Saturday, December 30, 2017

Year Four


As we approach year four of you not being here, I'm feeling more reflective than in years past. Time has a way of doing that, no? My mind bends and swirls when I think about how much has occurred in the past three years - so much happiness, inevitable worry and sorrow, fear, and also celebration. It's natural and easy to fall down the trap of wishing you were here to spend time with these two beautiful and budding granddaughters of yours. I see you chasing Avery down the sidewalk on her balance bike and taking her and Harper to The Italian Store to visit your friends. Alas, these are just fleeting and impossible fantasies.

That being said, I'm realizing how much of you lives on in me and therefore in them. How much my words and actions will mold these little malleable minds much like your words and actions molded my own. I so often see you in myself in my everyday life- both for better and for worse! Even those for worse moments have a silver lining in that I pause to reflect on what I can be doing differently. All this to say : you're not here but my goodness you are. Each year that you've been gone has taught me something new about myself because you've always been (and will always continue to be) my voice of reason.

Year One: The Circle of Life
As we turned the page of you being gone for a year, I watched the sun rise and set that day on the beach in Florida with a baby growing inside of me. In that moment, the circle of life was staring me down- the notion of missing one life so much and also being so excited for the life that was going to join us soon. I realized that the yearning for what was and the excitement of what is to be are not mutually exclusive. Although that felt unfamiliar, that has been such a valuable life lesson. Beauty, fear, truth, sadness- they don't have to stand on their own.

Year Two: Patience
Admittedly, this is a theme that I honed in on during year two in spite of you- patience was never a strong suit between us, now was it? :) Motherhood forced me to learn patience on so many levels. Most importantly, I learned how to be patient with myself. There were (are!) simply not enough hours in the day to plow through those long to-do lists that I often found pride in completing. Even when there is the time, I'd much rather spend those fleeting moments doing something more meaningful than folding a basket of laundry. Those baskets? They sit there. Those ungraded papers? They sit, too. That cluttered trunk of my car? It gets even more cluttered if it means that my mind can rest for a few minutes. Everything will get done and it doesn't have to get done right away. Patience, patience, patience.

Year Three: Human Connection
This is a trait of yours that I've always admired beyond belief. You had a way of connecting with people that left me in awe, particularly when it was an unexpected relationship. From the janitors at the gyms on the weekends who became your best buds to Jack, the gentleman with an intellectual disability who you mentored while I was growing up, you consistently went out of your way to form new and meaningful relationships. Seeing you in these roles taught me what this life is all about - connection. As I settled into a new position at a new school during year three, I honed in on this idea even more. I formed some amazing relationships at CB over eight years that I've held onto and I've also put myself out there with new co-workers and have found a lot of comfort and support in those new relationships. Whenever I think of you, it's the reminder that I need knowing that the smallest words and actions carry the greatest gifts and weight.

And so, here's to year four and all that it will teach me. We'll be remembering you on the 2nd with Five Guys and Manhattans- just the way you would like it.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

A Mother's Intuition

Since Avery was little, she's always been on the late to very late end of milestones. Pinching her food, crawling, walking- you name it. The girl has a mind of her own and certainly doesn't rush into things. She also has a stubborn streak in idea where she got that from! :)  Perhaps it was my own mom telling me that I was the same way with being on the later end of timelines, but I always felt throughout the late milestones that it was fine and she'd get there when she was ready (as difficult as it was not to compare her to other kids her age). From day one, my motherhood mantra has always been that a healthy and happy baby = success.
Fast forward to Avery at nearly 21 months, and we're living that mantra day in and day out. Aves is a healthy and happy girl who loves to take in the world around her. Like any toddler she has her moments that make you cringe (especially when they are in public!), but we all know that this is part of growing up. As we reach the age where Avery is supposed to be developing her speech at a faster and faster rate and identifying everyday objects around her, something has felt a bit off. Receptively, girl's got it down and she loves following directions that you give her- especially when it comes to giving our dog Sloan a hug and a kiss.  However, there are parts of her expressive language that have left us wondering. Wondering if this is another stage of Aves being a late bloomer or wondering if perhaps we need to dig a bit deeper on this one.
As a teacher, I'm more than accustomed to teaching children of all backgrounds. Students that come from all over the world, students that come from modern families, students that have special needs, students that are so bright beyond their years- and I love them all the same. I think having this maternal instinct with all of the students that I've taught over the years has reinforced for me that even if Avery does require services or additional help, there's nothing "wrong" with her. That being said, that word- "wrong"- has come up time and time again when I've mentioned my observation about Avery to other people and it's made me pause and reflect. It's something that I feel like I want to be able to bring up in conversation and not necessarily hide, but it's also been an eye-opening experience sharing this concern with others. I know in my heart that there is nothing wrong with a child (or adult, for that matter) that needs help of any kind.  Might they need some additional services to get them where they need to be, though? Absolutely. The thing is, I know that people who have said, "Oh, I'm sure there's nothing wrong with her!" have meant so, so well by that comment. And they're right- there is nothing wrong with Avery. There is something that has been pulling on my mama heartstrings that I want to look into further, though. There is something that we can do proactively as her parents to let her know that we're always her number one advocates and want to do whatever we can to be there for her. 
And so- we made the call. The testing hasn't taken place yet and I don't think that this is the space for me to share where we go from here either way. It is a space, though, to share that as a parent you're always the most in tune with your child(ren) and you're always their front-line of love and guidance for them. As a parent, don't ever feel like something is wrong with your little one when you're noticing something that seems different (something that I've been reminding myself a lot these days).

