On the Last Day of Classes

Today marks the last day of classes.  Even after thirteen years, I still feel slightly nervous on the first day of classes.  Twinges of nerves surface on the last day, too.

I teach public speaking.  If I view the semester metaphorically as an extremely lengthy speech that spans fifteen weeks, then the last class is the conclusion.  I want to get it right.

I want my students to recognize that even in a large university, someone knows them.  I want them to realize that I remember the challenges of being a student and that I appreciate their hard work.

Often, I walk out the classroom exhausted on the final day.  Except for the dozens of loose threads during finals week -- the last-minute emails, culminative assignments, uploading grades -- it's over.  Another semester is nearly finished.  It'll take a bit of time for this to sink in.

So in the interim, let me draw a picture for you (literally).

This signifies my victory.  See?  I'm emerging as the winner.  My arm is being raised in triumph.

And at this point, let me preemptively address the FAQ's:

Q:  Do you you have any formal training in art?
A:  Not so much.

Q:  How long did it take you to draw this picture?  
A:  Longer than it should have.

Q:  Don't you have anything better to do with your time?
A:  Not today.  It is the last day of classes, after all.

Q:  You wear such cute lime green pants.  Are you that fashionable in real life?
A:  Absolutely.

Q:  I'm curious.  Why is the semester depicted as a bald man?
A:  We'd have to dig more deeply into my subconscious to answer that one, I think.

Q:  You're don't have a very accurate sense of scale, do you?
A:  That's never been a particular strength of mine.  I guess heads really don't account for one-third of a person's height. 

Q:  What happened to the referee's one foot?
A:  Yeah, it's missing.  My best guess is that he's probably a pirate.  Peg leg, and all that.

Q:  If he's a pirate, then why doesn't he also have an eye patch?
A:  You bring up a good point.  I don't know.  Is this better?

Q:  Absolutely.
A:  You're welcome.

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No Day Is Too Busy

When life gets busy, like this present moment when my schedule is imploding upon itself at the end of the semester, I like to take bits and corners of time -- a minute here, a moment there -- and daydream about the many things I'm looking forward to.  Things like organizing all the closets in my house, or painting the dining room, or sweeping the garage, or otherwise bringing order to my surroundings.

I've got blog posts in my head that can't wait to be written, and craft ideas that can't wait to be crafted, and projects that can't wait to be started, and books that can't wait to be read.

I'm chomping at the bit to care for the areas in my life that have been feeling a bit neglected.

Of course, I can't start any of these outside projects quite yet.  Until I upload my final grades next week, it's all about focus.  Must.  Press.  On.

But what I can do in the interim is to enjoy those daydreams and soak in the fact that spring, finally, is springing.  No day is too busy, after all, to pause for a moment and enjoy what's in front of you right now.

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Leftovers and New Mercies

For dinner last night, I served leftover Chinese takeout and pizza from the weekend.  It was one of those meals when I microwaved individual plates, added grapes to the menu as an afterthought, and scarfed down my food before we rushed out the door to soccer practice.  A flurry of reminders (grab your shin guards) and warnings (just-get-in-the-van-NOW) must have lingered in the air even after I slammed the door shut behind us.

I was surly.  I was tired.

Spending an hour in fresh air at the soccer field did little to improve my mood. 

Somehow, the night wore on and the kids ended up tucked into bed with their teeth brushed and pajamas on.  I don't remember the particulars; I just recall staggering back downstairs and looking over my kitchen: dirty dishes still on the table, rice and an overturned cup on the floor, unsorted paperwork from my daughter's school on the counter, toys scattered across the family room, shoes everywhere (really, how many feet do we have in this family?

The dishwasher needed to be emptied.  The counter needed to be wiped.  The floor desperately needed to be swept.  And scrubbed.  Perhaps sand-blasted.

In the hallway I spotted my work bag, tilted with a binder and papers spilling forth -- tangible reminders of the speeches and essays I needed to grade, spreadsheets I had to update, and final lectures I ought to plan. 

In response, I simply turned around, slowly climbed the steps, and went to bed. 

Sometimes the most spiritual thing we can do is go to sleep.  Nothing else was going to get squeezed out of me last night.  Instead of fighting, I simply yielded.

Mess: 1, Robin: 0.  You got me today, mess.  I've surrendered.

God's mercies are new every morning.  Perhaps one way we can realize this is by floundering though a day, but waking up the next morning and recognizing that we've been given another shot.

