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Category Archives: Relationships

It may be just wind, but listen closely and those molecules are smashing into each other–can’t you hear them?

I had just read Ben Hewitt’s post “Done in Silence” when my thirteen-year old son burst on the scene.”Mom! I was thinking, I’ve earned $25 from my work so far and I do have enough money to buy —– (a computer game he wants to play online with friends) after all, so..”

I had turned to listen but was struggling to gain purchase on the concepts he was on about. I interrupted him, “J, remember I’ve told you to give a few seconds after you come into a room before launching into something you want to say?”

“Oh yeah.” He breathed in once, out once.

By this time I had a sense of the topic at least. “I also want you to know that I just finished reading a good blog post on how destructive it is to allow children easy access to screen time.”

His mouth curved up on one side, he nodded once, and turned. “I’ll tell you about it later,” he said.

Because I’d stayed up trying to organize photos from my recent trip across Canada with my daughter, I got up a little later than has been my habit lately. As usual I hung a cut out milk jug berry bucket around my neck, went to the garden and picked my granola toppings, allowing my mind time to awaken, or maybe to linger between sleeping and awake, as I let my feet feel the hard, dry lumpy ground of the dormant lawn, stepped around recent dog droppings, felt a rising wind lift the bean leaves, saw and heard a hawk hunting for birds among the neighborhood evergreens. After enjoying my bowl of granola, yogurt and berries, I pruned some branches overhanging my compost pile and shed, pulled a few weeds from the soft soil of a raised bed. Beets swelling, beans appearing, tomatoes and late raspberries ripening, apple trees sending out new shoots. Always things are growing. I laid the pruned branches in an out of the way corner, weeds on the compost pile with lawn clippings and kitchen scraps. Always things are breaking down, cycling back. Some fast, some slowly.

When I came back to the compost pile a few minutes later, a sleek brown rat scurried away under the shed. Must do something about the rats, even though I think they are handsome and admire their intelligence and personality. But for the soft brown coat, they look and act the same as the pets rats we loved years ago. But the neighbors would not agree. The rats do not compete with us for resources, as long as I keep the bone meal and seeds secured, but I suppose I should at least keep the family from growing. I made a half hearted mental note to find the snap trap and plan a humane execution. But if I find a nest of young’uns under the shed when we move it, well, we haven’t had a pet rat in a while, and the girls were crooning over the cute ones they saw in the pet store while we were waiting for a triple-A tow yesterday…

This time I had only a half hour to myself. My husband tends to launch onto the scene without warning, and I have found that an hour or two of quiet is good preparation. He lies in bed after waking up, gathers the threads of thoughts freed by sleep and coalescing at the surface, get a good mental steam up, and then out he comes. with his project plan or solution to a problem, or viewpoint on a current controversy. Like father, like son. Lately there are the projects we’re working on–leveling ground for a fence replacement, deciding how to rearrange the shrubs come rainy season, carting the wood chips from the two fir trees we had cut down, talking out plans for our careers. Will I take the job offered to me lFriday, or should I wait and for something more mainstream in my own district? When will we be ready for him to transition away from working for T-Mobile, coding for a throw-away culture, solving problems in cash flow for a large corporation, and grow our own software consulting business?

We’ve been asking these questions for years. And the one about whether we will stay at this house and put some more work into it, or seriously seek a different property. I told my husband that I have decided in any case to treat this house as the one we’re going to be living in for the foreseeable future. So I planted apple trees, long delayed, raspberries and blackberries, and have drawn up a design for the expansion of the garden and addition of a working studio/bike storage building and a tea house, to be built mostly from ReStore materials and in my spare time. In my experience, I become something close to depressed when I just wait and see and stop making a home where I’m at. It doesn’t have to be perfect. I left Better Homes and Gardens behind long ago, and ignore or scoff at the new local mags that feature interiors and improvements designed for the market and marketers who advertise in those same pages, rather than a real life.

