“Good Start!”

While doing research for his I-Search paper, a student asked me to look at his research organizer.  He had one bit of information for each of his five research questions.  Knowing he needed at least two to three answers for each of his questions to formulate a valid, well-rounded response, I told him, “Good start” and began asking clarifying questions to gather more information.

“Really?  I thought I was done,” he told me as we wrapped up the check-in.

From across the room, another student chimed in, “Don’t you hate when she does that?  ‘Good start.’ ‘No, I’m showing her because I’m done and she always says ‘Good start.'” There is nothing more humbling than learning about an annoying quirk from a group of teenagers.

It wasn’t until he called me on it that I realized how often I use the term “Good start,” in both verbal check-ins and while communicating via Google Docs.  I often joke with my students about a magical place called “Done.”  They all want to be there.  For them, “Done” is place that means they can relax for a minute and exhale before moving onto their next goal.

It makes me wonder, when are we “Done?”  In yoga, we are never “done.”  That’s why it’s called practice.  In the ten plus years of practicing yoga, I’ve never been bored; there’s always something new and another challenge.  Running and weightlifting have changed my yoga practice.  While my legs are stronger than they’ve ever been, I’m aware that I am not as flexible as I used to be.  I was close to being able to do a split; that went away when I began running three times a week.  While some flexibility fled, I find I get more from my sessions now.  My body craves the stretching and movement.

When it comes to running, I am aware that I will also never be “done.”  I’m inspired by progress to become faster and stronger. It is such a great feeling to feel better while running or to go a little faster than you’re used to running.

With both my students and Liam, I spend a lot of time talking about growth mindset, a term coined by Carol Dweck.  She talks about the power of the word “yet,” as in, “I can’t do that yet.”  Because I loop with my students, we can talk about progress and how far they’ve come in the months and years we’ve known each other.  When he gets frustrated with a new concept, I remind Liam of his progress in ninja skills classes and elementary school.  “Remember when borrowing numbers in subtraction was tough?  Now, you can do it without any problems.  You’ll get this!’

My running friends and I often remind ourselves of our progress.  We remember when the thought of running four minutes was terrifying.  Now, we regularly run three miles without stopping.

So this makes me wonder when I will be “done” when it comes to running, weightlifting and yoga.  In my weightlifting, my goal is to do a pull-up.  I can deadlift 200 pounds but can’t do a pull-up.  I signed up for a 10K next September.  There is talk about a half marathon next summer.  How far will go?  I have a plan to reach these goals?  What’s next?

If Your Kid Does Something Cool and You Forget to Take Pictures, Did It Really Happen?

So I am the mom who didn’t take a single picture of Halloween.

There was a rush to get ready and out the door to meet at our neighbor’s house for a few games before trick or treating.  Because Liam’s school didn’t have power and was canceled, he went to work with Mike for the day and didn’t get home until after 5:00.  We were convincing Liam to eat so he wouldn’t get tired and grumpy while walking around with his friends.  There was Liam’s sudden request for me to wear my Pikachu costume with him.  I was going to try to avoid dressing up.  He asked me.  At seven, he’s not going to ask his mama to dress up with him much longer.

The boys played a few games, a donut eating contest and bobbing for marshmallows, and were on their way. Liam said “Thank you” at every house, even when he didn’t think I was listening.  He really is a polite kid!  After about an hour in, he started to get hungry and whiny.  Because he ate a huge lunch, he wasn’t hungry at dinner and ignored our request to “just eat a little something.”  He made the decision to power through.  The kids had a blast!  We are so fortunate for fantastic neighbors and a neighborhood that really gets into the Halloween spirit!  Houses are decorated, and people are friendly.


It wasn’t until we got home and I checked my Facebook that I realized I hadn’t taken a single picture of Liam in his costume.  We were so busy having fun that I forgot to capture it!  I love looking through my Timehop pictures on Halloween to see how much Liam has grown.  Next year will have a year missing.  It is what it is.  We have a picture of him wearing his costume at a trunk or treat event at the school last Friday night.

Somewhere out there are pictures of my sister and me on Halloween.  I know that we don’t have photos from every year.  My dad has moved a handful of times since my mom passed away; I don’t even know how many pictures he has left.  I love our cheesy photos in front of the fireplace wear quintessential 80’s Halloween costumes.  There was one year I was Strawberry Shortcake, and she was a Monchichi.

When I realized I had forgotten to take pictures, I felt a pang of disappointment.  There have been plenty of moments that didn’t make it to the camera.  I’m thankful for a night that was so fun, we were too busy enjoying it to stop and take pictures! Honestly, my only regret of the evening is telling Mike to take the remaining Halloween candy with him to his office.  I know I cannot trust myself with copious amounts of candy, but I wish I had saved a handful of Milky Way bars before banishing them from our house!

 

How Writing is Helping Me Deal With Anxiety

Like many others, I struggle to balance anxiety and worry.  One of my favorite insomnia and Shavasana activities is worrying.  I worry like a champ!  When I have nothing to worry about, I dig into my worrying archives.  Nothing completes an hour of productive yoga practice quite like replaying an incident that happened ten years ago instead of emptying my mind and relaxing.

I’ve managed to learn my triggers and adapt.  I no longer find issue politely declining social invitations that don’t interest me.  I find that I feel better when I work out and eat a healthy(ish) diet.  I feel calmer when my world around me is neat and organized.  Mike understands this and helps so much with housekeeping and household maintenance.  I need to make time for Mike and Liam.  This is not a chore; rather it is something I need to be conscious of when planning our week.  When something happens that might cause an anxious reaction, I’ve learned to breathe and rationalize as best I can.  These tricks make being me much easier.

I’ve managed to find friends who get me.  We all have our own pasts and issues and understand each other.  That being said, we also push each other.  During the past few years, I’ve done so many things I would never do without a gentle push: traveling solo to California for a week to facilitate for Summit, jumping into the ocean during winter, cutting my hair shorter than it’s been in years, joining the Beginner Runners Group, signing up for BoldRDash, running over the Newport Bridge.  I’m thankful to people who challenge me to try new things. Many of these events have helped my anxiety and confidence.

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The first time I jumped into a perfectly cold ocean in the winter!

 

That time I went to California by myself for a week but ran by myself every night

This summer, I began writing again for the first time in years.  I wasn’t sure if I was going to share my thoughts.  If I decided to share, I wasn’t sure how to begin that process.  Once I had some vulnerabilities on the internet, I wasn’t ready to just share the blog link on my Facebook page.  While running last week, I mentioned that I had been writing about my process of becoming a runner and agreed to share my blog with my friend.  The feedback was so positive, I shared it with a few more friends.

 

What started as a document of my journal to become a “real runner” has become one of my most powerful tools for managing my mind and quelling anxiety.  Writing helps me sort out my thoughts to find positivity and growth.  Writing adjusts my perspective of the world.  I find myself looking at the world differently, examining daily aspects of my life for inspiration.

 

 

Did She Smoke?

Seven and a half years ago, my mother lost her battle with COPD.  She had been sick all of my adult life, managing to hang on through my wedding and pregnancy.  After refusing my offer to postpone, she passed away on the evening we held Liam’s blessing.


The transition of being someone whose mother was sick, whose mother had just passed, and someone who lost their mother years ago was a difficult one.  Liam doesn’t remember anything about his nana.  I make myself remember the sound of her voice.


In a recent interview, Prince William discussed his mother, stating that he was fairly certain that his late mother would have been a grandmother who drove him nuts, the type who would stop by at bathtime, get the kids wired, and leave.  I love that he admitted that he didn’t always look at his mother with rose-colored glasses; deceased parents aren’t always perfect.  It makes me wonder about the relationship Liam would have had with my mom.  She loved kids.  I know Liam would have loved her.  Being 1,500 miles away, they wouldn’t see each other as often as they’d like, but I know she would’ve talked to him as much as they could.  When she was sick, she used to listen to him take bottles, happy and content just to hear the slurping noise.

