Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Reflecting on Teaching and Balance

My Wednesday morning yoga location.
Thursday and Friday of this week I'm going to be lucky enough to present to five groups of educators on a variety of topics. Through all of those presentations, one thing will remain the same, I want to leave them with gratitude. My gratitude to these teachers on the work they do. My gratitude to them for caring enough to get professional development during the summer when they could be with their families. My gratitude for fighting the good fight, caring about kids, and being a safe place for their students to land. I'm also leaving them with a word of caution...

Remember to always strive towards balance.

For years, my life was out of balance. I let my love of teaching consume me, consume all of my time. I grew to love writing, yet I only ever found time to write if it was about my classroom. I loved learning, so all of my free time was spent finding conferences to attend. I love children's books, but never found any time to read just for me. In everything I did, I looked for ways to use it to help me grow as an educator. Needless to say, this is not healthy for me.

To some, this might work fine. To that I say, more power to them. For me, I needed to find "me" again. The person I was beyond teaching. It reminded me of being a parent of a newborn. My identity was wrapped up in becoming a mom. Somehow, once my children didn't need me as much, my identity switched to that of a teacher. And I am a mom, and a teacher, but I needed to rediscover who I was beyond that.

Enter yoga. 
Enter dates with Chris. 
Enter time with my boys. 
Enter adventures with friends.
Enter writing a romance book. 
Heck, enter reading endless amounts romance books. 

2018 has been a year of discovery for me, and it has been hard, and it has also rocked. I'm grateful for it. I feel like my priorities are better in line with who I am than they have ever been. I'm still learning, still growing, but I'm getting there. 

As a result, I want to pay my gratitude for this year forward. Kristen Ashley is the writer of romance books that I credit for helping me on this journey. Reading her Rock Chicks series had me laughing and crying. It was a pleasure to read a book just for fun, with no need to find which kid I was going to hand it off to, no lesson to tie in, just read for the sake of reading. To thank her, and thank the amazing folks that read my blog and attend the sessions I'm giving at Scholastic and All Write's Summer Institute, I'm giving away six ebooks from Kristen Ashley. You pick the title, as long as it is by Ashley, I will send it to you. I will pick one winner from my blog, and one from each session I give. Enter on the form below. Winners will be selected on Monday, June 25th. 

Those of you in the classrooms and schools, thanks for all you do. This is a tough profession, but rewarding beyond belief. If you have time off this summer, please carve out time for you. You are worth it! 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Where Did the Time Go?


Goodness, I haven't blogged since May 10th! A lot has happened. Lacking the time and originality to write a lengthy post, I'll just do a recap here:

End of the School Year
Holy moly, the end of the year snuck up on me. Counting my two years teaching Kindergarten in a learning center, it was my twenty-second in the classroom. We wrapped up the year with my annual "purge the classroom library" day where I begged kids to take books to keep that weren't being circulated from my classroom. We talked about our favorite books, our favorite pieces of writing, and made summer plans.

On the last day, which was a shorter day, we watched The Greatest Showman and ate bagels. It's a rough life. While it seems like forever ago, today only marks the 21st day of summer. Crazy how much I miss those kids already.




Voices From the Middle
I'm part of a group that records podcasts for NCTE's Voices from the Middle. In May we got to record an episode with Jewell Parker Rhodes to discuss her amazing middle grade novel, Ghost Boys (Episode 33). Then four students read Cynthia Kodohata's fabulous middle grade book Checked and recorded an episode with her (Episode 34). They had a blast! You can check out those episodes HERE.

Kids
My boys are busy. Luke ran a special invite meet as a Freshman and got a PR for the mile, 4:36. Then the bad news came, stress fracture. So he's been out of running for six weeks and still has three more to go. Not easy when it is your favorite thing.
Needing to constantly tape his shin should have been a clue...
Liam began summer with a bang - chipping his front tooth at the pool, fainting at the pool, and braces. We're hoping that the rest of the summer remains calm. They will be in 10th and 8th grade next year, respectively.

Fiction Writing
I'm still plugging along!! I've reached 41,000 words. It is not easier, in fact it is likely harder the further I get. The idea of ever having this book published terrifies me. This is a romance book, so if I went that route I'd likely self-publish, but my inner editor, Helga, is not kind. Fortunately my friend, Cindy, took on the task of reading what I have so far and her kind words have helped. I still love my characters, Max and Emma, and I love creating their fictional world. 

