Child Development

Today My Head Exploded.

In Tibetan culture there is a deity named Avalokitesvara who is said to be the embodiment of all consuming compassion. He is sometimes depicted with eleven heads and a thousand arms, which is said to be the result of trying to realize the needs of so many beings suffering. Hearing all the cries his head split into eleven pieces, which was then formed into eleven heads to better understand and hear their needs and a thousand arms were formed in order to reach out in assistance in all directions. Although far from a deity, I think I can understand a little of how Avalokitesvara felt. Because today, my head exploded.

I try to view social media as a pleasant way to share silly things my kids said or moments I’m proud of with friends and family I have far too little time to actually meet with. Sometimes I find interesting articles from points of view I never considered …and then there’s always the cute baby animal pictures, which I believe have greatly enhanced the quality of my life. But then there are times when the amount of vitriol and narrow mindedness is so overwhelming that it permeates my being. That was today.

In just a few moments time I was blasted with the news that a young middle school girl in my town took her own life, who in her moment of desperation saw this as the only solution to the problem of being bullied and miserable at school. Some people’s reactions were of heartbreak and love, but most were focused on revenge and “getting” the bullies-who mind you, are children. Next I see news coverage of a young girl who is forcibly, violently removed from her classroom by a police officer and people’s reactions polarized between revenge on the police officer and revenge on the young girl-who mind you, is a child. Then I see a status blaring the evilness of common core math and why can’t things just be done the way they used to be before we tried to dumb down the content so illegals could understand-illegals, who mind you, are children.

In my classroom our motto was “Focus On The Solution,” a motto I sincerely try to embody in my everyday life. But at that moment I saw no solution. Only a bunch of big people taking their frustrations out on smaller people, because, well, they can. When I thought about how this is just a tiny sampling of a little corner of the world…that there are so many children out there that are being bullied by other children and see no way out, that there are children who are being bullied at home and are usurping their power back from other children at school, that there are people in positions of authority that do not understand basic human development and physiology and punish children for being human, people who are willing to publicly shame and humiliate an entire group of children because they deem their child’s homework too hard or unnecessary, when I saw no possible way that I could stop their tears and comfort them..My head exploded. Or, at least it felt like it.

Trying to have a well thought out conversation on social media is like pouring water into a sieve. No matter what your intention, it’s not gonna go anywhere but out the other end. Instead, I will write all the things I wanted to say, but where it will be well received–to myself! So here is my futile attempt, using the frayed ends of dollar store tape, to piece myself back together.

Children are humans. It may come as a surprise, but they don’t suddenly become people with well formed thoughts and opinions at the magical age of 18, the governmental edict of adulthood. On their very birth day, and my hunch is quite some time before that, they have loud, obvious opinions and preferences. They have points of views and favorite foods. They have feelings and emotions comparable to that of other humans. The difference is, they do not yet have the experience -or physiological development- to handle those feelings and emotions the way adults expect them to. In fact, adults expect way more from small people who have less than two decades of life experience and an underdeveloped brain than they do from other adults. Adults have bad moods, temper tantrums, hissy fits, and inappropriate behavior ALL THE TIME. (See my references above.) My own children can attest to that fact. But put an overstimulated toddler, who has been trying to keep it together–but man they are frustrated because they wanted to put their own shoes on and you rushed them along and they can’t get their fingers to cooperate with the picture in their minds and they didn’t want to be picked up they wanted to walk on their own so they could touch that stuff over there what is that it’s so cool I want to find out wait stop mommy I dont want to sit in the cart and be held down Im trying to figure out my world — in a grocery store and have them react emotionally and you will hear snickers, tsk tsks, and condescending remarks about how that child needs a “whooping.”

A child who is a bully does not need to be bullied. A child who is a bully has BEEN bullied and is trying to get rid of the feelings of powerlessness that are left behind. Anti-bully programs will never work. Why? Because you are ANTI — you are not for them. You are not helping them. You are further taking away their power which is the exact need they are trying to fill. Using catchy slogans and fluffy worksheets to stop bullying behavior is akin to using an already wet cheap paper towel to sop up an oil tanker spill. Are you angry that a young girl felt so desperate that she took her own life? You should be! Now turn that anger towards the cause. The cause is a society that not only embraces and condones childism, it values it. It waves it around as a source of pride. Turn that need for justice around to your own homes. Make sure your children’s points of views, feelings, perspectives, and emotions are heard and given the credence they deserve.

Being in school is hard. (..and I was the teacher!) A classroom is one of the most obvious places where childism exists. We ask them to sit still (even though developmentally that is not only inappropriate but completely counterproductive to the learning’s boring) for hours on end and perform mind numbing tasks filling in blanks on worksheets. We’ve taken away recess, art, P.E., music, and give them crap lunches. Then, when their underdeveloped brains have an emotional reaction-you guessed it! We punish them for being human before they are 18.

The young girl who made national news for not wanting to leave class had recently experienced major life traumas. Within the span of the previous six months, her mother passed away and was placed in the care of her grandmother. Her grandmother then passed away and she was placed in foster care. With strangers. And then people who don’t know her or love her made the decision for her to go to this new school–further away from any remnants of a life she used to know, friends she used to have–any evidence that anyone cared for her. Would an adult have been able to pick themselves up and drag themselves off to school? Would they have then been able to pay attention and focus on worksheets? Would we have had compassion for an adult who was going though such emotional difficulty? Or would we have called the police and forcibly had them removed for not paying attention? What if an adult who had NONE of those life traumas were to go to a classroom and not pay attention…would the police have been called? At most, the professor may have stopped them after class and said, “hey, I notice you weren’t really paying attention.” Maybe if they were a good professor they would have added, “is anything bothering you? Can I help?” If that young girl had been met with empathy and compassion, from anyone in that classroom that day–things probably would have ended much differently. Because in the end that’s all we want, us humans. We want others to recognize our struggle. Even if we are small humans. Even if you deem my struggle small.

