Lunchtime Celebrity

Sometimes I worry about things I can’t change. Like the birth order of my children and the space between them. While I watch Belén and Susanna play through every waking moment together, I wonder about Vivi. What will she do without someone to chase when she should be brushing her teeth? Without someone to pretend she is on-stage when she should be setting the table? Without the other sister with whom play comes as natural as breathing? I imagine Vivian as stoic and lonely, isolated and withdrawn. And then I remember yesterday.

Yesterday was Family Hot Lunch at the girl’s school. This monthly event, entailing a break from bag lunches and visits from family members, is much anticipated around here. Before Belén left on the bus in the morning she gave me instructions. “Mom, can you put Vivi in some clothes that match?” Then she looked at me, still seated in the rocker and wearing my pajamas. “Maybe bathe her, too,” she added.

After the girls rushed off, I dutifully followed Belén’s directions, lathering Vivian’s porcelain teapot head, sudsing her miniature shoulder blades and back, and dressing her in the matchiest outfit I could find. It only took two hours for both of us to bathe, eat, dress, and shovel the car out, but it was worth it. Both Vivian and I were ready to see some different faces and we were not disappointed. From the moment we arrived at Belén’s room, to body-surfing with Susanna’s classmates (Vivian, not me), we had all the human contact we could’ve wished for.

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All ready! Thanks to Alma for providing Belén-approved clothes.

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Getting a fifth-grade welcome

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Mr. Burrell, demonstrating his baby-whispering skills to his students.

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Overheard from one of Susanna’s classmates: “This is our first Canadian baby!”

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Vivian: Come on, come on! Step right up! Now, who’s next?

We didn’t plan who would be born when in this family of ours. We didn’t plan on having a “trailer baby” eight years after we were done. And we didn’t plan how special it would be either. As I type this, Vivian is having an extra-long sleep, perhaps dreaming of her moment in the spotlight yesterday; it takes a lot of energy to be so famous. Maybe she’ll be alright after all.

Dear Mommies

Dear mommies,

Not long ago I was sitting in a room full of you when I started to get worried. We were watching babies struggle through tummy time like little miniature beached seals, talking about new teeth, sleepless nights and rice cereal. You all seemed kind and friendly but I felt vaguely trapped, as if in a small room that was slowly collapsing. I racked my brain looking for a window to afford me an expansive view–a glimpse of your passions, opinions, and ideas–but nothing worked. Despite asking several questions, each potential conversation promptly derailed itself. One infant started crying, another spit up, and then a two-year-old sibling rolled a ball my way, babbling something I interpreted as an invitation to play. That’s when I gave up, rolled the ball back to my incoherent little partner, and began to tremble at what’s ahead.

The fear is mixed with curiosity and a measure of arrogance. Having birthed my last baby almost 8 years ago I wonder if I was ever like you. Did I engage in discussion that didn’t address bowel movements or baby food? How long could I attend to an adult conversation before unclipping my nursing bra or making faces at my toddler? And, will it be the same this time around? Will the world of babies consume enough of me I won’t remember what I used to talk about before the birth of my third child? I ask these questions well aware I may be eating my words in a couple months; that sleep issues might eclipse subjects like good books, relationships, plants, the supernatural, long-term goals, and teaching, or anything else requiring more than a 2-minute attention span.

But I’m still comfortable in the saddle of my high-horse for now. It feels good to imagine myself as more interesting, more evolved, and beyond something–even if it’s just one of many parenting phases. I could stay up here for awhile and enjoy a long canter except for one thing: what you mommies are doing makes all the difference in the world. Your small talk and single-mindedness matter.

When I see children who don’t have enough words to function in a classroom or communicate basic concepts I’m reminded of you. When you talk to your kids in that grating monologue voice (why is it always so loud?) at the grocery story, telling them you want more bananas, or a bigger watermelon, or the bagel beside the cookies, they are learning. When I hear children–children much older than yours–unravel with fury, sobbing or screaming and unable to cope with even the smallest reversal, I think of you. Shielding myself, especially my swollen belly, from their unpredictable limbs makes me wonder about the scenes of rage they’ve witnessed or endured themselves. Remember this. When your little ones won’t stop crying and frustration crawls through your body like a trail of biting ants, your children are learning to deal with anger. When you yell in their cherub faces to GO TO BED and then apologize later, kissing their sweaty foreheads, they are learning how to say sorry. When you face disappointment and they watch your face crease with stress before you remember to breathe, they are apprentices in the school of resilience.

