Thursday, June 30, 2016
Wednesday, June 29, 2016
Tuesday, June 28, 2016
I'm thankful for this guy. We're having fun celebrating Evan's birthday: presents (among other things, Pokémon toys and a Lionel Messi FC Barcelona jersey), doughnuts for breakfast, swimming and, later, pizza and cake. I'm especially grateful to be doing so with our extended family here in Louisiana.
When you were born, seven years ago today, we called you "Baby Evan from Heaven." Tobin was just three years old then, and he liked the rhyme. And we all adored you--you might as well have been an angel. Well, today your age rhymes with your name and you like saying "Evan is seven."
I don't mean to hang too heavy a halo on your head, but any one who's ever spent any time with you quickly catches on to what a truly sweet spirit you have. Your heart is tender and your joy comes easy.
This has always been true of you. You are shy with adults but make quick, strong connections with other kids. I remember taking you to playgrounds when you were a toddler, and you'd almost always pair off with another kid, a total stranger, and the two of you would be best of friends for that hour or so of play.
This year at school, you moved up to a first through third grade class. This was a big transition because you changed teachers after two years with the same one in your pre-K/kindergarten class. You were hoping to follow in Tobin's footsteps and be in Mr. Zopfi's class. But you were assigned to his wife's class, right across the hall. I felt comfortable with this, because I knew she was very nice, but you were unsure. Then I found out some fun news: your friend Ruby was in Mrs. Zopfi's class.
Ruby has been in your class since the first day of pre-K and the two of you have a really sweet friendship. You enjoy each other's company and are both really nice to everyone. That seemed to calm your first-day jitters and you really loved your first year in Mrs. Zopfi's class. Mrs. Zopfi, Dad and I were very proud of how hard you worked. You made great strides in reading. Writing was especially difficult for you at the beginning of the year. As part of your nightly homework, you had to write one sentence in response to the short book you read. For the first two months of the school year, getting through this one sentence often involved tears and a lot of patient encouragement from Dad and me. Even though it was hard, you stuck with it. Then at the start of the second semester, your assignment increased to writing two sentences. You complained about the extra work, but adjusted more quickly because writing had become easier. When I was visiting your class on one of the last days of schools, Mrs. Zopfi told me, "I'm so proud of Evan. He struggled so much with writing at the beginning of the year, but now he's such an enthusiastic little author."
Mrs. Zopfi also paid you a high compliment when she told me how everyone in class seems to like you. You get along well with friends in your multi-age class, no matter their grade. Mrs. Zopfi explained, "It's just because he's so nice to everyone." I'm thankful you are well-liked, but I'm thrilled and proud to hear about your kindness. I'm also grateful that you're in a school where you can make friends with kids who come from a variety of backgrounds, some seeming very different from yours. But what I see you learning is that we're really not all that different, and we're all in this together.
Your kindness is in full effect in the sports you play. You loved your third fall of soccer, but your second spring of baseball was really special. We lucked out when you got drafted by your coach from last year. We love Coach Matt. He's kind, caring and fun. You were thrilled to be an Oriole again. You got to play a lot of third base, as well as first and pitcher. Even when you played left field, you would come up firing, trying to get a force at second or third. We loved seeing your skill continue to develop and watching the effort and joy with which you played. You were one of the best players on your team, but what you seemed most concerned with whether or not you were the tallest. At the end of the season, your coach honored you with your team's sportsmanship award. That made us prouder than anything you did on the field, or even your team's awesome second-place regular-season finish.
As has been the case for most of your birthdays, we are currently away from from home on our summer travels. We spent a couple days in the car, making our way to Louisiana for our annual family reunion. Your dad likes to play music for us. He made a few mixes and we've enjoyed the Avett Brothers' new album. From my view in the front passenger seat, I catch your dad smiling and sometimes patting his heart. He explains that he can watch you in the rear view mirror, listening, moving and singing along with the music. And it makes his heart swell.
