One of my essays has just been published at divinecaroline.com.
Here's the link:
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, December 26, 2012
“Dance as though no one is watching you, love as though you have never been hurt before, sing as though no one can hear you, live as though heaven is on earth.” - Souza
Of course, I pray that my son remains safe and healthy. But I also pray that he continues to live his life with happiness and passion. His spirit is contagious; I’ve witnessed it first-hand.
Let me give you an example:
I spent the first day of my winter break on a date with my number one guy, my son. We went to the Autry National Center of the American West. We arrived before the museum opened, so we spent the extra time wandering the Farmer’s Market there. We marveled at the rainbow of fruits and vegetables; I was astounded that Ryan could identify so many, especially since he refuses to eat some, like cauliflower or tomatoes. We then sat down while Ryan snacked on Cheerios. He noticed, and commented on, the things he saw - the man who didn’t push in his chair when he left the table, the man who wore a bike helmet even though he was no longer riding his bike, the baby walking slowly with his parents. And we listened to musicians singing and playing the guitar.
The day was crisp, the sky was blue, and I was truly enjoying my son’s company. I delighted in the pleasure Ryan took from his surroundings.
And then my smile grew. For when it was time to go into the museum, Ryan didn’t walk. He danced to the music he heard; the music he seemed to feel. He was oblivious to those around us, and danced his way towards the entrance. He stopped when the music stopped and applauded the musicians. And we were both genuinely surprised when two individuals clapped for him, telling us the applause was for “the dancer.”
Ryan dances because he wants to, because he feels the music. It is a source of happiness and joy for him, and I hope, for all those around him.
Friday, December 21, 2012
One of my A to Z essays has been included in The Barefoot Review's Winter 2012 Issue.
Here's the link:
You can scroll down on the left to find my name, click on it, and that will take you to my essay. Thanks for reading!
Here's the link:
You can scroll down on the left to find my name, click on it, and that will take you to my essay. Thanks for reading!
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
My fifth-grade students and I had recently discussed the vocabulary word “massacre.” We used it during a social studies lesson when discussing the treatment of Native Americans at the hands of the American government. We made distinctions between different deaths. Some deaths are the result of a natural disaster - a tsunami in Japan or an earthquake in Haiti. Some deaths are the result of terrorist acts - September 11 and the Twin Towers.
And now here’s the word “massacre” again. But this time it’s being used to describe a horrific nightmare that unfolded in a Connecticut school.
I can’t find the right words and can’t imagine the terror. I can’t read of the children without crying. I can’t look at my son without silently praying for him to remain safe. Ignorance is bliss; so they say. For the day these events unfolded, my son was happy at home. That fateful Friday, my fifth-grade students and I were decorating sugar cookies, distributing them to the hard-working members of our school community. I was trying to make our holiday celebration a time for thinking of, and doing for, others. In our safe haven of Room 7, my students were blissfully ignorant.
And eleven years ago, on a fateful September day, I helped my kindergarten students paint their hands while across the country towers crumbled.
Seems to me, it’s getting harder and harder to keep my kids (my son and my students) blissfully unaware. They are losing their safe places, because their world is being invaded by dastardly deeds.
And I all can do is keep teaching my kids (again, my son and my students) other vocabulary words like “respect,” “tolerance,” “appreciation,” “compassion” and “peace.”
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
At the front of the classroom, I do my best to pay homage to the December holidays. There is a small, artificial Christmas tree - a souvenir from my childhood, as well as an over-sized candy cane hanging from the bulletin board. My menorah is on display as well as a kinara for Kwanzaa.
That’s when the giggles start. Mrs. Kennar’s kinara. I explain to my students that the kinara is not named after me. And in fact, our family doesn’t celebrate Kwanzaa. Yet, I look at my classroom display and see my family represented. My African-American husband, my Jewish mother, my Baptist father.