And so dear mommies, don’t stop, no matter how boring you might be. Please don’t stop. I can listen to another poopy story. Or feign interest in how much your child eats or weighs or pukes or cries or sleeps. Your devotion matters even if it costs you a few years of stimulating conversation. I am grateful for your keen intuition and instincts, the sacrifices you make, your unwavering focus, and the tight grip on the task you hold in your hands. Your commitment to a few little bodies makes this planet more liveable. You are growing people, not wild animals; in these few short years your children are discovering empathy, kindness, self-control and what it means to be human. And that’s worth it for all of us.

Tricia

 

 

Depressed and Surprised

Kids these days depress me.

When I start working with new students I ask them open-ended questions to get to know them: What do you like to do after school? What are you good at? If you could do anything you wanted, what would you choose do? Their responses to my inquiries are consistent and predictable. The answers always involve video games.

I work next door to a speech therapist, and a lot of conversations I overhear resemble my own with students. It seems the only reference point children have for dialogue is their gaming life. It’s not about what they did or made on the weekend, who their friends are, or where they went, but what they accomplished in a virtual world with their thumbs. The dearth in their vocabulary and lack of basic concepts is frightening, but not inexplicable. If children never communicate and interact verbally through diverse, real-life experiences, it’s no wonder they’re in grade two and still can’t carry on a decent conversation. Did I mention kids depress me?

But, kids surprise me even more.

Last night my girls told me about the storyteller on their bus. I’ve heard about her before and how even the big boys sit down and lean in close when she starts talking, but it’s still hard for me to believe.

“You mean all these kids want to sit beside her and listen?” I ask.

“Yep. And when she starts we settle down and get less hyper.” Then Belén qualifies, “Well, a little less hyper.”

I imagine this nine-year-old casting her spell on a gang of kids smushed between hard seats and backpacks, all of them anticipating who will be the next hero. Even at her age she understands her audience will be more engaged if they’re a part of the story. Today two fourth-grade boys were pirates. Not long ago, Belén and Susanna were kittens and I know of others cast as geriatric patients. Once, she picked up pebbles from the floor of the bus and wove a story around them, describing the plight of two peers turned to stone.

“Where does she get all her ideas from?” I wonder.

“Oh, she takes an imaginary card and swipes the top of her head to unlock the files in there,” Susanna explains, then adds in a confidential tone, “When she finds an idea she likes, she has to unlock it with a special key so no one else can steal it.”

No teacher has given her this assignment or demanded these performances, but she gives them anyway. No adult coordinates her program or guides her stories, but she keeps on telling, and her friends keep listening–even the kindergarten babies, and the fifth grade football players. This is her gift. Her magic. And she’s using it.

Did I mention that kids surprise me?

Have a great weekend,

Tricia

Oh, and here’s a couple of pictures from yesterday. The girls decided what they wanted to be, but needed their dad for some technical support. He hates Halloween (I think it has something to do with flooding an over-entitled nation with slave-produced chocolate while celebrating evil) but he’s like a moth to the flame when comes to making stuff…

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getting the costumes ready…

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“the band” (Susie, our friend Sarah, and Belén)

What do energy consumption, a school classroom, and fiddle camp have in common?

Isn’t it weird when you hear the same message from several different sources? Like when every book you read seems to point to a similar truth, or random people talk to you about a certain issue. Lately it’s been that way for me as I learn about the power people have over other people–otherwise known as community. In the last month, I’ve heard the same message from a behavioural scientist, an elementary school teacher, and a fiddle intsructor: positive change and growth happens with other people. I guess it’s not that earth shattering–I learned about peer pressure in junior high health class and we know, intuitively, that humans are social creatures–but it still fascinates me.DSCN5850_

Alex Laskey shares (on TEDtalks) about the best way to encourage homeowners to consume less energy. He’s found that residents don’t respond to moral pleas (help save our planet) or even financial incentives (energy efficient fixtures save you money). What really works is social pressure; letting people know how much energy they use compared to their neighbours. Once people find out the Jones’ energy bill is a fraction of their own, only then are they motivated to make lifestyle changes.

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Belén, at a the nightly circle jam where 80 musicians sat in a big circle and played/improvised the same tune. Instruction in fiddle, guitar, mandolin, banjo and keyboard was offered during the day.

