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Rachel

Education Teaching Tuesday Teaching Tip

The Subversive Innovator

Last week I was able to meet with some teachers who are doing great things with technology in their classrooms. We had a meeting to talk about how tech can live in our schools, and part of the meeting was asking them to create a vision for what digital learning could look like in their school in three years. We had five minutes of silence as they typed their responses and read the responses of their colleagues. And then we discussed.

And the first comment was, “If only it could actually be like this.”

Which was followed by nods of agreement, and then several comments about why this could never work. I totally get this. I get the feeling, I get the sentiment, and I get the frustration.

It reminded me of a conversation I was part of several years ago, sitting in a room of mentor teachers, all with a student teacher from the University of Chicago in our classrooms. The mentor teachers were brought together for training, and to be told about the end of the year “project-based learning” unit that was required for our student teachers to complete. We all sat there, watching the implementation gap grow between what our student teachers were expected to do, and our school expectations.

After a series of comments, most of which were explaining why this project-based learning could never happen, one of the facilitators said, “I understand that there are challenges, and that this will live differently in each school setting. But I also believe that we have enough talent in this room to figure out how to be subversive within the system to bring what we know to be best practice into our classrooms.”

The subversive innovators.

You know, the ones who are doing really cool things, but maybe doing so on the down low, with little fanfare, largely uncelebrated, so as not to bring too much attention, so as not to make too many waves.

south chicago model
(The finished product of my student teacher’s project-based learning about our neighborhood)

It’s close to the end of the school year, so for today’s Teaching Tip, I wanted to give a few ideas of how to bring innovation, creativity, and fun into the classroom, even if time is limited and expectations are high.

1.) Find your squishy time

It’s different in every classroom, but there are moments within each day that are under-utilized. The time right after lunch, the time between lunch and specials class, the time right before the end of the day. I usually know when I’ve hit up against a teacher’s squishy time because when I ask to see their schedule, and I point to a specific spot, and they get really non-specific about what is happening during that time. Or they get defensive (often because they’ve already identified this time as squishy and are putting it to good use!) That’s the time do get creative. Even if it’s only 5-10 minutes. SO MUCH can be accomplished in 5-10 minutes.

There’s also squishy time within the content, like changing the end of unit assessment to a performance task, incorporating one center rotation focused on student choice or interests, or using the math drills at the beginning of the lesson to incorporate calisthenics, as one of my teachers does with her 4th graders.

2.) Get student input

When bullying got real in my class, I held a class meeting to explain the situation to my 3rd graders and ask for their input. Honestly, the biggest reason was that I realized that the problem was bigger than what I could solve on my own. Their ideas were pretty fantastic, including a system of bully tickets, kindness tickets, a bully poster campaign, and a bully prevention leadership team. It was so much better than I could ever imagine, and it was completely different than what I would have developed.

More importantly, it worked.

It can be helpful to start with a shared problem, and help students to come up with solutions. One teacher I work with is using the end of the year time to do a study on the elections because his students kept asking questions about a certain candidate and why he was doing so well in the polls. Another high school math teacher presented the problem that many buildings in their city were not accessible for wheelchairs, and the class used what they had learned about angles and measurement to build ramps for local businesses.

But the point is, if it isn’t clear where to start in innovation, ask the students. I guarantee that one of them will have a far better idea than anything I could blog about here.

3.) Follow Through

making rocket launchers(Making rocket launchers in science)

This one is the hardest for me. I am great with ideas. I have a million ideas a day. Seeing them through to their completion is always the hardest part. And it’s the same with innovation.

There are a few things I’ve seen help with this.

One, setting a deadline. Put an end date on it and do as much as possible to prepare for that deadline and keep it a fixed mark. Deadlines are great motivators.

Two, push for a product. It can be a letter, a drawing, a photograph, a robot, a recipe. It can be almost anything, but there should be something to show for the time that is given.

Three, carve out time to share. Yes, learning is fun in and of itself. But it is also super duper fun to get to talk about what you’re working on with other people, and show them what you’ve made and created. The first thing I do when I create something new is share it to social media to get feedback. Why should the classroom be different? If there isn’t time to do a show and tell in class, take a picture and create an instagram bulletin board, or twitter feed for comments.

The best part of the end of the school year is that usually there’s more squishy time available to do fun and engaging things in the classroom. And students are antsy to do high impact, high engagement activities. (AKA, everyone is squirrely and behavior can take a nosedive!) Why not try something new?

For ideas about some of the incredible things happening in classrooms around the country, check out this AMAZING TED talk from Stephen Ritz, about how he started a gardening program for his middle school students in the Bronx. (And if you can get through it without crying, I don’t believe you.) Then just go ahead and keep on watching this TED Talk Playlist of inspiring teachers.

