Sometimes our living room is covered in laundry as it is right now.. piled up, haphazardly- organized loosely by person. It's mostly comprised of play clothes, fitness clothes, nothing too fancy. Our kitchen table is the science lab, the seedling incubator, the UNO sports stadium, the one room school house desk. It is not perfect or camera ready or Pinterest -worthy. COVID-19 built this house.
One minute, laughter resounds in this place. The next moment is marked by short bursts of yelling- at the top of the lungs. Those moments germinated from bumping up against a challenge or a moment of tension. That friction erupts after being bottled up and held in one space with the same faces, the same walls and counting the same hours.
Today, as my boys took their positions with breakfast and incoming assignments from their remote teachers, I was struck by the irony of the situation. Exhausted parents all over the modern world worry about the struggles... the fights... the yelling, the tensions, the nagging sense of inadequacy. We are called to do so much and we are supposed to be the ones with all the answers- yet, the answers are not ours to own right now. WE are so full of questions and so full of fear and so protective and soooooo tired. We want what's best for our children and our communities and yet, we feel so ill -equipped to provide the sense of calm our children need right now. "The struggle is real" is a phrase often thrown around... everyone comiserating in the short call placed to a friend or in passing over a Zoom Virtual conference. YET- what if it isn't the struggle that is REAL?
As usual, my oldest completed many of his assignments upon rising and my sleepy head woke up late. As soon as Petey channeled his focus toward school work, the oldest lost interest in algebra or studying the universe. Petey's learning about animal classification and today is reptile day. He loved the "Black Mamba" so, of course, big brother decided it was time for a wrestle break- one he initiated by "modeling the actions of a black mamba." Today's tousle was good-nature distraction- a source of frustration for a parent who has a job to do aside from parenting and teaching them at home. Schooling feels a lot like a circus with energy cycling from ring to ring. Momentum passes between children- who can distract whom? Who will send the frantic energy, who will absorb the tension, who will go quiet, who will explode like a shot from a cannon? A parent can feel frazzled with a simple sideways glance.
So Is the Struggle Real?
We hang our heads low as parents and think we are somehow failing if we don't have that little, fake, twinkle on our smile when we greet the new day or open the front door for our partner (enter June Cleaver). We feel like we should be able to teach and clean and somehow do our jobs and put food on the table- and facilitate peace in the home. Yet, we were never trained to deal with our grandmother's reality- nor the reality we are in now.
Sure, our grandmothers and fathers may have been able to do this with ease, but that was a different time. My grandpa would have sent me down to the basement for a jar of canned beets and grandma would have pulled out the cloth diapers instead of sending us to the market. The norm would be to spend more time face to face and in the same space as 9 other siblings, not to feel crowded by one. The norm would be to provide for ourselves, to work hard quietly and to prioritize only what is "essential".
We've been so socialized, and schedule driven that we've been paying other people to provide almost all of the essentials we now need to provide ourselves. I can recall sitting in a restaurant in the not so distant past and if it took too long to receive the meal, hearing "What did they have to go out to grow and harvest the grain for the cake themselves?" This is the ironic equivalent to raising our kids right now. We are called to do the planting, the watering, the harvesting and the preparing. Others of us have to worry and pray that the pieces come together after working the front lines and risking our health. It's no wonder we are out of sorts. We feel a thin string holds all the parts together and that string is fraying.
What if the SNUGGLE is actually REAL??
With all of the challenge, these kids will one day live to tell the stories that only THEY experienced. Our families will have these memories of a time when we were the ones to go for months without seeing other people, without sports, schoolmates, celebrations, and graduations. We will probably remember the fights- the REALLY good ones. After all, I will never forget jumping off the Sit 'n Spin then pushing my sister through the screen door of our house- all over a bowl of brownie batter and who got to lick the spoon. Don't judge, I bet if you tried my mom's brownie batter you would have had your fists up, too. I bet you have fond memories of torturous moments of yore, as well. Life is like that. We take what we want to hold onto and we leave rest.
