Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Be The Right One At the Right Time, Redux

December 17, 2014

There are two times of the year when I feel my mother's loss more than any other.  You might think it would be her birthday, or the anniversary of her death.  Those are important days.  But the first day of school every year (she was a teacher too) and Christmas are the days when her presence is strongest.  She instilled in us a love of giving and Christmas spirit which is now an indelible part of the Christmases each of my siblings and I celebrate with our own families.

As we are fully in the holiday season, I am feeling reflective and nostalgic.  I thought I'd repost an excerpt from one of my favorite older posts, because it honors a value I hold dear, and because it honors Mom, who is part of our Christmases, even  though she is no longer with us.

Excerpt from original post (2009):

As we reflect on this season, the message of service is something I feel we have gotten away from over the years in this atmosphere of Looking Out for Number One. As we count our blessings at Christmas time, I think it it important to reflect on not just the people and things for which we are grateful, but also on those who might be struggling, for whom a hand held in service might make all the difference.  This is one of the most important values my mother instilled in her children.

Now, I’m not opposed to looking after myself and my children—of course not. Obviously, it is one of my greatest privileges and responsibilities to look after the moral, emotional, and intellectual well-being of my three children, as well as providing for them their basic safety and shelter needs. However, in providing for them, it is my duty to show them how fortunate we are as a family, and instill in them the desire to help others in need when we can.

There are lots of reasons that people don’t reach out to others—they are struggling with issues of their own, they feel hopeless that their small efforts will make a difference, they feel others might take advantage of their generosity, they feel they don’t have adequate resources to spare, to name a few. Compelling arguments, all, with some truth to them. We all struggle with our own personal issues, be they financial, emotional, or spiritual. And yet, I find that when I reach out to someone else, I view my own difficulties with a more balanced perspective. Those who are working hard just to pay the bills and put food on the table may lament the lack of resources to be able to reach out and help, but really, generosity of spirit is the only necessary resource; you can give of your money, your time, your self. Being of service to others means reaching out in your community and your world with what you perceive as a need, and sometimes, that might even be something as simple as adjusting one’s attitude towards someone in need and listening with a sympathetic ear. Are there those who would take advantage of someone with a generous heart? Sure. I’m an optimist, but I’m not na├»ve. I truly want to believe the best in others, and don’t mind if every once in awhile I help someone whose spirit is not positive and open. That’s not the point, after all. Perhaps those are the people who are in most need of all, but they just don’t know it yet. In time, perhaps if enough people reach out to them and show them kindness and generosity of spirit, a true positive change can be effected. Finally, for those who feel their ‘drop in the bucket’ won’t make a difference, know this—if you just reach out to one person, you have made a difference, and you never know how that individual effort may manifest itself positively, radiating outward and reaching even more people.

I remember a time in my young life when my mother was struggling. My brothers, sisters, and I may never know the full extent of the hopelessness she must have felt, but I imagine it must have been overwhelming at times—a weight almost unbearable. When my mom chose to leave what had become a dangerous situation for her, she brought along with her four of her five young school-aged children. (The oldest chose to stay.) Her only plan was to seek shelter at the Marjaree Mason Center, but she found, late at night, that there was no room at the inn for a woman with four children. She ended up spending money she intended to feed us with on a hotel room for one night. That was the end of her financial resources until the end of the month. With no home to go to, and virtually no money, we lived out of our car for a couple of weeks, rotating through the only clothes we had brought along—only what we were able to fit in the three suitcases in the trunk of the car. The oldest of the kids who came with her, I was in junior high and acutely aware that it must be obvious to my classmates that I slept in my clothes. My mom was lucky enough to have a few friends in the church take us in here and there for a night or two to brush teeth, take showers, and sit down for a meal. It is one thing to take in a woman in need; to take on four kids as well was truly a burden, and Mom was embarrassed to put people in the position of having to say no if such an offer of help were to stretch them beyond their means. One of the kind families who let us camp out on their floor for a night loaned my mom money to buy peanut butter, jelly, and bread, and that served as our main meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the majority of those two or three weeks until payday. We children complained about it vehemently at the time; I am quite sure we did not comprehend the toll it took on her to not be able to provide anything more. I myself did not eat another peanut butter and jelly sandwich for twenty years after those weeks were behind us.