During the last month of school I visited my friend’s fifth grade classroom to observe how she motivates her students. The moment I stepped through the doorway I recognized one of her top priorities: to foster a community of readers. There were couches, chairs, even a fireplace! and baskets of books everywhere. When it was time for individual reading the students scuttled away with their books like cockroaches, trying to find a corner to settle into. Later, my friend gathered the students into a circle to talk about what they’d been reading and make recommendations for the summer. From the tone of their voices I might have thought they were discussing their summer plans or a vacation at Disneyland, when they were actually suggesting the next title their friends should get their hands on.

The atmosphere in the classroom didn’t happen overnight, and it wasn’t a random phenomenon. My teacher friend is passionate about turning ho-hum readers into voracious consumers of literature, and she does this through community; intentionally making her classroom a place where every student ups the ante, talking about the books they love and hate. By the end of the year they all experience the explosive nature of community… and they’ve all read more books than they would’ve imagined possible.

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This was after a day of workshops. I was really tired and intended to take a nap, but then Susanna started playing “Pelican Reel” and I had to pick up my fiddle to learn it.

As you can tell from the pictures, we were making music last week… in community.

I heard Susanna’s instructor, Gordon Stobbe, comment, “The fiddle is a social instrument… you don’t play it alone in your basement to get better. It comes alive with other instruments.” And after a week of playing with other people, I think he’s right. In four days we learned more tunes and technique than months of weekly lessons/practise.

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Susanna’s class. They had Gordon Stobbe all to themselves for the week!

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Susanna, at age six, was the second youngest camper, but she wasn’t in the beginners class. In her place, was a seventy-four-year-old man who wanted to learn how to play the violin. When I congratulated him on taking the initiative to come to camp, he grinned and said, “Aw, I shoulda’ started thirty years ago.”

“But you’re here now,” I reminded him. “I hope I remember you when I’m seventy-four and think it’s too late to learn something new.”

Most evenings there were square dances and also old-time dances. There’s something about do-si-doing with teenagers and octogenarians that makes the world seem like a better place.

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My mom came along for part of the week. She didn’t take any classes but joined in on the dancing, food, and concerts.

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… she also joined us in our cozy tent.

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Street signs around town are named after popular fiddle tunes.

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one of the workshop venues: an old orthodox church

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playing inside the church

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Saying goodbye to new friends…

One of the best resources for tapping into growth and transformation is all around us: the people we connect with. They can reduce our energy consumption, turn us into readers and make our fiddles sing!

Wishing you great connections today,

Tricia

Top Three Winter Staycation Ideas

This past weekend was supposed to be our get-away weekend.  Stan had asked my mom and dad if they could look after Belén and Susanna so we could go to a nearby resort to celebrate life, love, and frankly, that we had all survived the last few months with me as a working mama.   Our bags were packed, and we had already driven out of town when we decided (or the weather decided for us) to stay put.  With strong winds and heavy snowfall, the three hour drive was growing less appealing with every flake that hit our windshield.

The view from our back door

And so, instead of checking into a hotel room we checked ourselves back into our own home, and started our winter stay-cation.  Although I was looking forward to a spa treatment, and exploring a new town, being snowed in turned out to be just as good.

People may complain about the wintery weather, but I think there is something festive about it, besides reminding us that Christmas is coming.  Once the snow arrives, it is as if the earth is comfortable with herself again.  The post-fall season of wind, rain, slush, sleet, and heavy skies is enough to push just about anyone over the mental edge we all sit on so precariously.  These weeks of weather-limbo take their toll, and remind me of an awkward adolescent child who doesn’t know what she wants.  And then, the snow finally comes and graciously covers up the muddy earth.  The sun re-appears, like the matured child who eventually comes out of her room, and everything is much more pleasant.

Our backyard is no longer unkempt now, but one giant marshmallow, hiding all the toys, hula hoops, chairs, and garden tools that were left strewn about, waiting for someone with some extra time to tidy them up.  The snow beat me to it.  Now we will just have to wait until March/April to find what has been buried.  Perhaps the snow melt will coincide with Easter and I can substitute the egg hunt with a “let’s go see what we left in the yard last November” hunt.

