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Gratitude and Grace

November 24, 2019

Call it cheesy, but I have been noticing things to be grateful for all over the place the past couple of weeks.

Which is good, because there was a decent stretch of time in October where I felt stuck, spinning our wheels, doing the same things with the same ineffective results and no time or energy to step back and reevaluate or plan anything else.

In no particular order:  recent moments of grace that inspire so much gratitude.

  • our kiddo who was in the principal’s office over and over again came home to a note from their teacher:  “Amazingly great week!”  We who have been cheering for this kid through their struggles collectively hoorayed.

  • a long-term sub in my office told me the reason for her vibrant rainbow leggings, rainbow combat boots, and rainbow-painted scalp:  she is subbing while undergoing chemo treatment for a recurrence of ovarian cancer.  As she gushed about how supportive and kind her students have been, we shared in the deep satisfaction and joy that teaching is “the best job ever.”
  • in this vein:  our kids have such wonderful teachers and therapists and supportive adults in their lives.
  • fabulous aunts (and uncles too) who knit for us, send us library sale books or brownies in the shape of pumpkins, who love and care for us with a depth and loyalty that humbles and strengthens me.

Aunt Mary sent us a treasure trove of books

  • I am listening to Fr. Greg Boyle read his testament of working with gang youth in L.A., Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion. As he shares what unconditional love can do for the teens he works with, I am reminded of why I have let go of so many rules and judgments pertaining to my teaching.  I want to offer a safe space for kids to fail, to fall apart, to ask for what they need, as I was grateful to do earlier this week for several students going through their own difficult time.
  • for the laughter my kids elicit, such as the following:
    • Audrey, doing Mad Libs:  Jamie, I need a body part.  Jamie:  Kidneys.  Audrey:  Exclamation.  Jamie:  Oh my goddess!
    • Karen, examining Theresa’s finger knitting:  “How neat!”  Theresa:  “Correction: ‘How knit.'”
  • we discovered Pusheen the cat, who is really my soul twin.  We have the same birthday, the same favorite things (to include sleeping, food, family and friends, and blogging), and the same sense of humor.

  • today (a Saturday), Alan went to a race in Portland and the kids and I did not leave the house.  All day.  They never changed out of their pajamas.  #mamawin
  • sunsets and college architecture and libraries and fallen leaves and other spots of beauty.
  • so much gratitude for being on the receiving end of others’ grace.  I have messed up so many times these past few weeks:  Forgotten to cancel a babysitter’s job so she showed up when we didn’t need her.  Forgot to write things in my calendar and not shown up to my commitments.  Did not exercise the “think before you speak” axiom and had to ask forgiveness from a displeased colleague.  In these and so many other instances of my humanness (i.e. imperfection [to which my inner voice always adds, “dammit”]), people have been gracious and kind and (hopefully) not held grudges.  Thanks be for that.

One kiddo’s list. The last reminder is one that I need so often.

Stretch, Balance, Release

October 20, 2019

A few years ago, a friend who was going through a tough time shared that one of her friends had asked her, “If you had to describe your life in a yoga pose, what would it be?” My friend immediately answered, “Child’s pose”–a space of centering, resting, restoring.

If I had to describe my current life in a yoga pose, it would be downward dog.

When I first started yoga, the pose I hated above all else was downward dog.  To turn my body into an inverted V, all the blood rushing to my head, my legs unable to straighten?  No thanks.

Image result for downward dog

from Yoga Journal (and obviously not me)

Now, my body craves downward dog, a pose of strength, flexibility, and balance.  When I do it in the morning, the stretch along my back, cracking and popping whatever needs to be cracked and popped, is what I look forward to most.

***

Almost exactly a year ago, I got out of a toxic relationship, one that I had been in for a few years.  The toxicity messed with my head and my heart.  The person I thought was a close friend, whom I appreciated for their wit, charm, kindness, and encouragement, also turned out to be manipulative, selfish, and a huge energy drain.  There were moments when I sensed this dissonance and ignored my instincts.  After all, am I not a good and kind person?  Don’t good and kind people stick with friends even when they’re difficult, forgive hurtful comments and actions, and care for those who are lonely and in need? I thought I was doing the right thing by continuing the friendship even though the signs flashed that it made me unhappy in a variety of ways: questioning and doubting myself, taking on the responsibility for someone else’s happiness.

