Saturday, October 27, 2012

Lost for Words

As we think, so we become.  ~ the Buddha

"And when you're done with that, you'll have to fight with the boys to do their homework."

I am about to leave for a rare evening out, and I am running through the evening routine for my husband.  He's busy staring at me like I'm from Mars--the township or the planet, both are equally bewildering to him.

"How can you expect the boys to love learning if the attitude you go in with is that you'll have to fight with them?"

Now it's my turn to stare because, of course, he's right.  I may be the lover of sociolinguistics, but my husband almost always hits the attitude nail right on the head.  I try to rephrase.

"Well, I mean they don't like to do it.  You may need to sit on them a little."

"Really?  You think that's a better attitude?"

"Look.  I don't know how to say it, but you need to make sure the homework gets done, okay?"  

I'm really ticked now--not so much with my husband, but with myself.  I have spent years working with affective barriers to learning.  I pride myself on making kids feel at home.  In our small area in Korea, I was known as the one for lost causes and the one whose students really understood the language when they were done.  Even now, there are hardly any students I don't get along with.  But here I was.  No matter how I thought about it, I realized that the words I know to describe teaching and learning are adversarial at worst and hierarchical at best.  "Fight with," "sit on," "force them," "make them," "lead them"--these are the words I know, and they don't inspire collaboration.  Even the words that do imply connection also come with a negative connotation: "This is going to require some hand-holding."

I felt roundly and rightly rebuked.

So, first, I'm trying to rethink my attitude, using words like "invite," "introduce," "come along side," "encourage," and "facilitate."

Secondly, I'm trying to think through what causes me to get so off track.  I'm not always this bad.  When does this other person take over?  The more I think about it, the more I realize it happens when I am so goal-oriented that I forget to listen.  I am so interested in pulling my students and children along toward a destination that I forget that reaching it won't be worthwhile if they die or become maimed along the way.  I vow to listen a little better, to pause a little more.

But I also wonder something else.  Why, if my attitude is so wrong, do I get along so well with so many students and children?  They have always come to me.  They literally flock at my door.  Why?

And I was brought back to two theoretical constructs:  Maslow's hierarchy of needs and Gardner's multiple intelligences.  Gardner's theory allows us to imagine the ability of communicating not only through language but also through the other intelligences.  Each intelligence must provide a medium through which to communicate and solve problems.  So even if my words may be off as a result of the cultural settings and constructs in which I have learned them, my words do not make up the whole of my communicative arsenal (now there's a metaphor worthy of my aggressive culture. Gag!).  I am sending other messages as well.  And what are those messages that I am sending?  Well, I think that they are the levels of Maslow's hierarchy.  I am always concerned first with making certain that children and students feel safe, are fed, feel comfortable.  I go to great lengths to make sure that they know that they are part of a group and that all of their opinions are welcome, valued, and necessary--I even routinely let them choose a goal that we evaluate or pick the game to play.  And I make sure to pass their accomplishments along to their parents as well.  

So what does that mean?

It means that, in the end, while what we think certainly shades how we act, it is not the final say.  It does not mean everything.  We certainly need to pay attention to our inner thoughts, our implicit judgments, and those metaphors in our language which can lead us profoundly off track (as if there is a track--once again a metaphor that shades my perception of reality).  But we also reveal our inner thoughts and beliefs through all the other ways we communicate:  our logic, our actions, the rhythms of our songs.  Our words are not the final determinate in who we are.  Who we are is the conglomeration of all of the deep secret thoughts of our hearts, the sum of our actions and beliefs.  What we say can become minor if everything else we do points another direction--good or bad.

In the end,
Who you are speaks so loudly I can't hear what you're saying. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, October 22, 2012

Not My Morning

I was a terrible mother that Thursday morning.  I got up late (for me), forced my children to listen to me hit the five-minute snooze button for over half an hour (so counting the initial alarm, that's seven separate still-dark-outside rings), pulled my children out of bed (early for them), forced them both to complete the homework that they hadn't finished the night before, and shoved rice (that their blessed father--Thank you, HEAVENLY Father, for getting earthly father up that morning since earthly mother seemed so un-earthly) into their waiting mouths at breakfast.  I was not patient.  I was not kind.  I forgot to pack carrots in their lunch boxes but remembered the junk food.  They didn't get their daily jokes either. 

