Jan 132012
 

 

 

 

“Don’t worry, Scout, it ain’t time to worry yet,” said Jem. He pointed. “Looka yonder.” 

In a group of neighbors, Atticus was standing with his hands in his overcoat pockets. He might have been watching a football game. (*He was actually watching the house next door to the Finch home burn to the ground.)

“See there, he’s not worried yet,” said Jem.

(p.105-107) To Kill a Mockingbird

 

 

I’ve been thinking about my mama friends for whom the start of the school year is a difficult time, because the classroom has proven to be a tough place for their child to display his particular brand of genius.

For these precious mamas, starting school means revisiting old worries and facing new ones. It means tears and tense phone calls and scary conferences and comparisons and lots of fear and anger and suspicion and Oh My God, Is He Allrights and What Are We Doing Wrongs?

I have some thoughts about this and so I’ve just sent up a Twitter prayer to the G-O- D that it’ll all come out right. Sometimes I know something to be true, down deep in my bones, but when I try to turn it into words, it changes. Gets all jacked up. Like how blood is blue till it hits oxygen and turns red. Which is why I predict we’d be better off if people talked less and just quietly knew more. She said, as she wrote her 367th blog post.

Here I go. I’d like to talk to you about your brilliant children.

Listen.

Every child is gifted and talented. Every single one. Everything I’ve ever written about on this blog has been open for argument, except for this one. I know this one is true. Every single child is gifted and talented in a particular area. Every single one also has particular challenges. For some kids, the classroom setting is the place where their genius is hardest to see and their challenges are easiest to see. And since they spend so much time in the classroom, that’s a tough break for these little guys. But I know that if we are patient and calm and we wear our perspectacles and we keep believing, we will eventually see the specific magic of each child.

 

 

Like my student who was severely dyslexic and also could’ve won Last Comic Standing at age seven. “Hey, Miss Doyle. Were you really busy last night or something?” Yes, actually, I was. Why do you ask, Cody? “Because your hair’s the same color it was yesterday!” The boy was a genius.

Like my precious one who couldn’t walk or speak because of his severe Cerebral Palsy, but whose smile while completing his grueling physical therapy inspired the rest of my class to call him the “bravest.” Genius, that kid.

Like my autistic little man, who couldn’t have hurt another living being if somebody paid him to. He was the most gentle soul I’ve ever known. And he loved animals like they were a gift made just for him by God. Which, of course, they were. But nobody in our class knew that but him. Undeniable Genius.

Like my third grader who read like a kindergartener and couldn’t add yet. But one day I stood behind her at recess, where she played all alone, and heard her singing to herself. And that was the day I discovered her gift. It was also the day that she discovered her gift. Since I FREAKED OUT. And marched her over to the rest of the teachers to make her sing for them. And announced to the class that we had a ROCK STAR in our midst. And she quietly beamed. And she sang all the time after that. All the time. Actually, it was a little much. But we let it slide because you don’t mess with artistic genius.

Or the little man in one of Chase’s classes who was always getting in trouble. Everyday, getting in trouble. And Chase came home one day and said, “I think he’s not listening because he’s always making pictures in his head. He’s the best draw-er I’ve ever seen. He’s going to be famous, I bet.” Chase was right. I’ve seen this kid’s work. Genius.

Or my little one who was gifted in learning the classroom way, and was miles ahead of the other kids in every single subject. But had challenges being kind and humble about her particular strengths. So had a lot of trouble making friends. Sometimes it’s tough to be a genius.


 

Every single child is gifted. And every child has challenges. It’s just that in the educational system, some gifts and challenges are harder to see. And lots of teachers are working on this. Lots of schools are trying to find ways to make all children’s gifts visible and celebrated.And as parents, we can help. We can help our kids who struggle in school believe that they’re okay. It’s just that there’s only one way to help them. And it’s hard.

We have to actually believe that our kids are okay.

I know. Tough. But we can do it. We can start believing by erasing the idea that education is a race. It’s not. Actually, education is like Christmas. We’re all just opening our gifts, one at a time. And it is a fact that each and every child has a bright shiny present with her name on it, waiting there underneath the tree. God wrapped it up, and He’ll let us know when it’s time to unwrap it. In the meantime, we must believe that our children are okay. Every last one of them. The perfect ones and the naughty ones and the chunky ones and the shy ones and the loud ones and the so far behind ones and the ones with autism.

Because here’s what I believe. I think a child can survive a teacher or other children accidentally suggesting that he’s not okay. As long as when he comes home, he looks at his mama and knows by her face that he really is. Because that’s all they’re asking, isn’t it?

Mama, Am I Okay?

In the end, children will call the rest of the world liars and believe US.

So when they ask us with their eyes and hearts if they’re okay. . . let’s tell them:

Yes, baby. You are okay. You are more than okay. You are my dream come true. You are everything I’ve ever wanted, and I wouldn’t trade one you for a million anybody elses. This part of life, this school part, might be hard for you. But that’s okay, because it’s just one part of life. And because we are going to get through it together. We are a team. And I am so grateful to be on your team.

