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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soar

The Challenge of Teaching Our Children To Soar

I’m struggling with the challenge of teaching our children to soar. I think about it every day, way too often than is healthy. I think about it at home, at work, and when I’m alone in my writing room, trying to clear my thoughts and start the day.

“The light here leaves you lonely, fading as does the dusk that takes too long to arrive. By morning the mountain moving a bit closer to the sun. This valley belongs to no one—except birds who name themselves by their songs in the dawn. What good are wishes, if they aren’t used up…”

I wake up early every day, determined to clear my mind and write down my gratitudes. That’s the only way I can make it out of bed, the only way I can face the day surrounded by eager minds and developing humans. I sip coffee, make breakfast, and give him a fleeting hug as my boy heads out the door of his senior year.
I watch the sunrise, glowing pinkish orange over the rooftops across the street. I’ve lived in this house longer than any other place. I’ve birthed my children here, hosted their birthday parties, cooled their fevered bodies and hugged away tears. I’ve cried my own, plenty of times, wondering if I was going in the right direction, over-contemplating when to push and when to pull back.
“We guess at what’s next unlike the mountain who knows it in the bones, a music too high to scale…”
I’ve always wondered why parenting came without a handbook. When I first started teaching, long before I was a mom, I scoffed when parents asked ME for advice – what did I know? I was 23, inexperienced and armed with gut instinct and life experience. I taught by intuition, a bit of training, and copious amounts of courage. I stumbled, I failed, and I succeeded every once in awhile in showing my students how much I cared.
And then parenting happened to me, and I began to see the real challenge of teaching our children to soar.
“Black like an eye bruised night brightens by morning, yellow then grey—a memory. What the light was like. All day the heat a heavy, colored coat. I want to lie
down like the lamb—down & down till gone—shorn of its wool. The cool of setting & rising in this valley, the canyon between us shoulders our echoes. Moan, & make way…”
I wasn’t one of those girls who dreamed about mothering – or teaching. I escaped in books, in quiet, in pushing me back and feeling my way through the maze of young adulthood. I graduated, I got a job, and got married. I had children.
My son told me the other day that he learned in his Psychology class that we either parent exactly like we were parented, or we rebel and parent differently. I’ve never really consciously thought about it, but it makes sense. We look for the light, for the way through the tunnels and towards the joy. When our children are small, we challenge them to soar in the direction of their dreams, all the while keeping hold of the kite string of connection. We’re there to clean up-pick up-wrap up-hold up whatever they stumble on and lift them up with pride when they jump.
My kids taught me how to soar. They somehow made mostly good choices and learned from their mistakes. So have I.
“What you want—Nobody, or nothing fills our short journeying. Above even the birds, winging heavenward, the world is hard to leave behind or land against—must end. I mean to make it. Turning slow beneath our feet, finding sun, seen from above, this world looks like us—mostly salt, dark water…”
When Lily left for college I knew it was the right thing, but I wasn’t sure I would make it. She didn’t waver about her decision, and despite the total chaos happening at the time, she jumped into her new adventure. I, on the other hand, didn’t. It was hard to leave behind the idea of hands-on parenting; realizing that this time she was on her own, soaring, dipping and diving 650 miles away without me watching. My brain and heart duked it out daily, agonizing in isolation while she figured out how to be on her own.  I couldn’t quite reconcile how to shift from full-time to no-time parenting with her, and thinking about how to avoid smothering the one child left at home. Time pulsed on, somersaulting me through the next four years.
Until now.
“I chase the quiet round the house. Soon the sound—wind wills its way against the panes. Welcome the rain. Welcome the moon’s squinting into space. The trees bow like priests. The storm lifts up the leaves. Why not sing.”
This senior year is different. There aren’t any track meets to cheer at, or piano recitals or prom parties. This child is testing his wings before closing the door on high school. He glides in and out of the house, ‘adulting’ and reveling in being 18.
He makes his own dentist appointments.  He can write his own notes to excuse school absences. He doesn’t even need me at the doctor anymore.
Sometimes I’m not quite sure how I’m doing in this challenge. Teaching our children to soar is as unique as a snowflake landing on my sleeve; I’m struggling to notice every exquisite detail before it disappears into the memory banks of parenting. I’m watching my students navigate starting high school and time management. They’re practicing independence from their parents and their teachers, caught up in the backdrop of school shootings and anxiety and wondering if they really even matter.
The challenge of teaching our children to soar rises up with the dawn and ebbs, but never entirely leaves. I usher in the dusk of the evening from my desk or behind the handlebars of my bike, trying to transition – but never quite feeling I’m there. The parenting storm shifts the leaves underfoot, swirls and tangles my hair as I smile.
Maybe the real challenge of teaching our children to soar is teaching myself.
poem excerpts from Book of Hours BY KEVIN YOUNG Source: Poetry (November 2007)

