Life at the End of the Road

We’ve hit a dead end. All of us. It’ll be disorienting for a while, but I believe we can, and must, learn to live well at the end of the road.

img_3926

This was an actual surprise dead-end we found trying to get our drive-thru shamrock shakes back to the family.

It is likely your end-of-the-road is not exactly like our family’s new and literal end-of-the-road home, but I know we are all sitting in a similar place right now.  An unexpected end has happened for all of us in one way or another. I am admittedly unsure how the road will open up again, but I am confident of one thing: Hope IS on the other side.

Our family of five is huddled in our newly-almost-fully-renovated-three-and-a-half-bedroom-one-bathroom lake house at the end of a road. Rough, I know. Our twenty-year-old is home from college for the semester and our high schooler has resigned herself to the real possibility she’ll spend the rest of her senior year at the end of this road. The eighth-grader thought she’d have this place pretty much to herself, but that is not the case for the foreseeable future. Not much of our move here has gone how I sensed it should, but in the strangest sense of all, it feels like exactly where we are supposed to be.

What if that is the truth for everyone? What if your hard stop is intended for difficult reflection, a reset of priorities, a shift in perspective you never considered you’d need to do?

People tend to fear endings so much, but the more I let myself look at them, the more I believe we are meant to live as fully in our endings as in any other part of our lives. Bring faith to all of it: beginning, middle, and dead/ final ends.

Over a decade ago, I had a premonition I would meet my end at this lake house.

The first night we stayed in our then-run-down little cabin, my husband went out to buy supplies. I had tucked our three small kids into bed and as I stood waiting at the window for him to return, I became awash with fear. I felt so uneasy in the unfamiliar, dimly-lit kitchen and I was overwhelmed by the thought of one thing: mortality. It was a feeling more than it was a word. I thought, “he’s not coming back tonight.” I was sure of it. The nervous energy ushered in an almost paralyzing fear. I was compelled by this feeling enough to write myself a letter to make record. He did come back and I quickly pivoted the admission that the feeling of mortality probably applied to me. It was like the certainty I felt after my husband kissed me goodnight and I knew we’d be married. I simply knew ends at this lake house would happen.

I still believe in that truth. Maybe the COVID-19 world shift is the end I sensed or maybe I’ll meet my actual end here, but no matter what, I’m not afraid of it like I used to be. You’d think knowing what I do about this place, I would try harder to avoid it. That’s what I would do if I wanted fear to carry me. Faith-filled choices carry us too, and without resistance sometimes that means we head right back to face the fears we spend most of our lives avoiding.

The crazy thing is, simultaneous to the thoughts of endings at this lake house,  my husband and I have followed a compulsion to live here and pursue plans to build The Park. Each day we wake up, we’ll continue to work toward that. I do sense, in these crazy times, I should be doing something else too.  The Park, like this house, sits at the end of a road. (sorta think that’s not a coincidence) I feel a new calling to photograph and blog about how we attempt to live life fully while we wait at the #endoftheroad.  I’ll post those photos and musings on my Instagram and Facebook pages.

soft white grass

For those of you wrangling with the difficulties you have today and the anticipated discomfort yet to come, I am sincerely sorry you have landed where you never intended to travel. I do believe the end of the road is not to be feared, however, and instead sits waiting in invitation to remind us that hope, faith and love are real things that deserve our attention in beginnings, middles and endings.

When all else fails, look to the children. Shel Silverstein was one of my favorite poets as a kid. This morning as I walked and photographed the space of our property at the end of the road, inspired by a photographer who posts pictures regularly from somewhere on his eighty acres, I thought about Silverstein’s poem Where the Sidewalk Ends. Without knowing why I loved it as a kid, rereading it today reminded me that I loved it because he highlights the hope that exists because of children. They are a hope we can look to as we wait at the end of the road for the other hope we know is coming.

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

There is a place where the sidewalk ends

And before the street begins,

And there the grass grows soft and white,

And there the sun burns crimson bright,

And there the moon-bird rests from his flight

To cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black

And the dark street winds and bends.

Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow

We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,

And watch where the chalk-white arrows go

To the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes, we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,

And we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,

For the children, they mark, and the children, they know

The place where the sidewalk ends.

Meagan Frank

Copyright 2020

9/11 Led Us to The Park

WWP

If you were old enough, you remember where you were the day planes crashed into buildings and the world changed forever.

I was shaken awake by my husband at the news we were under attack. “We”: our small nuclear family of three, thousands of miles away from actual destruction, death, and chaos. Yes, “we” were under attack.

What we believed about the world was no longer true. How we trusted goodness and leaned into love was challenged to the absolute core. I’ve never felt more a part of that larger “we” than I did with the events of that horrible day.

Maybe I had no right. I had walked away from the TV images and taken our then one-year-old son to the empty and silent playground at a park in Castle Rock, Colorado. No one was there playing. No one was laughing, or swinging, or chasing, or sliding. No planes flew overhead and yet in that silent stillness I felt this guttural connection to the contrast of noise: the sirens, the roar of collapsing buildings, and the screams of terrified people.

What I discovered at that playground is that we stop living when we’re under attack.

The trajectory of life changed for a lot of people on that day, and our family was no exception.

Later that fall, on a road trip back from Minnesota I asked my husband whether he felt like our lives were purposeful. Lots of people asked that question in the wake of 9/11 and those who spent time truth-seeking found unique and various answers. Some felt called to rush to the scene as helpers. Others felt the need to take up arms and physically defend against other possible attacks. Some moved home. Some set off to see the world. Some got married. Some made babies. Some made art. And some, feeling utterly useless otherwise, set out to the park.

No matter what our next steps were, we all had to step into a brand new world.

The attack changed us. For those who honestly sought guidance to return to truth and purpose, I have watched in so many beautiful ways how the gaping hole of 9/11 has planted gorgeous outgrowth in response.

It certainly happened for me and my husband. It has been a slow-growing and unexpected revelation but we did keep earnestly seeking in pursuit of the one thing that felt like our battle against attack. After eighteen years, we have landed at The Park.

I will spend time in upcoming blogposts writing about how this story has unfolded for us,  but here is a glimpse of the destination we didn’t even know we were pursuing. It is a testament to the power of faith and proof that goodness and love remain. No attack can diminish them.

WOODWIND PARK VIDEO

 

Meagan Frank Copyright 2019

 

Choose a Territory of Love

I was on the ground in four states yesterday, flying from Colorado to Arizona to Minnesota and then shuttling to Wisconsin. I’ll do the trip backward tomorrow, without the annoying Phoenix connection.

It’s how I roll this time of year.

On the weekends, I sleep in an RV bus. I spend my time wandering around a foothill in Larkspur, Colorado, listening to minstrels and bagpipes, and marveling at people willing to spend hours on makeup and costumes, some of whom get paid to do it.

Then I pop home a few times during the week and find scenes like this one, unfolding in my kitchen.

https://www.instagram.com/tv/BzNjUruAWDo/?igshid=qw3vprkum1r5

With a six-hour solo travel day on planes and in airports, it’s impossible not to people watch (and listen).

I’ve decided something important. No matter where you are, or with whom, you choose your territory. It goes with you and you have so much more choice about the territory you carry than most people realize.

If you watch the video long enough, you’ll see my neighbor’s cat pop in the window, sidling up to the music. His owner is away house sitting as she prepares to build a house next door to the one she sold. The vet told her to leave Frank, the cat, in his territory because cats are more tied to territories than people.

I’m not sure I totally buy that because I know Frank absolutely adores my neighbor and I think the rest of the neighbors he visits make the territory he roams a loving one. He has been a stray for part of his life, but navigates by seeking out the support he needs. Without loving people, I don’t think Frank would stay in this territory. He certainly has the demeanor to attract loving people and maybe that’s the sort of territory the vet meant. Cat’s create their territories by how they come into an area.

So, today, no matter where you are, or with whom you are navigating the spaces you occupy, I challenge you to imagine the most loving territory you can, and bring it with you everywhere you go.

