2.26.20 The Hardest Part is Loving You

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Dear Little Girl:

I think it’s time I tell you that being a mom isn’t always easy … there are many difficult parts of parenting – but the hardest part is loving you.

I don’t mean precious, that you are hard to love. The opposite in fact. Just to know you is to love you. Who couldn’t fall for that smile? I have been proud of every step, jump, and twirl of your life. I have applauded each role, whether minor or lead. I am excited about every new concept you master and every new idea you form. You are a wonder in my world. And that is why loving you is hard. Because love hurts … and I love you fierce and full.

When you are hurting dolly, I hurt – and when you are the age you are, and life is what it is, and society does what it does, I wish, for you, that I could change it. I wish I could erase every confusion that twists your perfect smile into a worried frown. I wish I could wipe every concern from your furrowed brow at trying to understand things that make no sense. But I can’t, and that is unbearable – to know it is my job to protect you against shadows I can’t catch.

Sometimes I look at you, and I see me. I see a little girl who is afraid of a world she can’t explain and worries she can’t clear her mind of. I travel back in time and feel the too fast beat of my heart and fluttery nerves that come with anxious thoughts. And in those moments, it’s like I am no longer the woman whose outgrown her adolescent fears, but am instead walking through them again … only it’s worse … because it’s you – and I love you more.

There is no solution to this problem of growing up … there is only a promise I can make you that it’ll all make sense someday. There will continue to be personal mistakes, world problems, and difficult issues to learn about. There will never be a day when everything you do or say is just right. You will disappoint and be disappointed. Sometimes you will feel pain and sometimes you will cause it. There are things you cannot change, even when you want to. This beautiful, messy life is not easy … but living through the bumps and bruises gets you to the other side. The side I’m on now – the side that gets to love you.

Someday you will have your own little you. You will marvel at every baby sigh, and spoken word, and made-up song. Your heart will ache at a small hand that finds yours through the first steps, and millionth dances, and bad dreams. You will catch glimpses of yourself and wish against wish that you could pave every path smooth and cast every obstacle to the depths of the sea you’d swim clear across just to keep her from tripping. You will love beyond bearing it … and it will hurt terribly … because you will love with a mother’s knowing.

Hold on little one. I can’t move the mountains you might have to climb, but I promise to walk them with you one step at a time. Because dear girl, I love you … and it’s a pain worth every moment I get to spend at your side.

Mommy

1.29.20 Remembered Sunday

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“At the beach, life is different. Time doesn’t move hour to hour but mood to moment. We live by the currents, plan by the tides and follow the sun.” – Sandy Gingras

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On Sunday morning I woke up with a spirit-calling urge to go to the beach. It was the kind of magnetic pull that made a three hour drive suddenly seem like the easiest choice in the world and I honestly don’t regret a second of it, because I’d go again tomorrow!

Only my daughter and I decided to go, and our day was bliss. We spent hours adding songs to our beach playlist. We ate lunch on the go, spilling our hummus until everything (unfortunately) tasted faintly of chickpeas. We dance with our shadows and thawed our cold-beach feet in warm collected tide pools. We found tiny feathers and glittery seashells. We watched the way the beach turned glassy with reflections of the sky. We stepped in bubbly foam and dashed in and out of the tide, the cool water playing tag and winning. We found shapes in the clouds. We only left after an unleashed dog came and peed on my towel! Even that disgusting shock became a giggle-worthy memory.

On the way home, we got ice cream for the drive. Then, my daughter read me chapters of one of my all time favorite books … I loved hearing the words I’d read a hundred times made new in her voice. And I think that those moments … with salty beach hair, sand-trails, and stories my daughter shared in the air … those might have been even more beautiful than the sea itself.

Last night I couldn’t fall asleep for thinking how fast it is all going … that I’m only a handful of years before my kids aren’t kids at all. Then I remembered Sunday, and had peace knowing that I’m tying as many memories together as I can, creating a lifeline of  moments that will always bring me back to them.

Can you share a memory you’ve tucked in for safe keeping? I’d sure love to hear it.

