authenticity reflection

Authenticity: When I Wonder If I Am Enough

Authenticity: When I Wonder If I Am Enough

I didn’t really set out to be a teacher – or a parent. I wasn’t a child who dreamed of my ‘perfect’ career or ‘perfect’ family. I didn’t have names picked out for my future children. I rarely thought about life too far in advance. I mostly did what I needed to do, took the side roads instead of the highway, and generally landed on my feet – often times a bit wobbly or off center, but not completely upside down.

At least not more than once or twice.

The fact that teaching and parenting have defined me for 27 years is really quite surprising.

I’m grateful for my teaching job. I’m told I’m good at it; I’ve stuck with teaching middle school, through three different districts, dozens of principals and multiple iterations of teaching kids. Yes, the content and class titles have changed, but not my focus: kids first, content second.

And I’m grateful for my parenting job. I’m thinking I’m pretty good at it; my oldest is graduating from college, my youngest from high school. Neither has been in ‘trouble’, they care about people and take their education seriously. They are good humans. And they still check in with mom and dad and put up with my innate tendency to worry and create elaborate ‘what if’ scenarios in my head.

And yet, still, those moments creep up on me, silent and stealthy and surprising with their intensity – moments when doubt creeps in, wraps like a tourniquet around my forehead and squeezes out my confidence. The moments that I’m learning to beat down, to thrash out at with a violence built up over half a century of battling self-doubt.

I’ve been rolling around this idea for awhile now, waiting for just the right inspiration – and today, the Universe responded with a quote from Coco Chanel in my “Year of Daily Joy” guided journal: “How many cares one loses when one decides not to be something, but someone.”

authenticity

I honestly think that’s where I am right now: deciding to be someONE. I’m fairly certain it has to do with being 50+, with having a supportive husband who helps me along a path that just feels like the right one to take – even when I’ve got no other justification than that. I would bet that it has to do with feeling supported in my work – but administrators, colleagues, parents, and students who allow me to succeed and fail, who listen to my audacious ideas and trust me enough to join in.

Authenticity: loving fiercely

And I know for sure that my children, the two humans who have taught me the most in life, are at the core of my decision. Loving fiercely, parenting two spirits that aren’t afraid to call me out and show me their side of the story, enable me to look in the mirror every day and ask, “Am I enough by THEIR standards?”

authenticity

Knowing that if I walk my talk, if I believe in my power enough to show them they can believe in theirs, is flexing my authenticity muscle. With every risk I take, with every failure and stumble and crash I hope I’m showing them that I care. That I believe in searching for fulfillment for myself and being open to what the Universe has in mind…even when I want nothing more than to stay under the soft covers of my bed and listen to the birds chirping outside on a cloudy morning.

Martha Beck says, “Refusing to risk is like allowing a muscle to atrophy; it doesn’t hurt, but when the muscle isn’t fulfilling its purpose, it loses whatever strength it has.” 

I love thinking of these moments of wondering if I’m enough like a muscle I need to exercise. We all have authenticity inside, wrapping our bones and covering our hearts with abundance and love. Why have so many, like me, found it easier to refuse to risk, to scramble under the covers instead of undertaking the hard work of finding – and cultivating – it?

I have struggled most of my life with a paralysis of perfectionism. I don’t know where it comes from or why, and I honestly don’t care.

What I do care about, however, is how this paralysis impacts my ability to find authenticity-in my parenting, my teaching, my writing, and my daily interactions with strangers and friends. Part of that is recognizing that when the Universe sends me former students who remind me I was their ‘favorite’ teacher, or when my son responds with a hug to my request to spend more than an hour a day together, or when I connect with a stranger on Twitter who honors my work, I am making a difference.

Authenticity: Being enough

I care about authenticity. I also care deeply about being ‘enough’. So I’ll show up, I’ll puff out my chest when I’m feeling less than brave, and I’ll live. I’ll take the risk. I’ll flex the muscle. I’ll show the Universe more love. I’ll do things that I want to do, and I won’t let perfectionism paralyze me ever again.

