What’s Going On?

I titled this post after my favorite Marvin Gaye song which is also incredibly appropriate for what I am writing about today…What is going on?  Seriously?

I’m going to start this post by saying I’m biased.

I’m biased because I have kids who I deeply love and want to protect with every fiber of my being.

I’m biased because I am a Catholic, the whole heartedly believes in having GOD at the center of your life and the beauty and peace that provides you.

I am biased because for the last 15 years I have worked in a school as a teacher and coach.

Now that we have gotten all of that out of the way I can get to my point.

I have lost a lot of sleep these past few days.  As a mom, I have struggled with the need and desire to keep my kids safe and the impulse to shelter them from all that is ugly or scary.  These recent school shootings are equally as disturbing as the last…but for many reasons I can’t get these ones out of my mind.

Maybe because of stories of heroes like Aaron Feis, a high school football coach at Douglas High school that stepped in front of bullets to shield students. Bullets that ultimately ended his life.  I lay in bed and pray for his family and for the students lives this man’s bravery saved. I pray that his sacrifice is appreciated and that those students go and do marvelous things with their life and make his sacrifice all the more worth it.  I pray that people grow in respect for the profession of teaching, not as one of people who “have summer’s off” (which for the record I don’t know a single teacher who actually does nothing over the summer) but instead as a profession full of people who love kids and want to make their lives better, some of whom would even give their own life for our children…

Maybe it’s because I have been through intruder training and it was one of the most disturbing in-service/professional development days of my 15 years.  I can remember the officers conducting the training telling us that our job is to look around our classroom and find ways to defend students and to arm them to defend themselves.

Maybe it’s because I’ve then had those conversations with my own students about what our “game plan” is if an intruder gets in our building.

Maybe it’s because I did catalog my room and devise a plan.  One I’ve seen in my own head while laying in bed awake and executed perfectly in my mind.

Maybe it’s because I can’t look at the American flag in my classroom without thinking of said plan because part of my plan involves me using it to stab the intruder in the neck.  Yep, I just typed that.  Because that intruder training makes you think that way.  Anything and everything we can do to preserve life.  In fairness, perhaps selfishly, I really need to preserve my own life too and the prospect that teachers are now human shields in schools is pretty scary…I have 5 kids of my own at home who need me.

Maybe it’s because when I taught on the 2nd floor I thought we could tie all the girls uniform skirts together and shimmy them out the small window in my room so they could get to the open field behind the building and run for their lives.

Maybe it’s because I work with people who I know would sacrifice their own lives to save others and the thought that this type of senseless tragedy could happen anywhere, even outside of schools.

Maybe it’s because people are critical of schools and teachers and coaches and as a society we don’t value this profession in a way I think is equal to the importance of the job that we do.

Maybe it’s because 4 of my 5 own kids go to school now and they are with other adults and people most of their day and that fact alone gives me anxiety.  Now, I have to worry about their school getting shot up and I would be on the outside looking in unable to protect them.

For all these reasons I have bias.  For all these reasons I have fear.  For all these reasons I lay in bed at night and wonder how we make this all better? How do we fix this problem our society has created that human life isn’t valuable and sacred and something we should preserve instead of take away?

How?

I think that’s the big question.  In the last few days everyone from concerned parents to adamant gun owners have weighed in on this question.  We’ve seen answers like stricter gun laws to better mental health care.  Both good suggestions.  Both may help.

Can I suggest some more?  Some things that will not only maybe help this problem but also emit the awesome into the world that it so desperately needs.

I have a list.

Here’s #1: Can we love each other better?  Can we celebrate each other more?

Example you ask…sure I’ll provide a few.

Last year I saw a colleague who I almost never see on a regular basis in school.  I wrote her a card, which took maybe 2-minutes real time.  In that card I told her how I loved her passion for what she did for our school and for our kids, because, she’s really good at her job.  Also, she’s passionate about something that matters to kids in our school that many others may not care about.  She takes something that could be labeled as “nerdy” or “uncool” and makes it dazzling.  I thought she should know.  I wrote one measly little card.

The next day I got an email from this teacher.  The teacher shared with me that she got that card on a day where she was feeling really low and was questioning her value in our building and it was just what she needed.

Holy crap.

I had no idea.  I hadn’t thought about that card after I slipped it in her mailbox.  I wasn’t even sure if she’d read it right away (if she’s anything like me she doesn’t check her mail oftenJ).  What I learned was something I already knew, but needed to be reminded of…people like to hear they are doing a good job. They like to know they are appreciated and respected.  How can they possibly know that if we don’t tell them?  Also, people work harder and want to be better when they feel appreciated.  All good things.  All good things!

Kids are no different.  Whenever I tell one of my own kids how I am proud of them, they beam with pride and excitement.  I actually think I can see a twinkle in their eyes and I definitely see a jump in their step.

