Amazed

My grade 2’s are starting a new project that asks them to create something (anything) that maybe they wouldn’t normally try to do or think about doing.  I have asked them two things.  The first is “What would you do if you were unafraid”.  Let’s face it, this is a BIG question for all of us, because it seems that the older we get, the more fears we take on.  So we talked about this for awhile and said that being unafraid in the context of being a 7 & 8 year old had a lot to do with no one being mad or upset with them, that they wouldn’t lose mom or dad, or gram or gramp.  Or their home.  Or their favourite toy.  Or their dog.  These are tangible fears at this age and some of those fears don’t change for a long time.  The next part of the question was “What would you do if you had no limits?”.  So now the discussion changed to what are limits?  Where do we find limits?  What do limits do for us that are good (speed limits)?  What do limits do that are bad (big list to get at the grocery store, but not enough time and money to get the list)?

 Earlier in the year we started talking about POTENTIAL and what potential was.  I had written on the board “today has great potential” and explained it to the kids that we had a choice, everyday, to have a good day by listening, by questioning, by letting someone play with you, by being better and wiser than you were the day before.  They decided that potential was a verb.  I agreed.

Back to our project… once we started thinking about the things that we could do or create, I threw three parameters at them: they had endless money; anything was possible; it had to be for the good of humanity.  They can work in groups or on their own (but 2 or more brains increased potential exponentially)  and to be perfectly honest, I am very excited to see what they come up with. 🙂  

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A Learning Opportunity

I will soon be contributing to our Parkland School Division’s 184 Project blog in a couple of weeks, and the question that it consistently asks is: “What have you learned today?”.  And let’s face it – that’s a BIG question! Returning home from 2 packed days at the NCTCA 2013 Teachers Conference left my brain with a lot to process, forcing me to sit down and actually sort through what it has been that I have learned.  While the list was not infinite, it seemed to take awhile to find its “finite-ness”.  I’ve tried my best to narrow it down to Five Things That Have Shaped and/or Moved Me”.

1) October is tough.  I equate this to the first six weeks with your newborn child.  If you have children, more than likely you understand, if you don’t, allow me to explain.  The first six weeks with your newborn is wonderful.  It is a miraculous time, awe-inspiring even.  Your hopes and your love for this tiny individual knows no bounds.  You are humbled by this beautiful gift you have been given, and you are suddenly driven to provide for every want, need or whimper that this little miracle could ever dream of.  And it’s all true.  What they don’t tell you is that honestly, while all these things are going on in the foreground, the behind-the-curtains action, stinks.  You’re exhausted.  You’re crying as much as the kid. That you are certain this isn’t what you signed up for (because clearly the university didn’t offer a course in “October”), and it is very easy to start to spin in circles.  While waaay back in the recesses of your before-baby / before-October brain, you KNOW that you are/were capable.  You KNOW you have/had skills.  You KNOW you are not always a blubbering mess.  But those first six weeks throws every doubt and hesitation at you that you didn’t even know that you didn’t know.  And that’s how I found October.  September finds you getting to know your class, defining and settling in to a routine that can only improve as the year matures.  The weather is warm.  Supervision is fun.  You’re rested.  You have a game plan. And these are good things.  But those seemingly seamless days have a lot of planning behind them.  And for me, anxiousness and a constant, nagging question of “am I doing ok??!! AM I OK??!!”  First report is looming and these students that I had never met until 6 weeks prior now need to be reported on honestly.  I need to find areas of strength and growth and try to let that someone, who’s world is this child, know that I care about this kid and where this kid is going, so much so that it has kept me up at night, concerned about whether or not I am doing what that kid needs.  So I have learned that a good sleep takes away a lot of shadows and that when it comes right down to it, no teacher has died due to doing their first report card.  And honesty with kindness counts for everything.

2) Some of our best lessons have branched off from a lesson that had nothing to do with the lesson learned.  We have laughed until tears have rolled down our face.  We have had hard conversations.  We’ve taken 8 deep breaths because somewhere that crazy Mrs. Carson said that she read that deep breaths get rid of yucky stuff inside.  At least 70% of it, and while we have yet to do percentages, 70 seems like a lot.  Sometimes we just need a dance break.  So I have learned that to take a moment to breath deeply saves us many other moments of unrest, unease, and anxiousness.  I have learned that when one of my kids is upset that we just need to move off to the side for a minute and I just need to whisper gently “let’s take a deep breath then you tell me when you’re ready”.  This technique also works very well for those of us in our 30s.

