Since Mother's Day and Father's Day are rapidly approaching, may I make a gift suggestion? A new book called Lessons From My Parents is now available online and at Barnes and Noble. I am proud to say that one of my essays is a part of this special anthology! Here's the link for more information:
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, April 24, 2013
I grew up thinking tattoos were only for men. My mom always expressed her disapproval of most tattoos, especially those decorating a woman’s body. My dad has an eagle with U. S. N. on his left bicep, a visual memento of his early-adult days in the United States Navy. (Many years later, he added a heart on his right bicep, a tribute to my mom.)
Growing up, I never wanted a tattoo; never wanted to alter my body in such an artificial way. If anything, my teenage/early adult years could be described as “very-mild-rebel.” I cut my waist-length hair to my shoulders. And when I was twenty-one, I decided to get a second hole pierced in my right ear.
Now, in my mid-thirties, my body has enough “tattoos.” There are the stretch marks on my stomach that haven’t completely erased themselves four years after my son was born. There’s the small white circular mark on my right wrist, a reminder of the needle that was inserted before my son was born and removed days after, when it was finally determined I wouldn’t need a blood transfusion. There are my birthmarks - one on my right forearm, one on my left calf. There are the beauty marks that adorn my right upper-arm, the left corner of my mouth, the left side of my neck. With all these “tattoos,” do I really need an “official” tattoo? The answer is no. No one really needs a tattoo.
A few years ago, I started to entertain the idea of adding a tattoo to my body. A small butterfly, a tribute to the woman I was who had emerged from the cocoon of girlhood. I was finally the most-at-peace with myself that I had ever been. I liked who I was. Was proud of who I was. This butterfly was a visible reminder that I was beautiful just as I am.
Almost three years ago, all that changed. I wound up in the emergency room with a swollen left calf. I was hospitalized for four days while doctors treated me. My health unraveled after that. Symptoms and pain worsened and began to spread. I spent one month dependent on a walker and wheelchair to get around.
I have since been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. I am again a woman I don’t know, a woman who doesn’t think she’s beautiful, doesn’t think she’s adequate. I have legs that look like a map’s rendering of an interstate - red, blue, and purple veins criss-crossing around my leg. I have a scar, the result of a muscle biopsy. I have a countertop full of medicine bottles.
My diagnosis requires regular doctor visits and blood work, both of which left me in no rush for more needles.
A year ago, feeling hopeless, powerless, and not seeing any improvements in my physical (or emotional) well-being, I sought an alternative treatment. I now receive acupuncture treatments. And, I am learning that needles can serve other purposes, can be beneficial, can be sought-after.
I know there’s a lesson to learn somewhere in the midst of this medical odyssey I’m on. I think, actually, it’s a series of on-going lessons. So far, I’ve learned that I can’t plan everything, and the biggest things in life are really out of my control. Additionally, I’m learning (the hard way) that life is unpredictable, fragile, and I can’t always wait for later. Who knows if later will come or what later will look like?
My health and my appearance are out of my control. And again, I am turning to the idea of a tattoo. A tattoo is completely under my control and would be the only marking on my body that I would be responsible for. Placement, size, design, color. A tattoo, perhaps near my foot, would be my way of staking back my legs.
Back when I got my second piercing, I could give no explanation to the question of “Why?” except that “I want to.” It was one of the few things I have ever done that has no logical purpose, serves no real function, and was attained simply because I wanted it. I think this tattoo is something like that. It’s something that intrigues me and maybe it is a reminder that some things can simply be appreciated and attained because they are desired.
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
I grew up with an appreciation for trees - their benefits (shade), their power (strong enough to crush a car), their endurance (long life-span), their beauty (their seasonal changes).
Trees have been a part of my life, in a very round-about sort of way, a valuable bit of scenery, a prop for my life story. Here, I share with you fond memories of the top six trees in my thirty-six years on this planet.
- Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. I can still remember my elementary school teacher playing a film strip version of this book. As a child, I liked the book - it was a simple, sweet story. As a mother, I re-read this tale and understand it’s message of unconditional love, of wanting nothing more than to see those you love taken care of, provided for, and happy.
