Hocus Pocus…Let’s All Focus!

I don’t know about you, but for me October has been a month of spooky good fun! I’ve been twilight pumpkin picking, to Six Flags Fright Fest (for the kid activities only; I am not on board with being chased by zombies), October camping, Sesame Place for The Count’s Halloween Spooktacular, and of course, Abby and I spent a quick and magical mother daughter weekend in our favorite place at Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party! All this, and Halloween is not until tomorrow! Abby has had several costume changes over the  month; from Tinkerbell, to Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas and for tomorrow, her “dream” costume; the one she has been excited about since the middle of July when she first saw it advertised…Sarah Sanderson from Hocus Pocus.  And while I can say hands down that my time in Disney was my favorite Halloween activity, I am looking forward to taking her trick or treating tomorrow and then sitting down to eat candy and watch Hocus Pocus with her. (There’s a marathon on Freeform, but Abby watches it all year round!)

And then, it will happen…this quick change that throws off more people than daylight savings time does.  For just as Mary Sanderson will utter the onscreen words “I smell children”, I can hear myself saying “ I smell peppermint mocha, evergreen, and holly!”  And faster than you can say Hocus Pocus, not only will Halloween be over, but fall itself with all its beauty and its calendar life really running to December 21st, will be swept under the rug along with the fake cobwebs that decorate gates and doors. Maybe you might see one or two Thanksgiving themed decorations in stores, but entire aisles will be cleared of Halloween candy and stuffed with wrapping paper, bows, tape, and ribbon almost overnight.

That’s a shame; it truly is.  November is a beautiful month in and of itself; truly the “sweater weather” time of year.  The trees are still colorful, the leaves still crunchy on the ground, and the weather is still truly fall; a time of harvest, a time of celebration and a time to be thankful.  And while I love Christmas, and, if I am being honest, will tell you that my tree will be up the day after Thanksgiving,  it does not mean that I am going to just ignore November and expand the Christmas season so that it runs from November 1st to January 1st.  

So today, on this day before All Hallow’s Eve, let me wave my magic Head of School wand and cast a tiny spell over the members of the SDA family; students, parents, alumnae, faculty, staff and friends. Close your eyes while I say…

Hocus Pocus…Let’s all focus:

 

  • On the beauty of November.
  • On the upcoming Thanksgiving celebration of family.
  • On all we have to be THANKFUL for this year.

 

All throughout November, I will be keeping track of what I am thankful for, each and every day.  Many people do this very same thing via social media, it’s one of the nicest things about Facebook and Twitter in November, people are being happy and positive.  And I invite each of you to do the same; to take five minutes at the start of a new day or at the end of a long and tiring one, and just think about what you are thankful for and how being thankful can truly bring you closer to God.

After all, that’s the magic of November…the ongoing prayer of Thanksgiving between each of us and God.

Red Balloons Aren’t The Thing To Fear…

For the past month, IT has taken the top spot at the box office more weekends than not. Although I read the Stephen King novel (more than once, in fact), I have not gone to see the film and as the days dwindle down between now and Halloween, it is not likely that I will get there.  However, the buzz I have heard from people, friends and family who have seen it, is that it was well done, and unsettling, and down right scary. Now,  understand, I am not taking a pass on the movie because I am afraid (not me!), but because, as a parent I spend so much time being nervous and scared, that I am just not in the mood for horror movie shrieks this time around!

My readers who are parents, you know well of what I speak.  It’s not red balloons hovering over sewer grates that we have to fear when our children walk to and from school.  It’s not a supernatural clown in an underground pipe or a voice coming out of the sink drain that we worry about when they head to practices or dance classes or play dates with friends.  There are, in this day and age, so many real fears and dangers for our children, that even a scary movie like IT pales in comparison. For  we know that it is not the monster under the bed that matters, but the one who lurks behind the computer screen, the interactive video game, the anonymous text message, who is the real threat.

Our children at younger and younger ages, are becoming more connected to technology. While I am firm in my belief that technology can be a good thing, it does open the doors to a whole new world, one of interactive learning and collaboration, but also one of cyber bullying and misleading messages designed to lure children away from the safety of their families and into dangerous situations.  We have come far beyond the old “don’t open the door to a stranger” message that was pounded into our own heads many years ago. Now it is expanded, with warnings being more about cyber strangers than actual ones.  (How many strangers ring the front door bell anymore? We actually know our Amazon Prime delivery guy!)  But we must constantly remind our children, whether they are 6 or 16, to be careful, to be cautious. Don’t accept a friend request from someone you don’t know!  Don’t put personal information as to where you are out there for everyone to see! Don’t visit chat rooms and agree to meet a person you talked to online! The list of taboos could go on and on and still, we read all the time about awful things happening as a result of these boundaries being let down, even for a minute.

