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  • Parenting…the hardest job

    I recently heard a school parent say that raising her children is the hardest job she has ever had. She was not referring to the countless hours of carpooling them to school and extra activities, although that often poses a challenge. She was not referring to packing lunches, washing uniforms, and monitoring homework, although that is often time consuming. And she was not referring to making doctor appointments, battling the flu and constantly thinking of their health and well-being, although that can be worrisome and emotionally draining. What this mom was referring to, as she reiterated, was the constant demand of “being here now” in the present moment with our children, showing them the way, setting an example and teaching them personal responsibility. This is a real struggle in today’s society, but one that many of you are giving great effort. The demands placed on each of us are great. From work, to family, to the constant demands of email and text. It seems the more people we know, the more demands are placed on our time, the more responsibilities we take on, and the more time taken away from our children. Add to that, screen-time activities, that have been recently described as addictive as heroin and cocaine, all combine to place demands on our time. The very same time and our children are competing for, the same time that makes parenting the most difficult job we ever had. This mom was able to identify a challenge. Parenting, especially in our time and place, is indeed that hardest job we will ever have to do. But this job is one that demands our immediate attention, as it puts our most precious commodities at stake and has our children competing against many other forces. The time we put into it now, pays dividends in the future. To each of my fellow parents—the work you do is very hard. So today, I commend you for giving it your undivided time and attention to ensure that you are modeling how to make good choices, manage time, align priorities and take responsibility for one’s actions so that our children will move forward toward ready to take on the world when they fly from our nest. Best, Katie

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    The Invisible Child

    Have you ever felt invisible? Perhaps you have felt as if your children were tuning you out at some point. Perhaps you were at a social event, having a hard time finding someone to talk to. Perhaps you’ve felt your hard work was not being recognized in your professional life. Or perhaps you’ve felt as if your spouse or another family member was so wrapped up in his/her work or volunteering that they had little time to connect with you.

    I suspect that we have all felt invisible at one time or another in our lives. I remember vividly one such example. I was in first grade, Miss Nowakowski’s class to be exact. Many of my friends had been arriving early at school to present various works of art to our principal, Sr. Lydia Mary. They were in the cloak room discussing her large candy jar and showing off their rewards for presenting their artwork. I longed to be part of that conversation, but I could not break into it. I did not receive the reward, and I had not done the work to “earn” it. This group of girls stuck together all day. During lunch, recess, and choice time. They talked about their next pieces of artwork and what they would choose from the candy jar the next time. When I tried to get close enough to see what they chose, backs were turned and body language told me, “You are not part of this club.” This was confusing, as these were my best friends. I was learning the reality of life that year in the first grade. Sometimes people are invisible, or excluded. Sometimes life was cruel.

    I decided that I was going to fix this. These were my best friends and I wanted back in. I went home and spent hours making the most detailed picture of my view of heaven for Sr. Lydia Mary. I used every colored pencil in my zippered vinyl pouch. The creation more than met my teacher’s five color expectation! That night, I had trouble falling asleep as the excitement grew. I would be back in the group and I would receive recognition from my principal. It would be the best Friday ever.

    I awoke early, got dressed and had my mom put pig tales in my hair. I had to get to school early, as Miss Nowakowski never let anyone leave the classroom once the bell rang. However, I encountered a major roadblock. My older brother was not as quick to get out of bed and had no interest in arriving early to school. Despite a great deal of pleading, we were not as early for school as I had envisioned—and not early enough to visit Sr. Lydia Mary. As I headed to the cloak room, I showed my friends the picture I had created. However, it was apparent I was still not back in the group until the picture was hanging on the office wall and I had my prize in hand. It was at this juncture that I decided to make a very bad choice.

    As Mrs. Nowakowski took attendance, I slipped out the back door of Room 1B. My guilt left as I stepped into the principal’s office. Sr. Lydia Mary made such a fuss over each child that came to visit her that it was impossible to recall your sins in her presence. She pointed out each color, each cloud, and each angel. Then she took out the tape and asked me where I would like to place it on her wall. Naturally, I placed it on the wall near those created by my friends. Then, the candy jar came down. It looked like something out of Willy Wonka’s Candy Factory. I carefully chose a rainbow colored lollipop and headed back to class, and I could feel a smile of pride stretch across my face like a piece of elastic. It was Friday, I had been fussed over by the principal, I had received a prize from her candy jar, and most importantly, I would be back “in” with my friends. Instead, however, my life almost came to an end in the primary hallway that day.