And for the record, my innovating time started with right after lunch. I gave students five minutes of choice time to do any silent activity they wanted to do. And from there, we snowballed.

It doesn’t take a lot, it just takes a step.

-Rachel

Education mothering PARENTING

My Guilty Mother’s Day Treat

By way of explanation of how things have been going lately, let me simply say that my son has been introduced to Happy Meals, and that we’ve lost no time in catching him up on what he’s missed.

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Some of this was because we went on a great vacation to Florida, and haven’t totally caught back up to the pace of life. Some of this is because our work schedules have been changing and busy, some of this is because my BFF, Mr. Tired, has been hanging out with me a lot more lately, staying way past his welcome.

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Mother’s Day is always preceded by Teacher Appreciation Week, a week I take pretty seriously on this side of the profession, because as a teacher there were a lot of times when I felt pretty under-appreciated.

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But Mother’s Day–well it’s never been that big of a day to me. I still feel like I’ve just barely started wearing my mother hat, so it doesn’t occur to me to capitalize on such days. When I got flowers from my in-laws (and chocolate covered strawberries that are DELICIOUS!) I felt a little like my teachers, who had genuine surprise and befuddlement on their faces when I showed up in their room with chocolates and candy.

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In other words, I think Mother’s Day is still about MY mom, about the moms who actually know what they’re doing, not the moms who are still deciding whether to pull into the McDonald’s drive-thru again, or go home and scrounge up a meal of pinto-beans and brown rice, the two ingredients I know for certainty are in my cupboard. (I know I’m gonna hear from some of you veteran moms here, telling me that this never changes. Understood.)

If I am sounding harsh, I guess I’m also feeling a little harsh about myself lately, too.

Last Monday was a challenging day at work and I came home and needed a BREAK. I’ve been doing sketch notes, so I spent a lot of the evening practicing my handwriting, and different ways to drawing icons and banners. Our family dinner consisted of all three members of the family plugged into a screen, a situation I promised myself would never happen.

It happened.

As bedtime approached, my son put down his iPad (or rather, the iPad he has decided to call his own) and said, “Should we go upstairs and play, Mama?” And so I set the timer on my phone and promised myself to be fully dedicated to paying attention to my son for the full time we were upstairs.

We ended our time with my son crawling into my lap as I asked him about his day. His face lit up, and he looked like he was sitting in Santa’s lap, telling him what he wanted for Christmas. He was so excited to tell me about his day, or rather, about all the things he loves to do best, which is what usually happens when we ask how his day has gone. “Um…I went to the park, to the library, to Grandma and Baba’s house, talked to Nammy and Papa…”

The joy on his face made me cry. I felt so sad that I hadn’t stopped what I was doing sooner and paid attention to him sooner, and shut our screens down to have a decent family dinner, etc, etc, etc.

The guilt set in.

I’ve been thinking about guilt a lot lately. How many times it feels like being a full time employee makes me feel like a part time Mom, and whether I should feel badly about that, should feel empowered about that, should try harder to “Lean In”, should work harder to protect my time at home.

And mostly I feel all of those things, and then go hang out with Mr. Tired, who understands my woes.

To add insult to injury, there has been this breathtakingly beautiful video going around on the Facebook, written by Nichole Nordeman, a music artist I love. It’s called “Slow Down” and is all about how quickly our children grow up. She sings, “I am your biggest fan, I hope you know I am, but do you think you can somehow slow down?” All the while the video shows photos of children reaching all of their developmental milestones, catching each moment perfectly.

It’s beautiful. Seriously, it’s beautiful.

But it hasn’t helped with the whole guilt thing.

And this is the point where I feel like I should say that you shouldn’t feel guilty. Right? That’s what we do for people we care about, we help them to stop feeling badly, we come alongside and tell them that they are an amazing mom, that they are doing the best they can, that they are beautiful and strong.

All of those things are true.

But that isn’t what my friend said to me when I told her about the guilt I’ve been feeling lately. Here’s what she said:

“Rachel, maybe you can reframe guilt. Guilt is a powerful motivator. It helps us stay connected to one another, it reminds us that our time is limited. Guilt has its place.

But when guilt has done its job, you need to set it down. When you’re going out to hang out with your friends or you’re getting some time for yourself, write the word guilt on a stone, and put it in the garden on your way out the door. Lay it down.”

OK, so that “friend” is actually my therapist, but wow.

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I look at this week, and there have been some reasons for me to feel guilty, some ways in which I don’t feel like my life has been in balance, some places of disconnection to family and friends. And then there has been some guilt I’ve hung onto, guilt that has kept me from enjoying the moments that were mine to enjoy.

