middle-school girls sit on Capitol steps

On Twain & Tweens

middle-school girls sit on Capitol steps

It was my first time serving as a substitute teacher in a middle school English class.  The topic was Mark Twain, and this should have been easy, as I had grown up near the park surrounding the great Missouri author’s birth home, attended a high school carrying his name, and lived in the same town – Hannibal – where Twain grew up and then used as the setting for the tales of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer.  I knew as much about Mark Twain as anyone in this area –how hard could it be to teach about him?

After an hour of chaos, a sixth-grade boy dropped his pants and strutted away from me with his red briefs staring me down. I made sure the school district knew that I would not be subbing for middle school anymore.

That was about 20 years ago, but the experience left me dreading the day my own child would enter middle school.  I prepared her for the worst. Middle-schoolers are confused, I told her, and that confusion plays out in myriad odd behaviors.

She wanted to be part of a student leadership team at her school, which was a brand new charter school without those usual opportunities in place.  When I asked the principal if there would be a student council, he said, “As soon as there’s a parent volunteer to lead it.”

I now spend every Wednesday afternoon with about ten middle-schoolers – the very beings I once swore I’d ignore at all costs.

They can’t control themselves in the rolling chairs we use in the board room.  Constantly swirling, pulling the levers, adjusting the arm height.  Constantly squeaking, leaning back.  One boy can’t resist admiring himself and fixing his hair in the reflection of the large-screen monitor on the table.  One girl never says a word.  Another girl wants to do all the work.  They fight over the occasional treat of fruit roll-ups like it’s the last bite of food they might ever enjoy.

But in short time, these same students have shown their adaptability and eagerness to grow and to push themselves outside their usual comfort zones.  They can articulate why we need to talk to legislators about the importance of funding for their charter school.  They can demonstrate the ways their international curriculum has taught them to see topics from a global point of view.  They discuss leadership and agree that the three characteristics they find most important are responsibility, respect and organization, and they challenge one another to exhibit those qualities in carrying out their work.

These 12-year-olds have restored my faith in middle-schoolers.  And that’s why I traveled by plane and by bus with them recently to plead their case at the Washington State Capitol.  And it’s why I will continue to meet with them on Wednesdays and show them how to run meetings and committees and how to contact local businesses for support.  It’s why I will help them plan an international festival and a field day, and watch them make posters for dress-down days and help them gain confidence in standing before their peers to discuss the importance of good school attendance.

I’ll even volunteer to go bowling with them and be surrounded by 60 of their peers on a Friday night.  Because now – whether it’s because I’ve grown up myself or because I see their great potential – I don’t fear them as I did the kid who mooned me with his bright red briefs.

Twain said it best: “Apparently there is nothing that cannot happen today.”

My 2015 Review, by the numbers

10 Firsts

biking the shore of Lake Michigan in Chicago

Attending Zags basketball games
Vegan cooking
Taking a college class as an adult (critical thinking)
Producing Gonzaga Magazine from start to finish
Joined the board of Healing Hearts Northwest
Biking to work, and along Lakeshore Drive in Chicago
Hiking the Avalanche Creek trail at Glacier
21 miles in Spokefest
Serving as parent advisor for student council
Pneumonia

6 Firsts with Emily

10940586_10204726065966079_597742440051006259_n
Tubing at Bear Creek needs to become a yearly thing.

Nighttime sledding at Mount Spokane
Participated in a MLK march
Attending a college lecture on racism
Volunteering for SCRAPS (animal shelter)
Serving with Blessings Under the Bridge (homeless ministry)
Haunted Houses

5 Top Activities for Em

Students from Spokane International Academy at Washington Capitol

Started 6th grade at Spokane International Academy
Second season of softball (shortstop, slugger, All-Star)
Serving on Student Council
A weeklong trip without family to Olympic National Park
Trip to the capitol building in Olympia

5 Traditions Kept

water over rocks in crevasse

Family Camp at Camp White
Spending my birthday at Glacier National Park
Fall harvest at Green Bluff
Halloween
4 weeks of Christmas activities

1 New-ish Tradition Kept

Hosting an international visitor.  And I just have to say more about this.  Last year, we had a 14-year-old student from Japan for 3 weeks and she was delightful.  This summer, we had two medical students from Guatemala for a month, and they were so much fun and wove their way straight into our hearts.  We are somewhat leery to do it again, only for fear that our next visitors won’t be as wonderful as Saori, Ale and Julia.