3) My heart gets well exercised.  It swells with joy.  It beats quicker when I know someone “got it”.  It breaks consistently, because somewhere along our twisted path, that is supposed to take us through lush and  beautiful places where the sun is shining and then through hard places for what I would hope would only be moments, well sometimes my kids are in the hard places for longer.  Sometimes it’s been awhile since they have seen the sunshine.  Sometimes they just hurt all over and my trying to teach them addition with remainders is so far removed from their reality, that it is just one more buzzing fly circling the bare bulb.  And I will tell you that as a mother of three and a teacher who has found a wholeness to herself in teaching, this will always make me die a little inside for these wee ones that take on far too much of this world, when they’re not even in the double digits themselves.  So I have learned that some days we need to teach math by counting our blessings.

4) A plan makes all the difference in the world.  One year my father gave me a pair of snowshoes and a compass.  He taught me the difference between Magnetic North and True North.  He showed me on a map how to recognize the height of land  – the dividing point between watersheds that make rivers flow in different directions.  I made sure I could start  a fire in the snow and make a shelter if I didn’t make it home before dark.  I always let someone know the vicinity I would be in.  And more often than not, I didn’t need all these extras.  More often than not, I had an amazing day in the woods where I took some beautiful pictures and boiled a kettle of snow to have tea and ate a homemade cookie.  But I had a plan if something didn’t go as planned.  I never know how my day is going to end up whenever I walk through the door of my classroom at 7:30 in the morning.  I never know what my kids are going to bring to the table.  But I have a plan and that seems to always put us on to a solid start.

5) There are teachers everywhere – and this includes the 7 & 8 year olds in my class.  The lessons I have learned in kindness and sharing have brought me to my knees by their simple truths.  I am thankful everyday.  Every week we have Thankful Thursday.  It is a time where we stop and recognize that there are people who surround us everyday, that do their jobs without complaining or advertising what they are doing, and the effect is that we are able to do our jobs more successfully.  Thankful Thursday is about lifting our heads and eyes to the world around us and recognizing that we are not successful by ourselves. And most importantly, that we are not alone.

These are the lessons I have learned that stand out over and over so far.  I have no doubts my list will grow and I am excited to see what’s next.

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Brave

Through the course of my life I have been very blessed by a handful of mentors.  People who have taken me in hand and have taught me things… not just “how to” things, but also “smarten up” things, and “don’t be stupid” things.  They have not always been easy lessons, but in hindsight, I can tell you that these have been very good lessons and have helped to shape who and what I am, and how I approach things.  Contrary to what many believe, I am not fearless, but I have learned that sometimes, deep down there is a stirring inside that tells me “Ok Mitchell, do this”, and I will tell you that everytime I have given voice to that stirring, my life has become better.  It didn’t mean that I wasn’t petrified, but it does mean that I did it anyway.

The year I was 26 I lost my mind.  It wasn’t a wonderful time in my life.  In fact, it was a very dark and scary place where I often found myself sitting in the dark and crying and simply not knowing what I was to do.  About anything. I remember one particular night.  It was raining and the wind was howling and it was one of those nights where you wished you could spur on dawn, but knew that there was no way it was to do be done.  And I remember feeling that stir, where I knew that somewhere, I needed to change and I said aloud “Lord, I can’t do this anymore.  I can’t be here anymore.”  I listened.

In September of 1999 I went bungy jumping in Nanaimo, BC.  I was petrified.  So scared in fact that I could hardly walk on the gang plank (that was about 200 ft up and crossed over a river), let alone look over the side.  I was frozen in my fear and nearly couldn’t think straight because of it.  It didn’t matter who else was doing it.  It didn’t matter who wasn’t.  All that I knew and could understand was that in that moment I couldn’t move because of my fear.  So I jumped.

You have to understand that this was such a pivitol moment in my definition of who I was that I can still, to this moment thirteen years later, remember the exact moment my feet left the platform and my entire self was touching nothing.  And what I learned was that inside of my fear there was a fearlessness… and a lightness.  And since that moment, in all those times where I wanted to hide my head and I knew that there were hard decisions, and talks, and deciding times, there would be a lightness that followed because I knew that somewhere deep inside, I was brave.

