About Me:

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!, How Writing Can Get You Through Tough Times, and Breath and Shadow. 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, September 10, 2014

Wanting to Avoid Perfection


      My son likes his first grade teacher.  It’s a good thing.  I breathe easier knowing he’s spending so many hours of his day with someone he feels comfortable with.

   And his teacher likes him.  She’s told me that he’s a good worker, that he does everything he’s asked.  But ... 

   (You knew there was a “but” in there), but, she called my son “perfect.”  

   She meant it as a compliment, but I bristled.  I wanted to take her aside and request that she never use that word when referring to my son. 

   When my son was born, I called him perfect.  I don’t think I’ve used that adjective since that night six years ago.  (Here’s the link to an earlier blog in which I wrote about Perfection:  http://wendykennar.blogspot.com/2013/10/perfection.html)

   There really is no such thing as perfection.  I used to tell my students that I was less concerned with perfection and more concerned with effort.  

   Being called perfect is dangerous.  It’s a lot to live up to.  I know.  I was the “perfect student” -- quiet, well-mannered, smart, neat, obedient.  I was the kind of student every teacher hopes for.  And I am pleased that my son is behaving so well at school.  But perfection isn’t easy to maintain.  You’re either perfect or you’re not.  So, I often worried myself sick -- I cried in class, couldn’t sleep at night, and didn’t eat my lunch at school.  It was how I handled (or mis-handled) the responsibility of maintaining my perfection.  And I did it.  I stayed perfect.  Perfect and unhappy.

   Right now, my son is happy.  He likes school.  He likes learning.  He likes recess.  He likes playing with his friends.  He likes p.e.  He likes homework.  Everything is fun.  And that’s the way it should be.  He’s six years old, after all.  

   We’re just getting started on his academic career.  Ryan will be in school for at least the next dozen years.  And I don’t want him spending his student years concerned about being perfect and afraid to make a mistake.  So, I consciously try to praise my son’s efforts rather than his outcome.  “You followed all the directions.”  “You were paying close attention to your teacher.”  “Wow - you finished that whole worksheet.”  “You wrote so neatly.”  

   My son is many things -- creative, funny, serious, smart, happy, affectionate, curious.  He doesn’t need to be perfect.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Sneak Peek: Sisters Born, Sisters Found

Dear Readers,

Keep your eyes out for a new anthology expected this November.  Sisters Born, Sisters Found includes the work of 75 authors (including me) who have written about sisterhood.  To give you a sense of what the book is about, click on this link to watch the editor explain the project.  Also, if you wish, you will have the opportunity to help contribute funds towards this project.

As always, thanks for reading,
Wendy

http://sisters.pubslush.com

(Trying To) Love My Legs


“I think you have to develop a style when you’re ill to keep from falling out of love with yourself.  It’s important to stay in love with yourself.”
- Anatole Broyard, Intoxicated by My Illness


   The problem is I never was a woman who walked around feeling completely in love with myself.  I was a woman who had days when my level of self-appreciation was higher than others.  

   And now I have this medical condition that has changed the way I see myself.  I now consider myself somewhat powerless and much less vulnerable.  On my bad days, I’m weak, I’m damaged, I’m bruised.  On my not-so-bad days, I’m challenged, I’m tough, I’m resilient.

   Back in my teaching days, I usually wore slacks and once a week, a skirt, just to mix it up.  I thought of my legs as strong and thought that with the right A-line skirt, I looked rather attractive.

   Now, though, I don’t see my legs as strong.  I see them as betraying me and playing cruel tricks on me.  Not strong enough for me to walk my son to and from school.  Not strong enough for me to walk around the zoo without contemplating renting a wheelchair.  And, my legs are scarred -- with an actual scar from my muscle biopsy and with a multitude of veins that are crisscrossing my legs and thighs at a rate that alarms me.

   Rationally, I know that prominent veins on my legs is a superficial preoccupation that doesn’t necessarily translate into my general health and well-being.  It is more important that I feel well, rather than my legs looking well.

   However, summer days exacerbate the problem.  I see women, many older than me, who are out and about in cute skirts with nary a vein on the back of their legs.  I never owned many pairs of shorts, but since my leg issues, I own no shorts.  I have resorted to a few capris and rolling up old pairs of jeans to almost-mid-calf.  But even then, there are days when the thermometer climbs, and I don’t want to be hindered by long fabric.  

   On days when the thought of long pants seems unbearable, I bravely wear a skirt, sans panty hose.  When I taught, panty hose and a slip was a requirement for any outfit that didn’t involve slacks.  Today, as I pen these words, I sit in a cafe, bare legs crossed under the table as I wear a knee-length black skirt.

   I’m a bit self-conscious, I’m not used to having my legs exposed.  But my skirt-wearing is my way of celebrating.  These legs of mine, under attack and dealing with daily pain, are still well enough to get me in and out of the car today, and walk me into the cafe.  

   It’s oh-so-easy, to let the pain on bad days overtake everything else -- my mood, my self-confidence, my self-esteem.  I certainly don’t always feel in love with myself, but wearing a skirt is a way of showing my legs some much-needed love.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Mamma Mia and Me




   Now that my son is back in school, I have chunks of the day to myself.  Of course, there are my daily to-do lists which include errands and chores around the house.  There’s my writing.  And then there’s my lunch.

   Most days, I choose to enjoy my lunch at home while re-watching a favorite DVD.  It’s quite an indulgence for me.  Occasionally, my husband and I will watch a movie at night, after Ryan is asleep, but I’m always worried about the volume.  I play with the remote, raising and lowering the sound as needed.  I’m afraid to laugh too loud in fear that I will wake up our son.

   But during lunch, the house is mine.  I turn the volume up and am not hesitant at all about laughing out loud or talking to the actors on the screen.  

   I watch different movies for different reasons.  For inspiration, I might watch Julie and Julia or Eat Pray Love.  For encouragement, I ‘d select Larry Crowne or Under the Tuscan Sun.  For laughs, I’d choose The Wedding Singer or Music and Lyrics.  And just for “feel good” effect, I’d select The Shop Around the Corner or Mamma Mia.

   This week it’s Mamma Mia.  (It takes me a few days, at least, to make it through one movie).  I have seen the live production three different times in Los Angeles, and had always hoped there would be a movie version.  (So much cheaper to re-watch a DVD than buy tickets to a live production).  

   And while I’m certainly no film critic and truthfully don’t enjoy a wide variety of films (no thriller or horror films for me), I am absolutely amazed at watching Meryl Streep.  She’s impossible to typecast.  I’ve seen her in The Devil Wears Prada, Julie and Julia (one of my favorites), The Bridges of Madison County, and Music of the Heart (to name a few), but yet in each film she’s a completely different character.  I don’t watch Mamma Mia thinking that Meryl Streep is Julia Child singing ABBA songs.  On the other hand, every time I see Matthew Broderick I can’t help but think of him as Ferris Bueller. 

   When I was teaching, lunch breaks weren’t often “breaks,” as in an escape or “time-out” from what I was doing the rest of the day.  There were knocks on the classroom door from children who had forgotten their lunch money.  There were copies to make or phone calls to return or something to discuss with the principal.  My forty minute lunch break was often much shorter than that.

   But now that I’m home, I can take a well-deserved lunch break.  And, for a little while, I can escape into another place and another time by watching a movie.    

   So this week, you’ll find me in Greece.  Mamma Mia was shot in a beautiful location, is a love story with a happy ending, and has great music.  I don’t need much more than that.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

First Grade Memories



                                                                     My first grade school picture!

   My son started the first grade last week.  That sentence, in and of itself, is somewhat mind-boggling.  Wasn’t he just an infant?  Weren’t we just in the midst of potty training?And now he’s one of the “big kids” -- at school until 2:30, lining up and playing on the big yard.  

   Right now, first grade is it -- the highlight of my son’s existence.  But I wonder, years down the road, what he’ll remember from this year in his life.  Which got me thinking about my year in first grade and the random memories I’ve held on to more than thirty years after the fact.

   I do remember liking my first grade teacher, Mrs. Rowell.  (And thankfully, my son is liking his first grade teacher as well).  I remember Mrs. Rowell had a daughter, a “big girl” in my eyes (really, she was a middle school or high school student), and she had longish finger nails.

   I remember our classroom was located downstairs in the school’s main building, not far from the office.  I remember Mrs. Rowell had a filmstrip about dinosaurs, and while I’ve never been particularly fond of these extinct creatures, I always kind of enjoyed viewing this filmstrip.

   I remember leaving my first grade classroom for part of the school day, to go upstairs to a bigger kids’ classroom for advanced reading.  That’s when I learned I was smart.  And I remember having an ear ache in first grade.  The school nurse thought I was making it up, trying to get out of class.  My mother was eventually phoned and quickly came to school, assuring the nurse that I was a girl who loved school, so any claims of pain were real.  (My pediatrician later confirmed I had a very bad ear infection).

   The rest of my memories are decidedly more “colorful.”  I remember that a classmate complained that his stomach hurt.  And I remember Mrs. Rowell asking if he needed to make a “b.m.”  I was completely baffled by the initials.  What could a first grader make, that involved a stomach, and started with “b” and “m”?  The only thing I could come up with was a “big mama.”  Later at home that day, my mom explained to me what Mrs. Rowell had in mind, but at age six, a bowel movement wasn’t something my family talked about.  We pooped.

