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Kindergarten Teaching: Heart Enough to Share

July 28, 2019

As the summer winds down, my teacher friends are gearing up for another school year. Over the next few weeks, I'll be rerunning some of my favorite posts about teachers as a reminder of how much educators do to make the world a better place. Let's all thank a teacher today; and let's vote for education reform that honors the good work that our teachers do and respects the value of every single student.

Written June 2003 in honor of Mrs. Lois Jones' retirement from kindergarten teaching.

My youngest daughter on Kindergarten Celebration Day in 2004

My youngest daughter on Kindergarten Celebration Day in 2004

In the spring of 1999 my husband and I had a five-year old, a three-year old, and a one year old.  After reviewing every possible option from Home School to Charter School and beyond, we chose Oakley Elementary School for our children. In just a few months, our oldest was going to Kindergarten. Now, I'm quite certain it would have been easier to peel away my skin and send it off with a backpack than to do what I had to do. I had so many questions, so many concerns. I read everything I could find on preparing a child for Kindergarten. But in the end, having chased every possible thought around my brain and back again, I decided to give up, and give in. “Lord,” I prayed. “I have done the best I can to find some peace in this thing and I'm just not finding it. So you just fix it. Find the teacher for my child. I give up.”

“Dear Parent: Your child will be in Mrs. Jones class. School starts Tuesday, August 10, 1999. . .” The letter came after I'd prayed for weeks for the perfect teacher for my child. Now I know my prayers were answered in Lois Jones.

Two years later, I walked my son, Baker, to her classroom and just last fall, my youngest daughter, Margaret, was assigned to Mrs. Jones class.

Margaret & Mrs. Jones on Margaret's last day at Oakley Elementary

Margaret & Mrs. Jones on Margaret's last day at Oakley Elementary

She has given my three children a wonderful beginning to their education. I am infinitely grateful for that. But, in truth, that’s not what I appreciate the most about Mrs. Lois Jones. What I want to thank her for today, is not for what she did for my children academically, but for what she did for their hearts.

See, I left my Heart with her. And she gave her heart back to them. She has taught them, sure. But she has loved them. And know this: Mrs. Jones does not play favorites. She loves them ALL! I've witnessed her teaching for the past five years. She’s been here influencing children for much longer than that. And each one of my children, and every other child she has taught, has a little bit of Lois Jones' heart tucked inside their own.

Teachers: Public School Ministers

(As the summer winds down, my teacher friends are gearing up for another school year. Over the next few weeks, I'll be rerunning some of my favorite posts about teachers as a reminder of how much educators do to make the world a better place. Let's all thank a teacher today; and let's vote for education reform that honors the good work that our teachers do and respects the value of every single student.)

First Baptist Church, Weaverville, NC (2014)

“What is a minister?” Zach* asked. (Zach always had a question, a comment, or--frequently--an outburst of some sort.)

It was Wednesday afternoon and seven-year-old Zach was one of about 12 kids in attendance at Kids for Christ (KFC). This program meets weekly after school and includes a variety of activities including Bible story time. The KFC’ers get off the school bus at the church and their parents come for them at 7:00 pm.

That afternoon I was helping Cozette, the Bible story teacher; we were focusing on Isaiah 66:13 and talking about mothers. (It was the Wednesday before Mother’s Day.) Both kids and leaders shared stories and talked about what we had learned from our moms. I showed them a picture of my mother and explained that she taught me a lot about ministry.

“When I was a little girl,” I told the kids, “My mother often cooked twice as much supper as we needed so that we could share a meal with another family. She also visited people, wrote notes, taught Sunday school, and did lots of other things that showed me how to be a minister.”

That’s when Zach’s hand shot up. “What is a minister?” he asked.

“Great question,” I told him. I wanted to answer accurately: the word itself could relate to positions outside a church. “A minister is someone who takes care of people and spends time with them. Like me, I work here at the church and I am the Minister with Youth and Children. So, I spend time with you guys and help take care of you.”

“And I’m a minister too,” Cozette, said. “I visit people in group homes and I help them with things they need.”

“Oh!” Zach said, nodding. “Like a teacher.”

Wow. What a response. See, Zach—a loveable and bright little guy who is eager to learn—is not the quietest fella you will ever meet. My guess is he does his share of squirming, speaking out of turn, and just generally pushing the limits of acceptable classroom behavior. And yet, the description of a minister, made him think of teachers.

Teachers.

Teachers. Overworked, underpaid, and up to their lanyards in standardized tests.
Teachers. Who stay after school for special events and come in early for conferences with parents or students.
Teachers. Who spend their own time and money because they love what they do and they want to do it well.
Teachers. Who take time to minister to a fidgety little boy who sometimes forgets the rules.

Teachers. Ministers.

“Yes,” I told Zach. “A minister is like a teacher.”

*Name changed for privacy.

Teaching: Expectation Achieved

(As the summer winds down, my teacher friends are gearing up for another school year. Over the next few weeks, I'll be rerunning some of my favorite posts about teachers as a reminder of how much educators do to make the world a better place. Let's all thank a teacher today; and let's vote for education reform that honors the good work that our teachers do and respects the value of every single student.)

It’s the rare 18 year old who starts college with the same major she has at her graduation. Even rarer is the one who approaches retirement in that very same career. My friend Lisa is just that extraordinary. What is this compelling field you ask? The answer: middle school education! Middle. School. Ed.u.ca.tion. Teaching pubescent 12 and 13 year olds who giggle when someone says “duty” (“She said doody!”) and who pass gas with smug aplomb. That’s what Lisa signed up for nearly 30 years ago.

It’s true. Even when we were in college, Lisa (Allen) Henson couldn’t wait to teach seventh graders. Some could argue (successfully) that she’s crazy. Just flat-out crazy. But I say she’s a hero. Her commitment to education, inspires her colleagues and transforms her students. Well, just listen to this story she told me a while back.

“Honestly, the entire seventh grade faculty talked about him.” Lisa explained. “They said Jackson* constantly disrupted their classes; and that no matter what they did he just did not respond to discipline.”

Apparently, Jackson’s academic record isn’t exactly admirable. He scores in the lowest percentile on standardized tests. It seems he just never really understands much in the classroom. Or at least, he doesn’t understand the things that are measured on state mandated multiple-choice tests.

Lisa continued. “I couldn’t believe they were talking about the Jackson I knew. I never had those problems with him. Never.” So one day Lisa just asked him. “Hey Jackson? Why do you behave for me and not for the other teachers?”

Jackson, as big as a man, loomed above Mrs. Henson. He looked down at her and said, smiling, “Because you expect me to, Mrs. Henson.”

Expectation achieved.

Hero, right?

(Thanks to Lisa and to all our other educators. You matter. You are our heroes every single day!)

*Name changed.

 

Lisa retired earlier this year. Her daughter, Kristen, is now the only teacher in the family.
computer classroom

Public Education: one easy way to help teachers

“I never used to think about retirement,” the teacher said. “I thought I would teach forever. Now though, thinking of retirement is the only thing that keeps me going.”

This teacher—I’ll call her Miss P, short for Miss Pedagogy—has been teaching since 1985. She has a master’s degree in her field and has completed independent study with experts of international acclaim. Long ago she lost track of how much money she has spent on her own continuing education. In addition to those costs, Miss P spends an average of $1000 a year on her classroom. Much of that money goes to student needs and resources that enhance learning.*

“I love teaching. I love my students; I even like most of them,” Miss P said, chuckling the way you do when something used to be funny, but isn’t anymore. Her attempt at levity flattened as she continued. “But I can’t do it anymore. I just can’t.”

Those who know the life of teachers could guess possible reasons.

  • Declining benefits, lengthening school year, stagnant wages.
  • Shortened lunch and planning periods, increased class size.
  • More and more assessments, less and less time to teach an ever expanding curriculum.

Indeed, these things are frustrating for Miss P, but not frustrating enough to make her leave the career she loves. She talked about how expectations of parents and administrators have changed over the years. In fact, let’s just think for a minute about what we, the consumers of public education, expect from our teachers. We expect them to

  1. Come to school early or leave late in order to tutor our children.
  2. Sponsor clubs and organizations relevant to their subject (or to our student’s interest).
  3. Take our money for tickets and concessions at our children’s extracurricular sports events.
  4. Attend at least some of these sporting events.
  5. Chaperone school dances.
  6. Attend competitions such as Science Fair, History Day, Band Contests, and Odyssey of the Mind.
  7. Take our children on field trips that exceed the limits of the school day.
  8. Take our children on overnight, multi-day learning excursions. (Miss P, like many of her colleagues, has taken kids on international trips during her own spring break.)
  9. Meet us for parent conferences when our work schedule allows—typically long before or way after school hours.
  10. Put our children’s needs before their own families’ needs (see 1-9 above).

