Kids Teach

I have absolutely no spatial reasoning. When I was younger we used to take an exam that required us to visualize how a paper would be folded and figure out what the next step was and what the finished product would look like.

Let’s just say my gift is words and not math.

If I read a set of instructions they better have pictures and concise written instructions. Most times I end up having someone else walk through the instructions with me, because not only do I need to read, see and follow along, it all works better if I can watch a demonstration. I’m all the learning styles wrapped up in a big ball of impatience.

When it comes to creating a 3-D object I’m a firm believer in the school of good enough, or don’t even try. Anytime I read a sewing pattern successfully (or close enough) I do a happy dance, because I really can’t read instructions and visualize a final product.

Geometry was a very dark period in my life.

Recently, I got into my head I wanted to make origami paper cranes for Christmas. I saw some online and they were gorgeous. Rebecca has been making them for about two years, so I figured if she could do them, I could YouTube it and figure it out myself.

What ended up happening was thirty minutes later I had a balled up piece of paper I was throwing at the disembodied voice on my laptop. Those YouTube demonstrators are so smug with their ability to see shapes and manipulate paper with their fingers.

After a few failed attempts I gave up and put aside the idea. Until yesterday. Yesterday afternoon we were having a lazy Sunday. Isaac was sick and Michael had been running all over Cleveland and finally sat down with a book to read. Margo was chattering to herself in a chair and Rebecca had paper strewn all over the living room floor. We have an art supply cabinet in our living room that has been a godsend on snowy, rainy and too hot days. It has paper, paint, paper hole punches, markers, colored pencil, finger paint, acrylic paints, etc. If it is a normal art supply, it is in there.

I found some cranes that Rebecca had folded, some origami paper and asked, “Hey Rebecca, could you show me how you make these?”

“You don’t know how?” Her eyes lit up. The thought of knowing something I didn’t was exciting.

I shook my head, “I couldn’t figure it out on my own. I ended up yelling at Youtube.”

Michael laughed because 1) He undertands my lack of spatial reasoning knows no bounds and 2) He’s seen me flustered and yelling at inanimate objects. 3) Even if he knew how to make the origami cranes, there was no way he would show me and get yelled at for the next hour.

Rebecca didn’t have a clue what she was getting herself into.

First off, that girl is patient, which is incredible to see that side of her. Her teachers always told me how patient she is in school, always spending time with another classmate who needed help. I don’t always see that at home with her siblings because they are, well, siblings.

She sat in front of the fire with me and went slowly through each step. When I folded the paper the wrong way or couldn’t remember the next step, she would take her paper, undo a couple steps and walk me through it. Again. And again. And again.

After an hour I could do it.

And when I thanked her she said, “It is so cool to be able to teach you something. Because you’re the mom.”

I laughed, but as she headed up to bed, I thought about that simple statement. Can our kids never be the teachers? Are we always the ones showing them the way? Isn’t there room for them to teach us once in a while?

Imagine what it does to their confidence to realize that they can help their parents.

I saw that in Rebecca’s eyes. Not that she didn’t gain anything out of the experience. It allowed me to show her my vulnerability, how I struggle with something, and that I can ask for help even when that help comes from someone I typically take care of. But the bigger lesson was for me. I put her, ahead of me. In my mind that is the definition of dignity, and I got to experience that with my daughter yesterday.

So often as parents we think about what we have to teach our kids in the short eighteen years they are with us. Everything we want them to be, to think about, to live. Everyday is a lesson and they are they students.

What I learned yesterday is sometimes as a parent, I can be the student, and that allowing my child to be the teacher is better than any lesson I can impart. It shows that I trust her, I am interested in something she is, and that no matter her age, she is important and has something to give to others.

Kids can teach us parents. If we stop talking for a second, and start listening.

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Uniquely Me

I am on Day 12 of Nanawrimo, and I am more than halfway done with the 50K goal set for November 30th. That seems pretty incredible to me. It took me about three years to write my first version of my book and that was about 63K. Last year I worked the entire year polishing that copy and turned it into an 85K book, that I was meh with. After I got my critique back from the Rising Star contest I knew I had to change my book.

I had to scrap what I had written in order to find my authentic voice.

For three months I struggled. I tried about five different ways to take what I had and turn it into a book that would keep people reading. What I heard from the judges is my writing was strong, but my plot was weak, and I could see what they meant. My characters didn’t change over the course of the book. It was a lot like my first attempt at writing when I was a kid. This happened, then this happened, then this happened.

The end.

November rolled around and I decided to sign up for Nanowrimo. I didn’t think it would help me break out of my block, but sitting at my desk day after day in a vortex of shame didn’t help either. So I signed up, took the elements of my story and how I could make it different, and ran with it.

And now I am 12days in and I have written over 30,000 words.

It isn’t particularly great writing. There are plot holes I could fly a blimp through. Character names aren’t consistent and there is a lot of dialog floating around in space with nothing to anchor it. But the bones are there. I can see the arc and how my character is changing. It is my story, the story I started writing three years ago,  but with a twist that makes it all my own and different I hope, from all those other women’s fiction books out there.

There are no new stories out there. The first storytellers around the fire, they had new stories. But thousands of years later, all of them have been written. The only thing that makes my story new, is my voice.

And my voice finally came through and now I have a story that is uniquely me.

At the end of November I will have a book. A very bad book, but it is a book. Revision is where a story becomes great. After several years of writing this one story I understand the hardest part is getting the words on the page.

And now they are there and growing.

Every day I sit down and wonder if I can put down the 1660 word goal each day. And every day I surpass it. I haven’t plotted out the story, I haven’t outlined the arc. I write and lot the story goes where the characters say it needs to.

I don’t worry about what the writing blogs say about writing.

I don’t worry about whether I am writing high literature.

I don’t worry if my story is cheesy.

I don’t worry if I am writing a book that agents want.

I am writing what comes out of my head and heart and it is working.

Sometimes I think we all get caught up in being original and new. In life, writing, work, parenting, etc. That isn’t really the point, is it. Our voices are what make us unique, different from the person next to us. We may see the same things, but we will tell it different ways. There may not be any new stories to tell, but how we tell it, that is all our own.

How will you tell your story? Whether it is writing, in business, art, or parenting; we all have a voice, a perspective that is unique and all our own.

Now go out and share it.

 

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Past Lives

In a past life I was pretty muscial. I sang, I played trumpet and piano. Most of my high school years were spent in a band of some sort, interspersed with plays and musicals. And in the evenings when homework was over, I would hunker down with the piano and practice.

I was never particularly outstanding at anything. My voice was decent, my trumpet earned my first chair, most years, and I could pick my way around the piano. College came and slowly I divested myself from music. The choir was too big, the pep band too time consuming and the piano was an out of tune hunk of wood that every college freshman who could play piano would sit down and play Fur Elise.

Every single time.

Although we have a piano in my grown up years, it was hard to play. As soon as I would sit down the kids would hover around me like moths to a light. Crashing and banging while I tried to remember the chords to a Chopin tune, or yes, even Fur Elise. It only highlighted the fact I wasn’t a musician.

Rebecca started piano lessons this year and she has really blossomed, she’s skipping her way through the piano books and I am thrown back to a time when music was a major part of my life. This afternoon I was listening to some Chopin which always makes my fingers itchy. I rolled back the lid to the piano and felt my way through the pieces I used to know so well.

After all these years, I could pick them back up, but with a new understanding. I could hear the rhythm I always missed, trying to change a passage into a tripelet instead of the marching sixteenth notes. I understood why my piano teacher always bemoaned the clicking of my nails across the keyboard, now I realize how cumbersome they make playing.

My fingers are weak, but they remember the way. And, although I had to stop when Isaac decided it was his turn, I felt like I had brought back a piece of myself that was missing for a long time.

I wish music didn’t feel like it belonged to another life, but much like the passions of our youth, they get put aside when we decide we no longer have time for childish pursuits. If our hobbies don’t get us anywhere, we often drop them.

I like that as I near the middle point of life, I am embracing the things I put in a box when I was a teenager. Writing, music, and even dreaming. Back then I labeled the box, unrealistic dreams and only opened it when I felt a little nostalgia waving over me.

But today, I understand the dreams of our youth, are just good for the soul. I may not be a master musician like I dreamed,

But I can play, so I should.

If, of course, I can wrestle the piano away from the kids.

What did you used to do in a past life?

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Going out on a Limb

I have never been great at trying hard things. In my youth, I would pick the path I knew I could travel successfully, I picked the classes I knew I could ace, and I tried to stay out of situations I couldn’t control the outcome.

Cancer changed all that for me.

It was the first time I couldn’t take a path other than the one set in front of me. I had to have surgery, I had to have radiation, I had to go months without synthroid. The only way through the hard stuff, was down the path I didn’t want to go.

But that experience changed me. I learned I could do the hard thing even when I didn’t want to. And since then, I have stopped avoiding the painful path, because I know that is where the most happiness lies.

