Archives for March 2014

Awesomeness

This morning, Anna, you were singing a song about “Awesomeness.” After a while, I recognized it as “Puff the Magic Dragon, who lived by the sea and frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honna Lee.”

It’s a cute little song, and I remember learning and singing it in music class when I was in 2nd grade. I remember my music teacher, a man named Mr. Bender, with big sideburns and a bushy mustache.  He had various instruments that he gave to us to play, though really we just made lots of noise.

But what I most remember is that I was not a very good student in 2nd grade. I remember my report card with lots of “N’s” on it for “Needs Improvement,” and conversations with my teacher, Ms. Cook and my Mom.   And on the last day of school, Ms. Cook said goodbye for the summer, and then “I’ll see you next year.”

It was a single comment, meant to be friendly, but for the entirety of the summer I thought that I had just failed 2nd grade and that the reason she would be seeing me again was that I had to repeat it. I was sad, upset, and mostly terrified to tell my parents. Worst of all, Puff the Magic Dragon was really popular on the radio that summer, and every time that I heard it, it was a reminder of my failures that I dare not share with anybody, making it a rather lonely summer. Most of my problems in school were actually behavioral, but I internalized it that I was not smart enough to move on. Really, it was a dismal 3 months until Fall.

Then, the next September when school started up again, I sat down in my new class and saw the same classmates as the year before and realized that I did not fail 2nd grade after all. I was indeed in 3rd grade, but still not sure I really belonged. So that was the turning point where I became exceptionally focused on learning and doing well at school.

It’s now some 40 years after that event, but I remember it clear as day. Except that now when I hear Puff the Magic Dragon, it’s not the story of my failure that I remember. Instead, its the power of stories. We tell ourselves stories all the time, just like I did in 2nd grade. And though the stories may be more sophisticated as adults, they have every bit the power over us today as my story did in 2nd grade.

But the real power of stories, my dear children, is that with but only a little bit of practice, we can learn to tell new ones. We can learn that we are not only characters in our stories, but also the authors. And for goodness sake, if we’re going to tell ourselves stories, then let’s make them good ones – ones that are encouraging, empowering, uplifting, and supportive of our greatest dreams for our future. Let’s all create stories that have us frolicking in awesomeness.

Maintain Your Aim

Lucas, you live in a house with two grown women, a twin sister, and a dog. Everybody here sits or squats to pee. But all on your own, you picked up that you can pee standing up. No big deal, provided that you learn to master what raising the seat is all about. Believe me, Lucas… this is important lest one of the other gals in this house rise up and hurt you when you’re older. I keep telling you “Seat up if you stand up!” and hope that it works.

But at this precise moment, my love, I’m not too optimistic. You see, it appears that you have yet to learn the importance of STANDING STILL while you relieve yourself. The other day you were upset because you started walking away before you were done, peed on your pants and nearly tripped in the process. So in addition to “Seat up if you stand up,” we’re adding “maintain your aim until you’re drained.”

When my brother and I were little, mom had a small sign that she put above the toilet in our shared bathroom. It said “My aim is to keep this bathroom clean. Your aim will help.” Indeed.

Toothpaste

For some reason, Lucas, you were fascinated by the little plastic thingy on the end of our toothpaste tube that helps squeeze from the bottom. It’s called a squeeze-ease, and that’s really all it does, but you wanted to play with it. Maybe it was that it was made of clear plastic, and worked as a magnifying glass on the tube.

Anyway, it got me thinking back to when I was an instructor for the North Carolina Outward Bound School. You see, on this particular occasion, it was late at night (which really just meant it was dark, since there were no lights), and I was going to brush my teeth. My toothpaste tube had not been squeezed from the bottom, was more than half empty, and I had trouble getting any onto my toothbrush. No big deal… I just started flattening and rolling from the bottom.

But you see, the “right” way to do this would have been to put the top back on the tube before squeezing. So I ended up flattening and rolling farther and farther, not realizing that I was not making any progress at all until it was too late. Much to my surprise, that half-full tube of toothpaste was now nearly empty and my shirt was suddenly minty-fresh, with a wonderful design of green-blue swirls on the front.

If there’s a lesson here, it’s probably to know what success looks like before you start a task. And to put the cap back on the toothpast when you’re done with it.

Snoodles

My dearest Anna, this morning, you and Lucas were both drawing with paper and crayons as I started making you breakfast.   Anna, you asked for a big piece of paper so that you could make a city.  I gave you some, but you wanted a bigger piece – one like Isaac (a classmate) had, but I had no idea what that was.  Anyway, you were drawing just fine, then realized “wait, I need to add a road,” so you added one and started coloring it.  Then you got discouraged, and compared your city to whatever Isaac had done.  In short order you had undercut your own esteem or value, discounting your own drawing abilities by comparison.  

As a parent, it was heartbreaking and I had to wonder where or how or why you were even making the comparison.  

When you said “I’m not a good drawer,” I asked you “who said that?”  You told me Isaac, and again my heart sank.  Not for what Isaac said – for goodness sakes, he’s still a small child too.  Rather, my heart sank because you, my 4 ½ year old girl, were already letting the words of others carry more weight for your esteem than your own assessments, or the words of those who love you so much more dearly.

 

Snoodle

Fortunately, I recall we had seen a Veggie Tales about Snoodles where this little creature is created, not born, and all the other Snoodles belittle him into self doubt, so that he no longer draws, or tries to fly, or even do much of anything towards exploration or adventure.  Then he goes off to be by himself and meets God, who tells him how He really sees the little Snoodle, and of course it is oh-so-much-more kind, loving, and empowering.  And that, my darling little child, is how I see you – whole, complete, wonderful, beautiful, and deeply capable and worthy of love.  It is all so intrinsic for me – it is hard to see you otherwise.  And yet, I see from this simple exchange this morning how absolutely critical it is for my role as a parent not to “build you up,” but rather to secure, bolster, and support your own belief, knowledge, and embodiment of who you are as a whole and complete human being.  

And as vitally important and obvious as that responsibility seems to me in this moment, I can’t help but reflect on some of my own self-assessments to see the areas of my life where I too have fallen prey to the pitfalls of comparison.  I think I should be more successful, or more outgoing, or more organized, or be more established in my business.  I think I should be better at marketing, at making offers that are accepted.  And when I see a larger success in one of my peers, while I am glad for them, I also feel a twinge of envy or jealousy that I have not achieved the same.  And just as Isaac is older than you, and I can reassure you that you are learning, developing and growing, somehow that slips my notice when I compare my results to those of others who have been in business for much longer than myself.

And so, my beloved child, you are my teacher yet again.  Indeed, we do teach best what we most need to learn.  And the lesson for both of us is to take pride in who we are, in what we do, in what we have accomplished, in what we are learning, and in who we are becoming.  The lesson is to recognize that we are all on our own paths and journeys, and that to compare our progress on ours to the progress of our neighbor on a completely different journey is not only pointless, but can rob us of our joy, spirit, tenacity, and pride – but only if we let it.  As your Umi, my love, I am committed to standing for your greatness as you develop and mature.  And in taking that stand for you, I also do it for me.