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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Doing Good When People In The The World Are Doing Bad Things

Doing Good When People In The The World Are Doing Bad Things

Our connectivity is a wonderful thing – but with all the good, also comes the challenging.

Last week, listening to the terror and violence of another school shooting left me frustrated, angry, and so very sad. At times like this, being a teacher, it takes a tremendous amount of positivity and trust to walk into a classroom each day, wondering if like so many others, this ordinary day will end up going down in history.

It makes it hard to focus on the good – but in the end, that’s what I have to do. I have to trust in the beauty of people, in my desire to make the world a better place.

doing good

The world may, overall, be a beautiful, positive place that has more good than bad, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make it even better. Most people have a desire to do good in the world, especially if they’ve been watching the negative news, but don’t really have an understanding of what they can do. Well, there’s good news: there’s plenty of things that you can do. Indeed, the potential stretches across many different facets of life, such as our careers, hobbies, and roles in the community. Take a read of some of the ways you can make a difference below:

What Can You Bring?

Everyone has something they’re good at. Discovering what you’re good at will be key to figuring out where you can make a positive impact. For example, if you’re a master organizer, then you might want to consider organizing local groups. Campaigning is one of the most effective ways to make a positive difference in your local community, but not everyone wants to play this role. Are you a good writer? Then start a blog, and educate other people about the world. find some platform to use your voice to make a difference.

Looking at your Career

Of course, how much time you can spend making the world a better place will depend on how much free time you have. You do, after all, need to make sure that your job is well taken care of first. But what if your job enabled you to make a positive impact? Take a look at careers in public safety, education, healthcare, or social work, and it will. People tend to think that doing good is something that you can only do in your spare time, but this isn’t true; many jobs allow you to earn a living and make a positive contribution at the same time. If you make doing good a priority, you will find a way to integrate it into all aspects of your life.

Small Acts

We’ve talked so far about the big things you can do in life. But the truth is, you don’t have to over complicate your desire to do good things. Indeed, some of the most powerful contributions are the small ones! Giving up an hour of your time to volunteer, or agreeing to donate a percentage of your income to charitable causes, or any other small gesture can have a ripple effect that stretches beyond the initial deed. If you don’t have the time to do more or don’t know where to start, then just start small and see where it takes you.

Being the Change

Finally, remember that make the world a better place doesn’t just mean going out and affecting other people. It starts with you. Gandhi taught us to “be the change we want to see in the world.” It’s a simple phrase, but oh so effective. Think about the global issues that you’re most affected by, and make sure you’re not contributing to them. You never know who else you might influence just by being the best version of yourself.

You’re not going to solve all the problems by yourself, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try: you might solve one of them! And along the way, you’ll be setting an example for those around you, building momentum, and doing good. Together, we can achieve great things!

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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embrace change

Being Brave Enough To Embrace Change

“Just where you are – that’s the place to start” ~ Pema Chodron

The next six months are a countdown in my life – or a count up, depending on how I look at it. That’s the issue right there, actually: am I brave enough to embrace change?

Ever since Lily went away to college Cam has been watching me – aware of my shifting focus from her to him, noticing my changing routines, a slight twist towards examining myself as the mom of a college kid, and as a result of his observant mom-study, he declared that he “realized how hard I took it when Lily left, so he needs to start preparing me now.”

Way to play on my anxieties, kid.

I suppose in his wisdom there’s some truth to his strategy. I DID take it hard – I knew it was coming, I tried to prepare, but it wasn’t until I was sitting in her convocation freshman year that I could start to verbalize what I was feeling.

I don’t expect a repeat next August when Cam moves across the country. Yes- he’s moving to Boston, just about as far as he could go from California. He was accepted early decision to his dream school, and without hesitation, he committed. Done deal, he’s going.