And then, before we dive into “helping.” Let’s just eat some cookies together and talk about other things. There are so many other things to talk about, really.

And then our kids will see that we are like Atticus Finch . . . Hands in our pockets. Calm. Believing. And they will look at us and even with a fire raging in front of them they’ll say, “Huh. Guess it’s not time to worry yet.”

And then we’ll watch carefully. We’ll just watch and wait and believe until God nods and says, “It’s time. Tear open that gift, Mama.”

 

 

And we’ll get to say our Mama FAVE. Told you so. Told you so, World.

 

 

 

Have a brutiful weekend.

Love,

G

 

 

 

Jan 122012
 

 

Craig came home with this the other day.

 

 

 

It’s a new vacuum. An unsolicited new vacuum.

Back story:

Like cooking, I consider vacuuming to be something that show-offy people do. And also people who are not quite as deep and sentimental as I am.

The floors in my home read like a history of our family. In that corner you might find a pile of special Cheerios and under that rug you’ll find glitter from a family Christmas project. It’s lovely, really. And since I am incapable of ordering pictures or assembling family photo albums, Craig and I just sit on the couch in the evenings, gazing from pile of floor crap to pile of floor crap, reminiscing. We find this quite special and creative. But if you are the vacuuming type, I don’t want you to feel badly. I’m just suggesting that kids grow up fast, so you might want to consider setting aside some floor memories. That’s all.

Several years ago, I started suspecting that my friends had different beliefs about vacuuming and memory-keeping. It seemed they were opposed to using floors as scrapbooks, because their carpets always had those fancy lines in them. You know the lines to which I’m referring? Those fresh, show-offy, “I just vacuumed” lines? So I started getting a little uncomfortable about my un-liney carpets. Now, one might predict that this discomfort led me to re-evaluate my vacuuming boycott, but one might predict wrong. I find my vacuum to be very heavy and ugly and inconducive to relaxing. There is nothing that leads me into a cursing tirade faster than trying to lug my vacuum up two flights of stairs. And Jesus said: if your vacuum causes you to curse, gouge it out . . . or something like that. So actually becoming a real- life vacuumer wasn’t an option, since I love Jesus. (If you do vacuum, I’m not trying to suggest that you don’t love Jesus. I assume it’s possible to do both. I’m just saying it’s not likely. Not likely at all. )

In any case, it was becoming clear that I needed to start thinking creatively about this vacuuming issue.

One day I was watching Tish stroll her baby-doll around the family room in a little pink baby stroller. And when my gaze fell to the floor behind her I noticed that the stroller wheels were making perfect lines across the carpet. Perfect, fancy “I just vacuumed” looking lines. And I thought…CHA-CHING!

For the last three years, before company arrives, before Craig comes home from a trip, every time I feel like playing dutiful housewife, I call Tish and ask her if she’d like to take her baby for a walk. And Tish says, “A reg-a-lar walk or a careful walk, mommy?” And I say, “A careful walk, honey.” When she was two, I taught Tish that a careful walk is when you stroll your baby back and forth across the carpet in such a way that the stroller lines run perfectly parallel to each other. . . back and forth, back and forth, back and forth . . . you see where I’m going with this. And so for three wonderful years, mommy sat on the couch and cheered for Tish while she and her baby-doll vacuumed.

And Craig would always come home and say, “WOW! You vacuumed!” with the same proud tone he uses when I cut a tomato all by myself. And I would just smile and bat my eyelashes coyly but never answer directly because honesty is very important to me.

It was a miracle, really. Except that one night I saw Craig looking quizzically at my carpet lines . . . and I realized with terror that he was finally noticing that my fancy lines were completely surrounded by our usual piles of floor crap.

I had anticipated that this might be the fly in the ointment. So I real quick mumbled something like “Stupid vacuum’s broken. But nice lines, huh? Look! Shark Week is on!” I have been mumbling variations of those sentences for three years now. With great success.

So when Craig walked in the house recently with this surprise vacuum, I was suspicious that he was suspicious.And so I watched his face verrrry closely. And right after he said, “Look! This will make life so much easier! I hate for you go to all that trouble with that broken vacuum and never get the results you want . . .” I noticed a faint smirk and an itty bitty centimeter of an eyebrow-raise. It was almost imperceptible. But I saw it. And so my first thought was . . . He knows. He knows about the stroller vacuuming. The jig is up.

But I recovered quickly. And my second thought was: Oh. The poor guy really doesn’t know who he’s messing with here. He has grossly underestimated the depths to which I am prepared to sink to preserve my way of life. He just doesn’t know.

The other day, after Craig left for work, I told Tish that I had a surprise for her. I announced that since she was such a big girlnow, it had become time to pass down her itty bitty baby stroller to Amma, because I had bought her a brand new, big girl stroller. I explained that big girl strollers look very, very different than little girl strollers and even make big noises like cars! Because big girl strollers have engines.

