Healing

 

I am happy to say that I have found a solution to my mug problem. I now have new mug from which to drink my coffee and reminisce in the mornings.

As the weather grew warmer and spring was definitely arriving, the Christmas mug—despite the sentiments it held for me—was starting to feel a bit wrong. There was snow and a Christmas wreath on the mug, but outside, the weather was reflecting an altogether different season. So on my last, rather timely trip to visit Mom, I acquired a new old mug.

This mug was Dad’s and is one that I made back when my children were little. That Christmas, I made several similar but unique mugs to give as gifts. I painted faces (which barely resembled) my three children, and I included names of the grandparents. This mug—the Grampa mug—is now mine.

I thought it would be the perfect replacement for my Christmas mug. My sister questioned whether I would actually use a mug that says “Grampa” on it, and admittedly, it might seem a bit odd. Here I am, a woman of a medium age, using a mug made for a Grampa.

Do I care? Not at all. I use it every day! I think it might just help in my healing process.

 

Winter’s Release

This is the time of year when winter releases the many captives it has taken during the long, snow-smothered months. One never knows what will appear when the snow melts, and sometimes the discoveries can be downright surprising.

Two winters ago, I recovered a cell phone that had been buried in the snow for the better part of the winter. When I turned it on, it still worked, though the service had been disconnected weeks earlier by its owner. My challenge then was to find the owner and return the phone, which I was ultimately able to do by finding common contacts.

When my children were young, I found a wallet plowed into a pile of gooey brown road-slush. I took it home to dry it out and find its rightful owner. The wallet contained cash, credit cards, and identification, and I don’t think the man’s wife was pleased that a strange woman was calling her husband relatively late at night—at least not until she found out the reason for my call. The next day, I delivered the wallet to the bakery cafe where the man worked, and he gave my children each a large cookie from the display case.

One night this week, when I stopped at our mailboxes on my way home from work, I noticed a pair of eyeglasses in a case sitting on top of the box. The case looked naggingly familiar. It pulled at the memories contained in my brain, and as I dragged out the heavy box in which I store all useless tidbits of memory, the lid squeaked from lack of use. Interestingly, memories can slip into the storage box nearly unnoticed, but getting them out again can sometimes take great work and strain.

The memory started to emerge: A month ago—maybe two—my BF appeared at my house with new reading glasses (because we are at that age, and reading without them is challenging). He had purchased a new pair because… well, because he misplaces them. All. The. Time. These new glasses were contained in a nice case.

But the next day, the glasses had gone missing. BF seemed to think he had left them at my house, and he launched a futile search. I tried to tell him the glasses weren’t there, but he wouldn’t believe me until he didn’t find them there. He then thought he had left them in his car, but I never saw the glasses again after that. Until now.

Because now, they were sitting on top of the mailboxes, dirty from the weeks spent in the snow, but they were intact, unbroken, and in good shape. Luckily, it seemed they had not been plowed into a snowbank or run over by a car. And the case had done a good job of keeping them free of scratches. BF now has them back. At least for now.

Sometimes, I am amazed that anything can emerge intact after months buried in snow. And sometimes, I just wish winter would give up the fight and release the spring….

Vacuuming

fullsizeoutput_2af2  fullsizeoutput_2af4

Last month, I had a very interesting text exchange with my oldest child. He started out, “Do you remember the time you got that chest for my room back in the old, old house and you picked me up from school and told me you got something for my room and it was a surprise, but you said it was something to help keep my room clean?”

In fact, I vaguely remembered how I presented the situation, but as soon as he mentioned it, I knew what he was talking about. He was just a little kid at the time, probably four or so. After all, we only lived in that house until he was five. I had found a “treasure chest” at the Christmas Tree Shop, and I thought it would be the perfect addition to his room to contain his toys.

He went on with the text exchange to let me know that at four, he had thought he was going to get his own vacuum, and he was very excited. Now, on the one hand, I wish I had known that he wanted a vacuum because I probably could have capitalized on that. But on the other hand, I know he was likely only three feet tall, at best, and I doubt he would have been able to handle a vacuum of his own.

I wonder why it is that we don’t create child sized working appliances, like vacuum cleaners? Instead, we create toy vacuums and toasters, blenders and lawnmowers. I understand why some of these things could not be actual, functioning appliances (lawnmowers, for example). But hey, it seems my kid would have been all over vacuuming his own room at four years old because at four, a vacuum is a pretty cool item.

And if he were vacuuming himself at that age, he might have saved me some time on cleaning. Then again, I might have had to spend an inordinate amount of time searching the vacuum bag for trinkets that were accidentally run over and sucked up in his youthful excitement and inexperience.

