Tag Archives: Children

Month Two: A Good Enough Mom

Since the beginning of our journey, our doula has told us, “Instead of worrying about perfection, be happy with good enough.” At first I did not know what she meant. I had never questioned my ability to be a mom, I figured I’d be good at it because I pour every ounce of myself into everything I care about. Ha. I should have remembered the learning curve in becoming a teacher, hard work does not always translate into greatness…

The first twinges of inadequacy crept in at the hospital, first with nursing that did not seem to work, then with the screaming in the middle of the night, and finally with the news we might have to go down to the neonatal unit, where I would be unable to sleep beside my new baby, in order to treat her jaundice. It turned out we got to go home, but when the tests came back again and we had to return to the hospital because her bilirubin levels were still rising, I fell apart.

I sobbed in the arms of my mother and all the way back to the hospital. The poor intake dude must have worried about me, such a mess over something so minor in the grand scheme of problems worthy of the pediatric unit, but I felt like I was letting my three-day old baby down by not being able to hold her through the night as she bathed in neon blue light, like we were missing a critical moment in our bonding. Thankfully, the pediatric ward is different from the neonatal unit, I was allowed to sleep in the same room, even if my inability to pick her up and soothe her felt traumatizing in my three-day postpartum, hormonal haze.

Minus the near-daily heel pricks and cruel joke of a cold the first week brought, the rest of the month passed without too much self-analysis as I recovered from birth and absorbed the sweetness of my new baby. However, month two has been a different story. Colic. If you don’t know what it is, count yourself lucky. Colic sucks. Screaming, sometimes uncontrollable, almost every evening for hours at a time. I joke as the sun sets that the vampire baby is waiting to emerge. Forget the Happiest Baby on the Block. Baby carriers like the moby and our rocking chair are our only solace, as long as we have the energy to keep moving.

Couple this with sleep deprivation and yet another stupid cold and I often feel like maybe I am doing something wrong. Last month I reported that the sleep deprivation was manageable. After eight weeks, I have changed my mind. It is survivable, but manageable makes it sound easier than it is. If it weren’t for my mother-in-law, who comes and rocks the baby sometimes for a couple hours during the afternoon, or my husband, who stays up until three in the morning rocking her in his chair, I would never get a chance to catch up. It turns out the advice of sleep when the baby sleeps only works if your baby sleeps! Accordingly, I have written this blog entry in 15 minute chunks and foregone the opportunity to do any chores to make this post happen.

She is worth it though, all of it. Her smiles, her little laugh, her intent focus on the world around her, make all the other bits disappear. She has made me the happiest I have ever been. But even with the happiness, being a mom is hard. All the worry and challenges can feel isolating. In the last few days I have let it out and found myself supported with words and hugs from the women in my life. I have realized that while concepts like attachment parenting are beautiful in writing, sometimes in our culture of mom at home by herself instead of surrounded by other baby holders, you have to put her down to survive.

So, find a mom out there and give her a gigantic hug. God knows she deserves it. And, if you are a mom, let yourself find peace in being good enough. Chances are, there is another mom nearby who totally gets it, and if there isn’t, well, I do.

What new motherhood actually looks like. Please note, I resisted the urge to make this picture more attractive in Photoshop.

What new motherhood actually looks like. Please note, I resisted the urge to make this picture more attractive in Photoshop.

The face that makes me question myself.

What our evenings often look like…

And, the moment of peace that follows and makes it all better!

And, the face that makes it all better!

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Melancholy Lessons on Love & Life

Today I held a weeping child at recess. He said he lost his best friend, his grandmother, a year ago. I seldom let a child hug me like family. This kid needed it, so I allowed him be loved and cry. He held on tight and I held on tighter. Maybe I needed the hug too. When I let go, I asked him if he wanted to talk to our school counselor. He said, “No, that was all I needed.”

Our classroom family talked about loss today. A different child suffered the kind of loss that stabs for a lifetime. He was not at school, so we talked about how to treat him when he returns. The counselor prepped me on what to say, but I was not prepared for the torrent of grief unleashed by so many other memories of sadness. Little boys, so tough, puddles of tears. So much loss for so few years.

