A Sapling to Grow

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{this post was originally published in February 2016 during my once-in-awhile contribution to Practicing Families blog}

“I try to believe,” she said, “that God doesn’t give you more than one little piece of the story at once. You know, the story of your life. Otherwise your heart would crack wider than you could handle. He only cracks it enough so you can still walk, like someone wearing a cast. But you’ve still got a crack running up your side, big enough for a sapling to grow out of. Only no one sees it. Nobody sees it. Everybody thinks you’re one whole piece, and so they treat you maybe not so gentle as they could see that crack.”

― Rebecca WellsDivine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

Something began to crack. Not sure WHEN, but the tipping point was knowing that our boys had been yelling about underwear while waving it in the air.  Outside.  For all the neighborhood to hear.  Or playing practical jokes on babysitters.  Name calling was the norm.  Hitting seemed to have become the knee-jerk reaction to frustration and anger.  And the solution?  Turning our backs the other way, too emotionally exhausted to do more than bandaid it all with Netflix and PBS Kids, after appealing to other experts, friends and books.

The “crack” led to a reset. We “cleared the decks” and went back to square one, leaving only the basics (which by majority world standards are still quite extravagant).  Games, puzzles, art supplies and books were left alone.  Everything else was carefully packed away.  Screens were blackened.  It was time for the crack to “run up our side.”  Maybe this change wouldn’t be seen by many others, but no doubt our boys’ REACTION to the change could be heard by our neighbors!  Seen or not by the outside, it became necessary for the health of our family.

It was a wide, painful crack. But as Rebecca Wells’ quote so wisely says, it was “big enough for a sapling to grow out of.”  Sometimes it feels as if our story is cracked wider than we can handle.  That the narrative doesn’t seem to be going the way we planned.  The plot is flawed and headed off in a direction that isn’t linear.  All we feel is the pain.  The taking away.  The “not yet.”  And yet nobody sees it, or us.

We have just entered the season of Lent on the church calendar. These forty days preceding Easter give us time to strip things bare.  To pare down to the basics.  To let go of the things that keep our focus off of what truly matters.  Lent is a time of reflection.  A time to repent and turn from the patterns that are binding us and holding us.  This whole season of Lent “kicks off” with a service centered around dust.  Ashes.  Remnants of the fire.

It all sounds kind of morbid at first glance. Who wants to give up the comforts we love?  Chocolate?  TV?  Coffee?  Or in our boys’ case….LEGOS. Ipad time.  Or using mean words when the rage boils underneath.  Lent and parenting are actually more alike than we often imagine.  Our best attempts to raise these little humans to lead from a place of love, can often feel impossible.  Parenting can sometimes feel like a lot of taking away.  Losing.  Fire-filled moments.  But as ashes return to the earth, something new can spring up.  Fire, according to the National Park Service, “reduces dead vegetation, stimulates new growth and improves habitats for wildlife.”  I remember story, after amazing story, rising from the ashes of Mt. St. Helens’ volcanic explosion back in 1980.  New growth kept miraculously finding its way to the same places that had once been filled with devastation.  And oddly enough, there were many situations that seemed BETTER than before.  The narrative changed, but also improved.

As we walk through this Lenten season, individually or in our role as parent, we must remember these wise words of Gertrud Mueller Nelson in her book To Dance with God.  She writes, “We cannot hope for change in the other until we have changed ourselves.  We cannot change without dying.”  We must face these painful places in ourselves, modeling for our kids what it means to repair our mistakes, apologizing when our angry words get the best of us.  Asking for a do-over when we avoid what will hurt and maybe feels most difficult.

As Valentine’s Day rolls around this Sunday with the Lenten season already begun, we seek that God will “take away our hearts of stone.” That God would give us “hearts of flesh.”  In the midst of the cracks and the pain, the hard parenting moves we need to make, we can seek a God that meets us.  A God that desires to grow a sapling and bring new life to places that have felt broken or hard as stone.  Maybe we will even find places, surprising spots, where we can take on something new in a place that once felt barren.  Ashes giving way to new life.

Some questions for Reflection:

Where has your life felt “cracked” this season?
What painful interactions have you allowed to grow and become habits within yourself or your family?
What new life or “sapling” are you longing to have become real in your life?
What new commitments could you “take ON” during this Lenten season, rather than give up?

A Joyful Mystery

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Happy New Year!