- Our tree. My husband and I never learned the species, we just knew it was “our tree.” It was the tree we sat beneath as we each awaited our morning science classes. We talked as orange petals cascaded around us. We metamorphosed from high school classmates to fellow college students, falling in “like” and falling in love.
- Christmas trees. Upon moving out, I carried many of my mom’s traditions with me - special birthday meals, weekly trips to the market, notes in my son’s lunchbox. However, there was one thing I vowed to do distinctly different than my mom. Each year, my husband and I purchase a live Christmas tree. I grew up with an artificial tree, one that was re-used year after year. As an adult, a Noble Fir graces our living room and scents our home.
- Our current home has a large bottlebrush tree that extends upwards, reaching to the top of our son’s bedroom window. When we first moved in, the moniker “bottle brush tree” was cute, but also something that was far off in the future. The future has already come and gone. We have already completed the stage with bottle brushes, for my son is now approaching his fifth birthday.
- Pom-pom trees. To most people they are palm trees, but my son has nicknamed them “pom pom trees.” They are the quintessential symbol of sunny southern California - the only home I have ever known. For my son, they are the trees that Mario climbs up in Super Mario Sunshine.
- Pink tree. That is the tree that my son and I look for as we drive to and from Grandma’s house. It is a large tree, covering the front lawn of a one-story home, reaching up as high as the home’s chimney. It is the tree that helps me teach the seasons to my son since Los Angeles isn’t known for providing seasonal weather. In winter, the tree is “naked;” in spring, the tree is bursting with green and we eagerly await our first glimpses of pink. In summer, the tree bursts with pink flowers, and in fall, many of the blooms and leaves have fallen and look like confetti on the lawn.
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Twelve years as a public school teacher. That’s hundreds of students taught, countless piles of graded homework, and numerous report cards. In those twelve years, there have been certain events, certain memories that stand out and will not be easily forgotten. Here is my A to Z List of Memorable Events from My Teaching Career.
A Australian money. One year, a group of Australian educators were visiting our school. The gentlemen were very friendly, answering questions posed by my fourth graders. One teacher showed us Australian “paper” money; money that could be crumpled up and then would magically revert back to its original shape and size.
B Mrs. Eva Brown. I knew Eva from my part-time job at the public library. She was dignified, lady-like, attractive, and professional. And she was a Holocaust Survivor. She was a guest speaker to my fourth-grade class, discussing her experiences during that horrific time, revealing the series of numbers tattooed on her wrist.
C Car purchase. The purchase of our second car was on the verge of completion. The car was being delivered to our home, and my husband would finalize the last-minute details. Except, there were a couple more signatures the car dealership needed from me. And I was at work. So, my husband and the car salesperson came to school so that I could excuse myself from teaching to sign and complete the transaction.
D Double-duty. My first year of teaching, I was the afternoon kindergarten teacher. I technically taught half a day, while offering assistance and support to the morning teacher. One day, the morning teacher was ill, a substitute didn’t show, and I was required to teach both the morning and afternoon classes. Luckily, our lessons were very much aligned, but by the time my afternoon students went home, I was bone-tired.
E Trapped in the school elevator. I relied on the school elevator due to a medical condition. One morning, I entered the elevator and didn’t exit it until about forty-five minutes later when the fire department got me out. By the time the doors opened and I got off, my heart beat was racing and I felt nauseous. Now, I’m always a little hesitant when entering elevators, always a little apprehensive when it feels like the doors are taking a few seconds to long to open.
F Falling off a school bus. My kindergarten students and I had just returned from a field trip to the public library. All my children were safe and accounted for. I was the last to disembark from the bus. And then I slipped and fell on my backside as I stepped off. Most of my students were unaware, the driver was concerned, and I tried to be nonchalant about the whole incident. The next day I woke up stiff, bruised, and embarrassed.
G Graduation. I usually missed attending graduation ceremonies because I was still teaching my current students. However, one year I was finishing up my maternity leave and was able to attend graduation. I felt like a proud mother, watching my children singing on stage, reciting speeches, accepting certificates, and looking so much more grown-up.
