30 May 2014

O, Captain!

dear teacher,

did you have any idea way back when that you were choosing one of the most overlooked, yet highly criticized professions? your wages are low, but your stakes are high. you're training the next generation of contributors. those who will care for you as you age out of your profession. what a weird juxtaposition.

you have no idea what the future holds for your students. you spend upwards of 9 months cajoling and applauding the lauds of your often thankless understudies. feeling like pulling out your hair, wrestling with exhaustion and frustration one moment and feeling like you have witnessed a miracle the next. i get it. it can feel like the most sacred and the most caustic of places at time. and every week day you rise to do it again. and again. with a willingness that is heroic. 

thank you for standing in the gap for the under dog. thank you for challenging the scholar. and for all those middlers, those just getting by, thank you for pushing them, giving them just the extra push they need. 

i appreciate all those days (were there ever not one of those days) when you skipped lunch because you were too engrossed in the business of schooling.

did you think i didn't see when you gave that hungry student food that you keep in your desk drawer? even spending your money to order pizza to celebrate classroom accomplishments. 

and i know that your job as coach for the soccer team, the basketball team, the tennis team, the baseball team and the cross country team went unpaid. you did it because you saw a need, and you could fill it.

thank you for inviting me and my boy to serve the homeless all those times. your school day and sense of philanthropy extends well beyond the school walls. you inspire me. teaching to give back. even wayward middle school boys stand in awe of you.

tell your family thank you for all those late nights you spent grading papers. the lines between work and home are deeply blurred for you.

and for all those recommendations you wrote tongue in cheek. well, again you show that you know how to make even the wiliest of student sound compelling. you saw promise in an introverted scholar. and you pushed him to interview for an opportunity of a life time. when he was chosen, it was because of you as much as him.

remember when you emailed that new-to-school mom with praise on how her freshman in high school was acclimating? yeah. that was just what she needed to hear. 

and you crazy teacher. when you have a weekend where are you? at cross country meets and football games and dragon boat races and going to dinner with your students, even attending birthday parties. you were invited because a certain 13 year old thinks you might have just hung the moon. and you inspired this boy to say, "i never knew i loved science til this year." that is powerful. do you ever take off those school colors? don't answer that. i know the answer. 

this year you found yourself at the funeral of one of your students. your job is definitely not a traditional hours kind of thing. if you got paid over time, you would be wealthy, but you didn't go into teaching for the money.

every time i see a man or woman in uniform, i thank them for their service to our country. you deserve the same offering. yet, you walk around in disguise. o, how i wish those who served in schools wore some sort of badges, medals, or perhaps even crowns so that the rest of the world could stop you to thank you for your service to our country. no you don't go to war on behalf of our country. o, wait. you do. 

you wage war on a crumbling system. you wage war on truancy and statistics. you fight for true learning not test scores. i heard you last night tell a room full of boys that the world would tell them they will not graduate from high school. that they will not succeed. you begged them to stay the course. i could hear your passion. you speak from a place that knows the odds these boys are up against. you know because you were there.

but you don't care about statistics. you care about the individual. and you work your ass off to make sure he knows you do even if he's too full of folly to know til he's older.

your rewards don't often come readily. much like a farmer you plant seeds with a pregnant postponed sense of gratification. but unlike a farmer it takes longer, much longer to see your harvest. and by the time the harvest comes, you're on to other fields for planting. 

so the end of may is here. you've made it. another year in the books. you'll give yourself a few weeks to relax, and then you'll be back at it. lesson planning, inservice meetings, getting your room ready for next year's darlings who are sure to come in like lions and leave, well, like lions. 

in case you didn't know, i see you. i appreciate you. i admire you. i trust you. and i think what you're doing or trying to do is worthy of an honorable mention. thank you for your service to our country. 

fondly yours,
a mother

29 May 2014


i interrupt this regularly unscheduled blogpost for a public service announcement: 

i heard the littlest, the last to wake, coming down the stairs. rather than stumble into the kitchen for his daily bowl of wheaties, he walked straight out the front door. i looked out the window in the kitchen and ran down the hall to grab my camera.

