Thursday, July 14, 2016

Happy birthday, McKenna!

July 14th, 2016

Dear McKenna,

Oh, my sweet girl.  You continue to break my heart with your unstoppable march through adolescence.  Twelve years ago today you changed my world forever, expanded my heart to a size I couldn't begin to comprehend was possible; you have brought me happiness beyond my greatest expectations every single day since you were first placed in my arms. 




At this time last year, I was trying desperately to prepare your heart and mine for the potential pain that I was so fearful you might endure as a first year middle school student.  What is with my constant projection?  Why do I always prepare for the worst?  I can't answer either of those questions, and I certainly can't promise that I'll stop doing it because it's as much a part of who I am as your beautiful, thick, wavy hair is a trademark of yours.  What I do know, as I've learned over and over again, is that I had nothing to worry about.  In fact, I would say you've encountered quite the opposite this year.  All who love you have always known that you are a bit of an old soul, a kiddo wise beyond your years, and that's never been more evident to me than this last 365 days with you.   

 

You tackled this past year with a vengeance from the get-go. Although you entered your 11th year of life with some trepidation for what might lie ahead, you never let that fear hold you back.  In fact, I think you used that fear to fuel you.  You auditioned for the school musical within the first couple of weeks of school and made it.  You tried out for the school cheer squad and made it.  You auditioned again for a mixed high and middle school revue and made it.  Every single goal you set for yourself you accomplished, and with each achievement our pride grew by leaps and bounds.  In all those efforts you demonstrated an incredible work ethic while also maintaining all your other school, home, and extra curricular responsibilities and that was even more rewarding for me than the joy that poured out of me as I watched you doing what you love.  You worked so hard to achieve big things, and it was an honor to be by your side wiping away tears (almost always mine and always tears of extreme pride and joy) and cheering you on along the way. 


I think more than ever you have fostered a peace within you that has made you seem even more mature.  It seems as though during this last year you have figured out what makes you happy, and you're not afraid to pursue those endeavors even if it means striking out on your own.  You love participating in musicals, band, and cheer.  You don't let the opinions of others dictate or interfere with the activities that you find the most fulfilling.  As a result, you've been required to step outside of your comfort zone at times and have been rewarded exponentially because of that courage. "Fearless" has not been an adjective I would have used to describe you in the past, but I think it might be an appropriate descriptor now.  I've seen you embody a confidence I didn't know you possessed this past year, and each time it's left me in awe of your strength and courage.  You are so brave in so many ways, McKenna, and it's become one of the traits that I admire the most about you.



In addition to doing what makes you happy, you've also done a pretty remarkable job of pinpointing WHO makes you happy.  You have always been a very inclusive kid, willing to include any and every person, and this continue to hold true.  Your heart and your mind are open to everyone, and your kindness and compassion are without a doubt your most admirable and obvious strengths in the long list of things that make you an incredible human being. That being said, you've shown that you like to keep your circle of trust small, another indicator that you are socially wise beyond your years.  Since you were a baby you have always been someone who processes everything quietly then surprises us at random with very astute observations.  As you've gotten older this is a skill you continue to possess and fine tune.  In our conversations, it seems like you have a very secure idea of where you belong in the social landscape of middle school, and you very quietly and keenly try to figure out where everyone else belongs too.  Those friends that you let into your circle have no idea how lucky they are to have you by their side.  One of my ongoing hopes for you is that you are loved and cared for by friends who are as true and faithful to you as you are them. 