2016.

A clean slate and a fresh start begins today!

We put so much pressure on ourselves to make resolutions and change our bad habits and lazy ways. Every January 1st, goals are set. Words of the year are declared. We push forward into the days ahead, feeling strong and motivated and positive. And then….the hard news. The diagnosis. The unexpected phone call. The world spins in ways we weren’t planning on. It feels impossible to hold tight to those intentions.

As I walk through moments of difficulty and sadness with my own boys, the world and its unpredictable ways often feel overwhelming. They struggle with grasping their own **little**worlds, their friendships, school challenges and family expectations, let alone stomaching what unfolds on the news and in our bigger communities and world.

So to see times of mystery as joy, feels counterintuitive.

To envision the unknown and challenging as worthy of gladness and praise, seems naïve.

How do we move forward amidst it all with joy? Gladness? And praise? We are working on this in our own lives and family these days. Trying to upend patterns of negativity and irritability and replace our knee jerk reactions with stillness, calm and an open heart. We are attempting to ask questions and seek more from each other, rather than assume.

When I heard Brené Brown speak this past fall, she challenged us with a question. “What is the story you are telling yourself?” How are we creating narratives for ourselves and for our closest loved ones that are fictional, inaccurate and made up in our own heads? Do we see the problems of our world and in our day-to-day lives as insurmountable obstacles, believing everyone is out to get us? How can we instead turn the questions back on ourselves and our children, seeking to see these problems differently?

“No one wants to play with me!”

“He hit me and said he’s not my friend…”

“You love HIM more than ME!”

“I don’t want to be in the family anymore! You’re a baby RAT, MOM!”

These are just a few of the many words uttered within our walls recently. I often don’t have advice to share with boys. Only rage bubbles up. But I am starting to hear Brené whispering in my ear these days, “What story are you telling yourself?” The root of these situations is often way different than I surmise and rather than thinking about these problems and challenges as a joyful mystery, I want to run and hide and ignore it.

As we walk into 2016, I am hoping for a year of joyful mystery mixed with a hefty does of contemplation. Time to sit with these questions. Opportunities to live with the pain and not run from it. Wherewithal to probe and ask for more from our boys, rather than escaping from the yelling. I hope we can all push ourselves to be on each other’s sides, leading with kindness rather than judgment or harshness. May we re-write the stories we tell ourselves with truth, remembering these words of Paul to the Romans:

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you:

Take your everyday, ordinary life—

your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around-life—

and place it before God as an offering.

Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.

Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.

Instead, fix your attention of God.

You’ll be changed from the inside out.

Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it.

Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God bring the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it.”      

~Romans 12:1-2, 9

{this is originally a post for the blog Practicing Families that I contribute to every so often…you can also find it there, along with lots of other pieces}

Merry Christmas from the Goughs

It is hard to believe that we have already hit the much-anticipated CHRISTMAS EVE…I am sure that many of you (or your progeny!) are filled with expectations for the 24 hours ahead.  Taking a brief moment to share our 2015 Christmas card and letter for today’s December Photo Project entry.  This picture isn’t as polished as last years, due to our self-posed and taken shot vs the mad skills of Blue Lily and Wendy’s talents.  But….it is so much more spontaneous and us, down to Drew’s bandaided cheek and Alex’s bunny ears.

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May the words of Joseph Campbell challenge you in 2016 as they have challenged us…

and…a little Mad Lib fun for you.

Merry Christmas!

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Get Yourself Organized for Christmas

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Yes, I was the crazy person. Sitting on the beach at the Oregon Coast, watching a late August sunset, reading about….Christmas. And worse yet? Getting ORGANIZED for Christmas. Who wants to spend the fleeting hours of their summer, planning for December?!  It turns out I do…and hopefully you will too.

Last year, I had the gift of being part of Kathi Lipp’s launch team for her book Clutter Free: Quick and Easy Steps to Simplifying Your Space Many of you took on the challenge with me to get rid of 2000 items in 2015. Kathi’s latest book applies this same principal to the approaching Christmas season. In her new book Get Yourself Organized for Christmas, Kathi shares easy-to-follow steps to reduce the stress and increase the joy of the holiday season.

Last November, Kathi began to post daily projects & simple steps to help focus on what you really value and want for the holiday season.   By being purposeful, it is possible to be present and to experience the depth of Advent and Christmas vs. checklists, commitments & overwhelming decisions. To have a “Christmas that is clutter free—free of emotional, physical and relational clutter”—is possible.

