Lost and Found

you can find me chasing the sun rays as they disappear behind the mountain silhouettes. you can find me waiting patiently for the constellations to connect themselves across the midnight skies. I am constantly looking for the depths of my own soul along two lane roads and corn fields. my feet are playing in the sand at any given beach while my head is playing in the clouds 14,000 feet in the sky. I am sipping coffee from foreign lands, fulfilling my taste for adventure for a few short minutes. I retreat to familiar faces, embrace hugs, and appreciate home for what it is- a place to come back to. Home for me, has never been a place to stay but rather a place to refuel. I am craving to fly and not scared to swim. I want to experience the highest highs and the lowest lows and every roller coaster loop in between. I want to meet the kindest, the rudest, the most insecure and confident people in the world. I want to know what makes people smile and what word triggers a breakdown. I am searching for a sense of nostalgia amongst brand new cities and places. I am searching for my own emotions in letter combinations others have created. Being lost is not something that scares me but something I look forward to. Amongst the wanderers and the dreamers. Amongst the people who never want to stop striving for more. Being found is not the ultimate goal. But finding someone else, somewhere else, something else. thats the goal. I am lost, trying to find anything and everything but myself.

Potential or Opportunity

“All children are born with equal potential but not with equal opportunity.”

I have heard this phrase or an alternate of it several times the last few weeks as I have been prepping professionally to work with high-risk youngsters.

And it breaks my fucking heart.

This country has always prided itself on the fact that all children start from the same distance from the finish line. Every beating heart brought onto this Earth has the chance for success. We constantly reference rags to riches success stories and those who turn their food stamps into college degrees. We have seen it happen a handful of times, therefore it’s possible and no individual should ever fall below that standard.

In this sense, we are saying that the same child who grows up in a food desert, eating nothing but hot Cheetos and Poptarts from the gas station has no excuse to not obtain all the same successes as a child who walks to Whole Foods every weekend with his parents and eats organic almond butter on his nine-grain toast every morning.

The argument for potential vs. opportunity can be outlined in numerous formats: nutrition, transportation, parental involvement, access to healthcare, access to information, biological stress levels, exposure to pollution, exposure to crime, violence, drugs, sex whether virtually or in person, city funding and subsequently school district funding, political agendas, teacher enthusiasm, clear and enticing extrinsic motivators which allows the list to continue infinitely.

The “nature vs. nurture” debate (look into behaviorism and the biological approaches of psychology if you are unfamiliar) has been, at its core, a timeless argument about whether our biology has a more relevant role than our environment in our behaviors/thoughts/ actions.

The recognition of lack of opportunity compared to potential makes a strong argument for the nurture debate in that no environment, no home life, no set of influences impacts any given child the same way. And when that environment epitomizes a “lack of,” success becomes less and less obtainable regardless of the intrinsic motivation one possesses.

Willpower, internal motivation, determination, and desire are immeasurable in their influence over our actions and the course of our lives making those few success stories possible. But they do not excuse the influence the environment has and the lack of acknowledgement our country has for the lack of equal access to success every child taking their first breath has. Children are born with the same amount of potential to change the world but are not given the same amount of resources to do so.

How can we possibly still be blaming a child for not taking advantage of an opportunity that they were never given…

We are the problem

I feel like as a society we are constantly asking why children “these days” have such little respect for authority or peers. I believe it stems from a lack of respect that they themselves receive: in terms of their ability, their wants, desires, but most importantly their needs. Instead of being granted the respect and opportunity to explore their environment based on their own terms, children are instead being put into activities full of structure and teacher guided activities. Adults do not allow children to learn solely baed on intrinsic motivation any longer because how could children possibly learn anything if we don’t give them a sticker(…). We kill children’s curiosity from an early (depressingly early) age.

“No, you cannot go play in the dirt because I don’t have time to scrub your grass stains out.”

“Don’t worry about throwing away your food and rinsing your plate off because its easier if I do it.”

“Wear tennis shoes with velcro instead of shoe laces because I don’t have time to help you learn to tie them yourself.”

We have started treating children and their needs as a chore on our “to-do” list, another thing to take care during our daily regiment. What we (and by we I mean parents, teachers, everyone in our child-filled society) are forgetting is that this living, breathing, thinking soul on our bullshit daily checklist is actually a tiny being that is somehow shaping the world with each breath he or she takes and when we treat this living, breathing, thinking, feeling, seeing, hearing being as a check box, we (again, everyone  on planet earth) are not providing he or she with respect. So how can we possibly expect any form of respect in return? We (operationally defined previously) constantly discuss discipline strategies, parent un-involvement, women/mothers working more so but in my opinion, respect is a two-lane road. And for me, respect is automatically given and revoked when it is no longer deserved. Children are born dependent on adults for just about everything and in every domain of development. This is a form of respect and trust in itself. It is as they age and ask to see/explore the world and are denied the opportunity to do so, that the trust and respect they have for adults is lost and is represented through what some may call “unacceptable social behavior” or just basic courtesy.

Children are active, engaged, and curious from the very beginning of their lives and they similarly offer a level of respect for everyone they encounter from the start. It is when they ask to learn and seek to test their naive knowledge about the world and receive demeaning, sarcastic responses from the adults they trust in return that their behavior begins to change.

SO how do we start changing nearly two decades of disrespectful behavior? Start providing a positive model of what respectful behavior is. Pull your two year old out of summer math courses and let your seven year old pick one sport instead putting him in four different clubs to keep him busy. Not every little girl wants to do ballet and young boys should have the opportunity to play dress up. Provide a variety of exposure. Don’t choose a child’s destiny before they are even conscious of the immensity of their options. Respect children by respecting their curiosity and their naive thoughts about people, love, and pain. Respect children by letting them play without structure, whistles, wins or losses. Let little boys make guns out of legos and let the marker scribbles hang on your fridge. Respect children by respecting their individuality and unique desires and needs. Discipline, figures of authority, right and wrong are things children need to understand and acknowledge but I honestly believe that if children feel respected, discipline becomes easier, authority is granted and right and wrong are learned through experience. Respect is mutual and little people deserve so much more than what they are being given

Swing Life Away

Kick forward, pull back. Kick forward, pull back. Kick forward, pull back. It’s easy. Back and forth, up and down. There is something about sitting on that black leather seat and grabbing hold of those two rusty chains that demolishes every fear and every worry. No matter your profession, your stresses, or your pride, walking toward the swing set, letting your hair down, and kicking off your shoes liberates you from the life you live, the responsibilities you have. We were once on the same playing field, all of us. It didn’t matter what car your parents drove to the park that day or what you were eating at the picnic table, we were all kids and that old rusty swing set was the heartbeat of the playground we crawled all over.

It’s the place where we all figured out what kind of person we were. For me, I was fearless. I wanted to be at the top. I wanted to go so high that my butt bounced off as I came back down. I wanted to be above everyone else and when I jumped off, I wanted to be further than any other kid on that playground. I wanted to leave my mark. Some days.

And other days, I wanted less. I wanted to have my feet in the sand, I wanted to be closer to the ground where I knew it was safe. I wanted to lean backwards and know that I was taking a risk but not one that could hurt me.

That swing set helped me understand that there is nothing wrong with aiming for the stars, for taking a risk, and letting loose. But it also taught me that you can be low key too. You don’t have to be on top of the world forever. In fact, you can leave your mark just as well from home base as you can a yard from the swing. Either way, your mark was left. I am still very much that same person today. Some days, I have no problem hopping on life’s swing set and kicking my feet as hard as I can, maybe leaning backward while I’m in the clouds. Some days I need that thrill in order to know that I am alive and that God put me on this Earth to make a difference. And some days, I want to put my hair up and draw lines in the sand. Some days I want to fly so far off the seat that it rocks back and forth until the next kid comes along. And some days I want to be able to just stand up and walk away still knowing that at least the next person who has a seat will see my footsteps in the sand and know that I was there.

When we wake up in the morning, we have to decide which way we want to approach the swing set of life. We have to decide which strategy will make the most difference. Will leaving a thrilling legacy change the world or will one simple mark inspire someone? It’s impossible to know so for now, we have to approach life as we each do the playground centerpiece: kick off our shoes and enjoy the ride. There is nothing wrong with having your feet on the ground while your head is in the clouds.

Blood > Water

I read the other day that the quote “blood is thicker than water” was originally used to reference the blood shed during a war compared to the blood we share with family. So in essence, we’ve been getting it wrong for decades- giving the words the exact opposite meaning that they  were intended for.

The words become stronger this way. They solidify that sometimes our family- our own blood will let us down. Boy, have I learned that lesson recently. But those that shed their own DNA as they struggle through the daily battle of life right along next to us, they are the ones we reach to for help more often than not.

As we move into older childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, we surround ourselves not by family, but by peers of our age, experience, and goals. We interact with those we have similarities to and who can provide support academically, financially, professionally, emotionally, etc. Because of the similar trajectories of humans we surround ourselves with as we grow, we tend to experience similar triumphs and similar disappointments.

We climb similar mountains and refer to others fighting the same battles when we can’t support ourselves entirely. We shed blood, sweat, and tears daily trying to navigate through life and the obstacles within it. Our DNA will always remain part of the fight but it is the reliance on others who are fighting the same war, overcoming the same challenges, that help us persevere through life as we do each day.

So which interpreation is most meaningful to you? The blood within us or the blood we help to clot from wounds of the fighters next to us each day? Blood certainly is thicker than water but what do you mean when you say it?

 

 

*my reference is a Wikipedia article which should not be taken as a reliable source of information but nonetheless, an intriguing interpretation of a well-used phrase I wanted to share*

 

Scared Straight

I’m young, maybe a little naive. I make choices with limited acknowledgment of potential consequences. I understand that the world is filled with risks and ramifications but I have chosen to live my life pushing them both. And so far, I have been blessed with adventures, stories to tell, lessons learned, failures, and successes.

There have been numerous close calls, nights on the street, drug use, and pain that is not poetic. But I have never considered any of the experiences life-altering. I have always been confident in my ability to protect myself or trust my intuition and know when to leave any given situation. I have always felt invincible; that I would learn from a mistake but not be changed eternally by it.

Until I got that phone call. Until a medical professional deemed me breakable and fragile.  My choices, my risk-taking finally got the best of me. It took crying in the middle of an empty parking lot at two in the afternoon, the embarrassment of waiting for a pharmacist to refill my meds, and waiting by the phone hour after hour to hear if my future was forever altered for me to acknowledge that life is short.

I have taken my entire life and the blessings throughout it for granted.

I am so blessed that this particular life lesson came in moderation. Life-changing but reasonable. I was able to see from a distance how close I came to a life-altering mistake. I may be young and even naive, but for the first time I was scared that my life may never be the same again. For the first time, I took a look in the mirror and reflected on my choices and the implications of them. I am sincerely apologetic to every individual that has been affected by my decisions-especially within the last week. And I am sorry that it took me learning this particular lesson to realize that my decisions, my risk-taking, my invincibility, cannot always go without consequence.

This is the first time I can say that a decision I made has forever altered the way I will address an opportunity presented to me.

Life is so beautiful and I have taken it for granted for too long. I’m taking this lesson in stride and learning from every step that got me to where I am right now.

Count your blessings. And stay safe.

Why I Quit My Dream Job

I can remember standing in my parent’s basement smothered in wood panelling and orange shag carpet with a dry erase board and my second grade math homework. I can remember lining all of my stuffed bears and hippos and whatever else into a strategic seating chart so they could all see the board and I could walk around “the classroom” to ensure each student was on task. I assigned homework and stayed after school to plan for the next day or at least until dinner was ready. Teaching has been my dream since I was cognizant of the fact that a career was possible for me.

I attended an elite teaching school in Colorado, took college credits in high school, made every career decision and personal to match the teaching timeline of my life.

Most recently, I moved back home with my parents, back to the shag carpet and wooden panels, back to lesson planning and seating charts only this time for a real class with real students and real responsibilities for changing the world.

Only I felt like I wasn’t. 

I have spent the last several weeks in a fifth grade classroom (as well as semesters before in numerous other grade levels and school buildings) filled with eager to learn students, a passionate teacher, and all the resources a new teacher could ask for. But I quit today. 

And the reason I quit is because I felt my dream job wasn’t doing enough. Like it wasn’t living up to everything I have choked it up to be. In fact, I felt that I was doing more harm than good while standing in that classroom.

When it was my job as an educator to do everything in my power to make sure children were learning how to be successful in and out of the classroom, I watched as they slipped through the cracks. I watched as a young boy came to school hungry every single day and yet was expected to write the same five paragraph essay as the girl who ate cage-free eggs that same morning. I watched as a ten year old slit her wrist and laughed off the depression hours later: her social-emotional health being blatantly neglected but the “no blade” school policy being implemented in full force.

That is NOT okay.

As a teacher, I had to ignore the fact that these young, moldable minds were being neglected and rather focus on if they were able to recognize 3-5 important events in a National Geographic article from 2007. The thing is, I didn’t care if they knew how to sequence, or how to dissect vocabulary, I really didn’t even care if they knew how to add two-digit numbers (which all fifth graders should be able to do). The fact that most of these children were behind academically meant nothing to me when they responded to the prompt “how are you” with sad or hungry or upset. The rest of the day: manipulatives, graphic organizers, sentence strings…How could I expect them to learn through any avenue when their mind was clearly somewhere else, somewhere more relevant to them.

Children are so quick to get lost in the education system, some of them just squeezing through standards and expectations- literally being shuffled through the system like products on a conveyor belt. Names become test scores, emotions are lost amongst the constant transitions between word work, number corner, and homemade science curriculum.

It made me sick.

Teachers are absolutely doing the best that they can with the resources and the funds they are offered. I am not demeaning or attempting to disrespect any human who gives their life to the classroom. I respect each and every man and woman who is helping mold the young minds of our world.

But it’s not my dream job. Not anymore.

It’s back to the drawing board for me. And this time- with a child’s mental health, safety, and hunger status at the forefront of my passion.