H Halloween dressed as “Fancy Nancy.” My best-friend and I once attended a math meeting where we were called “Nancy” although we each wore “Hello My Name Is” tags correctly identifying ourselves. For some reason, the presenters insisted on referring to us as Nancy, and the name stuck. We called ourselves Nancy (and still do) and decided to celebrate our new moniker by dressing as the popular “Fancy Nancy” character, complete with curly hair, pink tutus, and magic wands.
I Interview. In one day I was called, an interview was set up, and I was hired. My interview took several hours because of the chaos my principal was required to deal with. Discipline issues. Sampling lettuce grown from the school garden. A teacher needing to report suspected child abuse.
J Job fair. For several years, I hosted a job fair, inviting parents to come in and speak to our class about their jobs. Each year participants varied. Some offered brief accounts, some came with hands-on materials, visual aids, a slideshow presentation. One year, no parents showed, and I desperately walked around campus imploring staff members to speak to my students. The principal and assistant principal both obliged.
K Kindergarten. It was my first teaching position. I taught afternoon kindergarten to a class of 20, 14 boys and 6 girls. Before the new school year started, I observed my two kindergarten colleagues, taking notes about their routines and their classrooms. For four years, I took my “lunch break” from 10:30-11:10 because my students would be arriving to class at 11:20. My students began to sound-out and read, we counted and cut, we painted our hands and feet, we traced our shadows, we sang about the months of the year, and learned the national anthem.
L Last Day. The last day of my teaching career wasn’t the last day of a school year. My last day of teaching was actually the first day of a new month. It was pajama day at school, it was a day of tears and hugs, flowers, heartfelt wishes, and mixed emotions. I was completely unprepared for the school-wide acknowledgment of my leaving, the floral arrangements, and gifts that were attempts at making my health-related departure more sweet.
M Moving classrooms. For four years, I taught half-time kindergarten in Room 5, sharing the classroom with the morning teacher who constantly reminded me that she was old enough to be my mother. The transition to full-day kindergarten meant I would be teaching in my own classroom. I piled my rolling desk chair high with boxes of books and rolled across the hall to Room 4, ready to decorate without having to compromise with anyone.
N Needles. One year, my students were learning about traditional/natural medicine compared to more westernized medicine. A former teacher turned acupuncturist spoke to my class about acupuncture - its purpose, its benefits. To prove that most needles are relatively harmless, he walked around the classroom with a needle sticking out of his hand. The sight of it was unnerving, and I was positive I would never try acupuncture. A few years later, I stand corrected as I now include acupuncture as part of my treatment for my chronic medical condition.
O President Obama. The election of our nation’s first African-American President was a historic event. My students held a mock election, and we watched the inauguration together, standing for the pledge of allegiance, clapping with excitement. A few years later, a different class and I would write President Obama letters and shriek with excitement when he answered us back.
P Paris. It was my dream vacation, but with any travel, there is an element of risk and danger involved. Using the globe, I showed my kindergarten students where I would be traveling to during our spring break. When we all returned to school, the picture my students were most interested in was the tiny shower in our hotel room and the lopsided bed.
Q Quake drill. Every year schools conduct a mock earthquake drill involving an evacuation of the building and designating certain staff and students as injured. One year, I was “injured” and had to remain alone in the classroom until I was “discovered” by the search and rescue team. The room was eerily quiet, but it did allow me a chance to get some paperwork done in the middle of the day.
R Ryan’s birth. I taught at a relatively small elementary school, so news of my pregnancy was well-known. Many of my students threw me a lunch-time shower, the staff threw me a surprise shower after school. I worked until a week before my son was due. However, my son had other plans. My last day of work was Friday, March 28 and my son was born Sunday, March 30. Staff and students arrived back at work Monday morning shocked to discover that Mrs. Kennar was now a Mommy.
S Sweating with fever. I wasn’t feeling well one Friday morning, and at recess, went downstairs to have my temperature taken by the school nurse. It registered 100 degrees; a sign she said I need to go home. 45 minutes later I was finally released to go home, after my students were dispersed to other classes and I gave them assignments to complete. The next morning, my fever was rising, and a trip to urgent care diagnosed me with pneumonia.
T Rat Trap. One year, my classroom had a rodent problem. Rats got into my closets, left droppings around the classroom, yet could never be found. The custodian set up a sticky trap during winter break, and when I returned to school three weeks later, I was horrified to find the trap worked. I let out a shriek before summoning the custodian.