It was good to visit the homes of my family members in that regard, for a reality check. My Ontario brother bought his place for the land and improved the house and interior with his own hands, built a hen house and greenhouse (in addition to a bat hotel). It’s heated by wood from his lot, and very little garbage is generated there. My Montreal sister rents whatever works for commuting by metro to her job and church and her modest shopping needs, and is most happy with the sound of the wind in the maple tree outside her apartment. My younger brother rents a one bedroom and seems content with his parking attendant job. My other sister and brother-in-law have improved the water tightness and livability of a house he bought for himself at a price that he could pay off quickly and so bed free from the soul-killing software industry he was part of. A wall down here to make a more open living room, an extra beam and dormer to tuck a loft up into the attic, and the whole lower floor for his mom and stepdad to enjoy until they didn’t need it any more. Meanwhile it’s cozy and full of personality, the plumbing works, meals are eaten at the living room coffee table or at the picnic table outside, and the flat is a haven for musicians and other friends from the city and beyond.

Mom and Dad’s “vacation home” is a small centuries old house typical of the village of Crow Head, Newfoundland –low ceilinged (people were shorter then), recently added flush toilet, no insulation, and a gorgeous Atlantic Ocean view almost completely cut off by the grassy root cellar mound and storage shed. The local carpenter replaced the drafty windows and added a painting studio, and Mom has pinned up her quilts, calendar and quilt magazine pages, and a Blue Rodeo poster. Back in their home in Nova Scotia, the farmhouse bought from the farmer next door, the wood stove, insulation, and garden are better, but again it’s a place to make and remember a life, not a showcase.The home is centered around creative activity, art, literature, and visitors (which include animals).

I came back from that trip and told my husband that I definitely didn’t want to pay for anything fancier than we needed. The rickety, low ceilinged place right by the lake would do, as would the fixer upper with seven acres. It was all a matter of perspective. Then why didn’t I like our own house? He wondered. I wonder it, too, but I think it has to do with the room configuration, in which I can’t seem to find a place to be creative, or a place that is truly visitor-friendly. It never, ever felt like the one to settle down in, though the neighborhood and proximity to the pool has been great, as has the large back yard. But I just want to finish up the seemingly never ending fixes and slight adjustments, painting and refinishing, never really making the changes this badly laid out house needs.

No, this is not a post in which I appear to come to terms with everything and find all kinds of reasons to be thankful. Truth is I’m heartsick, fed up, sick and tired of living in a house in which I can’t start a creative project, have no privacy, and my kids don’t feel comfortable having their friends over, ’cause there’s no place to hang out, no nooks that aren’t constantly needed for the main themes of household life. We designed an addition and backed out, had a consultation with builders and let the email checkins trail off. I dreamed of a loft above the garage, stairs up to an upstairs craft room and office, a studio in the back corner of the yard. I teased that we could rent a Simple Box or buy a camper trailer for some extra room. All I managed to do was rent an office around the other side of the bay. This has been good, but looks like the regular tenant needs it back in a few weeks. It’s full of my boxes of sewing supplies and my two machines, but all I’ve managed to make is a really nice pot holder. I’d wanted to finally finish my daughter’s quilt, started almost ten years ago, and I don’t even know where the hell it is, between stashing things in the storage unit, on top of and underneath appliances and in various crevices and crannies.

The bad news is, now that a second child is off to college and there will technically be “room” enough, we might get stuck here forever. I did say that I’d regard that as a given, so I could have a purpose to make improvements as well as permission to stop aspiring to the impossible, but to really act like I’m grounded, I’d have to set up and take on some projects that my husband didn’t sign on for. He keeps saying that we just want to finish things up to sell, but the timeline never comes to a head, and here we still are, on our third realtor, years of open houses and  web searches and special viewings and watching the interest rates and bubbling, no closer to needing those piles of moving boxes I stored, which are now smelling pretty musty. There will be no welcoming international student friends of our kids into the guest room or hosting exchange students, no fostering needy children, no running summer workshops in canning or winter book clubs.

