Friday, November 22, 2013

Juggling Act

November 22, 2013

I have really got to learn to stop playing the comparison game.  One of the downfalls of surrounding myself with fantastic people is that--well, they're all fantastic.  Sometimes it feels a little like treading water in the kiddie pool while watching Olympic hopefuls work out in the real pool beside me.

I look around me and I see my sister, who has a hundred advanced college degrees and is a super foster mom, in addition to be an incredible mom to her own three girls.

Or my brother, who runs marathons to raise awareness for causes and is a devoted family man who runs a Catholic Charities thrift store and food bank.

Or my other sister, who writes and performs her own work and who has been actively engaged in several comedy troupes.

Or my husband, who is one of the most fiercely intelligent people I know, and who has musical talent and knowledge I will never have.

Or my dear friends who seamlessly and seemingly effortlessly corral their toddlers while creatively entertaining them (and keeping them dressed fabulously at the same time).

Or my good friend whose quick wit and sharp mind make her not only fantastically funny, but undeniably knowledgeable about just about any topic I could come up with.

Or my friends who run not only one but two very successful businesses while raising little ones, doing things in their twenty-four hours a day that would take most the rest of us 48 hours a day.

Or my friends who are amazing performers--actors and singers with unbelievable talent.  Or my colleagues who educate and fascinate and inspire their students to want to be something more than ordinary.  Or my friend who has published his novel. Or my friends who are consummate hostesses, or gourmet cooks, or are accomplished artists or effortless empathetic givers and caretakers of all those who surround them.

I'm none of those things.  Oh, on a good day I'm some of these things, for a little bit at a time.  Mostly, though, I'm just sitting here trying to juggle everything without letting things fall. (And no, I'm don't know how to juggle, actually.  That would be cool.  Nope, it's just a metaphor.) I mean really, I'm just trying to make sure I remember to give the kids lunch money and that I manage to walk out the door without food spilled down the front of my dress or an errant run in my tights.  Some days, the best I can do is, "Well, I made it through without doing too much damage.  I think."  My house needs cleaning, I struggle to keep up with all the papers I have to grade, and though I like to cook, sometimes Mac n' Cheese is what I have the energy for. And household finances?  That's a juggling act all on its own. I weigh too much, don't exercise enough, and am often secretly embarrassed for my husband that I'm not a cuter, perkier me standing beside him.  I wonder when my kids are adults and start families of their own, how will they remember their growing up years?  How will they think back on their childhood?  It's the most important job I have, but really, there's no objective way of knowing whether or not you've done the job right, you know?  Is it enough? 

In the end, it has to be.  It has to be enough, because that's what I've got right now.  I can't keep comparing myself to everyone else because mired in what I'm NOT doing paralyzes me into not doing what I'm already doing.  It's counter-productive.  It's a deer-in-the-headlights kind of effect.  Know what happens to a deer-in-the-headlights who was only moments before juggling?  Well, she finds all the objects she was juggling crashing about her on the floor.  It's not pretty.  Kind of messy, actually.  Almost as messy as this randomly mixed metaphor.  Point is, sometimes I have to remember that a juggling deer is pretty cool.  She doesn't need to look around and compare herself to everyone else around her.  She's doing the best she can, and that's okay.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Not So Persuasive

October 22, 2013

How is it possible that people don't understand how ineffective it is to persuade others that their opinion is the 'correct' one by belittling the intelligence of those who disagree with them? That's a terrible rhetorical strategy. Makes me think that most folks aren't, in fact, trying to be persuasive; they're just enamored of their own voices and opinions and enjoy stoking the fires. I suppose it makes them feel superior in some way.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Broader Perspective

October 21, 2013

“Some pursue happiness; others create it.”  Which one are you?

Most of us, I suspect, don’t either pursue or create happiness.  Like all things, there’s a balance to be had there.  There are things I pursue which I believe might make me happy.  I pursued a career path I believed would make me happiest; I pursued a traditional family because I believed being married and having children would make me happy.  Heck, I’ve even pursued the perfect shoe, because nice shoes make me feel good about myself and how I look.  These things have, in fact, made me happy, and I continue to seek out situations and opportunities I feel will enhance my health, wellness, and general sense of contentedness.

Of course, that’s only half the equation—a piece of the balance I try to maintain in my life.  If I was only happy if I got everything I wanted at any given time, I would be a sad, sad individual.  Things do not always go my way, even when I actively work to make those things happen.  Needless to say, I don’t control all the variables in my life.  What I do control, however, is my reaction to them.  When I don’t get something I really want (a job opportunity, for example), or when something goes awry in my everyday life (the air conditioner goes on the fritz in the middle of a 105 degree July day), I often get angry or frustrated or overwhelmed or sad.  But If I let myself stay there and sink into those negative spaces, I might never recover.  I’ve seen it.  There are those who let themselves be mired in the ugliness of anger or cynicism or resentment, and they can’t seem to find their way back.  The longer you stay there in those spaces, the harder it is to come back to the possibility of seeing a broader perspective.  The interesting thing about those who dwell in those negative spaces is that they often convince themselves that they are the only ones who can see ‘reality’, and that those who are happy or content are merely too vapid or naïve to see the ‘truth’.  The truth, in actuality, is that happiness is a choice.  You can choose to see a broader perspective.  That’s not naiveté; that’s mental health.

