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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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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Change is the Worst

The other day I was listening to a podcast. There I said it. I am a podcast listener. It was the latest episode of Revisionist History and they were discussing The Paradox of Theseus Ship. The gist of it is that if a ship is changed gradually over time wherein planks are replaced one by one, is it still the same ship as when it was first built?

As always, I enjoyed the episode (it’s a good podcast, and it’s hosted by a Canadian, give it a listen) and it helped pass the time as I cleaned the toilets, put clothes away and packed lunches. It made me think, but only for a few moments and then I moved on to bedtime routines and planning for the week ahead.

A day or two passed in a blur and then we had a staff meeting. As a rule, teaching is all about change. We get a new start with a new class every fall. Teaching assignments are rearranged, rooms switched, staff try new things. So I was completely prepared to receive news that some of our staff would be moving on to new schools and new roles. We had already seen some gradual changes this year which were grieved, processed, then celebrated for our friends. But this round of staffing threw me (and many fellow educators) for a loop. Our leader, who has inspired, supported, encouraged, and guided us for over four years, was the one moving. THIS IS NOT THE CHANGE I WAS PREPARED FOR.

The morning was rife with emotions of shock, sadness, joy (current staff would be taking on the leadership roles – yay!) and back to mourning. Then I decided to put all my big feelings into a box and tuck it on a shelf to be opened later when I could process it all. This spring has brought about many staffing changes and I was losing some of my best work friends, teammates, and partners (yes, Bearded Husband is moving on to an exciting new role, too).

It is hard to be the ones left, no matter how good the motivation or opportunity being embraced.

During the quiet of my drive home I heard a whisper “the ship is changing gradually, piece by piece, but it’s still the same ship.” Sorry, could you repeat that? When did I start hearing voices? And such profound ones? Epiphanies can strike anywhere, any time.

You see, when discussing Theseus’ Ship, some argue that if the planks being removed are replaced with planks of equal structure and integrity, it is the same ship. The fundamental identity of the ship remains the same. I would say the ship is better for the change because it remains strong and voyage-ready.

I mourn the gaping hole that these people leave in the wake of their job change. I cry because I will miss seeing them daily, they are my friends. But they are leaving well. They are excited, but grieving, too. They are strong and steady and valued and they are off to replace the planks of other ships.

We get to welcome and create a space for the new planks on our ship. And we will be stronger and better for it. I know this because this change isn’t new. Our ship has undergone this change multiple times. And it was scary and sad and full of tears every time. Yet here we are. Steady, strong, and valued.

It’s time to open that box and let those feelings out. It’s going to be okay.

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Me, on the last day of school

 

 

The Best is Yet to Come

I cried when I went on the hospital tour twelve years ago before having my first baby.

I felt the same tonight at the middle school tour.

Twelve years ago Bearded Husband rubbed my back and asked me what was wrong. It was as difficult to articulate then as it is now.

I’m excited about the next step, but I am frightened to lose what we have. This is the point of no return. This baby is coming out soon and our lives will be forever changed. As thrilling as the future will be, I am mourning the loss of what is right now. We are moving from the two of us and changing into a family of three.Am I excited to become a mom? Of course. Am I scared of losing my identity, my freedom, my career, my “me-ness”? Definitely.

But that seemed selfish, to be afraid of putting someone else’s needs first, of giving up my naps/free time/flexibility for this new little person we cannot wait to meet. And so twelve years ago I replied, “I’m just scared, this is all becoming real. And you know I don’t like hospitals.” O's feet

And now it is here. The moment I have anticipated and dreaded since last year when I realized this was our baby boy’s final year in his elementary school. He is moving on.

He has already moved on. I know that. He has increasing freedom which means we have decreasing insight into his daily life. He spends more time with his friends and less time with us. He is developing his own identity, his own set of values, his own experiences. As he should.

But I feel sad.

Sure, I feel happy and proud and excited for him, and grateful for who he is becoming. I am thankful for the friends he has and the young man he is turning into. But I feel sad.

And that is okay.

I can mourn this change. He is moving onto a life apart from us. We are no longer the centre of his life. I grieve that soon I won’t walk him to school or meet him on the playground when the day ends. I can cry at the loss of my little boy as he slowly transform into a teen.

It’s okay because I keep that part of my heart tucked away. I put on a brave face and attendws the middle school open house. I joke about wearing matching t-shirts and blaring VBS music out the windows when we arrive at his future school. I toured the classrooms and explained “home room” and “rotary” to him and told him that “yes, we will give you permission to go to the plaza at lunch time” and “sure, we can buy you a combination lock for your locker” all the while holding back by shuddering sobs that our days of Lego and Hot Wheels and reading at bedtime are done.

When I got home from the tour, my husband commented that “wow, you’re really having a hard time with him growing up, aren’t you?” I tearfully replied, “Yes, yes I am.”

But that is not all of the truth.

I am not sad that he is growing up, I know that is a reality of life. I am sad that a chapter of our life is closing. This is the point of no return. Again.

As he headed upstairs tonight, my boy stopped and turned, and gave me a big hug. And I didn’t let go until he did first.

Just like when we welcomed him into the world, I need to remember that despite my mourning, the best is yet to come. No, correction. It is already here.

I Don’t Want Another Baby

Enjoy each moment, they go by so quickly.

Savour those cuddles, before you know it they won’t want to hug anymore.

Don’t blink – they grow up so fast.

I listened to those wiser, more experienced moms. I heeded the words of grandmothers in grocery stores who doted on my newborn offspring (except for the advice to put socks on, it was summer after all). I enjoyed babyhood while it lasted. Just as I love the stages that our boys are at now.

And yet, I want to go back.

I do not want another baby. Our family is complete, of that I have no doubt, but I want to go back.

