Five Things I’m Trying to Feel Proud of Despite the Fact that I’m a Perfectionist

  1. The progress some of my students have made with reading: I have one second grade student in particular who speaks English as a second language. All last year I encouraged her to read mostly in Spanish so as to build her foundational skills for decoding and comprehending texts. However, for whatever reason, she struggled to decode words in both languages, sounding out individual sounds and not blending them together. At the beginning of this year, she was about a year behind in her English reading, and behind in Spanish reading as well. However, through tutoring, one-on-one time during silent reading, book club, and her own determination at home, she has advanced about a year in reading over the past four months, in both languages. She is even starting to read for fun!
  2.  The progress some of my students have made emotionally: I had one first grader in particular who started out the year yelling, running, disrupting and defying every direction he was given in the room. He refused to come to lessons. He refused to do work. If he wasn’t slamming doors or ringing the chime unnecessarily, he spent his first days cutting up bananas and other fruit for smoothies because that was all that he was willing to do. He still is not an easy child to guide, but this week he has: volunteered to stay in at recess and clean the our pet betta fish’s bowl, showed another first grader a new math lesson, designed his own experiment and recorded results, made an abstract painting using watercolors, and responsibly run around on the playground for ten minutes each day (without supervision) and come back. Not every moment with him is peaceful, but more and more of them are becoming so, and, most importantly, he feels proud of himself for doing so well.
  3. How much pride my students take in working hard and doing challenging work: If I could sum up what I say to my students over and over throughout the day, it would be ” Do challenging work and help others do challenging work.” At the beginning of the year, it was like pulling teeth to get many of my students to do what they should have been doing. They all wanted to chat with each other or do arts and crafts or do works that were way too easy or eat snack for long amounts of time. I had to say no, set limits, take away certain freedoms, and redirect what they were doing a lot. It wasn’t very pretty or very fun. However, we’ve finally gotten to a point as a class where I’ve almost worked myself out of a job. I looked around the room this morning, and looked at my lesson plan, and realized I didn’t really know what to do because all of my students were doing what they suppose to be doing. They were all doing challenging work and helping one another. I was able to sit down with one of my second grade students who just started showing an interest in division this week and give him a rather long division lesson, that he loved and really understood (which, was amazing given that he came in this year at a beginning of first grade math level). My students have started saying that they want to works because they are challenging or because they want to master them (and that they hate doing other works because they are too easy). They also love to count the number of works they have done each day, and take pride when they’ve completed a high number.
  4.  How much my students respect the community and each other: I would say the worst teaching moment this year (other than the one where I cried the week after Halloween because I was feeling so sick and no one was cleaning and it was time to go home and everything just felt really overwhelming) was when it took my students half an hour to settle down in circle. It was perhaps the second or third week of school, after recess, on a Friday, during the last hour of the day, and after telling my students over and over to be quiet, I decided to take out a book and wait it out. I thought it would maybe take five minutes max for my students to realize I was waiting and quiet each other down, but sadly it took thirty. Looking back, I definitely could have done more to get them to settle down (sung a song, clapped a rhythm, etc.), but I was also curious to see who the leaders were in my room at that point. No one really was. However, like with #3, through a lot of reminding students to be quiet in circle, encouraging them to help others be quiet, reminding them to respect the speaker and look at them with their eyes, we’ve finally gotten to the point where the students are able to settle themselves down on their own (mostly). I switched over to having second and third graders sign up to lead community circle a few weeks ago, and it’s been amazing to watch as people sit down in the circle on their own on some days, listen to the student who is speaking, and remind each other to be paying attention. It doesn’t always happen 100% of the time, and have had moments where I’ve had to intervene, but we’ve had a couple of circles that have been completely self-run by the students and, once more, I feel like I’ve worked myself out of a job.
  5. The way my students care for one another and the world: Empathy is no easy skill to cultivate, especially when I often find myself not being full of it. There are moments when I just don’t really want to empathize with a student who is loudly sobbing because he accidentally misplaced his water bottle for the fifth time that week (and he needs it right now!) or when I don’t want to help a student who was leaning back in his chair (despite warnings) and fell down feel better or when a student who constantly makes annoying noises gets frustrated at any other student for doing so. Empathy is so hard. Helping others is hard. Caring about the world when things are constantly going wrong is hard. However, despite my own cynicism and apathy at certain moments of the day, I see my students growing. This week, a new student joined our room, and I’ve taught her all of three, maybe four, lessons. However, she has gotten about ten works done each day, and learned how to use probably about twenty of the materials in the room because I have had so many students who have been willing to help her and teach her at every moment of the day. It has been beautiful to watch. Last week, during Problem Solving Circle, my students also voted to have a discussion about guns that went on for thirty minutes because they felt really passionate about making sure kids their age weren’t shooting pretend guns at each other, given all of the violence in the world. They also wanted to figure out exactly what guns are for (hunting, shooting ranges, etc.) and what they are not for (hurting or killing one another). They even brought up on their own how harmful playing violent videos games is in terms of making violent behavior seem normal or more okay in real life. They have also really started empathizing with Muslims in the U.S. and are disturbed by how the media and certain Americans keep stereotyping them as bad. Empathy is probably most visibly seen with the pets we have in our room (a guinea pig and a betta fish) who I rarely have to take care of myself because my students are so on top of making sure they have food, water, and clean spaces to live in. They already even have homes for the holidays.
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On this second year of teaching