When payday did come, almost all of it went to first and last month’s rent, and deposits for utilities. My parents were married in the days when a man was in charge of the finances; when my mother started out on her own, she had no credit built up in her name, and no savings to fall back on. She was starting off a babe in the world, with only one paycheck to her name, but with four human beings utterly dependent on her ability to move forward and survive. I’m sure there were days she didn’t want to get out of bed, but there were people along the way who went out of their comfort zone and reached out to help. I’m sure the lady at the church who donated a box of canned goods didn’t know if her ‘drop in the bucket’ was going to ensure that we survived as a family, but she knew that on that day, it made a difference to us. I’m sure the man who knew someone he could encourage to rent a home to Mom even though she had no credit history didn’t know if it would do any good, but he did it anyway. People who let us stay on their floors for a night couldn’t give us permanent residence, but they let us get one day closer to being on our own. Those teachers who noticed that something seemed to be different in our lives and checked in with us to make sure everything was okay—we learned that people were watching us, and were looking for ways to give of their finances, of their time, of themselves. We noticed, and it made a difference.

It didn’t ever become easy, but it certainly did become better. It was because there were people who chose not to just ‘Look Out for Number One,’ and reach out to someone in their community who was in need that our family survived and ultimately thrived. There were others who chose not to help because they said she got herself into her own problems, and it was her responsibility to get out. There were those who said she shouldn’t have had so many children. (Easy to say after the fact!) There were those who said they were worried about looking like they were ‘taking sides’ and therefore didn’t want to get involved. The reality is, that’s what a lot of us do—it’s easy to rationalize inaction by judging someone’s actions and saying they don’t deserve help. Did Mom always make the best decisions every time? Of course not. Do any of us? Is that really the best way to judge if another human being is worthy of another human being reaching out a hand?

Mom was a giving and loving human being. She sometimes had the financial means to reach out to others as the years passed, but more often did not. That did not keep her from reaching out. I think she lived constantly with the knowledge of how important service, in whatever form, is, at the most basic and individual level. She didn’t worry that her ‘drop in the bucket’ would be lost; if she saw a need she could fill, she did it. She raised us all to look at the world through those eyes as well, and as we are all adults now, I am proud to see the ways my brother and sisters put that service into action in their own communities. This is one of the most important values I hope to pass on to my children as well.

Are we all going to go out and change the world? All at once? Tomorrow? No. And that’s okay. We don’t have to wait for the grand gestures. One day at a time, one person at a time, we make a difference. The exponential possibilities are endless, as my drop joins your drop which adds to his and hers and theirs. The potential for good is limitless.

Don’t wait for someone else to get up and get the ball rolling. Be the Right One at the Right Time for someone. Anyone. Donate blood, donate to charities, sponsor a child, reach out to families in your neighborhood who might need a sitter but can’t afford one, tutor a struggling child, champion the fight against illiteracy, or breast cancer, or fight for autism awareness. Find ways to encourage and support our troops, or their families left behind, or volunteer in your church nursery, for the Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, or the PTA. Find service in a kind word extended, or a shoulder to cry on. Don’t wait for the big opportunities to come along; opportunities for service surround us every day. Be the one to start building that community, one drop at a time. You may never know the impact you may have, but you will know that you have made a conscious choice to act on behalf of another human being. What could possibly be wrong with that?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