Copyright 2019 Meagan Frank

I Think I’m a Wood Duck…

male wood duck 3

Did you know there are ducks that live in trees? Yeah, me neither. (and if you said yes, you can keep that cockiness to yourself)

I saw this guy perched outside my kitchen window the other day and I ran for my camera because I was sure I was about to capture something extraordinary. I mean, look!

It’s a duck!

In a tree!

It turns out I’m like the only person interested in birding (and who lives in Wisconsin) who didn’t know that wood ducks are a thing. And apparently you can find them like everywhere water and woods collide. Ok, so I can expect to see this again in my lifetime, but just because I’m not very far up the birding learning curve, it doesn’t mean I can’t be excited about catching this guy posed on a branch. I was meant to see him and with his colorful-come-to-me-ladies-I-have-my-good-feathers-on-today look, I couldn’t help but to think about him.

So, after much contemplation, I have come to a conclusion.

I think I might be a wood duck. It’s a strange spirit animal, I know, but hear me out.

The old me, before I saw a duck in a tree, believed that ducks could be found floating in ponds or waddling in nearby grassy knolls. Most ducks behave that way, but not the wood duck. Wood ducks can do the normal duck things, sure, like swimming and laying eggs, but they do things just a little differently. They are non-conformists. I get it.

Like all ducks, wood ducks pair off with mates, but instead of hiding in grasses, they live in strategically placed wood boxes along the water, or in hollowed trees where they lay their eggs.

Hubby and I live in a bus in the summer…just sayin’.

Wood ducks are the only species of duck that has strong claws for grabbing branches and webbed feet for swimming. Nothing really anatomical I can use to relate, but I do find myself often oscillating between writing and coaching, unsure which role is truly me. Like the wood duck, I can navigate both worlds, I just need to focus where I am.

Maybe the way I am most like wood ducks is in the way the mother duck moves the newly hatched ducklings from the tree to the water. The mother duck goes first, getting herself to the ground, and then she calls to the ducklings who are to follow her out of the nest. She calls with encouragement and the ducklings are expected to follow with faith and a leap. They are not able to fly when this happens. The mother hopes she has chosen a good spot, with a soft-leaf landing, and she then has to trust in the evolution of their species that like all those before her, the ducklings can handle the fall.

I saw this video a few years ago, but I did not know they were wood ducks.

duck jump

I am more like that wood duck mother than is comfortable for a lot of people.

I have faith in the surroundings we’ve created, I have faith in the resilience of our children, and I have faith in the natural wonder of personal growth that best happens when no one pushes us, but we are encouraged to go for it, so we do.

I was on a walk with Nate today, a gift of his time he gave me without asking, and I lamented the fact I need to change my writing, vlogging, YouTubing, content-creation mode of operation to fit a “standard” expected by the publishing world. He reminded me that with any new venture there are things I’ll need to do, but I need to remember I am more equipped to do them than I think.

I am a wood duck. Fiercely equipped, adaptable to many situations and filled with a faith that is sometimes hard to comprehend. I cannot think of an animal better suited to accompany me on this next phase of my production career because, and I forgot to mention, they are also the only duck that produces two broods a year. Production is what wood ducks do!

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2019                                     www.meaganfrank.com                                    @meaganfrank_ctg

 

 

Rain Running:Tracking Life Moments

IMG_4816I ran in the rain yesterday. On purpose.

I hobbled home in a downpour. Because I had to.

For two glorious miles, I sucked humid air into my lungs, celebrated streams of warm rainwater on my face, wrung out my weighted t-shirt, and listened to the birds sing in the patter. I smiled the entire time. I rejoiced in how far I’ve come that a recreational run in the rain evokes complete gratitude. I relished the fact that fullness of life is possible in such simple, pleasant moments.

