Friday, August 24, 2012

The Tenderness of Teachers

Fresh crayons and pencils awaiting their students.

"One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings.  The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child."  
-- Carl Jung

My kids have started school, just barely, and some of my student teachers from last year have classrooms of their own -- these bits of my heart are in classrooms all over the place -- and I want to acknowledge the beginning point.  We've got clean slates right now.  No huge transgressions have happened, no bad choices, no impulse control issues.  That is the beauty of the new year and I am grateful for it.

I'm grateful for the fresh pencils, the stacks of construction paper lovingly ready for art projects, the tubs filled with books or crayons and the clean desks.  I'm grateful for the fresh start of every single new year in's one of my favorite parts of teaching.  We all get to start over, make new goals and create new dreams.

Caroline is in first grade this year.  She's pretty easy going and pretty non demanding...after all she's fourth in line in her family so she's used to waiting her turn and helping herself.  The third day of school though, life was hard for Caroline.  She was scootering to school, fast and frenzied, the way she likes to do it and she bit the dust...full on wipe out.  The girl is quick on her feet and pretty steady on a scooter so she was shocked, sad and hurt.  We ditched the scooter and I carried my crying girl the rest of the way to school.  We stopped at the front office and I cleaned up her scraped knee, placed the ever-crucial band aid and walked over to the first graders lining up just outside of their classroom.  

Caroline tried to get it together.  Her red face and tear stained cheeks gave away that it had been a rough start but she was trying to calm down and then, she saw her teacher and the tears started all over again, and the quiet sobs.  So sad.  My mother's heart was aching with the wish of whisking her away but I knew I had to keep with the routine and get her to class.  Her teacher came up to her and wrapped her arm around her while I told the story of the sad scooter wipe out.

Her teacher looked her in the eyes and said something so comforting, so simple and so brilliant: "Caroline, I have a special chair in my room for times like these.  You can sit in it and feel better.  I'm sorry that happened.  Come with me."

A special chair. 
 Even I, a veteran teacher and wise to the ways of teacher tricks, wanted to spy the special chair.  What did it look like?  Could I get one for at home?  Where is it?

Caroline composed herself and set off in search of the special chair.  She barely looked back.  And I had to be satisfied with the comforting and healing of the special chair.  I had to put my faith in a kind teacher and let my baby girl go -- skinned knee and everything.

As I walked back home with a scooter, I pondered the special chair.  We all need moments of tenderness and kindness.  For a teacher, we ache to soothe the owies and help our students but we feel the time pressure of so many needy students and we worry about anything taking away from class time.  The special chair is a beautiful way to give that tenderness and acknowledgement without skipping a beat.  It lets the student feel heard and helped and yet it takes nothing away from the others.  

When Caroline got home I asked her about the special chair.  She said it was the rolly, comfy chair that the teacher sits in at the reading table.  That's it.  No decorations, no fancy paint...just a chair...provided in a difficult moment.

And that's when it struck me.  That's the difference between great teachers and the rest of us.  They are regular people doing their job but they know when to pause and offer the special chair.  They recognize that not much learning can get done if the heart is wounded.  They find ways to reach the heart of the student before trying to teach the brain.  If a student knows and feels that the teacher truly cares, tremendous things can happen...crazy amounts of learning and incredible amounts of personal growth. If not, students stagnate or worse, they wither. 

Today I am grateful for the tenderness of teachers.  Beginning teachers, veteran teachers and even grizzled college professors, I'm blessed to know so many truly gifted teachers.  Teachers who offer the special chair at just the right moment.  Thank you for your hard work, your kindness and for taking the time to truly see your students.  You make the world a better place.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Savoring Summer

"Summer is the time when one sheds one's tensions with one's clothes, and the right kind of day is jeweled balm for the battered spirit.  A few of those days and you can become drunk with the belief that all's right with the world." 
-- Ada Louise Huxtable

Patrick flying a kite!

Who invented summer?  Who decided that school life should pause, that we need to be refueled and that a long unscheduled, glorious blank spot on the calendar should occur?

Can I kiss them?

Summer is such a sweet spot for me...such a golden time, that I always resist acknowledging the little sliver of golden leaves beginning their shake down and foretelling what must come in a few weeks: the end of leisure and schedule-free moments.

So filled with a full heart, from gobs and gobs of time together, I am savoring the summer and remembering my favorite bright spots.  Too many to count but here's a mini-scrapbook of my Top 10.

1) The gang's all here!  Yes...Jack came home and for a few months, he shed his cool college guy vibe and just became the big brother again.  I definitely wasn't the only one who enjoyed it. :)

2) BBQing at it's happier dad than John with Jack on the week-end teaching the young ObiWan the ways of the Jedi masters with some tongs.