We were talking in the car one day, and you said something so completely unselfish in regards to your friends that it brought me to tears.  I couldn't think of anything to say in that moment other than, "You are so sweet," and your very innocent response was, "Yeah, people tell me that a lot".  And it's so true; you have one of the sweetest, most pure souls of anyone I have ever known.  I will be the first to admit - embarrassingly so - that I have probably acted more like a middle school girl in terms of your peer relationships this year than you have.  There have been just a couple of instances, but in those times I've been so worried that you would feel excluded or hurt or deceived because of the actions of some of those who are included in your social circle.  While I have obsessed over those moments, you have consistently demonstrated a quiet peace.  You seem unphased by the questionable actions of others and patiently listen as I feel the need to attempt to explain their possible motives.  You know that the thoughts and opinions of others do not correlate to your own self-worth, and that alone will save you a great deal heartache in the future.  You can separate what's happening between friends from your individual relationships with the involved parties, and you have shown a knack for knowing when to be supportive and when to butt out.  At your age I always felt like a mediator between feuding friends, torn and conflicted; you seem to have found a way to guard your heart and mind while remaining completely engaged yet neutral.  You are friendly to all but trusting of very few.  And if someone has a secret and they want to tell someone that will keep it locked tight?  Oh man, you are SO the person to go to.  In these ways you're a lot like your dad, and this will serve you well in life.  You have a great compassion for others, but you also seem to know that staying true to yourself is as important as caring for others.


Elaina asked me yesterday if I'm sad that you're turning 12 today, and I really wasn't sure how to answer her.  Does it kill me to know that in only two years you'll be getting ready to start high school?  That in four you'll be driving away without me?  That in six years there's a good chance you'll be setting out on your own?  It does.  It makes me feel short of breath and kind of sick to my stomach.  But at the same time, it is so fulfilling to continue to watch as you come into who you have always been destined to be; the knowledge that I have the honor to be a part of your life as you continue to accomplish great things is as exhilarating as it is terrifying.


So, I'm torn.  I'm sad that the days of rocking you to sleep are long gone.  On almost a daily basis I look at you when you walk into the room and sit in wonder, dumbfounded at how it's possible this gorgeous young lady was once my baby with the big blue eyes, wide toothless smile, and tiny pigtails. I'm still surprised by the fact that you are almost as tall as I am.  When you come in a for a hug now you lean your head against mine because you're too tall to burrow into my neck like you used to do.  But I am so incredibly thrilled to watch you march forward in life.  With each passing day you create memories - whether generated by nursing wounds from defeat or celebrating hard earned victories - of your own that contribute to this incredible journey that is your life.  And as always, either in moments of pain or pride, I hope you know that I'm by your side every step of the way.  You are my heart, my joy, my constant reminder of how much light and love there is left untapped in this crazy world.  I am confident that in the following days and years you will continue to share your love and incredible soul with all those you encounter leaving them better people for having known and loved you, much as you have done for me over the last 12 years.


I love you more than you will ever know, my beautiful McKenna Grace.  Thank you for always loving me right back.

Mom

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Happy Birthday, Elaina!

April 19th, 2016

Dear Elaina,

Today marks an entire decade of life with you, ten years of laughter and adventure and drama and countless moments that have left me both mesmerized and bewildered at your amazing spirit.

                         

For years I tried to convince you and your sister to read the Harry Potter series with me. You both refused at each request, telling me that you don't like Harry Potter and that magic is dumb. One evening I convinced you to give me three chapters - if you still weren't interested in the story at the end of three chapters, I'd never ask you to read it again. As I read the final word of the first chapter, I looked up and locked eyes with you. Without hesitation and with all seriousness you said, "Keep reading". You were hooked, as I knew you would be, and your love (and obsession) for all things related to Harry Potter's world only continues to grow. In light of this, I thought it would be fitting to use some of the most memorable quotes from the Harry Potter series as the framework for your annual birthday letter. I feel like I'm pretty good with expressing myself in words, but no one can outdo the master, J.K. Rowling.


"We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy."


