Full Circle

June 29, 2014 11 comments

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I work in a small, private, progressive school. We just celebrated our 50th Anniversary. Our philosophy begins with the premise that all kids are capable. From there, we pledge to nurture each child, every day in the hopes of fostering a love of learning that will last a lifetime.

Two weeks before the last day of school, she appeared in the doorway of our office. It was a Friday afternoon, only minutes before dismissal; the calm before the bus-boarding-storm. She was chattering a-mile-a-minute when I looked up from my desk and saw her standing there. She was an older woman, maybe in her early sixties, dressed more like she was in her thirties. She had long, wavy brown hair that was graying at the roots. There was something light even comical about her tone and her appearance. Her accessories jingled and jangled as she waved her hands to emphasize her words like a conductor would at a symphony. Barely stopping to breathe, she incessantly, repeated her name, asking if myself or my co-workers knew who she was , no — not her actually, but her daughter. Did we recognize her daughter’s name because her daughter went to this school, oh, about 30-years ago. Like a leaky faucet the words trickled out into a tale that finally ended with the keeping of a promise and a story that left a profound stirring inside me.

I did not know her, her daughter or recognize their name but our (interim) Director did, which didn’t surprise me. Before standing in as Director, while we searched for a replacement, Diane was a teacher for 34-years at our school. In fact, she was this woman’s daughter’s kindergarten teacher – oh, about 30-years ago and remembered them both well.

I was going through a very hard time back then, the woman told us. I had three children, no money and was in the middle of a divorce. Eric was running the school then and the tuition was $900.

Pause.

Eric was running the school then.

Eric, was Diane’s best friend for many, many years. He was also a teacher at our school for many, many years and although we didn’t actually have a director-by-title up until recently, by all accounts, Eric was the director here, for many, many years. Eric, was a very special person and much like Diane, beloved by hundreds if not thousands of students and parents. Eric passed away about 5-years ago from a form of Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Sometimes in our day-to-day dealings, when there’s a hard decision to make at school, I think to myself, what would Eric do? I know my co-worker, our office manager and Eric’s sister, does too. She said those exact words just the other day. I’d bet, Diane has thought them as well. Eric would always err on the side of compassion, trust and human kindness.

It wasn’t a surprise for the three of us to learn that Eric told this woman not to worry about the $900 tuition for kindergarten that year and to pay it when she could.

She was only in this school for one little year of her life the woman said but I credit that year and her experience here with the success that she is today and every time I pass this school in my aluminum foil car I think about that and promised myself I would repay that debt when I could.

And so she did, that day, two weeks before the last day of school. She gave us $1,000 and vowed to continue to make a small monthly donation to the school from that day forward. Indeed, she kept her promise, to herself, to Eric and to the perpetuation of the human spirit.

The encounter moved me. Profoundly. It awakened in me deep hope that in an unsuspecting, fleeting moment, faith in humankind can be restored. It’s a testament in particular to the power of an act of kindness and what happens to it long after the deed is done.

It comes full circle.

The Child Whisperer

June 12, 2014 6 comments

Karen:

In honor of the retirement of a dear friend & colleague who has touched the lives of many. Re-blogged from March, 2012.

Originally posted on Taking The World On With A Smile!:

The flip-side of last week’s post thankfully, is that there are many amazing teachers that devote their whole lives to educating children. These people influence who we are in the most positive of ways, for life. Children do not forget who they are. They too are remembered and cherished forever.

In the Spring of 2001, curiosity got the better of me. My quest to find the right preschool for my overly active, precocious, almost 3-year-old son, finally provided the opportunity for me to see what was really going on in the mysterious looking Victorian house that sits majestically upon a hill overlooking the busy-ness of Route 9D. Little did I know as I walked into the hallway that echoed with song and laughter, that in-between the walls of this house that was a school, magic happened.

We were met by the cheerful smile of a woman who greeted us…

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Categories: Parenting

Anticipation

March 9, 2014 9 comments

ruby slippers

“…And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true.”

