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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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authenticity reflection

Authenticity: When I Wonder If I Am Enough

Authenticity: When I Wonder If I Am Enough

I didn’t really set out to be a teacher – or a parent. I wasn’t a child who dreamed of my ‘perfect’ career or ‘perfect’ family. I didn’t have names picked out for my future children. I rarely thought about life too far in advance. I mostly did what I needed to do, took the side roads instead of the highway, and generally landed on my feet – often times a bit wobbly or off center, but not completely upside down.

At least not more than once or twice.

The fact that teaching and parenting have defined me for 27 years is really quite surprising.

I’m grateful for my teaching job. I’m told I’m good at it; I’ve stuck with teaching middle school, through three different districts, dozens of principals and multiple iterations of teaching kids. Yes, the content and class titles have changed, but not my focus: kids first, content second.

And I’m grateful for my parenting job. I’m thinking I’m pretty good at it; my oldest is graduating from college, my youngest from high school. Neither has been in ‘trouble’, they care about people and take their education seriously. They are good humans. And they still check in with mom and dad and put up with my innate tendency to worry and create elaborate ‘what if’ scenarios in my head.

And yet, still, those moments creep up on me, silent and stealthy and surprising with their intensity – moments when doubt creeps in, wraps like a tourniquet around my forehead and squeezes out my confidence. The moments that I’m learning to beat down, to thrash out at with a violence built up over half a century of battling self-doubt.

I’ve been rolling around this idea for awhile now, waiting for just the right inspiration – and today, the Universe responded with a quote from Coco Chanel in my “Year of Daily Joy” guided journal: “How many cares one loses when one decides not to be something, but someone.”

authenticity

I honestly think that’s where I am right now: deciding to be someONE. I’m fairly certain it has to do with being 50+, with having a supportive husband who helps me along a path that just feels like the right one to take – even when I’ve got no other justification than that. I would bet that it has to do with feeling supported in my work – but administrators, colleagues, parents, and students who allow me to succeed and fail, who listen to my audacious ideas and trust me enough to join in.

Authenticity: loving fiercely

And I know for sure that my children, the two humans who have taught me the most in life, are at the core of my decision. Loving fiercely, parenting two spirits that aren’t afraid to call me out and show me their side of the story, enable me to look in the mirror every day and ask, “Am I enough by THEIR standards?”

authenticity

Knowing that if I walk my talk, if I believe in my power enough to show them they can believe in theirs, is flexing my authenticity muscle. With every risk I take, with every failure and stumble and crash I hope I’m showing them that I care. That I believe in searching for fulfillment for myself and being open to what the Universe has in mind…even when I want nothing more than to stay under the soft covers of my bed and listen to the birds chirping outside on a cloudy morning.

Martha Beck says, “Refusing to risk is like allowing a muscle to atrophy; it doesn’t hurt, but when the muscle isn’t fulfilling its purpose, it loses whatever strength it has.” 

I love thinking of these moments of wondering if I’m enough like a muscle I need to exercise. We all have authenticity inside, wrapping our bones and covering our hearts with abundance and love. Why have so many, like me, found it easier to refuse to risk, to scramble under the covers instead of undertaking the hard work of finding – and cultivating – it?

I have struggled most of my life with a paralysis of perfectionism. I don’t know where it comes from or why, and I honestly don’t care.

What I do care about, however, is how this paralysis impacts my ability to find authenticity-in my parenting, my teaching, my writing, and my daily interactions with strangers and friends. Part of that is recognizing that when the Universe sends me former students who remind me I was their ‘favorite’ teacher, or when my son responds with a hug to my request to spend more than an hour a day together, or when I connect with a stranger on Twitter who honors my work, I am making a difference.

Authenticity: Being enough

I care about authenticity. I also care deeply about being ‘enough’. So I’ll show up, I’ll puff out my chest when I’m feeling less than brave, and I’ll live. I’ll take the risk. I’ll flex the muscle. I’ll show the Universe more love. I’ll do things that I want to do, and I won’t let perfectionism paralyze me ever again.

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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great heart of the world

The Great Heart of the World

The Great Heart of the World

I know what the cure is:
it is to give up,
to relinquish, to surrender,
so that our little hearts may
beat in unison with the
great heart of the world.

~ Henry Miller

Every morning for the last eight days I’ve walked into my classroom, taken a big breath, and remembered why I am there. I’ve tried to focus on the love I have for my students, my colleagues, my job and the buildings that help me engage students and build their confidence. As I plug in the twinkle lights that light up the walls and fill my diffuser with lavender, I’m purposefully sharing my love. I stand at the door and greet my students by name. We high five, hug, smile and chat to ease our way into building our little community. I scan their faces for highs and lows and try to notice something about each one. My simple rituals help remind me that school is a place of love for me – that school is where I see the great heart of the world every single day.

Where is our great heart of the world? There are so many ways we have been loved in our lives – so many ways we can SHOW love in our lives. It shouldn’t take tragedies and politics to remember the profound power to be found in love – think about what would happen if you spent five minutes today just writing a list of all the places, all the people and pets and experiences in your life RIGHT NOW where you see love…it would feel so good. It might even balance out all the negativity we see around us, help heal the pain and wrap our arms around those we don’t even know, but those who are collapsed in anguish.

I found this Henry Miller poem about the great heart of the world on the lovely blog, a First Sip – and it just felt like today was the right time to share it.

Sending you all great big love today, and every day. Be sure to share some of your own, too.

~Jennifer

great heart of world

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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