Thursday, May 26, 2016


When you realize your youngest (and only child of three still at home) will turn 21 in weeks and move out in a couple months, you reflect on your mother role. Well, at moments, it's sheer panic or wonder concerning what I have taught them about life.

Endless times through these years of growing my own children,  moments of my childhood replayed in my head, revealing the secrets of my mom's wisdom as she experienced life with us.  There's a lot of life I learned from doing life with my mom that I didn't think I had learned until it began to rattle around in my own mind, mouth, and behaviors as I lived life with my own children.

These are merely five of many lessons I've learned from living life with my mom.


My mom would make us listen to HER music on vacation trips: Harry Chapin, Elvis, Roberta Flack, Diana Ross. I listened to every style of music, but the worst were classical and country.  Hours of highway droned by to the melancholy lyrics of "Cats in the Cradle"  and to silly vocal drama creations of "30,000 Thousand Pounds of Bananas."  Torture always ensued, and I never wanted to be able to sleep in a car more than when my mom put on classical music and told us to be quiet to detect all the instruments used in the song.

Important messages and details
 are told through the story of our 
lives, but we have to listen 
intentionally to recognize them.

My parents are the proprietors of "Bellerive Gardens" their home and haven of floral art whose majesty many have come to view when it's on display. My parents consistently did the backbreaking work of potting, digging, or moving the dark soil to create new flower beds, plant seedlings, or enrich the soil with nutrients. All of the faithful dirty work became the eventual tapestry. I always wondered how they envisioned such an awesome array of color when staring at the initial black soil beds,  ,

There are difficult seasons that you must work through in order to create the beauty you imagine. 

We went to Hilton Head, South Carolina, many times as I grew up.  The late night walk on the beach with only the moon shimmering off the water definitely subconsciously introduced me to romanticism: these moments were awe filled aesthetic experiences. Yet, a young child that dark created more imaginary horror. Each kid wanted his own flashlight in hand to light the way and avoid stepping on all the jellyfish splayed across the beach. However, only one random person was given charge of one flashlight. At any given time, someone was always asking to have the light shined to see something or step safely.

Live life in community with others. Sharing what you have is as necessary for you as it is for them.

My dad fondly named himself Mr. Wonderful  and proceeded to embroider this title on nearly 20 shirts of various colors, just in case someone were to forget his name or he needed something to talk to new people about (which he never does).  Let's not get started on why he named himself this. He is more than happy to list those off for you. Through the years, many people have mistakenly thus dubbed my mom Mrs. Wonderful. However, she ever so politely amends the error by explaining that her name is certainly not Mrs. Wonderful, a mere addendum to my dad, but rather Saint Rose. She proudly and clearly explains that she should have her very own identity (and probably cape with a huge "S" on it).

You are not someone's shadow. 
Stitch your own name on the earth and make it a healing grace.

I am not an artist.  I am not an artist.  I am not an artist.  For years, this reel ran in my head and actually quite often out loud, and for years when my mom heard me she would assert that I was an artist. Most often, I just chalked her words up to motherly encouragement.  You know...I create those items only a mother could gawk at and love. But for years, I shallowly defined art as pictures, paintings, sculptures, and drawings instead that which creates a passion in another. One day, my mom asked me to write the note inside a card we were sending to someone "because you do such a nice job" she said.  It was then that I realized that words were my art, and when she tells me that what I have written has drawn her to tears, I believe her again that I am an artist.

Creating is essential because art is creating that which expresses the important ideas and imaginings of the soul, and in so doing creates a million ways for us to see something anew.

So the childhood saying goes, monkey see, monkey do. Mother's live out loud; we only pray the life we live is translated into life lessons our kids can pass on. I've already heard a few lessons my kids have learned from me, but that's another blog entry..

Monday, May 23, 2016


It's graduation time. I received 5 cards to the same party for 8 kids. I had no clue who sent me two of the invitations because they came with no name, but I was fairly certain who HADN'T invited me because I was pretty sure he could have cared less because of our last exchange.

I know that student behaviors are a form of communication. I know that the  best communication with students is accomplished through mutual respect, those times each person is being seen, heard, and listened to with care.