Summer Conferences
One week from today I'll be presenting at the Scholastic Summit in Chicago. Then, next Friday, I'll be at the All Write/ Summer Institute conference presenting four times. I cannot wait! I wrote a blog post for the Summer Institute folks and it is up - you can read it HERE. And if you're coming to either conference, let me know! I'll love to say hello.

Thanks for bearing with me as my writing has been sporadic  I hope to get another post done before I take off next week. 

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Plastic in Our World


This post is part of an inquiry project my students are working on. We've been looking at our impact on the environment. Students are writing blogs and giving presentations on the area each has chosen to study. This post will serve as a mentor text blog post for my students. Thanks!

Two years ago my eyes were opened. A friend shared the video below about plastics in our environment and I began to wake up. Each year eight metric tons of plastics find their way to our oceans. Those pieces of plastic also make their way into us - through our water supply, the food we eat, and other items in our environment. As you can see in the video below, 93% of Americans have some trace of BPA in their bodies. BPA is a chemical that is used to make plastics. That is terrifying.

After watching Jeff's video, and others like it, I began to educate myself on the dangers of single use plastic. Items in this category include plastic grocery bags, which take over twenty years to break down in the ocean or landfills. Humans are purchasing an insane amount of beverages in plastic bottles, over one million bottles per minute, 91% of which are not recycled. This made me reexamine my own life and what my plastic consumption was like.

What I have found is that reducing your use of plastic is not easy. Whether it is in eating my normal string cheese, individually wrapped in plastic; grabbing a drink on a road trip; or even cleaning up after your dogs, we use plastic. What is important for all of us is to reduce the amount we use, recycle when we can, and make sure we get our trash where it is supposed to go.

The Plastic Pollution Coalition is making strides in this area. 

Thanks to education from their site and sites like it, I have worked to refuse, reduce, reuse, and recycle. I use travel mugs and water bottles made from aluminum, have purchased biodegradable dog waste bags, and bring my own bags to the grocery store. I know I can do more, we all can, and I pledge to work to do so. What about you? What are you doing to help our planet - in regard to plastic or another issue that is impacting our world? What are you passionate about? Please share. Together I am certain we can make a difference.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Goodbye Jim

Jim and me, 1974
I tell you what, it has been a rough few weeks for my family. First, my Uncle Bobby passed away. I wrote about that HERE. Then, just over a week ago, my dad's cousin Jim passed. Jim was far too young, only sixty-six, but had been battling some health issues for a few years. 

I thought of Jim a lot this week while I taught. Jim was quiet, but had a lot to say if you talked to him on the side of a party. He would never be comfortable taking the center stage. Jim loved farming, animals, and helping out. Since he's passed so many friends have shared that they remember him as a good guy, willing to lend a hand. I remember telling a colleague at school years ago that I was related to Jim and she said she knew him, of course. That he always was willing to help out at the Knights of Columbus BBQ each year. 

I, like many, have my own memories of Jim. How he helped his mom in her later years without complaint. That he was an insane driver that scared me to death, but he still picked me up when I needed a ride home to the country in a crazy blizzard during my first years of teaching. (I counted my blessings that we didn't end up in a ditch.) And I remember Jim's love of dogs. He had Blackie and Whitey (no idea how he spelled them) as I grew up. When Chris and I moved to my grandma's farm before buying our own house, we got our first dog, Bally. She was an adorable golden retriever pup. I called Jim and his mom, my great aunt GG, once I brought her home. I'm not sure if they took off at a sprint, but they were walking through my backdoor within minutes, just so they could cuddle that dog. And I will always remember the stories of Jim and his dad, who we call Colonel, on the fishing trip. For a variety of reasons, they cannot be repeated here.
Jim and the crew on a fishing trip to Canada

As I sifted through these memories this week, I thought of the lessons Jim had taught me. That not everyone demands the spotlight, but to get to know those quieter people, you need to reach out, to meet them where they are. You are all the richer for having done so, they have a lot to teach us too. So, thanks to Jim, I made sure I did an extra sweep of my classes this week, chatted with all my students, not just the ones begging to speak. There are so many kids like Jim hiding in plain sight. I'm grateful to the reminder to see them too. 