U Uh-oh moment. While attempting to carry too many things at once, my grip slipped and I accidentally spilled some purple paint on my black suede clogs. Luckily, I had mixed the paint with hand-soap (a trick a veteran kindergarten teacher had taught me), thereby avoiding disaster. Although if you look closely at my clogs, one embroidered flower has more of a lavender-tint than the other.
V Visit to the public library. This field trip was significant because I had come full-circle. I was a kindergarten teacher bringing my class to the public library where I worked during college. Now, I had done it; I had achieved my goal of becoming a teacher and was sharing a part of my past with my present.
W Published Writers. One year, my fourth-grade students wrote Haiku poems so we could enter a poetry contest. All selected poems would be published in an upcoming anthology. All my students were eager to participate, and most were selected for publication.
X Exchange my kindergarten curriculum for fourth-grade curriculum. The change in grade level was not my choice. I had taught kindergarten for five years, and with each year, enjoyed it more and got better. Now, because of my low seniority, my kindergarten position was taken by another teacher and I was left to teach fourth grade. A change that meant a classroom move as well as a series of trainings. Curriculum was miles away from what I was used to. I needed “big kid” desks and chairs, dictionaries, pointy scissors, and skinnier crayons and pencils.
Y Yard art. Some of our most enjoyable lessons occurred outside. With my kindergarten students, we traced our shadows and compared their sizes during different parts of the day. For my fourth-graders, we took our new knowledge of triangles outside to draw isosceles, equilateral, and scalene triangles.
Z Zero the Hero. I met Zero the Hero my first year of teaching. He was the superhero who would sneak into our classroom on every tenth school day, leaving behind snacks shaped like zeros (gummy peach rings, miniature donuts, cheerios) and helping me teach my children about place value and counting to one hundred.
Wednesday, April 3, 2013
My son recently celebrated his fifth birthday. For my readers who are parents, you know how I’m feeling. Emotional. My baby is now five.
Along with the presents and cake each March 30th, there are also memories of another March 30th, one from five years ago. It’s funny, some of the memories that are so vivid, that are so clear in my mind are also so peculiar, so random.
Here I share with you five odd memories from the most important day of my life:
- The nurse told me to use a bedpan. I was dealing with heavy-duty contractions, drug-free, and I suddenly had the urge to pee. The nurse instructed me to use a bedpan. I told her it wasn’t going to happen. She pointed out that my contractions were strong, I was all hooked up; I pointed out that I had my husband, sister, and mother in the room, and I was not peeing in a bedpan. I got out of that bed, walked to the bathroom, and while my husband stood by to make sure I was okay, I peed. (It was, incidentally, the first time I had used the bathroom in front of my husband).
- During labor, my ponytail kept falling down. In hindsight, I realize it’s probably because I was using a scrunchie bought during my high school years. I don’t know why I felt so sentimental to that particular hair accessory, packing that in my hospital bag.
- In the midst of my heavy-duty pushing, someone in the room turned on the flat screen TV. The TV was facing me, so unless a doctor or nurse was sneaking glances at it, I certainly wasn’t interested in watching the college basketball game that was being broadcast at that time. (Thankfully, the TV was muted).
- My doctor hadn’t arrived yet, and the doctor who was checking me informed me that my son had a lot of hair on his head. There I am, wearing the hospital gown, feeling pain I had never imagined before, about to give birth, and in my head, I’m thinking, “How does he know that? How does he see that?” There was still this sense of disbelief, this idea that my son was inside my body, and the hair on his head wasn’t visible yet.
- The birth of my son will always be linked to the smells of Triscuits and Starburst jellybeans. Those were my husband’s two snacks of choice. So in between words of encouragement and synchronized breathing, he would eat handfuls of his snacks. At our childbirth class, he and the other fathers were told that Daddies needed to maintain their blood-sugar levels to stay strong for the Mommies.
Reflecting on my own random memories, just makes me curious about what memories Ryan will hold on to as he gets older. Undoubtedly, he’ll remember some of the big events, but I wonder about the small moments that will remain with him as well.