Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Lessons from Two Wolves and a Giant Invisible Rabbit

There is a story that is told of an Apache grandfather who was teaching his grandchildren about life. He said to them, “A fight is going on inside me; it is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One wolf represents fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, self-pity, guilt, resentment, lies, and pride. The other stands for joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith. This same fight is going on inside you and inside every other person too.” The grandchildren thought about the story for a minute and then one child asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” The grandfather’s simple reply was, “The one you feed.”

When I consider this perspective, I wonder if anything in my daily life could be considered mundane. It seems that everything I choose to do will feed either one wolf or the other, giving great meaning to all of my daily decisions. I will encounter situations where more exertion is needed to see past feelings that inhibit my nurturing of others or my ability to maintain hope amidst challenges. But this “parable of the wolves” is a liberating and ennobling reminder that I get to consciously fill my days with meaning, love, gentleness, forgiveness, growth, strength, compassion and anything else that is good. I get to do this, not because there are no alternatives, after all, there are two wolves, not one. I am the one who chooses which one to feed, and those around me will know by my actions, at any given moment, what my choice has been. I may get caught up in certain situations, temporarily feeding the wrong wolf, but catching and correcting myself is a powerful, daily practice that leads to a more steady perspective and the constant development of a much stronger good wolf. ~ Seeing the Everyday

I read this on a Facebook post today. The other day, Ryan asked me, "Mom, was English your best subject? I have some homework that I need help with." 

Ryan had to read a story and identify the different parts, plot, theme and conflict. He had to write whether the conflict was internal or external. The story was about a boy who was at his grandfather's house. He was helping him pack because he was moving. The house had become too much for him to take care of and needed a smaller place. The boy was very upset about this move. He didn't want his grandfather to leave the house. It was the only home that he knew his grandfather to live in. The boy even offered to move in with the grandfather so that he could stay in his house. At the end, the grandfather explained to the boy that change can be hard but sometimes it is necessary.

Ryan and I talked about the story. We talked about why it was an internal conflict. He identified the theme that "change can be hard but sometimes necessary" and we talked about this story, I thought about my own internal conflict that I have been grappling with. That question of: When is the right time for the stay-at-home mom to return to work?

I've been home since I had Ryan. Ryan's birthday is in January. Shannon was not quite four and Timmy was not quite two when I went on maternity leave with Ryan. I actually started my maternity leave earlier than expected because Chris had thrown his back out so bad that he could not get out of bed one morning. I was nine months pregnant and there he was, stuck in bed. I ended up calling an ambulance that morning and he had surgery the next day.  It was December 11th.  I remember this because it was the three month anniversary of 9/11 and there was a moment of silence on the radio as I followed Chris in the ambulance. I was going to continue to work until Christmas break, but there was no way I was going to be able to work with a husband in the hospital, two small children, a third one on the way any moment with no family around to help. It was a very good friend of mine that helped me through that time. She and I taught second grade together and she was the one that took care of all my sub plans. Even though I had everything set-up for my maternity leave, she helped the sub get through those weeks before break that were not planned for. She is the one that came over to my house, climbed up on the ladder in the garage and searched through the boxes to find the tree lights and the stockings. I told her I didn't need anything else, but if we could have at the very least, lights on our bare tree and stockings for Santa to fill, then we would be good. She then moved the ladder into the family room and proceeded to put the lights up on our tree.

So that is pretty much how I exited teaching full time. I did return back to the classroom to finish out the year. I worked full time for April, May, and June with three kids under the age of four and decided that I needed to be at home. I was and still am fortunate enough that I had a choice.

Change is hard but sometimes necessary.

So now fast forward 12, how did that happen. I thought I would be back to working by now, well, let me get this right, I thought I would be working outside the home by now. I grapple with this. It is my internal conflict and then this morning I read about the two wolves. Lately I have been overwhelmed with this mom job I got going on right now, nothing unique, nothing different than any other mom, I am no different. But we are entering into new territory, my oldest has a driving permit, she is a sophomore and the work load at school has increased tremendously. I have two years left of all my children being under one roof...two. And the questions swirl above my head of how to guide and support my kids through this next stage of motherhood. They all say it's about balance, whoever "they" are, trying to find the balance between giving them more independence but still knowing where they are and who they are with, without being a helicopter mom. Finding a balance between helping and guiding them with homework and letting them figure things out on their own. Finding the balance between having them talk to their teachers on their own and knowing when to step in as a parent. 

I'm finding these middle school and high school years to be harder than any of those infant/toddler years. Two am, rocking a hungry baby in your arms on the couch with some Nick at Nite show on the TV hoping that they go back to sleep or  sitting at the kitchen counter at that 2 am hour helping a 15 year old with history homework and actually being asked to think at this hour about why the world ended up the way that it did and why some societies are the "haves" and others are the "have nots" and make it sound coherent...give me a hungry baby and some Nick at Nite please. 

Lately, I've been feeding the wrong wolf, the wolf with fear and sorrow and resentment and guilt, oh, so much mom guilt. And I ask myself why? Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we feel guilty all the time. If I go back to work, I'll feel guilty about not being there for the kids, but now staying at home, I feel guilty that I'm not contributing financially to our family and we have college quickly, quickly approaching. If I continue to stay at home, I need to start feeding the second wolf, the one with joy, peace, love, hope and the rest of those good things. Lately, I've been feeding the wrong wolf and missing the moment in front of me.