first he brought in the dogs who he was sure would bust his rhyme. then he proceeded to swing to his heart content. 

as i watched him, i settled into a conversation i have had and will likely continue to have til the day i die. it's a conversation i have had with mostly with strangers. very ignorant strangers. and sadly a few mildly ignorant friends. it goes a little like this. 

person: whew. all those boys. poor thing. 
me: i love my life. 
person: i'm so sorry you didn't have a girl. 
me: i'm satisfied with the way things are.

similarly, i thought of all the conversations i have had with single friends, barren friends, adoptive friends and friends who do not wish to have children. all of them witnesses to the same kind of ridiculous comments from people who speak from a place of genuine unawareness assuming they have this whole "how to live the perfect life" thing figured out and wish to enlighten the rest of us with their probing questions. 

i've never been asked, "are those your real children?" but i have been asked, "are all those boys yours? all those boys? you weren't blessed with a girl?" or "i'm sorry you missed out on having a girl-just for all the clothes." these questions and comments are always said in the presence of my four boys. and y'all, it needs to stop. 

so if you or someone you know has all boys, or all girls or no kids, for the love of god, keep your comments to yourself.  

i watched my youngest swing himself around barefoot. no wincing about the pine needles under his feet. no drama about what clothes to wear. he, along with his 3 older brothers, are easy going. adventurous, yes. inappropriate at times, duh. fun, usually always. they are polite and rowdy. they are gracious and rude. they are full of funny anecdotes(like fashioning a blow dart gun) and leave a trail of muddy footprints lest i need to find them. they.are.children. and that's what i signed up for when the desire for motherhood came calling, and i decided to answer. i didn't put in an order and when i opened the bag, wished i could send it back. my order was to mother. period. and had i not been able to conceive, i would have found another way. adoption, foster care, or working in an orphanage. there are ways to mother plenty in this world.

when i wished for children, i hoped to have ones who weren't complete jerks. the rest is gravy. and as work and providence had it, our boys are pretty delightful and ridiculously challenging. but this isn't because they are boys. it's because they are humans.

maya angelou once wrote, "if i have a monument in this world, it is my son. he is a joy, a sheer delight." and i agree. four times over.



23 May 2014

thief of love

there's a lie out there. a big one. and most of us have fallen for it hook. line. and sinker. and it has nearly sunk us. the lie is steeped in pride, wrapped in a false sense of self and bestowed as ingenuity. that lie is comparison.

Journal courtesy of my friend Kate. Find her at etsy.com/shop/littlethingsstudio

theodore roosevelt once said, "comparison is the thief of joy." who am i to argue with a man who could wrangle cattle and politicians? though i am dumbfounded that a man like this would have ever compared himself with anyone. i mean, to me he is the gold standard. still. 

so there i sat one morning in the midst of all these beautiful faces. my women's bible study. to some it could be a hot bed for breeding comparison. all of the women are young, beautiful, accomplished, intelligent, sincere, lovely. goodness they are downright close to perfection, but they are also dedicated to getting to the bottom of what causes these rumors of jealous and comparison to spread. 

i sat with them the other day, my older self. and said, "how can we stand to be jealous of one another when it benefits us all if one is doing well? if your kid makes the honor roll, i benefit because she is putting good out in the world. good that i get to experience being a dweller in the world. and i celebrate you getting that dream house because your family will benefit hence so will i." good begets good. light begets light. stop hating and start seeing.

when we stop being deceived and see that jealousy is nothing but an isolating lie that keeps up in perpetual distraction, we will recognize that when one of us is doing well, we all are doing well. excelsis deo.

but we forget to excelsis the deo. entitlement has swooped down to tell us that we are the masters of our rightful destinies. and when hardships come, we are wrought with a myriad of emotions including surprise, frustration and anger, but rarely compliance. and when good stuff does come, well, we keep waiting for the other shoe to drop and postpone our gratefulness. and those around us look into our lives and think, "if only i had a drop of that" whilst not seeing the glory that they are sitting in the midst of. whew.

