Three and a half years ago I made much needed changes to my blog, finding more identity in this space. Soon afterwards, I entered graduate research and found myself … Continue reading Lifemaking
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 am attending Festival of Words this week. Tomorrow is workshop day. The morning is poetry. The afternoon is passion. I have been instructed to arrive in the morning with a poem to work on in class. I wanted to write a performance piece about my deep loathing of homework. However, the following emerged:
Del was 81 when her grown daughter of five died.
Sipping tea, Del told me that people don’t bring casseroles to a divorce.
Del was wise. She told me when I had the world figured out I could buy a pair of red shoes.
My flats were red with a band of pink across the toe. They fit the width of my feet.
Del died years ago, long before I was ready for my shoes.
She never told me about strokes.
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.
Toward the end of year I noticed short videos popping up in my Instagram feed. What a great way to share a year in review. I began putting a short video together and then I realized that much of my year was missing.
I went back to my photos from 2013. Though I don’t deliberately take a photo a day, I do take many photos. I try to capture all that makes up my world.
As I began to put the video together I began to reflect on my year. Relationships matter to me. Place matters to me. Time matters to me. I am surprised at how much more courageous the students and I are than we ever imagined. I am in awe at how our courage is connected to place – a physical place and a storying space within – more than we ever dreamed possible.
The following is a video of only photos from 2013; Jessy Lee advised I leave out videos, this year.
Most of the photos are in chronological order. Some of the photos may not make any sense to folks who haven’t lived alongside Jess, our family or my other kids this past year, and that’s okay.
2013 was beautiful.
These are our stories…
I changed schools this fall, moving from a traditional space, teaching kids I loved and subjects I adored (ELA, Outdoor Education and Arts Education) into a different role. A role I sought. The subject areas, for the most part, have been the same. And I still adore the kids. The move was spurred in part because of my graduate journey, but truthfully, it was time for a change; I needed to know a different story of educator me.
The last four months have been different. Mess is good right?
I expected things to be different. I expected a learning curve as I moved into the role of Student Support Teacher, and I as I began my graduate research. There is much I miss about my former school, but what I miss most is feeling validated.
The educator story of me whispers that I should now be reflecting that this is an internal struggle and I should work it through.
But that’s not how I’m feeling.
In early December the one of my committee members commented that when he feels this way, he blogs.
I live in the midst of groups of kids and yet get very little time to attend to their narratives. I feel continually rushed, as though I never really get to settle-in; I feel as though I’m never really in an at-home-living space with kids, as though I’m moving to the next place, next place, and this makes me want to put my hoody up.
There are moments of gentleness though. There was a morning in early December. Our school family had suffered a loss, our Vice Principal had lost her son a few weeks before. A student, Kate (pseudonym), and I sat around our morning sharing table. Neither of us could yet manage to take off our coats. We were tired and we were sad. Kate shared about missing her brother who had died three months earlier. Our VP joined us then. We asked questions that none of us had the answers to. We cried. We laughed. We didn’t wipe away our tears with our mittens. We sat a long while until finally we joined the rest of our school family for pancakes. These are moments of such beauty. These are moments when our space becomes a curriculum of lives.
Maybe what I need is gentle time with kids, like those after-school moments and come-of-your-own willingness spaces. I ache for them.
The last day before we left for winter break Kate and I sat around our sharing circle with Joe (pseudonym). He is the youngest student in our sharing circle. Kate came up with a plan to keep the three us connected. Kate was really worried about Joe.
“Okay but this is weird,” Joe replied. But his eyes caught mine. I wondered if Kate was worried about the long two weeks away from her circle. I wondered if Kate was worried about missing her brother. I wondered if the hum from her ear buds that don’t drown out well, would be enough. I wondered, as I met Joe’s knowing eyes, if it was Kate who needed a plan.
In December, I attended my last fall term Works-in-Progress graduate group at the University. I feel like such a kid at this table. I feel as though I have little to contribute, as though the world speaks deliberately in academic babble, and I wonder if I should SoundCloud everyone so we might return and reflect on how we share. I sit on my hands. I drink tea and water and coffee, twirling a beverage between my hands and lips to keep busy. The others usually ignore me. I am grateful. Too bad I don’t wear a hoody to Works-in-Progress group, though that’s a story of grade-five-me, of school that fits that sharing space too.
Our knowing of children’s past experiences on their in- and out-of-classroom places was shaped by their storytelling as we continued to hear the numerous accounts of the experiences… As children spoke of resistance to our plotlines of a story of school composed around making spaces for lives, we knew their resistance was an expression of the lack of narrative coherence they felt between our practices and what they knew as school. Our practices were an expression of our stories to live by, of who we were. But we also knew our practices were not coherent with the practices children knew as fitting within their stories of school. (Huber et al, 2004)
At my Works-in-Progress group, we are pulled together by one of my committee members, a professor at the University, and by our common focus of narrative inquiry. The tea is good. And so are the stories. There are two of us working on our master thesis; the others on their doctorate. In December, I sat at the table feeling as I sound now, a bit bitter, feeling a bit wiser too about the role of the University in my research, in my practice, and in the lives of students and families. I tried to stay positive. There were cookies.
