Monday, August 25, 2014

Following Ferguson: What Do We Say To Kids?

Where is the love?

I remember graduating from college and wondering how in the world I was going to get a teaching job mid year. I had to extend my higher education stay (much to my parent's delight, not) after deciding to earn a dual major and certification in early childhood and elementary education. This left me with a December graduation. Being that teachers work on yearly contracts, I was pretty much out of luck. I started subbing in any district that would take me and quickly found an opportunity to be a teacher's aid in the Ferguson -Florissant School District. Not being from Saint Louis I wasn't very knowledgeable about the area but applied anyways. Within a week I was hired and started working at a small public elementary school in Ferguson.

Prior to landing the teacher's aide position in Ferguson, I had just completed a 3rd grade student teaching placement in Ladue School District. I thought it was heaven! I worked with the Missouri Teacher of the Year and had access to incredible resources, ongoing support and met amazing families throughout that prior semester.
I can tell you that the differences between Ladue and Ferguson Florissant were night and day. But that's not what I want to talk about, because that's all people are talking about. Differences, how different people are in Ferguson from other areas of St. Louis and beyond. I want to talk about the similarities. The students in Ferguson were just as adorable as the children I taught in Ladue. The teachers were just as hard working as the teachers in Ladue and I met Ferguson parents who were incredibly passionate about education as I did in the Ladue School District.  I enjoyed working there just as much as I did student teaching in Ladue. Why? Kids are kids and they want to feel loved and respected. They made me feel loved and respected, both the white and the black kids.

Your own kids, or kids you know may be feeling a little confused right now, as they may have heard about the devastating situation in Ferguson. Obviously, this tragedy hits home to me. As adults, it can be difficult to explain the recent turn of events, and incredibly challenging as we seek ways to explain all that is happening. Here are some ways to help kids understand what is going on:

1. Acknowledge what they have seen and heard.  Well, thanks to social media and instant connection to the world, it's impossible to monitor everything kids are watching.  Ask them what they know, what have they heard and seen.  Pop that bubble you think they reside in. Kids are all different. Some may want to talk about it at the dinner table, some may want to talk in private, some may not want to talk about it all. Our kids listen and absorb more than we give them credit for. Ferguson is not a secret nor should it be swept under the rug just because it is not directly affecting your family. It's real life and families are being torn apart. Families just like ours. Communities are at risk. You can start by discussing your own family values, how does your family feel about violence, how does your family feel about racism? Yep, the R word.

2. Racism is real and it starts at home. No one is born racist. Racism is a product and consequence of one's home environment. If I were to guess, I would say that everyone knows someone who is racist. Our kids need to know what it means to be racist and why racism exists.  I don't know what it is like to be black. A black person doesn't know what it's like to be white. We can make assumptions and waste our time trying to envision that, or we can utilize our time in talking with people from other races and seek understanding from their own words. Asking them about their own culture, their own families. We can learn to understand the differences but also see similarities. Yes, there are images, stories, and allegations about the racism portrayed in Ferguson that appears scary and irrational. Keep in mind there are many angles to this tragic event.

3. We don't know the facts. Speculations and the news media are not 100% correct. We need to explain this to our kids.  The supporters of Michael Brown want justice. Some of these supporters are peacefully protesting, while others are violently rioting. The supporters of Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed Michael Brown believe he was doing his job and acted accordingly with the law. While the investigation carries on, the majority of American surveyed (65%) said they do not have enough information to decide which side they are on. Until the case unfolds further, and correct valid information is shared, one can only base their opinion about what is being interpreted through the media.

4. Moving forward. Hopefully kids can find peace and understanding by doing the following: praying for the families, asking questions, but more importantly, realizing that in life sometimes peoples' actions do not make sense. Adults don't always have the answers but we can encourage questions. Avoid judgment and let kids know that some peoples' opinions can come across disrespectful or opinionated. Remain hopeful, while this is certainly a challenging and devastating issue, we have to show hope for the future. Talking with our kids about how we can change our actions, and our thoughts to support those who experience such hurt and violence. Not everything is black and white, even though that is the big issue in this case.

