concession

Well, in order to preserve my sanity and that of my family, I’m changing the rules of this blog challenge–but by all means, there will still be king cake at the end. Despite recognizing days ago that this would have to happen, I hesitated to rearrange the challenge at all. In my weird brain, I had convinced myself that I would be letting people down (you know, like the 6 people who read this blog with any regularity–I was worried about them…). And even though I wasn’t really enjoying the writing after 12-14 hour days at school (difficult days at school) and even though I knew I needed to take care of myself first, I couldn’t bring myself to jeopardize the streak.

And then a good friend asked me who made the rules in the first place.

Yep, I made those rules so I could change those rules and it would be just fine. I could give myself a couple of more days off in the week without lessening the value of the work (actually, the work will probably get better). I could, quite simply take care of myself without having to answer to anybody else in doing so. And, if I am being honest, I do not give myself permission to do that often enough. The very same good friend also asked me to list the things that I do just for myself. I could not produce a rich and diverse list in return. Sure I could think of things like working out and writing and my Wednesday night class. But the working out has to happen at 5am at a sacrifice to sleep. And the writing, while most nights I love it, has also been crafted at a sacrifice to my family and to just giving my brain a break. In that moment, I realized a couple of things: First, I need to seek more ways to do things just for myself and (this is critical) not feel guilty for that. Second, I will be a better human for having done so.

So, the Carnival season blog a day challenge rules are changing. Instead of one day off per week, I’m taking three. And if I am traveling for work, I won’t force the issue. If a blog happens, great and if not, also okay. No king cake will be consumed between now and Mardi Gras Day. As long as I continue to maintain a regular writing habit between now and Mardi Gras Day, the king cake will be mine then and not before.

Excited to write with less pressure for a daily requirement. Excited to enjoy the process a bit more. Excited to take care of myself.

(Day 27)

imperfection still gets grace

So, I work with teenagers for a living and I feel entirely grateful to have that privilege. I resolutely believe they are absolutely remarkable humans with incredible potential to do amazing things with their energy and their determination and their ability to see possibility even in the darkness. They are imperfect creatures, just like the rest of us and they will falter mightily from time to time because learning demands those kinds of lessons. And I think that the adults of this world cling to only vague memories of what it was like to be that age–a pang of being grounded for talking back…the sting of a derision for making the hard decision to do the right thing…the ripples from careless words when you didn’t realize you were on 3-way calling (I’m a child of the 80’s…what can I say). That kind of nostalgia requires little effort. What we have shielded ourselves from, though, is the daily difficulty of living in a world that only gives you part of the respect you deserve–only sees you as adult when it is convenient for them to place you in that box, while reserving feelings like love, stress, heartbreak for an older population. As though the right to the intensity of those feelings has some sort of legal age requirement and should be diminished as childish before that point. And it is easy to look at adolescents and remark on how they are so different from kids when you were young–because they are different…the world they live in is different, so they have to be too. That does not make them bad or less than. It does, however, make them worthy of an effort to come to greater understanding, and it makes them worthy of our grace.

Here’s how I know that the young adults of this world are deserving of unrelenting grace…

Tonight, I accidentally encountered some photocopies of my creative writing from the 6th grade. My entire memory of writing these pieces is comprised of the joy I felt in the writing process and the fact that I intentionally tried to concern my teachers by killing off my family in every story in the most ridiculous ways (literally, I had them run over by Mardi Gras floats in one story…). I remember feeling exceptionally proud of my work and that my teacher always seemed to enjoy my stories.

In looking back at my writing now–in seeing the actual pieces that I composed–I am mortified at the person I was. There are comments and story elements throughout that reflect the sort of privileged private school existence that I was granted. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for my education and the sacrifices my parents made to make it possible. But I really thought I was a far more enlightened kid than this writing reveals. And while the teacher in me wishes my own teacher had called me out on some of these judgements and careless words, that very same teacher in me is also grateful that she responded to my creativity with positivity and understanding. My stories really are no masterpieces as I remember them to have been, but she overlooked flimsy storylines and outright character flaws (in me and on the page) to offer careful guidance and not to tarnish my joy in writing. She saw that maybe I was more than some of the thoughtless assumptions I included in my text. She saw more to me than my words and for that I am incredibly grateful.