One child raised her hand and offered some advice. She said, “This reminds us to go home and love our families because we don’t know how long they’ll be here.” She said it with conviction and without tears. The others nodded. Our day went on, the tears dried, recess lightened the mood. At the end of the afternoon, we signed a card for our missing student.

As I read the words after school, I was touched. So much empathy and encouragement. Talk of a classroom family, here for him upon his return, ready to listen, “to be his brother.” There is no changing the grief life brings, but there is our ability to be there for one another, to feel gratitude for each day, and for each other. A melancholy post, perhaps, but it makes me grateful for the lessons my children bring and for the overwhelming goodness inside each of them.

Thank goodness for love and family, blood and otherwise.

So much gratitude for love and family, blood and otherwise.

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Cultivating Mindfulness in How we React to Others

This afternoon I attended the most beautiful class on mindfulness in dealing with children. The main focus was remembering to take a moment (or two or three…) to breathe and disconnect from our own emotional triggers before responding to challenging situations. The key words there are react and respond. When we respond, we no longer let the situation control us. I definitely needed a refresher on this lesson.

Sometimes when I feel students are not listening to me, I become frustrated, angry even. I tense up and regain control through dominance instead of quiet patience. As I reflected on why I become so upset, I realized I react based on my own hunger for respect. Growing up as a small, quiet girl, people constantly underestimated me, a reality that carried over to the beginning of my teaching career as feedback often included my quiet nature.

By taking a moment to breathe and be mindful of my reaction/response, I give myself the chance to determine the best course of action for my students, instead of the emotionally obvious one. I have grown in my ability to respond with calm resolve over the past year, but those stressful moments are still there, lurking at the end of a long day. As I prepare to return to the classroom, I am mindful of how I will stop, breathe, and disconnect from emotional triggers before I respond.

I don’t expect you to answer, because these are personal questions, but maybe you could benefit from similar reflection: When do you react with emotion instead of responding in the best interest of both yourself and others? Why do these moments draw such a reaction out of you?

Just ordered this book recommended during class today-- anyone want to join me for an August book club reading?

Just ordered this book recommended during class today– anyone want to join me for an August reading?

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Judge Ruling If Yoga Is Tied To Religious Practice, Allowed In Public Schools

Remember my mention of conflict over secular yoga in the classroom? While I can’t speak to whether or not the yoga used with these students has religious roots, I can identify with the observation by teachers that students were calmer and using breathing exercises on their own during tests. Regardless of whether people support the use of yoga when identified as yoga, there is a clear need for quiet reflection, stillness, stretching, and breathing in the classroom. Kindergarteners should not report feeling stressed. Neither should the fourth and fifth graders in my room. Obviously this points to even larger systematic concerns in how we’re teaching our kids in high-pressure environments, but at least the non-religious elements of yoga help to alleviate some of the stress.

CBS13 | CBS Sacramento

SAN DIEGO (AP) — A judge is expected to issue a ruling Monday on whether yoga is a religious practice that shouldn’t be allowed to be taught in public schools.

An attorney representing a family bent out of shape over the public school program in the beach city of Encinitas filed a lawsuit in February to stop the district-wide classes. In the lawsuit filed in San Diego Superior Court, attorney Dean Broyles argued that the twice weekly, 30-minute classes are inherently religious, in violation of the separation between church and state.

Judge John S. Meyer is expected to issue his ruling in the case that went to trial.

The Encinitas Union School District is believed to be the first in the country to have full-time yoga teachers at every one of its schools. The lessons are funded by a $533,000, three-year grant from the Jois Foundation, a nonprofit group that…

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A Letter for Peace to my Child

Dear {Insert top secret, hotly-debated name choice},

You don’t exist yet, at least not here. I don’t know when you’ll be a part of our lives, but I know deep down you will be. My mom, your grandmother, has this story of how she almost drowned before I was born. As she looked up through the water, she knew she had to stay, she saw two children, a girl and a boy. I’ve seen you in much the same way.

You appear in my dreams in circumstances I cannot attribute to just my overactive imagination. You love your dad and share rituals with him I do not understand, especially when it is time for a nap. I’ve felt you in my body, healthy and ready to be born. Others have seen you too. Your dad, your great aunt’s mom, my mom’s friend. They all know you’ll be here soon even when I myself am not sure how many years from now we’re really talking. Sometimes you feel near, others you feel worlds away.

