Growing a Heart

There was a time, I think, when I was less able to absorb the hurts and joys of those around me. And I marvel at the change the years have brought my perspective. Maybe it’s a blessing of being the caretaker of two lives the brings this weight down. Maybe I just wasn’t able to understand, to focus when I was younger. I mean, there was so much TO DO.

But, I’m sitting here today feeling a blanket of sadness. For a friend on her last journey of this life. For a friend watching over another life in the balance. For a family opening their hearts to a new brother. For multiple friends shepherding their little ones lives through one challenge after another. And for so many of us, putting one foot in front of the other to keep our wheels in motion.

There is much to celebrate. There is much to mourn. Questions unanswered about the future. And what we do seems so little.

But I learned a hard lesson years back. My awkwardness is not an acceptable barrier to my giving support. I might not have the right words in my head ever, but words given sincerely carry so much light. And no words give nothing.

So my friends on your journeys, I am throwing light at you to balance out all the shade. We may not have seen each other in years, but I see you and send you light.

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Taking the Stage

Lucy talent show 2013

It came home in the folder hidden beneath completed homework assignments, the weekly class newsletter and folded art projects. Talent show time again. Those words bring memories and emotions back for me–but for L it’s just a foregone conclusion.

I asked if she was going to be in the show this year and got a mumbled response. Last year she did a poms routine with two of her classmates. Thank goodness the other mom choreographed and practiced with them. But this year, L says she doesn’t want to do a group act. She wants to go it alone. Flashback. And I’m a bit terrified for her.

So many gut it out performances that I have done. And I barely remember some of them. My first talent show was in 5th grade–mock rock to “We Got the Beat” playing air guitar tennis rackets. Children’s youth choir dressed up for a Renaissance dinner at the university. Singing a Whitney Houston song at the castle at Canadian Lakes–where my grandma won a (gasp) bottle of wine in the raffle. She said she would use it for cooking–and of course I believed her since the rest of my family was dry. Fast forward to choir performances, more talent shows, weddings and funerals.

My indulgence for the little tv that I watch is The Voice. The combination of hopes/dreams, laying all out there is tantalizing. I cry for the great performances and for the ones who go home. The husband (who doesn’t watch and shakes his head at my tears) says that I’m empathetic. Yes–but secretly I’m also crying a bit for me. For the knowledge that while I have some great accomplishments notched on my belt, being passionate and gifted and disciplined enough to deliver superstardom is not in the cards. I’m not debilitated by this acknowledgement, but there is a little sad part of me (and probably everyone) that maybe wishes I would have done a little bit more. That’s the baggage I’m trying NOT to place on my child.

And that’s the issue. I’m not scared for her–I’m still scared for me. The little me that had all those hopes and wanted to be so great but didn’t know how to put in the work needed to be great and wondered why sometimes I didn’t quite get it right.

Whew. That. Is. It. Because I see the same thing in my daughter. So quick to proclaim “that’s so easy!” before she’s gotten it right. And now she wants to sing solo in the talent show (in 1st grade, mind you) and I’m not sure how to help deliver an experience that will be positive and not scary, or worse yet scarring, discouraging her from being brave and standing on that stage. When she’s ready. And if that’s now so be it. I just hope I can convince her to try something other than “Call Me Maybe.”

Camp Crafting

Every once in a while I have a conversation with someone–a coworker, friend, even my husband–where we talk about the things you did growing up.  There’s usually something totally random spurs the topic.  This time it was a coworker’s french toast that randomly smelled like a woodburning tool.  That we used when we were kids.  Got me thinking about all of the “crafts” we would do as part of programming at organized groups.  

The one that stands out for me is a christian adventure camp that my sisters and I attended. It was so cool as a little kid.  You stayed in a variety of really awesome things–teepees, covered wagons, tree houses, a real fort with the timber wall around it, cabooses.  I remember being so excited when I could finally go and stay in the teepees.  I’d watched my sisters go on ahead of me (being 3 and 6 years older) for the various sport and riding camps.  They always came back with crafts that they’d made:  a real belt with all kinds of designs, macaroni art, a burnt match stick cross.  Fabulous stuff.

And their tales of camp adventures.  The watermelon roll in the swimming hole.  Canoe races.  The mud pit.  That’s right, the MUD PIT.  No wonder they always cried when it was time to go home.

When I finally got there, the mud pit was no longer a sanctioned activity. (much to my dismay)  But all of the rest were there–craft time, the trading post, songs around the campfire.  I left that camp with a love of crafts and adventure, but the indoctrination didn’t take.  Something about singing a song called “I just want to be a sheep” just didn’t ring true for me. (go figure)

I’m not sure how my kids will experience camp life.  Their camps will not have burnt matchstick crosses or woodburning tools (the thought of either of them lighting and blowing out that many matches makes me a little nervous inside), but they will have their own memories.  It’s a shame that none of us will have the memory of the mud pit though.  I’m still jealous of my sisters for that one.  At least I graduated up to the covered wagon though. 