Two steps before turning around to head home, a shooting pain in my left calf, the leg that I’ve so carefully guarded because it still has an intact Achilles tendon, literally stopped me mid-stride. Staring back down the path from where I had come, I was in a new moment. A moment of pain, a moment of consideration about my new reality, but unbelievably still a moment of sustained gratitude. I’ll get to that later, because I did have to head back down the joyful path that had taken me there, but with painfully, slow progression.

Half a lifetime ago, none of what I experienced yesterday was possible.

When I was a senior in college, and preparing to graduate, I turned down an invitation to walk in the rain. What I believed about such activities was that it was useless. What was productive about a walk in the rain? It has taken me decades to learn what my college roommate apparently already knew: striving, achieving, and controlling is not living. Living is being present in a moment…no matter what that moment might be.

Maturity and children are responsible for chipping away at the version of myself that was too driven to live well.

I now gauge my progression through life on experiences that involve my kids too.

I told my sixteen-year-old yesterday, as I set my phone and headphones down on the desk, that I was leaving them behind because I didn’t want them to get too wet.

“I’m headed to the stop sign at the end of the path, so at least you know where I was running if I get abducted,” I told him.

He smiled, amused, and then went back to watching whichever show he had pulled up on his phone.

Part of the joy I experienced the first half of my run, before pain interrupted my thoughts, was the recollection of another rain run I had nine years ago.

Nine years ago, my children were six, four and one. We were planning another move, from Menomonie to Woodbury this time, and my husband was already in Colorado for his six-week spring stint. I had had one of those days and all I needed was a good, hard workout. By the time I got the kids to bed, it was lightly raining and, when I looked outside, I decided I was in need of a cleansing run.

The decision to run around the circle road just outside our townhouse was a selfish one. I needed independence from the responsibilities of children. I needed a moment to myself. So, I ran. I ran around and around the circle, glancing at the front door of the townhouse each time. I was drenched and filled with endorphins by the time it was done. I bounded in the door and what stopped me in my tracks that day was the immediate visual of my worried six-year-old on the phone with his arm around his scared younger sister.

“Oh, she’s right here,” he said and extended the phone to me.

“Hello?” I breathlessly answered.

“Yes, ma’am, this is the 9-1-1 operator. Your son called us because he couldn’t find you.”

“Oh, I’ve just been outside,” I said, “I’m right here.” Panic replaced my runner’s high.

“Well, we’ve already dispatched a unit to your home, he will be there in a minute or two.”

I managed to adequately explain to the officer my son’s seeming abandonment was a misunderstanding and the disheveled nature of a house littered in moving boxes was totally normal. The situation must have looked as desperate as I felt in that moment. I was a young mother still striving to be productive and willing to traipse my family around the country to achieve something I have since discovered is too elusive to actually attain.

So, yesterday, as I stood dripping at the end of my path, I reached into my pocket for a phone to call my newly-licensed son. I could still walk, but it was a struggle with a fully-cramping calf, and I thought it would be easier if he could drive to pick me up. It took me a moment to realize, I didn’t have my phone.

My slow and methodical walk back in the pounding rain gave me time to enjoy how far I’ve come. I may be outrunning the abilities my body once enjoyed, and my kids may no longer see a brief absence as an emergency, (actually no one even really noticed how long I was gone yesterday) but I am finally in a place where I can gratefully experience the moments I’m given. No matter whether the moment is filled with joy and smiling or pain and grimacing, life’s moments are meant to be relished.

If I could go back to the college-version of myself I would tell her to go walk in the rain. And to my future self I want to tell her: run if you can, walk when you must, and when time takes from you the independence to do either on your own, find the people who will stand or sit with you in a rainstorm.

 

(for those of you wondering…it’s just a calf cramp…I should be fine:))

                     

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2016                                     www.meaganfrank.com

Flying High…Landing Slowly

Where’d You Grow Wednesday?

April 18, 2012

I grew in so many ways this week…I can’t write about it as well as I would like.

For those of you who know what I’ve been up to over the last week, you understand that I have been flying on cloud nine…literally.

I had the opportunity to attend the Female ADM (American Development Model) hockey symposium in Burlington, Vermont. The trip afforded me a chance to attend the World Championship for Women’s Hockey.  I learned so much that I could hardly describe my experience in a succinct blog post.  Instead I will highlight some of the biggies.

