Teaching Kids Kindness in the Face of Fear

Paris (1)

For the first time in forever, I was able to savor a quiet, un-busy weekend at home, so I curled up with a blanket and a cup of tea on Saturday morning to catch up on my long-neglected newsfeed. Lucky for me, I stumbled upon this essay written by a talented mom who blogs at You Have Six Kids? In her post, she reflects on the question of how to teach kids kindness in a world where unkindness often feels like the norm. Her post caught my attention because she drives home the point that we, as parents, as people, cannot allow fear to seep into our hearts and erode our own values of love and generosity toward others. Recent events in Paris and Mali have fed into our darkest fears, fears that aim to manipulate and isolate us.

In her post, she explores the truth that when bad things happen in our lives, we are tempted to disconnect from others, to focus on self-preservation at the expense of what is inherently good about ourselves and our country. Helping people who need us can be scary. It can feel risky. It can even be painful. But that doesn’t mean that helping is any less right than it was the day before something terrible happened.

And these ideas really got me thinking about how my feelings do not give me a one-way ticket out of difficult situations. About how uncomfortable predicaments that test my convictions not only allow me to help others, but also promote my own personal growth. About how if I am able to help, and available to help, and especially if God has put me in the right place at the right time to help, then helping is not so much my choice as it is my responsibility. About how our children learn to do good by watching and participating when we ourselves do good, and about just how many opportunities to help others exist all around us every single day.

heart rock

Now, I don’t know the mom who wrote this article, but she has street cred, for sure. Her personal story is the epitome of faith in action. You can check it out on her blog. She is selfless. She is generous. She is inspiring.  I am grateful to have read her words this morning.

But there was something else that stuck with me after reading her essay, something that I just couldn’t shake from my brain. Here it is, in the second part of this statement from her post: “Teaching kids to be kind to one another can be difficult, considering we live in a world fueled by hate and evil.”

Teaching kids to be kind can definitely be difficult. Preach it, Sister!

But a world fueled by hate and evil?

Whoa.

That. Is. Depressing.

And I just can’t believe that it is true.

Now let me just say, based on the rest of this writer’s essay, that I’m not so sure that she and I disagree on this point at all. In fact, I have a feeling that we would actually be on exactly the same page here if we had a heart-to-heart conversation over lunch, like mom friends do. But this IS a scary premise that many people embrace these days, and it feeds anxiety, and it has influenced some smart people to do and say some crazy, hateful things, exactly the kinds of things that this writer challenges in her post.

Don’t get me wrong. There is hate and there is evil. We saw it in Paris. We have seen it on American soil. We have witnessed it through vile acts of international terrorism and through deplorable examples of domestic crime. We watch it on the news locally, nationally, and globally every day. It runs as a constant stream across our newsfeeds. It interrupts normal broadcasting. It screams for attention through “Special Reports” and “Breaking News.” Photographs of perpetrators of evil flash across our television screens and glare at us from the front pages of newspapers. We watch footage of bombers hiding their secrets in crowds at marathons and planes crashing into buildings over and over and over again.

And we start to believe that this is all there is outside our front doors. The world is hate. The world is evil.

Except that it isn’t.

Remember that fear we were talking about? Well, he’s a liar.

As the writer at You Have Six Kids? explains, we teach our kids kindness by showing kindness ourselves, especially when being kind is a difficult, scary, or inconvenient thing for us to do. She is so right! Let’s also teach our kids kindness, even when frightening things are happening all around, by helping them to SEE THE GOOD in the world outside of the bubbles that we have created for them.

Because it is everywhere.

Because it is powerful.

Because it is contagious.

Because it can change people.

Because it can build a bridge where there is only a divide.

Because it can speak English. And Arabic. And Chinese. And Russian.

And because last week, we all learned to speak kindness in French.

Good is always present, even in the dark places where evil lurks, even in the face of terrible atrocities. There are always some people who are choosing to do what is good. Always.

I want to help my children see them.

I want them to know that there were many, many more people praying for Paris than attacking it, that there were many people from many places sending resources to help, that there were many countries offering assistance.

You see, my goal is not to shield my children from the harsh realities of the world around them, but I do want them to see a world that is fueled by faith and hope and love, a world where evil, while it may threaten, cannot maintain a strong grip if the people who are working for good are working together. I want them to focus on the heroes. I want them to see the servants. I want them to know that in the battle of good against evil, the good guys outnumber the bad.