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Yesterday she was seven.

Yesterday, she was seven.

Then she woke up this morning and she was eight.  (She's clever that way.)

She's the child who broke me into motherhood -- the infant whose sleep schedule I obsessed over, the toddler whose tantrums I worried about, the kindergartener whose first step onto the school bus I celebrated and mourned.

And now she's the eight-year-old whose ability to do multiplication problems quickly in her head baffles me just as much as her inability to find her own shoes.  She lobs tennis balls, cartwheels until she's dizzy, and whisks away from me on her scooter down the sidewalk.

She's the child who continues to break me into motherhood, just new stages of it.  Stages like getting pierced ears or entering the store Justice in the mall.

She's a far cry from the infant who used to raise one fist in the air in a baby power salute.

And I'm a far cry from the concerned new mama who used to stand by the bassinette, traumatized by the length of time between her baby breaths.

How much we've both grown these past eight years.

Happy birthday, kiddo.  I'm so glad that we've learned the ropes together.

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A Lesser-Known Problem with Child Labor

The other afternoon my husband enlisted the girls to help with yard work.  He assigned them the pesky task of removing rocks from the lot.  I hadn't known that he also tacked on a little incentive.  "I'll give you a dime for every good-sized rock you find," he promised them.

An hour later I stepped outside as he was inspecting their work.  He stood up, tossed a spare rock over his shoulder, and smiled as I approached.

He motioned to the nearest pile and explained the situation.  "Obviously, I had no idea that they'd have this much stamina," he concluded.

It's a terrific plan for removing rocks.  Really, it is.

It also happens to be an excellent strategy if you'd like to quickly lose 40 bucks.

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The Unexpected Compliment

The key to a woman's heart is an unexpected gift at an unexpected time.  
- Finding Forrester

Last week, someone paid me an unexpected compliment.  We sat across a desk from one another, immersed in reviewing a paper.  Out of the blue, she zinged me with such kind words that I stopped momentarily.  I silently took them in, turning them over in my head and committing them to memory so I'd be able to remind myself of them later.

Her words were that good.  Simple, quick, and exactly what I needed to hear.  I hadn't even known that I needed them.

Perhaps the key to anyone's heart -- woman or man, child or adult -- is encouragement.  It's life-giving.  It's why I've kept cards from friends, notes from students, and pictures that my kids have drawn tucked away in a shoe box or my desk drawer.  On the days when I'm doing a terrible job, those tangibles show me that all hope is not lost.

I want to return this favor to others.  This week, I'm on the hunt for opportunities to tell people what I appreciate about them.  When I mentioned how quickly I've been running out of my favorite cereal, my husband came home from the grocery store with not just one, but three, boxes of it.  (That's a way to my heart, my friends.)  My oldest daughter stacked books back in the bookshelf without being asked.  A student wrote an essay that blew me away.

All of them deserve to hear that their actions had an impact on me.  I noticed what they did; I noticed them.

Today is the day to say it, not just think it.

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A Report of Cautious Optimism: Spring Seems to be Springing

I'm cautiously optimistic that spring finally has sprung. 

We've needed this.  Oh, we've needed this badly.  I've reached the uppermost limits of my patience and good graces with games of indoor tag and children despondently flopping themselves on the couch.  I'm past the 30 degree mornings when I need to cram my hands into my jacket pockets because I refuse to be wearing gloves just out of spite.  I'm terribly bored with my winter wardrobe.  There's about seven pounds of winter dirt that needs to be swept off our garage floor.  The minivan needs a thorough cleaning both inside and out.  And the yard -- the yard need some loving.

It's finally getting warm enough to rectify all of this.

The only glitch is that I'm in the throes of the final weeks of the semester, and this prevents me from launching into the massive spring cleaning escapades that I've plotted.  Students seem to be determined to keep submitting assignments (ones that I've assigned, mind you), which suggests that I need to be determined to keep grading them.

It's a vicious cycle.

The good news is that after operating on a university-schedule for eight years, I've developed an internal clock that indicates when I'm nearing the end of a semester.  It works the opposite of a sea turtle's navigation system, though, meaning that I become more disoriented when it kicks in.  I wake up uncertain of which day of the week it is.  My mind becomes like a bulletin board covered with post-it notes with a high-powered oscillating fan blowing on it.  Every thought is flapping in the breeze, dangerously loose, capable of being whisked away and eternally forgotten.