Elle

 

 

2.6.19 Morning

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This morning my son woke up my daughter who had come into my bed sometime before and fallen back asleep, “Wake up, I need you to play a game.” 

“What game?” 

“It doesn’t matter, as long as you play with me. Leave mom sleep, but I want to play with you.” 

“Well then, you’ll have to carry me,” she said groggily. 

“Ugh,” he grumbled.

“Carry me or I can’t go,” she insisted.

“Fine, get on my back,” he replied dutifully turning around. 

“Nope, this way,” she said, curling her legs up for him to scoop her. “But don’t drop me!” 

“I’m not gonna drop you,” he said, shifting to get a better hold. “If anything, I’ll go down too.” 

After putting her down she ran back to me, “I just needed a hug.” I gave her a tight snuggle. And waiting behind her, was him. “I just need a hug too.” I held on for as tightly as he’d let me. 

Trepidatious Hearts 9.30.18

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“Build me a son, O Lord, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak, and brave enough to face himself when he is afraid, one who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat, and humble and gentle in victory.” – Douglas MacArthur

I am a little anxious writing tonight because I so desperately want to get this right. For the past few weeks I have been confronted with a tangle of thoughts and quotes and words and perspectives that have all built to a feeling to speak … I’m still not sure I know exactly what to say, but I can’t ignore the itch to try, and I pray something will come that is worthy of sharing, worthy of feeling and passing on.

I have been loving a song lately called “Charlie Boy,” by The Lumineers. It is about a young man feeling compelled by the speech of J.F.K. to enter into the war, and to fight for something bigger than himself – freedom. And as such, it is about a mother who is forced to accept his decision to fight, and ultimately, to die. The lyrics sing to her, “… don’t hang your head, love should make you feel goodIn uniform you raised a man, who volunteered to stand.” Based on of a true story, I wonder how many brave young men and women have heeded a call I consistently choose to ignore. I crave safety, not the price of it. I yearn to be protected, not defend myself. Having children has only deepened this yearning for sanctuary, I think because I want to offer my son and daughter a promise that’s not mine to give – that they’re always going to be okay.

When my son was five and in kindergarten the Sandy Hook shooting happened. As a teacher, I always knew the threat was real, but when I had a son in a school, and I wasn’t with him – something shifted in me that has perpetually remained unaltered. I’ll never forget the months of shaking hands when I hugged him goodbye and sent him off to class … the way I looked back at the locked door thinking it wasn’t safe enough … the way I questioned the administration about the how they planned to increase the security measures of a small private school. Nothing seemed right for a long time, and every afternoon, when I picked him up, I realized that I’d release a breath I hadn’t known I’d been holding. It’s the same feeling I now have when I read accounts of families sold into slavery, of the Holocaust, of human trafficking  … to me they are all tales of mothers being taken from their children. And I can’t read stories as impartial accounts of history anymore, because all I hear is the injustice of a mother’s broken heart, and the empathy in me rises so that I can hardly breathe.

There is something about my son, my daughter, that have made objectivity impossible. I can no longer look at a situation apart from them, because they are my own precious version of gravity, holding my identity in this time and space in history. And I wish – I wish with every fiber of my being, that the world could understand this love … because if it could, I really believe things would be better. I’m reading an amazing book called Circus Mirandus, and in it, there is a section where a magician offers a little boy an illusion to see anything he wishes to see, as long as he understands it cannot be real. The boy wishes to see his father home from war, and in the illusion, the boy’s mother says something to him that absolutely wrecks me … and I found myself wishing, beyond all wishes, that it wasn’t an illusion, that it wasn’t a beautiful part of a beautiful story, because it is so very acutely the way I believe things should be.

“The war ended all at once and very calmly. It was as if, between one moment and the next, all the mothers of all the soldiers in the world had checked their clocks and realized that their children had been out playing for too long … The soldiers shook hands with one another and wished one another well. Then they raced back to their mothers or to their wives and sons.” – Cassie Beasley

And can’t you just see it? Can’t you see all the misunderstandings, the judgements, the hatred erased as if it were one big confusing game that has just gone on too long? Can’t you picture soldiers, gang members, politicians, and rivals shaking their heads in sudden confusion, bewildered at the mistakes they didn’t ever intend to go that far? If only everyone heard their mothers’ voices calling them back to themselves. If only everyone heard their father calling them home.