Godspeed, Jim. The world was richer for you being here and we will sure miss you.
Jim with my Grandma

Thursday, May 3, 2018

It's All About the Books Blog Tour


I first met Tammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan several years ago when they wrote the fabulous book, Assessment in Perspective. Over the years I've caught up with them at conferences like All Write, NCTE, and NerdCamp Michigan. Each time I see them I'm struck by how smart they are, and how much they want to help teachers. When they shared they were writing their newest book, It's All About the Books: How to Create Bookrooms and Classroom Libraries that Inspire Readers, I was grateful. I didn't know of another book out there that would be a resource like this for those of us in the classroom. We need something like this book to share with our administrators, to show them the need for book rooms, classroom libraries, to share what they do for our kids. Tammy and Clare have written this book and it will not only help inform our decisions as we create these libraries, but it will also support us in our work.

Clare and Tammy's book is set up to help you from the ground up. It begins with research on why books are necessary for developing life long readers. There are chapters on choosing books, organinizing them, the inventory process, how to get the books, supporting your students in their book choice, and more. This book will be beneficial for teachers just starting out and veteran teachers who want to reflect and examine the way they have set up their classroom library. 

It's All About the Books covers every possible question of setting up classroom libraries and bookrooms. They look at what you can do with a variety of funding levels, how to manage a bookroom, and there are so many visuals throughout the book, you can't help but be inspired. But don't take my word for it, check it out yourself. Heinemann has graciously offered to give away a copy of Clare and Tammy's new book to one reader of this blog. If you'd like to enter, please fill out the Google Form below. I will select a winner by 11:00pm on Thursday, May 10th. Good luck! 


Monday, April 30, 2018

Lessons Learned from Writing Fiction

Inspiration for "Max",
taken from Jason Momoa's Instagram
Well, it has been a month. My writing challenge started back in March. I had written so sporadically in the past year that I made blogging a daily goal in March and I didn't miss a day. In April, my challenge changed. I have never really written a whole lot of fiction, so I thought I'd try that for the next thirty days. Since I've been reading a plethora of romance books, I figured why not try that genre. I had no idea where the challenge would go, how successful I'd be, or not, and thirty days later, here we are. 

I've learned a lot over this month. 

One, I can find time to write. I've written at track meets, in the car on the way to track meets, late at night, early in the morning, I've squeezed in the time. If I miss a day, it doesn't derail me. Our schedules have been insane this month. Typically we've averaged four track meets per week, which we usually go to from around 4 until 9. Liam has had a band concert or event once a week for the past four weeks. It has been crazy, but I've written. I wrote a note by my computer, no excuses. It has helped. 

Two, I need to take notes. Some people who write fiction can just write and remember everything as they go. I need notes. I finally got organized this weekend and went back and reread everything I've written, taking notes on what I've written about characters, locations, timeline, etc. It helped a ton.

Three, I need inspiration. I can't just dream up a character from scratch. I used actors to start, but gave them their own personality. Locations were based on places I knew, but then tweaked to become what I wanted them to be. Real life trickled into my writing, but then morphed into something else. 

Four, writing fiction is fun. I like to write, and non-fiction is pretty easy for me, but I enjoyed writing fiction. I want to write each day to see what my characters will do next. I have an inkling where I think this is going, but there have already been twists along the way and each one has surprised me. 

Five, I'm not stopping yet. As of today, after thirty days of writing, I've written 21,855 words. I kept track of my time and word count each day. Low word count days weren't bad, just what I needed on those days. Each day made me look forward to the next, which was a fabulous feeling. While almost 22,000 words is a lot, the average romance book averages around 80,000-90,000 words, so I have a ways to go.

