The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a picture book written and illustrated by Eric Carle. It’s pictures and words tell the beautiful story of the lifecycle of a butterfly. It is also a classic representation of change, as the words can be interpreted to explain the different stages and changes that are necessary, yet often unwelcomed in life. Sometimes, aches and pains, known as fears and anxieties, come along with these life transformations.
In many ways, The Very Hungry Caterpillar is the perfect story for the end of a school year. One may look back at how their child has grown and transformed, while others may look ahead with apprehension of what is to come—a new teacher, a new principal, a new school, a new home, a new city, a new set of friends, a family member moving into college, or a family member leaving to start a new career.
Eric Carle’s tiny caterpillar emerged from his egg very hungry and looking for food. Just as in life, we are born with a craving for new learning experiences. Yet sometimes these new experiences are welcomed, while other times they feel forced. Sometimes they excite us; sometimes they scare us. We can then interpret the moral of The Very Hungry Caterpillar to mean that change is inevitable, a constant in our lives. We cannot make time stand still. Perhaps it’s how we adapt and how we help our children adapt to change that sets each of us apart and defines who we are and how we live our lives. Fearing change does now allow us to grow and to share our gifts more fully with the world.
This is a season of change for all of us. In the coming weeks, classroom displays and bulletin boards will be taken down and books will be getting packed up. The closing of a new year excites some children, but also causes stress for others. Help your children process this change in whatever way they that makes sense, but especially by acknowledging and validating their feelings and reassuring them that change brings good things while helping us to grow and learn. Help children to embrace change, turning it into an opportunity for self-discovery and growth, and like the very hungry caterpillar, they will emerge as beautiful butterflies!
Perhaps the greatest book never written is simply called The Gift of Motherhood. Everyone in this church today has been touched in some way by the gift of a mother, whether biological, adoptive, living or deceased. Perhaps it was not until I became a mother almost 22 years ago that I fully understood the gift of motherhood and all the chapters that come along with it.
Chapter 1: There is perhaps nothing more beautiful than the sight of a newborn baby gazing into his mother’s eyes. June 4, 1996, the day that I became a mother. I looked down at the beautiful miracle known as my son and could not help but think, “How can anyone not believe in God?” I saw his innocence, helplessness, and complete dependence upon me, but unlike the shower gifts that filled his nursery, this one precious child did not come with an instruction manual. I wondered if I was really qualified for the job, as I apparently had not taken too many notes during my own infancy and childhood. Leaving the nursing staff on the labor and delivery floor of Resurrection Hospital and heading to our home, felt a bit scary. Little did I know that these feeling of fear and uncertainty would continue to pay visits along my journey of motherhood. It was during these times that I was again reminded of the absence of the instructional manual and the presence of God. I continued to be blessed with one girl and four more boys. I was reminded many times of the words the Angel Gabriel spoke to Mary-“For nothing is impossible with God.” There is really no other way to explain how my children survived those early years with an inexperienced, unqualified mom. Somewhere in the middle of all of this, I began my dive into chapter 2.
Chapter 2: A husband leaves for work and as the door closes behind him, so do all the mother’s hopes and dreams for a successful day. Survival mode creeps in like a thick blanket of fog. Dirty dishes, spilled milk, black sharpie on the furniture, diaper rash ointment on the carpet and the dog, a box of cheerios dumped on the floor, a screaming infant, fighting toddlers, and school-age children that need to be to school on time. Exasperated the mother begins the countdown until the reinforcement returns from work. Fast-forward 9 hours. Reinforcement returns and looking at the chaos asks, “What did you do all day?” or a mother’s all-time favorite, “What’s for dinner?” One day creeps into the next and the mother begins to live for the weekend just as if she were a high school student.
Chapter 3: As the mother moves her children toward independence she works to develop their interests and talents. These extra-curricular activities come with various pieces of equipment that add to the household clutter and make getting out of the house on time increasingly difficult. Finding both cleats, two matching socks, or the current year’s jersey is like finding a needle in a haystack. Will one hard shoe and one soft shoe work for the Irish dance competition? Will last year’s jersey be acceptable for the big game? Which couch cushion is hiding the drumstick or clarinet reed for the evening concert? The articles of dirty clothing begin to resemble the national debt. These activities guarantee that the home will not be organized, dinner will not be on the table by 6, and the mother’s time spent chauffeuring will increase, often upwards of 4 hours per day. She often thinks that she could have driven herself to a quiet, remote location or arrived at a vacation destination, but instead, she spends those hours burning holes in the pavement of a 20-mile radius.
Chapter 4: As the children become more independent, the mother is able to step back and watch the fruits of her labor. She may see a glimmer of hope as her children begin to complete homework without tears, get ready for school without a standoff, and make it through dinner without some sort of physical altercation. Her children begin to receive recognition and compliments in school and in their chosen activities. This makes the carpooling from the previous chapter worth every gallon of gas. Every now and then, the mother smiles with pride and thinks to her, “I am surviving-even without the instruction manual.”
