Little Lists [16]

Where to start? Even though February is an incredibly stressful time for teachers and the weather is dark and gloomy, I have found myself constantly inspired and laughing in between the difficult moments. So lately I have been grateful for…

Book clubs and hours of uninterrupted weekend reading. Just finished this and I have already gone back to re-read certain parts of it. Can’t wait for the movie.

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Friends who will do my make up at parties because I am hopeless. Also, seeing old friends that remind me of my roots and make me laugh until I can’t feel my face.

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Roommates who are kids at heart and are always game for laser tag or the latest Disney movie. And then when you run into your students at laser tag and you find yourself getting chased by 10 year olds with laser guns shouting, “Get the teachers!” Also, skunk butt rug.

Day trips to the New England coast. The Atlantic coast is rugged and rocky and beautiful and even though everything was closed we enjoyed the sunshine and sang nonstop the whole drive.

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We also went to Salem and found the American Hogwarts.

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And last but not least, a weekend trip to Chicago to see some of the coolest kids I know. So proud of these two and their bravery and so happy I got to see them and some of my other favorite faces.

We ate lots of junk food.

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Went to Bath and Body Works to smell all the smells.

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Got all dressed up for the big performance.

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And we touched Lake Michigan.

And to top it all off, the universe gave us a snow day yesterday. As much as I appreciate the day off, I think winter is over now. Ready for some spring memories and more warm weather things to be grateful for.

On Loneliness

“Ms. Smogard, would you rather be alone and read a book than hang out with people?”

Once I got over the shock of how random and pointed my student’s question was, I nodded. “Sometimes,” I said. “I love being alone, but sometimes it can also be lonely.”

My last school was a boarding school and, when you live where you work, finding alone time is as impossible to come by as it is important. So I sought it out and savored it and, when I became especially quiet and reclusive, the kids would smile and say, “Ms. D is being a moody introvert again”. But here, in a normal day school setting, I wonder what it was that suggested to my student that I might be the quiet type.

I think terms of identity come and go in phases – we are more likely now to ask someone for their Myers Briggs type than their astrological sign. More specifically – I think I have heard the words introvert and extrovert more in the last two or three years than I ever did growing up. The champion book for the strong and silents, Quiet, and the rise of the four letter 16 personality types have got us thinking that we either begin with an I or an E. Like my student guessed, I am definitely an I. An INFJ, to be specific. And here is what the internet has to say about me:

INFJs find it easy to make connections with others, and have a talent for warm, sensitive language, speaking in human terms, rather than with pure logic and fact. It makes sense that their friends and colleagues will come to think of them as quiet Extroverted types, but they would all do well to remember that INFJs need time alone to decompress and recharge, and to not become too alarmed when they suddenly withdraw. INFJs take great care of other’s feelings, and they expect the favor to be returned – sometimes that means giving them the space they need for a few days.

So it seems like INFJs are introverts who can sometimes pass as extroverts given their ability to communicate. They just need time to decompress in the midst of social interactions. And one of the main ways I decompress is, in fact, by reading. By crawling into bed and not emerging for a day or two. Not interacting with anyone or anything but the pages. I – like many introverted people – love (need) solitude…but does that mean introverts don’t get lonely?

I don’t think it matters how introverted you think you are – everyone feels lonely. And sometimes the people who are constantly surrounded by other people are the loneliest. I am usually late on the acronyms (the last one I ever used successfully was LYLAS), but people talk a lot about FOMO (fear of missing out). I first heard the term in 2013, but the underlying sensation is something I think we are biologically hardwired to feel. I was reading a Washington Post article the other day that took FOMO a step further and suggested loneliness – defined as a hopeless feeling of not belonging or connecting – is a public health crisis:

Early on, when survival depended crucially on cooperation and communication, social isolation was a huge risk. So evolution shaped the primitive human brain to desire and need social interaction in the same way it shaped the brain to desire and need food.

The pain of loneliness is like the pain of hunger — it’s a biological signal that something is wrong.

[…]

“I do see these patients all the time,” said psychiatrist Jacqueline Olds, who has a private practice in Cambridge, Mass., and has co-written two books on the subject. “Many of the people who end up lonely give off signals they want to be alone out of anxiety. . . . Feeling left out has a huge effect on our psyche from our evolutionary worries that everyone else will survive and we won’t.” (aka: primitive FOMO)

Not only is it a fundamentally human need to feel connected to others, this insecurity of missing out is currently getting salt rubbed in its wound by social media – the entity whose sole purpose it sometimes seems is to let you know how much fun everyone else is having without you every single moment of every single day.

Psychotherapist Matt Lund­quist, director of TriBeCa Therapy in New York City, has become something of an expert on loneliness. Hardly a week goes by, he says, without one of his patients expressing “agony” over something seen on Facebook. “It’s a reinforcement that everybody has these connections and [they] don’t,” he said Friday.

At the same time I was reading this, I stumbled upon another website. About love letters. More Love Letters is about connection outside of social media. In the form of hand written letters to those who need them most.

The world doesn’t need another website.

It doesn’t need another app or a network.

What it needs is really basic. Simple. Bare-boned.& often forgotten in the race to get followers, likes & status.

LOVE. Pure, old-fashioned, never goes out of style Love. Ridiculous, oozing, cannot pack this thing into 140-characters kind of love. Fearless, bold, unstoppable love.

People in need of human connections, emotional support, or even just one kind word can request letters or be nominated to receive them and everyone who has subscribed to the site will be notified when it is time to spread the love. Fearless, bold, unstoppable love. Doesn’t that sound nice? And LETTERS. Something full of feeling that you can hold in your hands. I got a letter a few days after I read about More Love Letters and I laughed because sometimes the universe is trying to send you a message.

The Mindful Art subscription sends me a letter every month with a piece of art and a theme – one word to explain what the art represents and why they chose it. February’s focus was friendship. Because we all feel lonelier than we have to. We seek connection on social media when it only ends up making us feel worse. You are not alone. When you feel like you are, reach out. Even when you think other people don’t feel alone, reach out. It does not matter whether your personality type begins with an I or an E, whether you prefer books to parties, or are seemingly surrounded by people. Everyone gets lonely and everyone needs a connection. It can be with a best friend, romantic partner, or a complete stranger. It can look like a cup of coffee, a love letter, or even an owl, sloth, and fox sailing across the sea. Loneliness will beat us all if we let it, so let’s choose to connect.

On Pilgrims and Reading Out Loud

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A pilgrim came to our class the other day. Ok, not a REAL pilgrim. It was a man from a historical society that sends re-enactors to schools that was pretending to be a pilgrim.

And, it wasn’t just any re-enactor pilgrim. It was Myles Standish – one of the passengers of the Mayflower – to be specific (its ok if you don’t know who he was – I definitely didn’t). We were starting our unit on the thirteen colonies and wanted a way to bring the material to life. Hence the pilgrim.

As excited as we were, we were a little apprehensive about how it was going to go. At first there was some confusion about whether or not he was actually a 400-year-old man. Once we clarified that he was an actor, not an immortal colonist, we had to explain how it would be pointless and not very fun if everyone just asked him questions about iPhones in an attempt to get him to break character. Some questions we brainstormed for the “bad questions” list were, “Are you a zombie?” “Why do you talk so weird?” and “How did you survive without video games?”

In the end we felt pretty confident that they would enjoy the re-enactor in all of his weirdness. But in all the time we spent prepping the kids, we forgot to tell the front office that he was coming and received a text message saying that a pilgrim had just arrived at school and was asking for us. One of those things you never thought you’d hear.

In all, it was actually amazing. The kids were a little wide eyed at first, but there was a great deal of laughter, questions, scrambling to try on the colonial clothes, and wishing that every history class could be told by someone who was there. Or, was pretending to have been there.

I think one of three things happened.

First, they were scared. It is pretty weird to see a 6-foot tall man in colonial clothing speaking to you in accents in a very authoritative way (he was a military commander after all).

Second, they were so confused that they were speechless. He switched between Dutch, Scottish, and English accents depending on who in history he was impersonating and often spoke to the students as if they were the king or queen of England. What else are you supposed to do but laugh and nod along when someone is speaking to you, King James, about those troublemaking puritans?

Confused and scared as they may have been, I think it was a third option. I think the reason they sat, enraptured and bewildered and hanging on his every word, is because there is something intensely captivating about story telling.

They were mesmerized by this pilgrim because suddenly the things they had been reading came to life and their minds were free to wonder and imagine. They could let go of everything and just listen. This wasn’t the first time I’d seen the magic mesmerizing powers of story telling.