Here is another reason to extend some grace. In a piece titled “What I Adore and Hate About Myself,” I wrote about how I adores how well I roller skated. I spent nearly a page sharing how hard I worked at this “sport” and how proud I was to be able to jump as opposed to hop on my skates (like I said, child of the 80’s). This “adoration” exists nowhere in my memory. I remember loving to roller skate but had no memory of still doing it in the sixth grade. Our memories are not complete–hazy at best despite feeling intense at times. Which means that just because we might look at young adults and discount their experience because of their youth or because we don’t remember being or behaving like them, doesn’t mean we are accurate in our assumptions. Recognizing that while they still have room to grow and mature, their levels of sophistication do not erase the reality of their current situation. Just because I look back and cringe at listing roller skating as what I loved about myself doesn’t make it any less important or meaningful to 12 year old me.

Will our young adults make mistakes? Yes! Do they still deserve respect throughout that learning process and the promise of our understanding? Of course, they are humans in this world. And as humans, they require support as they identify and repair flaws and mistakes. They also merit appreciation for their goodness. Our young adults should not have to earn our grace, it should simply be an effortless gift bestowed–because we would want the same generosity given to us.

(Just for comedy’s sake for those of you who really know me–in that last piece I referenced, the thing I hated about myself consisted of “the faces I make when I get mad at somebody or I am upset.” My reason for wanting to improve? “Because my mom always bugs me about it.”  Nothing about trying not to upset other people or about attempting to show greater respect or about using words instead of faces–none of that rational mature stuff…nope. Just that my mom was always bugging me about it. Hilarity.)

(Day 19–a bit of a rambling rant…but I didn’t feel like writing at all, so I am honestly just happy to have words on the page)

 

say it

I hate confrontation. Like a lot. I would rather suffer within and turn myself inside out than actually speak the uncomfortable truth. In fact, if I am breathing confrontational language in your direction a couple of things must be true…

  1. I love you a lot and trust not only that our relationship can handle the conflict, but also that you will own your part and not turn my feelings around on me.
  2. The situation lingered in a way that absolutely no other choice remained but to speak it.

This avoidance of discord has followed as my shadow for as long as I can remember. It’s as much a part of me as my excessively curly hair…as though this trait were assigned to me at birth. I am a middle child and a peacemaker by nature and the very thought of being a disruption to someone else’s contentedness and ease repels me. I would rather make myself miserable than disturb anyone else, and so I just hold all the frustration in. (Okay, no doubt my students are laughing raucously at this point because I don’t hold frustration in at school and have no problem saying what is concerning me there…work is different…it just is.) Sure, I gripe about the minor scrapes and scars of daily life, but the deeply personal wounds remain buried. Except, despite years of practice with shrouding hurt feelings, they always bubble back to the surface in unexpected ways and places because the fact of the matter is concealment is not erasure. The feelings are still there. I cannot force evaporation and when they linger, they intensify.

It took me years (too many years) to recognize this about myself, to claim my voice as important, and to work on using it in meaningful and constructive ways to resolve conflict rather than martyring myself to it. I want my kids to know better and to understand how this kind of communication works. I spent the last ten minutes before bed tonight explaining to my youngest that saying “I’m fine” when it isn’t true won’t magically transform struggle to peace. I gave him all of my best advice on this full of elaborate examples only to be met with “No, mom, for real, this time I am actually fine.” He and I work on this a lot because he transforms from Bruce Banner into the Hulk with little to no warning. We often don’t see it coming because what he is really mad about is not the thing that flipped the switch.

