Friday, September 23, 2011

Paving the Way

It is hard to believe it has been over a year since my last blog! So much has let me just share the main event. Not only do I have a positive influence on my grandchildren - but they have one on me as well. For quite some time, several of my granddaughters would ask me - why, if I was a teacher, was I not teaching? I once held a teaching certificate in NY state, but long since let it expire when I chose to home school my children. At first, my reasons seemed quite logical - after all I would have to return to school and I knew it would become my life since teaching always meant so much more to me than a job - it was more like a calling or vocation. No matter how many times my girls asked me this question, I gave the same answer.................however, the more I heard myself repeating my reasoning the more I realized these were not reasons but excuses. I had to go back to school first myself -- and??? I had always said if someone would pay me to go to school I'd go the rest of my life because I would LOVE what I was doing. Well, isn't that what teaching really is? At least for any teachers worth their lot - don't they learn with (and even from) their students - and the experience? As for giving my life to it - well, I began to look at what I was giving my life to in place of teaching and shocked myself into reality. I had traded my life-long dreams and goals for a weekly paycheck to work a job - a real job - one that the main reason you continue to show up is to get that paycheck. I couldn't advance any further - which meant there was little to challenge my intellect - and I could not make life-changing impacts on anyone's lives; such as happens when you plant within children's hearts an insatiable desire to be life-long learners and to strive to reach their full potential - rising above the crowd!

So, then, exactly why was I not teaching? I could no longer give the same answers as they had become limp rags of no use to me at all! A new resolve had been conceived within me; waking dreams from their lingering slumber to arise and be born with passion. I took the challenge head on and enrolled in a Master's Degree program in Elementary Education and resigned from the prison to which I had enslaved myself with excuses based on monetary values alone. I realized I was at a crossroads in life; one which would always lie behind me no matter which path I chose. It was time to turn now - or never! I heard once that "risk must be evaluated not by the probability of your success -but by the value of the goal. There were two risks. On the one hand, I risked losing the apparent security of a decent paycheck if I chose to reach for the golden ring and pursue my passion. On the other hand, I risked losing perhaps my last chance at fulfilling my life's purpose - and my opportunity to leave behind a legacy in the lives of a few hundred children! The biggest question loomed over me - which decision would leave me with the least regret? Once I saw the issue from this light the answer was easy.................. I took the turn in the road - and I am already thankful I did!

I am half-way through my degree program, with only three courses and student-teaching left to go. I am not getting paid a dime currently - instead I am paying to do what I love. The course work is challenging and causes new sprouts of growth to spring forth in every direction. Old ideas mix with new information, slowly working together to create my future classroom. Every single practicum experience is a joy and treasure. I just finished working with first graders and their good-bye hugs said it all to me. I had somehow touched their lives in just four short weeks - they were glad to hear I would be able to substitute soon :)  There are times I wonder how we are going to make it financially through the next month. But, God has continued to provide our daily bread quite faithfully - and sometimes in the most unexpected ways. I think had I chosen to stay on the same path I would always be looking back, straining to see if the crossroad was yet within my sight. How glad I am that I chose that path from which I never even feel an urge to peek behind me to see that old familiar road which I left behind!

And, that influence...................well, it keeps coming around just like the itsy bitsy oldest son has now returned to college in order to have a career he enjoys rather than working for a living.........and my granddaughters are now making college plans of their own (three of them are in high school). Let's keep making a difference in the lives of our precious children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, that little next-door neighbor - whomever --- you just never know what effect they will in turn have on you!!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Buffer Zone

All memories come with emotions attached to them. Neuroscientists have proven that emotions are interwoven with our thoughts and memories, which are stored together as chemical and electrical information in our brains. This might not seem to be extremely important information on the surface; but, when we understand some of the implications of this fact it becomes vital to our knowledge!