I have no idea if this "book" will only be read by me, or if I will decide to one day share it. I know that my inner editor, Helga, likes to still tell me my writing is crap, but I'm better at ignoring her. This journey I'm on is what it is, and I can't wait to see where it goes from here. So for May, and beyond, my writing challenge is simply to keep going. I do know that the longer I sit to write, the easier it is. Because of our schedules, most nights I only had 30 minutes. But when I can write longer, it is so much better. For that reason alone, I'm ready for summer. I'm excited to see what Max and Emma get up to next. 
My daily accountability

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Summer Professional Development

Some of my favorite folks to learn with,
the Nerdy Book Club crew.
The other day I saw a former student in the local grocery store. He introduced me to his aunt as his former teacher. Her first comment was, "Ahh, teaching. I wish I had gone into that like I planned. Summers off with nothing to do must be nice." In twenty plus years of teaching, I've heard this refrain so many times. And yet, my summers - like most teachers - are never truly "off". Even in my first years of teaching, my mom trained me to pick one subject to study over the summer, to improve on. Each year I'd find a new one, read as much as I could, and start the new year determined to be better than I was the previous year.

Several years passed and I found myself with a plethora of workshops I could choose to attend in the summer. While I typically paid my own way to these conferences, the advantage of not having to create sub plans while I went off to learn was a huge draw. 


This summer I've already begun planning. I know I will be speaking at the Scholastic Summit in Chicago on Thursday, June 21st. This is my third year at the Summit and I'm constantly amazed at what a wonderful day of PD Scholastic pulls together. If you'd like to see if there will be a Summit in your area, you can check HERE.

I'm also thrilled to be presenting at the Summer Institute in Warsaw, Indiana on Friday, June 22nd. I began attending this conference years ago when it was called All Write. It brings back memories of friends, amazing presenters, and lots of learning packed into just a few days. I simply cannot wait. If you want to attend Summer Institute, register HERE

While I won't be attending this year, my oldest son will be turning sixteen, NerdCamp MI is one of the best conferences around. The conference is FREE. Yep, free. Two days of connections with colleagues, authors, and illustrators from all over. Register HERE

Finally, I'll be learning at home. A few colleagues from my building are diving into Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle's new book, 180 Days: Two Teachers and the Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents. I can't wait to read this with them over the summer days, discuss what we think we can apply in our classrooms, and grow as a learner. 

How about you? Do you have a plan for your learning this summer? Please share! And if you will be at Summer Institute or Scholastic's Chicago Summit, I hope to see you there. 

Saturday, April 7, 2018

April Writing Challenge

So a week ago I wrapped up my March writing challenge, a blog post a day. I made it for all thirty-one days, even though there were many days that I really want to skip. I wondered why I had made the challenge in the first place. I wondered if anyone would even notice if I didn't write. 

I knew I'd notice.

I can't stick to a diet for anything, yet give me a writing challenge and I become a woman on a mission. Whatever.

At any rate, as I wrote last weekend, I talked to my friend Cindy last Saturday and said I was trying to figure out what to write for April. I confided that I wondered about trying fiction, maybe even something like a romance book since she and I were constantly reading new ones and discussing them. It wouldn't be that hard, right? 

Cut to Cindy looking up the average length of a romance novel...80,000-90,000 words. 

Holy crap.

But I decided to dive in. I put up some photos on a bulletin board in my bedroom, inspiration for my novel. My husband raised his eyebrow at me. I asked him who wouldn't want to look at Jason Momoa on a daily basis. 


I cleared a desk off, organized the reading nook in my bedroom, lamented that I couldn't buy an overstuffed chair that would be perfect to sit in to write. Glanced down at my yoga mat, reflected on the last time I'd actually been to a yoga class, and realized I was already off track. At that point I made a plan to check in with Cindy each day and share if I wrote for at least thirty minutes and what my current word count was.

On Sunday, I sat down to write.

Holy hell, it was hard. 

I had an idea for my male protagonist, inspired by Jason Momoa. I named him Max. The female was a struggle, but then Stana Katic popped in my brain. I think she's gorgeous, so I christened her Emma. Where did they live? How did they know each other? I started typing.

Seven days in, I haven't missed a day. I've roughly averaged a thousand words a day. I'm completely out of my element, have to tell my inner editor to shut up on a regular basis, and having a blast. Today I decided that maybe my inner editor's name is Helga and she truly is evil. 
Tonight's writing required a Fat Tire.
Writing a romance book is a trip. I tend to curse a lot in real life and in this? I let it fly. Haven't written any "romance" scenes yet. I might have to have several glasses of wine to get that accomplished, but I don't think I've laughed more when I've written than I have on this project. I love Max, I love Emma. I love Emma's friend Maggie even more, I wish she was real. I'd absolutely want to hang out with her.

