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Life and Death On Facebook

“We are walking each other home”

– Ram Dass and Paul Gorman

Hey there,

I should be at your funeral right now. A celebration of life, your memorial…I should be there. Except, I just couldn’t.

It’s been on my calendar and in the front of my mind since you passed two weeks ago. I figured I would slip in, soak up all the goodness and love people were pouring out in their tears and slip out, unnoticed.

And then this morning, as I was waking up, listening to the mockingbird outside my window and looking into the eyes of my mutt, so happy to see me, I absolutely couldn’t bear the thought of it all. Despite how brave you were, how you surrendered your fear of death and embraced everything joyful about life, I knew that the best way I could honor you, sweet friend, was with words.

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You see, I dreamed about Disneyland the night after you died. At first, we were there and everything seemed fine. I had been elected some kind of ambassador to Disneyland and wasn’t quite sure why, because I never had that same feeling about it as you did. I know everyone says it’s the happiest place on earth but happiness was never my strong point.

When we first met in 1991, I was always the glass-half-full kind of girl. We were both fresh-faced teachers, barely adults, excited to be at Jackman together, not quite sure what the heck we were doing but pumped up to make things happen.

Suddenly, we were pushing through the crowds. I was smiling –  people were paying attention to us. You always had a way of lighting up a space, my dear.

PE teachers and English teachers don’t always gravitate towards each other, but being in the midst of a brand new school, kids who hungered for relationships and trying to build a community, we bonded.  That’s the way you were with everyone – your big smile, huge hugs, and endearing personality charmed everyone – especially our students.

Stopping mid-stream, I bent down and picked up a wedding ring off the ground and put it in my pocket. It seemed like someone must’ve dropped it but I wasn’t sure why and everyone was so happy I didn’t want to stop and damper the mood.

I only invited three work friends to my wedding in 1994 – you were sweet enough to come, helping me make my special day perfect. You just had a knack for that.

life and death on facebook
Pam and Carrie at my wedding – yes, she wore white!

We found ourselves on some sort of up in the air train or bus  – people kept sitting down and getting off, and at one point you leaned over and whispered, “I’ll be back in a second,” and you jumped to the side of the freeway. Another person came and sat down next to me – he had trouble with his legs. He was telling me how he couldn’t roll over and was having trouble with mobility.

John always liked you, you know. We were an unlikely pair, you and I – an ex-Goth girl turned English teacher, and an ex-basketball star turned PE teacher? Introvert and extrovert. Do you remember that time we went to CLMS with Ann and Tina? I’m pretty sure that was my first official work conference – all I remember is the laughter.

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The three PE teachers – and me, behind the camera. Unlikely friends.

 

People kept coming onto the bus, sitting down, getting up, trying to get going. I asked the man next to me where you were and somebody shouted, “She’s over on the other side!” and there you were, smiling that enormous grin that filled up the whole room. It was taking forever to get to Disneyland, the traffic was bad, and you started talking about all the challenges in life. The mom behind me was arguing with her son because he wanted to get off, go out on his own, and I leaned over the seat and told her I knew how she felt – I let my son move away and eighth grade, but he came back. I told her was all going to be OK and we kept on the journey.

I remember the last time I saw you. It was after I started teaching AVID, and came back to Jackman to see the program there, but I think I spent more time with you than anyone else. It was so strange walking back through the gates, across the quad and back into another time. I had become a mom by then, and you’d met Nat and were so happy with her. I remember getting back in my car, driving around the neighborhood, and thinking I shouldn’t let life get in the way of seeing people I really care about. I wish I’d listened to myself.

I didn’t quite know what to do so I got up and started feeding people. I was cutting a cake into little tiny bites, hoping it was going to be enough for everybody – and suddenly, the train stopped. We were finally at Disneyland, and everybody started pushing to get off the bus and I lost track of you. And I didn’t feel so much like people were paying attention anymore – it was just over, we were going our own ways, not unhappily or happily, just moving through the journey.