What a world we could promise our children.

What peace our trepidatious hearts could feel.

 

 

 

8.8.18 My Kind of People

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“I don’t like noodles Auntie Elle.”

“We are AT Noodles and Company buddy, what did you think that they made here?”

“I don’t know.”

“Noodles. That’s what they make here.”

Blank stare.

“So what do you think you’d like to get then?”

Looking up at the menu board for a long time, my nephew studied the pictured options, finally resting on something near the bottom and pointing to it.

“Garlic bread.”

“Garlic bread?”

“Yeah, I like garlic bread.”

“Do you want something with your garlic bread like soup or a salad or something? I feel like garlic bread isn’t really a meal.”

Looking for another length of time, he pointed once more.

“Pineapple.”

“Pineapple … you want pineapple with your garlic bread.”

“Yeah.”

“Not buttered noodles or chicken or veggies.”

“No.”

“Well alright … garlic bread and pineapple it is.”

“And I’ll have six pieces instead of three so it’s more.”

“It’s more alright buddy, but okay, six it is.”

This was the conversation I had with my eight-year-old nephew when I was watching him and his brother and sister for a week this summer. Going from a mother of two to five had its challenges, but honestly, even on the worst day (like that one, where we were stuck in the dentist’s office for two hours and my daughter had a cavity for the first time and a major meltdown because she had a cavity for the first time) conversations like this happen, and then it is all okay.

I struggle with people who say they don’t like kids. What’s not to like? As a teacher and mother, I feel that little people are the absolute best kind of people – my kind. I find even more that adults that I truly enjoy are so enjoyable because I can still see the kid in them, and that is my favorite part.

Yesterday my son held the door open for me and said, “Hey mom … how old do you think you’ll be when you go to live in one of those nursery homes?” It took every ounce of my kegal-exercised-control not to pee my pants laughing. I told him that I figured somewhere in my eighties, but that he could help me make the decision based on how I was doing upstairs. God bless him.

I love the quote from Kent Nerburn that says, “Remember to be gentle with yourself and others. We are all children of chance and none can say why some fields will blossom while others lay brown beneath the August sun.” The thing is, I really believe that no child should ever be a child of chance. We have schools, we have teachers, and principals and aides and volunteers and absolutely NO excuse. By God it is our job to LOVE them, not to like or to tolerate, but to love. I might be stepping out here, but I would go so far as to argue that if you as a teacher do not love the students God puts in your way, you are no longer called to teach.

The last days of my summer are ebbing to a close, and as melancholy as I feel about the quickly fading fireflies and the earlier approaching mornings … I am still excited. I’ve bought new lantern globes, pencil toppers, and name plates. I’ve begun moving desks and replenishing marker supplies. I got new fringe rugs and about two-hundred colored paperclips divided according to shade because those are necessary to the balance of my room of course! I can’t help it. I am a kid person, because I am very much in touch with the kid in me, and I let her voice dictate a great deal of my adult decisions because she is still right.

Children (even naughty ones, God love them … they’re the most fun) are the best kind of people, and it takes nothing to make them happy. Frederick Douglass once said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” I pray this year, as the academic turn comes once again, that everyone will remember this quote and take the time to love a kid just by giving them five uninterrupted minutes of your time.

Even if they talk about Pokemon.

Or Shopkins.

Or bugs.

Or knock-knock jokes.

Or guess my number.

Or why questions.

Or foods they hate.

Or foods they love.

Whatever it is … give them time.

You never know, by doing so, we just might be healing humanity one garlic bread and pineapple dinner at a time.

Please share your favorite kid quote with me. I’d love to giggle along.

