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friendship

friendship PARENTING

Sometimes I don’t want to be your friend

True confessions: Facebook rants fascinate me. Like, I definitely get why they are problematic, but sometimes I just want to pull out the popcorn and read some comments. Kardashians step aside, my friends have your drama BEAT!

So a few months ago I was joyfully scrolling when I landed on a rant from one of my FB friends. I’m not close enough with him that I knew the context of his frustrations, only that he was annoyed with his friends for exclusionary behavior.

Here was his comment:

ross

And ever since, I’ve had a hard time getting his words out of my head. “You should never make anyone work hard to be your friend.”

Being a parent is a pretty great free pass. A get out of jail card I’ve used endlessly. For example, I haven’t been on time to anything in the past two years. When I give you an ETA, it’s really more of a window, a casual suggestion.

It also works really well as an excuse why I can’t participate in activities and events. For good or bad, a sick kid is the perfect answer to how to avoid the social event I’ve been dreading.

In addition, since I have been sick over the last year, I have had an even better excuse. I am a sick mom of a toddler boy (and I work full time). Sometimes I want to just tattoo that sentence to my forehead by way of explanation.

tattoo on forehead

And it gets really easy to operate out of this sense of scarcity. Because I truly don’t have a lot of free time. And saying yes to one thing usually means saying no to something else and if I’m not careful I can over commit and the whole assembly line shuts down completely.

Not to mention that right now it is tax season and my husband is a tax accountant, so we’re busy.

Which is why when my husband and I got an email recently from the pastor at our church, asking if anyone in the church would be willing to make treats for the time between our two church services, I deleted it.

But over dinner that night my husband said he was thinking we should sign up to bring brownies. So I said, “Why, we already do a lot for church. Let someone who isn’t doing anything sign up.”

My husband baked brownies anyway, and I was grumpy about it all weekend.

brownies

(Though maybe a little less grumpy once I actually got to eat the brownies.)

But it gives me pause. Because I think there are seasons of scarcity. But I can’t help but look around, at the incredible life I have full of friends and community, and see not scarcity, but abundance.

And I wonder if maybe, just maybe, there are times when I keep everyone around me at the fringe and margin of my life because, well, it’s just easier. I wonder if there are times when I hold all that abundance closely to myself, hoping that none of it gets away.

I wonder if there are times when I make it hard for people to be my friend.

So I’ve been reflecting on what it looks like to say yes. To live with a little less fear. To trust there is going to be enough for me, even if I share a little with my neighbor. To take a moment to stop dwelling on my own forehead tattoo, and glance up to read the tattoos of the people around me.

To bake a few extra brownies, just in case.

A few weeks ago I met a woman at the library. She was there with her husband and two sons. While watching our boys play together at the train table, with occasional commiseration about the typical mom challenges, she asked if I knew of anyone who was a good babysitter. I asked if she knew about the local mom group in the area. I found out that she didn’t, that in fact, she just moved to the United States six months ago and is still learning the ins and outs of our shared neighborhood.

And I almost left it right there.

But before scooting out of the room to chase my son, we exchanged numbers.

When I got home later that night, I sent a text:

text for blog

 

 

 

 

I’m not sure if the playdate is going to happen. And there’s still a part of me that worries I don’t have time for another friend, or that saying yes to her would mean saying no to someone else.

And I think that’s probably true.

But then again, why not? It would be a good excuse to bake some more brownies.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

fathering mothering PARENTING

Will You Be My Friend?

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It’s been a long last couple months. It started when my son projectile vomited all over me at my husband’s thirty-first birthday dinner. His parents took us to one of our favorite Italian restaurants to celebrate. We had just finished the first course of the chef’s tasting menu when my son reached for me, nestled his head into my shoulder, then pulled back to look me straight in the face. It was a sweet moment. Then he threw up for what seemed like hours onto the entire front of my body until I was sufficiently soaked in his vomit. The waiter came by moments later with our next course. I wasn’t hungry. (Though I did manage to finish my martini.)

The sicknesses passed from one to another of us over the next six weeks, culminating in a trip to the ER and the determination that my son will no longer be receiving drugs in the penicillin family.

People have been asking me how my “holidays” went, and I either say fine, or say way too much, their eyes glazing over thirty seconds into my ER story.