 

 

This month I had to go out on a limb. I want to finish my book, but I couldn’t. The voice I had been writing in wasn’t mine and I had to scrap everything I had written and restart it. As soon as I decided this, I got a call from an organization I have been waiting to volunteer with. Out of the fifteen hours a week I have to write, six will now go to reading to kids. And it is the time of year I need to get serious about my half marathon training, or Goofy will have to pull me in to the finish line in February. My precious mornings are full of the three things that are most important to me.

The easy path would be to get rid of one of the above. But, I have already pared my morning life down to the necessities; service, writing, and running. I have slowly divested my life of things I liked to do in order to make room for these three important things.

So I am taking the hard path. The one that requires a lot of faith and a lot of courage. The path that pushes me out of controlling everything and onto the one that allows me to ask for help from my family. The path that says life doesn’t have to be perfect to get things done. I may not have three hours in the morning to write anymore, but I have an hour every afternoon while Margo is in quiet time. I have weekends and evenings where I can ask Michael to step in.

Running, I just have to shift the days and realize those are the days I have to run. No more scheduling things when I should be running and no more, “Eh, I’ll run tomorrow.”

And volunteering, that is what fits in the space I made by readjusting my writing and running. I know I made the right choice, because of the little girl who before she left the waiting room gave me a big hug and said, “Thanks.”  And all I had done was be present. That’s why I am readjusting my life. Because of that.

I trust, I believe, I hope and I have courage.

That’s all I can do, and I know it’s enough.

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I heart Cleveland

I consider myself a Clevelander. I’ve been here for almost 14 years. I’ve lived through the winters, the world class health facilities healed my cancer, I’ve worked in the city, lived in the inner ring burbs, mourned when we lost another business, I’ve seen the hungry kids, frustration at lack of work. Most importantly I see the hope that Cleveland will overcome its past and be an example of another rust belt city making good.

I love Cleveland.

The one thing that makes me unCleveland is: I don’t idolize LeBron. It is cool he is back, he seems like a good man, but he is a man. He is a man perched on a pedestal that is so high, so narrow, and so thin it could fall any minute. The problem with idols is when they fall it hurts everyone around them.

LeBron revitalized the Cavs, but can he revitalize a city?

I should shut down my social media today and open it back up sometime when everyone isn’t posting about his return. The signs, the shirts, the commercials, it makes my heart crumple. He’s a great basketball player and I respect him. Other people in his position have done bad things with their fame and fortune. He keeps a level head.

But he is just a man. A man who can play basketball. But he isn’t the city.

I don’t want to see his banners, I don’t want to hear about the celebrities descending on Cleveland to see him play. I don’t want to hear about how he is going to pull Cleveland back from the brink. Does Cleveland only matter if the King is here to play?

He really is just a man who can play basketball, he can’t revitalize a city.

The only people who can revitalize Cleveland are the people in Cleveland. The teachers, the parents, the government officials, the thinkers, the creatives, the entrepreneurs.

The kids.

The people who love this place and don’t leave when a better offer comes. The people who are trying to find a way to make a city relevant again. The people who are fixing up the lakefront and taking it back to the people. The people who are working hard to find a way to take care of the blight infecting this great city.

Because Cleveland is an incredible place to live. I love the diversity, the schools, the colleges, the arts and culture, the parks, even the pro sports teams, the restaurants, the beer.

THE BEER.

and the pierogies

But most importantly, the people.

The people are what I love most about this city. In my inner ring burb I can walk down the street and hear a myriad of languages, cultures, lifestyles. There’s just something special about Cleveland that I haven’t seen elsewhere. We may grumble about the weather, the slow slide to craptitude that happens every fall, the sports teams that always miss it by a little, and the potholes. Despite all that, Cleveland is an incredible place to live and raise a family.

Last night my husband and I made our way downtown through the rain. We drink liters of beer while listening to a polka band and singing along to Neil Diamond, Jimmy Buffet and whoever else came up next. People were standing on their chairs singing and dancing, the buzz was so loud Michael and I couldn’t even talk. When we were sat at a table of strangers a voice called out, “Hey Mike and Jessica”

What city can you go downtown and run into people like it is a smalltown. I’ll tell you where,

Cleveland.

This city doesn’t need, the KING, it needs people. People who are already here, dreaming big and working hard to rebuild this city. It’s fun to watch LeBron play and he’s doing great things in the Akron schools. He cares.

And sports teams do benefit cities. But can a sports team alone save a city?

Remember, LeBron is a basketball player, and although he cares about Cleveland, he is not a city builder.

Basketball doesn’t educate, it doesn’t feed, it doesn’t clothe, it doesn’t keep a warm roof over kids’ heads, it doesn’t get rid of the 12,000 abandoned buildings in Cleveland.

12,000 abandoned buildings. Just Cleveland.

Basketball is a game that entertains. But it doesn’t build. It doesn’t heal. It doesn’t change lives. It’s just fun to watch.

Where’s the banner for the organizations getting people off the streets into homes of their own?

The banner for the people teaching kids to read, tutoring them into greatness?

Where’s the banner for all those Clevelanders who keep this city going by adding opportunities and changing lives?

Those are the people we should celebrate. Those are the people who deserve the party. Like LeBron we shouldn’t idolize them, but we should thank them.

LeBron, is a nice guy who plays basketball. He’s a neat guy and for someone who because so famous at such a young age, I along with the world am impressed. I am glad he is back where he feels he belongs. Cleveland loves him and the energy in the city is palpable. We all love LeBron. I get it. I welcome him back because he must also see the promise Cleveland brings. The reasons why it is so great.

But he isn’t Cleveland.

We are. And sometimes I think we forget we are the ones who can save our city.

 

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Be the example

Since school started I’ve been waking up early, starting the coffee and digging into some personal bible study. It has taken a while to find a study that I can find life application. For a while I used devotionals, but they never went deep enough. And then I followed along with the scripture for a sermon series I listened to while I ran. But I couldn’t keep up. Then one day I found on Facebook a study that gets sent straight to my email. It is a short passage, a 2 minute discussion video and a journaling question. Now, I wake up, put on my SAD light visor (thanks fall!), start the coffee and spend a little time with God,

Of course with 3 kids, it isn’t always just me. Lately, Isaac rises with me and sits patiently at the kitchen table while I rush through the readings and video. But after a week, something started to change.

First he brought his bible. Then he brought a notebook. He asked me what I was writing about and would follow suit.

But today, he got his bible, his notebook and started reading the story of Isaac. And instead of copying what I wrote, he started writing down questions.

Why did Isaac have to be sacrificed?

How old was Sarah, really?

Why were they so happy when Isaac was born?

At first when Isaac started following me in my morning quiet time, I was irritated. I needed those 30 minutes to wake up, refresh and prepare myself for the day. And today it hit me. Because I set a clear boundary, he had to sit quietly, I allowed him a little insight into how I live my life. After observing it, he took my lead but made it his own.

How cool is that?

I want his faith to be his own. Not what he is fed at church, not what I tell him at home, but his beliefs based on his time with God. What a gift!

There is so much we hide from our kids. Important stuff that we want them to get. We want them to read, but only read ourselves when they are tucked in bed. We want them to clean the house, but only tackle our difficult jobs when they are at school. We want them to believe, but hide our faith in the early morning hours before they are awake.

If we want to impart a way of living to our kids, we can’t just tell them about it. We have to show them.

For me God is important. He is a center when the world whirls around me. I can take my kids to church, take them to Sunday School, and say a prayer every night at dinner, but unless they see me live out my faith,

they won’t understand how important it is.

Figuring out what he believes among all the noise of the world is hard, the least I can do is highlight the path so it isn’t more difficult than it needs to be. He is going to believe something when he becomes an adult. All of us have a worldview, the least I can do is show him mine and let he and God do the rest.

If you are interested in starting personal bible study, check out this website IF:Gathering What I love about the study is it starts with the question If. If this is true, what does it say about God, me and the world. Shouldn’t we all, regardless of what we believe, start with the question If this is true.

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Moving Forward

 

What is your favorite quote?

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Run and Release

There are some runs I feel the weight of my 37 years; every bad decision, every anxious moment, every missed opportunity and every dissipated dream. Those are bad runs. My feet are stuck in the past, dragging me to a place I can’t change.

There are some runs I wrestle between the old and the new me. I oscillate between the can’t do attitude of the past and the can do of my present and future. My body untangles itself with each step, but keeps getting pulled back in. I look like a wind puppet twisting and turning with the wind.

Then there are the runs I break free. I shed who I was and embrace who I thought I couldn’t be. I don’t look at the ground and grit through each step. The pain I feel in my hip, my lungs, my back don’t keep me from moving forward. I gather all that bad and all that good and I throw it up into the sky in praise. Right then, right there I feel peace.