As I write I'm falling more in love with writing, which is unexpected. I don't think I'm good at it necessarily  but I enjoy doing it. I like trying something that feels like a challenge, like I'm working my brain in a new way. My students know that I'm trying this challenge in April, and that they won't be able to read it, but they ask how it's going each day. They are certainly good cheerleaders and I can't wait to see where I am at the end of the month, if only so I can share with them that I did it. 

Seven days in, twenty-three to go. I can't wait to see where Max and Emma take me next. 
Day seven, done.


Saturday, March 31, 2018

My Next Writing Challenge


I was attempting to write everyday in March.
Today I've finished, 31 posts for 31 days.

February 28th I pondered the idea of doing a March writing challenge. I knew I couldn't do the official Slice of Life challenge on Two Writing Teachers. My life was crazy busy, writing posts were going to take up free time I didn't have. Trying to read a ton of other posts and comment would be next to impossible. Even trying to comment back to you fabulous folks on here has been a failure. Please know, I read every comment. I appreciate them more than I can tell you. Time is elusive and escapes me all too often. That being said, the challenge is complete. I'm so happy that I made this deal with myself and absolutely have seen a difference in my writing. It comes easier, ideas pop in my head all day, and while finding the time at the end of the day to write has been a struggle, the writing hasn't been. So, on to new challenges.

My friend Cindy and I talk each day. One of our favorite topic is what we're reading. As many of you know, since July I've been on a romance reading kick. I've been fascinated by my interest in this genre - I've never really read romance books before and I typically only read books for kids. That being said, I've found myself more and more drawn to reading these books, finding new authors when I read everything Kristen Ashley has written, learning about new topics because who knew that hockey players featured so heavily into many a romance series. What I'm more interested in, however, is how people see romance books and the people who read them. I've been told it isn't "real reading", that the writing is sub par, that I'm wasting my time, or just been given a look of judgement. Why is that? I should note, that these reactions are mainly coming from colleagues. My dearest hope is that they don't judge what their students are reading in the same way. Hopefully graphic novels and rereading of books are allowed in their classrooms, but I fear that they aren't. 


One day I will write the lessons I've gleaned from this new genre of reading, it would be a fun post. But for now, I wanted to share that this reading spree I've been on has inspired me to try fiction writing for the month of April. This will not be writing for my blog, but simply for me. Non-fiction writing comes easily to me - I can write about my day, parenting, teaching, etc. Fiction writing is difficult. Yet today, when I made the pact with Cindy to try and write for thirty minutes every day and report in to her, I got excited. I thought of some characters on the way to Champaign. I made a bulletin board an "inspiration board" in my bedroom by my desk. I sketched out several characters and an overall plot. It was a blast and I saw ideas everywhere I turned. 

So, let's see where this month takes me. I have no idea if it will be towards something real, or just writing for fun. I do know I'm beyond excited to try it and thrilled that I have my writing mojo back. And just because I'm writing for me, I hope to be blogging still at least once a week. So stick around, I'll keep you posted. And if you have any fiction writing recommendations, send them my way. I'm all ears. 

Friday, March 30, 2018

A Day of Nothing


I'm attempting to write everyday in March.Today is post 30 of 31.

Our Spring Break was not filled with trips to sunny beaches, warm destinations. There was no travel involved, other than to a town or two over. Our break involved track practices, dentist appointments, vet visits, and time with family. All important, all worthwhile. My only qualm was that I did not have any uninterrupted time at home, until today.

Friday stretched ahead of me today gloriously empty. Luke had practice, but he had a ride there and back. Liam was at a sleepover. I needed to run to the grocery store at some point, but it could wait. I woke and walked each dog a mile, feeling grateful that the rain had finally left and the sun was shining. On my walk, as I do each day, I talked to my listened to message from my friend Cindy on Voxer and left her some as well. 

Upon returning home I debated what to do. Looking at my email inbox, I knew I needed to do some scheduling work for Nerdy Book Club that I had put off for two weeks. Two and a half hours later, I was finally done and my inbox was dramatically better, though not at inbox zero yet. Cindy and I continued to leave messages on and off for each other, brainstorming projects and sharing weekend plans. After I was done, I curled up with my dogs and a book. 


