Monday, May 27, 2019

The Gift of the Chalk Truck

The past 3 years my husband, Mike and I have worked on decluttering our home with our 3 children. We teamed up together and successfully simplified our lives, making our house a place we love coming home to. What made the biggest difference in our journey was not the decluttering, no that was just the beginning. Over time we learned that decluttering was not just about stuff, best said by Joshua Becker, "It was about the removal of anything that distracted us from being present in the lives of those we loved." It was about loving the life we had and owning our lives in a way that was more intentional, becoming intentional about how we invested our time, money, and most of all our love. We learned that by giving to others and giving often we could reap the benefits of joy. 

Over the years we have given many things away, often to people in need. But what we have gained is worth so much more than anything we gave away. As we gave away more and had less we gained more time with our loved ones, owned a more peaceful home, and the biggest gift of all has been the feeling that we finally had enough, the true feeling of gratitude. 

Recently my husband and I had an experience that only could have taken place with our new attitude of giving. My mother and father have an old black truck, a truck with no air conditioning. We live in Georgia and the heat in the summer can become unbearable and at times dangerous for those of a young or older age. Our hearts began having concerns about my parents who are in their seventies dealing with extreme heat. On the days my mother would come over to visit , her cheeks would be flushed red and she would need water immediately on arrival. I could also tell she was reluctant to go home later in the afternoon as the heat became tougher to endure. 

My husband and I after much discussion finally decided to ask my parents to trade cars. We would give them our Nission Sentra with air conditioning and they would give us their truck. Our second vehicle is a Volkswagen Jetta, so we knew we would have one car with air. The decision was finally made when we discussed how we both work at the same school, which is only ten minutes away, driving most days together. We called my parents and while at first they were confused and then reluctant, when we mentioned the concern for their safety they finally gave in. My mother came over that weekend and we exchanged cars. She explained to us she felt she could never repay us, as we assured her that her safety was payment enough. Seeing my mother drive away in her new car with a big smile on her face made us feel blessed. Knowing that this summer they would be safe, more free to take adventures, and seeing her more was in itself a huge gift. A priceless gift.

As she pulled away my husband was excited to get in the old truck, so he took the girls for a spin around the block. When he got back home he and the girls started to wash it up. Then he decided to get some black spray paint and spray over the rust. The truck is about 25 years old, so it started to have a lot of wear and tear on it. As he painted it, he got an idea, what if he painted the back with chalkboard paint, then our 3 girls could chalk the back.

Then he got a BIGGER idea....what if he painted the entire truck with chalkboard paint. He ran in the house to tell me about his vision. At first, I was like "You're going to do the whole thing?" Then I thought, hey if he was willing to give up his comfortable, air conditioning Sentra then he should be able to do whatever he wants with it. As he told me his vision for the chalk board paint, I started to get excited too, visualizing the girls chalking the truck, playing outside, and even having friends draw on it. My husband explained that he could bring it to church or school events and let kids draw making each event more special.

How simple, but how much fun did this all sound? Isn't this what I strived for all along? For us to be a family who appreciated time with each other and experiencing a life full of living?

Mike bought the paint right then and there and finished the truck in a few hours. The girls helped him prime the truck with a layer of chalk and then they hosed it down together, playing in the water.

He then went to the store to get a bucket filled with chalk and when he came back it was good to go.

The girls and us chalked it up, then we brought it to his parents and they chalked it up, a few neighbors who were curious joined in and added some beautiful art, and the next day we took it to the Memorial Day Parade and many people in the community chalked it or at least enjoyed seeing all the art work.

I only heard positive comments throughout the parade. Each person who saw the truck either smiled, asked to chalk it, or quite frankly looked puzzled...most likely thinking why would someone do that to a truck. But in my mind anyone who questions the reasoning might come up with some pretty interesting answers.

The real answer is we did it to create a positive experience for our children and to create lasting memories. Memories that show our children we didn't value things over them, we valued them. We didn't care what the naysayers would say, instead we loved life enough to spread it around for others to enjoy.

When I showed my parents what we had done to the truck and how much the family and community enjoyed it, they felt so joyful. Their humble hearts had a hard time accepting the gift at first, but when they saw we turned the truck into something special, something fun, they felt comfortable knowing that by trading vehicles they had also given us a gift too.

Now on every holiday, we will be taking our newly named Chalk Truck with us, drawing different pictures for each season. Can you imagine how fun this will be for children and adults this Fourth of July while waiting for the fireworks to begin? Can you imagine the conversations we will have with those people around us, building new relationships, and all because we let go of a comfort car and took on a vehicle a little rough around the edges.

In life we have a choice, we can live for stuff or we can live for others. May my family and I continue to learn how to be people with giving hearts, who love others enough to offer the gift of what they need. May our children learn that they have one life to live and that the value of people is more important than the value of stuff.

Alana Stanton is a kindergarten and technology specials teacher at Mulberry Elementary in Gwinnett County, Georgia. She has taught several grades over her 14 year career including K-3 literacy special, first grade, second grade, and kindergarten. Alana believes that relationships always come first in the classroom and the classroom should be a place where students thrive academically, socially, and emotionally. She currently writes for her blog, More Than A Lesson where she shares the stories of her classroom and her heart.
Twitter: @stantonalana

Saturday, May 25, 2019

In Small Moments, Remember The Big Picture

A month ago I attended one of my favorite teachers retirement party. Mrs. Malone was my third grade teacher who always made learning fun and made all of us students feel like we were a favorite. In the year 2000, I was shocked when she showed up at my graduation. She found me among my friends and right away I knew her smile. She gave me a great big hug, told me congratulations, and she was proud of me and always had been. This meant so much to me and I never forgot it.

At her retirement party I started thinking about graduation coming up and if any of my classes would be graduating. I thought maybe I could attend one of my student's graduations.