I found out you died on Facebook. Not what I ever expected to read the morning of April 9, 2018 – that your journey on Earth was over. I was shocked. You looked so strong in your photos, so happy. How could you be gone?

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I’m going to miss you, Carrie.

You were brave with your life. I’m grateful that Facebook brought us back together over the last decade. I’m grateful I got to watch as you filled your life with happiness and smiles, and that I saw you adore your family, your travels with Natalie and your Ladd-strong battles with chemo. I love seeing pictures of our old friends from the beginning years – people you stayed connected with, but I let go. When I look at my wedding photos I can hardly remember the girl I was in 1994; it was before I even knew really who I was, but you were there smiling cheering me and John. I can’t believe I can’t return the favor, that I can’t finally drive across the causeway, pull up a chair with you in a garden, drink a pint and just laugh and remember and let you know how important you were in my life. I’m sorry my kids didn’t get to know you, and I’m sorry that they didn’t get to see what true bravery looked like. I’m sorry I left it up to Facebook to keep in touch.

But my dear, sweet Carrie, please know that you are carried with me into my classroom every day. You’re in my heart when my students need a hug or someone who will listen. You’re with me when I look into the faces of children who struggle to get to school or to simply smile.  When I see a teacher being goofy, dancing to their own tune at an assembly, I know you’re with me, too. And you’re there, always, when a teacher friend walks up, puts her arm around me, and gently says, “Hey, Jen”.

You’re all that, and more, Carrie. I hope you understand now why I couldn’t slip into your service today, and instead, I sit alone in my room, gazing out at the treetops, writing these words, glancing up at my calendar that reminds me that although this is the month we lost your body, your spirit will always be right here with me.

Until our souls meet again,

Jen

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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is age only a number

Don’t You Think Age Is Only A Number?

I was skimming Facebook today- because I’m on vacation and that’s what you do when you don’t have to wake up to an alarm, right? Sitting in my daughter’s college apartment, I saw a post from a mom who was at the beach with her three young children. It was a shot like many I take when I’m enjoying the moment– legs stretched out, book balanced on her lap, sand and surf and the horizon in the background.  Her caption made me laugh: “I’m reading a book on the beach with my boys. No floaties or crying or buckets or arguing over sunscreen. I’ve dreamed of days like this”.

is age only a number

Funny how time works, isn’t it? I remember feeling that way, too. I remember ticking off the milestone ages in my head, dreaming about this little tiny, often crying, baby girl I was holding, wondering how she would ever grow up and grow away from home – and away from me.

Just below hers was another post from a dear friend, frantically traveling to see her father before he passes.

She didn’t make it in time.

She shared a simple photo of her with him, no caption, just the two of them smiling and hugging. I saw her son in father’s face. I wanted to wrap my arms around her, let her know that on this day that we dream of and dread I’m here for her.

That’s the thing about motherhood, and growing up, and growing old. The years pass, time trickling by whether we know it or not – whether we document the moments or wish them away. 

I wear a silver cuff around my right wrist- actually several, one for each of the years that my motherhood has shifted. 

They’re instead of a tattoo. My mother is much happier this way.

Engraved with my mantra for the year, Be Here Now, it’s my daily reminder to stop and pay attention. To look up at the sky and down at the shadows. To notice what is right here instead of worrying about what is ahead or what I’ve left behind.

Not to regret or second guess or future trip.

isn't age only a number shadows

Just before I left on vacation, my son reminded me that he’s almost the same age my daughter was when she went off to college. He still has one more year at home.

I reminded him she was actually six months older, and he scoffed. I smiled. Those six months between 17 and 18 can make a huge difference.

Or is age only a number?

I’m not sure how old the woman’s children were as she lay on that beach, coveting her quiet time.

I know my friend is in her thirties- too young to lose a father she adored, so many years ahead to parent without his guidance.