Let’s just say, in the words of Counting Crow’s Adam Duritz, “A long December, and there’s reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last…”

So I hadn’t been feeling my best self. For awhile. In fact, that night when we decided to take our son to the ER, as I pulled my son’s pants off to change his diaper and saw a full body rash and swollen limbs hot to the touch, my exact and immediate response fell solidly into the expletive category. Well, expletives and tears. Which would probably be my band name if I ever formed a band.

What followed was a night of holding my screaming, beautiful baby boy while he was stuck with needles and having thermometers shoved into his rear end (there has GOT to be a better way to take a temperature, accuracy or not), while trying to interpret the doctor’s well-meaning but overly technical jargon at one in the morning. (Is it that hard to say fever instead of febrile? Seriously?) It all left me a little bit crusty. Or crustier.

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We had emailed friends to tell them about our ER experience and ask them to pray, and so many friends emailed back and told us they were thinking of us and praying for us. Most of the emails ended with, “Let us know if we can do anything to help.”

I was touched by the immediate email responses from our friends, reading them each to my husband. And then Crusty piped in with her thoughts. “Really? What can you do to help? Come hold our kid for a few hours so we can get some sleep!”

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Without missing a beat my husband (who loves both Rachel and Crusty) replied, “I bet there at least five people who would be willing to come over right now and do that if we asked.”

I didn’t ask.

But he was right. There are at least that many friends who would make time to help us, even at an inconvenience to themselves. So why is it so hard to ask?

My husband I met at church, and got to know one another through a church small group called Faith For Life, where we discussed the Rule of Saint Benedict, hospitality, and spiritual disciplines. I know, words like disciplines are so unbelievably not fun. It reminds me of spankings, dread, and not being able to eat chocolate.

However, one of the disciplines we discussed was asking for help. And we agreed to ask one another for help at least once a week for that summer, to practice what it was like to admit that maybe, just maybe, we can’t do it all on our own. Sometimes we have to reach out for the hand of a friend.

My one attempt to ask for help that summer was to call my husband for directions. This was before Siri could do that for me.

So it turns out that I am really really not good at asking for help. Like really, really not good. And it also turns out that being a parent has made the moments when I need help cluster together like grapes on a vine. (Which is obviously a coincidence and has absolutely nothing to do with life handing me the lessons I need to learn.)

It’s just so hard to be the needy one. It’s hard to be the one who has to ask, who has to kneel. It’s hard to admit that I DO care what people think, that I care deeply if my friends love me. My friends and I joke about “The Friendship Bank”, and I desperately want to be the one with the most money in the bank, and I’m always afraid I’m instead the one making the most withdrawals.

But I also think my fear of those things keeps me from the intimacy and friendship I might have if I was willing to stop keeping score, willing to reach out a little more often, even if all I have is a wrapped present full of my need.

Last Sunday some couples from my church got together, and shortly before leaving I turned to two of my favorite friends, looked them in the eyes and said, “It’s been a hard couple months and I have been avoiding everyone. And I really need connection and my friends. Will you two pursue me?”

They laughed, because who says that?

But they said yes. And last Tuesday we went out to have sushi. And they told me that if I had called them, they would have come to hold our son while we napped.

I’ve had a wonderful few days since then. Which I think is probably related.

So don’t be surprised if your phone rings sometime soon. It might just be Crusty asking for some help.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

Education friendship Teaching

The Many Shades of Appreciation

100_0212(Student Self Portraits)

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week. It’s the week when teachers get catered lunch and are brought balloons and homemade cards by their students. The week rife with platitudes like: “I touch the future, I teach.” And, “I teach, what’s your superpower?”

It’s not that I dislike those phrases or want to take away from the hard work we do everyday, but it’s just those phrases don’t really capture the day to day monotony and ordinary-ness that it is to be a teacher. Most days I am much less aware of my permanent impact on the future, and much more aware of how my teacher training did very little in the way of preparing me for how to handle a student who leaves the room Jerry Maguire style, pointing at each of us in the room and calling, “You’re a butt cheek, and you’re a butt cheek, and you’re a butt cheek.”

