Choose to be Teachers and Students

My daughter and son-in-law asked me to speak at their wedding. I was honored but also hesitant–what could I, of all people in their lives, say about marriage? The only thing I know without a doubt. With their permission, here’s my speech:

As we gather to celebrate your journey together, I want to share with you a little wisdom I’ve acquired along the way. After 15 years in education, I’ve realized a very important fact: We never stop being students. As a matter of fact, even without an education degree, we are all teachers as well.

This concept applies perfectly to our relationships. Every thought, word, and action speaks volumes for those willing to listen, watch, and engage. If we choose to be diligent observers of the people in our lives, we learn the important aspects of who they are. But as much as people observe us, they can’t know everything about us, unless we teach them. We must not be afraid to share the inner workings of our hearts with those we love and trust.

Therefore, Nicole and Tripp, you must choose to be teachers and students of each other.

As much as you think you know the person standing in front of you, there is always something to learn about each other. You must be willing to teach the other what makes you happy, angry, or sad; you must be willing to learn how to ease each other’s burdens and how and when to give each other space.

I know from watching the two of you together, that you have already learned much about each other and are not afraid to teach each other about your needs.

But as time goes on, each of you will change and grow—sometimes together; sometimes apart. But if you make the commitment to always be a student and a teacher, you will learn about the changes and teach each other who you are becoming. You will learn to give each other space and comfort when you each need it because you will teach each other when and how. Just as teachers can’t expect students to know what they have not been taught, you can’t expect the other to know how to meet your needs.

Teach each other with patience and love. Engage with each new stage with diligence and passion. Be dedicated students of each other and your relationship.

Just as you have chosen to marry each other today, Nicole and Tripp, may you choose to be teachers and students for the rest of your lives.

The Top 12 Global Teacher Blogger Discussion: March 2017

What roles do teachers have in creating kind and compassionate citizens?

Teaching is about investing in our future.

Teachers need to do more than teach content. We are so much more than knowledge transmitters and test proctors. We are human beings that have made it our life’s mission to improve the world through nurturing, guiding and educating the world’s children.

I became a teacher because I wanted to help children/teenagers become the best they could be. I had a few amazing teachers who changed my life, and I wanted to be that teacher for other people.

Teachers stand in front of the classroom and help a room full of people discover the beauty of knowledge, and discover who they are and who they can become some day. If teachers are not embracing the importance of their role, then they may be doing more harm than good. Whether we like it or not, we are role models; we are educational coaches and knowledge facilitators.

When I taught in the high school, I taught the whole child, not just my content area. I love English and everything in the curriculum: writing, grammar, literature and oral communication. But what I loved more was how the English curriculum lent itself to teaching my students life skills, particularly kindness, empathy, and compassion. I believe these characteristics are more important than content knowledge because they will help students become successful in all areas of life, not just in the classroom or with standardized tests.

As a mother, I am also a teacher and role model to my children. I am not the perfect parent by any means; however, I have been raising children for 30 years now; my daughters and stepsons are adults, living on their own, and enjoying happy, successful lives, through which they are contributing positively to society. Ian is thriving and making significant gains in school.

As I navigate through my parenting experiences, I struggle with many of the things parents and teachers are currently dealing with. I struggle as a mother on the other side of the desk with how my son is treated by teachers and students in the classroom. However, my experiences as a teacher have given me insight into my collaboration with my son’s teachers. What I do know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is that if we all work at behaving as and creating kind and compassionate citizens, we can effectively help our children become happy, successful adults.

As important as it is for teachers and parents to model and teach kindness and compassion, students have a responsibility to engage with this part of their education as well. It is through the daily lessons, contrived or not, that students discover who they are and who they want to be. If we all work together, we will help students acquire the skills necessary to become civic-minded individuals who continue our work in improving the world through nurturing, guiding and educating the world’s children.

Much of this comes from the “Introduction” to my book, Uncommon Core: 25 Ways to Help Your Child Succeed in a Cookie Cutter Educational System. I have changed a few parts to focus on the question at hand.

Healthy Choices: Essential Oils

I’m happy to announce that I have joined doTERRA Essential Oils as a wellness advocate.

I was introduced to doTerra by a friend who has been using essential oils for years now. In the past she has given me oils for stress/anxiety, stomach aches, fever and body aches, and they have worked every time. At first, I thought it was coincidence, honestly, but the more research I did on essential oils, the more sense it made. People have been using essential oils for food preparation and health-care since the beginning of time.

In fact, many of the products we purchase in stores now are just synthetic versions of these natural oils. I truly believe that many of those synthetic, chemical products have created a health crisis in our society. Most of you know all too well about my son’s rare, cancerous brain tumor. Could his cancer, as well as so many other health problems around the world, been caused by these foreign chemicals that surround us?

In response to this belief, I have eliminated as many chemical products as possible over the last six months, and it has improved both our lives significantly. We are eating healthier, cleaning healthier, and allowing our bodies to heal with natural products instead of chemically created medicines. Not only do we clean with and ingest these oils, Ian and I also use a diffuser with essential oils for sore throats, congestion, and insomnia, and we wake up feeling healthy and rested.

img_2201A few products that I’ve been using on a daily basis for the last three months are lemon and peppermint oils. I have used other oils for specific reasons, but these two I take daily in my water and the effects are amazing. Every morning I mix about 5-6 drops of lemon oil and 2-3 drops of peppermint oil (too much peppermint can be overpowering) in a 2-quart container of regular tap water. I drink this water throughout the day. At first, I just liked the taste. It was a cool, refreshing drink without sugar or chemical additives. It helped me to fulfill the daily water requirement experts say our bodies need to stay healthy and hydrated. That in itself was a win for me.