    As I rounded the corner, Miss Nowakowski was standing outside of her room, left hand on hip and right hand pointing at me. My smile must have turned to a look of terror, for in Ms. Nowakowski’s presence, one was very easily reminded of their wrongdoings! Perhaps this is why this particular memory stays with me.

    The feeling of being invisible. It makes us feel uncomfortable, unwelcome and perhaps even causes us to behave in ways not typical of us. Most of us can recall a time when we had to navigate a situation of feeling invisible. I recently read the book, The Invisible Boy by Patrice Barton to our students. I challenged them to look at themselves and to reflect on how they treat others-do they make all friends feel welcome, or do they turn their backs and say, “You cannot be in this group.” Can they empathize with the feelings of others? Do they read body language and listen to words of friends and adults? Do they treat others the way they want to be treated? Do they stand up for others when they are witness to something that is not right? Can they leave their comfort zone to interact with someone this is different from them?

    We use the Second Step Social Emotional Curriculum in all classrooms at Faith Hope to teach empathy, emotion recognition and management, communication, impulse control, self-management, self-awareness, social awareness, relationships skills, and responsible decision making and anti-bullying. These are important life skills that as parents, we want our children to bring into the world with them. We recognize parents are primary teachers of their children expect them to reinforce these skills at home. Please mark your calendar to join us on the evening of March 19th as we host the presentation Ryan’s Story, by John Halligan, father of a middle school boy from Vermont who took his life after enduring bullying both in person and via social media. This powerful story will remind us how important teaching and reinforcing these social-emotional skills are in today’s society.

    Thank you for partnering with our teaching staff to support these necessary social skills so that no one at Faith Hope School feels invisible!

    Best
    Katie

     

     

     

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    The Gift of Time

    This holiday season, we are thankful for the abundant gifts we have received. While the tangible ones were plentiful, it is the intangible ones that really have made the most impact and helped shape us into better people–breaks in routine from busy schedules, time spent with family and friends, and a chance to reset and define new goals. 

    While for many the month of December represented a catch your breath, busy bustling schedule, the activities dictating those schedule are so very important.  Despite the pace, we were modeling for our children the importance of conversation and personal connection, the act of giving and putting others first, and the importance of tradition, whatever that looked like during your holiday season. 

    As we ring in the New Year, our minds are swimming with ideas of how to better ourselves and our families during the upcoming year.  As part of these resolutions, gym memberships increase, diets cookbooks fly off the shelves, new organizational systems are being implemented at home and work, new morning and bedtime routines are being developed for making these transitions run smoothly, and many promises are made to continue to make the time for others that was so important to us during our holiday celebrations.  Many of these resolutions will last, but others will pass as quickly as the ball drop in Times Square.

    If we allow ourselves to step back in time, we will see that what our children might really need is the gift of time–our time. They likely have never heard of Leave it to Beaver or Happy Days, but secretly they long for a piece of the family life portrayed in these television shows of yesterday.  Children learn from the adults in their lives, and this teaching takes time. Family dinners teach values, respect, turn taking conversation skills and conflict resolution.  Time spent enjoying a television show together, building a puzzle, and playing board games allows for conversation around these same values while also allowing for undivided time to really get to know one another.  Reading together allows us to get to know our children on a different level–to really hear their thoughts and understanding of how they process the meaning of life.

    Those tangible holiday gifts will soon be packed away, broken or lost, or their novelty will wear off.  What our children will really take out into the world is the gift of time shared with them and the lessons they have learned from this time spent with us.  This time is important, not just during the holiday season, but all throughout the year.

    In our quest to give our children our best–to give them a childhood better than the ones we’ve lived, have we taken away something  valuable-the gift of our time? Have we replaced that time with modern day gadgets, that if not monitored, begin to replace human interactions? Have we replaced the gift of time with schedules packed full of extracurricular activities at the expense of missing out on a deeper relationship during their most formidable years?  Have we lost sense of the time to teach our children to worship and pray-to really allow them to see that there is something greater than themselves?  Will they take a faith that they are forming now out into their future world?

    Teachers across the country have spent the last number of years adjusting their teaching, firming up their routines and classroom management, and wondering what has changed in the classroom over time.  Veteran staff members will likely tell you that many children are not walking through doors of school with the same motivation, drive and interpersonal skills. The research is plentiful, as are the teaching and parenting resources on developing motivation and grit, listening skills and cooperation, respect and empathy.  Many classrooms have implemented Morning Meetings and Social-Emotional programs to help students navigate and develop these skills.  These programs may help fill a need, but can never do it as completely as the gift of family time devoted to our children.

    It seems as if  only yesterday my two oldest were strapped into car seats in the back of a minivan.  During these times, going to the grocery store to pick up a gallon of milk was an hour-long process.  With each additional child, there was extreme joy sometimes tainted with the thought that I might never survive.   As quick as the recent passing of 2017 to 2018, my oldest two have spread their wings and flown off to new adventures as college students. My middle child is beginning his college search, the twins are navigating their way through their first year apart at different high schools, and my youngest is getting ready to make his first reconciliation. Thankfully, he says sorry freely, but I’ll hold my breath and hope that his first confession does not center around stealing a classmate’s lunch! When I think about all of these changes and the passing of time in my family life, I often find myself reflecting and wondering if I have given each of them the necessary tools–did I give them the gift of my time so desperately needed to make them the people they need to be in order to navigate this new life?  While raising children can seem a daunting task when stuck in the doldrums of any undesirable stage, we must always remember that each stage is short-lived and so, too, is our time with them.

    This year, I am going to give my children one more gift of the season. I am going to extend the gift of my time and try to be more aware of the time they each need from me. I know this will not always be an easy task with multiple children and a full-time job. I will likely fail on many days, as I know I did last year, but I am motivated to become creative and resourceful.  Perhaps if quality time on a particular day involves hours spent carpooling, I will turn off the radio and ask that they disconnect from their phones so we can have a real conversation. Perhaps I will learn to carve out a lunch hour (or ½ hour), to make a call to the college kids to check in on their day.

    When each of my children were newborns, I would often find myself gazing at them as they slept peacefully. I was reminded of the blessings they were in my life and completely filled with hopes and dreams for each of their futures. If I want each of them to go out and live that life I have imagined for them, my time is of the essence. This, I know, and I pray I can successfully give them all the time they need.

    Time well spent, forming our children, is a gift that continues to give for many generations to come.  This time will shape not only our family relationships, but our future world, as well. Happy New Year! May you all find yourselves on both the giving and receiving end of the gift of time

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    The Man on the Bench

    We have recently participated in Advent service projects with both the school and the parish to help the homeless and others in need. It is my hope that we take a few moments to really reflect on those we helped, beyond simple sending in an item or blanket to school. Perhaps for me, a drive to work that added meaning to these projects for me.

    On a recent drive to work, I noticed a man sleeping on a bench on the side of the road. He was wearing torn jeans and he had plastic bags over his shoes to protect them from the morning dew. Shielding his face from the morning sunlight, was a torn winter coat, held together in several places by a few pieces of what looked like Scotch tape. I had seen him twice before, but this was the first time I was forced to stop right next to him at a red light.

    My closeness to him drew me into his story. I wondered what was in the bag that he carried. I know he must have a family, but I wondered if they turned on him when his luck was down, or if they had offered him help that he refused. I wondered if he had once held a job that he recently lost. And I wondered why he did not have a warm home to return to. I decided that maybe I should go through the drive thru at Dunkin Donuts and buy him a cup of coffee, but he was resting comfortably, and I did not want to wake him.

    Almost as fast as the streetlight had turned red, it was green again. As I proceeded down the street, I couldn’t help but think of this man and all the questions he left me pondering. Then I thought of all the things that I had taken for granted that very morning. I woke up to an alarm set on my iPhone, and then walked outside to pick up the morning newspapers-not one, but two. I then headed to the kitchen for a glass of ice water and a quick breakfast. Next, I opened the cabinets to take out supplies to make lunches for my children. Just about then, my youngest woke up and we snuggled on our comfortable couch for a quick story from his collection of books. I took a warm shower, brushed my teeth, dried my hair and took my clothes out of the dryer to get ready for work. I kissed each of my children goodbye, got in my car and drove to school.

    Now I cannot be certain what that man had in his bag, but I was pretty sure he did not have an iPhone, daily newspaper, glass of ice water, cabinets of endless food, a comfortable couch, books, shower gel, hair dryer, toothbrush, clothes dryer, family members, or a car. This man made me realize that I take so many little things for granted. While we always seem to want the new things that we see around us, we need to stop and remind ourselves that even though we might not have as much as one person, we certainly have more than others. Do we have everything we need to survive? How can we help those who are less fortunate this winter? We can learn so much from that man on the bench.

