Kindness and Generosity

I spent my second Monday in a row, with a friend, along the coast, sipping a delicious minty tea beverage while overlooking the water.

Yes, I live a ridiculously privileged life.

Yet, I am often not present to the beauty of it all, caught up in all there is to do to prepare my tenure file, to get my research projects done, to finish this project, to get this IRB proposal turned in (so that I can do more projects), to counsel doctoral students working on theoretical frameworks, to think about teaching in the fall, to clear the clutter that gets moved from pile to pile, to do and fold the endless hampers of laundry, etc, etc.  I live in the future, am constantly thinking about what’s next, anticipating where I’m going, what I need to do, and who will be disappointed in me if I don’t do it.

If I’m not living in the future, I’m feeling guilty about my privilege and constantly thinking about who doesn’t have it, how I’m showing up (or not showing up) for them, whether I’ve done or am doing enough, whether any of the 15 projects I’m working at are really about addressing the issues I care so deeply about.

I find myself feeling resentful, in the midst of all of these blessings.  I become irritated and then become irritated that I’m irritated. I become angry with myself and world.  I tense up and make it about me and what I’m doing or not doing.

Full stop.

First of all, I need to remember that part of my privilege is that if the work I do doesn’t all get done (or doesn’t all get done this afternoon), there aren’t likely to be dire consequences.  I do intellectual work that, while important to me, really gets read by a few educationally elite people (and my friends).  Second, I need to stop living in my head and on social media, and prioritize the work and action that has me doing things in the world, with and for the people I care deeply about. Third, I need to breathe and remember to be kind and generous to myself.  Self-care is actually not a privilege, it’s a necessity.  I need to model that if I’m going to be a contribution rather than a resentful, sullen, brat.  And I’m committed to contribution.

It’s a process.  And every time, I think I am taking two steps forward, I take a step back.  It is humbling.  But this is actually the work, the work of being present, the work of contribution, the work of kindness and generosity.

Running the Race…

I am a runner.

2 years ago if someone had told me that I would ever utter the statement, “I am a runner,” I would have laughed at them.  I would have said, “Well, I used to run, in a past laugh, in high school, but I haven’t really run in years.”

Through a friend, I began training with Team World Vision to provide clean water to children and families around the world (primarily in Sub-Saharan Africa).  I ran my first half marathon in May 2016, and since then have run 3 more, with 2 more scheduled before the end of this year.

Running has changed my life and sense of self in many ways, but it’s also a reflection of many parts of myself that are mirrored in my professional life.  Here are some things I’ve learned from running:

I’ll probably never be the fastest or be the best

Running is not really designed to be a competitive sport, which is one of the reasons I like it.  When you’re running a large race and you’re not an elite runner, you’ll probably end up in the middle of the pack.  You might finish a little further up with more training and a little further back with less training, but it’s generally somewhere in the middle.

I understand this, but I also have some very fast friends.  I love them and I appreciate that they slow down to train with me at conferences 🙂 I also have “fast friends” in the academic world–people who I may have started my academic journey with who I feel are far ahead of me in their academic trajectory.  I love them to and I appreciate their willingness always to offer collaboration and ideas.

But I have to remind myself that I need to….

Run the race that is set before me

When I hit the start line, my race starts.  When I cross the finish line, my race ends.  My experience between those two points is a result of my training, my attitude, race conditions, etc.  Some things are within my control and others are beyond my control.  It’s critical that I run my race and try not to look to the side and who is passing me by.

It’s like that with my career too.  I am doing the work that I love, that is important to me and that matters to me at the end of the day.  I’m doing the work I am called to do, so I don’t need to look to the side at who is getting published in a top tier journal next to me, unless it’s to give the runner’s nod and say, “Good job.”

It’s easier to progress as a team

After my first half marathon, I decided to do a second to complete a race series.  Aside from the general craziness of this, I didn’t train for my second half marathon with a team, which meant I didn’t train.  And, I barely made it to the finish line.  It was the longest 3 hours ever.

It’s like that sometimes with research, writing, serving, teaching.  So many things in this academic journey are easier when done collaboratively and collectively.  Time flies when you’re with great people.

