You Have To Really Want It

Published in The Ferndale Record, July 31, 2013

If you’re a member of any social networking site, those positive “you can do it” messages are plastered everywhere. We’re told we can be whomever we want and to disregard scoffers.

It’s a little overdone, but people mean well. So, please keep that in mind while reading what follows.

All of my children, grandchildren, my former husband, his wife, and I went on a vacation together last week. It’s been 12 years since our divorce and we’ve created an amicable, if not friendly, family atmosphere.

It should be noted that my former spouse and I don’t make a habit of vacationing together, but this occasion was a beautiful exception that one of our children arranged for on a houseboat at Lake Powell, Arizona, and involved some of us traveling to and from the same destinations. We figured it out and made it work.

I’ll bet you’re thinking: “Her situation is different.” “I could never do that,” or “I would never WANT to do that.”

Think again. Children make all the difference. People do things they would never consider doing when children are in the picture. Then, after a while, you do it because you know it’s the right thing to do—to accept, let go and be kind. This doesn’t happen in a couple of weeks. But with effort, it happens.

It hasn’t been an easy process. But neither is bitterness and holding grudges. The latter is exhausting and turns us into someone no one recognizes.

Our family is not made up of wonderful, ‘better-than-you’ people. We don’t know everything and we grapple with touchy relationships like anyone else. It’s all uncharted, and with each family gathering, grandchild and major life event we do what works for us.  But the difference is in the decisions we’ve made.

The result has been open conversation about any weirdness that needs to be addressed, facing awkward situations with humor and candor, and the ability to all be under the same roof (not to mention on a houseboat) for awhile, and still appreciate each other in the ways we can.

I’m no longer married to the father of my children, but I care about him and our history. He’s married to a woman I’ve learned to know and love, who has been kind to my children, and welcomed me into her home. Is this a little weird? Yes. Does it make all of us happier than the alternative? You’d have to poll my family, but my immediate answer is “absolutely.”

Now here’s that warm, encouraging message I was talking about. Anyone can do this. Ordinary people like you and I are always doing extraordinary things. Tightening every family bond in spite of divorce is unique, but we are proof that it’s possible.

People are who they are. Situations shake out into whatever they’re going to be. But each individual has a say in how he behaves personally.

For a divided family, divorce isn’t the ultimate sadness. The real tragedy is widening the gap even further, to exclude, to let past hurts cloud what can be quite lovely.

I promise this is true.

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Dispatches From The Front Lines Of School

Published in The Ferndale Record, July 3, 2013

When my kids were in elementary school I spent time in classrooms with teachers and volunteering with other parents. Maybe I superficially picked up on what happens there, but seeing the real deal comes from actually working in a school. That’s where I’ve learned a few simple things that alter the way I think collectively about children, teachers and administrators.

I work in a private school, but some things about people, especially children, are universal. I’m pretty sure I knew some of this before, but must have forgotten. Either that, or I’m seeing with new eyes.

Here are a few nuggets I’m just figuring out:

Children respect, and even love, responsible teachers far more than any of us know.

A Kindergartner’s first lost tooth is accompanied by pain and joy, which, in their tiny worlds, is similar to childbirth.

A drawing, gift or hug from a child you hardly know says more about children than it does about you.

An adult who looks like an axe murderer can, in reality, be a beloved parent.

Sometimes, ‘frequent fliers’ (kids who visit the health room often), are just looking for kind attention, or respite. I can relate to that.

Children with debilitating, scary allergies and physical limitations are often the ones who know exactly what they need, and how help should be administered.

Although they know how to lie, most of them don’t.

Me: Why is your leg bleeding?

Second-grader: I tore my scabs off.

Me: How did you get a bloody nose?

First-grader: I was picking it.

Say what you will, but I find this blatant honesty refreshing.

Young children are encouraged to be exactly who they are – young children. At our school, mostly kids but sometimes adults, walk the halls wearing construction paper crowns with impunity. I like working in a place where this is not considered abnormal behavior.

A tough little first-grader who rides BMX and plays football comes to ‘free dress’ at school in his camo jammies with his camo teddy bear and blanket. The irony is delicious.

Parents engage in heated conversation that rises in pitch, and as the appointed gatekeeper, I tell them to take it outside. My initial response is “They’re joking around,” which becomes “They’re doing this at school? In front of children? Really?”  Yes, they were, and I was not having it.

Teachers and administrators have seen everything. I didn’t fully comprehend this until a fourth grade boy came to the office announcing a rather nasty indiscretion that occurred in the boys’ bathroom. In fact, it was so disgusting I won’t go into any detail (you’re welcome). In the absence of a custodian, veteran teachers took control. I was in awe. This act alone demonstrated tenacity and problem-solving skills I can only hope to someday possess.

A copier that won’t work and no technician? Need to measure a room and no measuring tape? Not the right kind or color of paper available? Just ask a teacher. They’ll “MacGyver” it for you.

It’s also more apparent than ever that children learn what they live, and sometimes that can be disturbing. I’m only the nice lady in the office, but even I can see the residue from dicey home situations.

There must be lessons in all this, but maybe the only one worth mentioning is that I can still see some things are different than I thought. Being on the front lines is always an education.