Tuesday, June 25, 2013

An Ordinary Day. . . in Chilliwack

This morning I got up out of  my comfortable bed after several hours of  uninterrupted sleep.  I turned on the tap, waited for the water to get warm and washed my face.  I reached into the drawer and pulled out my toothbrush and toothpaste, turned back on the water for a second, brushed my teeth, rinsed my mouth with cool clean water and headed to the kitchen.  I plugged in the kettle and reached into the cupboard for some tea while I waited for it to boil.  It was a little chilly this morning so I turned on the fireplace and sat beside it to meditate for a few minutes while I warmed up and woke up.  I returned to the kitchen, made my cup of tea, put in a piece of toast, grabbed a banana from the bowl and settled in to read the morning paper.  I did this in the peaceful quiet that surrounded me this morning but sometimes I plug in my i-pad to the electrical outlet and listen to some beautiful music, made somewhere by amazing musicians and recorded somewhere by someone for my listening pleasure.

I read the paper every morning, the one that's delivered to my front doorstep by someone in the middle of the night, every night, all year long. The fact that I'm able to read and that I have glasses to help me see is not lost on me this morning.  I finished my breakfast and loaded the dishes into the dishwasher which I will turn on later this evening when it's full.  I folded the paper up and put it in the recycling bin which will go out onto the curb Thursday morning and be picked up by someone working hard to keep my house free of the many, many things I use once and no longer need.

I had some chores to do this morning so I went to my closet and picked out what I was going to wear from all of the clothes that I own and then searched for my comfortable, errand-running shoes.  I gathered my cell phone, my wallet (with money, credit card and bank cards in it) and my list of chores.  I went to my garage and opened the door with the remote and started my car, full of gas, in good repair and drove to the vegetable stand down the road.  I picked up fresh strawberries, cucumbers and tomatoes and enjoyed the smell of fresh food that filled up my car as I drove into town.  I purchased vacuum cleaner bags, picked out a new top for my nephew's wedding and stopped at the grocery store.  As I entered the grocery store I reminded myself to buy only what's on my list.  I am always tempted by the shelves and shelves of food as I go about checking off the things that I came for.

On the way home I stopped to buy a few flowers to fill my vase with and a new plant  to put into the pot my daughter and grand-daughter made me for Mother's Day.

I'm not sure why but today as I went about my routines I felt grateful for all that I have.  I thought about the people in the world with no roof over their head, no food in their stomachs.  I thought about the people in Calgary dealing with the aftermath of the world's latest natural disaster.  I remembered that I had all I needed and most of what I wanted and the means to get the things that make my life comfortable day after day.  While I am aware I have a good life I'm not always as conscious as I should be about the many, many people in the world whose lives are not so blessed and so easy.  I  hope you are able to find a moment today as well to revel in the luxury and beauty that surrounds us day to day.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Graduation (for a local 89 year old and, for my mom)

"On Wednesday, Ms. Eddison will become one of B.C.’s oldest high school graduates. The 89-year-old great-grandmother will receive her adult high school diploma from the Agassiz Centre for Education in Agassiz, B.C., east of Vancouver."

This story caught my eye for a number of reasons.  Firstly, I love that this woman is the epitome of  someone who really is 'a life long learner', a term you hear so much about in today's educational world.  Secondly, this story is happening in the small community where I lived for 32 years and where I taught for 25.  Thirdly, the administrator at ACE (Agassiz Continuing Education) , Sandy Balascak, represents a modern educator who thinks outside the box.  Her idea of combining high school students who sometimes struggle in the regular school system with seniors is pure genius.  I love that she had the idea.  I love that she thought it would work and then went about making it work. I love that her main goal was finding a way to integrate the seniors in the community with the students who attend her alternate school.  Those community connections, I believe, are so important to students who have struggled with the school system, with their home lives and with acceptance, in general.   I love that it is on the evening news and in the National Post.  Fourthly, and most importantly, it reminds me of another woman who took a risk, quit her job and went back to public school to complete her grade 12.  That woman is my mom.

I am not sure what motivated my mom to leave the work force in 1971 and return to public school to complete grades 11 and 12.  In hindsight, I believe it was about finding a better job more than it was about completing her education, but I will have to ask her the answer to that question to really know.  What I do know is that my mom, my brother and I carpooled to school several days a week.  On top of that my grandmother, a teacher, also attended my high school to upgrade in French.  I don't remember being too bothered by this.  Our high school was big, really big!  My mom took business classes, which were in another wing of the school where I seldom hung out, except for typing class (which I never attended anyways, but that's another story).

Sadly, I never recognized the courage that this took until I was going back to school myself.   Like my mom, I had a four children before I headed back to school.  My mom would have been 37, I was 26.   I went to university, she went to public school.  I went with friends, she went with her two teenagers and her mother.  She left a paying job.  My dad was in the Armed Forces and while he made a living wage, I am sure that there was no extra money around as there never had been, even while she was working.  I don't remember her complaining.  I don't remember her doing homework.  I do remember her excelling.

I was pretty wrapped up in my own world when I was going to high school; friends, sports, oh yeah, and school.  I will tell my mom when I see her in a couple of weeks how amazing I think she was/is.  There is so much in life you just don't get until you've walked a mile in your parents' shoes. 

It was great to attend the ACE graduation yesterday for a number of reasons.  But mostly, it brought a new awareness to me about my own family, about the support we had at home and about the example my mother had set about the importance of education, no matter  your age.

Thanks mom!

Me, my mom, my Gramma Dot (who also attended high school with me) and Jason and Christine
1977, Comox, B.C.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Ties to the Past

Last June eight of the women in our family got together for a weekend 'up the lake' at Papa's cabin.  In fact, it is Nanny's and Papa's cabin but somehow we all associate going up there with Papa.  It's not easy getting our families together which is true of most families.  While we couldn't all be there, those that could had a wonderful time.

On the way up to the cabin three generations of Watson women stopped at Papa's grave sight to share a quiet moment, remember some happy times and to pay tribute to a wonderful man.  We lay some flowers on his grave and remembered that day exactly 18 years before that we lost Papa to cancer.  It sounds like a sad way to start a happy weekend but it wasn't, at least not for me.  When I think of Papa the memories are always happy ones of a loud boisterous family led by a soft-spoken gentle man.

We hopped into the truck, stopped at the home store for the last of our supplies and hit the bumpy logging road that winds its way towards our little piece of paradise.  This was my grand-daughter Elizabeth's first trip to the cabin she has heard so much about.  We stopped along the way to take pictures of the beautiful lake vistas and as we got closer and closer she asked more and more often, "Are we there?  Is this it?" until that last turn that takes us down to the shores of the lake and our extremely rustic, somewhat patched-together cabin.  We are talking rustic here, outhouse and everything.  There is no power, no plumbing, no TV's or videos.  What there is, is peace.
It didn't take us long to unload the chairs and head to the dock.  The weather had been terrible during the week leading up to our trip but somehow Mother Nature pulled off a miracle and we had a beautiful, warm sunny day ahead of us.  As we sat on the dock a lone bald eagle circled overhead, dropping down just above us and tilted his wings back and forth.  I have been going to the cabin for 42 years and I have never seen a bald eagle up there.  Being the anniversary of Papa's death, it just felt like he was hovering above watching his grandchildren and great-grandchild enjoying a place that had been so special to him.  It was perfect.

Being 'up the lake' means not having to do anything, unless you want to.  For us it involved a lot of talking and laughing and remembering while we made new memories to add to the old.  It was so great to see Elizabeth exploring, dipping into the lake, finding a quiet moment by herself on the rocks and hanging out with all of adoring aunties and island family.

We cooked on the open fire, laid out a campfire feast fit for a king, slept squashed together in the tiny cabin, trudged to the stinky old outhouse and back and washed our faces in the cold, cold water of Comox Lake, a lake fed through the crookshanks  from the snow-topped mountains above.  The kids took their fishing rods down to the lake and pretended to fish while the rest of us just relaxed.

We did a bit of writing. capturing some of our own cabin memories and hope to add to it year by year, family by family.  The older we get the more important these ties to the past become for us.  It's important to all of us to have our children up there, and now our grandchildren.  It's important that they hear the stories of their great- Papa and great-Nanny and to know that this place exists and that it is there for them.  It is important that we spend time together with nothing to do but enjoy each other and to play and explore and laugh together.

This weekend will be our second annual Watson Women Weekend at the Cabin.  I can't wait!


Friday, June 7, 2013

AESS Won't Be the Same Without Him

My husband is retiring.  For 35 years he has been one of the most dedicated, effective, caring teachers a student could have.  He has been a role model as a teacher, an athlete, a coach but most importantly, as a man.  The boys and girls who have been lucky enough to pass through his classroom have been treated to being taught by a true gentleman.  I know that he has been a fantastic teacher but as a mom, a grandmother and a wife, I think that his gentle, caring nature towards everyone he meets is as important as his dedication to his career.   He cared so much about his students and went out of his way to connect with those who sought his advice and company and often became that one adult at school that so many kids need to stay engaged.

For anyone involved in public education these days you know how hard it is to get coaches, never mind good coaches.  The student athletes at Agassiz Secondary were fortunate to have one of the best in their midst.  For 35 years straight Bob has coached. His passion for basketball was second only to his passion for teaching.  There were years he mentioned taking a year off, having a break, but when no coach could be found he stepped up because he couldn't face the team not having a coach.  He is best known for coaching basketball and for winning a provincial championship along the way.  Along the way he also coached volleyball, track and field, golf, soccer and fastball.  We are very proud that each of our children went on to play university level sports, along with many other AESS athletes.

I know for him that developing a child's character, in the classroom and on the court, has been as important to him as their mastering algebra or basketball.  I know that he has spent 35 years seeing the best in the students he taught and coached.  I have lived with him for all of these years and I have had the pleasure of teaching and coaching with him as well and I know that any conversation that hinted of negativity was responded to with positivity.  He intentionally sought the best in his students and athletes and because of this saw the best in them.  In turn those students and athletes gave their best as well.

Our daughter wrote a blog about her dad a couple of months ago and our son a couple of years ago.  Their words say more than mine ever could:

"My dad is about the most modest person that you would ever meet - modest about everything. He does not like to be fussed over, he does not like to be recognized, he does not like to be honoured. He has been teaching at the same high school since 1977, as a math teacher, and in all of his years at that school you will not have met a person who has been more giving of himself in so many ways. Yes, you will find a handful of AMAZING teachers, who have impacted their students lives in more ways than they would know. But there is just something special about my Dad; as a teacher, as a coach, as a human being.
You will find him in his classroom well before the bell, helping kids prepare for exams, or catching up on missed work. You will find him in his classroom at lunchtime, helping kids prepare for exams, or catching up on missed work, or trying to understand a concept they just can not grasp. You will find him in his classroom after school, doing what? Helping kids prepare for exams, or catching up - I think you understand.
You will find my Dad helping students who have graduated and are taking college math courses to further their careers. You will find my Dad on the phone, at our house, in the evening, talking his students through problems. You will find the neighbours, who are his students, sitting at our kitchen table getting help with their homework.
I am afraid that I have made it sound like all he does is help students with math- it may seem like that to many people - but on the odd occasion that a student will stop by his classroom (or his house) for help with Math, he won't be there. Where will he be? In the gym.
He will be in the gym coaching the Senior Boys, or the Senior Girls, or the Junior girls, or the Junior boys, so the trend continues. He will be running practices, he will be scrimmaging when his team is short players, he will be there before school, or after school, on days when he is not practicing. He will be there scrimmaging with kids that he hopes will join the team, because the team would benefit, and they, as people would benefit. He will be there watching the teams that he does not coach, so that he can talk to them about it the next day at school."

"Growing up, he was that perfect combination of parent and big brother, a playmate when I needed one, and yet an authority figure when he needed to be. Basketball, softball, golf, tennis, you name it he would play it with us (and beat us at it, a trend that faded far too late in life). The coaching gene had apparently been passed to him, as well, and all of us grew up in the Agassiz High gym, learning to dribble a basketball soon after we learned to walk. Once we began to play organized sports, he coached us if he could, if we wanted him to, and to this day he remains the best coach I ever had. Other coaches screamed and yelled and punished their players for mistakes, forced them to memorize plays, sucked the fun out of the game; he made us want to play, let us have fun while giving us the tools to be successful at the same time, and almost never raised his voice; and of course, when you never yell, it makes the times you do far more effective, as anyone who has been on the receiving end of his anger will attest to.
His coaching style and his parenting style are very similar, and I guess in a way that makes sense, they are different degrees of the same role; sports coach versus life coach. Patient, fun, allowing you room to make mistakes, and there to help you through them when you do; for as many times as I’m sure I disappointed him while growing up, I can not think of a single time where he disappointed me. You know, I don’t think there are very many people in this world who can say that about their parents; until I wrote that, I had never really thought about it, which I’m pretty sure makes it true. "

I think we could go one step further and say that his teaching style was the same as his coaching style and his parenting style.  All of them based in integrity, honesty, dedication and real caring.

Geoff Johnson wrote an article in last week's Vancouver Sun about retiring teachers, 'Teachers help 'the kids' write book of their lives'  and I think he was writing about my husband.  (google: Geoff Johnson, Vancouver Sun, May 29, 2013).

I know he'll miss his colleagues.  I know he won't miss staff meetings or report cards.  I know he'll miss the routine.  I know he won't miss the hours and hours of work done at home.  Most of all, I know he'll miss the kids.

My husband, a rare breed, knew he wanted to be a math teacher (or quarterback for the BC Lions) since he was in grade 2.  He spent his life preparing for it.  He left his home town (and his girlfriend!) and headed off to U Vic in pursuit of his dreams.  His determination never wavered (except for once) and when the phone call came he was ready.  He's been a "teacher" his whole life.  He just didn't get paid for it until 1978.  Once he landed his first job he spent significant time trying to talk me into following his footsteps.  Four children later I took on the challenge.  His constant support and encouragement paid off when I became a teacher in 1988.  It's not a dream I ever had for myself and for me, this is one of the most important characteristics of a teacher; he could see something in me that I couldn't see in myself and he helped me to see it, believe it and achieve it.  The role of 'teacher' is part of who he is and, as our kids mentioned in their blogs, it is reflected in the father he is, the husband he is, the grampa he is and most importantly, in the man he is.

We have many exciting plans for our retirement years and can't wait for them to begin but it's still hard knowing that the teaching profession is losing one of its finest next week. What's good to know is that for 35 years in his classroom at Agassiz Secondary School, in the gymnasium at Agassiz Secondary School and in the community at large, his legacy will live on.  He has touched the lives of hundreds of students and colleagues in a way that will not be forgotten.

Some people spend their lives not knowing what their gifts and strengths are.  Some people spend their lives looking for a job/career/vocation that gives back as much to them as they give to it.  Some people are born knowing.  It's a beautiful thing when a career and a passion come together and for the last 35 years, it's definitely been a beautiful thing.  Robert John Meehan wrote the following words:

But they could have been written by Bob Watson.

Congratulations on an amazing career Bob!