This vacation is all about soaking in my daughter’s life – her friends, her lifestyle, her new home. I breathed deeply as she, for the first time, order a glass of sangria last night.  It was her first ‘official’ drink with me since she turned 21. Sitting at an outdoor cafe, we were enjoying a warm Salt Lake City evening just after she finished her volunteer job.

is age only a number
pc: Matt Chirico

Of course, she got carded- and as the waitress scrutinized her ID I couldn’t help blurting out “It’s legit! I’m her mom. She just turned 21. She was born June 2 1996 at 11:37…”

Wait-where did that come from?

The waitress just laughed as my daughter wryly smiled. Maybe she’s used to my obsession with her growing up; I’m not sure.

She sipped her sangria slowly as we ate. “I’m enjoying it,” she quipped at her boyfriend as he teased her deliberateness. I noticed her carefully spoon out the alcohol-soaked fruit, enjoying every last bit.

She was here. Now. And so was I. 

I wasn’t with her the moment she actually turned 21. She was somewhere in the mountains of South America, surrounded by friends and coffee farms, hiking and laughing and enjoying life. It wasn’t exactly how I imagined this milestone- sort of like most every parenting moment I’ve had, actually.

I’ve dreamed of days like this, I’m sure. I’ve wished they wouldn’t come at strongly as I wished they would. I’ve held onto her hand and let her go more times than I ever thought possible.

I know that age is only a number, that turning 51 and 21 really just mark the moments we have lived, milestones of memories and not anything to fear.

I know that if I can just be here, now, that age is only a number on a day and what matters are the ordinary, extraordinary memories in each one.

Don’t you agree age is only a number?

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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My Favorite Moments of 2016 – In Photos

Even when I can’t find the time/inspiration/concentration to write, I try to always pay attention to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life. I used to print out all my photos, hand write captions in photo albums and stick the images onto the pages, gently smoothing back the plastic to protect the memories from sticky fingers turning pages. I think my last albums were from 2007, when I began collecting photos on floppy disks, then CDs and now in the cloud. I must say, while I don’t take quite as many snaps of my kids now that they’re teens, looking back on 2016 I am pleased that I caught so many of these ordinary moments that might have otherwise slipped my short-term memory. I’m grateful to be able to share my favorite moments of 2016 with you. Thank you for being part of my mamawolfe community, for your thoughts and comments and likes and shares. I’m looking forward to thinking deeply, loving fiercely and teaching audaciously with you in 2017,

Thank you for being part of my mamawolfe community, for your thoughts and comments and likes and shares. I’m looking forward to thinking deeply, loving fiercely and teaching audaciously with you in 2017,

December – I don’t always remember to have a family photo taken on Christmas, but this year we all managed to squeeze onto our sofa. As the kids get older, these moments of togetherness become so treasured. I wrote about turning 51 and my nightmares about the election results. As I love to do, I’ll ring in the new year in the mountains with these three people that make my life so extraordinary.

November – I always think of my son as a wanderer; he loves to go alone, to explore, to get lost in the moment. This image of him on Carmel beach was exactly one of those moments; we were all up at the car and I had to go back to search for him. I stood and snapped this photo without him noticing; so grateful for these small moments as reminders to slow down and just be. I wrote a bit about the presidential election, teaching, and the not-so-ordinary month of November.

October – To be honest, this photo just makes me smile. I went back to San Diego for a conference this fall – I say back, because in the late 1980s I made S.D. my home. I’m a completely different girl now, but I still find myself most comfortable hanging out with people who think out of the box. This night was a good reminder to remember who I am and what I believe in, always. This month I wrote from the heart about teaching and Trump.


September – When my kids were little, I loved throwing birthday parties for them. We invited the whole family, ate and drank and celebrated together in our backyard. These days, birthdays are celebrated much more quietly. September is always a month of new beginnings when you live as a teacher – and this year, we celebrated Cam turning 17. Bittersweet moments – he reminded me the countdown now begins to adulthood and leaving home. Glad one of us is excited about that! I only wrote a little – a sharing of a favorite Mary Oliver poem.

August – This summer, my two babies took off on a solo backpacking adventure – they hiked and camped and drove all around Wyoming, just enjoying being together. Although I didn’t hear from them too much, and I worried more than I should have, the moment they texted me this photo I knew that all would be well. I feel such gratitude that although they’re not living in the same home anymore, they love each other this much. I wrote about family time in Tahoe, sending my girl back to college for her third year, an awesome trip to Blog Her in L.A., and how much I love my ordinary life.