Whew. It’s been a long time since I’ve posted on here. A school year ended, a summer passed, and another year has begun. This second year teaching is sooooooo much easier than the first. No more training. No more certification tests. No more feeling like I’m in a brand new start up. We have students who’ve been in Montessori for more than a year! And a tracking system! And the majority of materials we’ll need! Our class guinea pig has even survived for more than three weeks!

However, despite the fact that this year is not nearly as stressful as the last, I’m still struggling with teaching. It is one of those professions in which it is really easy to get beat down because despite how much you want things to be perfect, they never will be. There will always be problems that occur, students who struggle, guidelines that aren’t being followed, and an impossible number of lessons to be taught and progress to be made. Since I’m essentially my students’ only primary teacher throughout the day, it’s hard to not feel a tremendous amount of responsibility for what they are learning and if they are making sufficient progress in all areas. And in early elementary school, there are just so many fundamental concepts and skills to be covered: how to count money, how to tell time, how to read, how to write a sentence, how to spell, how to solve word problems, how to do science experiments, etc. It is our responsibility to give students a foundational concept in pretty much everything imaginable, especially in Montessori.

So with that being said, my inner critic (which has always existed and which managed to get me super far in my own schooling, but which also makes me an inner wreck sometimes all the time) is constantly telling me what I’m doing wrong and what I should be doing better in terms of teaching. And I don’t think it will ever be quiet. But what I do want to start doing is focusing intentionally on the positive, even if it doesn’t necessarily feel all that positive or seem like it’s trumping the negative, so that I at least don’t feel so bad about this whole teaching thing. SO without further ado, here are small, but beautiful things that happened in my room today:

-The majority of my students came in this morning, stopped by me to get their work plans and selected challenging works to do first thing in the morning. Throughout the morning, many continued to do challenging works, including some works that I didn’t even ask or remind them to do.

-There was a point in the morning where I wasn’t sure who to pull for a lesson because everyone was doing work and no one was wandering or chatting.

-All of my students cleaned up quickly after morning work time and sat down on the rug quietly for community circle.

-When two of my students spilled part of a material on the floor, one of my students (who is near and dear to my heart because she has special needs) stood up from across the room and went over to help them pick up the material. She also was super excited when I asked if she wanted to arrange the flowers a family had brought in.

-One of my second graders helped a first grader practice the names of the continents.

-One of my first grade boys, who had a lot of behavioral issues the first week of school, and still struggles a lot to make good choices, quietly played the Star Wars theme song on the tone bars today (so as not to distract anyone).

