Friday, October 7, 2016

This is What it's All About.

In grad school, we learned how to create lesson plans.
I learned how to choose an appropriate lesson name, (or more specifically a unit and a title).  I learned how to identify a learning objective, followed by a bunch of letters with colons and numbers to signify the standards and benchmarks (or excuse me, the mindsets and behaviors).  We were taught about the importance of lesson organization, and how to create content and process questions after reading a picture book.  I learned that reading picture books and talking about them in counseling is fancy and called "bibleotherapy".  I learned about classroom management and how to get 2nd graders to sit quietly, legs criss-crossed applesauce, spoons in their bowls... wearing their listening ears.  I learned all this and then went out into the world and applied it.  And it was fine.  Really!  It was fine. But really, it was just....fine.

A few years ago (2013 to be exact), I had an extremely rough professional year.  I felt stuck and uncertain and confused about what the hell I was doing in school counseling. I knew I loved my job-- or at least I loved the aspects of it.  I loved my kids, I loved my families, I loved all my work wives.  I loved the idea of helping and wanted to.... but the vehicle to do this (my counseling skills) felt a little forced.  Now, don't get me wrong-- I admit to being pretty damn good with the puppets and I can build rapport with even our toughest clients... but I still felt like something was missing. Something wasn't clicking.

So fast forward two years.  I received some grant money to attend a training about utilizing yoga and mindfulness in the schools... and though it sounds incredibly cliché, something finally clicked.

Now, 18 months later, I realize that Yoga Calm has not only changed the way I do pretty much everything in school counseling, but it has revitalized me-- and helped me fall in love with my profession all over again.  Now, when I do classroom lessons, I don't necessarily focus on a specific objective.  Instead, I focus on one of five principles (Stillness, Grounding, Strength, Listening, Community) and I keep my focus on the pint-sized people in my audience.  We sit quietly, we practice breathing, we give thanks, we give compliments, we set intentions-- all this within the first five minutes of class.  We use our bodies to show that we are strong for ourselves and our friends.  We use our bodies to show that we are here, we are present, we are focused.  We use our words to connect with each other, we use our minds to connect to ourselves, and we use our breath in unison to send well wishes and love to classmates or loved ones.

I'm much less concerned with the objectives of class now-- and though I enter each room with a general idea in mind, rather than directing the class, I now let the class gently steer me.  I listen to what students are really saying and follow their lead.  It's a delicate thread to walk upon- giving and having control-- but it's proving to be quite powerful--which brings me to the story I needed to share today.

On Wednesday, I entered the second grade classroom and many faces lit up when they saw my surprise: a student helper--that some had been introduced to the year before. Several kids eagerly said her name and another immediately approached her with a shy little hug.  Students quickly bundled up their reading boxes and scrambled to the carpet, where we began with what has become my signature "start of class": the Chime Challenge.  I asked students to focus on their breath, rang my chime, and sat in total silence (in a room full of 8 year olds!) for 50 seconds.  Then, another student helper led us in taking 10 breaths, while T followed along.  Before my breathing helper sat down, we thanked him and then he called on three people with raised hands-- who gave him a compliment about his leadership. "I like how you were calm." "You stood nice and tall."  "I like your smile."  Cormick beamed and then sat down.  Then, we did the same for Terri Anne.  The class thanked her and then gave her compliments.  "You were nice and calm." "Thank you for coming to our class." "You were breathing calm."  And I'd be lying if I said that chills didn't run down my spine when Terri Anne smiled wide, made a loud-excited shriek, and lunged back in her chair.  "This is it!" I thought to myself.  This is what "Guidance class" is about!  THIS is inclusion!  THIS is friendship!  THIS is the opposite of bullying!  This is it!!  

Before I could allow my eyes to fill with tears, I began to reintroduce T to the class.  We spent a little time discussing the ways in which she is different from us (she uses a wheelchair, she doesn't speak, she moves her body differently than ours, etc.) and then spent time (a loooong time) discussing the many ways she's the same.  I actually found it funny that I needed to cut the conversation off so we could continue with class.  Some kids had questions-- so full of sincere sweet curiosity--which we answered as simply and truthfully as possible.  Does she sleep in her wheelchair? How does she change clothes? Does she like to go swimming? (She sleeps in a bed, someone helps her change her clothes-- just like your mom or dad might help you, and she doesn't really like swimming unless the water is nice and warm.) 