Validation.

It’s that simple.

Let’s validate each other more often, all the time, every day.  Is it really that hard?  Pay a compliment, write the note or email, send the text or even better say whatever it is to someone’s face!  Gasp.  A novel idea I know!

Let’s celebrate the hell out of each other’s awesome.  I decided…right now as I write this that for Lent I will write a note each day to a different person that I come across celebrating their awesome.  Each day as many times a day as I can I will celebrate others awesome in person and in writing.

Here’s another example, about a week ago I was picking up pizza at Papa Murphy’s for the kids.  I was with Ellen, our 7-year old daughter.  The young man making our pizza had the most beautiful eyes.  They were stunning.  I hesitated only for a second…should I tell him?  I don’t want him to think I’m a creeper.  Then I self corrected myself and said “don’t be ridiculous” and told him he had incredible eyes.  He dropped his hands to his side, stopped what he was doing, paused and looked at me and smiled.  He said “Ma’am (which I still don’t like to be called) thank you so much, I was thinking the same thing about you but didn’t have the confidence to tell you.”  We then had a nice conversation.

When we got back in the car Ellen asked me why I said that to him.  It was a great teaching opportunity to tell our daughter that when you see or feel something that is positive and can share it, you always should.  You never know when that compliment or note or kind word could change someone’s day, maybe even their life.  I believe that.  Truly.  Something as simple as a compliment could save a person’s life. Why would you miss an opportunity to do that?  We can do better.

I’m not sure if our 7-year old totally understood that but it’s definitely a lesson inspired by celebr8awesome.

Our kids, especially teens, seek validation from their phone screens.  From likes and shares, from their physical appearance.  We should seek validation from face to face contact or hand written notes, things people can have forever….  The more of that the better.  If each teen we came across was validated by just the adults in their lives other than their own parents…what wonders we could work!

Final example, I ran into a former student. One I taught my very first year at St. James.  I always liked him but at times he was difficult to manage in class.  I have made a practice since I started teaching to write each student a letter.  Just a note telling them what I think of them or things I have seen in them that I think are special.  It’s one of my favorite things to do as a teacher.  I don’t write them for a response back or a thank you card.  I write them because in my life, I have received many kind hand written notes from various people in my life and I keep them all.  Who knows when you need a pick me up?  Sometimes I pull them out and read them.  We all need validation, remember?

Anyhow, I saw this young man at a wedding of another St. James student.  He had consumed a few adult beverages (he was of age of course…married himself) and out of his wallet he pulled the note I had written him when he was a junior in high school.  He told me how he still reads it and how meaningful it was to him then and now.  I remember writing it.

I cried, had a libation of my own and will never forget that moment.  That particular semester I had thought about not writing the letters.  I had a really difficult class and some of them would be a challenge to write.  He reminded me how important it was to continue this tradition.  As my mom always said “some of the hardest kids to love, need you the most”.

Which brings me to #2 on my list.

#2 Can we be kind?  More kind?  Can we teach our kids to be kind?

When my sister and I were kids we had to invite every single girl in our school to our birthday party.  All of them.  I went to a pretty large grade school so that was a pretty significant number of people.  When we were old enough to go to dances we were told if a boy asked us to dance we had to say yes, even if we didn’t want to, the first time.  We couldn’t deny someone as that may be a rejection they couldn’t get over.  Every time there was a teachable moment about how to be a nice, kind and caring person, it didn’t pass by with, what seemed at the time like a lecture, but I realize now, was a gift.

I am a kind person.  I am an empathetic person.  Thank you, mom.  Thank you.  It’s made me a better teacher, wife, friend and perhaps most importantly, mom.  I’m grateful my parents taught me how to be kind and not only encouraged it but demanded it.  Our kids will appreciate it too, someday.  Demand better of our kids. It will be worth it.  I’m sure of it.

Kids can be weird.  They can be different.  They can be hard to talk to.  They can be unfortunate looking, overweight, underweight…a myriad of things that will make it open season to be picked on. They can be labeled very early on and have an incredibly hard time shaking that label.  But I believe with my whole heart in what my mom said to us growing up and what she has emphasized in the years I’ve been a teacher (something she knows all too well from her own 40 year teaching career)…”the ones how are the hardest to love, need you the most”!

Truth!

I could tell you stories all day of kids who were bullied or called “fat” or “ugly” as a middle schooler that harbored or still harbor to this day insecurities about those days.  We are talking going on 30 years later and it still burns in their heart.  We can’t let our kids treat each other like dogs.  We must demand better.  While that make us unpopular initially, this is one time it’s cool to be uncool.  Demand better of our kids but explain to them why it’s important.

Can we all look out for each other.  No one should ever sit alone at lunch.  No one should ever feel alone in a building with hundreds of people in it.  It cannot happen.

