Shall we Tutoyer?


Please let me start by stating, I am not an expert by any means on language studies. However, I have always had a great fascination with cultures and languages. I’m a xenophile!

When visiting another country that we are not familiar with, Americans should politely and humbly ask residents if they speak English — preferably in their language. I remember when my husband and I were traveling in Italy and we were scared that we were about to miss our train. I ran up to the ticket counter and said with my American manners, “Two tickets please”. Well, this older Italian woman was instantly put off by me and we missed our train. I should have made an attempt to ask in Italian; or said, Mi scusi, parla inglese? It wasn’t funny then, but I learned a valuable lesson. It is respectful to make an effort to speak the language of the country you are visiting! Many people that travelers encounter do speak English, but it is polite to attempt their language.

Part of what makes learning a new language difficult is learning the customs, manners, and correct pronoun usage.
Tu is used in French when you’re talking to someone you know well, like a family member or best friend. Vous is used with people you don’t know very well regardless of their age, strangers, corporate hierarchy, or someone older who demands respect. The French word Tutoyer means to address someone using the familiar forms of the pronoun “you” rather than the more formal forms. Tu is a mark of friendship. I think it’s correct to say, when in doubt use Vous, Sie, Usted until the native speaker says otherwise.

The French address each other with formality, calling each other Madame and Monsieur, which in a way may seem formal to us, but it signifies a respect for the individual which exemplifies the French way of life. It is expected that bonjour or bonsoir should be the first thing out of your mouth as a greeting in shops and other public places. Failing to follow these rules is considered très rude.

Prior to the French Revolution, people addressed each other with tu. It was the way bourgeois or noble people addressed their servants. Tu (French and Spanish) and Du (German) are for children, family members, and friends.

I don’t know about you but I think of Japan as a culture of politeness. I had the pleasure of visiting with some Japanese teachers who came to the school where I teach a few years ago to observe American children in public school. I remember being blown away when the Japanese teachers said they thought America was very strict! I always had the stereotype that the Japanese teachers must be extremely strict because the children are so formal.

My class’ Japanese teacher, Yoshie, was explaining to me that there are five levels of politeness in Japan! They are determined by a variety of factors: job, age, experience, children… There are different ways of speaking: honorific and humble. The Japanese culture is structured by polite interactions. The politeness levels in Japan are tremendously difficult and intricate. The male and female patterns of speech and politeness are much different.

This makes the Japanese seem a bit passionless to me. There’s a lack of familiarity that we have here. On the opposite end, there are places like Brazil where the people are relaxed and have a liberal showing of affection. Here in the U.S. we are comfortable with informalities but not as intimate as Brazil. Language and culture constantly evolves, but I think politeness and respect can always help keep a nice balance.

Think about the difference in pronouns and the constant capitalization of nouns. In German, a word is written the way it is said. The pronoun Sie has all functions of you, him, her, it, and them. Sie is a way to formally address. We have our own special pronoun in Texas, “y’all!” It is very commonly used here but say it in New York and you have an audience of horrified gawkers!

We CAN hear formal English in everyday life but we might not even notice it because it comes so naturally. A perfect example is The Lord’s Prayer Our Father who art in Heaven. But, we don’t speak this way unless we’re in a Shakespeare play or just want to be gawked at!

It’s common to teach babies sign language. My children know the basics: Mommy, Daddy, please, thank you…Children soak up any and all languages when their young. That’s why it is so important to introduce language at an early age.

My brother Sean, who is fluent in Spanish, is always trying to talk me into going to a Spanish language school on my summer break. With two young kids, I don’t see this happening for a very long time. But, it’s a lovely idea!
Mark Twain wrote “a gifted person ought to learn English (barring spelling and pronouncing) in thirty hours, French in thirty days, and German in thirty years.” I won’t ever be fluent in anything unless I become a foreigner myself! But I have a long standing date with the Rosetta Stone and hopefully that will at least be an improvement!

I feel guilty using the word foreigner because it means: alien, non-citizen, and outsider. If I were living in a country that I didn’t grow up in, I wouldn’t want to be called “foreigner.” After all, this is their home now.

My husband and I went to Paris with another couple years ago. Our travel companion, Julie, grew up in Paris and spoke fluent French. I noticed how careful she was when she spoke in public, especially to waiters and clerks. She mentioned how embarrassed her mother would get when she went back to Paris to visit her family. She would be teased for her lack of “in the know” new phrases and her Texas/French accent. Language is constantly changing! It’s impossible to keep up unless you are a world traveler!