Chapter 5: Before the mother realizes what is happening, the children are ready to fly. They learn to drive, go off to college, secure jobs, and so begins the gradual release. It is everything the mother labored for, yet all that she does not want to accept. A mother begins to look back and long for the earlier chapters that preceded -the baby gazing into her eyes, the smell of a newborn, (perhaps not the sharpie on the wall or the fighting toddlers,) but maybe the absence of a single cheerio on the now all-too-perfect floor. She begins to wonder what she will do with the hours she spent carpooling. Breaks and holidays are faced with a new level of anticipation-a family being complete again.
For me, the rest of the chapters are unknown, although I am certain a few moms here today could draft them so beautifully.
Mothers, we survive each chapter, and all too soon, the challenges become a distant memory. Our personal failures helped to create resiliency and teach our children to be real, to learn from our mistakes.
The traits we model become visible in our own children, as they learn by example. We work hard-our children learn to work hard. We admit our faults-our children learn to admit theirs. We make good choices-our children learn to make good choices. We laugh, our children learn to laugh. We are kind and respectful-our children learn to be kind and respectful. We are accepting-our children learn to be accepting. We have faith-our children learn to have faith. We forgive-our children learn to forgive. We love-our children love. Perhaps the instruction manual was never really necessary after all.
All we needed to do was keep an eye on the greatest role model-The Blessed Mother who will be crowned and adorned with flowers in many Catholic churches during the month of May. As St. Alphonsus Ligouri said, “Such is the will of God that we should have everything through Mary.”
To all the mothers out there, thank you. I know what you do all day! This upcoming week of school celebrations, Pinterest projects, cards and flowers is for you. In a special way, we remember those who have mothers who have gone before us, and those mothers who bear the pain of having lost a child. This week, we also remember those who assume the role of “mother” to the children of others, and those mothers who are suffering from physical and mental pain. We are all bonded by the gift of motherhood and share in the challenges and the joys.
I am thankful to my own mother for the sharing in the chapters of my life. She taught me the value of working hard as she graduated from nursing school the same year I graduated from 8th grade. She taught me what it means to put personal desires aside as she and my father sacrificed to send me to Catholic school, and she taught me that in times of sickness, faith in God matters most. I am also thankful to my six children for allowing me the honor of being a mom. They bless me with their presence every day (even the occasional ones that resemble more of a curse!) And I would be remiss to not thank my husband who helps with many of my motherly duties so I can dedicate time to my work. I am blessed with a rich life because of each of them, and I am thankful for the gift of motherhood.
And I will close with a quote from Mother Teresa. “A life not lived for others, is not a life.” Mothers, thanks giving it your all. May your upcoming week be filled with peace and love.
As we conclude Standardized Testing Week, we reflect on the variety of experiences and emotions that students brought to the week. Some felt there was too much time allotted for each test, while others shed a few tears at not having enough time to finish. Some students preferred to do the multiple choice sections and cut corners on the extended response sections, while others ran out of space on the essay writing answer sheets. Some felt it was easy; others felt it was hard. As parents and educators, we must always remember that this is one snapshot of a child during one week of his/her entire school year. While standardized tests are necessary and helpful in many ways, they by no means show a complete picture of each learner.
If we were able to gather 100 parents in a room and ask them to list the qualities they hoped to see in each of their children, you might be surprised to find that they are not the things that were measure on last week’s Aspire testing in Reading, English, Writing, Math and Science. Instead, the lists might include:
resilience, passion, strength, wit, compassion, faith, a sense of humor, intuition, kindness, self-esteem, intelligence, motivation, fortitude, morals, courage, work ethic, empathy, determination, personality, manners, diligence, common sense, ingenuity, grit, character, physical fitness, a love of learning, effort, creativity and life skills.
These qualities are the ones that must be taught and modeled by teachers and parents in school and at home. There is no tutor or test-prep course that can teach these skills, yet they are essential supplements to the core instructional courses measured in standardized tests. This past week, we have been reminded of many of Former First Lady Barbara Bush’s most impactful quotes.
“Never lose sight of the fact that the most important yardstick of your success will be how you treat other people.”
“Fathers and mothers, if you have been blessed with children, they must come first.”
“Your success as a family, our success as a society, depends not on what happens in the White House, but on what happens in your house.”
“At the end of your life you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, friend, child, or a parent.”
In the wise words of Barbara Bush, we are reminded that as parents, WE are the first and most influential teachers of our children. And there is no standardized test to measure our progress. Perhaps as important as academic test scores, we need to observe our children to see how their “untestable” skills are developing. We have a limited time in which to meet these standard. What we put in now, will pay dividends in the future.
It takes a village, and our faculty and staff are happy to be part of your village.
He tied his shoes, zipped his jacket and waved goodbye. It was the first (actually the only thus far) spring day of the year and the neighborhood kids were all outside playing. I walked him across the street, not wanting him to cross alone, as our street becomes a cut through to major congested intersections during the evening rush hour. Noticing my apprehension, one of the gang said, “You don’t have to stay, Mrs. Carden. We’ll cross him if he wants to go home.” Another of the kids, a bit older, said, “Yeah. We’ve got him. He’s already nine.”
