Dealing with Feelings

How are you feeling today?

I check in with my first graders as they sign in to our Zoom classroom each morning.

I check in with colleagues and friends.

I check in with my family at the start of the day, or at dinner.

In our district, we have been studying the work of Marc Brackett, Founder and Director of The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and author of Permission to Feel, and I am convinced that it is important to take time to check in on feelings, to name those feelings, and to have strategies to change how we feel. I know that it’s more important than ever as we continue to face the many challenges of trying to navigate a pandemic.

But lately I’ve realized that I’m not doing a great job checking in on my own feelings. This has been a tough few weeks. I have three family members who have tested positive for COVID, our school is going back to a full time schedule, which I fear increases the risk of people getting sick, and I am losing a few wonderful students from my class as they decide to return to in person schooling.

I realize that I’m just plowing forward, trying not to think about how scared, angry, and sad I’m feeling. I know I’m stressed, but I’m not doing anything about it (with the exception of drinking more coffee and eating more cake, which does help….in the short term). When my friends, colleagues, and family members say, “How are you?” I’m replying, “Fine!” Unfortunately there is nothing fine about it.

Today I am going to stop, take stock of how I’m feeling, try to name it, and then see if I can shift my feelings to a calmer, more focused place.

Wish me luck!

Rethinking My OLW

In early January, I decided on the word hope as the word I would live by in 2021. It seemed like a good word. After all, I am hoping for an end to the pandemic; hoping to hug my father and my grandchildren again; hoping to travel to see my son and sister and their families; hoping for better leadership in our nation; hoping that children and young adults can get back to the world they deserve to live in.

And then I visited the Brooklyn Museum. There, in the main hall, was a banner with these words: “After hope, then what?” It pushed my thinking. Was hope the right word? Is it enough?

And then the Capitol riots happened……and the deaths from COVID continued to soar…..and hate and violence showed their ugly faces again and again. Was hope the right word? Is it enough? The more I thought about it, the more I found that hope started to sound passive. Almost trite. I know hope is important. I know I’ll need to hold on to hope, but I need to do more. I need a new word. A word that is going to drive change.

And so it is that I’ve decided to add a word to my OLW. In 2021, my TLW (Two Little Words) will be Hope + Action.

Let’s Talk

The events that took place last week at our nation’s Capitol continue to disturb us. We continue to ask ourselves and each other, “How could this happen? Who does something like this?”

For me, as a first grade teacher for the year, I also wonder, “What can I do right now so that these beautiful, kind, and caring first graders who sit in front of me on Zoom each day don’t become the kind of people who would participate in this kind of violence and hatred?”

I don’t have the answers, but I do believe it starts with conversation. Recently I was listening in while the children took their snack break. I ask them to turn their cameras and microphones off for 5 minutes to get away from the screen, but then invite them to come back and have a social snack time with their classroom peers. I am muted and my video is off, but I learn so much by listening in. They sometimes read aloud to each other, or share their favorite doll collections, or just chat about “stuff” they did over the weekend. They ask each other questions and often invite in the quieter voices. Usually it’s quite heartwarming, but the other day before the cameras went off, I overheard one of the girls (definitely a leader and usually so kind and caring) say to two other students, “When we come back, I want to talk to you two!” I wondered how other children were feeling. Then on another day, I heard her say, “Who is your best friend in the class?” I unmuted and turned on my camera. I know this is normal first grade conversation, but it was starting to feel exclusive. When we are on Zoom, everyone here’s what is being said. I had to believe that other children were feeling left out.

I decided to start up a conversation about inclusion. I don’t believe in lecturing, so I tried to have a conversation about inviting people in (not closing people out). I tried to take a wondering stance, to ask questions, to promote some dialogue. I tried to make sure that no one was feeling blamed, but that we were all learning how to be better people together. After all, isn’t that really my job? To work together with my young students to help us all see through various lenses, to explore books and ideas that act as mirrors, windows, and doors, to invite people in, and to learn the art of civil discourse?

Yesterday during snack time I heard one of the quieter students say, “Should we all try to play a game together?” It’s a small step, but I’m feeling hopeful.

2021’s OLW

The OLW I decided on last January was pause. Can you even believe it? I certainly didn’t realize when I wrote this (https://wordpress.com/post/ebgriffin1119.wordpress.com/769) last year that the whole world would push pause due to a pandemic in March of 2020. I was definitely able (really forced) to slow down, be more mindful, and listen more actively. After all, there was really not much else to do. I actually believe that if there is any good that is going to come out of this pandemic, it might be that it forced us all to pause a bit and pay attention to what is really important in this life.

