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The Wind Blows

When Lucy was about three years old she discovered the wind.  She loved having the car windows rolled down  and would squeal with delight. Her eyes closed, her face bent slightly to feel the air blow across her cheeks and through her hair. She loved it. A child in delight of the world.

Perhaps it was the feeling of being free that she loved. Or perhaps it was the idea of the wind blowing dangerously strong into her face that gave her a sense of adrenaline. Or perhaps she liked the way the noise and sensation seemed to block everything else out.

Like most children Lucy’s wonder with the wind faded as she grew older. The innocence lost in the wake of recognized fears and new responsibilities. The wind, once mysterious, was now a known entity no longer worth acknowledgement or delight.

This past week concluded rehearsals for Lucy’s third theater production.  If you don’t know about theater the last week includes full dress rehearsals every night. Long, arduous rehearsals where the pressure for perfection increases with every practice.  The week is a blur of last minute costume changes, make up, wigs, line changes, and dance numbers. Even for a youth production these weeks can be grueling. The smell of sweat, grease paint, hairspray and youth angst is like a thick smog in the changing rooms. Every night Lucy dragged herself back into the car and rattled off a non-stop monologue of all the things she did wrong that night and what needed to change.

This happened for five nights until the final rehearsal. No more practicing. No more chances to make the wrongs right. When I picked Lucy up she was tired and quiet. She crawled into the car and barely made eye contact. I asked her if she was nervous for opening night and she silently shrugged her shoulders. It was late and the coolness of the day had started to settle. Sensing that she didn’t want to talk about the last rehearsal or the impending opening night I remained silent.

She lowered the car window and hung her head out.  The wind blew her hair violently and she closed her eyes. She needed time to visit with an old friend.

 

I Love Teachers

There is a general assumption that if you homeschool you hate the public school system. Although this might be true for some it is NOT true for this homeschooling mom.

I LOVE PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHERS AND ADMINISTRATORS

I mean that.

All of them.

I have so many friends and relatives who work in the public school system and they are amazing. These are smart, well-educated, passionate, caring people who adore children and the act of teaching. I’m rather fond of teachers and the administrators who support them. These are people who get up and fight a battle that is ALWAYS stacked against them. And no amount of jars of candy and gift cards will ease that difficulty.

No, what I hate is the public school SYSTEM.  The system which everybody agrees is broken.

A system where kindergarten teachers are so busy testing and assessing their students that the children have no time to play.

A system where 50% of new teachers will quit after the first five years of teaching

A system where a teaching salary is so meager that men are incapable of becoming teachers because they cannot support a family of four on that salary, which leads to our young boys being constantly surrounded by female teachers.

A system where teachers are told what to teach, when to teach it and how to teach it.

A system where teacher salaries are not based on work ethic, or innovation or time in the classroom but instead on whether or not all of their students test at the same level.

A system where a teacher must be equally afraid of being shot or wrongfully accused by a parent.

A system where one ISD can build a multi-million dollar football stadium, while an ISD the next town over doesn’t have enough money to build classrooms, or provide practice space for their students.

Nobody wishes this system worked more than me – I want the system to work because I want a country that is filled with educated, and critical thinking citizens. I want an environment where children are exposed to a variety of ideas, where their differences are celebrated, where students are not forced into homogeny.

And there are as many ideas regarding how to fix it as there are people with opinions in Washington but what nobody has stopped to do is to ASK A TEACHER. Teachers get it — they get it in a real way. They get the fact that it has little to do with fancy buildings or fancy technology and has more to do with the space and freedom to teach the children in front of them not the “standard” child which fits nobody. They understand that it is about allowing one child the space to learn slower and the freedom to let the other to bolt ahead. They understand that it isn’t about test scores but about inspiring a desire in a person to NEVER stop learning. It is about books and art and questions and sometimes not knowing the answers. It is about experimenting and play and mistakes and do-overs.

It is NOT about high-stakes test scores which tell us nothing about anybody.

Vantage Point

Recently, I’ve been thinking about mortality. David’s grandmother is standing on the doorway of heaven and she has started talking to dead people. Her arms are out stretched welcoming the comfort that only death can provide.  Everyday I see Harper as she runs into life with her heart open and spirit soaring. My parents have entered retirement and are facing new challenges with humor.  My young neighbor with two sweet baby boys is battling life-threatening cancer, and my students sit on the precipice of adulthood.

And here I am – 44 – and with the unique ability to see all stages of life everyday and from one vantage point. It is both inspiring and frightening.  Middle age makes you acutely aware of how fast time flies and how little time each of us has on this earth.  This self reflection has made me ask many questions but the one most prominent seems to be, “How am I spending that time?”

