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, June 29, 2011

The A to Z List of Lessons My Toddler Son Has Taught Me

   On March 30th,2008, Sunday became “Son Day.”  That’s the day my son was born, choosing to arrive a few days early so he could share his birthday with Grandma and Vincent Van Gogh.  
I firmly believe that anyone who doesn’t believe in miracles hasn’t witnessed a birth, hasn’t held a newborn baby.  Because then you know, absolutely and undoubtedly, that there is hope and faith and magic in the world.
My son is my greatest joy.  And he’s proving to be quite a teacher.  Here, I share with you the A to Z list of lessons my toddler son has taught me (so far).
A Acknowledge your strength.  You are stronger than you think.  Our society generally has a limited definition of strength, usually someone who can carry and lift heavy things.  Giving birth to my son, taught me I am a strong person.  I am physically strong enough to deliver my son without anesthesia.  I am mentally strong, focusing on my son’s name as I pushed through contractions and anxiously waited as doctors warned I might require a blood transfusion.  I am strong.  Strong to pick up my 30+ pound son and lift him “high in the sky.”  I am strong enough to leave my son each morning and go to work without crying, wishing I was home with him. And my son’s grip has taught me that toddlers are freakishly-strong; when they want to hold onto something, they will.
B Beauty surrounds us.  In the hustle and bustle of adult daily life, we tend to overlook the beauty that naturally exists around us.  It’s easier to find when we’re on vacation - at a botanical garden, a majestic monument, a white sand beach.  With a baby, that changes.  Suddenly everything is beautiful and everything warrants sharing.  The beat-red, star-shaped leaf on the sidewalk.  The tree, no taller than a basketball player, with pink flowers the color of cotton candy.  The full moon, silver like aluminum foil.  
C Clothes are over-rated.  They’re functional and practical but basically are just coverings for my body so I don’t get cold or stick to a vinyl chair.  Ryan doesn’t care what I’m wearing - I’m mommy in my purple pajamas, I’m still mommy when I’m dressed after a day at work.  And he’s Ryan, whether he’s walking around in the house in nothing but his socks, or strutting around in his Toy Story shirt and jeans.
D Demonstrate your emotions.  Something changes between infancy and adulthood.  As a baby, Ryan wasn’t shy about letting us know how he felt.  He cried if he was hungry, loudly.  He also readily showed us his delight and pleasure at a stuffed animal or a series of kisses on his stomach.  As adults, we’ve been trained to keep our emotions in, not always expressing our frustrations or hurt or excitement.  Maybe we could learn a thing or two from the little ones in our life - laugh loudly when happy, cry loudly when sad, make your feelings known.
E Eat when you’re hungry.  Babies will let you know, in no uncertain terms, when they need to eat.  They will stop being happy and quiet and vocalize their need for food.  I need to take a cue from Ryan.  I often keep plowing ahead, trying to ignore my hunger.  As  a result, I become grumpy and probably less productive than if I would have stopped and eaten.  
F Flexibility is important.  Ryan taught me that sometimes, a schedule is nothing more than a suggestion, a possibility of what might happen.  That was a hard one for me.    
I’m a teacher.  I’m used to schedules, routines, plans.  As a newborn, Ryan taught me that sometimes babies work on their own schedule.  Now, as a toddler, Ryan is teaching me that little people still sometimes work on their own schedule.  He might not want to get dressed at the exact moment I’d like him to, but try again in ten minutes.
G Grin, smile, and beam.  Little ones have limited vocabulary, but their expressions are priceless. A child’s smile is priceless; there really isn’t anything comparable.  LIkewise, sometimes, all it takes to help you make it through the day is a smile - someone you know, or someone you don’t, giving you a smile, that nonverbal, “Hang in there.”
H Hugs are absolutely essential.  There’s nothing that quite compares to feeling someone’s arms around you.  In that moment, you are safe.  You are held and comforted and being taken care of.  Sometimes that’s all we need.  A time-out with a hug.  That simple embrace to calm us and center us.
I Ice cream.  A mid-afternoon treat.  An after-dinner dessert.  A chocolate ice cream that melts on its way from spoon to mouth.  A blue-raspberry ice cream that leaves my son’s mouth and teeth the color of a Smurf.
J Juggling isn’t always a good thing.  Being a full-time working mom requires a lot of juggling.  Sometimes, that juggling is necessary for me to get through the day.  Other times. there’s no point.  Ryan has taught me (and continues to teach me) that sometimes I have to let a few things go.  I have a very small window of opportunity for my son to run into my arms and give me a tight “hug-a-bug.”  I have to enjoy those moments while I can and worry about the dishes/the bills/grading papers later.
K Kisses.  I constantly tell my son that “Mommies never run out of kisses.”  And it’s true.  No matter how many I showered upon Ryan yesterday, I’ll have an endless amount awaiting him today, and the day after that, and the day after that.  And kisses aren’t just for checks or lips.  Kisses are for toes.  Kisses are for noses.  Kisses are for tushies and ears and fingertips.
L Love.  Express it in every way possible.  I hope, with all my being, that my son knows I love him.  I hope he knows when we’re on the floor playing “squish.”  I hope he knows when I’m having conversations with his Mario and Luigi dolls.  I hope he knows when I’m away at work.  I love my son “a hundred, thousand, million, billion, trillion, gazillon, every minute, of every day.”  