Train when no one is watching you

Personal accountability is key though, in moments when you are alone.  I’m most productive in my running and professional life when I set up a schedule and stick to it.  I’m also happiest when I’m running and being productive academically.  So, I’ve just got to stick to what I know.

Finish strong

My last race, I didn’t think I was going to make my goal time, until I saw the pacer with the time that I was aiming for about to pass me.  I know, I know.  It’s not a race, except goals are key too.  I found a final burst of energy and it carried me across the finish line.  That seems to happen every semester too.

Take breaks

After I finish a race, I take some time off, a week completely off and then minimal training for the rest of the month unless I have another race within a few weeks.  I need to be better about this in my academic life as well.  When breaks come, after semesters that are typically packed, I could really use a period of full academic rest followed by less rigorous work for a time.

And now, it’s time for rest.  Gotta recover from a run this morning, and be ready for a long run on Saturday….



Struggling with Colonial Day

My son’s “quilted” square at today’s Colonial Day celebration

I love my kids, a lot.

One of the best parts of being on a semester schedule, and ending my school year before my son ends his, is the flexibility that summer provides.  Having flexible time means I can do the volunteering that I wasn’t able to do as much of this past school year.  So when they needed parents to help with “Colonial Day” for the 5th graders, I signed up to help.

I mentioned this briefly on Facebook and had to explain to some of my friends what Colonial Day is.  Others of them were shocked that Colonial Day still existed (They live in the Bay Area. There is no Colonial Day there).  Colonial Day is a day in which students (usually 5th graders) proceed through various stations reenacting games, activities, and crafts from the early European settlement movement of the 17th century.  The re-enactment of the early settlement activities such as creating corn husk dolls, quilted squares, and clay beads was actually pretty fun.  It was good to see kids have the opportunity to engage in learning that was hands-on, not standardized and helped them to engage with the curriculum in a creative way.  I loved his Pokéball quilt square and the fact that he made the parts for a fidget spinner in his clay beading class.

I know my son learned about the importance of colonial America to the establishment of our rights to religious freedom in this country.  I don’t know how much my son learned about the oppressive side of colonial America,  about the encounters, massacre and resistance of Native Americans, about the experiences of African slaves and the root of racial othering that many believe began in Colonial America, about quilting as a sign of economic prosperity in Colonial America.  According to him, he learned that the Native Americans “were killed pretty badly” but that’s about it.

These historical lessons are important, but I saw traces of this inequality again today.  My son is in a GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) program.  His teacher is amazing.  We’re given the option to buy yoga balls in the Fall to replace their normal chairs and help our students to focus in class.  The room is full of a huge classroom library with diverse books, ranging in grade level from 4th-10th (at least).  Her class is straight out of a Pinterest board and embodies everything I teach about in my preservice classrooms.  At least 75% of the parents volunteering today for Colonial day were from the GATE class.

When 5th graders from other classes came in to the room, they were immediately drawn to the yoga balls and given the stern exhortation, “If you bounce on them, they’ll be taken away and you’ll get a regular chair.” But the kids were great and didn’t bounce on them excessively at all.  One student said, “I wonder if the kids get to take them home at the end of the year and keep them.” When I explained to him that parents bought the yoga balls for their kids to sit on, he said, “That’s so cool. I wish I could have that.” Another group of students looked, from their seats, at the bookshelf saying, “Wow, there are some really big books here.  In our classroom, there are only tiny books, like little kid books and stuff.” Another young person came in with his glasses broken.  When he was asked by the teacher if this had just happened today and if he ordered replacements, he just shook his head.  My heart broke in this moment.

My son’s classroom is exceptional, but I knew what the other kids meant.  As I walked through some of the other classrooms, with teachers who I’m sure are incredibly dedicated (in fact, I saw some great use of visual & academic vocabulary for EL support in another classroom), I could see the inequity visually.  Many of the room walls were somewhat bare and all of them had traditional chairs.

I’m still thinking a lot about today.  For my son, we’ll use our drives to school and time at home to engage in conversations so he gets a better perspective on resistance and inequity in historical and current inequities and recognizes his own privilege in many ways. But, I wonder how to help shape these discourses in more meaningful ways in my life for children other than my own.  It’s a struggle that I know will go on far beyond Colonial Day.