Then, this morning I found this. I follow young adult author John Green on Facebook. I've read two of his books and Fault in Our Stars is being made into a movie which will be coming out in June, 2014. He talks about his life 12 years ago ( ah, me too) and putting things into perspective (hmm, still working on that). In 12 years from now, what will future me think about the decisions present me is making now?Present me thinks that "12 year ago" me made the right decision to stay home. Now, to just figure out where I'm going from here.

I remember watching Harvey as a kid, probably on a lazy Sunday afternoon with my mom. I think I'll have to get myself a copy.

And the funny thing about the wolf story...last night I was at a parent meeting for our new middle school that my kids will go to next year. The principal announced that our mascot will be the Timberwolves. Maybe I'll share the wolf story with her. Don't we want our middle schoolers feeding the kind and compassionate wolf in themselves? I know she feeds her kind wolf, because she would climb up a ladder in a cold garage in December in search of Christmas stocking for two little ones so that they could hang them up for Santa.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Molly and Mommy Mega Mania Miraculous Magical Read Aloud

It's been a rainy few days, light rain, heavy rain, drizzly rain, scattered rain, just plain gray, dreary rain. But there is something about the rain that slows us down at times. The house just feels cozier. Friday night we put on our pj's, we ate pizza, and watched movies. It was pouring when we went to bed and you could hear the rhythmic sound of the rain hitting the roof. When I woke up on Saturday, it felt like a holiday. Shannon's soccer tournament was cancelled this weekend. So instead of waking up at 5:00 a.m. to drive an hour away for the first game time of the day, we got to sleep-in. We had nowhere to go, there was nothing on the schedule, we woke up not to an alarm but naturally, I sat on my living room couch and finished my book, Molly and I read aloud another chapter of Mary Poppins. It was great! 

On Friday evening, while in my pj's folding laundry and ironing sheets in my room, I popped in a favorite movie of mine, You've Got Mail. Have you ever watched a movie or read a book and thought if I didn't have the life I had, I would live that life? Well, if I didn't become a teacher and move to Virginia and then become a stay at home mom to my kids, I would want to be Kathleen Kelly in You've Got Mail. I would want to own an enchanting little children's book shop in New York City and have read aloud everyday and help children pick out their next favorite book. There is a part in the movie that Meg Ryan (Kathleen Kelly) is talking to Tom Hanks about her mother. The book store used to be her mother's and she tells him that, "It wasn't just that she was selling books, she was helping people become whoever it was they were going to be because when you read a book as a child it becomes a part of your identity in a way no other reading in your whole life does." This is my favorite line. It's kind of ironic watching the movie now. I think it came out in 1998 and Kathleen Kelly's book store is being put out of business because a big discount chain bookstore opened in her neighborhood. Nowadays, you can't even find a big chain book store because of Amazon and e-readers. Now I love Amazon, but there is also something about being in a book store, seeing and feeling the books in person, reading the back jacket or the first few pages with the book actually in your hand and not on the computer. I have a kindle, but I prefer the paper book. I like moving my book mark as I read each day, flipping through the pages to see where the end of the chapter is, and sometimes reading with a pencil in hand and writing a note or underlining a great line. I read aloud to Molly's class the other day and a little girl saw me take the front flap of the book and move it as a placeholder for when I come back to read the next time. She asked me what I was going to do when we get toward the end of the book and the front book flap doesn't reach our place. I showed her that's when we start using the back flap of the book. She thought this was the best idea ever and that I was a genius for thinking of this.

There's another scene in the movie when Meg Ryan is reading aloud Boy by Roald Dahl to the children in her store. As I watch this scene, you can see the children completely engaged in the story. Now, I know it is only a movie, but I see the same thing when I go into classrooms and read aloud.  Reading aloud to Molly's class is a highlight of my week. There is something about certain books that scream, even cry to be read out loud! Some books are so rich with language and vocabulary that you lose something when the words are not said aloud, words like flabbergasted, ramshackle, pandemonium, vermicious, and fishmonger. And then there are words that are throughout a book, almost on every page and you don't quite know the correct pronunciation so you look it up on the computer so you can hear the word. That would be perambulator in Mary Poppins for me.

I've just finished reading The Reading Promise by Alice Ozma. It has been in my to-be-read pile for over a year. I used to talk to Molly's principal often about books before she passed away. This was the last book that we spoke about. I was in her office asking her a question and it happen to be sitting on her desk and I had recently bought it myself, but hadn't read it yet. Well, I finally read it this past week. The author was 22 when she wrote the book. When Alice was in fourth grade, her father, who happened to be an elementary school librarian, suggested reading together for 100 days. When Alice's older sister was in fourth grade, she no longer wanted her father to read to her, and he was in fear that the same would happen with Alice. Well, the streak of the father-daughter read aloud lasted until the day she went to college. The Reading Promise is a memoir of their reading.

Molly and I started our own streak. I shared with Molly what the book was about and said we could try for 100 days. So far, we are up to day 16. January 6 will be day 100. I printed out a calendar so that she could mark off the days. She suggested that we write down the books on the day that we finished them. Just like Alice and her father, it wasn't a hard thing to start. Molly and I read quite often together. I have read to all of my children, but it is Molly that is the most engaged and loves the closeness of snuggling up to one another and sharing a story. Just like Alice, Molly is my youngest and as a parent, sometimes you try to hold on to things as long as possible because you know one day we will no longer have these moments.

So will Molly and I get to 100 days? I don't know, we have a few holidays in there and school breaks that tend to throw us out of our routine, but we will try. Molly even named our streak, if you can call 16 days a streak...The Molly and Mommy Mega Mania Miraculous Magical Read Aloud!