One of my personal essays has been included in the summer edition of Breath and Shadow. Here's the link:
As always, thanks for reading!
Aloha! I'm Wendy Kennar. I'm the mother of a six-year-old son and a wife living in Los Angeles. I was a public school teacher for twelve years until a chronic medical condition made it necessary to leave my teaching career.
I've always been described as "quiet" - really, I'm just biting my tongue. I've got lots to say, and lots of thoughts to share, I just prefer to write them. That's the purpose of this blog. Each week, I post a personal essay offering my observations and thoughts.
Through the years, my writing has been published in the Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, United Teacher, GreenPrints, L.A. Parent, and DivineCaroline.com. Additionally, my personal essays have been included in several anthologies, including: The Barefoot Review, Beyond the Diaper Bag, Lessons From My Parents, Write for Light, Being a Grown-Up: A User's Manual for the Real World, Ka-Pow!, and How Writing Can Get You Through Tough Times. I am also a weekly contributor at MomsLA.com.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Feel free to comment and share my blog with others!
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
“What does ‘brave’ mean?” my six-year-old son asked.
I dodged the question. “What do you think it means?”
“I don’t know. What is it?”
Ryan asked this question after singing along (loudly) to “Brave” performed by Sara Bareilles. It’s a song I first discovered in connection with my writing. My favorite UCLA Extension Writer’s Program instructor had written on her blog about the bravery that is required for writers to write honestly. I listened to the song and realized I liked it -- its sound and its message.
My son was waiting for an answer, and I wasn’t sure how to give him one. Bravery is one of those concepts like “love” -- we know it when we experience it, but articulating what it means isn’t always easy.
I took a minute and thought about my answer. And I remembered -- this was the first song that played in my car as I drove myself to the writing retreat in Lake Arrowhead back in May.
So I told Ryan that being brave means there might be something that you thought was too hard or too scary or something that you just couldn’t do, but if you’re brave, you try to do it anyway.
He was satisfied with my answer and went to the next song on his playlist.
I think it’s only fairly recently that I’ve begun to acknowledge bravery through my simplistic definition. I used to think bravery required grand actions -- firefighters rushing into burning buildings and astronauts landing on the moon. Those individuals certainly are brave, but bravery isn’t limited to them.
Being brave is necessary in true writing, and true living.
Readers, if you’re interested, the following YouTube video plays “Brave” performed by Sara Bareilles and includes the song’s lyrics.
Wednesday, July 9, 2014
The stores are starting to display their back-to-school wares, and I’m starting to feel a bit nostalgic. Don’t get me wrong -- there are plenty of aspects of teaching that I don’t miss (writing report cards and attending staff meetings). But, there are plenty of things I do miss (mainly the kids and the connections we shared).
I rummaged through the bins at Target, fingering the Happy Birthday certificates, and acknowledging that I would never need to purchase another pack of birthday certificates again. And that’s not all.
Here, I share fifty “never again” moments:
1. Never again will I greet a class with “Morning loves,” before leading them to our classroom door.
2. Never again will I conduct parent/teacher conferences, attempting to condense the positive remarks, the areas of improvement, and the concerns into a fifteen-minute conversation.
3. Never again will I roll up our flag, lock up the closets, and turn in my classroom key before summer vacation.
4. Never again will I return to a dark, musty classroom and begin unpacking closets and cleaning desks.
5. Never again will I write the page number within a heart on our whiteboard.
6. Never again will I host a multicultural Thanksgiving potluck feast.
7. Never again will I spend Friday afternoons grading weekly quizzes (spelling, vocabulary, states and capitals).
8. Never again will I travel to different office supply stores searching for the best deals on crayons, glue, rulers, notebook paper, and spiral notebooks.
9. Never again will I teach a room-full of children the lyrics to our national anthem.
10. Never again will I need to report suspected cases of child abuse.
11. Never again will I say “I love you” to children I am not related to.
12. Never again will I demonstrate the proper way to “drop/cover/hold” and go through all the possible scenarios if an earthquake should occur.