I read on and off for several hours, talking to my boys, having pizza for lunch, and straightening up a bit around the house. In another message with Cindy we hit upon a writing challenge for April (I'll write more about that tomorrow) that necessitated a trip to Champaign and the purchase of a bulletin board. We talked more on and off as I ran errands, grabbed some food at the store for dinner, and drove the thirty miles home. 

Now it's early evening. Chris is home, kids that aren't mine are leaving the house, and I'm ready to cook some dinner and maybe have a Fat Tire to celebrate an amazing day of nothing, but one that was filled just the same.


Thursday, March 29, 2018

Food is Love


I'm attempting to write everyday in March.Today is post 29 of 31.

The other day I was rereading a book from Kristen Ashley called Sweet Dreams. I got to this section:


I just had a similar conversation with Luke the other day. His friends were coming over to play D&D and I asked what I could make and he said everyone had to bring their own sacks. I looked at him and said, "You don't get it, I like cooking for you all. What can I make?" He grinned and asked for chocolate chip cookies. 

Tonight my parents came by for dinner. My dad had a birthday awhile back and we hadn't really had a chance to celebrate with his knee surgery and all. When thinking of what to make, I thought of what they love.

I made guacamole knowing how much my mom loves it.

Homemade pizza because that is a win for everyone, except Liam. (And he was gone anyway.) I use this dough. 

A fruit crostata because I can use any fruit we have, my dad loves it, AND it is one of the few desserts Luke will eat. (Recipe HERE)


I do believe that, once again, my romance books have an excellent lesson inside. Food might not be love, but making it for others absolutely is. And I don't think love is only found in the act of making it, but in the consideration of what dishes they would like to eat and remembering the stories that go with each. For example, I will never forget the first time I had guacamole. It was at my grandmother Mumsie's house. My mom and my Aunt Margaret were eating it. If they could have licked the bowl clean, they would have. I can see them sitting on the couch, laughing, munching on chips like it was yesterday. In reality, it was over twenty years ago. 

Tonight we sat down together, my mom putting salad on Luke's plate. My dad turned to Luke and told the story of my mom and dad, newly married, visiting the same restaurant over and over, trying to figure out how to make the salad. Going home, experimenting, heading back to try the salad again, determined to get it right. Food is love. Food contains stories, memories. And when you cook for those you love, it is something special indeed. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Best Part of Parenting


I'm attempting to write everyday in March.Today is post 28 of 31.

Chris and I became parents back in 2002. One thing I've learned over the years as a mom to Luke and Liam, a teacher to many, is that parenting is a crapshoot. I have seen some amazing parents that have children that have lost their way. I've seen some fabulous kids that have essentially raised themselves. Crapshoot. 

That being said, we've raised Luke and Liam the best we know how, but also know that we can only do so much. They are the captains of their own ship and will determine their own course. I won't speak for Chris here, but there are a few guiding beliefs that have helped us along the way...

Hands Off
This one is big for me. My start of teaching in my district was in a Kindergarten-4th grade building. I'd walk down the hall on 100 Day thinking what a fabulous job some parents did on their kids project. My reaction to that was that school was Luke and Liam's responsibility. Sure I'd help them study, if they asked. If I knew if they had a test coming up, I'd ask how they were doing. But that's it. This has backfired, absolutely. They've failed tests. They've had grades they wished were higher. My goal, however, was that they cared about their grades, not us pushing them to succeed. So far, with a 7th and 9th grader, we seem to be on the right track. Time will tell if this will continue to work, but we don't argue about homework. The amount of late assignments they've had over their school career for both kids could be counted on one hand. And when they bomb a test, as one did recently, they are far more hard on themselves than I am. 

Discipline
My students would tell you, I'm not a yeller. While yelling might work for some, it absolutely doesn't work for me. I remember a student once told me that they hated getting in trouble with me because they knew I was "disappointed" in them and that was the worst. Pretty much how I parent too. Yelling can be tuned out, if I'm upset I whisper. And Chris would say I use a heavy dose of Irish Catholic Guilt to get a point across. Works for me.