Healthy and Happy = Success.
Sidenote: I actually caught myself doing a similar thing the other day when a friend was sharing that she was worried about something medically and I made a comment along the lines of, "Oh, I'm sure it's nothing!". I don't think that's what she wanted or needed to hear, though. Instead, I think a more comforting response would have been that I hope that it turns out to be nothing, but if it is something, I'm here for her in whatever way she needs me. It's easy for us to think that we're consoling people by hoping that there's nothing abnormal happening in their lives when, in fact, sometimes we just need to hear that even if there is something unusual that pops up, we have friends in our corner waiting to be there for us. 

"Chopsticks, you say!?"

Friday, November 4, 2016

Screaming From The Soapbox

Friends and Readers,

This is personal.

It’s important to start off by making it very clear that in no way am I bashing the two schools that I have worked at for the past eight years. Quite the opposite, in fact. I love both of them dearly. That being said, they are becoming products of a broken system, as are the rest of the Fairfax County schools.

This Tuesday, Fairfax County voters will vote on the proposed meals tax for the county. To most voters, this might seem like an obvious vote- of course I don’t want to pay a tax on my meals. However, to anyone who is connected to education in Fairfax County, we know that this is a VERY important tax that we need to pass on Tuesday.

As a product of FCPS schools, I have a lot of pride and admiration for this school system. It has changed, though- and not for the better. When I was in high school at McLean High School, FCPS was often compared to the crème de la crème Texas school systems that are recognized across the country. When I was getting my degree in Elementary Education, I knew to apply to teach in FCPS very early on because you had to be invited to an exclusive early hire fair if you wanted any hope of getting a teaching job for the following school year.  Fast forward eight years and the portrait of FCPS is much different now. We currently have over 200 vacancies in the county and they are begging people to attend the FCPS job fairs each spring. Every single year has brought new and difficult challenges from the top down. Until last year, teachers did not receive a step increase for seven years (!!!!!). In fact, even with our raise for the first time in so many years, when we crunched the math with our new insurance premiums it came out to a whopping TWENTY TWO DOLLARS more per month that we were making. Teachers are exhausted- mentally, physically, and financially. It is demeaning and hurtful to feel as though we are not valued in a job that we commit so many hours of our day to- both inside AND outside of our schools.

On top of teachers not being compensated appropriately, we’re failing in other areas too. Our retired teachers who substitute teach are now being paid the same amount of money as a normal substitute teacher, which is insane. Our classroom technology is lacking. Our class sizes are far too large. Our morale is down. Teachers are jumping ship left and right to head to nearby counties that compensate their teachers appropriately. The list goes on and on…..

I think what hurts the most is knowing the average portrait of the voter that’s going to potentially shoot this tax down- someone who lives in one of the wealthiest areas of the United States and can certainly afford a meal tax and yet does not support our children and teachers. Never mind, either, that every single surrounding county already has a meal tax in place that allows their school systems to continue thriving.

Maybe you’ve already heard about the meal tax and have made up your mind or maybe you haven’t. If nothing else, please educate yourself on this vote. For this teacher, it’s deeply personal. Your vote for the meals tax is a vote for our county’s children, our teachers, and our future. I fear that the fallout from a potential strike down of the this tax will simply spur yet another exodus of amazing educators to other close-by counties- an exodus that FCPS simply cannot afford. Pun intended.

Educate yourself:

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Grieving with Gratitude

True to form, grief comes in waves and is unpredictable. It has been nearly three years since my dad passed and there are still hours, days, and weeks that sneak up on me and are particularly weepy and difficult. This past week has been one of those stretches of time that’s rooted in the fact that I just miss my dad.

Last week Avery was having a particularly turbulent afternoon where nothing seemed to be appeasing her when we got home. Finally, I decided to lay down with her in our bedroom knowing that snuggle time if often her favorite activity after a long day. We’ve gone through this routine on many days yet this day was unique. As Avery rolled over into her snuggle spot that was close enough to me but not toooo close (#toddlerboundaries), Sloan hopped up to join us. The next few minutes that transpired are scary and yet somehow comforting.

Avery stopped crying and locked eyes with me as Sloan sat there with us. In that moment, a flood of emotion swept over me as I felt my dad more present than ever. The circle of life was staring me down as Avery snuggled so peacefully in the same space that my dad took his last breath. While I know a large part of my brain chemistry doesn’t allow me to recall a lot of the events on January 2nd, 2014 (hello, survival mode), the vision of my dad lying so peacefully when I found him that afternoon was staring right at me. It’s no surprise that it’s painful not having my dad living as Avery grows up, but there’s also no question that he makes his presence known in our lives.

The four of us spent the next few minutes together, our souls swathed together in a comforting space. It was the first time that my dad has showed up for me in Avery’s presence and as the tears streamed down my face, Aves calmly stared back at me knowing full well that the moment was a special one.
I’ve spent a lot of time with this moment in my mind over the past week. These types of situations take a lot of time for me to process and move through and I think they’re important to share. I have a co-worker this year that I’ve quickly become close with. Her energy is infectious and her warmth shines through so strongly each day that I see her. We connected on Facebook and I’ve learned through some her posts that she lost one of her beautiful daughters in a tragic accident a few years ago. My heart breaks and bursts with happiness every time that I read her loving words about her daughter because it’s so clear that they are another example of the living existing in a special place alongside those who have left us.

The other night she posted something that spoke to me so clearly and powerfully:
Image result for death is nothing at all. it does not count

Daddio, I want you to know that we love you beyond measure and feel your presence. You’re a source of comfort and strength each day and I hope in some small way that we are for you, too. I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart). 

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Truth Is.....

On Sunday my mom and I took Avery to the Nats game where CP would later join us. Avery and I haven't been to a Nats baseball game in over a month and she's at the age where she's changing so rapidly that she's not the same little chickpea that she was just 30 days ago. Flashback to last year when she would literally sleep through the entire game. Those days are LONG gone.

After enjoying a small bucket of french fries all to herself (#yolo), Aves quickly became antsy. It was clear that trying to stay in our seats was not a realistic expectation so I took her up to the concessions area above our seats where we ended up staying for over an hour. In all honesty, despite missing most of the baseball game itself, that hour was so darn fun! Avery had a blast running into the crowds of people passing by and wiggling her way back to me, many people stopped to say hello to her, and we even got to hear the bagpipers tune up for their 7th inning stretch performance.

The reason I popped in to even share this is because I had posted some photos on social media that showed Avery sitting in a seat happily munching on those delicious fries and while she certainly did enjoy them, that photo did not accurately represent our experience that afternoon! I find that this is one of the most obvious blessings and curses of social media in general- our lives are so curated. While I know this, I think it's an important reminder to bring to light sometimes, too.

The Nats game was a great time, but not because of the baseball. It was fun because I had the opportunity to soak up some unintended moments of Avery's childhood that were incredibly special to me. In a schedule that keeps us moving non-stop, it was especially meaningful to me that we were able to veer off course and be extra silly and spontaneous together.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Sympathy and Empathy

I imagine that some of you have heard of or are familiar with Brene Brown. If you're not, might I suggest that you put her on your radar?  Brene is the type of writer and speaker that gets under your skin in the best possible way and makes you want to be a better person. She embraces the flaws that we all posses and sees past them.

I was so, so delighted when my principal, Holly, shared the video below with our staff. While it might seem a bit disjointed to be showing the clip to an elementary school staff, it was a means through which we discussed our Putting Kindness First mission for the year. Every single person in the building- students, teachers, administrators, custodians, office staff- comes to school with a suitcase full of "stuff". Perhaps we only see the carry-on items in our building, but that suitcase is chock-full of other items that we are not privy to. Therefore, rather than jumping to conclusions and closing off relationships, sometimes a kind listening ear can forge a relationship that might not otherwise blossom.

That being said, when people share difficult things that are happening in their lives, there's an often inherent desire to start "silver-lining" the situation (a made-up verb that Brene embraces). Often this starts with, "At least......". When we do this, we are driving a disconnect between two people and the situation at hand. What's strange is that I found MYSELF saying this to others when my own father passed away out of the blue. "At least he didn't suffer....." was a phrase that seemed to be on auto-tune after some time. I can acknowledge to myself that this was 110% a survival mode tactic in those moments when I could not look myself in the mirror and say that my dad was here and then he was not. I continue to cut myself a lot of slack on this because, hello, grief very much includes survival mode at times, but I've been extremely cautious in using this phrase with others.