What if in all of our desire to be perfect (or merely acceptable)... in all of our yearning to survive and all of our feeling of failure- we are not in fact failing- we just THINK we are? What if these kids and this life moves on and the fondest moments are of triumph- an underlying sense of having survived this incredibly difficult time? What if we are full of gratitude for our families- our imperfect, tumbling, fighting, tense and yet... loving families. The ones who didn't give up or walk out or stop trying- the ones that tortured us and tickled us and celebrated getting from level K on Rocket Math to Level M in a day... the ones who messed up the toilet seat and left it- then later cooked an incredible grilled cheese (insert hand washing in there, please). What if those moments of SNUGGLE are the realest part of this all?
Then, we wouldn't have failed. We'd have succeeded. Today, I am reminded to be grateful to have the opportunity to plant and water and grow my family. As dirty and difficult and exhausting as it might be- I believe we will have succeeded if our kids have just a few memories of all out fights and mostly memories like the one in the picture above. Show those moments to yourself and show them to your children. You are doing an amazing job, Covid-Cleavers.
Our wellness is not a single act on a single day. It isn't eat more or eat less. It isn't move faster or harder. It isn't study and grind. It isn't sit and meditate. It is made up of so many parts that overlap. Every time we make a decision that nurtures our spirit, mind and body, we are affirming our divine right to be healthy, whole and complete.
As a little girl, I watched as my mom showed selflessness. She often put herself last, saving money she might use on a new pair of sneakers or a nice top she needed- saving for Christmas, for us, to pay bills, to meet other people's needs. I watched her spend her time serving the community, our house, our gardens, my siblings and my father. I admired her SELF LESS nature. I admired her angelic generosity. My mom will always be my angel.
As I grew and became a teenager, I found myself giving so much of myself away that I wasn't always sure who I was anymore. I thought that to show love and to be my best, there should be a lot more give and a lot less receive. I saw meeting my own needs as a selfish and egotistical act. There was shame in my mind and a whole lot of guilt. More often than not, there was exhaustion and poor decision making as I was vulnerable to the whims of others around me and I wasn't always treated as someone who deserved respect, care and love- maybe because I wasn't expecting much less demanding it.
It wasn't until I was married, with a child and a full time job that I realized I wasn't teaching my son to love himself because I wasn't modeling how to do that. I was showering him with affection, praise, challenge, attention and experiences, but I wasn't SHOWING him a mother who was going to take time to love her self. It took the loss of a close friend to help me realize that there was no better time to start on the difficult but fulfilling path toward self-inquiry, self love and empowerment.
Often times, guilt rides shot gun when we take time for ourselves. We think, "If I am to be teaching my children or others love- I have to love -them." We don't realize that the only way we can truly teach our children, our loved ones and our community to nurture the self is to act with SELF love. We have to take the time, we have to say, "no". We have to set boundaries. We have to assert our own needs, desires, passions, and path. We have to read to empower our minds, we have to practice to nurture our spirit, and we have to take care of the nutrition and movement that strengthens our bodies.
All of this means that we might have to replace other tasks with time for ourSELVES. We might sacrifice a TV show or cleaning up after someone else. We might have to ask for help. Wow. That is a real mind-blower. I am not being sarcastic. It is often one of the hardest things we can do as humans. We have to surround ourselves with people who have similar goals, who will support our personal and professional development. We have to turn inward and we have to be open outward. Seeking the best in ourselves helps us discard jealousy, discard judgement, and release the need to be perfect because, frankly, the more we seek answers inward, the more we realize there is no such thing. Yet, our flaws make us perfectly human & perfectly divine.
What's more, the world needs our solution, our voice, our ideas, our creativity and our love. We can not contribute with authenticity if we do not work on developing the space, the time and the skills for wellness. Think of it as an act of giving to the world.
If you aren't currently part of an uplifting community who will surround you with support and optimism, consider joining Journey Through The Wilderness, my free, private FB group or Smiles at Sunrise, my free, private 21 day challenge group, available for a limited time through Zoom meetings.
Contact me or comment below for more information and to let me know if this resonates with you. Have a beautiful day.
Some process through speech or silence or art. My heart thumps on a page, it bleeds in ink. As a young girl, I prayed to be a published author one day. I wanted a voice worthy of being read.
