Creativity, Writing, and Resilience in a Storm

I recently watched Elizabeth Gilbert's TED talk "Success, Failure and the Drive to keep Creating"  drawn in because creativity creeps into my thoughts often when I consider teaching and learning.  It is an important concept and even skill to foster in our children and ourselves and it is connected to resilience. The idea of resilience really sank in for me during this talk, as well as Elizabeth's ultimate message, to "find your home, that thing that you love to do more than you love yourself."  Where these ideas collide, I see lessons I would love for every child, student, person to learn.  Basically, first, find your own home (that place where you love to work, play, persist) Then, figure out how to stay there in that productive place, "safe from the random hurricanes of outcome", because both success and failure have the equal and opposite potential to pull you away from your home, away from what you love to do.

As I watched and listened to Gilbert speak, I was transported back to that second grade poetry experience I have written about before, I think of how writing that one poem, and the way that two teachers responded to that poem created for me, my first random hurricane, at age seven.  My experience was on a smaller scale, but parallel to the one Elizabeth Gilbert herself had after writing Eat, Pray, Love.   I had no idea how to handle that.  But I knew, just as she knew, that whatever I wrote next, those two teachers were not going to like it. In that moment, it felt like the fate of my new vocation, "writer of poems", was up to these two teachers to decide.  The message to me was "One good poem does not a poet make" when really, I should have been learning the lesson "Keep writing.  Write often.  Perservere."  If I take what Gilbert says to heart, really my writer self was still in there, she hadn't gone anywhere, she just needed to get back to work. . . instead my writer put down her pencil after that second grade poetry unit, and didn't pick it up again on her own accord for at least 15 years.

The funny thing, a second grade friend in that class who had seen this whole thing unfold, "What did she expect, you were just going to sit down and write another great one, because she told you to?  Doesn't she know about inspiration?"  What is it they say about the mouths of babes?  Thirty something years ago, we grappled, at age seven, with the very same issue that this now famous author of Eat, Pray, Love has had to grapple with as an adult writer, the very same "hurricane of outcome".  So of course, I ask myself, how can we teachers, parents, mentors teach our young writers to ride the storms?  That is an important skill throughout life, not just writing, yes?  I also wonder if we shouldn't be concious to not create storms of outcome for our new writers.  It always strikes me when we ask children to create, how often and persistent many of them are at seeking approval from the adults around them. I always try to give supportive feedback, but try to word it carefully so as not to sound like the be all end all of their creative career. I feel if we perpetuate the idea that someone outside the writing, teacher, parent, reader, can determine a piece of writing's worth, aren't we just pushing our kids out in the storm without an umbrella, in the dark.  Are we then failing to teach them how to find their own way, how to be resilient?   


Let's Play the Ball Game!

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"Let's have a special night." said my five year old daughter as Daddy and brothers headed out the door to baseball practice.  She hopped down from the Lazy Boy in the livingroom.  "Let's go play the ball game!"  "Alright kiddo." I replied and we slid on our shoes.  I was expecting to need to pull on a sweatshirt, but as I stepped off the porch into the sun, I realized the air was still quite warm.  I know it should be warm, we are approaching the end of April now, but I scraped snow and ice off the Cherokee just last week.  After such a long winter I seem to bundle up out of habbit, as if I expect to be wearing fleece and gloves in June too.

Out in the yard, a warm breeze feathered our skin as Lila began to swing quickly and steadily.  "You won't have to wait for me!"  She was right.  With the large pink ball in hand, I watched her swinging.  She swooped low and high, stretching her body long and pulling in strong.  (Didn't I have to push her to get started just last year?)  I timed my toss and she popped the ball into the air over my head.  She giggled wildly.  I zinged the ball again, my timing was off.  The ball went under her swing and I performed my best grumbly exasperated act while fetching the ball and tickling her on the way by.  (Game requirement)  She giggled wildly.  Again and again I tossed the ball, and fetched the ball, once her flip flop went further than the ball.  She giggled wildly. . . and flipped the flop off the other foot too, this time squealing with laughter!