13. Never again will I hang bulletin board paper.
14. Never again will I need to brainstorm gift ideas for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
15. Never again will I need to determine if Lunar New Year will be in January or February.
16. Never again will I have to practice songs for the winter holiday show.
17. Never again will I have to plead for paper towels for our classroom.
18. Never again will I try to find just the right book for each child as a holiday gift.
19. Never again will I need to shop for “brain food” (snacks I would give my students during testing and during those lessons when we all needed a pick-me-up).
20. Never again will I bring my electric grill into a classroom and make quesadillas to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.
21. Never again will I host a “Back to School Night” complete with snacks for hungry parents who have arrived straight from work.
22. Never again will I go to work in my pajamas in honor of Dr. Seuss’s birthday and Read-Across-America.
23. Never again will I spend lunch with a table-full of students as a reward for their efforts.
24. Never again will I spend the last few days of school celebrating all the summer birthdays so that each child has received a special birthday acknowledgment.
25. Never again will I need to teach multiple children, multiple times, the difference between a homophone and a homograph.
26. Never again will I go searching for tennis balls to be used as silencers on the bottoms of my students’ chairs.
27. Never again will I go shopping for items to fill our prize box.
28. Never again will I look at a face, now older, and try to remember the name of the child who had once been in my class.
29. Never again will I save paper towel rolls to make time capsules during the first week of the school year.
30. Never again will I paint children’s hands until they look like turkeys.
31. Never again will I read package labels to insure our brain food is nut free.
32. Never again will I be trained in the proper way to administer an EpiPen.
33. Never again will I pause when the fire alarm sounds, wondering if it is in fact a drill or if we will hear an announcement to disregard the alarm and continue with instruction.
34. Never again will I write out Valentine cards for thirty-plus students.
35. Never again will I explain to a room full of children why I don’t allow the word “hate” in our classroom.
36. Never again will I plan a multitude of yearly celebrations: a Halloween party, a winter holiday party, and an end-of-the-year party.
37. Never again will I periodically test a child’s reading speed while reassuring the student that speed isn’t as important as comprehension.
38. Never again will I think of something positive to say for each child as we fill out our Valentine’s Day Compliment Page for each class member.
39. Never again will I brainstorm ways to celebrate the 100th day of school.
40. Never again will I lock our classroom door and huddle with my students on the floor during a lockdown drill.
41. Never again will I have to reassure students that my number one job is to keep them healthy and safe, even if it means stepping into the line of fire.
42. Never again will I create an end-of-the-year collage depicting our year together.
43. Never again will I craft an introductory, “Welcome to our class” letter.
44. Never again will I write an end-of-the-year, goodbye letter.
45. Never again will I help students write letters to the President of the United States in honor of President’s Day.
46. Never again will I end the day with a good-bye hug for my students.
47. Never again will I officiate an in-class election to coincide with society’s mayoral/gubernatorial/presidential election.
48. Never again will I need to take the yearly online child abuse training.
49. Never again will I create a bulletin board display for Hispanic-American Heritage Month.
50. Never again will I be regularly addressed as “Mrs. Kennar.”
Wednesday, July 2, 2014
Back in the days before I was a mother and I had a lot more free time, I used to enjoy riding my beach cruiser around our neighborhood. It was a fun, relaxing way for me to get some exercise. But after my son was born, I was too tired from working and mothering to think of getting myself on a bike. My bike became this object that just took up space. So I got rid of it.
Then, after my son’s second birthday I started to consider the possibility of managing our time so that once or twice a week I could go out for a bike ride again. I just needed a bike. I had seen a pink beach cruiser that caught my eye, but I hesitated on purchasing it. Would I really use it? Or, would the demands of reality turn the new bike into a wasted purchase? Before I could take the leap and buy the bike, I wound up in the hospital with my mysterious swollen left calf. And because so many of my necessary daily activities caused pain, riding a bike didn’t seem possible.