There were definitely some moments when I kept the guilt stone in my pocket, instead of dropping it in the garden.

It’s Mother’s Day, and it’s beautiful and sunny, and I am full of hope for this day. Today I am writing the word guilt down on a stone. And I can hold it during breakfast with my husband and my son to remind me that I don’t need to be checking my cell phone as we eat, that there is nothing so important that can’t wait another hour.

But later, when I leave for work tomorrow, when I go hang out with a friend, the stone stays behind.

It isn’t perfect, it doesn’t solve everything. But my pockets are full right now, and I want to know that their contents are things I actually want. If guilt is gonna be there, then let it be there for a reason.

It’s an unlikely Mother’s Day present, but I’ll take it.

-Rachel

Assessment Education Teaching Tuesday Teaching Tip

Choice in the Classroom: 4 Ways to Give Students Agency

I recently was able to attend an incredible conference in Berwyn IL school district 100. Their iEngage conference featured a site visit to classrooms full of student-centered learning. And it also featured one of my favorite tech speakers, Jennie Magiera. Jennie spent one of her sessions talking about the need to incorporate Play and Choice into our teaching. You can see a great Sketch Note of this session here.

Recently I’ve been in a reading desert, but when I do read, it’s been in the pop sociology/psychology genre, making my sociology teachers from college proud, I hope. (I know I’m not the only one still paying back all those students loans after graduating college with a sociology degree.)

One of my favorites in this genre is Daniel Pink’s DRIVE. The book is all about what motivates us to act. And Jennie’s words reminded me that one of the key motivators that Pink talks about is choice. In his book, Pink gives four ways that you can give choice, and he does it alliteratively, so I thought I’d share those with you, with examples of teachers have used each one.

1.) A Choice of Task

This one can be tricky, if you’re trying to make sure everyone is learning the same ideas. However, there are some great strategies to make it happen. In one class I recently visited, the teacher gave the students a list of fifteen math problems. The students got to choose two problems to solve. They were then able to choose their technique for solving the problem (#4).

Within an ELA classroom, the choice of task could be as easy as choosing which book to read. Or as involved as choosing a social issue, researching it, and coming up with a project to influence change, as was done in another classroom I visited. Some students chose to write letters to politicians. Another chose to do a poster campaign to stop bullying within the school.

At another conference I went to, two teachers presented about giving students 20% time like Google does. This incorporates a lot of the 4 T’s, but the basic gist is that for an hour every week students are able to choose the project they’d like to work on. One student learned how to code and designed their own website. Check out this video about Genius Hour. (And maybe you only can have Genius 5 minutes, but how great will those 5 minutes be?!?!)

(Whew, I can’t watch this video without getting teary and excited.)

2.) A Choice of Time

How much time will the project take? When is the project due? Several teachers I work with let students set the due date for their projects (within reason). They can create the timeline for when certain components will be completed. For big projects, one teacher posts a calendar in her room and students sign up for the day they’d like to present or the day their project will be complete.

If you have technology in your classroom, creating a shared calendar between you and your students can help facilitate this.

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For tasks like cleaning up or organization, asking students how long they think it will take and giving them the autonomy to decide how much time they have can change whining and complaining and stomping feet (just me??) into a game. how long will it take

3.) A Choice of Team

look you give friend

This one is easy–give students a chance to choose which people they get to work alongside, or if they want to work alone. I saw one teacher have a “mix and mingle” and students got to walk around until they’d found their team. Another teacher used a shared google doc with two columns, and students could sign up and someone else could sign up to be their partner.

Or maybe your students are more like me, preferring to work solo if that is an option.

If you want some more ideas about grouping students, check out this great article from Genia Connell about ways she helps students get into groups. One of her ideas is to put different students on speed dial! Then she can say, “Go to your speed-dial 1 partners” and students pair up with the person they chose in space 1.

speed dial 1

4.) A Choice of Technique

The last is to give students a choice of how they complete their work. I think there are so many ways that this can be done, but I’ll name a few. When I observed the student I talked about above complete his math problems that he chose, the second part of the assignment was to explain how he solved it. He was able to choose how he explained his answer to his teacher. He chose to make a video with Photo Booth, but other students made a slide show, one student was using Explain Everything to do a screencast, and still other students were writing out their thinking. The key was that each student was able to chose themselves how they wanted to do the work.

student photobooth

Other ways to include choice of technique is by incorporating choice boards. Kasey Bell of Shake Up Learning has some great resources for differentiating based on learning menus and tic-tac-toe boards. She even provides templates! Teachers design the boards so that the students have to make tic-tac-toe, but no matter which way they do it, they will be getting a chance to get some content input, and then given a chance to demonstrate content mastery. Not only can the student choose how to make tic-tac-toe, but they are also able to have choice about how they want to show they’ve understood the concept. (Seriously, check out her site, it’s full of great stuff.)

