Mom life, SOL, Teaching

#SOL Tuesday: Deep Summer Ramblings

I’ve had a hard time focusing to write since summer break began. During the chaotic school year that it was, I took on the #sol challenge in March and even extended the student #sol challenge to my second graders. I continued writing on Tuesdays more or less, and enjoyed reading other slices. I looked forward to summer break and the ending of such a stressful, unprecedented year. I looked forward to more down time and a time to regroup and just being. But that’s not how summer break has felt at all.

Somehow I managed (without fully paying attention), to book mostly everyday in July with some sort of commitment either for myself or my children (which means I’m technically booked as well since they’re little and I’m the mode of transportation). I felt down, insecure, ungrounded, unsure, and generally short-fused. I realized over the past school year I was so super focused on work that school and teaching became what I felt confident in and the other parts – mother, wife, daughter, friend – took backstage. Suddenly that ended, and although summer break is typically a difficult transition for this routine-centered girl, this transition became even harder than normal. I’m a teacher. People expect me to be so thankful I have the summer “off”. I get to spend extra time with my children, go to the bathroom when I please (truthfully probably only other teachers realize this bonus), read books for pleasure, workout, listen to podcasts, catch up on house projects, do laundry (it was apparent the last time I had put laundry away was during spring break). Instead of embracing these things, I just became overwhelmed and somehow felt lonely.

Maybe it was because this year forced me to be closer than ever to the colleagues who I taught with in our cohort and I suddenly was without them. Maybe it was because this year I found myself pushing away from colleagues who I thought I knew well but I had seen a different side of that I didn’t care for and moving away from them felt awkward and judgy. Maybe it is because I am an over thinker and find myself always searching for the root from which to grow and be better (which can be isolating and exhausting). Maybe it has something to do with the fact upstate New York has had a ridiculously rainy and gloomy summer with insane storms.

I recently started reading The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown and listening to her Unlocking Us podcast sister summer series on the book. It hit home to the core. After a lot of talking to my phone and the book with “Yes! Yassss!”, crying, more yesses, more crying and so on, I’m starting to come to the realization that this crazy, stressful year is leaking out of me in a delayed reaction.

I had to let things go this past year and that is not easy for me. In addition to teaching in a pandemic and feeling anxious that I was going to somehow transmit COVID to my family members, we moved to a new town and didn’t exactly get to meet anyone other than in passing outside, my husband’s best friend died unexpectedly in the fall, travel ban restrictions from my school district deterred me from seeing my parents until they could visit in late April, I turned 40 in February and was bummed I couldn’t celebrate. I think it’s taking awhile to notice and name all these things, as well as shift my thinking about them – we have begun to meet some people in the neighborhood and I need to be patient with that, my children have made friends and have gotten to have play dates and birthday parties, the crushing blow of our friend passing away made me realize how I need to let small things go because it’s not worth arguing about, we are regularly seeing my parents again, my friends made my birthday the best it could be as they brought me dinner, masked and to my doorstep back in February and I realize what an effort that was.

Looking ahead to the rest of July and August, I felt relieved when I noticed I hadn’t booked our weekends with commitments. My husband and I recognized we have little time to fit in all that we’re trying to do and will make a concerted effort to schedule (dare I use that word) family time for hiking. There is certainly a shift going on within me and part of me feels hopeful that I’ve done enough retrospection that I can move on and look forward and actually start enjoying summer break before it is over.

Has summer break seemed different to you this year? Have you felt a feeling of relief only to realize it’s not as peaceful as you were picturing? Certainly there is a lot of good. As I write this on my patio in my pajamas with the sun peeking through the trees, my coffee, and a gentle summer breeze, I breathe in the smell of marigolds and basil next to me and tell myself today will be a good day.

Writing a Tuesday #sol
SOL, Teaching

#SOL Two Marigolds Retired

Fabulous wine and book baskets for our marigold retirees. The pillows say “Drink Wine Read Books”.

This year two of our closest group of teacher friends are retiring. They are marigolds. At the end of this unimaginable school year, we actually were able to have a gathering at my house to honor them and it was incredibly refreshing!

Several years ago I read a post from The Cult of Pedagogy all about how to find your marigold as a new teacher. It is wonderful advice for anyone, not just new teachers. You have probably heard about it, but if not, read it here. I considered myself very fortunate to be among many marigolds.