Hand in hand with this comes the overwhelming rise in cyber bullying, which is destroying the lives of tweens and teens everywhere. Can you turn on the news on any given day and not hear a story about this topic? How many more tragic tales do we have to hear, do our children have to hear, before the message finally starts to sink in; that words do hurt, whether you are saying them to someone’s face, posting them on your Twitter, or calling someone out via a Snapchat story?

The cyber world is indeed a scary place at times, and the fact that it has almost totally overtaken the lives of many of our youth is unsettling as well.  So, this October, what we need to remember: The red balloon is most likely not the danger, but the midnight friend request quite possibly is. The ghost that is haunting someone’s life, is not creeping around their attic, but flashing on their Snapchat page. And it is only when we pop all these balloons and rid ourselves of these mean spirited cyber ghosts, that spooky movies can go back to being something people in enjoy in the weeks before Halloween and not pale imitations of the real world horrors and sadness.

From one parent to another; talk to your child today, about internet safety and about cyber bullying!

Scary, Isn’t It? Time Changes Everything…

My 9th grade Siena Honors English class just finished reading The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.  Throughout the year, they will undertake a study of the theme of survival in literature and I felt this novel, more than some of the others, would be a great way to start off the year: a little bit spooky, a possibly haunted house or a possible woman slowly battling the terrors within her mind, well it just might hook them right from the start. And hook them it did; they devoured the book, came up with some excellent comparisons between the book and some works of poetry, and then finally, worked to write a lengthy compare and contrast paper which focused on the heroine in the novel and the heroine of film from yesteryear; one that I was counting on them never having seen.  The film, PG rated, summer sleeper from 1982– Poltergeist produced by Stephen Spielberg.  And what an eye opening experience this viewing was…for myself and my 14 students.

I never thought students who are growing up in the age of CGI monsters, and American Horror Story could be spooked by this movie! Chairs piled on tables, a tree coming through the window, and some skeletons floating out of the swimming pool? We are not talking special effects that are anywhere near today’s standards. In fact, I prefaced the viewing by telling the young ladies that they were not to be nodding off or doing other work- they were to be taking notes for their major paper assignment. I need not have worried; they were riveted to the screen!  By the 2nd day, I had to preface pressing play with the warning” No screaming! No yelling!” Without meaning to; I had spooked my students.  At the final moments of the film, one young lady actually hid under her desk. When we had a discussion, the feedback I got was that it was “so spooky” and “old fashioned scary”.  I was so happy with the success of this lesson.

However, now that it is over and done and we in Siena English have moved onto another book, I have a confession of my own to make.  This was the first time I watched Poltergeist and was SCARED while watching it.  And no it was not the tree or the eerie “They’re here” moment, or even the creepy clown doll. (Clowns were scary in 82 and are scary now!) It was how “ancient” for lack of a better word some of the scenes in the film made me feel, as I had to pause to explain it to students.  They did not understand why there was no 24 hour television programming. I had to explain the old practice of TV sign offs and then the fade to static till the morning. They did not understand neighbors being on the same cable network signal; which could create havoc depending on which family wanted to watch what.  And the TV itself; a square floor model encased in a brown hutch!? They could not wrap their heads around it.

Normally, I don’t feel old, but I was five years old in 1982; when VCR’s were just coming into homes and Cable TV meant maybe you had HBO in addition to 2, 4,7, 9, 11, and 13.  I turned the knob, there was no remote! I adjusted the antennas (or my parents did) for a clearer picture. And now, 35 years later, the VCR is extinct, antennas are only found on Halloween costumes, and if there is a knob anywhere in someone’s home, it may only be on the stove.  Times change and lately, with new tech advances at our fingertips, the saying time flies has more meaning than ever.

And so, what remains the same from 1982 to now? That belief in family love and family loyalty is the same. The bond between a parent and child remains the same.  The sacrifices that parents will make when their children are sick or hurt or are in danger remain the same.  It’s nice to know that the most important things will never change, for me, for you, and for your daughters and their families someday.

