End of the day goodness

End of the day goodness
Backyard travel

Friday, November 20, 2015


Charity has been on my mind a lot lately.  It is getting to be towards the holidays and the school has been doing canned food drives, shoe drives, change drives, all sorts of things to help.  The conversation in the media has been focused on whether or not we should help others when we have people here who need our charity first.  Someone brought up a very interesting point, not until we were faced with being charitable towards outsiders, did our own homeless suddenly become a priority.  This really struck me.  I have been MEANING to work a soup kitchen for years.  I have been MEANING to volunteer time but I don't.  I am the queen of good intentions that tend to never ever ever amount to anything.

This is where Facebook comes into the picture doing that weird thing it does, allowing you into the thoughts and lives of people you barely know, or slightly know, or would like to know better but they are at football games on the weekends and you are camping with the Girl Scouts.  It is such a strange way to form friendships, but not really.  I like to think of it as modern day telegraph pen pals.  The messages (unless it is me), are usually short, direct and easy to digest.

One of the best aspects of this kind of communication is that it serves as a grass roots community motivator.  I certainly never would have poured a cold bucket of ice water on my head had my aunt not challenged me to on FB.  Nor would I have known enough about ALS to go online and give a small donation.  I gave a small contribution to a friend who ran a race to bring awareness and drop the stigma with depression.  I have signed petitions.  In fact today I received a letter from Senator Cornyn in response to my latest letter to him.  Facebook is directly responsible for getting me off my butt to vote in two elections (well that and my Dad, could not have faced Dad had I not voted).  Facebook helped me get to the McKinney Art walk this past weekend.  I always loose fliers but two friends who were participating had the information posted on FB so I could easily google the address in the car on my phone and get there.  You get the point, I am sure even with the pitfalls of Social Media, it has had a positive effect motivating you as well to take some action.

But back to my lack of charity.  Over the last few weeks I noticed several of my neighbors posting about ACO.  I did not know what it was so I looked it up.  It is the Allen Community Outreach.  It is a great website and it lays out a ton of ways to help without being overwhelming.  My first thought was, "Wow, this is a great resource for the GS Troop.  I need to find out what we can do to start partnering with them."  Then one of my neighbors posted that it looked like the ACO would not make their goal to provide the Thanksgiving dinners they wanted.  She gave specifics of what items were missing.  I needed to go to the grocery anyway today, how hard is it to pick up pie filling and fruit cocktail along with milk and chicken?  I got home and walked my bags to her house.  Yeah, I know, slacker's paradise, I don't even have to go drop it off, there is someone right across the street who is taking everything this afternoon.  Anyway, I was thinking how embarrassed I was not to have more.  I always do that.  I want to be grandiose and as a result end up doing nothing.  I got to her porch and there were lots of bags, obviously from different people.  None grandiose, just a little here and a little there but it was stacking up to quite a lot.  It reminded me of a grocery ad campaign in London.  "Every little helps."  It is so true.  If everyone helps a little, it ends up being a lot.

This November 20th, 6 days before Thanksgiving, I am so grateful for my family, the food in my fridge, the roof over my head, good friends.  I am also thankful to have happened into a community with a good heart, full of people who take action and care.  It is an amazing time we live in where one person can reach out through the internet telegraph and connect the dots of kindness together in a community.  Thank you to every person who sends these beacons out.  They are received.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Hiding Place

On one of my many childhood trips to Bowie, I found myself alone with the grown ups and scrounging around for something to do.  I must have been at least 12 because it was in the new house.  The new house had several book shelves filled with books at the top of the stairs.  It also had a built in wall cabinet loaded with pictures all across the top.  When I had had enough of staring at old images of my family and myself I decided to hunt for a book.  I pulled down 5 Little Peppers and How they Grew.  No, not in the mood for that plus I had already read it.  The Scarlet Pimpernel, eh, more into the cover than the first 10 pages.  Wait, what was that? Something skinny, The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom.  Oh, it was about World War II.  I had read The Diary of Anne Frank and been riveted in the way every child is riveted by it.