This big introduction is not the point of my letter. Today I am writing to you about peace as part of a monthly challenge to create more peace in the world. When I considered who I would like to write, you popped into my mind. You see, when I was a little girl, your grandfather used to be involved in local politics. He wrote this letter to the editor that I have kept in a little box, the paper now yellowed, but his words even more significant than I could have ever understood then. He talked about wanting a life where his children had clean air and water.

That’s my vision of peace for you. A life in a place where the air and water are clean. Your grandmother will tell you all kinds of reasons why this is a challenge– but some places are still cleaner than others and it is my dream you will end up there. It’s a simple wish, but this world you will soon visit is full of a lot of chaos and trouble. Some people decide not to have children for this reason, but I feel you have made the decision to arrive for yourself. We all have lessons here and I could go on to envision a world full of peace for you, but the reality is that people have created chaos for centuries, millenniums maybe.

The best I can do is promise I will work hard to teach you how to find peace within yourself and pursue a life where you help to create peace for others, too. That is what I have begun to discover for myself, so it is what I will offer you as your mother. Those words feel strange, me someone’s mother, but I know you’re out there– whether you will truly be born through me or someone else, you will be part of our family, one day, and you have a magnificent group of people, family and friends (and dogs!), who will help you navigate this world where both inner and outer peace take effort.

As I wrote that last line, I could see all the smiling faces that await you, especially your Uncle Seamus. He promises to take you on some good adventures and bring you back in one piece– with an even deeper love of nature than anyone else could give you. A few tears and smiles were shed as I wrote all these words, but they are true. Of all the monthly peace challenges, this one has affected me most deeply. Our children, whether they be truly ours or ones we help to raise as teachers, aunts, uncles, friends, are our greatest contribution to peace.

This letter just made me all the more excited to meet you one day.

Much love,

Your mother

My wish for you is a deep love of nature and peace through this love.

My wish for you is a deep love of nature and peace through this love.

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Yoga & Christianity: An Unexpected Controversy

This week I was startled by the revelation that some people feel yoga challenges Christianity. As someone who has taken classes in all kinds of studios, this thought had never occurred to me. Even with Yoga’s Buddhist and Hindu roots, I have never once heard talk of God in a yoga class.

Instead, I have found deep spaces of quiet to reflect on who I am and connect with myself, both mentally and physically. While yoga is becoming more and more a part of who I am, its influence is through quieting the mind into a space of mindfulness, not through guiding me to surrender any of my core beliefs.

So why does it matter to me that some Christians are bothered by yoga?

The answer is simple. I want to teach yoga in my classroom, but I teach some deeply religious children with families sensitive to anything that might challenge their beliefs. It has already been suggested that I keep the word yoga out of what we’re doing. To me, it’s more important that I give my students a physical outlet for their stress than any sort of label. Still, I cannot help but feel bothered that this is the case. Yoga is powerful and I want to share it with my students in a way that helps to dispel misconceptions.

The little yoga that we’ve done this year has calmed them. Our contests of who can hold tree the longest provide quiet moments of concentration that connect my students with both their minds and bodies. Our breathing and visualization exercises have given them the strength to overcome anxiety in both social and academic situations. Multiple times in the past couple years, I have caught my students using our brain break techniques on their own to relax their minds. Jesus or Buddha has had nothing to do with it.

A friend came and talked to me after school today. She is deeply religious and I knew she would be able to help me understand. I told her how I wanted to do more yoga with the kids but was just beginning to understand what I was up against. She admitted she once felt the same way but then attended a yoga retreat with a minister friend and realized it was a way to connect with herself and her beliefs, not a call for change. Another childhood friend teaches “holy yoga” for free at her church. Clearly both can exist together, but people who do not know are still afraid.

Sometimes I go to a church downtown that honors all faiths. It does not ask you to leave your beliefs at the door, but rather invites Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Buddhists to see how their faiths intertwine and share so many common ideas. This concept puzzles some of my devoutly Christian friends. They cannot understand how Christians can acknowledge multiple paths to God, but the world is full of different faiths. That’s not going to change. We might as well try to understand our differences and find some common ground.