We finished class with a few yoga poses that focused on strength and community.  We stood in star pose, formed a circle with hands touching-- and created a galaxy, right there in the 2nd grade classroom-- full of positive energy for the day ahead.  As our hands dropped back to our own bodies, a little girl approached me and asked if she could hold Terri Anne's hand next time.  I smiled.  Yes, definitely.  This is it.   That day, I left the 2nd grade classroom with a full heart. I was so proud of my students for embracing Terri and so proud of Terri for giving these kids the gift of getting to know her. This is what it's all about.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Let's Take a Nap. Pleeeease?

This afternoon when I swung by daycare to pick up Anna, she was waiting in her usual spot at the bottom of the stairs for me. She usually sits there, patiently looking through a book or playing with a doll while her babysitter feeds the littlest friend on the couch.  When Anna sees me, she usually squeals and jumps up-- happy to have played with her friends but excited for our upcoming time together.

Today she threw her baby doll over her shoulder, slipped into her flip-flops like a skilled 16 year old heading to the beach, waved bye-bye to Kris, and marched out the door as she casually threw out a sing songy "see ya soon" (seeah sooon) over her shoulder.  We hopped in the van, turned up Kids Place Live and headed home.  But three blocks out of the driveway, we passed a park and saw a little family playing -- the dad pushing the kids extra high on the swings-- their feet kicked up in the air and bright against the piercing blue sky.  Anna instantly shouted, "Singing! Singing!" which directly translates to: "Swinging! Someone is swinging and now I want to do that too!" And because the bright blue sky and cool autumn breeze and pumpkins beginning to pepper front door stoops just beg people to spend one more minute outside....we did.

We came home and the three of us (Anna, her new baby doll, and I) headed to our backyard where we proceeded to swing Baby and climb Baby ("Kye-ming") and slide Baby.  We laughed and giggled and swung and climbed and slid for a good fifteen minutes while I silently praised myself for just going with the flow and enjoying the moment. Because, you know.... this amazingly beautiful day and this crisp fresh air was, in fact, going to 'tucker her out' for a well-deserved nap.

So let's fast-forward a few minutes and do a little time lapse:

1:07 We've come inside and are in Anna's room.  I've picked out two books and am ready to read them, but Anna is still pulling book after book off her shelf.  I'm cool with that.

1: 12 First book is done and Anna has been on and off the bed five times.  Each time she says, "I'll get it!" and hops off... and then climbs back up saying, "I got it?" I smile and nod and say "Yay!!" because I don't really know what else to do and say.

1:15 Second book is a bust.  Anna has tossed it aside and is upside down peeking through her legs in Downward Facing Dog pose.  (Note: Anna's down-dog pose is super cute and adorable and impossible to deter her from doing.)

1:16 I'm lying down saying, "Shhhh.  Shhhh.  Time for nigh-night."

1:16  Anna is saying, "No."  "No nigh-night."  "Where my Barbie?"

1:18 Anna is back on the floor, and shouting, "My Barbie!" (which sounds a little Bostonian because she can't say her R's) and pulls out her new mermaid Barbie that Mason hastily shoved under the bed last night.  This Barbie has been in our family for one day and already we're trying to figure out how to confiscate it and where to stash it so she can sleep.  See, the thing lights up like a college night club with flashy red and blue lights which, (while super cool), doesn't really seem to be helpful in getting a toddler to sleep.

1:20 I have tried to tear Anna away from the flashy Mermaid Barbie to no avail. I glance at my watch for the first time. Hmmm....

1:21  Anna is now on the bed but not doing yoga this time.  Now she is clinging on to her headboard rails and bouncing.  She sings, "Bounce Bounce Bounce!" as she rhythmically hops up and down on her bed.  I keep pretending to sleep.

1:22  I'm thinking about all the leftover pizza I've eaten today and wondering if there is still more in the fridge.

1:24  Anna is saying, "Kye-it Anna!  Mama seeping.  Anna bouncing!  Shhhhh!"  I'm smiling but still pretending to be asleep.

