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mindfulness

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

fathering mothering PARENTING

My Mental Breakdown in the Middle of A Target Store

I am losing my mind. Little by little.

This past month my son has been sick. It hasn’t been a major sick, it’s been a cough that wakes him up three to four times a night sick. Roughly translated, that is a “wake your parents up three to four times a night” kind of sick.

For a month.

Add to this fact that the weekends have been filled with mandatory professional developments on Saturdays.

I’m feeling a little panicky even talking about it.

My husband said recently that a baby’s REM cycle is 45 minutes. On nights when I am too exhausted to sit in a chair and rock my baby back to sleep and place him in his crib, opting instead to bring him into the bed with my husband and me, I imagine I’m waking up about every 45 minutes.

I am showering a lot less than I used to. Back to the sloppy ponytail. My brain feels like someone has replaced the gray matter with Styrofoam. As a friend of mine said, her own children grown and this stage of mothering far behind her, “This level of sleep deprivation is outlawed by the Geneva convention.”

And yet here I am.

But this happens, right? Those days when the most basic needs seem to be too much work, so they are stripped to only the most basic of the basic needs.

It became clear that my sore throat on Monday, coupled with the delirium, mandated a day away from work, a day for rest. Except, after tossing and turning for over an hour, sleep was not available to me. So I did what every other person losing his or her sanity does.

I went shopping at Target.

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I had no illusions about my intentions at the Target. I was there to SHOP. I grabbed the cart, not the basket, and started making my way methodically though the entire store, letting my cart push me more than the other way around.

To be fair, this was a trip that had been needed for some time, but because I could not be bothered to write down the many items needed in our home, like outlet covers to keep our toddler son from electrocuting himself, it became necessary to walk through every single aisle just to make sure I wasn’t forgetting anything.

Or that’s what I told myself.

Among my purchased items: a loofah, cream of mushroom soup, a sippy cup, a suspension shower rack, 2 picture frames, outlet covers, 2 bins to fit inside our IKEA bookshelf, and gum. I also scheduled an eye appointment, since apparently Targets are now small countries with infrastructure and eye clinics. I almost scheduled to get a strep culture to see about my sore throat, but I have an HMO and wasn’t willing to pay $90 out of pocket.

Oh, and I bought a candle.

It was actually the purchase of this candle that put me over the edge.

There I was, standing in the candle aisle at Target. You know the one. It makes you remember all the yoga and meditation that you should be doing to live a more mindful and healthy life. It’s the one that makes you feel like maybe if you just lit a few more of these beautiful candles in your home, a fung shei fairy would appear and magically transform your house from what it is into a Zen garden with straight lines and empty space.

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The candle I picked up had a big red label that said, “BE JOYFUL!” in tall font. I smelled it. The combination of peppermint and sage transported me to the moments of sitting in our living room in Minnesota, unwrapping the Christmas decorations one by one. It reminded me of my dad’s collection of nativity scenes, many with candles whose heat causes the whole scene to spin and spin. It reminded me of Christmases when money was too tight for a tree, and then the doorbell rang and a tree was sitting, like magic, on our front porch.

The tears came immediately. Because I desperately wanted to hug my dad. And because those precious moments, like the ones with my family at Christmas, are so perfect and beautiful, tight with love and light. I cried because I wanted that candle to transport me to my family, to Christmas, to sleep. I cried because I knew that it may take a few months, but Christmas will come again.

I cried because sometimes just the thought that Christmas will come again can make the sleep deprived moments when I am a lunatic crying in a Target seem a little less lonely, a little less frantic, a little, well, less.

And, I cried because I was tired.

My mom promises me that one day I will wake up and I won’t feel tired anymore. I’m holding onto that promise for dear life. That promise, like Christmas, helps me keep getting up, keep doing the basics of basic, even after the days when the tears flow in the middle of a suburban Target store.

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I took the “Be Joyful” candle home. It has not transformed my living room. But smelling it is a good reminder that this moment is fleeting, and there can be pockets of joy even in the midst of losing my mind.

henri nouwen

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

PARENTING

Facebook is Ruining My Life

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I’m getting a new phone on Saturday. My iPhone 4S (yes, people still have those) has been slowly dying. First, my son ate the Otterbox Defender case. When I went to try to replace the case at Verizon I was told that they no longer keep the 4S cases on the floor. After convincing the salesclerk to go into the back and retrieve the box of unwanted iPhone 4S cases I decided it might not be worth $60 to buy a case for a phone that doesn’t even warrant display in a Verizon store. (This made the salesclerk’s day.)

