Soledad O’Brien, You Made A Difference To One Starfish Last Week

I’m not much of a ‘joiner’. Sometimes ‘going big’ is harder than ‘going home’ for me; I’d much rather watch the news go by from the quiet of my home than have to walk up and say ‘hi’.

I’ve always been introverted like that.

It used to be painful – physically and emotionally tormenting – for me to initiate contact with another human being.

I’m slightly better at it now, but it’s taken nearly a half-century to be able to breathe, thrust out  my hand, smile and introduce myself. And to be honest, I avoid these situations as much as I possibly can. For me, being an introvert and living in an extroverted world is absolutely exhausting.

I immediately realized that was exactly the situation I faced in New York City as I walked into the hotel for the BlogHer15 conference last week. I seriously questioned my decision to spend hours on a red eye flying across the country, lug my suitcases for blocks through the streets of Manhattan (did you know in NYC no one pays attention to the traffic signals? Pedestrians just step into the street, avoiding eye contact with drivers, and make their way across!), and share a room with three complete strangers. Would it really make a difference in my little teaching, parenting and writing world?

at BlogHer15 in NYC
My blurry entry to BlogHer15

The synchronicity started upon hearing Melinda Gates personally answer my question  on the power of harnessing the stories of our children, and how as a teacher I can encourage them to speak – and be heard.  Imagine my shock at my question being the only one selected for her to answer: here’s a short clip of her answer – I was so surprised it took me a minute to regroup and get the camera rolling!

After that, I started thinking about the power of women’s voices, and how I might use my own life and experiences to share stories of what I think is important – a perfect frame of mind to hear Friday’s keynote speaker, Soledad O’Brien. I’m sure you recognize her name – she’s an award-winning journalist affiliated with HBO, CNN, Al Jazeera America and Latina Magazine, and is the originator of the “Black in America” and “Latino in America” documentary franchises. She was named one of Newsweek Magazines “10 People who Make America Great”. And she’s almost exactly my age. Most impressive to me, though, is that she’s a wife and a mom and after Hurricane Katrina, she started the Starfish Foundation as a way to mentor young women and help them attend/afford college. 

You’ve heard the Starfish story by Loren Eisley, right?

starfish story

This isn’t a new story for most educators – it encapsulates so much of how we keep trudging on every day in our overloaded classes. After teaching middle school for decades, I know that I may not reach every child in my class, despite my endless attempts to show them how much I care. At this point in my teaching journey, I hope that every year I make a difference to at least one, even if I’ll never directly know it.

IMG_9578

Soledad took a different spin on the story with her Starfish Foundation. In her words, she believes that “mentoring isn’t hard. You give time, emotional support and connection. You don’t need a lot of money – it’s about finding out how you can help. It’s time served.”

I leaned forward in my chair. Here’s a most accomplished woman, a person spending her Thursday afternoon speaking to me -to so many women like me, who write and tell stories and share their hopes and dreams and vision for the future. Who, maybe like me, is living her life in search of ways to connect and make the world just a little kinder and fairer for kids?

My brain was spinning. This woman, this storyteller, was speaking my language. On behalf of kids and women and education. Her words fascinated me, sending me deep in thought – one of the best qualities of being an introvert. Am I really doing what I’m meant to? Am I using my ‘platform’ to connect with kids and become someone who can make a difference? What stories can I share about teens and education and the world that will have an impact?

All the noise of NYC disappeared as I wrapped myself in her ideas and the simplicity with which she embodied her message. The crowd cheered as she walked off the stage, and as I clapped along with them, I realized this is why I was there – to stretch, to push myself and my thoughts into action.

To think deeply about myself as a woman and a mom and an educator.

To live life as an extrovert for a weekend, and then go back and teach audaciously and make a difference.

Thanks, Soledad. You made a difference to this starfish, even if you’ll never know it.

Soledad O'Brien, You Made A Difference To One Starfish Last Week

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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6 Ways To Stop “Future-Tripping” And Be Present In Your Life

“Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.”
Mother Teresa

I’m coming up on a milestone birthday this year – a really big one. Social media is reminding me of this every day, as I watch one high school classmate after another hit the ‘big one’.

Of course, the ‘big one’ might be a relative term for many of us – life has so many milestone markers for us that it seems we are always stumbling towards one or another, aren’t we?

Was 16 the ‘big one’ for you? 21? 30? 35? 40?

50?

And parallel to this march towards a half-century are my children’s milestone markers, not just found in numbers, but moments along the way as well.

Those ordinary, extraordinary moments that as a parent take my breath away and remind me that the only way to move forward, to not blindly push through milestones and markers, is to breathe, to be present, to look up at life with my eyes wide open and my heart vulnerable.

It’s a daily struggle, to be sure. I make my own markers along the way, rituals I use, reminders I send, to train my highly sensitive body to stop, to breathe, to remember all will be well.

present in the moment

To be honest, it’s hard work for me. It’s a conscious awareness that my natural inclination to think forward, to plan, to control, isn’t always serving me in the best way possible. The hard work comes to remember that being here, now, allows fears of the past and future to fade away, and allows me to inhale every beautiful second of life, of motherhood, of simply being.

Not being present breeds restlessness. It forces the interior wiring to hyper-speed, to thinking too far ahead – ‘future tripping’, a friend once dubbed it.

