Somber yet Uplifting, Rewarding yet Frustrating

In the past five years, I have never missed blogging before my final exams. I believe it’s a time of year where it is especially important to take time to reflect, and as easy as it would be to ignore blogging and keep cramming for my exam tomorrow, it’s probably about time I found my way back to The Life of Pinya.

Finals week is never smooth sailing, but this past week has been particularly rough with a whirlwind of emotions.

A week ago today my uncle passed away. Technically he was my great great uncle, but with the way generations work out in my family, everyone just called him Uncle Early. I’m honestly still a bit in disbelief that he passed, even just writing this paragraph in the past tense is kind of surreal. It was a shock to everyone. He was only in his mid-70s and in good health. Just a few weeks ago he was crushing it on the dance floor at his daughter’s wedding and every year he’d still challenge me to a fried chicken eating contest at our family reunion. Then two weeks ago he had a stroke.

He has to have immediate brain surgery, but things were still looking good. He was recovering so well; the last time I went into the hospital his temperature had just come back to normal, the nurses completely took him off of one of the painkillers, and he got rid of the case of strep he caught. Then they found something else in his brain. To be honest, I still am not clear on the details, but he died later that night while I was at the gym coaching.

My Uncle Early was a great man. Perhaps he had a bit of a cynical humor from time to time, like when he called a baby a “chubby little porker,” but he was good-hearted and everyone always admired how he brought people together. As one of my relatives put it, our family is comprised of a lot of halves and quarters and all sorts of combinations, and Uncle Early was one of those people who connects everyone. At his memorial service this past weekend, one of his daughters told us how on the notes in his phone was a list of all the Christmas presents he was going to buy for the people in the apartment in NYC he and his wife lived at once a month and another list of plans for their next family vacation for Summer 2019. It really made me realize just how much he was constantly thinking ahead and thinking of others.

Unfortunately, I didn’t see Uncle Early all that often despite the fact that we were in the same city. We mostly talked at our annual family reunion and the occasional family gathering for birthdays and weddings. Two summers ago my grandma and I also got to spend a week with him and his immediate family at a villa in Italy which was an amazing time. I think his passing made a lot of my family realize how silly it is that we don’t stay better in touch, and now more than ever it’s important to actively work to be together with our main connector gone.

And while you may think that having a family member pass away in the middle of final exams is already emotionally draining, my week only continued to get mind-boggling. On top of my uncle passing away and all of our family coming in town, we also had our first gymnastics meet of the season this past weekend. Thus I spent a good portion of the week in the gym for extra last-minute practices trying to get all of our girls prepared for the meet and the gym ready for us to host. And this only became more challenging once it was official that my uncle’s memorial service would be held in the middle of the time our meet was scheduled for. My mom, sister, and I were all supposed to be working at all three sessions Sunday, and thus when the memorial was planned we then had an extra stressor of trying to figure out how we would cover all three of us not being at the meet – there were a lot of phone calls to old coaches and having to explain to our girls why they would have to have a coach they hardly work with at their first meet.

I’m not going to lie, I was a little disappointed to not be able to be at the meet. It’s my first year being an official team coach in terms of actually having a set schedule where I’m the main coach for our youngest girls, so I was kind of looking forward to seeing them compete. Plus I felt bad for them because a competition is already so nerve-racking and I can only imagine what it would be like to then not have your main coach there with you. Not to mention it was the very first gym meet ever for most of my girls as they are on our lowest level of team so they’re mostly newbies to the competition world. I’m proud to say that from what I’ve heard they all had a pretty solid first meet, though a part of me still wishes I could have been there.

I was back at the meet though right after the service because to add another level to this past weekend, not only was I scheduled to coach, I was also scheduled to perform at the meet with my acro partner. While some may say they couldn’t even imagine performing after a memorial service, I’m a big believer in the saying, “The show must go on,” and it was making me more anxious and harder to contain emotions to even think about not performing when I knew I could make it work.

Despite what her mom may have said, I couldn’t bear to think about letting my partner down by not performing because acro isn’t the kind of thing someone can just come in to “fill in” for – if one partner is out, then no one performs. Plus we were both so excited though to show off our new skills and the fact that we finally got everything needed to be an official level 8 pair! (Well officially level 8 besides my tumbling which was a whole other stressor this past week of trying to work past my fear of back tucks while also dealing with my hurt wrists preventing me from other options…) Not to mention, I’m studying abroad over the summer and will miss our in-house meet in the spring, so I’m really not sure when our next performance will be which made me especially upset about potentially missing this showcase.

