Do you find yourself ready to get started and then every five minutes checking your phone? Changing your music playlist? or my go-to…opening and closing the refrigerator door? Watch this video about being stuck…and getting unstuck!
“Are you ready to fly solo?” the text read. “Kristen went into early labor so you’re on your own tomorrow!” On a Tuesday in late October I entered Humanities Left at 8am with some knowledge of myths needing to be completed. I was taking over for the 6th grade teacher out on maternity leave. Thinking that time was on our side Kristen and I had met the previous Friday going over the classroom routines and then planned for a week together where I would shadow Kristen and then gradually be released into the world of humanities.
Well, babies have their own timing and Kristen was in Labor and I was standing alone in front of a bunch of sixth graders. What, I wondered, would a three month stint back in the classroom bring? Stomach flipping anxiety? Fun? Would I be able to let go of the classroom at the end of the day or keep my experiences tied into who I was as a person, my self-worth included?
What I found , during that three month stint, finally was a growing sensation that I could finally be myself. Certainly there were rough stints.
One day was especially hard. After a week of teaching, tutoring, and babysitting I burst through the doors of my house practically in tears. “What’s wrong?” asked Swami Ramananda. . As I recalled the daily digest and also expressed frustration at myself for feeling a need for control, he said, “Hmm..can you notice your behavior without responding to it?”
What was it about the classroom then that I felt I had to control others’ behavior? I watched myself one day as I got into a futile argument with a student over paper. Hmm. Would the result of the argument help the objectives of the assignment? Or just prove to this ego that I am the teacher and therefore in “control.” If the argument didn’t go my way then what? Was I not in control?
Taking Ramananda’s advice, I began to watch my behavior. Were there times, when altough I might not agree with a student’s decision, I could let it go? And what happened if I did? As I stepped back, the classroom became it’s own entity in which I was a part but not in charge of.Students come to me for help, and I started to only interfere if I felt that a student needed to be guided back on track to reach the objectives of the class.
More and more I let the class become truly about the students and I as an ally to guide them along. One student in particular if not given specific directions would spend the class gazing at the ceiling or tying his shoe. One day I asked him, “What is it that you need from me to help you feel successful?” The shift from having all the answers to a collaboration with the students shifted the space dramatically.
I will also say that this was a class that allowed for an easy collaboration. The classroom so varies on the personalities that it brings. It’s not always the case that I, or any teacher can so easily step back and let the classroom be as it is.
Children reveal our greatest vulnerabilities. Child professionals and parents have an especially big sensitivity button that when pushed can spill tears, rage, blame, love, hugs, and praise sometimes all in one blubbery sentence! It is easy to put one’s expectations of self-worth, and measures of success and failures on that of a child as they have an easy way of exposing adults for whom they really are. Inside we feel a great sense of pride when these children experience a certain measure of success and a bout of dissapointment when they don’t measure up to one’s expectations.
When a child appears resistant or shows a lack of understanding it is easy to jump into fix-it mode. With what could appear as stalled movements forward fix-it mode can turn into desperation which can spew blame, dissapointment,frustration, and sadness by the adults around him or her.Is it possible that while we are applying all of our knowledge to those that need it,we can also just be by their side and let them know that they are not broken, but loved just as they are?
Connection and empathy are often the most empowering gestures that we can give and receive. The ablity to sit with a student and be with him or her exactly where he or she is in struggle or success is a practice. As authors Michael I. Bennet and Sarah Bennet express in their book F*ck Feelings, “It’s the loving parents of self-hating kids who are genuinely the most amazing, specialest, snowflake parents of all.” In the acceptance of that self-hating child or whatever stage they are in, allowing him/her to just being perfect in their imperfections we are also showing ourselves that same acceptance which, at the end of the day, may (or may not) help us take a step forward.
I knew a couple things when I embarked on this “Ironman” journey. I knew it would be more mentally than physically tough. I knew that I would have to grapple with comparing myself and fears of not finishing, and good and bad training sessions. I didn’t know how much mindspace it would take up, conversations, grapplings, etc. I vowed never to be the person who could only talk about my training. I am that person right now.
It seems that all people ask me are “How’s your training going?” (because that’s all I can think about right now)And I either fiercely want to or don’t want to talk about it depending on how my training session was. And I find myself fiercely annoyed when people do or don’t ask me about it. Or putting up and taking down photos of myself at athletic events, and fiercely annoyed at people when they do or do not like the picture. I wonder if this is how famous actors feel (and there is a fair amount of drama that lives inside of me.). “How dare you talk to me…I’m out to dinner with my family.” “How come you’re not talking to me…don’t you know I’m famous?” I shouldn’t do it. Too much mind space.
