Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Life Reflected

"The unreflected life is not worth living"
- Socrates

Hannah finished the Second Grade last Friday. 

Our final few weeks were less rigorous - a winding down of sorts. We enjoyed reading The Trumpet of the Swam; this would make a fantastic summer read aloud for boys and girls alike. I think we both found great satisfaction in finishing... 

...and various other endeavors she took on this year.

In lieu of an official report card I closed out the year with a letter. This exercise  has served us well - bringing greater continuity and a sense of accomplishment on the part of both student and teacher. 

In our home the month of June gifts us with the longer view. We've made it through the moment by moment and now have the chance to step back and see what's taken place.

"...We began our school year with two simple words: diligence and gratitude. On the first day of class you looked these two words up and carefully penned their definitions on a piece of paper. Then we talked about them – what it might feel like to put them into practice in your handwriting lessons, on tired days, during exciting field trips, on mornings at the beach and on your fifteenth day of memorizing math facts. More often than not I witnessed your careful and continued hard work Hannah. I received a feeling of appreciation from you. I’m so grateful for this..."

"...Our chapter books carried us to far off places like Egypt with Lillian Trasher, India and England with Mary Lennox, New Zealand where you met Milly and imagined becoming her friend. We spent time on the deck of the Mayflower with Mary Chilton, traveled all the way to Africa and back to the States with Phillis Wheatley and over to Philadelphia during the Civil War era where we met a young Quaker who happened to share your name. We read The Hundred Dresses, My Father’s Dragon, The Moffatts, and The Trumpetof the Swam – all of which captured our imagination and also made us think..." 

"...Another aspect of school life that I know I really enjoyed this year was the field trips we took. We picked apples, pet donkeys and made apple pie. We explored a replica of an Ancient Roman Villa at the Getty Museum in Malibu. Witnessing a real mummy was amazing (and so was the food we ate at the Bistro that day). We took a trip down south and meandered through the original farmer’s market in Los Angeles, rode on the top deck of the trolley and then ate the best vegan lunch either of us had ever had. We invited friends to join us on an entirely different sort of day at Trader Joes where you found popsicles in the money safe and chilled out in the walk-in freezer for just long enough. We greeted the baby sea lions at the Carp Bluffs with the Thomas family and spent one warm afternoon recording bird songs while hiking the Arroyo Verde trail..."      

Each collection of moments begs reflection. They needn't be fancy - just true. I've found that they tend toward the positive - toward growth and joy...towards what went well. I believe that it is human nature to look past the dramatic sighs, the tears and inevitable bumps that move each and every one of us a bit further down the path of refinement. 

Reflections are in their essence more holistic, more cumulatively forgiving and within this realm rests lots of room for grace. The opportunities to share them with our kids are endless.

the end of a sports season 
following a dance recital
another school year coming to a close
right smack in the middle of something that feels hard or near impossible to finish
or simply just because
upon returning from vacation
as they prepare to take on something new

So go and live those moments - collect them, sit among them and then share these written  words with the little (or not so little) people in your life. 


Saturday, June 2, 2012

A Simple Gesture

I attended a conference down south this past weekend. The plan was to share a room with some friends the first night and then have a night on my own. Instead, I had to forgo the first half of the plan in order to take Hannah to urgent care. 

When she told me two days prior that her throat felt weird I dismissed it as nothing more than sore muscles from her newly acquired roller skating skills (and falls). When my almost nine year-old curled up and took a nap the day I was supposed to leave I had a hunch that plans were about to change. The final clue came by way of me actually looking inside her mouth - only to find it covered with bright red spots. At that point I awarded myself the lame-mother-of-the-week award and changed course.

Prior to my girls' arrival I simply had no idea just how much two small little lives would change my own. I welcome this change in so many ways. Still, on days like last Thursday I find myself flabbergasted - feeling as though I might suffocate somewhere between the three-hour wait at urgent care and the rapid strep test results.  

I did finally make it down south - shoving guilt aside and graciously accepting Phil's offer to don the parental scrubs for the weekend (Hailey's mouth filled with spots the next morning).

The conference itself was great. I gleaned new and refreshingly candid insights from Susan Wise Bauer, respectfully disagreed with much of what John Rosemond had to say and grew increasingly comfortable with the notion that it is somehow completely normal to walk around convention centers (and even adjoining restaurants and coffee shops) with a rolling suitcase (those of you outside the world of homeschooling will just have to trust me on this one).  

But at the end of the day the most profound piece of advise I walked away with was an incredibly simple one - smile. Yes, you read this right. It turns out that many of us parents (you know...the well-intended, fully-engaged, book-reading, organic-cooking type of parents) are walking around with frowns on our faces!

Yes, this parenting business is serious stuff. And no, we're not intentionally walking around scowling. But when Susan Wise Bauer dared to disclose that her mother looked furious most of the time during her growing up years, it caused me to pause. 

By all accounts, Susan's mother is a wise and loving woman. She was also a mother who felt the weight of parenting and educating and nurturing her children every single dayIn her case (and I would imagine for many of us) this pressure, this ever-changing selfless status with all of its twists and turns too often translates into a frown.  And our kids take note.  

Just in case there was any question as to whether or not I needed to turn my  frown upside down, I had a coffee shop encounter this past week that sealed the deal. It was one of those days. I had one hour to get revisions off to my editor. I entered The Good Cup in hopes of locating a seat near an outlet. As I set up my second-rate option (trusting my battery would hold out) I was approached by one of the shop's regulars. He moved in uncomfortably close and proceeded to tell me through his sparkling grin that he had never seen me smile. 

Unbeknownst to him, his timing was impeccable. Yes it was also random, a bit creepy and lacking regard for personal space but I'm choosing to see past these things in light of the bigger lesson at hand. I'm not a miserable soul - really, I'm not. I am happily married and have two great kids whom I genuinely enjoy being around most of the time.

Still, what I'm coming to understand is that within the intensity and unpredictability of this season I have to remind myself of several things. Expressions are not neutral. Our children (and random coffee shop regulars) are watching us. And in the end, the consistency of a mother's smile brings comfort and reassurance in ways that few things do.