But you were here for the stay-cation ideas, right?  Well, here’s my list:

1.  Buy something small, but luxuriousFor me, this weekend, it was a pair of socks, and a latte.  My husband ordered a coffee.  We sat in our parked car listening to the radio, hot drinks in hand, while the snow blurred our view.  The drinks weren’t the luxurious part, and neither was the radio show, but somehow doing both together seemed special.  Maybe just having the uninterrupted time to sit and laugh at the Debaters, while cocooned in our vehicle was the extraordinary element.  Anyway, I recommend the activity.  The Debater’s, hosted by Steve Patterson on CBC Radio One, airs at 1 pm every Saturday, (in case you have a sense of humour like ours).

The warmest, cuddliest, softest socks I could find in town: a winter’s worth of pleasure for $10!

2.  Read something

Currently on my book pile:

Wonder

Wonder, by R.J. Palacio:  I plan to read this novel out loud to my grade six class.  It’s on my book pile, but I’m not reading it.  Stan is.  I like to be surprised and entertained right along with the students as I read to them.

Sabbath:  Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest by Wayne Muller

I recently ordered a pile of books from the library about sabbath/rest because I wanted to find out about different religious traditions (besides my own) that honour this principle.

 

This one was recommended to my by the literacy coach at school.  I am convinced, more than ever, that reading, and not worksheets, vocabulary exercizes, or comprehension tests, is what I need to do more of in my class.  It is an inspiring teacher/home-schooler read.

 

I’m reading this with my book club, and can’t wait to discuss it with a diverse group of women!   My favourite thing about the book is the insights into French culture/language.  Her self-deprecating humour is easy to swallow, too.

3.  Make a little…

…something.

I found this top at Value Village and bought it with out trying it on.  I knew it was much too big for me, but I thought I could take it in.  I later realized that no amount of tailoring would fix it.  Staring at my pale face in the mirror, washed out by the cream fabric draping around me like a tent, I knew I needed to reconsider my plan.

I decided to turn it into a skirt/apron to wear on top of tights or skinny jeans.  I cut it off at the armpits, threw in an elastic waistband and voila…

My motto at value village is: “Buy the things you are attracted to, even if you don’t know how you will use it.” The reason for buying it often reveals itself later. 🙂

Stan and I also spent a good part of the weekend…

Nope, guess again…

Yes, shoveling.

One day, we spent nearly five hours outside, shoveling out our vehicles, building this mold, and then shoveling the snow into the mold.  The snow was incredibly light and fluffy so we had to haul ourselves up on top of the snow, wallowing waist deep at first, to pack it down.

It is now overflowing with snow and resting/curing/hardening.  In a few weeks (months?) this block of snow will be transformed into something.  We’re just not sure what, exactly, but we have some ideas.

Stan is the master carver. He tries designs out with play-dough first, before touching the snow.  (Guess how much he liked having the camera lens over his shoulder while doing this?)

Gathering and packing snow for a sculpture unleashes some childlike tendencies.  Suddenly, you begin to see snow, and it’s value, with new eyes.  Kind of like Susanna.

Susanna:  Mom, will you be very angry with me if I tell you something?

I stop washing the dishes, whirl around and kneel low, instantly my heart jumps up into my throat.  Has someone violated her in some way that she feels ashamed about?

Me:  Oh no, Susanna, you can tell me anything.

Susanna’s voice is barely audible as she explains…

Susanna:  This afternoon, I went over to Helen’s (our neighbour)… and stole… some of her snow…  I just wanted to have a little more for our slide.  She tags this on quickly as if to justify her awful deed.

Whew!  I’ll take that kind of a confession any day.   And I actually understand where she’s coming from, after all the stockpiling we did this weekend.

Wishing you a lovely, full-on winter, week!

Grades and zebra stripes

Report card time is here.  Have you noticed the posts getting thinner and sparser?

I love teaching; standing in front of the class and seeing the students’ eyes light up, listening to them talk animatedly about what they are reading or writing, watching a semi-depressed child spring to life in drama class or one who can barely read, whoop everyone else in gym class, but I hate marking.  My mother tells me all teachers feel this way, but I find it especially odious.  (Perhaps like all parents think their children are especially cute.)  What makes the task so hard for me is that it has never been easy to see the world in black and white.  And, slapping a percentage on a report card is a very black and white task.

I recently told someone, “I see the world in zebra stripes.”

