To Look At Life As It Is

Summers have always been my ‘mommy’ time. I’ve never taught summer school; I’ve always looked at my time away from the classroom as time to focus on my kids, primarily, and also to catch up on all the other life stuff I push off between August to June. These 8 weeks of no students are both well earned and deeply cherished. Summer, in truth, is my time to look at life as it is.

This summer is a bit different. For months, I’ve dreaded summer just because of what I knew it would hold: a house without any hope of my daughter moving back home. People always said this would happen, that college kids come home the first summer, and that usually is their last.

I’ve simultaneously been hoping that wouldn’t be the case while praying that my girl would be so content where she’s living that she wouldn’t need to come home. Selfish versus selfless, I guess.

Turns out, this isn’t the selfish summer. It’s the summer to look at life as it is, rather than how I might want it to be.

The Girl On The Train
Have you read The Girl On The Train? Sure helped pass the time through the Nevada desert.

 

So I headed out on a road trip. If she’s not coming to me, I’m coming to her. I’ve got a few weeks off, and armed with some of my favorite podcasts and this fabulous book on CD, I headed over the mountains, through the Nevada desert and past the Salt Flats to Utah, my girl’s new home.

The first night I headed to her workplace to relax and have a salad on the patio until she got off – 650 miles is a long drive! My heart nearly burst when I saw her there, surrounded by people who have grown to love her. She’s in a good place.

salad on the patio at Kimi's

She was able to piece together two full days off from both jobs, so we headed to the desert: Capitol Reef National Park, to be exact.

to look at life as it is Capitol Reef National Park
Heading up on our first hike at Capitol Reef National Park.

 

The southern Utah desert is not like what most think of as desert; majestic outcroppings of red rock suddenly appear after hours of driving through rolling hills. I couldn’t stop thinking about how in the world this could ever be real. Despite timing our trip during a heat wave (can you feel the 100+ degree heat radiating off those rocks? I certainly could), we doused ourselves with sunscreen, braided our hair and popped on a cap and headed out on our first hike. It was then that I discovered that as much as I’d like to believe my 50-year-old body could keep up with my girl, I had to look at life as it is, and tap out. I opted for a patch of shade and this great book while she bounded up and back without me.

A good book and a shade patch took the sting out a bit.
A good book and a shade patch took the sting out a bit.

 

Luckily, we found a flat, shady trail along the river where we could see petroglyphs from the Fremont Indian Culture. Who would imagine that thousands of years later, a worn out teacher mom would be staring in awe at the stories inscribed on these red rock walls.

Capitol Reef National Park petroglyphs
Capitol Reef National Park petroglyphs.

 

to look at life as it is Capitol Reef National Park

Lesson learned, we slowed it down. Capitol Reef National Park contains nearly a quarter million acres of diverse rock formations, desert plants and animals, and hidden stories of the people who have come and gone through this awe-inspiring canyon. If you look closely, you can see the layers of different rock in the background, each holding moments of time over the last 50-70 million years.

 

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Because the park was surprisingly empty, we resorted to a few selfies.

 

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Capitol Reef was created by the Waterpocket Fold – an 87 mile long ‘wrinkle” created millions of years ago, and created stunning cliffs, domes, natural arches and canyons like this one. We were happy to take the bumpy, but air conditioned drive into the Capitol Gorge. Surrounded by Wingate Sandstone, the towering cliffs reminded me of how small and insignificant we really are.

I can hardly comprehend what prehistoric humans must have thought when they gazed upon these formations, let alone the pioneers who decided this would be a good place to settle.

 

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When we got to the end of the dirt road, we jumped out and began to trek through the canyon. Along the way we spotted more petroglyphs as well as the “Pioneer Register”, where Mormons from the 1800s inscribed their name in the soft walls after clearing this first road through the Gorge.

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One nice aspect of having an adult child is really being able to enjoy traveling together. Gone are the days of packing diaper bags, snacks and sippy cups, or finding a motel that had a slide into the swimming pool. As often as I really do miss those days, I’m learning to embrace life as it is, not how it used to be. Together, we reveled in our room with a view, watching the sunset together. The cows were an added touch.

Capitol Reef National Park reading
The title of this book is not lost on me as I gaze at the vista.

 

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With every vista we uncovered, I stopped and listened. The occasional flapping of wings, the rushing melody of the Fremont River, and the wind caressing the boughs of the Pinon trees reminded me of how, even though we think our stories and our lives are so important, in the big scheme we really are just moments. We will come and go and leave behind evidence of our love and reverence and the beauty of the natural world will stand as the great collector of what has come and gone.

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A towering trail marker. Thank you.

 

Capitol Reef National Park
At the top, evidence that I made it.

 

This is life as it is, not how I might want it to be. I would have loved to climb to the vista of Chimney Rock, but settled from the view from the bottom.