For as much as you change year to year, there have always been some traits that have remained constants.  One of those constants for you in your quick burn to frustration. Nothing makes you more irritated than being faced with something that doesn't come to you easily and immediately.  Whether it's homework (math is your sworn enemy if you can't instantly grasp the concept), or the latest tumbling skill you're trying to teach yourself, or a lego kit, or painting your nails . . . if you don't get it right the first time, you might as well declare it the end of the world.  There are so many things that do come easily to you, and I think that's why you find so much frustration when you run into the rare things that don't. I've said it over and over, but I'll repeat it again:  I wish you had as much faith in yourself as I do in you.  I have never once doubted that you are capable of great and amazing things in this life, and one of my wishes for you is that you see that you possess this trait in abundance.  Not all things in life will be easy, but the reward that you receive at the sense of accomplishment when you work to achieve that goal is one I hope you experience again and again.  I hope as you continue to grow and mature you find the value in putting in the extra effort, sometimes skipping the "easy" way and extending yourself in a way you didn't even know was possible.  There's so much more out there when you're willing to go the extra mile. Take your tenacity and put it to work.

“You sort of start thinking anything’s possible if you’ve got enough nerve.”


You've always been a great storyteller, and in the past year you were honored for your efforts at the Starved Rock region Young Author's Celebration.  It was amazing to sit with you, to watch you absolutely beaming with pride at your accomplishment.  You have always had a swagger about you, a kind of quiet (and sometimes, even still, not so quiet) confidence that I've always admired.  As you get older, I've found myself more and more projecting my own lack of confidence toward you.  I need to stop this; hesitation to let you try new things comes solely from my attempts to protect you from rejection or disappointment, and even if this protection comes from a place of love, I need to let go and let you experience life as you seek it.  Why should I show fear if you don't?  So many times since you've come into my life I've wished I could be more like you.  Having the nerve to put yourself out there, to do your thing regardless of what others will think or how they'll react, is something I have forever admired about you.

"It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."


Life is full of choices, and it pleases me to no end to watch you grow into a young lady who has become a master at finding balance between bursts of spontaneity and well thought out, calculated decisions.  You are always surprising me, Elaina.  Just when I think I have you figured out you peel away another layer to reveal a side of yourself that I never knew existed. I've always considered you a do-er, a reactionary type of kid who jumps first and considers the consequences in the free fall.  But in this last year especially you have shown a deeper side.  You have demonstrated numerous times that you are actually ALWAYS thinking, ALWAYS contemplating the effects of Decision A and how that might differ if you decide instead to go with Option B.  You are developing such a responsible side that, again, brings me so much happiness as your mom.  

When I look at this picture from our trip to South Dakota, I can hear your contagious giggle and remember the joy that radiated from your body during this short moment in time.  You were hesitant to even get out of the car on this portion of our drive through Needles Highway - the heights that we were at were a little unsettling to you, my typically brave daughter.  When you saw, though, the opportunity to feed some nearly domesticated ground squirrels you pushed that fear aside, stepped out of the van, and walked up to the guardrail with all the confidence that state park could hold.   The fear was gone, replaced with confidence and a quiet determination to experience something you had never experienced before.  I come back to this picture often and smile every time, my heart warmed by this moment where I will forever remember you being so genuinely happy to have pushed yourself past fear to experience something so memorable.  I hope you carry a piece of that memory with you too.

“I am what I am, an’ I’m not ashamed. ‘Never be ashamed,’ my ol’ dad used ter say, ‘there’s some who’ll hold it against you, but they’re not worth botherin’ with.”


For all the sweet and kind and tender hearted moments you show, no one who knows you will be surprised to see you still embracing the other side of our spunky Elaina Rae.  In past years you've cried, almost broken hearted, as you worry that people don't like you for who you are.  You've told me before that you have tried to change to make other people happy, and I've done everything I could to convince you to never change anything about you for anyone.  Well, I think those pleas have started to take root.  You wear dresses when everyone else is going ultra casual.  You expertly apply eye shadow and mascara before leaving for volleyball practice.  You hold fast and true to your love of Harry Potter when every single one of your friends tell you that those books and movies are boring.  You put on hot pink lipstick even though I hate it and tell you that it's not your color (and of course you put it on anyway because, duh, what do I know?  Of course hot pink is your color, how could I ever think otherwise). 

There are definitely moments when I feel like maybe I've broken your spirit over the years, but I know breaking a spirit as strong as yours would be impossible.  And for that, I'm so very grateful.  You do you, girl, always and forever because even when I roll my eyes in your direction and mutter under my breath, "Oh, that girl" my heart is soaring that you continue to be 100% authentically who you are and who you were always meant to be.  


