Friday, February 27, 2015

What I've Learned from the Dress Seen Around the World

So last night, with the rest of America, my family debated over the color of a dress that was posted online. It started with Timmy showing me the picture on his phone and I clearly saw a white dress with gold lace trim. He agreed with me, but said that Ryan saw the dress as blue and black. Blue and black? How can that be? Where does he see black? The conversation continued through dinner. Chris came home and the kids showed him the picture. We were a house divided. Three of us saw a white and gold dress and three of us saw a blue and black dress. We were all adamant as to what we saw. I couldn't understand how Chris saw a blue and black dress and he clearly didn't see the white and gold dress that a saw. Then on Facebook, there was post after post about  the color of this one dress. How can so many people clearly see blue and black while others were seeing white and gold?

Then the conversation continued at school. I heard middle schoolers talking in the hall as they stood at their lockers debating the color of the dress. A science teacher in the teacher's lounge was running copies of an article about the science of the color of the dress. She was going to add it to her lesson for the day. Is it our eyes that see the dress differently or is it our brains that process what we see differently? I'm not really sure of the science. But I saw a different lesson coming from this national debate. I had said  that it would also make a great advisory lesson on perception. Our middle school has 20 minutes of advisory every morning. We do mini-lessons on growth mindset, literacy, guidance, and sometimes we just try to get to know our kids better. 

Perception: 1. the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses
2. a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression

This was the lesson that I saw because I so desperately want to see a blue and black dress, the one that Chris, Ryan, and Molly were able to see. Maybe, just maybe, we can learn that different people can be looking at the same exact thing, person, or situation and see something completely different. Maybe, before we tell the other person that they are crazy, we can step back a moment and think of the other person's point of view, that it is possible to see things differently and to value their opinion. Maybe we could ask the simple question of, "What do you see?" Perception is understanding and interpretation. Maybe we need more than one perception of something in order to really understand it.

Last night, Shannon and Timmy who only could see a white and gold dress, can now see the blue and black dress and can even flip back and forth to the white and gold dress. Originally, their heels were dug deep that the dress was white and gold, but as time went by, they walked away from the picture and when they went back to it, they were able to see the very same dress differently. They saw what other people were able to see. 

How many times in life have I needed to walk away from a problem or situation, needed to "sleep on it" so I could get a new perspective in the morning? Shannon went through one of those situations this week. It was a situation with  disappointment and sadness. As her mom, I tried to be supportive and guide her. But after she "slept on it," she had a different perception of the situation. Today at work, I talked to friends about her. Asked their opinion. I wanted to go home to her and be able to help her and support her. But when I got home, she had it all figured out. She had a new perspective of the situation and what was a bag of lemons just the night before, she had made into lemonade for herself. Today I told her how crazy proud I am of her, of how well she handled herself. She and I don't usually see this world the same way. Each of us has our own way of navigating this life of ours that works for us. What works for her, doesn't necessarily work for me. We have different perspectives. But there is nothing that beats the feeling as a mom, when one of your kids does something that amazes you. Just when I'm ready to throw in the towel with this whole mom job, when I question myself for the 9,547th time whether I am doing the right thing, whether I am making the right choices, they show me that everything is going to be alright.

They give me a new perspective!

Monday, January 26, 2015

There Are Three Stories in Every Book

489 days ago, Molly and I started our read aloud streak. We decided that we were going to try to read aloud together for 100 days. Well, we did that and kept on going. We are 11 days away from hitting 500 days. In that time, we have read 25 books together. We have met talking mice and a smiling dog. We have met crickets and a pig named Beryl. We have walked the streets of London with a nanny with a flying umbrella, and a wizard that wasn't quite as powerful as we first thought. We have been to a chocolate factory and Times Square. We have walked through museums and have traveled through time. These last 489 days have really been a great experience.

Every book you read has three stories, the one that the author actually writes, the background story of how the book came to be, and then there is the story that the reader brings to the book. Right now Molly and I are reading Winnie-the-Pooh.

Molly and I have never read it. In fact, Molly has never seen the Disney movie. I couldn't believe it when she told me, because I have memories of Shannon and Timmy watching it all the time. When they were little, they had a kid couch with Winnie-the-Pooh fabric on it. The nursery in our house was Winnie-the-Pooh and as I had each baby, they went into the nursery and the older sibling moved into their "big kid" bedroom. How did Molly never see the Winnie-the-Pooh movie? 
So before we started reading the book, I shared a little background story with Molly about A. A. Milne. I told her that Christopher Robin was his son, that he was not just a character in the story, but a real boy. I found out that Christopher Robin's real toys are all on display at the New York City library, all of them except for Roo because Christopher Robin had lost Roo in a meadow. How sad is that? And then today we read:

Kanga was frightened at first because Piglet was in her pocket and not Roo. And then we read, "...for she felt quite sure that Christopher Robin would never let any harm happen to Roo."

But Molly and I know the background story, we know that Roo DID get lost in a meadow. We know that all of Christopher Robin's childhood friends are in the New York City library, except for Roo. This made us so sad.

Molly and I planned to go to New York this weekend. There is a children's book exhibit at The Grolier Club that is only there until February 7th. There are 100 children's books on display from the past 400 years. They are first editions of Grimm's Fairytales, The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland, and Winnie-the-Pooh, just to name a few. Our plan is to go into the city to see these original first edition books and then swing by the library to see Winnie-the-Pooh and all his friends. You see, there are three stories of Winnie-the Pooh, the actual story in the book, the story of the real Christopher Robin, and then there is OUR story, mine and Molly's. 