As time went on, I started to notice that my desire for alcohol started to wane. I used to crave (for a lack of a better word) a glass of wine or a bottle of beer at the end of the day to help me unwind, but that craving stopped. Interestingly enough, I celebrated my 52nd birthday in October and was drinking, but it actually felt like I couldn’t overdo it. I was aware how much I was drinking because I was worried about the hangover I was sure to have because the older I get the worse those hangovers have become (like an all-day-long hangover). On my birthday, everyone was buying me drinks, but I didn’t feel drunk, while those around me were pretty intoxicated. The next morning, I wasn’t hungover at all. If anything, I was just tired from the late night. I thought that was pretty weird, but didn’t think much about it until I became a doTerra wellness advocate and started learning more about these two oils that I was using on a daily basis.

First, Lemon Essential Oil cleanses my liver and kidneys, and Lemon and Peppermint oils are known for their digestive benefits. I now know why I didn’t get a hangover. My liver and kidneys are functioning so well that my body just removed the toxins immediately. Because of the digestive benefits of both oils, I didn’t feel nauseated either. I no longer “crave” alcohol because these oils also have emotional benefits. Lemon oil helps with clarity, inspiration, and confidence. Peppermint oil opens the heart to joy and happiness, settles anxious feelings, and dissolves fears. I don’t need to “escape” from my day, which is why I craved alcohol.

If these things aren’t enough, here are a few other ways I have seen a difference in my life:

I started menopause in June, and I was struggling with intense hot flashes, especially in the middle of the night, which affected my sleep. During the day, I would go from a hot flash to chills, usually while teaching. I would lose my concentration and often forget what I was saying. After I started using the oils, besides putting the two oils in my water, I also created a body spray with lemon, peppermint, and lavender oils. My hot flashes stopped.

Whenever I have an upset stomach, I crush a DoTerra Peppermint Bead (a drop of oil in a beadlet) in my mouth, and the stomach ache stops immediately, almost like a Pepto-Bismol, but without the chalky taste and harmful chemicals. I also crush a peppermint beadlet after I eat at work to counteract any bad breath from the meal. It’s better than chewing gum, especially since I’m a teacher and shouldn’t talk while I’m chewing.

Ian is going through that painful growth spurt where his knee joint swells. It’s a common ailment for children between 10 and 15, and the only cure is time, but I have been putting Deep Blue oil-blend rub on his knee, and it instantly lessens his pain.

The other day, Ian was coughing and his chest sounded congested. A few days before he had spent the day with his sister who had a cough and congestion. I thought he must have picked up her cold. I gave Ian the bottle of On Guard oil blend, just to inhale the scent, and he stopped coughing and didn’t get sick.

I am looking forward to discovering the other benefits. I will keep you posted on my experiences with essential oils. Let me know if you’d like more information or would like to try any of the oils. I’ll be happy to assist you!

Here is my page on doTerra if you’d like to look at some of the products and the information on the company: https://www.mydoterra.com/paulinehawkins/#/

YouTube, Armor, and Winning the War

Me and IanAs some of you know, Ian has a YouTube channel (link). He’s been making and uploading videos since he was 7 years old. I have been monitoring his site. I get an email whenever someone comments on his videos, and then I delete and report anyone who makes a nasty comment. He’s been called names like retard, idiot, and fat. Up until now, I have protected him from the harshness of social media, waiting until I felt he was old enough and strong enough to deal with it on his own. However, I didn’t sit idle, expecting Ian to develop armor without help; so while I’ve been deleting comments, I’ve also been “training” him for these realities. Elementary school is the perfect time to build up the necessary armor. What used to be a middle school battleground has now filtered down to the younger years. Ian has had many opportunities to practice what I preach. It may seem unfortunate that someone so young would have to deal with children and adults attacking his intelligence, integrity, motivation, and character, but I’ve come to realize that it’s a blessing to be present and involved in these battles. Is there a better way to train him and strengthen his armor than while he’s in my presence, surrounded by my love and guidance?

So, when a child tells him, “I hate you!” Ian and I talk about what happened before that comment. Did Ian do something to that child? If so, we talk about making better choices and apologizing for his behavior if necessary. If not, we talk about the fact that we don’t know what’s going on with that other child. Maybe he has some difficult situations he’s dealing with, and the best course of action is not to retaliate and just walk away.

If someone says, “You’re stupid or weird,” I explain to Ian that those types of comments say more about the other person than they do about him. If Ian is just being himself and other children think he’s being weird, Ian doesn’t have to change to please other people. He can tone it down, if he wants, but Ian is allowed to have his own personality and be his own person, as long as he is being kind and not hurting anyone.

I constantly repeat this mantra to him: “You don’t have to be friends with everyone, but you do need to be kind to everyone. You can’t change how someone else behaves or feels, but you can change how you react and whether or not you let someone else control how you feel about yourself.”

That all sounds cut and dried, but situations aren’t always that simple. Yes, I teach my son to be kind, but I also teach him to stand up for himself and for others who are weaker than he is. We had one situation in which a girl his age got so angry with Ian’s goofy personality because he was “annoying” her, that she dug her nails into his shoulder to get him to stop repeating his “Chuck Norris” phrase. Ian knocked her arm away. Even though Ian had claw marks on his shoulder, she ran home accusing Ian of hitting her, which started a small group of children, along with this girl’s parents, calling Ian a bully—of course they only heard the story from the girl. No one present at the incident believed Ian was a bully, but there is nothing we can do to change how those other people feel.