Sadly, I will never know. But at least now I know what to get him for a housewarming gift!

Saturday Wanderings

hammock-1365743

Back when he was in fifth grade, maybe sixth, my son created a simulated Black Hole for a project for science. Now, this was not just a table-top diorama. No. When my kid creates a Black Hole, it is going to be a big one.

He thought long and hard about how he would complete this project. On Amazon, he discovered that he could purchase a large sheet of black lycra. He set about to create a frame for the material, and he used PVC pipe and joints.

Actually, the finished product was pretty impressive. He carried it to school unassembled in his sister’s duffle bag. When he put it all together, it was three feet tall and four feet from one side to the other. His teacher was impressed. But as impressive as this project was, it is not the point of this blog post.

Fast forward to this past fall. The large sheet of lycra had been hanging around my house for awhile. We all knew it belonged to W, but it was in the living room; it was in the bedroom; it was in the basement. It really hadn’t found a home. After it had kicked around for too long, W picked it up one day and said, “Do you think I could make a hammock out of this?” And the next thing I knew, I had a hammock hanging from the beams above the ceiling tile in my basement. The best part was that the ceiling tiles had to be pushed aside to make this work.

But then he decided he wanted to make it into a real hammock rather than just a piece of lycra tied to some rope tied to the beams. He spent the better part of a day pleating the material and stitching it together on my sewing machine. The parts that were too thick—where he looped the lycra over and connected it to the rope—were sewn by hand. His newly reconfigured hammock passed the basement test with flying colors.

So last weekend, he took the hammock on a camping trip to test it out for real. Yes, it is February, which means that here in New Hampshire, it is the middle of winter. Personally, I am not sure if I would rather sleep on the frozen ground or in a hammock at this time of year. When I was discussing this issue with my daughter, she had the same first response I had. “Bridges freeze first!”

(And that, my friends, is a clear indication that if nothing else, my daughter learned one important fact in her Drivers Education class, and it is one that she will never forget!)

The argument on whether it’s warmer to sleep on the ground or in a hammock (if you must sleep outside in the dead of winter) is still out for debate, but here’s what I did learn. Getting out of a hammock in the middle of the night in the dead of winter to use the latrine is not too much fun.

[Image credit: FreeImages.com / Orlando Alonzo]

Blurring

fullsizeoutput_2aee

Sometimes, I have to wonder. My children—even as teens, or maybe especially as teens—tend to shed their belongings as they walk in the front door and through the house. The shoes are the first to come off onto the boot tray. Then the backpack, landing on the floor by the chair. The jacket is sometimes hung up, but usually ends up thrown on the back of a chair or on the table. Sweatshirt, sweaters, hat, socks, etc. As my children shed these items, they get dropped along the path. It’s a blur of doors and limbs and kids and belongings.

At the end of last week, I had just returned home from work. I emptied and put away my lunchbox, and I made my way up to my room to change from my work clothes before I made dinner. As I raised my foot to step on the first stair, I heard, “Don’t step on my shirt!”

What? Ah yes. Someone had dropped a shirt, right there in the middle of the bottom step.

Perhaps the problem is not really me stepping on the shirt. It seems, the problem might be more about the shirt being in the middle of the steps where it doesn’t belong. Just a thought.

Teachable moments

winter-tent-1405339

This weekend’s not-so-fun activity involved a morning trip to the Laundromat. After his last camping trip, W announced that his winter sleeping bag was “developing a personality” and needed to be washed. I don’t know about you, but when a 15 year-old announces that his sleeping bag is “developing a personality,” I sit up and take notice. And since his next camping trip is coming up quickly—next weekend, in fact—it was pretty much this weekend or after the upcoming trip.

But a winter sleeping bag is one of those items that cannot be washed at our home in our normal-sized washing machine. It has to be washed in a large capacity, front-loading machine, hence the trip to the Laundromat. Since we were heading there anyway, I decided to bring the comforter from my bed—another item that I have to launder outside of the house.

Of course, there was the need for tennis balls. I have never used tennis balls in the dryer with my comforter because I typically go to the Laundromat on a very windy day and I dry my comforter at home, outside. However, January is not such a friendly time for drying a heavy comforter outside, wind or no. So a stop at Target was necessary.

We picked up two containers of yellow tennis balls and took them to the checkout, where a gaggle of teenage workers was congregating, socializing. As we stepped up to the checkout, one of the teens broke away from the group to take her place at the register and ring in our three-dollar purchase. She thanked us and went back to her “social” group. As W and I walked by the group to exit the store, one of the teens announced to her friends, “I think I’m going to get a different job.”

