Tween years, Choose Kind

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The phone rang on the wall in our classroom and my coworker answered.  It was for me, which was the first sign of trouble.  My son's teacher began talking and before I had time to wonder if someone was sick or hurt, I realized the call was about a different kind of trouble.  "The bus ride in the afternoon has been a problem.". . ."unkind to a student from another school". . . "multiple sources reported".  My heart sank to the pit of my stomach.

Sometimes, I feel like we (my husband and I) are doing a great job teaching our kids to be kind and compassionate.  They can all be exceptionally thoughtful at times, sometimes unexpectedly so.  I notice those moments when they show us the best of themselves as they truly look out for one another or their friends.  A lot of times, I am just not sure.  Then, there are those "What were you thinking???!!!" moments, like this one, when I wonder what we are doing wrong.  He can have difficulty seeing the perspective of others, though we go over these situations often, but he does eventually understand.  The question is how to bridge the understanding within a supportive environment after the fact and creating independent understanding that can stand on it's own when we the parents aren't around to help.

Over the weekend, I picked up my nook and tapped and swished to a book I started reading well over a month ago and just hadn't returned to.  This day, I returned to Wonder hoping for wisdom to woosh from the pages.  As it turns out, what is great about this book is not that it is full of answers.  Wonder is simply and complexly a weave of characters faced with choices and making choices, good and bad, every day.  (If you have, live with or work with children in the tween years, I highly recommend reading/sharing Wonder, by RJ Palacio)

A particular teacher is highlighted in this book for sharing his "monthly precepts", (a general rule to regulate behavior or thought)  He begins in September with, "When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind."  I  hear this phrase "choose kind" now everywhere I turn, it seems.  I latched onto it myself, after first beginning this book over the summer, because I could see so many opportunities, for my boys in particular, to be more compassionate with one another.  I keep trying to encourage them to see the gray areas between the black and white thinking which seems to be so prevalent in their brains, the black and white thinking that drives their incessant need to be right even at the expense of relationships with family, classmates, friends.

Some of the characters in Wonder are around my son's age, but even the older ones are faced with choices.  Choosing kind sounds easy, perhaps that is part of the nature of a precept (to sound, but not actually to be easy to carry out)  This book reminded me that in real life and especially at this age, it can be hard , really hard, to choose kind.  Even the most likeable characters in the book make missteps.  I can reflect on my own life's experiences and relate to different characters at different times, recall my own missteps and misunderstandings.  I can see through the grey areas in my mind now to the old roads of black and white that once guided my thoughts, and I realize my kids are living those now.  I can recall the times I did or said something that for days or weeks or years after, if someone asked me why, I would not be able to answer.  I have lived through that regretful moment of knowing, realizing, I didn't choose kind. I have wished I could go back and fix it, and I vaguely am aware of the realization that grew as I got older, that 'next time' was my opportunity to fix it, to do better.

This somehow makes me feel slightly relieved, remembering that I have done dumb or dispicable things myself.  When we look at our kids and hope for them, it is easy to forget how hard it is to be young as we joke, "you've got it so easy", "wait till you have  to go to work for a living".  But if we set aside the romanticised memory of childhood, we would admit the tween years particularly are hard work too, they are growing into humans and that is not an easy simple task.  On navigating the tween years with my kids, I hope to also Choose Kind, as often as I can, and remember as humans we do the best we can each moment with what we know now, in that moment.  The next moment might change what we knew a minute ago.


Growing a writer, a human, a boy

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My son wants to improve his writing.  Specifically, he wants to learn to write more creatively, in his own words, “with fewer transition words like ‘first’, ‘next’, and ‘then’”.  It still amazes me that he has reached and exceeded the point where he likes to write again.  He started excitedly in kindergarten, but by third grade he would refuse to make a birthday card for anyone, let alone sit down and write a story.  Last year I thanked his teachers for giving him the tools to move forward, especially in writing, I may have even written about it here somewhere. My little guy is growing up, literally. . .at age 11 he is 5 foot 3 and wears his dad’s old pants and has to shop in the men’s section of the shoe store, and he likes to write his stories.  He’s gaining skills, and now he has even set a goal for himself. . . in writing!  This mama, teacher, writer couldn’t be more proud.

