Browsing Tag

acceptance

Education

I’m OK. And that’s OK.

What would you say is your area for improvement?

I’ve been asked this in countless job interviews, and still I have no appropriate answer.

“Well, I can be disorganized. I mean, not at work. Like, I get all my work done, but there is a pile of laundry on my son’s bed that hasn’t been folded for three weeks. That kind of disorganized. The kind that prioritizes well enough to know which tasks HAVE to be done and which tasks would be nice to have done. By someone else. Or by me in several years. But seriously you should hire me because I am an amazing employee who totally follows through on tasks.”

Or maybe I should say, “I’m honest. Like brutally honest about my failures and successes. And I will tell you if there is something that is bothering me because I don’t like conflict. Oh yeah, that too. I decided a long time ago that conflict affects my overall health and well being so although I am naturally a conflict avoider, I have learned to be confrontational in what I hope are loving and kind ways.”

“Also, you should hire me because I am an amazing employee who gets along with everyone.”

And then there is the very honest answer of “Well, to be honest Leonard, I would say that every area is an area for improvement. I’m exceptionally hard on myself, so hard on myself that very often I don’t even start a project because I’m so afraid that it won’t be good enough. So I end up paralyzed and anxious. Also, I’m an amazing employee. Who gets things done. And you should hire me.”

A few years ago I was in a team meeting with my twenty coworkers (yes, despite all of the above, I still can sometimes manage to get hired). It was around the holidays, and our boss was giving us a present. She spoke to us about the changes that had taken place in the organization, and about how those changes had necessitated changes in our coaching practice, and as was to be expected, this led to insecurity and fear about our competency and our value.

Then she told us that she wanted us to know that we are all there because we are incredible coaches. And that it is alright not to be perfect. It’s OK to be OK. In fact, she wanted to give us permission to be just OK, and to keep showing up and keep doing the work even if it was just OK.

So she gave us each an ornament that said, “Okayest.”

We were the okayest group of coaches.

I was thinking about that ornament this week when my stress level was rising and the list of tasks that needed to be done was growing and I was feeling like the worst version of my disorganized self and my non-confrontational self, with my honesty working to beat up by brain.

I sent a text to my friend to say that I was DROWNING and could she please send me all of the love and a life preserver through her phone.

And she wrote back, “Start with the fun thing. Create it. You want it to be perfect and that’s why you’re in your head.”

It doesn’t have to be perfect.

It can just be ok.

OK is OK.

Which, I think, is what I should say next time I’m asked that question at a job interview. Something along the lines of, “Well, there are a lot of areas for improvement, too many to list here, so let me instead say that I promise to be the okayest employee you have ever had.”

I mean, I probably won’t get the job, but the other answers weren’t any better.

In the meantime, I will be trying to be the okayest version of myself today. Imperfectly and average and enough.

Time to get started.

Rachel

Education PARENTING

What I Learned at 4:00am Yoga

 

On summer solstice I went to do morning yoga at 4:30am.

I think I’ve already made my point about how I am NOT a morning person. Not even a little bit. But there I was, at 4am, driving down the Eisenhower Expressway toward my bliss.

The yoga and meditating went for two and a half hours and I was tired for the entire time. The. entire. time.

Also, no bliss. I had no real aha moments, except that I am not really good at sitting still for long periods of time. This was not so much an aha moment, but rather a confirmation about what everyone who has ever met me already knows.

Anyway, so one of the poses that we did during early morning yoga was to put our left foot under our butt, bend your right knee in front of our body, and hold our hands in prayer position at our heart. For twenty two minutes.

I’m not exaggerating about the twenty two minutes part. The instructor actually said, “And we will be doing this for twenty two minutes.”

I think it is important to point out here that, being a person of size, it is hard for me to go to yoga without something to prove. One might argue that this is the whole work of yoga for me, and I would probably agree. But if the instructor says that we are holding a boat pose for twenty two minutes, I am holding that pose for the whole damn time.

To prove that I can. To prove that I belong there, with all my glorious rolls and curves.

So I put my left foot under my rear, and I went to bend my right knee and immediately got a charlie horse. I was just about to try again when I looked over at the people around me and saw that several were lying down, covered in blankets, and NAPPING! I didn’t know that napping was an option!

Well, immediately I put my legs down, or rather, my leg flung out in front of me in response to the spasms moving through it, narrowly avoiding my fellow yogis. Then I spent the entire twenty two minutes of the pose thinking about why it is so difficult for me to admit when maybe, just maybe, I am not able to do something perfectly.

One of the things that we love to say in education, especially we who are the innovative/edtech types, is that failure is one of the most important parts of learning.

Wow, do I ever believe that is true.

Until I’m the one who fails.

Then I think that failure totally sucks. Then I think it is the worst. Then I avoid and wail and kick and scream at it. WHY ME?!?!?!

I’m in the middle of working on several projects and overwhelmingly the answer I am getting on all of them is, “No. Not interested.”

And I know that someone once reminded me that J.K. Rowling submitted the manuscript to Harry Potter four hundred and twenty thousand times before someone actually published it. But when it is me who is getting the rejection letters, without any assurance that I will ever become J.K. Rowling, and a fear that I will forever remain just J.K….

Well, I hate it.

Yoga is good for role playing these life moments. You think you’re just getting a charlie horse in a ridiculous position, but you’re actually understanding something fundamental about the way you see the world.

I looked at the two women lying on the ground, taking a rest, and I wondered if it would be so bad to just sit for this one pose. Instead of forcing things into place when they were very unwilling to oblige, to rest for twenty two minutes.

No, I did not lay down. I’m not that evolved yet. But I sat there. I sat there frustrated and sad and angry and rejected. I sat there mad that I have something to prove and meanwhile my fellow yogis are napping. I sat there mad at myself for being unwilling to lay down and nap.

But I sat there.

I wanted to get up and leave. I wanted to decide that two hours of yoga was pretty much as good as two and a half hours of yoga.

But I didn’t leave.

In the words of Brene Brown, I stood my sacred ground.

Or, sat my sacred ground.

This is what it is this week. It isn’t a winning week. I have no trophies to display. I have no accomplishments to report.

Except, that for twenty two minutes at an absurdly early hour of the morning in a yoga studio in the west loop of Chicago, I didn’t do the pose the teacher asked us to do.

And for now, that is good enough.

Rachel

PARENTING

I’ve Decided I’m Not Going To Live My Passion

I have recently become aware of yet another deficit in my life.

I am not living my passion.

I went to the library yesterday and I browsed the new release section. The library is one of my favorite places, because it is like shopping, but free! And since I have about the same chance of reading a book I buy vs. reading a book I check out from the library, it turns out that the library is a better option for my budget and all around mortgage-paying-ability.

Now to talk about my failures.

There were beautiful books, with jackets wrapped in shiny fresh plastic, all bearing the label of their release date. And it seemed that the books were nearly obsessed with explaining the secret of following your passion, unlocking your inner magic, going on retreats in the woods for a year without bug repellant as an exercise in finding out what really matters to you, eating only sap from a specific Cyprus tree to find your true calling.

I picked up each one, and I held it in my hand, and for a brief and fleeting moment I imagined what it would feel like to own each book. To have, in my own hands, all of the answers I have been searching for.

Because let’s be honest. A few hours after that trip to the library, it took a herculean effort to get my son’s shoes on so we could go out the door and get to Target. Which is, if you are not already aware, the place I go when I feel sad.

I could use a little bit more finding my passion and a little bit less finding my Cartwheel app.

Unfortunately I don’t think any of those books mentioned trips to Target as one of the steps toward finding your inner wisdom and true destiny.

I have spent the better part of this year reading these books. Because I so desperately want to know more about what it is that I was created to be. Every one of the amazing quotes about “be who you were created to be because what the world needs is you, being you” or variations on that theme make my heart say, “YES!”

Immediately followed by a little bit of panic, because I realize that, while the book was fascinating and the quote inspiring, I still don’t know what that one thing is.

But standing there in the library, holding the fifteenth book that deep down I knew I would never read, I made a decision. I am NOT going to go searching for my one passion.

I am over it.

I’m sick of feeling like I’ve missed the boat to success and that all of the opportunities are passing me by because I didn’t buy (or check out) the right book, didn’t apply for the right program, didn’t shake hands with the right person.

I have been running myself ragged toward a goal that I have not even set, a destination I have not charted.

Enough.

I’ve had enough. I give up.

Trying to live my passion and find my magic has felt more like living my anxiety and finding my inner angst.

I’m giving it a rest. Or I’m going to try to.