Jagged Lines

As any graphic designer knows, if you zoom in on  a line, it eventually will show its pixels.  Little jagged edges that from afar look like a neat, straight edge.  So it goes with our definitions. My last post was about bullying.  It struck home because of an incident with my daughter at school.  We talked, she shared, the school didn’t and we did.  End of story.

Actually no.

This conversation continues.  You see, the “bully” is a little girl.  And she’s still learning (just as my daughter is) the rules of engagement.  But I’m afraid that our rules are getting skewed.  Well-intentioned educational campaigns sometimes lead to unexpected results.  That bully the school is on “high alert” for her behavior? High alert may have translated to “protect against.”  Which leads to the broad sweeping categorization of <bad kid>.  And that is not fair.

Bedtime conversation with my daughter went like this:

How was school?  Have you seen <name> on the playground since we talked?  “Yes.  But I just, I just freeze up.”

Why do you think she was upset with you?  “Well, I thought we needed to protect the girl she was with from her, but the girl was her friend.”

How do you think <name> felt when you and the other kids were defending against her? How would you feel if you hadn’t done anything and someone acted like you would hurt them?  “I think she felt bad.  I would feel bad too.”

I challenged my daughter to try to talk to <name>.  To say that even though she didn’t like or deserve to be hit, that she didn’t mean to make <name> feel bad.  That’s a tall order for a six year old.  It’s a tall order for a 40 year old sometimes.  I hope she can do it though.  And if not, I hope she’ll remember the next time that behind the label is an actual person.  Talk about a life lesson for all of us.

Just a few days ago I received a survey about the disciplinary policy for our school district.  Never having experienced it first hand, I wasn’t sure how to answer some of the questions.  But I remember one that asked whether the district’s focus should be on discipline or reformation.  Hitting home with consequences or trying to make disciplinary situations a learning experience.  So–how do you balance the repurcussions from bad choices and keep all kids safe?  Without turning some of those very kids into the bully for real. It’s not an easy question.  Just like that straight line, there are jagged edges when you look close enough.

The Bully

The conversation started on the way home from school.  “How was your day—tell me what you did at school today.”  I usually have to press a little bit to get any substantive answer.  Today was no exception, but there was something else.

My daughter is pretty forthright—a first grader, she has formed some pretty definite opinions and picked up early on a few “teenagerisms.”  Today her mumbles made me ask her to say it again.  What happened?

She was on the playground with friends and something happened that resulted in my daughter being shoved against a wall and punched in the stomach.  By another first grade girl.  It was said so matter-of-factly.  “My friend and I stood in front of the kindergarteners so they wouldn’t get hurt.  Then <name> shoved me against the wall and punched me in the stomach.  It hurt a lot.”

I asked the questions we’re supposed to ask:  Did you tell an adult?  Why was this person upset?  Did you tell her you didn’t like what she was doing and you didn’t want to play with her anymore?  Did you tell an adult?

The response was “I was embarrassed because I was crying.”  Then, “can we stop talking about this mom?”

I was mad, concerned, maybe a little skeptical.  This is my daughter. The girl who, when asked about by teachers, is always the one who “plays with all the kids,” “shows compassion,” “plays well with others.”  I know she has her moments—especially with her little brother—but I couldn’t imagine what would provoke another child to hit her.  And secretly I hoped that there was nothing said that revealed a “mean girl” progression in her.

But, we didn’t have any validation.  Wouldn’t the school have contacted us?  We’ve received accident reports from run-ins with playground equipment.  I was sure a run-in with another student would certainly qualify.

The school had just finished a whole week focused on bullying.  Standing up when you see it happen, talk to an adult, make sure everyone is included.  How could this happen so close on the heels of that focus?

So I talked with a couple of parents.  This was not an isolated incident, this behavior had happened before.  And I met with the first grade teacher.  And then I found out that my daughter had told the truth—about all but one thing.  She had told an adult.  A couple of adults, actually.  And the little girl who hit my little girl was brought to the principal’s office.  And everyone is on high alert.  Except that we, the “little girl who stood up’s parents”, were not on high alert.  Or wouldn’t have been if that conversation on the way home from school hadn’t taken place.

We’re huge school supporters.  Both TKs (teachers kids), we value the time, compassion and caring that go into our schools. This time, though, we were disappointed.  That the aggressor’s parents were communicated with, but not us.  That we weren’t given a proactive opportunity to provide support to our daughter.  To make her feel safe.  To tell her how proud we were that she stood up.  And that she did the right thing by finding an adult.

In the end, communication took place—because we initiated it.  And although I know it’s hard to keep track of so many kids, so many situations, I just wish that this one had been seen as a priority.  Not just for monitoring bullying, but supporting the kids who stand up to it and say no. 

I’m so proud of my little girl. And I hate that she had this happen.