They say anger is helpful, because it helps one recognize that there’s a problem. I get angriest when I am not obeying my conscience or am failing to act like a free agent with real needs. For not calmly insisting that others recognize and take my needs seriously (once I know what they are, which is sometimes just a best guess) if they truly want to maintain the relationship. Oh God, now I think I’m getting somewhere.

 
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Posted by on August 5, 2016 in Personal Growth, Relationships

 

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Mother-daughter travel

Mother and Daughter have just returned from a pleasant walk to get supper at McDonald’s (chicken wrap for Mom and fries to share) and immediately after that, Tim Horton’s (Caesar salad for vegetarian Daughter, who discovered that Tim’s Caesars include bacon). Mother suggested Daughter record a video or audio of the counter guy, who would call each customer forward with a “I can help who’s next, b’y.” Daughter received her order from an island matron who handed over her salad with a “Here you are, my darlin’.”

It was clear on the walk back to the B&B, the chilly north Atlantic wind and cloud banks having  finally receded after several days of blow. Now it is night, and Mother and Daughter recline against the pillows on their respective beds in the B&B. It’s last night in Newfoundland, time to access wifi for the first time in several days. Daughter is catching up on Youtube videos, Mother is writing a blog post. Daughter’s quiet, breathy laughter drifts across the room to Mother.

Mother: “S, it’s okay to laugh out loud, you know.”

Daughter: “Don’t tell me how to laugh.”

Mother (lightheartedly): “I’m not, but I’m going to now.”

Daughter: “You just sucked all the happiness out of the room.”

Mother (laughing) “S, you’re good for me.”

Daughter: “I’m good for everyone.”

Not a hard word, hardly, between my daughter and I, on this whole trip. I am so proud of her, that she has turned out such a quality person. Every one of my family members was blessed by her quiet, kind presence. Just the fact that she could be out of what many young people consider “civilization” and could actually enjoy herself, is impressive. Mom & Dad, who live so far away from us and have only seen these four of ours every few years, will be talking of the sweet moments with her that they enjoyed. Lunches in and out with Mom, walks along the trail and through the village, the dip in the frigid water that my eighty year old father and she took  in the cove, reading all together by the wood stove, exploring gift shops, museum, dock and beach.

It would not have been as good without her, that’s sure. I feel like I’ve come bearing gifts.

 

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Ontario Part II

My daughter and I have been away from home just over two weeks now. She’s a wonderful traveling companion, and a credit to her people, as they say. Just came from my parents’ little house in Crow’s Head near Twillingate on the north side of Newfoundland, where we spent a few days. Before that we stayed with my youngest sister and bro-in-law in Halifax, Nova Scotia, before that my other younger sister in Montreal. We’re taking a small breather at a B&B in Gander, NL before flying out to Winnipeg early tomorrow morning.

My brother and sister-in-law said goodbye to us in Kingston, Ontario, seeing us off by train for the almost three hour ride to Montreal. Just enough time for a good visit it was. Heather gave us a driving tour around town and took us out to lunch, all the while making my eighteen-year-old daughter feel thoroughly at ease and appreciated. Heather is tall and beautiful at fifty, and has that personality we in our family refer to as “mercy,” where her motivation for all she does is rooted in a desire to make others feel cared for. Every little touch to make us feel at home in their place was there–soft towels, toiletries obviously for using, half a dozen soft pillows each, both quiet time and companionship, attentive and interesting conversation, genuine words of affirmation.

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My brother is also a good host, but in a different way, his own way. He kept us active–took us out to see his goats and chickens, with eggs in incubation, and to the pond to look for water snakes. No snakes, but we did come upon thousands of tiny toads, so many that we had to walk farther away from the water’s edge to avoid stepping on them. So tiny and perfect, hopping like small crickets toward the water in waves as we passed.IMG_5610 (1)

We went with him on a hike at Dunder Rock with his dog Jack, hoping to see a corn snake, a large one having bee seen by several others in the area. Matt shook his head to see others’  dogs off leash, which would effectively prevent such a sighting. Most owners never even realize what their dogs are bothering or killing up ahead, he said, just want them to be free and happy. But they kill snakes, among other things.