In another situation, Ian defended a friend against a much bigger person. Ian stood on tiptoes to get in a high school boy’s face about something this boy did to one of his friends. Luckily, this older boy called him “little man” and appreciated Ian’s loyalty to his friend, resolving the situation immediately. Ian and I did talk about choosing his battles wisely though.

Usually, I let Ian take care of these situations on his own and give him advice when he asks or I see he really needs it. However, there have been times I’ve had to step in, like when two mothers ganged up on Ian and accused him of “bullying” their daughters and being a “liar” … about everything, I guess. I know Ian is not perfect; I need to discipline him for some of his choices, but the things they accused Ian of did not happen, and Ian had a number of other students who witnessed the situation and came to his defense. He was eventually vindicated, but there are a few people around him who still believe the lie.

As you can see, we have had many opportunities to practice these lessons over the last few years, which has helped Ian to develop a pretty tough armor. He’s strong and confident, and mostly immune to the nastiness around him.

The other day, someone made a mean comment on one of his parcour videos from a few years back. Ian made that video before he really knew what parcour was. This person decide to say, “You suck” on his video. Now that Ian has his own iPad, he received the notification of the comment as well. We both looked at our devices at the same time. Ian told me, “Apparently, I suck.”

“Don’t worry, bud. I’ll report it.” My heart hurt a little for him; I knew there would be more of that down the road, especially with his older videos, so I suggested, “You know, if you want, we can delete some of the older videos you have on your channel. You’ve grown so much that those videos aren’t really a reflection of who you are now.” I fully expected him to say, “Yeah. Let’s do that.”

Instead, Ian said, “No. Let’s leave them, Mom. We can just report the people who say mean things. That person’s words didn’t hurt me. Besides, how else are people going to see how much I’ve improved as a director, if they can’t see how I started?”

My mouth hung open for a little while. If I taught him that, why was I so shocked by his answer? Maybe the answer is that I just gave him the necessary tools so that he could fashion his own armor, according to the situation.

We all want to protect our children from pain, but pain is a requisite for life. Protecting my son isn’t about keeping him out of the battle; it’s about helping him develop the armor he will need to win the inevitable wars.

Friday Writing Challenge: I Miss High School

Prompt: Something you miss

Capping two of my students at their Senior Breakfast in 2014
Capping two of my students at their Senior Breakfast in 2014

I miss high school—not my teenage years but the years I spent teaching high school English.

A few weeks ago, I went to the local high school with my son to see his friends play a 10-minute exhibition game as the half-time entertainment for the boys’ basketball game. As soon as I walked into the building, I felt the energy that only exists in a school: An energy fueled by youthful hope and ambition.

We were a little early, so we sat in the bleachers by Ian’s friends. As I looked at the faces on the court, I was disappointed that I didn’t know anyone. Then I immediately chastised myself. How could I know anyone in this building? I don’t teach here. I don’t teach at any high school anymore. My heart began to ache.

Ridiculously, I fought back tears. Why did I leave a place I loved so much? How could I resign from a position that defined my purpose in life? How could I leave the students who needed me?

I looked at the parents, siblings, students, and teachers sitting in the stands. In Colorado I would have had at least one if not five people approach me while I was sitting there—a student just to say hi or a parent thanking me for working with his or her child or an older sibling back from college telling me I made a difference. But here, in this high school, no one knows me: None know that I used to change lives for the better; none know that I would lose sleep worrying about students just like them; none know how much it meant to my students to see me sitting in bleachers just like these.

While Ian watched his friends play, I evaluated what to do with this surprising surge of emotion. Did this mean I should start applying for secondary teaching jobs? Would anyone even hire me after my public resignation letter? If so, could I really work fulltime in a public school again? That thought brought a new surge of pain and questions. How could I go back to a public school, no matter how much I loved it, when the reason I left still exists? How could I be part of a system that aims to replace hope and ambition with standards and test scores? How could I go back to a profession that is being exploited by corporate greed and destroyed by bureaucrats with little concern for our children?

As my mind and heart raced, I thought about my college students. I am still changing lives and losing sleep over them, but I’m not immersed in the community the way I was in high school. As an adjunct, I just show up for class. If a student has questions, I stay on campus a little longer, but I’m free to leave when I’m done. I know I am still making a difference with my college students, but at a community college, I have many nontraditional students who are no longer teenagers in their formative years. Nevertheless, they respond positively to my encouragement, tough love, and passion. Most of my students leave at the end of a semester better prepared for their futures. Some students, however, don’t make it to the end of the semester. They didn’t start this process with the necessary work ethic or resilience to battle through entitlement issues, to embrace the demands of a college class and grow stronger mentally and emotionally because of it—skills I made sure I taught in high school.

I also thought about my financial situation. I’m barely making it right now. I chose to work as an adjunct so that I would have time to write. But a part-time adjunct position has just as much work as a fulltime high school position with a quarter of the pay. So I have less money and still have limited time for writing. If I taught fulltime again, I would at least have money, but I wouldn’t have as much time with my son.

So where does this leave me? How do I get all of my son’s and my needs met without sacrificing my convictions? How can I still be part of a system that encourages and builds up students when they are at their most vulnerable?

This semester, I put a few things in place: I started tutoring a high school student, which has been great. I also am on the subbing list for the middle and high schools in the area. My son will be moving up next year, so I hope to have more jobs in the middle school—that would be the best of both worlds.