And in the meantime, maybe there’s other things I want to do.

I want to live with gratitude. To get up in the morning thankful for another day with my eyes open. Even when some days that morning comes much more quickly than I want.

I want to live with awareness. To notice when I can’t seem to put my cell phone down to enjoy the fact that my son is holding up his art project. To forget the phone at home when we go outside to play.

I want to live with kindness. To take a deep breath when a friend is late for a meeting, knowing that I am far more often making others wait for me. To give without expecting a return.

And those three things alone seem like enough to fill a lifetime, one with or without passion.

Last weekend my family was in town for a visit. It was 90 degrees and our window air conditioners were losing the battle against the heat. In response, the adults sat around the twenty dollar inflatable pool that we’d purchased for the kids, and hung our feet in the water, drinking beer, while our children splashed and screamed and played.

I turned to my brother and said, “I feel like this is the most luxurious thing in the whole world.”

And it was. Family, together. Talking, laughter, play.

In that moment I had no more clarity about my passion than I had the moment before. But somehow it just didn’t matter.

It was enough.

Rachel

 

 

 

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!!

 

PARENTING

My wishy-washy goals for 2016

I made it into the new year, fingernails torn from clawing my way out of 2015. To quote Dickens, “It was the worst of times.”

But two days before the end of the year, after a visit to the ER for my son, shelling out several thousand dollars for a new transmission, and another damn death in the family, I went to the doctor and got a clean bill of health.

I cried most of the way home from the doctor, it seemed such an incredible, desperate relief.

I had a plan to make formal resolutions for this new year. I love ritual, and New Years is full of it. I had a plan to write a liturgy to share with my friends, complete with lighting a fire to burn away the past and welcome in the future.

candles lasalle(photo credit: Mary Rodriguez)

But I haven’t made my resolutions yet. Not in any formalized way. I’ve read enough soft psychology and business books to know that goals and resolutions should be actionable, quantifiable, audacious, yet achievable.

And what I have been thinking about is how to heal.

Healing from the absolute typhoon that was the past year.

Because the clean bill of health seems to be the first, not the last, step toward healing. And it has left me carrying a lot of baggage.

I was at Target several weeks ago, to grab just a few things, and slowly I found my arms filling up with more and more items. I had foolishly walked past the carts and the little red plastic baskets, thinking it would be only a quick trip, and surely I could grab everything and be on my way.

At the point when my third item hit the floor, I circled back to the entrance of the Super Target, getting in the lion’s share of my 5,000 steps for the day, and sighed with relief while dumping the contents of my arms into the shopping cart.

target shopping cart

I think I do that in life, too. I grab on to items as I walk past. Clean eating? Yep, I’ll take some of that. New solution for a perfectly tidy home? Make mine a double. Look sexy in less than 30 minutes a day? If I shift this around, I can squeeze that here. Take on another project for work? Well, I can’t say no to that. Squeeze in some time for friends? Check. Oh, yes, and let’s not forget the strategies for becoming a perfect mother.

None of those things are bad. They’re just, well, heavy.

My typical response is to throw up my hands, dropping the items, and exclaiming that I never really wanted this shopping trip anyway.

But that’s not true, and more often than not leaves me sheepishly scrambling for those items later, when people have stopped staring at the scene I’ve created. Because the truth is, I do want all those items.

So anyway, I’ve been thinking about what it might look like to put the items in the cart this year. To acknowledge that there are so many things that I want to be and to do, but they don’t all have to be held frantically right now. To give myself a little grace and celebrate getting to the gym even though it means eating takeout for dinner. To acknowledge that I can either do my hair or do my make-up, but not both. To go on walks and get some sleep. To ask if I really want to eat that second half of the chocolate cake, and if I do, to eat it, and if I don’t, to save it for another day.

To live with a little less panic and worry. To live with a little more kindness and grace. To let go of some of the baggage.

Because I’m healing, but I imagine I will always be healing.

So maybe my resolution this year is to always get a shopping cart at the front of the store. It’s seems like a good idea to let grace carry some of the load.

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.

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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

fathering mothering PARENTING Teaching

Mother’s Day and Teacher Appreciation Week: The Most Unsexy Jobs of All

You can smell Jakari from eight feet away. The combination of unwashed clothes and hair, shoes that have seen an extra winter of wet and dry feet. As if that didn’t already put her in the shallow end of the popularity pool, she weighs in at least forty pounds above the average fifth grader.

