Monday, July 29, 2013

The Struggles Were Worth It

I was not a bright kid.  I didn't learn how to read until third grade, and  I was held back in sixth grade because I was academically behind and socially immature. My second year of sixth grade was the first and only year that I felt smart but only because the material was review to me. Once I went into seventh grade, however, I seemed to fall behind again academically except in the classes that allowed me to be creative. It was also the first time that I learned to use my strengths to keep my grades somewhat up. I always did my homework and every project thrown at me because I knew I was going to fail the tests. This allowed me to finish high school with a C average.

One of the only reasons I got into college was because of Mr. Kisken, my ninth through twelfth grade math teacher. I loved his math classes. They were for us slower folks, but he was straight and to the point. He was grumpy but loved to teach. He also loved to watch his students play sports. I was extremely athletic and very good at lacrosse. Many of his students played and he would come to our games and cheer us on. It was a no brainer to ask him to write me a letter of recommendation when I applied to Albion College.

On a visit to Albion, I sat down and talked with a counselor. It was then that he told me I was accepted to Albion. It was a good thing because no one else wanted me. I bravely asked, "How in the world did I get in? My GPA was nowhere near what Albion wanted and my ACT scores were below average." The counselor took one look at me and said, "Your letter of recommendation from Mr. Kisken." He showed me the letter that my grumpy math teacher had written for me. What stood out is "extremely hard working and rises to the challenge both in the classroom and on the lacrosse field."

I loved Albion because they looked beyond scores.  They relied on the words of someone they didn't know and believed that I would be a good fit with their school.

 It was at Albion where I found my niche. I had always been creative and realized visual arts was going to be my major along with becoming a teacher. I still struggled with the CORE classes I had to take. Although I studied and had tutors, I failed many tests but did every paper and project assigned to me. I graduated with a B average, something I found myself proud of.

The struggles I had during my school years were worth it. They taught me to be creative and hard working. They also have helped me become an excellent teacher. I don't very often see the inside of the box because I am always on the outside. I credit that to my own struggles.

As I mentioned in a recent post I have been taking a part in a writing contest through lesson planet. I was ecstatic when I learned that I was runner-up a few weeks back and received a prize because the first place person didn't claim it. The following was posted to their FB page yesterday:

Wow, the past five weeks have flown by! We're excited to wrap up our Summer Writing Challenge with an argument prompt tomorrow, but first, congratulations are in order! We are excited to announce Elana Waugh as week five's winner! Her use of dialogue definitely redefines the idea of an informational text. 

I post this because I am proud. Proud because I know where I started and how hard I worked to get where I am today. And of course, here is my winning entry...

                "Mom, you are not doing it right," my seven year old son tells me. "You are supposed to have straight elbows, not bent."
                I am a 39 year old runner. It is mid July and incredibly humid.  My son  and I are standing on the deck just out the back door of our house. Although I am a teacher, today I am a student. My son is teaching me Good Form Running, a program he learned in gym this past school year from his gym teacher. The program was created by co-owners of Playmakers, a specialty running store in Okemos, Michigan.  The goal of Good Form Running is to learn four simple techniques that will help a runner become  more efficient and healthy while running  resulting in less injuries.
                "How is this?" I ask on my second attempt.
                "Good Mom," he says in approval. "Now drop your arms so they make a capital L at your waist."
                I can't help but think the terminology he was taught isn't exactly what the program teaches, but he was a first grader this past school year, and this is the language the students probably understood.
                "Okay the next step is pancake feet. We don't have a mat like my teacher did but when you run your feet are supposed to be flat like a pancake and quiet, like this," he says as he runs around.
                When he is done, I run around the deck for him to critique my "pancake feet." When I finished, I asked, "How did I do?"
                "You were a little loud. You'll need  some practice."
                "The third step is to not have a big hole between your two legs when you are running. You want your hole to be medium," my seven year old explains.
                As I watched his example, I realized he was talking about the size of the stride between each step.
                "The last thing you want to do is lean forward a little bit but make sure your body is straight and not bent." He ran around the yard with all four steps put into motion. I was mesmerized as I watched his graceful form.
                The next morning I went out for an early eight mile run in the rain. It was the best run I have had in 22 years of running, and it was all thanks to my seven year old teacher. 

John running his first mile race

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Today...I Ran for my Mother

I had no desire to do any exercise with my first two pregnancies except maybe walk around the neighborhood. I craved pizza with the first and oreos with the second. The third, however, was very different. With the third, I craved running. All I wanted to do was run two miles every morning, and I did. On days that I didn't run, my body was upset with me. At about seven months pregnant I ran a five mile race and felt fantastic! A week after that, I attempted to run a 5K and made it about a mile but then had to walk the rest of the way. The baby was too big, and I was uncomfortable. I officially stopped running with her that day, and then I got sick.

I don't get sick. During my K-12 education, I missed school one day, in seventh grade, with a fever. It is the only time I got sick. Even when I became a teacher, I would have your typical cold, but nothing I had to miss school over until then. I had bronchitis, a sinus infection, and developed exercise induced asthma. The bronchitis was so bad by the time I went into the doctor, I had to have multiple breathing treatments before my doctor would let me leave. Armed with meds and an inhaler, I spent the next four days in bed.

Fast forward three and a half years later.

A few weeks ago I was finding that my inhalers weren't really working for me. Funny thing with exercise induced asthma is it is not really consistent. It had been over a year since I had to use the inhalers and my exercise routine didn't really change. I didn't even have much trouble during my workouts but rather in the late afternoon, long after they were over. I went to the doctor and she diagnosed me with an inflammation around my lungs caused by pushing myself a bit too hard and put me on an inhaler plan until further tests in the next few weeks. I let up a little bit these past few weeks during my training for today's race and cut out my weight classes, spinning, and boot camp. I think it was a blessing in disguise. 

I don't remember an Ele's Race where it wasn't hot, humid, sunny, and about 80 degrees until today. The weather was perfect-55 degrees and overcast. My friend Cora, who is just naturally fast, was my pacer. We started out fast and by the time we left Jackson National Life she was telling me to speed it up. Our goal was to run a 7:15 first mile. She talked to me the whole way telling me to let the road pull me in. Once we turned the first turn, I was instructed to watch the flags. We picked it up at one white house until the  first mile clock and made sure to stay in the middle of the road, away from the water tables. We ran our first mile in 7:05. That first mile was tough for me. Not because my legs weren't in shape, but because I could feel it in my lungs. I just kept thinking of the fight my mom dealt with. My asthma can be fixed, per say, her cancer could not. After the first mile, we were able to back down just a hair but focused on seeing her husband and four children at the turn around point  cheering us on. We were at  a great speed until we were passed by two men, both pushing double baby joggers, with two kids in each stroller. That was enough for her to push me a bit further. At all times she was a few strides in front of me, encouraging me and telling me to get up there with her. By the time we got to the 2nd mile, we were at 14: something. I want to say 30 but I could be way off. All I know is our split goal was to be there at 16:00. Having a bit of a buffer is good because for me, I tend to falter between mile 2 and 3. If it wasn't for Cora, I probably would have not gone as fast as I did. At one point between mile 2 and 3, a father and his son passed us and she said, "Stick with them." I did my best to, but I am not sure if I passed them or they passed me. I just kept thinking of my mom. When we turned back into Jackson National we had about half a mile to go. Cora kept telling me I had x amount of time to get to that finish line. She dropped back behind me and continued to tell me to push myself, give it all you got, and you are almost done. I crossed the finish line in 23:45, 14 seconds faster than what my goal was and two minutes and ten seconds better than my best time.

I know I made my mother proud. After all, she was the one to instill hard work and goal setting into me. I just wish she were here today to see it.

Ele's Race 2013

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Tomorrow...I Run for my Mother

I was 25 years old when my mother passed away from ovarian cancer. I was the same age she is in the photograph at the end of this post, which also happens to be my favorite one of her. It was on June 5, 1998. This past June was the 15th anniversary of her death, and more so than any other year,  has been very hard for me. I am not sure if it is because 15 years seems like a milestone or the older my children get, the more I wish that she could be here to spend time with them, watch them grow, and celebrate the little things. I needed to do something to help me get through this difficult time, so I threw myself, full force, into something I am very passionate about: helping children.

For a few years I have raised money for Ele's Race. Ele's Race is a 5K that raises money for Ele's Place. Ele's Place is a nonprofit healing center for grieving children and teens. Families are not charged for using their services. This year I decided  to raise $1500. I wanted to raise $100 for each year that my mother has been gone. I am happy to announce that with the help of 53 generous donors, I have surpassed my goal.

My other goal in this process is to set a PR (personal record) in the 5K since the death of my mother. With the help of a good friend, I have been working very hard at improving my speed. I am a runner, but I typically don't push myself when I run. Let me tell you that this has been the first time since my freshmen year  college cross country days, almost 21 years ago,  that I have religiously done mile repeats, half mile repeats, and tempo runs each week to get faster. To set a PR, I need to run 25:54 or faster, but I would really like to run 23:59 or faster. I am not sure why I am stuck on that faster time, but I am. Whenever I would feel like quitting during those repeats, I thought of my mother going through chemo or looking so ill but still smiling when she talked to me. Nothing could be worse than going through what she  did. So what did I do when I wanted to give up? I pushed myself, like she did, until the very end.

Tomorrow I run for my mother. I run for all the children and families that have lost a loved one too early. I run for Ele's Place, a great organization in the town I live in. And I run for me, hoping to make my mother proud again.