This is one of those complexities of human nature that never ceases to baffle me. It’s the thing under the thing. If we look at superficial behavior and judge someone, we are not giving them credit for being a three dimensional human facing the intricacies of life in this world. What we witness is not necessarily complete…not absolute truth. Typically, there is more weight to an erratic moment of fury than the moment itself and if we don’t work to find the underlying motivation, we are missing the truth of that person completely. And this includes our kids…who are possibly more misunderstood than most because we too often expect them to have it all together when they are still trying to decipher how to coexist with all the emotions, all the hormones, all the stress. Their lives are just as weighty as those of fully grown adults. Their stress is just as taxing. Their heartache is just as painful. To diminish it only drives them to keep it within when what they really need is to say it, feel heard, be understood. What they really need is for us to provide the space and to foster the trust that it takes to reveal the thing under the thing.  What they really need is for the adults of this world to model this kind of behavior so they see how it works.

I can provide space and foster trust with ease, but as for that last very important challenge of living the example…well…all I can say is I am working on it.

(Day 18! Also, there is a really delicious king cake in my house right now…temptation is high…not giving in!)

hidden truths

The thing no one tells you about being a mom is that on the other side of miraculous astonishment over that highly anticipated little life…on the other side of intensity of love previously unimaginable is this truth: on most days of the week, you will wonder if you are enough. “Am I doing this right?” will reverberate as an anthem on repeat because, a lot of times, it’s just hard to know. What no one tells you is that on any given day there are a lifetime’s worth of minute decisions to make, questions to answer, reactions to constrain, lessons to impart, activities to juggle–and every single one of them shapes the people your kiddos will become. That pressure is palpable even when you feel like you’re blindly just getting by. There is no owner’s manual, and complex issues that require resolution seem to peek around far too many corners. In a world where answers are readily available to nearly every question we might possess, parenting works at a speed that does not always allow time for a Google search.  We know our kids, we know our values, we know who we want to see them become so we make our best guess as to how to steer them through the storm until they can navigate it for themselves.

I will never forget staring at my oldest child the day we brought him home from the hospital and crying. Important to note that I wasn’t crying over the wonder that was this baby in my arms after so many years of waiting. Nope. I was crying because in that moment, he was perfect, and I feared that all I would do was mar that perfection. This realization marked the beginning of the internal whispers that second guessed my maternal abilities.

What I have come to learn in the years since those tears is that on any given day, in any given moment, we are all doing our absolute best as moms and that is enough…even when it feels like it isn’t. Even when every other mom on social media or at school seems to be doing it better, my kids need me and I am enough for them. Am I perfect? Not on any day at any time. Do I mess it up? Frequently. Do I blame myself for things like inciting my kid’s fear of thunderstorms because I hurried him along into the house one rainy afternoon when he was somewhere around 2, explaining that lightning was very dangerous? You bet I do.  Was I doing my best in that moment? You bet I was. Will he survive and even outgrow this fear? Absolutely. It is simply part of his story. We all have stories…and his will be more interesting now (okay…that is what I tell myself…don’t burst that bubble).

What I know for sure is this. My kids know I love them. My kids know my number one goal for them is that they become kind humans who look for the good in others and in themselves. My kids trust that even though I make a lot of what they call “statements” that I am trying to teach them something of their privilege and their responsibility as a result of that. They will roll their eyes when I make these statements but I will persist. My kids feel safe enough to be themselves when they are at home because they know that they are accepted for who they are now and for whomever it is that they will become in the future. My kids know they can screw it up royally and while I may be disappointed and while there will be consequences, none of it alters the depth of my love for them.

So, see moms, we don’t have to be perfect in every single moment. We don’t have to second guess every single solitary action we take as a parent to our kids. We can accept that we are human beings who will make mistakes and carry forward as a mamas because our kids have the love that they need to muddle through our potentially amateur motherly skills. Just as we continue to love them through their mistakes, they will love us through ours. And we don’t have to compare ourselves to each other because in the end, our kids are all different humans who will require different kinds of parenting. That doesn’t make any one of us better than any other. We are all just doing our best on any given day and with that understanding, we should rally to support our fellow moms. Because all of us could use a word of encouragement and a reminder that even though it is hard, we are all in this life together.

(Day 17)

lyrically redeemed

Thursday holds such promise. It’s the day that unabashedly informs me that weekend is promised soon and by Thursday night, despite Friday’s proximity and eventuality, I feel as though those leisurely days have arrived…I feel as though we’ve made it through yet another week at school successfully…I feel as though I can breathe a little easier and my brain rejoices at the sight of relaxation on the horizon.