M Mingle and meet new people.  Children are natural ice-breakers.  At shopping centers, other mothers will readily begin conversations - asking my son’s age, asking about our stroller, asking if he has any siblings.  Generally, it’s a quick exchange of information.  However, as a relatively shy person, these spontaneous conversations were new and unfamiliar to me.  New and unfamiliar doesn’t mean bad.  It’s a way to meet new people and gather new bits of information. 
N No.  It seems like “No” becomes a toddler’s favorite word to say.  It’s powerful.  It can get you out of uncomfortable situations.  It can cause confrontation.  It gives you a sense of power, a bargaining chip.  I don’t always like Ryan’s “no’s.”  They’re not always helpful.  But they do remind me that sometimes I need to assert myself and say “no” whether the recipient wants to hear it or not. 
O Over and over.  Do things you like again and again.  Listen to songs you enjoy  several times.  Read the same book, over and over, because it delights you.  It’s okay to postpone that feeling of pleasure you derive from a book or a movie or a song, repeat it, enjoy it again.  Over and over.
P Praise what you can do.  As adults, we often focus on what we can’t do.  I can’t roll my R’s, I can’t whistle, I can’t spin a basketball on my index finger.  I’m quick to admit these deficiencies while not at all quick to highlight my abilities.  I can spend $60 at the market and save $50 with coupons.  I can arrange flowers for a wedding.  I can drive a car with a manual transmission.  With children we celebrate each new learned skill, we marvel at all that our little people are able to accomplish.  Each new feat is a true celebration.  
Q Quickly - that is how children grow.  My parents were always telling me how quickly I grew up.  My dad would wonder where his little girl went.  I never really understood what my parents were trying to tell me.  I do now.  My little boy is no longer a baby.  And quickly, my little boy will soon evolve into my bigger boy.  So we take the pictures, I breathe in his scent, I kiss Ryan’s toes - for all too quickly, those moments will be gone.
R Relieve yourself when you need to.  As an infant, Ryan emptied his bladder and bowels whenever he needed to.  Whether he was dressed or not, whether I was awake or not, he had to go, and he did.  Now, as a toilet-training toddler, we are learning the delicate balance of acknowledging that “feeling” and getting to the restroom on time.  As a teacher, “holding it” is a part of the job.  But, Ryan’s right, it feels better to go when you need to.
S Sing.  When Ryan was an infant, I sang about everything - changing a poopy diaper, getting dressed, going to sleep.  As a toddler, we now sing about brushing teeth, cleaning up, and taking a bath.  Day-to-day chores don’t seem quite so tedious when you’re singing a cutsie, up-tempo song.  It is those songs that bond us; they are ours to share.  And when I’m driving, stuck in traffic, I hum and smile when I realize I’ve just been humming the alphabet song.
T Talk out loud.  Generally, adults believe they should hold all their thoughts inside.  Grown-ups don’t walk around talking to themselves.  And if they do, they are usually regarded as strange.  But since I became pregnant, I’ve been talking to Ryan - explaining how to cook spaghetti, describing the squirrel racing up the tree, asking his opinion on which earrings I should wear, telling him our day’s activities.  I know he didn’t understand me, but I spoke to him anyway.  I did it for him, so he would know Mommy’s voice.  And I did it for me - there’s something about saying things out loud that is sometimes helpful.  Sometimes, there’s just too much information to keep track of in our heads.  There’s really nothing wrong with letting some of it out and saying it out loud.
U Upsets happen.  People get upset.  Things happen.  Feelings get hurt, someone is disappointed, things just didn’t go the way we’d hoped.  Those upset periods are not always pleasant (whether they’re happening to Ryan or me) but Ryan has taught me that they will pass.  Maybe my upsets (a possible unemployment issue) take a little longer to get over than his (spilled bubbles), but they all will pass and we will smile again.
V Velcro.  An invention that first proved its usefulness in space, helping to keep the astronauts’ work tools tethered and not floating about the cockpit.  For toddlers (and their parents) velcro is a fantastic invention that makes getting shoes on a manageable task.  I feel confident in saying that wherever you put velcro (whether its shoes or a diaper bag or a backpack) it’s going to be beneficial.
W White cookies.  That’s what Ryan calls Oreos.  And, sometimes, it’s okay to eat Oreos, for breakfast.  Sometimes we crave something sweet.  And after a healthy breakfast of bagel, apple chunks, and Cheerios, Oreos are a sweet dessert treat.  “White cookies” are fun to eat for a mid-day snack, simply because there are so many ways to eat them.  And, honestly, they are just as fun to eat whether you’re three or thirty-five.  
X Xylophones are fun to play.  I can’t quite identify the lure of a child’s simple xylophone.  However, whether it’s Ryan playing, or his nine year old cousin, or his thirty-five year old father, everyone we have encountered enjoys creating a little tune on his red hand-me-down xylophone.
Y Yucky.  Sometimes, that’s the only word that is needed.  A yucky in your nose.  Hitting is yucky.  Trash at the park is yucky.  A chunk of watermelon that escapes our grip and falls to the ground isn’t edible any more; it’s yucky.  Enough said.  
Z Zero tolerance.  At school, it a zero-tolerance policy for weapons on campus.  As a mommy, I have a zero tolerance for anyone or anything that in anyway threatens my son.  Drivers who don’t obey speed limits, restaurant patrons that smoke on the no-smoking patio, pedestrians with a limited vocabulary that employ the “f-word” every two seconds - they all threaten my son in some way.  And this otherwise-patient mommy won’t stand for it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Dance and Sing, Live and Love

