4.9.17 Love for the Sake of Loving

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Sometimes I think that of all the words we can fill a conversation with, it is the smallest phrases that often have the most impact – phrases like: I trust you, I believe in you,  I love you, thank you, you mean so much to me, or please don’t go.  I don’t think we use these phrases enough. I don’t think anyone does. And I come to wonder what state this world might be in if we all heard them just a little bit more.

John C. Maxwell once said, “A word of encouragement from a teacher to a child can change a life. A word of encouragement from a spouse can save a marriage. A word of encouragement from a leader can inspire a person to reach her potential.” Though I’m sure I am oversimplifying, I really think that most problems in the world could be avoided if people just felt that they were needed … appreciated … wanted. If everyone felt even one of these things, how could feelings of ineptitude or desolation even exist?

So often I feel like I’m chasing an ideal version of myself that may never exist. I seek the writer who is able to be sustained by her craft of words. I chase the teacher who is no longer in the classroom, but who is instead sharing her wisdom in workshops or assemblies. I imagine the wife and mother who is able to do-it-all without becoming a ragged mess in the process. I desire to be the friend who always has time to write that card, answer that call, or meet up with everyone that matters to her. In reality – I am none of those things yet, maybe ever. But I wonder if that’s the point? From a handful of experiences recently, I am starting to think it might be a whole lot easier than all of those lofty ambitions.

This past week, a friend of mine was having a rough day. I didn’t have time to go out and talk for hours, but I brought him a coffee and recommended a great song to listen to. He lit up … his face filled with relief like giving oxygen to a drowning man. I didn’t deserve that response for so simple a gesture, but it was given regardless.

There’s a little second grader who hugs me in the hallway every time I see him. I am not his teacher.  Aside from giving him a nickname and passing on easily earned smiles … I cannot say there is much he could know about me; yet he hugs me still. I happened to chat with his mother the other day, and told her how much I loved his hallway hugs. She looked at me – eyes intensely focused and asked me if I had any idea what that meant. Pressing on, she told me that he is never affectionate. That he rarely hugged anyone, including his own family members beside her, and that a hug from him was the ultimate gift he could bestow. It took me a moment to catch my breath at that motherly admission, and I was humbled by the richness of lavish, undeserved affection.

There was an old man in the grocery store with the clearest blue, smiling eyes I’d ever seen. My kids and I were in his aisle, and I couldn’t help but offer him a smile and a chat about the day. His aged face became a beacon of delight. He proceeded to tell my children that there is only one place to get the “best mints” in town. He said that people called him, “the candy man,” because he loves to share a sweet and a smile with everyone he meets. After hearing about his bowling schedule and plans to make “poonchkies,” we were on our way. On impulse in the checkout, I grabbed a new bag of mints, purchased them and ran back to him, telling him that he needed to keep his pockets full for all the other friends he’d meet. He glowed. “I only give this to the most special people,” he said then, pulling a dark chocolate bar from his coat and snapping a piece off for me and my two children. Odd as it is, sharing that moment of melted chocolate and warm wishes felt as holy as communion.

And so I am left to wonder if that version of myself I’m trailing isn’t a bit of a waste of time. I’m starting to think that maybe it’s not the whole person, or the whole life, but the moments where you lean into living in the best way that make the difference of a lifetime. Jane Wagner once inquired, “A sobering thought: what if, at this very moment, I am living up to my full potential?” Funny thought. Maybe it isn’t what I have accomplished at all … my resume, degrees, and accomplishments seem of so very little importance in comparison with the memories of being in the moment when the opportunity to love for the sake of loving came about.

Lean in, and love.

Elle

 

2.27.17 “Lucky You” – Lucky Me

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Did I ever mention that I teach in the same school that my children attend? If so, did I ever mention it is a small, private, Christian school where everyone knows everyone? It is my first year there. I came from teaching literature in a public middle school where my class size was around 100 students a year; I now teach fourteen.

It’s different alright, and if I’m being honest, I’m still navigating the halls between “Mrs. Harris” my son and daughter’s mother, to “Mrs. Harris” the teacher. It’s weird to say the least. I get fun comments like, “Hey, Mrs. Harris, remember that time I came over for a playdate, and you and Mr. Harris were dancing in the kitchen and he dropped you?”