Elle

6.26.18 Broken Angels

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“Family is not an important thing. It’s everything.” Michael J. Fox

Today I had the privilege of meeting a fresh from heaven darling for the first time – the beautiful daughter of my sweet friend, only two-days-old. I was immediately drawn into every detail of the encounter and tried to memorize the feeling of just being in the presence of this special moment. I took in every thread of their growing tapestry … from the way her daddy smiled a new smile, seemingly reserved just for her, to the way her toddler sister bragged about her new baby, to the precious handful of nicknames her mommy designated with each tender cuddle or kiss. It was holy, this love. It was pure. It was family in the way family should be. She was an angel born into a home that adored her. How I wish this was always the case.

A few weeks ago, I experienced quite the opposite. I was in a restaurant with my mom on a trip. I had just come off of an interview for a piece I was writing and I couldn’t wait to tell her every detail. But just as we both got our waters, a family was seated at the table behind us, and my concentration to the conversation was shattered for the next forty minutes. The family of five was soon to be six, as evidenced by a supremely uncomfortable and exhausted looking wife. She had dark rings under her eyes and did not smile once in the entirety of their visit. I’m not sure why she would however, as her husband was constantly berating the three kids whose ages ranged roughly between two and six. Between arguing about the expense of things, to nitpicking the way the oldest son was eating, to refusing to get his child a refilled drink, to displaying annoyance at having to cut food into pieces, or push up sleeves, or pick up a fork that fell … it literally hurt to witness such distain, such anger.

I kept losing my place in conversation and had to apologize to my mom over and over again for my distraction. She understood of course – the whole restaurant did at that point. My stomach turned in knots as I wrestled with determining what bothered me more … the fact that the three small children barely looked up from their plates out of fear, or the fact that another young life was being born into this already love-starved family. And as simple as it sounds to state it – I was so mad! I was so angry at the absolute disrespect this man had for the lives he brought into this world, and at the woman who not only allowed him to speak with such force, but then reinforced his words with her own jabs of disappointment and criticism at the children.

I hate doing nothing. I loathe when people say, “It’s not my concern,” because it’s just NOT true. Statements of copping out due to social graces are a weak excuse for doing the right thing. Being humane is everyone’s concern. Being kind is within everyone’s capability. After having taught for the past fourteen years, can you guess which type of family I see more of? Can you imagine why I might desperately wish to adopt so many of the past students I’ve taught? Do you understand why I spent as much time nurturing their emotional health as their educational growth? Because by the time so many of these middle school children reached me they were broken angels … and I had to wonder how long it had been since they had someone absolutely adore them. If ever.

Before leaving the restaurant that day, I stopped at that family’s table and took a moment to gush over the kids. I said how well behaved they were. I talked to them. I looked them in the eyes. I chatted about how I bet they were so excited to be great helpers to their parents with the new baby and how lucky their mom and dad were to have them. They looked up. They smiled and sat up a little straighter. And that was it. It was nothing … but it was everything I could do within that moment not to cry – not to yell, “How dare you,” to a complacent set of parents who didn’t realize the triple blessing before them. Hearts, after all, only turn hard to protect what once craved the love they weren’t given.

As for tonight … I am going to focus on this morning. I have to. I am going to see the sunlight that filtered into a room littered with new baby toys, with big sister joys, and with a mom and dad overflowing with tired exhilaration at the fact that their hearts just multiplied the amount of love they thought they could hold. I am going to imagine tiny, perfect breaths, rosebud lips, twitchy smiles brought on by invisible memories of heaven. And I am going to do my best to dream the impossible dream, that every child will be loved the way they deserve to be loved, appreciated for the miracle they really are, and found before they are ever lost.

Love fiercely, protect just the same … whether they are yours, or not.

Elle

6.1.18 The Last Time

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“Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go – and then do it.” Ann Landers

So tomorrow is the last day of my son’s fifth grade year. This is monumental for many reasons, but the greatest of which is because he has been in my class all year. Let me begin by saying with emphatic resonance that I WOULD NEVER, EVER CHOOSE THIS. It was supremely difficult for numerous reasons I’m sure you can imagine, but mostly because I was paranoid for a YEAR that I was going to screw him up (even more than the poor kid is already likely to be with having me for a mother).

