13 Reasons Challenge

Today, while I was doing my behind-the-scenes blog thing (i.e. reading, following, commenting on other bloggers’ work), I stumbled on an amazing blogging challenge that I could not pass up. This young blogger had seen the TV show “13 Reasons Why,” and she offered this challenge to other bloggers: Write a post on the 13 reasons why you are happy. What a great idea! Many thanks to Steph for putting forth this challenge. Here goes:

1 – Morning. The fact is, I woke up this morning, and that, in and of itself, is something to be happy about. Morning always comes, but as I get older, I realize the chances of not waking up increase just a bit each day. Life is temporary, and I am happy that I am still here on this planet.

2 – My three great kids. Even though sometimes I may complain (as most parents do), they really are amazing—talented, funny, caring, etc. And I am honored to be here to watch them grow in competence, confidence, and independence.

3 – My family. They are the best! In addition to my kids, my mom and my sister are two of my favorite [adult] people in the world. I also have extended family members who are always around to remind me that the tree we all fell from was full of nuts. Really, I’m not the only crazy one.

4 –My wonderful Partner in Everything (PiE), one of my other most favorite adults. Every day, I know he loves me, supports me, challenges me, pushes me to be a better me, even if sometimes he thinks I am crazy (see #3) or I make him tear his hair out. Hey, relationships can’t be all sunshine and roses now, can they?

5 – Being a single mother. For 14 and a half years, I have lived this lifestyle. And I have survived. Really, I have done more than survive. As challenging as it has sometimes been, I love begin a single mother to these three crazy creatives of mine. I believe single parenting was by far the best choice for us, as a family.

6 – My home, which is warm and safe and dry. Even though we might not have as much space as we want at any given moment, our home has served us well. It gave us a bit of space to grow, and we’ve been able to figure it out. With its lack of storage space, it has also limited the amount of “stuff” we can acquire, which is always a good thing.

7 – Amazing neighbors. How many people can say that?

8 – My wonderful church family. It is a small parish and a welcoming community, which has allowed my children to recognize that there are people outside of our family who love and care for them.

9 – I am not going to say I am happy for the hard times. However, I will say, the hard times offer an opportunity to put the good times in perspective. Therefore, I am happy for the resilience that hard times bring.

10 – Spring. It is spring in my geographical area, though there are days it doesn’t feel like it; it has been mostly cold and raw and rainy. Despite the cooler temps, flowers are blooming, trees are sprouting leaves, and the spring peepers are peeping. This time of year makes me happy.

11 – I have three awesome, cuddly cats, and I love them dearly. They make me laugh; they allow me to talk to myself, and if anyone overhears me, I can blame one of them. “Oh, I was just talking to the cat.” And it has been scientifically proven that petting cats will lower my blood pressure. Perfect excuses to have a cat… or three.

12 – Tradition. You know, sometimes I think I don’t have many traditions with my children, but when I really think about it, I realize there are quite a few. Whether it is the manner in which we celebrate Christmas, the simple things eating on the deck in the summer, or our annual trip to Family Camp, we definitely have traditions, and I treasure them.

13 – Creativity. I am so happy that I am able to create something from nothing. Or more likely, create something useful from things like leaves and string and glue and tissue. Creativity is sort of like magic that way.

Can you think of 13 things that make you happy? Maybe you can include one or two in the comments.

Time’s Apprentice

I am an apprentice of time. This fact was made obvious to me this morning when I turned the calendar and found the words—right across the page all bold and bright—Imagine the Possibilities.

My mind immediately started to do just that. It was as if the suggestion suddenly took on life and moved under its own power. I could see it like roots of a vine digging in and taking hold. So much power in a simple suggestion! Not only did I begin to imagine all that the month of May might hold, I actually noticed the thirty-one blank squares that were arranged beneath the word “May.” Thirty-one days when I can take on new challenges, learn new things, develop my soul, and become a better me.

Imagine the Possibilities! Yes, let’s do that. The possibilities are endless, and when we imagine them, it is as if they expand and grow and become more… well… possible. Imagine!

I am an apprentice to this whole time thing (does anyone ever really master time?). Maybe not, but imagine what could happen if we open ourselves up to time and to all of its possibilities!

 

A spring walk

This evening, my daughter and I went out for a glorious walk. First of all, it is actually (and finally) spring. The days have been so gray recently that a nice day was more than welcome. The temperature was warm, and the trees have begun to bloom. Buds, leaves, flowers, the works. So many people comment on the amazing fall foliage in New England, but I believe the colors of spring rival those of a beautiful fall day.

But it was dark, and our walk didn’t involve seeing the spring trees blooming in bright green, deep red, and the flowers were not visible. It was dark, but on Friday night in spring in a college town, there is much life.

Our first interesting encounter involved a little brown rabbit sitting on the lawn not far from the sidewalk. It was still and waiting, seemingly staring down a female student who was also still and waiting. She looked our way, and I smiled at her, but she did not acknowledge us. She was in deep telepathy with the animal.

We continued our walk. As we approached the chapel, we could hear choral music flowing out through the open door. The stained glass glowed from the light inside the building. “Let’s go check it out!” I said, and I picked up my pace. My daughter held back, thinking I was going to go inside to listen. I only wanted to see if the front door was open and listen for a bit. It was, and we did.