Oh. We also expect them to take a bullet for our kids if some maniac comes onto the campus brandishing assault weapons. And do you know what? I am positive that nearly every teacher I know would do just that. Miss P certainly would.

But it’s not these expectations that have caused Miss P to spruce up her resume and scan websites for job openings. Nope. It’s something else.

“The thing is,” she told me, “no one ever gives me the benefit of the doubt anymore. Not the parents, not the administrators, and certainly not the school board. There’s this assumption that I’m going to harm the children in some way; that I am the enemy, not the advocate, of students. It’s exhausting.”

Here's what I think. I think teachers should receive higher pay and better benefits; and I think we ask way too much of our educators. We need to address these things and correct them. Period. And in the meantime, let's start with this: respect. Seriously, let’s just go ahead and treat our teachers like the professionals they are. The average teacher is an enthusiastic expert in her field, not a mediocre bureaucrat manipulating the system of tenure. Despite her dwindling wages, she works long hours and attends school events after work and on weekends and (get this) loves doing it. Extraordinary!

Can we please stop talking about the occasional incompetent teacher as if she is the norm? Click To Tweet

So, can we please stop talking about the occasional incompetent teacher as if she is the norm? Instead, let's give our teachers the benefit of the doubt; let's start saying “Thank You," and “I'd like to help.” Seems to me that's the least we can do for those who daily give their lives—both literally and figuratively—for our children.[bctt tweet="So, can we please stop talking about the occasional incompetent teacher as if she is the norm? Instead, let's give our teachers the benefit of the doubt; let's start saying “Thank You," and “I'd like to help.” Seems to me that's the least we can do for those who daily give their lives—both literally and figuratively—for our children."

*Some of Miss P's money goes to cleaning supplies. At her school, the maintenance staff does little more than trash collection in individual classrooms (budget cuts, you know). Plus, her school is infested with mice. She’s complained for years, for more than a decade actually, about the ubiquitous mouse poo that testifies daily to the pests’ presence. Until she gets an active response, Miss P will try to keep the room as clean as possible in an effort to deter those furry little delinquents. All in a day’s work.

This post was originally published April 4, 2014 and titled "Teaching: Miss P's Retirement Rationale"

youth ministry

A Wall of Living Stones at Caswell

camwall1

One of my favorite stories of all time, from May 2014. 

When the youth group goes to Fort Caswell for the spring retreat, one of the many traditions involves a team building exercise known as The Wall. The Wall is about 10-12 feet high and 6-8 feet wide and kids who choose to participate scale the wall with others in their grade. It’s always a beautiful thing to watch.

This year, Cameron, a 16 year old who has been raised in the church, made his first trip to Caswell. He’d been on other youth trips, but not this one; so he’d never seen The Wall, never participated in this tradition. Of course, he didn’t have to do it. No one would have objected if he’d taken a pass.

You see, since birth, Cameron has developed at a different speed than other children. One orthopedist even told his parents not to expect much in the way of gross motor development, saying that Cameron would likely be in a wheelchair. (His parents got a different orthopedist.) It took him awhile, but with the help of a kid-sized walker, Cameron put one foot in front of the other, and by the time he was four and a half years old, he was walking on his own. These days, while his muscle tone is still relatively low, he gets around fine. He does, however, walk slower and more intentionally than most folk. And, well, he just has to work a little harder than other people to move through the world.

But back to Caswell’s wall.

“Are you going to climb The Wall, Cameron?” We asked him mostly out of courtesy, not wanting him to feel left out.

“Yep,” he said, looking over his glasses that had once again slipped too far down his nose; and he made his way over to lifelong friends who awaited him at the wall.

Physically, Cameron couldn’t offer much assistance at all. He couldn’t push or pull himself up. He couldn’t reach out or grab hold. If he panicked, he would fall. If he struggled against them, they would drop him.

Cameron put his hands on sure shoulders and lifted a foot onto the human stool; his friends did the rest. One adult and two girls standing on the back of the wall reached down, while several guys at the base helped lift him up. Other teens gathered around, arms extended, ready.

He progressed, inches at the time, eventually straddling the top of the wall. Once there though, he seemed to get stuck. A moment of uncertainty followed when no one was exactly sure how to proceed. Then another teen—a bulky weight lifter—popped up on the back of the wall, reached down, and gently lifted Cameron’s leg up and over.

Cameron got his balance, looked out over the crowd, and hesitantly lifted a hand to wave.