Two of my students are very difficult. Difficult for different reasons, but still difficult. We face challenges daily on everything from completing classwork, following directions, and staying out of the principal’s office. I have learned (and am still learning every day) different ways to manage their behavior and help them get through school, but the one thing that works for both of them is reading out loud. No matter how angry they are at me, no matter how disinterested they are in what we are doing…both of them become calmer and more focused when someone is reading out loud to them. They can forget everything else that is going on in their lives and simply be, for however many uninterrupted minutes, little kids.

We read out loud to the students every day for a half an hour during group reading. The idea is that it is useful for growing readers (with quite varying levels of skill) to listen to experienced readers model what good intonation and pausing sounds like. Their vocabulary increases as they are exposed to more and more words they might not ever see otherwise (and they encounter them with an adult at the ready to provide a definition). They have completely low stakes and supportive environments to practice reading out loud themselves.

And, most importantly, they get to see how wonderful stories are. Like when we were all almost in tears when a beloved character’s dog died or on the edge of our seats when a young female protagonist picked up a sword to defend her house from burglars. That doesn’t happen (as often) when you read to yourself. When you read silently, especially if you are a struggling reader, the words don’t come to life. There is no pilgrim.

At my last school we read out loud to the small children every night and it was their favorite time of day. Every single day they would ask for one more story, no matter how long we read to them. There were times when it felt like a chore. There were times I just wanted that time to myself after dinner. But every single time I was so happy I did it because there is no greater joy than watching them burst with laughter when one person is reading The Sleep Book and the other person pretends to fall asleep and snore every couple of pages. Or when you read the Jungle Book and someone is the leopard, prowling around and looking for unsuspecting five year olds to eat. Or when inspiration hits and a voice you don’t even recognize comes out when you are impersonating a moose named Morris (and have the first graders tell you every single day that they want to hear Morris and Boris go to the Circus – if you haven’t read it, you should). Or when the middle school boys ask for a scary story during a storm so you recite the plot to Paranormal Activity and they all scream when the power serendipitously goes out the moment you reach the end.

Reading out loud has a number of benefits (better focus, vocabulary, comprehension), but mostly it gives adults an opportunity that is hard to come by sometimes: the opportunity to play.

But the joy for adults isn’t just in telling stories. It is in hearing them too. It really, truly does not matter how old you are – there is something innately comforting and captivating about oral story telling. Theatrics are an added bonus, but they aren’t necessary. I only started listening to podcasts once I graduated from college, but now I am hooked along with the majority of my friends (most of whom can’t stop talking about Serial). Maybe podcasts are just a grown up version of story time.

I want to share an excerpt from a WSJ piece called, The Great Gift of Reading Out Loud.

To curl up with children and a good book has long been one of the great civilizing practices of domestic life, an almost magical means of cultivating warm fellow feeling, shared in-jokes and a common cultural understanding. Harvard professor Maria Tatar has written of its origins in medieval fireside storytelling, “before print and electronic media supplied nighttime entertainments.”

Certainly in the modern era there is something quaint about a grown-up and a child or two sitting in a silence broken only by the sound of a single human voice. Yet how cozy, how impossibly lovely it is! Unlike tech devices, which atomize the family by drawing each member into his own virtual reality, great stories pull people of different ages toward one another, emotionally and physically. When my children were small, I would often read with my eldest daughter tucked in by my side, the boy draped like a panther half across my shoulders and half across the back of the sofa, a tiny daughter on either knee, and the baby in my lap. If we happened to be on one of our cycles through “Treasure Island,” Robert Louis Stevenson’s swashbuckling classic, my husband would come to listen, too, and stretch out on the floor in his suit and tie and shush the children when they started to act out the exciting bits.

“We let down our guard when someone we love is reading us a story,” Ms. DiCamillo says. “We exist together in a little patch of warmth and light.”

It isn’t always possible to bring the pilgrim. Sometimes it isn’t even necessary because the simple act of reading out loud (pilgrim or no pilgrim) is enough to bring joy to both children and adults. But, I still think we should try because you never know what magic could happen.

Little Lists [15]

Lately I’ve been grateful for…

time with friends and community service. sometimes we spend 12 hours at school and other times we spend the afternoon making valentines for seniors.

sunny days and snow. I can’t believe the difference between my view today and two weeks ago. Poor Texas car.

my sister and pictures like this (headgear, anyone?). We’ve gotten better at taking pictures. Kind of.

January has been cold and dark with some pretty long days. Don’t forget to be grateful. Even when it’s hard.