I tried to distance myself gradually.  I wanted to convince this person that their behavior was not good for them or for me.  Every time, they said they understood; they apologized; they promised to change.  And they did not change.  Maybe they couldn’t.  I don’t know.  Eventually, I realized that I had to release them, because they would not release me.

So I wrote them this:  “It is healthier for me to not have any contact with you. I wish you well.”  And haven’t talked with or seen them since.

Part of me felt guilty for a long time afterward, because although I knew it was the right thing to do, I still cared about that person’s well-being.  I had felt such a strong connection and affection for them, gotten to know them so well.  And because they had told me that I was their lifeline, their “breath of fresh air,” I knew that they would be profoundly unhappy.

I also felt embarrassed.  The social correlation between “kind” and “weak” is hard to fight against, and I was ashamed that I, a smart, aware, well-adjusted adult, could have been so blind to this unhealthy way of being.  How could I have been so foolish?

Time has helped the guilt and the shame lessen.  Time has also shown me how liberating it can be to say No to toxicity, to hold my own space, to put my well-being first.  I know social media has a bad reputation, often rightly so, but one Instagrammer, Alex Elle, inspired me with her self-affirming messages of love and forgiveness.  This one in particular was powerful and reminded me that I was doing the right thing by letting this person go:

and even with your soft &

generous heart, you do not have

to break for those unwilling

to bend for you.  –alex elle

My family life has not gotten less crazy–it’s still really, really crazy–but I feel less stressed.  I don’t cry as often, or yell.  I feel generally more stable than I have in years.

I have learned to interrogate my impulses, and discern which problems are mine to fix, and which are not.  That being in a good relationship means doing my best and letting others own their issues.

Plus, I feel more and deeper empathy for others in similar situations, those who are abused or mistreated by people in their lives.  One of my goals from this whole situation is to figure out how to teach my children how to both be kind and be firm in their values and boundaries.

***

So. Downward dog it is.  Strength.  Flexibility.  Balance.  A pose to stretch and center my whole being.  A pose of groundedness and lift.  A pose to reflect how far I have come in body, mind, and soul.

 

Let them eat cake. And stew.

October 10, 2019

I spent a decent chunk of Saturday cooking, which, contrary to my last post, is not always a reaction to the stressors in my life.  Yesterday’s time in the kitchen was truly enjoyable.  And now I have two new good recipes to show for it:

Beef Stew

adapted lightly from Sarah DiGregorio from the New York Times

Ingredients:

  • the root vegetable equivalent of:  3 large carrots, 2 large parsnips, 2 large russet potatoes, all peeled and chopped into 1.5″ chunks
    • I used carrots and sweet potatoes, but you could also use turnips, rutabagas, beets, etc.
  • 3 thyme sprigs
  • 2 rosemary sprigs
  • 3-3.5 lbs chuck roast, cut into 2-inch chunks (they advise avoiding pre-cut meat from the grocery store, as it’s often too small)
  • 1/3 cup stout
  • 1/2-1 cup beef broth (optional–I didn’t use it, but might next time, since the stew had very little liquid in it)
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup (optional–I didn’t use it)
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tsp. each onion powder and garlic powder (optional–I just used more fresh garlic)
  • 3 tsp. balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. In a large soup pot, brown the meat in 2 Tbsp. olive or canola oil over medium-high heat.  Remove browned meat to a plate or bowl.
  2. After all meat has been browned, pour in either the stout or 1/2 – 1 cup beef broth and scrape up all the browned bits.
  3. Put the meat back into the pot with the root veggies, the herb sprigs, the stout, garlic, 1 tsp. of balsamic vinegar, and other ingredients if using.
  4. Mix to combine.  Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer on low for 2 hours or until meat is tender.

