Sunday, July 25, 2010

I Once Was a Mermaid...

The summers of my youth were seasons of imagination and belonging.  I remember playing mermaid in my Aunt Joyce's pool -- the submerged lights would color the water a sea green as we constructed elaborate tales of mermaid life.  We'd swim until the sky had turned Egyptian blue and our fingers were wrinkled as raisins.  I remember sleepovers when we would giggle into our pillows and whisper too loud, too late.  All through June and July we would sprint through front-yard sprinklers, play hide-and-go seek in the dark, catch gutter snakes at Grandma's house.  We'd find sanctuary in the station wagon during fireworks on the 4th, and on rare but wonderful occasions, hail down the ice cream truck to buy Bomb Pops and Big Sticks for a quarter.

The "we" of my summer memories is not only my two brothers and me, but also my cousins. Summer was when we could spend the most time together, free from the school schedule, free to be completely ourselves.  

Now, as I watch my sons play with their cousins, the sweetness of summers past comes back to me.  How quickly it seems we left our games behind.  How easily we let the August nights, bathed in starlight and thick with the day's heat, lose their magic.  The rest of the year, cousins were usually relegated to weekends and birthday parties, but in the summer, any day held the possibility of the ideal in playmate -- part friend, part sibling --  the connection of family, but the novelty of an outsider .  I know we had moments of irritation, times when we would bicker or be ugly to each other, but we always knew that in the end, we were loved.  Summertime with my cousins was like salve on a small wound I didn't know I had.  Even remembering it now heals parts of me I didn't know were hurting.

I do not keep in touch with my cousins as well as I should.  None of them even live in the same state as me, which makes staying close even more difficult. However, my oldest son will be taking a trip with my mom to visit with this part of my family (and celebrate my grandpa's 80th birthday!) later this week.  I wish I could be there to share in the moment, but it feels good to know I am sending my son to spend time with people who already love him.  I am learning more and more each day that this is what a family must do if it wants to stay together -- already love each other.  Before my boys arrive for an afternoon of swimming with their cousins, they already love each other.  Even though experience has told us that at some point in the day, they will yell  or cry because of what one of them says to the other, they begin their time together already loving.  And by the time the day ends, they are already loving again.  They are not afraid of the fights; they yearn for the togetherness.

I don't often wish to return to childhood, but if I did get to go back, today I think I would pick the longest day of summer and I would spend it as a mermaid, a hider, a seeker, a popsicle-eater, a snake catcher, and a moonbather -- and I'd want all my cousins there with me.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Green-Eyed Blogger

I usually consider myself a content woman.  I adore my family.  My job is incredibly satisfying.  I am spoiled by the more-often-than-not gorgeous Southern California weather. I end most days with a perfectly sweetened cup of freshly-brewed coffee and the daisy-print comforter my husband bought for me (and willingly sleeps under!) makes me smile. Mine is a good life and I actively work at appreciating it.

But lately, tiny pangs of jealousy have begun to taunt me.  I ignored them at first, hoped that with time, they would go away. But as I sat down tonight, intending to compose my next post, I realized it was time to admit the problem I am having.

I have blog envy.

I keep adding more and more blogs to my Reader, each with its own widget or gadgets, backgrounds or layouts, engaging voice or thought-provoking content.  And with each add, my envy grows.  I find myself wishing I was doing more -- that I had something more substantial to say or more amazing photographs to share or wittier banter to enlighten and entertain. 

It's silly, really. Why should I care what other blogs look like or what incredible insights they reveal?  Shouldn't I just accept my own blog and appreciate it for what it is?

But I think if we are honest, most of us do this with something in our lives.  Someone else's body, someone else's money, someone else's charisma?  And maybe we even justify it and think, what's the harm?  Why shouldn't I want what someone else has?  Shouldn't I strive for more and better?

For me, the difference lies in what is motivating our desire. If we want more because it will allow us to be more loving, more giving individuals, then the desire is good.  But if the desire comes from a need to be better than others or to bring pleasure to self only, we have crossed into covetousness. And the harm comes in the dissatisfaction it brings to the blessings we already enjoy.  We should not desire another person's spouse because it will blind us to the gifts of our own spouse.  We should not envy someone else's success because it will blind us to the success in our own lives, making us unable to fulfill our real purpose.

So, my blog envy?  Spending too much time focusing on what other bloggers are doing that I am not blinds me to the strengths of my own blog.  Instead, I need to turn that envy into inspiration. Maybe too much time drooling over other blogs has left me with less time and energy to make mine what it really could be.

Or maybe my little blog is all that it will ever be and I need to love it for that and for what I learn about myself and others by doing it.