The first step Kathi suggests is spending time thinking about what is truly important to you…and to your family. I am often the one who is planning event after event, setting up art projects, baking plans and Pinterest ventures to keep the month of December meaningful and memorable. When I finally stopped and began to take a closer look at the holidays and what is really important (and fun!), the need for a picture perfect holiday began to feel hollow.

I asked our boys what they love the best about our traditions. Everyone voiced a love for driving around to look at Christmas lights, for making gingerbread houses and watching Elf. The long list I am a slave to was barely mentioned or touched upon. So…once again, I am editing and trying to pare things down. Simplifying.

Each of the projects Kathi proposes are smaller, allowing you to take on the planning in manageable chunks. After working on Project One, Creating a Holiday Mission Statement, I felt much more focused when making hard decisions about what to keep and what to let go of. If an activity or event began to feel more like an obligation or if it didn’t line up with our Mission Statement, it was crossed off the list. And by mission statement, it needs to be more than “To SURVIVE”.

Kathi encourages you to think through words that resonate with your hopes for the season…each year’s statement having the potential to be a little bit different. {some words to think through: time, energy, spiritual, celebrate, family, tradition, creating, friends, church, community, gift gifting, love, reflect, patience, solitude, connect, serve, peace, joy, activities, care, gift giving, restore, food, etc}.

Next, the second project had me at…BINDER. I loved Kathi’s idea to create a Christmas Binder which held a calendar for the month of December, recipes, menus, gift ideas, receipts, a budget, the to-do list, a list of present hiding places, Christmas card addresses and other tidbits in one, easy-to-locate place.  Rather than trying to track down items you “tucked away” or trying to locate a receipt for the present you sent that isn’t the right size, everything is in one place, easy to find.  Here is a link for some free resources to start getting your binder together.

The projects unfold from there…

  • buying Christmas card stamps
  • choosing a photo for your Christmas card (if you are sending them)
  • planning for purchasing, wrapping and sending gifts to out of town friends and family
  • compiling the MUST make, family-favorite recipes
  • ordering Christmas books or movies from the Library
  • setting a budget for gift buying

There are 21 Projects to help you prepare for the holidays and I have to say that last year felt so much more manageable. And now a year later? I can’t even tell you the gift it is to have already attacked the ever-illusive spreadsheet of addresses for cards or planning for some simple, daily advent activities.  All the work I put in last year is “paying off” in less stress this year.

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If you are feeling overwhelmed about the holidays as Thanksgiving approaches, I would love to invite you to join me as we enter into this season to be more intentional and calm. To break up projects that typically make you want to run and hide and instead be more purposeful, focused and stress-free. Be sure to check out Kathi’s new book and also connect via Facebook where she posts the daily projects as well.  Here is the link for her blog, another great place to get the current scoop.  If you want to take the challenge, click here!  Please share about your progress if you decide to take on the challenge.  I will be doing it again this year and love having a friend or two to keep me accountable!

 

The Treasure Within the Putty

{this post is part of my monthly contribution at Practicing Families…finally getting around to posting it here…}christine

Almost every Thursday, I pick my youngest son up from Pre-K class and trek out to his Occupational Therapy appointment. Many days it is a struggle to extract him from his friends and class but Thursdays, I don’t need the promise of any “carrots.”  All I need to say is, “We get to go see Kecia today!” and he drops whatever he is working on like a hot potato and jets for the door.  If only I drew such excitement and motivation.

Each week during our appointments, the activities change and vary but one activity stays the same and is a favorite—Putty Time. Theraputty provides a fun and engaging way for finger and hand strengthening as well as improvement of muscle coordination.  Kecia’s Theraputty isn’t just putty, though….she has hidden treats inside.  A Lite Bright bulb, a nautilus shell, an eraser, a LEGO, a plastic gecko, a marble, a plastic, pink jewel.  Depends on the week, but usually Drew pulls and tugs and digs and searches for about eight items within the putty.

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As he extracts each item it is an EVENT. Each item is announced with great enthusiasm, piled neatly, and then he goes back in for more.  There is also a lot of “UUUUUUUGGHHHH”s and dramatic stretching and pulling sounds, but he puts in the hard work.  Putty time on the schedule means challenge, but reward.  Some pain and persistence, but a pay off.

