty seat and nothing happens when we turn the key.  We have promised to find a battery that will fit and to bring it next year.  We all break a little.  We all age.  We all wear down and wear out.  Our promises get rusty.

When I was first married, we promised to be true for a lifetime.  No one understands what that means when they are twenty or thirty or maybe even forty.  It isn’t possible.  But what we do know how to do is promise each day.  A promise to say good morning and goodnight.  A promise to come home.  A promise to smile.  A promise to cook dinner.  A promise to say thank you and God bless you.  A promise to find the missing sock.  A promise to make the bed.  A promise to talk softly and listen loudly.  A promise to say kind things.  A promise to be there.   A promise to show up.  Each person holds these promises.  Each place holds its own promises.  Each thing we touch holds its promises. 

The blueberry cup is almost full.  We have enough for breakfast and for snacking later.  The blueberries have fulfilled their promise and we have too.  In August there will be enough here for a promised pie.  We won’t be back then, but we know they will be here.  After a long, cold, snowy winter when we couldn’t even imagine Blueberries might be here buried under the snow, they arrived again just as they do each year.  And we have too. Winter is over and Summer is full of promise.  Another promise.  Each day we make them, each year we expect them and everything goes around taking its turn. 

Some day we won’t return here.  Too tired, we’ll say, or too hurt, or just too old or too far, we’ll say.  We’ll be too rusty.  But I hope not.  Just as I couldn’t imagine being in this place being here like this twenty years ago, I can’t imagine being here forty years from now, there being another forty years here.  But I hope so.  I hope we will always return and always keep our promise.  Just like the blueberries.

Friday, April 3, 2015


We all love Va-cations.  We even look forward to Sta-cations.  We can do all the long list of things that have to get done and that we save for our time at home when there are no extra outside pressures.  The List becomes this dumping ground for all the projects we just can't do on a Saturday because we are at track meets and crew regattas and other sports that take up entirely too much of our Saturday.  Entirely too much.  Like five hours.  How is this a sport?  It's more like Spectator What-Does-Not-Kill-Us-Makes-Us-Stronger.  I'm not getting any fitness in but it's nice to know my kids are fit.  Did I mention that is was 27 degrees Fahrenheit?  That it was Windy.  That I was trying to help write down race times at the track meet and my pencil was frozen to my rigid fingers.  Anyway, that's where the list came in.  I was going to attempt to do all the jobs I hadn't done throughout the year during my five days of spring break.  Here are the jobs:
Convert our old armoire to a mini-office for ME!
Paint one wall in my bedroom
Purchase new blinds for my bedroom
Hang new blinds for my bedroom
Clean the basement
Clean the attic
Sort the boys clothes that they have outgrown
Donate to good will
Sort our old sneakers and shoes
Donate our old sneakers to Soles 4 Souls
Remove our hall closet walls and make a mud room
Remove our pantry walls and make more room in the kitchen
Call to have our new refrigerator looked at and fixed

I thought I was keeping the list small.  I thought Easy Peasy!  I can accomplish anything!  The kids are in school!  My husband is at work!  I have the WHOLE DAY!  I only need to do two jobs a day to get the whole thing done!  Then my Saturday will truly be free!

On Day 1 my friend asked if I wanted to go get a pedicure.  How can I pass that up?  Plus, that only takes one hour.  I can paint the wall in my bedroom Before I go!  That turned into a four hour Day of Bliss!  The only reason we stopped talking is because we both got calls from our kids schools saying they had been dismissed one hour ago and "Where are you Mrs. Miles?"  Just kidding, but that's what we were afraid was going to happen.  I took a nap when I got home.

On Day 2 I woke up early to take my son to school.  The early shift.  6:30am.  So when I had done the morning routine, I thought I deserved a little time to catch up on my sleep.  I just closed my eyes for a minute.  Really.  But two hours later the phone rang.  It was my husband.  Uh-oh.  How were my projects coming?  Just Great!  Did I get an appointment for the refrigerator?  Yes, yes.  (NO.)  Things were not going well at all.  Then a friend called to have lunch.  She would share with me all the tips of the trade for coaching track.  Can I meet her?  Of course I can.  I am a Team Player and this is one way I can be a Good Mom, (all my kids are on the track team) a Good Wife, (this is my husband's first season coaching track) a Good Parent (the principal will love me!) and a Good Friend, (I love this mom).    And then I can come home with lots of energy and paint the bedroom wall.  We sat in the booth for about three hours and then went to school to rummage around for all the equipment we would need.  I'm so productive.  I took a nap when I got home.

On Day 3 I got the kids out to school, scrubbed down all the bathrooms, washed the shower curtains, washed my duvet cover and shams, dusted the lightbulbs, and then headed out, freshly showered of course, to a little coffee shop to do some writing, some school work, and to finish an online course I was taking.  If I didn't have the energy for the projects at home, at least I could be productive with the work stuff I needed to get done.  That was my thinking.  I ordered a bowl of New England Clam Chowder and a multigrain roll and a cup of their wonderful coffee.  I found a big comfy leather chair in the corner by the window where I could watch the last spring snow falling down.  I pulled out my laptop and just paused to check emails real quick.  One from School - EARLY DISMISSAL.  The kids had an early dismissal due to snow.  Are you KIDDING. ME.  I had to be there in fifteen minutes.  I napped the rest of the day.

Can you see where this is going?  I am easily enticed by food, comfy seating, and good conversation. My rejuvenation came from good friends, not new pillows.  When I would get home from my daily outings, I was a little tired.  I would just lie down for a minute.  When I ran into another teacher friend and she asked how my closet-cleaning was going, I honestly had to reply that my napping was preventing me from being very effective.  It was like going to confession.  I did, however, drop off a pair of old cleats to her house the next day.  For her son.  That felt like penance for my sin.

So the following week, when I returned to work and people asked,  How was your break?  What did you do?  I honestly answered, Nothing.  Nothing at all.  My house still looks exactly the way it did a few weeks ago.  Nothing accomplished, but sanity regained.  No harm, no foul.  There's always the summer to catch up on projects.

The week I went back to work was also the week that my oldest son began his Spring Break.  So when I walked through the door at four o'clock after a long day and he was asleep on the couch, what could I say?  Nothing.  When he wandered downstairs at 2 in the afternoon?  Nothing.   He works hard each and every school day.  He's often up until 2 in the morning.  When he fell asleep downstairs with the lights and the TV still on?  Nothing.  I know the feeling and I know the face, the one that says, "I'm in desperate need of a LAY-cation!"

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.