There is something so incredibly unsexy about any profession that gets an appreciation week. Teacher appreciation week shows up at the same time each year as nurses week, and quite honestly, both professions boil down to dealing with other people’s feces, literally and physically. Is it any wonder that Mother’s Day is only five days away? The role of mother falls solidly in the “dealing with feces” category.

This week is full of small gestures of thanks. Cups filled with chocolate, vases filled with flowers, boxes filled with jewelry. My cynical self can start to wonder if these appreciation weeks and days are lip service, a compulsory nod, the thank you we throw over our shoulder at the cashier as we take our receipt. As if that could possibly match the contributions our mothers and teachers have made to our lives.

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This past two weeks my sweet little toddler has learned that he can have an opinion, and that it is most exciting when that opinion goes in direct opposition to mine. I can’t blame him. That’s his job, to figure out the boundary lines of mommy and baby, to test the limits of my patience, to experiment with the rules until he learns them all, and then to experiment some more to make sure I wasn’t kidding.

But last Sunday morning was tough. It started with screaming and didn’t stop for almost three hours until he collapsed asleep in a pile, just in time for us to pack him in a car to head to church. He woke up, of course, right when we walked into church fifteen minutes late (also of course). The sermon had started and I knew his dazed cuddling was a ticking clock, no way it would last. Sure enough, the angry fish flopping started as soon as I told him he couldn’t run around in the pew.

I took the elevator up to our church’s nursery, my son upset, again, because he didn’t get to push the “up” button. I pushed into that deep inner resolve, the one I channel when I need to stay calm in trying situations. And maybe there was a little bit of self-pity. You know, the “I deserve a break” or the “somebody should be helping me right now” feelings. The “I deserve a holiday to celebrate my massive contributions to my son and society” feelings.

And at that moment, right as the elevator doors chimed and opened, my son turned to me, put his tiny, perfect, chubby hands on my cheeks, grinned with his lovely twelve teeth and his tiny dimple, and said, “Mama.”

He spoke the words with the awe and wonder that I so often feel for him. This incredible realization that we are part of one another, that our lives are forever entwined with cords stronger than DNA; that we are sewn together with love.

I had surgery recently, and I was desperate for help during the recovery that the doctor had misled me to believe would only last a few days and has instead continued for six weeks. Within a few days of the surgery my mom caught wind that I was struggling, rearranged her schedule and drove down to spend a week caring for me, cleaning my house, cooking my meals, and most notably: waking up with my son to spend the mornings with him. (Is there any greater gift than this?)

I often turn to my husband, when my mom is at our house and caring for our every need, or when his parents have extended some truly incredible gift of generosity, and ask how we could ever repay our parents for all they have done for us. We are disgustingly fortunate to have such loving and supportive parents. And he often will say, “We can never repay them. We can only pay it forward.”

And that’s what I keep thinking as I watch Jakari’s teacher sit down next to her and teach her to read, inviting her after school, allowing her to keep her siblings in the room during homework help, since Jakari is their primary caretaker. Jakari is still so often ornery in class, still bullies other students, still talks back. And yet her teacher comes back each day with a deeper resolve to help Jakari learn to read and write. Could Jakari ever pay her back for this?

That’s what I think when my mom works tirelessly to make sure that I am healthy, being willing to exhaust herself so that I can rest. That’s what I think when she insists I go to bed instead of helping her do the dishes or wash stains from our clothing. Is the card we send her, with someone else’s words printed inside a joke?

Maybe Teacher Appreciation Week and Mother’s Day (and Nurse’s Week) help us to remember that there is no way that we can ever repay the people who have loved us, who have parented us, who have shown grace to us. No chocolates or flowers, stuffed animals or crayon-scribbled cards could ever repay the mothers, biological or otherwise, who have nurtured us.

But maybe those sentiments are a statement, a reminder that there is enough grace to go around, that we are all better when someone loves us more than we deserve, more than we could ever repay.

And maybe these appreciation weeks and days are a chance for us to turn around with awe in our eyes and acknowledge those people who have loved us well. Not because we can pay them back, but because their love has allowed us to pay it forward.