So much of parenting is made up of these cause and effect moments. The lessons we want to have embedded on their hearts relate to “not giving up.”  Teaching our children the value of grit and perseverance can feel never-ending.  And in reality?!  It is an ongoing life lesson.  To build strength, we must pull and stretch our minds and bodies.  We need to put ourselves in places of discomfort.  There will be times we are digging and digging for some unknown something, with seemingly no clues, just the instruction, “Keep looking.  Keep searching.”  To get our desired effect, there is a directly related cause.  Hard Work.

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The lessons we so desire to impart are often the same ones we ourselves need. So, I challenge you to keep looking.  Keep searching.  Keep pulling and pushing.  Press on when it seems like the plastic jewel will never be unearthed.  That Lite Bright bulb might be within the next section, and your children are no doubt watching you to see what you might find.  But even more so, if you stick with the task when it gets gray and fuzzy and overwhelming, you will grow.

With this in mind, I have been clinging to a prayer I read in Phyllis Tickle’s book, The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime.  It was written by Sarum Primer in 1527.  Almost 500 years ago.  But his words ring true today.

“God be in my head

and in my understanding.

God be in my mouth

And in my speaking.

God be in my heart

And in my thinking.

God be at mine end

And my departing.”

 

May God be in our words, our hearts, our thoughts and our steps as we parent, encourage, model and push our children. Our words are being listened to.  Our heart and affect matters.  Our thoughts matter.  God is in each push and pull and moment of grit.

What Are You Going to Make at the Free Art Table?

Last Sunday our church kicked off the new Sunday School year. Public Schools began as well and the fall routines jump-started us all back to “reality.” Packing lunches. Afternoons of homework, reading logs and math facts. One day it’s ninety-five degrees and the kids are sweating like they were attending a Bikrum yoga class, not Third Grade. The next day, they are running around at soccer practice in the rain, mud caking their cleats and splattering on shin guards.

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It’s a liminal time and space, despite the new beginning of the school year. The weather has a foot in the torrid weeks of summer but simultaneously is pushing to shorter days, chilly mornings and leaves on fire with the colors of autumn.

My students and my own children seem to feel this same liminality. The in between. The middle. Even at the start of something new, we look back to what was. We remember the way our classrooms felt as the previous year ended. Relational bonds felt strong, routines and procedures were engrained, the rhythm was second-nature, teachers were more than a Mr. or Mrs.–they were like another parent.

Looking ahead each September, there is opportunity, possibility and newness. Perfection seems attainable and even plausible. We set goals, review and practice rules, get new backpacks and lunch boxes. But underneath it all, there is a sense of disequilibrium, unsureness. If we are honest, we have a foot in two places. It’s the in between and nothing feels quite “right”.

In my youngest son’s Pre-K class, I heard about something that gave me some grounding in the midst of the newness. At our Back-to-School night, his teacher shared about their Free Art table. A place of potential, opportunity and creativity, but without a lot of rules and perfected, teacher-driven projects.  The students won’t be forced to create a bat during Halloween week or a turkey made of their handprint. Rather, the Free Art table is a place to explore and innovate. There is a bulletin board to put their creations or they can take them home when they finish. There is freedom, options and few teacher-directed objectives other than creative expression.

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When we are in the liminal space or embarking on a new beginning we crave order, rules, boundaries and a perfect model of what we should make or how to act. But sometimes, the way to move into the newness, out of the in between, is through freedom. During the unscripted moments, we force ourselves and our kids to dig deep and grow, discover and even develop new community.

If we hold too tightly to the past it is impossible to embrace the “next thing.”  By it’s very nature, the in between times, the transitions, are fairly permeable. Malleable. Boundary-less.   Just think of what can be created in those times though…. our own little moments to envision something new at our “Free Art Table.”  Pick up the scissors, grab a googly eye or some glitter and get to work.

I walk by my former students in their new 4th grade classroom everyday and long to have them fill our desks again. To hear their reflections, read their words and watch them work through math problems. But then, the new faces of this year’s students grace our walls, their portraits smiling down under the banner “Class of 2025.”  So many moments to share lie ahead. There will be stories to tell, connections to be made.   We’ve already buried “I Can’t” and held its funeral. We wrote about our summers & set reading goals for the year ahead. We have high-fived and hand-shaked our way home each day and already shed tears and a lot of laughs together. And we are only nine days in….

