9.16.18 Choose You

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In his book, Choose Yourself, James Altucher says, “Only think about the people you enjoy. Only read the books you enjoy, that make you happy to be human. Only go to the events that actually make you laugh or fall in love. Only deal with the people who love you back …” in other words … choose you! 

I find this somewhat difficult to do. At times, I feel like unless I am being productive, achieving something (regardless of how menial it may be), or pursuing accomplishment, I am wasting time. More and more I am realizing that both society and I have been lying to myself. Sometimes … more than sometimes, we need to do nothing more than refill our own cups, renew our own spirits, and realize our value comes from being, not doing.

In her infinite four-years-older-than-me-wisdom, my sister bought me a fabulous book for my birthday (and dress and boots to wear while I read it!). More of a journal really, it’s called 3,000 Questions About Me, and I absolutely LOVE it. More often than not my sweet family and friends and anyone who is stuck in my vicinity for more than twenty minutes will hear me chime in, “Hey, let’s play the question game.” This means that from would you rather to what’s your favorite, let’s pretend, to what if … I will pretty much ask you questions until you turn blue in the face from answering them all. (Sometimes I secretly applaud myself for choosing my occupation of teaching so I have an educational excuse to pepper those little angels with as many questions as I want to!) The thing is though, I rarely ask myself to answer the questions I ask, and this book has been giving me permission to do so.

So Friday night, my family went to a fun park, and I chose myself. I did some housework, I grocery shopped, and then I gave myself forty-whole-minutes to answering questions about me. Honestly, I didn’t know the answers to quite a few of them, and in some ways this thrilled me. Choosing you is like giving yourself permission to meet and interview the parts of yourself you’ve not really paid attention to recently – or ever. I don’t know what my most marked characteristic is … I’ve not decided what the next wonder of the world should be … I don’t know my Chinese zodiac sign … I’ve yet to explore what food best describes my personality … but the good news is, if I choose myself a few more Friday nights, I might begin to, and the better I know myself, the better able I am to be authentically known by others.

Choose you – because in doing so, you are allowing more of yourself to be open to the world that longs to know you better.

Elle

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

8.2.18 Crave

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I crave that creative place

where my mind 

is free to wander 

just a bit

to dabble and dance

in and out 

of a memory or two

lingering in places particularly sweet

and allowing my heartbeat to quicken with reinvented remembering

I love to fall into a good conversation

where the words tumble over themselves 

in an effort to explore the emotions born with them

pushing past inherited perspectives and perceptions 

searching for what is true in your shared or borrowed states of mind

and heart

I wish time was a little less relative 

to everything

and everyone

that there would be more of it in the space of a day

or a moment that doesn’t necessarily need, but wants more attention

so that a detail

a look

or a longing wouldn’t have to go without

I crave that creative place

I love

to wish

7.25.18 Someone Like Him

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“Sons are the anchors of a mother’s life.” – Sophocles

When he was eight, my son looked up at me and said, “Hey mom, when I go to college … you’ll come right?”

“Of course,” I replied. And can I just say that until the offer is formally rescinded, I plan to find an apartment with a four-year lease, and keep my word.

Eleven. That is what this almost-as-tall-as-me charmer just turned, and my heart hurts with pride and pain at the clock and calendar that refuse to slow for me, regardless of my pleas. Ironically, he asked for a pocket watch for his birthday, and every few minutes, when he checks the time, I feel my heart racing the second hand as the visceral reminder that our time is fleeting. Emerson once said that, “Men are what their mother’s made them.” Though he may be a few years off from being a man, I can’t agree with Emerson, because nothing I have done in the past eleven years could have made a boy this good … this pure-hearted, or kind.

Whether it is right or wrong, a reversal of roles or even always appropriate … I depend on this little guy – on his perspectives, his judgement, his prayers, and even his bravery. He is a shoulder worth leaning into because underneath those mischievous smiles, there is a core of integrity and honor that can only be heaven-lent. I’m not sure how fair it is for me to need him at times probably more than he needs me, but there it is. My truth.

Just the other day I ran into a friend with a son the same age. She said she just finished running four miles with another friend of ours with another son the same age. After our pleasantries, I watched her sculpted runner legs leave and turned to my son saying, “Do you think it’s bad I’m not a runner mom? All your friends’ moms seem to run and I don’t. I rollerblade and walk and …”

“Mom,” he said, maturity washing over his little man features. “That’s silly. If anything they should feel bad because they’re all the same and you do things that are different.”

Cry.

There isn’t a day that goes by in this boy’s life where he doesn’t find a way to make me feel special … where he doesn’t make me believe that even if he could have hand-picked a mother, he would have chosen me. What in heaven’s reach did I do to deserve this? To deserve him?

We have our moments. But honestly … I can’t remember any of them significantly enough to even soften the halo around this post. I pray, with all my mother’s heart, that everyone have a someone like him.

Happy birthday baby boy,

I love you to Neverland,

Mommy (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

5.9.18 Out Once More

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“Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.” Norman Cousins

Two weeks ago the unthinkable happened … the young daughter of some friends of ours passed away after battling cancer for a year. I thought I was prepared for the funeral, after all, I’ve been to my fair share of them – I wasn’t. Though funerals were literally something I grew up with, I’ve only been to one other child’s funeral, and they were equally, agonizingly, heartbreaking – both for seven-year-old girls.

I don’t have words really, to describe how it feels to see their parents … it is surreally painful because instantly I’m forced to imagine myself in their place – and I am lost. So although I have no right to even pretend to know how it really feels, this poem is what came out of my emotions. All my love, all my prayers, casting hope to anyone who understands this pain. All my love to anyone who lost anyone whose lost life matters to them as much as their own. I so desperately wish this void was not a burden you must carry. We were not intended for separation. God knows … this is not the end.

Elle

Out Once More

In.

Out.

In again.

Out once more.

Breathe.

Breathe.

Breathe.

I think that it’s “returning to normal” that I find the most offensive.

Things like …

casual conversation

filled with, “How are you?” and other equally unpleasant

pleasantries.

In those moments I feel every too-quick heartbeat

and it seems supernaturally unfair that involuntary responses

are not, in fact, involuntary –

because I literally need to remind myself to breathe …

to release.

Sometimes I can’t stand the sun’s arrogance – that it has the audacity to rise when I,

when she

no longer can.

And it hurts in places I can only describe as

the absence

the empty

the lost.

And I cry with a voice I don’t recognize as my own,

because “we” no longer are …

and I can’t remember how to find who I was

before.

Returning to a “normal” place in this life is somewhere I can’t find.

And so it seems I’m chasing a new normal –

something I’m seeking but am not sure I’ll be able to recognize

being in the state-of-being that I am,

or am not.

But even now,

even here

in this

in-between …

I can’t bring myself to hate the world,

because she loved it …

and I can’t hate my life,

because she was a part of it –

and as I live on

in some way

so does she.

It’s not in the way that I hoped for,

but she believed in hope,

and so must I.

In.

Out.

In again.

Out once more.

Breathe.

Breathe.

Breathe.

 

 

5.2.18 Would You Rather?

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Would you rather is a regular game at my house. So let’s play now shall we? Would you rather:

A. Die by choking on a turkey sandwich 

or

B. Die of embarrassment

Neither? Me too! But sadly, yesterday I was close to both! For the sake of it being one of the craziest weeks of my life in terms of commitments, forgive me, but I’m going to keep this brief. I work about a half hour from where I live. Technically, it’s like twenty minutes, but since I live in one of the worst traffic areas outside of a major metropolis, it’s ALWAYS at least a half hour. 

Well, yesterday was one of those, I’ve gotta get home to let the dog out, make something completely random on the fly for dinner, get my kids dressed, and back out the door in twenty minutes for their Spring concert days! Instead of getting dressed like I should have been, however, I was going cross-eyed looking at my phone while helping a high schooler do his homework even though – no, he is not my student, and – no, I didn’t know how to help without looking it up myself. But I’m a yes girl, and yes girls help out!!! 

So I’m ten minutes past when I want to leave, and I’m “gently urging” everyone to get in the car (did I mention my husband was on a business trip at the time?) and I’m still slipping on my heels. I whip together a turkey sandwich, because it’s honestly the only thing I could eat with one hand, and we’re off. Except we’re not actually, because the moment I pull out of my driveway, turkey sandwich literally hanging in my mouth, an Amazon delivery guy pulls in and stares at me like, “Where do I put your box now?” and I stare back like, “Hey right here is fine.” Only apparently me opening my window to hand it to me wasn’t clear enough with my mouth full of turkey sandwich (hands on the wheel, NOT on the sandwich, which is still hanging out of my mouth) because he asks, “So should I put it on the front porch?” 

STILL trying not to hit his delivery car while simultaneously trying NOT to choke on my wedged-mouth meal, I give him a cheesy thumbs up, and he looks at me like I’m crazy, which maybe I am, but who is he to judge? Did he just help someone with random homework he didn’t understand? Did he make two different meals for two different kids with two different dinner demands? Did he just throw off work clothes to put his tired feet into pumps to feel empowered by an extra two inches? I think not! Now for the frosting. If I didn’t feel dumb enough, right at that exact moment, the cute little teenage neighbor kids and their cute teenage friends turn into our cul-de-sac and see the whole awesome exchange. They politely try to stifle their laughter while waving at me, the semi-pathetic-but-obviously-trying thirty-something crazy neighbor. 

So yeah. We made it with two minutes to spare to the concert. All in all? I’d consider the night a win, wouldn’t you? Please tell me you can relate to me, even on a fractional level … I’d love to know I’m not the only thoroughly embarrassed, turkey-choking, Amazon fiend out there. 

Live well friends! And be safe! Who knows what people driving next to you are up to! 

Elle

4.25.18 Change Never Is

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“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a savior from there.” Philippians 3:20

In the past three days, I have been confronted with a series of challenging perceptions,  presuppositions, misrepresentations, misunderstandings, and multiple-perspectives on ethnicity, racism, and personal identity. From literary discussions to student issues, faith-based revelations to immigration conversations, it has been a heart-swelling week of looking hard at myself, my beliefs, my unintended biases, and my intentions. Revelation? I am still learning. Most importantly? I still want to.

My poem “Change Never Is,” is dedicated to every individual who maybe, like me, is still trying to discover how to be their best, most loving, undeniably compassionate self through it all, albeit imperfectly … and who is willing to step through the broken glass of shattered hearts, in the hopes of finding all the pieces to put us together again.

Go heal where you can,

Elle

Change Never Is

And suddenly … it’s different.

Just like that.

With the flip of a switch,

or the bat of an eye.

In the space of a heartbeat.

You realize something new about yourself.

Or maybe it’s old, but you wouldn’t admit it before now –

when actuality is staring back at you

clearer than the reflection of the mask you’ve grown so comfortable wearing,

you’d actually forgotten your own face.

You still might not want to deal with the truth of how you feel

but you do feel

and that’s the problem

(or some sordid beginning of the solution)

You can’t ignore it anymore –

and it’s jarring,

this knowing that you can’t go back.

Suddenly the innocence you had only just before,

is nothing more than a fantasy you can’t find your way back to

because reality demands accountability –

and there’s no longer room for the callousness of pretend.

We grow in stages,

but sometimes it feels as if a lifetime of lessons are hurled in our direction

faster than we can absorb the shock of their blows.

There is hardly a line between villain and victim –

the pain is dolled in equal measure,

whether it is deflected or digested? That depends on the user

and the used.

And as much as you thought that you knew who,

and how,

and what

you were …

everything can change

when you’re challenged to accept as fact

that what you wished was just the remnant of a bad dream.

You’re awake.

So now what?

There is no rest for you in dreaming … only in shaking off your slumber.

It’s time to breathe in slowly,

acclimatize yourself one fiber at a time …

There are thoughts to be sorted –

film reels of clouded memories to look at with new lenses.

The past may not align with the present,

but the future is yours to discern.

Endow a legacy stronger than pride.

Entitle yourself to an awakening.

That shifting in your bones … that thickening of your skin …

it’s not comfortable,

but darling,

change never is.