Last week, I had my first subbing assignment in the middle school—8th grade English. I felt the energy again as soon as I walked into the building. Being a substitute is definitely different from being the main classroom teacher: Some students tested my teaching abilities immediately. They brought their phones out, walked around the room, sat next to friends, talked while I talked, but they quickly found out I was in charge, but not with an iron fist. I smiled, laughed, and quietly controlled the room. Some students were sweet and wanted to talk to me. I loved it all! I felt like I was home. This was a viable solution for my heartache. Maybe, if I were there enough, students would remember and recognize me. I could be part of this system, encourage teenagers, and make some extra money.

Ironically, while Ian was jumping at Blitz and I was writing this post, a student from the 8th grade class I taught walked past me and stopped: “Hey! You’re the sub from the other day, aren’t you?”

I think this is going to work just fine.

This writing challenge was painful and cathartic. I cried while writing it, which helped me heal, but it also renewed my passion for true educational reformation.  After I published this post, I realized I had more to say about education and the teachers leaving the profession, like me, with broken hearts. I turned this challenge into a post that is now on Huffington Post. You can get to that post here.

Friday Writing Challenge: A Favorite Movie

Inside OutInside Out

I know. This is a Wednesday, but when I started writing about Inside Out last Friday, I realized this movie was a post I needed to write about, not for writing practice, but to explore why it impacted me so profoundly.

When I taught American Literature, I told my students that we study history to know the facts of a time period, and we study literature to know how people felt about those facts. That’s one of the reasons I love this movie. Inside Out goes beyond entertainment; it is film as literature. It’s a film that illustrates how we feel about the increase in childhood depression and parental over-involvement, and how we feel about creativity and imagination being replaced with rigid curriculum.

On the surface, Inside Out is a brilliant illustration of the way our emotions work to protect and guide us on our journey.

The story revolves around Riley, a young girl, and the emotions that work the control panel in her head. The first emotion we encounter is Joy with Riley’s first coo, which is immediately followed by Sadness with Riley’s first newborn cry. Next, we meet Fear; he keeps Riley safe. Disgust keeps Riley from being “poisoned, physically and socially.” Anger “cares very deeply about things being fair.” The personification of emotions lends itself to comedic situations.

The deeper level, however, illuminates two very real problems in our society today: depression and helicopter parenting.

Right from the beginning of the movie, we see that the battle between Joy and Sadness will determine what kind of life Riley has. What we discover by the end is that the key to a healthy, well-balanced life is to accept the importance of all emotions in our lives, and that Joy and Sadness complement each other, rather than cancel each other out. The other commentary is on helicopter parenting: Joy, as wonderful as she is, starts off bragging about Riley’s “mostly happy memories.” She wrongfully takes credit for Riley being happy, which gives her the false notion that she has to control everything in Riley’s life.

The movie takes us on Riley’s physical journey as she moves from Minnesota to San Francisco with her parents, as well as Riley’s emotional journey because of that move. With each disappointment Riley faces at her new home, we see that Joy pushes the other emotions out of Riley’s life. At first, it looks like Joy is right–always looking on the bright side of things is the best way to get through these problems.

It isn’t until Riley’s dad is angry on the phone and has to leave that we see Joy’s need to control Riley’s mood might become an issue. Riley is fearful and sad, but Joy won’t let Sadness take over. She insists on Riley being happy.

When Riley is remembering a funny moment from their travels, Sadness touches a gold memory orb, and it turns blue. Joy can’t turn it back, and she doesn’t understand why. Sadness needs to touch the happy memories, but because of Joy’s pride over her role in Riley’s life, Joy begins to make a series of bad choices that affect all of Riley’s emotions.

While talking to Sadness, Joy says, “Well…you know what? You can’t focus on what’s going wrong. There’s always a way to turn things around, to find the fun!” At first, it sounds like solid advice, but this might not be the healthiest way to deal with difficult and painful situations. Avoiding sadness implies that there is something wrong with that emotion.

Joy then wants the emotions to make a list of everything Riley should be happy about. At one point, Anger says, “No, Joy. There’s absolutely no reason for Riley to be happy right now. Let us handle this.” If Riley would’ve expressed her anger, fear, disgust, and sadness, she could have gotten the help she needed from her parents. But when Riley pretends that she is okay, it leads to more suppression of emotions.

Riley’s mom says something to Riley that seems innocent and appropriate: “Your dad’s under a lot of pressure. But if you and I can keep smiling, it would be a big help.” Asking Riley to be their “happy girl” and to be responsible for her dad’s feelings are requests we should never make of our children.

After this interaction, Riley falls asleep and Joy controls Riley’s dreams– Joy doesn’t think the dream is appropriate for Riley. This is such a powerful statement on helicopter parenting. I’ve seen too many parents do this to their children–from sports to careers–parents are choosing what they think is appropriate, regardless of what the child wants, loves, or excels at.

Here is what I have learned as a mom, teacher, and child advocate: Parents need to love their child as he or she is, not as the parents want him or her to be. I get it. Parents have dreams as well–dreams about their children living a happy, fulfilling life. Who better to help their child navigate through that life than the parents who know their child’s strengths and weaknesses? However, once they start this process, parents rationalize the control over every decision and direction.

But the reality is everyone is on his or her own path–our children included. We really don’t know what another person needs in order to learn and grow. I know that the control comes from a loving place: Parents are trying to spare a child from feelings of heartbreak and disappointment. But when parents jump in and try to manage their child’s path, feelings, or experiences, they rob the child of a lesson he or she needed in order to learn and grow. If parents don’t let a child have the experiences of heartbreak, disappointment, and failure, the child will never develop the ability to figure out how to do it differently next time.

A great illustration of this is when Joy plays the accordion loud and fast the day after the first major crisis. Joy says, “I don’t think of it as playing so much as hugging.” Joy is trying to distract Riley and the other emotions from dealing with the real issues. If everyone does what Joy deems as the correct path, everyone will forget how horrible life is in that moment.