When we are young it is a question that is supposed to inspire us to chase our dreams but as you get older it becomes a more practical question.  Every day I wake up and make a choice regarding how I’m spending that next 12 hour period. Will I regret it later in life? Will I regret not taking better care of my body? Will I regret not taking the time to be with my friends? Will I regret not traveling more? Will I regret not pursing some of my dreams and aspirations? I don’t have magic answers. I wish I did. Illness and old age overtakes us whether we are triathlon runners or life-time partiers.  But it is the WHAT of our lives that seems to make the difference. What did we do with our time.

1.) NOTHING is more important than friends and family

The time I cherish most is the time I spend with my children and my family. The lazy Saturdays, the funny conversations in the car, the snuggles in bed, the comfortable silence on the back porch, the conversation filled dinners. I don’t cherish the time I spend rushing my kids to lessons or classes or activities. I don’t cherish the time I spend fulfilling obligations. Obligations are for the young and I don’t choose to fill my calendar with such nonsense.

2.) Saying “No” is hard

A reoccurring New Years resolution for me is to start saying “no” more often. I pretty much fail every year but I keep trying. It is not out of obligation that I say “yes” but out of a desire to want to do EVERYTHING.  Yes, of course I want to sign up for cooking classes. Yes, I want my kids in the gifted engineering program. Yes, I want to organize field trips. Yes, I want to help the homeless at church. Yes, I will teach more classes.  It all sounds wonderful and exciting and FUN and I don’t want to miss ANYTHING. But in missing nothing I neglect the most important, which brings me back to point #1 – nothing is really more important than those quiet Saturdays and time spent loving each other.

3.) Balance health but don’t make it your idol

Our journey has been set for us and no matter how much exercise or gluten-free eating we do is going to change that.  However, don’t be purposefully neglectful because you might need some of that old body later on. I try to eat a balanced diet, but I’m definitely not opposed to the Oreo/Pop-tart/doughnut kind of day. I walk the dog everyday but I doubt I will ever commit myself to a spinning class or hours at the gym. Conversely though, if that is what brings you joy then DO IT. Walking the dog, during the early quiet hours of the morning when I can hear the birds chirping – that brings me joy.

4.) Prioritize your dreams

When I was in 5th grade I told my teacher that I wanted to grow up and write books for a living.  If I live to be 95 (which considering my genetic legacies and assuming no unforeseen circumstances) I am almost halfway through my life, which means I’m at the peak of my life mountain.  Realistically I probably only have another 40 years left to do all the things I want to do and trust me, that list is LONG. But, I have a list and that is an important first step. I might not write that novel I’ve always said I would but I will see the Globe theater, because I’ve prioritized it. I will suck every moment out of watching my kids grow up because I’ve prioritized that experience. I will take mother/daughter trips, and see my kids graduate college, and I will spend evenings with my husband sitting on the porch.  I will cook with my sister and laugh with my parents and fill my days with love. Which brings me to my last point…..

5.) It’s all about the people

This isn’t earth-shattering or even novel. We all know this but how often do we lose track of it? How often do we lose track of what is really important? And I guess that is why it has been on my mind. I’ve already lost people. I’ve already attended funerals with people shaking their heads and saying the “should haves” and “could haves” of regret.

“For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

I’m terrified that I will lose track of those important things. I fear that I will get so caught up in checking off the “to-do’s” of societal obligation that I will forget to spend time doing the really important things. And perhaps this is just my long-winded way of justifying not cleaning my house.

 

The Success Sacrifice

My father was an executive and worked in the boardrooms of America. After spending my childhood observing his career I came to one startling observation,  if you want to achieve ultimate success in ANY FIELD — professional sports, acting, politics, OR BUSINESS — it comes at extreme sacrifice.  You show me a CEO, or COO and you will show me somebody who has been divorced and was NEVER around their children.  You show me a professional athlete or actor or politician and you will see the same thing.  REGARDLESS OF GENDER.  My father could have been CEO or COO but wasn’t willing to make those sacrifices.  And yet, even with his moderate success ask me how many Halloweens he was home for?  None. Ask me how many birthdays he missed? Many.  Ask me about him commuting to San Francisco FROM DETROIT for two years.  Ask me about the times my mother would call him “Uncle Daddy”.

So when I started reading Penelope Trunk’s blog post on Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In” I wanted to scream ‘YES!’.  For those who are unfamiliar with this book I will give you a summary, Sandberg is the COO of Facebook and tells women that they need to “lean into” their careers not out.  She makes the argument that as women we are failing the women’s movement by opting out of careers.  She makes it sound all lovely and easy as if anybody can do it but that is what makes the book myopic and unrealistic. Penelope states:

“Most kids cannot have huge jobs. They will be the workplace equivalent of intramural basketball players. When they grow up, they will find work that is fine, just like it’s fine to play on a team with the kid across the hallway even though he misses too many lay-ups.”

Sandberg expresses her disappointment in women but she doesn’t mention her 100 hour weeks, her multiple nannies, and how little she sees her family.  She mentions that she leaves at 5:30 to have dinner with her kids but doesn’t mention who cooks that dinner and who does the dishes after dinner and who reviews homework and packs lunches and backpacks and does the laundry.  I’m fairly confident she doesn’t do ANY of those things. And Penelope said it perfectly:

Sheryl Sandberg gives up her kids like movie stars give up food: she wants a great career more than anything else.

The conversation we have as a society doesn’t need to be about women leaning in or leaning out,  but about the sacrifice ALL people make when achieving this level of success.  Women seem less willing to make that sacrifice, and yes, part of that is biological and part of that is cultural.  But there are many men who also choose less demanding careers so they can be more active with their families and we don’t see society squealing in shock at this choice.

I love my father, and we have a very close relationship.  A relationship he worked hard at maintaining over long distances. However, he will be the first one to tell you that he isn’t sure he would make the same choices over again.  Let us not fool ourselves into thinking that Sheryl Sandberg has somehow managed to “have it all” because that is a myth. She has a career, and that is great, but there are other things she does NOT have.

 

Luck

In many ways we are lucky.  We aren’t Syria, or Egypt, or Tunisia or countless other locations that are experiencing daily violence on a large scale.  But I suppose it would be impossible to feel lucky if you were the Richard’s family who lost their 8 year old son in the Boston Marathon bombing.  I would be incapable of looking at any of those teachers or parents in Newtown and say “we’re lucky”.   When senseless violence occurs – whether it affects one person or thousands of people – nobody feels lucky.

But, we are indeed lucky.  We are lucky because we live in a country that is based on mutual trust, love and respect.  When you have a body of citizens that swear an oath to uphold that standard they do crazy things like,

We are lucky.  We are lucky that we have each other and that is what makes us different.

Letter from Santa: 2012

As some of you may remember I inflicted a good deal of emotional pain on my children last year when I inadvertently told them that Santa wasn’t coming due to bad behavior.  Well, that has created an expectation that they will be receiving notification in the mail every year regarding their list status.  As a result, here is this year’s letter:

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Dear Lucy, Max & Harper,

We received your correspondence from Lucy, and it is my pleasure to inform you that after careful review of your behavior and attitude during the year 2012 that Santa Claus has decided to add you to the following list:

NICE

We would like to request that on Christmas Eve you place the following items on a plate close to the fireplace:

  1. A small cup of milk (cow and no less than 2%)
  2. Three small iced cookies (please no chocolate)
  3. Three small carrots (peeled)

We have received notice that a dog has been added to your family.  As a result of this addition, and in an effort to not wake sleeping children, we also ask that you leave two small dog treats for Santa to give to Heidi.

We would like to invite you to visit Santa Claus at a store location near you.  Every year we strive to deliver toys that meet each child’s wishes and your visit to Santa Claus is an important step in guaranteeing our continued toy success.

We have noted that on Christmas Eve you will be at your normal home location in Allen, Texas.  If this is an error please contact our delivery team immediately with the correct address (sclaus_delivery@npole.net).

We would like to thank you for your continued support and belief in our organization and we look forward to hearing from you again in 2013.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

 

Fredrick Goffenstein

Senior Elf

Department of List Management

 

Tis The Season

I spent two years in graduate school working for the Office of Student Life.  During that time we organized a fundraiser and benefit for the local food bank.  I went to visit the food bank and as the director showed me around discussing what the organization did for families I noticed the cupboard was bare – literally.  There was little food. I asked the director where the food was and she said, “well spring is a slow time for us and it is always hard to get food donated”.  I was in utter shock.  How does a food bank feed people with no food?

That afternoon I went to my parent’s house for dinner and as I relayed the story to them my mother grew increasingly indignant. She couldn’t believe the food bank had no food. She popped up from the table and said “come with me”.  We drove directly to the closest warehouse club where my mother purchased pallets of food.  Large flats of peanut butter, canned vegetables, rice, Bisquick, pasta, bread, fruit.  The list went on and on until we couldn’t fit any more food in the car.  I don’t know how much money my mother spent that day but I suspect it was over $500.  We drove directly to the food bank and unloaded our vehicle.  The director was amazed and just kept thanking us over and over.

I have NEVER forgotten that moment.  I have NEVER forgotten my mother’s instant call to action and her desire to fix an injustice IMMEDIATELY.  I have NEVER forgotten my mother’s realization that somebody needed help and she could provide it – right then, right now.