-All of my students participated in a game during community circle.

-They all sang the closing song at the end of the day (and one of my first grade boys was even the one to start it).

-One of my first graders who has special needs decided to read a book in Spanish with me today during silent reading and read several of the words correctly. (He speaks English as his first language.)

-That same first grader and my second grader with special needs wrote a story together today about a wax cow named Mr. Fruit Watermelon.

-Three of my second graders found the Least Common Multiple of 5, 8, and 10.

-None of my third graders boasted or acted competitive when we went over a few review math problems at the end of the day. They didn’t make anyone feel bad for getting the answers wrong.

-Several of my students willingly wrote about what they did over break in their journals.

-A few students brought in socks for the Socktober drive that we are doing starting this week.

-Everyone did a superb job practicing our Grace and Courtesy lesson today (opening and closing the door carefully so as not to distract others or break the door).

Really, my classroom was pretty peaceful today. I just need to keep things in perspective when I look around the room at the end of the day and see everyone talking and few people doing work. Just as many encouraging actions are happening as discouraging ones. I just need to keep looking for them intentionally.

A letter to my third graders

Yesterday, my eight third graders took a practice STAAR (State of Texas Assessment for Academic Readiness) math test in preparation for the real test in 25 short school days. All but one of them scored well below the passing benchmark. This is my letter to them.

To my strong, independent, creative, incredibly chatty, but also incredibly collaborative third graders:

I want to apologize in advance for the next twenty-five days of school. In twenty-five school days, you’ll be taking your first real, high-stakes standardized tests, something that you won’t be able to get away from until you are pretty much done with your education.

I want to apologize in advance for the math task cards I’m going to make you do, the reading comprehension cards you will need to answer, and the constant mini-lessons I will be giving you. I want you to do well on this test and feel confident taking it, which is why we will be preparing for it over the next few weeks.

However, this test is nowhere near describing who you are as students or what you are capable of doing as people. As you probably noticed, not a single one of the questions asked you to do six digit by three digit multiplication. None of the questions asked you to explain why the second partial product in a multiplication problem has a zero at the end (place value!). They did not ask you to find the area of your classroom or to solve money word problems.

Moreover, none of the standardized tests you ever take will ask you about that lesson one of you taught on a whim about how to say various numbers and colors in Vietnamese. None of them will ask you about your knowledge of Greek Mythology, the powerpoint you created about which kind of dinosaur would win a duel based on size, teeth, etc., your ability to diagram complex sentences, or about the ten page story you wrote about our classroom guinea pig. None of them will ask you about the book club book you are reading and the connections you make between it and everyday life. They will not ask questions about your ability to read in both Spanish and English. They will not ask you to draw diagrams of the inventions you make from everyday objects at home. They will not care about your knowledge of the interconnectedness of the universe, the fundamental needs of people, and ways to make the world more beautiful. They will never ask you about the things you consistently do to help the younger students in our room.

Last week, during one of our book club groups, one of you picked out your favorite part from the book you are reading and read it out loud to us. The section spoke about a student who struggled in math and did not feel confident on tests. When I asked you why you chose this section, you said it reminded you of your life. Before coming to this school, you did not think you were good at math, but now, on your last report card, it said that you are working “toward grade level” and you feel like you aren’t bad at math anymore. Your identity as a student has changed. No test will ever ask you about that.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry we, as adults, have created a system that does not acknowledge who you are, but instead tries to fit you into boxes, numbers, and scores at such a young age. I am sorry we put so much pressure on you to do well on these tests, rather than trying to make these tests less pressurized in the first place. I am sorry that we compare you to other students your age, in other demographic groups, rather than acknowledging who you are as individuals and the strengths you each carry within yourselves.