“Dance as though no one is watching,
Love as though you have never loved before,
Sing as though no one can hear you,
Live as though heaven is on Earth.”
Those words adorn a butterfly plaque hanging above my living room couch. 
I’ve always wanted to be the type of person who is comfortable in her own skin.  And to a certain extent I am - I wear eight rings because I want to, I wear clogs because they’re comfortable, and I don’t wear eyeliner because I don’t want a wand-shaped beauty tool coming near my eye.  
And like many things in life, I suddenly just “got it.”  I realized that I now do fully understand what it means to dance as though no one is watching me, to love as I have truly never loved before, to sing as though no one hears me, and to live each day believing with all my soul that heaven is here on Earth.
I understand this now because of my son.  With Ryan, I sing and dance for the pleasure it bring us.  I pay no attention to anyone else’s glances.  And, let’s be honest, if they’re watching, they are most likely watching my adorable son not me.  I do love like I have never loved before, because being a mother is an experience unlike any I have ever had.  I love my son with a passion and intensity and purity unlike any other love I have known.
Being a mother has brought my life a higher purpose and shown me a bit of heaven here on Earth.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

June Gloom

“What’s your favorite thing about the month of June?”
That was the journal question I posed to my students at the beginning of the month.  Now, as I read their journals, their answers are almost unanimous:

No more school.
No more homework.
No more early mornings.
I can go out with my friends.
I can travel with my family.
The funny thing is, I’m fairly certain the answers would be the same if I asked my co-workers.  June is the light at the end of the tunnel.  June is the promised land.  June is the finish line.  
June gives us all a respite, a chance to catch our breath, do all the things we haven’t done while in school.  I may be on the other side of the desk, but the rules are the same for me as they are for my students.  During the school year, I’m restricted by an earlier bedtime (ideally) and an earlier wake up time.  I’m bound to certain deadlines and assignments (many of which I don’t want to do).  
10 years.  That’s how long I’m teaching.  I’ve been teaching the same amount of time my fourth-grade students have been alive.  When discussing careers, they ask me if I wanted to be a teacher when I was a kid.  The answer is an emphatic “no.”  I couldn’t imagine why I would want to be involved with school any more than was absolutely necessary.  School was exhausting and stressful for someone like me - someone who always had to earn the "A", someone who always had to get a perfect paper, someone who had to excel academically.  That was what I had.  I wasn’t the athletic girl.  I wasn’t the pretty girl.  I would try to be the smart girl.
School is still exhausting and stressful for someone like me, someone who strives to teach beyond the textbook.  
I love my students.  But after 175 days together, I’m ready for a break.  Ready not to hear “Mrs. Kennar, I need.../ I want.../ I have to.../ Will you.../ Why didn’t you.../ Why did you...”
I’ll be Mrs. Kennar until June 24th.  After that, I can just be Wendy.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


