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 … Continue reading Language of Hope
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 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.
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 path.
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 when 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.
“I tell stories not to play on your sympathies but to suggest how stories can control our lives, for there is a part of me that has never been able to move past these stories, a part of me that will be chained to these stories as long as I live,” (King, 2003.)
Mid-morning Saturday, a friend sat at the graffiti-covered piano in the classroom and tapped out a melancholy tune, “I am afraid of your past.” The words weren’t meant for me; they were sung in response to the tensions that live in attending to stories.
He shared stories of his childhood mentor and shared stories of his summers at the lake. What resonated were his messy stories.
Long ago a student had sat at that same piano and shared similar stories, his hands too lingering over the piano’s out-of tune keys…
This is a story I know.
Several years ago as part of an identity project a student, James, painted a piano with graffiti. His father wanted him to study classical piano. James wanted to compose his own music. More than that, James wanted to write poetry. The piano is covered with James’s story and his poetry. The piano’s wooden shell is pulled off to reveal its keys. The piano was one way James found to give voice to his story, to come to honour his own story. When he graduated he entrusted me to continue to care for the piano.
This week I’ve been feeling the messiness of my own piano stories.
Saturday night, while my grade-eleven daughter, Jess, and I relaxed at my Mom’s and Dad’s home, I received a message from James; he was having a difficult weekend. For many folks around here, last weekend was Thanksgiving, a time of gratitude and of being with family.
Though James has left home, his stories linger. Though James has spent a great deal time thinking deeply about his messy stories, coming to honour his stories, he is still learning to retell them.
Saturday he messaged, asking for the second time since I’ve known him, “Don’t give up on me.”
I am beginning to learn that coming to retell our stories into stories to live by takes time.
I remember when I first began to learn the depth of the messiness of James’s story. I can still see him standing in the doorway, a big kid aching to live a story of confidence, asking me to do more than hear, to do more than listen. James was asking me to attend to his messy stories.
James was asking me to honour him. And he asked me not to give up on him.
This was a request for trust.
What I learned as I came to attend to James’s stories, I learned that I was at the same time, learning how to honour my own stories. “The curious thing about these stories was I had heard them all before, knew them, in fact, by heart.” (King, 2003). For so long I had forgotten to listen to my own stories.
Together, James and I were life making.
Friday I sat alone in a car dealer’s office. I was about to purchase a new-to-me car and I was wiping away tears. Six week previously, my car had been stolen. Weeks afterwards I had settled with insurance. The day before the car dealer, on my way to an educational conference, I stopped at the salvage yard to gather my personal items from the retrieved car.
The person at the gate warned me about what I’d find, “Honey you’re gonna drive down there and I’m gonna turn off the security cameras ’cause you’re gonna have a little cry.”
“I’m not going to cry.”
I drove through the compound. Two days before my car was stolen it was my best friend’s wedding. I had given her a ride to the church. When the car was stolen I told the officer that the police could identify my car from the wedding dress glitter in the front seat. There was no visible damage to the car, inside or out, yet it took me more than a minute to get out of the rental car. Grasshopper remains coated the vehicle. I was not prepared for what I’d find inside, rubble: bottle-caps of used dark maple coloured adventure, baggies dusted and discarded. Sour scent and earth comfort and sweat stank clung to the fabric; attacking the closed doors of my memories like sealed papers locked in safety deposit boxes and packaged away perfectly in 12 step programs. Angrily, with some sort of misplaced power, I began to gather strewn paperclips. I pulled them from under seats, between cushions, under mats. Then I found the seven beads from the discarded key chain a student had made for me during my under-graduate degree, the first student with behaviour challenges that I had taught. Seven beads. Strewn. The security guard had warned me.
“I don’t tell this story out loud because it’s not much of a story. No plot. No neat ending. No clever turns of phrase. And because I always end up weeping… But for myself,” (King, 2003).
In my fancy teaching garb I crawled over remnants, lifting my shovel and my soccer chairs from the trunk.
My thesis advisor recently asked, “Why this work? Why now?”
Okay, maybe I am afraid.
Tears came that afternoon. They were not the ones I’d expected. Life is messy. The prairie wind danced raw across my face. A salvage yard tow truck in the distance dredged up steel and more steel like stories. Inside that car lived the messy stories from which I had walked away. The experiences that had led me to pick up my daughter and to retell our narrative into a story to live by. Standing in that compound I know I am still learning to live with the messy tellings. Standing in the salvage compound, I ached to share my story. I ached to have my story honoured.
Stories matter. I am beginning to wonder if it is the messy ones that need the most attending.
All those years ago a scared grade ten student stood in my doorway and asked me to attend to his stories.
Wiping away tears in the car dealer’s office, I heard over and over the comfortable, common story of trying to be like steel. It is a difficult story to live by. Sometimes… It is messy.
When I think about James standing in the doorway and asking me to attend to his story, it was James who was courageous. I am beginning to realize that it takes so much faith to trust another person with our stories.
I am beginning to understand that attending to stories takes time…
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…
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.
Last week I received two letters in the mail. I wasn’t surprised until I realized that the letters had been addressed by me.
I’d written them the previous summer during a difficult period. At the time, the letters were a reflective activity for a summer institute I was completing. The words on each envelope were in my handwriting yet the notes inside where different; one letter had been written to me from my learning partner during the institute and the other was written to me from me.
Both letters were about hope for the upcoming year.
I’ve been thinking a lot about joy. A few weeks ago a friend shared that he wishes to live an extraordinary life. Me too. I want joy for me, for my daughter and for the students I teach.
I like being happy. I like that I live my life seeking my sacred spaces, seeking my safe people, and seeking serenity. I also write as a means to seek joy.