You know there is very little extra time in teaching. We all have families and other commitments so finding time to sit and chat is challenging. We have this group text thread that has become a lifeline through the last couple of years. Sharing funny stories, memes, sharing news about cancer, loss of family and close friends, asking advice about sick kids or developmental stages of our own children, praying for snow days, comparing quarantine stories, sharing recipes, venting about work, building each other up, planning happy hour (sometimes virtual), the list could go on and on.

One of my friends and I planned a happy hour for our retiring marigolds. She gathered all the gifts and I hosted. As a group we honestly couldn’t remember the last time we had all gathered at someone’s house after school like this. So, in addition to reflecting how wonderful this was, it’s also a call to do more of this!

I am so happy for my friends who are retiring. It is well deserved and we will miss them terribly next year. I am also happy we were able to feel normal again and get together. Here’s to all the marigolds out there and to brighter days!

Writing this Tuesday for the #sliceoflife #sol hosted by Two Writing Teachers

poetry, Poetry Friday

Poetry Friday: Rain on the Windows

A quiet morning and bonus alone time before my busy day takes off.

Splatter, chatter

Pip, Pop

Rhythmic tapping

Won’t stop

Quiet house

Morning time

Smell of coffee

Time is mine

Splatter chatter

Becomes a hum

Rain pounding

Pouring some

Peaceful time

To start the day

Sipping coffee

Rain will stay

Today I reflected on the quiet that surrounded me and wrote about my day just getting started for #poetryfriday

Mom life, SOL, sol21

A Visit: Is Normal Back?

Writing a slice of life story on Tuesdays! #sol

Happy June! I can’t believe on one hand how time continues to fly by – when I see how my children have grown, when I realize school is winding down, when I see my laundry pile up AGAIN. On the other hand, it has been a very long time since I last saw my grandmothers in person, since I hung out with my side of the family not on Zoom, and went away for a normal weekend.

Over Memorial Day Weekend, my husband, children, and dog drove the four hours and two states from NY to my parents’ house in NH. My brother and his wife and their dog met us there from three hours away in the opposite direction in ME. We realized as we were driving there that my husband hadn’t seen my parents and my brother altogether in NH since Christmas 2019 (which was actually only for about 3 hours because of the stomach bug that plagued us that year). My kids and I hadn’t seen my brother and his wife since August. We were fortunate to have my parents visit us in April once they were vaccinated and felt safe to come. Of course we had Zoomed together at times, but being together in person was a big deal to me.

Although it was not a totally normal, pre-pandemic visit, we had so much fun taking in all that we had missed out on. My children had a goal of swimming in Grammy and Grampa’s pool everyday. Although it was only in the fifties and cloudy, they hit their goal (thanks to a pool heater). We had a lobster bake – my sister-in-law brought Maine lobsters with her and they were delicious. We met my parents’ neighbors’ friends (who they met when the NYC couple was pretty much stranded in northern NH for 3 months when COVID hit last March) and had s’mores around the fire. Since there were extra hands, my husband and I got to go hiking by ourselves (I love family hikes, but was thankful for time for both of us). We got to visit one of my grandmothers in person and actually hug! We were able to use View Clix to video chat with my other grandmother (nursing homes still had restrictions). My children squeezed in lots of swimming, fishing, four wheeling, and other country living fun. They also found out they’re going to have a new cousin in December- my brother and his wife are having a baby boy. They even did a blue fireworks gender reveal for us.

We really got in so many things and typically our trips to my parents’ are like that. It’s a commitment to go for a weekend – there’s no popping in just for a meal. When we left, my kids cried. Real, sad, long faces. When I explained we’ll see Grammy and Grampa soon, I think they felt deeply what I had glossed over – this trip was a big deal. It was something toward normalcy. We craved it, and we finally got it.

Here’s to hoping normal (or at least some of it) is back.

Kristopher checking off one of his many to-do list items with Grampa.
Mom life, SOL

Slice of Life – The Sharpie Cat Ears Incident

Writing a slice of life story on Tuesdays! #sol

Saturday was very hot and with our crazy schedule of work, sports, and other commitments, it was the first day this spring that we were able to finally plant flowers and mulch our beds. Our children “helped” my husband and me. The mulch we got was dyed black – this is important because my daughter stood barefoot in it shoveling and dyed her feet. She went upstairs to take a bath. After awhile, (she was out of the tub), we still hadn’t heard or seen her. I went back inside and called her name.

“Evie? Where are you?”

“Don’t come upstairs.”

“What?” Why?”

“Don’t come upstairs I said!” Then a quiet afterthought: “I don’t want to get in trouble.” That was an invitation to run and find out what on earth she was up to. I suspected makeup because we’ve had similar situations with mascara and lipstick with her and quiet spans of time. I found her in the bathroom with a giant wad of wet toilet paper and a pitcher of water on the bathroom counter. Her face was buried in a hand towel hanging on its rack.

