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I had a thought today. I am someone who really likes to get things completely finished before I relax. I’m a list-maker and ticker offer-er. I make lists from lists, with priority highlights and checkboxes. Even on the days that I am tired, they are Sharpied off with amazing industrialism.
I could argue until I’m blue in the face that I know what balance is. Even to me, it all looks pretty good from the surface, my life. My values are grounded, my life is good, I love my work, connected inner-circle, healthy + rested.
But somehow, this peaceful existence and safe methodicalness started to pull tighter around me. I would wonder and worry if I hadn’t done what I deemed “enough” preparation over the weekend, if I had earned my down time. I lost the edge and the ability to see effort and situations for exactly what they were.
And I realised this:
Every time I wait until “everything is done” and checked off my list, I am saying NO to ME.
That’s terrifying, I think to myself. Surely it’s not that bad. I’m over-dramatising.
But actually, look deeper. If I wait until everything is tidied, everything is completed, everything is clean and straightened, packed away, Glad-wrapped, boxed-up, including my joy, then I will undoubtedly miss The Moments. The moments of joy and laughter and silliness and grace that makes life so livably sweet and real. Why? Because I won’t be looking for them. I’ll be on my mission, with my Sharpie + list. And even if I have 3 hours at the end of the day because I’ve been so damn efficient, what then? A cookie-cutter conversation, cup of tea, and Tim-Tam? That’s nice, but it shouldn’t be all there is.
I will always be a stickler for routine and organisation. Not just because I’m a teacher, but because I think there is a certain humility and grace to working methodically. I like the steady hum, the strong foundations from which to build energy, life, and fun. My lessons are playful, creative, and far-reachingly imaginative. I crave balance in the foundation and routine in order to make it all work, just as I need oases [plural of “oasis”, did you know that?!] of introverting time to off-set the incredible energy required in my teaching job. And especially so in performing arts + secondary music.
But I’d like to keep that sense of freedom and possibility open, like a gap in the curtains for the dazzling light to sneak through. I’d like to sneak in MORE unexpected moments into the routine that fill me up in the soul. Oh no, let’s be very clear that I do NOT mean the extra concert or rehearsal. I mean the unexpected round of drinks after school. The pizza on the carpet in the middle of report-writing week with friends, laughter, and cider. The 30-minute facial when I should have been marking. Not when everything is done, not when I’m super-relaxed and free on holidays, but because it might be a cool thing to do.
And because it’s a resounding YES to me.
A joyful afternoon of wanderings in the Central Markets and along King William Road where I enjoyed the freedom and sun.
THIS joy is one you only get from the peace at the end of the holidays, being filled up and nourished by all the people you love so dearly in your inner-circle…and FINISHING Year 12 Moderation preparations!
When I started at Pulteney, we accidentally began a tradition of wrapping Year 12s on their birthdays. It all began when the very FIRST Year 12 to have a birthday in my class received a terrible mark in his Musicianship test, and I unwittingly returned it on his birthday. In order that he didn’t remember the day for that moment, I emptied out my top drawer and as a class, we decorated him with all all the celebration paraphernalia we could lay our hands on…streamer, stickers, glitter, feathers, Post-its, and a sparkly hat.
The tradition stuck. Each time we had a birthday, my 12s would ask, “Can we go get the streamers, Ms Kwok?!” So I’m always totally stocked up.
This year, I realised that my little celebratory proteges had grown into themselves more than I could have predicted, and I got a dose of my own creating!
On the day of my birthday, my 12s snuck in early, filled the music room with balloons, wrapped everything (including me) in streamers, sang “Happy B’day” in 2-and-a-half part harmony, and baked brownies for me. 🤗
But my favourite bit? How totally UN-surreptitious they were about the whole operation. Stealth they have not. 🤣
I could literally hear them from a mile away, “SHUT UP! SHE’S COMING!” 😆
This is the front page of my Year 12 Harmony Revision booklet. For 14 years, each kid who studies traditional harmony with me has to come to the office window and yell, “Ms Kwok, can I please have my AAAAAAAAAUUUUUUUUUGGGGGGGGHHHHHH!” revision booklet, please!?
At Brighton, they used to gather in small groups and yell en masse!
I like these traditions. 😉
I am re-reading “Present Over Perfect”, by Shauna Niequist. Her simple, direct, honest writing is a joy to read, and I find myself surprised at how differently I am reacting to different chapters.
The chapter titled, “Throwing Candy”, I read this morning tucked away in a little side street cafe with a cup of coffee. It transported me.
Shauna describes how one of the playful traditions of a retreat she went on was throwing candy into the river where people were kayaking. She describes her reaction:
As I watched from the deck of the lodge, I put my head down on the wide railing, and I began to sob.