“But you know, happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”


Yesterday I got in the car to leave for school and was startled to see you sitting in the seat next to me, tears pouring down your face.  When I asked what was wrong, I was expecting a standard response about being tired, or that you were worried about taking the state required PARCC tests this week.  Instead you told me between sobs that you didn't want to turn ten years old.  You were distraught, saying, "Life is just moving to fast.  I feel like moments are slipping away and time is just going so, so fast.  I don't want to get older!". I was a little taken aback, mostly because just five days earlier you were literally dancing in the kitchen with excitement about this double digit birthday.  I get it though, I really do.  Life is moving fast.  As I was scanning through pictures of you for this letter I couldn't believe how much you have grown.  You are my baby, and to think that today you turn ten years old is just as unsettling to me as it was to you yesterday.  Where does the time go?  How do we get it to stop moving so quickly?

I tried my best to calm your worries.  I talked about making the most out of every single day. The years do go by in the blink of an eye, but when you make every minute count it brings so much meaning into each day.  So much of what happens to us or around us it out of our control, but it's how we respond that makes all the difference.  You are my light, Elaina.  You have, from the second you entered this world, been my sunshine on dark days.  You bring so much happiness to our family.  It's YOU who has taught ME the lesson I tried to convey to you yesterday morning as I held your hand on the way to school.  I learned about making my own happiness even when the world around you is anything but through watching and loving you.  Find the light within yourself when you are surrounded by darkness, Elaina, and let it lead you to happiness.  Follow it to make the most of every moment, and instead of looking back on the past that's flying by us with sadness or regret you'll finding yourself smiling and grateful for the opportunities to experience it all.

“Ah, music,” he said, wiping his eyes. “A magic beyond all we do here!”


In December you announced that you were going to try out for the school musical, Annie. Not only were you going to try out for a part, you were going for Miss Hannigan.  I'm not going to lie.  I didn't think you'd get the part, mostly because you're only a fourth grader but also because I've heard you sing and that skill isn't one I'd put under the "strengths" column when discussing all the things you are capable of based on what I'd heard over the past nine years.  The day that parts were going to be announced, I started the classic mom move of preparing you for bad news.  I was fully confident you'd get a part in the play, but when I explained that the main roles typically go to fifth graders and gently inquired if you'd be okay with a smaller part you very plainly and boldly stated, "No.  I want to be Miss Hannigan".  Remember when I said earlier in this letter that my lack of confidence is about me?  That I tend to project my own fears in my attempt to protect you? Well, let's just chalk up the Miss Hannigan audition process to an excellent example of one of those moments.  

You got the part.  You set a goal, you did it on your own, and you came sprinting down the hallway and burst through my classroom door with more excitement than I knew your body was capable of producing on the day you found out you'd accomplished what you set out to do.  And oh my God, Elaina, if there's ever been a more perfect casting than you as that character I've never seen it.  You were ADAMANT about not rehearsing any lines or your solo with us at home - "No spoilers!" - and I was panicked.  What if she doesn't sing on key? What if she doesn't really know her lines?  Again, projected fears.  My own severe lack of confidence.  I was once again reminded that I should never, ever doubt you because you KILLED IT.  You walked across that stage for the first time like a seasoned pro.  I cried through your entire first scene.  I was floored when you walked alone to center stage and sang your solo with a voice so bold, so confident, so sure, so proud that the memory of it still brings goosebumps.  I laughed at your bravado, I cried some more when I'd receive text messages during your solo telling me what I already knew - that you were awesome.  I am proud of so many things that you've done, but my heart literally felt like it was going to burst watching you own that stage, a place we've known very early on that you'd be right at home. Born a performer, to see you in this role finally come to life this spring was a magical moment.