Well then. There were so many things I could have said in that moment, but I walked past as if I hadn’t heard.

We were not even out the door before I turned to W. “You know what you don’t do?” I posed.

“Talk about how much you don’t like your job while you’re at your job?” he responded without a split second delay. Ah! He, too, had heard the young woman as we walked by. “I noticed that,” he commented.

“That is so not a good idea,” I told him, though from his quick response, I was certain he knew better. “It’s fine to want a new job. Not so much to announce it while you’re at your current job. And while you are standing around doing nothing….”

“Yeah,” he said. “I get that.” Some things are best left for when you are in the privacy of your own home, and perhaps complaining about your job is one of them. Then again, if you complain in public, I may just use it as a teachable moment.

{image credit: Freeimages.com/Ben C}

The Process of Learning

fullsizeoutput_2a10

At dinner recently, my children mentioned the struggles some of their friends face with their parents. They recounted stories of friends who are grounded for having unacceptable grades when their parents check their Powerschool account.

Ugh, Powerschool. For those not familiar with academic technologies, Powerschool and other similar online grading tools can be valuable for checking on grades and making sure your child is on task, and also allowing them to adjust their studying and homework as necessary before grades close. But this type of technology can just as easily be abused as a micro-management tool.

When I was a student in high school (as with most parents of teenagers today), my parents saw my grades at the end of each quarter when I received my report card. Between report cards, I had the choice of what I would share with them and what I wouldn’t. If I chose not to share an “oops” grade, I had to be pretty certain that I could bring up my grade in that subject before the end of the marking period; and not sharing a bad test grade would give me extra drive and motivation to do so. Nowadays, parents can see grades along the way. Every day, if they’d like. Every. Single. Grade.

Here’s the thing. Learning is actually about growth, not grades. Learning is a process—one that we hone over time—that is sometimes successful, and sometimes not so much. The process of learning requires constant revision and self-evaluation.

Grades are part of the process of learning, and can help students with the self-assessment and re-evaluation necessary for improvement. Grades are not merely a product of the learning process, as people often think.

I work with college writers on a daily basis, and by the time students come to my office, they are already focused on the grade they will receive and not on the process of improving their writing. Very seldom does a day go by when I don’t say to one student or another, “Writing is a process.” Students want to focus on the product—the final, graded draft—and be done with it. But it is a rare writer (at any level) who can write a quality, finished essay the first time around and not have to go back and revise.

Overall, learning is a lot like writing. As students learn more challenging material [or learn a different subject matter … from a different teacher… in a different textbook or context], they have to put into practice what they know about learning, the subject at hand, and their past experiences, all while they constantly adjust their process to fit the situation. What worked last week for one bit of material might not work as well this week. A poor grade on a test or quiz will alert the self-aware student to what is not working, and will allow that student to re-evaluate and revise what he or she is doing.

Come to think of it, this is a lot like life. We are constantly editing and revising; we are examining our approach and making adjustments—fine-tuning, if you will. If we, as parents, don’t step back and offer our children some space to figure things out and some room to grow and examine their own performance, we are teaching them that learning is about the product, in this case, the grade. This parental approach to academics does a grave disservice to our children. Not only are we hijacking our children’s learning process to get the result we desire, we are teaching them that the grade is more important than fostering the innate intellectual curiosity and creativity that comes when they follow their learning in a direction that is of interest to them.

When children are conditioned to only look at the end result—the grade—the fear of failure can become paralyzing. And more than likely, children in this situation will learn not to take risks, but to take the “safe” path. Learning how to deal with failure, on the other hand—how to bounce back from a low essay grade or a bombed test—is a far more effective life lesson than learning to be afraid of failure. They also begin to realize that failure is an integral part of the process.

My son recently completed his first semester in college. For the first half of the semester, he struggled with one particular class—it was a subject he had never studied, and the professor had a well-earned reputation for being tough. In the end, my son received his lowest grade of the term in that course. However, I believe that grade was the one he was most proud of because he learned more about the process of learning, approaching the academic rigors of college, and self-advocacy from that class than he did from all of his other classes put together.

If I were to give advice to parents, I would say, step back. Give your children some room to fall while they still have you there to guide them and help them navigate the rough waters they encounter. Without a little room to figure things out on their own, not only will children have no motivation to get up when they fall, they will not learn how to get back up—to recover from setbacks and move forward.

Let your children stumble so they can assess and reassess and redirect. Help them to learn the important lessons that lead them toward resilience. Now, more than ever, our society is going to be looking for people who can not only face setbacks with grace, but can help others do so, as well.