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Slice of Life: Car Rides

 



When I think back on my time as a mom it's always the car rides around town, on the way to the store or running errands, that the kids share funny ideas, ask questions and actually engage in some pretty meaningful conversations. Ever since the pandemic we have been on very few of these types of car trips as we often keep the girls at home and one of us runs out to do the errands, shopping, etc. 

Now that school is starting and the girls are headed back in-person they need clothes and other supplies. So last Friday my oldest and I head out into the wilds of clothes shopping together. As she is turning 11 and a "tween" clothes shopping together is not always the most fun thing we do.... and that's an understatement. 

The car ride was magic. As my car is new I have a trial subscription to XM satellite radio and we have access to fun channels like "90's on 9" where my daughter is able to hear the music I grew up listening to as a teen. Now that I am a mom I do hear the lyrics in many songs in a different light and just brace myself for the questions that will inevitably come up but it's still a fun time. My daughter came up with a game as we were driving- Could I name an artist from the 90's starting at A and work through the alphabet all the way to Z? We discovered very quickly that I could not! So we expanded the game to any artists from any genre. That I could do! 

I miss the short car rides around town that were a part of our usual weekly routine. Somehow that time in car, listening to music and on the way to a new location always lends itself to a little magic. Whether it's the funny things my children blurt out, in-depth questions and social justice discussions or just sharing music those car rides were always memorable. I hope we are on our way back to that soon. 

Embrace September.

 As I have seen many people post on a variety of platforms... wow, it's already September.

How does that happen?

As I was working on my word for September I was trying to decide if it should have a personal focus (as many of my words have had this year) or a professional focus. However, since it is September and that means back to school I don't really see how I can separate the two. 

This will be my 19th year as a teacher and I haven't missed a single first day of school in all that time. Not even the year I was on mat leave with my oldest daughter as my husband and I split the leave and he took over in September so I could go back to school. Not the year I was pregnant with my second daughter (due in November) and had to start my leave 2 months early due to complications. I still started the school as usual and worked for 9 days (while mainly sitting in a chair...). 

18 first days of school as an educator. 13 first days of school as an elementary or secondary school student. 6 first days of school as an undergraduate or teacher-candidate. 

That's 37 first days of school in my life. 

And I can't say that I am looking forward to number 38. 

For the first time ever. 

The pandemic has changed me. The ongoing attack on public education has changed me. 

I often feel like I have lost a part of myself in the last 2 years. 

I know that I am quieter than I used to be. I know that I prefer to be home with just my husband and children more now. I have less time and patience for other people. And for myself. 

I am less excited about the upcoming school year. Even though it looks like libraries will be open in some capacity it still feels harder to be excited. 

I am worried for my friends and colleagues. They are still so sad, so tired, so demoralized.

Embrace.

But I believe under it all I am still an optimist. I still have the capacity to look for the good. So while a part of me continues to mourn for the me that's lost, I want to use September to embrace the good things. To look for the small moments of joy in hopes of finding my excitement again. 

In hopes of finding me. 

 I think I shall start a list. Because to be honest, there's nothing more me than a list! A list of the good things. A list of the times I feel embraced in light. A list of the moments where joy shines through.


Slice of Life: Sunday Evenings

Sunday evenings can be the best and the worst part of the whole week. 

This past Sunday we returned home in the late afternoon from a weekend of camping with cousins. Seven kids under the age of 11 and six adults, three of whom are related as siblings or first cousins and their spouses. It was a wonderful two nights and two days of swimming, hiking, hammocks and eating around the fire. We were all gloriously tired from all the fun, late night glow stick dance parties and living in the fresh air. 

However, returning on Sunday evening meant unpacking the camping gear and getting ready for the week ahead. First up was determining which food that was in cooler was salvageable, then getting the laundry into the wash for the girls to wear to day camp the next day. Of course, in the midst of all this getting the girls into the shower or bath to chip off three days worth of dirt from living and playing outside. And did we order the pizza yet for dinner? 

As the girls were getting clean I began to pack up their lunches and gear for day camp on Monday. This week they would be attending an outdoor nature school camp so that also mean packing an extra duffle of clothes, rain gear, boots and shoes for the inevitable moment when one (or both) of the girls fell head first into the river or mud during the week. 