BONUS!  Use the leftover stout for cake!  Especially convenient when your husband’s birthday is this weekend…

Chocolate Stout Cake
from Smitten Kitchen:  Adapted from the Barrington Brewery in Great Barrington, MA via Bon Appetit

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup (235 ml) stout (such as Guinness)
  • 1 cup (2 sticks, 8 ounces or 230 grams) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup (65 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
  • 2 cups (230 grams) all purpose flour
  • 2 cups (400 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup (160 grams) sour cream or plain Greek yogurt

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter or oil a bundt pan well; make sure you get in all of the nooks and crannies.
  2. Bring 1 cup stout and 1 cup butter to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.
  3. Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in large bowl to blend.
  4. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream or yogurt in another large bowl to blend.
  5. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine.
  6. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined.
  7. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Transfer cake to rack; cool completely in the pan, then turn cake out onto rack.

I’m going to try a Bailey’s glaze too.  Happy early Birthday to the Huz!

 

I bake and clean.

September 27, 2019

[Wow. This post is from end of July, 2018, and reflects how deep in the trenches I was, how grueling parenting can be, how distorted anxiety and depression can make my mind.  Things have gotten better…we are getting therapy for 2 out of 3 kids and will work soon on the 3rd, and some of these behaviors are not as prominent anymore. Thank God.  And I have gotten better…more mindful, more accepting and forgiving of them and me.]

This weekend was a doozy.

And this morning, as my three played happily together downstairs, I could not relax and feel happy.  It felt like the old dictum of sleep when the baby sleeps.  Whenever the babies were all sleeping, I could not fall asleep.  Now, the remnant emotions of the weekend and the dread of the fights-to-come over the next few days kept my heart heavy.

So I swept the cereal crumbs and parmesan cheese bits off the floor.  And I put away things.  And when our generous and kind neighbor friend came to whisk my children away for an hour and a half of sprinkler / kiddie pool playtime, I went to the grocery store.  And then made pesto.

Later today I’ll make zucchini muffins.

Because cleaning and cooking have tangible measures of progress and success.  I made that.  Or, my feet don’t feel all crusty when I walk barefoot in the kitchen.  It’s a small area of control in a day (month? year?) when I feel out of control.

I keep wanting to ask my children, What do you need?  The answer is as likely to be “This new Lego set” as what I would guess they really need:  more attention? therapy? divine intervention?

I keep feeling incapable of even figuring out what they need, much less being able to give it to each one.  How to help massage the fixed mindset into flexible thinking, so that we don’t hear “I hate school!” at the mere mention of educational facilities or any appurtenances thereof. How to diminish the number of fights I have on any given day with one incredibly strong-willed kid who seems to think that “getting my way 100% of the time” is a God-given right and tells me regularly how horrible I am that I do not allow for such.  How to manage my own emotions so that my super-sensitive kid doesn’t feel the need to protect me from their siblings, a role I never want any of my kids to feel they have to play.

I bake and clean maybe to have some small offering to give to my children on days like this one when it seems like just me is not enough.  Have a muffin.  I don’t know how to help you.

I have told my kids–when one of them, in a tantrum, threw this at me: “You should go back to the kid store and get a better kid”–that they are the kids I was meant to have.  They and I coexist in the same family because they have things to teach me, and I have things to teach them, and we will learn and grow together into better people because of it.

Later that day, the same kid told me, “You’re not the mom I was meant to have.”  I know this is this kid’s defenses talking, not their True, Loving Self, but yowch anyway.

Some days, I feel like a failure.  Some days, I feel like a rockstar.  Some days, both sentiments ricochet wildly from hour to hour.  I’m getting better at not yelling, mostly.  I’m expending a lot of mental and emotional energy reining in my frustrations and anger and “things I want to say but probably shouldn’t.”

At least if I expend energy cooking and cleaning, there’s something to show for it.

Lost Balloon

September 24, 2019

[This is a post I wrote in June 2018, and never published…so here it is.]

It started with a balloon.

This is such a well-known story, it might as well be cliché:  a kid holding an ice cream cone or a balloon has a decent probability of things not going well.

But it really started with listening.  Or rather, not.

It is nose-buried-in-a-book-and-I-called-your-name-three-times.

It is I-asked-you-to-do-this-task-fifteen-minutes-ago.

It is the arguing tone of “Mom, I already know everything and you don’t, so leave me alone.”  (Yes.  It has started.  They’re not even 7.)