This holiday season I am feeling a strong desire to instill that in my own children -the idea that we can all help.  That we all have gifts and resources and if applied with the same energy that we apply to our jobs we can all make a difference.

Perhaps you too are feeling a desire to help others.  Perhaps you too are grateful for your job, your health insurance, your family, the security of your home and would like to share that feeling with others.  Just perhaps we can all change the world a little.

To help us all bring change to others I’ve collected a list of some of my favorite charities.  Some of these are personal campaigns and others are large organizations but all of them stand for things that are important to me – helping people help themselves.

Grateful For Country?

I told you about my student “Jennifer” before, and her desire to be a United States Citizen.  Well, with certain changes in the immigration law “Jennifer’s” family is trying to raise the money for each child to apply for citizenship.  That costs $500 per child – so $1,500.  This family can barely scrape together the funds for dinner on a weekly basis so $1,500 is a pipe dream.  If you are grateful for your job and for being born in this country, please consider donating to this family. Help these honor roll children become TAXPAYERS and fulfill their dreams of being teachers and computer specialists.

Grateful For Family?

I’ve talked about our nanny and friend Micki countless times and at this point you all know about her on going struggles to have a family of her own.  The saga continues and we are still doing our best to raise the money to pay off her medical expenses.  We are about halfway there and so with a last holiday push we are hoping to raise the remaining $3,000.

Grateful For Food?

I’m always a big fan of food banks.  As a person who has worked for non-profits in the past I am a big believer in donating “things” when you can versus money.  As a result I support the North Texas Food Bank.  There are several ways to support this cause from donating money, donating food, starting your own canned food drive at your office or buying their annual calendar.  Food banks provide an invaluable service to more people than you realize.  In Dallas, 1 out of 4 families is food insecure – that is 25% – IN DALLAS, not some third world country.

Heifer International is an organization that allows you to buy a family livestock.  By providing these families goats, chickens, cows, llamas, etc you provide them with an opportunity to produce food and a means for income.  They can breed their animals, sell their animals, eat their animals.  Plus, this makes a fun gift you can do with your kids.  Lucy and I sat down the other day and discussed the benefits of buying chickens versus ducks.

Grateful for Education?

One of the things I am most grateful is my eduction and the opportunities my GIRLS have for an education.  There are many girls around the world who are denied the right to attend school. Girls who are not given the chance to read.  As an educator, as a mother, and as a woman no other cause breaks my heart more than girls being denied the ability to use the brain that God gave them.

One of the charities I support is Unicef.  Unicef does more than just promote education, they also  support immunization for children, clean drinking water, and the well being of children  everywhere.  However, it is specifically their work in education that I support.

Honestly, I could go on and on with a list of causes I support; clean drinking water, mosquito nets,  building houses, suicide prevention, and after school programs. However, the important thing is that we all DO something.  If we can make time to watch The Walking Dead, play a video game, go for a run, or bake a batch of holiday cookies we can find the time to extend a helping hand.  These causes don’t inspire you? Well, then please go find one that does.  DO SOMETHING – DO IT NOW.

Morley Campaign 2012

The political energy in this country has affected everybody, including the students at Norton Elementary school where the third grade class was asked to write and deliver campaign speeches for class president. Lucy’s class  had a week to write, memorize,  and deliver the speech in front of their class (classroom only – not the entire third grade).  Lucy was at a wedding this past weekend and so she did a rush job writing the speech on Monday. The speech wasn’t very good and lacked specifics.  At one point she said she was a “lover of all things” and that she “wouldn’t fix things that didn’t need fixing”. She didn’t want to practice the speech.  I finally forced her to spend 10 minutes on Wednesday memorizing the speech.  After nine minutes she came out of the bathroom and declared she was finished.  I didn’t push it.  I figured this would be a great lesson in consequences.  Having not worked very hard on the speech she wouldn’t win her election, and therefore learn that little effort leads to poor results.

Speech day arrived.  Lucy gave her speech.  David said she did “okay”.

Her peers brought in posters, props, handouts for the other students, promises of less homework, slogans like “Don’t by shy, vote for Rye”.

The students voted.

Lucy was a finalist – one of four.

The class was given the chance to ask the candidates questions.  Lucy was asked “what are you going to do about homework”.  She replied, “I’m not going to increase homework or decrease homework, but I do promise that we will get it done faster.”

The class voted again.

Lucy won.

The students that worked hard, including one who had stayed in from recess to work on his speech, burst into tears. Her vice president, a boy named Tanner, explained to his mother that he wasn’t surprised Lucy won because “Lucy is a better friend than me. She really makes a point of being nice to everybody.”

Lucy is ecstatic and the lesson in consequences will have to wait for another day.