It is my goal, just like it is the goal of the mom at You Have Six Kids? and the goal of the other moms who are part of my village, to raise children who become the men and women who someday lead our communities and our nation in pursuit of what is right.

We can teach our kids to DO the good even when the work is hard or scary.

We can teach our kids to SEE the good even when the bad demands our attention.

And we can teach our kids to BE the good wherever in the world life takes them.

Paris (2)

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/33011324@N00/502116633″>gratuitous eiffel tower shot</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/28232355@N05/7966684542″>Rock Hard Love</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/85608594@N00/14493000464″>Johann Wolfgang von Goethe A man sees in the world what he carries in his heart</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

 

 

 

Back to School Edition: Tip #9

Bus

First let me say that if you have read all of my nine tips in nine days, you are an overachiever, and, also, THANK YOU!  This “little project” turned out to be an ambitious endeavor, and after a few days I thought “What have I done?  This is too much!  No one wants to read my posts every day for over a week!  And how on earth will I keep up?”  But you surprised me, and you did read some posts, and you did send me encouraging messages and new ideas, and I did accomplish my goal.  Hooray for all of us!

In the process of writing these posts, I learned a some things about myself – because you can’t really explore an idea in writing without some deep self-reflection.  I am no expert on anything, really; any advice that I give is just advice that I am giving myself, first and foremost.  I hope that reading these tips led you to some self-reflection, too.

Before we end our series, the teacher in me wants to quickly revisit where we’ve been.  Here are the first eight tips with links in case you missed one or just want to review.

Tip #1: If your first impression of the teacher is negative, keep it to yourself.
Tip #2: Work as a team with the teacher, even if she isn’t your BFF.
Tip #3: Be open and honest about what your child needs.
Tip #4: Make your child’s school experience personal.
Tip #5: Never react too quickly.
Tip #6: Create a plan to help your child open up to you.
Tip #7: Teach your kids to have an optimistic outlook.
Tip #8: Invest time in what matters most.

Which leads us to Back to School Tip of the Day #9

Preserve the memories.  And what this really means is that you have permission to force your kids to (fake) smile for first-day-of-school pictures. In fact, they need to learn that life often requires us to do things that we don’t want to do in order to make someone else happy. Like making coffee for the boss. Or cleaning the toilet for guests. Or smiling so that your mom has a picture from every first day of school of your entire life.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, kids, so say, “Cheese!”

I’m exhausted, so that is all for today, but thanks again for supporting the 2015 Back to School Edition of my blog.  I already have ideas for some additional tips in the coming weeks, but my pace will slow now that my school year has begun.  Since today is the first day of school at our house, and that is like January 1 to us, we wish all of you, whether you have kids in school or not, a HAPPY NEW YEAR!

first day 2015
See, I made my kids do it!  Aren’t they handsome?
I won’t mention that they had to RUN so that they didn’t miss the
bus on the first day . . .  My fault . . .  We are a work in progress, for sure! 😉

 

No is Not Cool

No

There’s this word that I’ve been saying too often this summer, and it’s starting to get on my nerves, actually. My kids swear the word is evil, and it does leave a bad taste in my mouth when I say it, sometimes bitter, like regret, sometimes saltier, like anger. Sometimes, when I have repeated it more than a few times in five minutes, it tastes a bit like exhaustion. It’s a little word, just two letters, yet it holds extraordinary power. According to my kids, this word alone has propelled me to “the meanest mom” and “the worst mom” on multiple occasions – not just in our neighborhood, mind you, but in the whole entire world.

It’s okay, though. I have thick skin. I can take it. But I know that they are tired of hearing that word, the one that begins with N and ends with O. I know that NO gets old, and I have to confess that sometimes, a lot of times, I just hate to say it, too.

“No, you may not stay there overnight. I don’t know that family. Snag some DNA samples, and we’ll talk.”

“No, you may not hang out at the playground without an adult in sight. That’s how gangs get started. I saw it on Dateline.”

“No, every PG-13 movie is not fair game because we watched Jurassic World. Dinosaurs aren’t breaking laws by killing people. In fact, they probably should kill people who think spending time with dinosaurs is a good idea. That’s an important life lesson.”

“No, you may not have a Facebook account.”

“No, you may not have a Twitter account.”

“No, you may not have an Instagram account.”

And that’s just before lunch . . .

“No, you will not be getting a cell phone for your birthday. A cell phone is not a gift at our house. A cell phone is a bill that you can’t pay. Your friends live down the street. Yell louder.”