The police officers involved and the Ferguson rioters...all human. That's one thing we have in common, no matter what color we are, we are human. We have a body, a heart and a soul. All which need to be loved and respected. We can't get there if we don't talk about it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

This is 40? Oh Boy, Was I Wrong!

I've worn many hats over the years, but this is one I will always cherish.

I remember when my mom turned 40, I was 14. I seriously thought, "My poor mom, she is getting so old." And, you know what? I probably told her that too. Not in a sweet, compassionate way, but more of a snotty, junior high tone of voice way (can't wait until my girls hit that age...karma, karma, karma).

Boy was I wrong about 40.

Over the last few weeks as I have headed into my fourth decade of survival, I have realized it's not so bad. In fact, I'm actually enjoying this older version of myself.  Here are some things I have come to embrace over the years and will continue to work on in the coming years.

  • I have a bigger appreciation for parenting. Life can be unpredictable, challenging and completely overwhelming at times.It takes a village to raise our families. I don't believe you have to physically bear a child to be a parent. From teaching in my early 20s to raising kids of my own, then watching my close friends and families support me by taking my kids after school, giving them hugs and kisses when they see them and letting me know that parenting can be hard are all ways we parent together. I also have grown to appreciate my own parents more, now that I am older. Cliche' but it is true. I love our close relationship and even partnership when talking through difficult issues and enjoying each other's company as we laugh and joke around. Everyone has their own way of parenting, and I love that. I love that my kids will be raised by a variety of special people.

The most positive spirit in my life. I also need to thank her for not dyeing my bangs blond.

I love these times with my dad. I always learn something new and it's usually not about fishing.

  • It's the little things that really count. I have always struggled with the fact that people pop in and out of our lives. I have experienced deep heartache at times when someone leaves my life for whatever reason. As I have gotten older, I have grown to feel blessed by the fact that they were even present in my life at all. I now try to let go of the reason why they had to leave and focus on what I learned from them. Some lessons have been positive, others eye-opening and left with a sting, but overall it's the little experiences along the way that have the lasting effect. Another thing I have learned, is how much a small gesture can impact your whole day: a simple smile, a warm hug, and short thank you or even quick note.  Never underestimate how some things, which seem insignificant, have great power.
He quickly reminded me of how holding someone's hand, even briefly, can make all the difference.
  • You get one body. The wrinkles are coming, the scars have set in and I can't eat a Quarter Pounder anymore without feeling sick (that latter one probably has more to do with the awful food choice).  My body needs to be respected and I have started to embrace it's imperfections more and more.  My wrinkles have become reminders of the many laughs I have had over the years. My scars are symbols of a life lived and reminders to slow down.  I have to workout more frequently to remain healthy and watch closely what I consume. While it's not always exciting to workout and eat healthy food, it's been rewarding to know that if try my best,  I can avoid this body from breaking down!

Definitely my daughter, I use to choose suckers over blueberries, too.
  • Find an aspect about your job that you love. Everyone has a job to do, whether you take home a paycheck or stay at home with your family. There are areas of our jobs, careers, professional responsibilities which make us wonder, from time to time, if we are in the right place. I have learned that it is impossible to love every single thing about what you do. That's what makes work...well, work. Working hard does pay off, but not every time. There's this important piece about it all: follow through. Start something and finish it. Be reliable and always be gracious. Standing up for yourself can be difficult at times given the situation but it crucial to gain respect. There are times when I do not enjoy completing certain tasks. It's life, it's work! I do love the fact that I work at a Jesuit University which promotes growth: professionally and personally. This is such a work in progress...striking that balance of finishing up and knowing when to end my day.