This year, as my son and I lit the menorah on the first night of Chanukah, Ryan practiced singing “Feliz Navidad,” a song he is learning at preschool. On our table, were a Santa toy and a stuffed animal version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
As a child, I grew up with the holidays all mushed-together. A Christmas ham and potato latkes for Christmas Eve dinner. One present for the first night of Chanukah, a surprise in our stocking, and several presents under the tree on Christmas morning.
It’s not as important to me that my students be able to spell Kwanzaa or menorah, but that they understand that different people celebrate, or don’t celebrate, differently. And whatever each family does, or doesn’t do, is okay. More than okay. However each family acknowledges the December holidays deserves to be respected. One way isn’t more right than another. One way isn’t better than another.
This year, I am also trying very hard to impress upon my students that this is the season of giving and sharing. We are having a cookie decorating party on our last day of school, with the stipulation that for every cookie each student decorates, he/she must give one to a member of our school staff as a way of saying thank you for their contribution to our school community.
At home, Ryan knows Santa will bring him presents if he behaves well. However, I have not, and will not, ask him what he wants. I have a fleeting window of opportunity to keep my son innocent about this time of year, and use it to teach him the joy that comes from giving to others instead of using this time as an “I want-I want” time. So, we sit on the floor, use more wrapping paper and tape than are actually required, and wrap presents for Grandma and Grandpa. We’re talking about the cool surprises we’ll have for Daddy.
We light the candles on the menorah that sits on the table, across the room from our Christmas tree. Those are our holidays.
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
One of my essays has been posted at familius.com. Here's the link:
One of my essays has been posted at familius.com. Here's the link:
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
“It is a miracle if you can find true friends, and it is a miracle if you have enough food to eat, and it is a miracle if you get to spend your days and evenings doing whatever it is you like to do, and the holiday season - like all the other seasons - is a good time not only to tell stories of miracles, but to think about the miracles in your own life, and to be grateful for them.”
- Lemony Snicket, The Lump of Coal
We’re surrounded by miracles. My son is a miracle. Being able to walk is a miracle I no longer take for granted, not since days and weeks spent in a wheelchair and reliant on a walker.
The human body is indeed a miracle. The way it works or doesn’t work. The way it can repair itself. The way it grows and evolves. The way it can fail and break down.
Thanks to technological advances, medical miracles are a fact. And recently, I am full of gratitude for a medical miracle. One of my former students (I taught her two years ago) was diagnosed with a heart condition this past summer. She was tall and athletic. Boisterous and loud. Messy and disruptive. Difficult and defiant. Personable and friendly. She and I always hugged when we saw each other in the hall. And then one day, she and her family learned her heart was no longer doing its job and her life was in peril.
For approximately five months, M. has awaited a heart transplant at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles. Life goes on for us. Monday through Friday, my students take attendance, learn new vocabulary words, learn the states and capitals. But we also made time to remember M. My students have written letters, drawn pictures, and sent notes to M. to let her know she isn’t forgotten. I have sent her a novel and Mad Libs and notes telling her I love her.
Miracles happen. Monday morning, I learned that M. received a new heart on Sunday. And as I write this, the surgery is being deemed successful. My class is busy preparing a new batch of cards and notes to send her during her recovery. And on my whiteboard at the front of the classroom, is a heart with M.’s name inside. She is one of the many miracles in my life that I am grateful for.
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
I lie to children. Monday through Friday, September to June, at some point during the school day, I lie to children just entering their double-digit years.
Maybe “lie” is too harsh a word. I fool, I act, I entertain. I persuade, I cajole, I influence.
I read with an excitement I don’t feel about Father Serra and the establishment of the California Missions. I pretend to listen with interest as a student recounts a video game experience. I bite my tongue and don’t tell a child I’m glad I only have to be her teacher until June.
