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

primark

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Why Moms Make Awesome Teachers

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

moms make awesome teachers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Moms Make Awesome Teachers

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

moms make awesome teachers

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

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

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

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

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

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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remind us to be brave reflection

Remind Us How To Be Brave: Poetry From Rosemerry Trommer

Remind Us How To Be Brave:

I discovered these beautiful words to remind us how to be brave on A First Sip.  After this week, the uprising in hate group empowerment, the reactions of our president, and the murder of an innocent woman, many of us are struggling with how to be brave. What does it mean to stand up, to use our voice? How do we speak out against the unspeakable? How do we go back to school, to classrooms, next week and use our position to help kids understand and process and learn to love?

I struggle, as do so many, with the answers to these questions. I wrote about my initial reaction to the hate in Charlottesville here. I hope this poetry and my words not only remind us how to be brave but helps us ACT out our bravery.

One of my most often used reminders in my classroom is that stepping out of our comfort zone is where the magic happens. As an introvert, I find this practice exhausting. I know I need to push myself and others forward, to remind myself of the need for solitude, and to gather momentum from taking risks and being adventurous. That’s one reason I travel to Nicaragua, one reason I write, and one reason I think amazing things happen in my classroom.

remind us to be brave church
Ciudad Dario, Nicaragua

But at the end of the day, I’m weary. I’m spent and retreat into solace. I release the demands into the soil of my garden or the sauces simmering on my stove. I walk in meditation, stopping to notice the bloom beside me or the reflection on the water.

remind us to be brave reflection
Lake Tahoe reflection

To remind us how to be brave, we must slip out of the world we know and into the world of quiet contemplation.

remind us to be brave garden quiet
A quiet moment in my garden.

I hope you enjoy this peaceful poem by Rosemerry Trommer – and remember you have all the power you need right inside.

When her voice is weary
it means it is time to listen.

When her armor is heavy,
it means it is time to be soft,

time to slip out of her certainty
and her battle songs,

time to retreat from the lines
she has drawn, time to unknow

the world she thinks she knows
and to find herself in the world

that knows her. She lets the darkness
penetrate her, it caresses

her universal curves. Her quiet
joins her to an infinite quiet—

she is everything, nothing at once.
She relearns how vulnerability

transforms us in ways
ferocity can not.

She is her own fertile seed.
She is her own desert rain.

She’s her own cocoon, her own inner cave.
Sometimes it takes the darkness

to remind us how to be brave.

~ Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer

Words are the spark that ignites my soul. I am a collector of language in all forms, believing the extraordinary beauty of the written word must be shared.

These monthly posts, inspired by another’s words, are my gifts of beauty and spirit, shared with love.

xoxo, 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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adulting

You’re Adulting Now: Thoughts On Love For My 21-Year-Old Daughter

I don’t want to go, but I know I can’t stay either. You see, you’re adulting now. You don’t need me in the way I thought you did, or that you used to.

I made a party for you last night. I felt like my own mother – hovering a little from the sidelines, content to be in the shadows of you and your friends adulting on the patio. How many times has my mom been there, behind the scenes, while I took the adulting spotlight?

I happily chopped veggies and cooked chicken in the crock pot all afternoon while you were at work. I baked a lemon cake and chatted with your roommate as we frosted it with whipped cream and berries, just like I used to when you were little.

You’re adulting now

adulting

I made blueberry and pineapple fruit ice cubes, but this time they were for sangria not lemonade, sliced oranges and got out the real wine glasses.

Later, I listened to your girlfriends chat about summer adventures abroad, pushing themselves when they were scared on the ski slopes, and what they dreamed their lives would be like.

They’ve got a bet going on who will get married first and who will become a Mom before everyone else.

They wonder how long it would take to create better male birth control and why couldn’t we elect a female president and how scary it must be to be a mom, all while sipping their sangria and laughing together.

You really are adulting now.

adulting

I made too much food. I really am feeling like my mom right about now, too. That’s a good thing. When I’ve been learning about adulting, my mom has been my greatest teacher. Anything I could or couldn’t do, she could do better. Always.

When I turned 21 my dad threw a big party for me in a restaurant. I ordered my first official cocktail – an old-fashioned – and wore a burgundy and black lace dress that matched my jet black hair. You dad was there, too, but just as my boyfriend. It was big and fun and loud and I remember my own dad smiling a lot. Grandparents, too.

I wasn’t sure how to honor you, though, at 21. It didn’t seem like all the “yo bitches” stuff I found online was quite appropriate. I’m a cool mom, but I have my limits. I couldn’t figure out how to get all the family together out in Salt Lake; one of the drawbacks of you living so far away is we can only visit in small groups.

Grandma has to settle with me texting her photos as we go.

Your grin when you saw the candles on your birthday cake wasn’t any different from when you were two or twelve. You smiled to celebrate you.

adulting

I love that every single one of your friends ate a big slice. #stronggirls.