Today, however, at least in my world, did not do Thursday justice. Today, for me, became Thursday in name only as it was infiltrated by the stress and worry and anxiety of some other day of the week…you know, like Monday maybe? (though, this accusation feels hypocritical because I have a whole blog about how Mondays don’t deserve that rep…I’m abandoning that momentarily though in light of today’s misery). Today was just not very friendly and it began the moment I woke up.

I could spend my time tonight sorting through the details of what made this day so demanding, but honestly that would be a waste of my time and yours. What deserves far more attention are the redemptive moments in this day. Because, truly, even the toughest days have those moments if only we seek them out–if we open our eyes and our hearts to the promise of positivity. I had to look hard today, but my people came through to drag me out of my funk.

The salvation of this Thursday came in the form of three songs gifted to me by three very different humans under very different circumstances, but when I consider those moments all together, they reflect generosity and goodness and love…they remind me that even on my worst day, that is what surrounds me.

Song #1

“Mrs. Clark, are we having notebook time today…because I have this rap in my head and I have to write it down!”

Okay, so let’s begin here…in the history of notebook time in my classroom at this particular school, those words have never been uttered. Sure, students have come in excited for notebook time (every now and then), but this is not usually the reason presented. Regardless, I had spent the day for the most part mentally and emotionally exhausted and wishing I were at home rather than at school, and then those words were uttered and I couldn’t help but smile–inside and out. In this single moment, she reminded me how grateful I am to work with my students and young adults in general. I’m relatively certain she had no idea the impact she would have on my day. She was just being herself in the middle of her own day and it was entirely what I needed to begin to turn my attitude around. Then she agreed to perform her rap, despite unexpected stage fright, and the room erupted in support and laughter and joy and I was wrapped up in gratitude for the opportunity to spend the last hour of each school day with that particular room of students. Seniors can often take themselves too seriously because they are under a great deal of stress. This moment, though? This moment was pure silly fun…and we all needed it. Maybe me most of all.

Because I will quote the others songs that saved this day, here is a snippet of her rap (which she graciously allowed me to share)–

“ate chocolate all day, following my heart

maybe I should do better things

like make art

I’m sitting in English, breathing in air

to use my notebook time wrong

is something I don’t dare

and maybe me rapping won’t be so rare!”

Song #2

My friend, Morgan, possesses passion for music that surpasses just about anyone else I know. Her song lyric vocabulary and register exceeds my poetic one, and I can always count on her to send me the perfect song in any given moment in my life. Today was no exception.

I had gone to the gym after school because I knew that if I didn’t workout, the joy of that rap would soon be scattered by returning reminders of the stress of the day that will string out into days to come. Exercise is essential in my life in that way. Morgan knew I was there and why and when I was leaving I had a message from her with “When It Don’t Come Easy” by Patty Griffin in it (along with a comical note about why she wouldn’t sing it to me herself:) ). This song was new to me, so I listened to it on the way home from the gym…and cried through every lyric. I know what you are thinking–that doesn’t sound like a song that turned my rotten day around. Except these were tears that came in recognition of the fact that I have this amazing friend in my life who loves me enough to send me just the right song in just the right moment. I have a friend who knows that she cannot fix my life with a song, but who also understands the way words move my heart and she wasn’t afraid to send a song my way…A song with lyrics like this:

“Everywhere the waters getting rough/Your best intentions may not be enough/I wonder if we’re gonna ever get home tonight/But if you break down/I’ll drive out and find you/If you forget my love/I’ll try to remind you/And stay by you when it don’t come easy”

In the midst of the Mondayest Thursday ever, I was wrapped in support, in love, in friendship.