Now for most kids, getting down is easy; but Cameron couldn’t jump off the platform to the ground without injury. No worries! His friends had already figured it out.  Four strong arms waited to cradle Cameron from the wall to the ground. He let go, they held on, and then he was down, smiling at the cheers and congratulations from his youth group.

Cameron punched his fist into the palm of his hand and said, “I did it!”

And he did. He really did.

First Baptist Church of Asheville Youth Group, Fort Caswell 2014

caswallwholegroup14

. . . like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood . . .
from 1 Peter 2:5

 

The proposal #shesbringinghomethebaker

The Proposal: Baker and Addison

“How would it be if I proposed tomorrow night?”

The question of how and when to propose was one my son, Baker, and I had discussed a number of times over the previous three months. The logistics were the problem. While Baker and his girlfriend, Addison, are from the same hometown, they go to universities in two different cities. Also, Baker wanted his sisters home for the proposal, but one works full-time and lives in DC and the other is away at college. Plus, Baker needed to talk with Addison’s parents; but he rarely comes home and never without Addison. Talking with them without her knowledge would be quite a feat.

At the time of his question—Thursday night around 10 pm—Baker and Addison had been home for only about five or six hours. Neither of his sisters were in town and he still hadn’t talked to Addison’s parents.

#shesbringinghomethebakerBaker did already have the ring*, though; in fact, he’d had it pretty much since Summer 2015. Back then, my mother had offered him her mother’s diamond ring. She told Baker just to let her know when he was ready to propose and the ring would be his to redesign in whatever way he chose. So, Christmas 2016, he asked her for the ring; the two of us went to Jewels that Dance in January.

“Addison had specific ideas about what she wanted in an engagement ring,” Baker told us the next night after the deed had been done.

“We made it a game!” Addison explained. “I would show him a ring and tell him what I liked about it. Then I would ask him to guess what I didn’t like about that particular ring. It was really fun!”

“We played it a lot.”

“Because it was fun!”

“It was more fun for her than for me.”

So, using the diamonds from my grandmother’s ring, Baker (in collaboration with the jeweler) designed the ring with the round cut solitaire in the center and six of the diamond accents on the band. Between the accent diamonds, he had the jeweler fashion a palm branch.

“I’d seen people put symbols on their rings that represent their relationship,” Baker explained to the group gathered in our family room post-proposal. “And of course I could have put a music symbol because that is certainly something that is characteristic of our relationship.”

They’d met in the high school marching band. Addison became drum major her senior year, and Baker earned the role the next year when he was in 12th grade. Baker went on to major in music and Addison continues to participate in the music programs at her university and church.

“But really, I wanted something that represented our faith, because as important as music is to us, our faith is certainly more central to who we are as individuals and as a couple,” Baker explained. “The palm branch was an early Christian symbol. That’s why you’ll see it as an architectural motif at First Baptist of Asheville.”

Baker and Addison are both members and active participants of FBCA. Last summer, they were interns there—Addison with the children’s programs and Baker with the music ministry. The church has had a major impact on their lives and their relationship. The palm branch represents both their faith and their home church: a perfect addition!

But back to that Thursday night. Baker got busy making calls and forming a plan. Fortunately, everything worked in his favor. Addison slept late Friday morning—something she rarely does. Her parents’ schedules were flexible enough that he was able to talk with them before she awakened. We already had plans to go out to eat—the two of them and both sets of parents—to celebrate Baker’s 21st birthday (a week late). From that, he pulled together as many of their traditions as he could fit in one day.

Homecoming Dance 2011

Awkward first photo, before they actually started dating. Homecoming Dance 2011.

You should know that they started dating when he was 15 going on 16 and she was 16 going on 17. (They are now 21 and almost 22.) On their first date, they went to Brixx; for their first Valentine’s Day, Baker gave her a bear (dressed—naturally—in a baker’s outfit) from Build-a-Bear. Every year on their anniversary, they go to Brixx; to date, Addison has six Valentine’s Day Build-a-Bears. And not so much tradition as habit—they often have reason to stop by First Baptist.

Hold up. Let’s just pause for a minute and picture 15-year-old Baker going into Build-a-Bear, choosing a teddy bear, going through the whole process of stuffing it, then picking out an outfit for it and dressing it. If that weren’t enough, then he had to walk back through the mall carrying the signature Build-a-Bear box. Yep. He did that.

