Jenga Community

You take a block from the bottom and you put it on top. You take a block from the middle and you put it on top.

It teeters and it totters.

It weebles and it wobbles, but you don’t give up.

In September my teaching partner and I opened up a new pack of Jenga. Not literally, of course, but humour me. We opened up the box and there were twenty-eight fresh new blocks. Each one had a name and a story. They looked similar, but once you looked closer you could see the lines and grains that made each piece unique.

Gradually, over the days, weeks, and months, we created a tower together. Other pieces played pivotal roles: our fairy godmothers who brought us apples to feed hungry learners, guest teachers who taught us problem-solving and teamwork, community officers who cared enough to teach us about safety concerns. Steadily and quietly a Music teacher, a French teacher, the Special Education team and school administration came alongside and with care and intentionality created a strong foundation. Cheering and encouraging us in the background were yard duty teachers, support staff, and parents.

A few times our tower teetered. It tottered. It even toppled. But each time we picked up the pieces and rebuilt our tower. We created something special: a classroom community.

Some students joined and some left. We kept their pieces because they are part of who we are. They were part of the creating process and therefore part of us.

Over time the pieces shifted and repositioned as friendships faded and new ones developed. We faced loss and heartache more than once. We learned to be resilient and that it is okay to cry.  Happy and sad feelings can co-exist.

Our Jenga class learned that failure is part of growing. When we attempt to do hard things we sometimes fall down, but the joy is in the rebuilding. It’s wise to be patient and reassess before jumping back in. Efficacy is a result of taking a breath, pausing, and then moving forward.

Gradually, the blocks became the builders. The students set goals and held each other accountable for their actions. They cheered each other on and checked in when a classmate struggled.img_20180619_1300209125618980449881978.jpg

During the final days of this school year we reflected on our classroom community. We took our actual blocks from the middle and put them on top. The pieces eventually toppled, because that is the purpose of the game after all, isn’t it? But it was not a failure, it was a symbol of our strength. Everyone took their block home that day knowing they could be a pivotal piece in another community.img_20180619_1304237735077294405287287.jpg

No matter where they go, they will remember that they were part of something special: our classroom family.

 

 

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How Much Do You Think I Paid? Wrong.

“Come here. You will not believe the deal I just got. You can even tweet it if you want.”

This was music to my ears. I was intrigued.

My husband loves a good deal. I don’t mean enjoys saving money, I mean he loves a good deal. Go-to-the-farmers-market-right-before-closing kind of deals. He’s the “sure I’ll take a case of really ripe bananas simply because it’s only $2” kind of guy.

My dad once bought so many frozen french fries that our family filled every freezer space available and finally resorted to handing them out to guests as they left. All because, “they were only $.17 a bag. SEVENTEEN CENTS.” This similarity between my dad and husband is not lost on me, but that’s another post for another day.

Aaaaanyways…back to the current amazing deal.

“I saw the price and I couldn’t believe my eyes. I told myself there was no way it was correct. TWO CENTS PER 100 GRAMS*? They were giving it away!”

Gentle reader, at this point I was really hoping it was doughnuts. It was not, but he did not disappoint.

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“I emptied the bin,” he proudly told me. I felt like that didn’t need to be stated. Of course he did.

“I have a confession,” he solemnly told me, “For the first time in my life I tried something in the bulk section before I bought it.” Understandable, we wouldn’t want to see that $.34 go to waste.

My money-saving spouse cuddled in beside me on the couch and carefully smoothed out the bill. “I kept the receipt. I might frame it.”

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Look! He did buy doughnuts!

The man I married was giddy. He was riding that money-saving high. But then I noticed he been quiet for a few moments. I looked up and saw him gazing at the bundles of confectionary on our kitchen counter. “This ranks right up with that case of broccoli I got for free that time.” Yes, or as I like to call it “the time our whole house smelled like farts.”

Eventually, our 8YO sauntered into the living area and asked why Daddy had bought so much candy. “Because it was on sale. It cost $0.34.” To which our son replied, “Well, can’t pass that up.” He is now the favourite child.

Later I thought he was putting away dishes, but I found him weighing one of the bags in his hand and whispering, “so beautiful.” I think he was more excited about this deal than the births of our four sons.

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He then announced to me, “This bag could get us all the way to Florida.” Note: we are not going to Florida any time soon.