So when time feels like it is spinning off its axis, when my worries send me off center, I try one of these six ways to stop ‘future-tripping’ and find my way back:

1. Put yourself on “time out”. Remember when the kids were little and this was a ‘consequence’? I say, take one! Do what you like to do, even if it’s just for 30 minutes. Cook a healthy meal. Bake something delicious. Dig in the soft soil of your garden. Close your eyes and dream. Pet the dog. Curl up under the covers. Whatever it is, make sure it’s something to nurture yourself.

2. Find your center. Finding places to express your gratitude will make you feel more connected. One of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott, offers a simple meditation I use frequently: “Help. Thanks. Wow.” Write them down, whisper them to the universe, or meditate on them throughout the day. It’s an amazing transformation. Give yourself reminders throughout the day – I use the “Tell Me Later” app to send quotes to my phone at times in the day I know are particularly challenging for me to stay centered.

3. Make a list. OK- list making satisfies my inner teacher-mom. I have a general list of priorities, hopes and things-I’d-really-love-to-do-someday, and then each morning I choose a few to tackle in the upcoming day. They don’t always get done, but it’s amazing how when I commit to writing them down, I feel compelled to at least start. And plus, crossing it off when I’m finished is so satisfying! Sometimes seeing our responsibilities in front of us we realize they’re not as overwhelming as we once thought.

take a walk UCD Arboretum

4. Take a walk. I gave up running years ago, and find that making time for a daily walk helps me to slow down. I like to get away from people (introvert-raising-hand-wildly) so I can really feel the rhythm of my stride and sense the solitude wash down my body. I like the consistency of a familiar path each day, and delight in the small surprises of nature, water, and sky.

5. Breathe. Seriously – pay attention to it. I’m considering setting a “Tell Me Later” reminder just for this – a gentle nudge to inhale, exhale and slow.it.down.

6. Find my balance. For the longest time I was so caught up in the treadmill of raising small children, managing a home, teaching school and trying to maintain friendships that I lost my balance. I threw away those little joys – like writing in my journal and reading a great novel – because I thought I had too many other responsibilities.  After teetering dangerously out of balance, I’ve learned to not deny my inner planner – I think about what can I do for today, and how I can balance it all. We each have the same number of hours in our day – and we get to choose how we spend them. Take small steps, one at a time, to return to the fulcrum of your life.

I’ll be honest – being present sometimes feels like a chore. It sometimes seems easier to push ourselves to the end of the line, to view our life through a camera lens hoping to watch the replay some other time. Life is contracting before it expands; that squeezing sensation is the universe reminding you to trust, to open your eyes and look around. When you stop ‘future tripping’ and pay attention to the glorious, messy, sometimes chaotic but always real life before you, the universe will respond bountifully.

Remember: the milestones in your life are markers of a life well lived. Don’t you want to be present to celebrate?

6 Ways To Stop Future-tripping And Be Present In Your Life

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 Car Is My Quiet Place

Call me weird, but I really like to sit in my car – it’s my quiet place.  Alone.

 It has nothing to do with driving-I like that, too, especially when it’s on the open highway.  What I’m talking about are those rare moments when I’m completely locked in my glass bubble.  The engine isn’t running, the radio is silent, and if I’m lucky, the rain is gently falling on the roof.
When I was a kid, I used to love going in our garage when it was raining just to listen to the soft, rhythmic sound of rain hitting the shake shingles.  It felt safe, quiet, and I guess meditative, although I had no idea what that was at the time.
Today, I spend my days in an endless gurgle of people wanting, needing, and questioning.  My continuous ‘response with a smile’ feels exhausting by 4p.m. and I find myself craving quiet.  That is where the car comes in.
I don’t slip out to the garage and leave my family inside the house wondering what’s up with Mom.  I don’t drive around the block searching for a place to park.  Sometimes I do linger after I’ve arrived home, savoring the last of the NPR story, or taking a few deep breaths to center myself.
My car sitting time is often while I’m waiting for my son or daughter to finish a class, an activity, or some sport that doesn’t require spectating.  It’s best when I park in a quiet neighborhood without many pedestrians peering in the windows.  I prefer daylight quiet in my car, although I do keep a Halloween style skull lantern in my glove box to shed a little light as needed.
What do I do in the car?  I sit.  I write.  I think.  I grade the endless papers that my students provide me every day.  I don’t like to talk on the phone, but I do occasionally check my email, play Words with Friends, or send a text or two.  I write lots of blog posts, I do lesson plans, and once in awhile I’ll read a book or catch up on the newspaper.  I even keep a blanket handy.
Once I did fall asleep – it was dark and after dinner – that felt a bit embarrassing and disorienting.  As my teenage daughter would say, it was ‘sup-awk’ to wake up to the chatter of kids leaving their class knowing I had been snoring with the windows open!
Mostly I find that I breathe, sink into the seat, and just slow it down.  I let my heartbeat match the rain, and concentrate on me. Most of the time people don’t notice me there, and I like that.
Now that I’m an adult, I don’t get to hear the rain on the roof of our house.   The sound of rain hitting skylights just isn’t the same-it’s more of a ping than a satisfying thud.  But when I’m alone inside my car I hear it all-rain, the wind, birds, dogs, and passers-by all create a meditative backdrop to my thoughts.
As a turtle needs to retreat into its shell to protect its soft body, as a chipmunk scurries into its hole, and as a rabbit retreats to its den, I need a place to go and shut out the world.  The demands of a job and a family can, just for a moment, stay outside the bubble.  Safe, dry, and protected, I can breathe in and out, and find my center again.
Call me weird, but I really like to sit in my car.  Alone.  Quietly.  What about you? Where’s your quite place?

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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