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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

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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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From Facebook to Snapchat to Instagram Stories, or Other Ways My Kids Make Me Feel My Age

“Mrs. Wolfe, you have a Snapchat?” my 9th-grade student sputtered. It was after school, and I naively left my phone front and center on my desk. Yes, indeed, baby Wolfe had chatted her middle-aged mother, and the world now knows.

“Yep,” I smiled as I clicked off the screen. “How else would I know what my kids are doing?”

“That’s awesome!” he exclaimed as if no one my age EVER would know what Snapchat was, let alone how to use it.

Snapchat

The truth is, I strongly dislike Snapchat. I don’t dig the fact that I have seven- plus seconds to read and scan a photo. I dislike when my volume is off and I miss the audio on the video she sends. And I really abhor that I can’t go back and review the images over and over – I want to know what my girl is doing, where she, what her life looks like. She doesn’t live here anymore, and I’ll grab any glimpse I can.

So why Snapchat?

Because that’s what millenials/teenagers/anyoneunder30something use. And if I want to be in the know, I’d better know how to Snap.

Ugh.

Just a few years ago I wrote about my then 13-year-old son jumping online with Facebook. At the time, I was a combination of shocked/curious/dismayed at the idea of his jumping into social media. The ‘pros’ were obvious; social media offers a glimpse into the world away from parents where kids can show other sides of their personalities. He coaxed it would allow him to be tagged when he/we travel, and how much more connected we would be.

Snapchat

Facebook lasted all of a few months for him. Now 17, he tells me he does a monthly check in to see if he’s been tagged. No connection there. Facebook is for old people.

For awhile both kids posted on Instagram – mostly after-the-fact images of their adventures, seemingly innocuous sunsets and sunrises over the mountains, or goofy poses with their friends. Bu these days, ‘grams’ are few and fleeting, and while I love the peek into their worlds, the succinct shots of life don’t have the same impact as good ‘ole Facebook.

Maybe that’s why Snapchat is so problematic for me. It enhances the fleetingness of the millennial lifestyle while at the same time reminding me that I cannot swipe or click fast enough to capture a memory for review. Despite my establishing the perfect condition to carefully open the snap, fingers poised perfectly to screenshot, I undoubtedly mess up, ending with a disappointing shot of the carpet. Not to mention the inability to magnify the image to satisfy my failing eyesight.

Snapchat is an exercise in frustration at best.

And now, just in the nick of time, we have Snapchat’s ‘world lenses’, plying old moms like me with easier replay and overlays that really do emphasize the generation gap. Every time I see someone wearing kitty whiskers or pursed lips and a helium voice it really makes me wonder about the future of the next generation – to have all that time on your hands and spend it augmenting your undeniably ordinary existence is hard to digest.

Someone, stop this Snapchat nonsense.

Instagram to the rescue.

Snapchat

As if the angels heard my plea, Instagram Stories has dumped into my phone glimpses into my children’s semi-adult lives that actually allow me to soak in the moment – I can see my girl on the mountaintop, hear the wind blowing against her phone and the crunch of the snow below her ski boots. And just when I start to hyperventilate that she’s on top of a mountain that she just hiked up to see the sunrise, Stories segues into the next video montage, showing her safely at the bottom of the hill.

Thank you, Instagram, for figuring out how to overtake Snapchat and settle my stressed out mind. Now I can hit ‘replay’ over and over and over, soaking in the details and sharing with grandma and grandpa without feeling like my screenshot game is minor-league. And since all things come back in style, if I just wait long enough, maybe by the time my kids have kids of their own Facebook will be trendy again, and I can take all the time I want replaying and sharing photos of my bound-to-be-adorable grandchildren to all my old lady friends.

See ya, Snapchat. Can’t say I’ll miss you one bit.

If you’d like to be my old lady friend on Facebook or Instagram, you can find me sharing stories, snaps, books and beauty there on a regular basis. Snapchat? Not so much.

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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 “Do Something That Makes You Happy Today” List

I’m a HUGE list maker. I’m a planner. I come by it naturally – teaching forces me to know what’s going to happen (or at least have some sort of starting idea) every minute from 8:00 to 3:15. My days operate with lesson plans and bells, and I even can tell you what time I can take a bathroom break and when I can eat my lunch. Down to the minute.

Writing lists makes me happy.

It’s normal that this sort of planning would trickle over into my non-teaching life, right? Some call it a curse.

I have lists for this week, and then a specific plan for today. I write down what I need to do, what I want to do, and what I dream about doing. I have lists for the month, lists for the summer (usually full of big projects that I don’t have time to do during the school year, like painting the living room or sorting out photos on the computer), and lists for the different stores I like to shop. I have lists for cards to send, gifts to buy, and places I want to travel.

I’m sorry – does this sound overwhelming to you? Honestly, I don’t think I could function without a list.

This day definitely made my happy list.
This day definitely made my happy list.