I get to see and feel growth at work, for which I am thankful
  • Soothe your soul. Nurturing your soul to find that inner peace has become very important to me. Feeding my soul by laughing with others, listening to music or even just being alone are gifts. Prayer and meditation; more importantly, reflection are ways my soul feels refreshed. We all have different needs, wants and wishes. Don't neglect your soul.  Everyone has a soul, is a soul, be sure to find time to soothe your soul. 

I have much more to learn and experience! Here's to being wrong about 40 and looking forward to the next 40+ years of feeling right!

One of my favorite prayers:

Mighty God, Father of all, Compassionate God, Mother of all, 
Bless every person I have met, every face I have seen, every voice I have heard especially those most dear. 
Bless every city, town, and street I have known, bless every sight I have seen, every object I have touched. In some mysterious way these have all fashioned my life; all that I am, I have received. 
Great God, bless this world.
--Jack Morris, SJ

Funny scene from "This is 40"...

Monday, August 11, 2014

Back To School: Stop Complaining!

You can't play hooky on the first day of school.

Why do we make kids go to school? How awful, right? I mean, it's the law, so kids have to go. But, the more parents keep telling their child how sad they are that school is starting again, the more likely the child will....well...hate going to school. 

Is that what you want?


So, stop it.

I keep seeing posts and hearing some parents talk about what a big bummer it is that their child has to go back to school so soon. While it is perfectly understandable to experience negative feelings about our summer's end, we need to stay positive about the fact that our kids get to go back to learning and growing as individuals.

I think sometimes our society takes for granted that we live in a country which provides education for our children. Here are some quick facts which I hope will have a positive light on why we should be happy our children get to go back to school

1. There are approximately 121 million children worldwide without access to education.
2. Data shows children in India and China go to school 25-30% longer than children in the US.
3. All brains do not develop at the same rate which is why it is important to expose children to a variety of activities, which schools offer.
4. Three main reasons children attend school are to: gain social skills, qualify for jobs and learn other viewpoints
5. Schools that encourage risk-taking help children make mistakes and learn from them, which gives their self-esteem gets a boost!

Remember, it's all in the way you phrase it.  A school is the facility where our children learn and grow. Promoting the love of learning is going to be more successful than the promotion of the institution.

Here are some ways you can encourage your kids to love learning:
  • Good mornin': The school day starts as soon as they get up and at 'em. Mornings can be so hectic. Make that car ride to school or quick pep talk before they head out the door count!
  • Team up: It's really a team effort. Building relationships with their teachers is beyond crucial. You may not see eye to eye with all their teachers, but the more positive you can keep that partnership the better off your child's school experience will be.
  • Open up: Sometimes it's difficult to get our kids to talk about their school day. Plus, every child communicates in different ways. The dinner table may work for some, but others may prefer to talk about their day over shooting baskets or reading a book together. You know your child better than anyone. Try to find a special moment frequently.
  • Extend it out: As we all know, the school day doesn't end at the last bell, so extend their day into something they enjoy doing or an activity they look forward to now and then. Between clubs, practices, appointments and other commitments, our kiddos get over-scheduled...quick! Let them choose, as often as they can, what they want to do to take a break from the structured school day they have had.
  • Good night!  EVERYONE needs a good night's sleep. Technology/electronics should be closed out an hour or two before bedtime.Encourage your kids to veg out, read or just relax at least an hour before lights out.

A new year of learning, a new year of growth...a new year of fun! 
It starts at home, as it should. 
So cheer your kids on, encourage them to love to learn and enjoy watching them do it!

Having a hard time motivating a child to go to school...just twist and shout!

Other Sources:!bAYDsJ

Monday, August 4, 2014

Looking For A Good Time? Why Adult Play Is Important

Why don't we have recess as an adult? Let's change that!

When was the last time you played your favorite sport, hit the tetherball, enjoyed a long bike ride or danced to some of your favorite tunes during the work week? When was the last time you took an hour or two to do something you enjoy during the work week? Have you thought about picking up a new hobby and engaging in it during the work week? Play is not just for the weekends nor is it just for kids. Maybe you are sitting there thinking, "I don't have time, " or perhaps guilt instantly sinks in. What about work, paying bills, spending enough time with your family, or friends, and sleep? Don't over think it, it should come natural and your body needs it.


