declutter

The Discomfort of Home

I was brave today. I went back to my childhood home, all by myself. I returned to the place where my father passed away unexpectedly in his sleep on Memorial Day, 23 days ago. Since that Monday, the meaning of mom and dad’s house has evolved. Daily life has also definitely changed into what supportive friends of mine have referred to as a “new normal”.

Before May 27th, I treasured the routine of seeing him every morning, Monday through Friday, for a small amount of time before work. It was half an hour at most. The ritual would include a morning hug, a check-in, a chuckle or two as we observed my daughter and son playing, a debrief of the latest family events or our favorite TV series, and of course, the hug goodbye along with, “Have a good day”. This was all part of the transition time when I would hand off my toddler son to him and my mom for the day. He would be under their loving care while I was at work. My daughter would also be with them after school twice a week. I was grateful for all of it.

Today I found the courage to be sad. Going back to the only house my parents and  I ever knew throughout my entire childhood, and the place where my own children knew as Grandma and Grandpa’s House brought me into strange new depths of sorrow.  My most recent and raw memory of walking through the front door is when I saw my father in the same room where we sat and talked every morning, shockingly lifeless, but peacefully gone. This heartbreaking memory is important for my journey of grieving, but I know it’s also somewhat unproductive.

My actions today however, if I do say so myself, were productive. I was ready to go back. My mom was out of town with my aunt and uncle, so I knew it would be helpful to check on the house, and do a few light chores. I mentally geared up. I took deep breaths and went about life in the new routine.

Months ago, a random stray chicken from the neighborhood found himself in my parents’ front yard and they started feeding him. My dad would have wanted to make sure I gave him some food. So I fed the chicken. It had been waiting for me based on his sporadic and somewhat aggressive clucking and ruffling of feathers. I found odd comfort in this moment. It helped me continue on. It reminded me about how my dad would always find ways to lighten up the mood.

I went inside and powered up the CD player that took me a few minutes to figure out. I played a mixed CD that my dad had burned (compiled) years ago. I blasted the early 2000 jams. I fed the fish and watered the plants in the backyard.

Then, as anticipated, I sat down at the table where my dad and I used to sit, and I cried. My latest strategy for crying is to just take a few deep cleansing breaths, tilt my head back, stare at the ceiling or sky, and just let it out. Amidst the deep sadness, I accessed a feeling that was reminiscent of what I would feel when I sat in that very spot, with him sitting across from me in the mornings. I felt relief. It wasn’t the same kind that I may have felt a month or so ago when he was still here. However, the emotion reminded me that somehow, I can still find peace with any situation, deep, dark, sadness included, as long as I have just a teeny bit of courage.   


How have you mourned the loss of a loved one?       

balance, classroom, health and wellness, mindful

The Questions You May Not Ask

Teaching 4th grade will always hold a special place in my heart. California history, particularly the Gold Rush Era, was one of my favorite units to teach. During the first 5 or so years of my career, my grade level colleagues and I would devote endless hours of coordination, fundraising,  and planning to send our students to a 3 night camp in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Gold Camp. It’s what you did when you got to 4th grade. History was learned. Forever memories were made.

The journey to get there however, was EXHAUSTING. Every year, through tireless fundraising efforts, we scraped together enough money to finance transportation for the 2 hour drive up to Sonora, California. What was the mode of transportation? The big blue school bus that could. It wasn’t the most updated vehicle. I remember feeling the engine straining as we traveled up the winding mountain roads (with million dollar views, mind you), while the kiddos with motion sick tummies expelled their queasiness into gallon Ziploc bags. I remember feeling so “done” with the trip even before we got off the bus.

All of the stress and exhaustion always took a dramatic turn for the better when we unloaded the bus, stood on solid ground, and inhaled the crisp mountain air. Things continued to improve when the camp staff and parent chaperones took charge of the program and activities. The teachers could get back to their regularly scheduled breathing.

gold camp
Teacher BFFs 9 years ago. Stuck on the big blue bus.

The ground rules were set, including the most important one. Our fearless camp leader made it known right away.  

“There will be NO What are we gonna…? or When are we gonna?… questions. Ever. Don’t even try to re-frame your questions to not sound like those kinds of questions.”

Best educational rule ever. I sometimes forget how powerful and simple the concept is. Let people (and little ones) enjoy their time as it happens. A schedule is set in place as a guide, but it is not meant to be a spoiler.

I too, followed the advice over the duration of camp and I was able to enjoy it so much more. I learned something new along with the kids every year. The scenery kept my calm levels in check even though I was in the midst of the most stressful field trip of the year. I will never forget the amazing sights and sounds, even during the muddy and rainy years. Nelson’s Columbia Candy Kitchen? YES. Keep in mind though, another ground rule was to not buy the baseball sized jawbreakers as your Gold Camp souvenir. The vistas and feeling of accomplishment after the ditch hike will be a forever memory in mental teacher file. Columbia State Park Cemetery walk? My favorite.

Maintaining the delicate balance of anticipation of what’s to come, and suffering over what you can’t control is a hard thing to do. I struggle with it all the time, through milestones and small moments. Then I remember Gold Country. I remember living in the now, even back then, because that was all I could do in the moment. 

I’ll remember this happy place as a fun, yet stressful memory in my career. I’ll also remember that sometimes I can’t allow myself to ask, “What are we gonna?….” or “When are we gonna?”.

I’ll find out. Everyone will.

Until then…

Maybe I’ll plan a family trip up to The Queen of The Southern Mines sometime soon.


 

http://www.sonoraca.com/

 

https://www.columbiacandykitchen.com/

 

https://www.visitcalifornia.com/attraction/columbia-state-historic-park

 

https://www.gocalaveras.com/location/california/gold-country/murphys-california/

 

mindful

Just One Thing

I did something yesterday afternoon that I haven’t done in a while. I sat down with my daughter and we played together, uninterrupted for about half an hour. Sadly, this rarely happens anymore. When I play with her, she usually doesn’t receive my full attention. The other portion is given to her baby brother, cleaning and chores, school work, and the one that I feel most guilty about: my phone or laptop.

We enjoyed our time together. We played with her Calico Critters toys out on the backyard deck of the family’s home away from home in the Truckee Tahoe area. We were surrounded by nature, peaceful weather, and quiet. I forced myself to not think about anything else. I lived in the moment (ish) and let go of all of the surrounding thoughts that I usually can’t turn off. I snapped some pictures, and tried to get right back to what we were doing, since my phone can easily take over during these times If I let it.

The next day, I was able to enjoy some rare quality time with my own mom. It was just us. I realized it had been so long since we had done this. It was brief, only a few hours. We went to the gym together and then to the grocery store. We caught up on the latest updates of family and friends. We did some people watching, debriefed about it, and laughed. She does so much as the primary caregiver for my kids while I’m at work, and we are so blessed to have her. I see her everyday, but the times that we just get to hang out anymore are few and far between. The gym and grocery store just turned into amazing memories for my paperless mental scrapbook.  

Spending exclusive time with my daughter and my mom individually reminded me again about how important it is to value people rather than things. Sometimes things do need to be a part of it. I can’t play Calico Critters without the actual Calico Critters. However,  I can give up the other items that aren’t as important at the moment. Time to set aside the phone, papers, and the Swiffer for a bit.

So here I go with a very risky new habit shift. I used to be proud of how well I can multitask. Things get done so efficiently when Jenn is in the house. Or classroom. I realize now that it comes with a small cost that can add up over time. My brain gets strained a bit each time I try to do more than 2 things at once. Maybe that’s why I feel less focused and more disorganized lately. The people who really need my undivided attention such as my kids, my husband, and my students may also feel the effects in the long run.

I think it is time for me to outgrow my multi-tasking mentality, because soon, my daughter will outgrow her toys and her tolerance for her mom.

Calico
The epitome of happiness. 

Until then,

We will see if my home and classroom completely fall apart if I try not to multitask for at least some part of the day. I have a feeling life will go either way.  

declutter

Things Always Come Back

Things

I purchased this wall decoration while my husband and I were in the process of selling our first home. We worked hard to stage the house for potential buyers. That meant decluttering and shoving all of our possessions behind closed doors. Our realtor and the internet highly suggested to “depersonalize” our house. We did our best, but we were still living in it at the same time, so it was stressful. We stripped the walls of any photos or items that would show evidence that we had jobs, a kid, a life. I put a framed wedding photo away and replaced it with this “thing”.

I knew that I was on the verge of a huge transition that would involve dealing with ALL THE THINGS. All the things in our little house that would have to be sorted, trashed, recycled, shredded, given away, packed up, (burned?). Buying this knick-knack was a joke. I was entertained by the irony of it. I also thought that maybe it would help me put the message into action, and it would magically help me with the craziness that was ahead of us. Did it give me the strength to just get rid of everything and start fresh in a new house? No. Obviously it came back to prank me again as I’m purging away in our current home.

I had time for Bed Bath and Beyond on that fateful day. Looking back, I probably should have just taken my daughter to the park down the street instead. I was stress shopping and wanted some retail therapy. When I swiped my card, I was fully aware that I was actually spending money on this thing that encourages people not to have things. I fully believe in the message that this tchotchke promotes, especially now, as I try to shift some habits. I don’t need it written on the wall. Or shoved in a cabinet. Or on the floor where it currently is now because my daughter took my picture with it and then we moved on. I better make final arrangements for this thing.

Until then…

If there’s ever time for Bed Bath and Beyond, I will make alternative plans.