So my phone has been naked for the past several months, and during that time I have dropped it approximately three hundred fifty seven times, and my son has chewed on it more times than that. Only one speaker works, it shuts off completely at random intervals, the battery runs out after twenty minutes, and the screen has a small crack in the corner.

Still, all in all, I’m pretty impressed with this small piece of technological wonder, and its ability to defy all odds and power on with 95% reliability.

However the newest development has caused me to bite the bullet and purchase a new phone. Why? Well, my phone no longer opens any programs except phone, chat, and music. While it technically opens Safari, it only provides a 3G network. According to the Verizon representative I talked to, that’s the equivalent of dial-up. So basically, my phone has the computing ability of my 2007 Motorola Razr.

This development has meant that none of the apps I have downloaded will load. The phone crashes when I try to look at Facebook, for example. Just an example.

Well, technically, it’s THE example. Because I look at Facebook a lot. A LOT. And not being able to access Facebook on my phone for the past week has shed some light on the depth of my addiction.

My average day, it turns out, generally starts by turning off the alarm on my phone, and immediately checking to see if I have a red number hovering over the blue f on my phone’s home screen.

But it doesn’t stop there. Oh no. When stuck in traffic, car at a stop, I find myself reaching for my phone. Yes. Please shame me for this, because it is terrible.

Then there are the moments throughout the day, those moments when there is even a tiny little pause. It’s those moments when I get the sensation that I am forgetting something, that there is something I am meaning to do. Then it hits me. Facebook. I should be checking Facebook.

The evening continues with much the same. Facebook is a constant fixture in my life. I’ve checked Facebook four times already while writing this post.
But seriously, does that even matter? I can’t possibly be checking Facebook any more than anyone else. How many times have you checked Facebook today?

But not having Facebook has forced me to spend my time differently. I’ve been sending longish emails to some of my friends. I’ve been tracking what I eat into My Fitness Pal. I talked to my coworkers at lunch today. I ordered reeds for my clarinet so I can start practicing again. I’ve been reading books.

And then when I do get on Facebook, generally at night after my son is asleep, I notice that there are 12 notifications and I quickly browse through them to see if there are any I even care about. And the answer is that I mostly don’t.

But I sure do like that red number. Especially when it is such a high number after a long day away from the page. But there’s a lot I don’t like.

I don’t like that Facebook is controlling so much of my life. I don’t like waiting for my Facebook to load, hoping that someone somewhere has noticed something I’ve said or done, and feeling badly when the red number doesn’t appear.

I don’t like that I’m the person who looks at other people’s kids and thinks about whether they are as cute as my own. Obviously none of them are. Except for that one. And that makes me angry.

I don’t like the news stories that leave me hopeless.

I don’t like looking at pictures of my friends with kids and hoping to see that they, too, still wear their baby weight.

I don’t like hating the posts from my family members who disagree with me politically. I don’t like how self-righteous I become, justifying how balanced and fair I am because I get angry with people on both sides of every issue.

I don’t like the jealousy when I see someone has bought a house, or published a book, or discovered the secrets to the universe while I fumble along learning a new job.

I’m tired of the compare game, because I always lose. And even when I win, I still lose.

For the record, I have checked Facebook two more times while writing that last part.

So maybe, as much as I don’t like those things, I can’t help myself.

Wouldn’t it be great if I could end this post by telling you that I am quitting Facebook? Wouldn’t it be a fantastic declaration of mindfulness and balance, rising above it all by quitting the comparison game? Wouldn’t I be so incredible?

Well, I’m not quitting Facebook. I love the updates from family and friends. It’s still my primary source of news, local and abroad. It’s still where I look to find the funniest memes.

It is, after all, a pretty incredible means to keep in touch with my family, spread between three continents. And I do actually enjoy seeing my friends’ babies, even the ones that aren’t as cute as my son. Especially the ones that aren’t as cute as my son.

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And I like being liked. In the Facebook sense and the real world sense of the word.

So there are no declarations of quitting Facebook to end this post. But maybe when I pick out my phone on Saturday I will think twice before downloading my Facebook app.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

Education mothering PARENTING Teaching

I’ve Had Enough of the News.

I’m over it.

In case you aren’t keeping track, it’s been a tough month for women. Over 270 girls were kidnapped from Nigeria, an Iranian actress faces prosecution for kissing the 83 year old head of the Cannes Film Festival on the cheek, a Sudanese woman is facing the death penalty and 100 lashes for converting to Christianity, the shooting rampage of a man angry for being rejected by his female peers has left seven dead and many injured, and the death of Maya Angelou has taken away a great feminist, poet, and teacher. There’s a reason why I hate reading the news.