Last fall, when I participated in the chronic pain group, my physical therapist and I discussed the ways in which I exercised. The list was short. He asked me about the activities I used to do for exercise. I mentioned my bike rides, and he encouraged me to try it again. I explained my hesitations, my fears. Would I be able to ride again? Would bike riding increase my level of pain? My physical therapist was extremely encouraging, reminding me that it didn’t matter how far I went or how long I rode. Five minutes or to the end of the block and back. All that mattered was that I rode. And that bike riding made me happy.
So almost four years after my hospitalization, I bought myself a bike. I’ve been looking and comparison shopping but nothing seemed quite right until last week when all the pieces came together and I found a reasonably priced bike in a color I like.
Shortly after my birthday in March, I had written about the year to come, about my desire to do new things, things for me. (http://wendykennar.blogspot.com/2014/03/birthday-musings.html) Purchasing a bike was one of them.
My longest bike ride, so far, has been ten minutes around my neighborhood. But it’s still me on my bike for ten minutes. And when I’m riding, I experience a sense of joy and wonder. I feel like shouting out, “Look what I can do!” Most of the time, I tend to look at my illness in terms of what I cannot do any more. My new bike isn’t just giving me an opportunity to exercise or to participate when my son is riding his bike. My new bike is changing my perspective.
Wednesday, June 25, 2014
Here’s one of the problems with my medical condition -- most people don’t know I have one. On the outside, I look okay. There’s nothing visibly wrong with me. There’s no walking stick, no walker, and no wheelchair. There’s no cane, no crutch, and no cast. Thankfully.
Which means that most people look at me and assume I can walk across the street at a rather quick pace. Sometimes I can, sometimes I can’t.
A few months ago, my husband and I were crossing the street to our local Coffee Bean. It wasn’t one of my better days. I could have stayed home and waited for him to bring home our beverages. Instead, I pushed myself to walk a little bit. Part of our walk requires us to use a marked crosswalk to walk across a major street. That section has a very slight incline. For most people, it’s not a problem. For me, on this particular day, that slight incline felt like a steep incline.
I did my best to walk, and the traffic light was still green, but I certainly was struggling to make it across. We were walking which meant cars were waiting to make a right-hand turn. The driver of the first car waiting to turn looked right at me and muttered, “Come on, come on, come on.”
I tried to laugh it off; teasing my husband that perhaps she was really in a rush to get home and use the restroom. Or maybe she was hurrying to the hospital down the street to witness the birth of her first grandchild. I don’t know the circumstances involved in her bad mood. And I’m fairly certain that I’ve thought more about her and that one instance than she’s thought about me.
But here’s the lesson I would hope to pass on to all my readers: Please, exercise patience when interacting with those around you. Don’t be so quick to judge someone who displays a disabled placard from their rearview mirror and don’t criticize the person who is slowly crossing the street for no apparent reason. There are reasons, we just don’t know them all. I’m not the only one with an “invisible disability.”
Truthfully, I didn’t learn this lesson until it directly affected me, until I became one of the “disabled.” (And I use the quotation marks because still, the word doesn’t seem like the correct word for me.) So while you may not see it, know that I, and others like me, do our best to persevere through the pain. And, sometimes it’s at a slow and steady pace.
Wednesday, June 18, 2014
I am a writer who came of a sheltered life. A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within.
- Eudora Welty
The first time I read this quote in Barbara Abercrombie’s A Year of Writing Dangerously, I just kept reading. It didn’t resonate with me in any way.
The second time I read this quote, more than a year after the original reading, I felt something inside me shift. I highlighted the quote and tagged the page with a Post-It.
In many respects, and most likely by other people’s standards, I have led a sheltered life. I spent my entire childhood in one home. I now live ten minutes away from that home. I haven’t traveled the world, haven’t put myself in dangerous situations, haven’t made the news headlines.