“What happened, Evie?”

“I don’t want to tell you,” she said muffled and into the towel. The back and forth went on for a little while. Finally, she said, “Sharpie,” removed her face from the towel and looked at me before I had time to process what she said and prepare an appropriate mom response. She had black sharpie marker triangles above her eyebrows and what maybe were whiskers. To say I was hit by inappropriate laughter would be an understatement. I kept a straight face, though it was trying to contort, and quickly said I’d be right back. Then I went and laughed as hard as I have in a long time. Tears rolled down my cheeks. I couldn’t even get the words out in a complete sentence to my husband. This child of mine thinks of ideas I never even imagined as a kid. I collected myself and went back in to help.

As I was trying to entice Evie to remove the towel she was now walking around with over her face, I assured her I would help her. She informed me that a) she did not want to go to school looking like this and would be wearing the towel to school until it wore off (note it was only Saturday afternoon), quickly followed by b) this was actually MY fault because she had asked me for face paint for Christmas but I hadn’t given her any and so today she had to try Sharpie instead (note this was the middle of May). I’m not quite sure how she thinks so quickly.

My husband, who was reacting to the situation more maturely than me set to work Googling how to remove Sharpie from skin and texted me his findings. We tried coconut oil and it worked! I think we all breathed a sigh of relief for different reasons.

Thinking this was a teachable moment about mistakes and unconditional love, I brought it up again at bedtime and explained she can always come to me with any problem and I will help her problem solve. Her main thoughts were that she was feeling hot and sweaty when it happened mostly because she explained she is always hot, and that she really would like face paint. Maybe this wasn’t the deep conversation I was trying for, but I think she knows she’s loved. And I promised not to tell her brother.

A worried look with the remnants of Sharpie cat ears and whiskers. She really did manage to get a lot off by herself.
Remnants of her Sharpie removal. Honestly, I was relieved this wasn’t put down the drain!
SOL, Teaching

SOL: The Power of a Good Team

I can’t seem to stay away from the COVID theme of this school year even as (thankfully) we seem to be headed in a better direction. I believe in the strength model as a teacher – What can students do already? What can we build from? This year in particular, I keep coming back to how grateful I am for a great team in my cohort. It was truly one of the silver linings of this year. Although teams shift depending on student needs year to year, I wonder what worked and how can we continue to build on our strengths. I believe there is always room to learn and room to grow.

Communication: This year my team consisted of a wonderful, smart, caring reading teacher who was plunked into the role of a classroom teacher in late August. My other teammate was an energetic, purposeful special Ed teacher. The three of us communicated so well all year through conversations, emails, texts. I learned so much from these two women, and although I would have worked with my special Ed teacher anyway this year, having the opportunity to work so closely with a reading specialist was so refreshing. In a normal year, we wouldn’t have had time to have communicated as much as we did this year about student observations, reading behaviors, analyzing meaningful data, and so on.

Unified front: In my opinion, this pandemic caused some panic on the parent end and we found ourselves fielding concerns and demands of several emotional parents. It was not easy – and my team has 3 veteran teachers so we’ve seen a lot! Having the understanding we all had each other’s backs and were consistent in our handling of situations with students and parents added a layer of trust in our team. Without this trust, it could quite easily have been a different, more stressful year.

Students at the forefront: Above all, our team put students first. That is true in any year. What was different is with smaller class sizes, switching teachers for subject areas (I taught writing and math while my teammate taught reading and word study to both classrooms in our cohort), and consequently more teacher eyes on students, our second graders received arguably better instruction and more direct teacher-student time than any other year. In a way, having our hands tied with social distancing, masks, limited partner work, creative small groups, and no sharing of materials, made us really pare down to what was most important for students. Our communication and unified front combined to do what was best for children.

Humor: Had I not had two of the funniest people on my team, this year sure would have been different. To reiterate again, as we all know, this year was very difficult! I don’t know how I would have gotten through without our ability to laugh at ridiculous moments, understand a look directed to each other above our masks, and just enjoy the funny little snippets that teaching young children has to offer.

So, while in many regards I am happy we are getting to the end of the school year (we still do have more than a month to go here in NY), I am grateful as always for silver linings and hope to carry what was good about this year forward into the next. What were your silver linings of this different and difficult year?