Whenever I have to tell someone that my mom passed away when Liam was four months old, I always get a sympathetic, “poor baby” look.  There are always three follow-up questions:

“How old was she?”    (58)

“Was she sick?” (Yes, she had COPD and was on dialysis.)

“Did she smoke?”

When I confirm this, there is always a knowing sigh, almost in relief, as if to say “that explains everything.”

Yes, my mom smoked.  Yes, she knew it was bad for her.  Yes, she tried to quit, once managing to go almost a year without a cigarette.  She struggled with depression, most of which went under-diagnosed and mostly untreated.  After her death, I learned that things about her childhood that she never disclosed, reminding me that she was much stronger than I realized.  She was the person who would do anything for anyone.  She was the mom all of my friends when to when they had issues with their own mothers or boyfriends.  While she was sometimes simple and naive, she found the best in everyone.

There are many debates about healthcare costs and how much the companies should pay for people who do not take care of themselves.  I totally understand the need for that argument.   That being said the fact that my mom smoked doesn’t make losing her any easier for those who knew and loved her.

#Automatic25

Last week marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the release of REM’s Automatic For the People.  I remember my parents giving me permission to go take the public bus to Providence to go buy the album on the day it came out.  We were living in a rural area, so this bus ride took well over an hour.  We walked around the East Side, by Brown University, thinking we were worldly and grown up.

 

Michael Stipe and I shared a moment at the last show they played locally in 2008

Automatic was a much darker album than their previous Out of Time and the first release since huge breakout success.    I was instantly mesmerized by Michael Stipe’s dark lyrics and deep voice.  We quickly memorized every song, singing them from the back of the room before the start of English class.

 

For me, REM was an integral part of my childhood.  I fell in love them in ninth grade with Out of Time.  Automatic solidified their place in my heart.  It’s hard to believe how much music appreciation has changed since the invention of the internet.  Back then, we had to rely on MTV News, 120 Minutes, music stores, and magazines to learn about new artists and releases.  Nothing was “Googleable.”  One of us would learn a new bit of information about tracks, release dates, or possible tours and call the rest of our group, feeling powerful with news to share:

“I was at Strawberries today.  Automatic is going to be released October 5.”

“The title name comes from a dinner they used to go to in Georgia.  When we get our licenses, we are totally driving down there for breakfast.”

When I look back on how much harder it was to be a music fan those days, it reminds me how important music was to all of us.  I think about the afternoon I spent sitting at my kitchen table with cassette player, notebook, and pencil, determined to learn the words to “It’s the End of the World as We Know It.”  While music is still important, I wonder if I would ever be able to have that love of music again. Now, I no longer need to do that; I can Google the lyrics to any song.

REM was the soundtrack of my teenage angst.  Their music got me through what are supposed to be the best years of your life but, unless you’re the star in a cheesy high school comedy, rarely are.  I remember what part of my life each new album narrated for me.  The Monster tour was my first grown-up arena tour.  I had to go to Filene’s a few days before the show to obtain a wristband, granting me a place in line but not guaranteeing tickets.   I was the last person there to get tickets to their three-night stay in Mansfield.  I remember hugging a tearful girl behind me in line, thankful to provide comfort but more thankful to have tickets.  These days, I’m upset if I am placed in a virtual waiting room for tickets; how times have changed!

REM continues to be an important part of my life.  I have a playlist of their music set up for my runs.  This is evident by my tattoo of REM lyrics.  I had wanted to get something in my mom’s memory for a while.  The song “Sweetness Follows” discusses the family’s reaction to the loss of a father.  The lyric “live your life filled with joy and thunder” resonates with me.  My mom overcame a lot of challenges, some of which I didn’t learn about until after her death.  In spite of these difficulties, she never got bitter or sour.  My mom could find the best in anyone and the good in any situation.  I remember that when things start to get difficult and I need to remember the positive.

