A New Nickname

Nicknames can be mean, intended to make fun of their recipient. But they can also be funny and endearing. I’ve had several during my lifetime. Spaghetti and Kelley Girl top the list. Each name attached to a person or memory.

This week I received a new one. And though I’m unsure of the original intent, I have no doubt about the outcome. It all began with a group of fourth-grade boys.

As students entered my classroom on Monday, I overheard some boys laughing and saying, “Abuelita.” I smiled, “They think I don’t know what that means.”

“Did someone just call me Grandma?” I chuckled. “I am not your Grandma, although I am old enough.” I smiled, assuring them I was teasing. The boys grinned.

Soon we were playing Christmas Song Bingo. The group of boys was a little chatty during the game. After reminding them several times to be quiet and listen, I decided to have a little fun.

With the help of Google, I discovered how to say, “My grandson talks too much” in Spanish. After repeating the phrase in my head several times, it was time to act. I quietly walked over to the boys, leaned down and said, “Mi Nieto habla demasiado.”

The look on their faces was priceless! We had a good laugh and continued with our game.

At the end of all my classes, I like to stand at the door and tell each student goodbye, have a good day, see you next time, etc. Today was the “Abuelita” class again. As they were leaving, one of the boys smiled, gave me a big hug and said, “Bye, Grandma.”

I have no idea whether or not my new nickname will stick. But if it does, I will answer. It represents a connection with another student. And that is what truly matters.

Neighborhood Walk

It’s that time of the summer. Back-to-school ads are everywhere. School staff members are working hard to make sure everything is ready when the students arrive. It is a team effort.

I spent most of last week preparing my classroom. But on Thursday evening, I experienced a different type of back-to-school preparation. I went on a neighborhood walk.

What an amazing experience! Around sixty school staff members gathered in the cafeteria for snacks and instructions. Our goal? To visit the families of our nine-hundred plus students.

Each team received a list of names with addresses and a map. We drove together to our assigned neighborhood or apartment complex.

Walking door-to-door, we greeted each student at their home. We introduced ourselves and gave each child a backpack. Parents shook our hands, grateful for the information shared. Kids’ smiled, telling us their grade level.

During our walk, one family stuck with me. As soon as we introduced ourselves, the mom began speaking in Spanish. Two precious little girls stood close by her side. Although I could not understand what she was saying, I sensed she was happy.

Thankfully, our assistant principal translated. He told us the mom had shared that her daughter was excited about school. She knew teachers were coming to visit that day, and had been awake since 5 A.M. waiting! The walk did not start until 5:30 P.M. She had been waiting for us all day long! ❤

A little later, we walked back by their apartment. I noticed the little girl standing on the landing with her younger sister. They were playfully hiding behind a post. When she saw us, she looked out from behind the post, smiled, and waved.

The smile on that little girl’s face was the real reason for our walk. Yes, we handed out important information. Yes, we provided a few school supplies. And yes, we were hot and sweaty. 😉 But more importantly, we made connections. We made connections with colleagues, parents, and students.

The first day of school can be stressful. But just maybe, the connections made during that back-to-school neighborhood walk will help ease the stress for our students. I know it helped ease mine. 🙂

This Girl Still Needs Her Mom

A young teacher friend, also a mom of young kiddos, mentioned asking her mom to come over and help her this evening. She’s tired and rightfully so. Having once been a mom of young kids, I can relate. Without a thought, I chimed in, “Call her! If my mom wasn’t 4 1/2 hrs away, I would have asked her to come see me yesterday.”

I always appreciated times my mom and mother-n-law helped out when our kids were young. The grandpas too, for that matter. I’m still a mom, but the kids are all grown up. I no longer need the same kind of help as when the kids were little.  But is it possible I need my mom now more than I did then?

After the brief conversation with my friend today, all I could think about was how much I miss my mom. We talk or text almost every day. I know I’ll see her over the Christmas holidays. But at this moment, today, that seems like a long way off. My brain says it’s not, but my heart doesn’t seem to follow.

A new, young country artist, Kacey Musgraves, recently caught my ear. Following are a portion of the lyrics from her song entitled Mother. This short, sweet song seems to know right where I am these days.  Take a listen.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/mother/1350091548?i=1350091553

I'm just sitting here
Thinking about the time that's slipping
And missing
My mother
Mother

And she's probably sitting there
Thinking about the time that's slipping
And missing
Her mother
Mother

The longer I’m a mom, the more I appreciate my mom. Lately, I find myself wishing I could spend more time with her. The 260 miles between us sometimes feels like a million. Maybe it’s because the older I get, the more I understand the brevity of time. Maybe it’s because I’m starting to realize that she understands how I feel most days…she’s been there already. Not in the exact same circumstances, perhaps, but the same stage in life.

Today I’m grateful for smartphones and texting. At least I can communicate with her daily. That will have to do for now. I look forward to a big hug from Mom (and Dad) in a few weeks. And when I actually see her in person, I’ll let her know how much I love her. She’s my mom.

And this girl still needs her mom.

I Almost Missed It

Today’s first-grade music class was quite busy. We covered a lot of ground. Singing the musical alphabet reggae style, forwards and backward, along with Freddie the Frog and his friend Eli the Elephant. We also practiced writing and labeling bass clef notes on our music staff whiteboards. Oh, and I almost forgot-practicing our song for tomorrow’s Veterans Day assembly. Whew! What a whirlwind!

As students first entered the classroom, I noticed one usually perky friend was looking a little sad. He asked if he could share something about his parents going out of town. I told him yes, we would have some time to share at the end of class. With all those activities, I’m so glad I didn’t forget…

The class was winding down, students sat on the floor as I played a song on the piano. And then I saw my little friend and remembered my promise. He came and stood by me and begin to share, “My parents had to travel to California because my grandfather died.” He continued to explain that he and his sister couldn’t go with them, and he was obviously sad about that.

We talked as a class about how hard it can be when sad things happen and that we needed to be especially nice to this friend, helping him to feel better. Which of course lead to other friends raising their hand to share a sad story. The domino effect was in full swing. I needed to reel it back in before things got completely out of hand.

About the time I had decided not to call on anyone else, I heard this quiet voice from the back of the room. “When’s it my turn?” Some background information is needed-this friend is new, only four days at our school. He also has special needs which include difficulty with eye contact. I haven’t known him long, but I was surprised upon hearing his sweet voice and clear question.

“Of course, you can share. Come on up here by me.” Looking down at the floor he began to talk about how he missed his house. And how his mom had to work all the time. We talked about how hard moving can be. I reassured him that even though he was sad about moving, we were so glad to have him at our school.

Sharing this story with my daughter this evening it dawned on me…I almost missed it. I almost missed the chance to help this special student not only have his turn but also connect with his peers at his new school. He may not have looked me directly in the eyes, but his smile was communication enough. Hopefully, he went home at the end of the day with a new sense of belonging.

Thankful I didn’t miss those few precious moments today at the end of first grade music class…

Big World~Small World

There are times when the world seems so vast. An endless list of landscapes to explore, beautiful nature to witness, charming people to meet. In reality, places I may never visit, sites I may never see, people I may never know. Not enough days in a single lifetime to physically travel the miles required. Such is life.

Other times this world feels so small. Communication is instant and constant. Phone calls, text messages, emails-right at our fingertips. Breaking news reports from places close and far away. With this shrinking outlook of the world, my focus moves to what is right in front of me.

I believe it is important to view our planet from both perspectives-big and small. Marveling at the grandeur we may only see in pictures and film reminds us to always consider the big picture. Realizing that even without seeing a person or place, I still have a responsibility to consider the unseen with an attitude of respect and value. This viewpoint also has a way of putting me in my place, one small dot on the atlas.

What are the positives gained in the small world perspective? This is where my daily obligations reside. The places where my spoken words and actions have the power to lift up or crush. My family, co-workers, students live in that path. Here it is crucial to recognize my ability to influence those around me.

Remaining only in the small worldview, I risk an enlarged ego. Such an inflated view of my importance certainly would cloud my outlook on life. Residing only in a big world existence, I risk missing my potential-seeing myself as small and insignificant. The key, as with most things in this life, is a balance.

Interestingly enough one place I currently find that balance is right here, in the thoughts and words I type. This forum allows me to express feelings, tell stories, and be creative. People I’ve known my whole life along with those met in more recent years celebrate, cry, or remember with me. At the exact same time, someone I’ve never met who lives half-way around the world offers encouragement simply by reading my words.

Our world is both immense and tiny, all at the same time. It may sound like a paradox, but it is the reality. Each one of us resides in both spaces. The responsibilities may fluctuate depending on our circumstances, but we are always accountable for making contributions either way.

Big world~Small world…where do you see yourself today?

Forgiveness~Empathy~Friendship

Experiencing forgiveness, whether on the granting or receiving end, is powerful. Crucial life lessons are learned on both sides of a transgression. The one being forgiven feels a great relief and hopefully learns from their mistakes. The one offering forgiveness appreciates, even more, the instances when they have been on the receiving end. Sounds simple, yet not always the case.

Children often unintentionally demonstrate these truths clearly, if we take the time to watch and listen. Picture one of my kindergarten classes sitting around our music circle, coloring pictures of pumpkins and leaves.  Their fall themed artwork was also to include rhythmic patterns based on phrases about their subject.  For example, “leaves are falling” or “pumpkins everywhere” or “jump in a leaf pile.” Vivaldi’s “Autumn” playing quietly in the background.

Yes, I know it sounds very picturesque, but don’t be fooled.  This is one of those class times that is a struggle for me-giving up a certain level of control and giving students the chance to be social and creative.  It lends itself to a higher noise level and a tiny bit of controlled chaos.  Results are usually pretty cool!  That is until there is a transgression… one student marking on the beautiful, in progress, artwork of his friend.

Typically, it is the student who has been wronged that seeks my attention.  “She stuck her tongue out at me!” “He pulled my hair!” “She told me to shut up!” You get the idea.  On this particular day, the opposite was true. The artist didn’t make a big fuss although disappointed.  I told him he could start a new work if he’d like and asked the other student to apologize. Everyone back to work, all is well. Right?

A few moments later the student who committed the “coloring on my friend’s paper” infraction was standing in front of me with tears in his eyes. “Oh dear, what’s wrong?” I asked. “I apologized, but he wouldn’t accept my apology.” Hmmm…what to do? So many ways I could respond to this conflict. I’m not sure if my choice was the best, but it did have an interesting result.

Empathy-the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

I began to talk to the teary-eyed transgressor about why his friend was upset. As with my own children, I attempted to help my student put himself in his friend’s place. “How would you feel if you were working hard on your artwork and someone marked on your paper?” On the surface a simple question, but not always an easy place to find yourself. His tears indicated his comprehension, and in a “kindergarten kind of way,” he began to understand.

For the remainder of the class, this particular friend stuck with me like glue. Tears turned to smiles, offers to help with clean up, wanting to have more conversations. Why? Just as being forgiven evokes feelings of relief and freedom, an apology not being accepted brings the opposite-guilt and sadness. However, when we learn to place ourselves in the shoes of the ones we have hurt, then we begin to develop empathy. Our focus moves from being self-centered to others-centered.

Which is more powerful? The ability to forgive or the ability to empathize? I suppose it depends on the situation, transgression, and the people involved. Obviously, consequences come into play, long and short term. But what if we see them as tied together, working hand in hand? I believe if we can help children learn to empathize, having a spirit of forgiveness will naturally follow. And just maybe they will begin to stop and think before making a choice which negatively affects their friend.

But wait, maybe the foundation for this whole discussion should instead be the word “friend.” Becoming a friend is a process. An acquaintance becomes a companion, the companion becomes a supporter, and so on. And if I truly support someone, I’m much more likely to think about the impact of my actions.

Once we learn what it means to be a friend, the potential for both empathy and forgiveness grows exponentially. It still requires effort and work. It does not just magically happen without being intentional. Like everything else worth doing in life, it takes practice. But the results are oh so worth the work!

Here’s to forgiveness, empathy, and friendship.  Especially when witnessed through the eyes of kindergarteners.  May I pay careful attention to opportunities this next week for expressing and teaching these vital life lessons during music class, especially the importance of being a good friend.

You’ve Got a Friend

Rescuing Turtles

Today I saw a sweet lady rescuing a misguided turtle on the side of the road. This poor turtle was at the corner of an extremely busy intersection, preparing to hop the curb and take his chances. We all know the likely outcome. Thankfully someone kind spotted him and decided to offer some guidance. Smiling while talking to him, she carefully picked him up and helped him head in a much safer direction.

I’ve always found turtles interesting. Carrying their house around with them at first glance seems proficient. No matter where they travel or what danger lurks, they have instant protection. Just ducking their head, feet and tail inside that hard shell provide safety. Considering the slow speed at which they move, it seems this feature would be a plus.

But what about the weight? Maybe it’s the weight of that shell that causes the slow tempo. They certainly seem to carry around a heavier load compared to other creatures their size. Please note, I’m not speaking scientifically. I have not actually researched the structure of turtles, simply making observations based on watching them.

This may seem an odd comparison but witnessing this woman’s act of kindness towards the turtle caused me to transfer the scene to people. We all come in contact with people who, for various reasons, are moving slowly through life. Maybe they’re temporarily carrying extra weight because of job stresses, life circumstances, varying differences. They may appear self-sufficient like they have it all together, but the reality under that shell is quite the opposite.

No matter the reason, that extra weight has the power to affect decision making. I have personally experienced that feeling of being at a busy intersection, trying to choose the right path, in desperate need of assistance. Others passing by so quickly it’s difficult to get their attention. Wondering if anyone will take the time to stop and say hello. And once they do stop, hoping they are willing to offer some help.

I have also experienced the opposite.  Slowing down long enough to realize a friend needs help.  Noticing they seem sad, not acting in their usual manner.  Sometimes a rescue is simple-listening over coffee, sending a sweet note.  Other times it may be more complicated, requiring time, energy, and possibly sacrifice.

Both experiences are an inevitable part of life.  So next time you find yourself at one of life’s busy crossroads, slow down and look around. Maybe there is a weighted down, misguided turtle who needs your assistance. Stop and listen. You might just end up being their hero! And remember, the time may also come when you are the turtle in need of rescue. If so, don’t be discouraged. Keep putting one foot in front of the other, and don’t give up. Your hero could be waiting at the next intersection.