Dogs and Roses

It was a cold evening in Arlington and I was walking around a few blocks during my 30 minute break. This happened pre-pandemic back when we were at school in person and not online.

I stopped at a corner, as light snow started falling, a rose blanket caught my eye. 

It was tan and worn out patterned all over with roses. It covered a man crouched and hunched over in the corner. 

I stood still in time watching the man under the blanket. Strangers on the street walked, kept walking by. They had places to go and people to see.

Two strangers were walking up opposite sides of the sidewalk. One stranger with a dog. The other stranger with a warm drink cusped in their hands, steam rising from it. Maybe a coffee or maybe a hot chocolate. Maybe, neither. They stopped in front of the man with the rose blanket. 

The person holding the warm cup asked about the dog and if she could pet her. The dog walker nodded, “Yea, go ahead she’s friendly”. 

The woman with the warm cup placed it on the ground, knelt down and pet the dog. She asked, “What’s her name?” The dog walker responded, “Rose.” 

No one asked the man with the rose blanket covering his shoulders like petals, what his name was. The strangers didn’t ask each other’s names either.

Why do we call humans homeless when we’ve in fact, made them strangers? We’ve turned them nameless.  We’ve turned each other into strangers.

The holidays. Depending on your perspective is a time for thankfulness and togetherness. 

What type of thankful and gratitude are you showing? What are you giving, what are you noticing…what are you asking?

I am asking for names.

This is What Happens While Wearing Two Different Shoes

You could tell a lot about a person by how they handle certain things in life like accidents, mistakes, rainy days, spilled milk and so on and so forth. The ultimate and most obvious timeless question to ask is could they laugh at themselves in moments like that?

Throughout the pandemic and especially during the height of it all, a student of mine has been working at McDonalds while also attending college and caring for her young son (who is also doing elementary virtual class).

No matter how tired and exhausted and scary the pandemic was and is — She still rises and goes to work.

Each and everyday she rose and (still rises) at 5:30 am, left and arrived to work at 7:00 am where her manager took her temperature, scanned and looked her over. On this particular morning worth mentioning, he glanced down and pointed at her shoes.

She looked down and when she looked down she saw two completely different colors!

She took another look. She went to work with mismatched shoes. One shoe was a jet matte metallic black and the other one, a silver neon gray slip on.

Her manager told her to go home and change them.

She went home, changed her shoes and went back to work. Again, her manager pointed down to her mismatched shoes. Feeling exhausted and defeated but with a second wind, she said, “I don’t care. I feel like wearing them just like this today. Take me as I am or let me go.”

She said, “I feel so small, I feel like a bug or an ant. Most times — I don’t even want to wake up but on this day I laughed until I cried myself and felt better.”

I told her 2 things. 1. Keep laughing and 2. Keep laughing.

You see, this life is too precious than to worry about matching socks or shoes plus it’s Halloween and second, ants have superhuman strength.

When you “feel” like no one and nobody notices, trust the process and know that you can and literally are carrying a weight 100 times your mass just like the ant. You are rare and your very purpose is to be here. We are somehow chosen and we don’t even know who, what, when, where, why and how our stones will ripple, wreck, melt, shift and shake up the world.

Time is too precious than to spend our precious energy on matching our socks or our shoes or our feelings to match what society thinks we should be or act or feel.

Just be yourself.

Who are you? Who are you in a process of becoming? What’s your reason? How are you getting there?

Walk in whatever fits you best. Walk in that.

Walk that well.

Where is the Magic?

Who is magic? What is magic? When is magic? Where is magic? Why is there magic? How is there magic?

My first memory of magic was stepping on a magic rainbow puddle aka oil slick and the rainbow disappearing and spreading outward. My mom whispered, “Make a wish.”

I did. And, it came true.

I thought inside, “Wow”. Not only was the oil slick magical but my wish coming true held magic in it too.

My mom was and is magic. Real life. Today is her birthday. The numeral 26 holds such significance as well as the numeral 8. This is why this blog is published each and every month on the 26th at 8:26am in honor of my mother’s memory and legacy.

Today I stepped on an oil slick aka a magic rainbow and I made a wish and thought of my Mom.

I smile and still see where the magic is. It’s found in a rainbow puddle. It spreads outwards. It’s in me.