And I think it’s what my uncle would’ve wanted as well. I mean even his own service ended with a party in his honor because that’s the kind of person he was – someone who loved to bring people together for a good time. So my mom braided my hair in the bathroom after the service and I got in an uber and rushed back to the gym. My partner and I had not had the greatest of practices leading up to the meet, and to be honest for one of our routines we had only ever done it successfully with all of the skills once before the show. So besides all the other emotions, I was not in my most calm state rushing into the gym for a quick warm up before performing.

Somehow, thankfully, our performance actually went as good as we could’ve expected! My tumbling was awful, but we made every skill which for this point in the season is good enough for me!

Then Monday came and the whole “it’s the middle of finals week” officially hit me… Between coaching, spending time with family, seeing shows (like my high school director’s annual one-man version of A Christmas Carol, which I hope to never miss, and Elf the Musical – both full of great and much needed holiday spirit), and just trying to stay calm, it was maybe too easy to procrastinate school work…

So now these past few days I’ve been working hard finishing projects, portfolios, and taking tests all the while studying for my one in person exam tomorrow morning before I’m finally done with the semester.

I know I’m a compartmentalizer when it comes to emotions, which is probably evident even in this post, and honestly, I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through this week if I wasn’t. But that’s also part of why I thought it was especially important for me to blog tonight. It’s often when we feel we have the least amount of time and/or desire to take a moment to reflect that we need to the most.

I don’t have a problem with talking to people about personal things, but it’s been exactly for that reason that instead, this has been one of those weeks where I just kind of avoided people. I knew I would naturally share with people the chaos of this week, but I wasn’t really in the mood to repeat the story so many times with each new person I ran into. That’s a bit too emotionally draining even for this compartmentalizer. The follow-up comments are just… awkward … There’s no better way to describe it personally. It’s a conversation no one knows how to have or continue or what to say or what not to say. I guess that’s just another reason it’s nice to blog- it’s a way to think without stress or interruption and get it all out there at once, not for the sake of sharing or for the desire of a response, but for the purpose of trying to help take it all in.

This week has seen it all. It’s been somber yet uplifting, rewarding yet frustrating, and a whole mix of other things I’ve yet to fully process, but I think writing some of it down might have helped a little at least to get out of my head and start to piece together just everything that happened this weekend. It’s had a bit of a sleepwalking-like feel which I’m not sure I’ve even quite shaken off yet, but “The show must go on.”

And with that, as the tradition goes:

A merry finals to all,

And to all crammers,

Good luck and good night.

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A Lil’Pupper

My family has always been known for doing things kind of spur of the moment. Like when I took a week-long trip to NYC with 30 minutes notice. Or when we just went for a weekend to stay in a cabin by a zip line place. Or when we planned a trip to Italy within a  month’s times.

Well, this weekend we started fostering a puppy. We had been talking about getting a dog for a while and actively looking for the last few weeks but we hadn’t originally planned on getting a puppy. Saturday morning we were at a dog park meeting another dog who didn’t work out because she was too aggressive towards other animals and we knew we didn’t have the skills to help re-socialize her. Then as we were getting ready to leave we saw a bunch of tents where a shelter had set up and had some pups out, so we took a look and as the story goes we fell in love with this pup and are now fostering her.

So needless to say it’s been a pretty random weekend full of going back and forth between home and school for me. Then add to that tap rehearsal and seeing a musical at the new performing art center near my house.  It’s just one of those times where you can’t really tell how productive you are or aren’t being and that’s just been my mood all weekend.

Sometimes it’s nice though to have random things happen in your life even if it does through off your original plans. I enjoy my family’s habit of making random decisions, and hopefully, this one works out well. So far the pupper has been behaving very well and it really sweet and smart which is a good sign.

Something a Little Weird

Sometimes it can be really fun to intentionally do something really “weird” compared to normal society, but you have to own it with complete confidence.

To some extent, I feel like that’s kind of a trademark of me.

I’m the girl who wore a fuzzy hat to school every day of the year after it got a little chilly outside and long past when it got warm again. I’m the girl who would wear a cloak to school just for the joy of walking down the hallways more majestically. I’m the girl who takes a picture squatting on top of a stone water fountain every year because it’s an amusing Capon tradition that started when I was one. And I’m part of the family who spends one night each time we’re in Ohio dressing in our pyjamas to go out to an ice cream store.

