Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Gentle hope for a new year

I've just finished peeling potatoes for dinner, and Simon and Garfunkel are playing on the computer.  Cuddled on my chest in the ring sling is our youngest at a still-very-fresh 7 weeks old.  It's New Year's Eve, and as usual, my heart is in the mood for some reflection.

For several people dear to me, 2014 was a hard year.  In some cases, harder than anyone should have to deal with, with tests of will and faith beyond belief.  For many, there were hard loses, and frustrating setbacks.  I watched those around me suffer with the challenges that life threw their way.  And if you ask them tonight, they can't wait for that clock to tick us right into 2015.

What they may not realize is how much they gave the rest of us this year.  Those of us for whom life was a little smoother, less potholes in the road.  Because while we held on and stayed the path, they showed us what it takes to really live the human experience.  They showed us what it takes to be brave and just get up every morning.  They modeled grace in the face of awful adversity.  They grew and strengthened their inner selves, and are leaving this year tougher and better than they started it.  And generously, they helped those of us watching grow a little more too.

I was one of the lucky ones this year.  My road was smooth, my path to walk this year was filled with sunshine and flowers. And it was only through the contrast with the darkness others were experiencing that I could see just how much light I was given.

This year my boys were healthy and strong, growing in their convictions and their knowledge.  They left two wonderful classrooms to join two more that are bringing them great joy. Dan left one good, solid, challenging job for another rich in opportunities he never expected.  I have gotten to share my work life with incredible students and their families, and my personal life with friends who are a warm blanket of support.  Our families are thriving and growing in their many journeys.

And in the biggest blessing of all, we welcomed our third child this fall.  In a very short time, he has had a major impact on our family.  He has helped us to slow down, to take in each moment.  Each new look or smile or coo draws us in and helps us to refocus on each other.  He has made his oldest brother gentler and more selfless, and helped his second brother find strength in having someone to guide.  While the 7 year gap was not what we probably ever would have planned, it has been a refreshing lesson in enjoying each moment because we know just how quickly they pass. 

It is this slower pace, this attention to the moment at hand that I hope for us to carry into the new year.  My word for this year (as I've chosen in the past) is content.  Not because I want to be lazy, but because I want to take the time and just be satisfied with all that I have been given.  In the constant search for the next, bigger, better thing to improve my life, I have often lost sight of just how great what I have truly is. So this year I'm going to work on curbing the wanting, the desiring for the thing out of reach. I am going to be content with all that I have right here.  Right now.

And for those for whom 2014 was awful, may this year be more gentle.  May the strength and resiliency that you have gained get to take a back seat for a while in exchange for some joy and peace.  I hope that wonderful things come to you and that your faith in the goodness of the world and of others can be restored.  And if the bumps keep coming, please let me be there for you.  Allowing me to travel your road along side would be a gift.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Poor, neglected blog...

Oh, dear.  February?!  February was the last time I posted here? Ugh.

I'm a person of habit, and when I fall out of one, I tend to fall big. And so it goes with writing.  And posting.  And actually taking time to focus in on the things most important to me.  For some people, a break from blogging or journaling gives them the peace that they need to get back on the track they want to be on.  For me, it almost does the opposite.  I lose focus, stop noticing the little important every-day things that mean so much to me.

Last winter was a tough one, and focusing on the positive was what I should have done.  But it's just not where my head was at the time. And forcing it felt fake and hard and not worth the effort or energy.  But then the spring brought great joy, and I still didn't stop to appreciate it.  It felt like if I held it too hard, cared too much, than it would all slip away.  And summer.  Oh, summer, season I love and season that sucks every bit of energy for reflection right out of me.  It's too sunny and busy for me to get back to writing, if I'm not already doing it. 

But now it's the end of fall.  The time of year when I'm naturally drawn inward, ready to do some examining.  And by now, my mother (Hi Mom!!) is the only one who checks here anymore to see if something might magically appear. But that's ok.  I'm writing for me, for my children.  For that push to stop and appreciate the great things that are so plentiful in my world. It's what I need.

SO, it might be time for a little catch-up.  Or maybe I'll just let it all go, those months past. We'll see.  But I'm dipping my toes back in the water. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

The work/life balance right now...

Tsh of The Art of Simple has a new book coming out tomorrow focused on the importance of slowing down and living intentionally.  I look forward to reading it, and think that some of you may also be drawn to her message. 

But today she posted some writing/reflecting starters, and I thought that I might try and just take 15 minutes tonight to do a little "out loud" processing.  Come back soon for a little report on our weekend in Seattle if you would rather just hear about my amazing kids and fun adventures.  But stick around if you want...and feel free to add your thoughts in the comments!

So, here's the question I feel drawn to tonight:
  When it comes to your work, what is your definition of “enough”?

Oh boy.   That's a minefield right there.  Especially as I head into this week when our union will be taking a strike vote on a contract that diminishes my ability to do my job well.

I am a middle school language arts and social studies teacher.  Even after 15 years of doing this work, I could spend every waking moment lesson planning, grading, contacting families, supporting websites, researching latest methods, keeping up with literature, and generally thinking about the 32 students in my care. There are many times when I feel exactly like that is what I should be doing. Every child in my class is just as precious to their parents as my boys are to me, and that means they deserve my best every day we step foot into the classroom.

But there's the rub.  My boys.  If I give every bit of everything to my classroom, what do I have left for home?  Not much. But how can I be a good teacher if I don't do it all? And how can I be everything for everybody?  Because it seems like that is what all my fellow moms are asking themselves lately.  Even those who are "at home" - the balance feels impossible.