I write because I am filled with narratives that weave our common tales into extraordinary stories-to-live-by. I believe, in time, I weave my stories into joy. I find hope in stories. I find joy in sharing stories.
Here’s what I mean:
I follow George Couros’s work. I understand that he’s a well-respected educator-leader. And there’s much to celebrate in that. However, that is not why I follow his work.
The truth is that it’s always someone’s story that most inspires me
I follow George because of the way he honours those he loves. I adore the beautiful way that he shares his love for his brother’s children, for his dogs and mostly for his parents. See, I love my parents too.
I don’t know George personally, but I feel connected to him because of our lived-stories. Each of us has someone we call ‘family’, and for George and me, the ‘who’ of our family is rather clear.
I’m in the midst of living my thesis story. In this space I am beginning to understand that the most profound influence of my journey has been my parents, and their teaching stories. This past year has been filled with retellings, restoryings; I don’t know what I’d do if I lost my Dad or my Mom. This past year George and his family lost their Dad.
Last week I held the two letters for a long time. I realised my learning partner in that moment would be holding the letter I had written for her. What had I shared with her? I know I had taken the blank card home and had taken care with the words I had shared. I remember that. What had I shared with her? I wondered how she is doing. I wondered why we didn’t stay connected. I wondered if her world is filled with joy.
Oh, I remember her stories!
At the beginning of summer George wrote about making this upcoming year our best year.
Extraordinary words from a person who just lost his father…
Our lives are story. There is so much beauty in living. “What makes me hopeful is not so much the certainly of the find, but that my movement is search. It is not possible to search without hope,” (Freire; 1997).
As I pulled the card I had written for myself from its envelope, I wondered what message I’d find inside. I wondered what really had mattered to me in that space of fear so many months ago. I wondered what, in all of my words of hope, would matter now.
What would matter now?
A really long time-ago during my undergrad studies, my Physical Education professor once pushed back against all the structure and formalistic necessity of schooling, asking us to pause and to consider other’s stories and what was possible for kids and families. She asked us to not get caught up in getting caught up, asking instead, “How important is it?”
I took a deep breath. I like being happy.
Slowing, I opened my letter.
This is our best year yet, filled with joy. I’d like to hear your stories.
Mostly, that’s true.
However, the stories remain. I’ve brought all of them with me.
All of the resources, exemplars and memorabilia are now packed and sitting in boxes in a different building. The packing of all those stories happened in a flurry of four days.
A week earlier, 30 moving boxes had arrived. The division had said they would be able to move my things in early August; upon overhearing that news, my boys had said they would show up the last day of school and that they would bring their half-tons.
So, the pack was on.
It went rather smoothly, except that it was final exam time, report card time and the most difficult part, I really had to leave!
I had readied myself for the oncoming rush of emotion. I had steeled myself.
I was ready!
I cried every moment.
I discovered a few things during the pack that I didn’t know about or had forgotten: a parachute, 80 bouncy balls and 7 machetes. Somewhere during my focus on packing those last few boxes it seems I had come to have already wrapped-up my magic wand long before it was time to pack it away as well. Oh, our stories that had once belonged only here to our family classroom-space, now belonged too to our shared adventures and our stories, and live long in our collective memory.
Last week, I said goodbye to our graduates. Students in our cozy little K-12 family school kept stopping by for hugs and to share stories.
I cried every moment.
Soon, all 30 boxes began to brim.
That final Wednesday, the boys backed a half-ton up to the school’s front doors and we loaded the graffittied out-of-tune piano, and hauled it into the city to its new space. Sure, I had heard the well meaning words of some, “Cori, do you really need to take the piano?”
However, I’ve come to listen to different stories too. One of the students at my new space, upon seeing the piano, rested his fingers atop the keys; the piano fitting perfectly in its new smaller home.
After that move, the five members of the moving crew went for slushies before heading back. After all, we needed more time, and I suppose, I still had year-end final Language Learning conversations that afternoon.
Friday arrived and I was panicked. The staff had offered to set aside their own work and venture into my class to help pack. However, at 10:00 am a team of grade 9 & 10 students arrived. “We’re here to help.” And they set to work, without my direction and because they wanted to be there, to help me, to honour our family. A few had been there all week helping, even though there had been no classes.
Silently, solemnly, as family, we packed boxes.
Around 11:30 am a community member also suddenly arrived. She and the morning team loaded her SUV. She suggested she’d meet us around 3:30 pm, saving me a return trip later that night.
I realized I was surrounded with love. I was surrounded by family.
Then, the boys arrived. I had taken to wearing my sunglasses indoors.
We stuffed my SUV full. We loaded the half-ton to overflowing.
I hugged the staff who had been so profoundly supportive, and then the kids and I pulled away.
I remember several years ago having moved from my previous school to this one. I was having such a heart-missing difficult time loving this space, these kids. I really had loved my previous home. It took me a long time to love my current kids that much. Yet, I did and then, something different happened along the way. Stories. We shared stories. We listened to each other share our stories. And they became ready for me to go. Now, we are both ready.
As I pulled onto the highway and headed east, I knew that all the moments we have listened to each other, shared with each other, we have been learning to honour our own stories. These story spaces will continue! We have come to understand some of the complexities of telling, living, retelling & reliving our own narratives. We have come to understand the beauty of a trusting space that supports our sharings.
Okay, I drank the iced cap that the boys had stopped and picked up for me. I slurped, wore my sunglasses as a hair band while the boys filed past me, unloading boxes from three different vehicles. Then, we headed to my house to unload bookshelves. Afterwards, they drove away, leaving my daughter and I sitting on our front steps a little before 5:00 pm on the final day of school.
They drove away, but were not gone. That’s family. That’s what it’s like when family changes homes. Sad, but we take our stories along with us. Some can be boxed, most travel with us, staying perched for hours on our front stoops, tears streaming down faces.