“No, we are not signing you up for another sports camp this summer. But, PLEASE, feel free to play soccer and basketball. Outside. Right now. For free. And let’s make some nice cold water bottles for you, just in case the door is maybe possibly locked until dinner time.”

“No, we are not going somewhere else today. We just left the water park, for goodness’ sake. Do you realize that some kids NEVER get to visit a water park? Like N-E-V-E-R. Not in their entire lives. Some kids don’t even have water to DRINK, and you get to play in it! Can we appreciate that for a few minutes, guys? Can we show some gratitude?”

“No, you may not watch TV all day.”

“No, you may not play video games all day.”

“No, you may not eat ice cream all day.”

“Or cookies.”

“Or Cheetos.”

“Yes, I said ‘ice cream,’ BUT YOU KNEW WHAT I MEANT!

No, no, no, no, no, no, no.

My sons, particularly my soon-to-be sixth grader, are struggling with NO – and I get it. I really do. It’s hard to be the kid whose mom says NO regularly. NO is not cool. It hurts your image. It reminds you that even though you feel like you are old enough to make your own decisions, someone else is still (sort of) in control. But while my guys think that I don’t understand, that I don’t empathize with them, the truth is that I do. We actually have a lot in common.

It’s hard to be the kid whose mom says NO.

But it’s hard to be the mom who says NO, too.

My boys don’t understand the social dynamics of NO, the way that other moms think I am judging their decisions when I say NO to things that they allow. My guys don’t know how heartbreaking it is to see them excluded from something or how difficult it is to find the sweet spot between “does-that-kid-even-have-parents?” and “that-mom-needs-to-cut-the-cord.” They don’t realize that it is painful, that it literally hurts, to deny them something that I know they really want, even when I know it is the right decision for our family. My oldest can’t yet comprehend that, even though I trust him, experience has taught me that there are temptations that he is not ready to face as a preteen. That there are people who seem trustworthy who should not be trusted. That even though he thinks he has seen everything, there are things that he has not seen and is not ready to see and if I could create a world where he would never ever see them, I would do that.

They think my job is easy. They imagine that I retire to my room after saying NO, reveling in some kind of sinister satisfaction, gloating with an evil laugh. (Bwahahahaha!) I am the villain in the script, the one with the kryptonite, always thwarting their plans. But it just isn’t true.

Maybe someday I will look back and wish that I had not said NO as often. Maybe, when they are all grown up, my kids will still insist that I was too strict. Maybe they will entertain everyone at the holidays with embarrassing stories about my husband and me, about how we REALLY were the meanest, most awful parents. Maybe, and this is where it gets really frightening, it will all fall apart, and they will blame our parenting for their own bad choices and rebellion.

Or maybe they will thank us. Maybe they will appreciate just a little bit more the very word that they hate. Maybe they will feel grateful, as I feel grateful to my parents, who loved and trusted me but did not shy from saying NO.

Maybe someday they will understand.

It’s a gamble, really, a risk that we all take in those weird years between helping our children order from the kids’ menu and taking them to get a driver’s license. All parents walk the same wire, seeking a safe balance between being overly strict and being too permissive. There is no simple answer, no decision that fits the needs of every child or every family, but the compromise in our family is that even though we do say no often, we always say yes more – yes to fun, yes to adventures and time with friends, yes to building character, yes to hugs, yes to trying new things and facing our fears, yes to family, yes to celebrations, and yes to love.

And when I feel uneasy about denying my children something, I remind myself that every NO is just a YES, really. It’s a yes to the values that I want to instill in the men I am raising, a yes to protecting them just a little bit longer, a yes to allowing them to earn the responsibilities and privileges that they think that they deserve. Saying NO isn’t easy. It’s a word that hurts sometimes.  I know, because it hurts me, too.  But when I say NO to my sons, it really means I LOVE YOU, and I hope that they will understand that, eventually, maybe when they have the honor of being “the meanest dads in the whole entire world” themselves.