 

 

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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Why Moms Make Awesome Teachers

I was at a school district meeting tonight, surrounded by mostly women, many of them my age, give or take a few years. In response to a request to ‘list five aspects of our identity we would like to share with the group’, it took me less than a second to reply. “Mother”, “woman”, “writer and teacher” quickly topped my list, and I discovered that for most of the women I talked to, ‘mother’ was easily the most common descriptor. I honestly didn’t think much about it. I’m mamawolfe, mom to two, teacher to thousands, writer of stories about life in and out of the classroom.

moms make awesome teachers

It hit me first after talking to the teacher-mom of a kindergartener who identified herself as a ‘friend’ first – and after talking to me, she wanted to change her mind.

And then another woman spoke up, surprise and a bit of concern in her voice. I recognized her as a middle school teacher, and I was startled by her surprise at the numbers of self-identified mothers. She appeared stymied by the idea that we educators would not only be shouldering the responsibilities of mothering our own children but of our students as well. The overwhelm in her voice and the shake of her head struck me.

Isn’t that what mothers do best? Isn’t that why moms make awesome teachers?

Being a mother is my top priority, my deal-breaker. It’s nothing to hide behind or even consider some part of myself that would tie for first place in my identity line-up. It’s not that I always imagined myself as a mom or a teacher for that matter; I never really imagined myself as much of anything when I was younger. But after spending the last 27 years with other people’s children – then going home to my own – I slowly discovered that being a mother has not only brought out the best parts of me, it’s brought those best parts to my classroom, too.

I was a teacher long before I was a mom. I remember barely being ten years older than my students, mystified when their parents would ask me for advice about how to manage their teenage children.

Honestly, I had no idea. I remember thinking, Aren’t parents just supposed to know that stuff? Ha! Little did I know…

By the time I became a mom I was six years into teaching but kept on going. I remember 9/11 and wondering what would happen if I was off to work and never came home again. I thought often about how hard I worked to teach other peoples’ children and wondered if I  put as much energy into my own.

I struggled with the teacher-mom balance for years – until I embraced it. I am a mom first, then a teacher.

A first-year teacher recently asked me for advice on managing life and teaching, and the first word I thought of was BOUNDARIES. To be a successful working mom, to not feel as if I’m successful in the workplace without sacrificing my kids, I realized I needed strong boundaries – barbed wire type boundaries, with “NO TRESPASSING” signs dotting every five feet or so. Teaching children, serving families, is all-consuming for me. Keeping clear that my own kids come first, then my school kids has eased my guilt about not being able to always be everything for my students. But over the years, I’ve discovered that the lessons I’ve learned from being a mom have shaped who I am as an educator – and I’ve realized precisely why moms make awesome teachers.

Why Moms Make Awesome Teachers

Moms make awesome teachers because that they live the most important part of the job: moms know what it means to put kids first. Moms know how to wrap their arms around their child and make them feel safe. Moms know that nothing good happens when kids are tired or hungry or feeling sick. Awesome teachers know when kids feel loved, they do better at home and in school.

moms make awesome teachers

Moms know that being first isn’t always best and that sometimes we all need to take a breath and try again. Moms know that sometimes life gets in the way, that the dishwasher doesn’t always get unloaded and the printer runs out of ink right around bedtime the night before an essay is due.  Flexibility is a huge part of life; awesome teachers look at the big picture, not the setbacks.

Moms make awesome teachers because we know that kids come first, always, that all kids are still learning, and there are lots of ways to tie shoelaces and they all keep shoes on feet. Awesome teachers know there is not only one “right” way to do things, and individuality keeps us thinking.

Moms know that kids can be raised in the same house by the same parent with the same rules and come out to be entirely different humans and that oftentimes gender has very little to do with identity. Awesome teachers love their students unconditionally and teach them where they are.

Moms make awesome teachers because we know that sometimes the best thing to do is close the textbook and get a good night’s sleep. Awesome teachers know when to push and when to look in students’ eyes and tell them it’s OK, let me help you.

Thank you to all the awesome moms, amazing teachers and brave students out there – you make a difference in my life every single 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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