The Other Hardest Part

Some say that the waiting is the hardest part.  Waiting is no fun, but the hardest?  I don’t think so.  Since I submitted the

Growing Gratitude project to Kickstarter for approval, I’ve gone to a party, breakfast with my friends and a pumpkin patch with my family.  The waiting is not the hardest part.  The hardest part, in business as in life, is that which is out of our control.  I can fill the waiting time up with all kinds of activities and forget, even for hours at a time, that it all hangs in the balance.  But taking something which contains a piece of me inside it and handing it over to be measured, judged, perhaps dismissed altogether…it’s excruciating.

That feeling of helplessness could do me in if I let it.   It helps me understand the choices that some students from my school would make.  Why suffer the discomfort of putting yourself out there when you could make a joke, play it off and check out?  The prospect of embarrassment and judgment is a lot to ask from kids who don’t have the life experience to illustrate the payoff of taking such risks.  I’ve got that experience and am still losing sleep and needing to write about it and checking my email every ten minutes!

Ok, so that side of me has had its airtime.  My other side (the one I amplify to drown out the other) is celebrating already!  Of course the Kickstarter folks will “get” the idea, “get” that behind the idea of my project are dedication and commitment to follow-through and that hosting our Growing Gratitude project on Kickstarter will be mutually beneficial.

The optimistic part of me that has allowed me to get this far on this adventure (into my fourth month with no income-earning job and having invested what must be at least 200 hours into fleshing out the vision and the practical steps to realizing that vision) has always believed.  She knows that the job at this point is to help people see what I see and feel what I feel about Growing Gratitude.  She knows that I can and that they will.

I am beyond excited to get the Growing Gratitude app out and on phones across the country, to see what becomes of this idea and how the vision gets stretched in other hands.  I had a daydream the other day.  It took place in this place called Colt State Park in Rhode Island where I lived for a while growing up.  I remember part of it being a strip of grassy park next to a seawall of big, white rocks where waves would glide up and explode.  In the daydream, I’m standing in that park and handing kites out to people standing in line.  They’re trying them out.  It’s tricky doing something new, and it’s windy out there, so there are some brilliant crashes.  Some of those folks give them back, but just as many try again.  I’m giving advice and sharing technique tips, but I end up listening more than I’m talking.  They’re doing things with the kites I’d never imagined.  It’s my kite, and they’re showing me how to use it.

And as we all get better and the show more spectacular, the line is getting longer.  But it doesn’t feel like a line anymore.  It feels like a party—or a festival.  And then I get it.  One of those moments like in the movies when the noise around you fades away and everything slows down so you can see it clearly and take in the whole of a scene, how the pieces fit together.  In that moment I get that they’re our kites, not mine.  And that when you supply the raw materials, like this app, part of the job is being a partygoer, stepping back and taking it all in.

Because it’s more about learning than teaching and more about sharing than selling.  And remembering that is just what I need to silence that other unwelcome voice.  If the folks at Kickstarter don’t “get” it, someone else will.  Giving up on this would be like giving up on us, turning off the wind and letting kites spin into oblivion.  And this party is just getting started.

Wondering what the Growing Gratitude app is all about? Good! Stay tuned, friends! In the meantime, sign up for updates on our website and check us out on our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter!  You won’t want to miss what we have in store!

First Gear

My few weeks after the last post have gone like this: get up and get the boys ready, take my 4-year old to preschool, play with my 7-month old until he goes down for a nap, then race upstairs and work on my business plan until he wakes up, whether that’s 45 minutes later or 2 hours and 45 minutes later. I do the same in the afternoon if he takes a second nap. And then again at night if I’ve still got my wits about me.

I have been poring over research and blogs and professional association lit about the smartphone app market, where it’s been and where it’s headed. Who risks how much and how often to try to get their ideas out there like I’m working on doing with mine. How people collaborate – or don’t – and where to meet investors if you don’t live in Silicon Valley. It’s all fascinating to me, in a real and unlikely way. And while some people breathe business because money is, for them, the endgame, I see it all as means to an end.

My mission in this whopper of an adventure is gratitude for the 21st century. And while I’m not going to go into many more business details just yet, I believe it’s the worthiest of causes.

As a parent, does anything irk you more than moments when your own child could not be less grateful? It gets me right in the gut. Really. I do not love the prompting – “What do you say?” – how that feels as a parent or how inauthentic it feels to the recipient of the obligatory thank you. And it’s not just a matter of those two words, of course. I think gratitude is a way to view the world, a humility we don’t see enough, a way of grounding ourselves which cuts right through the noise of this modern life. It’s so much more than just two words.

I love taking time like this to think about the root of everything I’m doing. While the need to help provide for my family is strong, as is not wanting to bellyflop in front of basically everyone I know, the electricity which powers reading tech blogs and typing like a madwoman in my 90 degree office is the understanding that I have the chance to put something into the world that it may not have had without me and something it will be better for. I say that with belief, not arrogance.