His 6th grade teacher is a man, who at nearly 7 feet tall commands a presence in his classroom.  It was clear at curriculum night that an appreciation for literature, poetry and art were high on his priority list along with teaching our kids to take responsibility for their own learning, (and that of the other kids in the class as well), to be actively engaged in developing desirable character traits within the classroom and to have the skills necessary to survive the big school next year. He includes the students in conference time with parents and, this week, sent home a brief outline of academic goals to look over before conference.  A few areas seemed to my son to need little attention, and honestly he may be right.  A few others brought up red flags in my brain and sent my son literally sliding under the table just thinking about them.  The writing goal, however, brought an immediate sincere response from my eleven year old boy, a desire to get better and enough confidence that he could achieve this goal that he actually said it, out loud, for me. 

So, I will bring our list of goals to conference with the idea that all of us can help my boy, (including the boy himself) grow into the best writer, human, sixth grader he can be.  I may just start surfing for mentor texts to help him in his writing goal before then.  


10 minutes or days? a writer's perception of time

Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock. . .
The clock on the wall mocks me as I finish an application for Reading program,
tick, tock, tick. . .
as I do a quick edit of meeting notes from this afternoon
tick, tock, tick, tock, . . .
as I stare at the screen and wonder. . tock, tick. . . what to write, tick, tock. .
so I just do. . .tock, tick, tock,
what comes to mind, tick, tock,
Click, click, click of the keyboard
as the tick, tock, tick of the clock continues on and on and on
tick, my eyes grow heavy
and tock, chill settles on my shoulders
tick, I must rest,
for now. . . tock.


The Most Important Thing. . .

Just yesterday, I was reading an online Q and A with Elizabeth Gilbert, (Eat, Pray, Love) and came across this advice from her.  "The most important thing in your life today will get the most time."  She goes on to say, "Every day I have to mobilize myself and ask, 'What is the most important thing today?' and then I say to myself, 'Prove it Liz.'"  I loved reading this!  It reminds me that we all have to make decisions every day that shape our lives.  How motivating it is to think to myself, "If my family, or my writing, or teaching, or my yoga practice is really important to me, why the heck am I wasting time reading random FB posts during my morning quiet time?"  But it is more than that isn't it?  I struggle with acknowledging "what is important", sometimes from minute to minute, not just day to day. 

Sometimes the "what is important to me today", isn't so straightforward, as I noticed this weekend.  We spent a couple days in Maine, and took one to visit the Fryeburg Fair.  I found myself feeling not quite tip top that morning, and though I had been looking forward to the trip, once we were there I was just going through the motions. . . ok, where's a ticket booth?, which rides do you want? we'll get a candy apple after, I was just on autopilot as if I didn't really want to be there. It was drizzly, but not too cold and we separated so Lila and I could find the little kid rides.  Though it may seem silly there were a couple points where I just had to ask myself, "What is important today?", but it was not just "what's important to me?" my family of course, but within that, if family is important to me, then I had to ask, "What is important to them?"  Fortunately it was not just to spend money and eat junk food, but also to experience things they may not experience every day, so when Lila went through the fun house and decided to log roll through the spinning cylinder at the end, I didn't tell her to "stop", or "get up", or "don't get muddy, hurry up", because to her, in that moment, rolling in that tunnel was, "the most important thing." and I reminded myself that my most important thing in that moment was to say "yes!".

A bit later, the boys headed into the blacksmith's shop to have another link of chain added to their link from a previous visit, and my husband suggested the baby barnyard for Lila.  She Loved that idea, and I said "yes!", but my personal reaction even before we rounded the corner to see the line headed into the petting barn was sadly, "ugh."  I was standing there with my little girl, waiting probably a bit impatiently *smirk*, when I thought to myself, "This is why we are here!  Hello lady, wake up and be in the moment."  That is the point when I began to notice the line wasn't so long, Lila was enjoying a nearby show of young tap dancers, the rain isn't so bad just really thick mist, what a great day we are having!  When we entered the barnyard it became very apparent that Lila knew what was important to her and she found some of the cutest little goats to pet and feed.  The barn was filled with little critters, goat kids, people kids and lots of clean dry hay, one of the most lovely "petting barn" experiences I have had.  She was in heaven, and she brought me with her.

I left the fair with my family, smiling at the great day and memories.  Now with a bit of nostalgic melancholy, I recall a time when the boys were still tiny, probably it was when I just had the one, that living in the moment and saying "yes!" to my life was so much more natural feeling.  Perhaps because "all that was important" was rolled up in one tiny package and a husband and we had committed to me staying home at that time, so I had no distractions, no other ambitions or dreams to dilute my focus at that moment.  As time moves forward, my family grows, and I return to teaching, and discover writing, my focus shifts so frequently, I have to keep reassessing and reminding myself of what is important today. . . what is important right now.