First of all, whenever we experience a specific event, the amygdala (a specific part of the brain) puts ‘the memory plus the emotion felt’ in its storage bank – and every time we experience something that is similar we react emotionally, in a way similar to the original event. For example: you trip and fall in front of your class as a young child – the classroom breaks out in laughter – and you naturally experience an emotion when this happens. Perhaps making everyone laughs makes you feel good, like you made everyone’s day better and you somehow feel rather important for doing so. Over time you become the ‘class clown’ because it feels good to do things that make people laugh. Or, on the other hand, let’s say you feel embarrassed when you fall and everyone laughs. Instead of becoming the ‘class clown’, you avoid doing anything that draws attention to yourself because when you do it makes you feel bad since you ‘feel’ bad.
As you can see – the experience is the same – it is only the emotional response that is different. This shapes the life of the child experiencing the event according to their unique, internal emotional interpretation. As adults we can learn to change our own emotional responses to events by becoming aware of them and by way of choice through the area of the brain called “free will”. It is worth it to do so, but often requires a lot of conscious effort! However, we can make it much easier for the children in our lives to build healthier emotional responses which will serve them much more effectively, by helping to add positive emotions to experiences whenever possible. I like to call this working in the “Buffer Zone”.
This is how it works: when a child experiences an event that has a possible negative outcome emotionally we can ‘offer’ them a positive twist on the event ourselves. For example: a child makes a mistake during a sports event and feels like they let their team down. Other children may even say something negative to her, which adds insult to injury. As a significant other in the child’s life we can immediately offer a different perspective. We can ‘talk the child through’ the emotionally charged experience with some helpful insight. For instance, we can point out other mistakes that professional players may have made, and how those players learned from those mistakes and turned that to their advantage in becoming ‘the best’! We can also teach them that those who make fun of or blame others are often insecure within themselves, and they use this tactic to keep any negative focus on someone else. By operating in the “Buffer Zone” as close to the emotionally charged event as possible, we allow the child to build a memory that could have had only a negative impact on her into one that has strength built into it.
As you continue to offer better emotional choices during similar events you are working in the “Buffer Zone” – where you basically ‘buffer’ them from the event having only a negative impact on their lives. Perhaps, as they grow and experience similar events, instead of feeling they are a failure they will instead be able to view their mistakes simply as ‘stepping stones’ to success as they learn from them. They also may be able to have a more positive attitude toward peers who make fun of or blame others who make mistakes, by having some degree of sympathy toward them for their weakness (of insecurity) rather than feeling hurt by, or angry with, them.

No matter what the ‘event’, there are always a range of emotions that can be experienced along with it. Although sometimes children will choose a positive reaction on their own, we can definitely aid them in finding those choices more easily by working in the “Buffer Zone”. Just think back to some experiences that have negative emotions attached to them for you………….how different might things have been for you if someone had been there to add at least some kind of positive feeling attached to the event?

From personal experience, and where I first came up with the terminology of the “Buffer Zone”, was in raising my own children whose father had a bit of a temper when they were young. He had a habit of raising his voice, more loudly than he would realize, when he was upset or frustrated about something (like not being able to locate a certain tool). I would ‘buffer’ the effects of his temper, and remind the kids that their dad was just upset and he really didn’t “mean to be mean” to them. They learned over time that most of the time he wasn’t really yelling ‘at’ them, but was rather ‘blowing off steam’. After awhile each of them no longer took it personally, but knew their dad’s temper was just one of his few weaknesses. Of course, over the years his temper cooled considerably (or rather he learned to control his frustrations and anger much better). By the time our two youngest sons were in their teens, their older siblings would often jokingly tell them how ‘easy’ they had it made, because Dad had gone ‘so soft’!
Just to be clear, their dad’s temper had nothing to do with their behavior most of the time…….. how they REALLY knew they were “in trouble” was if he sat them down with a serious tone in his voice, and began to address an issue, very quietly…………


If you’re curious enough to know more about how thoughts and emotions work together, I recommend reading “Who Switched Off My Brain?” by Dr. Caroline Leaf.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Teggy’s Birthday Surprise

Since Tegrim’s birthday was a work-night for me, I didn’t have time to go shopping before the party – and as it was I arrived a little late. So, after everyone headed home I went to the local ‘everything store’ (Wal-Mart, of course) to find him a present. He loves the Disney Pixar Movie Cars and had already started collecting them. It seemed every car they had that night at Wal-Mart, little Teggy already had – except for Frank, the big combine that chases the cars off the fields when they go ‘tractor tipping’. It was only just recently his momma told me that he finally quit running to hide when Frank would come on the screen……, I thought it would be safe enough to get him the cute little tractor-tipping set that came with Frank.