The Art of Saying Goodbye

Would you give your most precious belongings to a stranger?

I’m not sure what you care about but think about it. Think about something you care a lot about and wonder whether or not you would give it away freely or with hesitation. Would you give a stranger your mother’s ring? Would you give your car? Would you give your cellphone?

Now imagine what that may feel like for a family when they arrive to a classroom or school for the first time where their child will be going. 
It’s not easy. Our families need hugs the most. During the day, when our children say they miss their loved ones we often remind our children that no matter what they are always in their hearts. I used to say no matter what they will always be back but a part of me feels like that is a lie. Because I remember when my mother didn’t come back. I remember the day my mother died.

Now I say, no matter what they are always in your heart. No matter what. It’s never really a goodbye. And, a great educator and now friend from Nigeria said, “We meet to part and part to meet.” It’s never really a goodbye. She had a finesse and way of saying goodbye without ever saying bye. In that moment, she spoke to and educated not my head but my heart and spirit. I pay that kind of thing forward. With love+light+hugs.

Lots of them.

This Chair is Just Right

2016. In the words of Sister Souljah: It was the Coldest Winter Ever. It was around Christmas time. And, in the words of the character Goldilocks in The Three Bears, the Chair featured in the image, was and still is just right.

Around this time, I ended a 13 year relationship with someone who I thought was the love of my life. It felt like someone died. I experienced death before. My mom. My god mother. My dad. That kind of pain never goes away.

I was going through it. I was healing and having epiphones and growing stronger mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually: all of me. 

I got a call from my sister. She said, “I have a surprise for you.” I was planning to go home for the holidays and sleep over my sisters. It was awhile since I did that. When I arrived to her house that winter, it was cold outside and inside myself. I was really sad and depleted. I felt empty. I felt cold. And, no one even noticed.

She said, “I was going to wait until Christmas but do you want your surprise now?” We are so similar when it comes to surprises, I thought. I can’t wait either to give someone their surprise or gift. I said, “Yes!” She left to get the surprise. 

She walked back into the room with a painted chair. She had an artist paint a chair for me. It said: “Ms. Jill” and it was soooooo incredible and colorful that I couldn’t speak. It even had a rainbow. A symbol as a promise for me. This meant the world to me. I swallowed. I stared at her table.

I looked more closely at her table and the empty chairs around it. I cried. I noticed that a chair was missing from it. I noticed how the chair she had painted for me was from her table. She had 3 out of 4 chairs left. 

I took a d e e p breath. I was full of gratitude that I have someone like this in my life. We talk about who sits at our tables, who no longer fills the empty chairs and spaces, who breaks our chairs like in that Three Bears Story but what about when a person takes a chair from their own table and gives it away. It is a reminder of who was standing with you all along. Chair or no chair. Table or no table. 

I am full of gratitude. Of light. Of love. Of all of the above. None of these material possessions we can take with us when we pass on from this physical realm. But that kind of thing, most of all, that kind of love lives on even when we die

Image result for poem rumi guest

Tis the Season: the Jolly and Not So Jolly of Times

The most wonderful time of the year. But is it? I am feeling tension and unlike myself lately. I am missing loved ones who have passed. 105 people die every minute. Nearly 2 every second. Life is precious. So very precious.

When it comes to my feelings, I chalked some of it up to the full moon and it’s power of making waves. In fact, there has been a cataclysm of events making waves. Globally countries are struggling with leadership and death.

Lately, I have been hanging on to hope and resiliency. I stare at a photo of 6 year old Ruby Bridges who endured and triumphed standing as a metaphor and reminder that “what doesn’t kill you does in fact make you stronger”.  At 6, Ruby Bridges showed a courage that resonates today. I had the opportunity of listening to Ruby Bridges speak in 2015 at the annual NAEYC conference. The kind of courage and poise she personifies and how it connects with us, children, families and educators.

img_0078

Holidays are hard for many. For a lot of my own life, holidays were often off for me and awkward. There are empty chairs of those we miss and love. You feel the infinite loss and ache of missing loved ones. It is easier to send a gift and/or photo of smiling faces saying Happy Holidays. It is the thought that counts but what do we do for those who feel alone? How do we help others cope during grief or a sense of loss? What gifts can you give to the broken-hearted?