I want you to do well on this test because I want you to do well on all the tests you have to take in the future, whether they be for driving, college, medical school, or teaching English in a foreign country. I want you to have every possible success in life, and such successes do often rely on tests. However, I never want you to see yourselves as the sum of your test scores. You all have skills and strengths that will never be acknowledged by any test ever. If you all pass your first standardized test, I will be proud of you. If you all do not pass your first standardized test, I will still be proud of you.

I am so proud to be your teacher. I love each and every one of you.

Your teacher,

Ms. Christina

A letter to my students

To my intelligent, creative, messy, beautiful students,

At one point last week, I wanted to write you all a group letter before you went on break, but, in the end, I decided against it, and wrote you all individual cards with personal pictures. I think some of you enjoyed the letters, others of you enjoyed the cookies you were eating at the time more. So it goes when you are six years old and sugar is allowed to take over the taste buds in your mouth.

Words cannot express how much room you all take up in my heart. While I am not the kind of let-me-give-you-hugs-all-the-time and sing-you-praises person that perhaps is the stereotype for a young teacher, I truly do love you all so, so much. To see you all learning how to read, to speak a language that is not your own (whether it be English or Spanish), to do challenging math, to adapt to a new learning environment that is different from 95% of your old ones, to making friends in a classroom that is more diverse than the neighborhoods you individually live in, it makes my heart swell with pride.

You all make mistakes. Lots of them. And I make mistakes. Probably even more than you do. Sometimes we handle those mistakes well. We calmly pick up the dropped Stamp Game, with its hundreds of pieces all over the floor. We erase the pencil drawing from the table. We change the date on the board. We remind ourselves to listen to one another, and not make assumptions. We throw the broken glass away.

Sometimes we don’t handle mistakes so well. We place the blame on others. We forget to say sorry. We act out of anger, or we become too curt. We don’t handle our emotions the way we should in that little room of ours. And yet we still have love for one another and we treat each day like it’s new. Even if the words said the day before were not ideal. Sometimes we sing, in our school song, “I admit mistakes. I do what’s right. I make the world a better place.” Other times, we accidentally, but honestly, sing, “I make mistakes. I do what’s right. I make the world a better place.”

You all have so much stinking potential, it’s ridiculous. I wish everyone could see the works you create at six or nine years old. From really thoughtful letters to Obama about the prevalence of guns in the U.S. and the lack of recycling in some of your neighborhoods, to your desire to create your own multiplication work at six years old, to creating series of books, to inventing your own science experiments, you all are brimming with a creativity and intellectual energy that I hope never gets crushed. The way you all care about the smallest of insects to the biggest of dinosaurs makes me excited about the world again, too. You all have such unique, and original interests, from finding bugs in your Mary Janes, to writing a letter to a professor asking about DNA to designing catapults at home in your free time. Your minds are more than Disney Channel shows and iPad apps, and I love that. The way you all were so excited to hike through the woods on our first field trip almost made me tear up. You see the beauty beyond screens.

Speaking of tears, I know this may sound strange, but I love that we are a room where we have all seen each other cry. Some of us have cried over hurt feelings. Others of us cried when Hercules, our classroom guinea pig that we only had for three weeks cause we couldn’t handle him, died. Some of us A LOT of us have cried out of frustration. The first year has been tough. For all of us. But I love that we are a room where no one feels ashamed to cry. Where no one feels ashamed to grapple with challenges and ask for help. Where we have each learned how to help each other and care. You all have seen me cry. About three times now. At the beginning of the year, I probably would have said I would never, ever cry in front of my students. But now that I have, I can honestly say I think it’s been good for you all to realize that I am human, that I struggle just the way you all struggle, and that who I am in front of each of you is not fake, but very, very real.

Thank you all so, so much for helping me through my first year teaching. Thank you for being kind. Thank you for being wise. Thank you for being flexible. Thank you for loving me even when I don’t love myself. I could not have asked for a better “first” class. I love you all to the moon and back.

I am so excited for the adventures to come.

Your teacher,

Ms. Christina

P.S. To Mary Kate (or are you Ashley?), thank you for helping me through my first year, too :) You are the best.