Song #3

My youngest son will one day rival Morgan’s lyrical dexterity. Tonight, after his shower, and entirely unaware that I had “suffered” this difficult day, he brought me his ipad while I was cooking and said, “THIS! We should sing this!” He proceeded to hit play and sing “Trip A Little Light Fantastic” from Mary Poppins Returns (in his best Lin-Manuel Miranda British accent…).  His smile and his joy percolated comfort and happiness within my heart and mind reminding me that there are things in this world deeper than a day. But also, beyond that, the lyrics of the song presented me with advice I give to others far more than I adopt for myself…

“When you’re alone in your room/Your choices just embrace the gloom/Or you can trip a little light fantastic with me/For if you hide under the covers/You might never see the day/But if a spark can start the inside your heart/Then you can always find the way…”

It was up to me to turn this day around…to recover my smile…to rekindle my own joy and to resist owning the struggles of others too much as my own. It was up to me to “trip a little light fantastic” and with the gifts of gratitude for students and friends and family, I was able to do just that.

(Day 15! King cake…really delicious king cake…crossed my path today…tempting…but I refrained:) )

thank you note

Somewhere around seven years ago, in what were still the early days of my school’s existence, a junior came to me and pleaded with me to help her start student council. We had tried student government, but it wasn’t affiliated with any state or regional organizations. This student was looking to do something more…something bigger…something lasting. I hesitated. This felt like a lot of work and at the time, I was still only teaching at the school part time, still in what would be the early stages of the vertigo debacle and my kids were merely 4 and 6. I didn’t feel like I could really add anything else without risking health and home. However, this young woman persevered and given that I had taught her everyday of her high school career, it didn’t take long before my will crumbled. My response to her?

“I will help you get it going, but I will only help for a year. After that, someone else will have to take over.”

I feel like, after typing that statement, I can hear every teacher who might lay eyes upon it roaring in laughter at its ludicrous nature. One year agreements like this never work in school. Everyone is busy; everyone has obligations, and no one wants to take on more. Once you say yes to something, it is yours…eternally. Important to note…the reason I agreed to help wasn’t only because I couldn’t stand to disappoint a student who meant so much to me. The truth is that I took on creating our student council, despite my lack of experience and knowledge, because if she were my kid, I would want a teacher to do the same.

In my time as student council supervisor, my student leaders instituted heaps of traditions; created our first winter formal, prom and homecoming; began an annual celebration of People In Need of Kindness (PINK Week); fostered field day and countless other activities that took a skeleton of a school and imbued it with heart, spirit and personality. I regretfully complained too often about the work being too much, but truly I lived proud of my kids who became and remain the true architects of so much our high school.

When I traded in my student council role for that of principal, a dear friend and colleague took over and her joy, even in the stress, of helping these kids to grow and learn as young leaders makes me proud, makes me thankful. This phenomenal teacher and delegates of her student council are all at state convention right now celebrating several enormous successes for our little school with big dreams and the only way I can think to explain my pride in this moment is that of a grandparent doting on her grandchildren. I know where this council began…with just a few members who went to their first convention having no idea what to expect or how to be in that space. I was there for the growing pains in the days when we were defining who we wanted to be as a council. And to see all they have accomplished now from a different role–as their principal, well, there just aren’t enough words. These kids and their advisor are just spectacularly gifted and joyful humans and the world is a better place for their presence.

And that whole bit about hoping someone would do the same for my kiddo has been fulfilled. My 12 year old is at this same state convention with his junior high advisors who took the leap and brought ten, 12-14 year olds to experience this remarkable event. He is having the time of his life, meeting kids from across the state, and learning what it means to truly be a leader (something he will learn far better at this convention than by watching many leaders in this world today). The gratitude I feel for the teachers who gave up this weekend with their families has consumed my heart.

This is what teachers do, day in and day out. They sacrifice their time and their sleep for the benefit of their students. Whether by braving student council conventions three hours from home or by staying up late to write encouraging comments on papers or by simply being a listening ear, teachers give of themselves without asking for much, if anything, in return. And they do not receive enough praise nor enough sincere thankfulness. But they also do not often ask for it. The breaking apart of the self for the good of the other is just what a teacher’s heart is compelled to do.

However, the gift of my kiddo attending this convention with three enthusiastic, caring teachers has seemingly become all the return on my 20 years of teacherly efforts that I could ever need or ask for. And you can be certain they will know the depths of my gratitude.