Still, I can only imagine, with new advances bursting forth every day, how old I will feel when I finally let Abigail view this spooky classic and have to explain the world of 1982 to her!  I could be tempted to let her watch the remake, but, as we all know…the older, original versions are always the best…both in film, and in families!

Face Your Fear: Become Empowered

October is the month of fears and this year, we have a Friday the 13th coming up at the end of the week. GASP—that just adds to the spooky nature of the month!  And, is if that weren’t bad enough for those of us who are superstitious, I am spending that Friday the 13th and in fact the weekend, camping in a cabin on a secluded lake in Bass River State Forest. Talk about facing fear?! I drove by this cabin on a sunny day in August and even then it seemed shrouded in shadows, and looking as if Jason himself might just spring out of the woods, hockey mask gleaming in the sun. And yet, my sleeping bag is ready, my sweatshirts are packed, and I am heading out into the wild for the weekend of Friday the 13th?

Why, you ask, am I going if I am fearful of this? Well, because I am a Mom and Moms show no fear! Abigail wants to go camping and so off we go. (Lest you panic thinking I am solely supervising this outdoor excursion, my Dad is joining us and hoping some cousins will come as well!) Will she be a little nervous, as the sun sets and the moon rises? Yup! Will every crackle in the trees and snap of the twigs cause her to jump in my lap? Of course! Will her clothes smell of wood smoke and her hands become sticky with s’mores? Of this, there is no doubt! And will she have in her little mind a memory of camping with her grandfather that will live forever in her heart?  She will and that, more than any other reason is why I am facing my fear, becoming a brave Mom and camping out- for the memories it will give to Abby.

Also, because I am a teacher, I know that this experience will teach her a valuable lesson as well.  That it’s ok to be afraid, as long as you do not let fear overwhelm you. That it’s ok to be nervous about being in a new situation, as long as you recognize the strength within yourself to adjust and make a place for yourself.  For what better example can the Head of School at a school which empowers women for leadership set than to march into that cabin on Friday the 13th and face my fear?  I will work to set that example, for my own daughter and for every young woman that walks the halls of SDA each day.

WE are strong. WE are empowered. WE are brave and WE can overcome of fears because  WE believe in girls! WE believe in the fact that we can make a difference in the lives of others. That is the message of empowerment that SDA has sent forth since 1878 and that is the message I will carry with me this weekend.

That said…if I see a hockey mask anywhere near that cabin, I’m out! I may be brave but I am not crazy!

Pumpkin Spice and Prayers

October has finally arrived, hopefully bringing with it cool autumn breezes, chunky sweaters and warm boots on weekends, jewel colored leaves on trees and piles on the ground just perfect for crunching,  flickering Halloween lights and of course, pumpkin spice everything. From coffee to candy, from paint samples in Lowes to slogans on sweatshirts (and yes, I have one!) it’s that pumpkin spice season once again.  Those who don’t even like pumpkin flavored things may feel encouraged, or cajoled, (or even pressured) to purchase at least one pumpkin themed beverage in the next 31 days.

Why the infatuation with pumpkin, with fall, with fuzzy scarves and fleecy sweatshirts and football Sundays and All  Hallow’s Eve?  I do not remember this “craze” as a youngster or even as a very young adult.  Fall was just “back to school” season; uniforms, homework, sports or clubs, one show on tv and then bedtime before the routine began once again.  Maybe one pumpkin decorated the steps and a few ghosts hung from windows and maybe my mother made pumpkin pie once in October. (One October, the “scariest” of my youth, she made pumpkin stew in the actual pumpkin. My reaction when called to the dinner table that night is still remembered by my parents and brothers!!) It’s as if our society realized that we needed something to celebrate during the fall, not just that one day of October 31st, but rather a full celebration of the season, of the beauty of nature that occurs between the first day of fall and the advent (no pun intended) of the holiday season each year.  And what better iconic fall symbol to celebrate than the pumpkin?  On its own it’s a harvest symbol, carved it’s a Halloween one and for those of us who look to see the gift of God in the world around us, it can call to mind our own selves and how His hand helps to shape us daily.

For me, and for you, believing in God’s presence in your life is a little bit like being a pumpkin. He calls to you from the patch, picks you, and brings you into His presence.  His love washes away all the dirt and His grace helps you to open your heart and let go of the seeds of doubt, hate and greed.  During this autumn season, this season of pumpkin spice, allow God to carve in your soul a  new, smiling face, and allow the gift of His light to shine inside you for all the world to see.

Happy October!