So now it is time for me to pick this year’s word. A word to live by in 2021. I was hoping that the pandemic would be behind us (or at least heading in the right direction) by January and that I would be able to pick a word like restart. But no, the situation in the United States seems worse today than it was last spring, so we are not restarting. At least not for a while. Then I thought maybe persevere would be a good one. We are all going to need to “pull up our socks” (as my dad likes to advise when things get hard) and just get through this second very challenging year. But perseve didn’t feel too inspiring. Necessary, but not inspiriting. I thought of others – learn, embrace, participate, love. All have potential. All are something I want to live toward. But I’ve decided that the OLW I am going to live by in 2021 is hope. I’m going to hope that:

-People stay healthy and safe.

-The vaccine is effective and helps to slow this virus down.

-I can see my family members who live far away.

-I can have a meal with friends and family around one big table (inside with no masks).

-I can once again use people’s facial expressions to anticipate how they are feeling.

-I can hug and kiss my grandchildren.

-My children continue to thrive even in these challenging circumstances.

-We work together (as a world community) to crush this virus.

-Our political change will move us in a positive direction.

-Our world grows kinder and fairer for all who live in it.

-My students learn and grow and flourish in our remote classroom.

I could go on. I have so many hopes.

So as Emily Dickinson wrote, “Hope is the thing with feathers.” I’m looking to my OLW to act as supportive feathers as I try to fly through the crazy wind currents that the upcoming year is sure to bring.

Friluftsliv!

The Christmas of 2020 was different. In our family, one of the favorite Christmas traditions revolves around stockings. Each year, we choose names for the stockings. Each person has one family member’s stocking to fill. We spend a good deal of time thinking about and shopping for our person’s stocking gifts. Then, on Christmas morning, we gather by the fire with a cup of coffee or tea and open our stockings one by one, each person trying to guess who filled his/her stocking! Someone always adds something silly or something to throw off the guessing. The morning is filled with fun and laughter and some of the most personal and thoughtful gifts imaginable.

This year we could not gather inside, so the stocking tradition was seriously threatened. But then we started thinking…….How CAN we make this happen? My sister and her husband live in South Carolina, and they were not going to travel. My stepsisters and families live about an hour away. We started brainstorming. We discussed changing the tradition so that people would just exchange stockings with their immediate family members. We talked about Zoom. We talked about lots of ideas, until we landed on this one: Let’s gather around the fire pit outside (My sister would have to join on FaceTime from South Carolina.)! So it will be cold. We can dress up with warm clothes, hats, boots, and scarves. And we did. I set up coffee and my mom’s traditional Swedish coffee cake. We bought a little Charlie Brown Christmas tree and decorated it with lights, and we nailed hooks to a tree near the fire pit and hung our stockings there. We gathered, we opened, we guessed, and we laughed. The outdoor stocking celebration might have been one of the most wonderful Christmas experiences of all times. We might even do it next year and every year after that!

The Norwegians have a word for this concept of embracing outdoor living (even when the weather is cold and unfriendly). The word is Friluftstliv. According to one Norwegian, “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes.”

So Happy Frilufstliv to all!

In Person

I slowed the car as I tried to read the numbers on the mailboxes. 3, 5, 7…This must be it. I turned in. I pulled the car down the long driveway. There were two houses. Hmmm…Which one is the right one? That’s when I saw the white pom pom on the top of a pink knit hat peeking out of the gate. Could that be her? Was that Sophia? She looked so tiny! Well she is only six. Then I saw a small boy and a mother. That’s definitely Sophia’s mom! “That’s her!” I heard Sophia’s mom say as the three of them came running out of the gate, waving like crazy. Sophia is a leader in our class. She has organized card making events, birthday parties, and even a read aloud during snack time. But here, in person, she was acting quite shy. I imagine it’s strange to see your teacher live for the first time too. Maybe I look huge! We chatted and laughed. We exchanged gifts. We even threw a few snowballs. Sophia began to giggle and talk. She started to return to her true outgoing self. Then she and her brother sang me a Christmas song. It was a beautiful moment. I will forever savor it.

I’ve been teaching a class of first graders remotely since August. I’ve only seen my students in small boxes in a grid on a screen. It’s the strangest thing to never have seen your students in person. So when my first grade team decided we would get some small gifts for our students, I decided I would deliver them in person. I’ve delivered about half of the gifts to half of my families. Each encounter happening in a driveway or on a front step. Finally connecting with my students and families face to face (well, masked face to masked face) has been nothing short of magical.