Throughout, Joy also tries to control Sadness. Joy’s goal is to help Riley have a “good day… good week…good year, which turns into a good life!” But whose definition of “good” is Joy using? She is using her own, and she thinks she knows Riley better than anyone. Instead of being one emotion in Riley’s life, Joy is trying to become the only emotion in Riley’s life.

When Riley starts crying on her first day of school, she starts a negative spiral, not because crying/sadness was bad, but because Riley feared the judgment. Then, because Joy couldn’t accept that Riley was sad, Joy tries to control the core memories, which leads to something in Riley breaking. If Joy would have allowed Riley to feel the sadness and fear, it might have led down a healthy path. Instead, Joy’s controlling behavior led to Joy and Sadness being sucked out of the control room. Riley is then left with only Fear, Anger, and Disgust to control her emotions–definitely a recipe for disaster.

Riley now has to navigate her life without Joy and Sadness. Disgust helps Riley give an attitude to her parents in the form of sarcasm. Anger leads Riley to tell her parents to “Just shut up!” emotionally pushing them away while simultaneously invoking Dad’s Anger.

Dad adds to the problems by not having an honest conversation with Riley. He says, “Things just got out of hand,” and “Where’s my happy girl?” These are distractions and avoidance rather than helpful when Riley can’t communicate her pain. After this interaction is when “Goofball Island” crumbles. Then Anger destroys Friendship Island. Riley’s three remaining emotions fight with each other and can’t access the necessary emotions to open up and release the pain. The beauty of this interaction, as difficult as it may be to watch, is that it shows how Anger, Disgust, and Fear push people away. Sadness, however, draws people in. We just have to be willing and vulnerable enough to let people see our sadness.

The crumbling Islands of Personality is an incredible visual for what happens inside of a person experiencing depression. I can only speak from my own experiences with depression, but it does feel like something is breaking inside. It’s hard to access the good memories. Anger and fear control my thoughts and actions, which then pushes away the people who love me the most. If I can’t have a good cry about it and share my pain with someone who lets me feel my pain without judgment or trying to fix me, the depression will last longer.

Halfway through the movie, Bing Bong, Riley’s silly, long-forgotten imaginary friend, shows up. He helps and hinders the progress, but in the end, it is this imaginary figure that becomes the catalyst to Riley’s healing. He also adds humorous scenes. I love Imaginationland, where Bing Bong is “practically the mayor,” for all the beauty and creativity Riley, at one time, accessed daily. It is Imaginationland that saves her in the end. Again, Inside Out subtly points to the importance of creativity and imagination. We should be nurturing that in our children, not taking it out of schools and forcing children to grow up too quickly.

Back in the control room, Anger, Fear, and Disgust try to help Riley with her hockey tryouts, but, seriously, how can anything go well when Anger, Fear, and Disgust have the reigns? As Riley is struggling even to skate well, Disgust says a funny but poignant line: “It’s like we don’t learn anything.” Learning cannot take place if the main operating strategies of a child are embroiled in anger, fear, and disgust.

This interaction results in Hockey Island crumbling. As Riley’s Islands of Personality crumble, her dream worlds in Imaginationland are also being crushed. It is here that we see what Riley’s dad should have done when Riley was angry earlier.

Bing Bong is upset that his rocket was tossed into the dump. Joy tries to make silly faces, just like Dad tried to do with Riley, but that’s not the appropriate response to anger, fear, or pain. What is the right response? Giving the person permission to be sad, sitting next to the person and listening, holding his or her hand, and understanding the pain. Sadness sits next to Bing Bong and says: “I’m sorry they took your rocket. They took something that you loved. It’s gone forever (Joy hates this and thinks Sadness is making the situation worse). . . . I bet you and Riley had great adventures. . . . Yeah. It’s sad.” Bing Bong puts his head on Sadness’ shoulder and cries. Sadness puts an arm around Bing Bong until he’s done crying. After Bing Bong feels heard, understood, and has cried, he can move forward.

Even though Joy has seen how Sadness helps in many situations, she pushes Sadness away when they try to get back to Riley through the memory recall tube. This interaction delays their return to the control room. As Family Island falls apart, it cracks the recall tube and sends Joy and Bing Bong to the abyss of lost memories.

This leads to the most important, poignant, and heartbreaking scene in the movie. Joy tries to get out of the abyss, but it’s useless. Bing Bong states: “Don’t you get it, Joy? We’re stuck down here. We’re forgotten.” Joy falls to her knees when she sees the blue core memory of Riley crying in class. As Joy watches other sweet memories fade into ash, she cries, “I just wanted Riley to be happy. And now…” Joy finally cries a long, painful cry–Joy finally feels sadness. She wipes a tear away from a gold memory, which rewinds the memory orb to show that the joy Riley felt with her teammates actually started with sadness. It was Sadness that brought Joy–that brought her parents to her side, that brought her teammates to encourage Riley. Joy finally understands the necessity of Sadness. She also understands that Riley’s path is not Joy’s to control. With renewed determination, she has a plan to get back to Riley: Bing Bong’s Rocket. Bing Bong helps Joy get out of the abyss, but he sacrifices himself out of love for Riley. Another beautiful illustration of love.

Back in the control room, Anger, Fear, and Disgust have realized their mistake and try to change Riley’s plan, but it’s too late. The console has turned almost black, and Fear states: “Guys. We can’t make Riley feel anything.” My heart aches here, not just for Riley, but for every student I have worked with who had that empty stare. For those beautiful lives that had stopped feeling well before they got to me. I was able to help some, but too many of them were too far into their depression to hear my pleas, to see me sitting next to them offering my shoulder.

