About Me:

Aloha! I'm Wendy Kennar. I'm the mother of a seven-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 Wednesday, I post a personal essay offering my observations and thoughts.

A few fun facts about me: I've wanted to be a writer since second grade, when my teacher, Mrs. Jones, made me a "book" with a yellow construction paper cover. I have never learned to whistle, have always preferred sunflowers to roses, and have spent my life living within the same zip code.

Through the years, my writing has been published in the Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, United Teacher, GreenPrints, L.A. Parent, DivineCaroline.com, RoleReboot.org, XOJane, and Brain, Child Magazine. 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, Breath and Shadow, The Grey Wolfe Storybook, and Sisters Born, Sisters Found.
I am a regular contributor at MomsLA.com, and you can also find me at Goodreads.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Feel free to comment and share my blog with others!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Conference Time

It’s parent-teacher conference week at school.  Optional parent-teacher conferences.  Meaning, I’m not running around, making phone calls asking parents to show up and discuss their child’s school progress. They either contact me and let me know they want to meet or they don’t.  Some parents think the label “optional” takes the responsibility off them and rests entirely on my shoulders.  Parents assume that if I wanted to meet with them badly enough, I’d contact them and ask them to come in.  I don’t do that during this week.  Instead, I tell my students that I hope all their parents will make appointments to meet with me.  That I want the chance to say, in person, how much I love their child and all the wonderful, fantastic things their child is accomplishing in fourth grade.  And, of course, we will also talk about the less-than-fantastic things these same wonderful children are accomplishing in fourth grade.
Fifteen minutes, and some cases more, for me to talk about a child.  Some of my conferences are easier than others.  For some, it’s a report card full of well-earned, high marks.  Praises and compliments abound.  I compliment their spelling test grades, their mathematic aptitude, their high levels of respect and cooperation.
Some teachers dread parent conferences.  I dread writing report cards.  I don’t like making students fit into little categories, describing their efforts based on a 4, 3, 2, 1 scale.  I spend countless hours in “professional development” being trained on how to teach to the whole child; how to acknowledge that our children are individuals and learn at different rates and in different methods.  Yet, it all comes down to ranking them the same way.  That’s why I enjoy conferences.  I want a parent to know their child always raises a hand to read aloud.  I want a parent to know their child does cooperate, follow directions, and relate well with others.
Call me old-fashioned, call me unrealistic, call me what you will - but I firmly believe that my students’ work habits and social skills grades are just as important as their academic grades.  I don’t care if my students know their multiplication facts if they’re not kind people.  So, when I’m discussing my student’s incomplete homework, I’m also discussing their consistency in always picking up trash found on the floor.  When I let a parent know that a student hesitates to ask questions, I also let the parent know that the student never hesitates to offer to help me pass out papers.
We begin by teaching our children that it’s what’s inside that counts.  They need to try hard, be good people, earnest citizens.  Report cards don’t allow me to have that type of conversation.  Parent conferences do.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Uniquely Me

“This product has been made by hand with love.  
Some variations in color and pattern may occur,
making each piece
unique and special.”
The above statement was imprinted on an elephant-shaped tag attached to a purse purchased at Cost Plus World Market.  If babies came with a manuel, I think this statement should be on the front cover.  In large font.  All-capitals.
We encourage our children to use their imaginations, to be different.  We remind them they don’t have to be like everyone else.  We marvel at their creations - whether it’s a Lego structure, a drawing, or a fort made in the living room.  Then they get older, and there’s a shift, a need  to conform and be more like everyone else.  Wearing what other kids are wearing.  Carrying the same type of backpack or lunchbox.  
And as children grow into young adults, they all suddenly look so much the same.  A group of girls out shopping with their hair styled the same way, same pattern on their too-short skirts, nails polished in the same color.  They could be any girl.  
Even as an adult in my thirties, I have to remind myself that I am different.  Decidely so.  It is not most people who wear rings on eight out of ten fingers.  Not most people who begin their voicemail message with “Aloha.”  Many times, I still fall into the trap and compare myself to other women.  Women with flatter stomachs, firmer thighs, and clearer complexions.  Women who walk with confidence exuding the air of “I am special, you should look at me.”  And we do, we look.  But then I realize, there’s not much that’s special about them.  Most of these women could be any woman.
And I’m not any woman.  I am me, this woman.  
The challenge now is to encourage my son to retain all that makes him “Ryan.”  The boy who loves to spell and exaggerate each letter as he recites the letters from the Cheerios box while we shop at the market.  The child who becomes frustrated and will say, “No, Sorry.”  Translation - “No, that’s not right.  Now apologize, Mommy, for doing it wrong.”  My little guy who walks backwards and says he’s “moonwalking.”
Because my son is the ultimate handmade product.  He was made with love.  And he is certainly unique and special.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wacky Words

