Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Mommy Confessions

The past thirteen weeks of Theodore's life have been nothing short of amazing-ness but also challenge. Anxiety. Depression. Fighting for joy. Wanting to be the perfect mother and beating myself up whenever I didn't get something right- when he would wake up from every nap after only 20 minutes, when he would all of a sudden fight me to breastfeed, when the house in all its disarray seemed to be symbolic of how I felt my life was. Fighting for a big chunk of all of this alone, thinking I was big and strong enough to get over it and through it on my own, my husband and a few friends have seen right through that facade and have stepped in through various helpful means. As grateful as I have been for all of the help, I've fought against it still, thinking I should be able to do this...I should be enough to handle it all. Until this past Thursday, when I got so fed up with myself and my emotions and daily crying episodes and threw my cell phone across my bedroom and screamed. I realized I was not okay. And that my awful need for perfection had inched its awful way into another realm of my life: parenting. My mindset was shaken and I once again was rattled by my mistakes and shortcomings as a mom and felt like the biggest failure when something didn't go right.

I realized I was so caught up in my need for perfection that I wasn't fully enjoying my son. Whose name, it turns out, means "gift of God." I was trying so hard to do everything exactly like the blogs and books said to that I wasn't fully enjoying or embracing this miraculous gift of life that God has given to me.

I pictured it very different for me. I never thought I'd be the one to dislike pregnancy or struggle with postpartum depression. I always imagined being the mom who glowed throughout pregnancy, loved every moment, and would miss being pregnant when it was over. The mom who would drink in every delicious second of motherhood and time with her baby. And it, to my dismay, was and has been the opposite. Pregnancy plagued me with 23 weeks of morning sickness followed by 8 weeks of bed rest, having to abruptly leave my teaching career, more ER and triage visits than I can remember, and a lot of confusion and pain. I thought it would be different, and I hated myself for not liking it as much as I thought I would.

God heard my prayers for instant connection with Theo when he was born, because throughout the last trimester and time on bed rest I felt so disconnected from him. Although I have felt a consistent, rich connection to my son since he was born, I have fallen back into wretched patterns of trying to be self sufficient and get everything right. Turns out that in raising a child, you get ZERO control over anything that occurs. Zip. Zilch. You cannot control a single thing. The worry and anxiety that comes along with that can eat away at your soul. I refused to sleep much of his first week of life in fear that he'd stop breathing in his sleep. I've obsessed over baby milestones and if he was reaching them on time or not. Comparing him to other babies. Comparing myself to other mamas. The cycle has been vicious.

I love and completely adore my son and would do anything for him and his happiness and joy in life.  But it's been a sobering reality that I can't promise him fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11) to come from me and my parenting, because only God can be all in all, only He can bring Theo the fullness of joy and life. None of my worrying or striving can do that. Only the one who never fails can.

The Lord was gracious to me after this episode on Thursday, because the next day on Friday I saw a friend of mine post something about losing her precious baby niece. I just couldn't imagine going through something so heartbreaking as losing a child and my heart truly grieves with anyone who has. Tears streaming down my face as I was holding Theo as he was napping, I realized it was time to surrender my need for perfection and control in this thing called motherhood and to fully enjoy the gift God has given me. To treasure up every moment with my son and stop worrying if I'm putting him down for his tummy time enough or following the correct bedtime regimen. I'm done chasing after being the perfect mom and instead am going to surrender and chase after my Lord, my King, the only perfect one. He is the only one who can bring me fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore, too. And he never expects me to do any of this mothering thing alone but is daily, every moment, with me, gently guiding and leading and holding and carrying me through.

All my life I wanted to be a mama, and I get to be Theodore's mama. Besides the cross, and being Andrew's wife, it is so far the biggest act of grace I know of in my personal life. It's time to surrender to this act of grace and stop seeing it as anything any of us mothers can earn, or prove we've earned, through how well our child sleeps through the night or how many milestones he or she has hit. It's time we stop finding any sort of self worth in any of those things because IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH US OR HOW GREAT OF A PARENT WE ARE, and start seeing that our ENTIRE worth is found in the cross, that we are heirs and co heirs with Christ, that we share in his sufferings as well as his glory because we are adopted sons and daughters through faith and grace alone.

I share this with all of you because when you're fighting battles as a parent, it's easy to feel like you are the only one who feels that way. It's hard to speak out because parenting seems to be the most delicate subject matter that people can write or talk about. Everyone has an opinion, and there are even certain moms who can make you feel like you're the worst mom on the planet if you make a comment about things being hard or messy. But it doesn't have to be like that. We don't have to hide because hiding is isolating, depressing, and lonely. Bringing these things to the light can be so utterly healing for us, and that's what it is for me as I type.