“We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”


I feel like my messages to you stay the same year after year, but they continue to hold true. Continue to dance in the middle of stores if you hear a song that you love because it makes me happy to know you have a lightness in your heart that makes you able to be so free. Believe in yourself even when others don't, because you are capable of anything.  You've proved that over and over again.  Stay true to who you are because you are without a doubt one of the most amazing people I have ever had the privilege of knowing.  Never stop believing in magic, because belief and faith in that which we cannot see will bring you an inner peace that nothing else can replicate.  Continue to love with your whole heart, demonstrating kindness and compassion and gratefulness to friends and strangers alike.  

Take the light and fire that burns within you and share it with the world.  What we all need more of is the spirit that you embody.  You will change the world, Elaina.  Thank you for starting with me.

I love you so very much Lainie Rae, my sweet baby girl.



Always,
Mom





Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Eleven

July 14, 2015

Dear McKenna,

Today you turn eleven years old, and this year more than any other I can feel the world shift with the dawn of this next year of life.  Every day holds so much opportunity and adventure, and on the first day of your eleventh year I sit and ponder all the new things that you will face and conquer in the coming 365 days.


This past year you have continued to show the world your kindness and compassion to anyone who crosses your path.  You have the biggest heart of anyone I've ever met.  You accept people for who they are and find the good in everyone you meet; you love unconditionally and ask for nothing in return.  I've said it before, and I will continue to say it to anyone who will listen:  we could fix everything that is broken in this world if people treated each other in the same way you do. 


It's no secret that you are entering a time of life that I have dreaded for years.  It's not fair to push my own anxieties and worries onto you, and I've tried really hard to prepare you for this next phase of life without clouding your innocence with my own paranoia.  Since the day I became your mom I've been reminded over and over again that parenting is a constant balancing act.  In this case, I'm hoping that I've prepared you for the complexities of friendship, the expectations that comes with increased independence, and the responsibilities that will continue to shift from your dad and I to you as you enter these middle school years without pushing you toward fear and apprehension.  Some days I think I do better than others, like most things in life, and on those days when I'm not on my game I hope I haven't scarred you too deeply.


There have been many discussions between us at home and with some of your teachers at school about girl drama.  Toward the end of last year, as predicted and right on schedule, you started navigating the waters of this exact thing.  Your heart is so pure and your spirit is so innocent that the thought of deceit, mistrust, and mind games among people you consider friends is beyond your scope of imagination.  So far you play the role that I always imagined you would given your personality - you are the middle man, the peacemaker, the negotiator.  You try to keep everyone else happy and work to fix feuding friends' fall outs.  You've already seen how quickly one friend can turn on the other and while it upset you to watch you handled it with grace, stepping back when you knew the issue was bigger than something you could fix with your "love one another" nature.


We had a conversation a couple of weeks ago that just about broke my heart. Fighting back tears, you came to me one night feeling hurt because of some unkind words your sister and her friend said to you.  They were playing a game and thought you were in on it too, and even though you were aware of their role playing, hearing them call you "ugly" and "nerd" cut you deep.  We talked about how they didn't really mean those things, that you know without doubt that your sister thinks you are one of the smartest and most beautiful girls she knows, but still the tears came.  I also tried to reassure you that even if they DID mean to hurt you with their words you are so much more than the labels people might try to pin on you.  I attempted to drive home the point that it's not what others think of you that matters, but how you see yourself that is important.  You nodded, indicating that you understood this, but still the tears.


Finally, the root of your sadness was revealed when you shared with me, "I'm scared to start middle school, and I've never been afraid to start a new school year.  I'm just so afraid that I'm going to be the first target".  I think it was probably pretty obvious how much it hurt my heart to hear you say this.  Despite my best efforts to be strong for you, tears filled my own eyes and I had to swallow hard to speak around the giant knot that had formed in my throat.  Hearing you admit these fears, the same ones that I have for you, was like a punch to the gut.  I felt breathless and heartbroken for you finally realizing that you had been harboring these feelings.  The last thing I want for you as you start this next exciting chapter of your life is to enter it with fear.  I told you that night that spending every day anticipating something unpleasant that may or may not happen is no way to live no matter how old you are.  I want you to walk into that middle school on your first day of school confident and ready to take on anything that comes your way.  I want that for you in everything you do from now to the end of time.  And more than anything, I want you to know that no matter what happens your dad and I will be right behind you, cheering you on when you soar and picking you up when you fall.  You said to me toward the end of that conversation, "I know I'll be okay as long as I always have my two best friends with me".  You're right that the support of true friends can make everything easier, but I want to drive home the point I countered with again.  You are going be okay because you are strong.  You have the strength within you to get through anything, McKenna.  I see it in you, and I hope you see it in yourself.  If you always stay true to yourself you can never go wrong.