Tonight was “Pyjama Michelle’s Night” and my siblings and my grandparents and I all put on our pjs and go out to the busiest ice cream shop in town, confusing lots of people along the way. It’s a tradition that’s been going on for at least seven years now and we always pull in thinking “Are we too old for this?” but then we walk out of the car with our heads high and just laugh our way in. We get all sorts of weird looks and compliments and questions and it’s really just great. My favorite thing is when people think it’s actually some legit thing that they were just out of the loop on.

I truly believe everyone should go out and do something a little “weird” every now and then because it’s a great way to practice getting out of your comfort zone and taking low scale risks; it helps to prepare for the harder, more uncomfortable risks that sometimes have to be taken.

Writing Beyond Authoring

My brother is entering the 7th grade, and today at dinner he said, “I don’t understand why we have to take English and grammar class; I’m not going to ever be an author of a book.” This comment gave me a mixture of feelings.

On the one hand, I was impressed with his willingness to question the nature of things. Part of me also could relate to him; I was never gifted in grammar and any teacher who I ever wrote for would testify to that. At his age, I would’ve probably made a similar statement about how I’d never write a book, but here I am years later with an outline and introduction to the book I keep saying I’m going to write… You never know what will happen, he may write a book one day, but even if he doesn’t we all tried to explain at dinner how important writing is to every job out there.

This made me realize two things:

  1. As a rising seventh grader, how is it that my brother doesn’t understand the importance of writing? I asked myself this question, but I’m not even sure if I understood the importance of writing in eighth grade for that matter. I don’t know if I ever understood the importance of writing until I became a part of the Innovation Diploma and had to write emails, scripts for conference talks, professional write-ups, and started my blog which lead to a few articles for magazines. I was writing on a daily basis, but it wasn’t ever five paragraph essays or eleven sentence paragraphs which is what I remember being shoved into my head as “the way to write” in years leading up to me joining the Innovation Diploma. When do we teach why we learn to write? When do we teach how to enjoy writing?
  2. Realizing the moment when I came to appreciate writing made me realize a second observation: why don’t we spend more time learning the different ways we need to know how to write? School spends a lot of time about writing essays, and in high school that turns into more specifically: how to write essays that AP graders and college admissions will like. We write narratives sometimes as the “fun creative writing time,” and we learn about what persuasive writing is, we even read and attempt to write poetry or plays from time to time. But most of my peers in college still don’t know how to write an email. Lab reports were always something English teachers expect you to learn in science classes and science teachers typically just tell you to “look up a template online,” so who really knows how well I ever learned how to do that… I’m now working on a team wanting to write a professional documentation of our recent project to potentially try publishing and as I’ve started to write it I’m feeling like my closest experience to ever doing something like this is the way I reflect about projects on my blog; this seems like the kind of writing most people will do so it would be nice to have more practice and feedback in school. I could even imagine a project of buying a bunch of random items and having kids test them out and write reviews for them, learning to write feedback on a product is a huge skill for so many professions. It just seems like in education we talk about a lot of styles of writing, like persuasive, narrative, expository, etc, but I don’t recall talking much about different forms of writing like emails, essays, write-ups, surveys, talks, product feedback, notices, articles, memos, etc.

I by no means think English class is irrelevant as my brother seems to believe, but especially after our dinner conversation, I do wonder about ways English classes could foster a better understanding of the importance of writing perhaps by having a wider variety of types of writing taught. I’m sure one day my brother will learn the importance of writing, but it just seems like by the time a kid enters seventh grade they could have already learned this.

Bringing Back the Old

Once upon a time, back when I was 7ish at Capon there use to be a Kemp’s tournament amongst the teens. That’s how I originally learned to play all those years ago.
But somehow over the years the tournament stopped happening as more and more of that generation stopped coming to Capon consistently.
Slowly though I’ve been trying to bring back Kemp’s. Today was a successful day in making that happen when we had a group of 8 playing at the lake in pre Capon mode and I was mentioning how there use to be a tournament. Some of the parents saw us playing and they made reference to the old days too.
It’s kind of fun to bring back the old times every now and then.