When I think about it, a lot of jobs are easier if I get to choose the technique I want to use. Cleaning isn’t my favorite thing, but if I get to use really nice cleaning cloth and good smelling spray, suddenly I’m willing to wash windows! I know one teacher lets her students choose the kind of writing utensils they use. It does mean she gets some work turned in completed in highlighter, but the students were excited to do the work!

It’s not surprising that CHOICE is such a powerful tool for teaching, and it’s not hard to make small changes to make sure students (or teachers) are able to have agency and voice in the learning process.

Comment below with any pictures or ideas you’ve used or seen used in classrooms! (If you want more info about Drive and Daniel Pink, check out this great RSA Animations video of the key ideas in the book. So worth the time!)

fathering mothering PARENTING

Top Chef Parenting: Pack Up Your Knives and Go

Top Chef is my current favorite TV show. It’s exhilarating to watch incredibly talented people brought to their limits while making really yummy looking food, episode after episode. I’m fascinated by Padma’s outfits and have totally bought into the drama that the editors so deftly create, left to wonder who made the best food and who has to pack their knives and go. And except for the couple of seasons when the contestants are mean, it’s usually good clean fun.

One of the recurring themes on Top Chef is that none of the chefs like to bake. Baking challenges are met with groans and cuts to side interviews with one of the chefs saying something like, “Baking is the WORST. I knew this day would come. I might go home today.”

As best I can tell, the reason so many chefs dislike baking is that it is so hard to get feedback on whether or not your cake or souffle will turn out. At least not until it’s too late. You can taste the batter before you put it in the oven, but until that toothpick is inserted, it’s hard to know if your food will cook through, your bread will rise, and your flan will set.

For example, I once made chocolate chip cookies, a recipe I have pretty much perfected, and they were completely flat, except for the chips. I realized too late that the baking soda was old. How could I have known that by tasting the batter? And if I had tried to pass those cookies in a competition like Top Chef, you better believe I’d be sent packing.

Anyway, what does all of this have to do with anything?

Well, for one thing, I have been baking a decent amount lately, and it has got me thinking to how alike living is to baking. And more specifically the living I’ve been thinking about lately is parenting.

One of the hardest things about parenting is that it’s really hard to tell if you’re doing it well or not. I mean, you reassure yourself over an evening glass of wine that the child is safe and fed, and that counts for something. But you know all the while that there’s a 100% chance that there will be things that you don’t get right, wounds that your child will bring back to you and hold in your face in two decades, quirks that you find endearing that your child finds intolerable.

It’s inevitable and it’s terrifying.

But how in the world are you supposed to know if your parenting baking soda has gotten old-

But how in the world are you supposed to know if your parenting baking soda has gotten old?

I have never been the type to read parenting books. I get overwhelmed as soon as someone introduces me to any multi-step plan guaranteed to give results. Usually the step one assumes a level of proficiency that eludes me (like have a clean home or car, just for example). 

I am always hyper-aware of the Tom Colicchios of the parenting world (or really, of the world) ready to critique and nitpick. Not that I even need a Tom Colicchio. Most times I do a pretty good job of tearing myself apart without any help.

What I guess we’re left with is a whole lot of ambiguity. Gilda Radner has a great quote, “Some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity.”

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Truthfully, I rarely think of ambiguity as delicious. Annoying? Yes. Scary? Absolutely. Delicious? Not so much.

But also, ambiguity is inevitable.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how it would look if I loved myself as much as I loved my son. How would I talk to myself after eating a full chocolate bar? How would I respond to myself when our bedtime routine still sucks after two and a half years? What would I say to encourage myself when I meet yet another person who seems to have arrived at my life goals and is five years younger than me?

What would I say to my son when he says that he just isn’t sure if the cake is going to turn out or if he’s just a bad baker and should pack his knives and go home?

For one thing, I think I would say to stop listening to the Tom Colicchios.

Instead of feeling like I’ve failed at life for eating a candy bar, I might say something about how delicious candy is, and how sometimes it’s good to let ourselves have a treat. Instead of hiding my shame about bedtime, I might comment about how nice it can be to get in the extra snuggle time.

And when the toothpick comes back gooey, I might just say the cake needs a little more time to bake. The story isn’t finished yet. That we don’t know what will happen.

I might say something obnoxious about delicious ambiguity.

The truth as best as I can tell is that parenting is a lot like baking. There’s a lot of waiting and hoping that we’re using the right recipe along the way. And there’s no real set bake time, or guarantee that we won’t have really bad baking soda.