Yeah. That happened.

Or, “Mrs. Harris, remember when your hundred-pound dog stepped on my foot?”

Oh, boy do I.

Never a dull moment here at the Harris household, and this weekend was yet more proof of the same. Friday was a mixture of piano lessons we hadn’t finished preparing for, and a vehement argument about raisins.

Me: “Hun, do your piano homework.”

Her: “Ugh.”

Me: “Dolly, eat your raisins.”

Her: “I don’t like them.”

Me: “The good news is, I didn’t ask how you felt about them; I asked you to eat them.”

Her: “Ugh.”

Me: “They’re good for you.”

Her: “What are they anyway?”

Me: “Dried grapes.”

Her (unimpressed): “How many do I have to have?”

Me: “All of them.”

Her (aghast): “ALL of them!!!”

Me: “Yup.”

After eating four of them and gagging on three, she tearfully resumed the conversation.

Her: “How many now?”

Me: “Still all of them.”

The piano teacher came in the midst of it all, probably keeping time to the choking sound of tears and dry heaves. Nothing but professional lessons over here.

Later on, still embarrassed from the failed raisin reasoning, I relented as the kids had playdates for a few hours. My daughter had two friends over to, “prepare for the talent show,” which basically consisted of jumping on the trampoline and screaming and giggling around the house. My son had one friend over and they basically absorbed themselves in Pokemon cards and video games. All was well and good with the world until the three sets of parents came … at the same time.

More fun background information. My husband is now the Vice President of the Parent/Teacher’s Association for the kids’ school. MY school. Thus, we are again, intimately tied to more people in more ways. Well … my husband also wears Lucky Jeans. And at this point you’ll be thinking – so what? What do jeans have to do with anything at all? Oh it relates my friends … trust me. Because as those three parents came into our foyer, all standing together, my husband started to chat with them about an upcoming appeal he is leading for the school to initiate a new program. Right about the time he launched into his campaign for the agenda, was about the time I saw that his fly was wide open.

At this you still may be thinking – okay, I’ll admit that’s bad, but who cares what the name brand was. Well, let me enlighten you. This particular name brand is cute. So cute that its clever branding prints two words on the fly of their guy’s jeans … LUCKY YOU! Lucky me alright! There I stood, trying to seem like a bit of a professional as their children all attend my school, some with older kids in my class even, and my husband is flashing his business WITH advertising no less!

Backing up and turning purple with stifled nervous laughter escaping me, I pointed animatedly to the general groin region, hoping he’d get the point. Instead, I’m pretty sure it looked like I was being inappropriate, giggling and gesturing downward. My husband awkwardly ended his conversation and walked away to zip and return a few moments later.

Are you kidding me!?!

Now, Monday night, another amazing opportunity to feel like a tool. My son, the drummer, was supposed to practice. When he couldn’t find his drum kit he said, “Where do you think it is?”

“No clue buddy. It is your drum set after all.”

“Oh, I remember!” he said. “It’s in my music teacher’s room! We practiced there last Wednesday.”

Translation: “Mom I left my drum in my music teacher’s room for an entire week without anyone, including you, (the one who is supposed to be in charge) noticing. This not only means I’ve not practiced for five straight days, but also that my music teacher knows it!”

Fantastic! What on earth can I do but laugh at this point?

I work for a small school. It’s a lot like a family. They are beginning to know everything about us. The good. The bad. And the embarrassing.

Oh well. ‘Cest la vie … such is life. As an unknown quote says, “I’m the type of girl who will burst out laughing in dead silence because of something that happened yesterday.” LUCKY YOU! Lucky me. I’m still here … laughing.

12.10.16 Nothing a Little Audrey Hepburn Can’t Fix

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The last two weeks have been a little rough.  From strep throat to my husband being on two business trips … it’s a bit of a challenging season so far. Yet I’d say none could compare to my morning three days ago.

So, where I live, it is absolutely imperative that we leave exactly on time.  The road I take to work is beastly, and a matter of minutes can make all the difference.  Three minutes past the best time to leave for our morning commute, my daughter was still perched on the floor with no coat and shoe laces undone.  Another minute later, and my son shouts that he needs to go poo.

“Why didn’t you go before? ” I ask flabbergasted.