Anyway, after talking with Addison’s parents Friday morning, Baker went over to Build-a-Bear. He left with an adorable bear—filled to just the right level of fluffiness (he’s an expert by now)—dressed in a bridal gown, complete with veil and sparkly shoes. My job was to order desert pizza from Brixx to have at home for the post-proposal celebration. (We were optimistic about a positive result!) Baker then called FBCA to make sure he could access their Sacred Garden that evening. A dear friend served as Baker’s accomplice; while we were at dinner, she would go to the Sacred Garden to set everything in place. The night before, Baker had contacted several close friends and his younger sister. They would be at our house by 10 pm to celebrate with the newly engaged couple. (Shout out to the world’s best millennials for making the four-hour drive with less than 24 hours’ notice!)

When we finished dinner, we parents said we would wait for the bill, asking Baker if he and Addison would go on home to let our dog out. He agreed, but just needed to run by the church and “pick up organ music he had left there” (wink, wink). Once there, rather than go in where they usually did, Baker suggested they just cut through the Sacred Garden and enter through the door on the other side.

The proposal #shesbringinghomethebaker“What’s that?” Addison asked when she saw something unusual set up in the Garden.

“I don’t know. Let’s go check.”

“It looks like a shrine to a teddy bear!” (The wind had blown Teddy’s veil up, giving it a shadowy and slightly eerie appearance. Not exactly the effect Baker had in mind!)

They approached, Baker went down on one knee, Addison squealed (repeatedly), Baker proposed, and Addison said yes.

“So,” I asked her as I looked at the ring sparkling on her left hand. “How did Baker do?”

“It’s prettier than anything I could have imagined!” she said.

“Yes!” Baker said, clinching his fist in victory.

(Wedding date yet to be determined, but it will be sometime after Addison gets her next Valentine’s Day bear.)

#shesbringinghomethebaker

*Want to know the beautiful back story on the ring? Click here for the rest of the story!

snowless snow days and automatic experts

Snowless Snow Days and Automatic Experts

Complaining about snow days. It’s what we do here in Western North Carolina

The problem? The weather here is anything but homogenous. Seriously. A friend who lives less than five miles from me can get six inches of ice and snow when I get not one flake. The southern part of the county might get a foot of snow while the northern districts get only a few inches. At my house, I can have just a dusting, then hear from a friend in the western part of the county who is looking at a two-inch sheet of ice on her street. It’s crazy.

Not only are the conditions markedly different from district to district, we have roads that coil around the mountains and are tricky when it’s 70 degrees and sunny. And that’s in my Honda. Can’t imagine what it’s like on those roads in a school bus. (Nor do I ever, ever, ever want to find out.)

All this creates a situation uncommon in counties where the roads are straight and every resident gets equal precipitation. I call it the Snowless Snow Day.

Here in Western North Carolina, we have all at some time experienced the Snowless Snow Day. Consequently, we start talking about whether or not schools will close as soon as we see flakes in the forecast. We are not at all deterred by the fact that it does not matter what we think. Indeed, no one cares if we want or need a snow day. The principal of our school doesn’t care. The superintendent doesn’t care. The weather channel certainly doesn’t care.

Truly, the question, “Do you think we should have a snow day,” is about as relevant as “Do you think penguins prefer salmon or flounder?” The answer to either question has no impact on upcoming events. (Unless, of course, you are a salmon. Or a flounder. Or a chef for penguins with discriminating tastes.)

Me, I’d rather schools be closed when there is a chance they could have operated without incident, than to be open when safety is questionable. I think about the teacher driving a mini-van risking a wreck trying to get out of his icy neighborhood; the school bus driver traveling those icy corkscrew roads; and the teen driver who hasn't had nearly enough experience driving in ice and snow.

But I do know that it is not that simple for some folks. As I see it, these people fall into two groups.

  1. Those who lose income as a result of the closing. (For example, you have to stay home with young children so you miss work; or you work for the school system in some capacity that doesn’t include the benefit of paid snow days.)
  2. Those who are at risk because of the non-closing. (Such as when it is truly unsafe for you to leave your neighborhood, but if you don’t work, you aren’t paid.)

Obviously, even if you do have a valid reason for your frustration with the status of school closing, it won’t change the decision. But at least you have legitimate cause to be upset. The rest of us are merely inconvenienced know-it-alls who have suddenly become experts on road conditions across the county.

Snow days are wonderful or hideous, depending on your circumstances or maybe your perspective. But one thing I know for certain is that all the fussing in the world (even if it’s on Facebook) won’t change a thing. So I’m going to try to spend the mental energy I would have wasted on school closings on something more important. Like, what kind of fish do penguins eat?