California League of High Schools

November 20, 2014

Last night I was honored as a top ten finalist for the California League of High Schools Region 7.  It was truly a beautiful and memorable evening.  I had my husband and several family members, dear friends, and colleagues there to support me, which meant the world to me.  I had to give a speech--one of my biggest fears--but I managed to get through it without stumbling too much, and I'm quite proud of myself for that.  Since some of my friends and family members weren't able to come celebrate with me, I thought I'd share the text of my speech here.  Just picture me, quavering voice and my signature 'hand gestures' and you'll get an idea of what it looked like:)

Good evening.  I want to begin tonight by thanking the California League of High Schools, my fabulous Learning Director, Jennifer Bump, for nominating me, and my family, friends, and colleagues who are here to support me this evening.  To be honest, I think most of them are here because they think it might be amusing to see me attempt to speak in front of a group of grown-ups.
As my friends know, I am neither blessed with the voice nor the nerves for public speaking.  So when I started thinking about what I might want to say—after the initial panic attack—it occurred to me that it’s okay that I’m not a public speaker—I have found the place where my voice is most at home, and that is in my classroom with my kids.  Years ago my beloved mentor, Mrs. Belman, showed this shy kid that she could speak in a way that could impact lives—she could teach.  Mrs. Belman helped me find my voice, and now, it is my mission, my passion, my privilege, to help students find theirs.
When I first started out in this profession, I taught a group of kids in a remedial 11th grade English class. These kids came to me disenfranchised, disenchanted, disillusioned.  Many were angry and frustrated. We slowly built trust, community, rapport; and they began talking and sharing, and even doing a little writing, though that part was a little slow-going at first. When the first progress reporting period came around, most of them were surprised they were not passing. Several asked me why before class one day.  I couldn’t believe they were surprised.  I said, “How did you think you were passing if you don’t turn in any work?”  The response of one of the students was, “But you like us.  You talk to us.  You listen to us!  In our other classes, no one listens to us, and they don’t like us.  We thought you did.” 
I had an epiphany then—these kids equated being heard—what they perceived as being liked—with success.  They weren’t heard because they weren’t successful,  but more importantly, they weren’t successful because they weren’t heard.  It broke my heart! They didn’t believe their voices had a place in an academic classroom because that’s the message they had been given.  It became my goal to help them find a way to use their voices and their personalities in the academic setting—and enable them to see themselves as part of the conversation, rather than silent spectators in an education that didn’t have a place for them.  It’s the very least we should expect for our kids, to know that their voices matter.
  On the other hand, some of our kids on the other end of the spectrum already have great confidence in their voices.  For those kids, my mission is to help them refine and articulate the voices they are already well on the path to developing. I hope to help them find their place to voice who they are as students, as citizens, as employees, as community members.  I hope to help them discover what they are passionate about, and where they want to make their voices heard in the grand and global conversation.   
Often, finding one’s voice isn’t about finding one’s academic or vocational passion; sometimes it’s about being able to express something even more fundamental.  One example is Tyler:  a sweet, creative and artistic young man who was just discovering his voice and testing, in a safe place, how to use his voice to begintentatively to speak who he was and who he was becoming when he said shyly to me, “Here’s a drawing I made for my Valentine. Do you think he’ll like it?” There was no emphasis on the pronoun “he”.  Just a brief moment of eye contact—did I hear him?-- I think he’d only come out to a handful of his closest friends, but he felt safe hearing his voice speak who he was with me--practicing sharing his true voice and allowing himself to be heard.
            These kids-and hundreds like them who have made my classroom their temporary home on the way to bigger and brighter things—are just like all of us once were.  While I’m trying to remember to teach all my standards and differentiate instruction and build strategies and maintain effective classroom management, my kids are really looking first and foremost for one thing:  Does my voice matter to you?  Can you hear me?  I want the answer to always be yes.  I want them to know that if they find a home with me where they feel comfortable letting their voices be heard and valued, there’s no telling where they might end up.  Artist? Engineer? Construction worker? Public Relations Manager? Teacher? Who knows—maybe even one day speaking in front of a large group of adults.

            Thank you.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

You Don't Know Me

November 9, 2014

Something happened on Friday which caused me to post the following to my Facebook page:

It happened out of the blue between classes. I was the recipient of this sage advice from someone with whom I have worked for many, many years, but with whom I am not close—someone I see on campus in passing only a few times a month.   She approached me out in front of my class as I was greeting my students.  Yes, it might have been more productive to actually tell her my reaction, but to be honest I was dumbfounded that she said, “I want you to lose weight for me,” so I didn’t exactly formulate a response to her, other than to say, defensively, “I have been trying!”  It felt akin to cajoling a young toddler to try peas ‘for me’.  I, as you know, am not a young toddler, and so suffice it to say it felt quite patronizing and condescending.

The response from my Facebook (and real-life) friends was immediate and overwhelmingly positive and supportive.  Well, it was supportive of me.  Of her, not so much.  She was attacked and called names, which then made me post this:

And I really do believe it.  I don’t think she was mean-spirited.  I actually do believe that she means well.

But the thing is, her words, seemingly gift-wrapped in praise and kindness, have stayed with me all weekend, ever-present in my mind.  They have continued to plague me, despite all of the positive things my friends said about me in response.  Why do we do that to ourselves—allow one negative voice to rise above the many that cheer us on?  We do though, don’t we?  We allow those to linger and grow louder and more pervasive, and we can forget about the wealth of positive attributes we have.  I am intelligent, articulate, loving, sometimes sexy, sometimes funny, and usually positive and generous-spirited.  I am a good mother, wife, and friend.  But instead of all of those things, I spent a great deal of my weekend fixated on how one person saw me from the outside.

The reality is, my co-worker, that you don’t know me well enough to comment on my weight.  We know each other, but you don’t know me.

You don’t know that I’ve struggled with esteem surrounding my weight since I was a young kid.

You don’t know that I have faced ridicule and even bullying because of my size or shape—long before I was in the particular size and shape I currently inhabit.

You don’t know that a handful of years ago, I started infertility treatments that entailed a long process of daily self-injections of hormones that left me, heart-breakingly, with no baby.  What did it leave me with was a metabolism out of whack and a bonus stubborn weight gain.

You don’t know that looking in the mirror is often a risky proposition, as my worst critic is the one looking back at me.  Luckily, I have an amazing husband who sees me with different eyes.

You don’t know that whenever someone takes a picture of me, I strategically place myself where I am partially hidden.  I do, however, allow myself to be in pictures now, because I want my kids to have those memories with me in them in their later years.

You don’t know how desperately I try to shield my children from inheriting my body image issues.  I don’t always succeed.

You don’t know how often I hear my friends talk about their own issues and negativity surrounding their own figures—women who are beautiful and amazing and healthy.

You don’t know that I have tried—and continue to try—to become more healthy.

You don’t know that I have been walking five miles a day for the past ten months and have been more conscious than ever of healthy eating choices.  You don't know that because of that I have lost 15 pounds so far in the gradual, healthy way that doctors recommend.

You don’t know how proud I am of my progress—and how easy it is to negate it with an unthinking comment.

I know many people reading this will think, “Well, why don’t you do something about it if you are  unhappy with yourself?”  And the answer is, you don’t know that I’m not.  Because you don’t know me.

Just because you know me doesn’t mean you know all there is to know of me, which means you don’t know me well enough to tell me to lose weight.  You especially don’t get to tell me to lose weight for you.

I take that back, actually.  The reality is, even if you do know me, you don’t get to tell me I should lose weight.  I know.  We all know, all of us who struggle with weight at times.  You are not letting me in on some grand epiphany.  Even if you do know me, unless you have M.D. behind your name and I’m your patient, you don’t get a say.  I can’t afford to have your negative voice in my head because it’s far too loud.

Now, can we put this conversation to rest and talk about something that’s really important?  Funding for education, for example? The state of the economy?  The homeless?  We have much bigger fish to fry, friends, than figuring out what dress size I should wear.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

You Might Be Jealous (But Probably Not!)