Meanwhile, back in my two foot square of influence in Chicago, while standing in line to buy my comfort food, purchased at least in part because I have absolutely no idea how to process and deal with the bombardment of bad news in the media lately, I noticed that US Weekly has chosen this week to publish “The Body Issue: Heidi Klum and 100 Sexy Stars Strip Down and Show Off.”

There just aren’t words.

Yesterday my students helped me label and sort books in my classroom which, over the weekend, became the book room of our school. I’m up to my eyeballs in boxes of books with more than a little work cut out for me.

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I let my students pick the songs we listened to, until one of my students said she wanted to listen to “Dark Horse” by Katy Perry and Juicy J. I said I didn’t like that song. She of course wanted to know why, so I said, “I don’t like the rap. You know the part where it says, ‘She’ll eat your heart out, like Jeffrey Dahmer”?” And then I explained who Jeffrey Dahmer was, and why that line is particularly twisted.

They didn’t really feel like finishing their breakfast after that.

It reminded me of a small moment; a conversation I had with my friend Amber. My husband and I were deciding if we were ready to have a baby and I was pretty sure it was hinging on how well we were prepared to do the whole “sex talk” thing. (I have really weird ideas about what it means to be a parent, hang with me here.) Since Amber is a mom I respect, I asked her how she broaches such important topics with her children and she said, “The same way we deal with every other issue. We talk about it, we’re honest about it, and we answer the question that is asked.”

Basically, they talk to their kids, listen to their stories, and share their own. It seems so simple, and yet…

When my student found out about the lyrics of “Dark Horse” her first comment was, “I have GOT to tell Lana about this. That’s her favorite song. She knows all the words. And she don’t even know what she’s rapping.” Then the three of us had a long conversation about being afraid of people like Jeffrey Dahmer, the shooting in California, and what it feels like to be women. And it wasn’t just my stories, it was their stories, too.

It’s kind of amazing what happens when you answer the question that is asked.

Mary Oliver says that the instructions for living a life are: “Pay attention, be astonished, tell about it.”

I find that when I’m overwhelmed with the news, it’s often because of what I’m paying attention to.

It’s been a rough month for women. But that’s not the only story.

There are women sharing their #YesAllWomen stories. There are post cards being sent to politicians saying “Not One More”, we’ve had enough of the killing. Neko Case is challenging people’s ideas of what it means to be a musician who also happens to be a woman. And my fourth grade helper is telling her friends why its important to understand the lyrics of the songs they listen to.

It’s not everything, but it’s something.

I’m over it. But it isn’t over. It’s been a tough month for women, but we keep marching along, and “still we rise.” We have to.

And so I keep paying attention, I keep telling my stories, and I try not to forget to let the good ones astonish me as much as the bad.

MaryOliver_LIFE

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

Assessment Education fathering mothering PARENTING Teaching Tuesday Teaching Tip

De-Stress THE TEST!

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So, the time for standardized testing has nearly arrived.  Kids across the country will soon spend hours carefully filling in bubbles with #2 pencils, or writing essays in response to a specific prompt, or writing out a specific explanation of the steps and calculations used to solve a math problem. Despite all the teaching and learning that took place in the days before, together with the constant and sometimes frantic test prep, this is a stressful time for families of students and teachers, for teachers and, primarily, for students.

This week’s teaching tip focuses on ways to de-stress the classroom and keep students motivated.  It also includes some ideas to help families and kids handle the stress of testing days.

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Helping the Classroom Community “Chill”

The kids know the test is important – to them, to their teachers, and to their school.  They’ve been working steadily and often by the first day of testing, they are apprehensive and anxious.  And for good reason:  everyone has been telling them (for months!) that they MUST “do their best on the test.”  A good dose of adrenalin might help kids focus, but true worry and fear can block the ability to think clearly and rationally.

There’s nothing like having a kid enter the classroom and vomit all over her desk because of nervous agitation.  Not an auspicious start to bubbling in the circles for anyone in that classroom.

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Here is a list of ideas to help your students keep it together so that they can deal with the unavoidable stress of high-stakes testing:

The Power of Positive Thinking:  Students, no matter where they fall in terms of quartiles, should believe in their ability to perform on the test. Teachers, you’ve prepared your students.  Parents, you’ve helped your kids with homework all year.  The week before the test, it is time to talk about the worry and then throw it out the window.  Let them know you believe in them and their ability.  Remind them that you’ve been working to reach this point all year – there is nothing to worry about. And remind them, it’s about the learning.  Period.  Tests tell us what we know, what we don’t know and what we still need to learn.  That’s it.

