Morgan Writes Her Life Story…..So Far….

Over the past few weeks, my daughter Morgan has been sharing her writing with me and with her older sister, asking for feedback on her application to a graduate program in dance.  Reading Morgan’s writing has given me another window into who this woman is, how she sees her life and the world, where she has been, and where she is heading. It has also shown me the power that comes with writing your life story.

In Morgan’s application, she weaves through her life story in an interesting way.  She begins the piece with a conversation she had with a professor in college, realizing that she could do SO many things in this life.  She then walks us through her life at the moment, working for a up and coming fashion design house, living in a beautiful old city in Italy, traveling the world, and all along the way, no matter how busy her life gets, finding ways to sustain her need to create and to move.  It is here that she shares her epifany: Her desire to dance will not take a back seat. She needs it, intellectually, physically, and emotionally.

Morgan then takes us on a short tour of her childhood, looping back to her early dreams of being a dancer (“I had never seen such beauty as the lightness and subtlety of Gelsey Kirkland, and I thought that there could be no better luxury in life than walking around in the middle of the night with a silk nightgown and a candlestick.”) and then an ice skater (Tara Lapinski was her idol here.).  And then there is her decision to study dance in college, and the eventual meeting with the dance professor whose conversation launches this essay.

As Morgan drives toward her conclusion (including, of course, why this university should accept her application), she describes her ideas as an artist.  I am blown away by the way she conceives of her dance. She talks about how she often thinks of dance in a structure similar to that of a short story collection, where “small snippets of human emotion that are not necessarily related, but work together to inform one another, create an entire sphere and environment that the reader slips into.” She talks about how she thinks about dance, along with her physical and emotional need to study this art form in a community of artists, and to then share her understanding and passions with her own students at some point in the future.

Reading Morgan’s writing has helped me to understand my daughter in new ways.  It has also pushed me to examine my own life and ask the big questions, “Am I pursuing my dreams?  Am I letting my real desires take a back seat? Am I doing everything in my power to live a full and meaningful life, for myself and for others?”

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The Well Challenge

On a weekend in early January, I was reading the New York Times and came upon the NYT 30 Day Well Challenge.  Since the New Year was already upon us and I had yet to come up with a resolution of any kind, I figured I’d take this on.

I like a challenge.  I signed up.

The challenge was built around four words that promised to lead to a healthier life (and who doesn’t want that?).  The four words were: Move, Nourish, Refresh, Connect.

These seemed like simple, yet important ideas. 

The first part of the challenge was to reflect and set a goal. Here’s what I wrote on day #1:

I move, but I need to move more.

I nourish, but I’m sure I could eat healthier foods and try out some new things.

I do refresh, but need to do a great deal more of this.

And I’m pretty good at connecting.

So…I think Move and Refresh will be my focus areas.

I hope, at the end of the 30 days, to feel stronger, healthier, more grounded, more connected, and more prepared to live this life that lies ahead of me!

Today is day #28 of the challenge.  I have been a faithful participant. I have completed all but two of the day’s challenges (one was to eat less bread at breakfast – not sure I can manage that one, and one was a meditation – I’ve flagged that and plan to do it sometime soon…see, not so good at the refresh part). I do feel a bit stronger, a bit more refreshed, connected, and nourished.  I also feel proud. I’ve taken on a challenge and I’ve succeeded.

I feel like maybe I can answer Mary Oliver’s question at the end of her poem The Summer Day with just a bit more confidence.

The Question:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

My Answer:

Move, Nourish, Refresh, Connect

Oh Tannenbaum, Oh Tannenbaum

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree,
How steadfast are your branches!
Your boughs are green in summer’s clime
And through the snows of wintertime.
Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree,
How steadfast are your branches!

Maybe it’s the steadfast branches.  They are strong and easily support the ornaments, some heavy (especially those that the kids made when they were in elementary school) and others so very delicate (like my daughter’s favorite Wedgwood Figure Skater). The branches support the sparkling lights and precious glass. The arms are strong and steady, unwavering.