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We stood and felt the height and cool breezes, watched resident turkey vultures and took some photos. After working up a sweat on the way down we eased down a rocky bank into the lake, delicious cool water but not too cold. Then back home for another array of salads and whole grain bread and cheese. We talked a little about teaching, but only slantwise and reverently, of the attachment one feels with students, the fulfillment of helping them understand, appreciate and care for this wonderful world.

On Canada Day Matt took us into Seeley’s Bay, the local village, where we caught, or rather joined by mistake, the tail end of the parade, walked around town, Matt recognized by various locals young and old and exhibiting his characteristic plain charm. In the ice cream and souvenir store he plunked down beside the owner for a chat, and soon came around to the question of whether she needed more stock of his handmade bat houses. His summer work includes humanely extricating bat colonies from attics and outbuildings and providing new quarters. Mostly these are small boxes of barn boards, erected on poles or building exteriors, but last year he built the miniature house, a bat mansion, mentioned in a recent post. We checked stand found some evidence of bat visitation–the crumbly droppings made of insect exoskeletons excreted by local brown bats.

The last evening we played Blokus, which brought out the playful teasing that Heather and Matt enjoy, him being always competitive, which tends to make everyone else, even Heather, want to gang up on him. Later Heather and I talked about that competitiveness, where it came from and its positive and negative sides. Came up again when talking to my brother-in-law on our visit to Halifax too. Matt loves to win when there’s a game on, and excel when it’s time to get to work. As well as being a well-loved teacher (Heather tells of numerous parents and students who take biology just to be in his class, and students who hate science coming out wanting to pursue it in college), he’s skilled in construction, woodworking, gardening, riding, athletics, art, and music. He’s pretty much self-taught. Indeed, Heather and I agreed, he doesn’t like to be taught or acknowledge others to be more expert than himself unless absolutely necessary. This is a quality that shows itself in various members of my family. Yes, this is really about me. So much easier to be bothered by my flaws when they are reflected by others. So this family tour is not only a way to reconnect, but to understand and improve myself. My daughter gives lots of good insight there, too, and has a fresh perspective that’s enough removed from the generational hangups to enable me to be more open.

Heather drive us to the rain station on her way to her vet clinic the next morning for the ride to Montreal.

 

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Landing at the landing – a room of my own

Here I am in my own little office, which the Master of the Universe has seen fit to provide me on such short notice. That is, when I was willing to do my part in a serious way, instead of just whining. It was a minimal part, if I don’t count all the mental and emotional preparation. All I did was look on Craigslist for something under a certain price of a certain size, and found a little artist studio on the wharf, to be vacated the next day by the local writer for the summer, terms casual and by trust, furnished and with a view of boats and a bit of harbor. I got the keys the next day from a man who reminded me of a slightly younger version of my father, also a writer of folk history.

I’m looking out at the forested hills of my town, university at ten o’clock, downtown seven o’clock, and a 360 degree foreground of dry docked boats, cranes, and shipping containers, with the demolished pulp and paper plant, a sliver of bay, and islands behind that. Seagulls and the clinking of cables against masts penetrate the silence of my nest. Out in the hall a little old tea table has been set on the worn carpet, where young artists have lined the walls with their work. All for under $200 a month, and I am told it is safe but just keep the front door locked so the homeless won’t camp in the downstairs lounge, because we can’t always tell them from the tenants.

I didn’t even know the place was here–just another dead end off the main, but now I have a key and a parking space. The regular tenant has placed a recliner on a pedestal behind the desk for better viewing of the scenery. I took a nap there yesterday.

I didn’t get the job that opened up at my school for next year. Full time, at least four preps biology, a second science, and two electives–a very heavy load, but that’s how it is at a small school, especially for new teachers.

At first I took it well. The principal was kind and affirming in telling me, and I had prepared myself with the understanding that they really wanted a more technical person, who could teach robotics and programming–that’s the drive now, where the money is, and does interest most students more than biology and environmental science. So that was best for the students, after all. I also was concerned about the many preps–two being a lot of work, let alone four or five. I would probably have taught health/nutrition, and offered a number of others as possibilities–a course of real life living skills that used to be known as home economics, a marine biology, horticulture, animal physiology.I was prepared to work several hours a day all summer to lay out the plans. I love that kind of work, truly energizing and a good use of my background and talents.