After getting it all wrapped (quick and easy in a gift bag), I took it over to Jericho and Emily’s house to give to my little two-year old grandson. Unfortunately, the party having worn his little self out, he had fallen fast asleep! I told them what I had bought him, and they thought he would like it. Since I hadn’t seen them in awhile, I put my keys and cell phone in my pockets, and stayed to visit awhile. Just when I was about to head out the door little Teggy woke up. Jericho told me to come on back and give him his present, so I turned around, picked up the gift and called Tegrim to come and open it.
He was more curious than excited……..I think he had the concept down pretty well from his party ---- that there was probably something fun inside the package. He pulled it out, saw Frank’s picture on the box, and let out a long “ohhhhhhh……” His eyes were big, but he didn’t appear to be frightened at all.

“Grand-mommy take it out of the box for you?” Jericho asked him, and he shook his head ‘yes’. Since everything seems to come in ‘anything-but-easy-to-open’ packages, it took me awhile to get the box open. But, when I finally gained access to its contents, there was Frank, right on top. Tegrim was standing just a couple feet away from where I was sitting……… I pulled Frank up out of the box, turned his face toward Teggy, held the little toy up in front of his face as he gazed at it with wonder, and “BZZZZZZZZZ” went my pocket! I jumped up and screamed at the same time, as if I’d been stung. Frank jumped at the same time, of course, right in front of Teggy’s face………….. who then proceeded to run into the kitchen screaming and crying at the same time!!!! Unbelievably, someone had called me at the precise moment I managed to hold Frank up in front of little Teggy’s curious face!!

Trying to grab my cell phone and answer it, and calling after Tegrim that I was sooooo sorry to have scared him, at the same time, had everyone rolling with laughter. By then I couldn’t help but laugh myself to tears, too!! At least all the laughter had seemed to calm Teggy down some, and he came back for hugs and comfort. BUT, no matter how hard we tried we could NOT get Tegrim to get anywhere in close proximity of Frank. We set up the track and he thought Lightning McQueen racing down the track to tip over the tractors was pretty cool……….. but, he wanted no part of Frank. Apparently, he was not upset with me at all and had assumed in his little two-year-old mind that Frank was indeed the enemy who had advanced in his face with a snarl! The best we could do is to ‘punish’ Frank and banish him to his Uncle Josh’s bedroom for the night. He did repeat after us “BAD FRANK” and that was that!!!

The story does have a happy ending, though………, we are not completely mean for having had a good laugh that evening. Tegrim has since ‘made up’ with Frank ………… and now, when he holds Frank up for us, HE is in control and is the one who lets out the “Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr”!!! The tractors are now safe in Tegrim and Frank’s care!

Monday, October 19, 2009


Autumn, that time of year the leaves all change from different shades of green to warm yellows and golds and brilliant reds and oranges!  Eventually the trees lie barren for the winter months, and the leaves toss each other across the road and crunch beneath our feet.  The air becomes much cooler and crisper, a refreshing difference from the summer sweats.  Apples are fully ripe now, and are freshly picked, eaten, sold, canned or pied.  Orange pumpkins dot the fields in all sizes, just waiting to be chosen for a child's jack-o-lantern. Air conditioners are turned off, windows are opened during the day, and eventually it is time to turn on the heat.  Change is in the air!

Change -- I started thinking about it.  Winston Churchill once said "The only constant is change".  How true that is...... we experience change more than we do anything else.  The weather changes from season to season, and if you travel you may experience change in climate in just one day.  Civilization changes no matter where you live as advances are made in the way things are accomplished.  People change from children into adults; and, as healthy adults they continue to learn and grow in wisdom and knowledge. Dress, decor and tastes change.  Some changes are subtle, some are 'revolutionary'.  No matter how you slice it up, though, change is inevitable.

So, what does this have to do with making a difference for our children?  Everything!  Especially for children born in this era, change is happening faster than ever!  Technology is advancing so fast it seems even the most brilliant of scientists can barely keep up with it.  What the children learn in school this year, could very well be ancient history by the time they graduate college.  Teachers, books, lessons...... they can all teach our children information, and in the best case scenario they will have at least a few teachers who have a passion for their profession and instill a love of learning in them.  A child who 'learns how to learn', and is able to apply their imagination to the facts, will take us places in our future that have yet to be dreamed.  And the same child who is also adaptable to change will surpass them all!