Family Reunion

After a few delays, I finally made it to the Dulles airport! From there, I rode with the dad of another Capon family down to their lake house for the traditional “weekend before” where a bunch of Capon families get together at the lake and then all drive to Capon Sunday afternoon.
We had the often discussed conversation today about “How do you describe Capon to other people?” My family always says it’s our family reunion place that’s something like Dirty Dancing meets Never-Neverland. Others said similar about just calling it a family reunion place that’s old fashion so we don’t have internet or phone access for the week.
Upon having this conversation I realized that despite always calling it our family reunion place, recently less and less of my actual blood-related family has been going. This year is the smallest it’s been ever with only the four members of my immediate family attending (due to various reasons others were unable to come this year). Once upon a time our family use to have one of the longest tables at Capon and were one of the biggest families in attendance (that would actually be written in the Capon weekly newspaper even); thus, it’s weird to now have one of the smallest tables.
Yet I believe it is still a family reunion of sorts. I believe this because we have all sorts of different kinds of families and really all of the people at Capon are like family. The same way I have my Mount Vernon family, my AllStars family, my DramaTech family, my nerd camp family, etc, I have a Capon family. It’s all the same people every year from a bunch of different families and we all enjoy spending time together and sharing about life in the past year from all over the country and we have our reunion once a year to do this.
I’m weirdly a big fan of traditions considering how much I dislike the traditional school system. I honestly wish more of my family’s had reunions because I think it’s important to stay connected with people you care about, and sometimes life will bring your family in different directions and you need a sacred time where everyone knows to save the date to get together and spend time re-connecting.

Unplugged

I’m back from Capon and the land without internet or wifi, and therefore, will continue to post some of the blog posts that I wrote during the interim later today. However, I did not successfully write a post for every day, but I’m kind of okay with that. Rather than spending that time off on my own with my computer, it was time I spent taking advantage of all the great moments Capon has to offer without technology.

I feel like every year I blog about how much I appreciate having a week tech-free, but it’s just so true! I love how at Capon we’re forced to unplug and just get to be in the moment chilling with our family and friends.

Living in all of the moments is such a refreshing feeling; from the fast-paced ultimate frisbee games or rowdy badminton matches to the quiet times reading on the porch or taking a nap on a hammock. When you have time to kill between meals you find all sorts of adventures and games to play like “Super Pong” where we play a game of ping-pong meets foursquare across three ping-pong tables.

Then into the late night when you think all of the moments are over for the day, still we might have a serious chat about family drama or a fake talent show that will make you laugh your socks off when friends re-perform acts from their childhood.

Capon is like the camp you never grow too old to attend, every year I can’t wait for another week of amazing food, great company, and intense tournaments of the weirdest kind.

Till next year Capon; can’t wait until another week un-unplugged from technology and plugged into the real moments.

Play to Learn

I feel like one of the most untapped pieces of potential for great learning is playing games.

Today I spent just about all day in a game store where they have bookshelves full of IMG_0965.JPGrandom games you can play. As a student, it’s $5 for me to sit at a big game table in the store and be able to play as many games as I want from 8am to 11pm and can even leave and come back for no extra charge. We played from 1:30-11 only taking a little more than an hour break to eat dinner at a nearby restaurant and it really was a fantastic day.

We challenged ourselves to learn new games so we played two rounds of two new games and then ended the night with 15 minutes of one of our favorite “classics” for our family to play.

I had forgotten how hard it can be to learn a new game. So often when playing games, at least one person already knows how to play and they can help explain as you go. When no one has ever played the game, you can easily spend 20-30 minutes just doing reading comprehension to try and understand setup and how things work in this particular game world.

We found also that after learning our first new game, learning a second new game became easier because we had more confidence at being able to piece together and remember odd assortments of rules; games push your creative muscles.

Games are so great for all sorts of brain activity. On top of the reading comprehension needed to understand instructions and the communication skills to explain the instructions to the rest of the players and the questioning skills to truly know the instructions, we had all sorts of learning moments: We had to challenge our memory, quickly develop strategy, be able to plan for 3 steps ahead, prioritize, consider risk management, communicate our ridiculous sounding ideas, and in one game we even had to work on our geography knowledge.

Honestly, I may have only played games all day, but my brain “hurts” so to say, and I feel physically tired from all the processing I did. Mind challenges are some of the best ways to grow our brain capacity and therefore expand our learning toolbox.