“I didn’t have to obviously,” he casually replied.

Trudging agonizingly slowly up the now traffic-filled road, we made our way in a series of halting brake lights and exasperated sighs.  When we finally pulled into the school parking lot, my daughter said, “Mom! You’re bleeding!”

“What? Where?” I asked.

“There,” she pointed.

Sure enough. I had a giant splotch blooming through my favorite cream colored (go figure) dress pants. “Shoot!” I exclaimed, parking and immediately hiking up my pant leg to keep the scrape on my knee from making more of a mess than it already had! Did I mention I had heels on?  That might present itself with its own set of challenges on any given day, but that day, with pants hiked up and it being about twenty-degrees outside, it was even more so of a bad choice of footwear.  On top of it all, it was band day … and on band day, my son and his dumb drum plod and clump up the stairs nearly tipping backwards.  So, already walking like a half-dead zombie from the Thriller video, bent in half holding my own bags and now dragging a drum, we made our way to the office.

Immediately, I scavenged the last baby wipe I grabbed from my car, (they’re magic, never leave home without them) and I set to scrubbing my pants vigorously as the sweet secretary started looking up home remedies to getting blood out of pants.  As she was doing this, there were about four more people who came into the office, one of which was one of my student’s parents.  It was not my most professional moment, I might add, sitting on the ground with my pants up scrubbing like I had some sort of accident.

“You can use cola,” the secretary said.

“Um … probably will make my pants look worse don’t you think?” I replied.

“Club soda?” she tried.

“Man, didn’t pack that in my lunch today,” I said, trying my best to still be grateful for the suggestions.

“Salt water,” she shouted out.

“I can get you that,” the chemistry teacher said, waltzing into the conversation.

And about three minutes later, there he was with a little vial of salt water.  I’d hobbled up to my classroom by then, and scrubbed as fast and as hard as I could, arriving, miraculously, with nothing worse for the wear than wet pants and a funny laugh to share  at my morning meeting.

Audrey Hepburn once said, “Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, it’s at the end of your arm, as you get older, remember you have another hand: the first is to help yourself, the second is to help others.”

That night, I should have been working on the laundry that’s taking over every room in my house.  I should have been writing Christmas cards or picking up the endless trail of toys that litter our floor like autumn leaves scattered about by a strong wind. I should have been sweeping the pet hair, doing the dishes, or organizing the endless projects I begin and never finish. But I didn’t.  Instead, I took Aubrey’s advice and helped myself up, by curling up to a classic movie of hers, and laughing myself to sleep.

Sometimes that’s all it takes to get me back on track.  A bit of smiles and not taking myself too seriously.  So I embarrassed myself again … nothing new there.  I assume it’ll only happen another thousand or so times in this life of mine.

Here’s looking forward to telling you about the next one,

Elle

 

11.19.16 Half-Okay

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“At the end of the day, all you need is hope and strength.  Hope that it will get better, and strength to hold on until it does.” -Unknown

This week something happened that left me speechless.  It wrecked me a little if I’m being honest, because it forced me to confront something that I usually choose not to … loss.  A few years ago I had a “golden class” of kids.  It wasn’t that they were the most advanced, or the greatest at anything in particular … it was just that the chemistry they had with one another and with me made us so much more than a teacher and her bunch of students – it made us a family, raw and real.  I’ve only ever had one other class that affected me the same way, and that was my second year of teaching.

Needless to say, when they happen, those “perfect” years, you don’t take them for granted for a day in the life of curriculum. When you need to stop class to talk about life and the love, and the joy, and the pain of it, you do.  We had many of those conversations. There wasn’t a topic we didn’t cover … politics, war, love, hope, faith, future, life, and death.  To this day, those two classes have been the ones to keep in contact with me.  From texts, emails, and phone calls, to lunches, emergency ice-cream stops, and coffee breaks.  The hardest thing, is when that life and that future we dreamed comes crashing to a halt I can’t step into.  They’re not with me day in and day out and I can’t be there the way I wish I could or want to be.

Two days ago I found out that one of these “golden” ones lost her brother.  He was 17, a varsity swimmer, Christian youth group leader, star student, family focused … a true all American dream.  His heart just stopped.  And with it, I assume his family’s did as well.  I thank God that they know Him … it has to be a sort of a comfort, the only comfort I would guess.  Still, for all the words and the wisdom and the grand conversations we had, I don’t think I ever prepared them enough for this.  For the grittiest parts of life – the end of it.

I asked my kids to pray for their family.  I told them that mommy would be absolutely never okay again if anything happened to either one of them.  My son asked me then, “What if you lost only one of us mom … would you be half-okay?”

How can you answer that?  How can this mother live it?  It took me two days to reach out to the family … to my student.  I couldn’t find the words, and I’m still not sure I used the right ones, but saying something in the midst of it all seemed the best way to go.  Sometimes I think that when things are the hardest, the most  important thing is just showing up.

I’ve heard that the holidays can be painful for a great deal of people.  They bring up and out memories that might do better to stay in the past, but still … we celebrate and we smile.  So if this is you – if you’re just “showing up” because people expect you to, because you said you would, that might be enough.  God has a way of putting the right people in your way at the right time, and whether you’re the one hurting, or you’re the one helping … I really think that’s the point of it all.  Of this journey.  Of this life.  You might only be half-okay, but you know what?  Half might just be enough to carry you back to whole.

Wishing you all the hope in the world,

Elle

10.29.16 Effervescence and Men’s Deodorant

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So recently, I started to wear men’s deodorant.  Classy, I know.  But you know what!?!  It works!  I’ve tried around five different brands of women’s in the past, and felt like I needed to “reapply” like four times a day.  Mens?  Just once thank you very much!  It really struck me though, and kind of disturbed me, to tell  you the truth, that I … a five foot three inch woman who isn’t typically a “sweater” would need it.  I couldn’t understand, that is, until I did a little anthropological experiment of my typical day. 

On Wednesday, of this past week, I took a small slip of paper and kept a tally of all the times someone asked me a question.  As a teacher, and mother, and wife … you might imagine it was quite a few.  But would you believe that between 6:30 in the morning, and 5:30 at night, I was asked one hundred and thirty-two different questions!?!  No joke!  It is no wonder I’m often so fragmented.  I realized that questions often come in the form of interruptions … and therefore, I usually have an air of distracted, disjointed, and well … just plain lostness about me.  

My favorite thing, is when people tell you to relax.  “Just breathe and take it slow,” they suggest.  I suggest a reality check … because how can a person form a logical thought in their head with one hundred and thirty-two interferences?  Sometimes I wish that I could begin my day like Ronald Regan began one of his presidential speeches, “Before I refuse to take your questions, I have an opening statement.”  Genius!  Only life doesn’t work like that does it?  We are often going to need to answer the questions of children or adults who act like children (depending on where you work). It is just a part of the human experience I’m afraid. 

One thing I have learned in all of this, is that people really do respond to the way that questions are answered.  I’m certainly not perfect at this.  Sometimes an answer from me is “Mad as a hatter” off topic.  Sometimes it’s wise with split infinitives like Yoda.  Sometimes … as much as I hate to admit it … it’s a sarcastic eye-roll.  A lot of cliche lovers like to say, “There’s no such thing as a dumb question.”  I say, why lie to kids?  Some questions are dumb!  Regardless of the intelligence of the question (or the person asking it for that matter) I do believe in giving people the honor of time.  I’m really convinced that there are times, after all, that someone is only asking a question to build a bit of conversation, or to gain a moment of attention. 

Yesterday I introduced my husband to a new acquaintance of mine who said to him, “Wow.  This one’s got a ton of energy.  How do you keep up?”  My husband laughed and said he tries his best.  The gentleman went on to say, “She and I had a great conversation, and we’re all talked out.” To which my husband replied, 

“Yeah, but then she comes home and keeps on talking!  She’s never all talked-out.”  

He was appropriately glared at, but then I realized that my bubbly, enthusiastic nature and “talk-all-day” personality  (which rightly so annoys some people) is something that makes me useful.  God gives us what we can handle, and apparently, he intends that I handle those one hundred and thirty two questions a day.  I may come back kind or cranky, sweet, or snarky … but with me, I suppose at least you’re always guaranteed an answer.  I’ll keep praying for patience, but until then, I guess I’ll just keep being me – filled with effervescence, and of course … men’s deodorant. 

Talk on, 

Elle