Sunday, August 30, 2015

Consider Perseverance

Mowing the lawn this morning, my mind got stuck on the word "perseverance."    This thought was triggered first by the mysterious ivy plant that started to grow on the west side of the house this summer.  "How can this thing grow here?  It wasn't here last year.   I didn't plant it. I even tried to pull it up, but it keeps coming back."   However, like the mouse in Give a Mouse a Cookie, my thoughts wandered around before coming back to my starting place.

This stubborn green growth brought me back to Friday.  A 7th grade colleague started the year with a lesson on grit.  Last year, the sixth grade reading teachers did a project with the theme of perseverance.  The team I work with decided to build on it by sharing another book with our students and doing team building activities around that theme.  Friday, our colleague sent us an email to let us know the kids repeatedly talked about perseverance in some form during their opening discussions. This begs the question: Is perseverance something that is taught?

This lead me to consider my aunt, Connie.  She lost her arm in a farm accident in her late teens.  I do not remember her any other way.  I have never had this discussion with her, but I imagine she had to have gone through a tremendous time of anger, self-doubt, and frustration and most likely still experiences those emotions regularly.  However, what I see when I think of her is not struggle but acceptance- this is who I am- and strength-  I'll take your challenge.  The beautiful quilts she makes are a physical representation of her perseverance.  So, I consider: Is perseverance innate?
A gift from my aunt
And, now I'm thinking about my grandma, Norma.  For twelve years, I was the only girl cousin.   I spent many hours in her kitchen hiding from the boys and listening to her sage advice while she canned our beloved "Sauce".   TJ was diagnosed with diabetes two days before she died.  I had actually planned to leave to see her when TJ was admitted into the hospital.   Someone had told her TJ was sick, but not to what extent.  She was always very worried about the girls and diabetes and I didn't want her to have her last days with this burden.  However, I think she knew.  When I finally did make it to see her, she held my hand tight and told me, "Go home and take care of those kiddos."   Even to the last minute she found humor in life when she expressed frustration, "Dying isn't like the cowboy movies when they just shut their eyes and go."  Ever practical, my grandma.  I try to remember that when my emotions get me flying.  I hear her voice in my head, "Slow down, do what needs to be done."  So maybe, perseverance is an expectation, something modeled, something part of your family culture and norms?  

Take my kids for example, I don't remember ever sitting down with them- any of them, diabetes or not- and having a conversation specifically about perseverance.  We encourage them when they are frustrated, we push them to challenge themselves, we acknowledge bad days, we help them find solutions.   They see us fight and struggle in our own lives.  I have seen tears over painful set changes and lost sites.  I have heard angry words over the unfairness and the frustration of battling an invisible enemy; one who certainly does not play fair. This worries me, especially with two away at college.  It will be hard to manage this old villain in a new castle and I hope they make good decisions.  I have watched TJ find a positive in the fact he has to bring his own cake to someone else's birthday party.  ("At least I know I'll like the frosting.") Could perseverance be just a choice;  part of living a life rather than watching it go by? 

After I finished mowing, I looked up the word in the dictionary.  There were many definitions but the key ideas of "determination", "moving forward despite difficulty",  and "effort" jump to the forefront. I then went back around to look at that ivy plant.  Considering, I never planted it, have no idea where it came from, and have even tried to kill it- I think it embodies perseverance.  I took a picture and I will place it in my classroom next to the picture of my family and my aunt's table runner.  Because maybe there are no clear answers to my questions.  Maybe perseverance is all those things at different times.  Louisa May Alcott said, "I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship." Sometimes we need a person to guide us in the decision we were meant to make or to teach us about the path we are meant to follow.  Sometimes perseverance is less of a choice; it is just what we do to keep moving forward when life throws a punch.
My uninvited green friend. 

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