Or reflecting on how I never really figured out the right response on my first day of teaching to my seventh grade student, who looked me up and down at 2:45pm when school was finally dismissing (after an excruciating six hours)  and said, “Nice ass.”

And I’m not really thinking about my “superpower” when I am screaming at my students because the fifth stupid pencil sharpener has fallen to the floor, scattering dusty lead and wood chip shavings all over the floor, and five boys have rushed the broom in an effort to be helpful and are now arguing over who is the sweeper for the week. The answer is almost always none of them.

What I do as a teacher definitely matters. But I don’t generally get to see the impact of what I do.

However, there’s a very good chance that this will be my last year in the classroom, at least for awhile, and those sorts of monumental changes and decisions leave me reflective, ruminating on what has been and thoughtful about my legacy. These sorts of goodbyes have a way of crystalizing moments as they happen, recognizing that they may be the last of their kind.

Which is how I felt the moment on Wednesday when Lenaeya walked into my room before school and asked if she could tell me something she hadn’t told anyone.

I closed my computer, looked her in the eye, and said, “Of course. What’s going on, Lenaeya?”

“My dad is in jail. He just got sent to jail.” Her eyes were sad, vulnerability evident in her voice.

I asked her what happened, what details she knew. She didn’t know much. Just that her summer plans to stay with her father had been cancelled. After only five minutes of talking she was already late for class. (Schedules do tend to get in the way of the important things in life.) So I asked her if she wanted to have lunch with me so she could talk more and also write her dad a letter.

At lunch I pulled out the notecards I keep handy for emergencies such as this one and took out the special inky pens I keep sacred and hidden and let her write her feelings and thoughts for her dad. I found myself thoroughly enjoying my shared lunch with my ten year old friend, fully engaged in her concerns about her father, her classmates, her friendships. I helped her spell the words she didn’t know and we sealed the envelope with the message for her dad.

Two days later Lanaeya and I were sitting in my classroom again when Alex, my favorite kindergarten student, flung open the door, breakfast in hand, tear-streaks on his face, wailing at the top of his lungs. We both turned to him as he crossed the room and flung himself into my arms. I asked him what was wrong and he just shook his head. Meanwhile Lanaeya, ever ready in crisis, left to the bathroom to get him some tissue.

While Lanaeya was gone, Alex stood crying. I was finishing some paperwork I needed to get done when he sobbed, “My dad is going back to jail!” The pain in my eyes must have been evident because when I closed my computer (which seems to always be open) and turned to him to say I was sorry, he broke down all over again. While helping him dry his face with the tissues Lanaeya had brought back, I mentioned that he didn’t have to talk to her, but he might want to share what he was going through with Lanaeya because she had been dealing with similar things.

At first he shook his head no, but then stopped and said quietly, “My dad is going to jail.”

Without missing a beat, Lanaeya said, “My dad is in jail, too. Here Alex, do you want to write him a letter? That’s what I do when I’m feeling sad.” Then she took out some extra note cards from our lunch and wrote while he dictated a letter to his father. They talked together about what it felt like to have a father in jail. And I became completely unnecessary, getting out of their way, as a good teacher does.

And that’s the thing about teaching. Most days are just days, like every other. But then the platitude becomes real, the hackneyed phrase shows up in your classroom in the form of a girl extending kindness to a young boy. Every once in awhile a lesson sticks. And if you’re lucky, it’s an important one. And if you’re really lucky, it happens enough to keep you teaching even when the air conditioner is broken in your classroom and the sewage system has backed up, necessitating bag lunches for a week. (Yes, these things have actually happened.)

After Alex finished making his card for his father, I said, “I know this is a really hard time, Alex, but sometimes it helps me to know that even when I’m going through hard times I am not alone.”

“Yeah, like I have my brother and my mom,” Alex agreed.

“And you have Lanaeya and me,” I added.

“Are you my friend, Lanaeya?” Alex asked, turning shyly to her.

“Yes, Alex, I’m your friend,” she said. She grabbed his hand and walked him back to class.

Being witness to these moments doesn’t make me a superhero. But these moments are what I love most about teaching, what I will miss most when I leave.

