Life Lesson ~ Embrace Being a Tortoise

Proud of showing up and finishing the Groton Forest Trail Run 10K ~ Sept. 10, 2022

🐢 🐰 This week I was wavering in deciding whether or not to even show up. I was registered for the Groton Forest Trail Run 10K. I know my pace and I knew it would be hard. The three friends I had planned to race with all decided not to race. It was going to be a sunny and warm, but I also knew the humidity would slow me down. I had made a commitment to myself to participate but my summer training plans had gotten derailed so I felt like I had some great reason to skip it. I contemplated it all week and finally the day before I decided to commit to just showing up and finishing, regardless of my time. So the morning of the race, I wrote this reflection on my favorite Aesop fable. I definitely believe that there is a powerful life lesson on embracing being a tortoise! 🐢

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

“The Tortoise and the Hare” is one my favorite stories to share with children. This Aesop Fable resonates with my work as an early childhood educator, my life as a busy mom, and my fitness routine on my mountain bike and hiking mountains. When we let ourselves get into self limiting we can feel like we are too slow or barely keeping up. The lesson of “The Tortoise and the Hare” is a perfect reminder to live an intentional life and to shift our thinking!

Tortoise is in her own race, calm, steady, moving at her own pace, and not worried what others think. She shows up, does her best, and doesn’t allow competition to steal her joy.

Hare on the other hand, mocked Tortoise for being so slow and even had the audacity to take a nap mid-race. Hare wanted to boast and brag, and for Tortoise to see just how slow her pace was.

When Tortoise came upon Hare napping in the grass, she just continued on her merry way.

And it wasn’t until Tortoise was nearly to the finish line that Hare woke up. Despite his frenzied rush, going as fast as he could, pushing his legs to their maximum, wanting to prove to the others that he was still fastest even with the nap..but he just couldn’t get to the finish line before Tortoise.

At the finish line there was also a Community ~ other animals there to cheer and celebrate. In my version of this tale, I know that Tortoise was humble and kind. She had no interest in boasting and instead savored being in the company of others. She encouraged others do their own thing and to continue to work on being their best selves. She knew it had nothing to do with that finish line. That it wasn’t about the time or how many minutes it took to finish the race. It wasn’t about the data on her fit bit or the number on any scale for that matter. Rather it had everything to do with being present and enjoying the journey.

The lesson to me? Calm and consistent wins the race. Yes, there are likely others who seem ahead of you in life. Yes someone may have already achieved what you are still working hard to make happen. Yes, hare is a better runner but being frenzied isn’t how you want to feel. When you focus on doing your best and no longer allow the pressure of someone else’s judgement then no one can stop you. You find JOY in the journey!

How do you want to feel? Really think about this. You might be bombarded with the message that life is about winning, beating out others, and proving your worth. Can you step aside from those belief and tap into HOW you want to feel instead?
🐰 Frenzied and boastful?
🐢 Calm and consistent?

For me, I am going to enjoy the journey. Calm and consistent. Yes, I’ll eventually see you at the finish line! Probably with a stash of pretty leaves in my pocket that I gathered or a photo of a cool mushroom that I stopped to admire. But that’s the beauty of the loving your journey ~ you have the confidence to pause and savor the little moments! 🐢

Which direction are you headed? I want to encourage you to begin that thing you’ve been wanting to do! Whether it’s a race, a new business, or a writing that book…Calm and Consistent and Community will get you there! And I will be right over here cheering you on!

Rooted and ready,

April

Lantern of Self Care

By April Zajko, M.Ed. 

We know that work we do in education is essential and has a tremendous impact on our communities and the families that we serve. We also know that being a caring, responsive, nurturing care provider can take a toll on our own wellness and health. The long hours and attentive care leaves us vulnerable to burnout during a normal year, but we can all agree that the last two years have been anything but normal. 

Self care is of critical importance now more than ever in order to maintain our own personal health, to minimize illness, to continue to find joy in our work, and to keep our passion for working with children and families alive.

A powerful image and analogy that I use when teaching fellow educators about self care is an old camping lantern. We can only burn as bright as the fuel that we put into our own lantern and we each need different types and quantities of fuel. The foods that we eat, the water we drink, the time set aside to be with friends, the uninterrupted hours of sleep, the positive words we read, the mid-day pause to notice the joy of the children in our care ~ all of these serve as fuel for our inner lanterns. 

The mobile nature of a camping lantern is that you get to shine wherever you go. Your impact on the world is greater when you shine your light on the issues that matter most to you. Wherever life takes me, and your lantern, you have the opportunity to spark hope, joy, and passion in the lives of those around you. Being in community with other like-minded individuals magnifies the impact of our lanterns. We can shine our light to help illuminate the path of others. When we figuratively or literally gather together our own lights are magnified and illuminate even more. 

We do not want to be burning our candle at both ends. We can not completely deplete our fuel reserves and still do the important work that we do. Instead we need to set our boundaries, continue to refuel, and prioritize that our flame is never too depleted. 

Right now in the education world (and many other professions) we are at a tipping point. We have a staffing crisis, we have a workforce that needs support for the work that we do, and we need to develop a stronger system that  helps each of us shine in our own way as we support children. It isn’t that we are ‘burned out’ and if only we did yoga more frequently all our problems would be solved. Rather we need to take time to care deeply for ourselves AND to do the advocacy work to build the systems that truly will support us as professionals and will support families. 