Most of my childhood was lovely and cheerful, but it was also complicated. There were scary moments- between conflict at home, bullying at school and supporting my older sister through mixed eating disorders. I turned to poetry when I navigated my co-dependent relationships and anxiety. My bandages gathered in brown paper bags under the twin bed- collecting dust for warmth and suffocated by the containers of buffalo chicken wings my sister hid in the darkness for a moment when she needed to binge.
One day, in a feverish fit, I unearthed all my heartaches and re-homed them, relocated to a place for keeps- one with more respect. I peeled the layers of caked on grime and unfolded the crumpled edges of the pages that absorbed my still crimson thoughts. Orange letters scrawled across the tiny screen of our very first computer. It's unreal to think about how awful and wonderful something can be at the same time.
It whizzed and popped, gulping down my life- dozens and dozens of vials- poems from my veins. The machine was a vampire. Not much after I fed the beast, I finally recycled the hard pages. Moments later, the little, wondrous orange eyed savior became my enemy. Our first hard crash - and we didn't have anything like Google Docs or hard drives. We hadn't even figured out the floppy disc yet.
That was the first death of my writing. If I could have held a funeral for the pages lost, I would have. It felt like an amputation. I cried myself to sleep multiple times- not even sure what I was going to do with those scabs from my past but sad to bury them in an empty and cold box anyway.
Of course, a girl in this day and age who cuts her flesh would receive counseling. I cut mine with a pencil and page before it was cool to see a therapist. The blue lines and red margins were my counselor. I eagerly poured myself into them. I opened up and looked at my insides with interest. It was the safest pain as it left no outside marks. I couldn't bleed out. There'd always be more. And every drop made room- just a little bit for something more beautiful to grow in the space it left.
Have you ever cared about something so much that you felt this way? Have you ever been so real and so raw that it was as if you were giving away pieces of yourself? Your inner world? Your truth? Putting it in front of a magnifying glass, looking it over and hoping it's something interesting- something moving- something real?
That was the first death of my writing... you haven't even read about Peter yet.
It's a rare Monday- not just because both of my boys are busy- one at a STEAM event for school and the other working out at a friend's house. It is rare because it is February in New England, and the hill that I live on- the one that mimics the arctic tundra is soft and open- a balmy 60 degrees... in FEBRUARY. The sun is warming the surface of my skin as I sit on my front steps and listen to the puck traveling across the face of my neighbor's driveway from one boy to the next. The sun is warming me nearly enough to crack open a little bit more... to allow a little of my own steam- steam from the past to filter out- through the pores of my being and onto the page. This is the story of the Second Death- one of my writing and one of my friend- the one who woke me up each morning, singing, "You are my sunshine."
It was summer and we were training for a new crop of students to arrive on campus. We lived in dorms steeped in tradition and ritual. By day, we learned policy, performed organizational tasks, and took young professional courses. At night, we attended soureis for fundraising- junior colleges we were trying to woo. Peter and I started the same day and were inseparable. He was the kind of person who's light and radiance drew crowds toward him. He was larger than life. He escorted me to every event- like a dapper gentleman in a bow-tie, he looped his elbow through mine and held the door. We were inseparable- that is until that day. I returned from a weekend away and arrived a few minutes late to the staff barbecue on the lawn (Peter hated my tardiness).
Looking back, I think I knew something even then. He wasn't there- he was late. This wasn't like him. I convinced Patty to walk over and check on him with me. Despite the sunshine and the smell of food sizzling over charcoal, I knew something was wrong. I knew I couldn't go alone but I also knew that I HAD to go.
I'll never forget the temperature or density of silence. It changes. It can be soothing and open- light and ready for exploration in one moment. It is heavy and cold, like concrete another. We entered Anderson Hall. Walked through the empty, dark corridor and knocked on his door. Loudly, I thought. Maybe, again, it was the silence that made it seem so amplified.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
It wasn't like him. He hated when I was late. He wouldn't be. We used the master key. Click. Click. Crisp metal twisted on metal. Cold.