1:27  Anna is now sitting on my head.  She's still bouncing and the bed is squeaking.  It's really rhythmic and it makes me laugh because I'm inappropriate like that.  But I can't laugh because 1) I'm pretending to be asleep and 2) Anna's sitting on my head and I really can't breathe very well.

1:29 All of the sudden I see a disco ball in front of my eyelids.  It's bright and pulsing and a little disconcerting.  I pop my eyes open and come face to face with Mermaid Barbie and Anna peering into my eyes. "Mommy up!  Morning Mama!" I close my eyes to fake sleep again. I have been fake sleeping for one hundred hours.

1:30  Anna snuggles down and her binkie falls out of her mouth.  In her immediate worry over the lost binkie, I snag the psychedelic Mermaid and shove her under a quilt that's tucked into my armpit. I'm willing her not to start flashing her flashy Mermaid lights while she's under the blanket.

1:31 Anna has found her binkie and is snuggling down to sleep.  I glance at my watch again. I'm getting hungry but she'll be lights-out soon....

1:32 I hear Anna get up and bounce to the foot of the bed to do part 2 of her bed-trampoline act. While bouncing, she notices another Barbie on the floor....

1:36  I'm beginning to think that maybe fake sleeping my afternoon away isn't such a good use of my time.  (Watching Y&R on our couch, on the other hand, is very productive.)

1:37 Anna is playing with her dresser. It has 12 knobs and she is practicing turning all of them.  She also appears to be checking on whether or not the drawers open and close functionally.

1:39 I decide fake sleeping isn't very productive so I heave myself up from the bed, and inch to the door.  Anna protests--(cries) but I close the door gently behind me, having successfully smuggled Mermaid Barbie out of the room (wrapped up in a giant ball of a quilt) and leaving Anna alone with her dresser knobs and leftover Barbies that don't light up.

1:41 Anna is now the actor-- she's fake crying in her room and I'm hunched over the counter, eating cold pizza straight from the Pyrex container.  I don't even feel guilty about acting like an animal-- I"ve been thinking about this moment for awhile.

1:45 All is quiet.  I momentarily worry-- it's the crux of parenting because what you desperately want (a little peace and quiet) is usually pretty terrifying and unsettling when it happens.

1:49 It has been quiet for too long and I'm a little worried so I tiptoe into Anna's room and discover her passed out on her floor, with a Barbie clutched in her hand.  I carefully pick her up, move her to the bed, and cover her up with a soft & well-loved blanket from my childhood.

1:50 I'm kneeling next to Anna's bed, smiling over this past hour together-- how sweet and fun this little person is.  I take a moment to marvel at how alive she is with energy and enthusiasm and spark. And then I kiss her soft little arm, tiptoe out of her room, and sink into our couch.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

A Good Day

The scene:
  • Our house. It's tidy--the nightly post kids' bedtime pick-up has been done. Babies and dollies and Matchbox cars have been put to rest in their proper places, only to be disrupted in about twelve hours. The dishwasher is humming quietly, a week's worth of clothes are in the washer (and dryer).  Backpacks are sitting next to the front door, ready to be slung over backs as we hurry out the door in the morning.  Our windows are open and a cool September breeze is making our curtains waver ever so slightly.  Mason's flipping through the channels (currently landed on an old rerun of How I Met Your Mother) but I can't really hear it anyway because the buzz of crickets outside our window is so loud and somewhat distracting.  (And so is Julia's voice, calling for her dogs which have apparently, run away once again.)  We're clean and showered and well-fed and Ylang Ylang is in the diffuser helping us relax and melt into our selves (just like the Young Living brochure says it would do). 
Today has been an especially good day.  I'm not exactly sure why.  Nothing particularly incredible happened. I didn't experience anything really unusual or extraordinary.  I didn't see any long-lost friends or uncover some amazing profound quote to get me through hard times.  I didn't get anything productive accomplished, didn't do a handstand in yoga, didn't travel to an exotic place, didn't write anything worthy of publishing, didn't say anything that will forever be remembered.  Yet, tonight, as I was lying down with Anna while she drifted off to sleep, I literally was overcome with gratitude for this day.  
Tears rolled down my face as I breathed in Anna's sweet after-bath baby scent-- you know exactly what smell I'm talking about.  It's sort of citrusy and light and sweet with maybe the tiniest hint of syrup-- because someone always has syrup with breakfast.  Maybe all this gratitude "gushiness' was result of the glass of wine at dinner or the candles I burned for the first time in months...but I'm pretty sure it was more likely a result of Anna sleepily saying, "Maaaa-maaaa..... Maaaa-maaaa?  I wuv woo. I wuuuuv wooo!" as she settled into sleep.  This from the girl who refuses to say "I love you" (Wuv Woo) during the daytime hours and insists on saying "No wuv woo.  No like it.  No Mama!"

