A tide of dried leaves on an expanse is similar to waves folding back and forth. My student observed the similarity between the sound of ocean waves and wind on leaves when we went on a nature walk during my literary magazine class. We started with a few minutes of stillness and meditation, and ventured into a free-walk where each person was encouraged to walk alone and observe. Students, now calmer, brought the same stillness back with them and wrote something new or wrote through something else that moved them. Nature walks aren’t new additions to pedagogy, and not everyone ventured openly into the woods, but the big picture worked well. For me it was refreshing and reminded me of how important it is to breathe fresh and be still.
I experienced frantic energy last week. The presidential election drama made it worse. In fact, it sent me straight to the polls to vote early on Thursday. After a day of work minutia, I met a 2.5 hour line straight to my civic duty. I lucked out though. My unexpected line mate was an older woman with a yoga t-shirt (we joked about how the leaf logo on it looked like marijuana). She is was a teacher of young kids and mother of a musician. It was a perfect fit. We talked freely and shared ponds of our life stories, even so far as sharing some challenges we’ve had lately. Then, we voted and said our good-byes–the way one does when you’ve met someone at the airport because your flight was delayed and wonder-hope if your paths will cross again. I finished a hairline away from missing a guest speaker I’d wanted to hear who was presenting at a private school nearby.
Dr. Madeline Levine who is known mostly for texts like the Price of Privilege and Teach Your Children Well engaged the audience in “An Evening with Madeline Levine.” I walked in and slid to the back of the room as the MC introduced her. Another boon came my way when I saw my friend and concert buddy sitting at the edge of a bench. She had her notepad out like many other parents and took notes diligently. The talk was fascinating—about emotional distress in young adults from relatively good homes, the constant pre-college push, the ways children can be categorized to help us understand them, etc. I nodded a lot and made some mental notes. Two takeaways stood out mainly because they are very personal.
She states that often when we’re scolding our children, our reaction can be very personal. While the catalyst—an argument, a bad grade, a lapse in judgement—is valid, our reaction can be smeared with our own issues. She used an example of her reaction to one of her son’s grades dropping after taking a final exam. She went off on him and recognized 6 therapy sessions later that he was the same age she was when she recognized she had to fend for herself, family on welfare and future looking bleak. She needed him to thwart and appreciate. It made me think of the times I am short with my kids. It’s not that they aren’t doing something wrong, but if I analyze why I may snap, it’s because of things unrelated to them—work exhaustion, my concave fear of embarrassment, or my longing for some introverted quiet.
With other talk points, she offers that parents should sift through her message through their own moral codes. However, one message was perfect. Levine ended the night with a simple PowerPoint slide. Since people ask her what her definition of success is, she constructed this (squint a bit; the message is worth it):
I read it twice. It was a long day, so I was already positioned to be emotional. Before I could realize it, I felt tears in my eyes. Not for my own children, but for my parents. Not according to a salary scale, but in accordance with this definition, my parents raised me to do well in life. They never criticized me or made me feel that I should choose any career path that didn’t fulfill me. My father was the one who steered me off law and into teaching. My mother was the one who always said I was the best at literature. I think my parents believed so hard that I was special, that despite my squirming out from under it, maybe I started to believe it–at least through their eyes. Power of parents, seriously, since so much of it was out of love and not out of data. My mom never went to college, and my parents just did their best to survive in a new place and then to assimilate while protecting their kids. And in that process—without guide books or guest speakers—raised me to a place where I can say that I feel connected to Dr. Levine’s message.
I called my mom as soon as I got in the car and thanked her for shaping me so my soul could grow and my eyes could see. She cried and said it’s easy to take for granted the fruits of their labors but that she appreciated our childhood and did the best she could.
The kids waited up for me and fell asleep a few minutes after I came home. While they closed their eyes and slumped over on the couch, I relayed all this to Kal. I’m sure I had smeared eye makeup and my hair was probably wilted on the side after a long day, but he listened. We came to the resolution that there’s so much we can’t predict, but we’re trying our best and will try to remember the pressure we put on ourselves to be active, open parents even at this young stage.
Let our kids get messier than we did– we hope–and give us the wisdom to remember that mud is good.