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Driving home, the rain rattled our windshield, moving in and out of sunlight and clouds. As my girl slept, I inhaled gratitude for all that I have in this life, as it is. I have moments of love and sadness; I have seconds of clarity and confusion. I’m learning to open to the ordinary in the extraordinary, and live in the paradox between the light and darkness.

I’m learning to live in life as it is, not what I might want it to be. Because really, isn’t this extraordinary path we find ourselves on just exactly as it is supposed to be?

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.

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Tell Me, What Do People Thank You For?

I’m a huge believer in gratitude. It’s actually had a huge, transformative impact on my life in the last several years, and gratitude makes its way into my writing with great frequency. Every morning I practice rituals – savoring a cup of coffee quietly, listening to the birds outside; setting silent intentions for the day; writing daily pages in my journal, always punctuated by five, detailed things that I am grateful for.

Oftentimes, my gratitudes are somewhat repetitive, but I find comfort in that. It’s my time of self-reflection, of noticing the ordinary things that bring me love and beauty and safety. My gratitudes are oftentimes balanced by what Anne Lamott refers to as “the three essential prayers”: Help, thanks, and wow.

The results are truly amazing.

In her book “Help, Thanks, Wow”, Lamott writes that gratitude, “…without revelation and reframing, life can seem like an endless desert of danger with scratchy sand in your shoes, and yet if we remember or are reminded to pay attention, we find so many sources of hidden water, so many bits and chips and washes of color, in a weed or the gravel or a sunrise. There are so many ways to sweep the sand off our feet. So we say, ‘Oh my God. Thanks.'”

I’ve been working diligently on paying attention in the last few years, especially since I realized that my time at home with my teens was ticking down. I so agree with Lamott when she juxtaposes a life without gratitude as one that scratches and leaves us parched with living in a space of thankfulness, where the world around us shimmers with color and brilliance and just plain ordinary extraordinariness.

I suppose that this practice of intentional gratitude is what made Lindsey Mead’s post catch my eye the other day. Titled “What do people thank you for”, Lindsey shares her discomfort with her perceived self-indulgence of flipping this idea of gratitude back onto herself.

I share that uneasiness – as a mom, a teacher, a wife, I wouldn’t necessarily say I enjoy the parts of my life that simply are thankless – but I do have a certain acceptance of them.

Her post definitely made me think about what people thank me for, which in a way, has deepened my gratitude practice and developed my own desire to do more of these things; not because I am acknowledged for them, but because when I expose them to myself, I realize they are the things that make me feel the best:

People thank me for cooking and baking and sharing meals with them. As a mom/wife, I fill this role with frequent happiness and without question, but I now realize that when I share my love of food, the love comes back.

People thank me for writing about things that they cannot. I started this blog five years ago to help understand my changing life, to help share my feelings about aging and parenting and teaching and loving. I never, ever imagined that other people would react with gratitude when they read something that resonates strongly with them.

People thank me for teaching. Whenever I answer the question “What do you do” with “I’ve taught middle school for the last 25 years”, the most frequent response is “Oh my goodness, I don’t know how you do it. Thank you.” Honestly, that response makes me smile every time. Teaching middle school is like breathing to me – I adore working with my crazy, puberty laden, self-conscious, silly and mostly lovable students. And when people respond, “You are a saint”, I smile, too.

Tell Me, What Do People Thank You For?Recently, my students wrote reflections of the year that thanked me for a variety of different experiences they had in my classroom. The one that made me tear up the most was the one that thanked me for ‘never giving up on him’. I never, ever take students’ thanks for granted.

Writing this post created internal discomfort, to be sure. It’s much easier to write about my own gratitudes; like Lindsey, these things that others thank me for create discomfort and make me wonder why I’m being thanked for them- because these are the moments and experiences and ordinary parts of my life that fill me up and that I can’t imagine living without. Family. Writing. Teaching. Students.

I guess I know what tomorrow’s entries in my gratitude journal will be.

So please tell me, what do people thank you for?

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.

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on the cusp of adulthood

Just Like The Orlando Victims – On The Cusp Of Adulthood

“Mom, does it cost money to get checks?”

I received this millennial-surprise text from my daughter today – honestly, I didn’t even know millennials used checks. I thought that was sort of taboo for the digital generation, but apparently not.

She turned twenty this month, and is spending her first summer in an apartment – not at a camp or on vacation or in her bedroom at home. No, she’s all alone. Not even her boyfriend is around. She’s working two jobs, buying groceries and lugging her laundry downstairs. She’s paying her bills (by check, apparently), having dinner with friends and watching chick-flicks in the movie theater. All these normal, ordinary activities, that today make me pause and worry, just for a moment.

Despite her fierce independence, she’s still learning all these things as she’s balancing on the cusp of adulthood.