But baking is also fun. There’s the smell of the melting chocolate, the calm of kneading bread, the peeks into the oven to see if the top of the cake is brown, the sneaky spoonfuls of raw cookie dough. And there’s the promise, the hope, of a beautiful warm baked good at the end.

If this whole life thing were up to me, I’m not sure there would be a lot of ambiguity. I’m a little like the Top Chef contestants, preferring the immediacy of cooking to the chemistry of baking, not wanting to have to wait and see, preferring instead to get instant results.

But maybe it’s good it isn’t up to me. I imagine we’d miss the chocolate cake.

-Rachel

 

 

mothering PARENTING READING

Where are the angels? A letter to my son

To My Darling Son,

The other night I was putting you to bed. We were reading The Jesus Storybook Bible, and we opened the book to the picture of the angel Gabriel coming to Mary and telling her that she was pregnant with a baby who would be named Jesus.

You sat with fascination, staring at the pages, eager to listen. I read about the angel and you pointed at its form, surrounded in light.

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Turning the page, you protested, “Where the angel go? Want to find the angel!”

I know you were telling me that you wanted to see the picture of the angel again, and we turned back a page so you could see the artist’s rendition of the celestial being once more. But I’ve been hearing your little voice saying those words ever since.

One of my biggest sadnesses is knowing that you are born into a world that will, sooner or later, disappoint you.

From the time I knew you were in my womb, I’ve been a mama bear, working fiercely to protect you. When we heard your heartbeat, I turned to your daddy with tears in my eyes and told him it was the bravest sound I have ever heard.

Every day you continue to bravely explore the world. And it breaks my heart to know that as you discover the world’s beauty, you will also discover the world’s pain. You will hear the stories of when hatred or bitterness or jealousy win over love and forgiveness and charity. You will have your own stories of these sadnesses.

I cannot protect you from this.

And so my hope for you is this: that you will never stop asking the question, “Where are the angels?”

When the pages turn, when the darkness comes, when the loneliness or the despair is close, and you cannot see the angels anymore, my prayer is that you never forget that not seeing them doesn’t mean they aren’t there. That the beauty is in every moment, even the most painful ones, if you keep on looking.

That day, reading the story, we kept turning the pages, and you saw the picture of a baby. And I told you the story of a baby named Jesus. A baby whose heart beat bravely like yours. A baby whose mother must have, like me, held him in wonder and awe. A baby whose life was also filled with joy and sorrow. A baby who shows us that love still wins in the end.

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Today I picked you up from daycare and you ran out into the cold April weather. You laughed when we stepped in a puddle. Looking up you pointed, and said, “Look, Mama, it’s RAINING!”

You are a constant reminder of what is beautiful in this world.  

I am so thankful I have a lifetime of looking for the angels with you.

I love you,

Mama

Education Teaching

Teaching Is Like…(My Top 9 Analogies)

Tomorrow teachers across Chicago will pick up their picket signs and march through the city in a “Day of Action” to demand equal funding for Chicago schools and a fair contract for CPS teachers. I support CPS teachers for the hard work they do each day. In solidarity, I offer you this (hopefully funny) look at the job of a teacher.

Teaching Is Like (My Top 9 Analogies)

1. Teaching is like being at the grocery store with your child while they throw a tantrum. But instead of strangers walking by, your boss is standing next to you, watching. Also, she is scoring you for how you de-escalate the situation. That score will be 25% of your 360 evaluation.

2. Teaching is like being told by your boss that you have to give a huge presentation to the company’s most important clients. The presentation is all day, so you will not have paid work time to prepare for the presentation. Also, you eat breakfast and lunch with the clients. 

3. Taking a sick day while teaching is like working a double shift so that you can get a shift off the next day.

4. Teaching is like winning an incredible case for your law firm, and as a bonus for your hard work, getting a pizza lunch.

5. Teaching is like getting hired at a new job, only to find out that you are responsible for providing your materials, writing your own work manual, and becoming an expert in your field. Also, while you’re doing that can you keep an eye on thirty 7-year-olds?

6. Teaching is like showing up to work in your professional attire to inspire…then finding yourself an hour later on hands and knees, cleaning up someone else’s vomit.

7. Teaching is like being hired for your expertise in biology, but finding out that part of your evaluation will be based on your interior decorating of your laboratory. Extra points for good handwriting.

8. Teaching is like only working ten months a year. Unless you count the two months you spend planning for those ten months.

9. Teaching is like doing the most important job, every day.

Chicago teachers, I support you tomorrow and I support you every other day, too. Thank you for taking a stand not only for the teaching profession, but also for our students, our schools, and our city.

P.S. If you’d like to join me, feel free to share you own #teachingislike in the comments below or on twitter. Tag me @teachreadmom

PARENTING READING

Fat Girl Yoga

I have always hated yoga.