Likewise, it’s important, especially for parents and teachers who have opportunities to teach this more than anyone…they also need to know we are human too.  Were you bullied as a kid?  Do you have insecurities as a result?  Share that with them.  Especially with those one on ones with the more difficult kids.  They need to know you aren’t just a crusty old adult “lecturing” them.  They need to know you are human too.

Which brings me to point #3

PARENT OUR CHILDREN!

We are all accountable for our own kids, but I’d argue, we are also accountable for others too.  Back in the day if a neighborhood kid acted like a jerk, that child’s parents got called and they got yelled at by not only the adult who witnessed it but by their own parents as well.  As a result, you were less likely to act like a jerk because you always knew someone was watching.

I can distinctly remember my mom making several of those phone calls and also being the recipient of them as well.

We all live in our own bubble now because we bounce from activity to activity totally consumed with our own lives and schedules and we want to shelter and protect our kids from anything bad, including taking responsibility for their actions.  Every person in this world can be mean.  Sometimes people are just mean. Sometimes they say or do something to be cool, to fit in and they themselves aren’t actually mean people.  Sometimes people lose their temper.

That’s ok.  We all make mistakes.  But as parents and educators and, I’d argue, human beings who want humanity to be a better, kinder, safer place to raise our kids…we all have a responsibility to hold each other accountable.

Our job is not to get our students, players or kids to “like” us or think we are cool.  Our job is to teach them to be good, kind, responsible people that own up to their actions good or bad and know how to make amends when they do mess up.

Stop bailing your kids out of their own messes. Please. Whether it is forgetting their lunch or homework or cheating on a test or ditching school.  Let them have that consequence.  They don’t learn how to problem solve or feel the agony of defeat, a necessary human emotion, if we don’t let them.

I will acknowledge the pain it creates in your bursting heart when you watch your kid fail and suffer those consequences but every psychological study points to the fact that this type of failure is essential in human development.  Don’t solve all your kid’s problems…hold them accountable so they can learn from their mistakes and hopefully not repeat them.

Finally, and this last point, some may say contradicts rule #2, but I would argue they are one and the same.

Don’t allow your kid…or yourself, to be a victim.

Not to be clear, I am not suggesting that when someone’s feeling are hurt, legitimately, that they can’t be hurt or that our response should be “suck it up”.  I don’t think that’s the answer…what I am saying is, and I think we can agree…that our world has become ultra sensitive to all things and our world is full of victims.

I’m not playing because my coach doesn’t like me.  My teacher gave me a C because she had favorites.  I didn’t get the promotion because that other guy kisses butt.  Excuses, excuses, excuses. Gross. Gross. Gross. Yuck. Yuck. Yuck.

This can be closely tied to #3.  Accountability.  Self awareness, perhaps.  Maybe you got passed up for the promotion because the other guy is just a better candidate.  This goes along with people’s inability to celebrate other people’s awesome.  Stop humans.  We must. It’s essential to stopping all this hate in society.

Also, we need to be a little less sensitive or maybe to be more clear, worry less about what other people think of us (I can work on this too for sure).  We need to arm our kids with a little bit of that.  If someone doesn’t like you, it’s often because they are intimidated or jealous of you.  Ever give that a thought?

Whenever me or my sister felt hurt by a peer or disliked by a peer, our mom used to always say “it’s their loss”.  I don’t know that I agreed with her at the time…but how true is that?  Really?  If someone wants to miss out on the awesome you provide this world, they aren’t worth your worry.  Move on and spend your time and energy on people who are nice and do appreciate you.  Kids need our help with this.  Perhaps it’s why our mom was constantly reminding us of it and I do mean constantly.  She lived in a house with two teenage girls at the time. We needed that reminder.

And to be honest, every single time…she was right.  While I didn’t see it immediately, every failed friendship, or failed relationship as I got older, was a gift.  It was GOD intervening saying that person isn’t right for you and I want better for you.  Sure, my heart broke at times but I became stronger and smarter and more self aware as a result of it…But that brings me back to #3…let your kids fail!

”Be thankful for the closed doors, detours, and roadblocks. They protect you from paths and places not meant for you.”

While I’m not suggesting this list solves all our problems, I just had to write something.  As I’ve said in many other posts, it calms me, and I can’t sleep.  I want to sleep!

Finally, can I make one more suggestion? One that may not be popular with some…but I’m cool with that.  May I suggest we all pray?  I do believe it helps.  I have seen the power of prayer work miracles many times over and if we could just live and work as a community of believers that GOD wants this world to be a better and safer place and we all worked to be a little bit kinder and we all worked to hold each other accountable and we all worked to celebrate each other’s awesome…what an awesome world it would be indeed!

#celebr8awesome

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