I look at my own two boys and marvel at the ways they—along with kids in general—jump into newness, adapt and adjust to new classrooms and teachers, hoping I can try to do the same. Make my own creation at the Free Art table. Let go of the past a bit. Dream into the future knowing that the underlying grounding is a Creator that delights in seeing us embrace Freedom, wants us to get messy with extravagant Grace & explore the possibilities ahead. God is an innovator and yet stands with us in the in between too. May we seek to be the same for our children. Cheerleaders of their imperfect creations, celebrators of their new connection and generous dispensers of grace as they get messy and busy at the Free Art Table of growing up.

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Packing It In

IMG_3766A few weeks ago, we loaded up and hopped on a plane to the Bay Area. It had been two years, to the day, that we moved to Oregon from California, and our boys, now 4 and 8, had yet to return for a visit. Our eldest would be jetting off the following morning to Disneyland with Grandma and youngest would be occupied by Grandpa’s plans to keep his mind off of NOT being in Disneyland. Our bags were packed and our itinerary was full of coffee dates, early morning walks, restaurants to enjoy, parks to visit, the zoo to explore, a wonderful family wedding to attend and even a San Francisco Giants vs. Oakland A’s game.

Fun to be had. People to see. Memories to be made. Adventures to be lived. And yet, I was filled with anxiety. Would the upended routines and schedules throw the boys off? Would we over-extend ourselves financially eating & touring our way through the Bay? Would the flights be on time? Would we encounter nasty traffic? Would the boys have sibling moments leading me to utter embarrassment? Would I pack enough snacks and the proper clothes? Question after question after question. Anxiety growing and magnifying before my eyes.

The funny thing is, 99% of my concerns and worries never came to fruition. And if they did, it wasn’t something we couldn’t handle. But like those bags smashed and packed into our little rental car, full of promise of the week ahead, I didn’t realize something was amiss. Looks can be deceiving.

After getting the boys settled in the car, the bags smashed in the backseat and our phones out and on to navigate to the in-laws, we heard a rap on the window and saw the guy from Budget waving us down. We’d gotten into the wrong car. We were CLOSE to the right car. Just a bit off. Luckily they caught us before we left. But all the same? We were in the wrong car.

In the anxiety and the tiredness I find these moments happen all too often. Either focusing so much on the details that the big picture gets lost. Or so overwhelmed by the situation that I forget to pay attention to the details. Maybe you, like me, have lost your sunglasses only to realize they were on your head all along? Or were so wrapped up in hosting a dinner party that you swapped sugar for salt in a recipe?

I do this over and over and never seem to learn. As a parent, I fail my own good intentions daily. After stepping on one too many LEGO, not being able to navigate through our playroom, I lost it the other day. And rather than driving off in the wrong car, my body took care of the situation instead, landing me straight on the couch for the next 24 hours having thrown out my back. Tension had been mounting and instead of taking a breather, talking to God, regaining my equilibrium? I got angry. And my body snapped and told me, “Anxiety and stress or not, you need to take a moment.”

The stars aligned and all the boys slept the next morning until 7:25am. Anyone who knows our sleep woes understands that this is truly a miracle. My back was seizing too badly to hobble out and get the paper so I managed to get over to the kitchen and shuffle back with a cup of coffee. I sat down with Shauna Niequist’s new devotional, Savor. I read and read, page after page. Backwards. I started in August and worked my way back to April. The words spoke to my heart, as did the quiet.

PFpic0807152Zephaniah 3:17 leapt off the page, “The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but rejoice over you with singing.” No more rebuke. Only singing and delight. My go-to is rebuke. In the classroom much of my day teaching involves discipline. I am constantly refereeing between my own two boys. I am putting myself down for failing to do everything on the to do list. And in this case, for having my back go out, rendering me slow and helpless. Those words spoke to my heart, though. God delights. God is with me. God saves me. Mightily. God loves. God rejoices, not just with words, but with singing.

The rebukes that I dole out or speak to my own heart can be covered with singing. Erased and replaced with delight. When my parenting is overtaken by lists and anxieties and fears, God speaks love. As I make mistake after mistake, and come close but am still not on target (hello, parking mishaps!), God still is with me. Not rebuking, but singing. Reminding me to slow down and breathe.