Last week as I was watching the Oscars, a childhood memory was invoked when Whoopie Goldberg said she had to wait a whole year to watch The Wizard of Oz on television when she was a kid. Me too! In fact, when it finally did come around it was an epic household event that called for the taking of early baths, wearing feetie pajamas, snuggling up to cozy blankets carefully laid out on the living room floor and resting excited yet sleepy, little heads on bedtime pillows. In its original form, the movie was a startling 2 hours and 15 minutes! It was tradition, a childhood favorite that was met yearly with much sweet anticipation.

There’s something to be said for experiencing the emotion of anticipation. That good and excited feeling you get when you are looking forward to something; waiting for it, expecting it to happen. With today’s access to immediate alerts and notifications, instant messaging, texting, emailing and Face Booking communication capabilities, I don’t think kids have the opportunity to feel that enough nowadays. Often the answer to their question pings, dings or rings on their phones before they’ve had time to ask or even think it. Other than having to wait for Christmas and their birthdays, there’s not a whole lot they don’t have at their fingertips. Netflix and On Demand have pretty much ruled out having to wait a whole calendar year for the repeated viewing of anything.

It makes me a little sad. Having to wait for something, is not the worst thing. Anticipation invokes longing, another important emotion and along with that comes patience and appreciation. Not bad character traits to have.

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Every year as The Wizard of Oz began in classic black and white film I would wonder why I remembered it in color and then I would be surprised and elated all over again, like I was watching it for the first time, when Dorothy would step out onto a colored landscape after the tornado landed her house in Oz. Spectacular! The munchkins were favorites and the monkeys feared. Always, the scariest but most thrilling part for me was when Dorothy finally defeated the Wicked Witch of the West. Her journey from Kansas to Oz and back again inspired hope that dreams really can come true and there really is no place like home.

The purpose of Whoopie’s stage appearance at the Oscars was to introduce the singing artist, Pink who was performing Over the Rainbow in commemoration of The Wizard of Oz‘s 75th Anniversary. It’s always dangerous when someone “new” attempts to sing something as “old”, cherished, ingrained and beloved to so many. I got teary every time I heard “Dorothy” sing that song and admittedly, I cringed slightly when I heard Pink was going to sing it.

Did you catch it?

Pink’s unique rendition of Over the Rainbow was stellar!

Brilliant.

It respectfully paid beautiful homage to the original, Judy Garland version and reminded me just how much I truly love that song.

It inspired hope that somewhere, out there, over the rainbow, the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.

What do you think?

Photo Credit #1 & 2:  Google Images/Ruby Slippers/Dorothy

Video Credit #1: YouTube/Sam’s Secret Collection

Harlem Grattitude

February 23, 2014 13 comments

Sometimes things haunt me. Not necessarily in a bad way. They brew and boil and bake in my head it’s true but that just means they’re usually there for a reason.

grattitude Billboard

Several weeks ago myself and two colleagues took the train into the City for a conference. On my way into Manhattan, at 125th Street, Harlem, that’s where I saw this billboard for the first time and thought to  myself…

That’s interesting. I wonder if that word is misspelled on purpose?

Then I thought….

Who would put up a billboard that says ‘Grattitude’ and why?

I didn’t get it but couldn’t dismiss it, so it got me and the brewing began.

Later that day and in the days that followed, I found myself thinking about what I saw and why it wouldn’t go away. I’d already picked my “Word” for the year. It’s Faith, not gratitude. Gratitude. I struggled with the word’s presence inside my head from the moment I saw it sprouting from its concrete carpet straight up into the clear, blue sky.

It was so unexpected. So big. Who put it there? Why is it spelled wrong? Am I grateful? What am I grateful for and how grateful am I? The notion of it all lingered. The boiling set in and it stayed with me, simmering as things I eventually end up writing about often do.

A couple of weeks later I found myself Googling “gratitude in harlem” and came across an article from the Greenwich Post (2012) that offered an explanation for it’s existence.

“It’s a billboard with an obscure message for the powerful and wealthy, the dispossessed and poor, a billboard that says simply “GRATTITUDE.”  It is a copy of an acrylic paint collage of newspaper clips and art books by pop artist Peter Tunney, who added the extra “T” as an expression of, he says, turbo-charged gratitude.”