I LEARNED:

    • Flying in a small plane…in the spring…with plenty of turbulance…upsets my body.
    • My body…my ENTIRE body…responds to plane upset by sweating…A LOT!
    • Burlington has an adorable (and VERY small airport)…Newark, NJ does not.
    • Vermont has both water and mountains…but very few people.
    • Symposiums are an extremely great place for lifelong learners.
    • USA Hockey has their stuff together. Organized, well-run, and staffed with very committed and competent people.
    • Head microphones are great for moving about a room, but they are sensitive to breathing. 🙂
    • Presenting continues to be a passion of mine.
    • I live near one of the best resources for research about girls and women in sports. The U of M Tucker Center does phenomenal things.
    • Hockey people are a fun bunch. (I already knew that, but it was further confirmed over the weekend)
    • Canada’s Active for Life campaign inspires me.
    • Canada and the United States are years ahead of the rest of the world for the development of female hockey players.
    • The Canadian and American national teams put on a GREAT show in gold medal competition.
  • One of the Canadian captains, Hayley Wickenheiser, is certainly among the best female players to ever play the game, but she is also gracious, kind, and a fantastic representative for women’s hockey.
  • The IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation) is doing some wonderful things to inspire growth of women’s hockey around the world.
  • Presenting to a crowd of Olympians and Olympic coaches is a pretty fun deal!
  • There is plenty of room for growth in both my presentations and in my body of knowledge.
  • I am inspired by inspirational people.
  • There are a lot of smart people intent on making sports better for kids!

I hope in the coming weeks, I can better verbalize all the ideas and thoughts that are floating in my head. I feel so incredibly blessed to have had the opportunity I did, and I am absolutely certain about a couple more things:

1. I am a new fan of elite level women’s hockey and

2. I am motivated to create more fans in the girls who love to play.

I do hope you’ve found a way to grow where you are, and if so, I’d love to hear about it.  Shoot me an email:  choosingtogrow@meaganfrank.com.

 

Happy Growing!

 

Copyright 2012     Meagan Frank                       www.meaganfrank.com          Choosing to Grow

 

Mr. J says, “A Good Teacher Can Be Taught!”

Mr. Jamal Abdur-Salaam, Wellstone Drumline Instructor Photo from "The Lab" blog

A reminder for anyone who cares about how children grow best…

Before he summons a beat…the stage is subtly littered with trash cans, lids, buckets, and drumsticks. It’s lined with chairs and the auditorium echoes silence.

Then they come. They come in from everywhere, funneling down near the stage, and settling near where he is. Except for a few who carry school books, their hands are empty.

It is recess after all.

The morning classes have ended at Wellstone Elementary School in St. Paul, Minnesota, and something special is about to begin.

It’s rehearsal time for the drumline, and they’ve come… to be with him.

____________________________________________________________________________

On the day I visited, Mr. Jamal Abdur-Salaam, a Behavior Intervention Specialist at the school, was already in the auditorium with a pair of students. One student was outfitting the buckets with drumsticks, and another was playing a game of cards with Mr. J.

I quietly found my seat at the table of the card players, and it became immediately apparent that this was no ordinary game of cards. With each card played, I realized that I was watching a lesson in character. The young man who calmly listened to Mr. J talk about classroom expectations and how it was possible for reactions to be different than they had been in the morning…the two of them kept playing cards.

Not too long before the drumline members congregated in the auditorium, this young man was quietly encouraged to change his behavior for the classroom teacher. He smiled in agreement and headed back to class.

It was the second time I had been impressed by the effectiveness of this gentle giant. The first time I saw Mr. J in action, he was rapping to the entrance beat for the Wellstone Drumline.


His energy was apparent, his enthusiasm contagious, and there was something else that came through with every word he uttered.

I watched the performance with my daughters and on the way home I asked them what they thought.

My oldest daughter said, “I would want to be in that group.”