(Day 12!)

lucky

“Look around, look around at how
Lucky we are to be alive right now!”

(“The Schuyler Sisters”, Lin-Manuel Miranda)

So, tonight, my youngest was riding with me to the pet store because in a stroke of sheer brilliance I didn’t realize we were out of dog food until I finally got home from work around 6:00. Anyway, there we were in the car, him singing whatever song was on the radio and me sort of pouting because I really just wanted to be home curled up on my couch rather than out in traffic running an errand. Just as my internal pity party reached its crescendo, my kiddo says (just out of nowhere), “You know, mom, I feel so lucky to be born in this place at this time with all these people around me. I just feel so lucky.”

Now this sweet boy has a habit of knowing exactly what a person needs to hear and then saying it in the moment they need to hear it most. For example, in the vertigo days when the side effects from ingesting a  ridiculous dose of steroids with hopes of healing wreaked havoc on my body and on my physical appearance, my self esteem waned pretty swiftly. I spent weeks feeling lost in a futile struggle for wellness that not only seemed to make me feel worse internally but also look worse externally. One night, after a particularly uncomfortable and down day, I was putting him to sleep and he looked up at me and said, “Mom, you know who you look like? Who you remind me of?” Well, you can imagine, I was dreading the conclusion to this question. And then he said, “Cinderella! I think you look just like Cinderella.” And, I realized in that moment that it didn’t matter what I saw when I looked in the mirror because in the eyes of my four year old, I was still a princess. Don’t get me wrong. There is no given day where I look like Cinderella! But the fact that this kid somehow knew that his mom needed that sweetness that night was nothing short of remarkable to me. And that, more than the compliment, meant everything.

He has a lifetime of these moments and I find that as his empathy grows, so does his ability to read a person or a situation and to know what healing words need to be spoken. Tonight was no different.

It is so easy on any given day to feel like this world is falling to pieces…that everything is going wrong…that humanity has lost sight of its value…that having to go buy dog food instead of relaxing in my pjs is an injustice rather than an inconvenience. That negativity fuels so much of our talk that it seems to have become habit. And then there was that sweet ten year old voice–a bright light calling out into the dark of negativity–expressing a realization of his complete and profound gratitude for the blessings of the absolute privilege in his life. He knows he is loved. He knows he has a home and comforts and peace in his immediate surroundings. He knows that he is safe. And not only does he go through the world knowing these things, but he is self-aware enough to vocalize it and to be grateful for it.

I like to say that this boy of mine is my heart walking around outside of my body…his sensitivity and the way he sees the world reflecting a kindness and an empathy that I try to model, albeit imperfectly. But tonight, more than any other occasion, his gratitude in a moment when he could have just been annoyed (like I was), brought me back to the reality that he is a better version of my heart walking around outside my body. And that makes me “just feel so lucky” too.

(Day Nine–exhausted! Grateful for a kiddo who provides inspiration–even uwittingly. Also, you should know, the justifications for cheating and tasting king cake have begun. This struggle is for real you guys!)

 

fleeting

“Sunday funday” only exists in mythical terms in my life. I see pictures on social media of other people indulging in nothing but joyful, relaxing end of the weekend activities, so I know this must be an actual thing that happens. Yet, my Sundays begin early with waking up before the rest of the household so that I can grade/plan/administrate stuff, and they end with literally four hours of meal prep for the week. This mostly self-induced conundrum emanates from a desire to over-prepare for a week that will be over-full. Inevitably, my weeks are all overwhelming these days, so Sunday has assumed the sacrificial role of weekday timesaver. I work all the hours on Sunday hoping that I will walk into my week feeling ready, confident and at peace. I honestly am not sure I could dive headlong into frivolity while harboring knowledge that I should be working in some way either for family or school anyway.  Yet, the truth I discover every Monday morning is that there is no amount of boxes I can check off on Sunday that will allow me to glide through the next day without encountering at least a bump in the road and sometimes a full on New Orleans style pot hole.