This is her game, The ball Game, and this girl will play and play and laugh and play for as long as anyone will play with her.  We play it in sun and snow, wind and rain, from dawn till dusk.  Summer months see more action only due to the abundance of free time and daylight hours, not because the weather matters. As I chase the ball across the dried grass and cold spring ground in my now bare feet, an emotion washes over me, along with the warm air and bright sunshine.  Honestly I'm not quite sure what it is, wistfulness? awakening? hope?  Little buds on branches, a few patches of freshly turned earth planted with little rows of spinach and carrot seeds just hours ago. . .I have noticed these things throughout the day, but it just now struck me;  spring is really here!  summer is on it's way!  Just eight weeks to the end of school for the kids and I.  Days have been flying by and I have felt as if I were trapped in time gripped by winter's cold hand.  Despite the cold weather, time tramped on, the suns arc traveled and my daughter grew.


Return to My Proffession--My Messy Beautiful

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

I am a forty something, mom of three, wife of 17 years who is  currently trying to break back into the field of teaching after 10 years learning how to parent three tricky students of my own! ( I think this post describes that time best) It has been a messy beautiful process that has carried me to this point in my life (and has inspired this blog).  At this moment, I am no longer just along for the ride, to see where it will take me, yet I use that skill to ride out the bumps.  I am making choices and digging in to reach my goal, and I have confidence that I will reach it.  I am looking at ‘little obstacles’, like not getting the job I applied for, as stepping stones and learning experiences .  Life’s classroom is so rich!

I began as a straight A high school student who Flunked Out of my first year at University--and I didn't even party!!  But I did have an overly controlling boyfriend--Can you say worst year of college ever?!  I followed that year with a summer art course, "just for fun." but that led me to completing an art program at a local community college where I decided I wanted to teach.  The pivotal moment was the moment it struck me, really struck me, that here I was learning about making art with a bunch of other folks my age and older, and wow, Isn’t that something!  Whether or not I had a gift for art, or ever became famous, I was learning how to create something from my heart, mind and soul.  I was learning how to learn, and that was a gift itself.

When I was younger, even just a few years earlier, I had somehow arrived at the notion that people were born to be artists.  I truly felt since I had not found my own art yet, I must have missed the boat, I was doomed to be a gas station attendant, and that was that.  It was quite dismal really, because I really could only see everything I hadn’t yet done as untraveled roads already barricaded to me.  I really had a hard time seeing possibilities back then.  When I chose to teach, it was because I really wanted young kids to see and learn about “what could be” for them, I wanted to open doors, and remove baracades. I thought of the time I spent already, just in my youth, feeling like I had missed a boat or many boats, and I reflected on the waste in a way that moved me forward, and motivated me to want to move others forward as well.  
I did open doors.  I taught many children to read and write.  My six and sevens wrote and rewrote stories, participated in poetry readings, danced and let their minds be guided into both growth and relaxation.  There were opportunities for all to shine.  I fell prey to a “reduction in force” just when I felt I was hitting my stride.  I was really picking up steam, trained as a reading interventionist and using those skills in the classroom to really boost my students’ literacy learning.  But in my usual form, I took this as a sign, I should take some time at home with my newborn baby, which eventually became my three children over a span of ten years.  I regretfully watched my teaching certification fly off into inactive status when my third child, a daughter was born, but honestly even without her, my return would have been postponed.

My oldest had hit kindergarten by then and the very verbal little boy who we were sure would love school was struggling wildly with odd things like sitting at circle to sing songs, and what one teacher dubbed “buzzing” around the room.  He was sent to the office frequently for social faux pas and skirmishes, and the dreaded "lack of empathy".  By first grade I was solely engrossed in figuring out what was causing our curious motivated learner at home to become a distressed mess at school.  You know that mom you see storming into school determined and wide eyed, she scares everyone a little, she is so so angry . . .?  That was me. . .  Getting help for my son was a nightmare of roadblocks that to this day make no sense to me, I was stressed beyond belief.  As strange as it sounds, it snuck up on me! I jumped, dodged and pushed to get past the blockades and eventually got the former nay sayers on board and found a place where my boy could not just survive, but thrive.  Then I had to get myself and my family back on track.  Regular excercise and outlets for mom rose in importance. I have had to work past that "trigger time" in the mornings when my son would set up for battle over going to school.  I had to learn to breath, learn to breath, learn to breath.  If someone isn't ready or can't find something as we are going out the door, I still need to remind myself, this is a little bump, no big deal, we will get there. . . because my brain wants to freak out as if we were back in that time three years ago.  But today's bumps have nothing to do with then.  