In 2016, I’m adding one more list: a “What will make me happy today” list.

I was inspired by a meme on Facebook that read, “Make a list of things that make you happy. Make a list of things you do every day. Compare the lists. Adjust accordingly.”

Wow-  so simple, right? It made me stop and think. How many ‘happy’ things do I do every day? And why didn’t I think of this?

I had no idea that ‘happy lists’ were a THING. Wow – all the images and memes and ‘happy groups’ out there! I love it when Facebook teaches me something.

I realized that in the midst of all this listing, this recording and crossing off and getting-it-done, I was forgetting a key component.

Yes, I love the feeling of checking “it” off – that swell of joy at finally completing a long-overdue task, of not forgetting an important date or bringing something somewhere that I need to be.

But despite the momentary joyfulness, I noticed was a crucial missing piece: ME. I was missing from my own ‘to-do’ list.

I’m 50 now. Not that much has changed, really. I’m still mothering and teaching and partnering. I’m still me. Some shifting has happened – one of my kids is living in another state, quite successfully. I have one more at home for three years, and then it’s just me and my husband (imagine the kind of lists I can have then!).

Another happy list day - my 50th birthday celebration.
Another happy list day – my 50th birthday celebration.

I’ve decided that while I’m busy teaching and mothering and being a partner, I need to remember to do more of what makes me happy, every day. So simple, isn’t it?

But I need to not just say I’m going to do it – I need to write it down.

So every day, after I’ve written my morning pages, I’m adding a “What will make me happy today” list in my journal. It’s quite easy, and often it’s the same thing every day: 1. find time to read and write 2. spend time with C 3. take a walk and notice something 4. make something delicious to eat for my family

Writing it down, though, makes a difference. It says to me REMEMBER to do this. Take the time to squeeze in a few minutes of doing what makes you happy today. It says, “You’re important.”

I can check something off my happy list now – writing a blog post is definitely at the top.

What can you write on your happy list today? I’d love to know what’s on the top (or middle or bottom) of your list.

Do it. Now. You’re important, you know.

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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Being Different Is Being Beautiful: Speaking Out About Caitlyn Jenner

The photo jumped out of my Facebook feed during my lunch break today. The beautiful woman, not the headline, caught my eye; she looked like someone famous, but I couldn’t quite place her. Then I realized who I was looking at: Caitlin Jenner.

I quickly scanned my middle school classroom for someone to share it with, someone who would care. The 9th graders scarfing down their lunches and talking sports and summer? The 8th grader taking a vocabulary test? I settled on my 20-something intern, who casually replied, “Oh yeah – I saw that. She’s gorgeous. Wow.”

I smiled, and went back to my salad.

Within minutes, it was all over social media. SHE was all over social media, in all her courageous, vulnerable, breathtaking silk-bodysuit clad natural beauty.

caitlyn jenner

Scanning the news feeds, I was struck by my friend Loran Lewis Wyman’s Facebook posting – above the headline she wrote, “I’m wowed by the courage to do this. Awed by the transformation our world is making so that everyone can feel accepted. Inspired by an ongoing and deeper pursuit of realness. And invigorated by the always amazing flow of information – through the eyes of a brilliant photographer, an exclusive press article and cover, and via electrically charged digital media sharing the story across the globe like water running down a mountain in rivulets.”

Wow.

All I could add to that was “And hopeful that the children who have experienced ridicule and hate because they feel “different” will grow up in a world where being “different” is celebrated!”

Because that’s how I think. That’s my world – kids. That’s my barometer of life, how the world is changing and how I wish the rest of the world would catch up.

I look out at my students and marvel at their courage every day. I have kids who struggle with the everyday challenges of life: what to wear, how to style their hair, how to balance sports and school. They struggle with their parents and puberty, with grades and goals and getting into (and out of) relationships. They worry about being ‘different’ and about being alone or going along with the group.

And yes, they struggle with their gender identity and with their sexuality, sometimes before they even know what they’re struggling about.

So as I sat with my salad and thought about the kids in my room, I smiled. I didn’t have to show these kids her photo – they wouldn’t be phased by it. They’re growing up in a time where being different is no longer as taboo as it was in my generation. They’re growing up in a community that celebrates diversity, in a school that embraces children for how they treat each other, not how they look or who they love.

My heart filled with hope – hope that if one of those kids eating their lunch and playing with their Tech Decks – if one of them is growing up feeling “different”, that maybe our world is changing just fast enough that they won’t have to wait until they’re sixty-five years old and panicked that, in the words of Caitlyn Jenner, “If I was lying on my deathbed and I had kept this secret and never ever did anything about it, I would be lying there saying, ‘You just blew your entire life. You never dealt with yourself,’ and I don’t want that to happen.”

Congratulations, Caitlyn. Thanks for introducing yourself to the world. Thanks for living your true self. Thanks for showing us that being ‘different’ is beautiful.
Photo credit: Poppy – I am so different via photopin (license)

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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