To compensate, I begin writing things down on actual post-it notes, which I place in locations so safe that not even I can find them when I'm looking for them.

And yet, miraculously, we'll all hold together and finish the semester, at which point I'll search for my spring to-do lists, roll up my sleeves, and get to an entirely different kind of work.

What aspect of spring are you most looking forward to these days?

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The Button at the End of This Blog Post

On occasion, members of my family overlook the most obvious things.  My daughters can't find their shoes even when those shoes are sitting directly on top of the shoe rack.  My husband can't spot the milk that's behind the juice in the refrigerator.  I can't locate my car keys, but then I realize that they're already in my hand.  (Please tell me that you've done this before, too.)

Hidden in plain sight.  It's an odd phenemonon. 

If I want to feel better about these oversights, I remind myself that Edgar Allen Poe's short story, The Purlioned Letter, was based on the very premise of overlooking the obvious.  Then I imagine that we're not just being oblivious; we're actually providing fodder for literature.  (See?  This is all for the arts.)

At any rate, could I take a quick moment to highligh something for you?  Direct your attention to the button at the end of this blog post.  That brown, rectangular one.  This button indicates my participation in Top Mommy Blogs, a directory of (surprise, surprise) blogs about motherhood.  It's tucked at the bottom of all my posts, which is an obvious yet easy-to-overlook placement, kind of like shoes sitting on a shoe rack. 

Or milk in the refrigerator.  Or car keys in my hand.  You get the drift.

So, please let me shine a spotlight on that little button and explain why it's there.  When you click it, it counts as a vote for Pink Dryer Lint in the Top Mommy Blogs directory, which ultimately enables more women to visit here and enjoy these posts.

It's a spiral of hapiness, really.

Now that you see it, I'd be honored if you'd take a second to click it.  (And if you already vote, thank you!)  You can vote once each day, and each vote makes a difference.  I appreciate your support!

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Fake it until you BECOME it.

In the public speaking classes that I teach, I tread a delicate balance.  I recognize that many students are afraid to speak in front of a crowd, yet I still hold them to high standards on their speeches.

Each semester I issue one tip that probably sounds counter-intuitive.  I tell my students to fake it.  Not their preparation or research, mind you, but their confidence.  I tell them to go to the front of the room, ground their stance, and speak with authority, even if they're terrified.  Even if they're having an out-of-body experience.  Even if they sit down after the speech and can't entirely recall what happened during the last 6-8 minutes.

I give this advice because it works.

We all know that our feelings -- say, nervousness or fear -- can be revealed through physical actions, like when our hands shake or our voice quivers.  But the phenomenon works in the opposite direction, too.  Our physical actions don't just reflect our inner feelings; they also can impact those feelings.

When I tell my students to act confidently (even if they feel nervous on the inside), eventually their internal feelings catch up with their external display.  They become confident.  Over the past eight years I've listened to over three thousand student speeches (let that sink in for a minute), and I've witnessed some striking transformations.

This advice doesn't just work for public speaking.  In regular life, how I feel internally impacts how I respond externally.  I'm feeling lethargic, so I lay on the couch.  Simple, right?  But sometimes I lay on the couch and then feel lethargic.  (Of course, sometimes I lay on the couch and feel amazing, but that's another message for another post.  It's all about balance, people.)

At any rate, this week I tried an experiment.  What if I applied this principle to my parenting?  What if I took one day and acted like I have energy, even when I don't?  What if I brought outward enthusiasm to every task, no matter how ordinary?

What if I acted like I was delighted to play Strawberry Shortcake figurines with my two-year-old?  Or like I couldn't wait to turn the page of the book that we've read over a dozen times before?  What if I made it my job to lead Simon Says?  What if I appeared like I wanted nothing more than to crawl in circles around the family room floor and give my kids pony rides?

And the results?  I discovered that pretty much everything -- with the exception of playing make-believe with those Strawberry Shortcakes, which always sucks the creative life-force out of me -- wasn't acting.

I wasn't faking enthusiasm just to fake it.  I was faking it until it became real.

And then I pretty much felt like this:


If you'd like to hear the science behind how how our body language shapes who we are, check out this TED talk by Amy Cuddy.  I show it to my students each semester.

Enjoy more from Robin Kramer with her book Then I Became a Mother.

"Hilarious and spot-on!" (Jennifer Mullen, Mosaic of Moms)
"I got so caught up in it, I couldn't put it down."  (Stacie Nelson, Motherhood on a Dime)

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