There is a German tradition I’ve read about that I think is perfect and hilarious! Any time you become close enough with somebody that you switch from Sie to du, you seal it by having a beer together. I just love that!

We can sometimes have a lack of respect just because it’s in our nature. I have an example as a teacher… If a parent addresses me as Ashley without me asking them to, it doesn’t seem quite right! I think you have to wait for someone to tell you it’s O.K. to call me by their first name. My parent volunteers will start by calling me Mrs. Cooley along with the children. I quickly ask them to call me Ashley because I think it’s nice to be informal and establish a casual relationship. Just as long as you begin your relationship with respect first.
It is a pet peeve of mine when people don’t address you at all. Especially in e-mails if they start jumping into questions without a “Dear Ashley,” I am put off because it feels like they are shouting at me!

When parents in America get mad at their children, we suddenly stop using cute nicknames and use their full names. I remember my mom and dad saying, “Ashley Elizabeth” instead of my regular “Ash”. I knew I was in trouble!

I don’t like feeling frustrated! I can usually laugh off most anything. If not I can certainly say merde and shizer! But, when I’m not good at something it fuels my fire to do it better. So, like Mark Twain said; it may take me thirty years but I’ll get there and so can you!

Friendship is a gift we should treasure like our health

I recently read an article in the Argyle Sun Newspaper about a 101-year-old woman who credits her longevity to her friendships. After I read it I said to my friend Laurie, “I think this woman is right, the secret to living to be 100 is friendship! Just look at Georgie (click here for the article).

I have heard that older people with a strong circle of friends are more likely to live longer. I think this must be true. Have you ever noticed how much information there is about families and marriage but not as much on friendship? Friendship is definitely an undervalued resource. Our friends make our life better. The trick is finding time to foster these relationships.

Friends are protective and nurturing. Think about who walks in Relay for Life? A multitude of supportive friends! Friends can run errands and pick up medicine if you’re sick, bring a meal when you’ve just had a baby, be there through laughter and tears. I think those who have strong friendships are less likely to get sick because they have a lower stress level. A friend is like a free psychiatrist. Friends who have a strong bond know they have someone to turn to, always!

The same day I read about 101-year-old Georgie I went to hear a speaker at the school where I teach talk about how to live to be 100. It was such a coincidence that I was with my dear friend! Dr. Joe had some valuable things to say, but I kept waiting for him to say the secret to living long was love and friendship. That was not on Dr Joe’s five factors to living to be 100! He talked about a healthy body, not a happy heart. I know in MY heart we need both!

I was so tickled at my friend who had agreed to come with me. Before hearing Dr. Joe, we attended a PTA meeting. We kept finding humor in random parts of the meeting and we ended up passing notes back and forth like teenagers. When we stood to say the Pledge of Allegiance, I couldn’t help but think I already know the secret to a long life: laugh, smile, have fun, enjoy each other while we are here! We can’t always be worrying about not exercising enough or eating the right things. That’s not what life is about! Even if we don’t make it to 100, why not just live large now and keep laughing with our friends.

My husband says, “I know how to live to be 100…have lots of sex!” Well, I think he’s probably right about that. I know my schedule may become more challenging after he reads that I agree with him. We’ve all heard how sex increases how long we live. The reason is the body needs intimacy and bonding. There is such value in touch! Think about animals and babies…they need touch to develop. I tend to cup my hands around my children’s faces when I’m talking to them. I know I have their full attention and they know they have mine. More importantly, I do it because I want them to feel my love.

I can’t help but think of another Joe, Joseph Pilates. He believed our physical and mental health is intertwined. He was so right! Pilates lived to be 87. I LOVE that Joseph Pilates lived his life well and made not only his body, but also his heart happy too. His exercises can help you find peace, reduce stress, and be present throughout your life. But, if you really get to know Joe, you will fall in love with his way of living too. He was a man who loved his wife, smoked cigars, participated in winter swimming, and being the German he was; drank his beer from a stein in his studio! I just love that!

I think a regimented, determined person who makes a daily effort to stay in shape and includes friendship and love as a hobby can easily live to be 100. Friendship is a gift we should treasure like our health. But think deeper than just the superficial; the core of our hearts must be nourished as well.

In the quest for better health, people can turn to doctors, spirituality, self-help books or herbal supplements. But they sometimes overlook a powerful weapon that could help them fight illness and depression, aide a speedy recovery, slow aging and prolong life; their friends. There is balance with everything! When you find yours, you’ll know it!

Prost to friends! Prost to our hearts! Prost to laughter! Prost to Pilates! Prost to our life now!

Dr. Joe’s 5 factors to live to be 100
Control the quality of the air we breathe: Air is the number one nutrient for nutrition.
Water: Water regenerates tissue, water restores our health
Food: We need carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals…. And eat raw food!
Exercise: Delivery System of Nutrition. Exercise forces movement without movement we die quickly.
Nutritional supplements (Dr. Joe Guarnera)

*Prost: German for cheers

Fashion is like an elegant language

Marie Antoinette, Coco Chanel, Audrey Hepburn and Miuccia Prada exemplify fashion for me.

Coco Chanel said, “Fashion is in the sky, in the street; fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.”

I believe fashion is like an elegant language, with it you can create reality or fantasy…
When I had my first child I was reading The Baby Whisperer, and I remember the chapter on introducing your baby to your home. Well, I took that information and ran to the closet! I told my daughter we will have great fun in here! What little girl doesn’t enjoy playing dress up. I’m still that little girl and I am tickled pink to see my daughter is, too!

Women can make emotional connections with their clothes. My closet is like a time capsule of memories. I am still wearing things from my childhood! I also enjoy wearing things from my mom, grandmother, and great-grandmother. Broaches, jewelry, and scarves I used to play with in my mom’s closet have made their way into mine. Accessories can make an outfit personal.

My mom had a chocolate brown one shoulder Halston dress from the 70’s. Oh how I wish she still had it! I am making a lovely trousseau for my daughter!
Fashion does not rule my life, but it’s a very happy part of me and a way to express creativity. I think dressing is an art form; it can be intellectual and the same time playful. We have to get dressed every morning, why not enjoy it. Our style shows the way we think about ourselves. For me, if I love what I’m wearing, I’m going to have a great day.

As an elementary teacher I think it’s important to dress happy! I get hugged, pulled on, even patted in my classroom. My kids (both boys and girls) will lovingly touch my suede shoes and silk scarves. Kids love texture and color. They should have something interesting to look at for the seven hours they’re with me! I’m willing to be their fashion model!

When shopping I go into another world. I was almost arrested in Barcelona! I tend to shop for the whole outfit and after shopping upstairs I went downstairs (to what I didn’t realize was a different store) with a dress in my hands looking for accessories. A very angry Spanish woman grabbed me and took me to the police! I was so stunned that when the police officer was speaking to me I couldn’t even mumble, Habla Inglés! I was in another shopping daze in Paris at my Mecca, Galeries Lafayette! I was singing “The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music” in my head the whole time!

It’s been a while since I’ve been shopping. Life happens, but that doesn’t mean moms can’t enjoy fashion. I’ve been a Vogue subscriber since I was seventeen! My mother-in-law teases me about my Vogue magazines! She says someday you won’t want these. But, to me it’s like having my own art museum in my hands.

Being a working mother of two in a bad economy, I look at my closet differently. I see what I already have that can be reworked and take it to my favorite tailor, King Kong!! Alterations can change a whole look. A tailor can make you look better: thinner, taller, younger…Tailors are in vogue now because people want to make repairs on torn, worn-out clothes and shoes. People are too financially strapped to make replacements. A tailor can make an old outfit new again. And you get to be the designer.

Sex in the City was so much fun to watch! I couldn’t relate to the lifestyle but it was my shopping fantasy! My favorite scenes were those of Carrie putting together outfits in her closet, especially when she was packing for Paris! I also love Project Runway. Of course there is the good, the bad, and the very ugly. But, fashion is about experimenting and I like to see a fresh way to dress and always admire those who take risks.

We all have staples in our closets that we know work on our bodies. For me, my staple is a jean skirt. It can be dressed up or down with the right accessories. I also think about color. Certain colors can change your mood from sad to glad. I will forever be searching for the perfect jeans! It’s an ongoing quest for most women I think!

I am delighted when someone asks me fashion advice! I am not a fashion connoisseur, just an amateur who gets pleasure out of playing in her closet.

I have a theory: The sexier you make yourself appear, the less sex you probably have! I think if you are comfortable in your clothes, you are sexy! My husband’s favorite coquetting starts with a fashion show! He is quite the connoisseur! To close with clothes I will say; clothes are meant to hide what is intimate and private, but our style can actually reveal who we really are inside.
Ta-Ta bourgeois boredom, hello King Kong!

Fashion Hits by Ashley
The Devil Wears Prada, The September Issue, Coco Chanel, Valentino: The Last Emperor, Coco Before Chanel, Yves St. Laurent: His Life and Times
Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution, Love, Loss, and What I Wore

Deep in the Heart of Texas

I went to college out of state in Alabama. Living somewhere other than Texas I became more proud to be a Texan. When I’m away from home and someone asks me where I’m from, it gives me great satisfaction to say Texas!