I “create” an honest statement of praise to begin each parent/teacher conference. I diplomatically tell a parent that their child has leadership qualities, meaning they’ve become the “mean, popular kid.” I tell a parent their child has artistic tendencies, meaning your child is drawing “Angry Birds” during lessons.
Upon returning from a one week Thanksgiving break, I’m met with hugs and echoes of “I missed you.” When asked, I tell students I missed them too. But I lie. It’s not that I didn’t miss a particular student, it’s that I didn’t miss my job - teaching this group of students. Because I’m not just teaching. I’m mothering. I’m counseling. I’m feeding. I’m
reminding about untied shoelaces, encouraging a child to take a jacket outside to ward against the chill in the air. I’m teaching the importance of “please” and “thank you,” and I’m teaching how to win and lose graciously.
And, I confess, I do things and say things that no teaching-credential program would approve of. I am sarcastic - “Thank you for waiting so quietly.” I use guilt - “Go apologize to the office staff for being noisy as we walked by.” I try to shame my students with, “I’m so disappointed in you.” And I hope flattery will bring more of the desired behavior - “You’re too smart to need reminders about how to walk in a line.”
I am the hugging teacher. The one that greets her class each morning with, “Good morning, loves.” I am the nurturing teacher, the one who draws hearts on the board, to send my students love while they’re taking a test. I do it because it’s the only way I know how to teach.
And I confess, some children are harder to love than others. Some children are much more difficult to appreciate than others. Some children scare me; my future is, to a certain extent, in their hands.
I confess that some days I count down the hours until the final bell. I confess that by the time March rolls around, I’m counting down the days to spring break. And upon returning from spring break, I’m counting down the days to summer vacation.
I confess that teaching is harder than I ever thought it would be. I confess that, after twelve years, I fantasize about quitting my job.
Friday, November 23, 2012
I am pleased to share that one of my personal essays "13 Lessons About Marriage" has recently been published at www.divinecaroline.com. Here's the link:
I hope my readers know how very thankful I am for you!!!
I hope my readers know how very thankful I am for you!!!
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Memory works in funny ways. I can recite the Preamble to the Constitution but not always recall what I ate for dinner the evening before. I can recite phone numbers and license plate numbers but not remember where I last put down my pen.
Thirty-six years on this planet and here are some of my random memories:
My first memory dates back to when I was almost three. I wore a nightgown, and my brown hair hung down. I was leaning on the wall behind me as I talked on the phone that hung in the doorway between the dining room and the kitchen. My Grandma sat on the couch, facing the fireplace. I know I was speaking to one of my parents. And I know they were at the hospital, and when they came home, I’d have a baby sister.
I remember attending kindergarten orientation, wearing sandals, and worrying when the teachers announced that students would not be permitted to wear anything but closed-toe shoes to school. Had I already broken a rule? (My mom assured me it was okay for that one day).
I remember a birthday party at Burger King, leaning forward to blow out the candles, and my long hair almost getting singed by the flames.
I remember I wore a skirt the night I first was kissed.
Those are just random snapshots - a few culled from the millions of momentous moments scattered throughout my life.
And now I wonder - what will my son remember?
I am trying to raise my four-year-old son with endless amounts of love along with a sense of fun and responsibility and security. I am trying to raise my son in a home that is happy. I am trying to give my son confidence to be who he is. I am trying to provide my son with a childhood full of memorable moments.
What will stand out from the millions of moments we share? I can only hope the good moments will be those he holds on to and carries with him throughout his life.
There is his first visit to Disneyland. His Halloween performance at preschool. A pony ride at Griffith Park, a tricycle ride around the block, picking out the Christmas tree with Daddy, or visiting Grandpa at the golf course.
Or will it be a Sunday outing to Ralphs, an afternoon spent outside watering the plants, or shredding lettuce for our dinner salads?
I don’t know yet, but I’m anxious to find out.
Readers, I must ask, what is your first memory? I’d love to have you share in the comments section!