We continued to wander, but nearly wandered into a party. So we turned around and went back in the other direction. We talked about life and college and finding a campus where there is a lot going on rather than one where students go home every weekend. And then we wandered by a second building that was hosting a concert, this one instrumental.

From every building we walked past, we could hear conversation or music or laughter. We passed two men taking a picture of a building that was nearly all glass and fully lit. We wandered into the neighborhoods where there was a family party with men laughing around a fire pit and children playing with light sabers.

It’s spring. Things are coming to life, and it was wonderful to be out walking with one of my favorite people. So far this spring, I filled more than all of my free time with a demanding graduate course, which is winding down. The final presentation is done. After this weekend, I will have only to revise the project and write a paper. I can see the end.

And I can see a bit more free time to enjoy the nice weather with my favorite people. And to blog. I can’t wait to get back to my blog!

Grief

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As the year began, it was my goal to blog more than last year, and I started out well. But the roller coaster of life took over. Suddenly, like so many friends and acquaintances my age, I experienced the unexpected loss of my father, and I am now navigating the uneven waters of grief.

These waters are thick and heavy, fighting against me as I press forward, day by day, moving ahead with life. I cling to the things I recognize in a life that will now and forever be different.

My journey through these waters is slow and difficult. The current is unpredictable, and the undertow often grabs me and pulls me under when I least expect it, waiting for me to thrash and fight.

Then, just as suddenly, it lets go, and I float to the surface, able to catch my breath—at least for a moment. But by the end of the day, I am exhausted from battling these waves as they come and go only to come again.

Some days, I feel as though I will never write again, and other days, I feel as if I start writing, I will never stop. Writing for me is a necessity—a place to find sense and peace and light.

Grief is where I’ve been hiding, but in time, I am hoping to blog more this year….

The Process of Learning

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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.

The Things that are Missing…

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At that university where I work, I meet with student writers from all walks and backgrounds. I mainly meet with undergraduate writers, but I also work with students who are professionals in the midst of careers—returning to school for professional development or to get a degree. And then there are the graduate students who range in age from 22 to 92.

Recently, I met with a woman who was an acquaintance of mine in a former iteration of my life—years ago when I was single and worked a different job. She is in a demanding graduate program, she works full time, and she deals with the every day stresses and curve-balls of life that we all deal with.

She was struggling. Her professor had told her that her final essay could end her participation in the program; she was under more pressure than usual, and she was taking it out on herself. Briefly, she let me in on the frustrations she had with the class—the only class in which she had struggled in the program thus far. Now, she felt the need to put exactly the right words on the page, which is never good for the writing process; she was over-editing because she felt under-confident.

I asked her how many classes she had completed in the program. Seven. And then I reminded her that she had seen me two years earlier—when she had first started her program—feeling almost exactly the same way. And I reminded her that she hadn’t seen me since. “What is it about these two classes that stripped you of your confidence?” I asked her.

Her response had nothing to do with school. She mentioned the loss of a loved one several years earlier; the holiday season without that person; the stresses of her work; a birthday celebration that needed to happen in the midst of everything else. And the pressure to finish this one last paper.

Often at this time of the year, we are too able to focus on what’s missing. The longing for what is missing blurs the present and what we have. And sometimes, we don’t even consciously recognize that we are struggling with loss or stress or the need to be everything to everyone.

And so I say this: be gentle with yourself, not just at this time of year, but always. You are not alone. We are all in this together. Chances are, if you are willing to say, “You know what? I am struggling today,” someone will step in to offer support and to lift you up.

The Best Gift

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My grandmother loved to laugh. She had a bit of a silly sense of humor, which we first began to notice as children, when she made us birthday cakes on which she placed “trick” candles—the kind that we couldn’t blow out.

As I grew older, she would give me gag gifts. These were usually things she came across as she was cleaning out her house. One of the most memorable (because it went back and forth several times) was a crocheted miniature chair that she boxed up, wrapped, and addressed to me from “Nobody.” We had some fun with that chair, including the time I reupholstered it (in the same material she had just used to cover a chair in her home) and gave it back.

In my mind, the best gift I ever gave my grandmother was the silliest and the simplest. It was her birthday, and if my math and memory are right, I believe she was turning 90.

Now, if you have any 90-year-olds in your life, you know they really don’t need much. So I thought long and hard about what I might do for her. And finally, I knew what I would do. I went out and bought a mylar balloon that said, “Happy Birthday!” I put it in a cardboard box, sealed it up, and addressed it to her. In the spot for the return address, I wrote, “Nobody.”

When the package arrived at her house, my aunt handed it to her to open. “There’s nothing in this box!” she chided. “It’s empty!” But (thankfully) she went through the motion of opening it, anyway.

When she pulled open the flaps of the box, the single balloon floated to the ceiling. According to my aunt, my grandmother laughed and laughed and laughed. As my aunt went about her business that day, she would hear my grandmother start laughing all over again.

That was truly the best gift I ever gave. It was also the simplest and probably one of the cheapest—a single balloon in a box. But what I really gave my grandmother that day was the gift of laughter. And in return, I received a memory that I will cherish forever.

[image credit: FreeImages.com/John evans]