When my friend Natalie and I were traveling in Switzerland and people found out we were from Texas we had an instant audience!

People who are not from Texas are always dying to know and ask: Do you have cows? Horses? Live on a ranch? Drive a truck? Have you been to Southfork? Texans are used to these questions and like them because Texans are proud! No state is more recognizable, memorable, or loved.

You give kids a puzzle of the United States to put together no matter where they’re from children will start with Texas!

I think of my sister Paige who just moved from New York City to San Francisco and comes home to visit maybe twice a year. When I see her I immediately assess her style! I notice she tries to keep Texas close to her by wearing cowboy boots. She may have lost her Texas accent but she is still proud to say she is a native Texan.

Texas style can be seen as historical. When my friend Margot’s Dad came to visit her from Austria he was on a mission to find a John Wayne “duke” vest. Mission completed in Fort Worth!

When I would get home sick in college I listened to George Straight’s Amarillo by Mornin’. That song just makes me want to get in the car and drive all around Texas!

It brings happy tears to my eyes to hear Kindergarten do their Texas program every year at the school where I teach. When they sing, The stars at night – are big and bright
Deep in the heart of Texas 
it is simply magical.

Texas is known for our “Cowboy Cuisine.” When I was three I would help my Dad pluck the feathers off the quail he brought home from his hunt. My Dad’s specialty is grilled quail wrapped in bacon with a jalapeno pepper inside.

Texas Hits by Ashley

Music: ZZ Top. Janis Joplin, Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, Stevie Ray Vaughan

Clothes: Stetsons, boots, jeans, BIG hair

Food: steaks, chili, bbq, tamales, tex-mex, pies

BooksThe Sweetheart of Prosper County, Friday Night Lights, L is for Lone Star: A Texas Alphabet

Entertainment: Rangers, Cowboys, Billy Bob’s, Texas Rattlesnake Round-up, Friday night football

Weather: heat, drought, hurricane, twister, flood, and more heat

Other: bluebonnets, armadillos, tumbleweeds, oil wells


It all began in a garden

I could have so easily fallen for Thomas Jefferson! Sally Hemings would have had some good competition from me had I lived back then! I share Jefferson’s aesthetic for all things French and his love for food. He was experimental, brave, and passionate about food. The father of agriculture, Thomas Jefferson changed the way we eat in America and the way we grow food. He was inspired by the French when he lived there as the minister to France from 1785 to 1789. Living there he became a connoisseur of good food, a gastronome. Paris is where Jefferson developed his palate. Imagine the dinner parties Jefferson must have attended.

He loved French food so much Jefferson paid for his slave, James Hemings to be trained as a French chef. The French have always had a love-love relationship with food. Jefferson recognized this and appreciated it enough to bring the French culinary art home to America.

Our third President wrote, “No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden…. Jefferson liked to try new things like growing unfamiliar plants and experimenting with new foods in his garden at Monticello. He grew tomatoes, introduced the potato and grew other vegetables that were new to America.

Many of which were brought back by Lewis and Clark. He also introduced waffles, macaroni and cheese, mustard, and ice cream to America. Can you say merci beaucoup?! Jefferson packed European plants in his bags when returning to America. For years, he ordered seeds from Paris. He wasn’t stingy; he would share his seeds with other American gardeners. I think it was his dream to cultivate and bring the culinary culture of food to America.

Michelle Obama was inspired by Jefferson when planting the White House Garden. I have read her goal is to improve the nutrition for her own family and inspire other Americans to make better choices with their food. This is smart because if children are exposed to and learn an appreciation for food early on, they will have it forever.

Food has always been an art form in France; a meal is something to celebrate. Jefferson recognized this. It is common in France to have a garden. I have a small herb collection and my parents have a nice size vegetable garden. I like for my children to see the fresh picked herbs and vegetables. I know my daughter is learning because when we go on a walk she points out rosemary rubs her hand on it and smells with satisfaction. We also have a beautiful garden at the school where I teach. Children are proud to see their herbs, vegetables, and flowers before they head out to recess.

When I pack my daughter’s lunch, I send her with water and her lunch in a Japanese bento box. I like these bento boxes because they have many neat compartments and I think it makes for a nice presentation.

