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

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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poetry

It’s Poetry Month! Writing, Reading, Teaching and Sharing Poetry

True confession: I haven’t always been a poetry lover. When I was younger I collected poems, intrigued by the connection I felt with a complete stranger’s expression of my emotions. I copied poem after poem into spiral notebooks, savoring every word. And in college, I fell in love with Blake and Dickinson and Maya Angelou and so many other voices that spoke to me from the pages of their slim, hardbound books. I developed a love for words less linear, less formulaic, and less predictable.

Then I started teaching middle school, and wasn’t sure how to share my love for language with my students – kids who were hesitant to approach text that looked different, and were afraid of getting the meaning ‘wrong’.

So I backed off.

Textbook poetry bored all of us to tears. I couldn’t find a balance between helping them build the scaffolds they needed to understand how and why poets wrote, and where poetry was relevant or even just found in their lives.

This poetry month has been my favorite out of 25 years of trying.

Getting started with poetry:

I decided to just jump in and start writing. I used this Blackout poetry hyperdoc because it seemed to be so accessible and so simple. What kid couldn’t just select words and black out the rest?

poetry

Well, it turns out that some kids think WAY too hard. Instead of just relaxing and circling words that were beautiful or powerful or simply stood out, they tried to turn it into a sort or upside down word search. And some kids STRUGGLED.

I found myself flitting around the classroom reminding kids to ‘let their creativity flow’ and not to think too hard. I told them to not pay attention to font size or location of words. I suggested they just circle, and see what happens.

And of course, some came up with their own methods. But whatever they chose, I was happy that they were starting to see the beauty of language, and how words could bring power to a page.

This student was inspired by an image alongside the words and ended up creating a beautiful poem with a combo blackout/sketch effect.

Some kids decided they wanted to combine columns to create a more complex poem.

I’m pretty confident that the finished products shocked them – especially when I read them aloud to the class.

poetry
Finished blackout poems.

Using hyperdocs:

Once I had them relaxed and hooked with the blackout poems, I started slipping in mini-lessons using foldables in their interactive notebooks. I LOVE the series from Lovin Lit – her Interactive Poetry Notebooks have really helped me balance the poetic structure practice my 8th graders needed with learning how to annotate and write poetry, too.

My next step is to slip in some instruction about how to read poetry. I’ve been using this poetry hyperdoc as part one of this lesson. I’m a huge fan of hyperdocs, mainly because it allows me to differentiate instruction while giving my students choice and voice about how they learn. It’s ‘hands-free’ for me; I work to create the hyperdoc up front, but during class time I’m free to wander around, talk with students and coach them through the harder parts. Hyperdocs have transformed my teaching.

Writing odes:

We’ve moved through types of rhyme and learning how to annotate, so I threw in writing odes. I got the basic idea from Interactive Poetry Notebooks and created an outline to help them create some of the figurative language components.

This has been hilarious.

You might think middle school students would think odes were silly – I mean, adults usually think of odes as serious declarations of love, right?

So what do you think middle schoolers declare their love for?

writing poetry odes writing poetry odes

Dogs. Water. Waves. Netflix. Flowers. Minecraft. Twenty-One Pilots. Lots of students write odes to their pillows and their beds. One student wrote an ode to his ill grandmother, and another to her mother. Some wrote odes to each other, some wrote about ice cream and tacos and one even wrote about Donald Trump.

I’ve also created a Poetry hyperdoc part 2 to help give students more practice and choice about writing and publishing poetry. I don’t want to drag the unit out too far – just enough to have them feel confident and curious about reading and writing poetry, and have some fun along the way.

One thing I’ve learned is that I actually CAN teach kids to love poetry, and to have confidence that they can read and understand the sometimes abstract messages poets create. For 13 year-olds, I’d say that’s pretty great.

I love to share my favorite poems and poets here, usually once a month. Do you love Mary Oliver? Thich Nhat Hanh? Maya Angelou?

I’ve even written some poetry – and I know first hand it’s harder than it seems.

I’d love it if you’d share some poetry with me in the comments. And if you have fun poetry ideas, share them in the comments, 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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Life Has Left Her Footprints

Life has left her footprints on my forehead.

But I have become a child again this morning.

The smile, seen through leaves and flowers,

is back to smooth away the wrinkles,

as the rains wipe away footprints on the beach.

Again a cycle of birth and death begins.

sunrise

I walk on thorns, but firmly, as among flowers.

I keep my head high.

Rhymes bloom among the sounds of bombs and mortars.

The tears I shed yesterday have become rain.

I feel calm hearing its sound on the thatched roof.

Childhood, my birthland, is calling me,

and the rains melt my despair.

 

I am still here alive, able to smile quietly.

O sweet fruit brought forth by the tree of suffering!

Carrying the dead body of my brother,

I go across the rice field in the darkness.

Earth will keep you tight within her arms, my dear,

so that tomorrow you will be reborn as flowers,

those flowers smiling quietly in the morning field.

This moment you weep no more, my dear.We have gone through too deep a night.

 

This morning,

I kneel down on the grass,

when I notice your presence,

Flowers that carry the marvelous smile of ineffability

speak to me in silence.

 

The message,

the message of love

and understanding,

has indeed come to us.

 

~written in 1964 in Saigon by Thich Nhat Hanh

 

I share this with deep gratitude to my friend Vicki, who spreads love, compassion and knowledge as we walk in friendship on weekend early mornings.

 

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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Zen Master, Please Help Me!

Future Past Present
Future Past Present (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Peace is present right here and now, in ourselves and in everything we do and see.

Every breath we take, every step we take, can be filled with peace, joy, and serenity.

The question is whether or not we are in touch with it.

We need only to be awake, alive in the present moment.

Each time I read Thich Nhat Hahn’s writing I know it has come to me at the right moment. This is no exception.
I need to slow down.
Peace in the moment. That’s a hard concept for many women who, like me, try to manage a home, children, a job outside the home, time for a spouse, and any small scrap of a social life.  It’s hard to be peaceful, present  and in myself sometimes. I want to feel like every breath and step is full of joy and serenity, that counting the steps I take in life can simply bring me into a meditative state. More likely, I’m counting to see how fast I can go and how far I can get in a set amount of time!
My ‘busy’ life season is November through April. I feel like I’m moving in alternate realities, never present in one place long enough to get grounded. Early mornings every day of the week and weekend leave me tired, very much alive, and frequently frantic.
I need to be present.
Thich Nhat Hanh
Thich Nhat Hanh (Photo credit: Leonard John Matthews)

Being in touch with the moment is something I strive for. Sometimes I feel it – that deep exhale as the soft breezes caress me, the warm covers enfold me, or the child’s arms envelop me. But more often than not, lately, I’m over-caffeinated, under rested and way too hyped out to simply sit and be present.

I need a Zen Master to come find me.

I need Thich Nhat Hahn to show me that really, peace is inside me.
I just need to know where to look.
I do know that I am alive, and I’m awake (barely).
I guess that puts me two-thirds of the way to peace, right?
Not that I’m counting or anything…

Zen Master, please help me.

What do you think? Be my Zen master?
How do you do at being peaceful, present, and awake in your life?
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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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