Today, it went like this:

Me:  “Don’t play with the balloon you just got at your friend’s birthday party outside, because if you lose it, I can’t get it back.”  [Subtext:  balloons are really bad outside toys and are highly likely to pop or blow away.]

Audrey and Theresa:  “I’ll be careful!”  “I’ll hold it really tight!”  “But we want to play with them!”

Two minutes later:  Audrey wailing.

Balloon:  floating higher than most birds by now.

Me:  Empathy?  No.  Simple compassion?  No.  “WHY DO YOU NEVER LISTEN TO ME?”  Yep.

Audrey:  drags herself up front stairs, sobbing and shouting, “I’m so stupid!”

Me:  I really need to be a better person.

Theresa: immediately offers Audrey her own balloon (Audrey refuses).  Retrieves Audrey’s fuzzy blanket and favorite bunny, Munny.  Also finds other of Audrey’s stuffed animals and blankets and surrounds her sister with them in an attempt to make her feel better.

My daughter is a better parent in this moment than I am.

Because it is not about the balloon.

It is about the pain of losing something you love and know will never come back, and the knowledge that I tried to prevent that pain, and it happened anyway.

Alan said this once:  “I don’t want to save them from all pain.  I want to save them from my pain.”

Exactly.

I will not be able to save them from friends who turn on them.  From romance drama.  From deaths of loved ones.

I could have saved her from this loss, and she didn’t listen.

She seemed to move on pretty quickly.  I snuggled with her for a while as she cried, and talked to her about some things we can’t fix, and then she and Theresa got out their Valentine’s book that their amazing teacher put together for each kid filled with personal notes from every classmate.  That made her feel better.  Then it was coloring, and dinner, and reading time, and seeming to be fine.

It is not about the balloon.  It is about my knowing that I might possibly have to witness my daughter experience her first taste of grief, the heaviness and heat in her chest that she described to me later.  It is about my lying with her after bedtime, after she had seemed fine for the rest of the day, while she wept and told me, “Nobody can fix it.”

It is about my not wanting the pain of that witness as much as my not wanting her to experience it in the first place.

Because she will. And her siblings.  But I didn’t want it to be today.  It was avoidable this time.

Of course, it is not avoidable forever.  So maybe it had to be today. Maybe it didn’t have to be the balloon; it might have been something else lost or ruined.

As Megan Devine writes,

“Some things cannot be fixed; they can only be carried.”

So I write this here to remind myself, if nothing else:  to not be the “I told you so” Mom.  To stop fighting the fear of witnessing my kids experience all the parts of Life, even the really, really yucky ones.

Somewhere, a red-and-white swirl balloon is sailing in the sky.  A thing of beauty, and a reminder of loss.

Bright Spots

September 11, 2019

Some causes of joy recently:

One kid finds writing hard.  Like, really hard.  Like, so overwhelming they refuse to get started, or tear up in their third grade class when their teacher asks them to write.  ADHD may have a tiny bit to do with this.  Anyway, this kid’s homework is a weekly writing prompt:  two prompts to choose from, 1 page response in their notebook, assigned on Monday and due on Thursday.

This feels like a Big Assignment to me, even, as a not-third-grader.

Image result for after four hours of writing an essay

Anyway, the first one is due tomorrow.  I was dreading this.  I am not great about micromanaging and nagging about kid homework, especially when they’re resistant.  It is one of my Least Favorite Things.

I let Kid know that we’d be working on it when we got home from sibling’s appointment after school.  I asked which pencil they wanted to use.  Kid had the brilliant idea to work next to the cat’s sleeping space, to use Callie’s calming influence.  So the two of us wedged ourselves between my bed and the wall next to Callie’s bed, and Kid wrote.  I brought chocolate-covered sunflower seeds as incentive:  one seed per sentence.  Kid was done after three sentences.  I offered 3 seeds for a bonus sentence.  Four relatively short sentences took 20 minutes.

[Aside:  this gives me so much more empathy for all the students in my past classes who have struggled with writing, who are “smart” but have trouble getting their thoughts from their brain to their paper, or who, like my kid, hear that something specific is expected and freeze.  These kids are not dumb or lazy.  They need a variety of strategies to succeed, and I regret that I did not have the tools at the time to really help my students when they were in my classes years ago.]