Who do you know that has the most experience with change?  Those of us who have been around awhile, of course.  It's one of those facts of life, isn't it?  The longer you live, the more likely you will have been through at least a few changes.  My grandmother was born when most people still used horses and buggies as a means for travel, and indoor plumbing and telephones were luxuries.  If she wanted information, she had to go to the public library, or be sure to buy the latest edition of her encyclopedia set.  Now telephones are not only common in the home, but are carried around by adults and teens alike wherever they go.  And instead of checking books out from the local library, each day more and more people are joining the online crowd of information seekers.

It isn't an easy task, to help a child to develop an ability to adapt to change, but I believe it is an extremely important one.  Children do need a sense of security as well, which is what makes this task such a challenge.  This can be accomplished by providing for their basic internal needs such as love, encouragement, acceptance and recognition on a regular basis.  With an atmosphere rich in these qualities children will feel secure within themselves, making external changes less dramatic.  With loving and supportive surroundings they will be much more apt to explore their world, and will not view changes around them as threatening.  Changes can become an exiting part of their lives, and can ignite their curiousity and imagination rather than instilling fear.

As grandparents we can not only help to provide such an atmosphere, but we can share our own personal stories of experiencing change.  Children love to hear stories and doing so creates a shared journey as they join you in their thoughts.  They are simply amazed that there was a time when TV was only in black and white, home phones were not portable, and no one even knew what a computer was.  They can hardly believe cartoons were only seen on Saturday mornings, and girls wore only skirts and dresses to school no matter how cold the weather might have been.  But, they enjoy hearing about the personal growth changes we've experienced, too.  It is encouraging to them when they hear stories about events such as having to move and make all new friends. Or, about going back to college ten years after graduating from High School. Or, even better, to watch us develop a new skill or talent. 

Recently I had my piano tuned, and I started playing it again after it sat dormant for almost fifteen years!  This change sprouted a bit of interest in some of the children, who had seen my piano nicely decorating the recreation room but had never seen it played.  Which demonstrates another aspect of change - it has a sort of domino effect.  Of course, not all of them have stuck with it, but they experienced a shot at something they might not have otherwise tried.  And, for those that do continue to play the piano, perhaps they will pick up another instrument or two in the future -- and, who knows how many others will be affected by this change in their lives!

When children grow up being adaptable to change, they are more willing to try new things, even if they aren't completely sure about them.  Whether it's playing an instrument or trying new foods, this skill obviously creates more options in life than being afraid of change.  They also become more fully aware of their own interests and abilities as they become involved in different activities, and eventually discover where their greatest strengths and passions lie.  And instead of having a negative attitude when they find something they don't really enjoy, or aren't able to do as well, they chalk it up as a learning experience and move on to find more of what they do enjoy and can excel at it.

Yes, change is in the air - today, tomorrow, always........... lets help our children to embrace change as a postiive part of life and give them a winning edge in doing so!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Vampire Girls

It's been a couple of very busy weeks!  I guess you could call it 'fall cleaning' - preparing for the winter - and having some fall fun while the weather is still agreeable :)  And, of course, still making time to spend time with the grandkids.  Two of them are just a few months apart, and both are in 9th grade this year........ and like many teen girls are hooked on the "Twilight" vampire series of books (and movie) so they decided last weekend to 'become' vampires - and they certainly engaged their imaginations in doing so.  I thought I'd share a couple pictures, just to give you an idea of how much fun life can be when interacting with teenager granddaughters............

"Vampire Heart"                                               "The Look"     

"The ODD Reflection"

And, when they started to get bored with that......... they decided to play with a can of shaving cream!  By the way -they took these pictures themselves...............

   "Spiking the Hair"                       "Still half-vampire"                                   

                                                                                            "Biting the Rain"

It was definitely quite a hysterical evening - with these girls around there never really are any dull moments'.  It's a good thing they don't have a video camera - I am sure they would have fun with our 'dance' evenings when they have their music on and are trying to teach me all the new 'moves'!!  They just don't believe in my being a spectator - it was all I could do to avoid the shaving cream :)