Having a good time is not just child's play. Typically play is considered a treat, a desired pastime for adults, but it is much more. Adult play is a necessity. Our bodies and minds require it. Research shows that active adults live longer, have happier lives and are more healthy. There are both physical and psychological benefits to playing around as an adult. Here is a list of benefits adults receive when they take the time to play around: "heal resentment and emotional wounds, an antidote to loneliness and depression, foster perseverance and learning, improve the quality of our relationships, and makes us joyous and happy."

What types of play are there for adults? Many! Here are some examples...

Game Face- working out a good sweat at the gym, hitting some golf balls on the course or playing hoops on the court; these are great ways to play around. Whether you by yourself or with some friends, you are taking much needed time to break away from the norm. Playing just 30 minutes of a sport can improve your quality of sleep. Sweet dreams!

You don't have to look good or score, just enjoy yourself.

Work It- Playing foosball, shooting pool and mastering Zynga are all ways companies are getting on board with playtime at work. I have the luxury of working on a university campus where I can walk outside anytime and find a group of students, and often faculty throwing the frisbee, playing cards, joking around or engaged in some type of play. It's completely refreshing and something I try not to take for granted.  Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute of Play explains, "There is good evidence that if you allow employees to engage in something that they want to do which is playful, there are better outcomes in terms of productivity and motivation." 

Google has it going on. This is their work and play environment,

You've Got Talent- Working on your car, camping outdoors, and playing video games; all these activities stimulate your mind and keep you active. Play doesn't have to revolve around sports. Involving yourself in a hobby of interest increases your self confidence, positive thinking and creativityCarol Kauffman, an assistant clinical professor at Harvard Medical School explains, “when you’re really engaged in a hobby you love, you lose your sense of time and enter what’s called a flow state, and that restores your mind and energy.” EVERYONE has a talent, an interest in a hobby. Can't think of one, here you go!  An alphabetical  list of hobbies out there, some of which I did not even know existed!  Let it flow: from collecting action figures to wingsuit flying, you will find one that fits your own playful personality.

Even Andy had a hobby!

The Art of Play: Visiting a museum, painting on canvas, dancing to your favorite music, these are all considered playing as well! There are different branches of arts, but commonly they are defined as painting, sculpture, literature and dance. The arts offer us a way to express ourselves and experience how others express themselves.   They are incredibly important to our world, especially for adults because "they are languages that all people speak that cut across racial, cultural, social, educational and economic barriers and enhance appreciation and awareness." Interested in learning more about our talented local artists? Check out Kansas City Artists Coalition.  Would you rather listen and dance to some incredible music rather than make your own? Get on your dancing shoes and click on NightlifeKC's website for listings of all types of bands.

You may want to practice your dance moves first before playing them out in front of others.
Get it On- playing house, doctor, and dress-up, making out and feeling love's first kiss; all ways many of us played as a child and into teenage years. Playing around with your lover is, well, play! Spending quality time exploring and enjoying your mate will reap you many health benefits as an adult. According to Andrea Demirjian, author of the "kissing book" (Kissing: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About One of Life's Sweetest Pleasures), explains smooching can reduce blood pressure, zap headaches, boost self-esteem and amp up happy hormones. There are many more benefits to being intimate, I'm sure you can figure them out. 

Gustav Klimt, "The Kiss" (1907), this piece of art is still getting action today for obvious reasons.

There you have it. No more guilt, just make a point to schedule it in or be spontaneous about playing around. No rules, except to have good time.

 "You an discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation."  (Plato)
Next time you engage in adult play, discover something interesting about whomever you are playing with, more importantly, discover something about yourself.

Poison has had this figured out for awhile...

Other Sources: