Tag Archives: life making

Language of Hope


A few days ago while scrolling through a social media site, I noticed that a student I teach had posted a photo with, what I consider to be, an offensive word. It is not uncommon for me to connect with students on some social networking sites. I am as selective about who I connect with as I hope and try to instil students to be. What made me pause when viewing the post was the word ‘retarded.’

My finger hovered over the unfollow button. I fumed.

I have known the student, Mack, for many years. We have navigated many, many difficult conversations. We have navigated many moments of crisis. We trust each other.

Maybe that’s why Mack’s comment, public or not, stung. I could not understand his cruelty. Or what I assumed to be his cruelty. 
It’s not that I simply don’t allow the word in our classroom, I explain its meanings and interpretations, and I have explained, why there is almost never a place, situation, event, or time suitable to use the word. And I share many stories of experience about how this language is harmful. 

That day, in my pause, I sat on the edge of the bathtub, paintbrush in hand, having taken a break, having checked the site, my finger continuing to hover over the unfollow tab.

But I genuinely care about this young person. And what, other than fuelling my own privileged sense of justice, does stepping away silently, and yes, fuming too, serve?

I continued painting, cutting-in around the ceiling, taking time, climbing up and down the step stool.

Hmm.

After a while I sent the student a private message and asked for clarification of the wording of his post. He replied simply, after offering a definition of the word, sharing that it means, “a bad person.”

I replied “No it does not.”

~

I set my phone down again and sat on the edge of the tub again.

And so far, all of this journey was too simple. I understood I was telling, not attending to his stories of experience. Too, I was not attending to my own stories of experience.

I sighed.

~

Last week I lunched with a colleague. We shared many stories of experience. Our sharing often returned to the mad-dash made by those within educational landscapes towards a singular social justice way of knowing. During lunch, my friend & I spoke of the importance of attending to all stories of experience. 

Yet, there I was. Sitting and fuming, tapping directives into my device. I had no desire to carry forward a singular way of knowing that would silence others, nor did I wish to lead in this space, when I had not entered through the opener of story, through trust.

I sighed again and reached again for my phone.

Years ago I was married. Those who stood up for me where an eclectic group of women I referred to as my sister people, each family in some lovely way. One sister person, a cognitively challenged woman, only a few years younger than I, was often mistaken for quite youthful. I have known her almost my entire life. Her mom is near to a second mom to me. Only once did her mom speak of the cruelty of living in a world where people are deliberately harmful with their words and more so lackadaisical with them too.

My beautiful sister people.

Truth: I was six months into my first teaching position before I truly allowed the depth and breath of being a language educator to resonate.

I began to ask myself the question I was posing to students. Does language always matter? I began to wonder, was the language fight my fight to fight, like it is and was, and in the same way, and remains to be for my sister person’s mom? Honestly, in the beginning I was foggy on the ownership of this life/issue.

I have lived alongside hundreds of young people. I have shared family stories with those I teach. Students have shared their experiences with me too. My Dad and daughter have often met the students I’ve known. We have journeyed together: cheering at ball tounaments, smiling at open mics, helping to paint classrooms, and hauling boxes into schools. 

I am no different with Dad & my daughter, than I am teaching a mini-lesson, or alone hiking a prairie hillside. In all landscapes of my life, I am fierce and I am kind. I am always me/mom/teacher. And I am reflective.

To all who have walked alongside me, they know that for me, others telling stories of me is a painful space.

I am thinking deeply about how others have told stories of me. I am thinking about my elementry and high school experiences, others telling stories of me through perceptions of my behaviours and my learning disabilities. 

I have spent a life reliving and retelling the stories others tell. 

~ Not stupid. Not busy. Not wrong. Not obstanant. Not rude. Not mean. Not loud. Not silent. Not. Not. Not. Not.

I returned to think deeply with the stories of Mack’s experience. I recalled when we had journeyed the Native Studies 10 course a few years ago, his worldview shifting as we inquired together. He would often send texts and screenshots of moments when he would address oppressive language/statememts made by his peers, even his family, as his own understandings grew.

I sighed. Tap. Tap. Tap….

“Mack, let’s talk about how, for you and others, that word might be understood and used.”

~

Honestly. I wanted to block Mack. I wanted to avoid a tough talk where I had no script. I had hoped Mack would simply learn that language is the most powerful force for change on the globe simply    by    reading       my    mind.

Language changes the world through our continuing reflection and discussion of its complex meanings and uses.

From those moments I came to teach English Language Arts courses all those years ago, I understood I must come as a Language educator.

During our dissucussion Mack remembered that the ‘r’ word is a word that I don’t allow in our learning space. I am thinking deeply too with the unfolding of that July day. I was painting my bathroom and dripping sweat. I am as fiercely blunt out of school as I am with students every day of our ten month year. My Mom says kids always know when teachers are fake. I think there’s a teaching there. This work is living work. Deeply meaningful, unscripted, and in the moment. Julys’s work too.

Maybe this is why I messaged. Because I trust my student. Because I know he trusts me. Because I already knew he was in a tractor somewhere and he already knew I was eyeball deep in blue paint, tackling a bathroom renovation. Because, we two, we trust the space between us.

Maybe that pause, is the trust that is the rootedness of our language of hope.

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2014 in Review: todays

2014

~ My photo/video story of 2014 (thank you to Jessy Lee for the many hours choosing and adding music).

This year the image capturing/collecting was often difficult and the compiling into this yearend video brought tears.

On December 25th, as my family sat together for the first time since my mom’s surgery my dad, looking at each of us, my sister, Christie, my daughter, Jessy Lee, my mom, Lynne and I, raised his glass to offer a toast.

“We made it!”

Then, Dad began to cry. And cry and cry. Mom pulled up close to him and took his hand. She finished his toast. She began with the story of how she had finished his toast on their wedding day, almost 50 years ago when tears of joy had come then too.

Recently Jess wrote, the “thing I’ve noticed about grief is that it is something that comes even when death does not.”

My video this year is for my family, mostly. It is for the way my mom looks at my dad. It is for the way she has always looked at my dad. It is for the way he still reaches for her, and how he cries with joy every time one of us is happy.

And this sharing is for you, too, for all those wonderful folks who helped my family by pitching in, by listening, by checking in and mostly, by loving us steadfastly and beautifully.

Thank you.

Poet Greg Simison writes of that phone call, “perhaps this longest night of our lives, we’re all simply small children who’ve only been outside playing grownups until our mothers call us home, one last time.”

Mostly, he is right.

These past 10 months I’ve become more grounded in the stories I’ve heard my parents tell, my dad shared hiking along tails, my mom lived while teaching, life making stories, stories I’ve grown with.

Mostly, my dad was kind and told me to leave nothing unsaid. As we waited for the ambulance last March and, mom and I talked though the nights this past November, well, I’ve become more…

I am so thankful for growing up surrounded with love and with family.

I am so grateful for today.

#love

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Holding Tickets

About a month ago I posted on Facebook asking if anyone might be interested in splitting next year’s Football season’s tickets. I had a few responses, but soon interest waned.

Then, I’d figured the season was still half new. There was time yet.

And time is important. Last March Dad had had a stroke. The stroke left him paralysed and our lives changed forever. Now Dad lives 20 minutes from Mom in a fulltime care home. Now Mom travels every day to visit him.

My daughter and I, and Dad, of course, have not been to a game this season. Sometime during the one-day-at-a-time moments of this summer I realised it would be too difficult to go to the stadium without Dad; grief is a messy business. Dad can only sit in his wheelchair for about 40 minutes at a time. We are 2 hours away from the stadium.

Still, we’ve not missed many games. Mom renovated their home. She brings Dad home on the weekends, my sister, my daughter and I traveling to the cabin to help her. At home, we watch a lot of football. And our hikes have changed too. We circle around the crescents, telling stories and trusting that hope will come.