Either way, I think I can add More Than I Should Bear to the list of good things in my life --right after that perfect cup of coffee and just before the daisy bed.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Chili Fries & Chilly Thighs

This summer, we knew that we would not be taking a big Griswold-style family vacation.  But we wanted to infuse some enthusiasm into our summer break, have something to look forward to other than heat and laziness.  We decided on Thrilling Thursdays -- a mini-adventure each Thursday to embark upon as a family, low-cost or no-cost excursions meant to be fun and maybe even educational.  We eased into the summer with the boys creating summer collages and letters that shared what they hoped summer would include.  Since then, we have visited a dinosaur museum, started Kids Kamp, went to the movies to see Toy Story 3 (the first movie theater experience for Lucas!), and hiked into the foothills of our hometown.

This week when Thrilling Thursday arrived, we had not planned our weekly activity.  But it was Thursday, and so the Thrilling was a must. The weather limited our options -- over 100 degrees eliminates strenuous outdoor activity and any indoor activities were likely going to be a) crowded or b) expensive.   In the end, we drove the boys to the nearest AM/PM and bought them each a huge Icee (at only a buck each!), then stopped by the grocery store and gathered the fixings for a junk-food-delight of a lunch -- corn dogs and chili fries.  On the way home, Lucas put his Icee between his knees to hold the big cup steady.  When I let him out of his car seat, my fingers felt the frozen flesh of his little legs.  He and his brothers giggled as I snapped my hand away with feigned shock.  We decided that this Thrilling Thursday had its own name:  Chili Fries and Chilly Thighs!

After a sinful, satisfying lunch, we napped.  Then Daddy and the boys spent hours playing video games together and we finished the evening off with the lowest form of television entertainment, but some of the best family bonding we've had -- Wipeout.  Nothing makes men and boys laugh as hard as someone being pummeled by padded equipment.  Okay, I laugh a little, too!

Thrilling Thursday this week was fun and educational, even, I have to admit, without any advance planning on my part.  I learned that the specialness of our time together does not come from the activity we are doing as much as from our attitude about being together. We loved Chili Fries & Chilly Thighs day.  Somehow, giving it a catchy name and giving ourselves over to the silliness of it all made for a day we will remember as, if not thrilling, definitely fulfilling.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

It Takes Time...Part II

I often tell people being a teacher is my calling.  From my first days in kindergarten with Mrs. Love, deep in my five-year-old heart, I knew I was home.

Luckily, my school days were blessed with wonderful teachers, some of whom I remember with more clarity than others, but all of whom shaped me into the person and teacher I am today.  From Mrs. McEnerney-Ogle in 3rd and 4th grade, who talked to me in an adult voice and made me feel smart; to Mr. Fried, who I think I may have been smarter than, but who still wowed me when he taught me karate and revealed he had once been Olivia Newton-John's bodyguard; to Senora Rodriguez who told us hilarious stories of her hijinx in Cuba and made Spanish not so scary -- my education was filled with teachers I learned from, leaned on and loved.

Even so, becoming the teacher I wanted to be did not happen as soon as I walked into a classroom. Even now as I begin thinking about the upcoming school year, I struggle with what image of myself I want to project and how I can teach the students in a way that makes a positive impact.

Over the last few months, I have been fiddling quite a bit with this blog and mostly that fiddling has been concerned with how the blog looks.  I have tried template after template, background after background.  From polka dots to dandelions, modern lines to shabby chic, I made my eyes ache from the hours of trying on hundreds of looks.  I wanted something that was "my style."  The problem is, I'm not sure if I have a style.

When I was a freshman in high school, I decided to run for student government.  I had not made cheerleading for the third year in a row and finally figured out that cheerleading was not my destiny.  Sometimes, I am a slow learner.  So, I thought maybe student government was a place for me. The student government advisor was a pixie of a woman.  She was tiny, but commanded the respect of this energetic group.  And she was a woman with style.  When she was my English teacher the next year, I remember sitting in the front row and marveling at how her tights, heels, skirt and scarf were each a different shade of olive, yet because of their textures and designs, they came together beautifully.  At the time, I was lucky if I left the house looking more like a teenage girl than a circus performer. Mrs. Palicki had style; I was a mess.  Maybe a mess with potential, but still a mess.

There are still days when I feel that way, when I feel like my life is a haphazardly tossed together ensemble that reveals how not together I am.  Sometimes I even feel that way in the classroom.  Is the lesson prepared enough?  Have I explained the objective clearly? Does anyone in the classroom actually see the purpose of what we're doing? And then I think back to those teachers who impacted me.  I didn't learn from Mrs. Palicki because her outfit was so pulled together or because her lessons were meticulously prepared; I learned from her because she gave me new eyes through which to view the world.