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261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

PARENTING

Winter is Coming

My maternal ancestors were homesteaders. They traveled across oceans and prairies, mountains and rivers, and settled in Canada, Northern Wisconsin, and ultimately North Dakota. Growing up, one of my favorite books was My Prairie Year, a picture book with pencil sketches that tells the true story of one year in the life of a girl growing up in the prairie: canning foods, hanging out the wash to dry, tying string from the house to the barn during a blizzard so the path wouldn’t be lost in the mountains of snow. You know, the usual.

my prairie year

To be totally honest, there is little to connect me to the life of a homesteader. I got excited last night because I managed to make a crockpot dinner, which I believe was delicious, with only five minutes of prep. I literally dumped items into the top, put in some thawed chicken thighs, and then picked up my screaming son, who was of the opinion that five minutes not in my arms was five minutes too long.

But I think about my homesteading great great grandparents, especially as the weather turns from crisp to frigid. I remember visiting my grandmother one Thanksgiving a decade ago. We had eaten too much, so I decided to go for a walk. My mom had talked about being young in North Dakota, the wind cutting through you like a knife, and a Minnesota native, I believed I knew what she meant. I didn’t. Bent at a forty five degree angle, pushing with all my power, I managed to walk to the edge of town, probably only due to the houses breaking up the wind. Once I hit the farm land, game over. I nearly had to crawl on hands and knees to get back to my grandma’s home.

I wonder what it was like to fear the coming of this intense cold, no houses to break up the wind? What was it like to watch the dying of all vegetation, hoping and praying you had planted enough tomatoes and onions to get through the whole of winter? Did we harvest enough? Did we preserve enough? Will we last until February? Will we see the first bud of the next spring?

I wonder, and I know. Because I ask the same questions myself this year. I have a Costco a mile from my house, and my survival needs are met, but it is this time of year that I wonder if I have stored enough to get me through the cold. It’s this time of year when the stark, bare trees and snow turned crusty and charcoal from car exhaust turns me thinking inward, wondering whether I’ve planted enough sunshine, goodness, and love to endure not weeks, but months of gray, gray, gray.

I could move. I suppose the homesteaders could have, too. There are places the sun never leaves, the plants always grow. But despite the fear of the shortening days, and the quieting of colors, I’ve also grown to anticipate this emptying. I’ve learned to prepare for it, maybe in the way of my great, great, great grandmothers, spending autumn soaking up the rich red and gold of the trees, eating freshly picked apples and tomatoes still warm from the sun, taking long walks in perfect sweatshirt weather with the desperation that only comes from knowing that the days are numbered and few.

And then, to quote Alice Walker, comes the time to live frugally on surprise.

frugally

It’s that time of year for me now. Today is gray, and I can’t remember the last time the sun peeked out. And as much as I’ve anticipated the emptying, when it happens all I want to do is spend my days curled in bed, hibernating for winter’s end. It’s the time of year when it seems certifiably insane that anyone ever stopped a covered wagon in this place and thought to themselves, “Here. This is far enough.”

And then, like discovering a shelf of forgotten canned produce, comes a surprise.

A kiss from my husband after a long day at work, the outstretched arms and sleepy grin from my son when I wake up in the morning. A compliment from a colleague, a phone call from a dear friend, the right song at the right time, a warm bath, a beautiful poem.

One such poem was sent to me by my father several months ago, and I pulled it out today, a jar of preserved tomatoes, and savored it’s words again, knowing that I needed the sustenance more today than I did in the summer when it was first sent.

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One Good Thing

It’s been a dead parade
of hours since 5 AM
a march of the bland
with the meaningless and
I can think of nothing
I have done to merit
mentioning or
remembering.

But now, at 8 pm,
I am bathing my son
in a tub filled with bubbles
and blue battleships,
the soapy water over
his Irish white skin
makes him glisten
like a glazed doughnut

and I should tell him
to stop splashing
but this is the first time
all day I have felt like living
so how can I scold
my boy who’s found joy
in something ordinary
as water? And when

I wash his hair
with Buzz Lightyear
shampoo, Liam
closes his eyes and
smiles like a puppy
being petted as I massage
the sweet lotion into
his red curls and I know

this is one good thing
I have done with my life
this day that has waited
for this moment
of water on my sleeve
and soap on my nose
to turn emptiness
into ecstasy.

…Edwin Romond

And that poem may not be enough to get me through all of winter. But it’s enough for today.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

Education PARENTING Teaching

You’re Doing It Right (At Least Some Of It)

The worst part of the first year of teaching is failing. Not failing once, or twice. No, failing hundreds of times, again and again.

