My Five Rules for Summertime

Lemonade, biking, camping, swimming, walking to the store for slushies, eating M&Ms while hiding from your children in the closet – these are all classic summertime pastimes. And summer is an ideal time to reconnect with your family and spend time with friends. I’ve found it’s always good to lay down a few ground rules at the beginning of the season just to avoid unnecessary complications and to maintain realistic expectations.

And so, I present to you, My Five Rules for Summertime

    1. Parents are only going to “lookit” a limited number of times. Listen, we love to see your developing skills and yes, that cannonball off the diving board was great. It was just as great at the other 17 cannonballs you did leading up to it.
    2. No wet hands in the chip bag. Actually, no wet hands in or near any of the communal food. That goes for sand, too. So no wet or sandy or sandy-wet hands in food, okay? I think this rule also applies for all seasons, not just summer.
    3. Close.
      The.
      Door.
      All the doors, all the time. Just close them.
    4. Applying sunblock is not the same as being dipped in battery acid. Please stop acting like it is.
    5. Go ahead and ask for a snack/drink/screentime but for the love of Moses, just ask once. You might think that persistence will pay off, but no. It only makes your parents want to cry. Also, you come across a little unhinged. Or maybe that’s me. I don’t know because you won’t stop asking for all the things.

But seriously, CLOSE THE DOOR.

Happy Summer Everyone!

 

 

 

 


Take Courage

Courage

Bravery

Fear

Fear

When I was little I was afraid that my sister turned into a vampire at night. I was scared of what might be under my bed. I feared a tornado would rip through my window and that would be the end of all of us.

Then I was afraid that my big sister was going lose her leg to cancer. I walked in on hushed conversations, saw my parents cry quietly when they thought we weren’t looking. Mysterious phone calls that seemed to last forever. Friends and family taking care of the rest of us kids while my parents went to appointment after appointment.

We were sheltered from much of the fear and worry that my mom and dad carried. They were honest with us about what was happening, but protected us as much as possible. How they did that when one of the worst things imaginable is happening, I couldn’t fathom. They leaned on their family, friends, and faith to see them through.

They were courageous.

There is more to that story, but it is theirs to tell.

What I remember is the courage. The strength. The bravery. The faith.

I see it more now as an adult, this courage. Facing things that are frightening. The more I experience and listen and observe, I see that courage has many faces.

Courage is asking for help when you feel like you are drowning. It is answering honestly when asked how you are doing. Courage is making yourself vulnerable. It’s admitting, “I don’t have all the answers.”

Courage is bringing a gift for your friend’s newborn when you are struggling with infertility. Or deciding to opt out of a celebration because it is more than you can handle.

Courage is confronting a friend who has hurt you, or apologizing when you are the one at fault. It takes bravery to have those conversations that risk a friendship because the relationship is worth it.

Courage is putting on a brave face, or not. It is knowing what you can handle and honouring your limits.

It is courageous to let go of control when all you want to do is grab on with every fibre of your being lest the unthinkable happens.

For me, I trust in God. I cannot do this alone. I cannot be the mom, friend, teacher, or partner that I need to be without Him. I have fears, but I do not worry, because God is bigger than my fears. I find my courage in knowing that I am not on my own on this journey. And He has brought people into my life that give me strength and encouragement.

May your sorrows be few, but when you face struggles, may you be courageous.

___________

Dedicated to one of the strongest, bravest, kindest and most courageous people I know. 

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Kindergarten in Review

It has been my privilege to spend another school year in kindergarten. Teaching, that is. As our staff wraps up another busy year we are gathering reflections, quotes, and other magical moments that have made these past nine months memorable. I was digging through old tweets and posts and was struck by the ridiculous, hilarious and disgusting things that happen on any given day in kindergarten.

Obviously, I had to share.

Kindergarten Convos

Kindie: “Is this ‘O Canada’?”
Me: “No, Elton John.”

Me: “Did you flush?”
Kindie: “No, you gotta see it.”

