Have you ever felt as if your weekend is over when you wake up on Sunday morning, even though in reality it is only half-gone? Do you feel on a Friday afternoon, that you have the weekend in the palm of your hand, but then something changes abruptly on Sunday morning?
Often, not even out of the church parking lot, I am asked the dreaded question by my four boys who remain at home. “What’s for lunch?” This question is perplexing for all, as after a long work week and busy Friday and Saturday, the answer is almost surely, “There is really nothing, but I’ll run to the store.” That poses another issue—do I run to the store to get something to make for lunch, or do I just do the weekly shopping to avoid a second trip to the grocery store? This of course would greatly delay the lunch of hungry, growing men as I plan meals and create list of lunch and breakfast items necessary to get us through the week. I have done it both ways, and somehow we all survived.
I wish I could say, however, that this is the only Sunday chore. But what happens when we add other things to that list–looking for missing uniform pieces, transitioning from summer to winter uniforms at various schools and realizing your freshman does not have khakis that fit, filing out registrations and forms that are due, noticing the hole in your son’s only pair of gym shoes with rain in the forecast, tackling piles of laundry , and not to mention glancing at the upcoming extracurricular schedule that has you in three places at once on at least four of the days in the week? No wonder the weekend feels pulled out from under you. Half of it is already accounted for with necessary tasks. While many of these cannot be avoided, looking ahead at the upcoming week can also rob you of an enjoyable Sunday.
What if we tackle Sundays in a different way? Instead of looking at all the things we HAVE to do during the upcoming week and feeling tired before it begins, why don’t we make a list of things that we look forward to doing -taking out a good book, making lunch or dinner plans with a good friend, making time for an uninterrupted phone call with a family member or spouse, taking a walk with a friend in need, attending a class or speaker series that sounds interesting if we had more time? We might not get that closet cleaned, or the summer and winter clothing switched out and that just might be okay. Perhaps on Sundays, we do the necessary things, like grocery shopping and forms and registrations with deadlines, and then instead of only looking at the impossible week ahead, we look at the things that build relationships and give us peace. For long after this hectic phase our parenting lives are over, these are the things that will have really made a difference. If it takes 6 weeks to form a habit, we have 6 weeks until Thanksgiving and then perhaps we can enter into the Christmas season with a sense of serenity and peacefulness.
I have often said that one of the best parts of my job is learning from children. With just under 340 students, there is much to be learned. My most recent learning comes from a kindergarten student named Kaitlyn.
Kaitlyn was engaged in a conversation with her mother about a recent playdate with a classmate. This classmate happens to be a friend who just happens to have a diagnosis of Down Syndrome. Even though Dee is more like her peers than different, there are still some things at this young age that take her a little longer to do. Speaking and using language is one of them, as it is for other young students. After being at Faith Hope with typical developing peers for just a few weeks, Dee’s language exploded. However, at times, she may still struggle to find the words to clearly describe the thoughts in her mind. When Kaitlyn’s mom asked if she helped Dee in the classroom, Kaitlyn looked at her mom in an inquisitive kind of way. She then, in a matter of fact fashion, replied. “Dee is just like me, Mom. We both talk the same because I lost my teeth.” And just like that, through the wisdom of a kindergartener named Kaitlyn, we are reminded that we really are all the same-the same in God’s eyes and the same in the eyes of innocent young children. There is both an ease and beauty in Kaitlyn’s conversation with her mom. Acceptance comes naturally in young children. Perhaps the rest of the world needs to spend more time in kindergarten!
Faith Hope has been an inclusive school for a long time- going back at least to the 1990s. At that time, many private and Catholic schools were sending away, closing their doors, to students with diverse learning profiles. Faith Hope, on the other hand, considered various documents from Church leaders, including the 1978 Pastoral Statement of US Catholic Bishops on People with Disabilities. This statement urged Catholic school to build “a stronger and more integrated system of support” for people with disabilities. In 1990s, the Learning Lab was started at Faith Hope (Trivia: Betty Ann Shanley, our current Kindergarten teacher, was one of the first learning support teachers to launch this program!). For many years, she and a team of teachers helped to support students with learning disabilities and speech and language difficulties as well as their teachers. Over the years, we have come to learn that all students have jagged learning profiles. Our job is to find their strengths and devise strategies to get around any interference in learning. Please see The Myth of Average, a Ted Talk with Ted Rose who illustrates a simple way of thinking to nurture individual potential. Faith Hope has been pioneers in inclusive education, and today, many other schools have also begun to accept students with learning disabilities. I am proud to announce that on Monday, October 9 and Tuesday October 10, members of our team will be presenting to hundreds of educators from around the country at The Mustard Seed Conference for Inclusive Practices in Catholic Schools at Loyola University Lakeshore Campus.