My mother at 25

If you are interested in helping my cause, please click on the link to read my story and donate.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Let's Compare Feet

One of the things that I enjoy about lesson planet's weekly writing challenge is the fact that the essay can be no more than 400 words. It has been extremely hard and challenging for me. After the first week, I put a strategy in place as to how I was going to attack this challenge. Each week, I write the essay. I don't look at the word count until I am done. When I am finished, I then go back and figure out how to cut out enough words to get to the max of 400. This has helped me to be more precise with my word choice and delete words or phrases that are unimportant. This also got me thinking. How could I apply my strategy when teaching my students to write? I have thought up a few lessons that I am going to try out with them in the fall that revolve around my own strategy. I will let you know how it goes, but for now, I will continue to enjoy my summer vacation.

In week four's writing challenge, we had to write about an emotional or physical scar and tell how it came to be. Here is my story in 398 words:

                 "Let's compare feet," my grandmother has said to me every time I have seen her for the past 20 years, until recently.

                 You see, I have my grandmother's feet. I was the lucky one to inherit her not so great feet and she loved it! Not because she wanted me to feel her pain but because she had something in common with one of us that she could consistently argue wasn't as bad as hers . These feet of mine are both a blessing and a curse.

                I was 26 years old when I had an operation that fixed my left foot. My left foot had a bone that was fused together when it was supposed to be separate from the one it was fused to. Because of this, I ended up walking on that bone and the left side of my left foot came off the ground a bit. I was finally at the point where the pain was becoming unbearable.

                The operation was called Triple Arthrodesis. It was supposed to take three hours and ended up taking seven. Apparently my bones were so fused together it took a little bit longer to break them apart and refuse them correctly. The doctor ended up taking bone from my left hip to use in my foot and had to extend one of my tendons on the back of my left leg to compensate for the new arch he put in my foot.  While working on my foot, he found a lot of arthritis and ended up scraping it out. He said I had the foot of a 75 year old lady!

                I spent the next month on bed rest and three months after that in a cast. It took almost a year for me to relearn to walk without a limp. This operation left me with three scars: one on the top of my left foot, one on the back of my left calf, and one on my left hip.

                My grandmother is 93 years old today. Recently, I went to visit her in the hospital. The first thing she asked was, "How are your feet?" She is not doing so well and will probably pass away soon, but I am the lucky one blessed with her feet because every time I look at those scars I will think of her and hear her say, "Let's compare feet!"

My son showing my grandmother (his great-grandmother) how to play minecraft.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

You Must Bow When You Speak to Me!

For the past five weeks I have been entering a weekly writing contest put on by . All the weekly prompts are based off of the Common Core Standards. I was pretty excited when I received an email that said the person who won week one did not claim their prize and since I was the runner-up, I had a chance to claim it, which I did! The topic for the first week was to write a 400 word max. narrative beginning with the sentence: I sit here writing this in the kitchen sink. And ending with: Are there any questions? I knew exactly what I was going to write after reading the first sentence. Here it is:

               I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. Overnight my three year old has turned from a sweet girl to a demanding princess. It all started after school on Friday. As I walked through the back door, I was greeted by my daughter Sophie. "Hi Sophie," I said as I did each and every day after school, "did you have a fun day?" But something was different today. She was dressed in head to toe princess garb complete with high heels and a tiara, and she had a look in her eyes that I had never seen before.
                "I am not Sophie," she spoke back to me. "I am Princess Sophia, and you must bow when you speak to me!"
                 I was a bit startled by this because it was unexpected. Sophie is the youngest in the family and always following her older sister, Kate,  around. They are 18 months apart and the best of friends. This is something I would expect from Kate but not Sophie. Kate is a creative girl who can make everything out of nothing. Maybe Sophie was picking up on Kate's creativity.  I decided to play along.
                "I am sorry Princess Sophia," I said as I bowed to her. "May I come in and put my things away?
                "Yes," she replied with the wave of her wand. She followed with, "When you done, I am hungry." I knew better than to correct a princess's grammar. I was afraid of getting yelled at!
                "What would you like to eat Princess Sophia?" I said as I bowed to her.
                 She sauntered over to the white fridge in her sister's yellow Belle plastic high heels, which made her look much older than three. She opened it with a small grunt and stood there looking over the contents for something to eat for dinner. I watched her for a moment wondering when she became old. Where was my baby that snuggled with me constantly? The one that didn't walk or talk until 15 months when she had tubes put in. "Hey Sophie, you are wasting energy. Decide what you want and close the fridge." Right away I knew my mistake.
                She glared at me and said, "I am not Sophie. I am Princess Sophia and you must bow when you speak to me. You are bad. Now go sit in the sink.  Are there any questions?"
Princess Sophia