Here are gifts to give:

  • Gift of Memory: Take a moment to remember and honor the memory of a loved one by a hug, card or phone call. Although there is an empty chair at the table fill it with memories and honor their memory.
  • Gift of hope: We experience both sadness and joy. It’s deeply triggered by the holidays. Show up and offer to help those you care about. From the daily routines to collaging and scrap booking memories.
  • Gift of Love: Be in the moment with those who are still living. Show them you love them. If you are the one feeling sad tell them it is hard but stay hopeful.
  • Gift of friendship: Invite and include those who feel sad even if they may cancel or decline from shopping to having dinner.
  • Gift of Surprise and Spontaneity: Encourage doing something unusual such as a road trip or a flight to visit loved ones still here. Follow through.
  • Give the gift of time: Its about time well spent with those you love so spend it wisely. Spend some time whether over coffee, a movie, a stop by visit or something special to do together
  • Give the gift of food for the soul whether baked goods or a home cooked meal to enjoy together
  • The gift of listening: remember, it’s not not knowing what to say but listening and being there.

Looking for more gift ideas? Visit Sympathy Solutions at:

http://www.sympathysolutions.com/current-newsletter/10-things-you-can-do-for-someone-lost-loved-lone.html

Most of all, ensure to reach out, don’t expect someone who feels alone to reach out to you.

img_0077

Rock, Paper, Scissors. Sticks and Stones.

Rocks literally rock. Rocks like boxes can become anything you want. In our preschool classroom we have been really into rocks. Actually even outside of our classroom, children have been collecting and using rocks in symbolic ways. Here are all of the ways we have been using rocks.
1. Collecting them which results in sorting, measuring, how much space we need, sizes of rocks and boxes needed to store them
2. Making up stories as we use rocks in symbolic ways representing the characters and props (i.e. building a bridge and re-enacting/retelling the stoy of the three billy goats gruff. We used small, medium and large stones to symbolize the sizes of the goats and one unique stone to represent the troll.
3. Make houses and caves out of them
4. Make shelves
5. Make flooring
6. Paint them and leave them in your neighborhood for others to find
7. Skip them over water
8. Build with them
9. Little grave stones for dead creatures from birds to bees and so many more!
10. A Rock Band (great polay on words)
11. Rolling Stones literally rolling them or rocking with them
Happy “rock”ing out.

We All Die or Do We?

To Die or Not to Die?

That is the question.

“We all die and go to Heaven.”

“We become angels when we die.”

“No we don’t.”
“Yes we do.”
“No we don’t.”
“Yes, we do.”
“All of us die. We turn into angels. And, we go to Heaven!”
A metal pail is thrown.
“We DON’T DIE.” 
“Yes, we do!”
“My Mom said we do. We all die and go to Heaven.”
We are born and we die. 
Or do we?
Our preschool classroom has me question everything about our life and spiritual existence.
Life is death and death is life.
C’est le vie. C’est la mort.

Do we ever really die?

That is the real question.

Big Brother

The moment we walked in the door questioning eyes were on us: “Who are you?” my coaches asked my brother in law and father figure as he questioned them as to why I wasn’t getting any playtime on the basketball team. My brother is black and I am white based on societal descriptions. He always stood up for me and had my back. From elementary through high school. We would get side way kinds of stares by people who weren’t exposed to different kinds of families.

My mother died when I was turning 10. My (I think biological father) was incarcerated off and on. I was raised by my sister and my brother in law. We were rare and uniquely different. Looking back and reflecting on my upbringing, I realize just how thankful I am. I was exposed to what children normally are not exposed to and as a result I am an eclectic kind of person. I watched and listened to shows, movies and music such as The Sopranos, Poetic Justice and The Streets is Watching. However, I always had someone present and there telling me someone made it or it was directed by someone. Someone made it up from their brain and it was inspired by real life events. I always had someone like my sister or brother in law telling me to cover my eyes during the racy parts.

I have so many memories from playing ball, driving around pretending to be on MTV Cribs to witnessing drug raids to people dying. This was my reality. So, I understand many walks of life. I was and am blessed to be surrounded by real, authentic type love. A rare kind of love that you cannot find. They never had to buy love or material possessions. Getting Chinese takeout, laughing, yelling and crying a lot, playing monopoly and playing ball was enough. It was my foundation of what a family is all about. Not perfect but perfect if you know what I mean.