And belief in an idea is basically all I have right now (unless you count the bones of a business plan which will surely need revision once someone else takes a look). But if behind one door there was $50,000 and behind the other the steadfast belief I feel that this can and will work, the choice is easy. While the funding is what I need to move forward, it’s my belief in this project which will help me navigate when the funding falls into place. So I am frustrated and impatient…and grateful.

(Hey there, Mother of Mayhem reader. First of all, my most sincere thanks for taking the time to read my stuff. It really means a lot to me. If you’d like to follow along on the more public, business face of this adventure, I invite you to visit our Coming Soon page, our FB page, and to follow us on Twitter . Stay tuned for more rock-your-world gratitude adventures!)

I’ll Follow the Sun

Middle school. The last day of school. You could power a medium-sized city if you could harness the energy here today. Looking at kids in the lunchroom, it’s almost as if I can see the molecules in their bodies, spinning in random, haphazard fashion—aimlessly but at breakneck speed. It is something to see. (Bring earplugs.)

I try to focus on these abstract, scientific interpretations because I am not yet ready to sink into the reality of my decision. There is nothing more self-centered that believing that things can’t go on without you. And that’s not exactly how I feel. I know that someone else will be helping kids cope with friendship rifts and broken hearts, making calls to social services and playing cheerleader when kids and adults are carrying loads that seem to be more than they can bear. But part of me still wants to be the one handling all of that, partly because I don’t have a clear view of my future life right now. And because I was good at doing all those things, and it’s satisfying to be in a situation doing things we’re good at.

I explained to my 7th graders yesterday that when I am at school it feels like there’s a hole in my heart because I’m away from my kids and that, come August, there will be a hole in my heart where they (my school kids) should be. But I wonder if that’s true. I feel like the few emotional situations that I dread are usually less horrendous and long-lasting than I anticipate in all my fretting about them. I’m not sure if this will be one of those.

Last week my husband suggested I go get a massage. I’ve been on edge, getting migraines, not sleeping well. I declined the massage because I was afraid of letting go of my stress too soon. This school year I had a baby, went on leave and then came back (reluctantly). That was a lot but not all. One of our students died in February, and we spent much of the rest of the year grieving and trying to regain our bearings. Then, in April, a female student went missing. A few days passed with no word from her—luckily, she reappeared, safe and sound. Then there are the daily heartaches that anyone who works with kids is familiar with: broken families, abuse, so many other non-academic situations which interfere with learning and—one of the hardest for me to help kids manage—getting through to adulthood without believing that hurtful things said about them are true.

I guess I just feel like I had the choice between quitting my job to attend daily therapy sessions or forcing all that emotion down as far as it would go. And I haven’t let it out since. So when my husband suggests I get a massage, I don’t visualize relaxation. I see myself breaking into a thousand pieces. And I can’t afford to do that yet.

My plan is to walk out my sadness and grief from this year and my uneasiness about what the future holds for me – walk it all out in the sun, wandering with my sons around our neighborhood, listening to music and letting all of the emotions seep out through my skin a bit at a time. Let it all swim out of my body with my sweat and evaporate out into the universe in particles so tiny they are harmless.

Let the (Hunger) Games Begin!

I quit my job today. I guess resigned is a more appropriate description, as I went to speak with one of my district supervisors in my best heels and holding a carefully crafted letter. If you feel conflicted about quitting your job and want help with a resignation that indicates that you’ve long wrestled with that decision, seek me out. It’s not a skill I hope to use often, but apparently it’s one I possess.

I don’t have another job lined up. I think we’re still in a recession. My business is still several months away from any sort of official launch – my business is waiting for my end-of-the-school-year busyness to subside.

On the way home, I couldn’t find the right music to match my mood. I needed something jubilant with an undertone of a stunned OhMyGodOhMyGodOhMyGod. If you know what kind of music would complement that, please let me know.

I have jumped. I have climbed. And while I am a big fan of the cannonball (check out some previous posts if you don’t get the reference), there’s that lingering belly flop fear. Still, part of me knows that this may have been the hardest part, and it’s done.

Let the (hunger) games begin! And may the odds be ever in my favor.

It’s the next big thing. Really.

Ever have the experience of thinking you have an idea that is the Greatest Idea Ever? You might start by keeping to to yourself, then try it out on someone you trust to be kind – before trying it out on someone you trust to be honest. You might do some research to determine if anyone else has had a similar idea and what became of it. You might dream of the extraordinary impact on your life and the lives of others should the Greatest Idea Ever come to fruition.