Through a series of incredible steps and feats, Joy and Sadness get to the control room, but it’s Sadness that has the power to remove the Idea Bulb and change Riley’s path. Sadness touches all the core memories, turning them blue so that Riley can finally speak her pain to her parents. It’s important to note that Riley’s parents speak their own sadness–they are honest with Riley; they don’t try to cover it up or sugar coat it. It is at this point that the three of them are in an embrace, crying and comforting each other so that Riley can finally smile again. Sadness brought Joy.

The rest of the movie is filled with much needed comic relief moments. We laugh through our own tears and, hopefully, accept the necessity of sadness in our lives.

Friday Writing Challenge: Tattoos

Writing Prompt #2: What tattoos do you have, or what tattoos would you get, and why?

My one and onlyJuly 31, 2013: I’m sitting on a table watching Bryan artistically carve my children’s names into my ankle. The pain is so intense that I’m screaming out obscenities–words that explode out of my mouth even as my clenched teeth try to hold them in. A few times Bryan looks at Carol Linn, wondering if he should stop.

I’m sure Bryan is not used to seeing people like me in his studio. At 48, I was getting my first tattoo–reluctantly. I had always wanted to get a tattoo but was too afraid of the pain to actually do it. As the years passed, I not only refused to get one, but I became opposed to people marking up their bodies with ink. I didn’t mind the small, meaningful tattoos, but large, body-covering tattoos seemed to be a sickness–those people proved that tattoos were addicting; they couldn’t stop even if they wanted to. Yet, there I was, in pain, getting my first tattoo, clutching the table even though my mind was telling me to run away from the pain.

Why, then, would I agree to this?

Carol Linn is my middle child, the child most like me–the girl in the middle, the one who wanted to stand out yet wanted to belong. Like me, she fought for independence through her pre-teen and teen years in a family who confused control with parenting. Like me, she struggled with identifying with her place in this world.

When I looked at her, I saw my perfect little girl, lost and confused. I thought my job as her mother was to make her see herself the way I saw her–or, more accurately, the way I wanted her to be. I thought my words and actions could influence her decisions.

For her 16th birthday, she got her first tattoo. Her dad went with her to sign the permission sheet, while I stayed home and cried. It was painful thinking about her intentionally scarring her beautiful skin–the skin I created. Her body began in my body: I carried her for nine months; I went through intense pain to give her life–and now, the perfection, the miracle would be forever scarred. I couldn’t look at her tattoo when she got home. She was beaming with joy; my heart ached. With every tattoo, my reaction was the same: I cried and ached and refused to look at her intentional scars.

What I didn’t know was that my attitude was creating different types of scars–scars within Carol Linn and scars between us.

She finally told me one day: “Mom, it hurts me that you don’t support something I love and that has become a part of me.” After that, I tried to support her decisions for her life–even the scarring ones. We seemed to be on the road to healing; however, it wasn’t until I confided in her that I had always wanted a tattoo that our paths merged. Carol Linn’s eyes lit up: “It would mean so much to me if you got a tattoo with my tattoo artist.”

So, I found myself clutching that table. While I screamed out F-bombs, Carol Linn rubbed my shoulder, telling me to breathe through the pain. She held my hand and told me to squeeze it hard. She cried and smiled as she watched the swirls and hearts form on my ankle, birthing a new bond with my intentional scar.

 

 

Writing is my exhale. I’ve realized I’ve been holding my breath for far too long. At least once a week I will exhale, which I hope leads to a healthier breathing pattern. I encourage you to join me by either sharing your writing on my blog in the comments or posting a link to your own platform. Here’s to breathing!

Next Friday’s Writing Challenge: Five of your earliest memories.

 

4 Steps to a Healthier, Happier Me

Over the past 30 years, I have had the same battle with weight that I’m sure many people can relate to. Before I had children, I had time to work out, could eat whatever I wanted, and not worry about my weight. After children, however, it was a different story. As the years packed on, so did the weight. I was never obese, but I had rolls and bulge that made me feel uncomfortable, unattractive, and unhealthy. I found myself in the doctor’s office at 49 years old, begging him for a weight-loss pill because I was convinced that my metabolism slowed down too much to ever lose the weight that was affecting my health and ability to enjoy everyday activities. My doctor told me it wasn’t about my age or metabolism; it was, and always will be, about calories in and calories out, plain and simple. I didn’t like his answer. I wanted an excuse, and he didn’t give me one. I continued with a daily, superficial workout 3-4 times a week and didn’t lose much weight.

Fast forward to the beginning of 2015 and not only was I not losing weight, but I was gaining back the weight that I had lost 7 years before. During the 2015 spring semester, my students showed me how much they loved me by buying me a donut before every class. That, in combination with the winter and emotional eating I was doing, helped me pack on 15 extra pounds to the already 15 extra pounds I felt I had to lose to get to my target weight of 140 (health charts say that my weight should be between 133-147 for my height and frame). I didn’t understand why I had put on so much weight. I was walking or running at least a mile a day. Wasn’t that enough?

By late March, none of my clothes fit anymore. I asked my students to stop buying me donuts so I didn’t have so much for them to love.

I was uncomfortable at 155. At almost 170, I was a mess.

I decided to take my doctor’s advice and start tracking my calories in and out. That one step changed everything I did from that point on. Six months later, I am now 146 lbs, eating well, comfortable, and healthy.