Broader perspective?  That’s how I create happiness for myself.  When I don’t get the job I was hoping for, I have to assume that it’s for the best, and that something else I’m more suited for will turn up unexpectedly.  When my air conditioner decides to call it quits on the hottest day of the year, I can grumble and moan (and believe me, I do!), but I can also say, at least I’ve got a pool.  Even more importantly, at least I’ve got a home where my kids have a safe place to stay.  It’s an old house, and it requires repairs and TLC to keep it a home, but it is, indeed, a home.  My family is together and intact; we are healthy and we are loved.  And we are happy.  Why?  Because that’s what we choose.  That’s what we create.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Today, I am Tired

October 16, 2013

Oh, my head hurts....  One of my kids told me today that I treat them like babies because I tell them what to read, instead of always letting them choose.  I asked him what he'd rather me do, and he said he'd like to just have autonomy to read whatever he wants and just do little book summaries.  In the real world and in college, he says, they get to choose everything for themselves.  So I told him when he gets to college and lets his Poly Sci teacher and his English 1A and his Communications teacher know that he'll be picking out all of his own reading material for himself, to let me know.  I hope that works out for him.  And when he's working a job, I hope he lets his boss know that he wants to pick and choose which manuals and policies and emails he's going to read, so that Bossman doesn't hold him responsible for any of the ones he opts out of.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

I'm a Kitten Wrangler

October 2, 2013

Imagine you have 40 adorable, bright-eyed kittens in charming kitten bed. You want them to follow you outside into the bright sunshine. You coax them, you call them, you entreat them, you cajole them. All at the same time. Some of them, the more timid ones, like the kitten bed. They want to stay there. They think maybe if they're quiet, you won't make them leave. Some of the kittens step paws out gingerly, slowly. Little baby kitty steps for them. Some of the kitties step right out confidently, marching along the path leading to the front door and out into the sunshine. And some of the kittens--about half, I'd say-- don't wait to see where they're going. They just hear 'GO' and barrel out the cozy kitten bed, flailing every which way, rolling, tumbling, occasionally landing on top of one another and leading each other down circuitous routes before they realize there was a destination in mind--or maybe they DID realize there was a destination in mind but wanted to take the scenic route to get there. Adorable kitten wrangling is what I do with my sixth period every day. Gotta love 'em. Anybody who doesn't understand why a teacher is tired at the end of a work day need only step into one of these classes. Also, anybody who doesn't understand why teachers love the careers they are blessed with need only to meet these energetic and delightful kiddos.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Say Cheese

September 27, 2013

I got my school pictures back today. Not good. I'm sad that whoever took the picture looked at me, looked at the image he got on the camera, and thought to himself, "Yup. That's awesome--we've got the shot! That's as pleasant as she's gonna look." I look like I'm scared that the photographer's going to smack me in the forehead at any minute. Also, I look like I've got three chins, which--you know, fair enough--but couldn't he have done a little coaching before he took the shot to minimize that nonsense?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Class Discussions

September 25, 2013

I find it really tragic that students associate school with such drudgery and mindlessness--so much so that they tend to think that when a teacher allows them to have a discussion about a particular topic, they have succeeded in getting the teacher to 'waste time' and thereby make class go by much more quickly.  It says something about us that we think talking, debating, exchanging ideas, supporting those ideas with facts or  anecdotal evidence, making connections to ourselves or among ourselves is somehow a waste of time.  That's THINKING, people!  That's processing, formulating. re-formulating, and articulating.  That's opening up to new ideas and new perspectives.  That's never a waste of time; that's where some real learning takes place.  How sad that kids think they're 'tricking' the teacher into 'not teaching' if they continue the conversation.  I love it when kids are invested and engaged in the conversation, even when their extrinsic motivation is to 'waste time'.  If they are fully engaged in order to pass time, they are, in fact, tricking themselves into thinking, which is the whole goal to begin with.

Friday, September 20, 2013

I Don't Know

September 20, 2013

"I don't know" doesn't work in my classroom.  I hear it often, and I think far too many times, kids have said it because it's far easier than having to process a real response.  And we in education let them get away with it because we don't want to put the kid on the spot, or embarrass them.  Or heaven forbid, we think that the kid couldn't come up with an answer anyway, so why even bother.