Packing it all in, trying to control every move of our kids and ourselves, only leads to failure. And luckily, in the case of our rental car mistake, some laughs at our own expense. May we choose the way of love, of UN-packing it all, not trying to fill our days with too many to do’s, rebukes or anxieties. And to see the place we are meant to be, which might just be in the parking space right next to where we’re standing.

{This post is part of my monthly contribution at Practicing Families, published there earlier this month.  Feel free to hop over there too!….}

Summer Lesson Plans

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Today marks that quintessential transition day—the school year coming to a close and stepping forward into summer vacation. As an elementary school teacher, I spend hours teaching and instructing each day, but before that happens, my lesson plan book is filled to the brim. Best laid plans for approaching new text, for writing opinion papers. Times highlighted and labeled for P.E., computers or special pull outs.

Topics and lists to cover at meetings or to ask colleagues for clarification and advice. Fluorescent post it notes sticking out, marking important information or events to remember.

Buying and creating this lesson plan book each year is like walking into a candy store for me. Which design will win out? Will it be columns or rows? A month-at-a-glance or weekly planning format? Tabs with color? Places for storing important documents or a separate binder? All this to say…I love having a useful holding place for planning. A location to go back to at the end of each day and ask myself, “Did we make it? Did we push through everything planned, or where do we need to pick up tomorrow?”

When I think of that next “season” that begins today—Summer—I often imagine a big precipice, though. Not a new lesson plan book of opportunity and lessons to be planned and learned. But rather a blank slate of fear. The school year seems like a marathon I have run and completed, crawling across the finish line as I hand out report cards and leave the clean classroom to ruminate over the break. Picking up my sons with brown bags full of projects, papers, pictures and memories, we all breathe a collective sigh, filled with so many emotions. Sadness over the end of a year of community and learning and teacher/student connections. Excitement thinking about the more “relaxed” schedules and days ahead. Anticipation for summer fun…of camping, s’mores, LEGO camp, trips to the beach, afternoons of popsicles and sprinklers, playdates and more time to read.

Wondering, though, if it’s time to see the year as a relay race or maybe a triathlon? A transition into something different that is still part of the same race. Switching from swimming to the bike leg or passing off to a new baton carrier while still moving forward. My head and body want to fall flat on the bed, letting myself sink into the cool comfort of my quilt and zone out, rest. To let PBS Kids take over the childcare and let the kids blaze their own paths for two months. “Teacher Mom is OFF duty!”

It doesn’t work that way, though. And even when it seems like that path is the best route, I know it’s not. If I come into the school day unprepared, while the students may never catch on, my inner world is wrought with angst. I play tapes through my head filled with, “you aren’t good enough…you didn’t care enough to plan….you can’t get your act together.” And really? Everyone suffers.

So this summer, I am making a plan book of sorts for our days. It won’t be nearly as full as my teacher lesson book at school, but I am blazing a pared down trail. A path for giving some structure to our days. Time for reading. Time for figuring out what to do. Time for a few fun outings. Time for s’mores. Time for trips to the library. Time for sprinklers. Time for the park and friends. And weaving it all together, just like the in the classroom, I am slogging through the process of management. When the “troops” are restless and structure-less and lacking respect, the mission is rarely accomplished. The learning and growth that happens in a well-managed classroom is exponential. This means setting behavior plans, being clear and loving in explaining and enforcing them. Firm, fair and friendly, we used to say when working at camp.

For some reason, this feels so much scarier and more challenging at home, then when facing my classroom of students during the school year. But this summer, it’s going into my Lesson Plans. This summer, I am reminding myself that parenting and faith isn’t something we just magically arrive at if we close our eyes and say, “POOF!” It can feel like, and it truly is, work. It means discipline and planning and follow through. I am convinced with a little pre-planning and mental wrestling, we can create a structure that allows for freedom and choice, but also with a mix of responsibility and fun.

At school with each new unit of study, we always begin our planning by looking at the assessment we must give at the end. What will the students need to do to show growth and learning by the time we finish?

When I am making dinner, I look at the beautifully staged picture of the finished product so I know why I have to add ingredients in a specific order. How many times have I skipped that step and then been halfway into the recipe and realized with frustration that the dough needs to rest for 3 hours, or the meat needs to marinate overnight or the tomatoes need to roast slowly for hours? Plans foiled for simply not knowing the full picture.