I went out for lunch with two type A personality friends on Friday afternoon who also happen to be very competitive triathletes.They are in love with spreadsheets. That’s how I know that they are Type A.
I’m not Type A, but I’m collecting friends who are. They come in handy for spreadsheet making(and planning my life). A recent article was describing that the “ironman” are type A personalities sitting on the edge of their couch just in case something is about to happen. Right now I am sitting back in a chair with my feet up drinking a cup of coffee. I have no problem sitting back on my couch gazing at facebook for hours thinking how “I should go grocery shopping,” or grade some papers. Maybe I shouldn’t do it. I don’t have the right personality type.
And then there’s my friend who has done two Ironmans. Both of which she laughed and smiled throughout the trainings, doing it with her best friend, and without a care about time or pace, just having the time of her life with her friend (what?? you’re allowed to have fun???). Sometimes it’s hard. I shouldn’t do it because it’s not always fun.
Triathlons are trendy now I’m told. I don’t want to be trendy. Maybe I shouldn’t do it.
I am tired. Enough said.
“I cry when buying bread,” a new friend who is also doing her first ironman, confessed.
I cried for two hours on the bike yesterday, and cried some more when I came home before taking a nap. I’m crying too much. Maybe I shouldn’t do it.A dear friend, who has nothing to do with sports at all, commented to me yesterday, “Yeah, you know maybe do what you enjoy without this stress.”
I’m not going! I’m too busy hiding in my kitchen cabinet!
But there’s always been a level of stress in completing whatever goal I have at the time. Applying for a new job. Creating a piece for the stage (oh my gosh, a week before every performance I told my director, “I’m not doing it. And I mean it this time!!!) and she would nod her head and smile and say, “I’ll see you backstage!” And predictably I would show up and have the time of my life.
I wrote the above at 7:30 this morning. It is now 3:40 in the afternoon and I’ve just returned from a bike race that swore I wouldn’t do (after I picked up my packet yesterday) and then a run with a friend. A teammate who I met yesterday and I’m sure gave her an ugly stare as I frustratedly rounded corner after corner at the concrete jungle of a 4km track, found me lost (shockingly) trying to find the team this morning, pointed me in the right direction. Before the race started, my coaches said to me, “Today, I don’t want to see you riding alone. As a triathlete, yes, you go alone. But today I want to see you as a cyclist, working in a team.” I nodded solemnly.
“Smile!” my coach yelled at me.
During the race, that same teammate found me.”Vamos juntos!” she shouted, almost out of breath. We rode together, in front of a pack, and as we rounded the curve on the third round she whooped and hollered and from the sidelines we heard a blur of cheers meant for us.
And so it was that I cried for the thousandth time in the past two months.
I finished that race with my teammate. We howled and hooted through the finish line. Me: faster than I had ever ridden, wanting to throw up… and smiling. Greeted by friends’ congratulations and by coaches’ hugs and approvals.
Teaching in the classroom
So ironman, job, the stage…how about waking up each morning? The butterflies in the stomach, the excitement that today I’m going to make a difference!…and the fear…what if I don’t?
Arriving back in Mexico has been a whirlwind of (goodness!) and busyness. After sobbing the night I left Northern California and a 2 am departure, it was an incredible blessing to be met at the airport by a good friend who took me to another good friend’s house where I had the fortune to stay for a couple of nights before leaving for a weekend at the beach. Not a bad return to Mexico at all.
I have been busy with work and training, both of which, I can say have been quite a pleasure. I spent much of summer sitting on the porch of my kind guests’ beautiful house tree-gazing. Sometimes thinking, “Hmm…am I doing enough? Should I…and then I would continue to to tree-gaze sometimes thinking about the should I’s, sometimes napping, and much of the time really just staring. That tranquility somehow transferred to this crazy busy city and school year life and although my days are filled from before dawn until eight or nine o’clock all of it is a pleasure and filled with experiences that I enjoy.
Upon arriving to Mexico, my friend recommended a 21 day free online meditation sponsored by Oprah and Deepak Choprah. To ease myself back and to give myself some structured meditation I signed up for it. One meditation, in particular stuck with me: “So hum.” So-I am hum-all that there is. I am all that there is, or Deepak Choprah’s interpretation: “I am enough.” Just being in all that I am doing all the time, through stress and happiness, work and home, has been a high priority and a challenge. In fact, I think I only surround myself with people that seem to just be so naturally because I find it so much easier to accept that within myself when others can accept it for themselves.