July – I love traveling, but I equally love spending time at home. July started off on a trip with Lily to Capital Reef National Park in Utah, but I found most of my mid-summer days best spent at home, surrounded with love in my garden, with my books, my dog and my family.

June – We celebrated Lily’s return from  hiking the Camino de Santiago in Spain and her turning 20. The shooting in Orlando left me feeling sad about the fragility of life and committed to help end gun violence. I finished school, and spent the month reflecting and resting.

May – It’s always a good month when I can dig in the garden. This year, Cam and I planted and tended a veggie and herb garden – and were surprised with gourds sprouting up, too! I wrote about being healthy, stepping out of my comfort zone, finding wholeness and that curious moment in motherhood when you realize that your children are capable of taking care of themselves – and you.

The Only Appropriate Response Is Gratefulness

April – Another rare moment of togetherness in our backyard garden; the month of April made me weep more than once over the fierce love I have for my children. I thought and wrote about the fleetingness of this life, of gratitude for the smallest of moments, and of intuition and being in the moment.

March – I wrote a lot about motherhood, working and mothering, and equal rights. We had a rare ski day together at Tahoe; rare because I actually skied with my kids rather than watch them fly down a race course!

February – I found myself taking daily walks, searching for some center. My girl got a ‘real’ job, I hunkered down at home and read a lot of poetry from Mary Oliver, Jane Candida Coleman and Thich Nhat Hanh.

January – I was looking for joy everywhere – it was a hard month. Concussions, avalanches, and loss were surrounding me. I tried to focus inward, to be present and to pay attention to the beauty around me.

 

I’d love to continue this amazing life journey with you over on Instagram – you can find me at mamawolfeto2.

All the best,

Jennifer

 

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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Aren’t You Tired Of Seeing People Die?

White America, aren’t you tired of seeing people die?

I made a mistake of watching the news today. I tuned in to see the first videos released of Alton Sterling being put to the ground and shot to death

I made a mistake of watching the news to see his widow behind a podium speaking about raising her children knowing they had watched every moment of their fathers death. They couldn’t escape it.

And I made a mistake of watching when I saw Alton Sterling’s 15 year old son collapse in grief and cry out for his daddy.

I wanted to wrap my arms around his sobbing body and whisper that it’s going to be OK, even when I know for him, that is a long, long way away. He’s just one year younger than my own son. And the differences between them? He’s black. My son is white. His daddy is dead. My son’s daddy isn’t.

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Why are these American boys living such polarized lives? Why, in 2016, are we watching a repeal of the work of the Civil Rights Movement?

Why are we waking up once again to another story in our news feed about a black man being stopped by police and shot? Aren’t you tired of seeing people die?

Why are black lives so expendable?

I’m well aware of my white privilege. I’m aware of my ability to walk down the street without fear, of being able to shop without suspicion or drive down the street in my safe suburban oasis.

I’m aware of my ease in parenting two white children who don’t need to be taught that people in their country will question their worth. I know I have nothing on black mothers who not only have to teach their children they are worthy just for being who they are, but also must figure out how to teach their sons and daughters to be aware that others think just the opposite. And that their opposition could get them killed.

Oh yes, I understand. I just don’t know how to balance it with what I see on the news. I don’t know how to make the black community see that I’m devastated, horrified, embarrassed and ashamed for what I see happening to them.

I’m also well aware of my ability to speak out. I know I have a voice, and a platform, and an ability to use my words to make public this insanity that we can become numb to what is going on in our black communities.

I’m aware that by speaking out I may offend someone, but to be honest, I don’t care. Maya Angelou taught me that to be silent is to accept, and I surely don’t accept what is happening in Baton Rouge, or Minnesota or South Carolina…at this point, I could name every state in the country.

