Thursday, March 7, 2013


Robin D’Ann Meissner Johnson.  That is my name now, but it hasn’t always been that way.  My mom chose my name – Robin after a student she taught who could play the piano and sing like an angel, D’Ann as a combination of her middle name and my great grandmother’s.  She said she knew it was the right name for me as soon as they laid me in her arms.  I didn’t always agree, mainly because the boy who lived across the street shared the name with me, as well as Batman’s sidekick.
Grandma, from the moment I was born, called me her little “Robinbird”.  She said that seeing my rosy cheeks scrunched on my tiny face and hearing the beautiful sound of her first granddaughter’s cry reminded her of the robin birds that would greet her outside her window in early spring.  She drove all over town that Tuesday night trying to find the LP with “Rockin’ Robin” on it, so I would hear my name as she sang me to sleep.
My daddy always called me “Dolly”, after the country and western singer Dolly Parton.  I don’t think he liked my real name much because my mom picked it out. That’s kind of how their relationship worked.  It might have been because I loved to sing.  Every night before bed, I would put Dolly’s record album on, stand in front of the fireplace holding my hairbrush microphone, and belt out “ 9 to 5 “.  To make the picture complete, my mom would let me try on one of her blonde bouffant wigs, stuff a few socks in my shirt, and let the living room transform into my stage.
Around age 7, my passion (and role model) changed, but my love for dress up and drama didn’t. A new heroine had replaced Dolly – Wonder Woman.  With her red, white, and blue body suit, wrist bands of steel, and magic lasso, I thought she ruled the world.  Watching Wonder Woman on television, so expertly played by Lynda Carter, now became my favorite nighttime activity.  I wore Wonder Woman Underoos to bed as many nights as I could get away with. (I think Mom bought me 2 or 3 pairs so I wouldn’t know the difference.)  I counted down the days until October when Mom would take me to Fleming’s Corner Drug and purchase the “real life” Wonder Woman costume.  Even though Lynda Carter had brown hair, I chose the one with blonde so that when I went out trick or treating everyone would really think I had turned into this mighty superhero. I swore I would never take off the sacred cape and red leather boots.
But I did.  As I entered my teenage years, the costumes stayed hung in the back of my closet and the dress up days hidden in the far corners of my mind.
At 32, I sometimes wonder who I really am – daughter, sister, wife, mother, student, teacher, or friend.  Robin just doesn’t seem to cover it all.  On many days, I still feel a little like Dolly, performing up on the stage that is my classroom with the students as my captive audience.  Other days, speeding from one crisis to another, I slip on my Wonder Woman costume again.  Protecting my loved ones, wrapping the lasso of truth around those I consider the “bad guys”, and making sure that justice is served and all is right in the world.
During quiet family times, my grandma still refers to me as her little “Robinbird”.  I don’t get to see her as much as I would like; I let life get too busy for what is most important.  So we talk on the phone at least once a week, and when I visit she always wants to hear me sing and play the piano for her and her friends.  I do, knowing that I bring that feeling of renewal and rebirth that she has always associated with the first robin of spring. 
At home each night, I am “Mommy”, the sweetest name I have ever been given.  So who am I?  I am all of these personalities wrapped into one.  Each persona appears when I need her the most.
Gavin McGraw sings these words, “I don’t wanna be anything other than what I’ve been trying to be lately.”  Lately, I’m known as Robin – daughter, sister, wife, mother, student, teacher, and friend.  That’s who I am and all that I want to be.

Scrapbooking Wannabe

“Life is a series of first time experiences - learning to ride a bike,
not to tell a big lie, coping with the dentist.  There are a lot of them.” 
Jan Berenstein, author of the Berenstein Bears books