We are DONE. And we have a potential system that works.  And I’m not doing the work for them, but I am helping create the environment and mindset that they can do it.  It feels huge.

Image result for success meme

***

The other day at the park, Jamie did something unexpected and I told him I was disappointed in his choice (in hindsight, I think he didn’t realize that what he was doing was wrong).  He apologized profusely, got kind of sad, and walked toward Audrey and reached for her hand.  They held hands all the way back to the car with her comforting him, saying things like, “It’s okay, Jamie. It’s not that big a deal. It’s just one little thing in your whole life.”

***

Back when it was my birthday, Theresa decided to get me a present with her own money.  Even after Alan offered to buy it on her behalf, she insisted, and knew what she wanted to get me: a stuffed horse (because my high school’s mascot is a horse).  It is one of my most precious gifts ever.

***

At the end of the school year last year, Jamie won a prize for doing so well in one of his classes.  He intentionally chose a glass orb terrarium so he could give it to Theresa, who likes nature.  On another occasion, he got a prize and turned around and gave it to Audrey.

***

I’ve had some moments recently where I have held my temper and my tongue (WIN!) even when feeling enraged at my children’s complete unwillingness to put anything away in its proper place.  I am overstating just a bit.  But our house does get to be a bit disastrous.  That’s not the point.  The point is that they do help.  Jamie helped me change the toilet flapper:  he read the instructions and handed me items.  Theresa is full of affirmations whenever I’m feeling down:  “If you’re doing your best, then you’re a good mom.”  Audrey noticed Alan kneeling at church and thought he looked sad because his mom had been ill; she knelt next to him and leaned her head on his arm for comfort.

I can teach them to put away their books and toys (painful though this nagging may be).  But it’s way, way more important to teach them empathy and connection and kindness.

Looking Forward: Fall 2019

September 5, 2019

Last fall had a quite rocky start for my kids.

Rocky enough that at the end of September, my two dear officemates gave me a care package with bubbles, a small stuffed bunny, and other goodies after I had cried several times each week, unsure of how to help my kids and hurting to see them confused and upset.

This fall:  my word is “optimistic.”

I’m optimistic about my students (always), my new officemates, a new classroom shared with a lovely colleague.  I’m trying to surround myself with more positivity to counteract last May and June’s bitterness, and to take the sting out of missing my friends who have had to find jobs elsewhere.

The kids’ school has a “Taking Care of Business” night the week before school starts, where staff hand out and collect all the paperwork (so much paperwork) like emergency contact forms, medical forms, etc.  Once the forms are submitted, the kids find out who their teachers are.

Our kids are split into three classes this year.  Ultimately, this might kill me–three sets of homework assignments, three schedules, three contacts, three different deadlines–but that night, watching the kids race to their classrooms and be so excited about who their respective teachers were, I knew we made the right call and that the staff placed each kid with the right teacher for him or her.

Despite said optimism, I was still highly anxious on the first day of school.  As I drove to my own school, a litany of shoulds ran through my mind:  “I should have put notes in their lunchboxes. I should have told them it’s okay to have challenging moments. I should have told them we just want them to do their best. I should have bought more apples for Jamie’s lunch.

But then they got off the bus after school, elated and buoyant. “I got a Dragon Slip for my good attitude!” shouted Jamie.  “My teacher is so funny!” shouted Audrey.  Theresa hugged me tight and said she had had a good day.  My heart relaxed.

And even with the homework and increased expectations (they’re third graders now, people) and my own insecurities about have I taught them enough personal responsibility?, the school year is made better by the following:

  • the special ed. teacher who a) met with us the Friday before school started, and b) brought in a box of our autistic kid’s favorite books for them to read, just because.
  • Theresa’s teacher, who ended her parent e-mail this way:  “This is a great class. I’m so thrilled that I am your child’s teacher. I really mean that.”
  • Jamie’s teacher, who wrote this in response to my “Grown-up Homework” e-mail to tell her about our child:  “I lucked out getting Jamie, he has so many interesting thoughts to share! Love that kid already!”
  • Audrey’s teacher, who has yet to assign homework (thank goodness!).
  • and our dear friend Cleo, who texted me this:  “I am just about to put a “first day of 3rd grade” apple crisp in the oven. Do you know anyone who might like such a thing? DELIVERY INCLUDED.”

