I inadvertently learned a new word today. I was following the array of posts and articles on happiness and gratitude. Long ago, my husband noted that he had never met anyone who worked so hard at being happy. It was a hard-fought learning from my childhood that has become as natural as breathing, albeit sometimes breathing with a harsh chest cold. The morning reading included yet another article on how the Danish have a long standing record as being the happiest people in the world. Hence the new word – hygge (hue-gah).
The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Meik Wiking, CEO of The Happiness Research Institute, is one of the bibles of this Danish word. Yet, another internet discovery. I was taken through a you tube walk through the homes of both a self acclaimed 100% Danish expert returning from a hard day at work and Scottish Diane in Denmark who is married into the expertise. Apparently life’s simple pleasures really are the best. Wiking lists 10 things that can be found in the typical Danish home to create the comfy, cozy context to induce this relaxed sense of security and contentment. It includes everything from candles (or a fireplace), lamps, blankets, books, hot beverages, to wood furniture, comfy clothes and thick, wooly socks. Apparently I am well on my way to developing my own hygge expertise. I am certainly committed to doing the research.
For obvious reasons, I am thinking a lot about mothering today. Mother’s Day tends to do that. I was fortunate to have a mother whom I adored and provided an amazing model of steadfast love, tenacity and optimism that I have carried with me into my adult life. I have also had many other woman who have mothered me, including my step-mother, my grandmothers, special aunts, special friends and mothers of my best friends. They listened to my stories and told me theirs, gave me advice, sometimes solicited and sometimes not so much. They put on the kettle to solve the problems of the world or drove directly to Baskin-Robbins 31 Flavours. Yet, what they all had in common was that we laughed together, talked and played a lot. Conversations and learning were not planned events but came out of hours and hours of time spent together.
When my own kids were very young and I was frustrated in the midst of a messy house in the suburbs, surrounded by laundry, I made my best mothering decision. The sunshine beaconed but I was nowhere near finishing any of the housework or laundry. I knew at that moment that I needed to choose. I was going to clean the house and finish the laundry or we were going to the park. Going to the ski hill, going hiking or biking, going to the beach, going to the park, going to the library or going in the hot tub won. The house was messier than aspired for, but I heard the stories my kids were willing to share, fed their interests, laughed and got regular doses of joy. On the downward slopes on the parenting roller coaster, they provided the promise of better days to come.
I remember reading once that regardless of teacher training methods experienced, teachers often taught in ways that were most familiar to them. For me the biggest influences on me as a teacher, were the women who mothered me. Beach time and double solitaire with my Mom. My Auntie Myrna and her “What’s your story, Morning Glory?” Knitting, crafting and collecting stuff with Nanny Keenan. Endless games of Yahtzee and Parcheesi with Grandma Derksen. Playing cops and robbers with my step mother in the convertible en route to Mayfair Market and annual trips to Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farm and the mall. Swimming up and down the pool with Mrs. Patrick debating anything and everything. These were woman who liked to spend time with me, laughed freely and played with me. What I brought with me into the classroom was a healthy appreciation of how I learned in environments where I was free to laugh and play with ideas and take more than one kick at the can to get it right. They also taught me the importance of seizing the opportunity as it presented itself. I feel so very grateful to the women who have mothered me. They have helped me to learn the most important things I needed to do as a parent and as a teacher.
This December is my last as vice principal at Tecumseh Elementary School. I have been at the school long enough to work, learn, play and share experiences with enough children and adults to make leaving a hard thing to do. Many Tecumseh students have heard my heartfelt speech that you choose everyday if you are going to make someone else’s life a little bit better or a little bit worse. I just realized that I have missed an important element. You have to understand that you impact others with the things you choose to do and the things you choose not to do. During my time at Tecumseh, particularly this past December, the Tecumseh school community has chosen to show me that they care about me. That choice has touched me deeply.
The cards, songs, poems, books and kind words show that you understand the things that are important to me and are grateful for our time together. I love that I have been able to help someone learn to talk to people and make friends, make someone feel special by saying hi and smiling, make someone else feel like they can kick a soccer ball or code or blog or learn English or choose who they want to be. I’m grateful to have talked and listened and laughed and learned with you. I appreciate that many of you have learned that strength can be physical but also standing up for what is right and believing in yourself.
Staff gave me a beautiful silver necklace with the wolf symbol crafted by Harold Alfred, as my parting gift. This symbol was also given to me on a card when I left Norquay Elementary School. I love it. As you well know, I am very interested in Indigenous ways of knowing and worked hard to further our collective understanding of our history and traditional indigenous teachings. I take the selection of this wolf symbol as a huge compliment and inspiration. The wolf represents great strength, is considered wise and powerful, chooses one mate for life and demonstrates strong loyalty to family. Not a bad symbol to have chosen for you!
I’ve learned many things about strength of purpose at Tecumseh. I love that staff signed me up for the Bike to Work Week and tested by ability to persevere until I could pedal up the hills from Kits to 41st and Commercial Street WITHOUT getting off my bike. I love that so many in the school community invested in our We Welcome Refugees project to show the strength of our conviction that Canada is a welcoming country that demonstrates empathy and belief in what people have to benefit our country. I love the enthusiasm that Tecumseh students bring to new learning and challenges. I love that so many students have the strength to continue to try even when they fail or the task is really hard or maybe not even fair. I also value that the families in our school community are so invested in creating a better future for their children, often in the face of significant challenges. My Mom struggled raising two daughters and supporting her extended family as I was growing up. I admire the same tenacity in our Tecumseh families.
Students, staff, parents and community partners have shown me in so many ways that they value the relationship we have developed over the years. I cannot tell you how much it means to me that the relationships we have developed means as much to you, as they do to me. I am so grateful for our time together and I wish all the very best for you in the future.
P.S. I am also grateful to Harold Alfred for creating my very special and beautiful gift.
The return to school after job action has been fraught with complexity and things to do. This week we hit a moment of pause and celebration. It is one of those moments that become one of “the moments” that make all the difference in a life. Canadians, whether by nature or training, are good at manners. The workweek is filled with please and thank you. However what made this week a little different was the decision of a staff to say a collective thank you, not at the end of something but in the midst of it. On a Thursday after school, our staff took the opportunity to breathe and express gratitude for the things they have appreciated most from their school administrators. The demands don’t dissolve but they continue with a lightness of heart and a smile.
The Facebook phenomenon of public expressions of gratitude can be dismissed as the latest fad. However when you look at the research pointing to the higher degree of happiness in developing countries, compared to developed, consumer-based cultures, the concept becomes worthy of another look. This year as part of my teaching assignment, I am teaching a Grade 3/4 class on Mondays and Tuesdays. Students have started their “Thinking Books” to draw, web, observe and scrapbook ideas to write about. Everyday at the back of the book, students record one thing they are grateful for. I set out thinking it would provide students with a positive frame to contribute to good mental health and perhaps serve as another source of ideas to develop in their writing. What I am discovering is that they want to share what they are grateful for and it is taking on a life of its own. I’m curious as to the impact that it will have in the culture of the classroom, student writing and other possibilities.
It’s a rainy Saturday morning in Vancouver and our little two-bedroom condo is filled to the brim with relatives poised to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. I have stolen to the local Starbucks to let everyone sleep and ponder the week. And yes…I am feeling so very grateful.