Once the girls were clean, hair brushed and settled in to watch a movie I checked on the laundry, transferred the wash to the dryer and put in a new load. Then I checked to see if the dishwasher was done so I could unload it and start to pack away the camping gear. Then off to grab a shower before the pizza arrived. 

Finally, everyone was clean and the pizza had arrived for dinner. Time to settle in on the couch to catch up on a favourite show with my husband before bedtime. 

The quiet of a Sunday evening descended upon the house as we all were finally at rest before another week of summer fun. 



System.

Definition from Merriam-Webster. 
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/system

I want to start with thanking everyone who read my last post and reached out with words for support. I also want to thank everyone who read my last post and reached out to say that my words helped them. Lastly, I want to think everyone who read my last post and aren't ready to talk, seek support, or reach out but found comfort in my journey. 

My word for August is system. 

I chose this word as a continuation of my one word from June/July. As we careen towards September and back to school with "the plan" here in Ontario so much continues to feel out of our control. 
Out of our control as educators, as parents, as a community. 

I continue to struggle with my own mental health, feeling rested and healed. Knowing that September is coming and that I will be thrown back into the worry of the past 18 months often feels like a heavy weight. Our family has made the decision to send our children back to in-person school because they did not enjoy the remote/online school and they need the interaction with their friends. But not a day goes by that I don't question that decision. Neither of my children are old enough for the vaccine. My parents and in-laws have underlying health concerns that will result in us limiting our exposure to them. Again. I will be working in a school of close to 800 students and then coming home to my children as well. 

It's a lot. 
It's been a lot for so long. 

As I write this my daughters are in a day camp. We wanted them to have some practice and exposure to being with kids and other people before school starts so it's not so jarring. They are going for two weeks and then we have two more weeks to rest before the end of the summer. The decision to have them go to camp and inter-mingle with other kids was a hard one. They have struggled with separation anxiety since the start of the pandemic. They worry about the lack of space that other kids give to those around them. But they are eager in the morning to go and try something new. They are eager to be with people their age. 

And I am eager to have time to myself. It's been so long since I've had any time alone for an extended period of time. Other than the weeks that schools were open and I was working, if I have been home I am with my children and my husband. At the cottage I was with my parents and my sister's family. And while it's been amazing to have thing open up a bit and get vaccinated so we could see family members, I do feel that my own struggle with mental health stems a lot from not having any space and time for me. 

Everything seems to be in service of my children and their wellness/needs. Supporting school needs. Supporting snack requests. Supporting tech issues that arise with older parents. Supporting the maintenance of a home when no one ever leaves. Laundry. Always laundry. 

As things are opening up and people feel comfortable gathering together more friends want to see each other, and I do want to see people, too. But... 

I also haven't been alone. Ever. For almost 2 years now. 

I think it really was highlighted for me as my mom and I were getting ready to go to the beach at the cottage and I put a book into my beach bag. My mom commented that she wanted to chat at the beach. Her actual words may have been, "Hey! We are going to chat at the beach. I've been alone with your father for this whole time and I want to talk with someone else."

And my internal monologue screamed "NO!!! I have been surrounded by people for the whole pandemic and I just want to read my book at the beach."

But I didn't bring the book with me. 

I've noticed this same thing with friends who have older children. They want to get together more to chat and have coffee. Perhaps because older children are more independent and haven't necessarily felt the same weight of always being with children who demand attention from you at all time. And sadly, while these invitations come from a place of love they feel like another obligation. Another thing to do for someone else. More time to be "up", to be talkative, to be in service to others. 

So while my daughters are at camp for these two weeks I am focused on being alone as much as possible. Even the drive home from dropping them off and then to pick them up feels like a luxurious gift. And I have promised myself that if I say no to an invitation I will not succumb to the pressure to justify my reason. 

Taking time for me is reason enough. 

So how does this all relate to my word choice? 
What does this have to do with the concept of systems?

I am spending this time alone reflecting on my home, my space and my routines to develop systems that support me and my family so when September comes I have a sense of control over some areas of my life.

My focus is developing/refining systems in these areas:

  • meal planning
  • exercising
  • reflecting on the central spaces of our home and refining the organization so it works for us
  • purging clutter that detracts from the workings of our home

How are you prioritizing yourself and your needs as we inch ever closer to September?

What systems in your life will help you feel supported and in control of your space and needs?

How will I create space for me as a means to prioritize my mental health and provide an example for my daughters?