In returning to the year I lost my mind, I did find it again.  I didn’t get it back overnight, but I am thankful to say that I was able to go home and spend a summer on the river and its healing waters.  I was taken under the wing of Valerie who loved me like I was one of her own.  And as we all know, when you love someone, it doesn’t mean you don’t have moments where you want to choke them.  And she loved me through it all, and taught me many things.  And I took time to rest and just be and figure out who and what I was, and who I was meant to be.  Because I wasn’t meant to be fearful.  I was meant to be brave.

Yesterday I had to deal with two boys in juniour high.  Smart boys making stupid decisions.  And what they learned very quickly was that I asked them twice and that was it.  I gave them the benefit of the doubt that maybe they hadn’t heard me the first time, but the second time was when enough was enough.  So I wrote them up and the principal called them in.  He said “Mrs. Carson these two boys have something to say to you”  so I went over and was given a half-way, very half hearted apology in which I cut them off.  I told them that if an apology wasn’t sincere that there was no point in wasting their breath or my time.  That being sorry was one thing, but if they weren’t then I wasn’t going to shrivel up and blow away in the wind, but what was important was that I was the teacher and part of my job was to keep them and other students safe.  It was their job to listen when I said smarten up, and I wasn’t telling them that because I thought they were stupid.  I was telling them that because I knew that they weren’t.  And life always seemed easier when your head wasn’t up your hindend.

So here are to lessons learned sometimes the hard way.  To smart kids doing dumb stuff and teachers who appreciate it because I was a smart kid doing dumb stuff too.  And lived to tell about it because I had people who loved me enough to tell me to dig my head out of my butt.  🙂

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A New Monday

There is a little girl in my grade two class that is lovely.  She is sweet as pie and cute as a button, and quite possibly physically smaller than my own little girl (who isn’t very big!) in kindergarten.  And there are many moments where I don’t know what to do for her.  She will struggle and yawn through class, tell me she misses her mom, asks at least three dozen times per hour to go to the washroom, and if she can’t find something, it normally got left at home, or perhaps, chance among chances (!), made it to where it was supposed to be, which in turn, left her wondering where it was.  She struggles with the academics of school and has a seemingly bottomless repertoire of unspoken excuses that seem to confound the probability of any work ever getting completed.  The same tired little girl bounds out of the classroom for recess, bounds in with her Girl Guide Cookies for sale and always says good morning.  And I am reminded that she’s still just a little kid that’s trying to figure all this stuff out.

Each month I create a workbook for them, individualized for my learning groups to meet them where they are at, to see if I can’t move them along so they can find success in themselves and not within the measure of the classroom.  It will soon be time for new ones, so we were tying up the proverbial loose ends, so I left sticky notes on the pages that were really important to me as the teacher.  One of the pages, without a sticky note, was a connect the dots.

Once the class began working I started to do some conferencing at my desk with students that need help.  Occasionally I’ll let a couple up at a time, but I really try to keep it to one-on-one, just so I can figure out what they need, see where they are at, or just to check in and say hey how are you doing?  Both the kids and I look forward to this time and about 10 minutes into it, my little girl arrives.  “Mrs. Carson”, she says, “how come the connect the dots didn’t have a sticky (note)? I really need to do the dots”.  And I couldn’t help but smile because those great big eyes of hers really did let me know that she needed to do the dots because she COULD do them and that there was enjoyment there for her in it.  And that she had waited a long time to get there and now she was so close, but I hadn’t sticky-noted it as important, but it still was.  And I found a sort of solitude with her from where I was at last Monday, where I had worked and struggled to get to where I could do something with ease, something fun… and someone hadn’t put a hot pink post it on it to mark it as important and I was stuck doing the same thing when I just didn’t want to, just couldn’t do it anymore.  I felt for her and said yes, she could do it and I put a sticky on it.  It was important.

About two years ago my sister gave me a book of poetry called Travelling Light by Brian Andreas and I will tell you that if you ever have the opportunity to pick something of his up, you should.  It is one of my go-to books to read and re-read and smile and cry at, and tonight in the bathtub, there were a few old things that made brand new sense.

trying to follow  in the footsteps  of the masters,  but it’s a lot harder than it looks because  even though they had  the same size feet   as us, they weren’t                        looking down the whole time while they walked to make sure they were                          doing it right

And in light of my last Monday, I am reminded, probably more gently than I have reminded my little girl who gets so tired so easily, that I have a lot more living under my belt, a lot more practice with numbers and subjects and nouns… a lot more time to have learned from my mistakes and sort out what I really do need in life to make it work and make it sound and make it mine.  And I was reminded that it is my job to not just deliver a curriculum, but to also help her open herself up to this wonderful life that isn’t always easy but so full of good stuff that it makes us happy inside, and so glad to be where we are, right now, in this moment. And Brian Andreas said it so well again when he wrote “if there is any secret to this life I live, this is it: the sound of what cannot be seen sings within everything that can.  & there is nothing more to it than that.”