Early decision is kind of nice, except for the fact that instead of starting my empty next visualization in May with most of the other parents-of-seniors, he kindly gave me five extra months of it.

The silver lining? It made choosing my mantra for 2018 quite simple: EMBRACE CHANGE.

embrace changeI’ve been procrastinating on actually writing about the impending change for months. I guess that’s a strategy – avoidance, right? If I don’t think about it, it won’t happen…except, he’s 18 and reminding me daily that he’s an adult and that I should get used to it. As the days pass, he’s less and less patient with me, and I’m finding myself more and more often in my upstairs writing perch, candles lit, gazing out the window and wondering if I’m actually brave enough to break my own heart….as a mother.

Now logically, I know there’s no choice. My heart will break a little more each day, the cracks carefully covered with smiles and hugs and making his favorite meals. I’ll play along with the ‘when I”m in Boston’ talk, and remind him that roommates don’t like people who leave their wet towels on the floor. I’ll grin when he comes in for a hug now and then, and compliment him when his room looks clean and he goes out of his way to fill the gas tank. I’ll be grateful that he texts me from his girlfriend’s house, and rest easy knowing that at least her parents are getting to see what a nice young man he’s becoming during all the free time he spends hanging out with them, not us.

And I’ll let go of what’s no longer serving me – the story of all the things I thought I would do when he was little, the trips we never took, the books I never read aloud. I’ll let go of all that part that tells me what I should have done…and try to hang on to what I did.

I was recently listening to Cheryl Strayed talk about her writing and her reflections on motherhood, and she shared a story about making decisions as a mother that really resonated with me. No one prepares us for motherhood; we do the best we can with what we have, and hope that everything turns out ok. Along the way, we learn to navigate the rough patches, smooth the hurt feelings and wipe away the tears.

She reminded me of one of the most important lessons that motherhood has taught me: to do things that scare me and to let my kids do them, too. Making decisions for our children is a hard habit to break, even when we’ve been practicing for years. Sometimes when I tell other parents that my kids both chose colleges outside of California they tell me that they would never let their kids move so far away. I hear all sorts of excuses, but really, all I can think is how could I forgive myself if I never let them fly?

I have to be honest – I KNOW I’m brave enough to embrace change. I’m sure I will survive. I made it through Cam’s adventures at the ski academy, and Lily moving to Utah. I know that like all those other times when I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have a child that was any older than they were at that exact moment – that just like then, I’m going to find that with change comes joy just on the other side. With change comes a new opportunity to push away what isn’t working and amplify what is.

I wear my mantras on my wrist, daily reminders of the words I promise myself. Courage. Trust the journey. Be here now. And now, embrace change. I trace my fingers over the letters, I twist and bend and alter their position but always, always the words are right there to remind me that yes, I am here and yes, I can.

Being brave enough to embrace change isn’t easy – but it’s worth it. I’m going to trust in that.

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 18

He’s Turning 18

The thick envelope arrived in the mail yesterday, blue lettering screaming “OPEN IMMEDIATELY” and “YOU”VE MADE IT”!

It might have just as well said “REMINDER: THE END OF CHILDHOOD IS HERE”.

It wasn’t the college admissions response – we have another month or so for that one.

Instead, as I slit open the “TIME SENSITIVE” stamp reminding me to ‘celebrate these moments’, out tumbled direct, glaring evidence that he’s turning 18, an adult, and the 12 years of education-under-my-roof is about to end.

I’d actually have been more prepared for the college response – that’s one I’ve predicted, played over and over in my mind. I know next year he’ll be living somewhere east of the Mississippi, far away from mountains and the Pacific Ocean just a hill-hop from our house. There was no box checked on his Common App shouting, “Yes, you should stay within driving distance from your mother” – only ambitious dreams of east coast living beacon to his 18-year-old self.

And that’s ok. This is my second time around for college birthing; it’s not a huge shock.

But as the four rectangular glossies shouting ‘Graduate 2018’ tumbled from the envelope, a different kind of jolt hit me. My boy, my baby, my 6-foot-something little guy smiled back at me in sixteen different poses, tuxedo-clad and cap and gown gleaming. His gleaming white teeth, no longer hidden with silver and turquoise appendages blared a smile so bright and proud I did a double take. That’s my Cam, smiling with glee and excitement to celebrate his accomplishment. He’s turning 18, he’s graduating, and it’s time sensitive.

on turning 18
18th birthday celebration!

When Cam was little, he would talk to anyone. His spirit was contagious – no plumber, stranger waiting in line, or colleague at work was immune to his charm. He always had some sort of quip or question and if that didn’t work, he’d shimmy up the nearest pole/wall/tree branch to get their attention. But it in the quietest way possible. Cam has never been a loud type of ‘look at me’ kid, instead choosing a stealth-like approach to scare the crap out of parents who had no idea what he was capable of, while his dad and I took deep breaths and accepted who he was.

Turning 18 has changed nothing, in some respects.

At the beginning of last summer, he talked his way into an internship at a venture-capital firm. Three times a week he’d throw a crisp dress shirt over his sinewy frame, lace up his one pair of non-athletic shoes and take the bus over the river to downtown, take the elevator up to the 26th floor and join a group of entrepreneurs decades older than him for a day of research, listening to start up companies pitch their ideas and business lunches with the CEO.

And he got a promotion.

All fall he huddled in his room, balancing school work and an after-school job with writing and rewriting college admissions essays, focused on what he deemed ‘the reason he went to high school’. This kid is ready for his next step. Only occasionally would he peek into the kitchen as I chopped chicken for enchiladas or sat down next to me in the study, interrupting my grading or writing or laundry folding – all of which I gladly abandoned for the chance to get a glimpse into what’s going on in his world.

Shortly after turning 18, he announced he’s moving into a new phase in life and would appreciate only ‘on-demand’ parenting from this point forward. “What exactly is on-demand parenting?” I asked, to which he responded, “You know – when I need parenting, I’ll ask for it.”

Ha. The fact that he doesn’t think he’ll ever see a time when I might have something to add BEFORE he needs it is so typically Cam, so typically 18.

On turning 18
On a recent trip to Big Sur, CA.

We’ve debated curfews and weekends away with ‘the boys’, tracking his whereabouts on his phone and exactly what he should be required to do on his own now that he is suddenly an ‘adult’. He’s smart enough to remember what I was like when his sister left for college and says he’s preparing me for his departure early so it ‘doesn’t hit me so hard’. Somehow I think that’s not possible.

Twenty days from now his first college decisions should start rolling in, more envelopes with not only answers but evidence of the passage of time, the passing of childhood. And just like this week, I’m sure I’ll watch with an eagerness only the mom of an eighteen-year-old knows as he slides deftly open the envelope to reveal his future. I’ll be prepared to hug him tight, either way, to remind him of how proud I am of the adult he’s become, and no matter what, this is only the beginning of the next plot twist of his life.

And as soon as he leaves the room, I’ll likely shed some tears and head back to my writing to start the next part of his story. I hope you’ll ride this one out with me – I’m going to need you.

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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When Your Child Leaves For College

What To Say When Your Child Leaves For College

Three years ago, on this day in 2014, I was wondering what to say when I dropped my daughter off at college. It should have been simple, right? I write voraciously. I’m an educator. I’ve hundreds of kids leave the comfort of home and be absolutely fine. I’ve had good friends to mentor me through what to expect, just like during pregnancy. When your child leaves for college was most certainly a topic on the tip of my consciousness.

But on that day, when it was my 18-year-old baby girl launching off to another state, I was stuck.