 

One Word. My Word.

 I didn't write a post for June. But I did pick a word. 

I have been working to live my word since the start of June and now into July. I felt many times that I "should" write a blog post but I never did come to the computer and start to type. I wrote it a couple of times....but it was only in my head.

My word for June, and now July, has been listen. 

When I decided last year to pick a word for each month it had a lot to do with being more intentional about how I was feeling each month, reflecting on my professional goals and activities, the new learning I was undergoing as a teacher-librarian and an opportunity to share. As 2020 gave way to the pandemic and the entire world shifted it has changed to be more of a personal practice. My word for each month was often more about how I felt personally in my role as a teacher-librarian dealing with the pivot to remote and virtual learning than any professional learning I might be doing. 

I wrote a post last year reflecting on whether or not I was actually still a teacher-librarian if I wasn't in fact IN a school library. Looking back over that post it's easy for me to still recognize many of the same feelings and questions are swirling for me. I spent the entire school year as a virtual teacher-librarian. I worked very hard to find teachers who were interested in having me join their class for lessons and story times, I read many, many, many books to the school community as a whole, I curated, and curated, and curated. 

But it still wasn't the same. 

Looking back at my post from last year it's painful to see the start of the grieving process. 

And to know we are still in it. 

I have seen many posts from other educators on Twitter sharing their grief, pain and experiences as they attempt to heal this summer. Educators are working to take this summer for themselves. To read books. To be with family. To step away from the mess that was the last 18 months.... while knowing we face so many unknowns and so much chaos in the weeks to come as we slowly inch towards September.

My word for June and July is listen. I imagine that I will be keeping this word for August as well. I know when I started this journey I called it #OneWordx12. A word for every month. But as it is MY journey and MY process, I feel that if I want the same word for a number of months I can bend my own non-existent rules. 

I picked listen as my word for June because I had stopped listening. I had stopped listening to my body, to myself and to what I needed. 

May was hard.

I was trying to keep on as though things were back to "normal". I attempted to complete a PD certification through Nat Geo. I was still reading out loud 3-4 hours a day. I was curating and creating resources for up to 6 picture books a week to spark inquiry, learning and questioning. I was reading, reading, reading for my own unlearning. I was receiving and answering many emails a day from educators asking for help, to co-teach, to support tech needs. I was supporting both of my own children's online learning. I was re-teaching lessons and helping with assignments in the evening because they didn't feel comfortable asking their teacher's for help in a virtual space as they were both learning from their 5th teacher of the school year and no relationships had been formed. 

I wasn't sleeping. I had a headache every day. All day. My temper was short. I would fly off the handle for the smallest of reasons. Yelling. Then crying. Staring into space and feeling numb. 

I wasn't me. 

My husband and I agreed that I needed help. I needed it long before I asked for it. I needed it long before I let myself listen to my body. I needed it long before I got it. 

I reached out to my doctor and shared what was happening. I cried through a telephone appointment trying to explain my feelings.... feeling so, so guilty that I couldn't be all things for all people. That I couldn't be enough for me. I still feel guilty. He agreed that I needed help and prescribed an anti-depressant. He warned it would take awhile to take affect but it would help. We spoke about taking a leave for two weeks from work to let the medication settle in and for me to feel better. 

Through all of this I had a few friends that I reached out to and let them know what was happening. They checked in daily. They listened to me. They grieved with me. If they are reading this, thank you. I didn't know how much I needed your friendship until it was there are and a light for me. 

As May rolled into June I started to feel better little by little. The meds helped me to sleep. The headaches slowly eased off and a wonderful friend drove to my house to drop off some essential oils. She continued to check in. I waited and waited and waited for the paperwork to take a leave and have some breathing room.

The paperwork didn't come until the second week of June. School would be done in less that 15 days.

And so I continued to work. Until the end. 

I continued to reflect on my word. I listened. I found ways to slow down. I pulled my children out of virtual school. Each morning when it was time to login they would be sitting and crying in front of the screen and it wasn't worth it. If I was working on listening to myself then I also needed to listen to them. 

It's getting better. But it's not better. Yet. 

Too many people asking for something all at once still sets me off. I feel fractured and broken and unable to focus on their needs. My children's bickering is a daily stress that I often feel powerless against. My youngest has woken up in the night and come to sleep with us almost every night since March 2020. I miss sleeping through the night. 