the two little homeschoolers and i are working on memorizing isaiah 61. verse 6 reads: 

instead of your shame you will have a double portion, and instead of humiliation they will shout for joy over their portion. therefore they will possess a double portion in their land. (and here's the pièce de résistance) everlasting joy will be theirs.

even my 7 year old gets that: everlasting joy will be theirs. and if we can instill that into the hearts of the little people we know. if we can gift them with that lasting truth over silly games and gadgets and fancy footwear and distracting devices, we might just gift ourselves as well. and what would happen if we all were a little less tethered to our trappings? 

am i making sense to you? tap-tap-tap is this thing on? and by the way. i am preaching this to myself lest any of y'all think i got it figured out. just cause i know stuff doesn't mean i practice stuff. look at my 11 year old and his multiplication facts.

kate dicamillo refers to something as "a vicious cycle". in her book the tale of despereaux, we meet a character known as miggery sow. this tragic girl, named after her father's prized pig, was sold into slavery to a man known as uncle, who regularly gave her a "good clout to ears" rendering her deaf. and being that she could not hear, well, she got into trouble. a lot. getting herself even more "clouts to the ears". and so on. a vicious cycle. can you see how we live in the same kind of cycle?

so i leave you with this. don't compare your oranges to my lemons and i'll try to not compare my lemons to your oranges. o, and here is a check list cause we all love a good check list even if we don't think we do. 
envy less. 
celebrate more. 
enjoy more. 
compare less. 
strive less. 
slack more. 
okay that might not be the best advice, but you get it. 

now get out there and see good and enjoy when you see good in others.


21 May 2014

playing cool

the 15 year old called me out. recently he admonished, "you have forgotten what it's like being a teenager." and he's right seeing how i am quite far from the angst and debilitating insecurity that comes with the onset of puberty.  

so i've been mulling over this admonishment. and the word angst has made its way into my vocabulary. i feel it. he feels it. we are on different sides, but we both feel it. 

i've been dredging up the past and calling all those ghosts forth to sit and spin and remind me of what it was like to have my father embarrass me. to recall how it hurt my mom when i corrected her grammar. i've winced at flashbacks to fashion choices and hair styles. but i have really pontificated the delicate balance between burgeoning independence and profound sense of dependence. i've been sitting in the stress that plagued me when i wondered about AP exams and ACT prep. how humiliating were my scores. the future seemed so unknown.

i try to remember that, but when i see my boy sitting with his friends unaware that i am watching. i want to know what he is laughing about. but i do not walk over to his table in the cafeteria. i pause. and let him have his space. his space. i try to play it cool (not my strong suit. have you met me?!)like i remember doing once upon a time when i was a teenager. playing it cool, but now i am the mother not the kid. it's hard, y'all. when you want to skip over to the cute boy (who happens to be your kid) and say, "heeeey, jaaaaack. what's going on?" only to have him turn around, shake his head and quietly ask, "what are you doing hhhheeeeere?" (that happened once. i learned my lesson. from hence forth, i keep my distance when i am at his school. but somehow he still manages to find out whenever i am there.) 

the other night we attended an awards ceremony for our first born. he was being recognized for many wonderful things. it was an exciting time for me his exuberant mother. he was incensed by me. the Mister was incensed by him. "i would have killed to have a mother like yours". i know he said this from a sincere place of love and not of one from flattery. but nevertheless as life would have it, the Mister didn't have a mother and our boy does. a mother with a camera. and a blog. and mother who wonders. a lot.

with the end of a school year upon us, we've been thinking a lot, the Mister and me about what our lives will look like in 3 short years when the oldest leaves high school and perhaps our home. the man i married can come off to some as being all business, but he is even more of softy than me when it comes to our lads. he often comments, "every day that i have all four of them under one roof is special." and i get it, but seeing how i have been with them almost every day of their entire lives, i feel a little less sentimental. i would be more prone to check the exhausted box.

so yesterday the freshman came home as he has everyday since the onset of his first year of high school, with a smile on his face. i met him at the door. how was your day? his response consistent as is his temperament, "good". i prodded, "what made it good?" silence. why did i need to know? isn't there some things that are just his? a mother doesn't have to crowd into rooms too small especially ones that are made for one.

there is so much truth that comes out of the mouths of babes. i think they are the last ones around who when asked will give you an honest answer. and i listen to my babes. and i try to hear them. really hear them. 

i'll be thinking on that today. along with trying to remember what it was like being a teenager-in hopes that i do not mortify the kid when i show up at his school. i am, after all, his mother.