But here’s the real irony, all this religious strife aside, teaching yoga has nothing to do with religion for me. It’s simply the act of connecting body and mind to create a healthier self. The kids respond well to it. Never have I once tried to influence their beliefs. I don’t want to change them, I just want to give them a way to manage the stress in their lives and improve their physical fitness.

For the time being, I plan to continue my endeavor under a different name, but I want to reach the point where yoga mats are welcome in my room. Public schools in many parts of the country have already embraced yoga for kids. I want the same for my students. I leave you with two incredible clips that show how yoga is changing lives for at-risk youth around the country. While the second clip is low quality, looking into the eyes of homeless young people and hearing them talk about how yoga gives them the heat to survive the cold is life changing.

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Being Who We Want Our Kids to Be

I’ve shown my students the pictures of the trash continent floating in the ocean. Whenever there is trash outside our classroom, I remind them we don’t want it to end up in the sea. Still, I often walk by trash at school, either disgusted at the prospect of touching it or too much in a hurry to stop and pick it up.

Yet I ask kids to pick up trash all the time.

Today the irony of this finally hit me. How can I expect kids to pick up trash that doesn’t belong to them if I don’t do it myself? I’m not too good to keep plastic out of the mouths of sea animals, no one should be. So, at the end of our jogathon today, instead of goading the kids to pick up all the plastic water cups forgotten around the track, I did it myself. For two laps, I collected all the plastic I saw and made a show of throwing it away. Soon I had helpers.

The kids saw me do it and showed enthusiasm to follow suit, versus the regular “if I have to” or “but it’s not mine” response when I just tell them to pick it up themselves. I was so enthused that soon I was carrying a bag and a long-distance trash grabber with two very eager helpers I didn’t even know tagging along and other kids scouring on their own around the track.

So simple, but so easy to forget. We can’t expect kids to do unpleasant tasks for the good of others if we don’t do the same ourselves.

While I may not have led by example until today, I have done my best to educate my class about the importance of respecting our planet. Recently on CNN Student News, my class learned about Living Lands and Waters, a nonprofit that cleans up waterways, and were in awe of the amount of trash pulled from the Mississippi River. Many students expressed their desire to help– they thought it sounded fun to see how much trash they could amass from waterways in Sacramento.

Likewise, they loved the story about this trash orchestra from Paraguay in a recent Scholastic News read aloud. When they discovered we could listen to the orchestra on YouTube, they were beyond delighted. Unsurprisingly, they clamored for the opportunity to create similar instruments.

All this is to say, there is a lot of hope for the future. Our children care about the planet, but they need to see adults lead the way.

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Maybe Goodbye Has to be Ugly Sometimes

My head hurts. This week has been painful. Many of my students aren’t themselves, easily agitated, disrespectful, messy. Monday morning I almost called in sick because I wasn’t feeling well, but I didn’t want to give up a single day of our last three weeks together. Today I’m singing a different tune. I love them but I’m ready for a break, even if that break means saying good-bye after our two years as a classroom family.

At first I felt really disappointed by the changing climate in our classroom. I blamed hormones, the weather, myself. Then I got to thinking. Maybe for some kids, this is how good-bye works. It’s easier to leave when you’re angry or things aren’t quite right, than when everything is routine, normal, happy. Chaos as a distraction. Rebellion as the final act of separation. I think I’m getting a tiny taste of what it is like to raise teenagers.

The time has come for me to let go. I will miss them, but I won’t miss this.

To be fair, good moments have punctuated the week as well. Today as I sat alone and watched them play on our field trip to Sac State, I felt at peace.

To be fair, good moments have punctuated the week as well. Today as I sat alone and watched them play on our field trip to Sac State, I felt both distant and at peace.

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Fifth Grade: Big Dreams in Their Hearts

Today I sat at my back table during recess and listened. Three boys and three girls huddled around a group of desks and discussed their futures while they graded papers instead of going outside to play.

“Which college do you plan to attend?”

“What do you want to do when you grow up?”

I was just as amazed by their questions as I was by their answers. Children who will be the first in their families to go to college, some of whose parents work for minimum wage, answered in detail. They offered the names of obscure colleges, ones which require actual consideration instead of the obvious “Harvard because I’ve heard it’s the best” or “Sac State because it’s here.”

“I plan to be a lawyer,” said a boy who likes to argue. I often question whether he hears me when I tell him he is a born leader. He may not always act like one, but I see it in him. I also tell him he should grow up to be a lawyer. I guess he listens more than I realize.

