Student Emotion

I was walking through one of the study areas at work yesterday, and I passed by one of my student tutors. She was sitting at a computer desk, her homework spread out around her. The non-work items on the desk were few since it was a public space, but she had a brightly colored box of tissues next to her. The box sported pictures of cartoony-looking fish from Finding Dory, giving me the impression it was not the nondescript pattern typically associated with institutional tissue boxes. Because we are (hopefully) emerging from the thick of cold and flu season, I pointed to the box. “Are you bringing your own tissues to work with you now?”

She looked up at me from behind the large the desk where she sat. “Yeah. It’s that point in the semester.” She blinked sad eyes for effect. “I brought them in case I need to cry.” Her face was more serious than usual.

I stopped abruptly. “Oh!” I studied her face. “Are you all right?”

She smiled. “They’re not really mine.”

“Okay,” I released a relieved sigh. “That sounded just like something my daughter would say,” I added.

“Yeah. It’s a girl thing,” she shrugged. But then she considered what she had said. “No, maybe not. I think it’s an age thing.”

I studied her face for a moment. In it, I could see hints of my daughter, of several of the students I work with, of so many people I know, young and old. “Maybe,” I pretended to accept this explanation as I turned to walk away, but I was certain it wasn’t an “age thing.”

What I really wanted to say was, “I think it’s a life thing!” But some things are better left unsaid.

Saturday Wanderings

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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]

Snow Day Hyperbole

 

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Tuesday was a snow day for us. When I woke up in the morning, the radio mentioned school cancellations, but I was half asleep and didn’t believe it. Through my five a.m. fog, I reached for my iPad, pulled up the local television station website, and scrolled through the cancellations. Sure enough, our town had cancelled school. The town in which I work had also cancelled school, though there was nothing yet from the university.

I stumbled to the kids’ rooms in the dark to turn off their alarms, trying my best not to disturb them more than necessary. I went back to bed, armed with my phone to take the “alert” calls that would inevitably come. Nowadays, it is so easy to tap into the school cancellation list, and with multiple schools and school districts involved, that can be a good thing.

But later that morning, when I finally looked outside, we had about two inches of snow. Two inches. And a snow day? Clearly, this must have been an oversight on someone’s part. A day off means, the kids will have an extra day tacked on to the end of the school year. Sigh.

In a text to my sister, I told her I suspected the world had grown wimpier since we were kids. I remember schlepping through snow up to my thighs (though I will admit, I was a bit shorter then) to get to school. Occasionally, my boot would become lodged in a snow crater when I tried to step, and I would have to reach my arm all the way into my leg-long footprint to retrieve it. Once, a storm closed school for two consecutive days, but that was a memorable spring storm one April when winter was supposed to be over. That storm dumped three feet of snow, and I can still tap into the feeling of wonder and excitement I had walking through the labyrinth of shoveled pathways.

On days when the world seems wimpier than in years past, I tend to become one of those parents, just like my parents before me, and their parents before them. You know the ones I mean…. Back in my day when life was simpler, we trudged through three feet of snow every day to get to school. Maybe it was a two-mile walk to get there. And it was definitely uphill both ways. And maybe it was 10° below zero every day during the winter because back then, it was commonly believed we were entering the next Ice Age.

Or maybe—just maybe—I tell hyperbolic stories because here in northern New England, a snow day for two inches of snow feels ridiculous, and it’s not something responsible adults feel the need to encourage.

And even though my children roll their eyes at my stories, there is no doubt that 20 or 30 years from now, they will be telling their own hyperbolic childhood stories to their own children, their nieces and nephews, their students. Because this…. this is the way we express to the next generation that we think they are getting too soft around the edges and too wimpy in the middle. And this is the way we let them know that maybe, just maybe, things aren’t quite as bad as they like to believe.

This Moment

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[I began this post last week, right before my son left for college, but I wasn’t able to finish it. Until today.]

The car is packed and sits waiting for the inevitable morning drive to college for freshman drop off. I stare out the window, watching the silent car sitting in the drive, wondering if I will be able to sleep.

Over the past few days, I have lived in a state of internal panic. My mind is bombarded with all of the wisdom I have neglected to impart to my son, the lessons I didn’t remember to teach, the “teachable moments” that have slipped by as I carelessly thought, Next time, I’ll teach that lesson. As a single mother, the burden of guiding and teaching has fallen solely on me, and I know there are things (many things) I have forgotten.

Yet, this day is one that has been looming on the horizon since the birth of this child. It has been talked about, planned for, worked toward, and encouraged for as long as I can remember. As long as my son can remember. My son, my first-born child.

This is the child who taught me how to be a mother. When he was born, the weight and solidity of his tiny infant body in the transition between womb and world was unexpected to me. In the early days and subsequent weeks—months… years—he taught me to sleep lightly, so I could hear the murmurs and cries when he woke. By sleeping lightly, I could hear the disturbances, the coughing, the bad dreams, and the nonsensical phrases uttered in the depths of sleep.

He taught me to watch carefully to protect him from dangers. He taught me to stay a step or two away, so he could explore on his own with me always ready to catch him—physically or metaphorically—if he fell.

I pushed this child gently, urging him to step away when he held tightly and wouldn’t let me out of his sight in his first days of preschool.