But slowly I am feeling more like me. I am listening. 

When I need a minute I leave the room. I am voicing my needs to my children and breathing. I am asking for help when I need it. 

I am listening. 

It has taken me one and half months to share this post. I knew I would write it but I didn't know when. I wanted to feel strong enough to share it. Strong enough to own it. Strong enough to be vulnerable. 

I don't know if I'll write a #OneWordx12 post for August. It's creeping up on us and with it... September. The thought of what September will bring is scary.

But I will continue to listen. To myself. To my body. To my needs.

If you are educator who is using this summer for healing please know you aren't alone. 

It's hard for many educators to separate their self from their job. I am the worst at it. 

But if there was ever a summer to try, this is the one. 

Take time to listen. 

The one with all the questions.

 Reciprocity.

Courageous for whom...?

Prove. Improve.

Knowing. Not Knowing. 

It's been an interesting few weeks leading up to choosing my #onewordx12 for May. 

(And as I write this... without a title... I'm still not sure I have picked it. 

I guess we'll see what happens at the end of the post. )


My usual process involves starting towards the end of the previous month where I reflect on the word I picked, where I am at that point and what might my goals be for the coming month. I am often influenced by an event or a spark that gets my mind going. Leading into May, however, it seemed like sparks were all around. 

I have been listening to Robin Wall Kimmerer's book Braiding Sweetgrass on my twice daily walks with the dog. The word and idea of reciprocity is a very central theme in the book, especially how it relates to nature, the land and Indigenous knowledge of the land. This led me to listen to Chey and Pav's episode of The Staffroom Podcast where they discussed reciprocity. I knew they had also read Braiding Sweetgrass and were delving deeper into how reciprocity might be embedded into their classroom practice. 

I like this word and this concept a lot. I think my philosophy of the role of the school library and the practice and pedagogy of being a school librarian is neatly encapsulated in the word reciprocity. The school library is not mine. I curate it on behalf of the community. (Thanks to Jenn Brown for that learning early in my journey as a teacher-librarian). My role is to build a collection that represents the community it serves and provides an opportunity to stretch in their learning. The users of a school library and the text collection is a reciprocal relationship. The books and materials exist to support the learners and the learners decide on the books and materials that need to be in the space.  

So it really looked like reciprocity might be the word for May. 

Until...

A new word and a new idea sparked in my head. I was able to tune in and listen to Chris Cluff and Rolland Chidiac's podcast on YouTube last Saturday morning while I was crocheting and drinking my coffee. A rare Saturday morning treat. Sitting still. Creating. AND listening to something of my choosing. Chris and Rolland's convos are always a treat and an assignment. An assignment because they send my thoughts spinning. Chris often refers to things as "thought fuel" and that is a great term for their podcast. 

They were discussing issues around leadership in schools, diversity in leadership, opportunities for leadership, power imbalances, conflict that arises and more. Chris at one point said "collaboration is the room and conflict is the table" which is a metaphor I'd really like to sit down and discuss with him one day. But it was when the idea of courageous conversations came up (and reminded me that I still need to read Glenn Singleton's book) and the question of "courageous for whom..." that I really took notice.

As a white, cisgender woman in the education system are these conversations around diversity and anti-racism courageous for me? Am I risking anything when I am a part of the conversation? How might my presence make another educator less comfortable and less willing to be part of a courageous conversation?

Am I bringing reciprocity to courageous conversations? Am I part of a reciprocal cycle of learning?

What is my role as a teacher librarian to model courageous conversations? Is it my role to model courageous conversations? It is undeniable that the teacher librarian role is often a leadership role within a school community. As a white cisgender woman how should I approach the possibility of courageous conversations with my colleagues while being cognizant of the fact that I am not risking anything compared to their experience and their journey within the education system? 

How might reciprocity and courageous conversations be connected? 

To add to the thought fuel mix (because there wasn't enough swirling) I listened to an episode of Brene Brown's Dare to Lead podcast that featured Adam Grant called "The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know" . The phrase "I'm not here to prove myself, I'm here to improve myself" was repeated throughout the episode. And what a mantra that is. I truly believe in and having been trying to to centre the voices of the authors, podcasters and educators of the global majority that I have been privileged to hear speak, to read the works of and to follow on social media. But is that enough?

