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!
Sunday, September 29, 2013
Friday, September 27, 2013
Dear Readers: Heather Von St. James reached out to me, and now I'm reaching out to you. Yesterday, September 26th, was Mesothelioma Awareness Day. Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that is caused by exposure to asbestos. It is a rare, lethal type of cancer that most people have never heard of. Heather was diagnosed and given fifteen months to live. 7 years later she is spreading the word and spreading hope. Here's the link to the webpage with Heather's story. Please share it with others:
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
In our family, a boo-boo on a leg has several meanings. Right now, it’s what my son is dealing with. He recently came home from kindergarten having experienced a “first”: his first stumble and fall and subsequent trip to the office for a band-aid.
Both his knees were skinned, and one was bandaged. Ryan told me the fall happened during recess while he was playing a game with a classmate.
No parent wants their child to be hurt, to experience pain. But, I was happy to hear that the fall and boo-boos were the result of a game. I asked Ryan if it was a fun game, if he had been enjoying himself, and I got an emphatic “Yes!” This was great news because for the first few weeks of kindergarten, I was told that Ryan wasn’t playing and socializing much with his classmates.
We talked about how our bodies know how to heal themselves. Ryan remembered another fall and scrape on his knee when he was four years old, and acknowledged that it had “gone away” and gotten better. I assured him these bruises would do the same thing.
But then Ryan told me that the next time we visit the Los Angeles Zoo, he would need a wheelchair since his legs have boo-boos. It was one of those moments when I bit my lip and tried not to cry. We had ventured to the zoo this summer, and I had warned Ryan that I might need to use a wheelchair. Ryan doesn’t know I have an autoimmune disease that causes me pain and makes my legs weak. He knows my legs have boo-boos.
(I never did rent the wheelchair. I was much too stubborn and wanted to experience the zoo alongside my son and husband. I’m not sure if I’ll be that stubborn next time; the pain afterwards was dreadful.)
I had to explain to Ryan that he wouldn’t need a wheelchair. His boo-boos are on the outside of his legs. He is strong and healthy, and his boo-boos will heal. I reminded Ryan that my boo-boos are on the inside of my legs. They’re harder to heal which is why I take so many medicines and see so many doctors. He seemed reassured.
Autoimmune diseases aren’t easy. They’re full of variables. They’re chronic. They’re life-changing. And it’s not just my life it’s changing; it’s my family’s life too.
My heart was heavy knowing that my five-year old son will have no memories of me before my disease. He will only know me as Mommy with boo-boo legs. My eyes well up, and I have to chastise myself. We are lucky. We are a family. Boo-boo legs and all.
Monday, September 23, 2013
Because I was a kindergarten teacher for five years, and now my son is in kindergarten, I'm able to look at this special time in a child's life from two different perspectives. Check out my observations and thoughts in the essay published at MomsLA.com.
The Benefits of Kindergarten
The Benefits of Kindergarten
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
I’m reading Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the title, the book is based on a lecture Mr. Pausch gave in 2007. He was a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University who had months to live before pancreatic cancer would claim his life. His speech, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” got me thinking about my own.
It was an odd experience to pause my current life as mother, wife, writer, and try to think back to the girl I once was and the dreams I once had.
My first childhood dream was to be a writer. Mrs. Jones, my second grade teacher, made me my first book. Actually, it was two pieces of yellow construction paper that acted as the covers and was filled with the “good paper” -- the white paper with blue lines. Those were for my stories. Unfortunately, I remember more about the paper than I do what I put on that paper.
I remember trying to make my own family newspaper and anxiously awaiting junior high school when I could join the school paper. Except, when I did get to junior high, the school newspaper had been discontinued due to budget cuts, and I was forced to envy Elizabeth Wakefield, one of the twin protagonists from Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley High series as she toiled away on her school paper, The Oracle.
I can remember going to a special program at our local library and being asked what I wanted to do when I got older. I had dressed “professionally” for this meeting -- a skirt and blazer, and I had a notepad to jot down important facts. I answered that I wanted to write stories.
My second childhood dream was to be an astronaut. I wanted to explore the unknown, break free of Earth’s gravity where I saw conflicts and judgment. Space was untouched, still peaceful. Outer space offered humans another chance to do things right, or more right than we were on Earth. I studied the manned space program, memorized important dates in the history of space exploration, wrote down the names of the original Mercury astronauts in my junior high school notebook.
As an added bonus, I saw my dream of becoming an astronaut in direct alignment with my dream of writing. Most people would never experience space flight. I could share my observations with them. I could bring the public along for the ride, and hopefully, convince my readers that funding America’s manned space program should still be a necessary part of our national budget.
I knew that my dream to be an astronaut was demanding, difficult, and dangerous. And in the end, I gave up.
In high school, I became intrigued by teaching after I volunteered in my former elementary school classroom. I connected with students, enjoyed interacting with them, and saw teaching as something I could realistically do.
I went to college and didn’t immediately declare a major. I was too afraid to become an astronaut. I didn’t know how to go about becoming a writer. But, teacher. That was something I could do.
I earned my degree and secured a teaching job, teaching for twelve years in a local elementary school. And during those twelve years, teaching became my passion. Encouraging my students to be their best versions of themselves, loving them because they’re young children, helping them to look at the world and see themselves in it -- those were my goals.
The more I taught, the more disappointed I became with the educational system. The more I saw wrongs in the way children were prepared for school, the way parents didn’t treat their children as the treasures all children are. Yet, I never would have left teaching. It was a good job, I was good at it (despite what the Los Angeles Times may think about my students’ test scores), and I knew that when I went home at the end of the day, I had done something that mattered.
And yet all this passion and energy I felt for something that had never been a childhood dream. So what then of my childhood dreams?
Back to The Last Lecture. In my mid-thirties, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. It’s not a terrible diagnosis. I know I’m lucky, and I could be battling something so much worse. But in any respect, this disease has taken me from my teaching position. Now, I must look and see what it’s giving me.
It’s giving me a chance to go after my first childhood dream. For twelve years, I was “Mrs. Kennar.” Now, I am writing regularly, and my writing is reaching readers. I am “Wendy Kennar, writer.”
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
In March, I stopped working at the direction of my doctor and with the approval of the state of California. Living with a chronic medical condition meant I couldn’t keep teaching. Without the stress of my full-time job, I would hopefully experience much less pain and overall more comfortable days.
And sometimes that has happened, but it doesn’t happen everyday. My autoimmune disease isn’t something that can be cured. Pain doesn’t just disappear; but hopefully it can be eased, and I can feel some relief.
In the meanwhile, I have discovered six additional health benefits to not working. Here they are:
- More sleep. I am able to get into bed earlier because I am not staying up late to grade papers or lesson plan. Additionally, I am sleeping later each morning because I don’t have to set my alarm as early as I did when I was teaching.
- Emptier bladder. Teachers can’t use the restroom when the feeling strikes. We have to hold it, and I’ve been told, that teachers have a high rate of urinary tract infections. Not working and having more relaxed daily schedules means I can use the restroom when I need to.
- Fuller stomach. When hunger strikes, I couldn’t grab a granola bar while I was reading a short story in our fifth grade anthology. Theoretically, I ate when my students did (recess and lunch). But, even then, those weren’t guaranteed meal times for teachers. There are discipline issues to resolve, phone calls to return, copies to make. A twenty minute recess is not always even time to accomplish tasks and eat a snack.
- Less stress. My days are much more relaxed. I am no longer responsible for thirty plus children, but just my son. Teaching is a highly stressful job, and this time off has made me realize how different I was when I was teaching (over-extended, over-exhausted, over-whelmed).
- Fewer expenses. My monthly income is substantially lower, but I am also spending less. My son is attending kindergarten, so I no longer pay for childcare. And I am spending less on my shopping trips. I was always spending my own money on items for my classroom (paper towels, antibacterial soap, baby wipes) and on items for my students (pencils, books, folders).
- More me-time. When I was teaching, my day started at 5:15 each morning and ended usually around 11:00 each evening. During that stretch of time, most of my energies were dedicated to others -- my students, my son, my husband. Now, with me not working and my son in school, I have a chunk of time that is “me time.” Time for me, to savor a blended mocha, to do some writing, and to read my novel.
Everything happens for a reason, or so people say. When I’m in one of my pain episodes (tears streaming, body throbbing) I wonder why I was burdened with this disease. But, in other moments, when the pain is manageable, I am beginning to see that I can look at my disease and try to find the benefits, try to adapt, try to be brave and re-imagine my life.
Wednesday, September 4, 2013
I’m an avid book reader. My bookcase has one designated shelf stacked with “to-be-read” books. I usually am reading one or two books at a time, not to mention the Sunday L.A. Times (which takes me at least a few days to get through) and a magazine.
However, as much as I enjoy reading, as much as I look to books for information, new perspectives, inspiration, and/or an escape, there’s always a little bit of a lull between when I finish one book and begin another one.
Hopefully, the book I have just completed was a satisfying read. It was (depending on the subject matter): delicious, thought-provoking, amusing, stimulating, entertaining, moving.
I’m basking in the after-glow and am hesitant to give myself over to a new title. I’m still reveling in the tale from my just completed-book and wonder if this new title will be just as good. Will the pages fly by? Will minutes pass as I realize I’ve stayed up thirty minutes later than I had planned to, all because I just had to see what would happen next?
But, thoughts of hesitation and doubtfulness can only last a few days, because then there’s a nagging feeling that something is missing. The something missing is a new book. It’s what I will bring with me when I arrive at my son’s school five minutes before dismissal. It’s what I will read as I wait for water to boil for spaghetti. It’s what I will read before gravity takes over and makes my eyelids too heavy to keep open.
So then it’s just a matter of going “shopping” on my bookcase and selecting the next book I’ll read and add to my Goodreads log (www.goodreads.com), taking a breath, and diving in.