Along the way, I learned a lot about myself, and my teaching self.  I learned never to give up excercise and healthy habbits because I am too busy "solving a problem", (because that just causes another problem some place else!) I recognized some faulty assumptions I once made as a young teacher, and learned how to make other theories I felt in my heart come to life "Children do well if they can, not just if they want to." became my new mantra stripped straight from the pages of  Dr.Ross Greene's (author of  books.  I read, and worked, found jobs where I could use my teaching skills even if they weren’t the coveted “teacher” role and have begun learning the ins and outs of twenty first century public education, and at the same time realize that the "good teaching practices" I have under my belt never go out of style.

I even interviewed for a “dream job” at a tiny ruralish local school, but besides my brain going into flight mode for most of the interview. << I soo wish I could blog my way through interview!  I would just reply to questions with, please see blog post # 17 where I discussed this at length. :))>> When they asked why I wanted to work there, I really had no good, honest answer.  In that ridiculous moment right In the interview, I realized I really didn’t want to work there!  It suddenly seemed too small, too homogeneous and I knew I would miss the diversity I had found working in a larger school the previous year.  Umm. . .yeah, interview did not go so well.  My husband says everything I feel at any moment washes acrossed my face all day long, maybe I need some of that "Pokertox" or whatever it was called. . . some Doctor invented it to help poker players keep a straight face while holding a royal flush!!  Imagine the possibilities?!  

So instead, I found a part time one on one position in a district where many people don’t want to work, a huge number of administrators left 8 to 10 years ago, school choice has resulted in a hemmorage of students out of the district to places not unlike the one where my own son suffered, (honestly struggled is not a big enough word to describe what my son and our family went through there). So I  am hoping to find a place here in this recovering district, with soon to be hired new superintendent, where diversity is wide and possibilities for the future are many.  They are in flux, and where there is change there will ultimately be growth, I am excited to be there to help.

Yet here I am, the mom of now 11 years, trying to work my way back in to the profession I love.  As much as I want to convey confidence, and truly I am confident that this work is mine to do, I get this little niggling feeling of doubt when I begin this job search process.  The back of my neck tightens, my jaw sets and I fear it will never happen, that due to "mind in flight" during interviews, I will be seen as a wannabe teacher who just happens to have a Masters Degree in Curriculum and Design, intensive training in reading intervention/instruction, and a newly approved teaching liscence under my belt.  And I forget that I jumped into full time work and completed three college level courses in education to get my liscence back, and that I enjoyed, almost, every minute of it.  I forget that I have been going into schools and feeling like I am home for the past couple years working with other teachers and educators of all kinds.   I forget that I have patience for the kids who most everyone loses patience with, because I want to treat them the way I hope my own children will evermore be treated.  I forget my toolbox continues to be filled by yours truly, as I continue searching for more ways to help children succeed in more diverse ways. I forget that I have a gift of my own, for seeing into the hearts of children and helping create a place in school where they can learn and grow and create something from the heart, mind and soul, and that is a gift to them.  I forget that I am determined to teach them how to learn, how to think like a learner, how to act like a learner, how to be a learner. . .  I just need to remember, keep the confidence, brain power and appropriate facial expressions through an entire interview and pray for the best!


My favorite rain moment

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It is raining here today, an all day steady, sometimes torrential rain that makes my hair curl and my bangs stick out like horns of the devil.  For this moment, after a long day, I sit and recall a moment that I return to often when it rains, wishing for just that kind of moment again.