I wish there were shelves of games at schools. I wonder what it would be like to be able to just get a group together and pick out a new board game to try learning over lunch time. Games are such a great way to build community and brain muscle it just seems like a naturally benefiting idea for schools to incorporate more game time into school.

That was part of the reasoning why I created the Kemps Khoas club way back when which was a club devoted to a card game tournament building community between faculty and students. One of my wishes that I never got around to in high school would’ve been to really develop the club to go beyond just the one card game.

Playing is such an essential part of learning. I wish I saw more games at schools.

Improv and Show Tunes

I love theater people. Doesn’t matter the age, everyone kind of has the same dramatic vibe.

Today the dance troupe kids put on a performance between the junior troupe and senior troupe while the parents (and me) all watched. It was hilarious and impressive, yet not fully put together all at the same time. There was singing and dancing and lots of improv. Then we played charades Broadway-style which was fabulous even if some of the younger kids didn’t really get how to play… And to finish off the night we played “Heads Up” and “Name that Tune” with TV shows and 70s/80s/90s songs.

Life is always better with a little bit of improv and show tunes.

A Chance at Greatness

Earlier today I read this article about the application process to get into middle schools and high schools in New York. It’s crazy!!!

(I’d strongly encourage reading this article before reading the rest of my post because it provides helpful context.)

I remember applying to colleges all too vividly and it was stressful and tiresome and promoted all sorts of self-doubt amongst teens. For students applying to some schools, your shot all boils down to a bunch of numbers – that’s terrifying. From what I can tell, it seems like some kids go through this same process as early as when they’re 10-11 and only just about to enter 6th grade- that seems outright wrong.

Even looking past the equality debates and economic pull for a second (though very real issues as well), what 10-year-old should have to be thinking about how their grades will affect the rest of their life: the odds of getting into a good middle school leading to odds of going to a good high school leading to odds of being well prepared for college. Sure you may think, “Well the child probably isn’t worrying about all of the grades and applications and portfolios; the parents are the ones to really send stuff in,” but what is the likelihood parents don’t start pressuring their kids more and more with each year the academic game gets more competitive? Parents just want their kid to go to a good school, but what has to happen for them to get there?

And let’s keep in mind elementary school “grades” are basically assessing things like multiplication to the power of 12 and a few basic sentences written in a row.

I couldn’t read well until 2nd grade, does that mean I shouldn’t have gotten a chance at a good education?

This article honestly made me consider even beyond this apparent problem with New York City schools. I realized that there are often complaints about the ways that higher education admits students, but how often do we consider all of the k-12 schools who also have application processes? How do they work? How heavily are grades and standardized tests considered? Are children truly looked at holistically?

I’m just throwing out questions because I really don’t know how it works. I had never considered how lucky I am to have gone to the same school for middle and high school. A lot of kids go to a different school every four-ish years of their life because that’s just how neighbourhood schools tend to work. I, on the other hand, switched to a private school when I was going into 6th grade and then got to just stay at that school. I didn’t have to deal with applying to a new high school, or meeting new friends, or getting used to a new school system.

I vaguely remember the application process going into 6th grade. I’m sure my records were sent in and then I remember having an interview where they asked me to solve some basic math problems and take a few “creativity tests.” I only applied to one school. If I didn’t get in and didn’t get financial aid, I would’ve gone to our local middle school despite it being known as, “not a good school.” I was fortunate to make it in and to be on scholarship, but many don’t get that same chance.

My life would be completely different had I not switched schools in 6th grade. Completely and utterly so, I’m certain of it.

I hate that there even exists rumours of “not good schools.” Shouldn’t every child get to go to a great school? School is honestly one of the biggest parts of childhood. We spend 35+ hours a week in school for roughly 180 days a year. That amount of time spanning from age 5-18 (and some kids spend longer than that), adds up to an underestimate of about 16,380 hours spent in k-12 school during childhood. That’s a ton of time!

Obviously, this article I read is focused primarily on how the system to apply to schools is corrupt, but in my opinion, if the schools supposedly “not good” we just transformed to be better, then maybe the application system would self-fix to some extent. Every school has a different culture. Two schools can be entirely different and yet both equally great for the right child. The school application process should be about finding what culture of a school is best for each individual child, not about children competing to be admitted into the select few great schools.

School influences life; there is no questioning that anymore in the age we live in. Being okay with some schools just not being great is like saying not all kids deserve a chance at a great life.

We need all schools to be great.