I love your sense of adventure.  I love your laid back attitude.  I love that you are easy going and agree to almost anything.  I love that you offer me comfort when I am supposed to be comforting you.  I love that you aren't afraid to lean in for hugs and kisses in any place, in front of everyone.  I love that you give so much love to others.  I love that others see you for who you are because you are so open to them. 


My wishes for you this year are simple.  Be true to yourself.  Take risks.  Don't be afraid to put yourself first.  Be your own advocate.  Work hard and, most of all, have fun.  Life is too short to worry about the "what ifs".  Live for today!


You make me proud to be your mom every single day.  I love who you are, who you are becoming, and who you someday will be.  Your laughter makes my heart swell with happiness, and the love you give to me confirms that even on my bad days I'm still doing an okay job as your mom.  Thank you for always reassuring me in so many little ways that I'm not screwing up too spectacularly and for reminding me daily that the joy and blessing of being your mom is the most precious gift I have ever been given. I love you more than you will ever know, my sweet girl.


All my love always and forever,
Mom

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Travel Blog: Day 2

We left the hotel before 8 am and made our first stop at the Lewis and Clark Overlook rest stop at the Missouri River.  Very picturesque and informative, and a great place to stretch our legs.





Immediately after leaving the rest area the scenery started to change.  Next stop was Badlands National Park and could be best described as unique, beautiful, and hot.  Fittingly the Badlands was the site of Elaina's first mini panic attack over what she deemed to be larger than life wasps that were surely put on this Earth for no other reason than to attack her personally.  A little social thinking size-of-the-problem talk brought her down off the ledge.  She claimed the Badlands were as hot as the desert, and she sat in the far back of the van reading her Dork Diary book through most of the journey.  McKenna was intrigued from start to finish, always the eager adventurer.







Following the Badlands it was on to our cabin.  We arrived, unpacked, and saw our first South Dakota thunderstorm, and then headed out to dinner and more site seeing.  Mount Rushmore!!!







We walked the Presidential Trial, realized we were at a significantly higher altitude rather quickly, and settled in for the night lighting of the monument.  In a majestic fashion, the approaching rain clouds finally reached our location and opened up just as the monument was illuminated.  Bucket list item complete!

I realized last night that updating daily might be an issue.  I guess it's not really a bad thing when your days are so jam packed with adventure that there's not enough time or energy left in the day to talk about it.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Travel Log: Day 1

Departure went as planned.  Two stops for fuel (one for us, one for the van) and two bathroom stops only delayed us by an hour.  We've named the Town & Country's onboard navigation system (his name is Moses as he will surely lead us to the promised land, never mind Dad's biblical lesson that Moses never actually made it to his intended destination), and he's been both entertaining and informative.

We started the trip today with reciting of the Complaint Jar Pledge and so far my mom is the only one to have to contribute a dollar for an infraction.  The gastrointestinal unpleasantries of others really brings out the worst in her.



The girls have added three new states to their lists of places visited, and they were unbelievable travelers.  They unwind at rest stops with short walks and gymnastics on the lawn, and the hotel water park was a big hit for letting off nine hours of pent up energy.  As of the end of today, I'd take them anywhere.  They were amazing.