Mike traced the words using one of the last letters my mom sent me.  She had a very distinct backhand, the result of being a left-handed Catholic School survivor of the 1950’s.  While Mike traced the entire line, only the words “Joy and Thunder” fit nicely across my foot.  I found a fantastic tattoo artist who took the time to listen to me and had a steady hand for the work.  Two years later, I have never once regretted this tattoo.  After spending many years listening to REM via her daughter, Mom was not a huge fan.  She also hated tattoos.  Getting an REM tattoo in her memory seems an ironically fitting commemoration to her.

Part of the celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of Automatic for the People includes the release of two previously unreleased tracks that didn’t make the album.  The first, Mike’s Demo Track, I immediately downloaded.  A few later, I can’t bring myself to listen to the second track.  It’s weird knowing that this there is a good chance this is the last time I get to hear an REM song for the first time.  (Does that make any sense?)  So for now, I will keep that gem hidden from my Spotify until a time when I really need it.

Can We Get Back to Running, Please?

Kudos to anyone who gets my Hamilton reference!


Last week, I pondered what makes me back off, slow down, or let go.  Do I do these things when I absolutely have to or am I giving up too soon?  When I drop from the monkey bars, could I go reach for one more bar or am I just letting go and dropping to the ground because the task is difficult?  How do I know when to let up? I pushed through the discomfort last week while working on the monkey bars and was able to reach two more bars.  That seemed like evidence that I should push myself in the following day’s 5K.

During Wednesday’s monthly 5K, I pushed myself in the beginning.  I can keep going, I told myself.  This lead to horrible burnout and my slowest time in weeks.  My third mile was over a minute slower than my first.  My plan to challenge myself backfired.


We had a busy weekend with horribly cold, rainy weather.  I didn’t get out to run.  Tuesday and Wedsenday had other afterschool responsibilities, so I did not get to the Boulevard.  My bag is packed and I am ready to head over after school today.

In adapting to the Summit Learning Platform, I’ve worked a lot with my students on perseverance and growth mindset.  This research carried over into parenting.  Now, it carries on to me.  How do I challenge myself?  How do I respond to setbacks?  I see progress in yoga and weightlifting (180-pound deadlift!!!); what is my plan for making progress in running?  I’ve been stuck at 12:30 pace for weeks.  I want to see improvement before the Monster Dash at the end of the month.  The first thing I need to do is up my practice.  Next week’s schedule is free of meetings and obligations.  I can head out twice after school.

I’ve managed to continue running after completing BRG.  I’ve managed to create a schedule adapting to summer and the start of a new school year.  Soon, I will need to manage through cooling temperatures and shorter days.  For now, I need to continue to challenge myself and reach the next round of goals.

My Ninja Training

Two years ago, Liam had his birthday party at Laid-Back Fitness, a local gym that offers obstacle training courses.  He had such a great time that we later signed him up for “ninja skills” classes.  The results are amazing!  Liam is a bright boy (I know all mothers say that of their children, but he catches on quickly.)  As he entered first grade, the work became more challenging and he struggled with struggling.  Ninja skills classes created meaningful perseverance.  Liam really didn’t care about learning place value, but he wanted to climb the tall ramp and ring the bell at the ceiling.  I’ve watched him spend forty-five minutes trying to cross cannonball alley.  There is nothing greater than seeing a beaming proud when he masters something for the first time.  Ninja skills classes helped Liam learn how to struggle.  When he gets frustrated about something that keeps alluding him, I remind him of all the things he previously thought he couldn’t do and, if he works hard, he will reach his goals.

Liam’s perseverance is contagious. Within a few months, I was taking classes with him and signed up for my first obstacle race.  While I’ve taken weights courses for years, I discovered how much I enjoyed the challenge of heavy lifting.  I love everything about it.  I love getting sweaty simply by picking things up.  I love seeing what my body can do.  I love feeling myself get stronger.  I even love when DOMS show themselves two days later.  (DOMS stands for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.)

My body strength is funny.  Every aspect of my strength is countered by a weakness.  I can deadlift 165 pounds but can’t do a pull-up.  This amuses me that I can lift my body weight but can’t pull it.  While I’ve dreamed of being able to do a pull-up for years, my first goal is to cross the monkey bars.  During Bolderdash, I was able to do four of the monkey bars.  Because I am always trying to help Liam, he is more than happy to “train” me to cross the monkey bars.

Yesterday, we went to the local park.  He has skills testing next week and wants to practice a few climbing moves.  Once we got the playground, it became clear that his biggest goal was to help me cross the monkey bars.  He demonstrated how to do it several times, explaining momentum and pacing.  He was so proud of himself for being able to teach me something.  I loved seeing how much of myself came back out of him.  He explained things slowly, chunking information.  He asked questions to ensure I understood what he was saying.  He modeled monkey bar crossing several times, offering to “meet me int he middle of the bars” so I could follow his lead.  When I worry that I am not properly raising him, I need to remember moments like these.


He decided to sit at the top of a landing by the slide so he could see what I was doing, cheering me on and reminding me what I needed to do.  He cheered me on, gave me support, and told me what I could do to improve.  He says he wants to be a teacher when he grows up (or a ninja, pilot, or race car driver).  He definitely has the teacher gene in him.

 

This is where he thought he could best see what I’m doing.

By the end of the “training session,” I was able to cross six monkey bars, two more than I could complete three weeks ago.  I’m glad Liam sees me struggling and trying to improve.  I think he will be more excited than me when I finally cross those monkey bars!

 

Tea Break Tuesday

I’ve enjoyed writing and found a good routine to make time for my practice.  My latest concern involves actually finding interesting subjects.  Poking around on other blogs, someone suggested different prompts for when you’re not sure what you’d like to write about. The idea of Tea Break Tuesday is to share what you’ve been up to currently.

Liam is such a big part of my life, it makes sense to write about him.  He is loving second grade!  He is even saying that he’s like to a second-grade teacher when he grows up! I am embarrassed to admit that I have not formally met his teacher because Mike represented us this year at open house.  Mike came home announcing, “You should’ve gone.  She’s just like you- another Google fanatic.”  I love what she has set up in terms of technology!  As someone whose own teaching revolves around technology, I am tickled that she has Liam on Google Classroom in second grade. Liam practices his spelling words on an app called Spelling City.  It not only lets him know when he is making progress, it lets us know how long and how many tries it took for him to master a skill.  She also sends assignments via SumDog, another program that I had him start doing last year.  I love seeing him become a big kid.

His biggest struggle is the balance between wanting to be big while holding onto things he loved when he was little.  He stressed himself a few times about his favorite stuffed bunny, Miles. When he was younger, Miles went with us everywhere.  We even bought a new Miles because Old Miles was getting worn out.  After forgetting him at school and fearing that Liam would be unable to sleep, we purchased School Miles.  Liam’s ability to do just about anything while holding Miles is awe inspiring. Miles was an extension of Liam. He still loves his bunny and sleeps with it each night, but worried that he was too old for his beloved stuffed animal, randomly bursting into tears when he thought about it too much.  It is a difficult, unexpected balance for him.  He wants to be a “big kid” and play Pokemon and Minecraft.  While he doesn’t play with his Thomas and Paw Patrol toys, he isn’t quite ready to give them up just yet.




Liam’s teacher invited stuffed friends to join them on Fridays to read.  Liam was excited to bring Roscoe, his stuffed dog. I couldn’t wait to ask him about the first Friday reading with friends.  Most of his classmates brought stuffed animals; the ones who didn’t were quite upset for forgetting.  The biggest takeaway was making Liam notice that most of his classmates also had stuffed pets.  Therefore, it was more than okay for him to have one.

Liam learned that he is not too old to have a lovie.  For the first time in about a year, he took Miles with him on the ride to school today, buckling him in when he left the car.   Liam finds little ways to let me know that he is growing up each day.  This was the first day he took his friends’ words over his Mama’s.  I’d be naive to think it will be the last time.

Back into Routine/ The Power of Yet

As much as I enjoy having the summer off with Liam, we both thrive on routine and keeping busy.  After two months of unplanned bliss, we were both ready to return to school.  I go back a week earlier so I am already back into the swing of things when Liam’s first day finally arrives.

