clearing out

Clearing Out and Making Space For Creativity

I spent the summer clearing out.

Clearing In Springtime

It started in May, actually, when my classroom began to feel like the walls were closing in. I needed space. Every day after school I would open something, fill the recycle bin, scrutinize and smile and either toss or find a new home.

 

clearing
What a mess…

I turned my classroom inside out before leaving in June; when I came back in early July after the carpets had been scrubbed clean and all 900 square feet felt fresh and everything was stacked neatly on top of my tables. So of course, I flipped it all around.

The back went to the front, the sides swapped spaces. Bean bags and folding chairs stacked in the center of the room on tables as I worked on creating more structure. I worked from the outside in, rearranging bookshelves and my teacher desk. I nestled new/old coffee tables in nooks with books and stools, and created AVID corners and reading spaces.

clearing
Starting to take shape…

Old paper ripped from the walls, became new blank bulletin board spaces. Wonder walls and student shout out spots smiled in anticipation of what would come in August… and I worked nearly all summer clearing out my classroom space until I could close the door and know that when school began August 27, I would be ready.

Ha.

Clearing At Home

At home, it wasn’t much different. The day after school let out in June, literally and figuratively, I opened drawers I hadn’t looked into for years. I pulled out all the linens and papers and blankets and stuff….and then I gently lifted them, breathed in the scent of memories and either gently folded and returned them to a place of honor, or let them go.

I knew what was propelling me, that life was tipping out of balance and only by clearing, by bringing awareness to the places in my life that I habitate and nest deeply, would I embrace all the change.

Before the end of July, I cleared out nearly every room in my house.  It was messy, and yes, a bit incomplete. There were tears of joy and overwhelming washes of memories that brought me down. I couldn’t go one room at a time; rather, I seemed to spiral from here to there depending on how the spirit moved me. It didn’t make much sense, but inevitably after I completed one part, an ease came over me. A sense of completion, of control, of calm.

Vaclav Havel said, I am not sure one is capable of reflecting absurdity without having a strong sense of meaning. Absurdity makes sense only against a meaningful background. It is the deeper meaning that is shedding light on the absurdity. There must be a vanish point, a metaphysical horizon if you will where absurdity and meaning merge.” Shedding layers of ‘stuff’ allowed me to shine a light on what means the most – it allowed the ‘absurdity and meaning’ of 22 years of parenting to merge and push me towards what was not only meaningful but possible.

Every Single Day

It became a daily practice. Like an addict, I fed on the need to bring balance and order. To create space for the change to wash in and out while my baby, my teenage son, wandered in and out of the house as he relished his last few months in the only home he’s ever known.

I spent much of the summer alone, in solitude. Aside from the obligatory summer excursions with the family (which I loved), I stayed at home, happily filling my days with clearing. 

May Sarton once said, “There is no place more intimate than the spirit alone,” and for me, the intimacy brought with clearing out gave me time to think. What would this next phase of life be like, alone with just a husband and a dog and no children in and out all day? What would my teaching transform into? For 22 of my last 28 years of ‘first days of school,’ I’ve juggled being that teacher-mom, trying not to show how I was always feeling split in two.

Clearing and Creativity

And to be honest, I have no idea. Two weeks after dropping off C at college and starting the new school year the very next day, my rhythm isn’t there yet. I’m exhausted, edgy, eager, curious, nervous, and mostly cannot imagine how to jump-start creativity. Seems like with all this clearing, with all this open space I should be oozing with ideas and the time to bring them to the surface.

clearing out

It’s making me a bit frightened, actually. I want to force it into shape, to dump it all out and mold a plan that seems unmistakenly possible. Things need to fall into place before me, wide and clear and clean. I feel the call to creative work – the years and years under me, of thinking about this time and feeling the foundation that I’ve been building with this blog, with my PLN. with my pushing myself into something that while at times cloudy and obscure, it seems like might just be starting to glitter. 

Feeding The Call

The poet Mary Oliver wrote that “The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.” 

I don’t want to push down this clearing and cleansing and creativity that is opening right in front of my eyes. I want to jump in, feet first, and see where I pop up, to give myself permission to fill those empty shelves with new ideas and opportunities. And maybe, embracing the change for once, not shrinking from it. Just as the smoke is finally clearing from the summer skies, I know this will happen. Eventually.

Patience, Jen. Patience.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle PlusYelp

What To Learn When You Want To Grow

What To Learn When You Want To Grow

My own children have officially launched, leaving me wondering, questioning, considering how now to become the very best version of myself as I move into another phase, one without my children here to direct my time. It’s still important for me to learn and grow and progress.