Lax Technology Rules
This began as a summer rule, I didn't care how many hours they played video games as long as they did some type of chore everyday, read for thirty minutes at a minimum, and exercised. We had a checklist and I didn't want to battle them all summer long. While they will absolutely play for hours online, they are just as likely to have a Nerf war in the neighborhood, shoot hoops, go for a run, or watch a movie. I have only a few hard and fast tech rules for them:

  • No Grand Theft Auto. This is my oldest son's least favorite rule. Yes, they have first person shooter games. However, when I went to GameStop years ago with Luke so he could buy this game, the employee was one of my former students. He immediately said no. Then he and his boss began to describe what could be done in the game. This still gets a hard no for Luke even though he could now buy it himself. 
  • Cell Phones are mine. I used to monitor their cell phones nightly. Then weekly. Now, whenever I feel like it, typically monthly. While my youngest hates this rule, and we've battled about it, I told them I'm flipping through text message, photos, and social media so that I am their excuse. If someone is sending them something they aren't comfortable with, they can say their mom checks their phone. With both boys I've seen them use me as the excuse why someone needs to stop something in a group text or social media. I'm glad to provide that service.
  • Cell phones are charged at night outside my room. They can have alarm clocks to wake them up, phones go to a dresser outside my room at night so they sleep.
Encourage Their Passion, not Ours
This was a lesson we learned this year. Luke played basketball from 5th-8th grade. He was a decent player, but last year in 8th grade he told us he was done at the end of the season. Chris is a huge fan of basketball and hated to hear that. I was shocked because he was a good player, why would he give it up? But, as we reminded each other, it isn't about our feelings, it is what Luke wants. So 9th grade basketball has just come to an end and Luke didn't play. We were worried he'd regret it, but he didn't. 

Their passions vary from time to time, but have settled into something similar for both boys. They love running. Luke had immediate success in this sport when he began in 7th grade. Liam is starting to improve here at the end of 7th. They both love music - Liam in band playing drums, Luke in the songs he listens to and discusses with Chris. They are obsessive about video games and play online with their friends constantly. They both have fabulous imaginations - whether in creating their own videos, playing D&D, or in their writing. 

******

Being a parent has absolutely made me a better teacher. I've tried and failed more often than I can count. I know that while we might have these rules, the boys don't always love them. They will absolutely try to break them. But as a middle school teacher, I'm able to tell my middle school parents that it gets better. That it is good to let them fail if you can, that they need to care more than you do. And I also can watch my friends with young children parent and tell them it gets easier, it really does.

Today I was driving to pick Liam up from track practice. As I drove down a quiet street I saw a pack of runners headed towards me. Glancing at the pack, I realized Liam was one of them with his neon blue shorts on. I was puzzled, his practice was over. Then I wondered what fool was running without a shirt on, waving like crazy. Of course, it was Luke. When Liam jumped in the car twenty minutes later I asked why he'd been running with Luke's crew. Luke, as a freshman, had been the youngest (besides Liam). The rest of the kids were juniors and seniors. Liam grinned and said they had asked him to run with him and encouraged him along the way, especially his big brother. That's the best part of parenting. Seeing them grow, watching what they will become. They get to choose that, not us, and it is an amazing sight to behold. 

Crazy runners - Luke  (no shirt), Liam (blue shorts)


Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The More Things Change...


I'm attempting to write everyday in March.Today is post 27 of 31.

Today I thought a lot about that old adage, the more things change, the more they stay the same. So much of who I am has remained consistent over the years. Today I sat in the dentist waiting room as Luke had his six month check-up and I read, just as I have since I was a kid. On our drive there and back I blared Pearl Jam's Ten, much as I did back in high school. When faced with Easter candy to purchase for the boys, I immediately grabbed my favorites - solid chocolate eggs.

However, time marches on and things do change. I can see that in my boys. When faced with a thirty minute car ride to Champaign, they no longer ask to watch a DVD or bring toys to occupy their time. As I ran errands today, Luke stayed in the car watching YouTube or texting friends. There was no hand held in mine as we raced across the streets, looking both ways, and squeezing each other's hands three times to represent I Love You over and over again. At one point today I looked over at his profile in the car and his dark brown eyes looked back. If I go back far enough, I can remember back fifteen years to the first time I held him. How are we here already?