In these last days after the Orlando shooting, I’ve been waking up sad every morning. I can’t escape the news, the stories, or the sadness I feel when I think about all the posts I’ve written about shootings and gun violence. I just can’t shake it; today I could hardly leave the house. I just wanted to be quiet, be with my son taking the dog for a walk and planting peppers in our vegetable garden.

As I did all these peaceful, normal activities today, I started thinking about my girl, sitting in the reception area of her workplace. She has a job “in her field” during the day – not making much money, but earning invaluable experience. She’s the first person people see when they enter; she’s responsible for helping things run smoothly, for writing, designing, and event planning.  She works in a restaurant, too- seating customers, making them comfortable, being the first smiling face they see for their dining experience. She’s perfect for both jobs. She’s doing all the normal, adult-like things – just like all the young people in Orlando were – never imagining that it would be their last time.

on the cusp of adulthood
She’s on the cusp of adulthood

She’s on the cusp of adulthood, figuring out what kind of job she wants to look for when she graduates, figuring out who she is.

My son, just sixteen and finding his first job this summer, is testing out adulthood. He’s been hired at the karate school he’s been going to since he was four years old. He’s so excited to be employed, so eager to teach and learn and surround himself with mentors. He’s further from the cusp, but closing in.

Last night, just before bedtime, we heard the list of victims of the Orlando shooter – most on the cusp of adulthood themselves – all spending an evening together, in a place they felt safe and relaxed. All full of life and possibilities and hope for their future. All killed by someone who felt powerless and hateful.

I understand the feeling of being powerless. Each time I learn of gun violence I shiver and feel it washing over me. I write and talk and listen and try to use my voice to make change, but still, change eludes me. I fight the feeling of hate, searching the dark parts of my soul for a way to understand. But still, it often eludes me.

Last night my friend Jen texted me to see how I was doing. We shared our difficulty with getting out to face the day in the midst of such suffering, and at the end of our conversation she typed something that has etched in my mind- something that helps me make today just a bit easier. She said, “Me too…and thank God there are so many more loving than hating people in the world. Blessings ”

I know so many of us feel this, too. As I type tonight, I’m catching the filibuster happening for the last ten hours in Congress. I’m halfway listening to the pundits process every political proclamation, and I’m feeling sad, wondering how many more on the cusp of adulthood will have to suffer before we can come together and make policy that will help mothers like me, and Jen, breathe easier through the night.

So many more loving people in the world. Yes. I’ll breathe that in, hold it close to my heart.

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.

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I’m Just Feeling Sad Today

I couldn’t get out of bed this morning.

It wasn’t because it’s my first official day of vacation, or because I stayed up too late last night – my days of all nighters are long gone, to be sure. The air was cool, the mockingbirds were announcing the dawn, and I knew my children were safely asleep.

After laying there for awhile sipping my coffee in bed, I realized that I’m just feeling sad today.

Before I went to bed last night I couldn’t pull myself away from Twitter and Facebook. Post after post captured my attention, even though I struggled to read the stories about Orlando.

It was a particularly unhealthy thing to do right before bed-I know that. But all day I’d been thinking about what happened, and trying to process what seemed impossible to fathom. I’d been reading blog posts about how to talk to your children about mass shootings, and hearing the angst from the LGBTQ community and their allies.

But what really sent shivers down my spine was the story from Eddie Justice’s mom. Did you see it?

Yesterday, while Eddie’s mother waited to learn if her son was one of the victims in the shooting, she released the images of the last conversation she had with him – via text.

As Eddie hid in a bathroom of the nightclub, knowing the shooter was coming closer and closer, and finally in the bathroom with him, he texted his mom.

“Mommy I love you”.
And later, “I’m gonna die”.

These words haunted me. The vision of this 30 year-old man, cowering in a restroom hoping against hope that he would make it out alive washed over me with a wave of sadness. Thinking of his mother, awakening from sleep to receive this text, I wept.

And when I woke up this morning, I found out that he was right. He did die, along with 48 other young men and women. And I’m just feeling sad today because of it all.

My friend Alexandra Rosas posted on Facebook today that “How can any of us not feel the good fortune of returning from a weekend to a Monday morning’s normal life…The return to normalcy, what so many in Orlando do not have today, and my heart breaks for the weight of the loss they wake up to.” Her words shook me; here I am, in my normal life, knowing my children are safe – and there is Eddie’s mom, knowing he is not.

I’m just feeling sad today. I’m tired of writing my reactions to mass shootings in schools and movie theaters and churches and nightclubs. I’m exasperated by politicians who won’t look at common sense ways to reduce gun violence in our country, and instead take to the airwaves to say how sorry they are children have died. I’m weary from imagining all the ‘what if’ scenarios involving my children and loved ones. I’m drained from having to drag myself to my computer one more time to speak out for ending gun violence because I don’t know what else to do. And I’m sick of prayers, especially from those who prevent policy that could prevent sons from dying in a restroom, texting their mothers.