Guatemalan friends at Spokane park

 

4 Fun Trips

Home by Kate Vanskike

Philadelphia – living history
St. Louis – all my parents’ favorite stomping grounds
Chicago – work and reflection, and biking downtown in the rain
San Francisco – Christmas road trip

5 Books Finished

“I’m in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love.”

Unbroken (Laura Hillenbrand)
Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil (John Berendt)
Travels with Charlie (John Steinbeck)
Tibetan Peach Pie (Tom Robbins)
The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)
A Jesuit’s Journey through the Tumultuous 1960s (Paul Swift)

7 Books Started

Jesuit’s Guide to Almost Everything (Fr. James Martin, S.J.)
The Book of Wanderings: A Mother-Daughter Pilgrimmage (Kimberly Meyer)
Another Roadside Attraction (Tom Robbins)
In the Company of the Poor (Paul Farmer)
Tattoos on the Heart (Fr. Greg Boyle)
Just Between Us (Meredith Jacobs)
The Girl in the Spider’s Web (Stieg Larsson/David Lagercrantz)

1 Big Wish

Peace, in our hearts and in our world. Courage to defend what is right. Finding God in all things.  Assuming the best in people.  Laughing more. Drinking more spiced tea, eating more veggies, buying less crap, enjoying more music, saying thank you more, celebrating all that is good. Peace, in our hearts and in our world.
a metal sign reading Peace is covered in snow

Only One Regret

Shared from “To Be Continued.”

Sister Peter Claver, administrator of Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center for 30 years
Sister Peter Claver, administrator of Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center for 30 years

Every now and again, those quizzes circulate social media, asking us to identify silly things like our greatest fear or biggest regret.  The answers are easy for me: fear itself, and no regrets.  (Okay, full disclosure, I waffle between my fears being the clichéd “fear itself” and “the unknown.”)

As for regrets, I have to recognize one constant: not having known certain individuals, a few blessed souls who have left only positive lessons, only loving marks, in their tracks.

I worked for 15 years at a hospital founded and sponsored by the Sisters of Providence.  So many Sisters had profound effects on all who knew them, and on many more whom they’d never met.  Sister Peter Claver, who died in 1991, is still recalled with great fondness and respect in Spokane’s leadership circles.  I never tired of hearing tales about her grace, wit and fortitude.  Even the gentleman driving the courtesy shuttle for a car dealership recounted for me the times his mother had been a patient and the impression made by Sister Peter Claver, who, as the top administrator, took time to visit patient rooms. (She also carried tools in the deep pockets of her habit and would tighten door hinges on her way through the hospital.)  Other Sisters of Providence—and the Dominican Sisters I eventually came to know—were such strong forces, often the only women calling the shots in a business world usually reserved for men.  They were innovative and fiercely protective of the causes they served.  Getting to know these dynamic women and their collective history ultimately led to naming my daughter after Emilie Gamelin, who founded the Sisters of Providence after suffering the loss of her husband and all her children to illnesses.

Now in the folds of the Jesuit heritage of Gonzaga University, I’m discovering more saintly souls who I regret not having had the chance to know.  Father Tony Lehmann, for example.  When my colleague wrote a piece on Father Tony to explain why we chose “To Be Continued” as the name of our new blog, I quickly learned how deep and far and wide Zag love runs for this beloved priest.  People trolling their Facebook feeds stopped in their tracks at seeing Father Tony’s face.  They “liked,” they shared, they posted.  Not in that usual Facebook style, but with intention and heart.  What I wouldn’t give to have known him myself and have my own story to recall.

It’s questionable to regret something I couldn’t have controlled—I didn’t choose when or where I was born and raised.  But I’m positive there have been other great people in my midst who I did ignore or pass by too quickly.  What might I have learned or gained if I’d taken a moment (or more) to visit?

That is my one regret.

A 6-year-old tries out homelessness (for fun)

(Pulled this out from my “archives” and thought it was worth posting.)

I sent Em to her room this morning for back talking.  When she came out 10 minutes later, she was pulling a pink suitcase and said she was running away.  I asked her to stay on Stonington Lane, and out the door with her suitcase she went.  Roughly two minutes later, I stepped outside and saw her about two houses down.  I hollered after her:  “Breakfast is ready.  You might want to eat something so you have strength for all the walking you’re going to do.”

She promptly turned and came back.  And during breakfast, we had this conversation:

Em:         So, it would probably be a good idea if you got some walkie-talkies.  You can get some at the repair (hardware) shop before I leave.  Do you know how they work?
Kate:         Yeah, but I’m probably not going to get any.  You want some snacks?
E:         I’ll pack snacks.  And then all I need from you is a phone and some money.  Do you have 50 cents?
K:         That’s about all I have.  What are you going to buy with 50 cents?
E:         Probably some pizza.
K:         I doubt you’ll buy pizza with 50 cents, but you can have it anyway.  You need help packing?

I unzip her suitcase and it’s empty.  So, the laughter I’ve been holding in now bursts forth.  “You’re running away and the suitcase you were dragging is EMPTY??”

running away 2011She finished her breakfast and headed into her room where she emptied her underwear drawer into a backpack and began packing another.  This kid is prepared for homelessness: plenty of changes of panties, a pillow, a flashlight, some pjs, a pair of shoes, an outfit and – lo and behold – she packed a toothbrush and toothpaste!

K:         Well, that’s a little more like it.  Now I feel a little better about you being out on your own.  When will I see you again?
E:         I’ll stop in for dinner tomorrow.
K:         Okay.  I love you.

She turns to leave and this time I wait more like five minutes to peek outside and see where she is.

Back on the porch.

E:         Mom, I want to be one of the Boxcar Children.
K:         Well, homelessness is pretty tough.  How about we settle for finding you a gigantic box that you can pretend is your boxcar and you and your friends can play in there?

That settled it, and I was good to my word, calling multiple stores before finding a hardware store that had a nice big box we could have.  She can be a Boxcar Child safely inside my garage.

A Brighter Tomorrow for Today’s Parenting “Heroes”

2013 - Good Morning Sun - cropped - smSo many things in our world are upsetting. We have so many reasons to fear.

But in the midst of us are these children of ours who are like sponges and we can help them soak up so much good: intelligence and compassion, responsibility and humor, critical thinking and good listening.

Which is why it pains me to see parents who don’t engage with their youngsters much, or too quickly hand over an iPhone or other gadget to entertain them, or snap at them with disgust, or overreact to some minor inconvenience.

I cringe because these kids are the sponges who will someday be our community leaders.

If we want real change in this world, it should start with our parenting, because raising children to be responsible and compassionate adults is the only way for us to see healthier communities and a happier world.

With that utopian goal in mind, I offer some kudos to some parenting heroes I know.

“Heather” is recognizing some early onset anxiety in her 6-year-old, and in addition to getting some education and professional guidance, is also instilling in her little girl the notion that it is absolutely okay to share anything and all her feelings with her parents, and receive complete safety and support.

“Ann” is balancing a parent’s natural desire to hold on, with a teen’s natural desire to get away.  It’s delicate – and scary – but she respects her teen’s individuality while also continuing to instill the kind of wisdom only a parent can really offer.

“Jim” is always able to put fun in the day even when the stress from a demanding job and challenges from some devastating circumstances that could make him an uptight and angry dad.  He’s never too busy for bike ride to the pastry shop for a few unnecessary grams of sugar that grant him a sweet moment with his son.

“Lynn” puts up with continual bullying from her ex and his new wife and rather than giving in, finds the strength to continue fighting for the best options for her daughter.

“Barb” is the strongest child advocate I’ve ever known.  She always puts her kids’ needs before her own—which seems contrary to this growing trend of parents thinking their time sipping lattes should have first priority.  Her kids’ needs are particularly demanding, but she doesn’t complain about devoting all her energy to fulfilling them.

There are so many others.  So many moms who are showing their kids what is right, noble, true and praise-worthy.  So many dads demonstrating that their kids are more important than their paycheck … or football.  So many parents coming to school to be present in the classroom, organizing activities and buying cheap crap from fundraisers to show their children that education is an important investment.

And so the hope—not the fanciful-wish-kind-of-hope, but the expectant-watching-kind-of-hope—of a bright, pleasant future is here in these parents’ kids.

Here’s to tomorrow.  Now let’s go fill those sponges with something rich and wonderful.