At the end of my Parenting Magazine’s Mom Congress 2012, my DC host Amber asked me what all I had taken away. Had I learned anything? Had it helped? I told her I wasn’t ready to talk about it – too much to process. But I tried anyway, and after about an hour of conversation, found myself wound up in frustration.
There is so much I want to do, that I felt I couldn’t make any real decisions. My seriously passionate interests include education reform for all kids, education reform and advocacy for gifted kids, homeschooling my own kids, literacy efforts, the arts (especially in schools), environmentalism and alternative energy engineering, painting (I love to paint, but do it seldom). I want to start a leadership/magnet school that reflects my education values. I want to learn how to make solar panels cheaply. I want to travel and simply talk to teachers and administrators about project based, child-centered learning. And I want to give my kids the education they need. I’m all over the place.
Amber sat back with a big smile on her face. “Gwyn,” she said. “so what you’re saying is ‘there’s just so much music?'” She was of course referring to my recent blog post about my son’s own struggle to ride his ‘wave of intensity’ as I had called it. What could I do but laugh? She had nailed it. It appeared that I had my own wave to ride.
One of the biggest gifts I gave myself that week was a full day after the conference to wander the Washington mall, check out the fabulous museums, and simply have some quiet reflection time before I returned home to my full and crazy life. I walked all day, soaking in inspiration from the masters, absorbing the crowd’s energy and enthusiasm of the science centers, comparing the absurd differences and similarities of Ron Mueck’s The Big Man (which I saw at the Hirschhorn) with the stoic Lincoln Memorial. Oh, come on. It’s entertaining.
With tired feet, a full heart, and an overfull head, I stopped to eat at a little cafe in the National Gallery of Art. It served as the perfect setting for me to begin dumping out all I had absorbed over the week and begin to apply it to my life. There were women I had met that weekend who were deeply involved in education policy and legislation, school nutrition, book drives, global vaccinations, you name it. One woman from Montana had pretty much built an entire town around the resort area where she lived, simply because she saw the need. But these were 50 women and I am one. And this is how I broke it all down.
First off, I narrowed my focus to education. Perhaps in the next stage of my life I will learn about and develop THE end-all solar technology that will bring an end to climate change and win me some amazing prize, but I must admit to myself that this it not the time. So. Education. I first did some down-to-earth homeschool planning for my kids.
- I realized that a piece I had gravely omitted this year was global studies. And I also realized that studying a foreign language simply wasn’t optional anymore. This was good – progress.
- I brainstormed a bit on making our final history unit of the year more interesting (nothing like making kids relate to the American Revolution than to compare it to the Hogwarts revolt in Order of the Phoenix).
- I began taking notes on how to keep science and math in our lives, even through the summer (lots of great videos from TED-Ed, Nova Science Now, Vi Hart, Minute Physics, etc.)
- I began dumping out ideas and to-do lists about the release of Eva’s new book The Kinzy Chronicles (you can purchase yours today!), and how to help Ian think about promoting his new composition “After the Storm.”
Education Advocacy for Ian and Eva
Next, I thought about longer term advocacy for the kids. Eva has requested an additional subject acceleration next year so that she can take a sixth-grade science and band class. Ian wants to play in the high school Wind Ensemble and Jazz Band (which also requires an additional subject acceleration).
- I identified the people I needed to contact right away to get this process going.
- I also identified people I needed to talk to about long-range planning especially for Ian. He wants to eventually attend a school like Berklee College of Music, which is fiercely competitive. I have to begin thinking of these things now so that he’ll be prepared when the time comes.
Finally, I opened my focus and began to think about how I could best give back to my community and our schools. Now that I felt I had taken care of my own kids’ needs, I was ready to think about this. The order of this process was essential. This is what I decided was within my reach:
- Recognize my strengths as a hands-on educator and quit beating myself up about not being more involved in policy (at least for now 🙂 ).
- Work on forming a relationship with our district’s superintendent.
- Form a community group for parents and kids who are concerned about education quality.
- Recruit kids for an ongoing writers’ group to be held at our home.
- With the approval of Eva and Ian, increase their partnership with the schools for public speaking opportunities. These experiences have been wonderful for both my kids and their student audiences, and I hope to be more intentional in our work with the district.
- Host a kid-run book drive to collect and distribute children’s books.
- Advocate for increasing our music program in the public elementary schools, which was cut last year. Kids now can’t sign up for band here until they are in 6th grade. Talk with Ian about how we could work together on this project.
- Take advantage of the fact that this summer we are moving from our current rural location to the heart of downtown. We are doing this largely to increase our connection with our friends and the community. Once we get settled we hope to host a weekly “tea” to have folks drop in as they are available. The idea is to create a weekly family living room where people can just drop by, talk about their week, discuss fun things like politics and family, and simply be together.
Though I may eventually go back and cross some things off of this list, it helped me to begin focusing on things that not only benefitted other people, but made me happy as well. I think the secret to making the world a better place is finding joy in what you do. Because if it’s not joyful, you’ll burn out, no matter how noble the cause.
But for now, it’s time for coffee and pancakes. Happy Saturday everyone!
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