Yoga is for other people. Thin people. People who get jazzed about things like smoothies with kale, who have candles for reasons other than covering the bad odors in their homes. Do an image search for yoga and it seems that yoga is best done in silhouette on the edge of cliff, a dock on the lake, or in the middle of a field.

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And, well, I’m not one of those people. And also I live in a crowded city, nowhere near a cliff or open field.

Also yoga is about centering and mindfulness and releasing your body, and I have always had a really complicated relationship with my body. I’m not sure exactly when it started, but I still remember the shame I felt in gym class when I was weighed in front of my peers and my weight was a three digit number compared to their two digit numbers.

But the worst part about yoga is that no matter what class I attend, it is almost a guarantee that I will be the fattest person in the room.

I’ve spent the good part of my son’s two and a half years avoiding cameras, eating in secret, wearing layer after layer of clothing, and fantasizing about the someday when I will become one of those yoga women who can wear all white by the lake and hold a tree pose for as long as I want in the sand.

But I had been hiding a long time before that.

There have been a lot of diets. Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, The Weigh Down Diet, the Geneen Roth Diet, and the Luna Bars and Seltzer water diet (my personal method of dropping the freshman 15). There’s also been a lot of binging. More binging than dieting, if I’m being honest. There have been times when I am sort of okay with how I look, and times when it is hard to leave the house, especially when meeting up with friends I haven’t seen in some time, who will certainly notice my thirty pound weight gain.

I’ve also done a lot of therapy. I mean, A LOT of therapy.

It was in therapy, talking about all my attempts to stop eating so much food, when my therapist asked me, “Rachel, what else is as big as your hunger?”

Immediately images came rushing to my mind.

I could see my heart, my love for my family, my ambition, my joy, my passion for God, my passion for life.

And I saw my fear of being big. Of being loud and strong and beautiful and powerful.

After my session with my therapist I sat down and made a list of all the things that I want to be able to do without shame, especially without shame about my body. It included things like wearing lipstick, getting a tattoo, running as long as I want, wearing tight clothes, and eating as much as I want in front of anyone. Anything that popped into my head and was immediately met with “maybe when you lose some weight” went on the list.

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Fifth on the list was, “Do yoga”.

I sat with the list for some time. I read through it again and again. I read through it enough times to confirm my realization that not one item on the list required me to lose a single pound or change my body in any way.

But a lot of them require me to be seen. A lot of them required me to let myself be big.

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So I bought lipstick. I bought two shades one week, and went back for two shades the next. Lipstick was the gateway to makeup, which was the gateway to wearing clothes without additional layers. I sat and planned my tattoo, discussing it with friends to gather ideas. But I kept coming back to #5 on the list.

Finally, I called up my trusted friend and scheduled a time to go to yoga. We went.

And I was the fattest girl in the room.

There were moves I could not do, like grabbing both my ankles behind me in a reverse boat pose. I took full advantage of the teacher’s offer to return to child’s pose whenever a position was too challenging. An hour passed by, and I didn’t die. No one said a single thing about my weight or my lack of yoga skills. I did not fall on my face and break my nose, as I had worried I might. No one pointed and laughed at me.

In the last few minutes of class, tears rolled down my face. Tears of gratitude for a body that is strong and flexible. Tears of pride for finishing the workout. And tears for my body. A body that has served me and protected me. A body that has made me ashamed. A body that has kept me safe. A body I have blamed for so many struggles. A body that is mine.

Of all the dieting strategies I have tried, one I haven’t tried yet is to get bigger. To be as strong and beautiful and loud and powerful as I am.

Two weeks ago I walked past one of the assistant principals I work with, and she stopped in her tracks, looked me up and down with her eyes and her finger and said, “I see you, Rachel. I see you.”

It was terrifying. And it was exhilarating.

The next day she asked me what has been going on, why I’ve been “jazzing it up.”

So I told her the truth. I told her that I’ve decided to finally show up for my life.

And though I didn’t tell her about it, I’ve also continued to show up for yoga class. Maybe just to prove that yoga is for people like me, too.

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261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

P.S. I’m reading a great book by Jes Baker called Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls. It’s all about body love, for people of all shapes and sizes and it’s nice to keep in my purse for moments when I’m feeling like maybe shrinking, and all the baggage that comes with it, is actually a good idea after all.

 

 

 

 

 

friendship Teaching

Don’t miss the party! (And other cleaning tips)

I’m messy.

This is my car:

car

This is my bedroom:

bedroom

And they are a mess.

I’m not cherry picking photos, either, to find the worst one to make my point. These were all taken today.