18 May 2014

kick up some good

last night i was driving home from the supermarket with a car load of food. i phoned the Mister to give him a heads up. we had had a full weekend of celebrating our oldest boy who turned 15 on saturday. we all ran in a local 5k that raises money to send african school children to school. we supped with our church family. we had a run in with fame when we tried to peruse our local children's book/toy store only to be told they were shooting an episode of celebrity wife swap "would we like to sign a waiver to be in the episode"? um. no thanks. 

so i was driving home with groceries for the week. the mister said, "we got the nicest email from allison." 

allison was one of the organizers/volunteers of the 5k. apparently our 7 year old had gained the attention of spectators who watched him run the 5k beating a lot of adults (including his mother) and then he turned around a ran the kids' fun run. he begged to keep running, but i had to cut him off after mile 4. 

so the story goes, the mother of the visionary behind ellie's run for africa heard about george. someone blogged about it on her caring bridge site. for those of you who are unfamiliar with caring bridge, it's a blog site for those who are struggling with some kind of sickness. for barbara, ellie's mom, she has cancer. this is her 3rd run in with cancer. she's been given days to live. days.

i learned all of this after i logged on after the prompting of a few friends who had read the blog post and recognized our family. 

humbled, honored, really there are no words to describe how i felt reading the words of the organizers who had seen our little circus-like family carrying on and had taken note. perhaps it was the 4 boys. or maybe it was the littlest who is tenacious in his endeavors. or maybe it was seeing the face-painted 11 year old who was dancing with the African drummers. whatever it was, the recognition made me pause. 

i just be-bop through life, whistling and leading my little ducks in a row over hills and through streets and around bends without realizing that anyone else could possibly be noticing or even taking note. and yesterday, from the emails, i realized that sometimes we stand out. in a crowd. and it made me wonder. 

how often do we forget that we should want to stand out. stand out for something that is bigger than ourselves. to be light bearers. surely light bearers get noticed. not in the "o, aren't they great" kind of way, but in the "i see" kind of way. image bearers don't draw attention to themselves. they draw attention to the one who's image they bear. 

i write all of this with a profound sense of reticence. it was hilarious and deeply humbling that we garnered a blip on anyone's radar. but my boys are being reared to take risks, big risks. those are not my parenting tenets. i have been inspired by the biggest risk taker i know. and he didn't write a book on parenting and he didn't have a talk on TED. 

here's the deal, we can assume that our little inconsequential decisions mean nothing. we can think nothing of acquiescing when the pestering child begs to run "both the 5k and fun run, mooooom." and then we read later that that delighted the heart of an ailing mother who took great pleasure in this feat. a mother who acquiesced when her 10 year old daughter decidedly chose to begin a fundraiser to send money to africa so that kids like her could attend school. and in the past 10 years, this darling girl with her ignited community has raised over a half a million dollars! so parents, friends, readers-acquiesce and see what happens when we say yes.

as i was thinking about whether or not to share this, i thought about how much i love checking facebook or instagram to see all the good that my friends and family are kicking up. some might see facebook, instagram, the twitter as a brag fest. i say bring it. brag. show off those darling photos. laud those graduations and accomplishments. heap on mounds of happiness and congratulations. wallow in the good. there is enough bad. there is enough darkness. there is more than enough cruelty. if you want to show off your child's ability to walk a tight rope, who am i to stop you. and you know what? you may just find that in doing so, it makes someone who you have never met laugh. and isn't that a good thing?

but don't stop there. don't be a good hoarder. once you've shared your good, go kick some up for others.  pressure wash a neighbor's deck, jump on the trampoline with your kids, walk the dog, volunteer to drive soccer carpool, bake cookies for a friend's birthday. you get the picture. kick.up.some.good. you may never know the benefits. or you just may hear it brought joy to someone in her darkest hour.