I'm just feeling sad today

Eventually I pulled myself out of bed today. I did all sorts of normal things: fixed my son a smoothie, watered the garden, and texted my daughter. I cleaned out the laundry room, thinking of things she would need to set up her new apartment. Later, as my son and I walked the dog, I asked him if he’d heard the news about Orlando. He’s sixteen now, and while part of me was wishing he was younger and we could avoid this conversation, I knew it was important we talked. Because even though I’m feeling sad today, I know it’s nothing compared to the sadness of 49 other mothers who would give anything to walk alongside their son, having the hard conversations, and hearing their voice just one more time.

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.

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Turning 50: My Transformation Into Wholeness

Two little girls nestled into their father in the pew in front of me, catching my eye as they jostled for position. The littlest one, no more than two years old, bounced on her daddy’s sturdy leg while her older sister, closer to five, curled her chubby fingers around his arm. The littlest one, blonde, wearing leggings and a pullover top, looked like she insisted she dress herself. Her undone back button and slightly mismatched outfit screamed, “I can do it myself”. Her sister’s sundress was a bit more pulled together, her honey-colored hair was gently braided to the side, and I watched as she fiddled with her headband during the sermon.

I wondered how long they would last, while at the same time, smiled silently in solidarity with a dad who could get two wiggly little girls not only to come to church but to sit quietly.

They honestly didn’t make a peep.

Within a few minutes of their arrival, the eldest removed her purple hairband and began running her fingers through her mid-length hair. Fascinated, I watched as she attempted to re-braid, then twist and contort her tresses into one up-sweep after another. When she tired, or when her hairband gave out, she would so tenderly stroke her sibling’s head as she laid on her father’s lap. I found myself wanting to reach out and braid their hair myself, to recall the memories of running my own fingers through my baby girl’s hair as she wiggled and struggled to get free.

Instead, I sat quietly and watched. I wondered what their story was. Where was their mother? Who helped them get where they were? How was their father, sitting so calmly, going to handle their squirminess when it got physical, as most siblings do?

It was their tenderness with each other that stunned me, really. As we sat, part of a bigger collective of people, I closed my eyes and listened; I thought about all that we humans do to each other when we get ‘tired’ of the way we are, or the way we look, or how our neighbor is acting. I thought about the lack of tenderness in our society and the blatant disregard many people have to simply stop, pause, look, and listen to others.

I thought about the common goals we all have, and how I see them in my middle school classroom every day.

The search for wholeness. For identity. For belonging. For authenticity.

When my kids were little, I remember often wondering what would be the measure of a successful day; sometimes, the simplest acts of survival were filled with such satisfaction. Getting up, getting dressed and figuring out how to balance mothering and teaching and marriage were my survival tasks. And on the days when it was good, I tried to set an intention to enjoy it.

And on the days when it wasn’t, I felt alone. I felt as if I must be missing something – that here I was, this educated, white woman living in a safe home in a peaceful state with two healthy babies, a job, and enough money to buy the food we needed, and yet still, my story wasn’t complete. I was now turning 50; this transformation into motherhood, I felt, should have been simpler.

Some people told me I was thinking too hard.

Some told me to relax, not to worry.

But I kept telling myself that someday, I would get there. That all I had was all I needed. That this transformation to the next chapter in my story would take time.

I was impatient. Like the five-year-old in front of me, I twisted and twirled and wrapped myself into all sorts of shapes, hoping that with any luck I’d find the one that stuck. I didn’t realize that what I was right in the middle of was what I needed. I was in the process of shaping wholeness; I just wasn’t seeing it.

Salt Lake City hike, half-way up.
Salt Lake City hike, half-way up.

Turning 50 has felt like a tipping point this year; mid-life, I can see the horizon in front of me with such an acute clarity. I feel firmly planted in my life. I’m learning to pay attention, to not only listen to my story but to share it, to pay it forward.

Maybe that’s why I reached out to help the little girl in front of me, clumsily attempting to part her hair and twirl it into a messy bun. My whispered offer of assistance denied, I sat back and breathed in. The hidden wholeness I wouldn’t have seen, couldn’t have seen, when my baby was five years old settled around me like a warm shawl. I felt it as the memories radiated through my being, resting so comfortably, so comfortingly, around my heart.

A daily reminder to be a possibilitarian.
A daily reminder to be a possibilitarian.

And in that moment, I set an intention to look for signs of transformation around me, to twist myself outside of my comfort zone, to make myself acknowledge the wholeness that I’ve been searching for, and that is right here in this ordinary day.

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.

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