I think of one particular rainy spring day. I just happened to be walking determinedly across a local college campus when I suddenly became aware in a single moment of how simply lovely this rain was. . . gentle and steady.   As my feet slowed avoiding puddles on pavement, the balm of the rain and crispness of the sweet pink apple blossoms balanced just right to create the perfect scent of spring, fresh, clean, even pristine.  At one point I simply stopped. . . to smell the raindrops.

So to honor poetry month I have created a poem to capture this moment. :)

I puddle hop with purpose along pavement,
while trees hold bouquets of blossoms
delicate drops clean crisp air
satiate my senses, slow
I stop, smell, the raindrops
tiny reflective globes on satiny sweet petals


Another Chance

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Sitting at the back of the room, stacking folders and staying out of the way while cleanup begins in my son's class, my attention is drawn to the girl with long curls and hands to her face.  The classroom teacher makes her way over and  listens to her problem somehow related to another student, a boy I have a soft spot for.  He is a bright and interesting guy, a bit quirky, but sometimes, like this one, he can be infuriating, much like one of my own boys.  The teacher assures the crying student she will deal with the problem.  As she tends to the class, and directs them down the hall to technology class, she calls both students to talk to her.

I headed to tech with my son's class, with math folders in hand, find an empty table, and get to work checking their minute math pages, while keeping an eye out for "help" flags in case I am needed.  A few folders in, the crying girl joins us, I notice the teacher return with the other student a bit later.  Before the classroom teacher has even walked away, the tech teacher is on the boy's case to throw away his gum before sitting at his computer.  He resisted at first, but eventually made the decision to lose the gum, the gum the classroom teacher gives him, because it helps him find more success during the days at school, the gum she gives him because she takes time to try to figure him out and help him succeed.

When I saw her again, the classroom teacher was clearly upset, but her expression was introspective. . . I could tell she was not upset at the student, but upset at herself.  I have felt this feeling with my own son, so that old cliche, "It takes one to know one." I guess it applies.  This was not the right opportunity for me to speak, so I waited.  As the kids waded through the last of their end of day routines, my mind was already on the message I wanted to give this classroom teacher.  Now, don't think I am an egomaniac who thinks she has all the answers, far from it! but I have been the parent of one of these frustating and wonderful children for 11 years and when I saw the look on the teacher's face, I had a feeling that she might need my words.  I was right, we exchanged emails, and essentially she told me she felt like she was failing him!  She has had a cold, is feeling tired, a lot going on at home, less patient, and he is having a rough spell.

So my last words to her I think were the most important, because I had to learn them for myself and accept them for the truth in order to keep trying, trying to be the best mom I can be to another quirky frustrating amazing boy.

You are not failing, you are tired, and He is a tricky and special kid.  It does not feel hard because you re doing anything wrong, it feels hard because it IS hard :-) (this is my mantra)  This student is very lucky to have you on his side this year!  Rest well!

I hope she is able to hear this message and take it to heart.  I hope that she doesn't think I am just sending her some kind of fluff or trying to sound like a know it all mom.  I hope she can hear that those words I wrote are true, and that they help her navigate the bumpy roads that tricky children leave in their wake for teachers and parents to follow.  I hope she will understand that her frustration with herself is evidence she is really doing so much right, this is a bump, don't change course, don't turn back, breath deep and lean in, tomorrow is another day, another chance, for everyone. 




Dawn. . . A Moment

A moment.
Sky gray, silver
barely illuminated
Promise of sun
Not yet
Over the horizon
Pink creeps into silver
Against branches reaching, gripping,
Slowly releasing,
The black of night.


Poem. . . Me?

WRITE a slice of life story on your own blog. SHARE a link to your post in the comments section. GIVE comments to at least three other SOLSC bloggers.national-poetry-month

Today is a Poem about Me now, I posted a poem about Me by my 7 year old self a while back

Mom? Wife? Daughter? Auntie? Sister?
. . .

Lover of. . .
Snowflakes, a steaming cup
Sugar Clouds billowing

Sunday family dinner
Laughing eyes crying

Soil Digging
Spring green glowing

Suits of Sand and Salt
Cottony Clothes and Sandals

Fine tipped pen
Fresh paper calling

Popcorn crunch
tongue, icecream melting