Oh, to relive the moment I laid eyes on each of them for the very first time and heard the announcement, “It’s a boy!” Meeting that tiny person who I already knew so well.

I want to have a newborn lie on my chest sleeping and feel his breath on my cheek. But not just any newborn, I want to hold one of my boys like that again and take it all in. For a day, an hour, a moment.

If only it was possible to travel back and see that little face peeking through the rails of his crib. To hear the way my second-born snorted when he laughed at seven months, how our oldest pronounced “restaurant”. I remember these things just fine, but I wish I could experience them again.

I’d savour it a bit more. I’d pay a little bit more attention. I’d appreciate those small things for the fleeting experience that they were.

This is not to say I regret anything. I’m not sad to see these boys turning into young men. Life is good and each day brings something new. I love reading chapter books at bedtime, watching Star Wars through their eyes, playing games that are more complicated than Candy Land.

And yet, I want to go back.

I’d like to see my third born dancing as a toddler, push one of my babies in the swing at the park, see a little face turn because he recognized my voice above all others.

This desire to travel back to those moments makes me cherish this time with my boys now. It causes me to stop doing dishes or folding laundry when I hear a small voice ask me to play cars, or ride bikes, or take a swim. When my oldest asks if he can sit on my lap after dinner, I always say “yes” because one day soon I will long to travel back and relive that moment, too.

Enjoy each moment, they go by so quickly.

Savour those cuddles, before you know it they won’t want to hug anymore.

Don’t blink – they grow up so fast.

 

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Merry Christmas, Y’all

Decorations and softly glowing lights, friends and laughter, and anticipation of the magic of Christmas morning. Every December memories come flooding back. I loved slowly going through the Sears Wishbook and carefully writing down my hopes for gifts: a Slinky, Miss Piggy Baby, Monchichi, Cabbage Patch Kid, a Care Bear, a diary. 

As the holidays approached, our house transformed into something magical. Some of the decorations have long been given away and replaced, but when I think of Christmas growing up, I picture the tinsel garland my mom hung over the front hall mirror, the reindeer stuffies perched around our family room, and the red felt stockings hung on the fireplace. I remember a steady flow of visitors dropping in, the white noise of conversation, the small metal candy dishes filled to the brims. And of course, the glow of flickering flames during the Christmas Eve candlelight service, my favourite service of the year.

A week or so before Christmas every year a special package would arrive from Minnesota. We never knew for sure what the contents would be, but they always included Hershey Kisses (you couldn’t get them in Canada back then) and some fun homemade decoration with a newsy letter updating us on all things Minnesotan. You see, years before, a young couple with two small children decided to reach out to a Canadian family in need at the Mayo Clinic. The backstory is not my story to tell, but they (among others) provided support and stability to a young patient when her parents couldn’t be with her as she received treatment. A friendship that spanned years began.

Fast forward to my adulthood. Through social media I have met lovely people from all over. One Christmas not long ago a package arrived from Rochester, Minnesota from a family I had befriended (or they befriended me. Either way, we became friends). Inside was a bag of American Reece’s Peanut Butter bells and Rubik’s Cubes for our four boys. Seeing the return address made my eyes leak and my heart leap at the connection. But wait, there’s more. The sender worked for…the Mayo Clinic.

Your memories are different from mine. And the memories we create now with our children are different again, too. Our family has traditions now that weren’t possible when I was young. We send and receive cards and packages to and from all over the USA. We have received dozens of packages of Oreos and M&Ms from them, too. Each year since the “Rubik’s Cube Christmas” our list of “friends we have yet to meet in real life” grows. And it is amazing.

As we put up our tree this year I set aside some ornaments that I wanted to hang myself. They hold a special place in my heart as a representation of my internet people and a  reminder of how sad things can be turned into the fondest of memories.

Merry Christmas, friends.

*not pictured are the packages of Oreos and M&Ms because self-control is hard

Closing Time

This is neither profound nor original, but it’s been on my mind a lot recently.

Semisonic was right.

Semisonic – you know? That band from the 90s? They had that song “Closing Time.”

Closing time
Open all the doors and let you out into the world
Closing time
Turn the lights up over every boy and every girl.
Closing time
One last call for alcohol so finish your whiskey or beer.
Closing time
You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.

I know who I want to take me home.
I know who I want to take me home.
I know who I want to take me home.
Take me home

Closing time
Time for you to go out to the places you will be from.
Closing time
This room won’t be open ’til your brothers or you sisters come.
So gather up your jackets, and move it to the exits
I hope you have found a friend.

Closing time
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

Yeah, I know who I want to take me home.
I know who I want to take me home.
I know who I want to take me home.
Take me home

Closing time
Time for you to go out to the places you will be from

I know who I want to take me home.
I know who I want to take me home.
I know who I want to take me home.
Take me home

I know who I want to take me home.
I know who I want to take me home.
I know who I want to take me home.
Take me home

Closing time
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end

Summer is over. A new school year is beginning. We finish school and start jobs and careers. We move houses and create a new home. We end relationships and initiate others.

With each change there is some sadness for what or whom we leave behind. I am sad that my year of being part-time is over and I am not home with our boys after school. I will miss being there as they rush out the school door each day asking me for popsicles or to stay and play at the park. I will miss seeing my other parent friends as we corral our children and commiserate about making lunches. But today I embrace a new teaching assignment. In addition to providing planning time coverage for the kindergarten classes, I will be teaching Bearded Husband’s grade five class at the end of each day. I am nervous and excited and a teeny bit emotional (about not being home with the boys, not about teaching with Bearded Husband).

This keeps happening – these changes. Some are easier than others. Some are more exciting.

Summer began and ended. This school year has begun. Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

I am grateful.

Song written by Dan Wilson • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc