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, January 25, 2012

A Timeless Tune

   We’ve heard it before - music is timeless.  Music unites people and crosses all boundaries.  I knew it was true, but now I can see that it’s true.  I see it with my three-year-old son and my sixty-six year old dad.

   My son and my dad bond in “Grandpa’s room” - my dad’s home office.  They play different computer games, watch different videos, and one of their favorites is a rendition of “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.”  An organization named “Playing for Change” traveled around the world, recording street musicians performing this song.  The clips are edited into one version, providing my son with international exposure - an Indian sitar, a Louisiana washboard, a Santa Monica keyboard.  My dad knows the song - it was popular when he was a young man.  I know the song because of Tom Cruise and Top Gun.  Now, my son knows the song as well.

   I know other parents who firmly believe young children should only listen to classical music.  Music that is hundreds of years old.  Music that is faceless.  My son knows that music because of his “Baby Einstein” videos.  My son also knows Ottis Redding, Michael Jackson (“Billie Jean”), Neil Diamond (“Forever in Blue Jeans”), and Elvis Presley (“Can’t Help Falling in Love”) - to name a few.

   I firmly believe that my son should know that music sounds different.  Different instruments, different melodies, different styles all combine to create different sounds.  And my son should know that all people can enjoy music, can sing along and be happy with music, can express themselves with music.  

   My son is growing up seeing and hearing the world singing the same songs he is.  To borrow from another song, music proves that “It’s a small world after all.”

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Call Me Old-Fashioned

   It’s a cliche to say that times change.  But as a mother, and a teacher, it’s all-so-evident.

   Take for example my students’ last project.  They were to complete a book report after reading a biography.  (I allowed them to read about anyone, so subjects ranged from Robert E. Lee to Madonna to Michael Jordan to Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen).  The project required my students to complete their book report on a cereal box.  The inspiration behind my non-traditional book report was a Wheaties box.

   First red flag, my students didn’t know what a Wheaties box was.  They didn’t understand that it’s really a huge honor for an individual to be featured on a cereal box.  And that whole discussion made me feel quite old (I’m 35, my students are 9 and 10).  

   Fast-forward several weeks.  My students eagerly brought their cereal box book reports to class, prepared to share their work.  One of the requirements was for students to also bring their books to class.  That’s when I was handed notes.  “Dear Mrs. Kennar, We read the book on our iPad so if my daughter does need to bring the iPad to class, please let me know.”  Another note told me that their son had also read his book on the iPad and the iPad was in his backpack.  In addition to everything else I worry about on a daily basis, I was now worried that one of my students had a $600 technological device just as casually stashed in his backpack as his turkey sandwich might be.

   The bottom line is all 32 students completed their assignments.  All 32 students created cereal box book reports (although, admittedly, some more well-written than others).  I am glad that my students read books.  I am glad that most of my students enjoyed the creative freedom this project provided them.  

   However, this whole book-on-the-iPad thing is really disturbing me.  Yes, it’s convenient, but with this convenience we’re forgetting to teach our children to wait.  Back when I was a fourth grader, I would have needed my mom to drive me to the public library.  I would have to walk around and look at my book choices.  I would have had to wait in line to check out my desired book.  I would have needed to keep track of the book’s due date so I wouldn’t accrue late fines.  

   Is it really in our best interest to make everything so easy, so quick, so instantaneous for our children?  I don’t think so.  Convenience is fantastic - but more so for adults.  Our lives are fuller, busier, we’ve earned some short-cuts.  I think our kids need to learn the beauty and grace involved with waiting.  Our children need to learn that most worthwhile things in life don’t happen right away, but they do happen.

   And some people, like me, smile when I’m called “old-fashioned.”  It’s not such a bad thing.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The A to Z List of My Jobs

   I’m a mommy of a three-and-a-half year old son.  A full-time job.  I am a public school teacher to thirty-two fourth graders.  Another full-time job.  I’m a wife to a man who sometimes requires the same coaxing, coaching, and cajoling skills as my son and students.  A third full-time job.  So, as a result, I don’t have one job title that fits.  I wear too many hats, have too many responsibilities.  I need the whole alphabet.
A    Affection dispenser.  Children need affection.  Hugs and kisses, high-fives, shoulder rubs, pats on the head.  My fourth-grade students are no less huggy than were my kindergarten students.  I constantly remind my son that Mommies never run out of hugs and kisses. 

B    Bookkeeper.  I am the chief bill-writer at home.  The person who shops with coupons and decides if something should be purchased or is still “too expensive.”  I am the personal ATM machine, always having a small stash of cash on hand.  

C    Chauffeur.  Since my husband and I got our first car, I was, and am to this day, the designated driver in our family.  

D    Dietician.  I am the chef at home (chef being used lightly.  Some nights dinner is as gourmet as chicken nuggets and french fries.)  But ultimately, what my family eats is my decision.  In the classroom, I dole out “brain food” - the snacks I provide my students during testing.  I ration out one Red Vine, a cupful of Goldfish crackers, or a small box of raisins.

E    Educator.  At home and at work.  In academics, behaviors, social skills.  Everything I say, everything I do is being watched by young eyes.  

F    Fun-provider.  Kids always want to know if what we’ll be doing is fun.  And of course, I tell them.  I lie, sometimes, and tell them “Yes.”  Because really, no kid wants to hear that recess is over, and it’s time to go inside and do something not-fun.  So, I try to make lessons as fun as I can.  I try to make teeth-brushing and face-washing as entertaining as possible for my son.  (Songs and dances work wonders to persuade kids to do what you want them to do).

G    Gardener.  One of my favorite places at home is my back patio.  A glider, a patio table and chairs, and plants.  Impatiens, kalanchoe, and plants whose names I have forgotten.  Our family garden has become my responsibility - to water, to weed, to cultivate.

H    Historian.  I am the record-keeper, the person who doesn’t just take the photos but prints them out, dates them, and stores them in photo albums.  I update picture frames around our house with current family photos.  I take pictures of my students, creating posters that share our field trip adventures, class parties, or science experiments.

I    Interior decorator.  I decide on the color paper for my bulletin boards.  I decided to have a red-themed kitchen.  I put out the holiday decorations, both at school and at home. 

J     Janitor.  I have cleaned up urine (both my son’s and my student’s.)  I have cleaned up vomit (both my son’s and my students’).  I clean up spilled milk, stray pieces of paper, straw wrappers, paint spots in the sink, and fingerprints on the table.

K    Kitchen hand.  Cooking is just one aspect of my kitchen duties.  Let’s not forget the preparations, the clean-up, the loading and unloading of the dishwasher.  The inventory of kitchen cupboards before grocery shopping, the unloading of groceries, and the packing of lunches and snacks.

L    Librarian.  I have a deep love of books and have had since I was a kid and would enroll in the public library’s annual summer reading program.  We were allowed to check out 10 books; I’d start reading them in the car.  It is a pleasure to introduce my son and my students to great books.  Books that are just fun and silly to read.  Books that make us think.  Books that teach us.  Each student receives books as gifts in December and June.  My son receives books as gifts year-round, and the public library and bookstore are frequent stops for us.

M    Mommy.  (My other jobs do fall under this umbrella job).  Being Mommy, is my greatest honor.  It’s the job I value most, the job that I worry about the most.  My number one responsibility as mommy to my son is to keep him healthy and safe.  And when it comes to my students, they know that’s my number one job as well - keeping them healthy and safe - teaching them comes second.

N    Nurse.  I am the person my son wants when he doesn’t feel well.  The person he will throw up on.  The person who must hold him, cradle him, lull him.  At school, I play nurse to students with general complaints of “I don’t feel good,” and no more specific symptoms than that.  (It’s amazing how much help a sip of water can offer).

O    Overseer.  Basically, it comes down to me.  I’m the one in charge, I call the shots, and anything that goes wrong will inevitably be blamed on me.

P    Psychologist.  Dealing with children isn’t always easy.  They don’t always know “why” they feel a certain why.  They just do.  And it’s up to the parent, or the teacher, or the adult in charge to try and get kids to talk it out, “use their words,” to figure out what’s going on and how we can best work through it.

Q    Quiet-monitor.  I am on noise patrol, making sure my students are walking quietly (or as quietly as I can have them) in the hall.  I am the reminder to my son that we have to use our “quiet voices” in the library and at the museum.  

R    Researcher.  I begin each school year explaining my expectations to my students.  I also share with them my disclaimers - I’m not perfect and I don’t have all the answers.  When I am asked a question I do not know, I will do my best to research the answer.  

S    Special Events Coordinator.  Thanksgiving multicultural feast, birthday parties (both for my son and my students), Halloween brunch, end-of-school celebration (again, for both my students and my family), all require my hands-on expertise.  Food must be coordinated, tables set, silverware and paper goods accounted for.

T    Tushie/nose/hand wiper.  Okay, those duties are my responsibility because I’m a mommy.  But even at school, I cannot let a student walk around with ketchup on their face, snot on their nose, or a leaf in their hair.  

U    Umpire.  It’s up to me to settle disputes - disputes between my students during games of kickball at recess, disagreements between female students who can’t understand what is going on with the girls who are supposed to be their best friends, and tensions between my husband and son when their stubbornness feeds off each other until neither one wants to change his mind and both are getting upset.

V    Ventriloquist.  Now, you can definitely see my lips moving, but for my three-year-old son I’m good enough to convince him it is his Penguin that is asking him to wash his hands before dinner, his Mr. Tickle doll that is telling him we only have time for one last story before bed.

W    Wendy-of-all-trades.  Untie knotted shoe laces, fix stuck zippers, repair ripped books, locate missing puzzle pieces, read this book, sing this song.

X    X-ray Technician, but not in the traditional sense.  I have no fancy machines at my disposal.  Yet, I have my “x-ray” eyes that show me when a student will need a moment to himself because he’s upset.  I know when my son is becoming frustrated as he attempts to write the letter “n.”  I know when students are trying to pass a note in class.  I know when my husband is preoccupied before he tells me about a work concern.

Y    Yard supervisor.  Checking the playground for obstacles - for my son and students.  Watching that children are playing nicely and fairly, taking turns and following the rules.  Making sure no one is putting anything in their mouth that shouldn’t be put there.  

Z    Zen master.  Not officially, anyway.  But I am expected to remain calm regardless of what’s going on around us.  So, when the fire alarm rings for an unexpected drill during a social studies lesson, I must calmly evacuate my thirty-two students.  When the blender is whirring, my son needs to use the potty, and the phone rings, I’ve got to achieve a calm comforting voice to help everyone stay focused on what they need to do.  

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Resolution

   They say when you write something down or say it out loud, it becomes more real.  So, this week’s blog references my new year’s resolution.  I’m sharing it, making it “public,” so that my readers who know me can let me know if I start to slip up and need a slight kick in the tush to get back into gear.

      So, here it goes.  

   I’m a public school teacher with eleven years experience.  The longer I’m teaching, the less I’m enjoying it.  And I spent part of this three-week winter break trying to figure out if it was possible for me to quit my job.  It’s not.  We have bills to pay.  And truthfully, I know that being a teacher offers perks (like said three-week winter break) that make teaching an attractive career for a working mommy.

   So, if I can’t quit my job, I’ve got to change the way I do my job.   Teaching, for me, is not an 8 am- 3 pm job.  It never has been.  That’s part of my problem.  I let teaching my students overwhelm me, until my days are consumed with caring for children - my son and my students.  Consequently, many other aspects of my life (my health, my sleep, my marriage, my writing) fall by the wayside.  

   2012 will be the year I set some limits.  One day each week - “Wendy-writing-date” after school.  One night each week, I will not grade my students’ homework (shh, don’t tell them).  One night each week will be a no-school-work-at-home-night.

   I will spend more time in 2012 doing things that make me happy.  Sitting on my patio.  Reading.  I will be more rested so that I do not fall asleep during my son’s bedtime routine.

   During this year-and-a-half medical odyssey I’ve been on, I’ve had some scary moments.  When we were awaiting results from one doctor, I knew that if he had “bad” news to tell me, I’d be quitting my job.  I wasn’t going to spend my limited time being unhappy.  (Thankfully, thankfully, thankfully I have been spared the “bad” news.)  But still, life is too short, and much too unpredictable, for me to be spending so much of my time and energy being unhappy.  That’s not the kind of mommy I want my son growing up with.

   Deep breath.  A whole new year’s adventures await!
   Wishing my readers a happy, healthy 2012 that sees all your goals reaching fruition!