No Words

This morning I’m preparing to write two cards.  One card to congratulate a family member on their recent wedding.  One to a dear friend who just lost her 26 year old son.  One card is bright and sparkly with a silk bow and bold silver and gold lettering.  The other has subdued grays and blues and a smaller, cursive font. In one card, I’m sending wishes for a long future together, filled with love, laughter, and eternal happiness.  In the other, I’m urging my friend to take life one day (sometimes one minute) at a time, and to have strength, hold onto memories, lean on the people she knows and loves.  Life is complicated. I don’t know what else to say. I can’t find the words.


Endings Can Be Hard

“30 Days Left! We can do it!!” This on a school bulletin board in May.  This week, calendars in classrooms and faculty rooms are marked off with thick Sharpies. ….. 19 (crossed off), 20 (crossed off), 21 (ready to be crossed off), 22 (circled in bright colors with sun strokes radiating outward and LAST DAY! written across the rest of the week).  

Of course I am excited for the school year to wind down and summer to begin.  Of course I look forward to long days with no schedule, reading on the beach or in the hammock, and trips with family.  Of course I can’t wait to take long walks with my husband and dog, and take time to relax and refresh. But there is another part of me that grieves at this time of the year.  I don’t like endings.  I struggle with transitions.  You would think I would have figured this out after 25 years of teaching, but I still find the end of the school year difficult.  I don’t like the barren look of classrooms with empty bulletin boards and everything neat and packed away. I don’t like all the boxes lined up in the hallways for teachers who have to leave the building or move classrooms.  I don’t like saying goodbye to staff members who are retiring or heading off on a new journey. The truth is that I miss my “school family.” I miss my meaningful work.  I even miss my schedule.

I have to give myself a week or two to adjust to the summer way of being.  At the start of the summer, my eyes still open early and I feel the need to get up and get the coffee going.  At the start of the summer, I feel a bit lost with nothing on the calendar.  At the start of the summer, I always make a huge list of things I want to accomplish.  

Of course it doesn’t take long to adjust to the slower, more relaxed pace of summer.  I get used to the later waking time, the time spent drinking coffee and reading in the mornings, the long, endless days spent doing whatever comes to mind, and the long To Do list that remains largely undone.  Then as August winds down, and the new calendars start to go up in classrooms, and new bulletin boards welcoming students back to school begin to appear in the hallways, I  grieve the end of summer.  

Summer Pleasures

My dad grew up in Brooklyn.  Not today’s Brooklyn of hipsters and coffee bars and fancy food venues, but the Brooklyn of old.  The Brooklyn where kids played on the stoop and chickens were raised in yards.  The Brooklyn where boys ran free in the streets and jumped from roof to roof to show off for the girls. My dad has so many wonderful stories about his youth in the Marine Park neighborhood.  He told me this beauty the other night:

Dad: “When I was a kid….we all carried salt shakers in our back pockets in the summer.”

Me:  “Salt shakers?  In your back pocket?”

Dad: “Yup.  There was a truck farm where they grew tomatoes right down the block.  We’d play baseball all day long, and then, when we were really hot and sweaty, we’d run down to the farm, grab a few fresh tomatoes, find a cool spot under a big tree, sprinkle salt on the tomatoes, and ahhhh. That’s what summers were made of.”

I just love this story.  It captures so much about the simple pleasures of summer, of youth, and of the good old days!

Considering Resistance

I was talking recently with two friends of mine; both are mothers of teenagers, and both are experiencing the joys and challenges of raising adolescent children.  One said that her daughter had recently uttered the words she had never wanted to hear. She had actually screamed, “I hate you, mom!”  Of course it was said in the heat of the moment.  Of course everyone knew she really didn’t mean it, but it was hurtful.  My other friend turned around and said, “If your kids aren’t angry with you once in a while, then you are probably not doing your job as a parent.”  This struck me as being true.  Of course part of being a good parent is to say no and deal with the fallout.  Being a good parent means sometimes having to be the bad guy, the unpopular person in the room.  We know that children learn from having limits set and enforced at times.  We know that sometimes we have to push our kids into areas that are unfamiliar and uncomfortable. We know that sometimes a bit of unpleasantness at the moment will lead to something worthwhile and much better in the long run.

Is this true with coaching as well?  Is it true that if you don’t meet with some resistance from teachers and administrators, then you are probably not doing your job as a literacy coach?  I’ve met with a bit of resistance over the last few weeks.  I know it’s the end of the school year and people are tired.  I know that maybe this isn’t the best time to introduce new ideas.  I also know that I want to give teachers, administrators, and especially students, everything I have until the last bus pulls out of the driveway on the last day of school. It’s hard to hear that teachers aren’t happy about initiatives I’ve suggested.  It’s hurtful.  But maybe, just maybe, being a coach involves (even requires) some resistance.  Maybe resistance is just part of the learning process. Maybe (hopefully) we will move through this patch of unpleasantness toward something that is going to be much better in the long run.