As you may know, our inclusive practices have recently allowed us open our doors to a student with a diagnosis of Down Syndrome. She is a child who happens to have a diagnosis of Down Syndrome and that diagnosis does not define her. It’s really quite obvious seeing this in the classroom. Our support team applies the same framework to get around her interference in learning as they do with other students suffering from learning or speech and language challenges. She is more like other students than she is different. Some things just take a little longer to learn. And, like other friends, she is making a difference in the lives of her classmates every day! While inclusion comes easily for most young children, it can often be more difficult for adults who have not had exposure to differences. I encourage you to ponder the words and wisdom of author Ram Dass.
When you go out into the woods and you look at trees, you see all these different trees.
And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever.
And you look at the tree and you allow it.
You appreciate it.
You see why it is the way it is.
You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way.
And you don’t get all emotional about it.
You just allow it.
You appreciate the tree.
The minute you get near humans, you lose all that.
And you are constantly saying, “You’re too this, or I’m too this.”
That judging mind comes in.
And so I practice turning people into trees, which means appreciating them just the way they are.
Help! We’ve lost our children. Well, not physically, but perhaps emotionally. You see, to really know someone requires building a relationship. And to have a relationship requires deep conversation. I have recently made some observations on how things have shifted in my 21 years of being a parent.
You see, I used to carpool…a lot. There was this crazy time in my life when I signed my children up for so many things without realizing that I needed to be the provider of transportation. As hectic as those time were for me–and some days I logged 6+hours in the car–they provided time for great conversation. Conversation that built relationships. I was within feet of my children, with no distraction of television or ringing telephones and I was in control of the radio being on or off. If the conversation went south, no one could get up and walk away. Even moving to the third row seat was still close enough for conversation.
It was during those days that I would learn deeply about my children-their thoughts, fears, what made them laugh and what made them upset. I learned about their amazingly different personalities and often wondered how each of them could have come from the same parents. I also learned about them from their friends in the carpool. I learned if their perceptions of situations aligned with reality. For example, was a specific second grader really that mean? Did little Michael really cause that much disruption in class? Was so-and-so really a bully? Were the fourth grade math teacher’s tests that impossible? Did the junior high teacher really have a mini George Forman gill that she used to cook herself a steak before every lunch period? Were boyfriends and girlfriends a thing in the 7th grade? These conversations, some hilarious and some rather disturbing served as a compass for me, allowing me to know the direction in which my children were headed. It allowed me to get into their world and understand it.
In looking back, these carpool conversations stopped rather abruptly. And they stopped, perhaps, because human conversation was replaced with a different type of conversation—conversation that was taking part behind a screen. The quiet conversations of Snapchat, Instagram and texting shut me out. I could no longer listen or participate in them. And now I wonder if I know each of my children in the same ways I once did when human conversation was at the forefront.
If you have ever driven with a preteen or teen girl in the passenger seat, you know the awkward pose of a “selfie.” Camera is activated, head is cocked left or right, eyes open wide (really wide) and sometimes lips puckered. The first time I saw this, I was a bit scared. I grabbed the wheel with two hands and looked forward. The second time, I was curious. “What are you doing?” I questioned. “Sending my friend a Snapchat,” was the response. “Well I do not understand why you have to look like that. I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on beautiful school photos, I have a whole box of them at home, and you need to send one that resembles E.T. , the Extraterrestrial?” The response was, “Mom, you don’t get it.” I guess I don’t.
Recently, I picked up a carpool of four freshmen boys from football practice. “How was your day?” I asked. “Fine,” was the reply. “How was football?” “Good.” “Who are you playing this weekend?” “Nazareth.” “Oh. I know that school. It is in LaGrange. Sometimes I go in that direction for work meetings.” No response. “Do they have a good team?” “Yeah, I think they are good.” Good grief. I am working hard to get this conversation going. As I look in the rearview mirror, one boy has headphones in, the others are looking down at their phones. Perhaps they are playing a game. Perhaps they are texting someone. Perhaps they are having a deep conversation with their mom, although doubtful. When the last boy is dropped off, I question my son. “Is everyone okay? They all seemed rather quiet. Was it a tough practice?” At this time, my son gives me some feedback. “Don’t feel like you need to talk, mom. Everyone is just in their own conversations, doing their own thing.” His words were gentle, as if trying not to offend me, but rather to give me some social feedback.
I first say, “Oh, in my car, I will always initiate conversation because that is how I get to know you and your friends.” I then take these words and ponder them. I am in a world that is so strange to me. I did not grow up with this technology, but I have lived through the transition. I have even watched my children’s lives be shaped by when they were born into this technological generation. They are undoubtedly still building relationships, but in different ways. Perhaps in ways I will never understand due to my age. But one thing is certain. I do not feel I know my younger children and their friends in the same way I knew the older ones. It makes learning about their and their world more challenging. And I don’t think I know about their thoughts, fears, what makes them laugh and what makes them upset as I once did when there were more human conversations in my presence.
This makes me take pause a bit and realize I need to make sure that in order to fully build relationships and get to know my children and their friends, conversation must happen. Maybe this is in the car, and maybe this is opening my home on weekends. But the reality is there, right in front of me. How will I compensate for it? Surely there are other parents that feel the same way. We must make sure we set guidelines and if necessary, restrictions, so that we ensure that real conversations—the ones that help us build relationships—continue and never die. For these conversations are what will help us build and maintain strong relationships with the next generation.