I thought we had moved past discussing these chocolate buttons, but an hour into the evening he told me that “the best part was I saw our friend, Dana there, and I got to these before she did.” Competition and money-saving. This deal wrapped all his love languages into a tidy little package.

If you’re in our area, please stop by. We have what your sweet tooth needs, plus the coffee is always on. But be warned: from now on, anyone who wants to enter the house must first answer the question, “How much do you think these cost?” Be a dear, would you? And estimate high.

__________________________

*100 grams = ~3.5 ounces


The Game is Afoot

For twelve years the house has been the battle ground for a war no one saw coming and no one wanted.

Good versus evil, dark versus light, brother pitted against brother. Wait, no, mother versus all the boys.

The invasion was slow and insideous at first. A few dinky cars here, a rogue block there. Then another son was born, and the arsenol grew. Legos entered the fray, more dinky cars. Soon action figures could be found strewn across the steps. It was no longer safe to traverse the basement, a talking toy could be triggered at the slightest movement.

This home was no longer the mother’s domain, the children had taken over.

As the offsprings’ numbers and independence grew, so did the snacks. The crumbs, sweet Moses, the crumbs! Entire muffins were decimated and left as a warning to future carbs. Beware, no bread product is safe from these kids. RUN WHILE YOU CAN.

Silly Putty in the furnace ducts, abandoned socks on coffee tables, Nerf bullets in the toilets, Star Wars figures in the nativity sets. The horror.

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Not staged. Actual event.

The mother’s cries of “THIS IS NOT A PRESCHOOL” and “WHY ARE THERE MARBLES IN THE FRYING PAN?” were met with silence or half-hearted attempts to tidy. She raised the stakes and threatened “if it’s on the floor it’s out the door” but everyone knew she wouldn’t follow through.

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Also real

“I just want one clear space for my coffee cup,” the mother whisper-cried as she tossed “art” into the recycling bin. “Everything has a home! Let’s keep our things in their home and please stop using my scarves to build forts” she sing-songed manically while gathering up granola bar wrappers from the underneath the couch.

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Why?

And then it happened.

Was it just a happy little accident, that years of stepping over Lego minefields seemed to solve itself? Perhaps.

Her weapon? Bobby pins.

Did she leave them in her pockets on purpose? Was it her plan all along that the pins would end up going through the wash? Did she know that this oversight would result in bobby pins ending up in bedsheets, hoodie pockets, and bath towels for the family to disover with great annoyance? Was her subconcious exacting retribution? And now that the family has discovered how frustrating it was to have a house overrun with tiny and pokey objects left haphazardly in her wake, would she be more careful?

Answer? No, no, no, maybe, and nope.

_________

Daily Prompt – Dominant

 

 


Grapefruit and Sundaes

She wasn’t a warm or doting person, I don’t think it was anything personal, it just wasn’t her nature. Gruff, no-nonsense, and strict are apt descriptors. When I recall my time as a grade three student, complete with my terrible mullet and gangly arms and legs, my memories include learning the Canadian provinces and capitals, cursive writing, long division, and her. Miss Van Gurp. 

She had a reputation for being mean. Haven’t we all had that teacher? The one the kids whisper about on the playground and warn you to avoid? The teacher you hope you don’t have. The teacher you inevitably get.

Miss Van Gurp didn’t put up with antics. She indeed was strict, to the point of smacking hands with a metal ruler if you really stepped out of line (the rumours were true!). She wasn’t a smiler and she demanded compliance. She was not an adult who doled out hugs or high fives. You were expected to do your work and you simply received a quiet nod for a job well done.

Students often forget that teachers have multiple sides and aspects to their lives and characters. We all tend to forget that about each other, don’t we? We put people into boxes and categories, unaware of the subtext of people’s actions and words.

Recently a post popped up in my social media feed of a citrus fruit fundraiser for an elementary school and it reminded me of a story from years ago.

Once there was a young girl in grade three who had a sick sister. Her parents were frequently out of the country to provide their daughter with the medical care she needed. The girl and her other siblings spent days and sometimes weeks staying with various caring family friends. 

Soon it was time for the annual school fundraiser – citrus sales. Every student who sold a box of fruit would receive an ice cream sundae, the kind in the plastic cup with the little wooden spoon. 