Slice of Life Tuesday! #sol
literacy coach, poetry, Poetry Friday, professional development, Teaching

Poetry Friday: Literacy Coaching Haiku

A (sort of) quick background on my literacy coaching journey: Seven years ago I was involuntarily transferred to another building due to low enrollment at my building. The school I moved to had Literacy Collaborative and I soon became deep into being coached by the type of person who lifts you up and helps you learn. After three years at that building, I moved back to my initial building and although happy to be “home”, desperately missed Literacy Collaborative. Then two years ago I had an opportunity to train to be a literacy coach at the primary level in my building. This was exciting to me because it was a chance to extend my love of Literacy Collaborative. Being coached changed me as a teacher and I was so excited to have the opportunity to continue the coaching model.

Our district has 5 elementary buildings and most buildings had two coaches in training. Our training began in the fall of 2019- even this was special because my former literacy coaches who had become district-level trainers were the ones who would train us- and I felt grateful to be a part of such a stellar group of teachers.

The year was amazing in so many ways – the conversations, the reading, the trying out of different approaches, the shift to thinking about coaching others and continuing this positivity, and then…Coronavirus. Suddenly, it didn’t matter that the lesson I squeezed into video before our next Professional Development wasn’t perfect. Everything came to a screeching halt that spring of 2020. Eventually, we finished the training via Google Meet but the vibe was entirely different.

Coaching for this school year was out. Funds had been reallocated for pandemic needs. I was scared about how the year would go in general – anxious about teaching in a cohort, anxious about my own children being in person and rearranging after school care, not wanting any of us to get sick, and a whole host of other things. Coaching at that point was also the farthest thing from my mind – we were all in survival mode.

Things were quiet. There was no talk about coaching really. A couple other schools began coaching because they had funding for it. I had honestly given up, resigned to the fact that although I wouldn’t be coaching, I was a much better teacher for having had all that training. Then suddenly, one day in the hallway this spring, my principal showed me a paper with a 1.0 literacy coaching position for our building having been added to the budget!

The plan was I would split coaching with my intermediate counterpart (both of us being halftime classroom teachers/half time coaches). A few weeks later – today- we had our first in person professional development since March 2020. It was amazing in so many ways. I had always felt grateful to be a part of this wonderful team, but now feel even more grateful! We caught up, we reflected on silver linings this past year has brought, we planned how to move forward, and most importantly, it felt as though we picked up right where we left off.

Here’s a haiku for #PoetryFriday about this literacy coaching journey. I am so looking forward to what this next year brings!

A hopeful journey

Cut short by a pandemic

Rises once again.

Mom life, SOL

#SOL Peaceful Nature and Thoughtful Kids

Mother’s Day

Back during April break, we had beautiful weather and I made a point to be outside as much as possible. One day, my friend and I decided we would take our children on a hike. It was a short, but pretty hike to a waterfall. I talked up the hike, packed a picnic lunch, and tried to build enthusiasm in my daughter who can be unsure about hiking. I love to hike and be outside, but she’s the littlest in the family and can become frustrated on our hikes. We hiked, we saw the waterfall, we had our picnic, and that was that.

Fast forward to Mother’s Day and my daughter planned a hike for me with her brother. They told my husband where to go – “somewhere I took them during April break that was really great.” They grabbed backpacks and filled them with several items we might need. They started packing snacks and water bottles. I tried to help and Evie assured me, “I’m making sandwiches for you and me and Kristopher is making sandwiches for Dad and himself.” They were recreating the day I had tried to talk up during April break!

We got to the parking lot and took off. It was cooler than it was back in April, but the leaves and underbrush had greened up significantly. The smell of the woods was overpowering and beautiful. The stream this trail follows bubbled and churned. The waterfall was in full glory thanks to all the rain we’ve been getting. We skipped stones into the pool of water before heading back along the trail.

Once we were back to the parking lot, it was time to replicate our picnic lunch from last month. Evie and Kris happily got their backpacks out, pulled out their lunchboxes and began eating their sandwiches. I asked where mine was and Evie said, “I didn’t have time to make you one.” Kristopher followed the same informing my husband he didn’t have a sandwich either. Instead, Evie told me (kind of put off) that she HAD packed me an apple but she didn’t to know where it was, and my husband got a GoGo Applesauce Squeeze. Well, they certainly had the right thought that day, just needed to work on the follow through.

I couldn’t stop laughing because this was a Mother’s Day memory I will remember. I’m happy they had an idea and my husband let them go through with it. They know I love to be outside and I’d like to think I’m passing that on to them. Next time, however, I’ll be making my own back up lunch.

Writing on Tuesdays for Slice of Life hosted by Two Writing Teachers.