On joie de vivre and following the script

Y’all, sometimes I get a really nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach, like I’m doing this whole teaching thing wrong and if I were to do it “right,” it wouldn’t feel right.

You see, Montessori education is scripted. And I don’t buy that. Technically, I should be following the lesson plans step-by-step in the manuals I was given this summer. I should be checking my manuals before I give lessons, looking at them while I give lessons, and reflecting back on them after lessons. I should be telling the students what exactly they should be doing in each subject area, and giving them choice on when they want to do those items. I should be having them work through series of task cards for everything from subtraction with exchanging to the function of nouns. I should be putting all those little word cards for language in drawers that look like this, numbering the sets of cards and having students work through each drawer in sequence:

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I should be isolating concepts, only teaching one concept at a time and not asking students to use multiple skills. I should be correcting their writing in their notebooks, and focusing on the completion of “correct sentences.”

Y’all, I love Montessori. I love that it’s a method that doesn’t give students letter grades, but rather checks to see if they have mastered certain “grade-level” concepts. I love that it promotes cooperation rather than competition. I love that it holds a Cosmic perspective, that everything in the universe is interrelated and that there is a certain level of universality that unites humankind. I love the focus on peace education and social-emotional learning. I love that it’s a method that gives children freedom from a young age. Montessori education does a lot right, particularly in theory.

But what I also like is allowing students to build preying mantis “houses.” I like allowing them to research what bugs eat or to go outside and see the helicopter that is flying overhead because they are curious about the noise. I love allowing them the freedom to create their own experiments. I love having them design their own postal system in our classroom and cook real food using real ingredients. I like having them create their own sentences to edit, and to come up with their own math problems. I like creating a classroom where students have a great deal of agency and freedom to help create the curricula.

But they can’t do that when it’s scripted. And as much as some Montessorians say to teach the curriculum according to the script and let the children be creative in their follow up work, that’s not really how it works. Students, in practice, need to stick to the task cards and their work plans, particularly in public school settings.

It is so incredibly conflicting to agree with a method on a higher theoretical level, but then to hate practicing it, or at least parts of it. When I decided to be a teacher, I wanted to be a teacher who gave her students real, authentic tasks. I wanted to help them craft identities as writers, scientists, historians, and mathematicians. I wanted them to design their own projects, make their own discoveries, create their own original art, and guide them to think critically and creatively. Copying nouns down from a stack of noun cards is not thinking critically or creatively. Sorting objects by whether they are solid or elastic is not really using the scientific method. Isolating concepts in a world where no concepts are truly isolated seems inauthentic.

I love that Montessori isn’t cutesy, like a lot of elementary school curricula. I love that it allows students to learn about the time periods of life, the scientific names for the parts of plants, and see concretely that a square of eight beads by eight beads equals sixty-four beads. But I do not like the discourse prevalent in the Montessori community about certain things being “Montessorian” or “not Montessorian,” especially when it’s just straight up bad pedagogy. In a scripted curriculum, no room is left for learning from unexpected experiences, students’ individual backgrounds, and funds of knowledge. There is no room for culturally relevant pedagogy or crafting the curriculum to fit the community you are teaching. There is no room for exploring students’ sudden interests when there is a set sequence or presenting information through students’ interests (like exploring fractions through nature, for example).

It’s frustrating to want students to be creative with a method that, in practice, doesn’t even allow for teachers to be creative. It’s frustrating to want students to be critical in a method that, in practice, doesn’t allow for teachers to be critical. I am not a scripted teacher, not will I ever be a scripted teacher, which makes me wonder sometimes, and doubt, if I’ll ever be Montessorian or, for that matter, if I really want to be.

