kids

The Stare-down

It’s been a big couple of weeks around here. People like to talk a lot about fear – why we feel it, where it comes from, how to stare it down without blinking first.

That’s the kind of couple of weeks it’s been (the trying-not-to-blink kind).

I’m not sure how other people work with this kind of thing, but when I have an important move to make, I don’t take a step if it doesn’t feel right.  I have this kind of hard-wired sense of inertia that does not let me go down a path to see if it’s the right one.  It’s like I already have a sense if it’s wrong and go no further.

So I had been working on the business plan with gusto, diving right into the world of mobile apps, trying to wrap my head around where the market was, is and will be, reading what I can to try to pick the brains of those who do what I will be doing.  And I’m proud to say I kind of love doing that.

But the more I read, the more I understand that, in entrepreneurship and in life, only a very limited amount of useful knowledge can come from the written word (and if you give reading the same weight as experience you truly don’t know what you don’t know).   Time to get out there and experiment, get my hands dirty, leap based on my best guess and then pick myself up when I belly flop and climb back up the ladder.  The reason I have not yet made more progress in this direction is a crucial one: $.

And therein lies the staring-fear-in-the-face-and-not-blinking, even raising my eyebrows and scowling a bit.   I’ve got to make a move.  That’s all there is to it.  And I’m finally in a place where I can.

If you’ve been following for a while, you may recall that I was considering crowd-funding as a possible source of my seed money.  I gave Kickstarter some serious thought and even worked on a pitch before dismissing the idea out of fear.  I was afraid that someone would steal my idea and make the project happen quicker themselves and I would be out of luck.  I still think that’s valid – some gutless person or company with no great ideas of their own may come along and think they can do what I am going to do and beat me to it.  That might still happen.  What I realized while having a mind-bending conversation with my entrepreneurial friend Jay is that, while someone else might have the resources to put something together more quickly than I can, it won’t ever be what I have envisioned.  It couldn’t be.  When you have an idea that has roots in your very heart, that’s not the kind of prototype that can be stolen like in a spy movie. Once I understood that I gave fear my “teacher look”, and it bowed and retreated.  Game over!

So, in the spirit of having funding that aligns with the goal of my project which is, in a nutshell, growing gratitude and community, I’m pursuing a Kickstarter campaign.  This project will ultimately depend not only on my belief in it but others’ as well – and the willingness of all of us to invest in our vision of what Growing Gratitude is to become.

The task at hand for me right now is to put all of this – plus details about Growing Gratitude – in the Kickstarter pitch to start to reach out to those with whom this idea will resonate.  I am hoping to enlist your support when we get there.  I get now that my feeling protective about this idea has less to do with wanting to be the all-powerful CEO of the Growing Gratitude empire and more about being a fierce momma who will do what it takes to keep her creation from being co-opted by those who don’t see its true worth.  What a relief to discover that business decisions can – and should – be managed like personal ones: in alignment with our values and with ever an eye on our goals.

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.

if-it-makes-you-fly

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.

Don’t Look Down!

I tend to think in metaphors. Right now, the imagery I am using to put my current situation into perspective is that of a rock climber. I’ve been bouldering for months by myself. It’s tiring, but around each turn there are unexpected finds that I would not have come across had I not been alone with my thoughts. My project idea has survived a few different reincarnations already, and I need to keep moving and protect the space in my head to get there.

Now I’m at the base of this mountain. It’s breathtaking – and terrifying. I’ve been able to get a little ways up by hoisting myself on fairly easy, obvious footholds. The branding process is complete, and our logo is perfect. It inspires me and is my vision for the company. The COMING SOON page on our website is in the works. I am off the ground but not high. Falling from here would injure my pride more than my body.

The next stage in the journey requires ropes, harnesses and expertise. I’ll need equipment which takes money – more than I have, of course, or this blog post would be irrelevant. The dilemma is one which is familiar to small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs. The options are these: put my family’s house up as collateral to get an SBA loan, lose some autonomy and take on investors or put the project up on Kickstarter and risk someone else taking my idea and launching it before I can get funding together. I have posed all three as negative, though each one certainly has its advantages.

I know that people in business take calculated risks all the time. They use their understanding of the context surrounding their situation to decide whether to leap or to wait. And I suspect that they often do not regret having leaped at an inopportune time if that experience makes them wiser the next time around. Live and learn. But when you don’t have a string of successes beneath you to buffer a misstep, the stakes feel higher.

When the house where my kids sleep is on the line – or I risk losing the opportunity to pursue this dream altogether because I shared when I should have kept it close – I want to pull the ropes tighter, lean towards the rock and steady myself, wait until there’s no wind at all and think hard about my next move. But when in life does that strategy work out for anyone? In life, as in rock climbing, looking down is counterproductive and pointless. Eye on the prize – ever upward – and forward march.

seed-starting-workshop-at-walt-whitman-middle-school

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.