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
I am a book person. Each summer, my mother would take my sister and I to the library at least once a week. We each borrowed ten books (the maximum), and as my mom drove us home, I began reading in the car.
My shyness and unease during high school would propel me to search for a place where I felt accepted. I found refuge in the school library, volunteering at lunch and after-school.
During college, I worked part-time in a public library. And as an undergraduate student, I gained classroom experience by volunteering to read aloud in an elementary school classroom.
Suffice it to say, I am reluctant to embrace a hand-held tablet device. For those who travel, I think the tablet certainly does solve the problems of space and added weight that a pile of books can create in crammed luggage.
However, in my mind there are so many benefits, so many reasons why we can’t stop publishing physical books. Here is my list of the five reasons why I prefer a book to a digital version.
- Books are unique. The font, picture, and design of each book is distinct. The covers are designed to stand out. They are a way of glimpsing the content inside as well as differentiating one book from another.
- Books are substantial. Meaning, they fill up my bookcase. Physical books are a way of documenting my life, my interests. There is the shelf of books about parenthood. The shelf of books about living in France (a fantasy of mine). The shelf of books about teaching.
- Books can be easily shared. I can read a novel that I enjoyed and pass it along to my mom, knowing she’ll be entertained.
- Books can be personalized. I highlight while I read, tag pages with post-its, and mark thoughtful passages. My reading thus becomes my reading, different from someone else’s final take on the story.
- Books are cheaper. A book is much easier and cheaper to replace than a tablet. Accidents happen, and I admit I once dozed off in the bathtub and dropped the biography I was reading into the lukewarm water. The book was ruined, but I was able to easily buy myself a replacement copy.
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
I know Halloween was a week ago, and I should now be thinking of turkey and mashed potatoes. Instead I’m still scratching my head, wondering what on Earth parents are thinking when they allow their child to dress in certain costumes for Halloween.
My son is four years old so it’s been easy to select Halloween costumes for him. On his first Halloween, Ryan was a pumpkin, the next year Mickey Mouse, next Pablo the Backyardigan (Pablo and Mickey were hand-me-downs), and this year Ryan was a firefighter. I know that as Ryan gets older he’ll want to have more of an active part in the decision making process when it comes to selecting his costumes. And I’ll deal with it when that time comes.
But I’m thinking of the students at my elementary school and what their parents allowed them to wear for our school-wide costume parade. This year, “blood” was on shirts, hands, and faces.
Students were dressed as “nerds;” a term I’ve never been fond of nor have I fully understood. When I have asked students to explain what a nerd is they will first tell me that a nerd is a smart person. I think that is someone who should be celebrated not teased. One of my students, in her “nerd” costume, wore large black plastic eyeglass frames, a plaid blazer, lipstick, and carried a clipboard. One student was dressed as an older woman, complete with extra padding on her backside.
The day after Halloween one of my students told me that while he didn’t dress up for our school parade, he did go out trick-or-treating with his family. His costume? He was a homeless person - dirty face, torn clothes, bare feet. I was aghast.
I understand that Halloween is supposed to be a day of fun, a day when you can do things you can’t or wouldn’t normally do. But why are parents allowing children to participate in this way, to perpetuate some of these stereotypes?
Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
I’m not omnipotent, but if I was there are certain things I would do; big, lofty things like making sure no child was ever abused and making sure all children had a warm, safe place to call home. On a much smaller scale, I’d amend Halloween. Me, with my new powers, would change Halloween so it occurred on a fixed day-of-the-week rather than a fixed date. Specifically, I’d choose the last Saturday of October.
As an elementary school teacher, let me just say that there isn’t a whole lot of teaching that occurs on Halloween. There are parties, but not teaching per say. I try to strike a compromise. For the last several years, my upper-grade students enjoy a bagel and fruit brunch while they read aloud their October-themed fiction stories they’ve been working on all month. Even with a more relaxed teaching day planned, most of my teacherly duties fall in line with “maintain order.”
Additionally, you have to factor in time for children to change into their costumes for the school-wide parade. Understandably, kids have other things on their minds besides being attentive in class. Furthermore, most children have special events planned for later that afternoon and evening. Which means homework completion is challenged, children aren’t getting the same amount of rest, and they will consequently come to school the next morning with the equivalent of a candy hangover. Let’s not forget, the other part of our student population - the children who don’t celebrate Halloween so they choose not to attend school that day.
On the other hand, if Halloween had a fixed day, specifically a Saturday, parents would be responsible for all Halloween festivities and their side-effects. Schools could then decide on a case-by-case basis how they wanted to celebrate this day of tricks-or-treats.
On that note, I hope my readers are enjoying more treats than tricks today (and everyday)!
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
One of my favorite vacation spots is Moonstone Beach Drive in Cambria. For those who don’t know, Cambria is half-way between Los Angeles and San Francisco, close to Hearst Castle and close to the beach where you can witness elephant seals giving birth. I first ventured to Cambria for those reasons, but I don’t return for those reasons. Instead, I make yearly pilgrimages to Cambria because, in a sense, when I go there, I go home to myself.
Cambria gives me something I don’t get anywhere else. It gives me a chance to breathe differently - slower, more completely. It allows me a chance to be someone different - someone on vacation who doesn’t have to take care of anyone, who doesn’t have phone calls to make, meals to cook, or errands to run.
In addition, staying in a hotel on Moonstone Beach Drive means the ocean is my neighbor. It lulls me to sleep, wakes me in the morning, and accompanies me while I write on the balcony of my hotel room. Nothing soothes my soul quite the way the ocean does. (Maybe it’s a Pisces thing).
Around my left wrist, I wear a silver bangle with three stones - moonstones. Two of the moonstones are adjacent to each other, the third moonstone is on the other side. The bangle was a Mother’s Day present, the moonstones a perfect representation of my husband, my son, and myself.
Moonstones are indeed found on Cambria’s beaches. Some say the moonstone is a gem for lovers; some say it is a gemstone good for the wearer - good for introspection, good for meditation, good for inner strength. Cambria is all those things for me. It is the only place where I can slow down, focus on me, regain a sense of peace.
The bangle encircling my wrist is a beautiful representation of our family. And while my family provides me with joy and tenderness, warmth and delight, they are also a source of exhaustion and frustration, worry and work. It is the other Moonstone I rely on to get me back in balance.
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Early on in our parenting days, someone told my husband “the days are long, the years are short.” When there’s a child involved, it certainly seems like we were changing diapers one day and sending our son to pre-school the next day.
Time is fleeting so we celebrate the little moments in the everyday. We celebrate yearly events, monthly events, weekly events, and daily events. Here is a list of our family’s top seven traditions and celebrations:
- Birthday books. We have celebrated each of Ryan’s four birthdays with a small family gathering. Each year, everyone in attendance signs Ryan’s “birthday book.” I began this tradition with Ryan’s first birthday and the Dr. Seuss classic Oh the Places You’ll Go.
- Our yearly Santa picture. When I was pregnant, I purchased a “Santa and me” picture frame at an after-Christmas sale. Each year, we take Ryan to visit Santa Claus and take a picture (although, one year he declined to visit with jolly St. Nick). Each year, the frame graces our coffee table with an updated Santa picture.
- Our yearly visit to the Aquarium. On the day I took a home pregnancy test and learned I was pregnant, I spent the rest of the day with my sister and two nephews marveling at fish like Nemo, sharks, and sea lions. Since that July day, we take Ryan to visit the aquarium each summer.
- Easter and Passover. I was raised by parents of two different religious backgrounds, and the tradition continues with my husband and myself. So each spring, my son enjoys “matzo crackers” and we decorate hard-boiled eggs. And on Easter Sunday, the eight plastic eggs hidden in our living room each hold a quarter to total Ryan’s $2.00 “Son Day” payment.
- To document Ryan’s growth, we take a picture of him on the 30th of each month (he was born on March 30th). When Ryan was younger, we were able to position him on a red chair in his bedroom. We watched his legs dangle closer to the hardwood floor. As an active toddler, pictures are more spontaneous - on the see saw, standing outside of preschool, striking a pose as he dances around the living room.
- Ryan was born on a Sunday, so since his birth, Sunday is also known as “Son Day.” Each Sunday, Ryan receives $1 in each of his “piggy” banks (one is a blue pig, and one shaped like a baby bottle). Every few months I empty the banks, tally up the change, and make a deposit in Ryan’s savings account.
- Good nights. My career as an elementary school teacher often forces me to leave the house quite early, sometimes before our son has awoken. “Night-night time” is even more special. We have our ritual - a kiss, a nosey-nosey, and a hug-a-bug. And then, I tell my son I love him and, borrowing from the Mamas and Papas, wish him “Sweet dreams till sunbeams find you.”
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Sometimes life, (well, my life anyway), feels like a roller coaster. You strap yourself in and hang on. You wait it out. And sometimes there’s not much more than that for you to do. You have no control over trajectory or speed. You can keep your eyes open, or shut them tight. You scream with terror while adrenaline pounds through your veins. But once you’re on, you’re on. There’s no getting off, there’s no slowing down, you wait for the ride to stop. You just have to wait it out.
That’s where my life feels like right now. The past couple of weeks have been quite the roller coaster ride. Moments of joy and laughter, and then, the ride starts to descend, the speed picks up, and there’s panic. In the past couple of weeks I’ve taken my son to the pony rides in Griffith Park and to Urgent Care. I’ve had nights of six hours of sleep and nights of three hours of sleep. I’ve spent time crying in pain, and breathing sighs of relief that my discomfort had eased up. Most of it, though, is out of my control.
I’ve decided I’m ready to ride the carousel. I’ve always liked merry-go-rounds. You can see where you’re going, there’s charming ice-cream-truck music accompanying your ride, and there are the horses that are decorative and pretty, that raise you up gently and bring you back down. The ride’s more predictable, but a lot more steady, a lot more relaxing.
I think my ride on the roller coaster isn’t done yet. But when it is, I’m getting in line for the merry-go-round.
Wednesday, October 3, 2012
I remember my eleventh grade United States history teacher. She said that regardless of any advances we might make, men and women would never truly be equal. To prove her point, she said a man could walk down the street without a shirt while a woman who did the same thing would be arrested for indecent exposure.
Since I was pregnant, gender differences have been increasingly apparent. Maybe more so because I’m raising a son.
Boy or girl, I believe it’s my duty to parent so that my child grows up to be a thoughtful, considerate human being. Consequently, my four-and-a-half year old son is
not allowed to own or play with any weapons - no light sabers, no guns, no swords. I strongly believe that items that can cause death and great bodily harm are not items that should be made into play things. My son has some cars and trucks - so-called “boy toys.” However, I’ve done my best to provide him with gender-neutral activities - books, puzzles, sidewalk chalk, blocks.
Ryan knows there are differences between girls and boys, mommies and daddies. Boys shave their faces and can go pee-pee standing up. Girls can wear dresses, polish their nails, and wear lipstick.
I think I’m doing something right when I see my son choose a pink balloon. He doesn’t see it as a “girl color,” and he doesn’t need to. It’s simply the balloon color that looks most appealing to him.
As the mother of a son, it’s easy to see some of the neighborhood girls playing in their Disney princess dresses, and confidently think, “No way I’d buy those if I had a daughter.” Do those dresses (along with the toy guns and swords) send a certain message to our children or am I just analyzing it too much?
I don’t know.
I do know that my son will grow up in a world where men and women aren’t entirely equal. One isn’t better than, smarter than, or faster than the other. They are different.