It gets heady and ridiculous fast, this Greatest Idea Ever fantasy. It makes it hard to maintain perspective and to think with a cool, calculated mind about which elements of the idea are underdeveloped (at best) and counterproductive (at worst). Sometimes the potential an idea has is so intoxicating that momentum builds before a path is defined. The ball is then rolling, quickly, in no particular direction. I’ve seen this more than once in the field of education: it’s fun and exhilarating in the beginning and ultimately an incredible waste of time and resources.

I spent quite a bit of time in the Greatest Idea Ever phase of my new venture. I’m not ashamed of that because my reading on entrepreneurship has led me to believe that this is all part of the process. And this enthusiastic and nothing-is-impossible spirit of a fresh new idea is what sustains the effort when more procedural and less fun steps need to be taken. For me, working on those steps – like writing a business plan and doing the research to get a sense of how much $ is needed to get and keep this project going – has really helped.

While I still think that most of us can’t get the distance we need to evaluate our own Greatest Idea Ever objectively, doing the daily business tasks can help determine whether it’s worth doing in the first place. If I’m spending a gorgeous Sunday afternoon at my computer instead of outside with family and friends (with no fixed launch date for this idea and no guarantee that it will ever make enough money to support my family or have the societal impact that is really at the heart of the project), the answer for me must be yes.

And still, as I write that, my no-fun pragmatic side is asking the spirited, hopeful, let’s-do-it! part of me if she is sure she’s not totally crazy. I go to sleep with this broken-record bickering in my head. That’s when the people I can trust to be honest factor in. I take them at their word and keep on keeping on and hope that I’m glad that I did.

Good morning, paralysis.

So I talk a good game. I thrive on change and do not tend to do most of anything for more than a few years. I like changing houses and hobbies and usually jobs. But this is no usual job.

I’ve been working at my school for nine years now, five as a teacher and four as an administrator. In that time, I have had the distinct honor of getting to know some of the most amazing middle school kids on the planet. Most people hate the idea of middle school, based both on their own experiences at that age and interactions with kids who are that age. I get it. I used to say that middle school is an acquired taste, but the truth is it’s a calling. And the urban middle school is its own particular kind of fun. It is not for the faint of heart. It requires a sense of humor.

If just the words urban middle school make you want to run screaming, don’t let the door hit you on the way out. I’ll be walking in, ever against the current, sitting down next to some very angry boy and getting him to process through and beyond that anger. I am really good at it. I can get most kids from total denial of any culpability in a situation to admitting that this pattern behavior is an obstacle to their fulfilling their potential in a matter of minutes. My seeing them differently allows them to see themselves differently, and therein lies my source of power with kids.

It’s hard to think about walking away from that.

I have every intention of returning to the world of education in some capacity when I’m in a place in my life when putting in those necessary extra hours at work does not inspire resentment in me. I know for a fact and without a doubt that I don’t have this in me right now, and while I will certainly miss the colleagues I have worked with for almost a decade, I am really going to miss my kids. All 551 of them. And probably the pain-in-the-ass kids the most – they’re the ones I spend the most time with anyway.

We as a society have a tendency to make things into anecdotes, oversimplifying them and thus not really doing them justice. I could tell stories about all the urban school crap – fights, drug busts, weapons, etc., etc., etc. I have experienced all that and more.

But if you asked me to summarize my experience at my school, none of those urban school cliches would even make it in. The story is one of the resilience of kids, many of whom are faced with all-too-adult issues as kids. I think that is true more and more of all kids in all schools, which is one of many reasons that I feel that being present as my own kids get older is imperative. But my stomach hurts when I think about quitting, and it feels like I’m quitting kids and not just my job. There’s really no quitting your calling – and no easy walking away from it either.

In the beginning…

This journey actually started on my son Ivan’s second birthday. I was presented with a need and no way to fill it. As with many dilemmas in the parenting arena, there was no “app for that”. I created one, vaguely, in my head, and I stepped back out into the dining room with something in my hand to offer our party guests.

The idea remained filed somewhere in between “write that novel” and “don’t forget to ____ tomorrow” (the million things I did not get to even after the most productive day at work). I thought about the idea now and then and even shared it with my friend Lea over tacos one day, but it went no further.

Then, this winter, snuggled up with my newborn son Elias and scheming up how to stay that way, the idea jumped down out of the filing cabinet in my head and sat down right on the end of my nose. No kidding. I was in that body-conscious post-partum thing, or I would have taken a picture.

I started scheming in earnest then, with direction – two main directions, actually: how best to work the idea and how to get the funding to make it happen. Both are currently in the works. I have learned the hard way that development and funding are part of a vicious cycle: branding is expensive and necessary to get funding, but potential investors don’t take you seriously if you don’t have the basics, like a logo and a comprehensive look.

They say “it takes money to make money”. They are right. And probably rich. That sounds like something a rich person would say to someone like me. And then expect a thank you. Did you know many investors expect a tenfold return on their investment within five years? Seems like the thank you should be coming from them, no?

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