              Writing About Your Life by William Zinsser has become the theme in my classroom these past few years through daily reflexive writing and the use of “visual literacy,” otherwise known as scrapbooking.
               People described me growing up as “the little girl who always had a camera.”  I loved taking pictures and putting them in photo albums.  As I got older, I would add captions to the photos or write a name and date.  Until my son was born, I did not realize that the words were just as important, if not more, than the pictures. My journey deeper into the world of scrapbooking started during this time; I decided to create an A B C book detailing Caleb’s first year of life.
            At the same time in my professional career, my second grade class had looped up to third grade with me.  I had tons of pictures of them from the two years.  In years past, we had created small photo albums with the pictures or I had just returned them at the end of the year.  I wanted this class to have a special reminder of their two years with me.  So, I decided to have them make a scrapbook.  Because of time and lack of knowledge, we still focused mainly on pictures and quick captions.  It was a beginning.
            Two things happened the next summer to convince me to begin researching better ways to scrapbook in the classroom and add lessons to my writing workshop, one a life- changing event and the other  just a few short moments in the car. It was not long after I became an Abydos/NJWPT trainer and read Aging with Grace by Dr. David Snowden that I realized my grandfather had Alzheimer’s.  Through spending time with him though, I saw a gift being given to me.  He couldn’t remember if he had eaten dinner on some days, but on other days he would sit and tell me story after story about his growing-up years and his time in the Navy and World War II, stories I had never heard before.  I knew that I had to write these down so they could be kept and shared.  My grandmother and I gathered pictures and began a scrapbook of his memories.  Then, on the way home from their house one day, I heard a newly released song on the radio.  The deejay said the title and singer, “Nineteen Somethin’” by Mark Wills, but I only connected with one chorus that first time, words about parachute pants and growing up. Memories from elementary school, like my friend Jason Davis and the many different colors of parachute pants he wore each day, came flooding over me.  I’d not even thought of those years in forever, but it was so fun to look back and remember.
            I started thinking about my students, who are about the same age as I was then.  Will they remember those little things twenty years from now - the fads, the daily fun times with friends?  We all seem to remember the big events, those indelible moments, like September 11, 2001, and the space shuttle disasters, but I began to see how the everyday moments were what I wanted my students to see and record as well. 
            I returned to my classroom with a desire to research ways I could guide my students through the scrapbooking process and help them write down the memories they were making. Each year, I have been able to change a few things, add more time and lessons in to the process, and see my students become excited about a new way of writing and recording. My professional scrapbooking works, but I have neglected the piles and piles of keepsakes and pictures and notes and journals and and and and in my own home.
        So - Now is my time to scrapbook for pleasure and as a memory maker with my own children. In the few years since Caleb was born, the scrapbook industry has changed dramatically. In fact, ALL of my daughter's pictures are digital and STILL on the computer. I try to figure out why I do not just jump in and start; I have all of the supplies, a work space, and now extra hands to help me. I think I am a little scared. You see, I am a perfectionist (which will probably be a post topic itself at another point in time). I have come to realize that I'm scared I will mess up or it won't look exactly how I want it to look. Why do I do that to myself?
        I have decided: one of my goals for Spring Break is to take a long hard look at my scrapbooking conglomeration. What will I keep? Will I make the switch to digital scrapbooks which are the growing trend and really more practical and convenient for me to create?
          This time though I plan on not becoming overwhelmed or stressed; I have my daughter, Sophie, to help me. She is a crafting phenom!!!! I hope this process will bring us closer, help me loosen my grip on the pictures and "stuff", and share the fun experience of creating pages for our memories that will  be a reminder of how blessed we are and the love we share. I think she is the key to crossing out the Wannabe and changing it to Queen <3. To be continued . . .

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


        Flowers, a note, a special delivery?  I agonized over the perfect way to tell my mom the good news.
        David and I had known since about week two, but I wanted the revelation to my family to be a moment we would never forget – a special beginning in our new journey as a family. Finally, after searching all of the stores on Town East Boulevard, seeking the advice of friends who had traveled this path before, and then keeping the secret for way too long, I found it – a gift that could be displayed throughout the next nine months, used after the baby’s arrival, and a true representation of one of my loves – a picture frame. 
I know that doesn’t sound very fancy at first, but I am a picture taker and a scrapbooker, a hobby dating back to my childhood.  Everyone always made fun of me growing up because I never left home without a camera in my bag.  My friends were used to having to stop and pose in the middle of a shared event, a habit that has transferred to my family today.  So yes, this was the one.
The 5x7 picture frame had the word GRANDCHILDREN written across the top, with the rest of the wooden material covered in descriptive words – LOVE, LAUGHTER, MEMORIES – all words I would use to portray my family.  Inside the glass opening, I placed a piece of paper with the words BABY JOHNSON, DUE DATE: FEBRUARY 21, 2001 written across the middle.
Nervousness filled my stomach as we arranged to meet at a little cafĂ© in Wills Point, Texas – halfway between our house in Mesquite and their place in Hideaway Lake.  I knew Mom would be excited, but she had not been around a baby since me - 25 years ago. What would she think or say?
I needn’t have worried. At first she didn’t quite comprehend, unsure of why we wanted her to open a gift during lunch. Then, while untying the pink and blue ribbons and pulling the frame out of the sack, a huge smile covered her face, and tears filled her eyes.  She would have a new role in her coming years – Grandma.
We embraced and of course took dozens of pictures, then began planning the next nine months. The nursery decorations, shopping for maternity clothes, and preparing the house for our coming bundle of joy happened easily with Mom by my side.  We did have one obstacle though – What would the baby call her?  First she simply said “Linda”.  I vetoed that immediately.  Everyone knew her as Linda.  I wanted a distinctive name, one that would set her apart and reveal her important NEW position in the family. Everyone called her grandmother, whom she loved dearly as a child, Nana. I liked it, but with so many cousins calling Aunt Donna that already, confusion might arise at Christmas time. After watching her teach French for many years, Grand Mere seemed like an ideal choice to me, but the family decided that its pronunciation would puzzle some. Feeling quite exasperated over the whole name calling business, Mom began saying, “Whatever, the baby can just call me whatever.” After hearing that phrase repeated so much, I thought that just might BE what the baby ending up saying first.  Finally, while reading a book one day where the main character called her beloved grandmother Grams, I decided on this as Mom’s new title.
Mom stayed sitting by my side in the delivery room, holding my hand, as Caleb Westlee Johnson made his entrance.  I could see the pride and joy written across her face, the memory embroidered with the flourish of her smile.
Grams moved in with us for the first week, helping me become familiar with this new little member of our household and providing me with time for those few extra hours of precious sleep. Then the unthinkable happened.
After nursing Caleb one morning, I laid him down on the bed next to Grams.  He turned to her, bumping her chest, and she cried out. When I asked what happened, she told me that a sharp pain had shot through her breast. She could feel a small knot under the skin in the place where he had reached out to touch her.  She and I immediately looked at each other, concern in both our features, wondering what it meant.  We knew the family history – both her mother and grandmother had died from breast cancer.  But they were both in their 70’s, not 52 like Mom.  Realizing the potential gravity of the situation, I placed Caleb in his bassinet, forced her to get up and call her doctor. She had always scheduled her mammograms faithfully, but the last one had occurred a few months ago.  Her appointment fell on the next Tuesday.  She told me not to worry and simply concentrate on the baby. I realized that all I could do was pray.
We got the news the next day.  The lump that had caused her to cry out was a cyst and could be easily removed.  But, the other three lumps they found were on opposite sides of the breast and would require a mastectomy.
I spent the whole summer with Mom, encouraging and comforting her, praying for God’s healing hand, and hoping Caleb would bring laughter and smiles to her time of recuperation. 
After major complications and another surgery to remove lymph nodes, Mom started her chemotherapy. The worst part of this all was that Mom really didn’t get to enjoy being Grams as much as I wanted her to. As Caleb grew stronger and more mobile, her strength diminished. Even through the pain of holding him at times, she did not give up and spent her moments bonding with him through her songs and stories. Watching her with him reminded me of my childhood, lying next to her in bed, listening to the stories of Noah’s Ark or Jonah and the Whale, and singing songs about Jesus and His love for me.  I wanted Caleb to grow up with these memories of her as well. She was HIS Grams now, an even more special designation, I thought, than being MY mom.  I wanted her around, not for a few more months, but for many more years. 
Through the next two years of watching Mom lose her hair and experience bouts of chemo induced sickness, I learned to rely on my favorite Bible verse from Proverbs – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him and He will direct your path.”
Caleb is twelve now, in middle school, and Sophie Ann, named after her Grams, arrived in May of 2005. In this stage of her life, Grams has another name to add to her list - Survivor.   
If I had to choose the name that fits her best, I couldn’t. Each is a part of her and now a part of me. As I continue along the pathways of life, I want to be more like her – each part of her – and that is my daily prayer. Linda Ann, Mom, Grams, Survivor.