And yet, with each birthday, as the numbers keep creeping steadily forward, I am able to look at my life and realize that it has indeed been daring. And I strive to keep it that way.
At the age of twenty-two, I moved in with the man who would become my husband. I put myself through college, relying on public transportation, and not letting a daily commute requiring six buses stop me from earning my degree. I witnessed a drug deal on the street as I anxiously waited for my bus, had to handle unwanted attention from men considerably older than myself, and I did it each day and would then wake up and do it again the next day.
I have traveled to Paris, have gone parasailing on Catalina Island, and have ridden in a hot air balloon with my dad. I drove the road to Hana in Maui and explored San Francisco by myself.
My writing has been published in national papers, and several years ago, I recorded one of my personal essays for an NPR segment. I currently write two weekly columns for a popular website.
I think what is really changing are my definitions -- what really defines a “sheltered life” and “daring.”
All my acts of “daring” were done for me. I wasn’t trying to impress anyone else. I wasn’t trying to set a record or earn kudos from others. And truthfully, I never stopped to think that I was behaving in a daring way. I was merely living the way that was right for me at the time.
I am a woman who plans and organizes and maps things out. And while that works to a certain extent, these last few years have taught me that no one can plan and organize and map out everything. And as I adjust, as I adapt, I continue to try to live in the way that is most right for me and my family.
It is my sheltered life that provides me with the protection and security to do the things that are daring for me.
Wednesday, June 11, 2014
I pride myself on being somewhat frugal and not at all frivolous with my money. I remember babysitting for $2.50 an hour and receiving my first paycheck where I earned the minimum wage of $4.25 an hour. During those times, I used to calculate how many hours I would need to work so that I could buy whatever-it-was I was eyeing. Turns out, after I made that calculation, many of those “I want them” items became “I don’t need them” items.
However, there is one area in my life that I realize I am spending more, even as I am earning less: fresh flowers.
I spent some of my college years working in a flower shop. I loved being surrounded by happy gerber daisies, exotic purple orchids, roses that weren’t red, and my favorite -- sunflowers. But, money was tight and I very rarely bought myself flowers. Instead, after a closing shift, I would bring home the “popped” roses that were doomed for the trash. These were the roses that had already bloomed, and while beautiful to look at, they wouldn’t last through the next twenty-four hours and thus we couldn’t sell them. I brought them home where my family and I enjoyed their final few hours of loveliness.
When my husband and I moved in together and did our weekly grocery shopping, I would eye the fresh flowers on display. At that time, 3 bunches of flowers could be purchased for $10 (later the price increased to $15). But even at $10, it was an extravagance we couldn’t afford. We budgeted every penny we spent during those early years together. Flowers, with their short life span, were an unnecessary purchase.
My husband and I no longer write down each purchase, although I do still shop with coupons and discounts whenever I can. But recently, I’ve begun treating myself to two bunches of flowers a week. It began with one bunch for our dining table. A burst of color with purple mums or a striking table piece with tall white gladiolas. My family seemed to enjoy the regular addition to our dining table, but truthfully, I didn’t buy the flowers for them. They were for me.
Then, I began eyeing the small decorative table in our bedroom. The table held a vase filled with the “Happy Mother’s Day” balloons from last year. I eyed that table and realized that when I ever get my own room, my own writing space, that table would be in my room and it would always have flowers on it.
My own room isn’t happening any time soon, but there was no reason I couldn’t begin to use that table to hold a bouquet of flowers. Hence, my second weekly bunch. I buy these flowers knowing that in a few days (sometimes a week if I’m lucky) the flowers will be in the trash, and I will need to replenish them. It’s taken me a while to realize that money spent doesn’t always have to mean money spent for food or clothes or something for the house. Money spent can be spent simply for aesthetic value and because it makes me happy.
And as I hope my husband and my six-year-old son realize, a happy mommy and a happy wife means a happy family.