But they found just the person they needed, with career and technical (CTE) certification and robotics experience, and so I am free. I’m happy to have most of a year’s extra experience in the classroom, at this school in particular, with all the training in project based learning (PBL) and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).

The next day our offer on a house we, I especially, had hoped to buy, fell through. The owner is still over valuing it for its condition, so we let it go. “Just be patient,” said our realtor, “The right house will come along.” She felt it was a wise decision, which really is a credit to her, who has been on this journey with us for over a year without any sign of impatience herself at no commission.

So I’m grieving both losses, even as I am glad to have my new office, eat fresh spinach from my garden and see the apples swell on my young trees, see the kids all getting along reasonable well though cramped in our little house without enough beds or dressers. And we all have our health.

I warned my husband, half jokingly, that if we weren’t buying a house yet, I would have to take steps to improve the space we are in now, treat it as if it were long term, because it was always turning out that way, though we were still using hand me down and second hand furniture. He felt for me, knowing I have wanted to either add on or move for years, and something always prevents that. I’m trying to embrace the opportunity to grow from it, and grow closer to him rather than the “dream.” I also choose acknowledge my need to switch things up, though in more subtle ways—a color update for the living room, perhaps, or on the more ambitious side, an addition of a bike garage so I can get a commuter and keep it out of the weather.

I feel superfluous. From my education system, from my home, from the decision making framework about my home. I know it’s just a way of thinking, and could lead me into actually being superfluous. Mindset and vision and positive action being the thing, as I try to teach my life-weary students. Yes, you can make a difference! You must, the alternative, as I said before, being to horrible to contemplate. And so the teacher must learn to be the free agent she urges her students to be, master of my fate, in charge of my choices, informed by feelings and circumstances, not controlled. Don’t you think?

 

 

 

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Tikkun olam

Here I am, still losing my religion. I had a flicker of hope, though, that it might be in order to find to again, and a feeling that a this point at least it’s not about any leap of faith or girding up of loins, but a kind of waiting, watching, and calling up of the bare bones essential truth of what I still believe.

I’m among believers at my work place–maybe about half, I’m guessing, though there’s not much mention of that, as per the Separation. Anyway, their best way of bearing witness is in the love they bear toward the least of these. I’ve come around to that after all, Dad.

A few days ago I had the privilege of witnessing something beautiful–a brief interaction between one of my students from last quarter, one of a set of twins that are carrying the weight of virtual homelessness, and the counselor. The girl finishes school each day wondering how she’ll get a drive to the place where her nearest relative is crashing, how may people she’ll have to call, whether she has a friend in the world. Also wondering how her court case will shake out, whether there will be jail time for her soon.

She was heading out of the office, and the counselor reached out with her name and a few words–I could tell it was just another part of a long effort in the same direction, to once again offer good wishes and a tone of real compassion, in case she could believe it this time. Her usually frowning countenance heard it, and also from the principal, who was there too seeing her off, and she kind of softened, took it in, as she turned to head out the door.

I notice a lot of that sort of thing around here, and it’s softening me, too. Staff catching up on news of this or that former student, whether happy in a good job or showing up on the jail report again. Talk of former students who can hardly wait until they’re twenty-one, or five years out of school, to be Facebook friends with the teachers who had their back when times were rough.

Now that I feel accepted by the students and no longer viewed with suspicion, as possibly one who might not “get” them, or might abandon them as some felt the previous teacher did, there’s more of an opening for me to give off that kind of warmth too. I don’t want to take that for granted, or offer anything that isn’t genuine. I’ve made lots of mistakes already from ignorance and lack of experience, or from wearing a mask to hide my own insecurity. Here’s to being a channel of the divine peace.