When the leaves fell this autumn we talked about finding a way to get Dad’s chair down to the beach, finding new trails. We spoke hope.

It’s important to keep our tickets. As a young child, I first learned to swear in those seats. When I was first married, my husband and I attended football games when our daughter was in the womb, later with her cheering and bouncing on us dressed in green. Then it was Jess and I, and Dad joined us again, teaching Jess never to boo, teaching her secret handshakes, and listening to both of our stories.

It’s been a long long summer.

At times I was pretty low. I don’t know what happened, but around the middle of August something in me changed. Jessy Lee took my hand, snuggled next to me and said, “I am so glad you’re back. I never thought you’d come back.”

And to tell the truth, for three months, neither did I.

But somehow I knew, it was like holding on tightly to those tickets; in time the idea mattered. Hope mattered.

Maybe Dad might mend. Maybe he’ll go home again? Maybe he’ll walk again? Maybe…

So Saturday night I messaged all my acquaintances, you know those not in my inner circle. Those I haven’t chatted with every day, those who haven’t brought donuts, and hugs, checked in, stayed late, sat long & listened. I texted everyone asking if they might want to share our season tickets next year.

And the most amazing thing happened.

I heard tell ways of love and listening that I’ve pushed away, and ways that I’ve been needing these past seven months.

Folks suggested I post to Facebook. Others offered to ask their friends. Others simply ignored my story…

Others wondered why I needed to split the tickets. Some folks wanted to know why I was selling. A few asked if we were okay, asking after Dad’s health. Some friends shared their concerns, knowing the depth of the pain that has kept Jess and I away from attending any games without Dad.

Only one person asked about Mom, and this twist to the tale of our family narrative: a new journey so filled with unwritten lists that it wakes my daughter and I in the middle of the night, demanding to be written, crossed off, and completed, yet they remaining impossibly un-penned. Much like that space of next year football country.

When I was a child my parents bought these tickets. They’d take my sister & I, and I’d sit beside Dad and talk sports and football strategies and we’d laugh. Sometimes I’d catch a little yellow football the fan club would toss into the air and for the next week after school my friends and I would play touch football at the bottom of Bussy’s Hill.

For the past ten years Dad has been sharing the tickets and sharing the cost. There’s no way I can carry them on my own. I need time. So much will change in the next few years. I’ll be done this degree; Jess will be on her own.

We just need time.

I had many 140 character replies to my text. I had many silenced replies too. Grief is a messy business.

Yet the response that lingers wasn’t a yes or a no. The reply was a story that spoke to the wholeness of my family stories, the grief story, and the hope story that has everything and absolutely nothing to do with football.

“My first paycheck when I turned 16 went to a set of season tickets for my dad and I!”

Mom sees a surgeon Wednesday. Cancer, round five.

When I was a younger girl Dad would take me walking when he felt I needed to listen. We would hike along trails, tasting rose hips, shuffling through leaves, listening to wind, attending to each other’s stories.

So I hold on, to the seats, to the tickets and tightly to our stories.

“‘There are no truths, Coyote,’ I says. ‘Only stories.'” (Thomas King)

 

 

 

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I’m Here

(Red Shoes Series)

Saturday Afternoon at the Cabin

Everyone snoozes.

From the far room, Dad’s snore’s whistle. When I was young Dad’s snores rolled in swells through the house. Once, while camping with my cousins, Dad’s snores woke campers two sites over.

Dad’s snores are the sounds of home, the home of the youth where I turned over at night and snuggled deeper into the covers when there was an unknown thump on the back deck or the coyote howls were nearby; I am safe, Dad is downstairs.

His snores are different since the stroke, high pitched, and far away.

Long ago Dad put a crystal in the front window. It spins in the afternoon sun sending tiny rainbows dancing in circles around the living room.

I drift into sleep and forget for a moment where I am. Remembering comes before my eyes pull open or the ray of spinning light circles by. Curled on the sofa, I pull and push trying to shift away from the heaviness in my chest.

I open my eyes.