Seth Godin recently published a post about two kinds of schooling. He explains, " Type 1. You can take a class where you learn technique, facts and procedures. Type 2. You can take a class where you learn to see, learn to lead and learn to solve interesting problems." Type 2 is where I want to be --as a teacher and in my own life -- and it doesn't take coordinated shoes and accessories to get me there.  Sometimes that kind of teaching is messy, but it is also spontaneous, inspiring and eternal.

It is okay with me if my classroom does not always run with the efficiency and organization of a machine, and it is okay with me if I have to change around my blog background and header to appease my ever-changing vision of myself and my writing.  And it is even okay if my wardrobe is more likely to be featured on What Not to Wear than InStyle.  To be willing to lead, willing to try to solve problems, willing to see in ways I haven't before -- that is to be brave.  And as Thackeray argued, "Bravery never goes out of fashion. "


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Swimming Lessons & I'm the One Who's Learning

For the boys, summer's greatest pleasure is time in the pool.  Splashing and screaming, they spend hours in the water.  Michael learned to swim two years ago when two of my students (sweet, talented young men!) were willing to give him lessons.  After only three lessons, he was ready to take on the deep end.  This summer, he took his first jumps off of a diving board, and is thrilled at his new cannonballing skills. With just a little guidance, plenty of encouragement and a solid confidence in his abilities, Michael has made steady progress and I expect that progress to continue.

Lucas is my daredevil.  Last summer, he would jump from the side of the pool into the water without holding on to me.  He loved going under and trusted that I would be there to scoop him up and lift him to the surface.  This year he has been a bit more cautious, but has progressed to dunking himself under the water and jumping into the pool in areas where he can reach the bottom.  He wants to keep up with the older boys, so he is willing to try anything once and I am hoping to have him doing some independent swimming by the end of the summer.  For Lucas, youthful exuberance has cooled a degree or two, but with his brothers and other kids having so much fun around him, he is willing to trust me and challenge himself each time we are in the pool.

Nicholas has had the opposite experience.  He loves the water and being in the pool, but an incident two years ago -- he went a few steps too far in a friend's pool and ended up going under for a moment until I "rescued" him -- had left him very reluctant.  In fact, he has been terrified of learning to swim ever since.  All summer I have been trying to encourage him to take small steps -- put his face in the water, jump into the shallow end of the pool, use a kickboard to get across the pool - to almost no avail.  His fears were so great that he he was completely illogical about the risks associated with the tasks I was asking him to complete.  He wanted to be in the pool, but his fear has kept him from fully engaging in the experience and so his growth has been minimal.

Watching my boys in the pool this summer has made me think about the students in my classroom.  They are all in the pool, but how is each one feeling about the challenges that lie ahead?  Who needs some basic guidance and support and will then be confident enough to push himself further with expectations of success?  Who is trusting and willing to grow, but really just wants to be able to keep up with the other guys? And who has had some experience in the past that may be keeping him from trusting and trying?

On Independence Day, Nicholas had a breakthrough.  In the same pool he had the scare in which caused his fears of swimming, he began going under the water on his own and using a float to practice his swimming kicks.  The pride on his face made my heart shoot skyward and nearly explode.  All of my cajoling, my promises of keeping him safe, my bribery tactics had not worked. What he needed was time to find the right moment. He told me later that being in a pool with deeper water gave him room to try something new.  Also, he said that he wanted to see how happy I would be when he accomplished  these new skills.

Even though my students are in the pool, they are certainly not all having the same feelings about being there, even if they seem to be enjoying themselves.  I have to be what each of them requires for their growth to occur.  I need to be trustworthy and encouraging.  I need to give guidance to those who are ready and space to try new things to those who need it. Most importantly, I need to be patient, I need to believe in all of them and I need to show sincere joy in their accomplishments. Yes, this is challenging and exhausting, but boy the fireworks that go off when a student experiences real learning!!  Summer's greatest pleasure for my sons has prepared for some of my greatest pleasure as a teacher -- I am sure of it!


Fun Photo Site

PicnikImage via Wikipedia
This isn't a full post, but I wanted to share a new site I have been using.  I created my new header using Picnik.  This a photo editing site that allows you to do so many fun things with your pictures ... for free -- always attractive, right?  You can choose a paid subscription to have even more features available to you, but I have found the free offerings are pretty extensive. As a newbie to photo editing, I have found this really fun and easy to use. Experimenting and learning always inspires me! More posts soon!

Be kind,

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