The girl’s parents were out of town during this time and even if they were home, she wouldn’t have pursued citrus sales. Even at the age of eight, she knew she wouldn’t put that on to their overcrowded plate. That’s just the way it was then, it wouldn’t be forever. Next year.

A few days into the sale, her teacher called her up to her desk at the front of the room. She had a sales slip half filled out with a grapefruit order. 

“I’d like to get a box of grapefruit, could I buy it from you?” she asked, barely lifting her eyes up from the ink blotter.

The girl hardly knew what to say, but she knew what this meant. She would get to partake in the sundae celebration, just like all the other kids. In the midst of family upheaval and crisis, she would have this little bit of normalcy.

“Okay,” was all that squeaked out. The teacher completed the form, then carefully separated the carbon copies: white for the school, yellow for the salesperson, and pink for the customer.

“Thank you, I appreciate it,” she said gruffly as she handed the girl the pink page, “you may go to your seat now.”

In a giddy daze the girl went back to her desk. 

A fews later when the sales were completed, she proudly collected her ice cream treat with the rest of the school. It was chocolate, of course. She carefully peeled back the cardboard cover and she licked that plastic dish clean.

Sometimes “I see you. You matter. I care,” sounds a lot like “I’d like to buy some grapefruit.” You just have to listen.

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2017: A Snack-filled Year in Review

Top Ten Movies of the Year

The Most Influential People of 2017

Master Reading List of the Year

Toy Trends of 2017

Top Five Pencils of 2017 

(joking, there is only one pencil worth mentioning and it’s the Staedtler HB #2, everyone knows that)

As a kid, I loved perusing Life: The Year in Pictures. I didn’t know who most of the people and events were, but there was something satisfying about seeing a full year neatly wrapped up in a glossy-page package. Lists are fun and few can resist them. As I bid farewell to this past year, it caused me to reminisce about the highs and lows of the last 365 days.

I contemplated a twitter thread because isn’t that what all the youth are doing these days? Then I thought, no, be yourself. Be authentic. Stay true to your brand. And so, I give to you, dear reader…

2017 in Review: Snacks I Ate After the Kids Went to Bed

1. Sour cream and onion chips

2. Goldfish

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They DO melt in your hoodie pocket if you don’t eat them quickly enough

3. Discounted Easter candy

4. M&Ms

5. Sweet Chili Heat Doritos

 

6. Leftover icing

7. Cookie dough I told the kids would make them sick

8. Mini M&Ms

9. Goldfish and olives (I was feeling fancy)

10. Girl guide cookies I was saving for Christmas

11. Brownie batter

12. The remaining Sweet Chili Heat Doritos (hid them so well I forgot for a few days that they were still in the house)

13.  Ketchup Pringles (I left a few in the can for plausible deniability)

14. Reese’s peanut butter cups that mysteriously appeared in my coat pocket

15. Chunk of cheddar (store brand – barely worth it)

16. American Oreo I received in the mail

17. Caramilk Easter egg I found in my nightstand drawer

18. Jujubes

19. Sour jujubes

20. Fruit juice jujubes

21. Peanut butter off the spoon (did NOT double dip)

22. Crackers and blue cheese (the good kind, did not share)

23. Chocolate covered acai berries I did not know we were saving for the holidays but I would have eaten even you’d told me

24. Saturday cereal (it’s fine because I’m the grown up)

25. King-size Three Muskateers

26. Frozen butter tart – totally worth the sore tooth

27. Cinnamon hearts

28. More cinnamon hearts even though my tongue hurt from the first round

29. Lime sherbet directly from the container (definitely double-dipped)

30. Post-workout chocolate chip cookies, but I pretended they were power bars so it was totally fine

31. Ketchup Doritos (limited edition, but not limited taste)

32. Mini Kit Kats we bought for the trick-or-treaters

33. Sweet Tarts (purely medicinal)

34. Goldfish and grape tomatoes

35. Hunk of baguette dipped in hummus because I’m classy like that.

I’m not saying you need a decorative box to store your secret snacks, but I highly recommended it.

**Yes, all of the above are 100% accurate and true. Your turn – what’s your favourite evening snack?


My Fish is Smart Because He Went to School

This is Kevin.