So why maintain the dedication to the chores if things will still go wrong? Why not just seek felicitous distraction and figure out the rest some other time? I ask myself this every week.

The truth is that I really like preparing in the quiet of the morning and cooking for all those hours because both give me some weird sense of motherly/wifely accomplishment. That time spent in the kitchen, for example, enables my family to eat real food all week long and for me to have healthy lunches and snacks as well. When left to weeknights alone, vegetables will not get roasted and pizza will likely be ordered. Our lives are too chaotic not to give in to the fatigue on a night where I have been at work for 12 hours and kids still have homework to complete. I’m not sure if my family appreciates my sequestration to the kitchen (I really thought I made that word up, by the way…turns out to be a real one!) on Sunday itself, but the rest of the week, I know they appreciate the meals. And so, I remain dedicated.

I figure that one of these days, these young men who currently take up so much of my time and rely on me for meals will not live at home anymore and I will not need to spend so much time on Sundays cooking. I figure that one of these days I will actually enjoy Sunday funday because my responsibilities will look a bit different, but I know it will be with a pang of how I used to fill that time. It will be with nostalgia for my young family feeling the growing pains of one busy kid on the cusp of teenagerdom ( I did make that one up) and another not far behind him in age, all the while I attempt to run a high school and my husband, his office.

It is hard to stop in a moment and be grateful for a stage of life that feels all at once like a blur and like trudging through wet sand…but today, as I watched my kids patiently entertain each other in the creation of an indoor golf course while I cooked, I could not help but hold the moments a little more dearly.

(Day Six!)

ominous beauty

The lavender morning sky betrays the tenderness of the sunrise and the wind whispers of dangerous weather not so far off. Its beauty all at once admired and unsettling.

Thunderstorms and my inability to have any control over them have hastened my heart rate and knotted my stomach since I was a child. Certainly, anxiety over bad weather isn’t terribly uncommon-especially in kids-but growing up in Southeast Louisiana, where afternoon thundershowers populate summer days and hurricane season seems to be ever extending its stay, should have presented me with plenty of opportunities to face it and to manage a peaceful coexistence.

And yet, even though I can control and mask my anxious reaction to impending severe weather far better than I used to, the not knowing and the unpredictability still unsettles me.

My oldest son (who somehow inherited only my anxiety and is otherwise 100% a replica of his father) has yet to learn to mask his weather worry in any sort of meaningful way and so instead of waking him to appreciate the beauty of this early morning sky, he remains snuggled safely unaware in his bed in an effort to shrink the window of his worry.

Growing up, my dad always felt far differently about these events than I did. When a thunderstorm brewed and I wanted to hide my eyes from any evidence of it, he would lift every shade in the house, welcoming the brilliance of the illuminated sky. On summer vacations at the beach, he would wish for an evening thunderstorm to arrive and when that wish was granted would steady his camera on the tripod in an effort to capture the fleeting electrical display as it webbed through the dark expanse above the waves.

In the grand list of all the things I love about my dad, this is certainly one of them. However, in those moments years ago, his joy in the thing that terrified me, also perplexed and probably frustrated me, and I’m sure in an anxious moment (or many) I said some things about it that weren’t so friendly.

It’s confounding to me because I typically welcome the unknown as an opportunity to learn, to grow. I teach teenagers for goodness’ sake! There are no creatures in the world more unpredictable than they are and so many people misunderstand that and question my choice to spend my days with them–and yet my kids, my students, teach me something about myself and this world everyday. They push me to be a better human and I cannot imagine my life without those 143 young people.

But I guess when I think about my urge to run and hide from the force that is ominous weather as opposed to my dad’s desire to witness its power as beauty unbound, it feels sort of like the difference between hiding from acceptance of the truth of anything/anyone we don’t fully understand and opening ourselves to envision the potential beauty rather than the seeming disaster. Ironically, when it comes to my dad and I, I’m the optimistic one and he’s the cynical one.

Funny how those one word titles don’t encompass the whole. Bet that happens a lot in this life.

