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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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fear

Learning To Conquer Your Fear

 

Learning To Conquer Your Fear

I love this quote about fear from Pema Chodron:

“The on-the-spot practice of being fully present, feeling your heart, and greeting the next moment with an open mind can be done at any time: when you wake up in the morning, before a difficult conversation, whenever fear or discomfort arises.

This practice is a beautiful way to claim your warriorship, your spiritual warriorship.

In other words, it is a way to claim your courage, your kindness, your strength. Whenever it occurs to you, you can pause briefly, touch in with how you’re feeling both physically and mentally, and then connect with your heart—even putting your hand on your heart, if you want to.

This is a way of extending warmth and acceptance to whatever is going on for you right now.

You might have an aching back, an upset stomach, panic, rage, impatience, calmness, joy – whatever it is, you can let it be there just as it is, without labeling it good or bad, without telling yourself you should or shouldn’t be feeling that way.

Having connected with what is, with love and acceptance, you can go forward with curiosity and courage.”

~ Pema Chodron

fear

I use this image on my daily agenda at school – partly to remind my students to brave, but also to remind myself.

Just because I’m an adult doesn’t mean I don’t have to think about conquering fear – it just sometimes looks a little different for me than it does for 8th graders. I love Pema’s idea of conquering fear as a way to claim both courage and kindness.

embrace change

For years I’ve been wearing a silver cuff reminding me to have courage – to look at each day and break it down, to find small ways to chunk out tasks and experiences and problems into manageable pieces.

Some days it works better than others.

I try to teach my students about time management, about self-advocacy, about believing that they deserve to be successful.

Some days my words are stronger than others. Some days they, believe me, some days they don’t.

“You’re still learning,” I tell them. “Excuses are useless,” I remind them.

I remind myself, too.

As teachers, we’re learning how to help kids experiencing trauma. We are begging for professional development to help kids with anxiety, to build relationships, to remember to put KIDS first, CURRICULUM second.

moms make awesome teachers

We’ve seen what happens when kids/young adults fall through the cracks.I’m sure that I spend more time with some of my students than they actually spend with their parents. I’ve got kids stopping by to say hello between classes, sometimes asking for a hug or sharing something they’re proud of. I’ve got kids who eat lunch on my beanbags or tables every single day, I think because they know it’s a safe, calm place.

I guess that’s one way they’re learning to conquer their fear – to find a community in a place where they know they’re not being judged or having to monitor their ‘likes’. They can just connect, just be there as is.

I love those lunch hours, knowing that I really just need to let them know they are loved and accepted and that they are connected to someone who cares.

fear
Me stepping out of my comfort zone – coding with my students!

I think that’s a pretty decent place to start learning to conquer fear, right?

Do you have any advice about conquering fear? I’d love to hear it – leave a comment below, or tweet me @mamawolfeto2!

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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boundaries

Boundaries For Strong Self-Care: Creating and Keeping Yourself Happy and Healthy

Do you struggle with boundaries?

This morning I woke up to a tweet from one of my favorite educators, Pernille Ripp. She asked, “What is one thing do you to take care of yourself as an educator?”

I was the first to respond.

I quickly tweeted, “Set strong boundaries between home and school”, and she immediately replied, “I need to do that”.

boundaries

Wait – what? This educator/mom/ author agrees with me? I just assumed someone as accomplished as she would have figured that out, but then, I remembered – when my kids were young, it seemed impossible to set (let alone keep) those boundaries.

Teaching can feel like a 24/7 job.

And while dedicated educators always seem to have their next-most-awesome lesson idea simmering in the back of their mind, or are hoping that one special kid has a decent afternoon/night/weekend and comes back to school the next day, just like the old cliche about the oxygen mask, we really MUST practice strong self care to be at our best for our life-altering jobs as educators.

boundaries

Life can be tough, there’s no denying it. There are so many negative things in the world that can really get us down – even turning the tv on nowadays is depressing enough. Having said that, there are also so many incredible things around us that unfortunately, we miss because we are so preoccupied with the bad, but that’s where we need to focus and engage. Don’t let yourself be consumed by things that don’t deserve your time and attention. Instead, learn to unwind and do something that is worthwhile, like finding a hobby – something that you are truly passionate about.

It didn’t take teachers long to share their self-care tips; here are some of the best ideas:

Creating Art

Art is a tool that allows us to capture things and freeze them in time, in our own unique way. The beauty of this is that there aren’t any rules. Essentially you can do whatever you like, and no one can tell you whether it’s right or wrong, because that just doesn’t exist. You are in total control of what you do, so let your creative juices flow out onto a blank canvas with colorful paints and see what you’re able to create. Free your hands from tension and let them sculpt and mold clay into a structure that makes sense to you. – Whatever your form and medium may be, express whatever you are feeling at the time. Be honest and open, as that is when true magic happens.

Create & Construct

Listening and Playing Music

Music is a beautiful thing that not only stimulates our ears but our soul. It has the strength to bring back fond memories from a time that feels like centuries ago, even smelling the air from that very day. It’s exceptional, and it helps us to get through some of the best times, and some of the worst times in our lives. So think about being able to create that very same experience by playing an instrument yourself. It doesn’t have to be as hard as you may imagine either, for example, there are sites out there like easyukulelesongs.com that give access to what you need so that to play your favorite tunes. Why not stretch a bit, explore the world of music and pick up an instrument?

Music is a higher revelation...

Read, Read, Read

Reading is an underrated hobby that everyone should adopt. It allows us to delve into a world that is so different to our own, giving us the chance to live vicariously through the characters in books. People don’t realize how far stories can take them until they pick one up, only to find themselves not being able to put it down unless absolutely necessary. It’s a way of escaping reality for a while and drift off somewhere else. The best thing about it is the fact that reading can happen anywhere: on the sofa at home, on a bench in the park, under a tree in the forest, on the bus to a destination, in the bath eating strawberries, or in bed snuggled up (my favorite).

boundaries books

Another one of my favorite educators, Kelly Hilton (a co-creator of #hyperdocs), shared this hyperdoc lesson focused on TEACHERS, not students – but I can see the possibilities for making it apply to kids, too. Heck, every person who struggles with boundaries could benefit!

Why not share this with your teaching staff/friends/favorite educators who need a reminder to find ordinary things in life to discover the extraordinary pleasures that are right in front of us?

boundaries hyperdoc

Click HERE to make a copy of Kelly’s “Self-Care for Educators” hyperdoc, including a self-care plan, compassion-satisfaction-fatigue self- test, and self-care ideas.

What do you do to practice self-care and set boundaries between work and your personal life? Please share your tips below, or tweet me at @mamawolfeto2 .

I’d love to learn from you, too!

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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