Here's the tough honesty.  Some days as a teacher,  I understand what students are relating, but some days I do not. Some days, I have the wherewithal to delve deeper, but some days my strength fails me. Some days, I patiently ponder and watch for the non-verbals, and some days I walk right into a power struggle. Some days I choose to bless, and some days I run ahead with my authority.  

And even on those days when I think I've tried my best, the communication can break down. These are the disheartening days because students' feelings do matter to me; maintaining mutual respect is important to me; creating a climate of being heard is vital to the relationship I have with students.

And on one such morning with a prior high school student of mine now senior,  a quick exchange suddenly became that train wreck of communication. One sentence from me of "Hey, pick that up" as I walked out my classroom door seeing bottles of hand sanitizer  sliding across the hallway floor started a crashing exchange. 

My mind reeled in the disrespect postured back at me. As the cars of this train seemed to careen together, I quickly replayed his stare, tone, and response, "I didn't do it." I wasn't sure what he heard in my simple request to respond in his way. The banter to end the battle backfired until I attempted to end the struggle with "Careful, I will  have to issue a detention" to which to save face at the authority card I had thrown he showed little care.  

Just place a big FAIL above my head for this one. I really didn't want to issue a detention.  I hadn't tried to single him out.  I just wanted someone to put things back where they belonged. What should have been a quick easy-going, simple exchange became so much more.  

For me, this is the stuff of teaching nightmares. How does that student see me now?  What have I lead that student to believe about me? A relationship of mutual respect lies in pieces.

And that's how I left it. No detention. I  just walked away. I walked back to my room surprised, frustrated, and disappointed from the struggle. Frustrated with me and frustrated with him, wondering what just happened.   FAILURE.

Until I walked into this by invitation only graduation party and saw my name under HIS list of invitees. 

What followed was the needed reminder of a lesson I try to teach others: FINISH WELL. He came up to me at his party in front of his peers and hugged me, told me he was glad I came to his party, and apologized for being disrespectful. His genuineness brought tears to my eyes because I knew I had not rectified this relationship.  I let it hang in the balance as if it had not mattered when clearly I was sorry about its state every day I saw him in the hallway.  I told myself he probably didn't care.  I assumed he clearly wanted nothing but distance from me. 

What had been broken was simply repaired, and he INITIATED it. He humbly filled the chasm we both sensed between us. I have great regard for his plain spoken admission of HIS part. 

But this is my plain spoken admission of MY part. This is my apology for not being my best for him that day! I apologize that I saw you, but I did not try to understand why you chose your words. This is my apology for not making it right after that! This my apology for not coming back to you and saying my lingering frustration out loud, "YOU MATTER TO ME, COME ON, LET'S GET THIS RIGHT!"

He is going on to college to become a policeman, and I cannot be prouder of the man he is becoming. He showed that "I'm sorry" for the past is the best move toward a better future. He offered humility through adversity, something all policemen need to extend every day.  He showed me that our relationship being finished well mattered.  

He showed that the only true power a man possesses to change the world are the words he chooses to speak life back into people.

Thursday, May 5, 2016


I witnessed that blank stare, quiet cavern of thought barred behind eyes whose floodgates waterfalled over a heavy heart today.

Walking through a crowded hall of elementary students one student stood zombie still as if lost. I am not sure what made me stop to seek his eyes, but with a tilt I confirmed his lifeless stare at his locker as if it scared him to touch it.  

I knew it to be untrue before I asked, but still I suggested, "What's wrong; are you tired?"   With the shake of his head, he resigned the honest truth as it washed across his face. With a closer whisper "Home?" from my mouth and simple arm around his shoulder, his eyes lifted to mine as if we held a secret.  It felt daring to clarify with more, "Did you have a rough morning at home?  With mom?"  With the nod of his head, I witnessed the tears he guarded behind glassy eyes rain down his face. In a quick exchange, I released this one jailed behind his emotions, "It will be okay; I will pray peace for you today."  

During lunch, I asked how his morning went.  He looked up with eyes no longer somber slumbered. "It was good," came his quick reply.  And as I smiled to walk away before his peers could question, he added with a genuine smile as bold as a hug,  "Thank you for praying."

Besides the teaching and discipline, we offer life and hope in our hallways.