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.

pasta

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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can parents go back to school

Can Parents Go Back To School?

I write frequently about education and college – mostly from the point of view of teenagers. But can parents go back to school successfully as well? Going back to school for adults certainly has unique challenges,  and yet plenty of people do it and manage to juggle studying, their family and sometimes even working too. If you’re thinking about doing it, don’t rush into it. There are a few things you might want to think about first to help make it a success!

can parents go back to school

Can Parents Go Back To School Challenge #1: Find a Flexible Way to Study

One way you could choose to do postgraduate studies when you have a family is to find a flexible way to do it. This could include finding an online course, which often allows you work at your own pace or at least makes your learning and study times more flexible.

Can Parents Go Back To School Challenge #2: Take on the Challenge as a Family

If you’re going to go back to school, you need to get the whole family on board. They don’t all have to love the idea, but it can require everyone to pitch in. Maybe the kids are going to have to take a bit more responsibility for themselves or your partner is going to have to be there to support you.

Can Parents Go Back To School Challenge #3: Find Out How Your College Can Help

A lot of colleges can offer support and resources that help to make things easier. See if your local college has a family resource center or something similar that could help you out. Many colleges offer blended distance learning and occasional face to face contact that are perfect for parents.

Can Parents Go Back To School Challenge #4: Focus on Your Future

If you’re ever unsure or ready to give up, think about what your studies will be doing for your future. The right choice of degree could have a huge impact on your life. At this point in my career, going back to school may not be monetarily sensible, but I’ve been able to channel my love of learning in different ways!

I love this little infographic – hope it inspires you parents to go back to school!


Infographic On SBU Online’s Graduate Degrees

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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Christmas Presence, Lights and a Mother’s Love

When you love someone,
the best thing you can offer is your presence.
How can you love if you are not there?

~ Thich Nhat Hanh

“Where’s the tree skirt, Mom?” His voice rang in a booming blend of anxiety and excitement at the idea of digging into the boxes of Christmas decorations. Unusual for my boy lately, but I’ll take it.

“Check the bottom of that one – it should be there. We’ve opened all the rest,” I called back, my attention drifting back to the white lights that we not cooperating with my attempts to twist them around the evergreen garland.

“It’s not here, Mom. I’ve checked. Are you sure you got all the boxes out?” His voice rose a note as he moved towards the closet.

“I’m sure. I’ve been through them several times. I took them out by myself – remember?” I hope my exasperation was at just the right level – it seems lately that if I wait around for him to help with something, it would most likely never get done. At least not on my timeline. Eighteen means he’s trying on his independence, figuring out how much adulting he can do while still living ‘under our roof’.

“MOM – it’s not here!”

presence
Our tree, minus the skirt.

Wow – just a minute. Hold on while I finish – better yet, why don’t you HOLD this while I twist – it would go so much faster if we worked together.”

His long fingers gently grasped the garland as I wrapped over, under, over, under. White lights twinkled back as we tediously wrapped the greenery around the mantle, dodging brass reindeer placed to hold stockings above the fire.

“Can we just look upstairs? I love the tree this year – but it really needs the skirt.”

My mind raced back to last January. In my rush towards a fresh new year, life sometimes is jumbled. I don’t always take the time I should to put things in place, I know, but last year, turning the calendar to 2017 wasn’t something I was joyfully anticipating.

But why is it always like this? We sweep the little things away in confusion, hastily pack memories, thinking our presence is more important somewhere else, or it’s too much to deal with once school starts. I’m sure it’s folded and nestled in tissue and newspaper somewhere, knowing that next year, there’d be more time. Just pack it up, box and store and then next year, I’ll deal with it. I’ll be more present then…

And now it’s next year.

I stand aside as he pulls down box after box, filling the closet floor with half-open cartons of memories. “Oh shoot- I should get those out this year,” I quietly mumble, one more reminder of my growing list of ‘should dos’. That one’s labeled “Cameron’s ornaments”, and in the recycled cardboard diaper box next to it, “Lily’s ornaments”. At least I got that part right. Someday, those boxes will shift to their own closets, ready to add childhood moments to adult trees.

“I can’t imagine it would be up here, Cam,” knowing at this point that tree skirt must have disappeared into a jumble of ‘I’ll do it later’ or ‘I’ll just stick it here for now’. But undeterred, box after box is hefted down.

“Good catch, Mom!” he cheers as I narrowly escaped serious injury.

I’m done. I’ll wrap a damn sheet around the tree stand at this point.

“I found it!”

Digging underneath a jumble of lights, Grinch t-shirts and ornament adorned bathroom towels, he pulls out the green and red velvet skirt his father gave me when we moved into this house twenty-three years ago.The gold stitching and tassles are still intact.

Following him down the stairs, breathing a sigh of relief, I watch as he crouches down under our fir glowing with lights like tiny stars under a supermoon. He pulls and tugs,  gently trying to coax the skirt into position.

“How does this fit, Mom? It’s not big enough.” I sense the exasperation in his voice. I’m sure he’s done, ready to move back into solitude in his man cave.

“Just pull it a bit in the back – like this.” I’m down at his level now, tugging from the back as he smoothes in the front.

“That looks awesome, Mom. I just wanted to go all out this Christmas – since it’s my last one at home.”

“Don’t say that,” I whisper to myself as he plops down on the couch, throws his feet onto the chair,  gently stroking his dog’s ears.

I can’t imagine doing this next year without his presence… and once again, the poem repeats in my mind:

When you love someone,
the best thing you can offer is your presence.
How can you love if you are not there?

~ Thich Nhat Hanh

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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