3) Cousins, cousins and more cousins -- we got to have Lizzy all to ourselves for several days.  And if that wasn't good enough, we just had a whole host of spontaneous get togethers.  So fun!

Sweet baby Catherine Grace

Caroline and Lizzy...bubble girls!

The swimmers who wouldn't stop!

4) The first ever swim meet -- sometimes you never think it's going to happen.  You can't picture it.  You don't know what it looks like and so when you try to there is just a big black hole.  And then it happens and it all makes sense.  My favorite, favorite part of swimming: the focus on the personal best. For both Patrick and Caroline their first meet was a personal best, no doubt.

5) Unstructured time...Patrick and Caroline have delved into another layer of sibling hood.  They've become play partners like no other.  They have imaginary games that even the king himself, Jack, isn't allowed to join.  Sometimes I can follow along from another room, but most of the time the plot is too thick and the story too long.  But, it sure is fun to watch!

What, mom?  We're fine!

6) Watching Mary Kate travel with some kids from her high school to an entire other part of the world and grow and change and open her heart to the transformative power of travel -- meeting new people, learning about new cultures and sharing a bit of yourself along the way.

Mary Kate on the last day saying good-bye to her class.

Mary Kate's travel partners...enjoying time off!

7) The summer of 2012 will forever be remembered as the break out bike riding summer for Caroline and the summer of laughs with Junie B. Jones...Caroline's favorite thing to read and giggle about.  Most of our bike rides carried Junie B. Jones in my basket, along with a certain other friend, Teddy.

8) Summer means relaxing and having no where to go.  I'm grateful for the days when we didn't do anything we'll remember...a whole lot of nothing often adds up to something when it's summertime.

My personal teddy bear.

9) Moments of silence -- nobody rushing, nobody busy, just slowing down enough to see and hear the glorious life all around us.  So grateful for those quiet moments.

Nothing better.

10) I don't have a photo of the 10th favorite thing...but I've memorized it in my heart.  All six of us got to go to Sunsplash together.  Sunsplash is a waterpark with water slides, a "lazy river" that you ride on in innertubes and a wave area that is like a mini-beach.  Having Patrick be a strong enough swimmer to enjoy a full day of swimming and water adventures is a dream come true -- thank you Aquamonsters! His cousins, Chloe and Beau, came to show us how it's done.  It was a favorite day of Summer 2012 and one I know we will try to find a way to repeat on the hot days of 2013.

Today I am grateful for those beautiful months of long nights where even the sun wants to stay up, for time together and for the grace of unstructured time called summer.  So bittersweet to say good-bye.

"That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet." 
-- Emily Dickinson

Monday, August 13, 2012

Silver little and so much

Caroline enjoying the beauty of Rim Rock.

"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul." -- John Muir

In 1938, a tiny lady from the central valley of California sought refuge from the blazing summer heat in the woods near a lake.  She built a cabin from the surrounding pine and stone, intentionally setting the cabin up on a hill to enjoy the view, Mary Goni created a lasting legacy -- one that would continue for generations.  Her attention to detail was exquisite.  This cabin was no quick project.  She built a smaller cabin to house herself as she created her dream house.  She weathered the winter and braved the lack of electricity and basic conveniences all to create a space, a refuge, a haven from the work-a-day world.  Mary was an avid birder and her copious careful notes about the birds and animals around Silver Lake serve as a talisman to those early years.  She was a visionary and I often think of her as I enjoy the fruits of her labor every summer.  

Mary dreamed big.

Almost every summer since John was in diapers he has spent time there.  There are stories of his mom dragging the unceasing cloth diapers of a set of twins through the lake tethered to a canoe; stories of wandering for hours through the forests and climbing the famed cliff of huge boulders that borders one entire side of the lake.  John knows every nook and cranny to Silver Lake and the surrounding meadow, forests and hiking trails.  

When we were in college, John told me about his family's cabin at the lake and took me there one summer week-end.  I was expecting a small cabin: sturdy, spartan and stoic. I gasped when I got there. 

 Silver Lake is a study in contradictions.

It is elegant and roomy; bold yet unobtrusive.  It is is jaw-droppingly gorgeous and yet functions without electricity.  It has plumbing but the water is always precarious and requires use of an outhouse. It inspires and comforts.  Mostly it directs your eye and focuses your vision on the surrounding simple beauty of a forest and a lake -- unchanged and timeless.  Universal in its beauty and its simplicity.  Cloaked in the sounds of silence and nature, this "cabin" provides a retreat from the modern world that is unmatched.  There is no cell reception. No connectivity.  It is remote and isolated.  The nearest town is a thirty minute drive.  No Starbucks.  No television.  Nowhere to go but outdoors and into the forest. Nowhere to hide from your thoughts  -- nothing to do or notice but the natural gifts all around you. 