It’s going to be a good year.

 

 

Looking Back: Summer 2019

September 1, 2019

In 2017 and 2018, when people asked me, “How was your summer?” I struggled for an answer.

The answer they expected was “Awesome!” or “Super fun!”

My answer was more like:  “We survived it.”

This is the first summer that has actually been fun since the kids started school.

It’s also, perhaps not coincidentally, the first summer that my mother-in-law’s living situation has been stable.  Four years ago, we moved her to Seattle from her retirement condo in the desert.  Then she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  Two years ago we were deep in caretaking while she still lived independently in a senior housing apartment but couldn’t manage a lot of things on her own.  Last June we moved her, relatively abruptly (long story), to an adult family home which is a lovely and supportive place–but also meant that we were cleaning out her stuff and helping her through the tough transition period of anxiety and sadness.  Now she has been living there for a year; the staff are wonderful; it’s not up to us to manage her.  Which is a relief.

It’s the third summer of a diagnosis, but this most recent one–anxiety–is familiar to me and therefore requires a less steep learning curve than autism or inattentive ADHD.  With diagnoses for each kid, we’ve acquired strategies and perspectives to help them with their individual struggles, and in contrast to those scary, uncertain days of summers past, we have a better handle on what our kids need and how to meet those needs.

Beth Woolsey wrote about her kid facing a similar mental health situation as her own, and summed it up this way:  “Here’s all you do know while you’re in the midst of it: your child is in pain, and you’re trying, and he’s trying, but you’re not sure if what you’re doing is helping at all.”

The past few years have definitely felt like wandering blindfolded in the dark.  This summer brought some light.

The light of our super-stubborn, strong-willed one being a little more flexible.  The light of our autistic kiddo making amazing strides in self-awareness and self-regulation.  The light of their collective age being simply joyful to be around:  not needy little ones and not moody teens, but personable, funny, awesome kids.

Another light is my own sense of groundedness–that I felt less stressed in general, more centered, more able to handle the occasional whining and bickering when it happened.

Summer successes:

  • camps that worked well for our kids!  Last summer there were frequent tearful drop-offs and unhappy kiddos.  This summer they really enjoyed all of their camps.
  • reading books on neurodiversity:  Differently Wired, by Deborah Reber; Living with Intensity, by Michael Piechowski and Susan Daniels; Bright Not Broken by Rebecca Banks and Diane Kennedy; The Out-of-Sync Child, by Carol Kranowitz.
  • relaxing standards:
    • While traveling, they had a croissant and chips for lunch in Montreal on two consecutive days.  Meh.  They ate something.
    • I often want to be the mom who plans and executes massive day trips or multiple outings per summer day, to maximize the FUN and ACTIVITY.  I want to be that mom.  But I’m not.  This summer I embraced my own homebody nature and acknowledged that my kids love being home, love their toys, love curling up on the couch to read…and that our way of being is okay.
    • On vacation, I wanted to be doing All the Cool Things:  hiking in the Olympics, seeing history in Montreal, touring Middlebury College in Vermont.  But my kids can only take so much of that.  So we spent 20 minutes on Middlebury’s campus and more time swimming in Lake Champlain and Lake Bomoseen.  We spent one afternoon hiking in the Olympics and more time hanging out at our campsite and playing hide and seek with the neighboring kids.  We made the kids go into one old church in Montreal and spent more than an hour splashing in the fountain at Place Vauquelin in Old Montreal.
  • our rental house in Montreal was built in 1879 and lovingly restored.  The original hardwood floors, the curving staircase, the old doors and handles radiated charm and grace.  I loved imagining how many families and people had lived, dined, slept, worked, and visited there.
  • our kids tried new foods!  In Montreal, we brought them out to a Japanese izakaya restaurant because we wanted to try it, and because it was right around the corner from our rental.  Jamie loved the ribs; Audrey and Theresa ate mostly plain rice, but whatever–it is a glorious shift from Red Robin expectations.
  • we’ve listened to a lot of Harry Potter. Currently in the middle of The Order of the Phoenix where Harry is all angsty and angry.
  • hanging out with old and new friends (even getting in some playdates, which I am notoriously terrible about).  Tina, my freshman college roommate, swung by as she and her husband were on their way home from an Alaska vacation.  Mindy, my kids’ friends’ mom, and I spent a couple of afternoons sitting and chatting while our kids played together.  Elisabeth, my former teaching partner, brought her two boys to visit before taking the oldest off to college (yikes!!).  My wonderful colleagues had a picnic lunch at Mukilteo Beach, and I am honored to learn from and be friends with these amazing women.  I got to go to dinner with good friends and occasionally with my husband and once by myself, which was glorious (I had two desserts!).
  • I faced some fears:
    • sometimes on hikes, I’ve felt the augury of a panic attack when my kids are on the edge of a high trail, or climbing over tall things.  I have to look away and breathe, telling myself that they’ll be fine.  But for one log over the North Skokomish River near our campsite, the kids wanted to walk across it.  And I had seen other people walking across, and knew it was not too high nor too narrow nor too bumpy.  So I followed them across.