I’ve done my best with my kids and now life is different, ready to teach me new lessons, I hope! But right now, I need to keep busy – actively trying to nurture my mind and develop as a person, or it’s highly likely I’ll just stagnate. This isn’t ideal when I really want to flourish in this next phase of life. This is why committing to pushing myself, going back to school, and taking up new interests and hobbies can be very much a benefit. But where to start? And what kinds of things should you be looking to learn when you want to grow? Let’s take a look at a few ideas I’m mulling over:

Learn A Language

One of the very first topics that can help you to grow and develop is languages. When you can acquire a new language, you’re really broadening your horizons and opening up your mind to new possibilities. If you’ve always wanted to be able to speak another language, then this is something that you really should look to do. But do it in a way that really works for you. Book an online course, get a tutor, or even head overseas to master the language in the native country. Just do what you feel is best for you to be able to really grow as a person and speak a new language. I’ve been using Duolingo to work on my Spanish!

Learn A Craft

Or perhaps you’re not that interested in languages, and you’d rather learn a craft? Why not take a look at these crafts to make with DIY Joy and see if you feel inspired. From knitting to baking to even things like makeup artistry, here you’ll be looking to discover something that can give you a new skill for your own personal enjoyment, or inspire a new business venture for you. Baking has always been a stress reliever for me, but now that there are no children at home to eat my treats I’m going to have to bring them to school…

learn

Learn Coding

Right now, the internet and technology are so huge. So why not be apart of that and learn to code? Last year I used some coding hyperdocs in my classroom – you can try them out here. If you do have an interest in this area, coding is a great skill to understand for your own personal internet use and if you want to go into business too.

Learn To Teach

Maya Angelou said, “When you get, give. When you learn, teach.” Now, this can mean that you do want to go back to school and get your teacher’s credential, or maybe start by volunteering in a classroom – teachers always need help. When you love learning, it’s highly likely that you’ll be passionate about teaching too. So why not look to share your love of learning with children or seniors?

Learn Business Skills

Another skill area to consider involves business. Have you always wanted to launch your own company? Create a blog to showcase your creativity? Then why not try it out?

Blogging has turned into a big side job for me – it’s amazing how much I’ve had to learn about marketing, social media, and growing my professional networks. Read up on business skills online and with books. Find key business solutions that allow you to prevent fraud with Jumio’s Netverify or create a website with Wix. Scroll through blogs and even think about getting your MBA so that you could start off on your own.

If you’re an empty nester like me, consider investing in yourself. Learn and grow!

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle PlusYelp

hovering

Hovering: Touching Down Gently For Endings and Beginnings

I feel like I’m hovering.

Early spring

It started a few months ago, back in the early spring,  when I did a huge garden cut back. Two huge buddleia bushes cut to half their size on the advice of my mom, who reminded me they could take a good pruning. Moms always know best.

I’ve waited and watched them respond, starting with small green buds springing out from the narrow branches. Eventually, they began bending in the wind and then gently bursting forth into regal purple bloom just like mom said. I’ve watched what I’m pretty sure was a Swallowtail and a Monarch lightly land on the cone-shaped blooms, taking what they need and moving on. The bushtits (yes, it’s a type of tiny bird) and doves flit above and below, using the foliage to mask their presence.

hovering

May hovering

In May, I traveled to Utah to be part of Lily’s college graduation, yet constantly felt just on the edge of the celebration, the ceremony, and the photos. I hovered in her first non-college apartment, her first with her boyfriend, not wanting to make too much of my imprint on their space. I met her first dog. After graduation parties, drinking games, the late night jaunt to the neighborhood pub – I found myself in each space, hanging on to my be-here-now mantra, yet feeling part of and not belonging all the same.

Ellie the Doubledoodle, Lily, Cam and me after graduation.

End of the school year

Wrapping up the end of the school year in June, my “purge party” that somehow felt so necessary – a desperately needed state change, flipping everything that I’ve had for the last 16 years of being in that cozy orange-walled room, my students hovering not wanting to see the school year end – and me not wanting to face the change the next year would bring.

I’ve always struggled with endings and beginnings.

Graduation

The next night, sticking to the plastic seats on my alma mater’s field, I was waiting, watching, hovering on the edges of the photos and hugs as Cameron realized his official end to what he’s required to do – and poised to adventure off into what he wants to do. Lily’s graduation I was far from hovering – full of tears and pride and laughter, I missed being in the moment as she walked across the stage. This time, I wanted to be there. And I was there, yet not fully present. Suspended, not needing support, poised for tears and surprised at the lack flowing down my cheeks as I watched him take his place among the graduates.

At the last minute, I tried to snap a photo of the two of us – this is all I got.

I chaperoned grad night, felt proud of my former AVID students celebrating their first phase of education. Not wanting to be accused of hovering over my own son as he sank into his own joy of endings and beginnings, I kept to myself.

The next night I dipped down into Cam’s grad party, to the visit with my daughter and the Google Boot Camp I was somehow teaching. Suspended. Hovering over my emotions, knowing if I gave in I couldn’t stop.

