By Laura Moore

Picture
Unfortunately, far too often, I forgo the run. 

I make excuses to delay it. 

I feel self-indulgent when I finally tie my shoes and close the door behind me. 

And even when I get past my self-imposed obstacles, even when I hit my stride, insecurity invariably invades my frontal lobe, edging out reason, suggesting instead, that I'm a bad______(fill in the blank). 

You have a baby to think about.
You can't run that far any more.
You have a thousand other things to do.
Shouldn't you be working?
 
The banter persistently bangs against my conscience and it often stifles any effort to relax, recharge, or refill. 

Yesterday, however, I decided to run anyway, and something magical happened part way through. 

Instead of thinking about my guilt, instead of inventing fictional conversations, instead of focusing on the bobbing brains in the cars speeding past, I let my mind wander: up and down the bending asphalt bike path, up and over the curved edges of leaves. I looked at the empty swings undulating in the breeze, and I listened to the birds squawking above me. I caught flowers peeking from cracks, and I took note of individual trails of sweat skating across smooth surfaces of skin, lodging in small creases where my body was moving against itself. 

I felt powerful, productive and alive.

My pace rose and fell with my thoughts. Characters joined me for stretches of road, questions taunted me as I leaned into turns. Thankfulness filled me as I thought about the loves in my life. And the masochistic joy of being human delighted me as I took note of my stubbed big toe pushing against the toe cap and streams of lactic acid lacing through my legs. My brain pounded with my feet, whirling wildly within the freedom it was given: jutting out in inspired tangents, studying the present moment like a movie reel set to slow motion, like a flip book of pictures bustling beneath a thumb. 
 
When I returned to home base, I freed my fingers to blurt inside blank pages, bending and arching, darting and diving. I worked diligently. Beads of sweat dotted my nose, peeked out from the edge of my hairline and rolled down the blades of my back. I captured waves of ideas that arrived like water gushing from a storm cloud. In less time than usual, I fulfilled my writing goal, cracked open a book of research, tended to a few chores, and then made my way over to pick up my little boy.

I cuddled him in my arms, I giggled with him on the floor, I comforted and fed him, loved him and made him smile as we sang songs, rocking back and forth. I didn't spend the entire day with him, but I was present during the time we did spend together, and consequently we both laughed a little bit harder. As we played, I didn't lecture myself about how I should work out. Or why I didn't pick him up sooner. I wasn't thinking about work and I didn't worry about the pile of laundry I needed to take down to the basement. Instead, I let myself be content, aware and engaged, and I felt thankful for what I had and what I was able to do.

I realize I won't be able to go for that run every day. Here and there, insecurities or health challenges might get the best of me. Some days, the weather might not cooperate. And still other days, I might not be fortunate enough to have a flexible mound of responsibilities or a team of people ready to help me. But when I can make it happen--when we all can make it happen--we need to let ourselves go. And we need to abandon our guilt when we do. We need to support one another in our endeavors and we need to celebrate small victories each day. 

As counter-productive as it might sometimes seem to turn our eyes from duty and focus instead on our physical, emotional or spiritual wellbeing, if we want to keep all parts of ourselves alive, it is vital for us to carve out space where we can break free and run. For us to embrace whatever it is that makes us feel whole. For us to pause, reach up, pull down the oxygen mask, and breathe so we can be strong enough to take care of everything--and everyone--else.

 
 

By Laura Moore

Picture
Glancing at my social media pages this morning, I couldn't help but be inspired as I gazed at the beaming mugs of children posing for first day pictures, showing off spiffed up threads, eager grins and signs bearing the name of their teacher and the grade they are about to enter.

Those images always wet my eyes when I consider the significance of the moment they capture, when I think about what the next 186 school days will hold for the children smiling for the camera.

As those kids stand on their front porch, or in the hallway, or on the lawn of their school, each of them is hovering on the precipice of a new beginning, a new chance, a new set of rules, a new batch of challenges and a new well of opportunities. They are poised for adventure--for the next leg of their journey--toes propped and ready to carry them forward where they will engage in work and play that will help them build, rebuild, create and recreate.

Over 186 school days, they will embrace new skills as they learn how to assign words to ideas, manipulate numbers, ask questions, create beauty, generate sounds or connect their present to the past. And their experiences will press them to widen and deepen both their minds and their hearts each time they are called to unearth their sometimes sturdy, sometimes wavering, sometimes strangled conviction to stand up for what is right. They will grow through their experiences, they will learn the bounds of their own strength, and they will discover how courageous and powerful they are each time they make themselves vulnerable.

Though they certainly arrive with the baggage of previous years: an armful of mistakes, a handful of doubters, and a stretch of road littered with bumps, the fact remains that on this day, their slate is strikingly clean.  The grade card is clear, the sketchbook is blank, the pencils are full of graphite, the call lists and team rosters are empty and the possibilities are endless. When they stand for that picture, they have no idea who might cross their path, which future thoughts might fill them with wonder, or who they might become.  They have no idea which adventures will shape their hearts or which challenges will make them shine.  

All they know is that today is the beginning. The scary, exciting, highly anticipated beginning. The line in the sand, the start of the race, the dawn of a new chapter.  The date on the calendar they don't want to think about until it is finally here, waiting for them, begging for them to arrive.

But once it comes, they do too.

And so should we.

See, in my opinion, we should all arrive--figuratively, of course--and celebrate on the first day of school. Regardless of how many years have passed since we stood smiling on our front porch, once a year, we should all dig down deep and discover the same courage we ask our kids to find. In honor of them, we should open our arms and embrace our fears. We should hype up our hopes and wonder what's possible. We should set new goals, anticipate new joys, meet new people, inspire new dreams, explore new opportunities, defend justice, reset, re-begin and re-imagine.

Today, we should bare our teeth, hold up our chins, dance to our own little tune, swim within a fresh wave of optimism, and tell our feet to march forward, onward, upward toward a renewed, reinvigorated version of ourselves. Today, we should try--just like them--to learn how we can make the world just a little bit better, how we can sift through the injustice and sadness, the oppression, violence and despair, and push through to the other side.  How we can crack open our hearts, steady our voice, and brace our legs to stand up, to reach out, and to reach in.

Happy first day of school, everyone. Go get 'em.

 
 

By Laura Moore

Picture
The thing I love most about teaching has nothing to do with my subject matter. While I enjoy discussing rhetorical devices, narrative voice and characterization, I cherish my life conversations above and beyond anything imbedded in the curriculum.  

This year, I'm taking a year off of teaching and devoting myself to writing. Unfortunately, that means I will miss out on the privileged opportunity to engage with a new group of kids and play some small part in their growth as human beings.  Since I won't be there to pass along my advice, I wanted to share it with you. 

Here are my top nine tips for cultivating happy, independent and successful kids:

1. Encourage Your Child to Get Involved
Extra curricular involvement often opens a thousand new doors for students. It boosts confidence, it exposes kids to new friendships, it gives them purpose, it teaches them life skills and it often makes for happier kids.  That all said, it's important for students to find balance in their lives. They shouldn't get so involved that they don't have time to fulfill their commitments, do their homework or sleep, but they need to be involved enough that they learn time management skills. If your son or daughter isn't interested in athletics, music or the arts, encourage him or her to join clubs, to volunteer in the community, to get a job or to participate in a cause he or she cares about. As an English teacher, I'd like to believe reading and writing skills will make the biggest difference in their lives, but I know that outside experiences often shake them up, fill them up and lift them up more than anything else.

2. Support Your Child as He or She Takes Risks
School is the perfect place for kids to learn how to take good risks, the kind of risks that expose them to healthy activities they never knew existed, talents they never knew they had and/or people they never knew went to school with them. Good risks are empowering because they require students to face insecurities, fear or doubt head on, and this confrontation teaches them that they are capable of overcoming challenges throughout their lives.  Encourage your son or daughter to submit artwork, publish his/her writing, audition for plays, try out for teams, run for office or advocate for an important cause. Challenge him or her to push boundaries, but be sure to create a safe place for your child to retreat if plans go awry or efforts fall a bit short of success. No matter how tough teenagers might seem, they all want to know their parents are still proud of them regardless of what they do or do not achieve (I know this because I read their journals!).

3. Help Your Child Develop Responsibility
While it is important for us to support our kids, we need to make sure we are not enabling them. Now that I have my own child, I understand how tempting it is to swoop in and tidy up problems in an effort to minimize drama, but the kids who seem to be the most successful in school are the ones who have embraced some level of autonomy. These kids have learned how to advocate for themselves, and they assume responsibility for their commitments, actions and words. They know Mom and Dad will not come swooping in to fix things, so they tend to make better decisions to avoid the problems in the first place. When they do make a mistake, they own it, and because of that, many teachers tend to cut them some slack.  When kids constantly get bailouts, they never learn why responsibility is important, and by persistently denying them the chance to learn, we are setting them up for failure later.

4. Ensure Your Child Honors His or Her Commitments
I try my best every year to talk to kids about the importance of honoring their commitments. If kids are part of a group they need to complete their portion of the work. If kids sign up to do something, they need to follow through. If they schedule a meeting with a teacher, it is important for them to show up. When they don't, their disregard makes every one else's life difficult.  When they do, the world just seems to work a little bit better.

5. Facilitate Discussions That Promote Resourcefulness
As a society, we no longer have the patience to sit and figure things out. We want immediate gratification, and we find it easier to move on, buy something quicker, ask someone else to fix our problem, or make an excuse about why we couldn't accomplish our goal. These tendencies have trickled down to our kids. Year after year, I notice a large concentration of students who hit a wall when their Plan A goes awry.  Instead of thinking through backup solutions, a lot of kids ask their parents to write notes and many times, parents write them without giving it a second thought. 