So here is to connecting the dots.  And grace.  And learning lessons that taught us so kindly that we can hardly help ourselves to do anything other than pass it on in hopes that someday someone will also understand.

“resorting to connecting the dots this morning because it was a long night & he’s needing to do something really simple to get started again” ~Brain Andreas

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A Monday In all Sense of the Word

It is not an easy day today.  Really, it’s not been a great week or weekend, but I’m hoping that things will be on the upswing soon.  If I am to be perfectly honest I am suffering from a lot of guilt right now, and when this happens, I don’t tend to sleep a lot.  I’m tired, and really, when I’m tired, things just in general suck.  My baby will be 11 weeks old tomorrow and right now when she needs to be comforted, it is Grammie that gets it done.  Daddy gets 4 days in a row home.  Ava has Taekwon Do tonight.  Sarah needs snuggles.  Mommy is busy.  Mommy has Non-Violent Crisis Intervention tonight.  Tomorrow she has a PD in the city.  Wednesday she is back in the classroom.  Thursday and Friday she has more PD, and that doesn’t include Parent/Teacher interviews on Thursday night for her biggest girl.  It is such an internal battle and adjustment to figure out how to cover my bases and cover them well.  But it is hard to meet each need when said covering is wearing thin… and it’s only October.  I have already learned that as a teacher, you cannot separate work and life… because let’s face it, life is work and the two are so intertwined that they could be conjoined twins that share a spine and a decidedly differentiated brain.  I don’t open my school bag at home, because I can’t.  Because I can open it up and all of a sudden 2 hours are gone and my family is on the sidelines waiting for me.  Friends are waiting for me.  And I find myself waking up at night to go in and watch my babies sleep, trying to push regrets out of my mind, trying to remind myself that I really did sit down and ask them how their day was even though I didn’t get to watch it unfold myself.  And I try to think about what my other kids, my school kids need, and I think that again, I’m being selfish because they’re really not mine and they have moms and dads and aunts and uncles and grammies and grampies that love them.  Or should be loving them, because really, they’re awesome and deserve that outside of and beyond all else, just as mine do.  And I wonder if they have anyone that goes in late at night to watch them sleep simply because they are theirs to watch and to listen while they breathe deeply.  Because that’s why I watch mine.  Because life overwhelms me sometimes and I guess I need to see that it is not overwhelming them.  And their peaceful dreams reassure me.  My Sarah has suffered night terrors in the past and they are horrid.  Early early Sunday morning she woke up screaming.  And I slept through it and the devestation that I felt when mom told me what happened felt like a sucker punch that nailed me right in my pretention as a mother.  On and off throughout the day I would cry and I wanted to hole up and be alone and not deal with anything because clearly I wasn’t already dealing with anything and I felt my heart break a little.  So here I am.  On a Monday afternoon.  Trying to do whatever it is I am supposed to be doing, and while having moments where I am doing right, I also have so many moments where I am not.  All encased within moments where I have no idea what is even going on.  So here I am… again…. Supposed to be doing sub plans and what-not.  So much what-not.  Thank God the sun is shining and tomorrow I get a total do-over.

Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you plant – Robert Louis Stevenson

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Tuesday’s Panties

This was from September 2005 and I still remember all the details of this meeting with this little girl.  I also thought it was interesting to be reminded that her name was Sarah.  🙂

I walked into a new school today and had to wait in the principal’s office until I could see the woman that I had came to see. The secretary asked me if I could wait 8 minutes. I said sure, not a problem, just thank heaven’s it wasn’t 6 or 13. Eight I could do. So I sat down and started to wait my allotted minutes.

To my immediate left was a little girl, who may have weighed in at 37 lbs soak and wet. She was curled up in a fetal position with her thumb in her mouth and her hands over her eyes. Her fingers were splayed out just enough to keep a close eye on me and any sudden moves I might make. I smiled at her and said hello and told her that I liked her black and pink sketchers. She turned further into the corner and her shirt came up a bit. She had Tuesday panties on. I remembered having them as a kid, but I never remembered getting the days right. Kudos to this one who nailed it bang on.