It took every ounce of my being to hold back. I had just entered Room 203 at Onahan School for my second grader’s Back to School Night. The teacher, new to the school, but a veteran in the profession, stood at the front of the class greeting parents. There were six children running around the room at this “parent only” event. Five were students in the class, and the sixth was a two-year old brother. They laughed and yelled and fought over toys as kids often do. After a day spent with 340 students and then dinner with my own brood, my ears and eyes seemed hyper-sensitive to the noise at this hour of the evening. Surely, the teacher would start her presentation and silence would fall over the room. I was counting on it.
Instead, when Mrs. Murphy spoke, the noise grew louder, as if the children were speaking over her. A second grader, trying to pry a calculator out of the hands of her younger brother, escalated his loud utterances. Two others were fighting over stuffed animal. I was not sure if the animal would make it out “alive.” The little brother began jumping on boxes of board games, smashing each one like bubble wrap under his feet. The teacher’s words were hard to hear. I wiggled in my second grade seat, biting my tongue. The words spoken often by my husband and children rang through my ears….Mom, don’t do it. I chose to sit silent. I sat silent while parents were ignoring behaviors inappropriate for the setting, texting on cell phones and having side conversations as the teacher spoke. I sat silent and I regret it. It takes a village and someone to not be afraid to speak up.
Finally, another mom, someone stronger than me in the moment, raised her hand and told the teacher she was having a hard time hearing. She addressed the elephant in the room. The teacher, seemingly uncomfortable redirecting the students in front of their parents, asked them to keep it down. The hush lasted for about 15 seconds and they were back at it. Some parents were putting their finger over their lips in a shushing gesture. Others exchanged glances and glares. It was clear that learning was being interrupted and it felt frustrating-to the teacher and her students (in this case, the parents).
As I left the school that evening, I was disappointed in myself. I missed a great opportunity to teach. I passed this up because my mindset at the time told me to mind my own business, the parents will correct their own children. But it did not happen, and I played a role in this failed learning experience. What I wish I did was stand up and say, “I make a motion to model respect and proper behavior. Mrs. Murphy has spent a long day teaching our children, prepared a presentation for us and we need to give her our attention and teach our children to do the same. If we do not teach them respect, who will?” They may have been necessary words, but I left them unspoken.
That night, I thought back to my own parenting. As much as I strive to teach my own children appropriate behaviors for different settings, have I sometimes gotten lost in my own adult conversations that I lost track of what they were doing? Have I given my attention to an electronic device and taken my eyes off of them when they needed me to show them the way? Have I been so tired from the events of my own day that I gave up on them too easily? Have I brushed off feedback from a teacher because it was easier to do so? Have I not guided a child of a friend because I felt it was not my business? Of course I have. Likely even multiple times. Our lives are challenging with busy schedules and devices competing for our attention. In fact, sometimes I am envious of my parents. Looking back, my childhood seemed fairly simple-family dinners and Sunday mass, neighbors outside until the street lights went on. I am sure our parents faced other challenges, but the ones we face today that effect raising children seem more intense.
More than ever-it takes a village, parents, parents of friends, and teachers like Mrs. Murphy to work together to make sure that students are always learning and growing. It makes me pause and think about what I hope will be in my own children’s tool boxes when they go off into the world. These are skills that I know I need to teach. Parenting is the toughest job, but one that will become easier if our village works together to build a strong foundation.
Not only did we open a new school year this week, but we also embarked on the start of a new tradition at FHC. On Friday, our students were placed into one of six houses during a Harry Potter style “sorting ceremony.” Each house has three faculty mentors and will meet three times per week. The members of each house consist of a mix of 3rd-8th graders. The multi-age groups will research various saints and choose one that they would like their house to be named after. They will then design a house shirt to represent their members. As a wise 7th grader named Brian told us, this is a very important step “because once we choose, there is no going back.” In his wisdom, Brian told us that these houses, names and symbols, will live on in the halls of FHC long after each of our current students have graduated. They are the creators of a new tradition.
Each year, 8th graders will graduate and new 3rd grade members will be selected for each house. The faculty mentors and other house members will remain each year. This allows students the opportunity to foster relationships with adults, to expand their social circles, develop friendships with other students across grade levels, develop leadership skills and look up to positive role models. During their time together, house members will engage in friendly academic and athletic competition, compete for points and prizes, work on service projects and discuss character traits such as respect, fairness, trustworthiness, responsibility, caring and citizenship. Additionally, our PK-2nd grade students will join a house one time per month for a special activity.
Today, as the sorting ceremony ended, I heard a younger student whisper to a friend, “This is cool. I’ve never had an 8th grade friend before.” Perhaps you can look back on your childhood years and remember the first time someone outside of your social circle included you in something. It’s a pretty good feeling, and it’s a great way to start the new school year! We are looking forward to great things this year as we grow in heart, mind and soul.