Is sharing and amplifying the voices of those I am learning from part of a reciprocal relationship? Is it enough action? Is it action at all? Am I sharing my learning on social media as a means to help others or as a way of saying"Hey, look at me! I'm doing the work. See how good I am"? Is being aware of what you don't know, seeking to read and learn about it and then share with others part of reciprocal learning? Is it courageous?  

So. 

All these questions. 

So many questions.

More questions than answers. To be sure. And maybe that's the point?

So what shall the word for May be... ?

Let's go with query and see where it takes us. 

Cultivating. Cultivation. Cultivate.

 I've been thinking a lot about words. Because that's definitely something librarians do. 

And probably many other educators as well. 

In the past I've described the act of choosing my one word each month as a struggle. Reflecting back on this I've decided that using the word struggle to describe the thinking, choosing and writing about a word that ultimately only affects me was a poor choice. So many others have real struggles that they are facing each day. Choosing a word to write about here on a blog does not qualify. 

Does that mean choosing my word each month is an easy task? No. Does it mean I should be more precise and deliberate with the language I choose. Yes.

I think our society would greatly benefit from more of us choosing our language carefully and deliberately. Really reflecting on the words we choose to use and the impact of those choices. 

The idea and concept of cultivating and cultivation has been popping up a lot in my sphere and in my silo. For we all do live in a silo to some extent. We seek out others like us, who agree with us, who bolster our beliefs. We cultivate relationships with those who make us feel good about our choices. 

In many ways this can be a good thing. 

The wonderful Lisa Noble created #EDUKnitNight in April 2020 and a group of crafters (knitters, crocheters, scrapbooks, weavers, and more) meet almost every Tuesday to talk about crafting, yarn, books, education, families and more. In between Tuesday meet-ups we have an ongoing Twitter group chat where we post about the ups and downs of our lives. We hold each other up. We commiserate and cry together. We laugh. We laugh a lot. 

Lisa posted the lyrics to Crowded Table by The Highway Women a few weeks ago and expressed her feelings about having all of us "at her table" this past year. So many of us echoed the same sentiment. Lisa started the group and together we cultivated the space. We look out for each other. We share book recommendations. We share yarn sales. We share the tales of our days. We share and cultivate a love that comes from friends who enjoy each other's company. 

The #EDUKnitNight group keeps me on the hunt for new crochet projects and new yarns/patterns. (And yes, we've decided that collecting yarn and collecting patterns are entirely separate hobbies from the act of creating with said yard and patterns. All hobbies are worthy of cultivation!) Starting, working on and finishing a new craft project cultivates my spirit. I have always been a crafty person and enjoy making things for my home and people in my life. Having "a reason" to find time each week to devote to this love has cultivated small moments of peace for me in an otherwise chaotic and noisy world. 

It's also important to seek out those who reside outside of your silo. For me that is educators of the global majority bravely sharing their stories. Bravely speaking out. Bravely educating the rest of when it is not their job to do so. It means reading books by authors who do not look like me. Reading books with characters who have a different lived experience than me. Buying books for my children to read from authors and with characters that are different than them. Sharing and reading those books with classes and my school community. 

Deliberately cultivating a habit of seeking out, listening to and amplifying the voices of others. 

I have been reading and discussing Cultivating Genius by Gholdy Muhammad as part of an ongoing series with other educators in my board and we recently started using it for a book talk with a group of educators in my school. I had the privilege of hearing Gholdy Muhammad speak a few weeks ago. This is one of those books that is pedagogical gold. It is practice-changing. You will not be the same educator after reading this book. 

This book, along with Tiffany Jewell's This Book Is Anti-Racist, has been forming so much of the lessons and discussions I have been engaging in with students. Just yesterday the Grade 4 class that has been reading Tiffany Jewell's book chapter by chapter all year together discussed using our voices and taking action as our superpower (Ch 12- This Book is Anti-Racist) and we read a few pages from The Power Book: What Is It, Who Has It, and Why?  The depth and complexity of the discussion was breathtaking. Once we started talking about social norms and unwritten rules the students couldn't share their ideas fast enough. The discussion even reached as far as "why is it that so many moms and women do the cooking at home but we mostly see men as chefs on TV?" 


So my word for April (a little late this month...) is Cultivate.

Cultivating.

Cultivation.


How might we continue to cultivate and seek out learning, loving and living in this ever changing and ongoing stressful pandemic life? 


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