(Day five courtesy of my dog waking me up too early which allowed me to witness the early morning sky)

roots in the rocks

Just before Christmas, I received a pretty unassuming gift from a student. It was a large glass vase, filled about halfway with rocks, and with bulbs nestled just on top of those rocks. My only guidance was this: keep the water level to the top of the rocks/base of the bulbs and something magical will happen. This gift and the feeling of curiosity it imbued reminded me of when I was a kid–I was always struck by the promise of those pill sized, gelatin coated sponges that when soaked in warm water for a period of time would reveal some mystery animal. I loved those things and the seeming impossibility that contained in such a small, compact package was a reality far cooler than its exterior and a truth that was also entirely unpredictable.

That same sense of wonder struck me with this vase of bulbs. What on earth would they grow to be?

For anyone who really knows me, the gift of a plant, while a lovely gesture, is not a kind one…to the plant, that is. They sort of wilt in my presence or at the thought that I might be their caregiver. I mean, human beings in need of love and attention are my specialty. Cultivating horticulture, though…well, apparently God felt it was better that I just appreciate the beauty of nature rather than prune it.

Needless to say, despite what seemed like easy directions to maintain these bulbs, I was relatively certain that I would fumble the whole process. It would be added to the litany of all the plants Amy has killed and become fuel for fun at my expense. Yet, I was determined not to lose sight of my responsibility or to spoil the surprise to come.

And then Christmas break arrived.

I was leaving work on Friday and my hands were full and I didn’t want to drop the vase…so I left it in my office with the intent of returning for it the next day. Well, the next day (the next several days) filled themselves with all the chaos of family and holiday cheer and I not only didn’t go back, but I forgot the bulbs even existed…until New Year’s Day when my failure as a caregiver dawned on me and the guilt settled in. I just knew I would walk into my office the next day to discover the carnage of dried out or rotten bulbs. Disappointment over missing the surprise of what they held inside weighed heavy. But as I approached my office the next morning, staring at me through the window was this gorgeous sight:

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Well, as I took in this wonder, I realized that those glorious green stalks standing tall with pride as they held up their prize–flowers impatiently waiting to burst through their leafy cocoons–were not in any way my accomplishment. They were in fact, simply a wonder and a truth of nature that didn’t require much from me and probably appreciated my absence as they did their thing!

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As these flowers broke through and illuminated my office with fragrance and beauty, I considered what other transformations I might be missing in this world because I am simply not paying attention. Because, while it was jaw-dropping to encounter these fully grown stalks, how much cooler would it have been to have been there the whole time? How much more meaningful would it have been to have witnessed with admiration the changes from the seemingly impossible beginnings? I think that, just as I did with these bulbs, we often overlook people and ideas in this fast paced world of immediate gratification. If something or someone isn’t immediately what we hope for them to be, we sort of walk away instead of investing ourselves…instead of nurturing what might be possible and lending support and guidance until the transformation takes place. There is goodness in all of us waiting to burst through the cocoon, you know, if only we pause in time to recognize it before we miss it completely.

Something else struck me in this week of watching the continuing transformation…

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The roots of these flowers didn’t dig into rich, humid soil; they existed amongst the rocks. Growing everyday and winding in and out of the spaces between to receive what they needed from the water. It seemed to me to be the best kind of perseverance…the kind it takes to transform ourselves, even when everyone else has walked away but we know there is something inside of us worth the effort. The perseverance to keep going and to keep trying when everything around us is difficult and a bit treacherous (so tempting here to say “rocky” but I fear this whole English teacher analogy has gone too far already to start inserting puns now…). The perseverance it takes to grow and to let brilliance burst forth commanding attention and proving to the world that they should never have walked away in the first place. That they should have been standing at attention because you never quit…because you knew your worth within even when they were blinded.

There is joy in the victory of that perseverance. And not just for the victor, but for all who extended support along the way. For all who paused and recognized value beyond the obvious.

I tell my students on the daily that we will always make time for what we feel is important. There is no harm in adjusting that compass of importance to point towards people and things that might require a bit more attention, a bit more investment. The goodness to come will be worth the effort.

 

(Day 4…done early on a Friday!)