People joke that running is their therapy. I wish it was, I could save myself a lot of money. Running isn’t my therapy, but it unlocks a lot of things I tamp down the rest of the day. The anxiety that doesn’t show when I am around other people, the hurt, the doubt, the confusion. But running doesn’t keep me there in that low place. As I push myself harder I can’t stay there. The stress bubbles out. Running brings to light the things I don’t want to confront at 3 am, but there they are. At the end of a run I hold all that crap I thought about and I have a decision to make. I can take that ball of crazy and put it back inside. Back into a place I feel it, but not see it. A place that keeps trying to push it out while I keep trying to push it back in. Or, I can take that ball and throw it to God. Get it out of my hands so it isn’t inside any more. It is out there where I can look at it from a distance and ask for help to fix it. Even if you don’t believe in God, you have to release that crazy. Throw it into the universe.

When I let it go, that is the runner’s high.

There are some days I feel all of my 37 years. For a long period in my life I spent a lot of time and money trying not to feel that. But I want to feel those 37 years. If I didn’t feel it, I wouldn’t ever know the elation that comes with letting it go.

Running just helps push it to the surface.

 

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Time for a little writing

My trusty notebook that I always forget to bring with me.

I hit a wall, creatively speaking that is. I lost my mojo, my confidence, the ability to write coherent sentences. I suddenly found more insight from internet trolls than my own words. For the past two weeks I sat and stared at my computer screen, notebook, or the sky waiting for inspiration to strike. Words were elusive. Ideas were shot down before they took off and I descended deep into the cone of shame.

I couldn’t even write blog posts.

The thing about writing, creative pursuits, or hell, life in general is the moment confidence cracks the whole wall crumbles. I couldn’t write, because I didn’t think I could write. Not a fun place to be.

Last night I was in a funk. It was date night, so that made the first hour lots of fun for my husband. It must be horrible to watch someone being sucked into a vortex of shame, and every line he threw to pull me out, I threw back

At his head.

And then he said, “Why don’t you work on something different?”

My lips quivered with a retort, like I haven’t thought of that. But wait. I haven’t.

He’s on to something.

I keep trying to rework the stories I had. But what if I tried something different. I don’t remember if he joked about it, or what, but the idea of a screenplay latched on to my brain like a parasite of hope.

A screenplay. Huh?

I could write a screenplay. I love dialog, it makes me feel productive, and I don’t have to worry about pesky grammar, showing vs telling, or how to portray emotions on the face without telling the reader what the heck is on a person’s face.

Scripts you can just write what the character does in parentheses. No need to wax poetic. If the character eats a sandwich you get to write “Ed eats a sandwich”

Ingenious.

My brain no longer got stuck on where to put the stupid commas. Or how to punctuate the dialog tag. Or what the character was thinking while he ate the sandwich. All I had to do was open my head and dig out the story. Screenwriting pulled me out of the whirlpool of doubt I found myself in.

I can write a story. I can write dialog. This allows me to put them together without worrying about the tiny details that plague a writer’s mind.

I’m not saying I am now trying to write movies. But, getting out of my fiction head for a while allowed me to see I know how to tell  a story. A screenplay is an awesome outline for a book without being dragged down by all the things that throw me into a whirlwind of shame.  Whirlwind, whirlpool, vortex- see how bad it was?

Don’t stop doing something because you think you can’t at that moment. Step outside your head and change the venue.  For a day, week or month, get out of the rut with something new. It will provide the perspective, space, and courage you need to follow a dream.

Now, time for a little writing.

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Cold Snap

I am not really a fall, winter or spring person. The fact that I consider temperatures under 60 degrees a cold snap should tell you something. And you can laugh, but those seasons bring icy fingers that reach under my skin and keep me at a steady temperature of freezing until the sun pushes away the wind and keeps me on the safe side of warm.

But fireplace fires, that is something I do appreciate about these cold seasons. Wood smoke curling around the room while the flames lick the corners. Everyone descends on the living room but does their own thing. Legos tumble together and morph from inanimate objects into the imagined. The metronome tocks in the background, while I curl up under a blanket and devour a book.

 

When it is cold we slow down, turn inward and rest.

There’s something about a warm fire on a cold day that makes the rest of the schedule seem unimportant. These moments aren’t perfect. As soon as I stand up I will step on a lego, and bite my tongue to keep from swearing. The metronome’s steady beat will tock its way into annoyance, setting my misyphonia on edge, and the kids will erupt into fighting. At least once every 17 minutes, just like the statistics say they will. But for 17 blissful minutes by the fire I can breath, exhale and accept the cold temperatures for what they bring, the family together even if the quiet only lasts 17 minutes.

I like that.

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