When I tiptoed out of Anna's room, cheeks salty from tears, I looked at Mason and said, "Do you ever just get overwhelmed with gratitude for this whole thing?  I mean, our life....really!"  He smiled and nodded and said he knew exactly what I was talking about. 

Today was a good day.  I know exactly why.  Something incredible happened-- we all four woke up healthy and (relatively) happy.   We woke up to the safety and comfort of our stable home.  How incredible is that?  I experienced something extraordinary.  I taught a guidance lesson to fourth graders about community and when I invited them to share their feelings about the activity, they opened their hearts and shared with such sincere vulnerability that I could have cried.  How extraordinary is that?  I went to work and saw people and friends that brighten my day and make me want to come back for more...even on Mondays. (Usually)  I was productive.  I went to work and talked a fourth grader out of his tears, received a group hug from 20 first graders, and found a little note from a coworker tucked in my mailbox.  I enjoyed a beautiful afternoon walk to pick up Charlie.  And as we walked home, he chattered about his day and his writing assignment and what he ate for lunch...the whole time keeping his hand tucked tightly into mine.  I dedicated 30 minutes to myself--to my body-- to bend and stretch and move in ways that some 38 year old women can only imagine.  And even though I can't touch my forehead to the ground in Dragon pose (...yet!),  (or do a handstand....yet) I stretched and moved and had fun with this one vessel I've been given.  I traveled.  The three of us took a long afternoon stroll on our nature trail-- Anna insisting to wear her new flip flops despite the tiny pieces of gravel and sand that kept deterring her.  Charlie, ran ahead, lost in his imaginary game, legs jumping, arms waving wildly-- like a marionette gone wild.  And today, I said things worth remembering.  I told the kids I work with that they are important to me. I told Mason that he's a great daddy.  I talked with Liz on the phone and told her to have a good day.  And I cuddled Charlie and kissed him until he played his trump card ("I'm gonna wet my pants!") and I threw Anna upside down until she nearly choked on her giggles.  And I said things that will forever be remembered. I told my kids I love them. I told them they're the most incredible kids. I told them I feel lucky to be their mama.   It's probably not publishable stuff...but hopefully it's memorable stuff. 

And then tonight, as Mason drew their bath and I searched for Blankie, a bright pink streak caught my eye outside our window.  I grabbed my phone and took a quick shot of the incredible sunset-- the sprinkles on the cake that was this day.  This totally normal, sacred ordinary day. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Winding Down; Cottage 2016

This morning when I stepped outside..... it felt like fall.  Aside from my summers in Colorado, I've never lived anywhere other than the Midwest, so I have no idea if this smell is one that everyone knows... or one that is unique to us.  It's especially difficult to describe as it just smells like fall.  The air is cooler and gone is the humidity that seems to drape over our shoulders all summer long. There's a crispness that you can feel and almost taste---like nature is just tempting your taste buds to imagine apple crisp and pumpkin pie and those treats that inexplicably taste best during the next two months.  I think this change in weather, this change in atmospheric pressure (whatever that is), these noticeably shorter days and cool, crisp mornings are nature's tangible way of helping me loosen my oh-so-tight grip on summer.  They give me something physical to see and smell and taste, which helps me say goodbye....and lessen the heartache of summer's end just a little bit.

But if I squint my eyes shut and hold my breath I can still feel summer.