In my mind one student came up, Lisbeth.
Lisbeth was a student in my second, first grade class. She was a beautiful, kind, and energetic girl who always had compassion for those around her. I will never forget when I first met her on registration. She was my first child to run in the room and was way ahead of her parents. Her smile lit up the classroom and my heart from her first "Hi!" I loved teaching Lisbeth as she had such an enthusiasm for learning.

I learned over time that Lisbeth was a perfectionist and I often had to encourage her to try her best, but to also know we can't strive to be perfect. I worked with her that year to understand you don't have to do everything perfectly, that she was wonderful just as she was and that no score defined her. I taught her how to do positive self talk and often I could tell she was doing just that. Over the year she learned to be proud of her personal best and her anxiety subsided helping her become stronger.

My husband Mike, later taught her in 4th grade. He appreciated Lisbeth's humor and her persisting spirit. The kid always gave her best and she was always herself no matter what. Mike later played a huge role as he helped her family through a tough medical diagnosis. Lisbeth's mother was concerned she should quit her job and home school Lisbeth. Both Mike and I reached out to her mother in person explaining how much Lisbeth loved school and to please reconsider. Her mother with more encouragement from Mike decided to give it the rest of the year. Luckily her teachers were able to show the family that school was the place Lisbeth truly shined.

Over the years Mike and I attended many of her birthday parties and were honored to attend her 5th grade graduation celebration. The family always treated us like royalty, letting us know that being a teacher in their child's life mattered.

I decided I would attend Lisbeth's graduation. I found out which high school she attended and her graduation date. I had 3 weeks to try to get in touch with her family. I started researching and I was able to find her brother and Lisbeth's old social media page.

  In one of her pictures she had the name star I had given her that first grade year, this little star motivated me to keep trying. I looked for emails and phone numbers, but I could't find anything.

After a few weeks, I started to lose hope, so I resorted to pray. "Lord if it is at all possible to see Lisbeth on her graduation day, I would be grateful, but if not please let her know she is loved by Mike and I in some way."

On her graduation day, Today, May 25th I decided it was not in the cards. I was disappointed, but I knew it did not mean I failed, I had loved her, prayed for her, and supported her in many ways and I would have to believe that would be enough.

Then at 8:30 in the morning TODAY, Lisbeth's mother reached out to me in a text. She sent a picture of the high schools graduation. She let me know she appreciated Mike and I and the love we gave her daughter. That Lisbeth loved us and still talked about us.

I am not a crier, but as her graduation pictures started coming in, I bawled like a baby, the tears poured down. Is this the little girl I taught, now a beautiful young woman.

I let the family know how thankful I was to receive their message and how I had been desperately trying to reach out to one of them. I asked if there was anyway we could see her today or this weekend as we had letters we had both written her. The next text made me cry more as she responded,

I called Mike and he immediately left small group and we responded to her parents that we were headed down to her graduation.

We all quickly walked toward the entrance of graduation. It was packed. I knew if I had just come to find her in the crowd without her mother's text we would never be able to find her. I let them know we were under a tent and a few minutes later I could see them walking towards us. I quickly took my girls hands and met them. Lisbeth did not know we were there as her parents made it a surprise. She looked just as she did when she was a little girl, but this time she was a beautiful young lady.

We both looked at each other and had huge smiles, both with a few tears in our eyes. I got to talk to her and tell her how proud I am.  She is headed to The University of Alabama and will be Bama bound. Mike and I always knew she continued to work hard after elementary school.
Before leaving I told her, "Lisbeth I have taught for 14 years and out of all my students you will always remain one of my very favorites. You are so kind, determined, and strong. I want you to know Mr. Stanton and I will always be here for you if you need anything. You will always have a piece of our hearts."

As we left her mother and I hugged. Her mother told me, "I am not sure what happened, but a week ago, Lisbeth said I really miss Mr. and Mrs. Stanton, they were very special to me." I told her thank you for listening to the prompt and reaching out to me.

Being a teacher is a wonderful job and it's one I cherish, but if you are a teacher you know there are times it is tough...tougher than tough. And to be honest at times it can feel thankless. There can be moments that you ask yourself, is what I am doing really matter, do I make a real difference....not just in a day, but in the lives of these children who one day become adults.

Then there are moments like Today, miraculous moments where you truly see you mattered.

You mattered to a family and you mattered to a student. I could not be more grateful for this moment.
I have been blessed and I will never forget it. Mike and I will be printing this picture for our future classrooms.

Why? Because the picture of all of us shows Mike and I teamed up and made a difference in the life of a child. We will look back on that picture many times in the coming years because there will be those days where we need to see the bigger picture.

Life in the classroom can be made up of many small moments. These moments can often seem mundane and routined, but throughout the days, weeks, months, and years those small moments become a bigger picture.

What we do in those small daily moments matter for the big picture. When we are in them we don't always see the impact, but years later we might get the chance to look back and finally see it. See the little girl become a strong woman who shines her light out.

Today Mike and I took a small part in her journey and for me that moment, that journey, is priceless.

Educators and Parents keep up the fight in those small moments because you will make a difference in the bigger picture more than you will ever know.

To My Lisbeth:
You have a heart of gold! Keep shining that light for all to see. How bright the world is with you in it. I love you and I will always be here cheering you on! -Mrs. Stanton

Alana Stanton is a kindergarten and technology specials teacher at Mulberry Elementary in Gwinnett County, Georgia. She has taught several grades over her 14 year career including K-3 literacy special, first grade, second grade, and kindergarten. Alana believes that relationships always come first in the classroom and the classroom should be a place where students thrive academically, socially, and emotionally. She currently writes for her blog, More Than A Lesson where she shares the stories of her classroom and her heart.
Twitter: @stantonalana