Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Alchemy of Friendship

I've been thinking a lot about friendship lately.
About new worlds...only made by the intersection of two people's paths at just the right moment.

You have to be ready.
The other person has to be willing.

Some sort of magic happens and like a chemical experiment...
where there were once two separate chemicals, now there is unity...
Supreme comfort.
The ability to just be yourself without pretense and let the friend be the same.
Such a gift.

It can't be orchestrated.
It can't be forced.

We can wish for it.
Pray for it.
Dream about it...
but like a kite catching air,
it has to have just the right angle,
just the right amount of wind,
the exact moment when majestically it soars.


When you have a child with a disability, you wonder in the dark of night if that child will be able to connect and have a friend...
not someone who is nice to them.
That's too easy.
No, you dream of something deeper.
A genuine enjoyment of each other.
Shared secrets.
Inside jokes.
Laughter and lightness woven with acceptance.

Like a unicorn, this kind of friendship seems mythical.
Is it possible?

The answer is yes.

Patrick and Christopher at 6th grade camp.

These two have been friends for a long time.
They don't need much.
They find ways to laugh and have fun almost immediately.

There is a realness and a genuine joy with each other that is palpable.
There's no awkward tension of trying too hard...or wanting it too much.

No, there's just a couple of goofballs.
Sunken into the comfy couch of friendship.

Patrick and Christopher were in the same class from first grade to sixth grade.
Then, in 6th grade, Christopher moved to another school.
They were still friends but for 7th and 8th grade they rarely had a chance to connect.

This year, in 9th grade, Patrick moved over to the same school as Christopher.
They picked up where they left off.
Sharing lunch time and laughs.

I haven't been around these two really at all...
I just hear the snippets of their friendship at the dinner table.

But a few weeks ago, I had to drive both of them to a week-end adventure two hours away.
Listening to them talk in the back seat was transformational for me.

I never had the opportunity to become friends with someone with a disability when I was a kid.
I really can't imagine it.
I try and picture how I would have been...
would I have slowed down and taken the time to really see this person?
I cringe and know that the answer sure feels like no.

How did Christopher know to do this?
Are you born with a compassionate heart...
or do you build it like a drip sand castle
drip by drip
just by being submerged in a world of difference and diversity?

Like friendship, I think it is a magical alchemy...
the heart is ready and the opportunity bubbles up creating the solution needed for friendship to form.

I know this much: inclusion is part of the answer.


In the back of the car, two 15 year olds talk about driving and getting licenses.
Christopher reveals that he already has his drivers' permit, 
the first step to getting a California drivers' license.
Patrick gives him the appropriate oooh's and aaah's...truthfully impressed.
He doesn't press further...but Christopher does.
He asks Patrick if he has the app on his phone to take practice written tests for driving.
When Patrick reveals that he doesn't have the app, Christopher downloads the app onto Patrick's phone and then proceeds to go through a sample test with him.
This quote:
"Really, Patrick, you can totally do this. Most of the answers are just common sense. I'll help you."
made my inner Rocky run up the steps and dance with my inner Mother Teresa...
who does this??

The answer:
a friend.

A real friend presumes competence.
A real friend supports and encourages dreams.
A real friend shows the path.

A real friend believes in you.

A real friend takes a selfie and posts it to Instagram and watches the likes pile up...

Well, I think there can be some debate on the last bit...
but this pic is the essence of real friends.


These two have reignited their friendship...the world is better for it.
Just like the two individuals, this moment in time will never come again.
In the Japanese culture it is called Ichigo Ichie. 
One opportunity. One encounter.

We must cherish the chances we're given for friendship.
Seize them.
Reach out.
Laugh and linger.
Try harder.
Wait and wait and wait...and reach out some more.
Friendship is too important to let slip away.

We can't explain it...
or analyze it...
but we know it's no myth and all magic.

Today I'm grateful for big hearts and kind friends,
authentic and real in their relationship.

