From the Other Side

Two weeks into my maternity leave after having Luke, I was laid off from my job. Since I was a property manager living onsite, we were given 72 hours to vacate our home. My then husband was unemployed, and our savings were nil. It was truly one of the scariest times in my life.420776_110079595817575_861439767_n

I had a sixteen-month-old and a newborn baby and nowhere to go. Our parents helped us find an apartment in town. The youth group from a local church moved us in within hours. And even though it took about three months, I found a part-time job that would keep us afloat until I went back to school to eventually become a teacher.

91437800_1595259927299527_4447399636704952320_oI found this mug in the Walmart clearance section that Christmas. I sipped my coffee most mornings during that season in my life with tears streaming down my face and anxiety crippling my mind. It would be just six months later that I would make some big life-changing decisions and start on a new path that led me where I am today.

This mug reminds me that no matter how scary and impossible life feels sometimes, it is temporary. It reminds me that I am strong as hell and can rise above my present situation. It reminds me that there’s nothing like a woman with a made up mind. And that on the other side of what I’m going through is something beautiful and worth holding out for. I needed this reminder today. Maybe you do, too.

Fun Learning: A Working List

Schools across the United States are closed right now, leaving more than 41 million students without their regular daily routines and learning schedules. (link) There’s a lot of confusion and frustration and grief running through hearts and minds here in America, and adding the expectation of schooling at home onto parents’ full plates is not my idea of a good time.

There are so many ways that our children can explore and learn that don’t have to be formal educational experiences. To help you navigate all of the information out there, I’ve compiled a list of resources that I have used with my students and my own children to give them opportunities to learn and grow without breaking out workbooks. (Not that all workbooks are always a bad idea, but let’s be real. They’re usually boring. Especially when done in isolation.)

I found many of these over the years through Common Sense Education, one of my favorite go-tos for digital learning. The list is organized by subject and grade bands are provided, too. I hope you’ll find some of these to be helpful!

As always, I would encourage you to screen these apps, websites, and activities before giving your child access just to make sure it’s developmentally appropriate. :)

Know that I am rooting for you, mama, as you navigate this new normal. We’re all in this thing together.

Reading

Epic! (K-5) // A digital library collection to encourage a love of reading

TIME for Kids (K-6) // News magazine for kids on current events and informational text

Storybird (K-12) // For creating and publishing storybooks

Newsela (2-12) // Current news stories and text library, leveled for students’ reading ability

Grammarly (6-12) // Writing tips for improving composition skills

Math

CodeMonkey (K-12) // Game-based learning experience to help kids learn coding

Khan Academy (K-12) // Excellent resource for teaching, practicing, and re-teaching math skills

Prodigy (1-8) // Responsive math platform that adapts to children’s skill needs with game-like features

** Click here for more STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics) recommendations.**

Science

National Geographic Kids (Pre K-8) // Stories and beautiful images about the world and wildlife

Mystery Science (K-5) // Science activities and lessons based on big questions and children’s curiosity

Generation Genius (K-8) // Videos and lessons to get kids interested in science.

Google Earth (K-12) // Awesome for virtual field trips and world exploration

Social Studies

PBS KIDS (Pre K-6) // Loads of engaging content for children

Google Lit Trips (K-12) // Bridge the connection between stories and the places they occur

National Museum of African American History and Culture Learning Labs (K-12) // Helps children understand American history through the African American lens

Cast Your Vote (5-8) // Learn about the voting process and political issues

Race to Ratify (6-12) // Engaging game-based learning centered on the Constitution and persuasion techniques

Smithsonian Kids (2-12) // Interactive activities across many disciplines including US history, inventions, animals, and more

 

 

 

The Home Within Yourself

“My husband and I divorced six months ago. Shortly after the holidays last year, we ended our marriage. In many ways, I feel more relief than grief. Things had been falling apart for some time. And now that it’s all over, I am completely certain that we did the right thing.

Our separation and divorce were pretty nasty. Lots of accusations and mistrust. For my part, I have been able to shield our children – they are 6 and 9 years old – from most of the back and forth, but this has been a tough year for all of us.

