Monday, May 30, 2016

Some Things Are Hard to Hear #SOL16

I first noticed I was having trouble hearing when I was pregnant with my daughter, Megan, who is now 3 years old. I remember putting the phone receiver on my left ear and not being able to hear the other person on the line clearly. I would switch to the right ear, thinking, "How strange." 

The day I had my 20 week sonogram and learned my second baby was a girl, I had an appointment with an audiologist. I explained I was having difficulty hearing and I underwent a hearing exam. I think the doctor was stunned that at 33 years old, I had pretty significant hearing loss in my left ear and some loss in my right ear. He suggested I get an MRI to rule out any brain issues that might be causing that loss. My father's family has a history of early hearing loss, so I was pretty certain I inherited that. I did the MRI the next day, but then Hurricane Sandy hit Long Island and I had to wait on the results. Thankfully, everything was fine. But I was left with the knowledge that my hearing was reduced and hearing aides were likely needed.

At the time, I was a kindergarten teacher, mom to a 2 year old, and pregnant, so getting hearing aides wasn't top on my list. I waited until a few months after Megan was born, made the appointment and tried hearing aides. I figured it would be a simple solution.

Like most things in my life, it wasn't an easy fix. The first hearing aides I got didn't sit right in my ears and didn't work properly. The next set didn't seem to help with clarity at all- the rip of a paper towel was deafening but I still couldn't make out what someone was saying on television. When I put baby Megan on my shoulder, near my new hearing aides, her cries were ear-splitting. I wear my hair up a lot and felt a little uneasy about having visible hearing aides, if I'm being totally honest. With the cost of the hearing aides at thousands of dollars, I returned them while I could still get my money's worth. I shelved the idea of wearing hearing aides. 

Not being able to hear correctly is tough. I answer questions wrong all the time because I thought the person asked me something different, especially when I don't know the context of the conversation. If I'm not looking at you, I often cannot understand what you are saying. If you call me from another room, I might not even know you called me and certainly won't know what you asked me. At parties, the background noise really interferes with my ability to hear, often causing me stress and embarrassment as I pretend I know what is being said to me. 

This weekend, driving home from a party we were at, my sister asked me again why I don't get hearing aides, saying if it was her, she would do it. I became so upset. Angry. Defensive. I said I tried them, and they didn't help and you really shouldn't presume to know what you would do because you aren't in my shoes. She worked for years as a litigator so doesn't easily let things drop and made some counterpoints about seeing a specialist and trying again. I could hear every word she said, but it was nothing I wanted to listen to.  Some things are hard to hear, even when you actually hear the words correctly.

When I'm drinking diet soda and people say how terrible it is for you, when a loved one tells me I should move around more and eat better, when someone tells me I need more sleep or I'm taking on too many projects, when it's suggested I let my son spend too much time on the iPad....these are things that are really hard to hear. I don't want to know. I don't want the judgment. I don't want to change. But the hardest things to hear are usually those ideas that I've known to be true but wish weren't so, the things that are really going to be hard to change, the things that are going to make my life more uncomfortable. The things I might fail at. The things I don't like about myself and want to pretend don't exist. 

I want to tune those words out, to think it's their problem not mine, to think of all the millions of ways they are wrong and I am right. But those hard words to hear have a funny way of reverberating through my mind and heart, and somewhere deep inside, I know I've been giving myself an out and not facing up to the truth. Maybe my own voice is the hardest of all to really hear.  

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

I Am The Peanut Butter #SOL16

The plan was to put the kids to bed, then come write my blog post. Still not sure exactly what to write, but a nagging sense of inexplicably feeling lost kept floating up. 

Instead, I found myself the "peanut butter" in a bedtime sandwich. Megan, my 3 year old, decided she needed a snuggle after 25 minutes of singing in her bed instead of sleeping as I wearily sat in the chair, waiting for her to doze off. Just as she climbed into my lap, Alex, my 5 year old, came in and asked me to sleep in his room that night. Now, I know, rule books say the kids should be sleeping on their own, in their own beds. Many times they do. But sometimes they don't. And tonight was clearly one of those nights.

It was decided they would sleep in my bed, which has the most room. Alex insisted I go in the middle so I could be next to both of them. And so there I lay, the peanut butter to Alex and Megan's bread, the cream in the Oreo. Stuck in the middle with them...with blogging plans for the night out the window. 

As I lay there, the idea of lost and found emerged. Being with my husband (relegated to the couch on nights like these when the kids take over our room) and the kids helps me find balance and tap into a different part of myself. Earlier in the evening, we went to the park across the street from our house. With fresh, sweet, late spring air, I watched the kids laugh and run and make friends. My husband surprised us by stopping by on his walk home from the train. It was a lovely evening, and made me stop again and think about all my blessings and all that I should be grateful for. 

So why feel lost? Maybe that's the wrong word. Professionally, I feel kind of lonely. I feel out of sync. Unsettled. If someone asked me where do I see myself in 5 years, I don't have a clue and worse yet, I don't even know what to want. I love teaching but do I want to still be a classroom teacher in 5 years?  Should I pursue National Board certification? Should I apply, if the opportunity arises, to be a literacy coach? Would that even be a good fit for me? Would another grade level be a good thing for me? There is a restlessness I feel that I don't understand. 

But being the peanut butter has a way of calming restless feelings, forcing you to be still. In my case, to my right I saw the little, handsome face of my first born, who is becoming more and more a boy each day, less and less that baby. Moments of cuddling with him are especially precious. To my left, my social butterfly princess, still my baby, but also becoming more and more that "big girl" she professes to be. Everything will be okay. All is right in my world. I am the peanut butter. 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Everybody Needs a Soft Place to Land #SOL16

Everybody needs a soft place to land.
Everybody needs to know that,
no matter what,
someone will hold you,
hug you,
help pick up the pieces,
stitch it all back together,
point out the rainbow
when all you see is the storm.

Everybody needs a soft place to land.
Everybody needs that person you can call,
at any time, day or night,
whenever and wherever,
Who always answers
and always helps.
No matter what you've done
or failed to do.
Steadfastly in your corner,
Always on your side.
Everybody needs a person like that.

Everybody needs a soft place to land.
Everybody needs to believe
no matter how far you wander
or stray from your beliefs
no matter how conceited or vain
or downtrodden and despairing
someone always knows your heart
believes in you
despite your failings, your mistakes,
knows your goodness 
deep down in their soul.

Before you can stretch and risk
and be brave and daring,
Before you can conquer your fears
Before you climb mountains,
You need to know,
truly, completely know,
you will survive if it all goes wrong.
Knowing you have a soft place to land,
gives you all the strength
to keep on striving, 

Everybody needs a soft place to land. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

#SOL16 Waving Goodbye

Oh, house hunters. Today you will notice a new house on the market, will click on the pictures, consider the location and price, possibly be interested in seeing it, maybe making it your new home. You'll think, "It needs work" and it does. You'll see that it needs some updating, for sure. But there's so much you won't see. 

You'll see a porch. It was the porch where I sat on many summer evenings, fireflies dotting the night sky, chatting with my Grandy about life and his memories of growing up in Brooklyn. He used to have a black radio with an antennae on the ground next to him, listening to hear if the Yankees won. The porch overlooked a garden he tended to most lovingly. One of our most-told family stories happened on this very porch when I was about 3 years old. My father was trying to hang a plant and I pushed him, saying, "Excuse me, please." He didn't want to step on my Grandy's prize flowers, so he leapt over the garden, landing on the lawn. Hanging plants in my family were always called "Excuse Me Pleases" from that moment on. 

Grandma and I had coffee on this porch later, when I was a college student then teacher. Sometimes we would sit and watch the goings on of the neighborhood. After Grandy died, she put rocks in the garden instead of soil and potted flowers and plants. I would help her by filling the watering can and watering the plants on hot days, when they were especially thirsty. 

House hunters, as you enter the house, you will see two comfy rocking chairs near a large window. This was a favorite spot of my Grandma's, in the sunshine, often listening to her radio- not the Yankees, but Frank Sinatra or maybe the news. This was the chair she held my babies in, laughing and rocking them and singing songs to them ("Let's all sing like the birdies sing...tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet"). There's a piano- where my dad taught me to play "Heart and Soul" when I was little- the only song I know how to play on a piano. 