Like the buddleia, I’m cut back. Lost half my frame, stripped down to bare bone. I’m tired. I’m raw from stuffing emotions down to make it through one more day, one more event. I’m tired of dodging yet another milestone zooming towards me.

hovering

August

So bare, it turns out, that I couldn’t put my thoughts out for consumption until now. I needed to linger with my feelings for two more months, to push them in and pull them out until now. The final ten days are laid bare before me. Now, when the empty nest is exposed. When I really no longer have the luxury of hovering. I really needed to be present and here, not anxious in the background. When I’ve recovered from pruning, and feel bloom bursting forth once again.

The buddleia is in full bloom now. The hummingbirds have taken over the bush, dropping in to take what they need. Like helicopters they hover, waiting for the precise moment to touch down – to hit the target and lightly brush the surface, just long enough for release, then in a burst of lift, take off sideways, moving skyward towards their next stop.

Whoever said life went in a straight line…I guess maybe I’m a helicopter parent after all.

hovering

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle PlusYelp

backstory

Understanding Our Backstory – A Little Kindness Goes A Long Way

Understanding Our Backstory – A Little Kindness Goes A Long Way

“It is quite true what philosophy says; that life must be understood backwards. But one forgets the other principle: that is must be lived forwards.”

– Soren Kierkegaard

I was the second person to board the very early morning flight from Chicago to Raleigh – and the flight attendant took one look at me and reacted with what I believe to be genuine kindness. “I need you to answer one question for me,” he said. His eyes scanned over my shoulder, searching behind me on the gangway for the rest of the passengers. I really wasn’t in the mood for games. Travel isn’t easy, and I was tired. Teacher tired. End of the school year teacher tired.The kind of tired that only teachers – or new moms – know. The kind of tired where you’ve been caring for someone else at the expense of yourself.

I must have looked as dumbstruck as I felt because he continued. “The question is, what can I do to help you?” Wait – what? YOU want to help ME?

Honestly, I could only focus on the origin of his accent. Russian? Australian? I seriously questioned who he was talking to, stunned as I was. “Why don’t you just take a seat and let me take your bags?” he questioned, patiently waiting for me to step into the empty plane. At this point, I’m still having trouble processing and it’s getting embarrassing. This is Southwest Airlines, after all. Coach. Flight attendants are usually friendly, but NO ONE ever treats me like this. Gently he eased my carry on from my tightly gripped fingers and instructed me to sit anywhere.

Finally settled into my seat, he came up behind me and whispered “Remember – just leave all your stress back at the gate,” and kindly helped my husband and hundreds of other tired travelers prepare for their flight.

backstory

Choosing Kindness

How many times have people in my life chosen kindness at just the right moment- and I don’t remember them. Playing this all back in my mind, I hope he knows what a difference he made to me that day. It wasn’t anything earth-shattering or tragic that was going on, but I was spent. He had no idea, I’m sure, about anything having to do with me or my story. But taking those few moments to check in with me, to pay attention, made all the difference.

I’d just finished reading a fabulous novel, All The Missing Girls, before boarding and couldn’t get it out of my mind (be sure to check out my upcoming review and ‘Best of 2018′ book list to be posted soon). I struggled a bit with the narrative as it started with the ending and worked backward. In had to think, to get used to the reverse cadence of the plot and really pay attention to the details.

It really made me think about the backstory of my life – of my children’s, my students’ lives. How elusive it can be, even when we try to not hold onto it. How it can squeeze up at the most profound, unexpected times, only to whiplash our thinking.

Our backstory can frame the plot of our lives, even when we don’t pay attention to it; it can chart our course.

What is the backstory of your life?

It’s probably not a question we can ask directly, but one we should directly pay attention to. Just imagine what life could be like if we knew more about each other. Would we be more empathetic? Compassionate? Or less tolerant, figuring we should know better?

What’s the backstory of my life?

Thirty-six years after my parent’s divorce and I still feel that chasm they created. There’s no blame. No right or wrong. It just is. How many of my students are dealing with their own divorce backstory that I don’t have a whisper of information about? Have my own children learned about life and love from watching me and their dad? How has my divorce backstory influenced me from living my parenting life forward?

Twenty-eight years after my first day of teaching I’m once again changing course with my career. I started before NCLB – and still, I shudder at the idea of teaching like it’s 1991. It’s only by looking at my teaching backstory that it comes into focus. I know I haven’t been a perfect teacher; I know I’ve made mistakes. But I can’t stay there – that would be too easy. I can’t keep one foot in the past and expect to make it into the present…I’m just not that flexible. I have to live my teaching life forward.

backstory
Early parenthood, 1996.

Twenty-two years after my first child, I’m definitely understanding life in reverse. She finshed college, launching now into her adult life. My baby is leaving soon, moving across the country. I’ve almost got an empty nest…isn’t that a perfect excuse for understanding life backwards? Second guessing everything I didn’t do? Seeing where a + b didn’t exactly = C, but realizing that it’s ok? I understand fully Catlin Tucker’s comparison of teaching and parenting as a ‘delicate dance’. Suddenly, I’m realizing that the 22 years of parenting have really become the backstory of my teaching life.

Life must be understood backwards.

That one, short moment of kindness by a flight attendant – a moment like so many others that we don’t even realize can define our future selves and inform how we see ourselves. And as parents how many of those moments define our children; how does our back story cause our children’s reflection to shimmer or shatter?

backstory

Life must be understood backwards, yet lived forwards. I don’t think we can avoid it – or embrace it. It just is. It’s the gift of aging. Maybe all we can do is just choose kindness – simply asking someone what you can do for THEM. You never know whose story you might be changing.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle PlusYelp

four agreements

Four Agreements and Trying To Be Real

The Four Agreements and Trying To Be Real

Have you read The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz? I just finished my second read – I often re-read books in different periods of my life and find when I do, there is a reason.

This has been (and is still) a year of embracing change. It’s a year of as many endings as beginnings, of tears of happiness and fear of the unknown. Change is hard for me, despite how much I tell myself to embrace and enjoy and find the silver lining.

four agreements

And it’s not just with my children graduating and moving on to new stages of their lives. It’s not just me shifting from full-time mom to an empty-nester wondering how I’ll fill the afternoons and evenings without having a child wandering in and out of the house.

Part of is a shift in me – of stepping into a new phase of life where I’m feeling the gratitude of launching my children into the world, and feeling the thunder of a new shift happening in my career.

I don’t know what it is quite yet, but I do know the Universe is rumbling and gearing up, the earth beneath me is beginning to vibrate with possibilities I haven’t imagined until now.

I first read The Four Agreements years ago – I’m not entirely sure why I picked it up for the first time. Maybe it was one of those titles I’d heard about and figured I should read, for cultural literacy’s sake.

four agreements

It made an impression but never was a guiding force.

It surfaced again last month, finding its way to my bedside table and into my lap for morning reading. I took it a chapter at a time, slowly digesting the lessons and realizing I had been wrong – the four agreements really were guiding me, I just hadn’t been paying enough attention.

The Universe has a funny way of placing just what we need in our path. I’d been re-reading notes jotted down months ago while listening to Ali MacGraw’s Super Soul Sunday podcast (you can listen to it here) – after my first listen, I’d written about finding my true self, but now, thinking about her stories and Don Miguel Ruiz’s four agreements made sense in such a different way.

Living your authentic life, finding the gratitude of each day is wrapped up in Ruiz’s words, his urge to:

1. Be impeccable with your word,

2. Don’t take anything personally,

3. Don’t make assumptions, and

4. Always do your best.

Makes perfect sense, right? Or is it a case of ‘easier-said-than-done’?

In my teaching life and my personal life, these four agreements are there every day, intertwined with spirituality, kindness, compassion, and non-judgment. Trying to remember that connecting with those in my presence is where I find the deepest joy, and that really, our pain is all the same.

The Four Agreements:

Being impeccable with my word means pausing, thinking, and honoring the power of language. Words CAN hurt, but they can also soothe, comfort, warm and empower us. Being impeccable with my word means honoring the time when being silent is stronger than yelling, and when breaking my silence requires courage.

Not taking anything personally is hard. Teachers tend to take everything personally. It’s a profession where many, many people think because they went to school, they can tell me (and other educators) how it should be done. These types of comments force me to remember it’s not me – it’s them. If I take it personally then I am ‘eating their emotional garbage’, and allowing their beliefs to impact my own ability to life MY authentic life.

Ruiz reminds us that making assumptions leads us to believe an often false truth, all because we don’t have the courage to question. Finding our own voice, realizing that not everyone in the world thinks as we do, and breaking bad habits with clear communication puts us on the path to personal freedom.

Always do your best – in my teaching world, kids feel pressure to BE the best. But that’s infinitely different than DOING your best. I struggle with helping kids realize that when you feel you’ve done your best, that’s good enough. Compete against yourself, not others. Go YOUR extra mile, and then rest. It’s not an easy concept. The last words I say to my son as he leaves each morning? “Do your best” and “I love you”.  I feel as if it’s my best gift I can offer as he ventures out into his day; Ihope when he’s not at home next year, those two phrases echo in his mind as he learns how to make his way on his own.

I won’t be able to connect with him every day – I won’t even hear from him every week, I’m sure. But hopefully, if I’ve done something right, the four agreements have been absorbed into his being the way they have in mine.

Do yourself a favor this week – grab a copy of this tremendous book, and savor it. Make this post the reason to bring the four agreements into your life – it may just change your life.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle PlusYelp