I drafted and erased and revised and published getting ready for graduation essays, college tour recaps and leaving home for spending the summers at Mt. Hood. I’d survived a year with my 8th-grade son unexpectedly moving to the mountains to train for the Junior Olympics, yet I was a wreck figuring out how to handle his accident 10 days before her college move in day, a flooded kitchen and my own over-the-top anxiety. This definitely was not going according to plan.

When Your Child Leaves For College

And on this day, three years later, Facebook reminds me of our beautiful, bittersweet drive across the Utah Salt Flats, 10 hours of me and you and wondering how I would manage to say everything that I wanted/needed/should say in the next 24 hours.

I’m a Gen X parent. I grew up with a kind of free-range parenting, knowing I should be home before dark and feeling invincible. We hadn’t heard of HIV, or date-rape, or helicopter parenting. And here I am, the first generation of parents raising the i-kid, happily doling out dollars for the tech that would keep me connected – a part of my baby’s world 650 miles away.

Now I needed to figure out how to employ a kind of ‘stealth-parenting’ – finding the walk to back up my talk, if I could even figure out what that ‘talk’ was. After listening to her college president speak at the convocation, I scribbled out a letter to my college bound daughter. It’s been my most viewed post of all time – I guess I’m not alone in wondering what to say when your child leaves for college after all.

When Your Child Leaves For College

When Your Child Leaves For College

Two years ago – on this day – I became a shuttle driver, watching both my babies paddle out into a Utah river, scramble up a waterfall, and leaving me alone in a hotel room as they chose a campsite over room service. Thank you, Facebook, for reminding me that she could survive her first year of college, and so could I. Nervously relaxing in that hotel room, I struggled with my monkey-mind – what do I say when your child leaves for college the second time? What words does she need to hear – or do I? No longer was I dishing out advice about dorm rooms and ‘firsts’ – suddenly, adulting was more real than ever. My cyber-stealthing had helped somewhat; Instagram and Snapchat offered glimpses into the life I was sure she didn’t really want me to know much about, yet I was desperate to see.

The second year she was on her own, shopping at Costco and stocking up her apartment. She was cooking meals and going to classes and occasionally sharing a bit with me. Driving back, watching the sun rise over her city, the tears came. This time felt different, lonely, hopeful. I comforted myself by writing a letter to parents leaving their kids at college and didn’t look back-most of the time.

When Your Child Leaves For College

One year ago, summer started with her first study abroad, words only shared through sparse wifi connections along the Camino de Santiago. Adventuring is in her blood, and for the first time, I sank into the trust that things will be well, that she will be well, that I will be well. The power of prayer and hope and the knowledge that she would have to figure things out without my advice allowed for us to grow – mostly, for me, I admit. I couldn’t wait to see her, to hug her and note the changes that exploration had inked into her spirit. The third year leaving her at college was more about my transformation into wholeness; I was turning 50 and felt the crack widening. I learned to look at life as it is, to embrace change and hopefully anticipate the changes of motherhood in front of me.

When Your Child Leaves For College

This year I didn’t have to worry about what to say as I dropped her off because it didn’t actually happen. She’s officially adulting now, and never really came home. I traded my tech for travel and bought a ticket to visit her instead. I spent seven glorious days immersing myself in her life, discovering her city and the places she likes to buy her coffee and have special dinners out. I met her friends and bought her wine. We adulted together, no words needed, and then she dropped me off at the airport with a hug and a smile and a glint of a tear in her eye.

Now, her fourth year, I realize this: it’s not the words you say when you’re leaving your child at college, it’s the words you say when you’re not there. It’s how you find a way to be that safe place to fall back to, the warm demander from a distance. It’s the words you say when they fight with their roommate or fall in-or out-of love. It’s the words when you wish you were there to wrap yourself around her, to hold her close and smell the coconut shampoo in her hair and help her through.

It turns out, leaving her at college isn’t the hardest part; having her not come home is worse. This year, leaving her at college is more about leaving her childhood and welcoming her adulthood.

These are my words to help me through this one. Feel free to let me know if you have any advice.

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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