At a party with some friends a few months ago, I told my college roommates that I am finally coming to terms with the fact that I am messy.

My roommates felt vindicated. They had often bemoaned the fact that despite indicating on the freshman roommate preference cards they would like to room with someone neat, they instead got to room with me. I had also indicated that I would like to room with someone neat. Because I would. It’s not like I revel in filth. I just enjoy a lot of other things more than I enjoy tidying.

how i clean

I have spent a lot of time trying to make up for being messy. I go on clean/messy binges, I act really nicely toward my roommates when they look at me with disapproval, I’ve read self-help books about the whole messiness thing. (KonMari anyone?)

Therefore it was typical, but ill-advised, when I clicked on the video that promised a strategy for how to clean your bedroom in 30 minutes. But who can even blame me? It promised a free printable check list.

Watching the video sent me into a tailspin of inadequacy and shame, one of my typical responses. Another typical response is to go to Target and buy as many cleaning supplies as I can, returning home too exhausted to clean. Because shopping is a lot of work.

Let me pause here to say that I don’t dislike neat people. Well, maybe I resent them a little. But only because of my own deficiencies, not because of their amazingness. I look at their seemingly effortless systems of boxes and organization and sigh and fantasize…

About hiring a cleaning person. Because seriously, I don’t want to do it.

Anyway, as I was cleaning for a party or maybe just cleaning my car (turns out I do actually clean, it just never comes together all at once in a way that gives the appearance of “togetherness”), I remembered a story from another party, one that happened shortly after I graduated from college, a time when my life was messy in about every conceivable way.

The party was for my college bff and her husband, who were headed to West Africa to join the Peace Corps. In all the laughing and talking and joy and sorrow of saying goodbye, at some point someone asked if they could get a ride back to their apartment at the end of the party.

For all you neat people reading this, I’m sure there is nothing about this request that seems concerning. I’m sure your car has all of its seat and trunk space open and available for such requests.

But as I’m sure you can imagine, such was not the case for messy-ole-me.

Almost immediately I took to the street and started pulling a year’s worth of teaching stuff out of the trunk of my car. There I stood on a pristine suburban street, surrounded by paper, bins, books, markers, crafts, pillows, blankets, and other debris from the life of a first year teacher, frantically trying to get them into some semblance of organization.

After forty minutes one of my friends came out to find me.

They lovingly helped me put all my things away into the car, and guided me back inside.

Because the truth was that there was room for someone to ride with me. But my shame over my messiness filled the entire car.

And embracing that shame meant I almost missed the party.

I went to visit those same friends a few weeks ago. They have long since returned from the Peace Corps. As we exchanged texts to arrange details of our get together, my friend warned me, “Just so you know, my apartment is a mess.”

It was a relief, and it was a gift, because I got to see the mess from the other side. And from the other side, when it is my friend’s mess, it isn’t a big deal at all.

Maybe it’s not worth missing out on parties, be they real or metaphorical, because I’m so busy trying to hide my flaws. Maybe sometimes what my friends really need is to hear me say, “I’m a mess.”

And maybe by living our messy lives together, we give each other one of the greatest gifts that friendship can offer: permission to be our honest and true selves, without apology.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_n Rachel

P.S. If you ARE a person who likes all things neat and tidy, check out my friend Brigit’s blog, Meaningfully Organized. She even offers free printables!!

 

fathering mothering PARENTING

Pomegranates and Really Bad Bedtime Routines

My one piece of advice to parents? Get your kids into a good bedtime routine.

Just don’t ask me how to do it.

If the books are to be believed, I think there’s something about “consistency” and “same time each night”, two areas on the life report card that leave me hovering right around a C-.

Our motto for parenting is “do what works, until it doesn’t, then do what works.” And that’s true of the bedtime routine, too. We’ve done what works, which has sometimes included a swing, a crib, a crib mattress on the floor, a queen-sized mattress on the floor, a night light in the wall, co-sleeping, sleeping alone, a bath, a song, and always, of course, a book.

It has also included parent tears and children tears, vomit, tantrums that end in dirty diapers, and, well, you get the point.

I’m going to be honest, I work under the assumption that we are the only parents that have this problem. But I remind myself that, at least as far as I know, most kids don’t co-sleep when they’re in High School.

salad recipes

On the topic of things we’re trying to do better, my husband and I are working, or rather, eating our way through cookbook of salads. (Is it still called a cookbook if you don’t cook?) I bring it up not as a humble brag, but to both give the book a shout out, and to explain why a pomegranate was sitting opened, a fourth of its seeds taken out, on our kitchen counter.