I listen to the stillness of a home where everyone sleeps until Dad calls, “Lynne, Lynne.”

“I’m here, Al,” Mom says from her single bed beside Dad and he whistles again.

I can hear the hum from the fridge and the settling groan from the front porch. The ceiling fan clicks. With each turn the four inch chain pull cord that no one has touched since the winter we put that Christmas tree up with scaffolding whirls.

On the sofa, my daughter’s breaths come in deep fresh air rasps.

The hum from the fridge stops.

Outside, a car passes by.

What will happen when I can no longer hear the whistle…

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coyote chalk

I’ve been blogging since I was a running-full-out, blinders-on, curiosity-driven-in-nineteen-directions, let’s-plan-like-there’s-no-tomorrow undergrad. Then, I had two courses remaining in my B.Ed., both electives. Was it happenstance that made me sign up for these courses, both becoming the courses that would most resonate, most inform my educational journey?

These courses most informing me how to best listen to students.

One was a course in Inclusive Education. The other was titled Introduction to Computers in the Classroom, #ECMP355.

Then, I was heading into the summer before internship. I had just completed a methodologies course where I had been asked to create a paper portfolio. I had not been keen on making a paper portfolio that no one without a forklift and a long weekend could enjoy. So when my instructor for the ecmp class asked what I wanted to create, I told him I might want to put my portfolio online, or perhaps, learn about spreadsheets.

But when a conversation emerged soon thereafter, ideas that connected the two courses came to light: people, caring about people and listing to people.

To show the idea of connections, I think, the ecmp teacher shared something or rather had others share something about him via twitter. And I learned some things about this dude. I was new to story and new to his story, so I quickly began forming a narrative in my own mind of him. I saw him as nuts to move out of an old home to build a new one and to golf instead of to hike, like really! But I liked the way he talked about his thinking; I liked that he shared his story. Then, he asked each of us to share one thing about ourselves. I shared that I had a stuffed great horned owl in my car that I had borrowed from the science lab. But, it was okay. I would put the owl back in three days.

I found that it was the stories of experience that I shared those fast few weeks of that spring short course that continued to reverberate. From those beginning connections I have found mentors, supports, and colleagues.

And then last spring my Dad had a stroke. Friends, friends from all over the world sent public and private messages and have continued to walk this journey with me.

I have found many platforms that I enjoy. However, I admit, I love a blog. I love reading your words and letting them play near me as I imagine your voice, image your space, and for those moments, I live alongside you, story with you in the midst. I wonder, is it in this space that I am beginning to understand? Usually this is early morning or the tired waning hours of day, while the hallway lights are off, the room next to me feels still, and the world, like the wind outside my window, pauses. Here, I am allowed to simply lean in and to wonder alongside you…

I love storying.

All those years ago my instructor gave his students a final challenge, “If you can, get your own domain.” I wonder if this was another way of asking us to retell and relive our own stories of experience? the challenge is one that I have never forgotten.

And so, my blog name as it has always been, named for the trickiest storier; may our stories forever be retold and relived. This happened yesterday.

blog photo

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Dad: storying

I’ve been taking a photo a day for the past four years. For the past two years I have made these photos into a photo montage of my year, letting the adventures of the past 364 days swirl into a movie. I have even begun to add music. Sometimes I go about my day thinking about the photo I might take, ‘this moment will make a wonderful addition to the ‘year-in-video.’

But for the past 21 days these photo moments have been the most difficult to capture.

21 days ago I was waiting in my car my 17 year old daughter, Jess, beside me. We were waiting in the parking lot at the Moose Jaw Union Hospital, the nose of the car facing the doors to emergency.

We had had the call from my Mom at 4:10pm.

We waited. At 5:00pm I looked over at Jess and said, “Our world is about to change.”

Mom had said she was certain Dad had had stroke.

Dad had gone out for a walk as he did every day, walking the loop near the cabin at the lake where my parents are retired. He would likely stop to feed the birds. Likely, he would then take his usual path towards the boat dock and down towards the trees by the lake, perhaps stopping to leave a treat for the coyotes.