Walking in, Patty dropped her half eaten apple into the trash can- loud. Cold. A dorm room is all cinder block and industry- commercial grade paints not meant for human comfort, but made to last. It is ninety degree angles, a shotgun apartment- a straight shot from front to the back. A floor lamp glowed in the corner near the photograph of Peter in a gas mask- taken when he studied art. It hung near the small, rectangular window where filtered sunshine seeped through- near where he taught me to press the wrinkles from a tailored shirt using the hot corner of an iron. Next to the spot where we drank coffee and read, "The Story of the Heart" by Sandra Magsaman- where we laughed about his nephews and how he wished he could carry a baby and it wasn't fair only women could.
His music and laughter wasn't there. It was a tomb- and we knew it long before we ever rounded the corner, before the knock at the door, before the click and twist of a key, before the echo of an apple- before the heavy silence, we knew before the black and white and far too little grey.
Still, we flew through the doorway of his bedroom, rounded the corner and found him, fetal, wrapped in a red sheet, cold. The mind might know, but the heart refuses to hear. It might scream and throw up BOLD PRINT, angry words, but the heart won't listen when you want to save someone you love- when you want to save someone you can't.
We performed CPR, even though his ribs wouldn't budge. We performed mouth to mouth, even though his lips wouldn't part- his eyes didn't see and we KNEW it. He'd been gone for hours.
I don't remember who called 911 but I heard the bells of the chapel- dinging- eery in the mid-day air. I don't recall sirens but the bells- I heard them clear as day. Church bells won't ever be the same again.
That night, I slept on my boss's couch. For months, when I returned to my own apartment, I was afraid of the dark. I felt certain that Golum from Lord of The Rings lurked beneath my bed and he was going to kill me. I thought for sure I was going to die.
Losing Peter was the most frightening of deaths for me to this point, and I'd experienced many. An unusual amount- many friends during my final year of college were taken unexpectedly- and the total so shocked my small, private college that we were featured on the national news. It felt a dark web of magic was laced over the people I love and pulling them away from life. I tried to rationalize the icy streets of the college that swallowed up my friends and I tried to figure out the mystery of Peter.
He had diabetes. He told me how to remove his pump if he ever got sick. He'd been sick that weekend when I was away. BUT, I also knew more to his story and he'd given me gifts. One about the magic of crystals, an angel to, "look over my gardens" and a smoky quartz necklace- hand made. My mind raced with clues that would never piece together.
Before his funeral, Patty and I were given a chance to see Peter first. We were asked to speak at his service and I knew it would be one of the hardest things to do. Peter lay there, with his bowtie on. His body was cold but his spirit lingered. The bowtie was upside down- something he often did on accident and I teased him for. Surely the funeral director would not have done that on purpose. Still, there it was, a message from my dear friend from the beyond.
I began to pour into a story. It was my 21st year of life and I 'd seen so much death. That would be the title, "21" and he'd be a pivotal piece of it. Many pages came and traveled with me as I completely rearranged my life. I said goodbye to my fiancé and decided to travel to Arizona to visit my sister. I bought a ticket for Patty and I- and we left. Hours and hours of writing flew beside me. I carried it in a large folder- pages and pages of truth and heart ache and memory. It was my first flight and I was nervous.
I don't remember what distracted me- the fear of landing and putting that tray into the upright position or the sincere desire for the sunshine to heal me., but that story was left on the plane. Like Peter- it will be remembered always but will never be held again.
I still "saw" Peter many times- with an absolute knowing- his energy seemed everywhere. It was in the body of the squirrel that raced me along the pathways- the ones he used to escort me on. I could hear his voice wake me up- like he used to do, singing over the phone lines. I could still smell the starch he used on the collars of his button down dress shirts.
Some weeks and months later, a single picture surfaced on my boss's camera. I was standing on the porch of the main building on campus- where all food and activities are held. The picture was shaded- my arms outstretched like I was flying and I had a big smile on my face. My eyes are squinting because I am in the direct rays of the sunshine. Peter stood directly behind me, in the shadows, smiling, but strong, like a soldier protecting me. Laura caught it. She gave me this gift I will never, ever be able to repay.