Quote Collecting

I’m a quote collector.  I write quotes on post its, on torn pieces of paper, on old napkins, in my notebooks, and in the margins of books.  I post quotes on my walls at home and at school. I send quotes to family and friends, write quotes inside birthday cards and thank you notes.  I start professional development sessions and talks with quotes.

I just love finding the perfect words for an occasion.  I love to find the words that resonate with me, or that I hope will resonate with someone else. Quotes have helped me through tough times, helped me celebrate the good times, helped me try to understand what seems impossible to express in words.

Here are two that I collected this weekend:

“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”  George Eliot

“Better is possible.  It does not take genius.  It takes diligence.  It takes moral clarity.  It takes ingenuity.  And above all, it takes a willingness to try.”  Atul Gawande

Enjoy them.  Use them.  Share them.  Collect them!



Finding “Gardening Moments” in Our Teaching

My husband and I have spent the last few weekends working in the yard.  It is spring in CT, and the weather is just perfect for planting grass, getting gardens ready, putting in  new plants, and getting the lawn in order.  But we only have those two precious days of the weekend to get everything done!  When we looked out at the yard a few weeks ago, we were humbled, to say the least.  The grass was long and filled with weeds, the gardens had saplings sprouting or were overrun with weeds (which we sometimes call “wildflowers” when it seems more convenient),  the forsythia was out of control (a pretty yellow, but taking over the front yard), and the gardens were filled with leaf litter.  So, we decided to stage a full on attack!

We weeded.  We planted. We mowed. We ripped out overgrown forsythia.  We even hired someone to come and blow all the leaves out of the pachysandra (After all, this is Connecticut….the land of Lyme Disease!). And then we sat on the back porch, with a nice glass of wine and some cheese, and admired all that we had accomplished. In just two weekends, we had made an incredible difference.  The lawn was trim, and a few of the gardens were planted, others weeded.  The yard looked significantly better than it had two weeks earlier.  We could clearly view the positive change from then to now.  It gives us hope that if we keep at it, we can really create something beautiful!

I think we need to look for more of these “gardening moments” in our teaching.  What we do as literacy educators takes time.  The changes can be very slow, almost imperceptible. It sometimes takes years to see progress.  At times it can be hard to feel that sense of accomplishment that gives us the hope and energy to carry on.  How can we find ways to take a step back and admire the progress our children are making? It is there!   We need to find ways to look for it, admire it, and celebrate it.  The flowers are growing and blooming.  Let’s make sure to sit on our classroom porches and admire all the progress that is happening right in front of our eyes!

Enjoying This Stage of Motherhood

My kids are all grown.  They live on their own, have full time jobs, have relationships, pay their own rent and bills, have friends I’ve never met, do things I’ll never know about (probably a good thing), and live their own lives according to their own values and rules.  I couldn’t be prouder or happier about the adults these beautiful children have become, but this stage of motherhood is different and not well defined.

My role is no longer to look after the kids. They can clearly look after themselves.  One daughter is married with her own children, my son runs a company and travels all over the US for work, one daughter runs her own business in addition to holding a full time job, and the fourth, and youngest, works out of the country for months at a time. Of course there is nothing I like better than to bake up some cookies or muffins when they are visiting,  or to take them shopping and buy them a little something, but that is no longer my role.  They don’t need a caretaker.

My role is no longer to keep the kids safe.  As much as I worry about their safety (and the world’s safety for that matter), there is really nothing I can do about it.  They are all pretty savvy about the ways of the world, and they are not completely irresponsible.  Everyone is at risk, of course, but again, keeping the kids safe is no longer within my purvue.

It’s not my role to keep them fed or dressed.  It’s no longer my responsibility to make sure they get a good education (I don’t miss those tuition bills!).  It’s not up to me to set expectations or limits. So then, what is my role as a mother? What does motherhood look like at this stage?

This past weekend we celebrated Mother’s Day.  We attended a play in New York City, followed by a wonderful dinner at one of our favorite spots.  We were all moved to tears by the story that unfolded on stage.  We were incensed by the intolerance of some and the inability to stand up for what is right by others.  We were broken-hearted by loss and angry at the lack of fairness that exists in the world.  We talked at dinner about the play, about books we’re reading or want to read or want each other to read. We talked about politics, ideas, and, of course, some of the more mundane parts of life. As my husband and I drove home from the city, I thought about my role as mother.  Maybe it’s time to just be myself in the presence of my children.  Maybe it’s time to let go of the care-taking, the safety-ensuring, the minding, the managing, and just fully enjoy this stage of motherhood.