Thirty years ago today, my family and I officially left California to begin a new and very different existence in Colorado. In addition to this being an anniversary of sorts, I am also cognizant of this being the last September that I will be a resident of Colorado. The word bittersweet occurs to me as I reflect on the last thirty years and the future that awaits us.
As is true of any location, the time spent here consists of many beautiful moments and sights as well as times of profound unhappiness and disconnects. In no way is Colorado responsible for the life challenges. While I detested the snowstorms that made travel difficult and unsafe, I also reveled in the 300+ days of sunshine per year that we thoroughly enjoy.
For those who may consider beginning a new life in Colorado, you will love the environment, people and culture that are intrinsic to this indescribably beautiful state. No matter where you may travel in Colorado, you will find proud Americans who are emotional about this location and its history.
A number of factors contribute to a need to move to another place but I will do so with sadness as well as happy expectations for our new home. If there were a way to say thank you to this unparalleled venue that is a mile high or more, as vast as our Rocky Mountains and as diverse as the millions of residents, I would hurriedly do so.
For the sake of new beginnings, expectations and an ongoing spirit of optimism, I will say hello to New Mexico. This is a state that is ecstatic about its annual balloon festival, its temperate climate and its long history. We are looking forward to the changes presented by the Land of Enchantment.
We say goodbye to Colorado and hello to the rest of our lives. Happily, we are only a few hours from returning when the mountains are calling and we need to revisit our history. There is no doubt about Colorado being as warm and welcoming as it has been for the last thirty years. Shalom.
It’s almost magic. You tell a group of first graders that you are an author and they look at you in an entirely new, appreciative way. You’re either an oddity from a different planet or you’re a superhero similar to Superman or John Elway.
Somehow, the opinion depends on the writing skills of the admirer. Those who write with agility and confidence want to know the subjects and titles of my books. The writing-impaired would rather ask my favorite color or football team.
Watching me write in my journal will also have two different effects. If they are staring at blank pages, they observe me with a combination of envy and frustration. The writers or writers-in-training offer to share work and sit intently as they craft their masterpieces.
As much as we would like to think that students model (positive) behavior, some of it is simply unattainable or unreachable. This should come as no surprise – many have the stamina and self-discipline to run marathons while others of us huff and puff to finish a 5k.
Happily, kids display a greater understanding of strengths and weaknesses than we might expect. Writers will help the struggling non-verbal. Math whizbangs will patiently assist the math-impaired, simply as a gesture of kindness.
We have much to learn from our kids about acceptance. Most will sympathize about broken bones and boo-boos and will help a fallen or crying classmate.
Whatever the crisis, those with the biggest hears, drives and skills will surface and throw out all necessary life preservers. Maybe it’s learned behavior, maybe it’s nurtured or maybe it’s simply our inherent kindness that prevails and persists. No matter what factors are involved, there are formidable reasons to believe that our future generations will consist of caring humanitarians. Shalom.
Every day that I teach, and many that I don’t, someone is likely to ask me my name. Outside the classroom, I liberally offer my name and that’s often the end of the conversation. Inside the classroom, I will provide an answer according to each location. If that sounds strange, understand that I have devised a strategy that includes allowing my class to choose my name for the day. It causes them to remember me in a unique manner.
Very often, my pronunciation of student names is corrected, often with indignation. When I return to students whom I haven’t seen for some time, they generally ask if I know their names. Most of the time I don’t – too many children to recollect.
During the day, I work hard to call on students by name. They always brighten when I do, telling me that my remembering them was important.
“What’s my name?” is another way of saying, “I am different from everyone else.” It also suggests that I was important enough to make a permanent impact on you.
As kids age, this desire for uniqueness never diminishes. It causes me to believe that we as adults maintain a desire for specific identity or distinction, not necessarily associated with specifics.
When I think about name recognition, any variation of my name or occupation is good. Oh, you’re the writer. You’re the author. Aren’t you the teacher? Because we generally want to make a positive impression on those we meet, we can extend the same courtesy or affirmation.
One possession we have that is unique in most locations we visit is our name. Honor that possession in another and you verify that they and their existences are worth treasuring.
If you’re watching the waters rise, anticipating the loss of everything material, no other thoughts occur. To the millions observing your tragedy, the inability to provide hands-on help produces a thousand questions.
How can we join in the rescue efforts?
What do you need most?
How will our contributions be distributed?
Can we come to the area and participate in taking survivors to safety?
The sense of helplessness was not exclusive to the hurricane path. The nation and the world added its tears to the already swollen rivers, streets and buildings.
As the waters receded, we were partially reassured by the heroic efforts of so many from infinite sources. We watched the boats, helicopters and everyday people who combined forces to make many differences in large and small ways.
While your recovery will require years, patience and more dollars than most of us can imagine, we have not disappeared. As we provide homes to your lonely pets, dollars to Red Cross and provisions to your shelters, you remain in our wishes and prayers.
Never hesitate to call on us for any needs you may have, material or otherwise. The only support that you won’t receive is that which you fail to request.
Watching kids trying to write is almost as much fun as writing. They ponder and scratch, erase and carefully print. Helping them spell “neighborhood” or “principal” is a good indication that they are thinking and processing information. But as was the case with math, the levels of expertise are all over the board.
My greatest frustration is wanting to help all of them reach competence. In math, it’s about adding and subtracting two numbers. In writing, it’s understanding concepts such as paragraphs, punctuation and proper nouns.
Clearly, if I could impart instant wisdom in conjunction with retention, I would do so. But as an advocate and disciple of education, I know that mistakes and victories are as critical to the learning process as memorization. Somewhere between magic and agony is finding the best way to coach and assist with an emphasis on individual styles and perpetual growth.
The best part of being an active observer is that the participants change daily. Some kids bring their best, happiest and most receptive selves to class. Others bring family issues, learning disabilities and self-confidence problems that they simply can’t understand.
One given is always as true as 2 plus 2 or 185 divided by 5. Amid all the confusion and frustrations of being a twenty-first century child, my kids all know that I care. If they hurt themselves, I will always have the pain-eliminating bandaid. If they are bullied, the guilty party will be prosecuted. And if you simply want to talk about anything at all, I will always listen. Shalom.
The rapture of being a grandma began around the moment that I discovered it would be my newest and most cherished title. But from my standpoint, this role is best completed often, at close proximity.
Regrettably, while I have achieved my indescribably joyous status (bubbe, in my case) all is not bliss. My beautiful grandchildren are everything happy but they are 1,468 miles away from my hugs and kisses.
Thanks to the careful attention of my daughter, a phenomenal mother, I am able to see them every few days through the miracles of technology. But I can’t help teach them, dry their tears or engage in a game of catch.
Nobody requested this long-distance relationship and no-one likes it. There is nothing I can do to eliminate the miles between us. Most importantly, whining or anguishing over it is non-productive and makes no positive difference anywhere.
When I’m faithful to my ideals and principles, I find something to be gained from this condition. When one of the children is ill, I am always inquiring and diligent about their conditions. As much as I can afford it, I make frequent trips to see them. Any excuse is a good one to send a jacket or shirt or dress.
The ceremonies of grandmotherhood are far less important than the emotional mutuality. We repeatedly express our love, whether it is long or short distance. But it’s the hand-holding and promise-keeping that persuade me they are certain of bubbe’s love. That love is without boundaries, equal to my gratitude for their dimples and smiles. Shalom.
One of the innumerable advantages of the English language is the fact that it doesn’t have the masculine or feminine designations present in some languages. In French, a male friend is ami and a female is amie. In Spanish, it’s amigo and amiga. Because I have several people whom I consider true friends, the use of Friend will be perfect for the sake of not needing or wanting to identify my friend’s gender.
The friend to whom I refer is someone who has redefined the concept of friend for me, in an entirely positive way. Friend is someone who is constant and consistent, no matter where we are or what the time may be. Friend is always loyal and in more areas than I can count, Friend finds ways to demonstrate respect and love.
My Friend is one who would share Friend’s $19.19, even if it is Friend’s last twenty. My Friend creatively and frequently demonstrates faith in my abilities and strengths. And most importantly, my Friend can be relied upon for Friend’s version of truth, regardless of how difficult or complicated it may be to articulate.
Those who celebrate friendship can easily appreciate how blessed I feel to have Friend as my advocate and cheering section. We have all experienced people who choose solitary existence due to abuses of trust or general dissatisfaction with human nature. If you belong to that philosophy, you have my deepest regrets. If, however, you can relate to the joys of a true and lasting friendship, you will understand the irreplaceable contributions that friends inevitably make to life.
To my Friend – thank you for your trust, your faith and your love. To those who read my words, be a friend to learn the joy of acquiring one. Consider your word to be as vital as the beating of your heart. And begin to understand the growth that you will immediately experience as you nurture that of others. Shalom.
It’s probably not necessary to empathize every moment of the day with the kids I teach. There are frequent occasions where it’s appropriate, such as when they are sad or hurt. But most of the time, they rely on me for direction and something resembling wisdom.
Looking at them, it is easy to imagine what they’re thinking. When they have Chromebooks, most are following instructions to read. A few will stray but these renegades are easily identified because they will repeatedly glance at me to make certain I haven’t detected what’s on their screens that are thirty feet away. Of course, I can’t tell if they are transgressing but I can confirm by walking the room to see if they change screens.
Sometimes obedience gets too much. One student thinks: I’ll bet I can get some distraction from the classwork if I get up, walk across the room and get two tissues from the box.” There’s another box of tissues about three feet from this student but that wouldn’t require as much time.
This group is a bit too young to sneak over to forbidden sites. We would like to think that the school districts would block explicit content. But last year, a sixth grader delivered a Chromebook displaying porn that, “…someone else had been watching.” By no means would I have argued with him.
The best way to spook kids is to busily write in a journal. Curious ones will wonder what I’m writing and why I’m writing it. Guilty ones will ask if I’m recording notes to their teacher about troublesome kids. And the brave ones will ask to see what I’ve written, although none of them can read cursive.
Happily, this is a well-behaved and courteous group. Third grade is typically too young for cell phone addiction or gang activity.
Although I’m not allowed to have physical contact of any kind, at least ten former students hug me in the hallway. And all students, my class or otherwise, will return my smile. Kids just don’t like change and I represent change. Because I get that I conform to the routine, acknowledge all accomplishments and never ask them to be other than third graders. Shalom.
If dementia were a human, I would have no trouble creating an accurate characterization. It would be a cruel, unfeeling, unrelenting tyrant that robs its victims of everything but basic bodily functions.
One of my closest and most cherished relatives is one of dementia’s targets. Spending time with her, I soon realized that all she had left was the present. Her past was inaccessible, the future was impossible and the now lasted only for a few seconds.
For as much as I wanted the visit to be meaningful to her, she had no recollections. When I told her my name (many times) I was blessed to see a flash of recognition. As quickly as it appeared, it was gone.
My countless memories are all that remain – only to me. We have been related for a very long time and for all those years, I anticipated and enjoyed her heartfelt birthday cards that are no more. Now she is as far away mentally as the physical distance between us. To her, all the days are the same and they are all labeled as “today.”
If your reality resembles mine, never find excuses not to visit. My loved one knew I was there for ten seconds, then another ten seconds and ten more. With all my heart and spirit, I only hope that I brought a moment of security and love. If she knew that she was loved for all types and lengths of time, it would be to defeat the dementia beast. She deserves that defeat, roses to bring her joy and more, for as long as I can fight for her. Shalom.
Staying at a resort location in north central Illinois, we were fortunate to wander into a location called The Norway Store. We were unprepared for the experience of walking through a meaningful and vibrant part of history.
The store was full of Norwegian food and souvenirs. We observed biscuits, pancakes, lutefisk and every other delicacy with direct or indirect connections to Norway. By this time, I am thinking that this was merely a fun stop in an otherwise corn and soybean-filled geography.
Toward the end of the journey, we completed our purchases and I asked the lady behind the counter to explain the Norway motif. She was noticeably Nordic and eagerly explained that Norway was originally populated by the nearby rural community of settlers called the Fox River Settlement. These immigrants trace their origins from the 1825 migration from Norway to New York state, then Illinois.
Present day Norway has a population of 100 but has no local government, fire district, school district, police or postal services. The store has been in the same location for one hundred years and has always been owned by the Borschenius family. At the end of the presentation, Ms. Nordic proudly proclaimed, “We are Norway!”
Outside we saw a barn with a large picture and title, “Viking Ship.” Adjacent to the barn/ship was a beautiful church called the Hauge Lutheran Church. Now we had completed the entire tour of Norway.
But what a beautiful, noble and proud history, right in the middle of rural America! Something tells me that if we had similar connections to our respective heritages, we would all be improved and enhanced by those legacies. As for me, I am enriched by spending a fragment of my life in Norway. Never again will I believe that farmland USA is devoid of surprises or joy. Shalom.