 

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Fallow ground and growing things

One can rent a Simple Box, buy Old Fashioned Rice Crispy squares. Flameless candles and heatless fireplaces for ambiance, pre-ripped jeans, distressed furniture for the I-have-lived look. One can be “hosted” at a restaurant, pay for a mentor, hire a companion (or buy a responsive robot), have counseling covered by insurance. Why bother being real, putting one’s hands to work and service, putting oneself out there at all to build a community of neighbors, friends, layers of acquaintances based on various exchanges? No need even to find a youth to help with yard work–there are apps that will match you up with the local chain, complete with 1-800 number, 50% markup, and worker wages that will never add up to college tuition.

I feel the pull of that commercialized, professionalized touch-free world–I like anonymity, clear cut expectations, don’t mind being a customer account number with no obligations beyond timely payment, and if things aren’t to my liking I cut off services; nobody’s feeling get hurt when the customer is always right. I’ve beyond that generation that did community building as a matter of course, before it had a tag. I want it, but don’t lift a hand much, especially in the winter. i want it to just happen, preferably in not too messy or uncomfortable a way, or with much of a need to make sacrifices.

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if things fell apart for someone in my network–would there be enough of a protocol of caring personally for one’s neighbor? I’m ashamed to say that beyond a few basics I don’t really know what my neighbor’s current needs, challenges, fears are. Nor do I share my own with very many–not family, not friends, not church, even when I was more regularly involved. At times when I lose my way someone comes along to draw me back to the land of the living, but what if they didn’t? I wouldn’t even have the will to look through the phone book for a therapist, or make an appointment with the only therapist I remember–the one who got visibly excited when she thought most of our family was exhibiting the same symptoms as she, and maybe needed the same medication! A bit of library research ruled that out, but it was one more thing that fed my distrust of professional therapists.

Maybe it’s a personality thing. Some need to talk it out, and if they don’t want to burden a friend, might be wise  to hire someone. I think I’m more like the character in Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood, who gets healing, and the strength to face her crisis, by withdrawing for a time. In the novel it’s seen as natural and called a fallow state. She just sits, sleeps, moves around a little, and doesn’t talk to or appear to hear anyone, as if she were in a waking coma, or a cocoon, waiting for no one knows what moment to come out. People help her with basic needs, let her be without avoiding her, but she is choosing by default to withdraw. Something is going on inside, a kind of reordering of memories, layers of personality, a healing and restoration that takes all her energy just then.

So I take my little breaks, not just the times out for rest, reading, writing, exercise, and time with friends, but sometimes just to zone out. I do this without the aid of mind-altering drugs or any particular meditation technique. It’s like taking a nap, but shorter, above the waters of real sleep, but refreshing. And I always, after fifteen to thirty minutes, wake suddenly with a drive to accomplish something. In fact if I don’t wait for that and try to drag myself back into my duties before the right time, I end up crashing worse. As long as I don’t let negative judgments of myself for needing that retreat, I can actually get to a kind of balance again.

Right now I get away in the pool for a few hours a week, in my empty classroom for a few hours on Saturdays, and for five minutes between staff lunch and students coming into class. All the other teachers seem to be fine hanging out until the bell, but I need that five minutes, and the quiet hour or two after school, or I don’t think I’d make it through the week.

Still, it’s been a better week than of late, I know how to plan better, have a better relationship with my co-teacher, feel more confident, relaxed and seasoned. My last period class has been transformed completely by the departure of four students, all of whom took so much of my time and energy the others lost out and I was often frazzled. I got four new students in that class whose struggles, some of which I know, some not, aren’t the kind that create disorder and distraction for others, and require from me less disciplinary management and more relational connection and intuitive communication. I can be myself, and we are all enjoying that more. There is already a growing sense of trust and community, rather than the tension and awkwardness I was told sometimes happens in these quarter transitions. Still a week to go for open enrollment, so maybe things will get more challenging.

Getting back to building community, in a sense the opening has happened for me to be proactive there through this job. I have this wonderful privilege of encouraging and challenging young people who needed this school, who convinced the folks in the main office that they wanted to be here and would be thankful for the opportunity to get off the waiting list, that trying to navigate the big high school corridors was taking them down. There they are, open, trying, needing support, but full of such interesting thoughts and carrying around talents, insights, knowledge, hopes, questions, wounds.