I found another site established in September, 2013, that uses the billboard to promote their GrAttitude Project.

I love the GrAttitude Project and believe whole-heartedly that no act of kindness is too small and I like the way Attitude is embedded in GrAttitude.

It is after all an attitude:  gratitude.

Last week I took the New Haven line into the City again. This time, to meet friends. Even though the weather was really bad, I was prepared, camera-ready. I craned my neck for 10-minutes before pulling into 125th Street station, afraid I’d miss it, wanting to catch a glimpse and possibly a picture of it this time. Sure enough, I did. Not without thinking “Why?” though. Why am I haunted by this?

It’s just a word. Right?

Not really.

It’s thought provoking.

And this time I noticed something different.

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©2014 KarenSzczukaTeich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

The E is backwards. The E in Grattitude is backwards! I didn’t notice that before. That puts a whole new twist on things, requiring even more thought.

So, I keep thinking about gratitude.

Was the billboard like this a few weeks ago? Or was it like the one I found when I Googled it? What does it mean that the E is backwards now? Is “gratitude” as I know it backwards? Not communicated enough or effectively?

I don’t know.

And I really don’t know what the artist’s intentions were or if the billboard I saw last week is different from the one I saw several weeks ago. I still don’t know who put it there or why and it probably doesn’t matter but I do know this:  I considered myself to be a pretty grateful person until I saw this billboard and the word took up residence in the forefront of my mind.

Seeing this word in an unsuspecting place made me think.

A lot, as in turbo-charged. About gratitude.

That was the effect for me and it’s a profound one.

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Courtesy my niece, this week, on the train, on her way to work!

In the middle of Harlem when people look up and see this billboard, maybe they see a message being sent to the powerful and wealthy, dispossessed and poor…… or maybe it’s just meant to make anyone who sees it think about gratitude and what that means for them, in their life. Gratitude is not bias. People are grateful for different things at different times of their lives. What I take for granted others may be very grateful for and vice-versa.

Sometimes, it’s nice to have a reminder come to you out of the clear, blue sky.

What do you think? Have you seen the billboard?

Photo Credits #1 & #3: Google Images

Photo Credit #2:  ©2014 KarenSzczukaTeich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

Attitude of Gratitude ~ Greenwich Post

What’s Your Word?

January 12, 2014 11 comments

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January is my birth-month and always evokes reflection for me, which in turn, starts the mind- ball rolling and inevitably lands atop a pile of things I think I should, could, need or want to do in the upcoming year. I suspect I’m not unique. January after all, is the start of every new year offering the promise of a new beginning and of course, the making of a million resolutions.

UGH!

I’m not not very good at resolutions. My intentions are always good but, well, you know what they say about where the road that’s paved with good intentions goes. I’d love to be able to say I’m going to do X, Y and Z this year, do them and be thrilled with myself come the following December. I’d even be okay if I were able to get X and only part of Y done and somehow WASN’T disappointed in myself the next December when I realized I never completed Z.

But I can’t. I  am who I am and resolutions just don’t really work for me.

I do however like the idea of being able to start over. In fact, I wake-up every morning with the notion that it’s an opportunity to do better than yesterday. Begin again. I also like the idea of having a concentration; something I can work on or toward without the pressure of having a deadline to complete it. That’s why I love this idea and recent posting on a blog I follow about the concept of using a single word as a focal point to giving yourself direction and purpose.

The blog is Leadership Freak and the post was Don’t Make a Resolution; Find a Word“.

Whether your work is in a leadership capacity or not, or whether you’re a parent or not, or if you’re just interested in another interesting perspective on how to move forward in life, I highly recommend following this blog.

Dan Rockwell, invites you to look inward and think about what you need, what’s in your way and what needs to go” to help find your word. Actually, he suggests letting your word find you, without stressing about it by finding a quiet place to think about it. Let it come to you. Finally, he recommends that you live out your word where-ever you go. Keep it at the forefront of your mind. Apply it to everyday living.

This, I thought, I can do.

So  I did.

FAITH

That’s.  My.  Word.

This year for me, it’s about FAITH.

FAITH that “things” will always turn out the way they are supposed to.