Schools in France place a priority on lunch. French children eat off real plates with real forks and glasses. This sets children up to the ceremony and pleasure of a meal. They drink water with their meals and the cafeterias use fresh produce and prepare lunch from scratch. They also have a longer lunch time than we do in America. Yes, I know we don’t live in France! But, this sounds nice, n’est-ce pas! I taught a child from France once. It was someone’s birthday and they were passing out Little Debbie brownies; he looked at it and said, “non”!! I imagine what his mother made for him on his birthday was homemade and not out of a box!

My school has adopted a program called CATCH (Coordinated Approach to Child Health). The plan is to promote physical activity and make healthy food choices in school. Thanks to our Health and Wellness committee we also do a “Fear Factor Friday” where the kids have a chance to try something they may have not had before like: cherries, kiwi, mangos, pumpkin seeds…It is delightful to see a child try something new and have a positive reaction to it. Children are learning that eating healthy and being physically active every day is fun and they’re building a positive relationship with food.

I can’t help but think of Joseph Pilates, and how his dream was for children to learn his exercises so they can take care of their bodies forever. I also think of Julia Child. Wouldn’t she have made a fabulous grandmother! Can’t you just imagine her feeding her grandchildren “soul food”? Jefferson, Pilates, and Child are connected in the way they each wanted more for America. These people are all gone but have stamped America with culture, fitness, and a love-love relationship with food. The key is to teach our children early so they grow up with a natural love for their health. I think teaching healthy habits to children inspires parents to change their own relationship with food.

Thomas Jefferson had a love for food. If we can implement a healthy love for food in our children they will grow up to be good eaters. Parents, teachers, farmers, and cooks must pave the road to success. Food is a part of culture and history. Remember, it all began in a garden!

Travel without Traveling

How do you raise worldly and cultured children? Education through culture gives us a new way of seeing things. This is what I want for my children. I want to teach them to embrace other customs, food, and people with their eyes open. C’est la vie!

My second grade classroom and my own children will learn “The Star Spangled Banner,” but also songs, customs, and flags of other countries. My second graders are learning the German and Japanese language thanks to some wonderful volunteers. It is AMAZING to hear how well they can pick up the accent, remember material, and always speak without fear! All the more reason why foreign languages should be taught to children in elementary school. 

A little note to teachers and parents…All you have to do is ask! People are more than willing to share their culture with you if you show the interest.

I’ve always thought travel is the best education but with this economy it’s just not possible. We must find culture in our neighborhoods and there’s no better time to do that than in the fall! Fall brings families together with an abundance of festivals. After you go to one you feel like you’ve been on a vacation!

Some of the festivals going on right now really make you feel like you’re visiting a different country. We just took our children to Addison’s Oktoberfest. I can’t believe I’m from here and have never been! German cuisine and entertainment…schmeckt und sehr spass!

Next, I’m looking forward to UNT’s World Fest on the Square Saturday, September 26th from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. There promises to be culture galore, international foods, music, and dance. I’m especially looking forward to seeing some Argentinian Tango!

Did you know UNT has international students from 123 countries? So see, right here in our little metroplex we can find beaucoup of culture without spending money on tickets and hotels.

Finally, on my travel without traveling agenda is the Lebanese Food Festival in Lewisville on October 2nd, 3rd, and 4th. We took our kids last year and ate so well. We also listened to Lebanese music and discovered our daughter can belly dance! Lebanese food is so fresh with the perfect blend of herbs, spices, and earthy flavors. My favorite is the Lebanese baklava that has pistachio nuts and is drizzled with rose-water syrup. Need I say more!! Mon Dieu!

I’ve always been curious about other cultures, I can NEVER get enough. I know it’s time for a trip when something inside me sleeps. These international festivals are like a dose of medicine for my soul.

When I was a child I would make my sister play this game with me…The game just involved pretending to be European. I am a Francophile (an admirer of France and everything French) but it doesn’t stop there. I’d like to experience all cultures for the rest of my life. My husband and I looked into living in Florence, Italy after our honeymoon. We both felt like we belonged there. If I could, I’d move there and raise a bunch of Italian babies!

I feel more alive and passionate about living when I’m learning something new about another country. I’d used to beg my mom to buy me French Vogue so I could try to dress and do my hair like a Parisian and look coquettish. My parents gave me the greatest gift after high school, two weeks in Europe. I think I learned more that trip than I did my entire high school career and I say this as a teacher!!

I daydream and obsess about getting on a plane daily! I can tell you what the weather is like in Italy, France, Austria because I have it bookmarked on my computer and my phone! I crave culture more than chocolate, wine, and shoes! I always have a foreign movie on my DVD player to watch, a book about Italy or France to read, and French music playing in the kitchen. I’m an American “pretending” to live in Paris!