Thank you for showing me how it's done.
Thank you for sharing a bit of the magic with me.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Best Part of my Day

** This is my first official guest blog post.  I am writing for my friend, Rita Wirtz's blog, Reading Champs and I am both honored and a bit intimidated.  Rita and I both share a passion for reading but Rita shares her passion on her blog, with her books and in teacher education conferences...I just read...and occasionally write. :)  
But I thought I could share the best part of my day...reading with my kids right before bed. 
Thank you Rita for this opportunity! **

Snuggled in on a Saturday morning with Caroline. :)

"You may have tangible wealth untold;

Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.

Richer than I you can never be --

I had a Mother who read to me."

--Strickland Gillilan

I grew up with a mom who read to me.

She would read magazines out loud to us on long car rides...and we would all groan...and complain and pretend we didn't want to listen...
but the view outside was boring and it was a welcome change, so we listened and learned something.

I remember my mom craning her neck and turning herself sideways so that we could see the pictures in the magazines and understand the subtleties in her voice.

She was a preschool teacher so she knew how to read out loud...
how to be suspenseful, tricky, magical and funny.

Her birthday is this week-end and I'll try to think of a present that is good enough.
A present that can come close to the gift she gave love of books.

You and I both know I don't stand a chance.

All I can do is send her these words and have her know, 
really know, 
how much I valued her joy in literature, 
her big hearted tears that would come with every Erma Bombeck essay, 
her love of Snoopy's wisdom 
and Judith Viorst's tender witness to parenthood.

Her book-love so infected me that when it came time to choose places to live...I angled and finagled my world so that I could be within walking distance to our city dream as a child.

It came true in adulthood.

I can walk to the library, bike to a bookstore, wander to a city bench to read and read.
It's one of my greatest joys and I have my mom to thank.


Today I have four kids of my own...
and reading is a big part of our world too.

There are plenty of things I would re-do but sneaking to bed late because we're caught up in a book isn't one.

Without fail, the best part of my day is reading with my children right before bed.

It can be hard juggling bedtimes and kids' needs but it is worth every effort for those moments of connection and calm joy.

If your child is a strong independent reader...who cares?!
Don't lost those moments to read the even deeper, more suspenseful, more emotional, more messy and poignant, beautiful books of young adult literature together.

I know my kids don't probably remember any of these moments but I am going to share them here anyway...
if only as a time capsule to seal away and forever hold close.


Thank you to Jack...for letting me hear you giggle over Captain Underpants in second grade.
As a teacher, I looked down on that series of books...
watching you read that book on your own and laugh out loud, my heart was turned.  
I became the best evangelist for inappropriate potty humor around.
Thank you for sharing with me Harry Potter.
I know you could have read that on your own...
but it was like the very best kept secret to share with you.

I will never forget riding bikes to get Harry Potter 3 on that summer day -- the day it was finally released -- and eagerly stopping even before we got home (!) to begin reading because we just couldn't wait one more minute.

Thank you to Mary reluctant reader...who holds as a prize the title 
"no interest in reading anything ever" with pride...
for my tender, miraculous moment of tears over Charlotte's death in Charlotte's Web.
Smiles over Judy Moody and Molly Moon also snuck up on us. 
Later, we guiltily devoured the Twilight series (ssshhhh, never reveal to anyone our impassioned love of vampires and werewolves) and I cherish that silly series for it connected me to you.

Thank you to Patrick for the beauty in watching you learn to read.
Thank you for always being willing to sit on a lap or later lay in a bed and read.
My favorite book we have shared so far was Winn-Dixie.
Listening to that little lonely girl make friends with so many different types of people in her wonderful guileless way was just what my heart needed.
Your eagerness to find out what happened next, 
your willingness to keep reading even when your eyes ached to close
were tiny nighttime joys.

And thank you to Caroline...
who loved Dr. Seuss, Curious George, Clifford the Big Red Dog and Fancy Nancy...
but most of all, Junie B. Jones,
sassy kindergartener extraordinaire.
Making our way through that entire series 
through a whole summer will be one of my fondest memories.

Thank you for letting my heart sink into Little House in the Big Woods.
Thank you for helping me to circle my way back to the jewels of childhood:
laps, stories and time.

