Free! Evenings!

So, I’m officially a substitute teacher. My teaching certificate arrived a week and a half ago and since then I have taught everything from kindergarten to precalculus 11. It’s interesting. I’m learning a lot. I’m sort of getting my feet under me. Sort of. I will write a lot more about it later.

For right now, the pertinent thing is that there is a big upside to being a substitute teacher. Specifically, as a substitute I don’t do all the things like plan units and mark projects and write report cards and meet with parents that take up a teacher’s time outside of school hours. I show up about 40 minutes before school starts and leave about 45 minutes after it ends, give or take. And then when I’m home, I’m home.

This is novel for me because before I was a teacher I worked from home for years. There are a lot of great things about working from home. However, the downside is that you’re always at work and you rarely have set working hours. It’s very easy to find yourself spending your evenings trying to finish an article or writing invoices or trying to stay on top of your email. The same thing was largely true for me as a student teacher, as I tried to stay on top of both schoolwork and teaching at the same time. I was always working. It was good. I’m not complaining. I’m just explaining how liberating it feels to have my evenings to myself.

This evening, for instance, I found myself home alone with my son Jacob. My husband was working late and my daughter was at a performance of the community theatre production she’s a part of. Jacob and I had a couple of hours to kill while we waited for Hannah to finish. He got to stay up until nine o’clock on a school night (!!!). I got to enjoy some mother-son bonding. We decided to settle in for some Netflix.

mother-son bonding

It’s been a long time since I’ve watched a whole TV show or movie with my kids. That work from home thing meant that I mostly used screen time as work time. Movies and TV shows were my electronic babysitters. This evening, though, I was free. So Jacob put on his pajamas and we each chose a beverage to accompany our viewing. For him, it was milk. For me it was Trader Joe’s Sweet Tea, which my husband kindly brought back for me when he made a recent trip to the US.

Once we were ready we pulled up Netflix and had some deep discussions about what to watch. We started with a couple episodes of Teen Titans, which is one of Jacob’s favourite shows. Then we had a disagreement. I wanted to re-watch The Force Awakens, but Jacob wasn’t into it. In the end I deferred to him and we watching the beginning of Zootopia. Jacob has already seen the movie, but I haven’t. So far, it’s good. I enjoyed it.

Jacob milk netflix

A lot of things are changing for my family now that I’m finished with school and working as a teacher. We’re still figuring it out, but so far it’s been really positive. I’m excited by this new chapter, and I’m enjoying the chance to spend more time with my children again now that I’m not a full-time student. It’s pretty sweet!

I was inspired to write this post because I am a member of the Netflix Stream Team. The opinions in the post are my own, but take the fact that I receive cool promotional swag from Netflix as you will.

I Will not Take Your Trash

If you are a parent you have probably experienced this scenario.

You are out somewhere in public. A grocery store. A park. Church. A festival of some sort. Your kid puts something in their mouth and then promptly decides that they do not like it. They hate it so much, in fact, that they indicate they simply must spit it out. Right! Now!

So what do you do? Without thinking, you hold out your hand for that child to spit into. Sexy? No. But at least it keeps the partially chewed food off the ground where other people will be grossed out by it and/or slip on it.

trashThis happens less and less as kids get older, thank heavens. But the habit, once established, asserts itself in new ways. Kids give you their trash. Their apple cores. Their friend’s trash. They have learned that if they have something that they want to get rid of, you will take it from them. And without thinking you usually do.

What happens once you have this half-chewed food / gross apple core / used tissue in your hand? Inevitably you look around and realize that there are no signs of a garbage can in the vicinity. As in, you could walk for three fricking days and not find a garbage can. Or a compost bin. Or any sort of likely place to leave the crud you’re holding.

Unless you’re at Disneyland. There are trash cans everywhere at Disneyland. But really, how likely is it that you’re at Disneyland?

This is why my purse contains old cheese string wrappers and wadded-up napkins and popsicle sticks that have been licked clean and sometimes even chewed on. I usually persist long enough to find an appropriate receptacle for things that will rot or very sticky things, but the rest has a way of ending up stashed somewhere for the moment and then of course I immediately forget about it because I’m in public with kids and my mind is sort of occupied.

This summer while visiting the PNE, which is the annual summer fair in Vancouver, I experienced this scenario when my daughter attempted to hand me her empty snow cone cup. Without thinking I started to reach my hand towards her to collect her trash. And then mid-stride I had a moment of clarity.

Amber! the voice in my head spoke, you do not have to carry your children’s trash around. You can just say no.

