Saturday, April 22, 2017

An unfortunate (true) story about a substitute teacher, a third grade class, and a hamster

On Thursday when the bus dropped off my younger two daughters from school, my eight-year-old had pressing news.  "Five kids threw up in my classroom today and had to go home," she said. "One was sitting right beside me."

No parent ever wants to hear these words because you know, deep in your heart, that this isn't a mere statement.  It's a proclamation.  It's fair warning.  It's game on.  Your child is now a ticking time bomb inserted into your family structure with the power to bring you all down.


She was sick within hours.  The next morning, my oldest daughter also complained of an upset stomach and promptly joined the ranks of Sick Kramer Children Staying at Home.  I succumbed today.  None of this has surprised me.  Twelve years of parenting have taught me many lessons, including the innate knowledge that the stomach bug rarely stays contained.

But this isn't just a story about our family.  It's a story about the unfortunate substitute teacher who was in the third grade classroom that day -- you know, that fresh-out-of-college, maybe 23-year-old substitute who, perhaps like a young foal, is still finding her footing as an educator while the regular teacher recovers from surgery for a few weeks.

I immediately tried to imagine her day because, people, five kids vomiting in a third grade classroom is not ordinary.  It's a day that goes down in lore and gets referenced for years -- maybe decades -- to come, like the Blizzard of '93.

It's a day that lives in infamy.

I imagine her pausing in shock when the first child threw up, then springing into action and calling the custodian.  I see her regaining composure and re-establishing classroom order as the student was ushered to the nurse and the mess was cleaned.  But then the second kid threw up.  And then the third.  Then two more for good measure.

Somewhere along the line, I imagine her composure ending.

No.  No, no, no, no, no.  Dear Lord, no.

I didn't know that much stuff could come out of such a small person.

This is not what I signed up for.

That's it.  I'm showering in Lysol as soon as I get home.  

I will never wear these clothes again.

What are the odds of this happening while I'm subbing?  I've clearly been set up.  Recovering from surgery?  That's easy!  I'll take recovering from surgery compared to this!

Lysol is not enough.  This room must be destroyed, and I need a Hazmat suit.  I saw the movie Contagion, and this scene is eerily similar. There's no way today's going to end well.

(I'm speculating on that last one, but then again, I am the woman who proposed burning down her own house as a viable middle-of-the-night solution when a child throw up on our hallway carpeting.)

All told, the word on the street is that two more children threw up during their bus rides home.  One made it off the bus and then reached his yard, where he promptly threw up in the bushes.  Like my own daughter, more students got sick later in the evening.  I even saw the father of classmate at the grocery store that night buying ginger ale while I was picking up Saltine crackers.  (We nodded in solidarity.)  The substitute teacher had to take the next day off, and even Cupcake, the dearly loved classroom hamster, was sadly found the next morning resting in peace.

A day in infamy, I tell you.

Oh, substitute teacher, I'd raise my glass to you in your honor, but I can't hold down any liquids yet.  You have earned your stripes.

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Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Hidden Truth Behind Easter Egg Hunts


Have you ever watched a children's Easter egg hunt?  Over the years, I've read several one-column write-ups in local newspapers describing these events, and each article is filled with pastel adjectives and sugar-laced plots that highlights the story of one toddler (always age two) who plucks eggs with childlike wonder while parents (armed with a camera) look on proudly.

Sweet, but that's not the whole story behind Easter egg hunts.  I know, because we just held a massive one.

It started weeks ago when my husband came home from church with a trough that was filled with empty plastic eggs.  He placed it in the center of our family room, where it would stand as a physical monument to the monumental task of stuffing obnoxious quantities of eggs with obnoxious quantities of candy.

As we started filling the eggs, I learned several important lessons.  For example, some candy will never fit inside the cozy confines of a plastic egg even though the packaging is prominently labeled with misleading phrases like "egg-stuffers."  Also, you might break certain child labor laws by unceremoniously employing your children to stuff eggs every time they near the room .  Finally, for every nine pieces of candy you'll stuff, you'll eat one.