Thanksgiving is coming up next week, and I am really messed up about it. I have never had a Thanksgiving or Christmas without my children before, and I worry that I won’t survive this separation. I know that sounds dramatic, but I don’t know how to do this.

I have family and close friends in town, but I am afraid that I’ll drag everyone down with my grief. I don’t want to fake-smile through the weekend. But I also don’t want to be alone. This is my conundrum. What the hell am I supposed to do?

I know you have done this before, so I am hoping you can give me some advice. How do I make it through this first holiday without my babies?

Thank you,

Lost”


Since I started telling the truth about my life, this is a question that finds its way to my inbox often. Figuring out how to do the holidays after divorce can be so scary and sad.

I first want to say a big “Congratulations!” to you. Making big life changes can be tough, and I think divorce is one of the most difficult things to do. It sounds like this was a healthy decision for you, and I applaud your courage.

You have done this hard thing, and now you will continue to do the next hard things with that much more kindness and tenderness and strength.

On this morning seven years ago, I woke up with a lump in my throat. I had dreaded this day for months. Within an hour, I would say goodbye to my boys as I dropped them off at before-school care just as the sun was waking up. And I wouldn’t see them again until the next Monday after school. All of those hours of family Thanksgiving memories – 123 hours, in fact – I would miss for the very first time. To say I was devastated would not be an overstatement.

On the way to school, the boys and I talked about keeping our Christmas tree up until at least January (it turned out to be February that year, and on purpose!), what presents we’d like to get our puppy and kitty cat. I kept my eyes forward and my grip tight on the steering wheel, channeling all of my focus on the drive so I didn’t have to think about how much my heart was breaking. At least not yet.

After saying our goodbyes and kissing their pink cheeks, I walked out of the school gymnasium toward our car, my body wracked with grief. Slamming the door shut in outrage at what my life had become, I did the only thing I knew to do that would release the pent up rage and fear and agony in me – I screamed “NO!” about a dozen times and sobbed. I beat the steering wheel, too. (That always helps until you accidentally hit the horn.)

The rest of that Thanksgiving holiday is a blur for me. I remember snippets here and there, but the one thing I know for sure is this: I survived it.

Wide Image

Lost, I know what it feels like when the anticipation of this weekend and all it entails is sitting so heavy on your chest you’re afraid you’re going to stop breathing. When your throat aches from screeching out anguishing cries in a whisper so your children don’t hear. And I am here to tell you it’s moments like these that wear down our rock-hard, jagged edges and soften us into the tender, open-hearted people we are meant to become.

On really tough days like this, my friend Bess would text me with some truth bombs. We all need to be reminded of the truest things sometimes, so here are some for you.

You are strong enough to weather this.

No matter how much they hurt, feelings can’t kill.

Being alone is not necessarily a bad thing.

Your people love you and want to shoulder your pain. It’s okay to let them.

…..

My first piece of advice to you is this: feel your feelings.

It is easy to self-medicate with a million things to dull our pain. But it never works, Lost. I have tried nearly everything there is, and I’m here to tell you: it. never. works.

So sit in your grief. Let it seep into your bones. And then share it. With a trusted friend, with your therapist, with the pages of your private journal… Whatever makes sense for you, do it.

Because this taking in and sharing of grief has transformative powers, I believe. Like the caterpillar that hides away in its cocoon, quite literally consuming itself
so that it can come back together again to emerge a butterfly, we must first become undone in order to be made whole.

And then, we must learn how to look inside ourselves to find that safe place, home.

For human beings, I believe the active ingredient in this process is grief. So hold this grief, this gift, tightly to your chest and let it shape you as you share it with those who are standing with you in this season.

One of the biggest challenges for me in parenting after divorce was all of the open time I instantly had when my children were with their dad. It is still a challenge, honestly.

For so many years, mothering consumed my time, my thoughts, everything. Because, well, it had to. Those early years of parenting demand so much of us physically and emotionally.