If you have a reluctant reader...never fear.
They really just haven't found the right story.

Try non-fiction.
Or poetry.
Or inappropriate potty humor. :)

Or just try.

Keep trying over and over.
Bring out the snacks.
The drinks.
The cozy jammies.

For when your child stumbles onto what touches his heart, 
you have given him a key.

A secret passage to handle adversity.
A staircase to find inspiration.
A path to escape the rigors of a weary world.
A way directly to the heart.

You have unfolded a map that will traverse an entire lifetime.

I should know.
My mom read to me.


And if you love to read, please join the Twitter chat called #Read4Fun 
every Sunday at 4pm Pacific Time.
You will be amazed at how many people share your joy.
You'll get book ideas.
Life ideas.
Fun ideas
...and meet the sweetest people.
Look for me: @inclusionchick and Rita @RitaWirtz

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Wabi-Sabi Life

"The notion is called Wabi-Sabi life, like the cherry blossom, it is beautiful because of its impermanence, not in spite of it, more exquisite for the inevitability of loss."
-- Peggy Orenstein

We don't consider our impermanence too often...unless we are forced to.
Having it thrust upon us.

Third graders virtually never do.

About a month ago I saw this article

It startled me. 
It wowed me.
It made me see everything that was laying on the ground outside as an object of beauty
a piece of a puzzle
a gift.

An artist named Ja Soon Kim who lives in New Mexico 
collects things...
leaves, petals, twigs, stones, crabapples, feathers, sea shells
and carefully, 
selects a spot on a square of white or black
and creates art

Exhibit A

These happen to be little red leaves...but it could be

Exhibit B


These works of art of hers aren't glued down or shellacked or in some way made permanent.
She takes a photo.
She posts it to Instagram.
She moves on...
and leaves the rest of us wanting more...
pondering about what else could be selected so carefully and placed so meticulously.

Exhibit C

Fallen crabapples.


When I saw her work, I wanted to see what third graders might think.
I wanted to take them on a walk and watch them look at the discards of our natural world and ponder a white space and where it might find a place.

I wondered if they would think it was weird...
or dumb...
or pointless...

I wondered if they could possibly understand impermanence.

Savor the fleeting.

Turns out they could.

I've done art with many classes of many ages over many years.
For me, this lesson was very likely my most successful.

They understood.

They made the most of their walk...their freedom to pick and choose 
and delight in something nature no longer needed.

When it came time to place the objects, none wanted to glue it down.
Maybe the knowledge that there was a photo to commemorate it helped.

They were eager to design and savor and click a photo and start again.
Here is a sampling of their designs...

Exhibit A

 Kate: "In everything there is a swirl of light."

Exhibit B

Kerrigan: "Every day you bloom to be a new person."

Exhibit C

Lauren: "Everything is flowerful."

There is a whimsy, a lightness, a generosity in their quotes...
the impermanence is beautiful and they relish it.

Maybe it's their distance from big loss.
Maybe it's their childish wonder.
Maybe it's the purity and grace of childhood.

Exhibit D

Gabby: "Nothing lasts forever."

And Gabby states it so clearly, so simply, that it gives me pause.
Those dandelion fluffs already disintegrating...
so fragile that with any movement, a seed is lost.

She knows what we all know...time is passing...things fall apart...people must leave...
but she stops.
She creates.
She leaves her mark.

We all must.
We are called to create.
To love.
To sing, dance, write, wonder, experiment...

And from all of these beautiful impermanent moments maybe that's what matters most.

I do know it's a Wabi-Sabi life and somehow having a name for it helps.

Thank you Ja Soon Kim.

Thank you third graders.
Thank you for spotting the beauty in the gutter...
in the cracks and crevices...
in the hidden places.

Just look what you did.

Here, for good measure, is Caroline's...Exhibit  E

Her quote: "You wish it, you want it, you make it happen."

Lastly, my darling niece Lizzy reminds us of what really matters...

Exhibit F

Lizzy: "Smile."

It's a Wabi-Sabi life...there's nothing to lose (or maybe there's everything to lose)...
let's push the pause button...and smile.