And it’s really okay to be different.
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
A Architecture, but not in any academic-way. I’m talking about charming houses that look like they’ve come from a fairy tale or a brick building that looks like it was just flown over from a European city.
B Brownies, books, and blended mochas. Enjoyed together, they are the ingredients for some delightful Wendy-time.
C Candles. There’s something soothing and calming about candlelight. As an added bonus, candles can make my bedroom smell like chocolate, lavender, or fresh berries.
D Decadent chocolate - the kind that provide my daily caloric intake. I know emotions aren’t supposed to be tied to food, but what is “supposed to be” and what happens aren’t always the same. A triple chocolate chunk cookie can make me happy. A mini-chocolate bundt cake can bring a smile to my face. A heavenly chocolate souffle is bliss.
E Earrings. When I was younger, my earrings were housed in ice cube trays. Now, my collection has grown, so they are kept in an enclosed earring box - complete with mirror. My earrings change daily to match my outfit.
F Flowers - on our patio, on my dining table, pressed into a book. Paintings of sunflowers adorn the walls in our kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom. Flowers make life prettier.
G Green open spaces. Nothing quite compares to a picnic in the park, an hour spent writing or reading, or walking or talking in a lush garden-setting.
H Home. Our first home was an apartment located on the tenth floor in a twelve-floor building. I loved the view, but I wanted a “house” - a place where mail was delivered through the little slot on my front door, a place where going outside did not require waiting for an elevator, a place that had two stories of our own. Our home is a rental, but it is our home. Our sanctuary.
I Ice cream. Some days (or nights) a bowl of ice cream is the escape I need. I don’t meditate or practice yoga. But I do make myself sit down to enjoy a bowl of chocolate ice cream topped with chocolate chips and chocolate syrup. It’s my own personal time-out.
J June. For a teacher, June represents the finish line; I’ve earned another notch in my belt. I made it; I survived a school year, and now will be able to re-acquaint myself with some leisure time.
K Keepsakes. Pictures, fortunes from long-ago meals, notes written on napkins. Receipts from Paris. Notes and cards. They touch my soul, bring warmth and light and happiness.
L Lotion, bubble bath, and me. Nothing quite pampers me like a soak in the bathtub. And although I thoroughly enjoy taking a bath, I usually opt for the quick shower. But when I do allow myself a soak - it’s a heavenly hour spent in fragrances that smell fruity or floral and caress my skin.
M Moon. I know it’s always there, even when I can’t see it. Sometimes it surprises me, making an appearance during the day. Other times, it illuminates the front lawn at night. Either way, the moon is mystical and magical. The moon is reassuring; it’s there, will always be there, and even when it disappears, it will come back.
N Notes, as in the hand-written variety that express a heartfelt sentiment. “Thank you.” “I love you.” “You’re special.” Nothing quite compares to receiving a note someone has written to me. A note that I may keep and hold on to, re-open and re-read when I need encouragement or support or a virtual pat-on-the-back, don’t-give-up.
O Ocean. Maybe it’s because I’m a Pisces, but I strongly react to being near the ocean. I feel more peaceful, more content, more serene. I’m hopeful that things will work out. I breathe in and out deeper.
P Patio. It’s my favorite place at home. A glider. A patio table adorned with candles and artificial tulips in a pink vase. Wind chimes, impatiens, a dolphin mobile.
Q Quality time with my husband. We are full-time working parents of a toddler. Life is busy. However, my husband and I made the mistake of losing “us” - the “us” that was responsible for the child we created. Now, we acknowledge the need for quality time, and we take it. We have dates - whether it be a slow dance in our living room after our son is in bed, watching an episode of “The Cosby Show” while we lie in bed, or going out for dinner.
R Ryan. Becoming a mother was a very conscious decision. Becoming a mother is the highest honor, the most rewarding experience I have ever known.