Today was awards day, where each staff member gets to recognize three students, and the new students got to hear, briefly, about students who had turned it around, never given up, showed exemplary kindness to others, striven for excellence. A good way to start the quarter, though some might naturally sink into feeling inadequate, as if they’d never be award-worthy.

One student, who never would have accomplished much if it weren’t for the patience and very direct support of the special ed teacher, was surprised to receive a Perseverance award. He had been constantly oppositional, complaining and resisting, using his smart phone, wearing his big earphones, off in unrelated conversations whenever he could be.  All his teachers knew that in his case, “perseverance” was a loose translation of “condescending to allow teachers to endure his prickly presence and walk on eggshells to creatively get around his defenses enough to help him get his work done so he could see a decent grade on his transcript and feel proud of himself enough to keep trying.” But he was touched–sort of partially melted, as I saw when I congratulated him later. Like he was starting to believe that other people, adults, even people in authority, might actually be on his side, and that he could accomplish something in academics. It’s hard to keep up the caring with a person like that, but I started to find the way through teasing him. Whenever I’d tell him to put away his phone, or change seats for being off task, he’d get his back up, look fierce and ask why I was picking on him. I would point out that I’d also spoken to so-and-so, and get drawn into a debate. Then once I had the sense to reply, “Because I like picking on you–it’s fun,” he actually smiled, and didn’t sass me, and from there the progress started.

Found out the teacher I am replacing while she is on leave has moved on, taken a job in another state, so next year this position should be open, at the same or possible greater hours, and then growing from there as the staff move into a new building. With natural lighting, creator spaces, a real science lab, a greenhouse, and seating on the roof!

 

 

Stayin’ alive among all those live wires

Friday, in a good space, just me and the girls, listening to Twenty-One Pilots, as my girls paint with acrylics and I sip a glass of my first ever batch of home made hard cider, on ice. I am shopping for a disco ball. I don’t know why I never bought one a long time ago, but since we’ve just decided to have a party in a few weeks, now is the time. My girls are tickled that I’m enjoying the music so much, hearing the story of the lead singer Tyler Joseph. So much soul in his lyrics, voice and riffs–sounds like a really intense, emotional person who needs his music to survive, which my daughter said was the case, as he struggles with depression and all. Home schooled, grew up in a conservative Christian family who embraced his voice as it emerged in a way he thought might not be approved by them. My daughter said so many people have come away alive from suicidal bouts by listening to this music. Lyrics come close to the pain, name it, and then blast off into hope. That she listens to entire thirty-minute interviews just to hear him talk because he’s so smart. Really great vocal skills too, and the drummer ain’t no ordinary drummer. Her recommendation of a song to check out on the theme of hope: “Holding onto You”

Eldest daughter’s artwork this evening features goofy characters with bulging eyeballs and small sets of eyeballs on their own. She says that making things that don’t have to be good is just more enjoyable as she doesn’t feel tempted to criticize her work. Younger daughter is doing this amazing thing with streaks of a subtle bluish purple across the white canvass that from here look like shadows of tree trunks.

And the kitchen is still a mess, oven fireplace, stove fan and still broken, still tools on the kitchen counter, couch strewn with light can fixtures. But here we are, my daughters sensing the enjoyment I have in this kind of time with them. All that can wait.

Trying not to always talk about my day when I get home, but I’m all filled up with stories. A few days ago I met a friend for coffee (naturally, she had soup and I didn’t order anything). Friends through our boys’ swim teams since they were twelve. She’s been a teacher, many years in kindergarten, and librarian for years, gives it her all, keeps on learning and adding to her wisdom. I let her do all the talking. The Brave Stance, she called what I taught them–see the TED talk, she said, and I did (Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are by Amy Cuddy). She’d teach her students that if they were feeling put down or having a conflict, to do the Brave Stance (standing power pose, also called Wonder Woman stance) and say “”Please be kind; I want us to be friends.” “But I don’t want to be friends with those kinds of people,” one of my students said, when I shared it. I suggested that for them it might be “I want to get along with you.” The “I am ready to handle this” stance along with the strongly conciliatory statement is powerful–they sensed that. Good for kindergartners, and good for all of us, ’cause all of us still have that kindergartner within, I told another student.