Since our kids have been going since they were infants, Silver Lake is something they beg for.  The teen-agers don't complain about the lack of cell reception.  They don't mind missing texts or catching up on Facebook.  They crave the quiet.  They stock up on books to read.  They beg for extra days.  They plan the multi-day Monopoly game and anticipate the fires that last for hours and the conversations that leisurely develop when you have nothing but time and no distractions.  Mary Kate is greedy with her time at Silver Lake...anxious to get back to the lake after an inevitable outing into town to stock up on supplies.  Grumbling she wishes we didn't have to leave, ever.

Mary Goni lived an astonishing 102 years, on her terms and in her way, but I so wish Mary could see her Mary Kate and know that she did it...she passed the torch.  She touched her heart and she created an environmentalist, a naturalist and a devotee to Silver Lake that will only, could only, get passed on as well.  Mary Kate isn't the only one by any means.  Siblings and cousins and uncles and aunts feel the same way about this treasure.  

Without electricity, we naturally get in the rhythm of the natural light and we find our way back to our roots...back to what matters.  Back to ourselves and back to our family.  Back even to our ancestors.

I wonder about this timeless treasure.  For how long can cell reception and the outside world be held at bay?  How will it be if the invisible circle of reception opens and the world pushes its way inside?  Will future generations ever know or understand the silence of wilderness? The sense of remoteness that is simultaneously haunting and freeing? 

I know we will work to delay the inevitable.  In almost 80 years, Silver Lake remains unchanged. I pray that it can stay unharmed, unknown and untouched. 

Today I am grateful for a stubborn woman named Mary Goni who dared to dream, sought it to fruition and kept it like a careful treasure. Thank you, Mary, for countless moments as a family, for helping me to see the beauty in natural light and the preciousness of running water and the gifts and glory of unabashed nature.  Thank you for this amazing gift: Silver Lake.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Thanks for the $114 Ticket, Really

"Chance is perhaps the pseudonym of God when he does not wish to sign his work."
 -- Anatole France

I don't know what the universe is trying to tell me...but like a message in a bottle, something is in here.  Perhaps you can tell me.

Yesterday, I noticed two meter maids looking over my husband's car parked on the street in the front of our house.  They really looked deep in conversation and although I thought it might have something to do with John's car, I was smug.  He had the correct parking pass (don't ask); he had just paid his car registration so I knew he was up to date there.  No, I insisted to myself, those two just hadn't seen each other in awhile and were doing the cooler talk over John's car.

Hours later I noticed a ticket -- it never pays to be smug.  $114. Crap.  What could possibly be the reason? No tags to prove an updated registration. Oh yeah, I remembered.  John's car had not passed the smog check and so he needed to take his car in.  And, whenever he takes his car in, because it's German and fancy, it costs a lot. Hence, the dawdling over dealing with it and the ticket.

"That's it." I fumed.  I will just have to take his car in tomorrow and deal with it.  I never drive John's car and because of this detail I believe (however erroneously) that I shouldn't have to deal with it when it comes to maintenance or smog checks.  That's his territory.  

So, taking his car in was a bold move.  I knew John would appreciate it (one less thing for him to deal with) but still I was out of my comfort zone.  Add to it that I dropped it off wearing a swim cover up because I was on our way to a water park with the kids and the whole event felt weird.  Nevertheless, I was proud of myself for tackling an annoyance that in my mind wasn't really mine to handle.

I gave the car guys John's cell phone should they need it and away I went.  A couple hours into it John got a call: 

"So, Mr. Foraker, it looks like you need a new catalytic converter."  
"It usually costs around $3000."
 Damn those fancy cars.

"But it looks like you have a 10 year warranty on this part...and, it expires, um, tomorrow.  So, if you don't mind, we can keep it over night and replace the part for you free of charge."

The story goes that John couldn't keep his cool and literally laughed out loud and into the car guy's ear.  He asked him to repeat the good news.  The car guy was laughing at the circumstance too.  What are the chances.  John has owned his car for over 12 years.  The converter was normally under warranty for 2 years until someone did a class action law suit and the warranty became extended for ten years.  That's 4,384 potential days for repair and we showed up on day number 4,383. 

Frankly, I can't believe they didn't round up.

Who knows, maybe everyone -- including car guys -- can spot a crazy lucky moment gifted from the universe and honor it.

 The only thing I know...I need to go out of my way and thank those two over-achieving meter maids.  I owe them a cup of coffee (and maybe even a lottery ticket) at the very least.