And so I did. My daughter looked puzzled. She asked where to put it. I told her that, in fact, I didn’t know. I do not have magical garbage disposal abilities. But she could look for a trash can. And she did. And then we continued our day.

It’s funny how you get into these parenting habits when you have two-year-olds and then just carry on for years without a second thought. Of course you’re going to deal with gross stuff when you have a two-year-old. Toddlers are gross. And loud. You’ll go a long way to avoid exposing others to their grossness and loudness. If they’re melting down because their tongue touched cheddar when they were expecting mozza you’ll hold out your hand just to avoid the stares of passing strangers.

But then, one day, you realize you’re taking your 11-year-old’s trash for no good reason. Or tying your eight-year-old’s shoes for him. And single-handedly doing all the cleaning and meal preparation and so on. Because you’re used to it. Your kids are used to it. And it’s just easier. With each realization, you have a decision to make. Are you ready to take a stand? Are you ready to go through the effort to change things?

On the trash collection front, I am ready. I am taking a stand. From here on in, my kids can throw out their own trash. And maybe the next time I rifle around in my purse for my keys, I won’t pull out a half eaten cereal bar and three empty food sample cups in the process.

A mom can dream, right?

Poem for September: Goal Setting

Recently I re-embraced my adolescent love of writing poetry. Many of them are written just for me, but others are for sharing. And so, a blog series is born.

And now, here is a poem I wrote over a year ago. It actually feels pretty apt for my life right now. I just finished my teaching degree and I’m working as a teacher on call – or a substitute teacher, as you prefer. I’m waiting around for dispatch calls to come in and it’s hard for a planner like me. I’ve had one dispatch so far and it went well. But because the paperwork from my degree is still working its way through the system I can expect things to be slow for the next month or so. Even so, I need to be ready just in case. It’s a strange sort of limbo and I’m not as zen about it as I would like to be.

And so, this poem, which is about handling anxiety and chaos, seems perfect. Here’s to embracing the unknown!

substitute teacher student teacher poetry

Goal Setting

I’ve always thought my goal was to remove
Every anxiety, until I just felt perfectly
Calm – All. The. Time.
In my imagination I am serene, silent, strong,
My vision focused and my discipline absolute.

I realize, now, I could never be this person
And I doubt any such person really exists
(Although I do allow that my experience
Of people is hardly complete)
I’ve discarded my old goals and I’m lost.

I am tired of meditating and exercising
Getting enough sleep, eating right
Eschewing alcohol and caffeine
Good behaviour sucks all the sparkle
Out of life when it’s not freely chosen.

My new goal: learn to accept chaos
It’s going to insist on creeping in
Fraying the corners of my mind
Upending furniture, ripping up schedules
Bring every messy thing on.

This is real strength:
To dwell in the land of the lost
Without losing yourself.
To make plans in hope even as you
Know it won’t turn out as you expect.

Finish Line

student teacher sfu pdp

My last official day on campus as a student teacher

Almost three years ago now, in October 2013, I sat in a classroom in the Education Building at Simon Fraser University. I was there because I was starting to seriously think about going back to school to become a teacher and they were having an info session. I sat in a room with a bunch of people, most (but not all) of them much younger than me. As I listened I sketched out a plan of what would be required and how long it would take and I realized it would be almost three years. Three! Years! That felt like a really, really long time. That alone almost put me off the idea.

But it didn’t.

It didn’t put me off because of that little voice in my brain that has been there for as long as I can remember. The voice I have been ignoring since I was 15 years old. The voice I suppressed through the end of high school and engineering school and years of work and family. The voice I ignored because I wanted a solid, well-paying, prestigious career. The voice that said I was meant to be a teacher.

Oh, sure, there were moments along the way. Moments when I was discouraged and disaffected and starting surfing the Internet reading about prerequisites for my teaching degree. But always those moments passed and I sucked it up and moved on. Until one day, when my son was in kindergarten and I knew I needed more. As I spent more and more time thinking about it, I got more and more serious. I attended the info session. I talked to my husband. I ran the budget numbers. And then, finally, I made the leap and applied to go back to school.

Along the way I committed to taking things slowly. Embarking on a new career as a mom with two kids and a mortgage and all that stuff is a much different proposition than embarking on a new career as a twentysomething with no responsibilities. I had to be sure. I had to really know.