 

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These are the steps I took to get here:

#1Get Apps: I downloaded a few free apps on my phone to help me keep track of my exercise (calories out) and my food and drink (calories in). My Fitness Pal and Runkeeper apps sink together so that the addition/subtraction of calories happens without too much effort on my part. I also used Couch to 5K the first few months to help me get ready for my first 5K in June. I needed to set a short-range goal for myself to keep my motivation up.

Tracking my calories helped me see where the big-calorie food items were. I even recorded when I took a bite of a cookie or a handful of potato chips. It showed me how many calories I had to burn to stay within my plan, which was 1200 calories a day. For the first few months, I let myself eat back the calories I burned running/walking. So for example, I could eat 1200 calories on my plan, but I burned 200 calories on my run, so I could actually eat 1400 calories and still be within the limits of my plan. I did this mainly because I have a hard time denying myself. If I have a food craving, I have to eat it or I will eat everything I don’t want and then still eat what I wanted anyway. Truthfully, there were many days I went over that limit, but I didn’t let it get me down. I just went back to the plan the next day.

#2 Develop Good Habits: In order for any of this to work, I had to form the habit of exercise. I had to make my daily workout a priority. On the days I had to work earlier, I still worked out, but only for 5 minutes a day until I developed a daily habit. Once the habit was established, it was easier for me to wake up earlier to get a longer workout in. The more I worked out, the faster the results came.

Now, I can’t imagine starting my day without a workout first. The other motivation was that I didn’t want to shower twice in one day. I needed to get my workout done before my shower; otherwise, I wouldn’t work out at all that day.

The only exercise I did for the first few months was walking/running. I had to keep it simple until I developed that habit. I knew that if I signed up at a gym or had to drive somewhere to work out, I wouldn’t have done it. With walking/running, all I had to do was put my sneakers on and go outside. I didn’t add anything to that routine until I couldn’t imagine my day without exercise. The only change I made was walking in a different direction to have a variety in my perspective.

Once my walking/running routine was established, I added stretches, a few yoga moves, and sit-ups afterwards–not many, but enough to make sure I was kind to my muscles and core.

Some of the most beautiful things happened during these walks/runs. I was outside enjoying the beauty of nature. I learned to breathe and improve my posture, which actually strengthened my back and core–just standing up straighter and feeling the breath enter and leave my body turned into a type of meditation that I enjoyed with yoga. I started to feel connected to my body. That connection helped me listen to the aches and pains and go easy on myself when needed or push a little harder if I felt strong.

This connection also helped me listen to my nutritional needs. I could feel when I ate too much of something or an item that didn’t feed my body the right way. I no longer had to make the choice between Oreos and chips. I picked fruit when I wanted something sweet and nuts when I wanted something salty. Even without researching it, my body was telling me not all calories are created equally.

I was also listening to music while working out, which, ironically, helped me think clearer. I would get the best ideas for writing and teaching during these times. Music, fresh air, exercise, meditation, and the beauty of nature were a winning combination.

Honestly, if I had never progressed further than this, I would have been happy. I lost the winter/emotional/donut weight, and I was feeling better, even though I wasn’t at my goal weight. I was outside every day, soaking up vitamin D, enjoying nature, getting away from sitting at my computer, and becoming one with myself. I was already happier and healthier, which made me more attractive to myself–and that’s all that really matters anyway. But I wanted to prove to myself that I could get down to my goal weight, so I kept on finding new ways to break through the plateaus.

#3Treat Your Body Right: Even though I was recording everything I ate, I didn’t make different food choices until a few months into this habit. For me, this was a necessary step. I hate diets because I don’t like the restriction. If I want something to eat, I have to have it. That’s why I waited until my body started craving healthier foods.

I also started reading up on nutrition. Our bodies need protein, carbohydrates, and fat. We need to get them in the most natural state possible, with no added chemicals. I went back to using olive oil and butter, eating eggs and red meat, but I made sure it was high quality and organic. I now buy most of my food at Trader Joe’s and try to shop at farmer’s markets when possible.

I avoided anything labeled as “lite” or packaged as a diet product. I watched the documentary Fed Up on Netflix and it changed the way I looked at food–especially sugar–completely. Now, when I buy anything packaged, I look at the label for the percentage of sugar in the product. Anything with more than 2g of sugar added is too much (0g added is better). And natural cane sugar, honey, and pure maple syrup are better than any of the chemically created sugars or sweeteners.

I started drinking a lot of water. It can be challenging to drink 8 cups of water a day, but it changes everything. My mind is clearer, my skin is healthier, my hair has bounce, my nails aren’t brittle.

Above all, I was patient with myself and didn’t let my goals stop me from having fun. If I wanted to eat chicken wings and French fries with a beer when I was out, I let myself enjoy those things without guilt. I am eating healthy and exercising to have a higher quality life and be healthier for my son. The best thing I can do for Ian is take care of his mother–he deserves a healthy, happy mom.

#4: Variety is the spice of life: By July I was tracking my calories, establishing good habits, and treating my body right, but I could not get past the plateau I had encountered a few times in the past when I had tried to lose weight. I was weighing in at 150-152 lbs. It came down to the last 10 lbs again, and nothing I was doing seemed to push me passed it. I decided to add a kickboxing class on Wednesdays. If I had tried to add that class too soon, I might not have stayed with it. But this was the right time to change my routine. Adding that class made me feel all the body parts I was neglecting. I wanted more, so I added two more video workouts to my week. I was still going outside and walking/running at least a mile every day, but with a 60 minute kickboxing class and the 45 minute P90X Cardio workout twice a week, I finally made it to 149. I hadn’t seen that number in years!