Very early on in this parenting gig, I learned that my personal work/home balance would have to shift.  A lot. I started by taking less work home.  It meant I had to give up a lot of the socializing with my colleagues so I could get more grading done during the work day.  There are MANY days now when the only people I speak to at work are my students, because the rest of the time I'm there, I'm grading or copying or planning or emailing.

I also learned that I couldn't read or research or try everything.  I had to find the methods that rang most true for me and my belief in the purpose of education.  And if that means I am not on the cutting edge of the latest and greatest technology or methodology, then so be it.   I still enjoy taking classes and trying new things, but not every bandwagon has me on it, and that saves me a lot of time.

But the biggest thing I have done to help find balance was switching to working halftime.  I work 5 mornings a week, and simply must leave at 11:30 in order to pick Luke up on time from kindergarten.  It puts an automatic limiter on the time I spend in the building and therefore, the time I spend working.  Because once we get home, I'm spending my afternoons working on the rest of our lives - soccer, gym time, errands, meal prep, house cleaning.  And when I am being mindful, I also get to "get a lesson on automobile building with magna-tiles" and hear all about the books the older one is reading in class. And the day goes by without the time to get back to the work of teaching.  Sure, I respond to parent emails after the boys are in bed, and quiet time is spent lesson planning.  But the simple factor of my schedule gives me greater balance than I ever could have asked for.

These limits mean that I am not the best teacher on the planet.  And there is definitely guilt that goes along with that.  Some days I'm not even sure that I am as good as I was a few years ago.  But I can say that I am a different teacher since becoming a mom.  I am more sympathetic to the pressures of homework on family time.  I understand that the children in my class don't always represent all the fabulous parenting they have had at home - but they are still so incredibly lovable.  I understand the vital importance of school and home working together.  Because I have a busy and rich life away from the classroom, I can bring those stories to my teaching.  And there's nothing more that my students love than the days when my boys come and spend  the morning in the classroom.  SO some days, the balance works.

And sometimes, with a lot of hard work, time management, and a few fingers crossed, it feels like enough.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A new year, a new word...

Welcome to 2014.  Glad you could make it!

Speaking of making it, I'm going to be trying to make it here more often this year.  It's not that our family hasn't been going ahead with living a full rich life when I'm not blogging - but the truth is that if I don't take the time to write and reflect on it, then I forget about it.  There's too much great stuff going on to let it all go...

That brings me to one of my favorite traditions.  Since 2009, I have followed the advice of Ali Edwards and chosen one little word to guide my goals for the year. This last year was peace. More times than I can count, I found myself glancing down at my stamped bracelet and the word peace emblazoned there, and remembered to breathe, step back, and try to approach things a little differently.  Peace is a word that sounds passive, but required a great deal of deliberate action to make true in my life. I will certainly be continuing to wear that bracelet this year, since peace is something we all need a little more.

This year, I have chosen the word nurture.  It's really not all that different from the word I started this project with (cultivate), but I still have many of the same needs and goals for my life. While the sound of the word itself does not draw me in, the meaning certainly does, and it aligns and guides many of the goals I have for myself in the next 12 months.

1. Something that nourishes; sustenance.
2. The act of bringing up.
3. The sum of environmental influences and conditions acting on an organism.
1. To nourish; feed.
2. To educate; train.
3. To help grow or develop; cultivate

And here are my goals/resolutions that are guided by my desire to nurture:

1. I will nurture my children's interests and passions through listening and taking them seriously.  It's too easy for me to blow them off as child's play, and I want to make sure to hear what they are saying and encourage their loves. 

2. I will nurture my students' love for learning.  Help them find what they are interested in, and find a way to fit that into all the required-ness of the classroom.  They are interesting people and I want to nurture that in them, rather than drive it out with the hastles of testing and rules.

3. I will better nourish myself and my family, with a re-focus on healthy, whole-food meals.  With the hustle of the evenings, it's too easy to fall into the processed food trap, and I want to be better about pre-planning my way out of that.  What we eat truly nurtures our bodies and minds, and I want to do this better.

4. I will nurture my own interests.  Instead of defaulting to the easy sit-in-the-chair-and-watch-tv-and-read-facebook, I will pursue those things that I am interested in.  I will make another quilt or two, knit some new patterns, take more pictures, and write more.  I will read, read, read, and stop feeling guilty about it. 

5. I will nurture my marriage.  Dan and I will have our 15th anniversary this year, and I will treat our relationship as the priority that it is.  This means scheduling date nights,  working on more puzzles, playing more games, and making sure our evenings aren't always spent just being in the same room.

6. I will nurture my relationships with the boys as individuals.  Once a month we will have a date time where they will have my full attention.  These are some of our best times, and I don't want to miss them by not making them a priority.

7. I will nurture my friendships and relationships with family.  Making contact with those I love beyond the confines of facebook is important to me.  This means spending the time and money to gather together for girls' weekends and nights out, and then being the listener and support that I want to be for these important people in my world.

8. I will nurture my body with continued exercise.  While I have maintained good cardio exercise habits over the last couple of years, I know that the strength training aspect of being healthy has fallen by the wayside.  I will lift weights at least twice a week, with a goal of 3 times a week.

9. I will nurture myself as a professional through taking at least one class or participating in one conference.  This is not something I always enjoy, but something I know that I need to do this year.

10. I will nurture my heart and soul by making time each day for some quiet reflection.  Whether in prayer or journaling or blogging or hiking or whatever, I will take time to find the quiet that I need to find peace.  Even if it's just 5 minutes.  That's often 5 minutes more than I give myself now.  

So, there you have it.  My public declaration of nurturing.  Honestly, I can't wait.  

What are your goals/plans/words for the new year?