We all have busy lives, and I realize it is so much faster for adults to fix problems rather than facilitate discussions, but when we persistently solve dilemmas ourselves, we deny our children the opportunity to learn how to problem solve on their own.  With a little bit of prodding, most students can easily develop perfectly acceptable Plans B, C or D. And figuring out how to navigate game-time, adrenaline pumping moments when they're faced with an impending consequence teaches them how to respond and improvise under pressure. This will not only benefit them throughout their school years, it will come in handy when they're out in the work force and have a boss who will not find a parent note laden with excuses as an acceptable substitute for a job well done. 

6. Choose Positive Positive Language
This is hard. No matter how good any of us try to be, we are bound to run into people who like to pick fights, who are passionately against our beliefs, or who respond to situations in ways that do not mesh with how we think human beings should respond. We need to remember that the same is true for our kids. 

It is easy to bad mouth those who have wronged us or our kids, those who are unnecessarily difficult, or those who have created obstacles, but negative words tend to stick around a lot longer than positive ones. Kids learn how to talk to others, and how to talk about others, by listening to people they respect. If they hear loved ones badmouthing bosses, neighbors, relatives, teachers, classmates or coaches, they will feel entitled to do the same. While venting can sometimes be therapeutic, doing it in front of kids--even if those kids are in high school--carries long term consequences:  kids learn that they only need to be respectful to some people. As hard as it might be, the more we can model appropriate ways to respond to difficult people, the easier it will be for our children to learn language that will help them overcome and not exacerbate problems in their lives. 

7. Encourage Your Child to Embrace Kindness and Respect
It is easy to get caught up in gossip and drama, but the kids who rise above it seem to be the happiest. They respect adults, they empathize with peers and they see the best in people. They consistently treat others with respect and they generally err on the side of kindness.  When life ushers in a challenge, they are level-headed in their analysis, they are proactive in finding solutions, and regardless of the temptation to do otherwise, they are unwavering in their determination to maintain integrity.  This tends to inspire less regret, and often helps to avoid he-said/she-said banter intended to cast them in the center of an enormous controversy.  High school drama is inevitable, but learning how to rise above the pettiness tends to make that drama much less destructive.

8. Look for Opportunities to Learn
No matter how boring a teacher might seem or how pointless a class might appear, students have the opportunity to learn every time they take a seat, every time they open a book, and every time they put their thoughts on paper. School, just like life, is as interesting as we decide to make it. While teachers try to light their subject matter on fire, even the most engaging educators have off days, or days when they must tackle curriculum that is not quite as exciting. When this happens, challenge kids to find some nugget in the blob of boringness.  In an ideal world, the school day would teem with excitement, but even if we could pull that off, eventually, our kids would enter the real world, a space where they will have to do things they don't want to do, and endure interactions they don't want to have. At some point, successful people decide to bare down, make the most of their situation and do what they need to do so they can have the opportunity to do what they want to do later.

9. Get to Know Your Teacher
Encourage your child to get to know his or her teacher. Despite the fact that educators have a variety of methods for gauging where are kids are academically, emotionally and socially, they can sometimes miss the discreet struggles that hover beneath the surface. It is much harder to know the student who dashes toward his seat the second the starting bell rings, or runs out of the room the moment the ending bell sounds. The students who engage with us between classes, during office hours, before or after school or during lunch tend to get much more out of our classes than the kids we track down during our planning period every couple of weeks when we have a few spare minutes. Teachers love helping kids, so encourage your sons and daughters to take advantage of the opportunity to get extra help, advice or support. 

The same goes for parents. If you ever have a concern about your child, please reach out and communicate with teachers. After all, we have the same goal: to help your son or daughter grow into the best human being he or she can be.

 
 

By Laura Moore

Picture
Our lives are littered with low hanging traffic signals--strung across our consciousness--and those drab lights choreograph our lives: advising us when to stop, asking us to make a decision, pushing us onward and upward down the road.

Those lights often determine our status with future lights, they dictate arrival times, they frustrate us, they taunt us, they change our direction, and they fill us with excitement when they manage to turn at just the right moment and allow us to shave minutes off of our commute.  

They teach us about the depth of our patience, our likelihood to abide by laws, our awareness of others, our propensity to reflect, our ability to rewrite plans, our willingness to accept fate, and our readiness to embrace, reject or reimagine our future.

While green lights are desirable, when we approach an intersection that propels us forward, we often fail to notice the shade of color above our heads. When lights hold us back, however, when they flash a burning yellow we know we cannot beat, we hover on the cusp--on the tip of a turning point--waiting for the chance to break, to pause, to change.  Trapped in a standstill, our engine lowers to a murmur, the sound of the music rises, and we get the opportunity to reframe, revisit and potentially redirect our path.

Sitting at that red light, we are forced to break our stride, to halt the autopilot, to wait: wait until the signal lets go, until one moment gives way to the next, until the green light fills the space at the bottom, and invites us to press on the gas and begin again.