Ev, my hope and prayer for you this year, and always, is that your heart will remain tender. It's what makes you, you. Sometimes I want to shield you from the things that will make your heart hurt. But I'm learning from you that a tender heart is an open heart. The love you give is returned right back to you. You remind me that even in my more complicated grown-up life that kindness is the best place to start, everyday life is full of joy, and hard work (and play) are their own rewards. So today we proclaim: "Evan is seven!" And shower you with the love and joy you have given each of us.
Monday, June 27, 2016
[A note from Allison: This post was originally published here on the website of my friend Elizabeth Sherwood. Liz was the counselor for a young women's support group I started meeting with, very early in my chemo regimen. That group remains an important part of my life, more than three years out. Liz is a wise, inspiring person who has said some of the most important things to me as I made my way through the rigors of treatment and the difficult aftermath. She has since left Chapel Hill to pursue a new venture, still supporting those living with cancer. If you or someone you love is living with cancer, I hope you'll explore Liz's website and services. Xoxo.]
I’ve written and thought a lot about my heart, especially over the three-plus years since my breast cancer diagnosis at the age of 36. I’ve been in tune with each and every ache--even the happy ones like watching my kids grow. When I was diagnosed, they were ages six, three and one. Now they are ten, almost seven and five. I feel like I am watching their childhood slip away. All the while, I’m so incredibly grateful to be here, for them and for me, sharing in the ups and downs of life. I find myself understanding that heartache can coexist with--even spring from--joy.
With my cancer diagnosis, I experienced a great sense of loss. Cancer broke my heart. I remember pinpointing this feeling in the months following my seven months of treatment. I had survived the most difficult seven months of my life, facing chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. Many who loved me congratulated and commended me for “fighting the good fight” and some, for “beating cancer.” But I felt far from triumphant. I felt exhausted and scared and sad. I felt broken. As my focus shifted from the physical, bodily effects of cancer treatment, I faced the daunting challenge of turning inward and taking inventory of how my mind and heart had changed. I spent many months thinking of my heart as broken and closed. I hid myself and my heart, hunkered down in a protective, wound-licking mode. I pushed back from all things spiritual because they were too murky, too elusive--and often troubling.
I can’t say exactly when my thinking started to change. It feels recent. When a new way of thinking and feeling comes, it can feel sudden. But I know it was gradual, the result of a lot of hard work--steps forward and backward--as I tried to integrate my cancer experience into my life. I realized my heart is not fragmented, but open. It’s hurt but at least it’s not hard; it’s soft. In discussing people who have experienced great loss, author and educator Parker Palmer says, that after their deep grief, “[T]hey slowly awaken to the fact that not in spite of their loss, but because of it, they’ve become bigger, more compassionate people, with more capacity of heart to take in other people’s sorrows and joys. These are broken-hearted people, but their hearts have been broken open, rather than broken apart.”
This resonated with me as I found myself looking on the world with a much softer lens. I am much less convinced that I am right and others are wrong. That doesn’t mean I don’t get angry or judgmental, but I usually find my way back to a place of acceptance. My spiritual practice emphasizes belonging and gratitude, not righteousness. I accept that life is uncertain, but life is still full of hope--precisely because we don’t know what will happen.
Cancer forced a bit of what researcher and writer Brené Brown terms “wholehearted living” upon me. I live especially mindful of my mortality. I am taking care of myself physically by exercising and eating mindfully. I find there is a particularly strong connection between exercise and my mental health. Running regularly keeps my mood more even and just helps me feel more clear-headed. I am also nurturing my mind and spirit through attending a monthly support group, reading and writing. My husband and I have collaborated on a daily gratitude project, in which we take turns writing about what we are thankful for each day. Self-care is something I have to recommit to every single day. Some days and weeks I’m better at it than others. Of course, I’m also taking care of my family and find myself especially grateful for my time as a stay-at-home mom. This is a particularly sweet phase in my life that will change and end as my kids get older and I eventually return to work outside the home. I am loving this house and this neighborhood where I live. I am connecting with friends, especially families at my kids’ school.
There is a peace that comes with widening my perspective--of accepting life’s uncertainty along with its joys and sorrows. However, I don’t want to paint a picture of myself wearing rose-colored glasses. I still live with a measure of fear and resentment related to my cancer. I feel this most pointedly when I have my semi-annual check-ups and scans. But what I have learned to do is to allow that discomfort to come in, unjudged. I sit with it. I’m extra careful with myself and my feelings. I cut myself some slack when I’m a nervous wreck the days before a mammogram. And when my mammogram comes back normal, I experience an exquisite, exhausting sense of relief and gratitude. I treasure and sit with that moment too.
But what if, one day, my mammogram isn’t clear? Or what if I have a pain in my side that turns out to be metastatic disease? These are hard questions and possibilities that I live with. Some days they weigh on me more than others. When these anxieties well up, my response is to do whatever I can--read, pray, exercise, laugh--to get myself back to where I am right now. I try to return to the present, where my life is--even in its imperfection--full of love and joy. I live with these fears, but I don’t necessarily have to live in them.
In her book Rising Strong, Brené Brown writes: “If we’re going to put ourselves out there and love with our whole hearts, we’re going to experience heartbreak.” My thought upon reading that was, “Sometimes, I feel like I can’t handle any more heartbreak.” But lately, I’ve started to think I really can’t control or limit my heartbreak. My heart is broken. Is it fragmented? Or is it open? Is it both?
More and more I find my heart open to whatever is out there for it to receive. One of my favorite writers, Glennon Doyle Melton, introduced me to the idea that I can use my heartache as a compass--let the compassion in my heart lead me to serve. She asks, “What if the voice of compassion is our internal compass? What if all we have to do to get what we need down here is run towards the very things and people and places that break our hearts?” So what does this mean in my post-cancer life? For me, it’s a very specific step towards getting more involved in my kids’ school as a parent leader. This step allows me to witness the very good, difficult work that is done every day by teachers and staff. It has also allowed me to work with other parents as we seek to address challenges that exist for our school community, particularly an achievement gap.
I don’t know where I will end up, but I feel encouraged that I have a direction to follow. Cancer has taken many things from my family and me. But one thing I’ve gained from it is a very concrete sense of shared suffering. We all suffer pain and loss. I’ve also experienced the transformational power of love, extended to my family and me in our time of need. And I hope that my open heart will lead me to the next loving step in my journey.
Sunday, June 26, 2016
Yesterday, we made it safely from Atlanta to Lake Charles, Louisiana. Lake Charles is where my parents grew up, met and married. I was born here but lived here less than a year; I grew up (mostly) in Columbus, Georgia. My brother and his wife live here in Lake Charles, as well as some more of my extended family including my dad's sisters, whose house we are staying at. Lake Charles evokes a lot of nostalgia in me. I grew up coming here every summer and usually over the holidays, when my mom's parents still lived here. Memaw and Papoo raised my mom and her five siblings in a house on Twenty-third Street. My sister and I went out for a walk this morning and ended up walking to Memaw and Papoo's old house and back--about a two-and-a-half-mile round trip. We stopped in front of the house, which sadly looks a little worse for the wear and possibly vacant, and chatted about our memories there: playing all kinds of ball in the front yard and street, eating loud, happy meals with the kids in the kitchen and the adults in the dining room, and climbing nearly to the top of the magnolia tree in the front yard. I'm thankful for those sweet childhood memories and that my own kids get to make their own memories visiting Lake Charles.
Saturday, June 25, 2016
Friday, June 24, 2016
Thursday, June 23, 2016
Wednesday, June 22, 2016
Tuesday, June 21, 2016
Monday, June 20, 2016
Sunday, June 19, 2016
Saturday, June 18, 2016
Friday, June 17, 2016
Thursday, June 16, 2016
Today you turn five years old. I often think of how you came into this world as I watch you moving through it now. Your birth story is a bit legendary. Looking back on it, I realize what it might have foretold about you. It was time for you to arrive, so you did so in dramatic fashion. You entered my heart with a burst. And there you remain, filling it up with a joy and an energy that is all your own.