                           Robin D’Ann Johnson
                         Daughter of Linda Ann
                                    March, 2013

Monday, March 4, 2013


I admit it; I am a bibliophile.
bib·li·o·phile  (bib'le-?-fil')  n.  
A lover of books.
A collector of books.
That is just a "Fancy Nancy" way of calling myself what my 1st grade teacher always called me - BOOKWORM. And it is true, I do "love books for their content, or otherwise love reading in general."
I am the one who reads the cereal box in the morning while I am eating breakfast.
I am the one whose dad (mom, husband, grandma, substitute who you'd like) always yelled at me for reading Sweet Valley High in the car instead of looking out the window at the scenery on family vacations, or for sitting in my cozy chair reading my favorite new Nancy Drew mystery while the TV was on right in front of me wasting all of that electricity!
As we all move into adulthood, the problem becomes finding the time to read and knowing what to spend our time reading that will be the most valuable for both our personal and professional lives. I have progressed to reading the news on the internet (newspapers would pile up on my front steps because I had to read EVERY page and it took me FOREVER), making a quick scan of a professional article or chapter in the latest "teaching" book, spending moments in bed with my children rereading their favorite nighttime stories, and if I am lucky, relaxing in a hot bath with the newest mystery I have grabbed up from the shelves of Barnes and Noble. The latter setting for my reading pleasure has taken on the true meaning of Teri Lesesne's book Naked Reading as I've gotten caught a time or two lying in a tub with no water because I was so caught up in a book that I kept putting off getting out. I only get in trouble now if I stay up too late and am really tired the next morning because I just HAVE to finish ONE MORE chapter before I turn off the lights!
I know that you may love to read too. Many of you have done the same things I described above. I would never have picked up a copy of Twilight if I had not seen an article about Stephanie Meyer hanging in the high school hallway or heard Amanda and Kandice discussing the 4th installment of this "vampire love story" during a lunch break at school. We all browse websites that we have heard about in professional development, search out the professional books from the last conference we attended, and try and find those fabulous children's books that we heard a colleague read or saw as we passed by the book store in the mall. 
Isn't that what we want our students to do - read for the purpose of enjoyment and learning, and then be able to have a time and a place to talk about it and share their excitement and knowledge with others? I did that as an elementary teacher, but now that I am at the university level, do I talk books as much with my students? Do they know where  to find the best books for their future classrooms? Am I sharing my love of books with them every time they step inside my classroom doors?
I don't know; it's definitely something to think about.
Of course,  I do see an inkling of a bibliophile in my daughter . . .