To this day, I swear he still looks over me and my gardens. His angel is hanging on my wall. My second son carries his name- including his beloved nickname- Petey. It was the second death of my writing and the birth of a life that was completely different from the day he left us.
4/15/2020 0 Comments
Teaching is an intensely vulnerable act of service. It requires us to stand in front of little, honest eyes who judge and watch our every move. We are role models and expected masters of curriculum. We are asked to take our children from every walk of life and with a myriad skills, weaknesses and personalities- and move them along a proposed curriculum that may have little to nothing to do with our student's preferences or interests. We are measured by a series of tests that we are not privy to in advance or even in the moment of administration- and the ants keep marching. We wake up with more questions than answers and often the impending sense of doom that the task is impossible.
Yet, have you considered the point of view of the child in front of you? Each walking blindly into the day- unaware of what will happen, unable to control when he or she is allowed to speak, sit, stand, pee. We ask them to do tasks that demand tremendous courage- from sharing their thoughts on a subject that maybe entirely new to them- to failing publicly on a project. We tell them to dance with their failings and that these are the richest moments of learning- meanwhile, we fear our meetings with our own supervisors and the idea that maybe we are a fraud- because we don't have all of the answers.
Our children are asked to write from their hearts- let the world into the private spaces of their minds. They are asked to read aloud and listen to their voices waiver as they stumble around the boulders of vocabulary that inevitably arise. Some of our students are speaking and reading in a language that they didn't learn at birth and to them, the boulders are mountains. Imagine being asked, on the spot to do the same with your colleagues. It's not easy.
When we step back and consider the bravery of our little ones- the ones with forming, stretching spines and strong, thumping, yet vulnerable hearts- we need to first meet them on the path and recognize that this is HARD work. Talk to your students. Tell them that you remember what it felt like. Recognize the importance of RESPECT.
I created the image above because I believe bravery comes when someone first whispers in your ear, "I've been where you are. I feel you. You will be better because of this" and- when the teacher sets the tone of respect for others
Go teach from your heart today.
Happy Family Friday! Today, look for the strengths in your children. What are they? Talk to them about this. Show them that you see them.
How often do you as a parent, a teacher, or a coach talk to your child(ren) about her or his strengths? Many agree that the "trophy for everyone" mentality is accidentally creating entitlement and inflated egos, but I've been teaching some of the most vulnerable age groups for 19 years and I'm wondering if we've swung too far in the other direction. I see kids who APPEAR confident, but default to the negative when challenged. I see kids who on the surface seem full of sass but when you look in their eyes as they approach novel tasks, so many first thoughts are doubt.
As I think about the boys I raise at home (Phoenix is 12 and Kadence is 8), I also think about the thousands of children I've taught over the years in private and public settings- the majority of those years working with middle school students. What I see might surprise you. We all want what's best for the children in our lives. We want them to develop skills and empathy- to go out into the world self-assured yet kind enough to lend a hand and hopefully repair some of the social, environmental and political damage we've caused. We want them to develop passions and healthy habits. But how often, in the course of their explorations, do you think they hear "Wow, you are really good at that!" Or, "I picked you for my team because you are a really kind teammate- plus- look at how fast you are! Man, you fly!"
Our kids walk around and are redirected by dozens of well-meaning adults- from the parent or caregiver to the bus driver to the teachers, the nurse, the cafeteria staff, to the coach, tutor and neighbor. Each one with a different set of expectations for behavior. None of this is a bad thing, in my opinion, it takes a village to raise children. BUT, what if they are really in corrective mode in every moment? What if they don't get enough moments to catch their breath and trust their own, messy exploration?
As a writing teacher, I recall teachers from my past saying, "Of course they hate me, I'm the writing teacher!" I think the message was intended to convey the sheer mental challenge a student or person faces trying to master the English language. It certainly isn't easy. But, what I heard was affirmation of a myth. Many children walk into my classroom thinking they are BAD at writing. They think that it is HARD. I have to show them that when they trust that they can build from their strengths - it can be easy. True, many are struggling to formulate sentences or to spell. Many need support with basic paragraphing or find challenge in figuring out what to write about.