And so I took classes to get all the prerequisites I needed to apply. I volunteered in a local middle school. I spent time in the Faculty of Education. And then, once I applied and actually started I considered and re-considered at every step along the way. After all, spending a semester in school and then dropping out might feel like a waste oftime and energy and money, but it’s much less of a waste of time and energy and money than spending a year and finishing and maybe even working for a bit and discovering that you really hate teaching.

Fortunately throughout the journey one thing has rung true: I love teaching. School was stressful and difficult and time-consuming. I was occasionally extremely discouraged. I wasn’t sure I would make it through. But even on my worst day that faded when I was actually in the classroom with my students. When I was teaching I knew I was right where I was supposed to be. I finally really fit.

I didn’t get here alone. My professors, my sponsor teachers, my fellow student teachers, my friends, my husband and my children all supported me. I am immensely grateful. I am especially grateful to my kids who had to put up with the fact I had very little time and energy for them, and that I was often not at my best. My hope is that by watching me go through this they have learned something themselves, about setting goals and following through and not being afraid to try new things.

All of my classes are finished now, and all of my marks are in. I’m officially done. Pending approval from the University Senate and the Teacher Regulation Branch, I am a teacher. I have been hired as a substitute teacher in two school districts, and I am looking forward to being in the classroom this fall. It feels great to be here.

Three years ago this moment felt impossibly far away. But now that I’m here, I can’t believe it’s already over. I guess time flies when you’re doing what you were always meant to do.

The Joys of Napping

My children have never been nappers. They both gave it up promptly right around their second birthdays and didn’t look back. This didn’t surprise me, because my mother always said I wasn’t a napper, either. By all reports I gave it up around the same age that my kids did, and the only time I ever slept during daylight hours after that was when I was sick.

When I had newborns I heard the same advice every new mother hears – sleep when the baby sleeps. I just rolled my eyes. I couldn’t possibly sleep during the day. I would just have to go to bed early and hope for the best. And for the most part it worked. On bad days I sucked it up and repeated the mantra this too shall pass in my head, and fortunately there weren’t too many bad days.

In recent months, however, things have changed. It’s hard to pinpoint why. Perhaps it’s advancing age. Perhaps it’s befriending a couple of committed nappers. Perhaps it’s letting go of my identity of a non-napper and discovering that it was only ever a story I told myself. Perhaps being back at school finally made me tired enough that I needed to nap. Whatever the reason, though, I have become a napper. And it’s wonderful.

nappingThere’s something so indulgent about sinking into bed at 3:15 in the afternoon and sleeping. 15 or 20 minutes of dozing makes me feel like a new person in a way that few other things can. Even if I wanted to I couldn’t do it every day, of course. Life has a way of interfering with sleep, whether it’s daytime or nighttime. We’ve all been in that place where we struggle (and fail) to get the bare minimum of rest we need. On those days when I can give in and nap, though, it transforms me and leaves me feeling happy and relaxed and taken care of.

They say it’s the little things in life. I agree. A nice meal. Holding your child’s hand. The way the world smells after a spring rain. And a good nap.

During my time as a student teacher I spent a lot of time discussing and thinking about how to meet students’ needs. None of us are at our best when we’re tired or hungry or hurt or we’ve just had a fight with a family member. Kids are no different. If we actually want them to learn, it’s not enough to come up with a list of math questions. You need to create the right conditions for learning.

And yet, as adults, we don’t do this for ourselves. Or, at least, we do it all too rarely. It took me almost four decades, for instance, to figure out that a nap is a good thing. And so I wonder – how would things be different if we actually took care for ourselves? Not in a judgy, don’t eat sugar kind of a way, but in a genuine take 15 minutes for yourself kind of way. I think that a little more of that could really make the world a better place. We might not be in school anymore, but everything is better when we’re not exhausted. Right?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I could use a nap.

Celebrating my Roots

Tomorrow is a holiday here in British Columbia. The first Monday in August is officially BC Day – a date that was chosen both to give everyone a chance to get out and have some fun at the height of summer, and to commemorate the formation of the Colony of British Columbia on August 2, 1858.

My family celebrated a little bit early today. We joined some friends for a picnic at the lake. And while the water was more than just a little cold, my husband, daughter and I braved it. I made it in up to my armpits, while my daughter made it up to her neck and my husband dunked himself. We’re made of hardy stuff, we Canadians. Although, to be fair, we British Columbians are generally less accustomed to cold temperatures than the rest of the country.

bc day buntzen lake

We had an extra reason to celebrate as well – as you may recall my son Jacob broke his arm on Father’s Day. His cast came off on Friday. Things are looking up!