Now as I write this, New York is under blizzard warnings. Some forecasts are saying they could get up to 20-30 inches. Molly and I are really hoping that they don't get that much and that we can still make it to New York this weekend. We know that whatever NY gets, they will do a better job of clearing the snow than we do here in Virginia. We are almost finished with Winnie-the-Pooh and then we are moving on to The House at Pooh Corner. The Disney Winnie-the-Pooh movie just arrived and Molly's plan is to watch it during the car ride up to NY on Friday. Hopefully the blizzard won't stop us and we will be trudging through snow covered streets of New least it makes for a good story.


Monday, January 19, 2015

Don't Let the Perfect Get in the Way of the Good...The Middle School Years

Don't let the perfect get in the way of the good!
Don't let the perfect get in the way of the good!

I find myself saying this a lot lately. I need to remind myself...constantly! I'm still adjusting to being a "working outside the home" mama. For the most part, we've got the hang of it as a family. But sometimes the laundry piles up and the kids' rooms need bull dozers in order to get through them, and there are late nights trying to help my youngest as she starts to do reports for school on power points and needs to save to USB drives, and type written reports.

But as my kids get older, it is so hard to find the right combination, the right balance to help and guide them. I don't want to be the helicopter parent that we read so much about nowadays. I want my kids to be independent. I want them to figure out problems on their own. I want them to be advocates for themselves as they get older as they go through middle and high school. 

My middle schooler is in seventh grade this year. He is in the middle of middle school. He is one of the middle kids in my family...and it is hard! I've been trying to give him more responsibility and me be less of that helicopter mom as far as school goes. We have talked about strategies he could use if he needs help in a class. We talked about using his resource time wisely, asking his teachers for extra help if he needs it, using the school website to check for assignments, and plan studying and homework around his after school activities. He knows what is expected of him as far as grades are concerned at school. I tell my kids that as long as I see the effort, as long as I see the hard work, as long as I see you using all the the strategies that we have talked about, that is what makes this mama happy. There have been times that I have rejoiced and did a happy dance with one of my kids who got a B- because so much work went into that grade, and there have been times I have given the mom speech about responsibility and effort for a different B-, the one that could have been a A if only the kid had put forth a bit more effort. It's not the B- itself that we rejoiced about, but hard work and effort that went into that B-. Its not the B- grade that I was upset about another time, but the lackadaisical attitude of the kid that got the B- when he could have gotten a much better grade. It's all about the attitude.

So at the beginning of this second quarter of school, I sat down with my middle schooler and I went over the to what to do if he needed help in a subject. I told him I wasn't going to police him. I hold him I wasn't going to hover. For me, this is a hard thing to do. I work in his school. I know his teachers. I know when his reading log is due and when his tests are going to be. So I try to guide and encourage, but not be that helicopter mom. 

Well, on Friday, I checked his grades online. It is amazing that we can do this as parents. I remember in the "old" days when you had to wait for the end of the quarter to see your grades on your report card, but now, you can check your grade at any given moment. This is good and bad. I've been trying to teach my kids to do it themselves. One of my high schoolers had a zero for a grade and didn't know why. The assignment was done and it was handed in. He spoke with the teacher and she called the house and came up with a solution for the missing grade. He told me later about the conversation. This mama wasn't apart of it. He did it himself. He was a self advocate.

But my middle schooler isn't quite there yet. When I checked his grades, a couple of his classes were a bit disappointing. Friday afternoon we had one of those talks.

Did you study a few minutes every night like we talked about?

Did you ask your teachers for extra help during your resource block?

Did you ask your teachers if they come in early or stay after school for extra help?

Did you make flashcards like we talked about for the vocabulary words?

I gave him consequences, not for the grades, but for the lack of effort...and then the mama guilt sets in. Should I have guided him a bit more closely? Did I give him too much rope to hang himself? Am I trying too hard not to be a helicopter mom that I dropped the ball with him. Does he need more guidance than his two older siblings because every kid is different and there is no cookie cutter solution?

He was angry and upset. I was angry as well, but also conflicted and reflective. He stormed off to his room and slammed the door. Not a good way to start our three day weekend. I stood in the kitchen and started cleaning up some messes. Unloaded and loaded the dishwasher, cleaned off the kitchen counter, and then started sorting through the mail. 

Bill, junk mail, bill, junk mail, and then there was an envelope from the middle school, addressed "To The Parents of..."

Dear Parents,
We are pleased to inform you that your child will be receiving an IMPACK award. These awards are presented to students for Inclusion, Motivation, Perseverance  Altruism, Compassion, and Kinship. 

My first reaction when I read this was, "Dam-it, he did it again!!! I swear he does this on PURPOSE!!!" 

You see, my middle schooler is the one who makes a joke out of everything. It is very hard to stay angry at him. I can be strict and stern and have on that angry mama face and he has these one liners that completely defuse the situation and I start laughing, but at the same time I start yelling at him, "I'm serious, I'm mad at you!!!" And it just doesn't work. He always seems to manage to get a smile out of me. 

So there I was, standing in the kitchen, angry at first because I wanted to be happy about this letter, I wanted to rejoice with him, but all I could think about was, "He did it again!!!! I'm suppose to be mad at him. He wasn't responsible about his schoolwork! He's not taking school seriously enough! I need to turn this kid around!" And then that phrase crept into my head again,

Don't let the perfect get in the way of the good!

None of us are perfect, we mess up as kids, we mess up as parents, we mess up because we are human. Life is the messy bits! So I showed my middle schooler the letter. He read it. A smile came across his face and he said, "See mom, I'm a completely different kid at school, I'm a good boy! I'm not all bad."

Yep, he did it again! Can't stay mad at this kid. He still has consequences for not following through with his schoolwork, but what a reminder to me that I shouldn't let the perfect get in the way of this "Good" boy. I don't know exactly what he did to earn his award, I will find out next week at the ceremony, but I certainly will be a proud mama when he gets it.

First day of seventh grade. See how happy he is about school!