S Squish. It’s the “wrestling” game my son and I play. Sometimes, it’s more wrestle, other times it’s more tickle. But, either way, it’s him and me, close and cuddly, laughing and playing.
T Temperate weather. I am a native-Los Angeles girl. Blue skies, bright sun, mild breeze - January, April, or October. My favorite weather is mild and calm and beckons me outdoors.
U Unpredictable occurrences. The appearance of a rainbow, the sight of a butterfly. I consider them gifts from above, little surprises to make me stop and take notice, smile and be happy.
V Value. I have learned from my mom - shopping with coupons makes sense. Shopping and finding a great value, coming home with a bargain does give a different high to a shopping experience than merely purchasing an item.
W Writing. I’ve wanted to be a writer since second-grade, when Mrs. Jones made me a “book” complete with a yellow construction paper cover and included the “good” paper inside.
X X’s and O’s. Sometimes, all I need is a hug. A full-on hug where my husband’s arms envelope me. I’m safe, and the scary things will be kept at bay. As a mommy, I know there’s a small window of opportunity I have to kiss my son on his toes, his tushie, and his tummy.
Y Yearly celebrations. The house takes on a different look when the yearly decorations comes out - autumn leaves draped around the banister, pinecones in a vase on the table for winter, birthday banners and balloons for my son’s birthday.
Z Zany laughter - the kind that makes you hiccup and cry and grab your sides. Zany laughter from something silly, like watching Sandra Bullock’s character fall in the giant hole in the movie All About Steve.
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
While reading Terry McMillan’s Getting to Happy, I came across a passage that resonated with me. On a blind date, one woman asked her male brunch-date the getting-to-know-you-question, “How do you measure happiness?” His response:
“It’s a feeling of calm that comes from the inside. When you figure out what’s important. When you have nothing to prove. Giving everything you do everything you’ve got and being satisfied, regardless of the outcome.”
I love his reply, and yet it doesn’t at all fit with my job duties. I’m an elementary school teacher - on paper. In reality, I’m much more. I’m mother, nurse, therapist, coach, and cheerleader. I teach my students as if they were my children; in fact, I constantly refer to them as “my kids.” I teach each day with 100% of my heart and soul. Yet, teaching isn’t making me happy. Because at the end of the day, my value, my skill, my outcome is measured by my students’ test scores.
CST (California Standards Tests) are a big deal. I tell my students that they’re important, but they are certainly not the most important thing in life. I tell my students that I’m far less concerned with their test scores than with their character. Are they honest? Trustworthy? Kind? Loyal? I told them their friendships will not be determined by their test scores but by their personalities.
So I try to teach it all. Character and geometry. Respect and writing strategies. Compassion and United States history. Tolerance and physical science.
And I celebrate all the little accomplishments. A child with “impulse-control issues” who can hold it together and participate in a day’s lessons. A child who easily shuts down and yet attempts all the day’s classwork. A child who didn’t do an assignment and yet was honest and admitted it to me.
My teaching methods match this character’s definition of happiness. But at the end of the day, I’m not happy. Teaching is a profession that doesn’t have a “fixed outcome” at the end of “my shift.” I often don’t know if I’ve made a difference or gotten through to my students. And yet I try, each day, over and over again. At the end of the day, I go home satisfied that I’ve done all I can do. And yet, the powers that be don’t regard my teaching efforts in that manner.
I will not change who I am, as an individual or a teacher. But, more and more, I’m wondering if my years in the teaching profession are coming to an end. I am not happy with the way I am spending the majority of my days and hours. I would want more for my kids, so why am I settling for less?
Which brings me to another definition of happiness. After the first character defines happiness, his date replies:
“When you’re willing to surrender to goodness and you. Give yourself permission to feel it. Not holding yourself hostage for making mistakes. Doing what you love. Doing for others. Learning to cherish the beauty of right now. When you can make yourself smile and laugh without depending on anybody else.”