Or maybe it’s the green of the Christmas tree in winter that I love.  There’s something magical about having a green tree standing tall inside your dining room while the cold, dark winter whirls around outside, most trees bare of any color or leaves. Just dark pencil marks against a cold, gray sky.

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree,
What happiness befalls me when oft
at joyous Christmas-time
Your form inspires my song and rhyme.
Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree,
What happiness befalls me.

Of course it could be the happiness that comes with Christmas.  The feeling of the family together celebrating traditions that have been going on in this family for hundreds of years.  Maybe this is what I’m hanging on to.  And there’s the joy I feel every morning and every evening when I plug in the lights and the tree glistens in the dark.  There is happiness in the light.  The presents are gone and the family has dispersed, but the light remains.

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree,
Your boughs can teach a lesson
That constant faith and hope sublime
Lend strength and comfort through all time.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree,
Your boughs can teach a lesson.

I’m not a religious person, but I am spiritual and eternally hopeful.  Maybe the tree does signify a sense of hope and optimism.  The world is cold and dark, and the days are short, but we have a tree inside our house.  A tree, still filled with ornaments of years gone by.  Ornaments from my parents and grandparents, ornaments the kids made when they were little, ornaments from almost every trip we have ever taken. There is the knowledge that next year we will gather again to place these ornaments, and hopefully a few new ones from trips we will take in 2019, to a new, but similar, tree.

I’m not exactly sure why I continue to keep the Christmas tree up and lit well after the holidays have passed, but I know it brings me strength, happiness, and hope. That’s reason enough for me.

 

 

Coaching Days

Today was one of those great coaching days.  I spent the afternoon moving from classroom to classroom, trying out different ideas with different kids and teachers.  In the first classroom, I demonstrated a mini lesson on how writers can use mentor texts to make their own writing even stronger. This teacher has been working with mentor text, but felt that the teaching wasn’t really transferring, so we tried to push for more transfer into student writing. Then I moved on to work with a teacher on small groups in writing.  She has some students working on poetry and wanted to push them to do some revision.  I modeled a small group showing students how they might write two or three different poems trying to get a similar feeling.  Then she tried it with another group using some of her own writing. In the next classroom we tried out a student-led Read Aloud.  These teachers are working on building student talk and I had seen this idea in the upper grades.  We tried it out in second grade and the students were “on fire” with their thinking and talking.  Finally, I ended the day coaching a teacher as she tried to build a better partnership conversation with two of her students.

I spent some time this evening reflecting on why this afternoon of coaching felt so good.  I think it was the positive energy coming from the teachers (kids too). These teachers are so open to learning new things and willing to try things out in their classrooms.  This work can be messy and difficult, but today I felt like I was working shoulder to shoulder with teachers to try to improve student learning.  We were in this together.  We were working hard.  We were learning.  And we were really enjoying it.

I hope tomorrow goes like today did.

 

A Winter Squall

On Sunday morning, I sat at my desk in the kitchen catching up on some work.  My desk sits in front of a large window that looks out onto our back yard. As I was working, I noticed that the sky was becoming increasingly blue and streaks of sunlight were appearing across the lawn.  I smiled as I thought about the walk I was scheduled to take with friends in about an hour. OK, I thought, stay focused for the hour, and you’ll get this finished before you break for some exercise, sunlight, and time with old friends.

I put my eyes back on the computer screen and got to work.  After about twenty minutes, I heard the wind picking up and noticed the trees starting to sway.  I looked up. The sky was ominous. A dark gray line of clouds was marching across the sky, and quickly.  The wind continued to pick up, now howing through the branches. My dog started to bark. Then I heard it, the gentle clicking sound of hail.  I stood up and walked to the back door. The hail was coming down, and hard. The entire sky was a deep charcoal gray, almost black. There goes my walk, I thought.

Then the world went quiet.  The hail and rain stopped. The trees were still.  As I looked to the back of the lawn, I saw a line of clear blue sky marching across the lawn just as the dark clouds had done moments before.  Within about twenty minutes, the sky was a clear blue and light was streaking across the yard.

The last few months have felt a bit like this morning.  Things were going well in November, Thanksgiving was lovely with my family gathered, and then the Christmas holidays were approaching.  That’s when the line of dark clouds came. My stepfather of close to 40 years was suddenly in Intensive Care, and completely reliant on a breathing tube.  Our families had to gather and make the hardest decision of our lives, to let this dear man go. The world went dark and cold. The holidays were nice, but a strong reminder of my stepfather’s absense from the family gathering he loved so much. It’s been almost a month now, and the sky still seems ominous.

I need to remind myself that there will be sunshine on the other side of the darkness.

Becoming

It’s January 1st.  A new year filled with new promise and new plans.  I want this to be one of the best years yet.  And so I make plans.  Plans to exercise more and eat and drink less.  Plans to travel and have new adventures.  Plans to work on my writing in a more serious way.  Plans to work on the house and yard. Plans to improve my coaching work and continue on my career path.  Plans. Lots of plans.

One of my plans for today was to select my OLW for 2019.  I wanted to find a word that would work personally and professionally.  A word that would fit with my plans.  This year I have decided on the word, BECOMING.  Yes, you guessed it, I am reading Becoming Michelle Obama by Michelle Obama.  My daughter gave it to me for Christmas (which I consider quite a nice compliment). Michelle has already started to inspire me.  Her focus and clarity as a young girl in Chicago is impressive.  And the fact that she is still becoming is inspirational.

Becoming works for me.  I am a learner.  I love to gain knowledge and skill, try new things, go new places, meet new people.  I always want to outgrow myself.  I want the teachers I work with to always think of their work as becoming.  I want my students and my own children and grandchildren to always see themselves as growing…becoming.

So it is that BECOMING will be my OLW for 2019!

 

Post Christmas Blues

Today I am like the Christmas lawn ornaments that now lay face down and flat on lawns throughout our town. Whether Santa or Snoopy in a snow globe, these balloon sculptures have been left forgotten and unfilled now that we are a few days past Christmas and almost ready to ring in a New Year.

I LOVE the Christmas season.  I LOVE making lists, shopping for just the right giflts, decorating the house, writing Christmas cards, wrapping, procuring and preparing our traditional Scandinavian foods, and having time to read and relax.  And the thing I cherish most of all is being together with my family. Our children are grown now, so for most of the year they are busy leading their own amazing lives. But when Christmas comes, they come home and they stay for a while.  We decorate the tree together, shop and wrap together, cook and eat together, talk together, go on adventures together, read on the couches together, and see lots of movies together (This year we saw The Favourite, Vice, and Mary Queen of Scots, along with Christmas favorites including It’s a Wonderful Life, Elf,  Santa Clause, and Charlie Brown’s Christmas.). Over the week, we settle in to a nice rythm, and everything feels so right. This year we ended the week with a fantastic day in New York City. We saw The Magic Flute at the Metroplotian Opera House, stopped for a glass of wine at a bar where my daughter knows the bartender, walked through Central Park to see the Christmas windows at Bergdorf Goodman (as we do each and every year) and went out to a fabulous (and probably too expensive) dinner in SoHo. We walked, we laugher, we enjoyed.  As the night came to a close, I felt closer to my two daughters than I’ve ever felt before (and we are pretty close).

And then the time came. The time to drive them back to their apartments in Chinatown and South Park Slope.  The time to drop them off with all of their new Christmas loot. The time to send them back to their own lives…and me back to mine.  

Today it’s quiet.  The tea kettle isn’t boiling for my daughter’s tea.  The music isn’t on. It’s just me, my husband and the dog on the couches.  I’m feeliing a bit deflated and like I’m lying face down on my front lawn.