And then, in a breath, I had 122 days every year without my children. 122 days. That’s a lot of days.

At first, I tried to fill this time with things like browsing the aisles at Target, lining up dates or lady dates so I wouldn’t have to eat a meal by myself, or traveling to visit friends and family out of state. But after a while, that grew so exhausting (and oftentimes financially irresponsible, quite honestly).

One weekend, I had too much month left at the end of my money and had no choice but to stay home. I was admittedly nervous about this predicament I’d found myself in, but it turned out to be one of the most life-giving and replenishing weekends I’d had in a long damn time.

That weekend was the start of me learning to find a home within myself.

On Friday night, I fell asleep to an Austin City Limits re-run streaming on my laptop. Saturday morning, I slept in. Made French press coffee and scrambled eggs in smooth butter for breakfast. Took a long walk with Polly at a park nearby. Finished Cheryl Strayed‘s moving book, Tiny, Beautiful Things and bawled my head off in the best way. Sunday brought church and lunch with my parents and lesson planning for my classes the following week.

I cared for myself the way I would care for my best friend who was going through a crisis and needed a weekend to just breathe and be. It was uneventful and quiet and soul-feeding.

Lost, on the days when you find yourself in an empty home with nothing to keep you busy, learn to care for yourself as if you were your own best friend. It will change your life.

…..

Since that first Thanksgiving without my sweeties, I have had three more like them. It does get easier, but the ache of missing my boys never leaves. I still get choked up when I have to say goodbye for a break. Thoughts of them are always running in the background of my mind, and that’s okay. Beautiful, even.

As you walk through this first Thanksgiving without your babies, I hope you find comfort in your grief, remembering that experiences like these can be catalysts for growth and change that otherwise might be impossible. And I hope you find a home within your beautiful heart, remembering that all the love and care you pour out on others is meant to be poured out on yourself, too.

Yours,

Ellie

The Value of Struggle

When you hear the word “struggle,” what feelings crop up for you? Looking at the world around us, it’s clear that struggle is something we’ll often do anything to avoid. But as you and I both know, pushing through challenges develops many character traits and skills that we need to be humans who are full of good things like determination, commitment, and kindness.

Just like in life, struggle is a necessary part of learning in the classroom. In order for students to truly learn at the deepest levels, they must grapple with academic challenges and learn how to stay the course. “Struggle” will mean different things for different students, of course, but in order for all students to learn and grow, they must each face appropriately difficult tasks and lean into them instead of trying to find a shortcut or give up altogether.

When I allow my students to struggle and walk with them through it, I am telling them that I believe they have what it takes to succeed. I am giving life to my students’ self-confidence. I’m empowering them to believe in themselves and do difficult things. And I’m building trust in our relationship, too.

Don’t get me wrong. It is difficult sometimes to let this process play out, but removing important obstacles in my students’ experiences will ultimately be calamitous. Doing so robs them of opportunities to develop life skills they need to be successful adults. I choose to sit with my students in their struggle, helping them put words to their feelings and fears. I encourage them to problem-solve on their own in order to find their own light at the end of the tunnel instead of carving the path for them.

And I believe that this is what every teacher – and parent, for that matter – should do for the children in their care. It’s tough work. But it’s worth it.

For further reading on this topic from a parenting perspective, check out Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child: the Heart of Parenting by John Gottman.

Hot Mulled Apple Cider

Trees dropping their leaves, green grass fading to gold, winds picking up… fall is happening here at Crangle Hall, though it seems to be moving at a snail’s pace.

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Among my favorite recipes for the ‘ber months (you know, September, October, November…) is hot mulled cider. We pour ours over an ounce or two of bourbon, but hot mulled cider is great without the booze, too!

Hot Mulled Apple Cider

Ingredients

  • 1/2 gallon apple cider
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon whole allspice berries
  • 1 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 orange, sliced

Directions

  1. In a large pot on medium-high heat, combine all ingredients and stir.
  2. Bring to a boil and drop heat to low. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Serve warm in a glass mug with a cinnamon stick for garnish.