Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Read Before SOL Testing

Dear students,

Let me tell you a quick story about my son, Ben. He's in second grade, has big dimples and is super fast. He also dabs so much I had to create a rule: "No dabbing at the table." He is competitive and plays anything and everything with great joy and serious gusto. He's played rugby, run cross country, played basketball and soccer and takes swim lessons because I make him. But baseball is his true love.

Another thing about Ben: He can get really, really nervous. We all do, but whereas you and I might have a few butterflies fluttering around in our stomachs, he's got a massive swarm. And all his faith in himself POOF! disappears into thin air. It's hard to watch as he falls from confident to worried in a matter of seconds.

One more thing about Ben: He's pretty lucky to have a wise big sister named Lorelei.

Last week, before a baseball game, his nerves zoomed in from out of nowhere and took over. As we drove to the game, his dimples disappeared and his lower lip trembled. Lorelei looked at him and asked, "You know what Ms. Logan tells us to do before a test?"

He didn't say anything, but he turned his soggy eyes to her.

"She says to stand up next to our desks and pose like a superhero. She said that tests have shown that kids are more confident and do better when they do that," she said. "Maybe you should try it when you head to the plate."

Ben said nothing.

About an hour later, when the time came for him to grab his bat and head to the plate, Lorelei and I sat and watched him take some practice swings near the dugout. Then he put his bat in his right hand and strode towards home plate. He got to the batter's box and dug his right foot in a little, then placed his left foot. The kid-pitcher looked at him, and Ben looked back.

But then Ben took a step back, out of the batter's box. He put his legs in a wide stance, made fists with his hands and put them on his hips. Ben pulled his shoulders back and puffed out his chest. He lifted his chin another inch and I honestly thought a superhero cape was going to POOF! appear out of nowhere. (It didn't.)

He picked up his bat again and took his stance in the batter's box. The kid pitched, and the ball whizzed by. Strike one. The kid pitched again and WHACK! Ben connected his bat with that ball and it flew. And then Ben flew. His legs pounded towards first base, then rounded the corner to second. He saw that the outfielder was fumbling with the ball and he knew he could outrun the the throw. He had the guts and the confidence to keep running. So he did, on to third, and then he went for it--but the outfielder finally got his act together and threw to home.

But Ben made it first. And that was his first home run ever in a baseball game.



So my suggestion before this little test is this: Stand up, shake off the stray butterflies or whole swarm that might be in your limbs or in your stomach, close your eyes, and embrace your inner superhero. Give me a stance. Maybe one more.

Now sit down and give that test all you've got.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Expectations, and Getting it Right

Expectations are difficult, if not impossible. This is what my best friend and I have concluded in the past few years. It seems difficult, if not impossible, to hope for the best and maybe anticipate a little goodness out of something or someone, without full-on expecting a certain result. And when that result does not happen close to what we've got in our minds or hearts, the bitter taste of disappointment courses through veins, telling us we got that whole hope and expecting thing wrong again.

I seem to be an expert at this hoping-too-much stuff, and that disappointment taste is a familiar, biting shot.

But I think I got it right this time.

I just weathered my first winter here in the Pacific Northwest. I wish I had a dollar for each time a person told me, "Hope you like rain!" when I informed them we were moving out here. We knew 14 months in advance, so there was plenty of time for people to say, again and again, how wet it is out here. Having gone to college out here, I had a good idea about the rain and the mindset it requires.

So I faced the winter like I would face a tough wind: I leaned into it, tasting a lot of that bad weather stuff on my face as I did, but most of it rolled off my coat (purchased at REI, of course, by my husband, so you better believe it was a high-quality one). I faced the winter again and again, usually with the cute rump of a yellow lab trotting in front of me, her tail up and happy, loving being out, not caring too much what the weather might be throwing our way that particular walk. It was still a chance to breathe fresh air, stick up a stick or two, jump up on a neighbor, pee in someone else's yard, and--wonder of all wonders--poop and have her mom pick it right up.

Honestly, I can think of only four or five walks this winter when I was truly miserable. I wore rain pants, my husband's insulated rain boots, a long rain coat, baseball cap and hood to guard against the wet. But I tried to trick myself into thinking they were fun--puddles and a puppy helped.

And suddenly, I find myself here. In April. On the other side of my first winter. My friends keep saying how rainy the winter was--the worst in recent memory. Locals keep grumbling about how bad the winter was--a man on a street corner told me it was like "that one Sigourney Weaver movie when she's taken over by aliens and it won't stop raining."

Um, huh?

Whatever this guy meant, it is Spring. And we made it.

Yesterday as our whole region smiled up at the sun, Sunny and I trotted along the sidewalk, I realized that I finally got this whole setting expectations thing right. I expected gray and dismal and tough, and any time it was not that gray or not that dismal and not that tough, I noted it. And was happy about it. A little celebration, actually. When it went back to gray and dismal and tough, I got into my lean-into-it stance. And the cycle continued--of keeping my expectations realistic and low, but being happy when the weather was better.

There's something to be learned from this. It might take me a few more winters to practice this new skill and carry it into other parts of my life besides walks with my dog. But, I plan on sticking around.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Uni-tasking


Recently, and specifically in Michael Pollan's book Cooked, I heard of this concept called "uni-tasking." I'm sure I've heard it before, but in my busy mom-of-three days when I'm trying to squish together so much in the 24 hours given to me, I'm a multi-tasking monster.

I multitask all day long. I just checked my phone while my computer was downloading the badge above to see what the workout of the day is at my gym. I made a waxing appointment at a few red lights on the way to dropping my kids off at school yesterday. I listened to my audiobook while walking my dog. I talk on the phone while driving. I talk into my phone in the Notes section to write long emails or letters while driving or walking the dog, then I print them out later. I make to-do lists while "relaxing" with my husband at the end of the day.

Writing out that paragraph makes me realize why I--and many others--are so exhausted by the time we collapse into our beds at night. Maybe our poor sleep is due to the habit of multi-tasking: we are doing things even in our sleep, instead of simply sleeping.

On the last day of this challenge, and looking to the month of April and the months beyond it, I think I'd like to slow down as many of us have and reflect or observe or just write a little more than I did this month. I want to focus on one thing and one thing only, allowing my mind to wander a little and daydream, or sit on my porch and look at the Puget Sound for a few minutes every day. I know I should go to yoga, and while it might not work for my schedule right now, maybe I'll practice meditating. I'll start with just two or three minutes. Don't laugh--this sitting still thing is going to be a challenge.

But I like a challenge. And look! I completed this one. I'll commit, start small, and keep going on good and bad days. Thank you so much for your comments and thoughts, and I look forward to seeing you back here next Tuesday!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Answering Josie

I've got a little pen pal relationship with my niece--I'll call her Josie. She and her twin sister, two siblings, giant golden retriever, my sister and her husband live all the way across the country on the East Coast. I can't remember how it happened, but Josie and I have have struck up a serious pen pal relationship.

This week I got two notes from Josie. The second one was just asking me if I got the first one, and the one last week. That's how a lot of her letters are--just short and sweet. Clearly she feels no pressure to write for an hour, describe every minute of her day, or express her inner most feeling to me. She just grabs a piece of stationery (with her name printed on it, a Christmas gift from my sister) and writes a bit. Whatever is on her mind. I love this and am inspired by it, and do it right back.

Most of the time. But the earlier note this week--the one that yes, Josie, I did receive--made me laugh out loud. It included this:
"Grammy said that you have a bunch of muscles. True or False?"
I am excited to answer her. She just turned ten and is has begun puberty. While we all know we're not supposed to compare, Josie has a twin that is shaped like one of the pine trees around our house. Tall and straight, with straight and long brown hair. They are not identical; Josie is rounder and paler with adorable freckles all over her face and curly red hair.

So I think the fact that yes, Josie, I have a bunch of muscles, might be a relief to her. Quick background on the muscles: I Crossfit four to five times a week and have been doing so for almost five years. I do Olympic weightlifting with pretty heavy weights and can do pull ups and other "gymnastical" as my trainer says stuff like bar muscle ups and one legged-squats. I am super close to being able to walk on my hands across the gym floor...my best is three feet. My shoulders and biceps are--how can I say it?--ripped. Swoll. Strong.

I have muscles because I like to push my body and test my body, I'm going to tell her. I am proud of all the things my body can do, and I like to keep the focus on that main purpose of my body--it's not just a thing to hold clothes on. And while I like the fact that I can do thrusters and burpees faster than most men in the class, I love that I can jump into a parents versus kids basketball game with Ben and keep up with him and his teammates. I love that if Lorelei's pony is being naughty, I can hop on and remind her how to transition to a canter nicely. I love that if my kids and the neighbor kids ask me to go for a run, I can stop what I'm doing and run a mile and half with them.

The purpose of muscles is to participate in a wide variety of things, Josie, and to be strong and capable. I've got to just point out how un-fun the opposite of that is: fragile and incapable. I hope you always are those things, Josie. Strong and capable. Achieve that how you want, but be that, for sure.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

All I Really Want Is a Horse

Obsession [uh b-sesh-uh n] 

the domination of one's thoughts or feelings by a persistent idea, image, desire, etc.



When I was a child, I had one obsession: horses. Every story I wrote, every picture I drew, every dream I dreamt involved a horse. My friend Nikki was just as horse-obsessed as I was. When she'd come over to play, we'd put up jumps all around the living and dining room in our house and jump around on all fours again and again, pretending to be a different horse each time. My sister really liked horses, but she managed to think and do other things that didn't involve horses; sometimes I found it difficult to relate to her balanced approach to horses.

My sister and I (and my friend Nikki and her sister Heather) were lucky girls because our parents paid for our horseback riding. I began taking lessons in second grade and walked and trotted and cantered until I got to fourth. At that point, we moved from Georgia to Hawaii, where there was a barn near the beach. That was fine for awhile--can't believe my parents drove all that way nearly every day--but then we found a barn closer to us.

Me & Flashdance,
at Wheeler Army Air Force Base, circa 1988 
And then we found Flashdance. His owner was heading to college but leased him to me. Please, who am I kidding? My parents paid for him, but it was me who rode him almost every day. Flashdance was a great backyard horse who I curry-combed until his coat shone in the Hawaiian sun. I braided his mane and tail for fun, and also for the horse shows we entered. I bathed him, I picked up after him, I made sure the the tack that sat on his body was very clean.

The hours I spent away from the barn were just as horse-filled. I flipped through catalogs dreaming of stuff I could buy in our color--hunter green. Necessity wasn't required; if the gear looked cool, I wanted it. I bought magazines and read them and books to learn more, learn everything I could about horses.

Still, Flashdance wasn't mine. While I fully appreciated that he was basically mine, the thing was, he wasn't. My friends Nikki and Heather owned their horses. My parents even bought my sister a horse (for $1! then the people bought him right back when we flew off the island for good). I really wanted to own Flashdance. Or another horse. Okay, any horse.

I never got to, and my childhood was still pretty blissful without it. But now, at 40, watching my daughter ride and riding once again, I would love to have a horse of my own. Though he would never articulate it, I know he believes love is finite, and the love I'd pour into the horse would mean even less love for him, and he already gets too little after three kids and a cute puppy.

But you can't logic away an obsession. And I've still got it. Because aren't we all just rehashing our childhoods in one way or another?


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Dear Cleaning Team

To the people cleaning my house today:

First, I know I'm paying your company a hefty sum for cleaning my house, but I just want to say I'm really grateful that you are here helping me keep my house clean. If it wasn't for you, I would definitely not bother to move the clutter that seems to gather on its own. Thanks for pushing me to do just that.

A note on the big bundle of sheets and blankets and quilt that is balled up in the hallway: Last night my son came into my husband's and my room complaining of an upset stomach. Because my husband is traveling and I love the excuse to cuddle with my always-growing kids, I invited him into our bed. That turned out to be a pretty stupid move, because he threw up on everything within a five feet radius just ten minutes later. Nothing was left unscathed. The sheets, the pillows, the blankets, the wall, the quilt, the floor, the lamp, the nightstand. It was a puke fest of the nastiest kind.

I know you all are too young to be parents, but let me assure you that even if you love your kids as much as I do and are empathetic and sympathetic to their ailments and heart aches, their vomit still makes you retch a little.

And, remember that note about my husband traveling? Right. So I did all the clean up. If I left anything, please forgive me. And wash your hands as many times as I did so we stop the germs with Ben. Because, you know, I've got two other kids and if Ben is just the first in our family of five to get this...we're doomed. Do you know what the puke bug does to families? Nothing good. Nothing good at all.

The other thing about the timing is that we'll now be in the house when you're here, which I really don't prefer. We'll be in one part of the house while you're cleaning another. And when I say "we" I also mean my young dog who will likely bark and be high-energy the whole time...while at the same time my son Ben will need to rest and be low-energy.

And then there's me--I'm utterly exhausted, having hardly slept because after the clean up I had no other option but to sleep in a bedroom that still smelled like vomit. I've left coffee beans on my night stand to try and absorb the smell a bit, and I will open the windows in the afternoon if the weather warms up like it did yesterday. If I'm still in my pajamas after dropping off my other two kids at school and taking my dog to the dog park so Ben can sit in the car while Sunny tires herself out...please don't judge me. Throw me a sympathetic look and I'll leave a bigger tip.

Because I'm really grateful you're here.

Monday, March 27, 2017

So. Very. Close.

In April of 2014 I wrote a 10,000-ish word chapter book. I woke up every morning and typed out one short chapter, the story flowing out of me fairly easily most mornings. Other mornings, I would maintain my promise to write a chapter, even though I knew it wasn't awesome and it'd need to be heavily revised.

Fast forward to today, and this same manuscript has gone a few radical revisions, has been shown to two different critique groups, has traveled to an intense writers workshop down in California where it was shown to and earned some praise from writers and agents and editors. Everyone had comments on how it could be improved, should be improved, but they all thought it had real potential.

Over the weekend I outlined what I would need to do in order to submit it to my first choice agent by my children's last day of school. From that deadline I drew others: when to get it back from my mother to do a final out-loud read, when it send it to my mother for copyedits, when to get the first ten pages to my critique group, what weeks I would have to insert all of the feedback they gave me on the last version of the manuscript.

It's grown to 15,000 words, and it has matured in the years since I wrote that first draft, and I am very hopeful that it is the key to finally getting an agent. The picture book manuscripts that are growing dusty on my virtual shelf were and maybe still are good, but not good enough. I know it's the pressure of being this close and being this hopeful that has me looking for other things to do in my schedule.

But this is it--these next few days I've got to keep these slices short and focused so I can sit and focus on my chapter book, making sure the characters are full and funny, that each sentence moves the plot along, that each scene is interesting and page-turn-worthy.

Keep your fingers crossed for me (please)!