Her younger sister agreed, “I want to drum too.”

“What did you like about it?” I asked them.

“That teacher was really nice,” the oldest explained.

“What did you notice about him?” I pushed.

“He was so positive,” she said.

That’s what I had noticed too. He had a passion for music, an energy for drumming, but more than that he had a belief in every child in that group that was undeniable.

I had to learn more…about him, about the drumline, and about how teachers, parents, coaches and mentor adults can learn from his approach.

So I went to Wellstone the Friday before their spring break to soak in their rehearsal and more of the man who helped to bring those 5-gallon buckets to life.

The pre-spring-break energy was palpable, evidenced in the wriggling bodies and distracted attention. I marveled at how he quietly reminded them why they were there and pulled them in to connected concentration. The rythem started…the synchronized movement of arms and sticks that forced a welling-up in my own chest. Watching that drumline come to life is truly an awe-inspiring experience.

The drumline started in 2005 in response to a need for some of the older boys in the school.  The building where Wellstone had been housed, did not have much room in the play-yard for the bigger more energetic sixth-grade boys.

“Recess wasn’t going the way it was supposed to,” Mr. J explained. A behavioral intervention was necessary and several of the boys were invited to join him at recess while he piddled on his drumset.

“Let me try!” they begged him, and slowly it became apparent that there was power in those drums. He let them take turns, but he realized he was going to have to find a better way to offer drumming to the number of kids interested.

So, the drumline was formed.  The boys who participated that first year made music out of anything they could find. They generally had a 5-gallon bucket each, one drumstick and a free hand.  They created beats, expended energy in that recess-time, and started to get good enough to share their talents with others.

After the first all-school performance, the music pounded through the audience, and it didn’t matter what anyone thought of them, Mr. J fondly remembers, “those boys became rock stars.”

Since that first year, interest in the drumline has exponentially grown. This school year, there are thirty members of the team, twenty-eight of whom were at rehearsal the day I visited.  Eighteen boys and ten girls lined up next to one another. They seemed invested in their individual job and compelled by the energy of the entire group.

Erik, a two-year member of the drumline explained, “Drumming helps me to be a leader…be a role model for younger kids.”

Drumline “teaches kids how to behave in school,” Shacara agreed.

The drumline is no longer just an alternative to recess, it is a privilege earned by lottery for the oldest kids in the school, and it is too popular to let every kid interested take part.

It’s not just about the drums.  With every instruction, Mr. J uses the opportunity to drive home positive character mantras. He asks them questions…and they reply in unison.

Everything you do is part of what?

A performance

Who are you?

WELL S-T-O-N-E

Why do you come?

To learn

And why else?

To figure out what we can do.

And why else?

To become.

The beat and the message are drummed in to the very soul of the kids who gather for drumline at Wellstone.

The students who are so drawn to this drumline know that Mr. J values each of them.

Caleb, a sixth grader who has been drumming with Mr. J since he was in second grade said, “He has faith in other people. He likes helping people.”

“He treats everyone like a niece or nephew,” first-year drummer Anthony explained.

And indeed he does. He wants to make a difference in the lives of these kids that goes well beyond the forty-five minutes he can tap out beats with them at recess.

“Even though we don’t always show it,” Erik said, “he helps us express how we are for real.”

The kids feel accepted and appreciated exactly the way they are. It is similar to the way Mr. J felt when he was a student in fifth grade.

Mr. John Mueller was a fifth grade teacher for Jamal who encouraged him and believed he could become something great. It is this belief that finds its way to the instruction that Mr. J uses with the students he teaches now.

“I want to be to them what Mr. Mueller was to me,” Mr. J said.

It is an effective teaching strategy that teaches so much more than academic content. It is a way to teach children to believe in their own potential.

And maybe that’s what we all need to be taught…that belief can come in five-gallon buckets and it can come in creating entertaining beats for a team. It can come in subtle investment in the kids in our lives as long as it comes from a genuine place of encouragement. Teaching, when done right, is too big to contain, and you never know how far it will travel…or how loud it will get.