October 21, 2014

I took both kids to the eye doctor today, then came home and hung laundry (old school-style, since the dryer is on strike), loaded and unloaded the dishwasher and cleaned up in the kitchen, picked up cat vomit (thanks for that, Kelly), scrubbed the toilets, went to the store, did rounds two and three of mom taxi, supervised homework, and shuffled the kids off to bed. It's a glamorous life I lead! Time to chill a bit before heading off to dreamland.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Nightly Walk

September 14, 2014

On our nightly walk tonight we stopped into Walmart. I spotted in one of the middle aisles a stack of boxes containing camouflage reclining chairs. (Aside: a Box o' Recliner? Really?) Me, to Hubby: "Who buys a camouflage recliner? What need do you have to hide in the living room? 'Hey look at Elmer--he appears to just be floatin' in the middle of the room in front a' the t.v. set!'"

Also, in a nearby aisle, Hubby says, "Look over there-do they have hookers in Walmart now?" Me: "You can pretty much get everything at Walmart these days."

Walmart always provides fun topics of conversation...

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

We're All A Little Mad Here...

September 9, 2014

Nicholas' new acquisition.  He's really bummed that dress code won't allow him to wear it to school, but I'm sure he'll find other places to sport his style.  I love that he's got his own thing goin' on!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Senior Pictures, Round One

September 4, 2014

I can hardly believe that we had our appointment for Nicholas' senior pictures today.  We are planning on doing a full sitting at a later date, when I do a photo shoot with Nicholas, Taylor, and Devin, but today we went to Larson Brothers Photography to get the shots we'll have to choose from to go in the senior yearbook.  Obviously, I wasn't allowed to take pictures inside the photography studio, but Nicholas was game to let me catch a few extra shots when we got home.  Just like when I took Bree to get her senior photos, there was something surreal and exciting about seeing Nicholas taking his picture in a graduation cap and gown.  Even though we're only in September, the end of the tunnel is going to come in the blink of an eye.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

These Are The Days

August 27, 2014

Today's the kind of day I'd like to mentally file away for future use, perhaps sometime in early December when fatigue and senioritis have taken hold in my students and the over-scheduled stress takes its toll on the kiddos. Today, with the exception of a minor cell phone conversation we needed to have in one class, every one of my classes was invested, engaged, and actively participating in the conversation and practice of how and why we read. I loved the things the kids were saying and the way they were thinking. These are the days that see me through the tougher days. Lovin' this week. Lovin' this start to my year!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Reading Identity

August 26, 2014

I'm often amazed at how many of my students see themselves as 'non-readers'.  Then we get to talking and sharing all of the different kinds of reading we all do in our everyday lives--traditional and non-traditional--and they share ALL KINDS of things they read.  Novels, sure, but also cookbooks and gaming magazines and baseball stats and computer code and music notes and movies and even body language, just to name a few.  My job is to teach my students to think through processing the written word, but often they haven't seen that their skill sets in other kinds of reading--sometimes quite deep and intuitive and very thoughtful--can translate into application to the written word.  It's pretty cool when students feel validated in their own areas of expertise and can begin to see the transfer potential.  It's my goal to help all of my kids see themselves as readers, because ultimately what I mean when I say that is that I want them to recognize themselves as thinkers.  This week, we begin that journey together.

Monday, August 25, 2014

First Day Pics

August 25, 2014

It's getting harder to get my kids to humor me and let me take 'First Day' pictures, but I managed it!  I even got Bree to send me a picture of her first day of her senior year of college (since I couldn't be there), and Danielle took a picture of my first day of my 25th year as well.  Since the kids have to have their experiences documented, I might as well too.  Senior year, senior year, and sophomore year--here they come!

 Danielle and the bestie, Megan.
 Duty bright and early the first week of school.  Me in my safety vest.

 Bree and the bestie Brandon--representing SDSU Ambassadors on the first day of school.

Nicholas and his girlfriend Treasa