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    Instilling the Spirit of Giving

    Children by nature, look forward to countless gifts during this time of year-gifts from Santa, parents, grandparents, godparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends. It is only natural that they anticipate receiving gifts in abundance.

    I remember when my oldest three children were young. We would return home from celebration Christmas with my side of the family with countless boxes of toys. We had to stop at home to unload the gifts if we wanted to have room for the next leg of the journey, Christmas with the Carden family. We would then visit my husband’s side of the family (not believers in grab bags). Each member of the family would come home with at least one big, black Hefty bag filled with more toys and gifts.

    When we returned home late Christmas night, these gifts would join those from Santa that has been unwrapped in the early morning hours. Despite the joy on my children’s faces, I would feel sick to my stomach that they had received so much, knowing there were many children who had received nothing. I also worried that these early memories of Christmas, would shape their expectations for the future. I decided that one thing I would try to instill in my children at this early age was the spirit of giving.

    So the next year, I decided to make a special date with each of them. We scheduled individual dates to go to the dollar store, each with a $20 bill in hand. They had premade a list of each person in our family that they wanted to buy for, including grandparents. The sky was the limit at the dollar store, and they did not have to worry about having enough money. On each of their special nights, they took a cart and headed up the aisles selecting the perfect gifts. It was on these trips that I discovered which of my children were more decisive than others. Some trips took ten minutes. Others were well over an hour!

    We completed each shopping trip with dinner or a Starbuck’s hot chocolate, depending on what our schedules allowed. This was another great opportunity for me to spend some quality, focused time with each child. After stopping for a treat, we arrived home where I provided wrapping paper and…tape! Children use lots of tape when wrapping. Once the gifts were wrapped, the children placed them under the tree and counted down the days until they exchanged them with one another. This began a new tradition. We would attend our parish Christmas Eve Family Mass. Upon arriving home, the children would give their gifts. One of my favorite memories of all time will be of my son showing me a package under the tree. I can still hear him say, “Mom, you’ll never guess what got you!” Now the story is only better knowing that there was a visible wooden handle and black bristles poking out from the red and green wrapping paper. It wasn’t until after mass that I discovered I was the proud recipient of a dog brush!

    The excitement on Christmas Eve was all about GIVING, not RECEIVING. The looks on their faces were priceless as they waited to pass out their gifts. This was exactly where I wanted them on the Eve of Christmas. My husband and I decided this would be a yearly tradition in our house. Many rolls of electrical tape, screwdrivers, whoopee cushions, nail files, dog brushes, spatulas, snow globes, tubes of hand cream, packs of gum, and Bic razors were carefully chosen, wrapped, and enthusiastically given away.

    We have since graduated from the dollar store, but we keep this tradition alive. For this moment in time, our children enjoy giving gifts even more than they enjoy receiving them. And they always have great stories to share about why they chose each gift that they did. My father, for example, received duct tape and hand goop every year, because he once “fixed the fence.” I received Scotch tape because “teachers need lots of tape.”

    I am happy that we replicate this spirit of giving on a small scale at Faith Hope. As you will soon read in FACTS, our Student Council is asking you to help by looking around the house for new or gently used items that you would like to “recycle” in an effort to GO GREEN! Please do not buy anything, or feel you need to find something to contribute. But if you have items such as gently used coffee mugs, water bottles, change purses, ties, costume jewelry, note cards, make up bag giveaways, Happy Meal toys, etc., please send them in. The collection boxes are in the front hall. Before break, our youngest students will be shopping for gifts for their families. They will do this with the assistance of older students who will help them shop, wrap and make cards. And on Christmas morning, you will see the excitement of giving on their faces.

    I have heard many wonderful stories after first sharing this reflection, of families beginning the “Dollar Store” tradition with their children. It is a busy time of year, but this is time worth spent. From teaching about giving to spending quality time with your child, it is worth every minute. I am happy to say that at ages 21, 20, 17, 14, 14, and 8, this tradition of shopping and giving still holds strong. It remains one of our children’s best memories, and has helped them to view Christmas as a time of giving, not receiving. And like that Christmas Eve night fourteen years ago, they still look more forward to giving than receiving!

    This season, take some time to slow down and experience the true beauty of the Christmas with your families.

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