Words intrigue me.  The twenty-six letters that my son and I sing form an infinite number of combinations. These combinations make words.  Words that cause pain, words that uplift, words that encourage, words that affirm, words that terrify.  In the midst of these countless words, I have found a few that just don’t sound pleasant.  Their pronunciations are in direct opposition to their original meanings, and quite frankly, it bothers me. 
  1. Stupendous.  A word that is used positively, to compliment something extremely impressive.  However, the word sounds much like “stupid” - a negative word implying a lack of knowledge and/or common sense.
  2. Hospitable.  A word that means friendly and welcoming.   Yet, when I hear that word I think of “hospitals,” and “spit” neither one usually associated with being  very friendly and welcoming.
  3. Cyclical.  While this word has mathematical definitions, it also means occurring in cycles or repeating regularly.  However, when I hear this word I think “Sickle Cell.”
  4. Smock.  Generally, this word refers to an apron or covering one wears to protect the clothes underneath.  Except, I hear “smock” and automatically think “smack.”  So while a smock could be helpful and something one would seek out, a smack is not.
  5. Uranus.  This poor planet.  I’ve heard two alternate pronunciations of this word, neither one very flattering.  One sounds like “your anus” while the other sounds like “urine-is,” neither one a mental image I need.
My Dear Readers, I’m curious if you’ve got any words you’d add to the list.  Feel free to include them in your comments!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The A to Z List of Things I Never Thought I'd ...