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Empowering Pre-Test Activities:  Our students are so resourceful and so darn clever.  To empower them, which in turn will help them manage their stress levels, two days before testing give them a fun task to create in collaborative groups.  There is so much “shhhh” on test days – let them use this pre-test time to engage and talk together while working.  Some ideas of collaborative projects which can be adapted easily to your classroom or school needs:

  • Create a video: Students can rewrite the lyrics of a popular, upbeat song and then record themselves performing it. Some schools have gone so far as making a school-wide video: Test Taker Face  and Hunger Games: Testing Version.  Post on your school’s website.
  • Share test-taking strategies with a partner classroom:  Partner with a teacher of a different grade and have the older students mentor the younger students on test taking strategies and advice.  Empowers all ages and builds school community.
  • Poetry and Posters:  Students could partner or work in small groups to create poetry about testing and then publishing the work in a poster to be displayed on a school bulletin board.
  • School-wide Pep Rally: Watch your video(s) at the school-wide rally where kids have a poetry jam using the poetry they’ve written or give motivational speeches on rocking the test and the principal tells all students that he/she knows they all will do well.  Not too preachy – just fun.
  • Mindfulness Practice:  Work  together as a classroom community on breathing exercises and even some guided meditation a couple of days beforehand and then on the day of the test to help students be centered and focused.  Here’s a link to a blog called “Kid’s Relaxation” with short guided meditation scripts free of charge.

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The Powerful Parent Connection Enlist your parents – they want to help.  A couple of months before testing, after being besieged by moms and dads who wanted to know how to get their children ready for the test, we sent home this letter: Parent Test Prep Letter.  It gave them some ideas for supporting kids during the months  prior to the test.  A couple of days before the test, send your parents a letter reminding them of the testing window, encouraging them to get their kids to bed early (importance of a good night’s rest), stating the need for a good breakfast (but not too heavy), and stressing the importance of arriving at school on time.

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Test Day Decompressors:  Here is a list of some potential supports for the days you actually test:

  • Distribute sport-sized water bottles and mints to each student to have on hand during the test (peppermint may stimulate brain activity).  
  • Some classrooms may respond to tapes of ocean waves or other natural sounds (I would avoid running water as that might increase trips to the bathroom).  
  • Use Guided Meditation, Breathing and Stretching Exercises (see above and our prior post on yoga in the classroom)worry stones
  • Present Worry Stones: I used worry stones in my classroom and would distribute them to my students prior to the start of the test as part of a mindfulness routine and to help ease the tension in the room.  I would use smooth stones or jewels from the dollar store or target and wrap them with a card that had a worry stone saying on one side and an encouraging personal note to each student on the other.  You can also make your own stones using clay as shown here.  Here’s a template of the poem I used: Worry Stone Poem.  I explained that if you hold a worry stone between  the index finger and thumb, rubbing them is believed to lessen one’s worries.  This action is a stim which usually creates feelings of calmness, reduces stress levels and encourages focus during testing.  My students loved the ritual around the worry stones (I solemnly passed them out to each student the first day of testing) and some of the younger kids who came into my class the following year asked for them prior to testing. Here’s a great read-aloud to use prior to testing:worry stone
  • Have on hand Relaxing stuff to do after the test but before everyone else is finished:  Coloring sheets (Mandalas), crossword puzzles, word searches, and glyphs are great options.  Materials should be organized and handy so that there is minimal movement in the classroom while other kids are finishing up testing.  I found that these activities were soothing and calming, especially coloring!
  • Don’t forget the SNACKS/TREATS as a pre-test AND post-test incentive!  Take a look at these really cute ideas for testing treats and explore Pinterest for others.  Here are photos of a couple of other ideas: 
      test day incentive2Test day incentive

A Final Note to Familes and Friends of Teachers:  Testing days are stressful for students and for teachers.  It might be a good time to nurture the teacher in your life:  Bring over a casserole, a $5 Starbucks card, walk the dog or write an inspiring note.  I had a dear friend who made me an inspirational quote a day countdown where I flipped through a stack of cheerful notecards with thoughtful sayings each day.  You can bring over a great book to read (a page turner, nothing to do with teaching) or offer to walk with him or her after school as they decompress and listen as they process their day.  Grab a movie from Redbox and drop it off with some microwave popcorn.   Or better yet, treat your favorite teacher to a yoga class!

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De-stress and Namaste.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_n - Version 2Karen

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