So far here's what I've gathered about South Dakota:  the speed limit is 80 which is awesome, and the smell of cattle is strong.  Tomorrow we watch for some serious change in landscapes as we drive to our cabin in the Black Hills.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Black Hills Or Bust

Tomorrow we head west toward the Black Hills of South Dakota.  The girls, my parents, and me.  I will spend roughly 30 combined hours in a vehicle over the course of six days with these people, straddling the roles of daughter and mother, trying desperately to keep everyone happy and entertained.  I am super pumped.  McKenna is excited.  My mom is optimistic.  Elaina and my dad are entering this trip with guarded realism that it will likely not be all sunshine and roses.  Variety is the spice of life, I guess.

Our first destination is Brandon, South Dakota for an overnight stay to recharge, unwind, and release the pent up energy and frustration that will surely accompany our over eight hour car ride.  We will spend the next day touring the Badlands before settling in to our accommodations in Custer, South Dakota.  The tentative itinerary for our trip has a little something for everyone:  sightseeing at national parks, horseback riding, cave exploration, experiences with nature, and eating pie & burgers at the local award winning establishments.  Will this be a vacation of leisure and relaxation?  Probably not, but I can not wait.  It's time to dust off that old Bucket List and make some things happen!

When my cousin, Krissy, and I traveled with our grandparents up the coast of California and Oregon for two weeks, our mothers sent us with notebooks and instructed us to journal each night so we'd always remember what we did that day.  We thought the idea was pretty lame initially but I'm so glad I have that to look back on - and laugh at - now.  So, naturally, what I am requiring of my own daughters on their longest vacation to date?  Oh, yes, that's right.  Neon pink and neon green journals are packed and ready to be filled.  It's going to be really neat to read their perspectives on our adventure.

In keeping with tradition, I will also attempt to use this space to document our experiences along the way. I've had many people ask if I was going to blog about the trip while we're out there.  Apparently I'm not the only one that predicts this trip will have no shortage of blog worthy moments.

The General will be holding down the fort here while we're gone, working by day and doing home repairs by night while also trying to figure out how to operate McKenna's ChromeBook for a few video chat sessions while we're gone.  We are going to miss him while we are gone, but hopefully our "Dad in a Bag" will help alleviate some of the ache.  Pray for us all.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Remembering Miss Mitchell

This morning I woke up to the unexpected news that my kindergarten teacher, Miss Mitchell, had passed away.  It’s been a few years since I’ve seen Miss Mitchell, and I’ll admit that she hasn’t consciously been in my thoughts recently until today.  Have you ever experienced the realization that you didn’t understand how much a person meant to you until they were gone?  I’m going through that today, and the magnitude of her loss is clouding my every thought and action on this otherwise beautiful spring day.

Miss Mitchell was my first teacher, and my mind has been flooded with memories of the time I spent in her classroom.  Miss Mitchell let us have show and tell every Friday.  We could bring in cookies - as long as there was enough to share with everyone, of course - to have with our chocolate milk (except for Ann Weller who always chose white milk, a decision I still question to this very day).  I was puked on during one of those milk and cookie sessions; it’s a very vivid memory.  We stood on mini-risers while singing Christmas carols to our parents during our winter program.  A trip to Brookfield Zoo marked the end of the school year as we took our class field trip.  Miss Mitchell took a first day of school and last day of school picture to mark how much we had changed physically in the span of a school year.  I unintentionally wore the same dress in both pictures, the second picture showing significantly more leg and an altogether more disheveled appearance than the first.  One of the back corners of the room was filled with a play kitchen, the other corner occupied by bookshelves where we pretended to be Inspector Gadget or his niece Penny.  I was kissed by a boy for the first time behind those bookshelves, a memory almost as traumatic as the puke incident.  The front of the room was the station for the piano and toys on one side, Miss Mitchell’s desk facing the door to the classroom on the other side.  We completed our worksheets with fat Crayola crayons, and we let our wet paintings dry on the south wall counter next to the sink.  That classroom felt huge then and in my memory still seems larger than life.  