And maybe sometimes I do have the privilege to touch the future.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

fathering friendship mothering PARENTING

February is the End of the World

end-of-the-world

Every February my heart sings the blues. I prepare for this, I anticipate this, I expect this. But no amount of sitting in front of my sun lamp seems to alleviate the doldrums of February. Graph my attitude, productivity, effort, and attendance, and you will see a rapid and steady decline from February 1st through February 28th (or 29th, on the particularly spiteful years).

It is my firm belief that no major life decision should be made in February. For example, chopping off eight inches of hair. That was not a good life decision for me.

And not only that, but relationships are HARD in February. Maybe I’m the only one, but plotting a vacation to get away from it all has crossed my mind only like one hundred times per hour.

Dar William pretty much sums it up in her song, “February”:
First we forgot where we’d planted those bulbs last year
And then we forgot that we’d planted it all
Then we forgot what plants are altogether
And I blamed you for my freezing and forgetting
And the nights were long and cold and scary, can we live through February?

It’s not my dear husband’s fault that it’s February. He didn’t tell the sun to sleep for days on end. Or at least, I don’t think he did. But sometimes it’s so hard to keep from being resentful of whoever is nearest, and in the hibernation of February this is often family.

What is a person to do?

It’s about this time every year that we plan an End of the World Party.

Starting the first year out of college, a dear friend and I decided that if you can’t beat it, you may as well join it. Or maybe there was a televangelist convinced that the end was drawing near. Or maybe we just wanted an excuse to view and mock “The Day After Tomorrow”. Whatever the seed idea, it has grown into a much needed day of celebrating the fact that, sure we may feel that the world is ending, but at least we have one another.

Mostly we eat really yummy food (a “last meal” of sort) and drink wine and tell stories, and laugh and cry, and provide some rays of sunshine in what otherwise can be a really lousy month. Sometimes we play games. And there were several years in a row in which we watched the most recent apocalyptic movie, though “2012” may have done us in on that, since it was so bad, we actually kind of thought it might be the end of the world.

The point, of course, is to remind ourselves that there are other people that are also slogging through, hanging onto the hope that spring will indeed come again, the thaw will bring flowers, and the sun will start to grace us for longer and longer stretches each day.

It’s the end of February, so I am hopeful for spring. But it isn’t too late to grab some champagne with a buddy. After all, a friend reminded me recently that March is the month in which the snow just gets browner. At least we can laugh (or cry) about that with our friends.

After all, what else is there to do?
If this were the last night of the world
What would I do?
What would I do that was different
Unless it was champagne with you?
-Bruce Cockburn

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

P.S. If you need more ideas of how to get through the wintery months, check out Managing the February Blues.

Book Review READING Teaching

Book Review: Wallace’s Lists by Barbara Bottner and Gerald Kruglik

wallaceslist

Every so often you stumble upon a book that so moves you, you can’t stop thinking about it, telling people about it, and reading it over and over again. Wallace’s Lists is that book.

Wallace is a lovable, extremely rule-bound character. Each day he makes lists, and only allows himself to do what is on his list. This is safe and comfortable for Wallace, until Albert moves in next door.

Albert is the curve to Wallace’s line. He is the artistic, free-spirited neighbor who confuses and intrigues Wallace. As quickly as Wallace can update his lists to accommodate Albert’s ideas, Albert develops new ideas. Albert loves changing his mind. “Changing my mind is an adventure,” he explains. But Wallace does not like adventure.

Wallace is faced with a dilemma. Stick with his familiar lists, or risk going “off-list” to continue his friendship with Albert.

This book speaks to me. I find myself cheering for Wallace, willing him to be brave, all the while deeply understanding the fear-scape of “what ifs” he imagines while falling asleep at night. When faced with my own fears, I too question adventure.

But ultimately, it is a story of friendship, and the ways that friends allow and even compel us to be brave, to do more and become more than we would on our own.

The book is an excellent way of teaching internal conflict, bravery, and friendship. Plus, there’s a lot of inferred humor.  Not surprisingly, this book is never available in our classroom library, but is passed like contraband under the desks from student to student.

The illustrations in this book are wonderful (done by Olof Landstrom). When I’ve read it aloud to my students, they often make me stop and let them get closer to the illustrations.

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I would recommend this book for all ages, and believe that the older you are, the more you will appreciate it.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_n-Rachel

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