I was on fire and started reading exercise and nutrition articles. One article that My Fitness Pal put out talked about burning 300-400 calories a day. I decided to make that my goal. Now I never burn less than 300 and frequently burn more than 400 calories a day. The important thing to remember with this step is that it didn’t happen until months down the road. I didn’t push myself too fast. I was patient with my progress.

The next thing I changed is running–and when I say running, I mean fast walking or slow jogging. I always run with my dog Chico (a 12-pound Chihuahua). He loves being outdoors, and he had gained a few extra pounds as well, so I was taking care of both of us with our daily runs. However, the longer I ran, the more upset he became with me. He was okay when I ran one mile; tolerated me when I ran two miles; but absolutely refused to run with me when I started running for three miles. When I put my sneakers on, Chico hid in his kennel.

To accommodate him, at first I ran one mile, dropped him off at home, and then finished my run, but it didn’t feel the same being out on the road without him. That’s when I read this other article on My Fitness Pal that explained interval running to me.

Now, I still log 3 miles 2-3 times a week, but I walk for 30 seconds, jog for 20 seconds, and then “sprint” for 10 seconds. Chico loves this new routine. The article mentioned that interval training follows the running patterns of dogs, which is absolutely correct. I don’t need to keep track anymore. Chico tells me when to run and when to run fast. The other added benefit is that this type of running burns fat faster than a consistent pace does.

This is how I got down to 146. I’m no longer concerned with the numbers on the scale. If I get down to 140, that’s fine, but I’m more interested in tightening up and building some muscle now. I’ll let you know how the next stage goes.

Uncommon Core Book Reading: Chapter 19

On August 24, 2015, I read Chapter 19: Teach Them How to Be Happy from Uncommon Core: 25 Ways to Help Your Child Succeed in a Cookie Cutter Educational System at Great Bay Community College in Portsmouth, NH.

To purchase Uncommon Core, go to WordCrafts Press or Amazon.

To schedule a book reading, speaking engagement, or interview contact me at pdhawk1010@msn.com or Bethany Ring, Publicist, WordCrafts Press pr@wordcrafts.net

A letter to my son on his ninth birthday

Dear Ian,

Happy birthday my darling boy! Your birth nine years ago brought so much joy to my life. You were an answer to prayer then as you are now.

We’ve been through so much together and have come out stronger and better because of it. You have taught me so much about life and love. I’m grateful beyond measure for every second of your life.

Before you were born, I thought there was going to be a huge difference between raising boys and girls, but the essential things are the same. Just like girls, boys are sweet and kind; they want love and understanding; and they want to know that their mommies love them no matter what.

The biggest difference between boys and girls, however, comes from the expectations society has of boys. You will have so much pressure put on you from outside sources to be their definition of a “real man.” As your mom, I’ve had to figure out what that means, so I can help prepare you for the world outside my protective embrace. I read a few books about raising boys, but most of my research came from the images displayed through the media and observing the boys, teenagers, and men around me.

What I’ve discovered is that our culture will tell you that a “real man” has to be strong no matter what; he has to be ready to fight at a moment’s notice; he has to value street-smarts over book-smarts; he must dominate whenever he can; he must have a lot of women; he must make a lot of money to provide an extravagant lifestyle for his family; and he must sacrifice his family relationships in order to provide that extravagant lifestyle. Add to that the list of don’ts: Don’t be a fool; don’t act like a girl; don’t feel any emotion too strongly; don’t cry…

I know I only have a few years left before you start noticing all of this too. It makes me sad. It seems that men are under pressure to fulfill a role that leads to pain and loneliness. I don’t want that for you. I want you to be a man who is confident to express all of his emotions. I want you to find and pursue your purpose in life, whatever that may be. I want you to be a man who is happy and loves deeply; a man who is kind and respectful to everyone, but not afraid to take a stand against the evils in the world.

With that in mind, my birthday gift to you is that I promise to continue to raise you with these goals in mind.

I promise to help you understand your emotions, so you can feel them all and not let them turn into anger because you don’t know what else to do with them. You can cry when you’re sad, laugh when you’re happy, yell when you’re angry, confront your fears when you’re scared, love completely and unconditionally, and embrace your dreams without fear…so that you can become a confident man who knows what he thinks, feels, and wants in his life, and so you can embrace the beauty all around you.

I promise to teach you the value of money, so you don’t confuse money with happiness. We all need money to survive in this world, but we need love and family more. If you remember that, you will never make bad choices that will threaten your happiness for the sake of money. I will teach you the value of hard work, so you can experience the joy of a job well done, regardless of the money involved.

I promise to teach you what kindness and respect look like, so that you willingly give it to those around you and will accept nothing less from the people in your life. Unfortunately, I know that kindness and respect will only go so far; there will be times when you will need to take a stand for what is right or make the decision to walk away. I promise to teach you the moments worth fighting for.

I promise to help you find courage through the times you are the most scared; to teach you to pick yourself up and brush yourself off, no matter how many times you fall; and to never give up on your dreams no matter what anyone says to you.

Finally, I promise to teach you to have integrity in all situations. The old adage, “a man is only as good as his word” is more true now than ever before: What you say and what you do must always be the same thing. It will be hard to stand by this, especially when most everyone around you won’t abide by this rule, but you can’t live a fulfilled life without integrity. There may be times when you think telling a lie will be easier; but you need to resist that urge, for the hardest truth is always better than the best lie. You may get in trouble, but not as much as you will if you lie about who you are. When you are truthful, no matter what, people will learn to trust your word.

I know those are some pretty big promises, but I will work every day to fulfill them, buddy, because you are worth it.

Close upHappy birthday, my darling boy. And always remember, I love you more.