Oakley Elementary School

Principal Little Red Hen Teaches A Lesson

In my life as student and as parent, I’ve been blessed to know a number of outstanding public school principals. Among this elite group, is Oakley Elementary School’s former principal Linda Allison. What I loved most about Linda Allison was that she never put process ahead of pupil. Her compassion for students was matched only by her commitment to their success. Seriously, Ms. Allison should train new principals. She is that good.
When I learned that she was retiring (after I dried my tears), I wrote a story in her honor and later read it at her final faculty meeting. That was about 9-10 years ago. This year, my oldest will graduate from college and my youngest from high school. Their brother is finishing his sophomore year of college. But despite the passage of years, I remain so grateful to Ms. Allison for her leadership, dedication, and just her natural intuition as an educator.
So for this thank you note, I offer the story I wrote for Ms. Allison—the Little Red Hen of Oakley Elementary School. Thank you Linda Allison for setting the bar so high. I count you as one of the great blessings of my life. And so do my little chicks.

Oakley Elementary SchoolOnce upon a time there was a little red hen who lived on a teaching farm that existed solely to train young farmers. The chickens on the farm, all one big family, got together and chose the little red hen as the principal of the farm. The little red hen was honored. She found great joy in sharing her life and work with her many brothers and sisters. Together they kept the farm running smoothly.

Unfortunately, the little red hen also had to work with three other animals who thought they owned the whole farm: a turtle named Wright Procedure who moved very slowly; a parrot named Polly Tisshun, who maintained a spotless image, talked a lot, but did very little, and an elephant named Feddy Govment who thought he knew everything, even though he didn’t even live on the same farm as the little red hen.

One day, the little red hen came upon a child and his parents.

“We want our child to have the best education, the best learning environment, and the best playmates the world can offer,” the parents instructed as they hugged the child and got back in their car, “We can’t stand around talking about it though, we have jobs, you know!” The parents drove away, leaving the child with the little red hen.

“Oh my, aren’t you a fine young fellow!” clucked the little red hen as she pulled the tyke under her wing. “Welcome to our farm!”

About that time a few of her brothers and sisters came down the path and she introduced them to the child. “Let’s get busy and teach this child how to feed the animals!” She smiled at the spark in the child’s eyes and in the eyes of the teachers.

But before the other chickens could even respond, Wright Procedure, the turtle who moved very slowly, poked his head out of his shell and said, “Stop everything! Don’t do anything until we get these forms filled out. We’ll need permission from the parents and clearance from the pediatrician. Plus, we’ll need a waiver signed by each of the animals the child will be feeding. Also. . .”

While Wright the turtle droned on, several of the little red hen’s sisters took the child down to the barn and started the lessons. The little red hen, back in the farm office, filled out the necessary paperwork. She called the pediatrician who put her on hold: “Important, urgent issues demand the doctor’s attention!” Once the little red hen had completed the child’s file she went to check on the child’s progress.

“WOW!” she said to her siblings “You have done a great job teaching the child how to feed the animals. I believe we can promote the child to animal grooming.”

“Well, I certainly agree,” cooed Polly Tisshun, the talkative parrot with the spotless image. She smiled to the camera operator who had come along with her. Wouldn’t you agree, Little Red Hen that my program Accelerated Feeders has, well, haha, accelerated this child’s progress?” The camera clicked more pictures as Polly fluttered over and perched herself on the child’s shoulder.

“Well, Polly, I’d be happy to talk to you about that,” said the little red hen, as she motioned Polly off of the child and toward her office. The other chickens stepped in and hurried the child onto the next lesson.

But before the little red hen could leave with Polly, Feddy Govment the elephant who thought he knew everything, lumbered down to the barn. “Has the child mastered animal bathing yet?” he asked, his ears flopping.

“Well, no,” said the little red hen, about to explain that the other chickens were just beginning that phase of the training.

“What’s wrong with those teachers?” Feddy stomped his feet upsetting the animals and causing the teachers to cease training long enough to settle the animals. The child observed, learning, in the process, how to calm animals in the event of a disturbance.

“And anyway,” Feddy shouted, “Look at that kid! He’s not DOING anything! And the teachers are just running around like chick. . .well, like chickens do sometimes.” Feddy looked around, waving his trunk from side to side and looking everywhere except at the little red hen.

The little red hen started to explain. “The child has made remarkable prog. . .”

“Then give him the Animal Grooming Test!” thundered Feddy.

“I have one right here,” said Wright Procedure, the turtle who though he moved very slowly, always managed to find his way into the middle of any activity.

The child did not pass the test and so he had to take the actual course material. The teachers received official reprimands for their negligence and the farm was placed on probation until the child passed the test.

In the midst of the crisis, the little red hen was called away to meet with Wright Procedure the turtle, Polly Tisshun the Parrot, and Feddy Govment the elephant. A committee was formed to study effective teaching of animal grooming and the three friends recommended strategies for school reform that might, in time, bring the farm up to par. Their first recommendation: they would visit the barn immediately following the meeting. As the meeting ended, the little red hen’s cell phone rang.

“The child’s parents are here,” said the chicken on the line. We need you back here at once.”

The little red hen arrived at the barn before Wright, Polly, and Feddy did. (They had, as it turns out, been left behind.) The parents appeared worried, tired, and confused. They had seen the news and gotten the test results for the school.

“Welcome,” The little red hen said to the mom and dad, genuinely happy they'd come. She listened to their concerns, made notes for herself, and responded to their comments. They left, after a quick tour of the barn, saying they felt much better.

Time passed and in what seemed like a moment, the child had completed the requirements for Elementary Barn and it was time for him to move on. The little red hen, gathered friends and family and asked, “Who will help me celebrate this child?”

“I will!” said Wright Procedure, sticking his head out of his shell. He began designing a flow chart so that he could celebrate properly.

“I will!” said Polly Tisshun, wearing her red plume that she saved just for such occasions. “My camera crew is all set up to capture the moment.”

“I will!” said Feddy as he galumphed through the door and tried to take over the room.

“OH NO YOU WILL NOT!” Said the little red hen fluffing herself up to her full height and glaring at Wright, Polly, and Feddy. The little red hen extended her wing and gestured at the teachers who stood between the child and the three intruders.

"We will celebrate this child. We prepared this child. We taught this child We love this child. My brothers and sisters and I will celebrate this child.”

And they did. While Wright Procedure, Polly Tisshun, and Feddy Government looked on, completely befuddled.

In a continued celebration of my 50th birthday on 7-22-2015, I’m writing 50 thank you notes in 50 weeks. This one to Ms. Linda Allison is #15. Please click on the tag "50 Thank You Notes" to read the others.
Parenting: The Success of Failure

Parenting: The Success of Failure

Coping with failureWhen is the last time you experienced resounding failure? When you really bombed? Remember what you learned from that? Of course you do!

See, whether we like it or not, we often learn more from our failures than we do from our successes. Failure underscores the lesson, highlighting it for future reference. It points to areas of growth and opportunities for improvement. Success feels good in the moment, but failure can benefit a person for a lifetime.

Still, the mother in me—and the aunt for that matter—hates to see children I love experience the pain of disappointment. I’ve seen it plenty of times though. Here are just three of examples.

  1. My oldest, an 8th grader at the time, had spent months preparing her History Day project on Eleanor Roosevelt, chair of the United Nation’s Human Rights Initiative. The topic was complicated (it took me awhile to understand it myself). She’d done fastidious research, using mainly primary documents. She compiled her sources in an annotated bibliography and wrote a script which she committed to memory. She also created a backdrop, pulled together a costume, and collected vintage props. After a successful district performance, she headed to the state competition with high hopes. The results? She lost to a student whose mother had admitted to me that she wrote most of her daughter’s script.
  2. It seemed as if my son only got on losing teams. Whether it was little league baseball or church basketball, more often than not, his team would lose. No one played harder, practiced more intently, or came to games more prepared. Regardless, game after game, his teams fell short of the mark.
  3. When she was in the 6th grade, my youngest daughter challenged a teacher. It’s a long and complicated story (believe me when I tell you that you do not want me to get started on it). The short version is that the teacher was about to read aloud from a popular trade paperback (not a classic by anyone’s appraisal) that I had not allowed my kids to read due to the mature content. My daughter asked to be excused to another room. This launched a controversy that led to a number of lengthy emails that flew between the teacher and me over the course of several days. Suffice to say, we disagreed in the extreme. Shortly after that, grades were due. My daughter had an A average, but her participation grade dropped suddenly and she wound up with a B in the class. She was beyond furious.

In each case, though, my children learned more from these failures than they ever would have from succeeding in the same situation. My oldest learned that careful research is actually its own reward, no matter what an impartial judge may say. My son has developed persistence that is unrivaled; loss never diminishes his resolve. My youngest, still spunky and opinionated, discovered that true conviction is more important than academic assessment.

None of those valuable life lessons could have been acquired through success. It took failure to teach them the hard lessons.

Knowing this does not mean I want my kids to fail. I don’t. I never celebrate when my beloveds fall short of their objectives. (Frankly, if I had my way, my kids would never even have a bad hair day, let alone a true heartbreak.) When things don’t go their way, I grieve with them and share their disappointment.

But over time, as tears dry up and emotions settle, I do my best to uncover the blessing in the setback. And it’s always there. Always.

50 Thank You Notes

Thank You Becky Garrett

That night 18 years or so ago, I had just about reached the end of my proverbial rope.

Our children were nearly 4, 2, and 3 months when my husband got a job in a town 4 hours away. He began working there during the week and coming home on the weekends; the kids and I stayed local, trying to sell our house so we could all move to our new city together. Weekdays, I was basically a single parent with three children under four, a part time job, and house that needed to be tidy and ready to show potential buyers at a moment’s notice.

That was hard enough but the 2-year-old, Baker, was chronically sick. He'd been diagnosed with asthma when he was 15 months old and often had week-long bouts of wheezing during which he had multiple breathing treatments every day. Many times, I would be nursing my infant (Margaret), with Baker cuddled up right beside me, holding the nebulizer mask to his face.

One of the most difficult issues I faced with my asthmatic son was that he didn't like to take oral medication. And when I say he didn’t like it, I don’t mean he was mildly disinclined. I mean he would run screaming and crying through the house as if I’d just threatened to remove his tongue. No kidding: there was no oral medication he would abide. Those bubblegum flavored pain relievers that kids beg to take because they are so sweet? No deal. Delsym? The delicious cough syrup that tastes like a gourmet orange sauce you'd add to a fancy desert? He spat it out like poison.

So that night, Baker was in the midst of an asthma crisis for which the pediatrician (who we’d seen earlier that day) prescribed oral steroids. At the time—I hear it’s better now—liquid prednisone tasted about how I suspect motor oil would taste if you added a touch of raspberry flavoring. Getting prednisone in that child required the kind of good cop/bad cop pairing that police officers might use to soften the most unrepentant offenders.

Already (yuck alert!) my boy had been throwing up mucus, massive amounts too. It was vile. I explained to Baker that either he had to take the medicine or we’d have to go to the hospital. (I wasn’t exaggerating.) Much to my surprise and relief, he summoned the intestinal fortitude and swallowed the dose.

Victory! A fleeting one.

A few minutes later, while I carried baby Margaret in her sling as I held Baker, perched on my hip, my boy lost the dose, throwing up at least as much as he had earlier, only this time it was tinged an undeniable raspberry color. He’d aimed for the floor, and mostly made it, except for the 1/4 cup or so that landed in my hair and down my back.

Naturally, his wheezing spiked immediately, as did Margaret’s discomfort and therefore her screaming.

Before I even realized it, Trellace, always the helpful child, went to get something to help clean up the mess. Oh look! There’s a refill jug of soft soap! Let’s use that! You guessed it: while trying to get some soap on a cloth to clean up the mess, my four-year-old spilled the ENTIRE jug of soft soap.

(Pause. Have you ever tried to clean up soap? What do you use? Soap is out. And you can’t use water ‘cause that just makes it worse. A trowel maybe? I’m asking, you see, because I don’t know the answer.)

Somehow, in the midst of that disaster of an evening, I found myself on the phone asking for help. I don’t remember now if the phone rang in a Holy Spirit kind of way or if—perhaps even more miraculously—I found the strength to reach out. I couldn’t tell you.

I just know this. When I asked Becky Garrett for help, she came. I think maybe her teen-aged daughter was with her; I’m not sure. But when she left, my hair and my clothes were vomit free, Trellace was in her pj’s, Baker’s breathing sounded less like whistling (thanks to a successful second attempt with the medication), and Margaret was content. Not a trace of soap remained on my floor, my dishes were clean, and my laundry was folded. The cacophony had quieted; harmony was restored.

That’s Becky. She’s the kind of person who brings peace with her. I think chaos just shuts down when she appears. I don’t know how she does it. No idea. But I know that when I was holding on—barely—to the frayed ends of my rope, Becky arrived, gently took the rope from my hands, and gave me a net instead. She looked just like Jesus.

In a continued celebration of my 50th birthday on 7-22-2015, I’m writing 50 thank you notes in 50 weeks. This is number 14. Click on the tag "50 Thank You Notes" to read the others.

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