I thought I was being terribly clever.  The person I told this to didn’t quite get it, or maybe they got it but didn’t gush enough about the analogy to satisfy me.  I was trying to communicate that there are other possibilities to consider when analyzing different perspectives.  Some see the world in black and white, others see it in shades of gray, and still others see it in zebra strips–where the black lies, black as ever, next to pure white; neither colour diluted.  The first example that comes to mind to illustrate this is my view of God: a Creator so devastatingly beautiful and powerful, before whom we can only tremble, combined with the other stripe of  His/Her extravagant grace and compassion.  And then that view triggers even more zebra-stripe responses.  I have to ask myself: how do I live a just and principled life and at the same time practice a ridiculous amount of grace towards myself and others?

Talking about God is just one arena for figuring out how we understand the world and communicate that understanding.  There is also politics, ethics, child-rearing… and report cards.

The one bright spot, for me, in this whole process of attaching numbers to children is the speech I am preparing to deliver before I hand out the report cards.  I think I may take the students to the chapel, since we’ve never done that before, to lend an air of seriousness to my sermon.

I imagine I will need to admit, right up front, how I detest the whole business of marking.  Then I will need to explain why.  I will confess that some of them have gotten the wrong grades.  (Gasp!  Can I admit that?).  Quite likely, in their heart of hearts, they will know if the mark is too high or too low.  And hopefully some of them will have marks that are just right.  Regardless of how they feel about their marks this term, I want them to understand they will be assigned grades all their life, not in the form of report cards of course, but judgements that other people make of them.

To cultivate a resilience to the harmful effects of all this measurement they will need to be able to rely on their ability to evaluate themselves and listen to their intuition.  They will know if they have done their best or still have more to give.  As it is a Catholic school I might remind them that there is only One who does understand them; the One who knit them together in their mother’s womb.  And, since I am certainly not the One, they have to be wary of calibrating their worth from a pile of numbers I, or any other teacher, spin through a rubric, regardless if the result is 99% or 49%.

***

And now, for something completely different, a few pics of some changes around here:

She finally lost them!!

One of Belén’s closest friends went to see Justin Bieber live.  Belén wasn’t particularly sad about missing Justin Bieber but she felt left out of a good time.  We decided that something special was in order…

Belén opted for camping in our backyard.

Not exactly a Justin Bieber concert, but special nonetheless.

Good Words: “Pippilotta Comestibles Windowhade Curlymint Ephraimsdaughter Longstocking”

Last week we started reading Pippi by Astrid Lindgren.

My daughter’s recent fashion leanings inspired me to order the book from the library.

Waiting for the school bus…

Her sock-wearing habits are pippi-ish, don’t you think?

I remembered reading Pippi when I was a girl, but I had forgotten what it was that I liked about her.  After turning the last page of the book and setting it down on the couch we decided it was her unpredictable, creative, and confident character that made her so likeable.

I had a staff meeting this past week during which we spent a good chunk of time talking about homework and how to get the students to do it.  Then I came home and opened up Pippi where we had left off the night before.  Ironically, we were at the part where she goes to school for the first time.  I have to admit, it was delicious reading, especially after coming home from my meeting.

“At exactly ten o’clock the follwing day, she lifted her horse down from the porch…  At full gallop she raced into the playground, leaped off the horse before he even stopped, and tied him to a tree.  Then she flung open the door to the clasroom…

‘My name is Pippilotta Comestibles Windowhade Curlymint Ephraimsdaughter Longstocking…”

Both Pippi and her teacher, end up frustrated with each other and Pippi decides not to attend school after all…

“Give me the schools in Argentina any time…  You should try going there… It’s bearable because at least there’s no homework.  It’s strictly forbidden to do homework in Argentina.  Sometimes an argentinean boy might sneak into a cupboard and sit there and secretly do homework, but I feel sorry for him if his mother finds out…

‘Well, what do they do at school then?’ asked a little boy.

‘They eat candy,’ said Pippi firmly…

‘But what does the teacher do?’ asked a girl.

‘She unwraps the candy for the children, silly,’ said Pippi.  ‘You don’t really think they do that themselves, do you?  Hardly!  And they don’t actually go to school themselves either.  They send their brothers.’

Just so you know, if you invite either of my daughters to your child’s birthday party they will probably end up receiving a copy illustrated by Lauren Child.

 

*My own end of the week tradition: words in song or story that move me in some way.  I might type my very favourite parts in bold text, and I’ll always try to post a link below the quote so you can get more if you want it. Enjoy!