Or at least, that’s my opinion.

Nothing I was doing was right. From the first day, not know how to respond when Tiara told me I had a nice ass, to the day before Christmas vacation when, in a moment of bonding I “walked it out” to Unk and Royal told me “I didn’t ever be needing to be doing that again,” I grasped desperately for each inch of progress, and mostly felt the rocks give way on my climb toward improvement.

Dramatic? Maybe. But that first year was dramatic.

I’m coaching new teachers and it is the week before school starts. Tensions are high, and the consensus amongst everyone is that everything is overwhelming. Some are masking it more than others, some are grasping at the progress like I did my first year, others have let go of the cliffside altogether and are bracing for the crash at the bottom.

This summer I had two months of professional development about how to be a coach. There was a lot to learn. One of the components we were taught was to view coaching from a “strengths-based approach”. Amongst the other “learnings” of the summer, that one seemed a little unnecessary. Why was it worth mentioning that we believe in celebrating strengths? Duh. I am familiar with the compliment sandwich: start with a positive, then say what you really want to say, end with a positive.

Truthfully, I’ve always preferred the “Atkins-diet approach”. Give it to me straight. Tell me how I’m failing. Rip off the bandaid and stop the sugar coating. Leave off the bread.

I know, don’t you wish I was your coach?

But the importance of “strength-based coaching” was been reiterated to me this week in my professional and private life.

While I’ve been busy meeting teachers and helping set up classrooms, my son has been busy learning how to walk. He isn’t there yet, but he’s gotten very creative in finding props to use as walkers so he can move around the room. His favorite is the coffee table.

He’s been pulling himself up onto furniture for awhile now, but the newest development is to pull himself up, rock slightly forward and backward, and then let go of the table. For increasingly longer increments of time he has started to stand and then either puts his hands back on the table or falls on his butt.

The first time this happened he had such an incredible look of concentration, which was immediately broken by my exclamation of “YOU’RE STANDING! YOU’RE STANDING!!!” Grabbing back onto me, he grinned, sat down, and started clapping for himself.

And that, my friends, is the strengths-based model. Seeing something someone is doing well, and naming it for them so they know to keep doing it.

That’s what I’ve been thinking about. How my idea of only thinking about the bad stuff so I can be better assumes that I know when I’m doing things well. And a lot of times I don’t. A lot of times I feel like there’s nothing but bad stuff. A lot of times I’m afraid to believe in the good stuff, because it makes me vulnerable to disappointment when something happens that shatters the image or calls my confidence into question.

When I watch my son let go of his grip and stand there proudly on his own, my first thought isn’t, “Well, there you go again, not able to stand up.” My first thought is jubilation. My first thought is fondness and pride and love. The same fondness and pride and love that I deny myself, because I’m so busy tearing myself down.

compliment sandwich

What if instead I was willing to eat the bread? Instead of ignoring my husband when he says I’m beautiful, what if I let his opinion sink in, let his vote actually count? Lately I’ve been running an election and it hasn’t been a democracy. What if instead of barely listening to the good stuff from my boss because I’m so busy bracing myself for all the mistakes, I allowed myself to consider how those good things happened and take some time to think through how to continue to make them happen. What if I took a deep breath and said, “YOU’RE STANDING!” I’m still a beginner at this coaching and parenting thing, and sometimes standing is it’s own miracle.

As cynical as I am about the compliment sandwich and the strengths-based approach, is it worse than my inner critic?

As I walk through the halls of the school next Tuesday, I have no idea what I will see. I imagine it possible that more than one of my teachers will, like I did my first day, look at the clock at 10:00am and realize they are in for one of the longest, worst rides of their lives. Regardless, I want to be the person who can see the good in what they are doing it, name it, and encourage them to continue on (possibly after having a good cry and a glass of wine).

And then, when I come home, I want to think back on the day and not just cringe at the bad stuff, but smile at the good stuff, too. And then maybe I’ll have some wine, or maybe a sandwich, including the bread.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

P.S. The sandwich in the picture is from Little Goat restaurant here in Chicago, and was (I’m ashamed to admit) the picture I took to brag about my meal on Facebook. Regardless your feelings of this post or compliment sandwiches, let me highly recommend this pulled pork sandwich of deliciousness.

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