Within minutes of sharing this, I got into a conflict with a student who was distracting others with his phone. Fresh from a conversation that strengthened my confidence about cracking down on phone abusers, I told him to PUT IT AWAY or take it to the office. He tensed–I should have known better than to use my “I’m in charge” voice with him, who tends to be oppositional and, I hear, sometimes verbally abusive. I took a breath, stood in the stance, and said, C—-, please be kind, I want us to get along.” He looked at me a moment, then said, “How about I put my phone in my backpack and zip it up.” “That would be fine, thank you,” I replied, and we moved on.

Showed the other classes the next day, hoping that those high cortisol, anxious students really would do the brave stance in their private moments as needed at least, because the science shows that it actually lowers cortisol 15% and increases testosterone significantly. Works for me, at least on the level of confidence and communication, though the kids are onto me, now that I’ve gone over it in all classes, and it makes them smile. In my last class of the day yesterday, the one with no clinically anxious students, zero special ed, but a really strange variety of characters, I just could not get class started, so many of the students were talking and sharing funny (probably inappropriate) online video clips and so on, that I strode out into the middle of the room and used my brave stance and my loud voice an reamed them out. Totally got their attention, said I WAS DOING MY PART TO CREATE A LEARNING SPACE, AND THEY NEEDED TO DO THEIRS, THAT IF THEY WANTED TO SIT THERE AND PAY NO ATTENTION, THAT WAS THEIR CHOICE, BUT IF THEY WERE GOING TO INTERFERE WITH OTHERS’ OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN, THAT WAS NOT OKAY, AND IF I HAD TO I’D KICK OUT HALF A DOZEN PEOPLE IF I HAD TO. I LIKED THEM ALL, I REALLY DID, BUT THINGS HAD TO CHANGE!

Half way through the first sentence, all were paying attention, soon several were smiling, and at the end they actually applauded. The next day, of course, I had the same problem. This time I invited those who were trying to learn to gather closer to where I was facilitating discussion, and told the rest to go back in the corner and have the conversation that was obviously so important to them to have RIGHT NOW, only quieter.

Which worked okay–the five on my left side of the room really were making thoughtful and intelligent contributions, and I guess appreciated being made the priority for once instead of having to wait for the others to get with the program. The key was, is, I think, that now I’m teaching what I want, what I think is important, crucial, actually, rather than trying to follow the other teachers’ past plans or basing things on the availability of cool materials. And they are picking up on my sense of urgency and that i know something about this. They learned about energy flow in natural ecosystems, which is sustainable, at least in the context of somewhat gradual evolution, and now we’re looking at the history of human energy use, which has become unsustainable. I found an online video from the Crash Course series, this one based on the book Children of the Sun by Alfred Crosby, and we captured essential stages and identified the most impactful developments. If we accept Crosby’s skepticism that human societies can’t be convinced to actually decrease their energy use, as David Suzuki urges we do, then we are left with the great challenge of our time: how to develop sustainable energy use patterns, based on that age old principle on which all the other species that have present representatives live: survival. Something relevant to talk about and work on.

It seemed pretty chaotic, that class, especially after the Crash Course video and note taking that had gone so well the previous day. But several students from the left side of the class said they felt they’d accomplished more than usual and that people were more engaged. It’s true that when I invited the loud crew to push their table up closer so I wouldn’t have to shout, if they wanted to take part in the discussion, two of them jumped up and started shoving, startling the other four. Processing now, I feel I have discovered another key: work with the volunteers first, do something cool and let the rest come along if they will. If anyone seriously interferes with what the A-Team is trying to achieve, they will be asked to leave until they can be a better team member. I feel we are at the stage in our relationship that I can ask for that kindness.

 

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