Imagine having your mom see you in your most formative time of social development on a daily basis. Imagine her seeing the way you interacted with friends, with less-than-friends, with girls! Half of the year I just wanted to close my eyes to give the poor kid some privacy and the other half I wanted to give him a, “What do you think you’re doing” death stare. Either way – it is supremely unfair. I was way harder on him than I’ve ever been with anyone else in my fourteen years of teaching. And I was way harder on me too.

But somehow, after all the prayers, and the tears, and the what if’s … I’m sad that tomorrow is it. I’ll be honest … my son is amazing. His nickname from day one was Mr. Handsome Face. He gave me hugs whenever I asked for them and even sometimes when I didn’t. He forgave me a million times for embarrassing him. He told me he’s learned more this year than ever before … me too.

I learned that this boy is courage personified.

I learned that this boy has integrity, just like his daddy.

I learned that this boy does know when to fight for what’s right, he does defend the weak, and he does put the needs of others before himself … even when mom “isn’t” watching.

I learned that this boy isn’t afraid of asking why history had to be that way, and if there’s really a chance we won’t need to repeat it.

I learned that this boy internalizes way more than I thought he did, that he most definitely cares what mommy and daddy think, and has more stress to live up to an invisible standard than I gave his little heart credit for.

I learned that this boy deserves my respect, my defense, and always, my love.

I learned a lot in fifth grade.

Sometimes I look back at pictures when he was nothing but a bundle of gurgling smiles. Other times I can’t bear it because it hurts too much to think about the times I might’ve missed a “last time” without even noticing. When was the last time I lifted him into the sky for an “airplane ride” at my feet? When was the last time I played pirates in a bubble bath? When was the last time I tucked tooth fairy money under his pillow when he still believed? When was the last time I rocked him to sleep?

Did I know it was the last time?

Did I even realize it was close?

Or was I too busy DOING motherhood instead of BEING his mommy?

Well … tomorrow is a “last time.” I can’t miss it even if I tried. Tomorrow is the last time my son will raise his hand to talk to me in class. It is the last time he’ll give me a mischievous grin across the rows of desks at some private joke only we understand. It is the last time I’ll have a son in elementary school. It is the last time I’ll be afraid that “Mrs. Harris” didn’t measure up to mommy and vice versa.

I always struggle with the end of the year – with students moving on, and beyond the memories we’ve formed toward those awaiting. I hate goodbyes. And it is surreal that somehow, though I’ll take him home with me in the afternoon … I think it is my son … this beautiful fifth grade boy … that I will miss the most – for the last time.

My heart hurts a little – okay a lot.

Elle

4.18.18 Busy People

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“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” – Socrates 

I’m a handful; I know it. And usually I have a mouthful of words I’m holding in, ready to share with the next victim who gives me an opportunity to speak. Busting at the seams with ideas and dreams, I’m usually a bouncing-on-my-tiptoes, ready-to-go, kind of girl. But lately, this weather, this eternal winter, has got my curl-up-and-stay-warm-to-survive mentality fighting my productive self.

It is not unusual for my husband or I to work after work – to hang out with the kids, do dinner, dishes, bedtime, and then exercise, or write, or read, or plan for something essential that’s coming up in the next few days. We are “get ahead” people, “positive” people, “go-getter’s.” But sometimes, like the last few days, I’m a “tired” people. And in times like these, I realize that sometimes times like these are necessary to remind me why people should slow down sometimes.

The other night my son had soccer, and I volunteered to take him. I usually use his practice time to write because I literally need to steal time to write. I have a writer’s conference to go to Saturday. I have homework for a class that’s making me an educational ambassador to a major museum due next week, I have a field trip to plan for that is also next week, I have all these ideas for a new book, and the list goes on! I started to type, but the whirring of soccer balls was a smidge distracting. Usually I can “get in my zone” and ignore almost anything, but for some reason … nothing doing.