As a grownup, I am working towards planting seeds where children will make a better life and ultimately a better world by reaching mutual understanding across cultures and perspectives. A world where people will know who each other is the moment they walk in the door. Questioning eyes will fade. The who are you will turn into I know who you are. A place where different families exist and it’s cool and unquestioned. People will stop and stare for how beautifully dynamic and powerful differences are. A place where it’s cool and dope to be different aesthetically, creatively and intellectually.

Forget About It: Testing and Data Expires and Eventually We Do Too. Encourage Children to Be Caring Citizens

While sharing who we were during a writing class I teach during the evening, one of my grown up students who is a Dad mentioned his three year old daughter Shelly, who is having a not so good time in school. He said, “In fact, I am having a better time than Shelly and recognize the importance of hands on [non-sedentary] learning even as an adult.” Shelly’s teachers keep pushing her to write her name and to read. Shelly does not want to go to “school”. My student said he doesn’t care if she can spell her name or not. However, a lot of the families in the school’s culture have unrealistic expectations of their children and want them to spell and read by the magic number of 5. Where does this number come from?

Where do we get our ideas from? Why are we pushing our thoughts and our desires of what children should be able to do? We keep pushing for “readiness”. We keep comparing and contrasting children. We even compare and contrast ourselves. Mediocrity. Ludicrous.

Why? I hear it and listen to the uncertainty as a families voice and tone will tremble as they ask: “Should I be worried that my child is not drawing and writing like the kid who is?”

No, we have nothing to worry about. Play the song Don’t Worry About a Thing and channel Bob Marley folks. Each and every child (and you know this especially if you have siblings!) learn and progress at different stages during a lifespan. We need to let that happen and not force or push children when the interest may not be there. We only project our fears onto them. I model my evening class after our preschool class pushing the model of a Reggio and creative inspired way of learning and being for my grown up students too. They love it. People love to think. People love creativity and challenges NOT busy work. I’m not on this Earth to waste anyone’s time including my own. Even when people don’t think they like thinking: they do. We ask questions, work together, draw, make mistakes, go into the community and most of all think creatively. The box doesn’t even exist in our classroom. From preschool through death as educators, families, communities we need to destroy the box and rebuild something better together. One major take away from this blog is destroy the box.

More than ever before we are driven by data. Data kept in boxes. Unfortunately, it gives a fragmented and skewed view of our children’s abilities but is tied to…funding. Children who do not have a voice are left behind and so are amazing educators, families and communities. We are all connected. What happens in a classroom, community and family is immeasurable. Intuitively, we want what is best. Somehow we got lost in the sauce wanting our child to be the best as opposed to doing their best. This is not the purpose of life long learning. Making mistakes is what makes us. Failure and learning from it. Accidents happen. This is our purpose, truly. Why are we pushing children to read by the age of five when we know these skills take time from birth through third grade to develop? Anybody out there listening please this is an SOS! Help our children, families, educators and communities get this. Why are our politicians pushing jargon and buzz words without reading it for themselves?

Don’t knock at my door and ask for my vote and say, “I want every child to read by the age of five because I did”. This is ludicrous. Why are we saying how math and reading are so important but we are not reading about reading and math and HOW TO MAKE IT DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE for children. Here’s a buzz word that is misunderstood so read about it. It’s called PLAY. Playing to learn. We need to learn to play again grown ups. Check out www.naeyc.org. For Pete’s sake, just google the word play. I don’t want our children to read to read, I want them to read to understand. I want them to love and care about writing, drawing and reading and then the rest will handle itself.

Speaking of play don’t forget the 10th Annual Play Day: http://letsplayamerica.org/upcoming-events/

And speaking of reading awesome books by amazing authors go to: https://www.loc.gov/bookfest/ to check out when the National Book Festival is to meet your favorite and your children’s favorite authors!

Written with love. Lots of it!

Jill Telford is an artist, advocate, storyteller, educator and creator of children’s books. More of her work can be found at http://amazon.com/author/jilltelford

@artbookstories @jill.telford