A   -  Attend a community college, later transfer to a state college, and use public buses for almost my entire college career.  Six buses a day, in fact.  I couldn’t afford a car.  Couldn’t afford to go away to school and have the college experience I had read about and watched in the movies.
B   -  Destroy a book.  But in my defense, I fell asleep in my lavender-scented bubble bath and dropped my hardcover biography into the lukewarm water.
C   -  Fear contentedness.  Feel like I settled.  The reliable car (not the convertible I’ve always wanted).  A home in the middle of the city (not by the beach like I’ve always dreamed).  The steady job with benefits and a  paycheck every month (not the unpredictable income of a freelance writer).
D   -  Be disappointed in viewing the Mona Lisa.  When we planned our trip to Paris, a day at the Louvre was a must.  Seeing the Mona Lisa was a definite.  And after waiting in lines to enter the museum, and again in front of the painting, I was disappointed.  This painting garnered all that fuss?  It was smaller than I thought it would be.  There were guards and a rope keeping me a safe distance away.  Nothing about the portrait of that woman resonated with me.
E   -  Be estranged from my brother.  My brother, nine-years-older, always teased me - my stuffed animals, my acne-ridden face, the early dating adventures.  Things were said, behaviors and actions that are not easily forgiven or forgotten.  And ten years passes with no contact from the guy I used to think was so cool.
F   -  Fantasize about quitting my job.  Nine years as a public school teacher in Los Angeles, and my job isn’t getting any easier.  The children are more challenging, the day-to-day ordeal of paperwork and meetings is becoming increasingly time consuming.  Seems like the longer I teach, the more difficult it is to do what I want to do - help children, teach, and make a connection.
G    -  Give away my heart at a young age and marry at 22.  They say life can’t be planned, and the older I get, the more convinced I am that it’s true.
H   -  Spend four days in the hospital because my left calf became so swollen I couldn’t walk.  A mysterious ailment that robbed me of my ability to walk for weeks.  Instead, I was restricted to bed rest, a walker, a wheelchair, and forced to slide down on my tush when needing to get from our upstairs to our downstairs.
I  -    Imagine one day returning to college.  College was supposed to be the place where I explored ideas and learned about the world and met new people.  It was, but to a very limited extent.  I was paying my own way through college, working and studying.  I needed to finish, as quickly as possible.  I decided on a major, a career choice, and college became the means to the end.  I wanted to be a teacher so I needed a Bachelor’s degree.  What would it be like to return to college, without the stress of finances?  Without worrying about grades?  Taking classes that truly interested me and not because they were requirements for my degree?
J   -   Write to a Japanese pen pal for seventeen years.  Our friendship began my senior year of high school.  Aya is a few years older than me.  We’ve written during our dating adventures, as we became teachers, wives, and mothers.
K  -  Become so sentimental that I’d keep receipts from our honeymoon, the purchase of our first dining table, and the tags from my son’s first outfits.
L   -   Love so many children.  Every year, a new class of students finds their way into my heart.  I tell them I love them every day.  And I do.  They are “my kids.”
M  -  I’d move out of my parents home to live ten minutes away.  Growing up I was the one who wanted to travel - to eat pizza in Italy, crepes in France, and sushi in Japan.  My roots, it turns out, are firmly planted in the zip code I now share with my parents.
N  -   Neglect myself.  I thought I was smart enough, had read enough to know and truly understand that to take care of all my loved ones, I need to take care of myself.  But I don’t.
O   -  Be the mother of an only child.  I was blessed with a healthy pregnancy and a happy, angelic son.  My husband and I both work full-time outside of our home.  Our lifestyle just makes sense for one child.
P  -     Have only one stamp in my passport.  At the age of 29, I achieved a life-time dream - I visited Paris, France.  And that trip is the only international trip I have taken.  So far.  Gondolas await in Venice, koalas in Australia, and the Eiffel Tower beckons me to return.  International trips are expensive, air travel is scary.  It’ll happen.  One day.
Q   -   Question my marriage.  We’ve been a couple of thirteen years, married for eleven of those.   And what I thought was an absolute certainty, suddenly wasn’t.  Our marriage was suffering.  People grow up and sometimes apart.  We seemed like different people than those we dated.  And, yet, we’re finding our way back to each other.
R   -  Use a public men’s restroom.  During a taping of the game show “Jeopardy,” at the Sony studio in Culver City, CA, the audience was given a brief bathroom break. As is common, there was a considerable line for the women’s room and no line at the men’s.  After the men had used their facility, my dad kept watch at the door while I and other ladies relieved ourselves in the men’s room.
S    - Shoplift.  My one-year-old son had accompanied me to the teacher supply store.  While we walked the aisles, he was entertained holding onto different items - a book, a pack of stickers, my keys.  At the car, I unbuckled my son from his shopping cart cushion and discovered a small chalkboard eraser had been nestled down next to his thigh.  The item cost about $2, but I didn’t go back in to pay for it.  We accepted it as a donation to teachers.
T   -   Be so reluctant to taste new foods.  But, alas, I refuse to taste caviar, rabbit, and escargot.
U   -  Grow-up to become a woman who under-appreciates herself.  I don’t accept compliments well, and am convinced that if someone flatters my physical appearance, they are merely being polite.
V   -  Visit a marriage therapist.  Things are said, arguments increase, and suddenly there is a fear that this relationship isn’t working the way it should, the way it did.  And we looked for advice and counsel from an objective listener.
W  -  Wear jeans in a size larger than my mother’s.  A few years ago, my mother was ill and lost a significant amount of weight.  Additionally, my mom has a rear-end that is much flatter than my rounder one.  My mother, thirty years older than I, wears a smaller size jean.
X   -  Become mysteriously injured and require a multitude of x-rays.  Sometimes, even with all the available medical technology, the only answer a doctor can give is, “I don’t know.”
Y   -  Smear egg yolks on my face.  In my attempts for a clearer complexion, I heeded Dear Abby’s words of advice, and tried this home remedy.  In an act of solidarity, my mom joined me.  Neither she nor I noticed any change in our complexions.
Z   -   Miss my maternity pants.  But there’s something to be said for jeans without zippers.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Here's to You, Dr. Seuss!

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.” - Dr. Seuss

Happy Birthday to You!, fittingly the title of a book authored by the beloved Dr. Seuss.  This week’s blog is a tribute to a man I consider a genius.
Dr. Seuss created worlds and characters that enchanted readers.  Of all ages.  I am just as tickled by The Cat in the Hat as a mother reading it to her son as I was as a child reading it in the public library.  Dr. Seuss took all the “rules” of writing and broke them.  Splendidly.  He created whole books revolving around nonsense words - words that don’t exist in the English language that nonetheless rhyme with more familiar words and are incredibly fun to read out loud (There’s a Wocket in My Pocket).  
As a mother and a teacher, I look to Dr. Seuss books to inspire.  Children want to read these books, and they soon find they can.  I remember my sister’s pride at reading Green Eggs and Ham; her first book read without any help.  Those memories are eternal.  
As a writer, I am in awe of all that Dr. Seuss was able to accomplish.  His books have helped children learn to read, and love to read.  His repetitive language, whimsical worlds, and zany characters make for a fun time.  And learning to read is difficult work.  It requires patience and persistence.  Dr. Seuss’s books honor those qualities.   
Beyond these fanciful tales, Dr. Seuss managed to integrate life lessons, words of wisdom that resonate for all, regardless of age or reading ability.  Here are a few stand-out Seussisms:
Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind.”
“You know you're in love when you can't fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.” 
"You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go..." 
“Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened.”