Off the living room is the kitchen and dining room, which is where so many of my memories reside. Grandy making his special "bubbly grilled cheese" for my sister and me, when both our parents and Grandma were at work. Grandy, rolling up his sleeves and doing the dishes after Grandma prepared a delicious meal. Sunday spaghetti dinners, with meatballs, and a side of political conversation and debates. My Grandfather, a Republican, and my Father, a Democrat loved to hash out the issues of the day. I remember baskets of nuts and my Grandy teaching me how to crack walnuts. I remember him letting me put his wine to my lips. The table where laughs and stories were shared.

Later, when I was a new teacher, Grandma would make me dinner each Wednesday and we would sit with my Uncle Billy and eat and chat. Then we would head up to the den to watch Rachael Ray's 30 Minute Meals or reruns of The Match Game. Grandma would go back down to the kitchen and put her kettle on, then bring up cups of tea for us and maybe cookies. It was a peaceful, relaxing, loving way to spend time during a busy teaching week. 

The den calls to mind other memories. Sleepovers on Saturday nights with my sister when we were much younger, Grandma and Grandy's house the "hotel." I can still smell the clean, fresh sheets Grandma would put on the bed inside the pull-out couch. We would watch "Golden Girls" together before turning out the lights. My sister and I fought over the covers all night long, not used to sleeping in the same bed. In the morning, there would be a fancy breakfast- eggs, bacon, rolls and buns or sometimes a simple breakfast- cereal or toast. It was all good. 

House hunters, you'll notice there's a railing on the second floor, where I used to help hang "toy" ornaments at Christmas time. My grandparents loved Christmas and took special pride in making their house look festive and fun for all of us to celebrate. You'll notice there's a pantry in the laundry room in the basement. I often ran down there to get my Grandma a can of sauce or a box of rice or whatever she needed. 

After Grandma died this past December, I opened the hallway closet where all her jackets and coats still hung. They smelled like her and I breathed in deeply. I know those jackets are not in there anymore, I know she's not in her house anymore, not sitting in her rocking chair in the sun, not puttering in the kitchen, not chatting on the phone with my mom. I know it won't be my second house anymore, as it always was, growing up. I know it's empty and silly to keep. I know the best thing to do is move forward and let you come see this house, think about the memories you will make with your family, the laughter and meals you will share.  Grandy always, always said, "Don't look back." Perhaps he knew we would need those words during challenging times of our lives, times like this, when all you want to do is hold on tightly. Move forward, we must. This could be the place where your new chapter starts, as we close the book on a beautiful story. 

Yet... I still can't bear to drive my car down the block, to look at the porch, to remember the way my Grandparents would stand and wait until our car started driving off, waving goodbye.

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Important Thing About Being a Teacher #SOL16

The important thing about being a teacher is you are doing your part to create a better world. You are teaching students what they say and do matters, and you are showing them the power of literacy to unlock doors, to open possibilities. You are teaching them to think critically, to ask questions, to challenge what has always been in the hopes of what could be. You are the smile that greets them, the ears that listen to them, the eyes that really see who they are. You are the heart that cares for them. You are the library, full of books, magazines, poems and words that will nourish their minds, hearts, and spirits. 

When you are a teacher, you can get lost in all the "to-do's" and can almost convince yourself that the curriculum is king and the pacing charts reign supreme. You find your true purpose, once again, by realizing that the student matters more than standards on a page; when recognizing that the conversation about a book is just as valid, and maybe more so, then a lexile level; by believing that a standardized test will never be the full story for a child as a learner or a teacher as an educator. 

The teacher does not accept a world where leaders, and those wishing to be leaders, employ bullying tactics and speak in divisive, unkind ways. You choose kind and makes choosing kind an essential understanding above all else. You know that this time, with these kids, is precious, and this is your opportunity to plant seeds of optimism, resilience, perseverance, empathy, integrity. 

They will grow up, they will have jobs. Some will be hairdressers, some will be doctors, some will be engineers, some will be cashiers, some will be moms and dads. More important than any specific facts you share or information you impart will be the memory of how you made them feel. If they remember to think before they speak, if they remember that everyone has value and is deserving of respect, if they make time to read for themselves and to their children,  if they can write a beautiful letter to someone they love because you taught them their words have power...then, you have touched the future. 

There are many things a teacher must do and be, but the important thing- the most important thing about being a teacher is you are doing your part to create a better world. 

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week to the world-changers! 

(Inspired, of course, by The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown)