On Death, Dying…and Living

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As many of you know, I lost my mom after a sudden, fast-moving illness. While attempting the return to normalcy, I thought perhaps a recollection (another list) might help start the healing. Here are a few words of wisdom from the past month:

  1. While one of the most difficult jobs I ever had to do, if you have the opportunity to be present with a parent and support his or her journey to the next life, make the effort to accept this bittersweet gift.
  2. Share your final wishes with loved ones, put it in writing or have that important conversation! We were blessed with clear guidelines to follow Mom’s wishes, including medical needs, funeral arrangements, and other final requests.  Sharing your wishes reduces the burden on loved ones, eliminating the second guessing and possible arguments.
  3. I was touched by the random acts of kindness in the hospital: The nurse who stole pillows from spare rooms for me, another nurse who spent extra time on her shift the morning we removed the vent, washing Mom’s hair, putting on fresh clothes, doing all she could to help in the difficult situation, and a friend with massage training, spending almost an hour massaging Mom’s hands, trying to relieve the severe edema.
  4. There were so many acts of kindness afterward: The random stranger who purchased my breakfast in Hillsdale, coffee mugs for all the kids from the woman who ran Mom’s favorite breakfast joint, the many visits, cards, phone calls, hugs…
  5. While I only teach part-time, I was touched by the helpful response and care from co-workers at the college. Working with individuals who treat you like family is a priceless perk!

June Roche was a kind, intelligent, and cheerful woman. She endured many trials throughout her life from growing up in poverty, having to delay her high school graduation for a year so she could help support her family, to enduring a national scandal. However, she also experienced a grand adventure through her hard work and dedication to her family and the college, earning her Bachelor’s Degree in only two years, traveling around the world, hosting world leaders, influencing young minds, and helping promote quality education in America.

Throughout this adventure, Mom also never thought herself above others. If she saw someone in need, she attempted to help. I will always remember the lessons modeled through Mom’s example: respect everyone, help those in need, and remember the power of kindness and grace when solving problems.

Thanks for reading!

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The First Leaves the Nest

Last month, Chad and I delivered our first born to college. What a memorable day! The night before, many aunts and uncles provided an official Irish clan send off. Several aunts even threatened to attend Siblings’ Weekend. The few hours spent at the college streamed by in a blur, visiting with students and staff, the memorable mob of students who helped unload, Opening Convocation, the tears and hugs between students and parents, giving a blessing to our child, the quiet drive home…

Patricks send off

Despite attempts at mental preparedness, the first leaving home proved a bittersweet transition. While Patrick will be home for vacations and summer, he truly no longer lives with us. What an odd adjustment. As parents, we spend so much time teaching life skills: Independence, a strong work ethic, the value of education, etc. When our young men and women take those first steps towards independence, a part of every parent holds on and hesitates before finally letting them go.

Fortunately, a busy routine greatly aided this transition. Between high school football, an increased teaching load, the fall harvest, and other responsibilities, my mind focused on other things. The many activities also limited communication with Patrick, so he could begin his new journey without a nagging parent.

I composed a short poem about this experience, remembering high school English class when Mrs. Bell taught iambic rhythms:

The First Leaves the Nest

Our summer path was filled with joy,
Yet time draws near for our dear boy.
Goodbye full house, he’s out the door,
And now our numbers slip to four.

Thanks for reading! Happy Fall from Cairn Hill Farms!

Fall at Cairn Hill Farms

Empty Chairs at the Table

MK and dog pic

 

This weekend has given a glimpse of things to come. One child ventures on his first college visit and another travels on a school trip. While our youngest remains home, I can’t help but think of the limited time remaining before these kids head out and spread their wings…kind of bittersweet for me.

I look forward to watching my children’s adventures into adulthood, but I will miss them so. My happiest moments have been those little times, especially around the dinner table. We would discuss history, religion, or politics yet quickly escalate to uncontrolled laughter so intense that milk or mashed potatoes would occasionally fly. Our dinner table served multiple purposes: homework, canning, wine making, family meetings, fondue night, Sunday breakfast, Thanksgiving dinner, the list goes on…

My grandparents used the same table as far back as Grandad’s years as a Prohibition agent, even cleaning his government issue 12 gauge on that same table. Growing up at Broadlawn, that table had a place of pride in our breakfast nook where we ate most family meals. I remember Granaw peeling vegetables and Dad and Granaw playing their whirlwind rounds of cribbage. I remember games of Connect Four, hiding unwanted food (usually turnips) under the heat register, and late night pizza with my sister and our friends or planning the occasional mischief.

Chad and I consider ourselves fortunate to carry on this piece of family history. When the table joined our home, I remember Chad’s prayer of thanks for continued adventures with this special piece of furniture. This weekend in particular as I miss my boys, I can’t help but feel both joy and sadness as I walk past the table that has witnessed so many generations, and held so many memories and so much love.

A List Every Parent Should Make

While in the midst of settling into our new home, selling a home, teaching, and other activities, I am squeezing in a quick blog post before July departs. As a parent, I try and do my best to provide every lesson, activity, and opportunity for my kids. Coming from a family of list makers, one night, these thoughts turned into a list, a list of what, in my opinion, every American kid should experience.

  1. Spend the day at the ocean: Take your pick; there’s one on each side of our beautiful country. Kids should get the opportunity to explore the waves, sand, and see just how far our world extends.
  2. Visit a National Park: Again, take your pick! We are blessed with an affordable park system that extends throughout the country. Check them out! Which one is your favorite?
  3. Tour a Battlefield: As a 17 year old who thought she knew everything, I was dragged along one spring break to tour battlefields. At first, I behaved as a typical teen, arguing with siblings and regularly declaring my boredom. Then we arrived at Gettysburg. The best way to explain what happened was I felt a presence, which reached through my selfish, immature behavior and left me with an experience I will never forget. I felt something there. Something powerful, old, and bigger than I will ever be. It is a memory that I will never forget and one I hope my children have the opportunity to experience. Trust me! Take your kids to visit a battlefield.
  4. Hold down a miserable summer job: Every kid should have the opportunity to work one of those memorable, uncomfortable, low-paying jobs. These jobs provide the pride in a hard earned paycheck and a reminder to work a bit harder the next school year.
  5. Complete a service project: Kids can make this as formal or informal as they want. They can help through their school, youth group, or even taking the time to help a neighbor clean the gutters and rake the lawn, but every kid should know the joy in helping another.
  6. Go camping: Again, make this as formal or informal as necessary. Buy all the equipment and explore the great outdoors, or if camping is not high on your list, pitch a tent in the back yard. Look at the stars, listen to the silence, make s’mores, and make memories.
  7. Play a sport: Remember kids don’t have to excel at a sport, attend fancy camps, or purchase the best equipment. Playing a sport teaches teamwork, keeps kids busy, and promotes healthy, life-long habits.
  8. Participate in a non-athletic extra curricular activity: Pick one, any one. Encourage your child to find an extra activity, chess club, band, choir, FFA, the possibilities are many! They will make friends with similar interests, and who knows? They might just find an activity that stays with them for life.
  9. Learn to keep a budget: Kids have many opportunities to learn the basics of money management. It might be the simple task of buying Christmas presents, maintaining a monthly allowance, or being responsible for extra expenses during the summer months. Teaching kids the financial basics now will only help them as adults.
  10. Learn that important lesson, “You can’t have it all.”: Perhaps you cannot provide all these things for your child. That’s ok. Share your dreams, the things you wish to do with them. Tell them why these events are important. Maybe one day this list will be completed as adults, or you will create a new list together.

Did I miss anything? Please feel free to share what’s on your “Parent’s List.” As always, thanks for reading!

I Want You! (to prepare your kids for college)

uncle-sam

Many parents are concerned with their children’s college readiness. As a community college English teacher over the past 17 years, I have also seen areas where my students could use additional preparation. This post is NOT about critiquing the public schools; instead, I want parents to see the power they have at home in the summer.

Each summer (starting around 7th grade) I complete a mini-session with my kids. I’m not a mean mom; my kids still get to be kids. Four weeks out of every summer, I ask my kids to give me 30 minutes per day (Monday-Friday) to work on their studies. If my kids struggle in math, I buy a summer bridge workbook at my local bookstore and have them complete 1-2 pages every day. They are not learning new material. They are merely spending some time reviewing what they learned the previous year to keep their skills fresh (Don’t worry, the answers are in the back of the book). Most college students have to take at least one math class. Many mathematical concepts are also building blocks. Students who have reviewed the previous year’s content will be better prepared to learn.

I also have my children write a 250-400 word five-paragraph essay. Usually they write about something fun like their favorite vacation or sport. Completing the writing process just once over the summer keeps their writing skills fresh. If you are unsure what to look for in such an essay, I wrote an earlier blog for parents found here. Journaling is another writing activity that will help keep skills sharpened. You can find a list of topics on-line or just let your child’s creative juices flow. Sometimes my kids write a story, wonderful mementoes to save.

For students who are college bound, the ability to write a coherent five-paragraph essay is vital. Many college classes assign a single essay that is worth 10-25% of their final grade. Students who succeed in college learn that these essays take time, planning, and multiple drafts. Successful students tend to have a firm understanding of the writing process when they enter college.

In addition, I encourage ALL parents to complete a logic unit with their children. This is a great middle school age activity. Learning logic reinforces a student’s critical thinking skills. I found a useful workbook called “Logic Liftoff.” During one of our four week sessions, I ask my kids to complete one worksheet per day (Don’t worry, the answers are in the back of the book). My kids only complete this activity for one summer, yet this has led to some productive family discussions and a marked improvement in my children’s reasoning skills. It’s particularly moving when they use logic to defeat me in a friendly debate.

Finally, read, read, read!!! Let them read fun books, take them on a road trip to the local bookstore or library, but please encourage your child to read over the summer! College students have large amounts of reading to complete for each class. They must also be able to understand what they’re reading. Reading over the summer will help increase their speed and comprehension.

Parents, you have the power to truly make a difference in your children’s lives. If you want to give them an edge for the college years, complete the activities above in the summertime. For those who think they can’t help their kids, please know that I struggled with math my entire life, but the workbooks were something I could share/complete with my kids.  Please feel free to e-mail me if you have specific questions or if you need some help planning a five-paragraph essay. Also, please share this with any parent who might find this useful.

Good luck!