Amazingly Awesome

The library corner in my fourth grade classroom, September 2010

 

“Amazingly awesome!”

Those were the words my nine-year-old son used to describe his teacher after the first day of fourth-grade.

I was an elementary school teacher for twelve years, and six of those years were spent teaching fourth grade.  So it’s a bit of a strange, full-circle-type-of-experience for me as I watch my son navigate this school year.  The first week of school, Ryan came home telling me about lines of longitude and lines of latitude; he used his globe to further demonstrate.  (It’s a concept from the first lesson of his social studies book.  The same book I had used when teaching).

And then a week ago, my husband, son, and I were out for a family bike ride in our neighborhood.  A young man on a skateboard crossed paths with us.  We all politely made space for each other.  But the young man looked at me, and I looked at him.  He spoke first, “You look so familiar.”

“So do you,” I replied. 

It took just a minute or so, until he said, “Mrs. Kennar?” 

This young man, a junior in high school, had in fact been one of my fourth grade students seven years ago!  We’ve seen each other twice now.  He’s told me about high school, the Advanced Placement Class he’s taking, his continued interest in sketching, and his belief that if he’s going to do something, he should try to do it the best he can.

“Actually, I got that from you,” he told me.

It was one of the highest compliments I could have been paid.  My own version of “amazingly awesome.”

Self-Promotion

Writing at home

Last week, I did something that made me uncomfortable.  I updated this website.  And it made me uncomfortable because I’m not the technologically-savvy one in the family.  That role is filled by my husband.  But my blog is mine, and I did it!  (Though to be completely honest — the sunflowers you see at the top, behind my name, were photographed by my husband).

But now comes the part when I have to tell people about my website and blog.  Do a little self-promotion.  And that’s something that makes me rather uncomfortable. 

My website is my way of sharing my ideas and my work with others.  You’ve probably figured out by now that I like sunflowers (they’re my favorite flower), and I am passionate about my family, my teaching years, and books and writing.

But I share all this with you from the privacy of my home.  Or while I’m out at Black Dog Coffee.  Or wherever I happen to be with my handy dandy laptop.

I’m not on display like an actress walking the red carpet.  No one wants to know what I’m wearing (sandals from Target) and no one asks about my jewelry (no gold). 

The focus stays on my work, which is where it should be.

  

Helping Hands

Each spring, my students always created a rainbow of handprints.  They’d paint their hands the color of the rainbow, and each child would wind up with six painted handprints — red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple. 

Just those six handprints weren’t very impressive.  But, when we put those handprints all together, we created a pretty spectacular rainbow!

When we combine efforts, we can do some pretty amazing things.  Texas needs our help.  And if we all do what we can, chip in what we can, we can help make a big difference. 

If you’re not sure what to do or how to help, click here to read my post “12 Ways to Help Hurricane Harvey Victims” that was published on MomsLA.com.

Gratitude

I recently finished reading Janice Kaplan’s The Gratitude Diaries.  A friend had suggested it to me after a coworker had recommended it to her.  I read the summary on the back, was intrigued but still hesitant.  So I checked out a copy from the public library.

Soon, though, I found my library copy full of Post-Its.  I then went ahead and bought my own copy — a copy in which I could highlight passages and stick as many Post-Its as I wanted.

I like to think of myself as a person who regularly appreciates all the blessings in my life, large and small, and everything in between.  But still, I found this book helpful, and it made me really stop and think about things from a different perspective.

Here are a few passages I’d like to share with you:

Because it’s not dependent on specific events, gratitude is long lasting and impervious to change or adversity.”

Find a reason at least once a day to say thank you.  Focus on the positives instead of the problems.  Tell your spouse why you appreciate him.”

Instead of worrying about the past or fretting about the future, we could all do ourselves a favor by taking stock of the present.”

I’d never thought of thanking myself and being grateful to … me.”

Instead of beating myself up about what my body couldn’t do, I felt proud of what it could.

When you can’t do everything, you remind yourself to be grateful for what you can do.”

Gratitude helps you find meaning – and some version of contentment – in the chaos.”

“… gratitude didn’t depend on the right events or even the right decisions, but how I processed them.  Gratitude gave you back control.”

I was also incredibly intrigued when I read about gratitude and its connection to health.

Inflammation was a stress response of the immune system…”

“…immune system may respond to emotions.  Worry, anger, or fear send those same white blood cells out … Feeling gratitude could actually counter that effect – and keep our immune systems from spiraling out of control.”

  

And now readers, I’d love to hear one thing for which you’re grateful.  If you’d like to share, please do so in the comments section.

A Weighty Issue

My son and I having fun in Cambria — where my weight wasn’t on my mind

 

Here’s a question I’ll throw out to my readers —  How should I respond when someone tells me: 

“You’ve lost a lot of weight.”

One friend has advised me to simply say, “thank you,” and then let it go.  But there’s a part of me that doesn’t feel comfortable doing that.  Saying “thank you” implies I’m accepting a compliment.  A compliment I wasn’t looking for, a compliment I’m not even sure I want.

I didn’t lose this weight because I started some exercise regimen or went on some new diet.  I wasn’t trying to lose weight.  I lost weight because I was sick.  Because I literally wasn’t eating or drinking (to the point where I needed an IV of fluids because I was so dehydrated).  And I’ve kept the weight off because my eating just isn’t the same as it used to be.  My appetite has changed.  I don’t eat as much as I used to, and I don’t eat the same things that I used to.  (For some strange reason, bananas are no longer appealing. And I’ve had no desire to eat a bowl of ice cream which is really very un-Wendy-like).

So when a good friend tells me I look thin, I know she says it out of love.  She’s worried about me.  She wants to make sure I’m eating and taking care of myself.