My husband had commented that he didn’t think he was going to finish the pomegranate and, because we do have a tendency to get distracted and let fruit go bad, asked if we should keep it or throw it away. Playing my role in what has become a familiar scene, I insisted I would finish peeling it, or whatever it is that you call removing the fruit from a pomegranate. Shucking?

pom skin

I did end up peel-shucking that pomegranate, mostly because I enjoy any kitchen task that gives me an excuse to watch Gilmore Girls and still feel productive. As I watched Rory have her heart broken by Jess for the hundredth time, I pulled the skin away from the pomegranate seeds. And I realized for third time (since we don’t really eat that many pomegranates in our home) how beautiful those perfect red beads are, like jewels hidden inside their rhinoceros-skin exteriors.

pom seeds

So last night, while I was rocking my baby boy to sleep, or rather, rocking him, since there was no sleep going on, I looked down at his beautiful, perfect face and his tiny, George W. Bush ears, his long eye-lashes, and his dimple, and kissed his forehead.

“Sing, Mama?” he asked.

I sang. And then, we sang. First, “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands” and then “Give Yourself to Love”, and “Jesus Loves Me”.  And I listened as my two year old started, for the first time, to sing along with every word to the songs that I have sung him each night. He grinned as his tiny, high-pitched voice matched mine, recognizing my delight in his newly revealed ability.

And it was like peeling away the ugly rhinoceros skin of our lack of bedtime routine, and seeing the little gem of it stuck inside, just waiting for me to find it.

I imagine we’ll keep tweaking our bedtime routine, continuing to make it work. But even when it doesn’t, I guess it’s not always so bad after all.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

 

 

 

Uncategorized

I am a (needy, tired, sick) Strong Woman

I have been sick since March. It started with an infection that has lead to three surgeries, with at least one more on the way. I found out I would be needing those surgeries on the same day that I found out we would not be getting the house we’d been under contract on for five months. The house for which we had packed our belongings and listed our home.

It also happened to be the same day that I found out I was being summoned for jury duty.

It’s been that kind of year.

pain quote

I didn’t know what it was like to have chronic pain and discomfort until I had chronic pain and discomfort. I’m used to being sick until I’m not, taking time off of work or activities if necessary, stopping for a few days, and then resuming normality.

The problem with chronic pain is that there comes a time after which you have to resume normality without feeling normal.

It’s been that kind of year.

If I don’t think about it, then it’s easy to pretend that everything is alright. But then I catch myself sitting in front of the refrigerator, cutting off slices of cheese to eat, one after the other. Or sitting at my computer, clicking “buy” before the alarm in my head goes off to remind me that I don’t really have the money to spend. Because eating and spending are a really good distraction to feeling.

And the key to pain management is making it possible to stop feeling pain.

Two months ago I got a message in my inbox from a friend, telling me that she was sending me a t-shirt that said, “Strong Woman”. There have been a lot of moments in my life when those words would have resonated deeply within me. Like immediately after running my first ten-miler, or the moment my son’s perfect slippery body was laid on my chest after a day and a half of labor.

But it hasn’t been that kind of year.

Last week, on the same day, three of my friends reached out to me to check to see how I was doing. I didn’t know, until I knew, just how much I would crave this sort of help, while at the same time avoiding it because where do you start? If I think about what I need, it starts pulling the yarn until the whole sweater of need is unraveled, and I’m not prepared for that level of nakedness, and I’m not good at knitting.

IMG_0228

But to avoid becoming a hermit, and to honor two of the friends I truly care about, I went to a going away party last weekend. Many of my dearest friends were there, and I found myself sitting at a table with a fellow mom, one I’m still getting to know, but whose honesty I’ve appreciated. Her daughter is enough older than my son that she has good insights, but not too much older that she can’t remember. We started talking about potty training, and the diapers that leak in the middle of the night all over the bed.

She offered an idea of solving the problem, but I think she could tell right away that I was not in the mood. Maybe she could see the holes forming in my sweater. So she said, “But you’ll know when it’s the right time for you to make a change.”

It was so little, but it was also grace. Permission to not have to solve the problem. Permission to have this be hard. Permission to be needy. Permission to know when to heal.

And a reminder that this is just a moment in time.

What my friend didn’t know when she sent me my Strong Woman t-shirt is that it would arrive two days before my third surgery. I woke up the morning of the surgery and pulled the shirt over my head. It’s the kind of shirt people notice, and several strangers read the words aloud as I walked past them in the hospital. I didn’t know why I wanted to wear the shirt that day, only that it was necessary.

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Two months later, looking back, I think I wore it as a reminder. A reminder that it has been that kind of year. I have been sick, I have been in pain. I feel needy and I feel weak.

But none of those things tells me who I am. Who I am is a strong woman.

A strong woman with a beautiful, messy sweater of need.

A strong woman who, when it is the right time, will heal.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

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