Because I used to throw candy, right in the middle of it all. I used to throw candy no matter what. I used to be warm and whimsical. I used to believe in the power of silliness and memory-making and laughter.
And then I became the kind of person who threw candy as long as nothing else was going on – as long as it didn’t get in the way of being responsible. I threw candy at approved and sanctioned candy-throwing time, after all the work was done and things were safe and lunches were made.
And then I got so wrapped up in being responsible that it was never the right time to throw candy.
And then, the worst thing: I became the kind of person who made fun of candy-throwers…please, who has the time?! What is this, kindergarten? I’ve got a list, people, and a flight to catch.
What a loss – for me, for my family, for our community, for all the joy and laughter and silliness we missed out on because I was busy being busy.
…I don’t want to get to the end of my life and look back and realise that the best thing about me was that I was organised. That I executed well, that I ran a tight ship, that I never missed a detail. I want to look back and remember all the times I threw candy, even when it didn’t make sense. Especially when it didn’t make sense.
…And that’s why I’m throwing candy every chance I get.
Me too. That’s why I’m throwing those Freddos and Allens Jelly Beans with all the guisto I can muster. Bring on the Scratch ‘N Sniff stickers in my Year 12 Musicianship lessons, because they bloody well remembered to raise the 7th in a harmonic minor harmonisation! And believe me, the excitement that comes with those stickers is on par with finding a clean fork in the Centre for Senior Learning kitchen. Because in my job, students may be developing adults requiring all manner of respect, boundaries, and healthy challenges, but they are also human beings. They should never have the opportunity to stop being playful, and I need to model that optimism, that joy, that freedom, and that sense of forward thinking. At best, it is pure joy. At its most honest, it is the ability to adapt and fit to a changing world in a healthy way. Those little pockets of silliness and joy keep us human, keep us open to life and learning, keep us vulnerable to both grief and joy, and are absolutely essential.
Bach meets New Orleans. Little bit of a musical amuse-bouche! 😉
One of my Year 8s asked me if I really liked colour THAT much. Now granted, I wear a lot of colour. Patterns that clash. Stockings and scarves in every shade and hue. I am drawn to spots and stripes like a moth to a beacon of light. But do I like colour THAT much?!
I like colour very much. But the daring and light-hearted ensembles I wear to school are as much for my students as for me. In the outfits that I love wearing to school, I’m just as self-conscious walking around in the supermarket after school for that errant cartoon of milk and 3 carrots that I need!
I think the love of pattern and colour is 70% that I actually LIKE colour, and 30% me taking the mickey out of the dress code in the most creative + playful way possible. All the hemlines are the right length, all the bits are covered, nothing’s hanging out, and I suck at heels. Is 1.5cms a heel? It’s an accidental bit of extra leverage!
But I wear these gorgeous, crazy outfits because I love my students and it’s one of the ways I tell them that they matter. Any teacher who comes in neatly dressed, organised, and on time, ready to interact with an open mind says to the students in no uncertain terms that they matter.
I want them to know that they matter before I even start the lesson. Then in the flow of my words, the humour, and the organisation and preparation, they will see the example that I give them to hopefully inspire them to become good people living good lives.
I love the hilariousness of my Year 6s commenting on my earrings, or giving my scarf + stocking combos a mark out of 10. I feel bright eventually even if I don’t at the start of the day, and believe me, I don’t always roll out of bed feeling ready to tackle the day! My inner introvert screams blue murder some days, sated only by a nice spotted, fit + flare dress and cute blue booties!
But to answer your question, curious Little Miss Year 8, I DO love colour. But I love you lot most of all. And I celebrate the opportunity to affect your lives positively.
The fabulous painted walls in the Prep School. LOVE this!
The most endearing show of imagination today!
I took a Year 7 Drama relief lesson this morning and sent 2 of the groups out on the landing between Music + the Centre for Senior Learning to rehearse. Two of my Year 12 Music kiddies stood at the edge of the unfolding creation, waiting for a good moment to cross over:
Sir Year 12: “Okay, so where are we right now?”
Sir Year 7: “We’re in a forest, with a swamp in the middle!”
Sir Year 12 to Miss Year 12, with resignation: “Okay. I guess we swim!”
So they did! My AWESOME Year 12s “swam” through the deep, dark, murky waters of The Swamp, navigated The Forest, and safely traversed into the Centre for Senior Learning.
The Year 7s were thrilled.
And so was I. 😊🙌
Teachers are generous souls, always seeking to assist + help those in need.
This cry for help cut straight to the core…there wouldn’t be many teachers who wouldn’t lay down their lives for freedom here! 😉
I bought this card on Chapel Street in Melbourne today, it made me laugh out loud in the gorgeous little shop! 🙂