That's not my philosophy.  If they have an answer, but just don't quite know how to articulate it, I'll help them-ask guiding questions, get to the heart of what they'd like to say.  If they genuinely don't know, I may ask another question, or I may tell them they've got time to process and I'll come back to them in a few minutes, or I ask them to ask someone else they think might have a good response--and then I'll ask the first student to reiterate what the second student said in his own words.  No matter what, I'm coming back to the "I don't know" kid, and he'll contribute to the conversation.  No getting off the hook here.

I don't do this because I want to 'call out' a kid who didn't do his homework; I don't do it because I want the kid to feel bad for not knowing how to join the conversation.  I do it because I believe--really believe--that all of these kids can join the conversation, and have something worthwhile to contribute.  They may not know it or believe it, but that's just because someone, sometimes they themselves, has convinced them that they don't have a voice.  They don't have confidence in their academic voice, so they don't practice their academic voice, so they don't build confidence in their academic voice.  It's a vicious circle; those with some degree of confidence expose themselves to criticism and critique as they join the conversation, and they learn how to refine and articulate and support their ideas because they have opened themselves up to that critique.  Those lacking academic confidence remain timid, sideline observers of the discourse, rather than active participants, stretching and flexing and building their mental muscle.

So I drag them in from the sidelines.  To borrow a sports metaphor, I don't make them jump in and start right off expecting them to sink a three-point shot; we can start with dribbling the ball.  Some of these kids use to be pretty good dribblers some years back, before someone else grabbed the ball away and sent them to warm the benches.  Let's start with that again and remind 'em how they used be good dribblers--pull them back into the game and show them how we can all--including them--contribute.  If we build their confidence and start to stretch that mental muscle, and expect that everyone can be a factor on the court, maybe they'll eventually be less apt to sit out on the sidelines, and more likely to jump in the game.

That's my game plan, anyway.  Everyone plays.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Pre-Season Robotics Tournament

September 13, 2013

Nicholas got to head up to Sacramento for the first pre-season robotics tournament this year.  Their robot did pretty well, but got knocked out in the semi-rounds.  Even though they didn't make it all the way through to the finals, Nicholas got to hang out with lots of good friends, including these lovely ladies.  Good experience, great memories!

Monday, September 9, 2013

How to Make a Teacher's Day

September 9, 2013

Out of the blue, I got a Facebook message from a former student who is currently studying abroad in Austrailia.  This is a girl I absolutely adored--the kind of student who is full of life, love, wonder, and curiosity.  She has such a positive outlook and a generous heart, and is fiercely intelligent besides.  Imagine how completely gratifying and humbling it was for me, then, to receive this post from her:

Haley Laningham:  You should know as I'm sitting in a cozy flat at the bottom of the world, that the teaching you did and the literature you used to do it had a very important and lasting impact on my security and identity as a woman within which I find clarity and substance every day.

My response:

Donna:  Oh my dear, you can't possibly know how you've made my day. My job is not just a job to me--it is a calling, and it's a calling where I can only hope that in a small way I am able to make a connection with some of the kids I get to call my own for a short time. Most of the time, I can't really know how successful I am in that endeavor; these are not things that are measured on a test somewhere. If anything I did helped you even in the slightest realize or connect with yourself or the world around you, I am touched, and I am grateful to have shared in that. I have had the pleasure to have met some wonderfully spirited, intelligent, loving, curious, and beautiful-hearted individuals in my years of teaching--a handful of students who have left an imprint on me more profound than I am likely to have left in return. Please know that you are one of these, without a doubt. My very best wishes to you on this current adventure--I very much look forward to hearing all about it!

Seriously--this just may be enough of an emotional battery charge to carry me for months.  

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Dapper Dog

September 8, 2013

More evidence that Danielle rocks as an artist.  This dog started off just your ordinary dog, but then Danielle thought perhaps he was a little more sophisticated than that.

Saturday, September 7, 2013


September 7, 2013

We attended the second annual Sangerpalooza, where Doug and the boys provided rockin' entertainment for the crowd.  Although it was terribly hot in the afternoon, the evening breezes began to blow and it cooled down enough for dancing, which is always a good thing.  Photo highlights from the evening:

Monday, September 2, 2013

Pre-Show Preview

September 2, 2013

This is the last full out rehearsal before the upcoming Sangerpalooza gig on Saturday.  Don, the new keyboardist, invited everyone over to his house to practice, and he and his wife decided to host a little bar-b-que while we were there.  I got to meet Don's wife and kids for the first time, and we got along great!  She loves photography like me, and our kids aren't too far off in age.  It was fun getting to know her, and I'm looking forward to hanging out again at the Sanger concert.  I played around with some different settings on my camera during practice, and even did a little video.  I think I got some fun shots of band!