You started school this year. Last year, you went to school three half-days a week, but this year was the real deal: full days of elementary school with your brothers. I left you smiling and excited the first day. You made friends quickly, both inside and outside your classroom. When we walk into school, I am struck by how many people know you--teachers who are not yours, your brothers’ friends and friends’ parents. You’ll excitedly greet them all, including always hugging Tobin’s teacher when you see him. You love to hold the hand of a classmate who happens to be walking in at the same time as us.
You are happy and brave. You are different from your brothers in that you don’t mind being the center of attention. You don’t demand attention so much as you command it. It’s impossible not to notice when you’re around. You laugh and talk and feel with abandon. People often ask me, “Is she always this happy?” I explain, “About 85% of the time, but if she’s not happy, she’s really not happy.”
School hasn’t been completely smooth sailing. I’ve had quite a few tearful school drop-offs for you this year. Sometimes you say you just don’t want me to go. Sometimes you say you’re feeling shy and don’t want to see your friends. Most of the time, I can chat with you a bit and remind you of something fun coming up that day, solicit a hug and a few kisses, and you’ll walk into class on your own. Every once in awhile, I’ve had to leave you crying with your very sweet teacher, who greets you calmly and warmly. She’ll report to me after these tough drop-offs that you calmed down quickly, often pairing off with a friend to look at a book. You think Mrs. Hawkins hung the moon. Just recently, when your brothers were talking about what they wanted to be when they grew up, you chimed in, “When I grow up, I want to be a teacher like Mrs. Hawkins and help kids learn how to be peacekeepers.”
I think what you’ve enjoyed most about school is making friends. But you’ve also really taken to writing letters. You write your name and a few other words you’ve memorized like, “Go. Stop. Hello.” You recently started writing your name and nickname on everything, extending your nickname to three syllables--Lalala--explaining that you want your nickname to have the same number of letters as your real name. You watched Evan write in his reading journal every night and insisted that you had to do homework too. I bought you your own notebook, and you’ll sometimes declare “I have to do my homework!” and spend some time writing and drawing.
One night recently, we went to eat at one of your favorite restaurants, Jason’s Deli. As soon as we arrived, you had to go to the restroom. When we walked in the door, I directed you to your right to find the bathroom. You pointed to the right and asked, “Is this my right?” I confirmed. Then you held up your left hand and asked, “And this is my left?” I said yes. I could tell that for the rest of the evening you were thinking about left and right, because you’d hold up one hand and then the other, quietly chatting to yourself about left and right. That night as we lay in your bed before you went to sleep, you asked about left and right again. I asked you what letter “left” starts with. You’re pretty good with your phonics and identified it as L. So I showed you how you could make an L with your left hand to remind which was which. Then you enthusiastically showed how your right index finger could make a “lower case L on the right!” I couldn’t help but laugh and squeeze you because you are so smart and funny, but what I forgot is that you sometimes get your feelings hurt when people laugh at something you say. You admonished me to stop laughing, and I hugged you and explained that I was laughing because what you said was very funny and very smart. I loved what you said. It was a good reminder for me that I should be respectful of your feelings, even when you are being hilarious.
You are teaching me so much, sweet girl. I am learning patience and the importance of staying steady and calm when you feel a bit stormy. I often tuck you in at night, assuring you that you are “my best girl.” You almost always reply, “And you are my best Mommy!” You love to take what you call "special girls trips," with just the two of us. Sometimes it's just to run to the grocery store. Or this week, it was to church--the boys staying behind to rest and relax after an especially long Saturday at the ballpark. During the service, you drew a picture of a heart, and colored it in with your pencil. You whispered, “I am drawing this for HER. How do you spell her name?” You were pointing to our pastor, a woman who is around my age and is also a mommy. I helped you spell “Pastor Katie” and “from” and you signed your name. I hadn’t suggested you make something for Pastor Katie. It was an idea all your own. You proudly gave it to her after church as we exited the sanctuary. I think this little story characterizes you well: loving, enthusiastic, charming and bold.
When I reflect on what I am most grateful for in your life, it is that this year, you have boldly stepped out into your world: starting school, playing soccer, loving church and making friends. I'm thankful for the communities you're a part of and how each can teach you something about life and yourself. I love your curiosity and the depth of your feelings. Happy birthday, baby girl! May today and the coming year bring you as much joy and love as you give to each and every day.
Wednesday, June 15, 2016
I've become enamored of some volunteer tomatoes that Lauren and I planted after transferring them from our compost bin. We mixed soil and potted them a few weeks ago, and they've grown nicely. They're in pots just outside our bigger garden. Today, after a run, I headed to the back yard to weed them (Lala and I apparently planted lots of germinating weeds with the tomatoes). When I got there, most of the weeds were already gone. So today, I'm thankful for the charm of unexpected tomatoes, and a wife who tends them even without me asking.
Tuesday, June 14, 2016
Monday, June 13, 2016
Sunday, June 12, 2016
This first weekend of summer break has felt kinda busy. We welcomed the end of school by having friends over on Friday afternoon. We spent half of Saturday at the ballpark, wrapping up the season. My Sunday involved church, a Costco run and two simultaneous school events: a PTA playdate and a parents' meeting. Matt handled the playdate while I attended the other meeting. But at some point this evening, things down-shifted. We threw some brats and hot dogs on the grill and had an easy dinner with already-made potato salad and coleslaw on the side. Now, with a cold beverage in my hand, I'm watching Matt and the kids play kickball. I'm grateful for this moment, settling into summer.
Saturday, June 11, 2016
Friday, June 10, 2016
Thursday, June 09, 2016
I've been thinking a lot about names for the last few days. I got to read 340 names of graduates at our graduation yesterday. I don't have much patience for people who say things like "Whoa, that's a weird name!" or who make fun of the names parents give their kids. I think of names as the first gift parents give a child, and I'm thankful for the chance to be the last person at my school who says graduates' names in an official capacity.
Wednesday, June 08, 2016
I'm thankful for Tobin's teacher and classmates, who put on an amazing performance of Shakespeare's As You Like It this evening. Months of rehearsal culminated in a truly special night, with 21 fourth and fifth graders totally buying in and completely loving it.
Tuesday, June 07, 2016
Monday, June 06, 2016
I'm thankful for a full day that included a morning meeting, grocery shopping, meal prepping and text updates from Matt about Tobin's playoff win during an evening meeting. But the highlight of my day was visiting Lauren's class, brownies and fruit salad in tow, to celebrate her birthday (ten days early) with her sweet, funny school friends.
Sunday, June 05, 2016
This is the last week of school. I'm thankful for a successful first year for Lauren, and for great years with new teachers for Evan and Tobin. I'm already excited about all three of them having the same teachers next year. Especially thankful for the mixed- age classes at their school that allow teachers and students to develop their relationships over years.
Saturday, June 04, 2016
Friday, June 03, 2016
Two students this week shared with me apprehensions they have about their immigration status and the potential consequences they and their families face. I'm thankful for immigrants, for a country worth risking everything to be a part of, and for the hardworking children of those brave immigrants who work every day to honor their parents' sacrifice. I hope I may always be an advocate for PEOPLE and FAMILIES first. I'm thankful for the students I have taught, their families I have met, and the regular, humbling reminders of our shared humanity.
Thursday, June 02, 2016
As the school year winds down, I find myself busy with a lot of school activities. Chaperoning today's field trip to the Museum of Life and Science was a nice change of pace after two days of hall monitoring for testing. One of my favorite times this morning was when Lauren and her friends Charlotte and Mace asked to take a picture in front of every dino on the Dinosaur Trail. (They also made bunny ears in a lot of the pictures--sometimes behind their own heads and sometimes properly, as Charlotte is doing here.) I'm grateful for Lauren's teachers and friends, and such a fun nearby place to learn and play.