He had left at half past noon.

At 3:30pm Mom had called for him in the garage, she had called for him out the back door and had called out into Dad’s shop. She had then taken the van keys and had headed out to look for him. She found him face down in the front yard in the snow with the newspaper, he was responsive and soaking wet. It would take another two hours before he arrived to Moose Jaw by ambulance.

My sister was in her car next to me and Jess. We heard the sirens before we saw the ambulance. I stepped out and walked as close as I could to the ambulance bay.

I am not certain exactly why I snapped a photo.emergency

I just sensed in every part of me that that moment marked a before and an after for every person I loved most.

The ambulance attendant looked and me and said, “He’s okay.”

A hand came out of the blankets and waved, up and down: Dad.

“I love you Dad!”

We walked quickly to the front doors at the same time my Mom parked her van.

~

For nearly three weeks we lived numb. Maybe we are still living numb. What resonates the most and yet has not surprise me, is the love between my parents.

My parents.

They only wanted each other. As those first few weeks rolled out Dad would reach for her and she would reach for him, just the simple act of touching one another was what was needed, like those finger tips would make him walk, heal the hemorrhage in his brain, control the pain. Neither complained and each would say thank you to everyone that crossed their mompath.

Mom has moved in with me and Jess; it’s more like camping. We hardly see her except for the hospital. We’ve worked out the kinks of living together; we have learned not to run our blow-dryers at the same time, made certain she eats more than the tomato-macaroni soup left over from Dad’s lunch try; My Mom and her indomitable spirit. She has been there every day before breakfast and has learned to send photo and text updates with her phone. My Mom, who has not left her husband’s side, and has left the rest of us wondering from where her energy comes.

 

Dad has been moved to Providence Place and the goal is to … well, increase his independence. Mom hopes he will stand.

There isn’t any conversation we’ve haven’t had these past few weeks. My sister and I have been alternating nights at the hospital and there was a while there when Dad’s pain was so bad that we both stayed. Often, I would return home to find Mom still awake. We’d sit on the edge of her bed and talk into the wee hours of the morning. There isn’t anything we’ve not talked about.

For 21 days I’ve watched my Dad struggle with a body he can no longer control. I’ve watched him do this with kindness to his family and to the care providers around him. I’ve listened to him tell me and my family that he will be here for us when we are ill. I have watched my parents show their love for each other, over and over, show, not just share. I have felt the support of those in my life burst from the margins and bounce to life.

I missed a few days of work when Dad was in ICU, and honestly, that next week while Dad remained unstable, I was a mess. Mom didn’t want a herd at the hospital, my sister and I needed to divide our time, and I needed my other family too; I needed my kids. I am gifted by a safe space to share, to cry, to feel supported. This place is my school. Many of our kids feel the same. Many of our staff feel the same. Our school is a home place, here we belong.

My Dad has often trekked with my students. My instructional practices are replete with the stories and teachings I’ve gleaned from listening to my Dad. Every, every group of students I have taught has been gifted to know my Dad, to have trekked in some way with my Dad, to have had the chance to spend time with him, to have heard a story or two from him, some, even around a campfire, or on a basketball court.

And it may not seem that important, but it feels important. I am sad. I am scared and the kids I live in the midst of understand. And kids that knew Dad well, and knew his stories well, message often and check-in often, and I am grateful that our shared stories have created this space. See, there’s a whole wack sack of truth in my living alongside our kids right now. I share about the love between my parents; I share about how tired I am; I share that I am drinking far too much coffee, about how I am crying easily and often; I share that I love them, and then I share again.

I am sad and I am grateful. This Friday is my Dad’s 74th birthday and I want to walk with my Dad like we have done every year. This year, Jess and I will bring some eggs to Providence Place and colour them.