Other analogies of self care such as putting on your oxygen mask makes it seem like refueling is limited. Instead, the image of a lantern and knowing that we each need different kinds of fuel is more robust in view. We can learn how to refuel ourselves and at the same time help empower others to learn how they too can refuel. When we do this important work in community then we can illuminate the path forward. 

Reflection questions ~ take time this week to think about your own lantern and the reserves of fuel that you have. 

  • Are you running on empty? 
  • Is your light burning low and you need to refuel? 
  • What actions will help your refuel?
  • What parts of your day feel draining?
  • Who do you spend time with that lights you up?
  • Who depletes your energy? And can you shift how much time you spend with that person?
  • Are your volunteer opportunities fueling or depleting you? Can you shift how much time you spend volunteering?
  • What part of your home helps you recharge? Could you make changes to improve that space (declutter, rearrange furniture, add coziness..)
  • Journal about specific ways that you can carve out time in order to care for yourself so you can shine bright.

Feathers and Friendship

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This past summer we went to visit a friend who had relocated to the west coast, and who I have been missing since the previous summer. The summer before, she and her family had sold their house, packed up the RV, and headed ‘back home’ where she and her husband had grown up. She graciously posted regularly on Facebook so I continued to feel connected to her, their journey, and the setting of new family roots.

I have to say that Sarah is one of the kindest, gentlest, most caring, and giving people that I have ever met. I liken her to Mother Teresa but a bit more witty and sassy! When she announced that she was going to be moving I felt heartbroken for her little Vermont town, because she volunteered so much, and, selfishly, was sad for my own self. Even though I didn’t get to spend much ‘in real life’  time with her during the school year we always made a plan to reconnect at our local lake during the summer. Our friendship was mostly through Facebook, so I knew that wouldn’t change, but previously I knew I had solace in knowing that I could make the short 20 minute drive to hang out at any time.

Like many of the friends that I had made when our children were toddlers or preschoolers our adult relationships began to change once our children were enrolled full time in school. I had savored the years that I was a stay-at-home or work part-time mom because I knew that I wanted to be fully present when my own children were young. I found camaraderie with other moms who were making a similar decision and we scheduled play dates or meet ups, and I think we did so as much for us “moms” to connect as we did for the kids to have time together. However, life began to get busy when our children become enrolled in school for a full day and we ourselves attempted to get our own careers back on track. Somehow these little people also now began to have their own social calendar and many of my “mom friends” and I drifted apart as our new duty of “chauffeur” became to eat up much of our free time.

For Sarah and I our children never ended up on the same soccer team or Little League, and so seeing each other in person was rare during the school year. The one overlap was a extended once-a-week children’s music series during early 2015. The focus was on Abenaki music and I was hopeful they would let us moms that wanted to stay on site sit in a little room off of the main room. The drumming, singing, and community during that course felt wonderful and I remember talking to Sarah each week about the progression of my mom’s cancer. She knew that I had just lost my father less than a year ago and she was so kind and sensitive in talking to me about this added grief of watching my mom slip away. Though she didn’t know it, seeing her each week and talking while our children explored Native songs was such a support to me. I realize now that sometimes it’s those little life lines that just keep you afloat when life seems overwhelming, and I knew then if I ever needed to reach out to her I could.

The following year my sweet friend lost her father to cancer, and we now shared that pain of the loss of our fathers. As her father’s disease progressed I reached out to find ways to help and never felt sure how to be there. I wished that our kids shared some sort of after school activity so we could see each other on a weekly basis but they didn’t. She worked from home so I couldn’t just happen to stop by at her job, so I was not sure how to connect with her without invading her privacy. In hindsight, I wish I had convinced her to have a standing weekly mom hang-out (or even monthly), but somehow it never seemed right to prioritize “mom time” over kid chauffeuring, work, or domestic chores.

Thankfully, last summer we did get to reconnect in real life. We went to visit Sarah and family in their new home on the West Coast. It felt so warm and welcoming to be there with them, and our families got to spend more time together than we probably had collectively in the whole time we’ve known them. Sarah and I had time to have some so great conversations, we all  got to explore nature together, we feasted on crab we caught, and we all had a wonderful time together. Sarah shared that one of the ways she and her children know that her dad is shining down of them is when they find random feathers in nature, which is something that I felt about my own dad since his passing. So on the morning of our departure, after we said our goodbyes inside the house, my own family and I were in our car about to back out of their driveway. We took a moment to pause and immediately noticed a feather randomly floating from the sky. We all watched it float down and gently land on branch of a tree next to the driveway. I wanted to run inside to tell Sarah what happened, but then thought I should wait and instead write about it. I should use that little story to tell her how much her kindness means to me, and though we don’t get to sit in cafes and sip coffee together, I am always only a click or phone call away. Somehow it feels weird in a digital age to find ‘in real life’ friends, and somehow taking the time to tell others how we feel becomes risky, and it shouldn’t. So I have no empirical proof but I bet that feather was tossed down from BOTH of our dads, encouraging us BOTH to continue on being our true, kind-hearted, altruistic, and giving selves despite what the state of the world might be. That feather floating down from the sky was such a tender moment and one that reminds me of the power of friendship and faith.