 

Once the eggs are stuffed and sealed with a piece of painter's tape so they don't accidentally crack open when you scatter them across the field (last year's lesson), you host the actual event.  For us, the egg hunt was a portion of our children's church service this morning.

Just like the articles I've read, the children were adorable -- so, so adorable! -- and the sun shined, and the wind blew, and the eggs glittered in the field as good Easter eggs should.

But no newspaper article really captures the essence of a children's Easter egg hunt because they never admit how, in two minutes flat, an entire field is picked clean.  (The phrase "swarm of locusts" comes to mind, but perhaps that's not acceptable to print.)

You see, there's a certain Hunger-Games-like intensity among some older children who seem willing to trample that distracted toddler who simply cannot see the one egg that's directly in front of his foot, even though you're on the sidelines pointing, encouraging, and, as a final measure, sending adult-to-toddler mental telepathy: "It's right there, right in front of you.  See it?  It's a bright yellow plastic egg!  It's so close that you're practically stepping on it!  HOW DO YOU NOT SEE THIS?"

But by this point the hunt is finished, and the kids already surreptitiously have eaten a handful of treats.  As you gaze into their sweet eyes, glazed with the combination of competition and sugar, you remember why you're doing this in the first place, why you're holding an event where families gather on this holy day.

You smile broadly and say, "Come on, little peeps, it's all about Jesus. He's alive!  We're celebrating resurrection!"

And they're like, "Did you say Peeps?"


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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Convinced that you're only succeeding at failing? Here's how break free.


Several encouraging things have happened to me recently.  I was selected to be my department's Faculty Marshal for the upcoming graduation.  I was able to speak into a student's life in a profound way.  I've had significant conversations with each of my children, and during these moments we've connected, really connected, because I listened more than I talked, which, I'm finding, is one of the hardest and wisest things for a parent to do as kids grow up.

Even more, a man who's relatively new to our town approached me at church and shared that his wife received a message from her friend in another state.  (North Carolina?  Wisconsin?  Florida?  The details have grown fuzzy.)  Her friend recommended that she read a blog, and when she visited the recommended blog, it was my blog.  She had paused, thinking, "Wait, I know this woman.  I just met her.  She brought us a meal."

My primary take-away from this exchange?  I have at least one reader who isn't personally related to me.  (Thank you, dear out-of-state, unrelated-to-me reader.)

Good things, all around.

On the flip side, I've been chronically exhausted lately.  Even when I get absurdly large quantities of sleep, like a nearly eleven-hour coma that spanned last Friday evening until Saturday morning, I wake feeling like I could immediately return to bed.  I'm not sure whether I'm suffering from mono, anemia, Lyme Disease, or some other energy-draining illness, or whether it's merely the cumulative fatigue of working, parenting, and going, going, going all the time.

In this exhausted state, even with several lovely things happening in my life, I hit a dark place one night last week.  It happened easily enough: this depleted version of myself was placed in the worst possible context (late evening, all alone), and I was armed with my own weapon of self-destruction (all forms of social media in one hand-held device: my phone).

The early stages were relatively benign.  I scrolled through pictures of celebrities, which is a default time-sucking endeavor when I'm especially listless, but then my searches hit closer to home: I scoured other author's blogs.  That's when the jungle drums began to pound and the comparisons began to surface.

The more sites I visited, the worse I felt.  Every blog looked more professional and popular than mine. (Better design! More comments! More followers!)  Every blogger seemed to be a master at SEO and social media marketing.

As I skimmed their posts, the words on the screen didn't fully register.  I was too occupied reciting a more powerful and harmful sub-text message: These people?  These other bloggers? They're the real deal.  You're an amateur.  You still don't know what you're doing with the technical side of blogging, even after doing it for years.

That inner voice, emboldened by how easily I swallowed these critiques, began to speak more pointedly.  Robin, your efforts aren't meaningful, noticed, or effective.  Your work isn't appreciated  or enough.  Nothing you write matters.  Nobody really cares.  Nobody comments.  You're failing.  

You're a failure.

It escalates quickly, doesn't it?  In these moments of isolation and weariness, it's easy to agree with harsh self-criticism.  It seems so valid, so true, after all.

Except that it isn't.  It isn't valid or true.  After spending nearly an hour languishing under this weight, I started to examine the words I was feeding myself and say, enough.  No, I will not accept these accusations.  No, I will not spiral downward.  No, I will not agree with the accuser speaking lies over me.

Enough.  My voice does matter.

Enough.  There's more significance to life than blogging metrics.

Enough.  I am not a failure.  (I have an out-of-state, unrelated reader, after all.)

It takes effort to re-write the scripts we speak over ourselves.  Sometimes it's easier to agree with criticism, to rehearse our weaknesses, to believe the worst.  But I'm convinced that this goes against the very nature of God, who is described as singing over us in delight, whose banner over us is love.

I've noticed two things about the internal accusations that subtly play in our heads and hearts.  First, they tend to target areas of life we care about deeply, those places where we have a desire for significance.  They might target our closest relationships, raising doubts about our capacity to be a good parent, spouse, or friend.  They may target our deepest dreams where we hope to make an impact and leave our mark.  (For me, it recently focused on my writing; for you, it might manifest in a different way.)

Second, accusations surface when we're most vulnerable.  They hit hardest when we're worn, alone, weak, distracted, or otherwise compromised.

This is by design, given that they're leveraged against us by the accuser, the father of lies, who feeds us falsehoods when we're susceptible.  Too often, we take the bait without question.  We already feel miserable, so we might as well perpetuate the misery.

I don't want to do this anymore.

Not that it's easy, and not that I'm without struggle (exhibit A: this post), but I refuse to side with the enemy.  I choose to partner with God and accept what He says about me -- that I'm loved, that I'm favored, that I'm designed for a purpose, that I'm called to do good works -- even when I don't feel these truths.  Especially when I don't feel these truths.

I want you to reach a place where you'll agree with what God says about you, too.  If your inner dialogue ever is fraught with accusations about your worth or your shortcomings, here are three concrete actions that will help:

Don't grow isolated.  Ever watch a PBS documentary and grow nervous for that singular gazelle who strays from the herd?  Don't do it, gazelle!  Don't wander to the watering hole by yourself!  Our anxiety spikes because we realize that prey are easier to attack when they're alone.  The same goes for us.  If Satan walks about like a roaring lion seeking who he may devour, then we'd be wise to partner up.  Time and again, when I share with a friend that I'm under siege, she speaks life into me until I'm able to believe it.  We're safer and stronger in community.

Identify (and avoid) your triggers.  I'm infinitely more prone to spiral into depressing thoughts when I'm tired and when it's late at night, which happen to go hand in hand.  I rarely interact with social media in a healthy state of mind in the evening.  Fortunately, this is preventable.  I can monitor and limit my usage to times when I'm less prone to mind-numbingly scroll myself into trouble.  

Speak life, not death, over yourself.  We need to create new patterns of thought and speech about ourselves, patterns that align with God's perspective.  I never have had anyone else die for me because He didn't want to live without me.  But that's what Jesus did.  His love transcends understanding -- it's given lavishly in full knowledge of our many screw-ups. 

God delights in us.  Because of this, we can think well of ourselves.  We can be at ease in our own skin.  We can label ourselves as lovable.  We can believe -- with security, not vanity or superiority -- that we're valued.  When we speak these truths over ourselves, we short-circuit the negative patterns of criticism that too often dominate the soundtracks of our lives.

Friends, we tend to believe the things we speak about ourselves.  Let's speak good things.

Stay connected.  Avoid your personal triggers.  Speak life.

I'm working on this.  To combat my recent bout of insecurity, I recalled a refreshing explanation of how God created the world, and upon its creation, he rested.  He didn't strive, check for approval, tweet about his work, or worry whether people liked it.  He created, he called it good, and he rested.

So, today, I'm applying that wisdom to this post.  I write, and once I hit "publish," I release that writing into the world.  I call it good.  And then I rest because God is looking at me, with kindness and gentleness, and saying, Yes, child, it's good.  You're good.  You're mine.

Let that be the soundtrack we all hear -- and repeat -- in our heads and hearts today.

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