I picked up a book I brought along. I’d intermittently wave at my son, watching him weave between cones, look up at me, wave, and dribble on. I might’ve read three pages total when I gave in to the nagging feeling that I was supposed to “do nothing.” What surprised me was that I was watching him for a full five minutes or so before he looked up at me again. And in those delayed moments, I had the very valid fear that I’d missed an opportunity. Not to write another article to be published, or read another bucket list book, or get more homework done – but that I’d missed the opportunity for my son to look for me in the hopes that I’d be looking back. Ouch.

The good news is that instead of missing an opportunity, I got the sweetest little touch of grace. He did look up, eventually, and saw me elbows-on-knees, no book, no phone, no computer in my hands … staring at him. He literally did a double-take and gave me the most unexpected smile of genuine astonishment. With a confused grin he signed typing fingers and said, “Why aren’t you writing?”

I smiled back at him and signed, “Because I’m watching you.”

And that’s when he did it. That’s when he broke my mommy heart. With the greatest sincerity he held my blue eyes levelly with his and said, “Thank you.”

I love that he was concerned for my writing time. I love that he wanted me to watch him. But most of all, I love that without even knowing it his, “Thank you,” was really an, “I forgive you, for all the times you choose work, for all the times you choose writing, or reading, or cleaning, or planning, because this time – you chose me, and I forgive you.”

How could I deserve a love like that? Like his? It makes me think about my faith and how I can never earn the grace I receive on either side of my family, divine or earthly. I’m a little ashamed of myself, and how dense I can be in the midst of my busyness … and for the way I know I will do it again. But for the moment, I am grateful, that my slow-down-self won just this once … and I saw my son, when he needed to be seen.

I have no idea what kinds of lives you lead. I don’t know if you’re constantly busy or a slow down person. The funny thing is, we’re probably all a combination of both, but I am one-hundred percent convinced others do it better than me … they find a semblance of balance that I am perpetually chasing. Regardless, I’d love, love, love to hear of a moment that caught you in your tracks. I’d delight over you sharing a story of when destiny helped you make the right decision to be present in the presence you were drawn to. You hear so much of me … I’d love to hear a bit of your tale too.

All my love,

Elle

3.20.18 My Paper Pretend Reality

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Tonight my son gave me an acorn, and told me it was a kiss.  Here, it is not yet Spring, and so this tells me he has held onto this “kiss” for a time – just waiting to pass it along when the right moment came. In my heart full of opinions, it was perfect timing, because as the Peter Pan inspired gift reminded me … I think I’d like to escape this world for a bit, and live in pages for awhile. I hope you’ll share your stories with me, and our chapters will meet in the middle.

Elle

My Paper Pretend, Reality

I want to live in pages for awhile,

between the safety of clever beginnings

and tied-with-a-bow endings

not stuck in a plot line

that feels more like it’s spinning than rising

toward a climax I can neither see

nor predict
I want to live in pages for awhile,

where I can be the hero –

without being judged for my strength

or the damsel –

without being judged for my weakness

needing

and needed just the same

I want to live in pages for awhile,

and dwell in the possibility

that decisions have more to do with heart,

than logic

In a place where there is always time for the edge of a romance,

the curl of a mystery,

where adventure is never further

than a few precious lines away

I want to live in pages for awhile

where the strength of my spine

is defined by the words cast upon it

and yet safely,

tucked and protected within,

I’ll never hear anyone judging my book

by its cover

because I’ll be too busy living my life

on the inside

to care

I want to live in pages for awhile

so that just for a moment …

to appease the sensitive yet strong-willed character I’m sure to be –

Once upon a time,

someday,

and even happily ever after

have to exist

Simply because I wish it

as it is my imagination that requires tending to

The only question remains …

will you come with me?

 

Elle

2.27.18 Broken Crayons

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I am writing a new book, as I’ve alluded to in the past, but the thing is – I don’t want this to be about me; I want it to be about them … my broken crayons. They matter so much, and too often I feel that somehow I’m inherently selfish, and that even in my noblest of pursuits, I end up focusing on what I want and need.

Today, with this post, I’m asking for feedback to see if this piece has the potential to do what I pray it’ll have the power to do … to shout to the world the stories of those who need voice – the tales of the beautifully broken ones. 

Please let me know what you think. Share it, and help me carry on with this project through your honest opinion of whether or not others might need to read it as much as I need to write it. 

I look forward to hearing from you,

Elle

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When I was still an undergrad, pursuing a degree in education, I was forced to take a class on learning how to teach art. I was not aiming to be an art teacher, nor were most of the students in my class I would suppose, however, our program required that we learn how to teach music, art, and physical education just in case we were ever in a situation that demanded we wear more “hats” than our title might suggest.

I didn’t have much of an expectation, but what I learned that first day of class has stayed with me throughout my teaching career. One of our requirements was to bring a twenty-four box of crayons. As soon as our professor entered the room, she warned us that she was going to start by making us all uncomfortable.

She handed out a piece of plain, white paper and asked us to draw her something. Uncomfortable, yes – we weren’t art majors after all, but not too bad. Glancing around I saw similar pictures popping up along my row. Simple trees, suns that looked like wheels with spokes, and (from the braver artists) a few birds or people awkwardly plunked in the cotton cloud or green-grass setting. Nothing too extraordinary. The professor wandered amiably around the room, commenting on the less awful sketches, and smiling kindly at the non-progressive creators. Not terrible at drawing, I wasn’t uncomfortable at all … until she spoke again.

“As future teachers I know that you are mostly Type A personalities. You like things ‘just so’ and you like to be in control. Well, I’d like you to begin this lesson by pouring out every single one of your twenty-four crayons – and breaking them.”

A collective gasp.

She might as well have asked us to break our own fingers. This was nearly as painful. But her demeanor had shifted at this point, and it was clear that no crayon was going to leave alive. Slowly, sadly, you could hear snap after snap of little fallen soldiers giving up their lives for a cause none of us could yet understand.

After the awful massacre, we sat fairly motionless, looking around with each other at the colorful wake of our war on Crayola. The professor spoke up. “That was the hard part,” she said, “but now you’re ready to see the real lesson. Pick up one of your crayons, flip over your picture, and color with it. Press as hard as you can – no form, just scribble out the color. We followed her trail of crazy, it couldn’t be any worse than what we’d just done.

The amazing part was, the papers were beautiful. Vibrant. Bold. Suddenly the simple tools I’d been using since childhood became an entirely new form of media. Instead of the waxy, shady tone we were all used to, our papers were filled with the thick consistency of an oil pastel. Every color was rich and brilliant. It was obvious from our collective, “Wow’s,” that no one was expecting beauty from all our destruction.

“You’ll never know what a crayon is worth,” she said, “until it’s broken.”

And that did it. A cosmic shift. An epiphany. My whole paradigm tilted. Those few minutes of art class became a metaphor for my entire philosophy as an educator. To be broken, is to be useful. To be broken is to no longer be afraid to push a little harder, because the “worst” has already happened. To be broken is to be able to pour out the truest colors you have to offer, because you’re now free enough to bleed passion. Kids recognize this. Teenagers mostly.

Like a pile of broken crayons, they are the leftovers of childhood. Still bright, but messy. Most people don’t want to “go there,” wherever there happens to be. No one wants to pick up a broken crayon when they would rather have something pure and new. I’ve been asked my entire career why I choose to be with middle and high schoolers, and it’s simply because, I’ve fallen in love. Somehow when I was given the choice between the new box of crayons and the throwbacks, I chose the later.

This book is not about me. There is nothing revolutionary I have done. I don’t have a ten-step program for you to follow, no gimmicks or tricks. This is just a love story that I needed to share. After a decade of teaching, I need my broken crayons in the world to know how I feel. And I need burnout parents and teachers to remember how to feel. Because these kids exist. They are in the world – right now, positively dripping with vibrancy. I thank God for continually putting them in my way, and I urge you to pray for a few broken crayons of your own to absolutely stop you in your tracks. And when they do, I hope you’ll recognize the blessing before you and help them release their colors back into your life.