He taught me to be brave in the pediatrician’s office—most notably when the doctor was painstakingly and painfully placing four stitches into his three-year-old lip late one February night.

He taught me that my instincts for him, for all of my children, were as valid as a single teacher’s decree. When his preschool teacher advised me to hold him back so that someday he might be a leader, I chose to keep him with his age-peers. He became a leader on his own schedule.

He taught me to love fiercely because childhood is just a blip on a parent’s radar.

This child is the one who taught me how deeply a parent can love.

I now realize that over the years, this child has been teaching me to let go, a lesson that will continue through his college years and beyond. Now, this child is teaching me one of the toughest lessons of all: to say good-bye. Again and again.

Now, it is my job to step back, get out of his way, and watch him continue to grow, with guidance from afar, as he gains independence and finds his path.

This child…. This young man…. This moment.

 

Editorial

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“I don’t know how to write an editorial,” W told me when I arrive home from work one day this week. “And I need to write one for language arts.”

I was rushing around to get dinner started before I had to run out again to pick up J from theater practice. “Why don’t you Google it, look at a couple examples, and I can help you when I get back from picking up your sister?” I acknowledged his statement, though I didn’t completely register what he was saying.

When I returned, he tried again. “I have to write an editorial from the point of view of a character in our book, and it has to be ‘historically accurate.’ Can you help me?”

“What do you need help with?” I asked.

“I don’t know how to write one.”

“Didn’t your teacher go over it in class? She must have given you some examples,” I queried, hoping he would think back to the class and remember what he was supposed to do.

“Not really. She never told us how to do it.”

“I’ll bet she did, but you shut off,” I stated, probably more bluntly than I should have.

“What?” he asked, unsure of my meaning.

“You shut off,” I repeated. “Your teacher was talking about it, and you decided it was information you would never need. So you shut off.” A smirk of recognition crept across his face.

“She never talked about it. She gave us newspapers, but she never said we’d need to know it.” Imagine that!

I stifled a groan, and I hoped he couldn’t hear my eyes rolling….

Middle School #atozchallenge

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My youngest child is finishing up middle school this year and moving on to high school. I have to say that I couldn’t be happier. Overall, middle school has been my least favorite parenting experience. And it was my least favorite childhood experience, as well. Middle school is the time when children are forming their own identities away from their parents, moving into cliques, discovering what they might like to do, what they are good at, and realizing that they can project the things they don’t like in themselves onto others.

When my oldest entered our town’s middle school, I distinctly remember sitting in a parent meeting in the cafeteria with a large group of parents. The principal stood on stage giving her spiel, and finally, she proudly stated, “There is NO bullying in our school. None.” And then she turned to the students she had coerced to be on stage with her and said, “Isn’t that right, students?” To which they all nodded, looking like deer in headlights.

As a teacher, a parent, and a long-ago middle-school student, I remember thinking that principal must have buried her head so deeply in the sands of self-created utopia that she had no idea what was happening in the halls she walked each day. And in fact, I was correct.

There was plenty of bullying at our middle school. But there was also much opportunity for growth. Middle schools are tough places, and so I offer some thoughts to help prepare for this experience.

1. You will not find “your people” in middle school. There will be a lot of people there, but they might not be people that you want to hang out with. They might not even be people you like. Don’t be discouraged. You are more likely to find them your people high school, but you might not find them until college. You will eventually find people with whom you have much in common.

2. Don’t work on being popular. From my experience, middle school popularity (even high school popularity) is fleeting. The people who are popular now will find themselves in amongst people who are older and smarter and more popular than they are, and they won’t know how to fit themselves in with those people. Besides, the focus on popularity holds you back from true success in life.

3. Those people who look like they have it all together? The people who don’t accept you because you don’t play a sport or you don’t live in the right part of town? They are just as insecure as everyone else. If someone doesn’t accept you, that is a reflection on who they are, not who you are.

4. Middle school is just a brief period of time. I know it may seem like it lasts forever, but it will be over before you know it. Keep your focus on your school work and on developing the best you that you can be, and you will come out stronger and more amazing than when you started. You are enough, and you are exactly what this world needs. Develop your talents and figure out who you are becoming.

I am quite happy that we are reaching the end of our middle school experience. For all of you who are not, I wish you the best of luck. Remember: this too shall pass.

Life Lessons List

This post is in response to the Writing 101, Day 2 prompt to write a list. I currently have three teenagers, but I have spent my entire adult life working with teenagers. Hence, my list:

Things I’ve learned from teenagers…

  1. Don’t get bogged down in the present. Just keep pushing on.
  2. Have fun. Laughter and fun are important to fostering a healthy outlook.
  3. It’s okay to be silly sometimes.
  4. It’s okay to be sad sometimes.
  5. Always have food on hand. Good food will bring friends. And you never know when you might be hungry.
  6. Other people will have their opinions. You don’t have to agree with them.
  7. When your “friends” don’t treat you right, move on. It’s better to have a handful of good friends than a crowd of superficial ones.
  8. Being nice is an important skill in getting through life. You may want to say something mean, but sometimes it’s best not to.
  9. Look forward to the future. It is full of promise
  10. Young people have good ideas. Sometimes, they have great ideas. Listen to them. They are the future.

   10½. Did I mention food? It’s always about the food.