I honestly don’t know if there really is a deity out there somewhere with eleven heads and a thousand arms reaching out to help us from all directions. But I do know, that even if there is, a thousand arms isn’t nearly enough to help everyone that needs a hand. So, when I Focus On The Solution for today, I will try to remember to use the two hands I have to reach out with compassion. If we all use our two hands, maybe Avalokitesvara can take a break. It sounds like he’s been having a rough couple of days himself, and could probably use some compassion.

Take Me To Your Leader

9-8-2015 1;09;45 PMThe first time I was on the other side of the conference table, my daughter’s kindergarten teacher explained to me that she was a “leader” in the classroom. Poof! My teacher to English translator went into action. I knew what that meant. That meant she was bossy.

Vacillating between concern and pride, I pondered what this meant for her future…President? CEO? Felon? Mafiosa? Fast forward a few years and any concern I had was quietly squelched as I watched tiny golden curls dance furiously along to the soundtrack of the movie Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. (If you haven’t had the pleasure of watching this movie let me summarize it for you: Set in the Old West, a young stallion horse refuses to be held captive by the U.S. Army. The soundtrack includes titles such as “Run Free,” “You Can’t Take Me,” and “Get Off of My Back.”) Goosebumps jumped up and down on my back as I listened to my baby’s 42 pound body belt out her favorite lyrics:

I can’t be beat and that’s a fact
It’s OK – I’ll find a way
You ain’t gonna take me down no way
Don’t judge a thing until you know what’s inside it
Don’t push me – I’ll fight it
Never gonna give in – never gonna give it up no…

Now a senior in high school, I consider that bossiness one of her best qualities. She’s darn near immune to bullying and peer pressure. Of course there are times when I momentarily forget how endearing that quality is – whenever her stubbornness butts heads with my stubbornness. After all, I’m pretty sure the apple didn’t fall far from the tree in the pigheaded department.

9-8-2015 1;09;41 PM
Americans in general seem to have a love/hate relationship with independence. Our country was founded by a bunch of rabble-rousers refusing to be told what to do. Images of the Boston Tea Party and James Dean adorn every Americana collection in the U.S. We idolize the image of the Rebel, the “Don’t Tread on Me.” Yet when our children are young we seem to do everything in our power to quash their individuality and autonomy. Rather than encourage their own sense of self we label them “defiant” and require them to fall in line because “I Said So.”

In our house questioning is valued. If the kids believe a boundary we’ve set is unfair they are encouraged to say so. They are encouraged to negotiate and ask for clarity. Sometimes in the process we discover that a boundary was unjust, that we couldn’t give a clear reason why it was set in place and so it disappears. Sometimes the kids learn to see things from a point of view they couldn’t before, they grow and accept the boundary. And sometimes they still think it’s unjust, but we consider it non-negotiable, and a respectful butting of heads ensues.

I welcome the head-butting wholeheartedly. I know that means that they will have practiced standing their ground at home where it is safe and will be more liable to give an abusive relationship the boot. They will be less likely to stay in a job where they are miserable. They will be more likely to shake the world. That when something is important to them, they’ll be able to stick their heels in the dirt and belt out, “Never gonna give in, never gonna give it up, no….”

9-8-2015 1;11;28 PM


The Not So Lonely Planet

Imagine if you will…you and your significant other are FINALLY taking a long anticipated vacation to Italy. After all the saving and waiting, which of these three options would you prefer for your experience?

1) You hire an extremely professional, highly qualified guide. This guide’s organizational skills are top-notch and you are guaranteed to see the most sights that are humanly possible in your allotted week. Because this guide is proud of their reputation they are attached to the schedule and refuse to veer from it in any capacity. The days are planned to maximize your sight seeing potential and will include several stops to wineries, despite the fact that you and your spouse do not drink alcohol. You have a love of art and your partner studied Italian renaissance composers in college, but neither art museums nor conservatories are on the itinerary.

2) You decide to save the money on a guide and explore the Italian countryside on your own. Neither of you speak Italian and spend several hours trying to decipher how to say, “Where can I rent a moped?” Your week is up all too soon and you spent most of it exploring the three square blocks surrounding your hotel.

3) You hire a guide who is known for their expertise, but is also extremely flexible and wants to customize your experience to your interests. You spend some of your time languishing at a cafe, laughing with the locals, some of your time at an open air concert and some time studying famous paintings. Because of your guide’s intimate knowledge of the area, you were also able to see beautiful old architecture and historical sites that led to an appreciation of Italian culture you didn’t know you had!

Children are forced participants in a true foreign language immersion program. They know nothing of your cultural and social norms. Every aspect of being human is a topic of study. More than that, they are aliens even to their very own bodies. Once they’ve mastered crawling and walking, they have to figure out how to hold pencils, tie shoes, ride bikes. When they are angry they are required to control their inner most instincts and stop themselves from lashing out. Stress, frustration, hurt, disappointment, excitement, love-if anyone needed a guide, someone to gently suggest which path has the least obstacles–oh, our little ones do.

My hunch, when given the three options above, is that you would choose option #3. I have another hunch, that so would your children. In our eagerness to achieve the most and be the best, some of us forget that our kids are people-with their own wants, needs, and interests. Some of us, in our wanton abandon that is parental love, forget that our kids are not all the way developed and succumb easily to the vastness of humanity. Simply, they just don’t know where things go or why they go there. And some of us, stumble across the realization that those little people-the little people who frustrate us like no one else can while simultaneously exploding our hearts with an all consumingness that we never knew possible-are exactly that. Little people who need help figuring out where to rent their moped.