About 3 minutes into my 8 minute wait, the little girl’s teacher arrived with her lunch. Apparently she was in the office for reasons unbeknownst to myself, but very clear in both the student’s and
teacher’s eyes. Her teacher had brought her lunch. Little Miss Tuesday said that she wanted to eat with the rest of the kids. Teacher said no and to remember why she couldn’t. She remembered and didn’t fuss and opened up her lunch kit.  Teacher left a few moments later and the girl sniffed. Her nose had started to run and she was knee deep in a ham sandwich. “Would you like me to get you a kleenex?” I asked her. She nodded and said “yes please” in a little voice that was quiet, yet clear. I got her a kleenex. She wiped her nose but couldn’t get it all. “Need a hand?” I asked. “Yes please”. “Ok, blow from your toes!” She blew from her toes.

She proceeded on with her sandwich and when I sat back down beside her, she looked at me and said “My name is Sarah. Thanks for helping me blow from my toes”. It came very clear that Sarah was more than just a little girl. There was something as inexplicable as wisdom that seemed to come from somewhere inside of her. I smiled, told her that it was my pleasure to both help her and to have the honour of meeting her. I was reminded in the most crystal clear kind of fashion as to why it is that I want to teach – Because no matter how rotten kids may be for a time, that moment of rottenness is only a moment and the rest of them still matter. And sometimes you just need a little encouragement and an extra hand to blow from your toes. No matter how big or little you may be.

A moment’s insight is sometimes worth a life’s experience.

Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894)

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Ahhhh…. quiet.

This was written nearly 3 years ago during a time where the sun seemed to finally bring us out of the darkness.  Our Sarah was a colic baby and for anyone that has had such a child, it is something hard and something you don’t forget… nor do you believe someone when they say that they won’t cry forever.

………..

I have to say that while I considerably suck in the strict structure department, I do love a consistent bedtime.  My babies are in bed, not only sleeping, but resting from a day spent out in the sunshine and doing this and that with mom and dad.  Funny, a lot of times I couldn’t really tell you specifically what we do each day, but we seem to land on our pillows exhausted from the activity.  Sarah Doodle is sleeping like a trouper, usually in bed each night between 8 and 8:30.  Ava is a little more a stickler, not getting there until 9, but I just can’t seem to worry about it, simply because we have a quiet time to rock and talk about our day.  Or rock and watch Toopy and Binoo.  Or rock and discuss all the reasons why it IS bedtime, while she argues that point that it is not.

It’s been a big week with me working all of Peter’s days off, leaving him to sort out the details of bedtime with his daughters.  A feat never attempted until Tuesday of this week.  And it worked out perfectly.  I had told him before that he needed to spend time with his youngest girl.  He was still scared of her crying, scared of her starting and never stopping, scared he wouldn’t know what to do or if he did then not doing it right anyways.  So I told him that he needed to get over himself, that she could feel his anxiety, and that she, and really, he, had to learn to trust him and his ability to be a great dad.  Because I knew he could.  He just had to see it for himself.  And they made it.  And they giggled and talked and discovered that Sarah has this great big laugh just waiting to come out and pounce on whoever is nearby.  And through it all I think he finally figured out that he could take care of his family outside of a paycheck.  And really, that’s worth more than all the money in the world.

My friend Sarah was here visiting from Cuba.  She works for immigration and her next stop will be Cairo for 2 years beginning this coming summer.  Ava was confused by all the “Sarah’s”, and Big Sarah, versus Sarah Doodle didn’t always clear her mind, but we managed.  Big Sarah was actually part of Sarah Doodles naming.  While she is named after my great grandmother, it was the spirit in my friend Sarah that sealed the deal.  She has lived life with gusto and fearlessly… or if she was frightened, she did it anyway.  And I can’t help but think that’s a good lesson to pass on… that it’s ok to be scared, but never let it stop you… see the world…. explore the nooks and crannies.

Tonight we tried out my 2 year olds new rubber boots in all the puddles we could find around the neighbourhood.  She told me that she was wet and tired, but that I was a “tan-tastic mama” and that she knew because she was a smart cookie.  I a smart cookie, mama and you tan-tastic.  And she told me she loved me.  I wuv you mama.  A wot.  And I am reminded in all my inadequacies and short-falls that somewhere along this wandering road of my life that has been both overgrown and barren sometimes all at once, I got the important things right.  I’m not perfect, but I am tan-tastic.

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