Hamster Wheel

Hamster Wheel

From late August through mid-June, when the school year is in full swing, I generally feel like I am running on a hamster wheel. I run nonstop, fearful that if I stop, or even attempt to slow down, I will fly off haphazardly, crashing and leaving everything around me in disarray – and we all know who would have to clean up that mess. So I just keep running. To insert obstacles into the race, I add more and more to my agenda as I run because (A.) I don’t like to say no and (B.) I can always make time for one more good idea. I will just run a little bit faster. I run and run and run, from meeting to class to soccer practice to church to basketball games to volunteer commitments to the next project that I have created for myself to another meeting, and sometimes I wonder what it is like to *Just. Sit. Still.*

And this is where I am a little bit lucky. As a teacher, I am fortunate to enjoy a summer break with my children, and, to be honest, given the current climate of education in America, it is one of the bright spots in a gloomy, depressing mess. But every year I fall prey to the same evil trap; it snags me in the dark winter months of hibernation and tightens its grip as the icy thaw reveals the promises of spring. It seems harmless at first, really. I begin to say things like, “It can wait; I will work on it this summer.” Or, “I don’t have time to worry about that right now, but I will have time to care about it in the summer.” Or, “I am really busy right now, but let’s get together this summer!” I will do it in the summer. I will fix it in the summer. I will check on it in the summer.

On my desk, there are post-it notes with lists of books to read this summer. I joined a book club in the spring – something that I have wanted to do for years – because summer vowed to bestow endless days of freedom that I could not possibly fill on my own. My kids created lists of activities that they intend to check off before the first day of school. And I said, “No problem! It’s summer!” My spring cleaning was never finished, and a general inventory of our house is in order. “No worries! We have all summer!” And the garage needs cleaned out. And I really want to learn to knit while I have time. And I have a chair that I want to refinish. And I have been waiting for the time to look for some new decorating ideas. And my photo albums are so far behind that I’m not sure what I was even trying to commemorate anymore. Just uploading and organizing and ordering all of those pictures will be a HUGE job . . . definitely a task to save for summer.

And we need to catch up on some doctor appointments this summer.

And I can’t wait to invest time in my blog every day!

And I am TOTALLY going to redeem myself as a mother by forcing encouraging my kids to keep up with their summer homework assignments this year.

And I told loved ones that we would spend time together, you know, in summer. The boys and I would have lunch with old friends. We would take road trips to visit those at a distance. We would meet neighbors at the park every week. We would have SO MUCH TIME!

So the fourth of July hit me with a bang last week, and not just because of the fireworks. It was a reminder that summer is slipping away, that the promises she made me remain unfulfilled. There really aren’t more hours in a summer day. More sunshine, yes. More hours, no. Life is still busy. With kids home from school, there are more messes to clean up, more snacks to prepare, more arguments to officiate, more activities to coordinate. Time does not decelerate in summer, just as it doesn’t slow down on the weekends or during a coveted week of vacation.

I have not read one book from my post-it notes. My blog has been quiet and lonely. My kids are dreadfully behind on their summer homework. My projects aren’t finished. (Or started.)

And I still don’t know how to knit.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m exceedingly grateful for the time that I can devote to my family when I am not working in the summer. I don’t take it for granted. But all of the lists, all of the unfinished projects, all of the tasks that remain incomplete and dreams that remain unfulfilled – well, they can drag a girl down. And, no, we have not been moping around the house, avoiding all of the fun. We have been having fun, and maybe that’s part of the problem. Or maybe it’s not. This whole balancing act is exhausting, and the truth is that after eleven years of parenting I’m still not exactly sure how this is all supposed to work.

Maybe I am lamenting how quickly time passes. The empty grid, those clean white boxes on the calendar that seem swollen with potential at the start of each year, fills in a flash with the exciting and, more often, the mundane demands of life. The days bend and flip and slide from your hands like a fish escaping back to the water. You try to hold on, but time is elusive, gone so quickly, and what is left behind? Maybe a picture . . . that might, eventually, find its way to a photo album . . . maybe.

Or maybe I am frustrated that I have not planned better, that I put so much off until summer in the first place. Maybe I am just venting my aggravation with myself – that I am not rising before dawn, that I have not maintained a structured plan for every hour like I do when the hamster wheel is in motion. I’m sure that I could have accomplished more by now if I had been more diligent. Then I would not be tormented by reminders of my lackadaisical attitude, like the remnants of fifth grade that my son unloaded several weeks ago, still neatly stacked in a corner. That’s what I should be doing right now – sorting piles instead of writing about them. No wonder I am a hot mess. And I’m pretty sure that I could have knit a sweater by now if I had my stuff together. 

Or maybe my go-go-go personality is just trying to process the potential of life outside the wheel. Although it fills me with anxiety, maybe there is joy in NOT living from a to-do list for a few days or, if you are fortunate, a few weeks. Maybe there is peace in NOT waking up to an alarm every single day. Satisfaction in NOT prioritizing the unimportant just to cross it off a list. Fulfillment in NOT planning the most efficient way to dissect the day but in allowing the day to unfold organically. Happiness in NOT accomplishing something but in enjoying something, instead.