So here I am, laying it out. A white woman speaking out for black women, for brown women, for all women who are trying to figure out how to raise our children to understand that their lives matter, that they are worthy, and that their life is not expendable.

Teaching children is my specialty, but I cannot fathom the challenge these mothers have when trying to teach their children in the racist world they see around them. .

But, honestly, the children aren’t the ones doing the killing – the adults are. That’s who we need to focus on now. The kids I teach tell me they are comfortable with the topic of race- they don’t judge or define or see it as a factor in how they treat each other. We’re doing a good job raising them.

But aren’t you tired of seeing people die?

Now, we need to speak out to the adults in our lives who don’t understand. To the fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters who make racial slurs and then shrug it off as a joke. To the neighbors and people in the grocery store who carelessly comment with a protective code of white privilege. To politicians and powerful people with an audience much larger than mine, who with one tweet or post can share their ignorant  vitriol with equally ignorant followers.

Oh yes, I understand my power. I understand my privilege. And I understand I must use it to speak out, to start the conversations and end the racism in front of me.

And I understand there are many people in America who will disagree with me- the data shows that. I am aware that I will start disagreements, lose friends and anger people who view the world only through their privileged lens.

Thanks too bad, but I’m willing to risk it. Just imagine, if we used our power and our privilege together, what a difference we could make.

What can you do? What can WE do-white America, how can we stop racism if the majority of Americans think it doesn’t exist?

All you need to do is check the news to know that is 100% NOT true.

Enough is enough. Speak out today. Start by listening to what these women have to say about their experience mothering in America.

Just do something. And do it today.

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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life's other half

Being Reminded Of Life’s Other Half

Last weekend we remembered and rejoiced the life of a young man who died in an avalanche last winter. His tragic passing rattled any sense of security I was feeling about my own children on the mountain, out doing what they love and the possibility…

There, under the spectacular azure sky painted with swirling clouds, surrounded by oak trees and rolling expanses of green grass, we were reminded of life’s other half – the part where we question, and cry, and consider why.

life's other half

Carson was a young man, just entering adulthood, happy, healthy and loved. He was exploring life – creating a life – to be lived on his terms.

He was a man I’d watched over the years, sharing my school, karate and ski racing communities.

I remember him from karate classes, his tall, skinny frame clad in a white gi as he willed himself through an arduous black belt test with my son. I remember his legs in horses stance for what seemed like hours, trembling with determination.

I remember his curly, dirty blonde hair and shy glances when I’d see him in the hallways at school. Never his teacher, I still tried to draw him out and connect when I could. He was a shy one back then.

I think about him on the ski race course, carefully navigating slalom turns with the concentration of a scientist studying his experiment. I can see his mother’s smile as he watched him cross the finish line, or persevere through the final round of push-ups, sweat dripping off his face and legs and arms quivering under the pressure.

And looking up at the clouds, I think about the lessons we learn through life’s other half.

His service, full of music and love, reminded me of those ordinary moments we spend with people we love, and that in the face of their absence, we realize how prophetically purposeful they can be. Songs we loved, poetry we aligned with and talks along the beach or on a mountain top that at the time we knew were special, but when in the midst of life’s other half we realize were profound.

Carson’s memorial reminded me of my gratitude for the extraordinary in the ordinary every day. For the love of family, friends and community that surround us. And for the generosity of the universe, to open up the skies, to fill them with clouds and sunlight, and the reminder that we are all here for such brief, sparkling, exquisite moments together.

I hadn’t seen Carson for awhile. I was happy to hear he’d joined up with the ski team again, now as a coach, and he was happily living and working in Tahoe. In so many ways, he was just a regular human, finding his way and discovering who he was.

He was living life generously, with delight.

I am not saying that we should love death,

but rather that we should love life so generously,

without picking and choosing,

that we automatically include it (life’s other half) in our love.

This is what actually happens in the great expansiveness of love,

which cannot be stopped or constricted.

It is only because we exclude it that death becomes more and more foreign to us and,

ultimately,

our enemy.

It is conceivable that death is infinitely closer to us than life itself…

What do we know of it?

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

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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