Snow Days

This week, the forecast is calling for a big snowstorm in the Northeast. According to some weather reports, we could have a foot of snow or more! I’ve been waiting for this first snow of the season. To me, there is nothing quite as beautiful as a fresh snow that covers the ground and makes the tree branches look like someone took a thick piece of chalk and drew a perfect line on the top of each one. I love the first snow even more when the timing is just before the Christmas holidays and all of the Christmas lights peek out under the white stuff. And of course there is the dream of a snow day, a day to get up late, sip my coffee, read a book, bake some cookies, and go out in the snow!

But this year I was a bit worried. After all, we all know how to teach remotely now. All of us have the equipment we need, the platforms to teach from a distance, and all of the children and families are set up with Chromebooks just in case we have to shut down or classes have to quarantine. So I wondered if that meant the end of the snow day. I teach a class of first graders who are home every day, so would we just carry on as though it were a regular school day? Would I just get up, get dressed, and sign on to my Zoom meeting? Would my first graders have to sit on a computer all day instead of sipping hot chocolate, building snow forts and sledding? Maybe we’d be thankful in June not to be adding days to the calendar, but right about now we could really use a snow day.

The good news came in an email from the Superintendent yesterday. We would be having (at least a few) snow days this year! Now, let’s just hope the weather predictions are right! I don’t know about you, but I’m putting a spoon under my pillow tomorrow night!

The Power of Traditions

This year will be so different. Because we are still dealing with a global pandemic, we won’t be going to stores to shop. We can’t gather for Christmas parties or cookie baking events. We will have to skip our annual pilgrimage to New York City to meet up with our daughters, admire the beautifully decorated windows, and go out for a drink or dinner. Our village Tree Lighting now requires tickets and social distancing, and the annual Holiday Bonfire (a crazy display of flames leaping from gasoline soaked palettes piled high with a Christmas tree on top) has been postponed. My sister and her husband can’t travel from South Carolina to be with us for Christmas, and our Christmas Eve and Christmas day dinner will just be for our immediate family of four.

So much is different this year, but some things are exactly the same. We are listening to holiday music on the car radio. The village Christmas tree is lit. We have the Christmas lights up on the house, and we have purchased our Christmas tree at the same place we have been buying it for years. The girls will come home and we will decorate the tree together. We will bring all of the holiday decorations down from the attic and decorate the house. We will buy gifts for the people we love and we will find a way to exchange them. We will serve our traditional Swedish foods on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We will talk to my dad on the phone and probably have a Zoom meeting or two with our extended families.

So much is different, but we will hold fast to our traditions to give us a sense of security and normalcy when this world feels anything but safe and normal.

Visitors

We were gathered around the fire pit. My dad (90 years old) and his wife on one side, and my husband, daughter and me on the other. With the warmer than usual temperatures this fall, we’ve been able to spend a lot of time with my dad outside and at a safe distance.

We were bundled up, sipping our tea, and chatting about art, music, and the latest news surrounding the coronavirus and politics, when suddenly a large owl flew behind my dad and up into a nearby tree. We grabbed the binoculars and studied the winged beauty perched up high on a branch. He stared back, his round yellow eyes looking quizzically at the circle of humans gathered around a fire.

We went back to our talking and tea sipping.

A few minutes later, we were startled by a loud hoot and two owls flew gracefully and silently out of the tree, behind my dad, and into the woods.

Another Teacher in the House

I am working on the computer (trying to think of what to write about for my weekly blog post) when I hear a muffled noise coming up through the floorboards near my feet. There is music playing. I hear my daughter’s voice. She is teaching a lesson. She explains something, then talks through a demonstration, and then is quiet for a bit (I imagine her watching her student on the other side of the screen.). The music stops and I hear Morgan share a few tips for how her student can make her work even better. As I keep listening, the cycle repeats, over and over again; explain, demonstrate, observe, give feedback.

My daughter is in the basement teaching her weekly dance lesson. She is teaching my granddaughter (her niece). My granddaughter lives in Nashville and we are in Connecticut, so this weekly dance lesson has become a pretty special bonding experience for both girls, as dancers and as relatives.

I lean closer to the floor to see if I can make out what’s going on in this lesson.

“That’s it. You’re really getting the idea. Try it again. Try it like this. Watch me. Now you try. Better….so much better. Do you feel the way the arm crossed over your body that time? That’s what you want. Let’s try it again.”

Then there’s always a check in,

“How are you doing? You OK? Any questions? Do you want to grab some water?”

Then it’s back to work. There’s not much down time in this lesson. Morgan changes the music. They try something else. Morgan is clear and direct, but at the same time nurturing and encouraging. They go on like this for an hour. The cadence of the conversation going back and forth. Teacher to student. Student to teacher.

There is music, teaching, learning, and some beautiful laughter coming up through my floor tonight. Morgan; daughter, dancer and now teacher.