I don’t know when I started saying “Aloha.”  I know it was long before I ever traveled to Hawaii.  For years, Hawaii intrigued me.  It ultimately became our honeymoon destination.  And Maui didn’t disappoint - fruit tasted like sunshine and spring rain in my mouth, rainbows graced the sky after a two-minute rain spell, whales danced off-shore, delighting us as we ate lunch.  Maui was natural beauty, in a way I had never observed before.
Our visit to Maui confirmed my strongly held opinion that “Aloha” was the best greeting.  “Aloha, this is Wendy” begins my voicemail.  Signs of “Aloha” adorn my home - above our kitchen door, above our front door, above our back door.  
I know that  “Aloha” can mean “hello” or “goodbye.”  But it’s more than that.  Aloha is a spirit, a feeling.  Aloha is a way of being, one I try to practice, one I wish onto others.
And like any good teacher, I went looking for more information.  A quick visit to the website “www.to-hawaii.com/aloha.php” provided me with some additional information.  The literal translation of aloha is the “breath of life.”  Aloha is a way of living, a practice of treating others with love and respect; the understanding that we must first begin by loving ourselves and then spreading that love to others.
The older I become, the more I realize I have very limited control over many things in my life.  I can’t control the price of gas, can’t control furlough days and pay cuts, and I can’t control the weather.  I can control how many scoops of ice cream I eat, the color of the flowers I plant on my patio, and the way I conduct myself with others.  So, I vow to do my best to spread the spirit of aloha, thinking good thoughts and sharing them with others.  

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The A to Z List of Verbs to be Practiced on a Regular Basis

A Accept.  Accept who I am.  A woman terrified of earthquakes.  A woman with a brown mole on the left side of my mouth.  Accept that there are things I do well, and things I don’t do well.  Accept that there will be easy days and difficult days.  Accept that people will love me and hurt me, help me and leave me.  Accept that no matter what happens, the sun will come out tomorrow.

B Breathe.  I know, it seems so obvious, but maybe that’s why we forget to do it.  Tense situations, scary situations, challenging situations - we react.  We tense up and we hold our breaths.  Without meaning to, we’ve made the situation more difficult because we are depriving our bodies of an essential element - air.  Without it, we really can’t properly deal with anything.  Slow down.  Deep breath in.  Deep breath out.  

C Create.  Create something you are proud of.  An acrylic painting, a spaghetti dinner,  a floral arrangement, a birdhouse, a child.  Create a thing of beauty and wonder.  Smile at your gifts and talents.  

D Daydream.  Yes, there are times and places when daydreaming may not be appropriate (while you’re filing your income taxes or having a discussion with your supervisor).  But I do believe that daydreams let our brains work and figure out problems in a different way.  We can temporarily disconnect from what surrounds us and spend some mental time in a different time or place.  

E Enjoy.  Certain tasks and situations (I’m thinking jury duty and cleaning toilets) are less fun and less desirable than others (I’m thinking walking on a beach or eating a hot fudge sundae).  But as much as we can, we must enjoy what we do.  Sometimes that means playing music that makes me smile while I clean my house.  Sometimes it means nibbles of chocolate in between grading papers.  It might just mean a pretty color nail polish on my fingernails while I type up lesson plans.

F Feed - my body, mind, and soul.  Feed by body bananas because they’re healthy, chocolate brownies because they’re yummy.  Feed my mind by reading - articles and books, pondering paintings by Van Gogh, and writing.  Feed my soul by taking deep breaths, spending time near the ocean and believing that things will work out, some how some way.

G Give.  Give hugs, kisses, and high-fives.  Give canned foods, monetary donations, and no-longer-worn clothes.  Give compliments and words of praise.  Give time, give space.  

H Hope.  Hope for the smaller things - a better night’s sleep, a parking space, a short wait at the check-stand.  Hope for the bigger things - an end to breast cancer, a world free of bombs and guns.  

I Ignore.  As in, ignore the phone ringing and ignore the emails.  We never used to ignore a ringing phone because you didn’t know who was on the other end.  “It could be important.”  Now, with caller i.d., we do know who is calling, and most times, the call could wait.  As a result, the phone is rarely answered during our family dinner, and sometimes, my emails won’t be read for a night or two.  It will all wait.  Messages and newsletters will be there for me the next time I sign in.  

J Journey.  To Paris, France and eat crepes at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower.  Journey to the French cafe down the street and try a chocolate croissant.  Journey to the new and unfamiliar.  Journey to the places we love (a favorite restaurant, a certain park bench, a quiet corner in a bookstore).  Journey to a place that brings you happiness.