So yes, the past three months of Theo's life and my first three months as a mother have been a lot of things- incredible, challenging, exhilarating, life-giving, frustrating, rich- and "perfect" has not been one of them. But I'm ready to stop expecting that to ever happen. It may never be perfect, but I can trust that it will be unparalleled in its indescribable beauty and joy.

Friday, June 3, 2016

4 Top Things my Gifted Students Taught Me this School Year

There's no doubt, as a teacher, that the students in your care over the course of 10 months have the ability to change your life. They utterly, completely, drastically, and beautifully change the way you think about life; the way you view and think about children; the way you approach your profession; even the very ways you speak, walk, act, and function. Trust me, there have been several times when I've been stopped short doing something because of how I realized the way I am now doing it has changed from the way I used to do it. The way I learn in a teacher conference. The way I walk down the hallway. The way I speak to someone I do not know. The way I help my husband edit his cover letter. Teaching and the experiences you have as a teacher truly have the ability to affect everything about your life.

Each group that you teach is also extraordinarily unique. There was never a group of students like it before, and there will never be a group of students like it again. Like a wave on the ocean, it all pushes forward together, and then when it retreats back it isn't the same wave anymore. The water exchanges, the sand, rocks, shells, and organisms shift, and the next one is going to be different, even if it falls in the same place and location around your feet.

My group of students this year have changed me, helped to shape me, mold me, and refine me. God used them as sharpening tools for my own refinement and growth not only as a teacher, but as an adult and a soon-to-be-mommy. You always hear sayings like, "I thought I was here to teach them...in reality, they were here to teach me." I truly do think that it is a relationship where students and teachers alike learn from one another, a beautiful example of interdependence, and this group was evidence to me of that. As I look back on our time together, important lessons surface to my mind and make me dance inside with rejoicing.

1) Don't limit a child...they can do more than you probably think they can. There were many times this year that instead of saying no or trying to redirect a student's idea or project proposal, I refrained. Sometimes painfully! I waited to see if they could be successful with what they wanted to do or try, or how they wanted to show their learning. I watched them problem solve or realize their initial idea wouldn't work and then fix it to make it work. This takes a lot of control out of the hands of the teacher and puts it in the student's hands, and that is hard to do at first-- but then you step back and see what they created on their own and think, "Boy, am I glad I didn't limit them and tell them no."

2) The power of communication and how to problem solve. One thing we spent countless hours on this year was learning how to communicate with others. I have often focused on this in previous years, but this year it was a huge goal of mine to spend lots of time in this area. Gifted children have a more difficult time than their same-aged peers communicating. While celebrating who they are, we also have to help them learn how to function and communicate in society with others. This covered everything from:

  • active listening- looking at the speaker, eye contact and gestures, commenting on other's stories instead of inserting your own and making their story suddenly all about you; 
  • telling someone when they've upset you- what they did and how it made you feel, what you both think would make it better, apologizing by not just saying sorry but identifying the action and future action step (I'm sorry I took the jumprope you were using. Next time I will wait my turn or find another one to use.); 
  • sharing ideas or thoughts with a partner or group you are collaborating with
  • self awareness- knowing when there is something wrong or upsetting you and being able to verbalize it calmly, knowing when you need a cool down time and asking for it, knowing when you need to work out a problem with a friend and asking to be able to go solve it out in the hallway; 
  • learning how to communicate with adults- greeting adults that greet you, telling an adult good morning in the hallway, speaking to the cafeteria workers and telling them please and thank you, not ignoring or walking by an adult as they are talking to you or asking you a question but responding
  • being able to compliment others on the great things they have done, knowing when it's time to celebrate the accomplishments of others instead of our own
I notice more than ever the inability for humans to communicate appropriately and effectively with others. Our Facebook feeds are filled with hateful comments and our face-to-face interactions are full of people glued to their cell phones when the person across from them is trying to tell them a story. I even used that as an example this year, about how much it bothers my husband when he is trying to talk to me and my attention is on my phone! I watched my students grow tremendously in their understanding of communication skills over the course of the school year, and it blew me away how important these skills are for children to learn and practice frequently. It takes consistency and work over time, but the fruit of it was so powerful. This is something I will definitely carry with me into motherhood with my own children. 


3) The importance of validating students' feelings before trying to help them cope with their feelings. This year, more than ever, I had to really embrace this practice in my classroom. With 20 highly gifted students with unique sensitivities and emotions, the classroom could become a flood zone if it wanted to, and it also could become an unsafe place for these children to be if they weren't allowed to feel what they were feeling. Let me unpack that a bit. Have you ever felt depressed or sad or lonely for someone only to tell you something to the effect of, "Oh, don't worry about that." or "That's nothing to be upset about." or "Come on, that's silly to feel that way." Yeah...I don't know about you, but when people tell me those things, it either deeply hurts me or makes me feel angry, like what I'm experiencing or feeling isn't real or worthwhile. We have to think about children and their feelings in the same way. When a student shared that the dog in the book I was reading aloud made her think of the dog that she used to have when she was little that died and her eyes start welling up with tears, the last thing I should do is tell her "Oh, that happened a long time ago though. You don't need to be sad. It's ok. He's in a better place." or something along those lines. What she needs to hear is something VALIDATING. That her emotions, feelings, rawness, are REAL. Something like, "I understand that is a real thing that happened to you, and that your feelings are real. It's okay to be sad about something we've lost. How can I or others help you, or what do you need?" Usually, just hearing that what they are feeling is real and validated helps a child to start to move on. You don't want to dwell there, and cause them to stay in that place for too long, or it can turn into hours of crying in your classroom or a student taking advantage of a situation. But offering validation before offering ways to cope and push through is a must, especially for our highly sensitive gifted students. We don't want them to feel like we don't care, or that their sadness or feelings are something we can shrug off. You can then help give them options, or even they can then verbalize that maybe taking a moment in the corner, getting a pillow to sit on, or sitting by a friend can help them cope in the moment. And that's that.

I think too often to dry up tears or move on to what's next, we can jump straight to the coping piece without validating first. We try to offer a solution instead of just starting by saying, I hear you...I see you...I think that's all others want sometimes, to just feel heard and seen in their pain or feelings.

4) The importance and value of community when its time to celebrate as well as when things go south or unexpected. Building a class community and class family does not happen naturally or overnight. It is something you "build," like a home from its starting foundation. You can build this through several different means: sharing literature together and discussing books; engaging in shared, collaborative experiences like science labs or STEM challenges; but I think the main way we developed and built our community was in taking the time to circle up EVERY day as a class and share things we are feeling, thinking, or doing in our lives, as well as taking the time to stop throughout the day to talk if we needed to. Sometimes we have so much to do in a given day that we don't stop and "smell the roses" with our students. We have to let ourselves be okay with stopping and talking with our students if the opportunity arises, to be transparent with one another, to discuss our families or connections, to talk through a bad situation or moment in class, to reconnect and realign if things aren't going right that day, to even "start over" fresh if nothing is clicking. We can't get to really know each other that well if we don't allow for these natural moments and breaks in our day to day class life. I used to be so driven by keeping a schedule and having everything aligned perfectly that I bet we all missed out on some pretty amazing moments or relationship building in past years. This year, I think my students showed me the importance and the okay-ness of things not always following the timeline- and how the rewards of that surpassed getting that project done on schedule.

A lot of things happened in our classroom this year beyond your typical birthdays or getting new pets or friends moving away. I truly believe that due to the community our class had built, we were able to be there for one another in ways I haven't witnessed before. My students were able to surround me and my baby throughout my entire pregnancy with love, affection, and care. They learned how to help me and our classroom when my mobility wasn't what it used to be, and when the baby was growing bigger ("We need to get all the trash off the floor so Mrs. R doesn't have to squish Baby Theo picking it up!). When I unexpectedly had to go on bed rest and be gone the last 5 weeks of the school year, they mourned with me and spent our last afternoon together making things for the baby and writing notes to me, at their request. They then asked to Skype and FaceTime with me a couple of times a week when I was on rest at home- they asked- not because they were told to, because they wanted to keep me as part of the community we had built together.

They also experienced how to be there for a friend going through a despairingly hard time. A student's dad unexpectedly passed away recently, and the class community we had built together allowed them to truly surround him and care for him when it happened. They weren't forced to write him cards or to attend the funeral with their parents, they ASKED to. They deeply loved and cared for their friend in his pain, and knew him well enough to know how he feels loved and cared for best. Having to be at home on bed rest when this happened was extremely difficult, but hearing about how they were taking care of him day to day allowed me to find peace in not being able to be physically there for him. The students were taking him under their wing and providing a safe, loving place for him- showing their ability to express empathy and sympathy and camaraderie as mere first graders.

All humans need community to thrive, and that includes our students.

----

Thank you, ASPIRE 1 students of 2015-2016, for the lessons, memories, and moments I can look back on and think, "Wow, I got to be a part of that."


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

#WhyITaught: By a Teacher on Bed Rest

Ever since I got the news last week that I was to be on restricted rest the remainder of my pregnancy and not return to teaching for the rest of the year, each day has been a jumble of tears.

For me, the past two weeks have been a whirlwind. There is a surreal feeling surrounding my soul that everything that has happened, and is happening now, isn't actually happening. Trying to wrap my brain around what has occurred and where God has led me to is proving confusing and difficult.

With only 24 hours after receiving the news to try to decide what I needed to do to be prepared, how I was going to say goodbye to my precious 20 students and their parents and families, how I was going to say goodbye to my beloved staff, all without over-stressing myself and going into real labor...the past few days have been nothing but an attempt to process in between moments of fear, doubt, uncertainty, and lots of kleenex.

But the most sobering reality of all is that I didn't only say goodbye to my beloved first graders, their families, and my out-of-this-world coworkers.

I said goodbye to my teaching career. For now, at least. After six of the most rewarding, stretching, unfathomably meaningful years of my life.

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week in our nation, and there is a hashtag on Twitter circulating around called #whyiteach. So today, I want to reflect and pay tribute to those six years that I got to share and spend my days with our nation's most precious resource: children. I know I will forever be a teacher, and I may even perhaps return to the classroom one day, but instead of writing about #WhyITeach, this will be rather "#WhyITaught."

A lot of people don't understand why someone would want to teach. The pay isn't necessarily high, the hours aren't what you expect, and the emotional and personal sacrifices that you have to make in order to be effective and organized and prepared are many. You are constantly in a limbo, being pulled in several directions, having to make hard choices. You surrender a lot of your personal "me time," as going to a yoga class after school, for example, takes a backseat after conferencing with parents or prepping for that fun science lab tomorrow. Your heart breaks and mourns with your students as they experience the hardships of life. You don't really have the freedom to do basic things like eat your lunch in a timely fashion, or even go to the bathroom when you need to. You and your pride, self-worth, identity, and ego are daily put on the chopping block. You don't always please everyone and sometimes people are very unhappy with you if you don't do everything just right.

Yes, there is all of that. And a lot more probably, but I don't want to focus on the negative anymore. One of the rules in our classroom has always been "I will have positive energy, not negative!" and I think it's time to ramp up this post towards the former.

#WhyITaught:

1) Because children are worth fighting for. They are worth us fighting for their education, their growth, and their feelings. These children are but that- children- and need advocates all around them, in the home and at school. As a teacher, I was able to be an advocate and help foster the development of each child I taught. I was able to help them build their character, mindset, and grow in their ability to love. I was able to see their hearts change over time and grow in kindness, strength, empathy, and courage. To me, nothing, nothing, nothing beats this.

2) Because our work is meaningful. Not one day can a teacher go into work and leave saying, "Man, that day was pointless." Each day holds such meaning. Each day is an opportunity for students (and teachers, alike) to learn something new, to grow in perseverance and character, to make others smile, to gain a new friend, to leave each day changed by the things experienced. We are helping to make huge differences in the lives of others when we step foot into our workplace each day.

3) Because it is life giving. Your days as a teacher are spent pouring into others, yes, but what you receive in return fills your cup up beyond your understanding. The rewards might not be monetary or physical. They might just be a child crying in your arms as you comfort them, because they feel safe with you there; a heartfelt handwritten note secretly left on your desk about how much a child loves you; an email from a parent about how you have changed their child's life; a sense of accomplishment and joy when you see your students engaged and excited about learning and school; a postcard from a student you taught three years ago arriving in your mailbox just to say hi and update you on his life; sitting around a student's family dinner table as they invite you into their lives and home; watching a student in their element, such as being invited to a baseball game or a diving meet; hearing a student say "I love you" or "I feel so safe with you, Mrs. Rubinson"; this list could go on and on, but as I reminisce about my days as a teacher and think back on my experiences, these are the things that I hold onto and remember.

4) Because I got to spend my days loving children. Caring for them. Knowing them, their hearts, their minds, their likes and dislikes, their fears and worries, their interests and things that got them excited. I got to be a stepping stone on their paths of life. I got to be a part of children's hearts. And they are forever parts of mine. They have changed me. They have helped me grow, too. They have taught me so much about forgiveness, grace, and mercy. They have shown me the perils of perfectionism and how it is okay to make mistakes as long as we learn from them and they change us for the better next time. They have illuminated and brought to the surface parts of my heart and mind that needed serious mending and redeeming. Children have the tendency to do this to us as adults. They are great sharpening tools.

So, #WhyITaught? In short, I was able to have my life changed forever by 119 students over the course of the past 6 years in our classrooms, and by far many more who I did not even teach but interacted with on a daily basis. I learned more about God's love for me as his child through the love I was able to feel and experience for my own students. I have been stretched, tested, and pushed to limits of my own that I did not even know could exist. For all of this, I am eternally grateful and thank my heavenly Father each day for the love he has for me, in that he knew it would bring me so much joy to be a teacher, and he led me to this profession and life.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Confessions of a Pregnant Teacher

Confession: my last blog post was written back in September. There have been several times that I have had an inspirational idea for a blog post, or have had something I desperately felt needed to be shared. But, another confession: it has taken everything in me just to get through each day, that the blogging part of me has ceased to exist until now.

Let's back it up a little bit. I have been wanting to write about this journey for so long now, but have lacked the exact words and timing to say it. I feel like that time has finally come. The following is a very personal post, not about education, but about life, and a good God who hears us.

Last year, I wrote a few posts at the beginning of the year that regarded goal setting, what worked + what didn't work for me in the previous year, my "word" for the upcoming year, and so on. That practice of writing and reflecting was so imperative to my growth as a person, teacher, wife, friend, etc. at the time and I am so glad that I did it. As I think back on the year 2015, I can only really think of one major theme. This is a theme I have shared with a few people already, but I really do feel that 2015 was the year that I truly witnessed and believed, whole-heartedly, that our God is a God who HEARS.

God hears us. He hears our cries, our pleas, our hearts, our worries and fears, he hears about our hopes and dreams. He actually hears them when we don't even say them or acknowledge them out loud. Our great God, who knitted us together in our mother's womb, knows our desires, knows how we tick, knows our thoughts before they even enter our minds or mouths. This past year was such evidence that God is a God who hears us...and, who hears me.

For so long I have battled the feeling that God is not for me, and that he must be constantly disappointed in me. I have battled this unbelief, and have chosen more times than not to believe a lie, that God is against me and that when I sin or when I fall short, he is shaking his head in shame. Our God, if we are his children, does not do this, though. He does not see us through any other lens than the lens of the blood of Christ. He loves us. He does not get upset when we find joy in what he has given us. He does not get frustrated when we enjoy the life he has so graciously given us. I think that I was so scared to enjoy the little things in life, the small joys and celebrations, because I thought that I was enjoying those things more than I was enjoying him. But through this past year, God has shown me that this isn't true. That he is for me, and that his grace covers me like a blanket of white.

This lesson and understanding has largely come about due to the fact that God heard my prayers and knew my heart and gave me a child. Graciously. I did nothing to deserve being blessed with a child growing in my womb. I have done nothing to deserve that child growing healthily, strong, stable, beautifully. Yet he has given out of his abundant love and grace. Given after a sad, mournful season of dealing with heartbreak and loss after a confusing and disheartening miscarriage. Given after years of worry and doubt due to illnesses, issues, and misdiagnoses that I would have a difficult time conceiving a child. The past several years were marked by prayer for the future opening and blessing of my womb. And he gave. I walked so carefully through the past 5 months of pregnancy like I was walking on eggshells, thinking that at any moment, I could lose the little life that was inside of me, just as I had lost one before him. Yet God has heard us. He has heard our prayers, and has sustained this life within me, and for that I can only sing hallelujah and praise him.

Since I could remember, I wanted to love and be loved. I prayed ferociously and probably more than I ever prayed for anything to one day be married. I filled journals with pages of my heart's desires and longings. I wrote all about the kind of husband I desired to be my companion for life. And then, unexpectedly, Andrew arrived in my life. After six months of telling him we weren't meant for each other and that I wasn't interested in him, we began dating, and got married 15 months later. God heard me. He heard my prayers and answered them in a far more beautiful way that I ever could have contrived on my own.

God, all along, has heard me. He has listened. He has brought me to my knees lately as I have been recognizing how attentive he has been, and how well and intimately he knows me, because even when he has given me hardships and trials, they were specifically for me and my good, to learn and grow and be molded and shaped.

So really, this is a post of praise. Praise and glory to a good, good Father. I have been quite absent from the blogging world because I have deliberately taken several steps back from my professional life to enjoy the gifts and blessings that he has given me in my personal life. I have discovered more and more the delicate balance that exists in enjoying my teaching career and my vocation, and enjoying my husband, family, friendships, and now this new little baby inside of me. Who, although has brought several weeks of vomiting, nausea, sickness, pain, and occasional ER visits, is kicking and sucking his thumb and waving at me as I look at his little one-pound body on the sonogram machine. God has opened my eyes to the beauty and joy in life around me, and has shown me that even in the smallest of things, he listens and hears me. He hears the deepest longings and prayers of my heart. He hears the constant thoughts bouncing around in my mind. He hears. How comforting it is to know that the creator and holder of the universe hears us, his people, and loves us.