In working with children, their parents and other teachers (all of us an incredible bunch, and our control and sensitivity buttons ready to be pushed at a simple, small miscommunication’s notice) I find “just being” to be at the utmost importance as it allows me to connect, listen, and empathize; essential pieces to this line of work. And so when it came time to prepare for Back-to-School Night I found myself in a total complete panic. I wasn’t worried about what the parents would think of me (for once), but I wanted the parents to feel that they could be completely who they were and leave feeling safe, warm, and happy. Thankful to a friend whose third time offer of YOU CAN COME OVER AND I WILL HELP YOU I finally accepted, we created the most, ME presentation EVER. And I think it had the desired effect. Here are two fun examples:
I had an activity planned in which parents take three M&M’s, and answer questions based on the color of the M&M’s with their table members. As parents were coming in, the M&M’s were already on the table. I looked over at one table and all of the M&M’s were gone. Making light of the situation, I walked over to refill their plate and joked that of course they could eventually eat the M&M’s but it was for an activity.Well, apparently that table didn’t hear me because I looked over and the M&M’s were gone again!! My control button buzzed like crazy, but also so did a complete sense of hilarity. It was just ridiculously funny (kind of laughing at myself for caring so much too)! And of course, when I introduced the activity the M&M eater was very sweetly embarrassed (I didn’t say anything, he just realized).
Another very funny moment was when the Spanish teacher was giving her presentation, a mom came up to me and I said, “Oh thanks so much for coming! And she said…”Oh no..I’m not leaving. I just got my period. Do you have anything??” Total transparency and randomness…and I LOVED it.
And here I am. I came down with a mild cold on Thursday, enough to keep me from training today and perhaps tomorrow. The should I’s are running through my head like mad. So Hum.
May you always feel like you are enough. Because you are.
Every year as a teacher I set goals for myself…usually that goal includes being more organized and making my classroom as kid-friendly as possible.
A couple of weeks ago, my colleague, N, inherited two hamsters from a former student. “They’re so cute!” she cooed. And then, they started fighting. “I have to give one away,” she said to me. “Do you want one?”
Rodents are notmy favorite creature. “All right…for the kid-friendly classroom. Let’s do it.”
On Friday we made the exchange. “Why don’t you take him home,” N said. “Bond with him. Let him get to know your smell. The poor creature has already had such a traumatic beginning with his sister trying to kill him!”
“Okay,” I said nervously. At the end of the day on Friday I told 23 children…”On Monday we’re going to have a surprise!” And so, with a tall glass cage I took the hamster to my apartment for the weekend. I placed him on top of my wooden table in the living room. The cage didn’t have a proper top, but, I figured he would be fine for the time being (N thought so too!).
I was so proud. My first pet. I showed my neighbor. “Bonito!” he exclaimed and out we went for dinner. I returned two hours and peaked in the cage. “Huh, that’s funny,” I thought. “I don’t see him.” Could he be buried way under the bedding? No…there is definitely no hamster in that cage. “Shit.”
Needless to say, I did not sleep well Friday night. I woke up at three in the morning to see the little guy scurry across the kitchen floor behind the fridge. “Maybe I can trap him!” To no avail as he ran behind the fridge to an unknown destination.
I tried to go back to sleep. On Saturday I went to the gym to try to forget about my little fiasco. “I am going to make a terrible mother,” I thought to myself. “Promising children things and then not following through.” And, not to mention N is going to kill me! I tried to reason with myself. I can always go to the market, buy another hamster, and no one will know the difference. The thought, however, of finding a dead rodent with a trail of poop in my kitchen cupboard did little to appease my fears.
As I sat at my computer I heard a little scuffling here and scratching there and knew it was close…but WHERE?? Finally…the sounds led me to my oven door. I opened the oven. Nothing. Then, I took off the cover to the inside part of the oven (I didn’t know it came off), and there with his little butt sticking out sat the little rascal. “HA! You are so dead!…I mean, so trapped!”
I grabbed my wallet…and my keys (of course), and with my heart racing, afraid it was going to somehow escape in the ten minutes I was gone, ran off to the market to buy a new cage. How is it that I’m not afraid to walk the streets of Mexico City late at night (in safe neighborhoods of course), hitchhike (um…only when I trust my intuition? :), cage fight, but picking up this maldito little hamster scares the begeezus out of me?
I bought the little prince a mansion with two stories, a ladder, and a little house that he could crawl into and hide. I asked the hamster lady the best way to pick him up. She told me to grab him by his neck and if he bites to flick him gently on the nose. “Okay….I can do this. I can do this.”
I opened the oven door…mmmhmm…playing dead, you can’t fool me…reached down, and grabbed the little guy by his neck, much to his squealing misery, and plopped him into the cage. “YE-AH, hamster! Take that! You can’t mess with me!”
Much to the children’s delight they met their little friend today. They asked if one day they could take it out of the cage so they could hold it…