What they are really struggling with -however- is how to write THAT WAY- someone else's way. They have lost their voice, their instinct, their inner belief that they have a story to tell. They are overthinking and have forgotten how to FEEL their way through the task. We put that fear in them. We did that.
When we remove barriers to writing and allow kids to tap into their creative sides again, they stop hating it. They think it's much easier than they thought it was in the past. They are natural story tellers from birth, so they REMEMBER. They clamber for more of it. And, ironically, they begin to CARE more about it. Catch a student who previously hated writing in the act of creating a funny phrase or image and man- she feels like a star. It translates into a can-do attitude in other areas of my classroom- including the formal and dreaded essay and in social situations, too. Writing is really a metaphor for just about anything.
We ask a kid to do new things all the time, but do we point out along the way the nuances of their strength building? Do we wait for it to be perfect before we praise? If you coach a child, you correct their technique, smile, and pat them on the back for getting close or accomplishing the task you set before them. This interaction means the world to them. How about we go a step further, when they are not in full swing, boost them up for being a strategic player and ask them to share their knowledge of play with others.
What are we waiting for? Our kids should know their strengths so that when it is really hard, they don't DEFINE themselves by the HARD. They are willing to take more risks because they know they can fall back on that STRENGTH you shared. OUR voice is going to become a voice they hear internally for years. Let that voice be one of encouragement.
As parents, we need to point out the moments our children do the thing we want without being asked, but also, remind them of their innate goodness. It might be as simple as pointing out to them about that trait you always brag to your family about, but realize you don't often say to them. Wow. You have always been so curious and that- will help you solve really big problems one day, or invent something! Imagine- how wonderful it is to have that skill!
Given the closures of schools across the US, I made some resources that would work as well with my 6th grade son as they would my 3rd grader. Join in as we plan, build and start to grow seedlings for raised garden beds. Try out the resources, and share if you build and grow your own healthful plants in the midst of all this fear.
I also wrote a simple, spooky story prompt, and if the weather is good, we might share stories around our own campfire at the house this upcoming week! Join in the fun and let us know how you're doing. Share photos on my FB site @LeeAnnSinclairEmergence or contact me through this site!
So, goal getter... How are you doing? Making great gains? Wish they were faster? Hmmm...Have you stalled out? When was the last time you asked for help?
I grew up in a house where I prized my mother's selflessness. She waited on the world. From making meals, to cleaning, to delivering breakfast to working and a million other things- she did it all. She fixed things. She mended hurt feelings. I idolized her and I still do. What I know now, however, and what I wish I told her then was...
YOU DON'T HAVE TO DO IT ALL. You are so loved and special that you don't need to solve every problem. You can rest. You have a goal? A dream? Chase it! I'll help.
Hindsight is an amazing thing. It can be a genuine teacher. Slowly, I am learning that I have to ask for help, too. WE can not strive in silence, praying someone we love or a perfect stranger will swoop in and offer a hand if we are afraid to ask. No one can read our minds.
So, I started to think about our no payment for chores policy. We already have our kids make their beds, clean up after themselves in the bathroom, take out the trash, pick up after themselves and put away their laundry. All of this is in the spirit of the family team. We provide their needs.
We realize they are capable of more- and they have a desire to make and save money. So, we decided to interview them for a vital task the team needs more than ever as I launch my website and work to submit my book for publication- housework. Above and beyond. The things they weren't doing but could be. We had a family meeting tonight and proposed a system where they clock in and fill out a checklist to show the jobs they do to help carve out time for our growing goals. Phoenix is now taking on the laundry for the house (if I am crumpled and stained for a bit as he learns, please forgive me!) Petey is taking on dishes and deeper cleaning of the countertops and floors. Both are helping with meal prep.
Our hope is that it will teach them how to do things they will need to know how to do by the middle of our ten year plan (not sending them to college unaware of how to cook or do their laundry). Also, one day, they will be the kind of partner (we pray) that lends a hand in all of the household tasks. Money management? It's part of this picture. Bonus, they see how important our teamwork is- and how hard their moms are working to reach their dreams.
Who can you ask for help? Is there a new way to look at this simple and powerful task that empowers both parties?
4/15/2020 0 Comments
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