It’s been almost 31 years since I entered through the door to her classroom at Dwight Grade School for the first time, but it feels like yesterday.  I can remember her reassuring hand on my shoulder when I was uncomfortable or uncertain.  I can remember sitting at her feet, looking up at this woman that I trusted wholly and fully as she read to my classmates and me.  I can remember going on bear hunts.  I can remember the sound of her playing the piano, and I can remember the soothing sound of her voice.  I can remember her handwriting written in perfect teacher penmanship on the chalkboard.  I can remember the sound of her wonderful laugh.  And I can remember the feelings of safety, protection, and love that she transferred to me as she wrapped her arms around me in a hug.  

Being a student in Miss Mitchell’s class is something we carry with us like a badge of honor.  More than any other teacher, when a group of people that attended Dwight schools get talking about “the old days,” at some point the question is always asked:  “Who did you have for a kindergarten teacher?”.  Looking back now, I realize that being able to say that Miss Mitchell was my teacher is a privilege.  She personified everything that a kindergarten teacher should be.  She loved children, that much is obvious.  She was tough when she needed to be but always disciplined with love and compassion, turning every opportunity into a teachable moment.  Miss Mitchell was level headed, calm and fair, and she treated all of her students equally.  She had a passion for learning and she worked hard every day to pass that passion on to the children she was responsible for. She made learning fun - Mr. M has a munching mouth, anyone? - and knew how to keep a room of 20 squirrelly five and six year olds engaged.  Miss Mitchell knew that play was as important as academics and gave us the space to explore in our own environment.  Miss Mitchell’s love of music carried over into the classroom, and she was the first to show me that songs could be important vessels for not only entertainment but also for teaching lessons.  Miss Mitchell valued the importance of friendship and taught us all kindness.  Some of my most important and longest standing friendships formed their roots within her classroom.  The buy in from her students and personal growth they showed year after year was a direct result of her talent and skill as a teacher.

Miss Mitchell was the same age I am now when I was her student.  A year younger, actually.  This is mind boggling to me.  Miss Mitchell never aged.  She looked the same in 1983 as she did the last time that I saw her and all the times in between.  There’s a phenomenon that exists with teachers, especially those that teach at the early elementary levels.  One day we were driving down Mazon Avenue and my mom pointed to a home on the south side of the street and said, “That’s where Miss Mitchell lives”.  I was thoroughly mesmerized by the home and continue to glance at it even now as an adult when I’m driving past.  The thought that my teacher existed in a world anywhere besides school was something I couldn’t begin to imagine.  Why is that?  Why is it so hard for children to imagine their teachers having a life outside of school?  I think in the case of Miss Mitchell it was impossible to believe because she was such a presence in that classroom.  Her existence within the pale yellow cinderblock walls of that kindergarten classroom was larger than life, and to imagine that energy spilling out into the world was probably more than I could comprehend at five years old. She played such a huge role in my life as my teacher.  How could she have the time or energy to be anything else to anyone other than her students?

But I know that she was so much more than a teacher.  She was a friend to many and created lifelong bonds that were formed with her co-workers at DGS.  She was a daughter and sister.  She loved her family, and my heart aches at the void her family are experiencing with her passing.  She influenced not only the lives of her students but also of the parents of those children.  Miss Mitchell no doubt touched the lives of every person lucky enough to cross her path.  She leaves behind a beautiful and powerful legacy that will be remembered for years to come.

I found Miss Mitchell’s Facebook page late today, and I couldn’t think of a more fitting image for her to post as her final message to her friends and family.

mitchell.jpg

My hope is that she realizes that she was exactly this person to hundreds of children.  She made a difference in the life of so many.  I wish that I had taken the opportunity to tell her all of this before she passed, and her loss has prompted me to make sure all of the teachers that played a pivotal role in my life know how much they meant to me.  I pray that Miss Mitchell ended each day knowing that what she did, the words she chose to share, how she treated others, and who she was as a genuine, loving, compassionate person made a difference far beyond anything she could probably ever imagine.  Anita Mitchell made the world a better place by teaching, molding, and loving children into being the best people they could be.  

It’s true what they say:  all you really need to know you learned in kindergarten.  Thank you, Miss Mitchell, for being the one to show me the way.

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