I’d like to share some of my favorite travel without traveling materials with you:

Food: Julia Child cookbooks are my favorite bien sûr! I feel connected to her because she was an American living in France absorbing as much as her 6’2″ frame would allow her too! Mexico the Beautiful and Savoring Italy are two cookbooks I always come back to, The Sweet Life in Paris, AND Cooking for Mr. Latte (our next Julia Child Book Club book) as proven to have some very tasty and worldly recipes.

Music: Carla Bruni (She is the wife of French President Nicolas Sarkozy) Quelqu’un m’a dit is one of my favorite songs. Edith Piaf (France’s greatest popular singer) — my daughter turns into a classical modern dancer when I play La vie en Rose, Julie Rousseau (you can hear the song Shalom on Sur la Route XM radio, it’s fabulous)

MoviesFrench Kiss, Jet Lag, (anything with Jean Reno, I have a huge crush on him!), Roman Holiday is classic!

BooksLucia Lucia, Abundance, Eight Days in Provence: Chasing Matisse, Paris to the Moon, Almost French, A Year in the Merde, anything by Hemingway, My Life in France, Everything You Need to Know to be Impossibly French, This is Paris (and all the “This is” series. . .) by Miroslav Sasek are wonderful for children, as well as the classic Goodnight Moon in French and Spanish (Bonsoir Lune and Buenas Noches Luna), and La Petite Prince

Websites: (a fabulous source for exhibits and art related events) (celebrates all things French)

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” ~Jawaharal

Pollyanna Octopus Mom

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There is an exercise in Pilates called “imprinting”. You visualize your spine lengthening and sinking down into soft sand, lightly imprinting. This reminds me of writing your name in wet sand or cement and how it is so easy to make an impression. Well, children are like wet cement in the way it takes the smallest nudge to make an impression. Children are smarter than we give them credit for. They can sense our feelings before we express them out loud. They also pick up on what we’re saying when we think they’re not listening. Here’s to making a good impression and gentle imprinting on our children!

As a working mom with two young children, I am constantly trying to do more than I can achieve. Sometimes with all of my multitasking, work responsibilities, and household chores, not to mention my personal life, I feel like an octopus! My head starts to spin and my arms feel all tangled up! I get discouraged and feel like I’m not doing any of my jobs as well as I could and should be. My top priority is always my family. They are the most important thing in my life. Taking care of my children’s needs and making sure they are happy, healthy, and safe is my most important job.

Parents always try so hard to do the right thing. The constant cleaning, cooking, and working to make our lives better can be exhausting. When I start to second guess myself I know I can find help with a multitude of books and websites but I find the best advice is always a phone call away! Our mothers, grandmothers, and friends hold a wealth of information at their fingertips. They are our fellow octopi!

When I was pregnant with my first child, my friend Jen threw me a baby shower. She set out a book for people to write down advice on being a mother. The best advice came from Jen herself who was not yet a mother! She said, “Call your Mom!” She was right! Our Moms have been there and done that! They hold our hands when we feel like we’ve just ruined our child and caused lifelong damage. They set us straight and get us swimming again!

I have often thought how cool it would be to be an octopus and what I could do with eight arms! An octopus is an intelligent, versatile and curious animal. Aren’t we all! I put such pressure on myself to try to be perfect! With these high expectations I put on myself, I’m doomed to fail. But, I think most working moms have to be overachievers! We must imagine we have eight arms!

If I was an octopus my name would be Pollyanna because like the 1913 novel and 1960 movie, I think I’m an excessively optimistic person! Nothing is impossible! Fran Lebowitz said, “The conversational overachiever is someone whose grasp exceeds his reach. This is possible but not attractive.” My eight octopus arms may not be attractive, but they can exceed their reach and hold a baby, grade papers, cook dinner, change diapers, teach Pilates, do the laundry, read a bedtime story, and dial for advice when I need help! I can do it and I can always find something to be glad about!

One of my heroes is my ballet teacher! She has four children, just got her masters in dance, and still finds time to read. This is the kind of role model I want to be for my children. Someone who continues to do what she loves because ultimately being happy makes us better mothers, wives, and workers!
Our children mimic what we say and do. We must make sure we are good role models so they “imprint” smart choices! My daughter is becoming a little octopus herself! She likes to sweep, cook, and dance all at the same time. She is a joy to watch and I am proud of my imprinting and impressions.

Everyone has their own parenting style, mine is being an imprinting Pollyanna octopus!