Time for a careful walk, baby. Back and forth. Back and forth.

 

 

Your move, Hub Dog.

 

Love,

G

 

 

Jan 112012
 

 

Repentance is a fancy word used often in Christian circles. I don’t use fancy religious words, because I don’t think they explain themselves well. Also, fancy language tends make in people feel in-er and out people feel out-er, and I don’t think that’s how words are best used. I think words are best used to describe specific feelings and ideas and hearts as clearly as possible, to make the speaker and the listener, or the writer and the reader, feel less alone and more hopeful.

I used to be annoyed and threatened by the word repentance, until I figured out what it really meant for me. Repentance is the magical moment when a sliver of light finds its way into a place of darkness in my heart, and I’m able to see clearly how my jerkiness is keeping me from peace and joy in a specific area of my life.

Maya Angelou recently shined a light into the dark part of my heart where I keep my relationship with my mother in law.

In her latest book, Letter to my Daughter, Angelou writes about a dinner party she attended during her first trip to Senegal at the home of a very rich and sophisticated friend. As Angelou explored the decadent home and observed the elegant guests, she noted that they were all carefully stepping around the beautiful, expensive rug in the middle of the floor to avoid dirtying it. She became appalled that her hostess would be so elitist and shallow as to value her things above her guests’ comfort and convenience. Angelou decided to act. She stepped onto the rug and walked back and forth several times. The guests, who were “bunched up on the sidelines, smiled at her weakly.” Angelou smiled back, proud that through her boldness they might also be “encouraged to admit that rugs were to be walked on.”

She then joined the guests on the sidelines, her head held high. She had done what was right.

A few minutes later, the servants came out and quietly removed the rug from the floor, replacing it with an equally expensive one. They then proceeded to place the plates, glasses, wine and bowls of rice and chicken carefully upon the new rug. Angelou’s hostess clapped her hands and announced joyfully that they were serving Senegal’s most beloved meal “for our Sister from America, Maya Angelou.” She then asked all the guests to sit. Angelou’s face burned.

She had dragged her dirty shoes all over her gracious hostess’ tablecloth.

Angelou concluded her story with this:

“In an unfamiliar culture, it is wise to offer no innovations, no suggestions or lessons. The epitome of sophistication is utter simplicity.”

 

When Craig and I first got married, I experienced his family as an unfamiliar culture. They operated so differently than mine did. Communication was different, celebrations were different, meal times were different, expressions of love were different. I found this to be unacceptable. To me, different meant wrong. I became, as I always do, personally offended and perpetually suspicious. In a million subtle and not-so subtle ways, I tried to change my in-laws. I suggested new traditions, I offered advice, I found fault with their personalities and marriage and their relationships with their children and grandchildren. I insisted that Craig and I pull away from them, based on the unforgivable sin that they were different from my family.

I dragged my dirty shoes all over my mother-in-law’s tablecloth. The one she’d spent decades carefully weaving.

My mother-in-law handled all of this gracefully, in retrospect. Tragically, retrospectively is the only way I can ever see things clearly. I imagine my refusal to accept her family hurt her deeply, but she gave Craig and me time and space to work it out on our own. She never pushed us. She never meddled. She bowed out, for a long while. It must have been a hard decision, one I pray I never have to make with my own son. I pray that my future daughter-in-law will be wiser and kinder than I from the start. She probably won’t be, though. She’ll probably be just like me. She’ll want to create her own weaving pattern, which might mean that she’ll need to turn her back on mine for a while.

As a young mother and wife, establishing a pattern that suited me was difficult. Learning to weave my own tablecloth required all of my attention. I needed time and space to establish my own rhythm and style, and perhaps my rejection of the old patterns was necessary to the discovery of my own.

True repentance is messy and it takes time, but that sliver of light is worth waiting for. And when it’s real, it sticks. Thank you, Ms. Angelou, for leading me to repentance.

 

I’m sorry, Nana.

 

You know I’m not big on advice, mainly because most days I learn what an idiot I was yesterday. This is hopeful, because it means I’m generally moving in the right direction. But it also makes it risky to put anything definitive in writing today. Even so, I feel safe offering this.

Mothers-in-law, enjoy watching your daughter in law learn to weave. When she makes a mistake, when she drops a stitch, allow her to notice it on her own. Tell her often how beautiful her weaving is. Be kinder than necessary. Bring her some tea. Be simple. Be sophisticated.

And daughters-in-law, notice the beauty of the rug that your mother-in-law spent a lifetime weaving. Remember that mostly, her pattern is firmly established, no need to suggest improvements. Be kinder than necessary, being mindful that the piece of art it took her a lifetime to weave, her masterpiece, she gave to you, to keep you warm at night. One day you’ll give your masterpiece away, too. Be simple. Be sophisticated.

 

“In an unfamiliar culture, it is wise to offer no innovations, no suggestions or lessons. The epitome of sophistication is utter simplicity.”

Love,

G