There's sand between my toes, even after rinsing them off in the big white enamelware basin outside the door to the cottage.  My hair is windblown and tufts of sun-bleached blonde strays peek out from the braid under my headband.  My shoulders are a little achy from kayaking and my abs are a little sore from paddleboarding.  My skin is browner than it's been in years, a testament to the serious vow we took at the beginning of summer-- We Spahns (three of us, anyway) do solemnly swear, to spend as much time outside as humanly possible...  And when we're at the cottage, this is truer than any other week of the summer.  I haven't been out of a swimming suit for days-- and even then it's usually just to put another one on or slip into a t-shirt for bedtime.  I've noticed that my family's hair seems to have a permanent lake smell-- a sweet combination of sunscreen and sweat and the crystal clear lake water.  As I lie down at night, I feel like I'm floating on the little waves of the lake, gently rocking in the kayak with Charlie or Anna straddled between my legs as they navigate our short little journey.

With my eyes closed, my heart aches for the week we just had in the Northwoods.  A week of sun and laughter and relaxation.  A week of good food and good friends and good conversations-- and of course plenty of good beer and vodka and wine.  (Yes, there was plenty of that.)  Oh, and a week of the Olympics-- let's not forget the Olympics.  We spent as much time as possible lounging around the lake, playing in the sand, swimming in the shallow bay, jumping off the worn dock.  We paddle-boated and kayaked and paddle-boarded.  We used the old fishing motor boat to reach speeds fast enough to create crazy wind-blown hairdo's, send children into fits of laughter, and pull kids in tubes behind the boat.  In the morning, Mason and I putzed around the lake as he pointed out places of interest and old cabins that reminded him of stories from days gone by.

Citronella candle drumming...

We looked over and someone was o-u-t. 

We left the house a few times-- to indulge the kids in go-karts, and ski shows, and hand-dipped ice cream.

Wisconsin toys

Our whole crew.

The kids thought this sign was the-absolute-best.  

Anna was not happy when Daddy stole a scoop of her 'Ice keem'. 

But the vast majority of our time was spent just hanging out, with no agenda and no particular place to go.  Charlie loved playing with his friends outside-- catching frogs, playing football, jumping in the water, "boating" in our bay, building sand sculptures, and  keeping busy inside with matchbox cars and board games and endless ping pong matches.  Excuse me, I mean "table tennis".   In fact, shortly after our guests left, we took a kayak ride and he looked up at me and said, "Mom, this is okay but it's a lot more fun with Jack and Danny here."  My eyes instantly welled up with tears-- not because he wasn't having fun with me, but because he had had such an incredible week with his friends.  At the cottage, things are slower and more intentional.  Charlie plays with a ferver that we don't see often.  He's totally present, engaged, and caught up in the moment.  I watch him and listen to his voice, his giggle, his uncontrollable laughter and feel so fortunate to give him (and his sister) this opportunity.

Seriously, thighs!

Hey frog...

Walkie talkies were a huge hit

Checking on the frogs caught earlier in the day...

This girl has absolutely no fear-- and loves every second of the water. 

And while the cottage is truly magical to us, it doesn't allow us to completely escape reality.  We dealt with emails and life news and daily ups and downs (is it even possible to escape ups and downs when you have little children with you?) but at the end of it all, the day felt like the gentle rock of the lake waves-- easing in and out, rolling along easily in response to whatever creates those waves in the first place.

Oh, and one more thing...

The night of the ski show we trodded into the cottage after a long day on the lake.  We bathed and scrubbed the kids-- getting sand and dirt and lake out of all the squishy places.  We put on clean clothes, hopped in the car and headed over to the Chain Skimmers ski show.  As the adults watched the action on the water, the kids ran around the beach, poured sand in shoes, and then began making sand-angels and literally rolling around in the sand.  At the end of the show, they were covered head to toe in sand.  And we grownups looked at each other and knew they needed to rinse off but well, we had wine to drink and adult conversations to have and baths sounded like a lot of work.....

So we may have suggested skinny-dipping.  The boys rand down to the lake, Dan tossed them a bar of soap and I swear to GOD.  I have not smiled so big in years.  The giggles, the squeals, the shrieks of laughter-- I promise I will never forget it.  And I have to say, swim trunks were optional all the days after that.  So good.  So so good.