Last year was terrifying for Liam.  After six years at his daycare center, he was starting first grade at a new school.  He had all summer to worry about this transition.  By the time September rolled around, just mentioning school made tears swell in his eyes.  After the first day, he was fine.  That’s the thing about our fears; the unknown is the worst part. This year, he started to work himself up about the first day as he and my husband walked through the school’s parking lot.  Liam had an epiphany: “I know this building.  My friends are here, and I know my teacher.  I’ve got this!”  With that, he wiped his tears and jogged to the playground.  I’m so proud that he was able to get ahead of his brain and prevent fears from taking over his thought process.

As much as I love summer with Liam, I also love teaching.  I love the beginning of the school year.  Everyone is hopeful and full of promise.  I’ve had two months to reflect upon what went well and what I need to change.  I am blessed to be in a building that promotes autonomy, community, and perseverance.  This is our third year using the Summit Public Schools personalized learning platform; it forever changed my views of teaching and learning.  I love watching my students grow and discover their own personal learning styles.  In addition to teaching Habits of Success, I am able to incorporate mindfulness strategies into my lessons.  I’ve watched students’ confidence grown.  They’re proud of their achievements and celebrate their successes.

My favorite A-ha moment of the past few years stems from Carol Dweck’s work on the growth mindset.  Her inspirational TED Talk teaches the “Power of Yet,” this idea that it is okay to struggle.  It is important to change our thinking from “I can’t do this” to “I haven’t done this yet.”  This is life-changing!  It affects every aspect of my life!  I am so happy that it is rubbing off on my students and my son.  Liam sometimes spends an entire session at his “ninja skills class” trying to perfect a single move.  There is nothing better than when he jumps into my arms after completing a skill that had eluded him for weeks. My students play around with note taking strategies until they find one that works for them.  They set goals for themselves and develop plans to stay on track and reach them.  I love this possibly of trial, error, and reflection.  I love this energy!  I’m going to try my hardest to keep this feeling of new beginnings and hope last throughout the year!


I am also going to try to practice what I preach.  I’m going to push myself to be better and nourish my body and mind. I set personal and professional goals for the year and developed plans to reach them.  Through this journey, I need to remember that things are not always going to be easy and have a reflective growth mindset to respond to setbacks and plan next steps.  New school years provide such hope and promise!

I Am a Badass (?)

Last year was the first year I set a reading goal on my Goodreads account.  I fell one book short of my fifteen book goal.  While I didn’t set a formal goal this year, I wanted to increase my reading and decrease the amount of time spent surfing on my phone.  I’ve done this in several ways.  We created a reading nook upstairs.  It is Liam’s favorite place to read.  We make trips to the library and hit library book sales to ensure that we always have plenty of books.  I started carrying my Kindle in my purse.  When I am waiting somewhere, I would read a few pages rather than scrolling Facebook.

My latest book is You Are a Badass, by Jennifer  Sincero.  A good friend recommended it while calming me down the day I wimped out of the obstacle skills class.  I ordered it that afternoon.  I read it in chunks, loving her quotes and practical advice.  My husband was so patient on the train ride to New York when I interrupted his book every few minutes to read a line.

My biggest takeaway from the book is the need to set specific goals.  While I set goals in my mind, I don’t make them concrete and known.  As Sincero notes,  this does not make it a goal.  With this in mind, Michael and I set our goals for the upcoming school year. I have been working with him on perseverance.  This was a great opportunity to remind him it learning is a process and it often takes several times to succeed.

 

Michael:

  • Learn times tables
  • Make first communion
  • Go another school year without having to see the principal’s office
  • Earns A’s and B’s in all of my classes
  • Complete Cannonball Alley at ninja skills class
  • Finish reading Harry Potter

 

My Goals:

  • Stay at least one project ahead of my planning at school
  • Run three miles in 36 minutes
  • Plan a trip to New York City so Michael can see the Statue of Liberty
  • Hold a handstand for 30 seconds
  • Include a date night with Mike once a week, even if it is an at home date watching Big Bang Theory reruns on the couch
  • Read twenty books in 2017