There are many moments in life when we are truly at a loss for words. Someone shares something with you that is so personal and so beyond our comprehension in the moment that you literally cannot form words to come out of your mouth. Often, that results in words spewing out that probably should not. Instead, think about taking a moment to look that person in the eye and say, "I'm truly at a loss for words.....I hope that I can be here for you in a way that you need me......I know it took a lot of strength and bravery to share this with me....I'm holding you close in my heart."  The truth is, those "At least...." phrases and those "You'll get past this" phrases minimize the gravity of a person's feelings and, frankly, it is harmful to all of those involved in the conversation.

Empathy fuels connection, sympathy drives disconnection.

I'll never forget the day that I went back to school after my dad died. As part of that survival mode that I spoke about earlier, I clung so, so hard to what I knew and arrived at school on a Monday after my dad had passed on Thursday unsure of what to expect, but knowing that it was where I needed to be. Naturally, there were a lot of sympathetic and empathetic conversations that day. One does stick out in particular, though, and it's when my co-worker Julie came into my room, hugged me, and just started crying. She didn't know what to say and she didn't have to say anything at all for me to feel her empathy and connection in that moment. She probably knew that nothing she could say would make the situation better and that sometimes you just need to cry it out with another human being. I'm forever grateful for that moment, Julie!

Empathy and sympathy are something that I still struggle with to this day and I imagine that a lot of us feel this way. It's very natural to want to "fix" a situation or make it seem "better" than it is. However, I truly believe in the power of human connection and oftentimes empathy is all someone needs to feel and fuel that connection.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Summer 2016

This summer has been transformative. Unlike many other summers when I felt as though I blinked and I was back in the classroom, the last eight weeks I've felt so....present. Intentional. Deliberate. Filled with gratitude.

If you remember, the beginning of summer brought some beautiful unrest as I discovered what spending all day with a 16 month old looked like. Avery and I spent many memorable days with one another and it's time that I will forever cherish. During that time, my co-worker and I successful ran another year of our homegrown math camp- a project that we are both immensely proud of. There's something about seeing your students in the summer and outside of the classroom that's always fun and enlightening. 

Avery and I took a trip to New York on the train, we visited special people that live close by, family and friends were able to visit us at our new(ish) home, and CP and I were fortunate enough to go on a plethora of dates thanks to some amazing babysitters. I also started a new venture, @mpikefitness, that continues to feel intimidating and uncharted but my passion is steering this ship and it has been a fun and exciting undertaking.

On top of all of these wonderful moments, I'd be remiss if I didn't also acknowledge that I've felt a change in my core. Not in my abdominal core, but the core of my soul. Frankly, this has taken me by surprise and it has taken a lot of patience and trust for me to acknowledge this. I'm really not quite sure how to even describe what I'm talking about and I worry that attempting to will be a potential disservice to myself (and perhaps even to you as a reader). On a very basic level, though, I've felt connected to people, places, and things in ways that I have not in the past. I'm gaining an appreciation for things that I once either didn't notice or chose not to. I'm putting new feelings under a microscope rather than shoving them out the door. I imagine that this sounds like a spiritual journey. Perhaps it is? I'm really not quite sure. 

I guess what I'm trying to get across is that I've always tried to be honest in this space. I've shared my favorite toddler products and I've shared how my grief still haunts me from time to time. I live in a space of this Earth that is fascinating. There is a lot of love in this area, but there is a hustle and bustle that can present itself as gruff and unwilling to explore new possibilities. I already feel this as the seemingly natural chaos of a new school year begins. Pacing guides to be printed and combed through, papers to be graded, meetings to be attended, meals to be made, many emails to be replied to. What I love (!) about teaching, though, is the experience of seeing the world through a child's bright eyes. Those eyes as well as the eyes of my own offspring will continue to guide me on this new experience, no doubt, despite the demands of the job. I want to continue being open and honest with myself as this unknown territory becomes more charted. I want to give pause when pause is needed. More than anything, I want to continue being grateful for this life, for the opportunities to fall and to get back up, and for the chance to fill this Earth with love.

Xoxo M

A perfectly imperfect photo of one of my favorite moments from this summer: watching the sunrise on the beach.

My favorite, favorite Natalie Merchant song that encapsulates this stage of my life pretty darn well. Can we also give pause for the beauty of this music video?