Manners are Golden

One of the hardest obstacles children face today is learning good manners without seeing any. It is sad to see adults be uncivil to each other because children follow suit. What are manners? They are a happy way of doing something. Emily Post wrote, “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”

In my second grade classroom I have three rules: Respect others, be polite and helpful, and keep your hands, feet, and objects to yourself. But the most important rule of all that “happy way of doing” beats them all, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Yes, the “Golden Rule”! I think what most parents wish for is that good manners will become natural habits for their child.

Every year so much more curriculum gets added to a teacher’s plate that it might be easy to overlook teaching manners. With growing demands on teaching time, etiquette is rarely a priority. No matter how busy I am I find there is always time for courtesy!

When I ask my second graders and my own children to use their manners; they have more respect for me. I find the best way to teach manners is for us to model it in daily life and practice what we preach! Write thank you notes, tell someone you appreciate them, look people in the eye, greet others with a smile and handshake. It sounds like common sense to us but we must teach it to our children so they see the importance of manners and respect.

People crave respect like a dog craves a belly rub! It is more likely that our children will grow and bloom into wonderful caring adults with manners under their belts.If you ever go to school to eat lunch with your child, listen carefully for manners. You will hear, “I want” and “give me” to the cafeteria ladies and “open this” to the lunch aides. Let’s “pass the manners” and work together to teach children that please and thank you can bring smiles and respect.

Manners shouldn’t be saved for special occasions only! We can use them every day. A simple please and thank you can go a long way! In my classroom and at home with my kids I ask them to use their German and Japanese manners: Danke, Domo Arigatou Goziamasu (thank you in German and Japanese) and Bitte, Kudasai (please in German and Japanese). I’m all about doubling up and catching up! If I can find a way to combine subjects with foreign language and manners, I do it! The little brains of children are ready to absorb and retain everything parents and teachers teach them.

There’s a wonderful book I love to read to my class and my children, Do Unto Otters by Laurie Keller. This book teaches children the “Golden Rule” with characters Mr. Rabbit and his new neighbors, the Otters. Do Unto Otters shows kids that a simple “please” or “thank you” goes a long way in making friends. AND what I love most is that it teaches please, thank you, and excuse me in four languages: Spanish, French, German, and Japanese (there’s Pig Latin too)!

I always praise my second graders and my children when they show nice manners on their own. Praise is power! My school is encouraging “Random Acts of Kindness”. If someone notices a child doing something nice for someone else, a teacher or student writes it down on a strip of paper called a “kindness link” and the Principal reads a few during morning announcements. This gets children thinking about the “Golden Rule” and the importance of thinking of others. It’s a great way to start off the year and the children can’t wait to see how long the chain will be.

Amy Vanderbilt wrote, “Good manners have much to do with emotions. To make them ring true, one must feel them, not merely exhibit them.” When we say something, it should be sincere! Manners can be an art form especially in a thank you note. But I think as long as we are showing each other the simple respect and kindness everyone deserves, our children will see it’s worth the effort! Because no act of kindness is ever wasted, it’s golden!

The first week of school from a teacher’s point of view

School has started; the kids are getting into their routine. The first week is a trying one. Training the children in the routines of what, when, and how to do things isn’t easy. Getting to know their personalities and figuring out the best way to reach each child can be challenging, especially with a large class. Everyone learns differently!

Then come the parents…Oh how teachers want to be respected and well liked by the parents. I think the parents feel the same way. After all, teachers are with their children seven hours of the day. It’s only natural that they want to know their child is safe, happy, and in a positive learning environment. It’s a blessing when you have parental support.

What is hardest for me is saying goodbye to being a stay at home mom after being home for the whole summer. I feel that guilt and pang that I should be at home with my own children. The transition is hard on my own kids after they’ve gotten used to having me home all summer. I never know how I will be greeted at the door! It’s honestly not easy on anyone.

During the summer, teachers have the chance to enjoy their family and friends in ways very differently than they do during the school year. I read so many books, played with my kids nonstop, had play dates and parties and swimming galore…! I soaked up the sunny summer like a strawberry slushy!

But when a teacher is working, days don’t start and stop at a certain hour. I am always thinking of something I can do to make tomorrow a great day. I check my school e-mail before I wake my children, spend hours preparing lessons plans, I work really hard to keep positive contact with parents, and I’m constantly looking for ways to REACH a child.

Expectations increase every year as we work to improve standardized tests, and meet needs of learning disabled students. This is why the summer is so important for teachers! We get to reconnect and truly enjoy quality time with our family and friends. This “recharging of the batteries” is necessary to reenergize for the school year. I think of teachers like little Energizer bunnies, especially at the beginning of the year. We are busy buzzing bees!