Kindie: “My letter jar is at home.”
Me: “Oh, will you fill it with your mom and bring it back?”
Kindie: “No, she won’t fit inside.”

Me: “Friends, we don’t put play-doh in our ear.”
Kindie: “It’s not play-doh, it’s paper.”

Me: “I like your shirt – do you know where you bought it?”
Kindie: “Where?”
Me: “I’m asking you.”
Kindie: “Yup.”

Kindie: “Guess what!”
Me: “What?”
Kindie: “Sometimes my dad takes his phone with him into the bathroom.”

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“J is for Happy Pumpkin!”

In the computer lab…
Me: “Would you like to go to starfall or tvokids?”
Kindie: “Batman.”

Me: “Stop pushing.”
Kindie: “You look beautiful.”
Me: “Carry on.”

Kindie: “Why is he wearing lipstick?”
Teacher: “He’s not, he licked the metal window ledge. It’s blood.”

Me: “What do you notice about the parachute?”
Kindie:”My headband is purple.”

Me: “I smell something pretty stinky in here.”
Kindie: “Maybe someone was smoking.”

Me: “No one is more important just because they get to the library first.”
Kindie: “Except Jesus.”
Me: “Alright. Except Jesus.”

Kindie: “My back has these sharp things.”
Me: “Yes, that’s your spine.”

Kindie: “It smells good in here.”
Me: “It must be me.”
Kindie: “No.”

Me: “Did you just eat a really red snack?”
Kindie: “No.”
Me: “Did you get some new red lipstick?”
(pause)
(longer pause)
Kindie: “Yes.”

Kindie: “We made a pretend TV at the blocks and she keeps turning it off!”
Me: “Couldn’t you just pretend it’s still on?”

Me: “Why do you think there is a Skyjack at school today?”
Kindie: “We don’t hit… or kick.”

Kindie: “He spit at me”
Me: “What happened right before that?”
Kindie: “I came and told you about it.”
(Lesson on sequencing of events followed)

Me (during story): “What do you think Rabbit is planning?”
Kindie: “My toes keep growing bigger.”

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“It’s a snail family!”

Me: “Friends, what special day is Sunday?”
Kindie 1: “Swimming lessons!”
Kindie 2: “No school!”
Kindie 3: “Church!”
Kindie 4: “Thanksmothers Day!”

Teacher: “What rhymes with cat?”
Kindie: “I know! Shat!”

(Recruited the help of a classmate to help communicate with a new kindie)
Me: “How do you say ‘cow’ in Arabic?”
Student: “Cow in Arabic.”

(During a lesson on Canadian coins)
Me: “Who is that person whose face is on every coin?”
Kindie: “Jesus.”

 

Life Lessons From The Young

“Sometimes I miss my mom but then I just suck it up. Like a buttercup.”

“If you get flushed down a toilet you won’t come out.”

“I took ten dollars from my brother, but it’s okay because I said ‘April Fools!'”

“Maybe those tadpoles are just sleeping…or having a Code Red.”

“Yeah, God wears underwear.”

“You can live without a head, my dad said so.”

“I eat Ontarios for breakfast.”

Yes, I Said That

“You’re either are an elf OR Rudolph, but not both. Make a choice.”

“Put your book in your backpack, then I’ll watch you whip and nae nae.”

You’re still the line leader even if you don’t say it ten times.”

“We glue paper, not friends.”

“We don’t use the salad tongs on our friend’s eyeball.”

“There’s no teeth involved in kissing.”

“Maybe you could have warned me you had licked your necklace before you asked for help putting it on.”

How about next time you let that fart cloud dissipate a bit before calling me over for help?”

“Whose kitten and hamburger picture is this?”

“Putting marbles on your eyeballs is not a learning centre.”

“Help tidy up, it’s what dead Fishy would want.”

________

Is Kindergarten the most magical place on earth? Possibly. It has its ups and downs and can leave you exhausted. But only in kindergarten will a five-year-old slide you a note and tell you it says “I am leaving early today for a meeting with my investors.”

