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, 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.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Pisces Princess, No Matter What




               I’ve changed my mind.  Or maybe I should say, I’ve finally made up my mind.  For a while now, I’ve been thinking about getting a tattoo.  I’ve talked about it with my loved ones, I’ve written about it, but I hadn’t acted on it.  (In case you missed it, here’s the link to my blog post about the reasons why I was thinking of getting a tattoo:  http://wendykennar.blogspot.com/2013/04/taking-back-my-legs.html)


   My legs have been out of my control for four years now, yet a tattoo was something I would have total control over.  I also wanted a permanent reminder that I was a “Pisces Princess.”  Like many women I know, I’m quick to put the needs of others before my own, quick to try to compliment someone else while criticizing myself.  I know I shouldn’t do those things, and I thought a visual reminder would help me make changes in my daily life that would influence me to behave differently and thus see myself in a different light.  (Here’s the link to my blog post where I outlined the steps necessary for living like a Pisces Princess:   http://wendykennar.blogspot.com/2013/12/protocol-for-pisces-princess.html)

   I’ve always been too-critical of myself, and within the last few years, I’ve see-sawed between becoming even harder on myself and finally lightening up and treating myself more gently.  But in the last few weeks, I’ve experienced increased levels of pain and exhaustion.  With that comes increased levels of unhappiness and self-criticism.  

   I certainly wasn’t treating myself like a Pisces Princess.  And then it occurred to me.  Having the tattoo wouldn’t change my mindset.  For several weeks, I’ve been wearing a pendant attached to my anklet -- a pendant resembling the Pisces symbol.  It was my “try-out,” until I made a decision about the tattoo.  I saw the anklet, I knew what it represented, but it didn’t change the fact that I was putting myself down.  And I knew then that a tattoo wasn’t the answer.  

   I realized that a tattoo would mean an extra expense and extra pain but wouldn’t guarantee that I would start treating myself more gently.  There’s really no magic charm to ward off feelings of inadequacy and self-pity.

   So even without the tattoo, I know I am a Pisces Princess.  Whether I feel like it or not.  

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Being Wendy




                As a kid, I didn’t like my name.  A girl can only hear so many “Wendy’s hamburger” or “It’s windy outside and Wendy inside” jokes.  

   As I got older, I didn’t think too much of my name.  It was just my name.  And not until I was pregnant and we were considering potential baby names, did I really stop to think about what my name meant.

   Now, I rather like my name.  I like the fact that it is common enough for me to find my name on a mug, but not so common that I usually run into other Wendy’s.

   It is often said that the name “Wendy” was invented by J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan.  I’ve been thinking about my name and the famous “Wendy” of Peter Pan fame quite a bit lately as my son and I recently read the Disney Storybook version of Peter Pan.  I started comparing myself to this other Wendy, wondering how I measure up.

   And as I’m prone to do, I’ve made a list.  Here are five things this Wendy has in common with the other Wendy.
 
  1. Our names.  Peter Pan’s Wendy is formally known as Wendy Moira Angela Darling.  Unlike that famous Wendy, I do not have a middle name (something I didn’t particularly like as a child when it seemed as if everyone else did have a middle name).  Although I do think we can both be described as “friendy Wendy.”
  2. Our nicknames.  While not exactly a nickname in the Disney version, Tinker Bell did describe Wendy as a “Wendy-bird.”  And one of my favorite colleagues when I was a teacher did affectionately refer to me as “Wendy-bird.”
  3. Our hobbies.  The Disney Wendy enjoys telling stories, first to her younger brothers than to the Lost Boys.  Likewise, I also enjoy writing stories; however, through the years, my “stories” are predominately non-fiction and my hobby has now evolved into a career for me.
  4. Our roles.  Wendy Darling was a mother figure to the young boys in her life.  And for a significant part of my life, I have served as a mother figure as well.  I never considered myself “just a teacher” - I was a second parent to my students.  And now, for ever after, I am honored to be my son’s mother.
  5. Our personalities.  The Disney Wendy is rather cute and sweet, a generally pleasant girl.  She’s a girl with a lot of faith in Peter, and when  faced with a dangerous situation, she demonstrated bravery, opting to walk the plank rather than join Captain Hook’s crew.  Truth be told, Wendy Darling isn’t a bad character to be associated with at all.  

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Here and There

Dear Readers,

One of my personal essays has been included in the summer edition of Breath and Shadow.  Here's the link:

http://www.abilitymaine.org/breath/sum14c.html

As always, thanks for reading!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Brave


   “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.