And so it was I sat down with The Hiding Place, first lounging on the uncomfortable office style couch and when my chin started to tremble, I headed for the cave bed, carved into the wall upstairs in the bedroom.  No twelve-year-old wants the family to realize a random book has reduced them to tears.  There are not many books in my life that I have picked up and been unable to put down.  This was one of them.   It completely lifted me out of my selfish prepubescent world and launched me into that scary place of what if.  What if I lived in a country that was persecuting a group of people?  Would I be strong enough like the Ten Boom’s and help them?  Would fear prevent me from doing what was right?  Would I have turned my back on these people who had no where else to go?  I hoped that I would be a strong good person who cared more about others than myself.   I was so inspired by the goodness of these people.  These real people who had hidden Jews and been caught and put in concentration camps.  Corrie would write about the anger in herself and I could relate, but her sister and her father, they always saw and prayed for the SS men and the people who were acting out of fear and hatred.   I contemplated this for a long time.  I had never even considered praying for the enemy.  The enemy was the enemy.  They were the ones ruining everything weren’t they?  But in war things are never black and white.  There were the neighbors who at best were complacent and at worst, told the Germans about the Dutch families that were hiding the Jews.  These neighbors basically delivered a death sentence.  Did that make them the enemy as well?  Was complacency criminal or simply human nature?  After the war these people had the hardest time because not only could their countrymen not forgive them, they could not forgive themselves. 

When faced with the choice of stepping up or caving to fear Corrie’s family choose to step up.  For them it was the only choice.  You do not stand by and watch your fellow man suffer no matter what the consequences.   Corrie Ten Boom said a lot of things in this book that I had to read and reread and I still don’t know if I hear the message as it was intended.  But the older I become, and as the atrocities continue, the more I value her words about love and forgiveness.

“Do you know what hurts so very much?  It’s love.  Love is the strongest force in the world and when it is blocked that means pain.  There are two things we can do when this happens.  We can kill that love so that it stops hurting.  But then of course part of us dies, too.  Or we can ask God to open up another route for that love to travel.”
-       Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place

From the deepest depths of my soul, I pray that I am strong enough to seek out another route for that love to travel.  I pray that I never partake in slamming the door and killing that love so that it stops hurting.  

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Absence of Wind on a Crystal Clear Lake or Happy Birthday Ms. G

Since Helen was a year and a half old and Lauren a year, they have been in one form of school or another.  There was Mother's Day out, preschool, public school in Plano, a charter school in Richardson, and now a public school in Allen.  Once you put your child into "the system" you come face to face with the reality of underpaid, overworked, tired, frustrated, over managed teachers.  As if this was not enough, they end up providing a ridiculous amount of supplies to the class room.  Every parent who has winced at the $60 -$70 worth of beginning of the year supplies should feel the pain of a teacher who looks around mid September and realizes, her classroom of kids who had fresh beautiful supplies 3 weeks ago are running dangerously low.  I have one chronic looser of pencils and one who goes through paper like I go through Cheetos.  All the hours I spent encouraging my toddlers to express themselves artistically accidentally transformed them into mindless supply eating zombies.

Elementary teachers have some well of patience and love that keeps them functioning at extraordinary levels in the classroom.    But they have another well, one of anger and resentment that is sometimes hard to keep contained outside the classroom.  It is heart breaking to watch talented classroom teachers wither under administrative bureaucracy that has lost touch with the magic experienced in the classroom.  I saw this more in the charter school than anywhere else.  Teachers were being paid $10,000 a year less but with the project based learning, their planning was twice as long.