The group was discussing the potential of narratives in Teacher Education programs. They were only discussing the value of narratives for pre-service teachers. I almost lost my gourd. The conversation felt so… disconnected. In that moment all I could think about what a student of mine who had been arrested two days before and whose stories had often been silenced by school or told for him. I almost pounced into the conversation, “The value of narrative is when my grade ten student is doing this with a grade two student down the hall.”
Okay. I wasn’t eloquent.
I was frustrated because the people around my sharing circle, some I trust, some I don’t, all with a great deal of influence in the education world, where having what felt like yet another conversation that did not included elementary and high school students. Where were their narratives?
I cried during the rest of group and the cookies got soggy. The PhD-ers suggested I send them my works-in-progress, for feedback. It wasn’t pretty.
A few days later, after the students, staff and I returned from our daily late morning walk; I poked my head into the office to share with my VP. She was just back on half days and she was sitting at her computer, listening to the hum of the monitor, preparing to head home. She asked about my university journey. I sank into the chair she keeps beside her desk.
“You know, I have this lens. I am not going to change it. I really don’t care about teachers or administrators, and I really don’t care about pre-service teachers or superintendents, or professors. I care about kids and families. I can’t pretend I see things differently. I don’t.”
She hugged me, and she cried. I don’t think it was my words. She suggested I talk with a teacher in the division who completed his thesis and had learned much about the journey. “Talk to him, it will help.” I kissed her cheek and joined my school family for lunch.
Just as I have been silenced and labeled by the messy plotlines of school stories and stories of school, so too have the students I live alongside.
When I arrived at my new school in the fall I had heard the rumors of how others labeled the students. I was prepared for those comments. And they came. They continue to come, but not so blatantly.
I wasn’t prepared for the comments directed towards myself and other staff at the school that similarly set us apart in negative ways. It has been a different term.
The final afternoon of term, a colleague and I were cleaning up, reflecting, celebrating successes; we’d had a busy day. We had taken the kids to another school for a concert and upon return a grade nine student stated, “Miss Saas, I’m tired.” The events of the day had exhausted our school family.
It has been a different fall.
Last night I jumped into a brief Twitter chat with the Deputy Minister of Education and two university professors about measurement, standardized testing, assessment and evaluation. In the end, what I wanted to share with everyone was an invitation into our classroom, but I didn’t.
What I wanted to share were the different stories of experiences of our sharing space.
I wanted to share student narratives.
There are no pretty successes where students, staff and I live every day. I am going to write that again, there are no pretty successes where students, staff and I live every day.
Our successes sure aren’t small. And, they sure can be different too. And we need everyone to look closer; we need everyone to note that just because our world is different, it is also filed with successes.
Our successes – I am crying – are Robert Munsch Enormous in the lives of our youth. Sometimes they are so big they are like tectonic plates shifting lives and so embodied that kids bolt from school. This is success. One day this term a student slipped in from another class, walked down the hall and asked me if I would help him to learn. He shared that he had not understood the idea of a story having a beginning, middle and end until I wrote it on the board, and that he and I had to work on this during out-of school hours so no one in class would know. There was another student who hugged me goodbye because he had come to understand he needed a hug. This is success. There are the smiles of showing up, and showing up first to make coffee, and staying an entire day or understanding the sense of ditching class because for the first time, a student experiences the beauty of the middle-years pull of liking someone; these are successes. And these we celebrate.
So Kate came up with a plan.
Every day during the break we would message photos to each other and to Joe. We would keep Joe connected to our sharing space through photo stories. Some days slip by where all we send is a photo. Some days, we share a photo and a few words. Other days, Kate will ask questions and ask me to send a specific photo, or I will send a photo that connects to a story I’ve shared.
Two days ago she shared a photo of a letter her brother wrote to her while he was in jail, long before the accident that took his life. She has been rereading his letters and notes. Her messages and photos are filled with reflection, courage and sadness. “I miss him so much,” she writes, Kate who four months ago now never spoke about her loss, Kate who now finds ways to connect to others through it.
Maybe the glitter and easy isn’t needed? But I think some of it is. I don’t know. Maybe somewhere in all this messiness I am learning something about what I need and who I am. Maybe, in the tension of my graduate journey, school spaces that were once closed will come to listen, to really, really attend to silent stories like Kate’s, just as she has listened to Joe’s? Maybe when our grade ten student returns from lock-up he will share his stories of his experiences. I miss him. Perhaps, I am just not supposed to know, not supposed to see around as many corners like I did in previous years. What if the stories of experiences are our successes?
Some successes are profound.
“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…