First Year Teaching

When it rains, it pours. Feeling the love this week. A student’s family took me out to lunch on Sunday, one of my first graders made me a bracelet for show and share, a third grader wrote my name in Arabic, a bag of chocolate was left in the front office for me by a secret pal, and a second grader’s mom shouted across (our very quiet) room this morning, “Ms. Christina, did you get the pumpkin??? I picked one up for you at HEB!”  Can’t get over it… and almost broke into tears when a student came in with a hot cup of Starbucks for me this morning. “Ms. Christina, are you okay?” asked one of my students, as tears filled my eyes. I think I just might be…

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“Miss Christina, when you come back from Texas, can you bring us grasshoppers?”

You guys, I’m done. With college.

Okay. I haven’t graduated yet. I still have two more weeks until that happens. Next week is “honors” week for everyone who is taking honors oral exams. The following week is senior week, when I get to go tubing and visit Atlantic City and drink countless glasses of wine while watching old movies with my friends.

I don’t think it really struck me how much this chapter of my life is coming to a close until one of the first grade girls I tutor asked if I could bring back grasshoppers from Texas. Her second grade sister had said that some people eat bugs, and I said, yes, that’s true, I ate a grasshopper once at a nature center. Their minds were blown and they asked if I could see its eyes. I said no, that it had been deep fried and didn’t taste too bad because everything tastes pretty good when it’s deep fried. The younger sister then asked if I could bring grasshoppers back from Texas for them to try, and it struck me. I’m not coming back. At least not anytime within the next few months. I might make a trip out next summer, based on how many of my friends are still out here and how much money I have saved up, but it won’t involve tutoring these two young girls again.

Guys, I am so sick of growing attached to people and leaving them. Chester, Philadelphia, Chicago, Costa Rica, and now Swarthmore. College, in its essence, is a very temporal part of life. The second you matriculate, you know you will only be at that institution for a set amount of time. Still connections are made. Time feels like it is passing slowly, and you get used to this idea of “college,” not thinking a whole lot about the end, just the continual passing of semesters. I think it’s been particularly hard to leave all the groups of students I’ve worked with. I have left two classrooms full plus dozens that I have tutored, either through the afterschool program or on my own. And the weird part is that I think they’ll forget me. They’re young; they’ve met and worked with countless adults; I’m just another one of them. However, that is not always the case. When I went back to the library in Chester a few weeks ago for the first time in a year and a half, one of the girls, who has been going to the afterschool program, immediately recognized me and asked where I’d been.

Ah, the guilt.

I’m planning to go back to the classroom where I student taught before I leave and I am kind of scared to see how much the kids have missed me and how much they will guilt trip me for leaving. All of last semester, they kept trying to convince me to get a job at the school (to which I replied, talk to the school’s CEO about it). One of them wrote a note before I left about how she cried when a song came on in the car the last week of my student teaching because it reminded her of me and she didn’t want me to leave. To be honest, on the last day of my student teaching, I cried too.

Which brings me to next year. Or the next three years. I am so incredibly excited to know that the classroom I’ll be teaching in is for keeps, more or less. Fingers crossed, the first grade students that arrive in my first through third grade classroom next semester I’ll get to see all the way through to the end of third grade. Even the older ones I’ll still be able to say hello to as they move onto the upper elementary classrooms at the school. No more goodbyes, at least not for awhile and not with large groups of people. I don’t know what the future holds after those three years. Maybe grad school, maybe teaching abroad. I found this really sweet PhD program at UT, which is pretty much centered on everything I am interested in as a practitioner and an academic. Perhaps I might be able to do that. Nonetheless, I feel this strange pull to see the world, but to also stay in one place. I am still young and have so many things left to see and experience. However, I also want to be around to see the kids I teach grow up. Obviously, it doesn’t have to be either/or. I can teach during the year, travel in the summer.  Or I can teach abroad for a year and come back. But it is still difficult, this pull to be in so many places at once while staying in one. I’m starting to understand why people “settle down” or stay in the places where they grew up.

I know my dad will read this and tell me to be “mindful” and present in the current moment, as this is one to enjoy. And to be truthful, I am. I am present in the fact that I’m lying on my bed in my apartment right now, wishing it wasn’t raining so I could go to the grocery store without getting wet. I am present in the fact that I get to celebrate three of my close friends’ birthdays tonight and watch the seniors videos people made in the Christian fellowship. I am present in the fact that being done with college and eighteen straight years of schooling just feels weird. These next few weeks are going to be bittersweet. I am going to enjoy them as much as I can and remind myself there are always such things as underclassmen’s graduations, reunions, and visiting friends.

And I am also going to relax and sleep and watch lots of junk TV, because starting June 9th, I’ll be doing 50 hours of Montessori training a week.

But goodbyes? Man, are they tough.

How do you know if a school is successful or not?

The school that I’m working at next year is just getting started and the director posed that question to all of us. Figured I would crowdsource since I know that you all are super smart and have interesting opinions. Obviously, there are state tests to be taken and standards to be met, but how else do we measure school success? What does it look like for children and the community? How do we make non-quantifiable measures (like student well-being or curiosity) measurable?

Would love to hear what you all think!

-Christina

One Week

One week until I’m done with undergraduate classes and thesis

Three weeks until I have completed all of my undergraduate work

Five weeks until I see my family and graduate

Six weeks until I begin Montessori training

Twelve weeks until I become a first year teacher

Fourteen weeks until I meet all my students

A Letter To Grace On Your First Day in This World

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Dear Grace,

I just wanted to write you a note letting you know that I am so, so, so excited to be your aunt. I was excited when your brother Jack was born, and now I am even more excited for your birth, knowing how great it is to be an aunt and how wonderful it is to see your personalities develop.

I wanted to let you know, baby girl, before anyone tells you differently, that you deserve a place in this world. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. You deserve a place just as much as every other person in this world deserves a place. Don’t ever let anyone shrink you. Don’t ever feel like you need to make yourself small or not speak up or not assert your voice when you feel called. Speak your mind. Have opinions. Don’t shy away from them (and don’t feel afraid to change them when you feel it’s appropriate). Don’t be afraid to change, to explore, to discover new things. You’ll find that you are constantly evolving, but don’t worry. We all are. See the world, try new foods, meet new people, try new activities, explore new places. Don’t pin yourself down too soon. Find out who you are and what you love. Be independent. Be assertive. Be humble. Be grateful. Recognize your privilege.

I know you will do great things in your life and that I will have the privilege of watching you do them and cheering you on. If you ever feel like you need a pep talk, like school is rough or you just can’t get along with your parents (we all go through that stage to varying degrees) or whomever you were in a friendship/relationship with ended up not being who you thought they were or you wish the eternal winter of Minnesota would end, give me a call. Even if I’m not there physically, I’ll always be there to talk to you (and your brother and whomever else may come along). I know your other super cool aunt Suzanne will be there, too. And probably with baked goods.

I love you so much already, Grace. I am looking forward to watching you grow and watching you become the person you choose to be. And if that includes going to Swarthmore or becoming a teacher or running long distances, you’ll be following in good footsteps. All of my aunts did one of those things, too :)

I love  you so much, baby girl!

Happy first day in this world!

Sincerely,

Your Aunt Christina

P.S. Word of advice. I highly recommend learning how to play board games, particularly strategy games, as soon as possible. I know from personal experience that your dad loves getting beat, especially by a girl and especially by someone younger than he is. Beat your older brother while you’re at it as well :)

P.P.S. You’ll probably find out sooner rather than later that, at least on your dad’s side (and including your mom), you come from a family of nerds. You can handle this however you want. However, I recommend embracing it rather than trying to run away from it. I’m not saying you need to walk around wearing a turtleneck and overalls or a wool cape (though your Aunt Suzanne probably knows someone who can make one for you). But don’t shy away from joining math team or doing science olympiad. Watch the Lord of the Rings movies. Talk about Star Trek with your grandpa. Play Scrabble with your grandma. Read The Giver and tell me what you think of it. It’ll make family gatherings a lot easier.