K Kiss.  Kiss with passion.  A spouse on the lips.  A child - on the top of their head, on their tummies, or their toes.  A close friend on their cheek or their hand.  Kiss, and share that moment of intimacy that connects your bodies and minds and souls. 

L Listen.  Listen to the rustle of palm tree fronds.  Listen to the crickets’ lullaby at night.  Listen to the birds talking to each other, early in the morning.  Listen, with full attention, to your partner’s recounting of their day.  Listen, again, to your child’s joke about why the mushroom went to the party, song about snowmen, or explanation for rainbows.

M Model.  Model behaviors, it’s all we can do.  We can’t make others courteous or polite.  But, we can “do unto others as we’ll have done onto ourselves.”  So model what it looks like to be respectful (not laughing at others’ mistakes) and what it looks like to be concerned about our environment (recycling soda cans).  

N Nurture.  Help something thrive.  A fern plant in your living room, a child, a tomato plant in the backyard.  A dream to write, a yearning to travel.  Cherish them all and help them to grow.

O Observe.  Really pay attention to the exact shape of the clouds above your house, the brightness of the moon that resembles a thumb’s fingernail.  You have seen clouds and the moon before.  But not these clouds and not the moon on this particular night.  Observe anew.

P Play.  Play a game simply because it’s fun and makes you laugh.  Not a game that requires score-keeping.  A game that needs a good attitude to have a good time.  Play dress-up with your child, play in a blanket-and-pillow fort, play in the sand, play on the computer, play ball outside.  

Q Quit.  Quit doing the things that hurt - skimping on “me time,” spending time with people whose company I don’t enjoy.  Quit doing things I don’t want to do (sometimes that means paying someone else to clean the toilets).  Quit looking at the mirror telling myself something negative.  Whatever it is that I know I shouldn’t do; don’t do it.   

R Read.  Reading doesn’t just mean holding a book.  Whatever form it takes (book, novel, blog, website) reading is imperative to learning, to growing as an individual.  There is a different process involved in attaining information in the independent method of reading rather than listening to what someone is telling you.

S Sleep.  I don’t know why I make myself function on minimal sleep.  Well, because I can “function” in a sense.  I can’t thrive.  I can just get by, barely.  But, it is sleep that is required for me to be able to perform all the other tasks in my life.  My car may run with lower amounts of oil, but it won’t run well.  I may get by on minimal sleep, but I won’t be running well.

T Talk.  Say the words you’re sure your spouse, best friend already knows, but say them anyway.  Talk with, “I love you’s,” talk with, “You’re so important to me.”  Talk about what scares you, what intrigues you, what confuses you.  Talk.  Not email.  Not text.  Not short little updates on some social-networking site.  Talk.  

U Understand.  Understand that things are not always as they seem.  The person who just parked in the handicap spot, that appears to be walking just fine, may indeed suffer from a condition that makes walking more difficult on other days.  The car that just cut you off may be rushing to the hospital to welcome a new baby to the world.  I am sometimes quick to judge, thinking someone is doing something wrong, when in fact, I don’t know the whole story.  And what may be “wrong” to me may be their best attempt at that moment in time.

V Vent.  Vent with someone you trust, someone who will still love you when you’re done.  Someone who doesn’t necessarily have to offer any words of wisdom, and someone who won’t cut you off but let you get it all out.  Vent - yell and scream, whine and cry - until you feel lighter.  

W Worship.  Worship doesn’t have to mean a traditional service within a formal religious structure.  Worship yourself by taking care of yourself.  Worship, and say a little word of thanks for a sunny sky, for a luminous moon, for the miracle of a baby, for the wonder of a butterfly.  

X X-Ray.  And I’m not talking the kind that requires a special machine.  I’m talking about taking a closer look at what surrounds you.  Stopping and really looking at your home with appreciation.  Stopping and looking to really see the exact shade of brown of your spouse’s eyes. 

Y Yell, but in a good way.  Not yell and scream because we’re upset or annoyed (although sometimes it helps to let that pent up frustration out).  I’m talking about yelling because you’re happy.  Yelling “I love you” as your child runs on the grass at the park.  Yelling because you’re excited your student was just recognized as a “student of the week.”  We don’t always have to laugh or cheer or applaud in quiet, calm ways. 

Z Zero in on something.  Find that thing that makes your heart happy and do it.  Find that thing that helps you get through your “day job” and do it.  Zero in on what it is you need and get it.  Zero in on what it is you like and enjoy it.  Zero in on life, focus on it, and don’t let it pass you by.