   Along those lines, I have another memory of Mrs. Rowell talking to a student (not sure if it was the same one) about passing gas.  Again, I was baffled.  Gas was something we put in the car, and first graders were definitely too young to be doing that.  Not until I got home, did my mom set me straight.  And again, I learned a new synonym.  For in our family, we didn’t pass gas, and we didn’t fart  -- we made a fetzel (rhymes with pretzel).  

   At any rate, I’m sure my son will leave this school year with memories that he will carry with him into the future.  It’s just a matter of waiting to see which memories he holds on to.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Tools of the Trade




   When it comes to writing, it seems every writer has her tools -- the items that are absolutely necessary for productive writing.  

   I’m no exception.  I’ve got my MacBook Air, a gift from my husband.  I’ve got pretty file folders, a favorite pen, highlighters, Post-It notes, and decorative clips.  I’ve got my writing bags for when I need to pack up my supplies and go outside the house to write.  I’ve got pads of paper throughout the house for when a random idea will enter my brain.

   And, I’ve got my scratch paper.

   I do a lot of writing each week.  Two pieces a week for MomsLA and a personal essay for this blog.  

   And my writing needs to be proofread.  My mom is my primary proofreader; a job she once actually held for an insurance company.  It’s easier for my mom (and myself) to proofread a hard-copy of my writing.  That’s when I use my scratch paper.  Rather than print on valuable (and expensive) white computer paper, I use the backs of paper for these rough drafts.  

   The only quirk is that my hard-copies are a hodgepodge of colored papers that were originally intended for a use other than my personal writing.  I use the backs of fliers I receive in the mail, especially those that arrive folded looking like an important letter and are really nothing more than a candidate’s endorsement. I print on the backs of notices I receive from my son’s teacher. 

   But it really gets bizarre when my scratch paper turns out to be old papers from my teaching days.  When I was packing up my classroom a year ago, I cleaned out file cabinets and found stacks of papers that were Xeroxed that I hadn’t ever used.  Coloring pages from kindergarten.  Extra class sets of a song about the rock cycle.  Informational memos from meetings and trainings.  I packed them all and took them home.  I recognized their value.  Those papers might not have been used for their original purpose, but I am giving them a new life now through my writing.  

   Strangely enough, my scratch paper has become a necessary writing tool.  When I see my pile starting to decrease, I know it’s time to go through the closet and my old binders and sort out a new batch of old paper to add to my stash of scratch paper.

   And this funny little writing quirk of mine, is also good for our planet.  It’s a win-win!



Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Back-to-School Jitters


   It seems that I’m destined to continue experiencing the “beginning-of-school- jitters.”  As a kid, the last week (or two) of summer vacation brought about much anxiety for the upcoming school year.  Would my teacher(s) be mean?  Would the subject matter be extremely difficult?  Would I be in classes with friends?  Would I have a ton of homework each night? 

   I was a serious student.  School wasn’t the place I went to for a fun time; school was work.  Hard work.  Each year was a bit of a fresh start, and it was the fear of the unknown that had me worrying and stressing days before the first bell rang.  

   Then I became a teacher and experienced a new set of worries.  Would I be able to handle my students?  Would I know what I was doing?  Would I be a “good” teacher?  Would teaching leave me too exhausted for other things in my life?  As a kindergarten teacher, most of my worries were these rather general ones.  I didn’t know my students, yet.  When I became an upper-grade teacher, the worries increased slightly.  Would I be able to handle such a large class?  Would Jane Doe or John Smith be in my class?  Would I be able to effectively teach the curriculum?  After all, teaching fourth grade math is a lot different than teaching kindergarten math.  And by the time kids reached fourth grade, they had reputations.  I knew which students frequented the principal’s office.  Those were generally not the students you hoped to see on your class roster.

   Now I’m no longer teaching, but the beginning-of-school-jitters continue, on behalf of my son.  In a matter of days, Ryan will be entering the first grade, and the worries have been here for over a week.  Will his teacher praise effort and not just the end product?  Will his teacher encourage and nurture the children in his class?  Will my son have friends?  Will the big kids be kind to the younger kids?

   I’m doing everything I can to keep my own apprehensions away from Ryan.  I will happily take on all the worries if that means he doesn’t experience the sleepless, before-school nights that I did as a kid (and teacher).  I want my son to view school as a special place -- a place rich with ideas and experiments and projects.  I want my son to discover things he’s good at and discover parts of his personality that he hasn’t tapped into yet.  

   As a teacher, I worried about the enormous responsibility I had -- keeping all those children safe and healthy while I was their teacher.  Now, I’m on the other side of the desk, and I worry as I send my son out into the world.  

   For more than twelve years, I experienced back-to-school jitters as a student.

   Then, for twelve years, I experienced back-to-school jitters as a teacher.

   Now, for at least the next twelve years, I will most likely experience the back-to-school jitters as a parent.  

   It doesn’t seem to end.