As if all that isn’t enough, this isn’t the only celebration we’ve enjoyed recently. July was book-ended by long weekends. We kicked it all off with Canada Day on July 1st. This is a month of honouring our roots as Canadians and British Columbians.

We have a lot to be proud of. While my family was off eating and enjoying the lake, Vancouver was celebrating Pride. Justin Trudeau became the first sitting Prime Minister to march in the Pride Parade, and my Instagram feed was full of photos of him pushing a stroller with his sleeping child. We may have gotten our start as a British colony, but we are now a very diverse country, and I love the ways that we celebrate that. My favourite may be the 44 special citizenship ceremonies held on Canada Day to welcome new Canadians, but it’s all good. We don’t all have to look the same, love the same or be the same to join together and do great things. Or, you know, just have a party.

bc day buntzen lake

Our increasing diversity isn’t the only way that things have changed since the province and country were founded. One of the things that I can’t help but notice when I’m driving around these days is our thriving TV and movie industry. It literally feels like there’s some kind of filming going on every three feet. One of my favourite things when I’m watching TV is spotting a local landmark and realizing it was filmed here.

Some of my favourite shows are shot right here in Vancouver. The one that I’m watching on Netflix right now is Supernatural – I’ve been binging and I just started season 6. I’m honestly not sure how I missed this one for so long given my affection for creepy shows that are filmed locally. My first love, of course, is The X-Files and I’m thrilled that has just been added to Netflix as well. I’m adding that to my list to re-watch once I’m finished with school (next week!). And while it’s not creepy, I have been enjoying watching the locally-filmed Once Upon a Time from the beginning with my daughter on Netflix as well.

And while he’s not local, Russell Peters is the funniest person ever. Of course, he’s Canadian.

bc day buntzen lake

I live in a beautiful place, and my roots here are deep. I’m thrilled to be raising my children here. It doesn’t surprise me one bit that people from all over the world would come here to build a life. Or that studios would come here to film. As I watched families of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds out grilling and throwing frisbees and laughing and eating today, I saw once again just how special my little corner of the world really is.

I was inspired to write this post because I am a member of the Netflix Stream Team. The opinions in the post are my own, but take the fact that I receive cool promotional swag from Netflix as you will.

Feeling all the Feels

My daughter Hannah is 11 years old now. She is increasingly responsible, increasingly independent, increasingly smart and increasingly tall. (Seriously! The kid grew a quarter inch in a week.) She is not a little girl anymore.

Hannah cooks now, and frequently makes Kraft Dinner for herself and her dad. Her dad feels like he’s got it made.

Hannah bakes now, and makes cookies for everyone. I feel like I’ve got it made.

feelings tweens growing up

Hannah and me

But growing up is hard. So hard. Anyone over the age of six can tell you so. Oh, how well I remember feeling conflicted and scared and just plain overwhelmed. 11 year old girls feel all the feels. My daughter is no different.

The good news is that having a tween is just plain awesome. Watching someone turn from a kid into a grown-up is really freaking cool. Knowing that I have had a hand in the creation of this fabulous person? Even cooler. Of course, Hannah is her own person, and I am just her mom. But still, I am her mom, and she is great, and that is amazing.

The other good news is that I love this age. I taught grade 6/7 during my student teaching practicum, and volunteered in a grade 6/7 classroom all of last year, and I enjoyed my students so much. They are energetic and thoughtful and constantly learning. They are becoming their own people and experimenting and testing their limits. I had the best conversations with my students, and now I am having the best conversations with my daughter.

One of the catalysts for great conversations is the things Hannah watches on TV. Often, after sitting down and watching a movie or TV show, Hannah will talk to me about what she saw and what she thinks. It’s a way for us to share our thoughts and for me to follow my daughter’s conversational lead. From emotions, to relationships, to puberty, to getting enough sleep, we have had a lot of great talks thanks to Netflix.

The best conversations, I think, have been inspired by Inside Out, which is all about feelings. It’s the perfect tween viewing. Hannah has also been watching old episodes of Once Upon a Time, which has led to some good conversations about fairness and whether people really are good and evil. Both are available on Netflix in Canada.

In my community, middle school starts in grade 6. In September, Hannah will be heading to a new school, making new friends and testing her wings a little further. She is excited and scared. So am I. But I have faith that she can figure this out, because she’s a pretty amazing person. And I know that I will be here to talk through it all, whatever happens.

I was inspired to write this post because I am a member of the Netflix Stream Team. The opinions in the post are my own, but take the fact that I receive cool promotional swag from Netflix as you will.

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