 

 

 

 


Everyone Matters

The school my husband and I teach at has an unofficial motto, “Everyone Matters”. We encounter situations and behaviours daily that can challenge this credo. Recently, Bearded Husband wrote a journal entry for a course he is taking. He was asked to respond to his quote:

“Creating a non-threatening environment in which students are emotionally and physically safe has a significant impact on student learning and achievement.” Marzano (2003)

I’m proud to teach with this man and to have his words shared here. Thank you to my fellow teachers for the dedication you bring to your job, even when it’s tiring, even when you want to give up. You matter.

______________________________________________________________

It can be a tough process in life. We all have a basic need for it. Identity issues or a negative sense of self can arise if we don’t have a deep sense of it. Without it, we don’t function as we were meant to – we fall apart; we ache; we hurt others.

A sense of belonging.

If one lacks a feeling of belonging, it can negatively influence who we are, how we act, how we treat others. As educators, we are called to ensure that students in our care feel safe, secure, and valued. That they belong. We want students to have the courage to be authentic and put themselves out there. To feel like they’re allowed to be imperfect, that they don’t always need to be right. To realize that it’s okay to struggle, to feel imperfect. That’s important. We foster that attitude through our actions, words and beliefs.

Teachers matter to student achievement more than any other aspect of schooling. Us. We matter. Our knowledge, our skill, our leadership, our commitment to students. We develop students’ potential to become contributing citizens of our society by modelling care, trust, respect, and integrity. We are called to ensure our learning communities are safe. We want students to see themselves as an important part of a diverse community of learners where differences are valued – where it’s okay to display our strengths and needs. We all want to feel included. To belong.

Coming to this realization has made me a better teacher. It’s a tall task to meet a child’s basic needs. I encounter children daily who may not feel safe for several reasons: they are bogged down with problems related to financial distress, family dysfunction, health and well-being concerns, and neglect. I’m proud to say I’m part of a school team that does our best to alleviate these worries by providing programs beyond the call of duty. Attendance is a real issue for some. But we know that students are less likely to miss school if they feel safe. A big part of that is up to me.

Through reflection and dialogue with colleagues I continually refine my teaching practice. I try to be sensitive to the factors that influence student learning. As a teacher, I do my best to provide a non-threatening environment to relieve students’ anxiety and tension. I encourage students to take risks, to speak their ideas, to feel like they belong and are valued.  I foster this through my actions and words – by modelling it. We engage regularly in class meetings, we set fair but firm expectations together. We seek ways to put others first by volunteering our time and effort. But ultimately, it’s up to me to set the tone. So I establish high expectations and insist they be met. I treat students equitably and with respect. I take time to establish a sense of trust. I ask students to focus on what we can do for others rather than on what we can “get” from doing something. I find effective resources to plan for and respond to the needs of individual students and learning communities. I provide whatever accommodations necessary to enable them to succeed. I do these things because I want my students to grow and learn and achieve more. I want them to have a chance to succeed in life. So I do what I can to create a sense of belonging.

We’re all in our own little communities with people who aren’t the same. Being different needs to be seen as a good thing. We all have strengths and needs different from each other. Everyone matters.

We are all worthy of belonging.

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My Selfish Mother

Revelations can occur when you least expect it. It wasn’t until I was well into my own motherhood experience that I realized that while we were growing up, my mom was selfish. 

We often have a perception of mothers sacrificing their own happiness and joy for the sake of their children. Moms who give up everything in an effort to create a magical childhood for their offspring.

Not my mom.

She loved us, of that I have no doubt. But was she selfish? Absolutely.

Can you believe that if we left a project until the last minute, she wouldn’t stay up late to help us? And she refused to write us a note excusing us from turning in the assignment late. Something about “owning up to our choices” and “facing consequences.”

My mom also refused to buy us name-brand clothes so we could be like everyone else. She actually made us wait for birthdays and Christmas to get the leg warmers and oversized Roots sweatshirts we coveted. Or we had save up our own money, sometimes even sharing a new item between us sisters. Outrageous.

Sometimes my mom would be on the phone for an hour or more with a friend who was going through a crisis and she wouldn’t even pause to acknowledge our pleas for M&Ms. She took that long extension cord and tucked herself into our back hallway for privacy. If we dared start a fight or vie for her attention unnecessarily she would stomp her foot three times and give us the stink-eye. Or mutter something in Dutch which was a sign we would catch it when she finally hung up. Her own children simply ignored. Unreal.

As we got older we had to get jobs. It wasn’t even up for debate. And when we turned sixteen, we had to take Driver’s Education at our own expense if we wanted to be able to drive one of the family cars. Sure, they paid for gas and car insurance, but that $300 to get licensed really dipped into my McDonald’s lunch habit. Yes, she bought us essentials, but I had to pay for my own fast-food. The nerve.

Not convinced yet? Just wait. If we forgot something at home, my mom wouldn’t jump in the car and deliver it to us. She claimed her time was valuable and that she had work to do. She couldn’t just drop everything on a whim. “I guess you won’t forget next time, will you?”

Highschool math was a challenge for me, but did my mom bail me out? Get me a tutor? Talk to the teacher about going easier on me? No. After bringing home a 35% on a test, I had to make a plan for improvement. Me. Independently. This included going to the teacher for extra help on my own. She just flat-out refused to rescue me.

My mom made it abundantly clear that her relationship with my father trumped her relationship with us. She repeatedly told us that “before any of you came along, it was the two of us. And it will be the two of us long after you leave. I love you, but not at the expense of our marriage.” Those two never let us play one against the other. They were such a team we knew better than to try. The worst.

If we were interested in a sport or extra-curricular that required a Sunday commitment, she said “no”. She was unwilling to sacrifice our day of rest and made us focus on family, friends, and our faith. We had to spend time with each other playing games, visiting, and relaxing. Often we were scheduled to volunteer at church and had to serve others. She was all about living out our faith and giving back.

Giving to others, living above the line, integrity, a strong work ethic. Having a selfish mother shapes who you become. I learned a lot from my selfish mom, including to…

Clean up my own messes.

Do for others.

Value relationships.

Fix mistakes.

Be responsible.

Own my decisions and their possible consequences.

Budget. And stick to it.

Prioritize my marriage.

Focus on what really matters.

Put God first.

Be a selfish mom.

I am grateful for my selfish mom. My mom who did not let motherhood define her, but instead used it to shape four children who are grateful for her example. I hope one day my boys complain about what a selfish mom I was.

Thanks, Mom.

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The Talk

“Well, that’s called a scrotum and the marble-y things are actually called testicles,” I explained to one of our four sons as my husband walked by the room, gave me a thumbs up and whispered, “You’re doing a great job.”

Wait, wait, wait. How did this happen? When our fourth son was born and I officially became a “Mom of Boys”, I anticipated some things that would come with that title: wet toilet seats, potty talk, unending food preparation, burps, farts, potty talk, so much potty talk.

Years ago I knew there would some potentially uncomfortable conversations to be had, and I was mentally prepared for some chats or questions. At some point I’d fill them in on the pertinent information regarding females, but I did not anticipate that I would be the sole one giving “the talk”. And I especially did not anticipate giving it to all four sons.

I’m not saying my husband bribed them to wait to ask the really big questions until his baseball tournament last summer, but I’m not not saying it either. Or perhaps he really undersold himself and has been dropping hints for years that Mom should be the one to address all things bodily function-related? Come to think of it, I also took the lead on toilet training all four boys, including the various peeing options. I even taught the youngest how to pee against a tree. How did this happen?

Lots of moms take this role all the time and I know I am fully capable of addressing questions and explaining how babies are made. But I did not expect to do this when my husband was in the next room. Listening in. And deciding not to chime in. Oh, and here’s another interesting tidbit, as a grade five teacher he covers this in the health curriculum every year. So. Not what I expected, indeed.

How does one go about teaching the facts of life to four offspring varying in ages from four to ten? Divide and conquer. And it helps to have a book at the ready.

A prepared and organized parent would have already purchased a book for that fateful day. Alas, we took a spur-the-moment field trip to the library. The sex-ed gods showed favour on this frazzled mom and an ideal book was found. IMG_2163

That evening I told the older boys that they could read through it and then I would check in to clarify or answer any questions. This went surprisingly smooth and I fielded their inquiries like a seasoned pro. “Well, he’s not actually making a tent, sometimes, when a boy wakes up in the morning…”

The challenge came when chatting with a younger son. I was very clear that the  information he learned was for him and not his friends or classmates. “Their parents get to decide when they learn about this. You don’t decide for them.” He nodded sagely. “And this is a topic we discuss within our family, not when friends come over, got it?” Again, he nodded in agreement.

By that point I felt comfortable covering the basics. Third time was the charm – I only had to answer a few questions with “we can talk about that later” and an occasional shrug.

“Why would you even want to do that? And with your clothes off?” 

“What kind of jock strap do girls wear?”

“Wait, we came out of where?”

Educating children about puberty and sex doesn’t end in one conversation. I knew the topic would be discussed many times. The next day I heard some whispers of “ball sack” and “so hairy” and “freckles” (pretty sure they meant nipples, but I wasn’t wading back into that so soon).

I was congratulating myself on my ability to think quickly and handle that milestone effectively (and on my own). I was so preoccupied with my success that at first I thought nothing of it when I found my two youngest boys sitting together on the couch when I returned from outside. Upon closer examination I discovered the older one had taken the lead in explaining changing bodies to his younger brother, with our new book as his guide.

“Girls don’t actually have a penis, they have an angina” he was describing with barely-suppressed glee as his baby brother looked at him with a mixture of fascination and disbelief.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” I said in shock, “We went over this. That message was just for you, remember?

He replied, “I know. What’s the problem? He is family.”

 

 


Sparkly Mittens

“My hands are cold,” my young friend informed me. This little student had not dressed for the cold snap we were experiencing and her hands were raw and stiff from the freezing temperatures. The mittens she had been wearing were thin and soaked through from playing in the snow.

After double-checking for spare mittens in her backpack and the bin in the hall where extras are stored, we headed to my stash. Friends had kindly donated new hats and mittens for our school community. There was one pair of mittens left after winter had depleted my supplies.

“Well, look at that!” I told her, “purple mittens that are just your size and they even match your boots. Will you wear these if I give them to you?” She quietly nodded and her eyes lit up.

“I don’t have sparkly mitts,” she told me. She watched as I unhooked the pair and then began to snip off the tags. “Why are you doing that? Why do they have those?” she asked.

“These are brand new so I need to take the tags off from the store.”

Again, those big brown eyes looked up at me and she said with surprise, “Why would you have mittens for me?”

Why do we have mittens? For the same reasons we have extra snow pants, boots, shoes, jackets, and underwear. We have them because we know that life is not always easy or fair or simple. Finances are tight, families are stressed, jobs are hard to find. Sometimes grown-ups are dealing with their own messes and challenges. They are trying their best, but even the small things in life are too much some days.

Why do we have mittens? The same reasons we have a snack program to make sure hungry kids are fed and ready to learn. Because you should not need to worry about having enough food, enough warm clothes, or boots that do not leak. You are kids.

She is too little to understand the impact her question had on me or the many layers my answer contained.

“I have mittens because I care about my kindergarten friends,” I told her. And with that she shrugged and toddled back outside to play. Ready to be carefree again and play with her classmates. And eat snow, of course, because after all, she’s just a kid. That’s what kids should do.

Why do we have mittens? Because you matter, little friend. Everyone matters. 

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