I did the dishes quietly while you laughed outside and took your final photos, hearing your laughter through the screen door. I wasn’t quite sure how long to hang out with you all. We hugged goodbye to your friends with just a bit of sadness from me; I’ve no idea when I’ll see them again.

When the boys showed up I was already reading and ready for bed. I’m glad you fed them the leftovers and sat around the kitchen table. I could hear you teasing each other as I tried to give you some adult space- honestly, I wasn’t up for anymore adulting today.

And while your voices rose and fall through the closed door, I realized how you don’t need me anymore the way I thought you did. It’s not just the number 21 on a cake or the apartment key on your ring. You’re adulting now, like it or not.

You keep your own hours and earn two paychecks. Your friends leave at a reasonable hour to get rested before their “real” job starts on Monday morning. You do your dishes and put a cork on the wine bottle and make sure the front door is locked and the lights are out.

adulting

You plan to meet for happy hours after mountain biking and know the importance of eight hours of sleep before a work day. You offer me your bed instead of the couch, and your eyes smile when I tell you that for now, at least, the couch is fine.

I’ve only got five hours before I get on the plane and go back home. I want you to sleep but want to cuddle up with you and fresh coffee on the couch and soak in every last minute together. I’m pushing away the nagging thoughts about leaving and trying to dismiss the fact that this time, I don’t know when I’ll see you next.

I hate it when I cry goodbye. I know it makes you sad, too. Adulting can be hard.

Thanksgiving seems like a long time away. I’m not sure I’m ready for that kind of adulting yet- the kind where you hug and say it’s been great to see you and safe travels and walk away without knowing how many more days to count down until I wrap my arms around you again.

I’m not sure I’m ready for that- but I’m sure that you are.

That should take the sting out of leaving just a little- at least for me.

You’re adulting now. You’re going to be just fine.

I’ll have to keep my “how-many-days-til-I-see-Lily” countdown secret this time.

I think I need to hang onto my baby girl just a little bit longer.

adulting

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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The Gods Are Here, In This Almost Empty Nest

“The Gods Are Here”

This is no mountain

But a house,

No rock of solitude

But a family chair,

No wilds

But life appearing

As life anywhere domesticated,

Yet I know the gods are here,

And that if I touch them

I will arise

And take majesty into the kitchen.”

Jean Toomer

The Gods are here, in this almost empty nest of mine.

Hovering over my family, my son frequently ticks off the months left he has until his birthday, the day he officially becomes an ‘adult’.

There’s less than four left; we anticipate with a mix of excitement and uncertainty. He for the former, me for the latter. More than some I know, less than others.

Yesterday he announced there were seven months before he would know officially where he’s spending his college years. Unofficially, he’s hoping for a location 2, 467 miles from home. Exactly. Yes, I checked.

The Gods are here, in this home. I surround myself with their comfort.

We watch “Blackish” together. It’s one of our few remaining ‘things’ we do, just the two of us.  That, and gardening. For anyone out there with a teenage son, you understand the joy of having a ‘thing’ to do together. For most days, we parallel, a mix of school and jobs and eating and homework. We say good morning and goodnight, and as ‘life anywhere domesticated’, we have our own strange daily routine. It works ok. I find myself forever on the end of wanting more, but swelling with pride as he feels his footing in wanting and doing more for himself.

A few weeks ago, “Blackish” hit home with their episode about their oldest child receiving college acceptances and struggling with a decision of the heart v. head. It’s the kind of struggle I’m all too familiar with these days: how hard to tug on the line, how much slack to release. How to truly sit with the situation in front of me and decide where I fit, how I respond, when I share my opinion and when I just listen.

“This is no mountain, but a house”, I remind myself. This is “no rock of solitude”, but a “family chair” to sink into. These are the small moments of life that slip in and out sometimes without notice, sometimes with great emotion surfacing at the most strange and inopportune times. This is my job, as a mother, to remember that it is my place to create the soft place to land, the cushion to spring into and out of and to trust the solid foundation that brought us this far. This is ‘life appearing’ whether I like it or not, despite my protests and preparations. This is my holy place, our landing space, our creation. I can trust in the sturdiness of our structure. I can close my eyes and remember the majesty of their first words and milestones. I breathe in the scent of their baby soft skin, fresh from the bath. I hear the whispers and the whimpers, the laughter and the squeals of excitement. I remember it all even when I didn’t think I would need to.

gods are here empty nest garden

I will arise, I am confident. I will take majesty, just as it has been given to me in all the extraordinary, ordinary moments spent gathered in this kitchen, this garden, this home.

I know the gods are here, in this almost empty nest. I will touch them here, I am confident. Here, rooted in this family, this place, this home, this life appearing and disappearing in front of me.

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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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