But, perhaps because I was late, I did it all with them. 

That was different.  I rubbed the big one's back, bounced the little one on my knee.  I sat at the table with them and looked into their eyes as they talked to me.

"Mom," the little one said.  "You smell so good."

"Awww.  How sweet.  Thank you."

"Yep.  Just like the swimming pool."  Sigh.  That's from the last minute attempt to clean the gross sink before they got ready in the morning.

That's unusual because I'm usually running back and forth.  That's how I remember my mother as well.  On her feet, running back and forth, too busy to sit down.  I talked to her back for years and years and years, until she told me her ears were tired.

Now that certainly isn't always the case.  I don't spend all my time cut off from the children.  My children have some interesting issues, which you can read and laugh about here, that mean that I do, in fact, spend a great deal of time engaged with them.  But, sadly, that time seems to be enforcer time when Mommy must wear her "That is not funny" face and dole out discipline.  And while I know why I need to do it, this Mommy does not like that role very much.

And so, even though it was not my morning, even though my head was pounding, my eyes were running, and my nose was clogged, and even though I was a pretty terrible mother, I think I enjoyed being a mother much more that Thursday, so much more that I decided to make a wish list--no, not a wish list--an action plan.

Action Plan for Being Less Perfect and More Real:
  1. When the little one decides to squirm naked on his bed instead of putting his underwear on, I will resist the urge to count down seconds until the bus comes and give in to the impulse to laugh.
  2. When the big one waxes eloquent over his morning meal instead of actually eating it, I will consider listening to what he's saying instead of shoving the spoon into his mouth when he takes a breath.
  3. When they dirty their clothes on the way to the bus stop by tackling one another over and over again or when they become a little overactive trying to deal with the small cruelties of other kids (and occasionally dishing some of those wicked little habits out as well), I will remember that growing up is hard and Shout can take all those stains out.  I will give extra squeezes to them all
  4. When I return home to find my African violet dotted with toothpaste specks, I will not sigh because of the toothbrushes and toothpaste strewn around the sink I just cleaned while they were still sleeping.  Instead, I will be thankful that they water the violet with their gargle cup and so it hasn't died yet.
When I got that plant, the oldest said, "Seriously, Mom?  Someone's trusting you with a plant?" 

I'm thankful he's decided to pick up my slack.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Sacrifice of Praise

Today, my friend buried her daughter--the fourth parent of elementary-school aged children that I have known to be taken by cancer in the last three months.  Smiling is not something that comes easily at the moment.

I never knew Ruth.  I know her mother and her son, and my weeping is for them.  In the same way, I never knew Chuck well, never spoke more than a few words to Cameron, and knew Kristen only through her multitude of relatives, some of whom I grew up with.  But their children... Their children dance through my life.  I see them all the time it seems.  They dance and play around my own children; their story is the nightmare that I hope will never happen for my family.  But, of course, they still have lives--beautiful lives--left to live.

And you see, sometimes I forget, especially when I'm teaching and all the preschoolers are acting up--sticking markers up their noses and swirling glue on the table--and I just automatically ask, "What would your mommy say if you did this at home?"

And the one slams his marker to the table.  "I don't have a mommy anymore!"

Now I remember.

On days like these, giggles are impossible, smiling is torture, and standing upright takes force of will.

Sometimes, happiness is a sacrifice.  It's a sacrifice of what we'd like to be doing, what we're really feeling, for the sake of those others who are also pressing on, who want us--need us--to support them as they keep walking forward.

Some days, moving forward seems unthinkable.  I would rather wallow, thank you very much.  And on these days, God gives me little snippets of His great love for us.  At the beginning of Ruth's chemotherapy on this go around, God and the universe provided gum for Ruth Anne in the strange karma that love layers on our lives.  That story is here if you want to read it.  But yesterday, standing with my beautiful friend as she stood gazing on the lifeless body of her beloved baby, I discovered that Ruth had one pack of that gum left.  It had lasted perfectly from beginning to end.  She was not forgotten.  Not at all.  Never alone.  Always remembered, cared for, held.

And so, as hard to see as it sometimes is, are we.

For this season, then, we bring a sacrifice of praise in the hope and the faith that there will come a day when it won't hurt anymore.