    • Voiles en Voiles in Old Port Montreal is a cool amusement park ropes course that I thought the kids would like.  And they have courses for very young kids up through “thrill-seekers” (i.e. not me).  So we got tickets ahead of time and spent an afternoon there.  And it was awesome.  Some of the lines were too long so we took our second course on a black diamond, 35 feet up.  One of my kids just ahead of me freaked out a bit and I had to help that kid plus keep my own balance and navigate the obstacles.  On a different course, there was a zipline–I had to just breathe, lean into my harness, and let go.  These are things that I previously wouldn’t have thought myself capable of–I don’t do roller coasters or jumping from high rocks into the water or anything that involves me not being in complete control of my motion.  But I felt safe enough to try, and that alone was a highlight of the summer.
  • camping in Olympic National Park at Staircase and vacationing at Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

  • eating a lot of ice cream.  And s’mores.

Spoiler Alert

August 23, 2019

Really, it’s J.K. Rowling’s fault.

Theresa, lost in the first Harry Potter. She’s well into The Order of the Phoenix with her siblings now.

My kids LOVE the Harry Potter series.  When we introduced the first book as a bedtime read-aloud this past May, it quickly became the coveted book that all three wanted to read.  One kid curled up on the couch for hours with that book…or the next…or the next…until they were done.  The other two were equally emotionally invested but invested less of their time into the books, and were therefore behind their sibling in the plotline of the series.

And so the spoilers started.

The kid who had finished didn’t mean to spoil.  They were just so, so excited about different things happening, and would exclaim about them, or let slip certain details.

It drove Alan and me nuts–we are firmly anti-spoiler.  Our pleasure in books or movies comes from the surprise, the suspense, the big reveal.  We have never been able to grok “those people” who read the last page of the book first (you know you’re out there) or don’t mind if, when about to see a movie, someone gives away the plot twist nobody sees coming.  One of my college professors would assign a book on Monday to be read by Friday, and in Wednesday’s class would be talking about the ending. I hated it.

I am so anti-spoiler that I actually hid books 5-7 of the series in an unreachable cabinet until all three kids were finished with book 4.  I was tired not only of the fighting but also of the constant spoilers, even inadvertent.

Then there are the other kids–at school, or at summer camp, who seem to love ruining the story for others (see how judgy I am about the spoiler thing?).  Kids who found out that my kids were in the middle of the Harry Potter series and were compelled to tell them who died and when, or which character is really not who they seem.  In short, many of the secrets of the series were already unveiled for our kids.

So last night:  one of our kids let slip something about “the sad chapter” at the end of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.  The other kid in the room asked what it was, and the answer:  “Someone dies.”  The other kid guessed who, and was correct.  And then when I came in and discovered that more spoilers had been happening, I may have sternly reminded the first kid about my annoyance with said behavior.

Backstory:  all three of my kids have been struggling with Big Feelings this summer, with emotional fragility, with not liking being different, with understanding that they have challenges that other kids (or their siblings) don’t have.  The full story is for another post.  But it’s important to understand this to understand what happened next.