Because they do.

FAITH that I can.

And I will.

Because I do.

FAITH that all things are possible.

Because they are.

Wordle: faith

Think about it and then come back and tell me.

WHAT’S YOUR WORD?

Photo Credit #1:  Google Images

Photo Credit #2: Wordle created by Karen Szczuka Teich

Magic Intervened

December 29, 2013 12 comments
Christmas Candles

©2013 HannahRoseTeich & I’mThinkingHappy.com

“Oh, Come All Ye Faithful,

Joyful and Triumphant!”

Even though the Holiday has come and gone, I’m still basking in that warm and fuzzy, lingering feeling of love and caring, otherwise known as Christmas Spirit.

Like many folks who celebrate, Christmas is deeply rooted in tradition for me. My European parents have always emphasized Christmas Eve as the more celebrated day of the two. Unlike my all-American friends who opened their gifts Christmas morning, Santa always came to our house after dinner on Christmas Eve. When I was a child we would trade off each year with my Dad’s sister, celebrating in Westchester or Upstate New York with my two, older boy cousins who lived in the woods. By the time my children were born, my cousins had already started their own families and carried on the tradition in their own ways. Ours was tweaked slightly so we could continue to celebrate Christmas Eve with my parents at their home and celebrate Christmas Day, the American way, in my home. Santa’s magical flexibility allowed for him to drop off a few gifts at Nana & Opa’s house after dinner before making his way to our house Christmas morning.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past few years however, it’s that like it or not, change is the only real constant. You can go with the flow, embracing it the best you can or be miserable.

An incident at the beginning of December unfortunately,  made it clear that this Christmas was going to be different, forcing me to rethink how we normally celebrate Christmas Eve. Even though my parents would be celebrating as they usually do with our extended family, being there for us, was not an option. Circumstances beyond our control and careful consideration made it necessary for me to decline the invitation, in effect, displacing us and leaving us with nowhere to be on Christmas Eve.

Each generation tries to do better, provide more guidance and opportunity for their kids but mostly we all just want for our children to be happy.  My kids love their extended family. Talking to them about why we weren’t going to celebrate Christmas Eve with my family this year was really hard.  And even though after everything my kids have been through, it’s been important to me to try to keep certain things the same for them over the past two years, I realize life is filled with hard stuff. All we can really do for our kids is arm them with the truth and let them know we will always be there to love and support them.

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©2013 KarenSzczukaTeich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

“Sing Choirs of Angels Sing in Exultation,

Sing All Ye Citizens of Heaven Above!”

I believe in magic; Christmas Magic.

It’s the gift that appears from seemingly nowhere and has no tangible existence to speak of, like the unlikely turn-of-events in a situation that you couldn’t foresee working out — working out. It can come in the form of an unexpected act of kindness or an expression of gratitude.  It’s when all things align and the view is suddenly clear, making way for something special to occur, like the sighting of a shooting star or the appearance of a rare blue moon.

It’s getting what you need, not necessarily what you’ve been asking for and recognizing it when it shows itself.

I love Christmas because it embodies the spirit of giving (and I don’t mean of things) from one person to another.

An unexpected, greatly appreciated phone call came about a week before Christmas. My Dad’s sister, the aunt we shared Christmas with when I was a child invited me and my children to join her, a friend and one of my cousins on Christmas Eve.

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© 2013 KarenSzczukaTeich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

I haven’t spent a Christmas Eve with my Tante Christine in over 20-years.

She hasn’t spent a Christmas without at least two of her four grandchildren present in over 25-years.

This year Christmas Eve was different. None of her grandchildren could be there.

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© 2013 KarenSzczukaTeich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

My kids and I needed some family for Christmas.

My aunt, needed some kids.

We — needed each other.

Magic Intervened.

May the Magic of the Holiday Season fill your heart with joy and gratitude, as it did mine.

Into The Storm

December 15, 2013 10 comments

Storm3

She stood in the storm,

And when the wind did not blow her way,

She adjusted her sails.

                                                                                                                 ~ Elizabeth Edwards

Categories: Attitude, Challenges, Life Tags: ,
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