But when an acquaintance, another parent at my son’s school, recently told me I lost so much weight, I didn’t know how to react.  So I ignored it.  But she leaned in, waiting for a reply; maybe she thought I had some sort of magic answer about how to achieve weight loss. 

My instinct, and what I did, was tell this parent I had been sick and that was why I lost weight.  But that didn’t feel quite right to me.  And I don’t want to say “thank you.” 

Then, this comment (granted, it’s meant to be complimentary) just brings up more questions for me. 

I wonder — what did I look like before?  Did I need to lose weight?  Do I  look “better” now? 

In an ideal world, people wouldn’t casually comment on one another’s weight.  Unless I know a person is really working hard to lose weight, I never say a word.  If I know weight loss is a goal, and I can see a difference, I’ll offer encouragement and support and praise.  But otherwise, I remain quiet.  Because there are too many variables as to why someone may gain or lose weight. 

Really, the numbers on the scale don’t matter to me.  What matters is that I eat.  That I want to eat.  And that what I eat stays in. 

 

Tales of a Couple of Fourth Graders

My fourth-grade school picture

My son is a fourth-grader this year.  He went back to school yesterday.  We had an incredible summer, full of adventures, and laughter, and silliness, and learning.  Because I don’t believe those things are mutually exclusive.

I’m feeling a range of emotions about Ryan being a fourth-grader.  For one, he’s a fourth-grader!  As in, look how fast this is happening!  And secondly, he’s a fourth-grader, and six of my twelve years as a teacher were spent teaching fourth grade.

I didn’t like my fourth grade teacher.  She scared me.  She made me think that making mistakes was bad.  She would hold up my papers and show the class the errors I had made.  She used to have me wait in line at lunch time, to buy her a lunch at the student rate.  (Even though I always brought a lunch from home).  She gave me her home phone number and often asked me to call her and remind her of things to bring to class.  And I never said no.

When I became a fourth grade teacher, I was nervous about the change in curriculum, the larger class size.  But mostly I was scared of doing it wrong.  And that’s what Mrs. E. did teach me — what not to do as a teacher.

But now it’s Ryan’s turn.  And after a summer spent exploring a presidential library and walking onboard Air Force One, after a summer of reading, and bike riding, after a summer of questions and wonderings, I wish for him a school year of adventures, and laughter, and silliness, and learning.

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More publication news! My personal essay, “My Son Is Already Becoming My Caretaker – And It’s Both Heartbreaking and Inspiring,” has recently been published at Mother.ly.  You can click here to read it.

The All-American Transcontinental Total Solar Eclipse

We’ve got some big days coming up this month.  Los Angeles Unified School District starts the new school year on August 15th!

And the week after that, on August 21st, our whole country will be looking to the sky to witness the All-American Transcontinental Total Solar Eclipse.  Here in Los Angeles, we won’t be able to view the total eclipse, but we’re still fortunate to catch a partial eclipse.  Click here to read my post “Everything You Need to Know About the Total Solar Eclipse” at MomsLA.com.

A Love Letter to Teaching

My fourth grade classroom, September 2010

The stores are in the middle of their back-to-school sales.  My son is getting ready too; he’s selected a new lunch box and pencil pouch for the new school year.  In two weeks, he’s returning to school as a fourth grader.  And for six years, I was a fourth grade teacher.  (I also spent five years teaching kindergarten and one year teaching fifth grade).

And I miss it.  I miss teaching.  I miss being in a classroom with “my kids” and teaching them.  Encouraging them.  Loving them.

If you click here, you can read my “love letter to teaching” at RoleReboot.org.

Get Lucky

I’m a fan of Katherine Center’s novels.  And I felt incredibly guilty that several years ago I had bought and read her novel Get Lucky, but now could remember very little of it.  (In my defense, the book was published in 2010). 

So I re-read the charming story of Sarah.  And this week would like to share with you some passages that really resonated with me. 

Sarah speaks of how she feels since she’s not working at her advertising job (she was fired), and I couldn’t help but feel the same way in relation to me no longer teaching.

In truth, I missed my job, and the passion I’d brought to it, and the drive I’d felt every morning.  I missed feeling in charge of my life, feeling like I was heading somewhere, …  I missed being good at something.” 

At the end of the book, Sarah has learned some important lessons:

“Life is always a struggle between who you are and who you’d like to be.  It’s always a negotiation between how you want it and how it is.  There’s no changing that.”

“Here’s what I tell myself now:  That it’s vital to learn how to make the best of things.  That there is no tenderness without bravery.  That if things hadn’t been so bad, they could never have gotten so good.”

 

Brave Enough to Explore

Ryan outside the Santa Barbara Mission

Last week our family spent a few days in Santa Barbara.  We took advantage of the “Downtown Shuttle” that, for 50 cents each, took us down State Street to Stearns Wharf.  For another 50 cents, we rode the shuttle north, back to our original starting point.

It was on our return trip that I observed two different groups of riders and found myself eavesdropping on their conversation with each other.  Three young adults made up one group; they were visiting from Brazil.  Four ladies, all seniors who live together at Leisure World in Seal Beach, chatted with them.  I watched and listened to these two groups of travelers and found myself proud and envious of both of them.

Since my son was five, we’ve taken at least one yearly family trip (usually one during spring break and one during the summer).  So far, all of our trips have been road trips within the state of California.  We’ve explored LEGOLAND, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, Sea World, the Santa Barbara Zoo, and the town of Cambria

But it is my hope that we instill in Ryan a curiosity to travel even further; a wonder, appreciation, and yearning to visit places that are different.  And beyond this curiosity and inclination to travel, I hope Ryan is also brave.  Brave enough to leave the comfort and security that comes with the familiar to venture to somewhere new.