Category Archives: Deep(er) Stuff

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

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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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.

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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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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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Hello? Can You Hear Me?

“Screens are done. Devices off. Dinner is ready,” I call into the abyss that is our living room. “Hello? HELLO? GUESS I WILL JUST EAT THIS DELICIOUS MEAL ALL BY MYSELF.”

Nothing. Not even a flinch.

“Please make sure you put your shoes in the laundry room,” I remind an audience of zero. Because there the shoes sit – in the front foyer, ready to greet any guests who drop by.

Every parent feels like their messages often fall on deaf ears, right? I’m not alone in feeling unheard and invisible, am I?

Occasionally I like to make sure that I am not a ghostly phantom that cannot be heard rather than the mom my children choose to ignore. So I test their hearing. There are several methods I like to employ:

1. Turn on any Youtube video.

2. Call my mother.

3. Open a candy wrapper.

4. Begin a conversation with my husband.

5. Use even slightly salty language.

“We’re having a movie night? Can I have a snack? What are you watching? Why are you spelling out your words?” What a relief, their hearing is just fine.

I get it kids, parents are boring. We are always giving you advice, life lessons, and reminders to clean up your junk. Why bother turning off Netflix if you can ignore your mom and get a few extra minutes? Makes sense. I did it, too. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t drive me crazy, though.

Acknowledge that you heard me, kids. Respond. Throw an “okay” or “be right there” my way. I’d even settle for a grunt or a head nod. Or better yet, how about you just do what I ask the first time? Wouldn’t it be fun to just put your school things away instead of waiting for angry mom to arrive on the scene? It would be, trust me.

Alas, human children are not really wired that way. They have other ways of letting parents know that despite their blank stares and frozen positions on the couch, they do hear what we say. Sometimes we just have to wait for it. It’s hard to be patient and easy to give up or get frustrated. I feel that way a lot. And then that magical moment arrives. It can take on a variety of forms and often happens when we least expect it.

Recently I took three of our four boys to the movies. They were particularly chatty during the drive and I have learned to be still and let van conversations flow. They are some of the most profound conversations we’ve had. I think the topic came up after a chat about some light up shoes they had seen, I’m a bit fuzzy on the details, but the discussion went something like this:

Son #1: Some kids think there are Boy colours and Girl colours, but that’s just not true.

Son #2: Right? It’s so dumb to say that flowers and stuff are for girls, anybody can like what they like.

Son #1: Yeah, I like to colour with pink lots.

Son #3: It’s true, but sometimes commercials actually say, “and these ones for girls.”

Son #1: But you can buy whatever colour you want. Remember when I liked Hello Kitty so much? Some people say it’s for girls, but I liked it. I don’t anymore, but I really, really did when I was three.

Son #2: Sometimes kids at school say that pink is for girls. I don’t agree. I mean, I don’t really like pink, but that’s not because I’m a boy, I just like other colours more.

For the past ten years of raising four boys, we have tried very hard to dispel boy/girl stereotypes, particularly when it comes to toy selection and colour choices. We haven’t forced an agenda on the boys, but rather we hope we’ve coached them that they can like what they like. There is no such thing as a gender-specific colour. If they want to wear nail polish, I’ll gladly grab my vast collection and paint them any colour or pattern they wish. You’re into Hello Kitty and Transformers? Fine with me.

I quietly cheered the boys on as they discussed the ridiculous notion that we need to separate colours into categories. Yes, they have been listening.

Kids listen. They do. They might roll their eyes or seem to tune us out (they probably do tune us out). But they listen. They watch how we behave, they see how we treat others, and they do listen. We might not see immediate responses or evidence, but if we are willing to be patient, to be still, we will see it. Our messages do reach them.

But seriously now, screen time is over. 

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Please pick up your socks. Pick them up. PICK THEM UP.