I walked back across the street, feeling a little like I’d lost my best friend. Last summer, every time he wanted to go out and play, one of us went along. He’s already nine. He’s already nine. These words played over and over in my mind as I stood in my doorway and watched the neighborhood fun on a gorgeous spring day. The kids kicked a soccer ball, played tag, rode bikes and sat on a front porch as one of the boys strummed his guitar.
He’s already nine. He’s already nine. When did this happen, I thought. I had spent the early days of my youngest son’s life unsure of just how independent he’d be. Together, my husband and I hoped and prayed that as he’d watch his older siblings and learn independence from them. I’m pretty sure that nine years ago, I longed for this day. But just two days before, when he was still eight, I thought he’d need me forever. Or maybe, I wanted him to need me forever and on this beautiful spring day, I realized that he did not “need” me like he once did. He was forging friendships and experiencing life like any child on Newark Avenue- the way my other five children had and the way I had growing up in the same house. I was happy and proud-but also scared to death.
The world is both safe and dangerous. People are both kind and cruel. Was I ready to let him go into this world on his own, even if only a little at a time? Had I prepared him well enough to advocate for himself? While this particular group of children had my trust–they were both safe and kind– my son’s new independence was a reminder that he will also encounter danger and cruelty in his life. This thought made me want to rewind time, although I knew this was not possible and against all of my earlier dreams for him.
I suspect I am not alone in my feelings. Developmental disability or typical developing, I suspect that all parents encounter these feelings as we watch our children grow. Perhaps your baby is moving from the PAC Early Childhood Center to the “big” school and you are graduating from the Ridge carpool to the parking lot pick-up. Perhaps you have a child, first, last or in between, going off to high school, or college. Or maybe you have a child finishing college and moving to another state to begin a new future.
We reflected a few weeks back on parenthood being the hardest job we’ll even have. We front-load all of the hard work and effort into raising them to be good, kind, caring, empathetic, hard-working, driven to go out and make a difference in the world. And then, little by little, that gradual release starts to happen, at age 5, age 9, age 16, age 21. Our children will always need us forever, but just in different ways. Just as the seasons change, so, too, do they, and we must be prepared to change along with them through each of life’s stages. Some stages may take longer than others, like this year’s transition from winter to spring, while others will seemingly happen overnight, like going from age eight to nine.
Blessings to all of our parents,
Bullying, depression, suicide. Three words that we all know, yet three words that make us feel uncomfortable. I suspect that those three words may even prevent some of you from reading any further.
Last Monday, Mr. John Halligan came to our school auditorium to share his story with parents, parishioners and educators. You may have heard about it from parents who were in attendance. If you were unable to attend, you can read his story and learn about some resources he shared here.
So back to those three words. What if we looked at them as connected? Victims of bullying (and cyberbullying) can experience symptoms of depression including sadness, loneliness, insecurity, poor self-esteem, academic decline, feelings of not belonging and suicidal thoughts and behavior.
Mr. Halligan urged parents to talk with their children, to take a pulse on their happiness. If you are concerned and if you are noticing symptoms, don’t just tell them to ignore it or to get tougher. Some of our most vulnerable children are those that display a great deal of sensitivity.
Don’t be afraid to ask if your child if they have ever felt like hurting themselves. And then be prepared to deal with it by taking them for help. Depression won’t get better without proper treatment. He also urged parents to help their child define a safe person they can talk to—an older sibling, cousin, aunt, uncle, neighbor, or former babysitter. There will be times when they are too embarrassed to talk to parents, but need someone to turn to. Also, he urged us to listen to children in the carpool, to watch what is going on with social media. The electronic devices are not a gift to them. They belong to you. The gift is that you are letting them use this device. You need to know what is happening on it—what your child is saying to others—what others are saying to your child. After his son’s death, Mr. Halligan was able to get into saved folders on his son’s AOL instant messaging account. He wished he had known of the struggles he found lying there. But there are no do-overs.
You have every right and responsibility to know what is going on in your child’s life. Be observant of stories of students being picked on repeatedly or bullied. Encourage your children to be part of the solution. Children have a great deal of power here. Adolescents will listen to their friends before they will listen to adults. Suggest that your child tells the bully to “knock it off.” Tell them that “those words and actions must make the bullied child feel really bad about him/herself.” Again, adolescents will listen to friends much more than they will listen to the adults in their lives. In Mr. Halligan’s presentation to the students, they told them to not be afraid to stand up to a bully. He told them that real friends will not get mad about this criticism from a friend. If they do, they have learned a valuable lesson in life: This person is not a real friend, so go find yourself a new one. As the early research of Piaget and Skinner proved, the behavior of humans can be changed.
If we think the conversations do not apply to our children, we need to think again. Bullying, depression and suicide have a huge impact on a community. When a child is bullied, the entire family is bullied. When a child is suffering from depression, and entire family suffers. When a child takes his/her life by suicide, a family is left with a huge void, and an entire community suffers. Not only do they have to engage in conversations with their children that they wish they did not have to have, they are left with many questions? Should they have seen something? Should they have reported something? Should they have confronted a bully? As Mr. Halligan mentioned, he wished over and over that he had a time machine that would take him back in time. However, there are no do-overs. A man, a family, a community, and classmates were forever changed because there are no do-overs here.