What happened next:  second kid tried to say it was their fault.  First kid slid immediately into a shame spiral and shouted it was their fault and left the room to feel bad about themselves in my bedroom. Second kid was feeling bad about themselves in their own room.

An hour later, both kids felt better enough to go to bed.

This hour was me sitting with each kid, trying to combat their internal narratives of “I’m so stupid” and “I don’t deserve kindness or forgiveness” and “Dad and Mom are upset with me for giving / asking for spoilers.”  An hour trying to gauge where each kid was in their Meltdown before switching rooms to try to help the other kid.

After that hour, I reevaluated:  Was “not giving away spoilers” sufficiently important to me to warrant an hour of two kids descending into shame and self-loathing?

Nope.

I was forced to do this all the time when the kids were babies and toddlers:  What is important to me? Why is it important? What is important to this kid?  If I’m going to set and hold boundaries, they need to matter to me and to the kid.

I used to think it was really, really important to keep your body still–at the dinner table, or for read-alouds.  But my kiddo with autism needs to move, and forcing them to sit still creates unnecessary conflict.

I used to think it was really, really important that my kids shut lights off after they leave a room.  But for my kiddo with ADHD, it is so hard to remember All the Things they need to, and to have me constantly nagging at them, reminding them that they forgot again, creates unnecessary conflict.  So I remind occasionally.  And other times just shut the light off for them.  Same goes for dirty clothes on the floor.  Or shoes in the shoe bin.

It’s important that they learn how to swim–that’s a mandatory life skill, in my opinion.  For a while, it looked like one kid was going to have a very hard time learning due to not putting their face in the water.  But after a week of swim camp, all three kids have made great progress.  Not dying if you fall into water:  that’s important.

It’s important to be kind and polite.  It’s important to stand up for themselves.  It’s important to develop their strengths and to improve or cope with their weaknesses.  It’s important to be self-aware and self-reflective.

Ultimately, I told those two last night that I had changed my mind:  that spoilers were not the Horrible Evil Thing Equivalent to Kicking Baby Bunnies that I had once made them out to be.  And that it certainly wasn’t worth both of them feeling so bad about themselves.

Such a critical parenting lesson:  What is important, and why is it important?  In the same vein as purging my filing cabinets and closets, I’m paring down my priorities to not only reduce conflict but also help my kids focus on what really matters.

And someday we’ll finish Harry Potter and move on to the next series.  By then I’ll be prepared.  With multiple copies of the same books.

Dear Former Students

August 18, 2019

Dear Former Students,

Some of you were freshmen and sophomores in September, 2000.  Some of you graduated in 2019.  All of you have stayed with me, changing me for the better into the person I am.

I’ve kept almost every note, every holiday card, everything you’ve ever written me since I started teaching.

As I scanned through them, reading each name, your faces come back to me:  your names switch on the image of you, your smiles, your personalities, your fears and triumphs that I remember from your time in my class.

I have learned much about being a teacher and a human in these 17 years (two years off for maternity leave). To those students in my first year of teaching–I would do things so differently now.  I didn’t understand you, and I was too serious and too afraid, but you drew me stick figures of yourselves at the end of the year anyway, and signed my “yearbook” (printer paper stapled together because I didn’t want to buy the real deal).

You taught me resilience, in how you showed up day after day, despite abusive parents, despite crippling physical injury or mental illness.  You taught me creativity, in the connections you made or the projects you created.  You taught me to say “yes!” more than “no” to students.  You taught me about MySpace and Twilight (and I hope I taught you that if you ever had a boyfriend who treated you like Edward treated Bella, that you would run like heck from that creepy stalker).  You taught me about persistence and disappointment and frustration.

You taught me I could handle a crisis when a sophomore had a seizure in class and we had to call 911.  You taught me about the stresses of teenage life when I had almost forgotten.  You taught me to be real, to be honest, to be goofy.  You eventually appreciated it when I pushed you with your writing and analysis. =)

I wanted you to know that you are in my heart always.  Maybe someday, you will see yourselves as I see you:  unique, worthy, loved.

With great affection,

Miss Ruth / Mrs. Frindell

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