As with so much of my life, I am still figuring it out, seeking balance, sorting through the different perspectives and emotions. Maybe your legs are aching, growing weary on the hamster wheel, as well. Maybe you can relate.

If you don’t have time to ponder it today, don’t worry. You will have more time this weekend.

That’s what she promises, anyway. But I wouldn’t trust her.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/28638538@N00/4182287774″>Hamster in a wheel</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

When the French Fries Start Talking

5443958762_6df0881977_n (1)

No, I wasn’t hallucinating. The French fries just wouldn’t shut up . . .

Last week was a stressful week for me.

I know, I know; my life leaves little room for complaining. No one in my family needed a heart transplant. The bank didn’t call to say my identity had been stolen. I didn’t have to buy a pregnancy test and then peel my husband off the floor. There were no fires, no flooded bathrooms, no broken bones.

But my dog DID chew through an important cable cord. And laundry WAS piled to the ceiling. And I HAD promised my son that I would go on a field trip to discover that my work schedule did not want to cooperate. And my job HAD been a little crazy. And we DID have a very busy weekend ahead that included soccer games (Mom, my uniform is dirty!) and a wedding (Ack! I forgot to pick up the gift!) and a road trip (Are we taking the dogs? Will everything fit in the car? Did everyone pack enough clean underwear?).

It was an ordinary I-have-entirely-too-much-to-do-and-I’m-not-doing-a-good-job-at-any-of-it kind of stress. The kind of stress that tightens every muscle in your body except the ones that make a smile. The kind of stress that releases “scary mommy” from her cage way too soon. The kind of stress that I continued to press down and compact, like the garbage under the kitchen sink that might wait one more day if I can smash it just enough.

So back to the French fries.

It was a stressful week, and by Friday night, the boys and I had no choice but to run some errands, a task that ranks somewhere between scooping dog poop and eating asparagus on their list of things to avoid. Fast food offered a viable solution to a couple of problems; we needed to eat, I had no time to cook, and the prospect of a burger and fries made running errands more palatable for my kids (don’t EVEN judge me). We slid into the booth, and all was well.

Until the French fries started talking.

Eating out AGAIN this week? REALLY? Are you going for a record here?
This wouldn’t have happened if you had thought ahead.
You know you could have planned better.
You like your kids, right? Do you see any vegetables on this table?
And I think you exercised once this week. Yep. Just once. Failed again! Ha!
And you knew this weekend would be busy. Why didn’t you do more to prepare?
And why can’t you be more organized?
And why can’t you keep up with everything?
What’s wrong with you, anyway?
How do the OTHER MOMS handle all of this so much more efficiently than YOU?

I swear the French fries started it, but then I jumped in with the ole’ one-two punch. Beating myself up is a skill I have honed with years of extensive practice. So there I sat, with a self-inflicted black eye, staring at a heap of French fries, each one representing another flaw, another failure. My stress had overflowed into a cardboard container full of mistakes.

“Mom, can you help me open this ketchup?”  The request snapped me out of my greasy haze.

Why SHOULD I waste a rare sliver of uninterrupted time with my boys reveling in my own self-destruction, not enjoying the moment, completely oblivious to their presence?  In reality, after a stressful week, this date with them was exactly what I needed, even if it did include a grossly unhealthy meal.  And it hit me:

Some weeks you deserve a gold star JUST for surviving.

No matter how many French fries you fed your children. No matter how much you wish you had handled things differently. No matter how many promises you made to do better next week.

You survived that week? Well done, my friend. Well done.

Fist bump with fireworks.

Those fries were actually quite delicious, maybe because each bite was tinged with sweet revenge. The boys and I enjoyed some funny conversations about our week, and I gave myself permission to soak up the joys of the chaotic weekend ahead . . . to savor every bite of wedding cake without remorse . . . to relish my favorite hometown pizza . . . to accept that sometimes exercise doesn’t fit into my agenda, and that’s okay . . . to laugh and relax with family and friends despite the list of things I needed to do at home and at work.

No, responsible people can’t write off bad choices EVERY week, but life is stressful, and sometimes survival is an accomplishment in itself.

Sometimes it’s okay to break the rules.

Sometimes it is necessary to give yourself a break.

Sometimes it’s enough to feed your family by running through the drive-thru.

Just remember to eat the French fries first – before they have a chance to start talking.

photo credit: French Fries Burger King Food Macro February 12, 20111 via photopin (license)