Kevin was a prize in an “Every Game Wins a Prize” fishing game at a local fair.  It cost $3 – a fact I am still processing.

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Do you want to know why I chose this fish? Because when I get my real fish, he will have a friend. Kevin.

Wait a second, we never agreed that you’d be getting a fish. Remember what happened to the can’t-be-killed beta fish that died?

So, anyways, want to know why Kevin will be a good friend to my pet fish?

Go ahead, but I’m not making any promises.

1. Kevin is already really smart.

Kevin must have spent a lot of time in school

Kevin must have spent a lot of time in school

 

2. He can work my Hexbug. He’s a fish, but he knows how.

Kevin must have taken the Robotics elective during his undergrad

Kevin must have taken the Robotics elective during his undergrad

3. Kevin loves baseball and my pet fish will, too.

Careful, that's official Blue Jays memorabilia

Careful, that’s official Blue Jays memorabilia

Caring for a fish stuffy is not that challenging. I’m still not convinced.

Well, if I had a fish, it could keep me company.

Allow me to refer to the can’t-be-killed yet still dead beta fish.

Fish can be very relaxing.

We had to hold a fish funeral. You made me say a eulogy.

You’ve said we can’t have a hamster, dog, or cat because you’re “allergic”. Well, you can’t be allergic to a fish.

I’m allergic to disposing of dead fish.

I’ll take care of it, it won’t get lonely.

Like the dead beta fish that tipped over on the dining room table.

He survived. 

That time.

Please?

Dead. Beta. Fish.

Is that a maybe?

I’ll think about it.

I’ll clear off some shelf space.

DEAD BETA FISH.

Sounds like a maybe to me.

Go play with Kevin.

_______________

Where do you land on the fish-as-pets spectrum? I’m more of a pet rock kind of gal.


The Greatest Parenting Tip of All Time

Pull up a chair, I am about to impart the best parenting advice I can give you. Even better than “never sit on a toilet seat in the dark”.

Forget “sleep when the baby sleeps” or “enjoy it while they’re young, they grow up so fast.” And don’t even try to tell me “buy the off brand cereal, they’ll never notice.” No, my friend, the best advice I can offer after some twelve years in the parenting trenches is a simple phrase. If committed to memory, these three words will get you out of most, if not all situations requiring answers you do not have.

Sometimes you don’t have wifi, sometimes your device isn’t handy, and sometimes you just don’t want to exert the effort because thinking hurts your brain. There’s no judgement here. The questions might be too complex, or illogical, or ridiculous (please see previous about brains hurting). That’s when this handy phrase is your best friend.

A word of caution: use this in any situation, but pace yourself. If your children hear it in too quick a succession they might retort with “stop saying that and just tell me the answer!” in which case you have to pull out the big guns. Yes, you might need to tell them to “save that question for when you get to heaven.” It is question kryptonite, so use it carefully.

Alright, enough preamble. The most important phrase you should commit to memory is…

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“I know, right?”

Skeptics might doubt me, but years fielding questions from hundreds of young students and my own four offspring provide enough anecdotal evidence (plus my twitter friends agree with me). What more data do you need? None. Just trust me. Below I have listed just a small selection of questions that I have answered with a sympathetic, “I know, right?” ALL QUESTIONS WERE SHUT DOWN.

What if your hand was just made out of the foam fingers and you had to switch every time for different numbers?

Why do you have so many pillows on your bed that you don’t use?

Why do extra boogers fall down into your mouth?

Why are light sabres so hot?”

How do they build buildings that are taller than the builder?

How does the microwave make things hot?

Why is honey sticky?

Why do stores have those restaurants in them? Like you buy lumber and a sandwich?

How can we stand on the earth when it’s round?

If cucumber is a fruit, why isn’t there cucumber pie?

How did they make the very FIRST ruler and make IT straight?

When something new is made it takes up space so the sky should get smaller, but it doesn’t. Why?

Why are tongues wet?

Why is it Saturday?

How do people that don’t have the same eye colour know that they’re really seeing the same colour?

Why do spiders go in the water if they can’t even survive?

Why is our van so dirty (I feel like this one is obvious)

Why do moms like coffee?

Why do moms like wine?

If used effectively this response can get you out of almost any situation. I have even applied it to the trickiest question of all:

Where did all the jujubes go? I was saving them.

I know, right?