Five-Minute Friday: Abandon

(Note: “Five-Minute Friday” is an activity I participate in based on Kate Motaung’s blog. Each week, Kate posts a one-word prompt, and people write for five minutes straight, free-write style with no editing and no over-thinking.)

Abandon.

There was a post going around on Facebook attributed to Pope Francis, suggesting what Catholics give up for Lent. Not the typical vices like alcohol, swearing, or sweets, but giving up negative mindsets, harsh words, etc.

What thinking, and resulting language, do I need to give up?

Last night, I had a new learning related to this idea.

Our son is a Type 1 Diabetic, and when he was first diagnosed, I tried to find books, tv shows, or movies with diabetic characters (for him or for me).

The search was dismal.

There’s Stacey in Ann Martin’s The Baby-sitter’s Club series, but other than her, just about every time a character has diabetes, it relates to a negative plot twist (often the death of said character, as was the case of the wife who died in Memento, or Julia Roberts’s character in Steel Magnolias).

I lamented this discovery to my husband, who at that point had written a book. He vowed that the next book he wrote would have a diabetic character that kids like Owen could relate to.

Fast forward to that book’s completed draft. Brendan (husband) gave a copy to one of the nurse educators at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital for feedback on the medical aspects mentioned in the book.

One of her comments gave us serious pause: a few paragraphs ago, I referred to Owen as a “Type 1 Diabetic,” yet this phrasing bothers the diabetic community, as the preferred language is “a child with diabetes” (or some such variation).

I understand the logic, as it aligns with the terminology we use in education. A child is not “a dyslexic” but rather has dyslexia. The diagnosis is not the person; it is what the person lives with.

I get it.

And yet.

I have always referred to my father as “a diabetic,” not someone who had diabetes. As far as I can remember, I learned this language from him, who referred to himself the same way (if he mentioned his diagnosis at all, which was rare).

Maybe this is the problem. I have been operating under terminology from the 1960s, when my dad was diagnosed. And, from an English teacher standpoint, economy of language matters to me. Why use 4 words (“a child with diabetes”) when you can communicate the same idea in 2 (“a diabetic”)?

Times have changed, though, and, actually, it’s not the same idea, which was the nurse’s point.

Brendan and I discussed the nurse educator’s note. Brendan was going to change the wording. I disagreed.

“I see the politically correct language she’s promoting, and I get why,” I said, “but if the book is written in the first person from a teenaged diabetic’s point of view, is that really how the character thinks of himself?”

He pondered my point, and I might have convinced him. But I had an idea, one that I thought would confirm my point of view.

“Why don’t you write that sentence both ways – the original way and the way the nurse suggested, and let Owen decide?”

Brendan gave Owen the two passages, and at first Owen said they were the same.

Brendan said, “No, there’s one slight difference. Which one is what you would say? One is the way a nurse said it should be, and one is the way I wrote it.”

For the record: Owen is not a diabetic. He is a child with Type 1 Diabetes.

Abandon any ideas or words to the contrary.

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Five-Minute Friday: Purpose

(Note: “Five-Minute Friday” is an activity I participate in based on Kate Motaung’s blog. Each week, Kate posts a one-word prompt, and people write for five minutes straight, free-write style with no editing and no over-thinking. I admit I did this one untimed, but I did not edit or over-think.)

Today, I benefited from divine intervention, and I am so grateful.

Rewind a handful of years to when a wonderful therapist told me I ought to check out Brené Brown’s work because I “might find it helpful.” I googled her TedTalk and was crying at my office desk halfway through.

Brown is a lot like me – she’s an academic, a Ph.D. who likes data and frameworks and intellectual understanding, and she explained the root of the majority of my “issues” in one TedTalk when she explained her own breakdown “spiritual awakening.”

Since watching that TedTalk, I have read all of her books and taken some of her online classes. I recommend her work to people all the time, particularly people like me who are recovering perfectionists. Her work has changed my life, and I don’t say that casually. (If you think I am a Type A, over-achieving perfectionist NOW, you have no idea how much worse all that was pre-Brené.)

So imagine my delight when I saw her name listed as one of the keynote speakers at this year’s NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) Conference, which I knew I would be attending as part of my job. (Sir Ken Robinson and Susan Cain were two of the other keynote speakers, so NAIS really went all out this year.)

I scanned the program to see if she would be signing books after her talk, and it seemed unlikely. I even “asked her people” on her FB page in case the program had an error (no response). As I was heading to the airport, I grabbed her latest book, and my favorite, Rising Strong, from my shelf just in case.

This conference was good, but I did not enjoy it as much as last year’s. I had some work deadlines I had to meet that coincided with this trip, so I was on my laptop in between sessions and working well past what should have been my bedtime. My plans to get it all done by dinner last night so I could be rested and truly enjoy Brené’s talk today went out the window when I was still working on a presentation at 1:30 this morning (another story for another time).

Sir Ken’s talk this morning perked me up a bit, but I was utterly exhausted by lunch.

Readers, I committed a cardinal conference sin, which I confess to you now – I skipped a session I had planned on attending so I could take a nap. I have never done this before in my history of conference-going.

Brené was scheduled to speak in the ballroom at 3:15, so I headed back to the conference by 2, hoping to beat the crowd and get a front row seat. The side entrance I had planned to take to the ballroom was closed off, so I asked a staff member how to get back to the main one. She took me through the bowels of the convention center while telling me she is a third grade Baltimore teacher on strike given budget cuts, and as she is a relatively new hire, she expects to lose her job. She told her husband it might be time to move.

As she opened some secret door to let me in, I realized the doors were all closed for a reason – the room was not scheduled to open until 2:45. My escort either did not know the rules or saw me as an exception to them, and as a gesture of thanks, I gave her my card and told her if she wanted to move to Cincinnati, let me know. (I have never done this before, either – a day of firsts!)

The front row was reserved for the conference planners, whom I respect (see earlier note about going all out this year), so I took a center aisle seat 2 rows back. With time to kill, I got out my laptop and continued working on the project that kept me up till past 1:30 when I heard a familiar voice.

Brené’s Texas twang.

She had graced the stage for a sound check.

Brené’s work is about courage and vulnerability and showing up. I proved I’ve read and internalized her message by grabbing Rising Strong and a pen from my bag, tossing my laptop aside, along with my wallet and hotel key, and marching up to the stage. She waved me up the stairs.

“I’m being brave,” I said. “Would you sign this please?”20170303_181356

“Absolutely.” She glanced at my nametag.

There’s some monologue here that I can’t quite recall. I’m pretty sure I told her I loved her and that I was so excited to be having this moment. I realized I had my cell phone in my jacket pocket and asked for a picture, for which she graciously posed.

Of course, her talk was amazing and was the shot in the arm I needed to remind myself of the principles she’s written, which need to be practiced regularly, but, you know, I’ve been “busy.”

One of those practices is gratitude.

So, I am thankful that I put my guilt aside and listened to my body and took that nap. Had I not done so, I wouldn’t have arrived back when I did.

I am thankful I20170303_143450 met the staff member who ushered me in when I shouldn’t have been there.

I am thankful I packed my book and that Brené signed it.

I am thankful no one stole my laptop or wallet or hotel key as I was fangirling.

And that staff member’s story is not lost on me; I am thankful for a job that sends me to conferences so I can have divine experiences like these.

Five-Minute Friday: Limit

(Note: “Five-Minute Friday” is an activity I participate in based on Kate Motaung’s blog, linked at the bottom of the page. Each week, Kate posts a one-word prompt, and people write for five minutes straight, free-write style with no editing and no over-thinking.)

“The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice.”

The Boston Globe featured this quote in its “Reflection for the day” during my time in college. My father would send cards stuffed with newspaper clippings (I remember one about a skinny-dipping grandmother he thought would amuse me), random comics, these Boston Globe sayings, and a $20 bill. This particular saying, though, has been one of my go-to mantras because its truth applies to so many areas.

Recently, I attended a conference on Professional Learning Communities, and one of the keynote speakers talked about educational research and why some distrust it. One of the many reasons is that research is limited. During my doctoral coursework at Boston College, professors repeatedly drove home the notion that all research is perspectival. What we “find” is limited to the research question we asked in the first place, and the questions we chose to ask are influenced by our knowledge base (or that of our funding source).

The keynote speaker also said we had to be wary of any researcher who has not changed his or her mind. He said the mark of a true scholar is one who can say what researcher Richard Elmore and others said in a recent book: “I used to think…and now I think…” (Side note: I believe this ability to go back to the research with new knowledge and hindsight and revise one’s thinking also makes for strong leaders. I have never understood criticizing politicians for changing their stance on a topic based on time and new knowledge.)

Hearing this speaker made me wonder what fundamental “truths” I have changed my mind about based on my limitations and what I once failed to notice but now see quite clearly. Here is a list of some at random, indicative of a freewite:

I used to think that academic achievement reflected one’s intellectual abilities, and now I think it reflects one’s ability to “do school.”

I used to think that being busy was a badge of honor and a sign of productivity, and now I think that if you are too busy to relax and enjoy leisure activities, you are not as productive as you could be.

I used to think that meritocracy explained how people got ahead, and now I think meritocracy explains how people are blind to their privileges.

I used to think that if you are with the right person, marriage is easy, and now I think that all good relationships are the reflection of hard work.

I used to think seafood was disgusting, and now I think perfectly cooked salmon is divine.

I used to think that vulnerability was a sign of weakness, and now I think it is the greatest sign of strength.

Time’s up, readers, but I am very curious about what you have changed your mind about lately. Please comment if you’re willing to share!