As a minister, my husband does this too. What is the main point he wants the congregants to leave ruminating about? If he can’t narrow down his theme enough and simplify it for a children’s message, then he hasn’t planned thoroughly and tightly enough.

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So for summer, we must do the same. Look towards the end, to September, and planing for more than survival. My friends have been funneling wonderful suggestions my way and so I’m trying to cook up a soup of:

  • daily reading
  • exercise and outdoor time
  • down time to quiet the pace while enjoying books on tape/cd
  • a summer journal (planning to use the same composition notebooks I use with my students which we decorate each September)
  • chores on popsicle sticks to be completed before screen time

None of these are new, groundbreaking ideas, but setting out the structure and the plan and then following through will be groundbreaking for me for sure. From the mentors and supervisors in my career, I have learned the value and importance of “setting the place”. Allowing others to arrive knowing you first were there, thinking about them, praying for them, preparing for their arrival and for what would unfold.

So here’s to Summer! To all the fun that makes it a season of rest, rejuvenation and relaxation. But also? Here’s to setting the space. Here’s to filling up the lesson plan book. Here’s to looking at the end result to see where the starting place should be.

“What we do every day

matters more than what we do

once in a while.”

~Gretchen Rubin, Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of our Everyday Lives

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Ode to Eight

IMG_1110Alex,

As you are starting to realize, my dear, the things that go on in Mom’s classroom often spill out into our home life too.  Clouds.  Animal Reports.  Caldecotts.  Books.  Roots and Trees.  Well, today we were writing Odes like Mr. Pablo Neruda.  Odes are celebrations to something we love using our words, in poetry form.  I know you scold me for not forcing the students to make all their poems rhyme.  And these Odes?!  Well, they don’t rhyme.  They are little narrow columns of written goodness, showering love onto someone or something we hold near and dear.  And so yesterday?  I chose to write about YOU for my example poem.  The kids gave me the stamp of approval and promised you’d like it.  So without further ado, my Ode to Eight in Celebration of your 8th Birthday, Alex.

We Love You So Much!

Mom (and Daddy, Drew & Sally)

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Ode to Eight

Clicking, linking

LEGOS connecting

Building, creating

You

Never

Stop.

Ideas churning

burning

holes in your

mind.

Must write.

Must draw.

Must innovate.

Books pile up

by your bed,

tumbling

off like an

earthquake

as you devour

pages

and stories.

Shoes tossed

to the wall.

Toes rubbed

off—

evidence of

bike rides

and near

misses

as you

brake.

Light sabers

strewn

Minifigures

created and

re-created

Identities

tried on and

morphed.

Darth Vader

goes to the Bakery

Yoda frequents

the Zoo

and C3PO

crosses the

Golden Gate Bridge.

Adventures

conjured up

in your mind.

Journeys taken

LEGO by LEGO

Sometimes

the strains

of Taylor Swift

create a

movement

you can’t deny.

You move

to the beat,

serious

yet giggling

underneath

it all.

Humming

strains of

“Shake It Off”

and

“Welcome

to New York”

heard as you

crank out your

homework.

Baseball

bats,

a dirty mitt

and batting

gloves

have a

prominent place

on your shelf.

Dodgers gear

for your team

proudly worn,

but eclipsed

by the Giants

and A’s

whenever you

get to choose

the occasion.

Your grit

and determination

has amazed us.

Crack goes the bat

as you connect

with the pitch.

Run, run, run

to first base!

Glasses slide

down your nose…

you squint

over the top,

eating up stories,

reading recipes,

making lists.

You’ve got big plans.

Plans of fruit platters

Of baked goods

Of stories and

narratives to be.

Eight means

working out

math quandries,

problem solving

with smoke flying

off your pencil.

Eight is

independence

struggling to

be let loose.

Eight is

getting the

joke and

laughing

and your brother’s

silly connections.

Eight is

attacking life

like it’s a

big donut

with pink

frosting and sprinkles.

Eight is

wiggly teeth

and gaps

where teeth once were…

now off to the

Tooth Fairy!

Eight is

magic

and challenge

and tears

and joy

all wrapped up

in one

incredible,

surprising

and unpredictable

package.

Eight

is…

ALEX!

**************************************************

Past Birthday Posts

Seven

Six and a Half (some reflections on “the half years”)

Six

Five 

Four

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