The last time I walked with my Dad, two weeks before his stroke, I was walking too fast, going ahead like I did Dad and me walkingwhen I was a child. That last weekend, he stopped often, and when I returned to stand next to him, he asked me to identify the animal scat over which he bent, the twig next to which he stood, and the berry he held in his hand. When I was child, I would not have had the patience for standing and wondering. When I was a child I hadn’t yet come to honour the stories of Dad running Otter Rapids, or Dad canoeing the Churchill, or Dad building a log home by hand, or of Dad putting himself through High school and University, or of Dad choosing to love, and loving, always loving with kindness. That day, two weeks before ‘the before moment,’ I had stood and listened to Dad every time he paused.

I still have much to learn from storying with Dad. There are many walks left in both of us.

Dad would say, there’s a teaching there.

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First Three Weeks

The new school year is just past three weeks gone.

The second week flew by; I liked almost every moment of each school day. The first week however, simply slogged along; I felt frustrated.

I’m teaching at a different school this year. I am no longer the ‘single story’ high school ELA, Arts Ed and Outdoor teacher, though I am still responsible for these subject areas. My first week was filled with moments when I wondered what I’d gotten myself into. This year I work with students to meet their personal goals, to find hope as our school phrases it; as I see it, to come to honour students’ narratives as stories to live by. Sometimes our days are so busy I don’t feel the end of week approach. Other times there are only a few of us and our space changes frequently; we move at a gentle pace that best fits the story of us. We laugh often. We talk often and we share often.

My transition into this space hasn’t been easy (I wonder every day about how our kids feel as they live this transition. I requested this transition.) There are people and aspects about my other school that I miss very much. Of course, I miss the kids. I miss our regular (and our inquiry based learning never felt ‘regular’) ELA periods and discovery. I miss after school chats and moments when I could find a private silent space during the day just to myself.

That first week I was hit hard by all the missing stories. As well, that first week I also allowed my ego to get the better of me. Those first few days I took to heart comments and questions from others as to how I had come to have my new teaching role and whether I really understood the ‘kids’ I’d be teaching. By mid-week, I had begun to doubt my skills. Worse, by mid-week I had begun to doubt myself. I had stopped honouring my own stories of attending to youth.

However, towards the end of that first week something beautiful happened.

I invited students to gather and I read with them.

I opened a book I love and I read. While I read, I shared with our kids about the story and about myself. As well, I talked with our kids about what I was sharing. I asked our students questions. I paused often. I listened often and soon our students asked questions. I listened. I read, I reread and I read on.

The story didn’t fix everything. However, that moment sure offered a beautiful piece of awareness for me. More importantly, as I listened to our kids make connections, think about the stories I’d shared, and then share their own narratives, and I began to see our kids.

My fear or sadness or worry had prejudiced my instruction of our kids.

Finally, that afternoon, sitting in circle around our table, I felt like I was coming home…

Stories matter.

There is this way with narrative: once heard, it can not be unheard.

That afternoon, we attended to our stories. I was beginning again to understand my privileged lens; I had begun to let go of assumptions. Through narrative we had begun to puzzle our way into the space of where we could become curriculum makers.

Our storying space is becoming…

We are slowing attending to our stories. Sharing narratives takes time. I understand that I long to rush, rush, rush into our space and share. But this is my way. This is my voice. I understand too that my story is important. So I share as well. But I am (re)learning to listen here with this new family, learning to attend to different narratives and to trusting a new place.

When I was a child I remember overhearing my educator parents share school stories about the kids in their midst; “Parents send us the best kids they have.”

The next day after I read I looked around the room and realised that I was in the midst of the best kids. Since that moment, I have offered our students every ounce of beauty in me. I have extraordinary expectations for kids. And our kids know this.

The second week flew by. The third week I began to push, to listen and to share.

I am learning that the more I know our kids the more joy I find here.

I am learning that beauty and sadness and joy are part of my teaching story.

These last three weeks I (re)learned that I belong to a family, and the story I share of myself is connected to this family.

I am pretty sure the students are supposed to be learning, but it is my head that hurts from all I am (re)learning.

Sunday afternoon as I sit here in our classroom-storying space, I feel that (re)learning that I am connected to a family is sure a fine story to live by.

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