“I plan to be a fashion designer or a doctor,” said a girl whose family does not speak English. She is undauntedly focused. Last year she wrote me a letter about how sad it makes her when other students disrupt and keep her from learning. If anyone deserves to succeed, it is this child.

I busied myself with the mess at my back desk and allowed their college talk to wash over me. Part of me was afraid that if I really listened I might cry. These are kids I have loved for nearly two years who will leave me in less than two months. Without realizing it, I am beginning to detach. Still, I am comforted to know they will leave my classroom with big dreams in their hearts. I hope they last.

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Week 29: Children Standing Up Against Domestic Violence

At the end of fifth grade, students at my school complete a rite of passage project before they move on to middle school. The guidelines are pretty open-ended, but students are expected to have some kind of new experience or provide a service to others. A student in my room decided she wanted to help W.E.A.V.E. (Women Escaping a Violent Environment) by collecting used items and money from students at our school to donate to the organization.

While other kids are learning to surf, rock climb, and snowboard, she came up with her idea to help women and families entirely on her own. Of course, I think the other projects are awesome too, especially for kids who often do not get to have those kinds of experiences, but her project has touched my heart. As she stood in front of our class to explain the organization and ask for donations, she told the students to only bring change, not dollar bills, because their families need to keep their money too. This child is an old soul.

As she talked, I was moved by the expressions on the other students’ faces, their quiet gestures of acknowledgement, connection, and support. Teachers in the rooms she visited said the same thing, that their students had so many questions and were really excited to help. In the short time I have taught, I have heard more stories of domestic violence than I would have ever expected. It brings me so much hope that children can help break the cycle. Yesterday, just one day after she presented her project, she left school with a huge bag of donated items. She cried tears of joy that others cared enough to help. Her spirit is contagious.

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Inspired by the April Blogger’s for Peace challenge to write a post about children and peace.

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Offbeat Families Post: Baby Fever!

It is only fitting my last post was about vulnerability, because today I am excited to share a post I wrote for a much bigger blog than my own, Offbeat Families. The coolest part about writing this post was hearing from others that I am definitely not alone in my overwhelming desire for children. The least cool part is admitting my obsession.

However, I am happy to report the fever has diminished a bit since I wrote this piece a few weeks ago. I don’t know what happens to our brains as women. It seems to be getting worse and worse each year… Babies, babies, babies.

Even pictures of myself as a baby make me want a baby. That's sickness.

I find it mildly disturbing that even pictures of myself as a baby make me want to be a mom. It’s a sickness. 😉

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When it’s hard, try harder.

When it's hard, try harder.

“This is too hard.” Those words make me cringe. I hear them daily. They might be the most common words in my professional life. I tried to ban them. It didn’t work. They still sneak their way into lessons, tests, discussions.

“When it’s hard, try harder.”

That’s my newest response. I wrote those words on the board today, before we took our reading benchmark. I also tried something else. The school psychologist slipped a book into my box, Teaching Meditation to Children. We closed our eyes and imagined ourselves on a beautiful spring day confronted with an enormous wall. Instead of turning around, we figured out a way over, through, under… We didn’t give up.

The irony does not go unnoticed. I teach kids to do their best, to not get discouraged by their mistakes or failures. Yet, sometimes in my personal life I want to give up. Lately writing has felt this way. At first I was unfazed by the rejection letters from my queries, but more than forty later, they are beginning to feel heavier as they pile up. The worst are those from agents who asked to see more but then weren’t interested. The others feel less real, less personal. They didn’t take the time to look.

I’m not sure what’s next. More querying, rewriting, beta readers, self-publishing, a different project, or some combination of it all. Today I realized the important part is that there is something next, that I follow my own words to try harder when it’s hard. After all, what good is a leader who does not believe her own words. Maybe a little meditation would not hurt either.

"Children experience feelings such as love, joy, fear, disappointment and anger with intensity they may never match in adult life." So true. I remember that intensity. I also remember the teachers who asked us to close our eyes and imagine.

“Children experience feelings such as love, joy, fear, disappointment and anger with intensity they may never match in adult life.” I remember that intensity. I also remember the teachers who asked us to close our eyes and imagine.

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