For me, starting the school year is like pledging a sorority! There is usually some kind of hazing (difficult children or harassing parents)!! There’s always an unexpected surprise that can throw you off your game! My very first year of teaching, 11 years ago, I was 22 and thought I’d be teaching dance, not second grade!

I was teaching during the first week of school and I noticed a student was missing! I had a child run for the principal for help! The principal came in and found him hiding under my desk laughing! The same time I was looking for this “missing child” I had another bipolar child running into the walls (on purpose)!! Fresh out of college, I wondered, what am I doing?!? Well, I’ve remained a second grade because it fits like haute couture!

Teachers are very lucky, we know that! We work very hard and are rewarded in ways that are indescribable and endless. There isn’t a job more important than being a teacher! As parents, we are all teachers! It is a labor of love and a fabulous job to have! The thousands of hugs, smiles, and thank yous we receive every year are priceless. There are certain things we are meant to do, for me…I am a mother, wife, daughter, friend, and teacher. I am proud!

Meet the teacher

Starting off the school year on the right foot is easy if you stay positive and share in your child’s excitement about school. But, if you freak out, they’ll freak out! This is my 11th year teaching 2nd grade and let me tell you, the first couple of weeks are crucial! Parents should make an effort to attend all back to school events, it’s so important to show a happy face, school spirit, and teacher support.

Please, don’t listen to stories about whether or not a teacher is good! There will always be that “favorite” teacher parents hope their child gets. Let your child make the teacher they get their favorite and you will love her too!

Make it a point to start off the new school year right by attending that first “meet the teacher night” and “parent information night”. This is your chance to make a good first impression too. Teachers take note of the parents that are there. Be friendly, and make sure the teacher knows who you are.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but make sure they’re questions the teacher can address to everyone. “Meet the Teacher Night” is not the time to tell her your life story or what a bad experience your child had last year. Teachers don’t mind questions, and being aware of what goes on in class will help you keep your child informed.

Smile! That first impression is memorable, just as it is when meeting anyone for the first time. Lengthy problems or concerns can wait for a private scheduled conference; your first meeting is informal. Teachers want a chance to get to know your children on their turf before conferencing. Children act differently in front of their parents than they do in the classroom.

Make sure to go home and say nice things about the class, teacher, and school. I’ve had children come up with stories that I know I wasn’t supposed to hear! Surely you can find something good to say that will help your child feel positive about being in the classroom.

The kids are excited and ready to go back with new backpacks in tow. Parents are excited too but also apprehensive because they can’t control everything: the friends your child makes in their new classroom, the teacher their child was assigned, school schedules…But, parents can control their attitudes and be optimistic for a great start to the new school year!

It is important to be an involved parent. Attending “Meet the Teacher Night” is a solid way to start. Here are some of the basics you can expect from “Meet the Teacher Night” and/or “Parent Information Night”:

1. Homework, correction policies, and discipline procedures. There is a student handbook that includes dress codes, school rules, schedules, a calendar of events and much more. These are valuable organizing tools for students and a clear-cut way to keep everyone on the same page.

2. Important notes the teacher may write on the board, so be prepared with paper and pen.

3. Your child’s new teacher will share with you her experience, specializations, and expectations for the year.

4. The best ways to communicate with the school and the classroom teacher are by phone, e-mail, a note from home or a personal visit. Be sure to leave your contact information as well and an open mind about keeping positive contact with the teacher.

5. Volunteer opportunities (my favorite)! Teachers want you to be involved! If it is at all possible, take advantage of in-class assignments. It’s an effective, nonthreatening way for you to see how your child is managing school and interacting with her peers and the teacher. Plus, teachers REALLY appreciate it!

6. Whatever your questions or concerns, you have every right to have them addressed. Don’t be shy, but be respectful. Parents who are positive, informed, and engaged in school have children who are as well.

7. Volunteering is different for every family. It may mean signing up to work in the classroom, buying classroom supplies, grading papers for the teacher or helping with special assignments.

8. To find your special niche, look for sign-up sheets in the teacher’s room at “Meet the Teacher Night” You could also contact a member of the PTA and mention your interests. They will find a way for you to help out at the school, the community and your child’s education.

9. Enjoy “Meet the Teacher Night”! Get to know other parents, teachers and administrators. Come with a BIG SMILE on your face!

Every parent wants their child to have a great school year. While some things can’t be controlled, there are many things that parents can do to ensure a stress-free, happy school year. Your positive and optimistic attitude is a step in the right direction.