Knowing I need to treasure every moment, I asked if Luke wanted to grab lunch before returning to Monticello. He quickly agreed and asked to get sushi. I think the waitress was a bit in shock as he ordered a plate of vegetable dumplings and four different sushi rolls. My boy, he certainly does like to eat. Luke isn't the chattiest of kids, never has been, but it was an awesome morning just the same.

Returning home, Luke headed to track practice and I grabbed Liam to go help my mom move some furniture. I was lamenting in my head, and my heart, how parenting changes so much. The relationship we have with our kids flies by and they are so anxious to grow up while we stand by, wishing time would slow just for a moment. At that moment Liam and I were trying to pull a box spring out of my uncle's pick-up truck and bring it to the garage. I heard my dad shout, "Hold up. You will hurt your back." I turned around grinning as he tried to push me out of the way so he could grab the box spring instead. He chastised me, trying to help, while I pointed out that his knee was just replaced a month ago and this was not happening. In the back of my mind I thought of the fact that forty-four years in, my dad is still trying to take care of me, that I'm still his little girl. 

Hmm. Maybe things don't need to change so quickly after all. 

Monday, March 26, 2018

Happiness Is...


I'm attempting to write everyday in March.Today is post 26 of 31.

It's spring break here, which means our house becomes even more of a revolving door than usual. Liam has left for two different sleepovers since Friday. Luke has had a variety of kids coming in and out. I wrote this poem yesterday while Luke and five friends sat in our dining room playing Dungeons and Dragons while I read upstairs. Listening to them play, hanging out with my pups and reading, I was filled with joy.

***

Happiness is...

The sound of teenage boys
dice on a table
murmured stories
shouts of laughter
piles of sneakers by the door.


The sun streaming through a bedroom window
dogs sprawled on my bed
romance book on my phone
hours of spring break stretched out ahead of me.


The smell of chocolate chip cookies
wafting up from the kitchen
warm out of the oven,
placed on a plate
to be devoured in minutes.
***

Sunday, March 25, 2018

They are the Best of Us


I'm attempting to write everyday in March.Today is post 25 of 31.

NY Times
I've long argued that children are the best of us. In my twenty plus years of teaching, I've encountered a lot of kids and a lot of adults. And while I've absolutely encountered kids who are far from perfect, I'd take them on my team in a minute. 

Adults confuse me. We fail to stand up when needed. We fail to speak up, often, because we might alienate others. We latch on to our beliefs, but refuse to listen to the beliefs of others. We give ourselves a side and blindly follow anything associated with it.

Yet, that isn't the worst thing we do. We dismiss our children. A friend often tells me that children are the most disenfranchised group in our society, and I think she's right. Even when they stand up, attempt to be heard, they are dismissed as not having the experience we do, not having any knowledge of what they're talking about.

I disagree. I think so many kids can speak up, on a wide range of issues, from a place that is pure. They haven't been jaded from life as so many of us are. They still believe the best from the world, from us. They believe that they can change the world for the better, where many adults have given that up as a childish dream. 

Watching the kids from Majory Stoneman Douglas over the past few weeks, I'm filled with awe. I don't care what your feelings of the Second Amendment are, I'd hope you could see kids that have faced the worst of humanity and are trying to make the world a better place in the only way they know how. I'd hope you could see them speaking to crowds so large that the majority of adults I know would be filled with anxiety. I'd hope you'd support them, encourage them to raise their voices.

We can disagree on a wide range of issues in this country and I think that's ok. We need discourse, true discourse, and we need to learn from each other. But when I see those kids speaking up, when I see kids across the country marching for their beliefs, I'm filled with pride. Not because I agree, or disagree, with their stance. I'm filled with pride because they're using their voice. I'm filled with pride because they're taking charge of their future. I'm filled with pride because they are acting in a way I believe our forefathers that founded this country would be thrilled with.

I mean, Emma's silence? Chilling.


And Naomi? She's eleven. ELEVEN. Unreal.


If you haven't seen Lin-Manuel Miranda and Ben Platt perform their mashup, Found Tonight, please watch below. They see the kids. They respect them. We all need to. 



Children truly are the best of us. Now we just need to rise to the standard they have set. They are telling their stories, we need to listen. 
 
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