We parents don't always help morale either.  We mean to, of course.  We talk about how much we support our teachers.  Some of us donate time, others supplies.  But.....there are those pesky tests.  The ones a good many of us are revolting against.  And the new partial absence policy after 8:15 rule.  And the fact that if you forget your driver's license, on a day you forgot to get lunch up, until 2 minutes before your kid's designated lunch time, well you are just S.O.L.  After all, you wouldn't want to jeopardize their safety, never-mind that low blood sugar.  Oh, and while we are on the subject of blood sugar don't even think about the bad last century habit of bringing birthday cupcakes to your kid's class.  This is nutritional treason.   Henceforth there will be birthday pencils!  Which does a nice job of circling the conversation back to replenishing supplies.  The point is, even after meaning to support the teachers, we often get so pissy with school policy that it leaks into our interactions with the teachers.  There is an undercurrent of disgruntled flowing through public schools that threatens to reach flood levels soon.

It is for this reason that I was unprepared for Lauren's 2nd grade teacher.  You get use to the current.  Its absence is as noticeable as the absence of wind on a crystal clear lake.  I noticed right away though I hadn't yet identified it as absence of current.  I just assumed it was young can do attitude. One day in the car pool line after only a couple days of school, she made a point to come up to my car and discreetly let me know Lauren had had an accident.  I cringed.  Last year's teacher had cringed.  I expected this teacher to cringe.  Instead, I got, "Don't worry, I have a plan for this.  From now on when Lauren goes to the resource room she will go to the bathroom first."  There has not been another accident since that day.  We had a few other hiccups in those first few weeks and this young, fresh faced woman deftly handled all of them.  She knew Lauren had never participated in the classroom before.  Her solution: create a small group where Lauren would be a critical part of the group where her participation is a goal of the group.  Everyone is rewarded when Lauren uses her loud and proud voice.  This makes everyone love to interact with her and she with them.  Brilliant.  She knew Lauren can't write more than a few words to participate in classroom work.  Her solution: Have Lauren tell her what she wants to write.  The teacher writes it as Lauren says it, then Lauren writes it and she is graded in a way that we can all see how much of the lessons are being comprehended.  I am the most amazingly proud Mom knowing that my child who I had thought incapable is consistently making strong C's, some B's and the occasional A (Insert me doing a happy dance).  And so the year has proceeded until wa la, first 9 week teacher/parent conferences.

You get 15 minutes for a teacher/parent conference.  Not a lot of time.  I try not to load up on coffee because my mouth is not the one that needs to run.  This is time to be quiet and hear the heartbeat of your child's day.

I sit down in the very small chair.  I am very aware of its smallness.  I realize how at home the teacher is in the other small chair.  Of course, she sits here with them, it is her day home.  She smiles the dazzling smile that is reserved for magical second grade teachers, genuine, warm but confident and strong.  "I want you to know that Lauren has the absolute right teacher this year.  I decided in 2nd grade that I wanted to be a 2nd grade teacher.  This is what I have always wanted to do.  I was pulled just like Lauren to go to the resource room from 4th grade on.  She doesn't like to be pulled, she doesn't like to leave the classroom but I told her I did it to and went to my resource teacher Ms. Rose and she helped me reach my goals.  I asked the children their goals.  Lauren wants to go to Fairy college to be a Fairy.  Ms. McGurk, I want you to know I know someone who grew up to be a fairy.  She is a tooth fairy and she goes to schools talking to kids about health and taking care of their teeth and she loves her job.  Lauren can absolutely be a fairy if that is her passion and the fact that she is willing to go to college.  Did you notice that?"  She proceeds to take 20 minutes instead of the allowed 15 to tell me lots of things.  She is missing class on Friday for a personal day, the first one she has taken in her 5 years of teaching but it is for a wedding, but she hates to leave her class...  What I heard was what every parent wants to hear from a teacher.  She loves her class.  She believes in Lauren.  She wants with all her heart to teach my child without trying to turn her into someone she is not.  She is teaching the class to accept who they are and others even if they are different.  Most importantly, for me, I could tell she wants Lauren to believe in Lauren.  I also heard and felt someone living her dream.  All the things that are negative about school melt in the presence of such a person.

When I turned to leave I hugged this teacher.  I don't do that.  I know she is use to the kids hugging her but I am not so sure she is use to parents spontaneously breaking into a hug.  There was no other way to express how overwhelmed I was to be in presence of someone with such a strong, tender, persevering heart.  A teacher's heart.