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Bully for You!

When my son was the victim of bullying, I received advice from well-meaning friends that tiptoed around the inference that he was not tough enough. “He should just really let the other kid have it!” or “He needs to stand up to him!” along with other veiled, “Be a man!” advice that was offered. My gentle son did none of those things. It is just not his nature. One day, I saw my son and the boy who had been bullying him hanging out and laughing together at school. When I asked my son what happened, he told me they made a pact to use words and not their hands to work out their problems. As God is my witness–it’s true. I haven’t changed a word of that statement from my then 9-year-old.

My son didn’t do what many of us are hard-wired to do. What society, history, war, reality TV, sitcoms, movies, politics and sometimes parents tell us to do. Bully back, push back, fight back as a first response. Meet aggression with aggression, thus creating a cycle of behavior that continues to diminish all of us. I know, it’s hard not to defend fighting back—after all, in the short-term it seems to work, sometimes. Sometimes it just makes it worse. I admit, I had to work through my knee-jerk emotional response of wanting to give that kid of piece of my mind! But in the long run, those aggressive responses just shame and intimidate the bully, who then moves on to gather reinforcements, bully more or be bullied himself, ad-nauseam. And so, the cycle continues.

I credit my son’s gentle nature, but I also credit his school that teaches conflict resolution to all the kids, and takes bullying behavior seriously. Positive intervention by adults, early on, is important. In addition, my son’s school gives students the tools to work through conflict and supports peer/teacher intervention quickly in cases of bullying. This link outlines the peacemaking process being taught.

This does not change the truth that kids (and adults) will still bully, and bullying will happen. But, the peacemaking process teaches that even in these inevitable moments of conflict there is opportunity to learn and grow. My hope for a more peaceful world ahead lies with these kids, their teachers and a school district that values teaching conflict resolution skills as an essential part of a child’s education.

We could all benefit from learning more about compassion, peaceful communication and reconciliation. The language of Nonviolent Communication used by peacemakers teaches us that a different approach is worth a try. Thousands of years of human interaction based upon aggression hasn’t seemed to solve the problem, so why not try something new? And why not start with ourselves in our own lives? It’s usually as good a place as any to practice peacemaking.

Mammaste!

There is so much divinity in the everyday.

Feel free to share this blog, and share it abundantly!

This blog was inspired by an essay by Brene Brown, PH.D. called Cruelty Crisis: Bullying Isn’t a School Crisis, It’s a National Pastime.
For more information on the conflict resolution program used by my child’s school check out:

Links to sites

Teaching Students to Be Peacemakers (Johnson)

http://www.realrestitution.com/  (Dianne Gossen)

Readings:

The Nuts and Bolts of Cooperative Learning by David W. Johnson and Roger T. Johnson

Teaching Students To Be Peacemakers by David W. Johnson and Roger T. Johnson 

Restitution: Restructuring School Discipline by Diane Gossen

It’s All About We: Rethinking Discipline Using Restitution by Diane Gossen 

A Winding Road To Motherhood

I was in my early twenties. The woman in the Palm Reader tent at the Renaissance Festival told me to make a fist, then she counted the creases near my pinky finger and announced I’d have five children! I forgave her in my thoughts, even as a pain stabbed my heart. She couldn’t have known of my recent miscarriage, let alone the years of infertility challenges I’d endured and would continue to endure for years to come. She didn’t know about the yearly surgeries to burn off wayward endometrial tissue that had migrated into places it shouldn’t be, causing pain and scarring. There would be eight or nine surgeries in all, over ten years before I finally told my husband, “No more.”

Meeting for the first? time.Years passed. A dream visitor with almond eyes and olive skin told me to be patient, that she would come one day to be my daughter. But she didn’t come, and I wasn’t patient. Then a call came late one Friday evening. I wasn’t home. The answering machine spoke with the voice of a woman named Dorothy from Anoka County Social Services. She said there was a blonde haired, blue-eyed girl, nearly 3 years old, who needed a family. She thought ours would be perfect.

 

When we picked her up a month later, she gently patted her foster-mother’s tearful face, telling her it would be all right as I reached for her, my own face covered in tears, and carried her away. She stuck to me like glue. One day as she trailed me into the bathroom, yet again I said, “Honey, mommy is going to take a shower, can you give me a little privacy?” “Sure!” she said, and marched out the door. I was surprised but pleased with how easy that was and stepped into the shower. The curtain opened soon after and her little blonde head poked in, “Mom, I looked all over for a little privacy, but I couldn’t find it anywhere!”


IMGTwo years sped by, and another phone call. This time we were home to answer the call. I yelled for my husband to pick up the other phone as the adoption agency told us there was an 8-week-old baby boy waiting for a family. Could we pick him up tomorrow afternoon at 1PM? YES! A quick run to Target for what we thought a baby might need, and he was ours. A few nights he slept in a drawer until we could set up the crib. He was serious, and stoic, and perfect.

But a marriage neglected because of a singular focus on infertility for more than a decade soon unraveled. Dark days followed as relationship problems, long ignored, were not cured by parenthood. It will take years, coming out of that darkness, to see transformation and light. A new relationship. A chance to change, to do better, to be better.

I am in the midst of the adoption process again, with my newly beloved, when we are surprised by a pregnancy that was thought to be impossible. At 39 I am suddenly pregnant with that almond-eyed, olive skinned child who had admonished me to be patient 15 years before. She is a beautiful combination of my Chinese-American husband and me. On a summer morning a few years later, I will awaken with a start! Opening my eyes I will see her in bed next to me, smiling. “The angels came and wanted to talk to you again, but I said, ‘NO!’ and so they put you on the heaven slide and you went ‘PLOP!’ back into your body!” she will say to me. Yes, talks with angels in my dreams happen often.

But, my new husband and I, we are still on that adoption journey we began before the surprise pregnancy, and we see his little face staring out at us from the waiting child website for Korea. Yes, this is him, we know it immediately. We travel to Korea to get him. His foster sister has added red highlights to his black hair, just like hers. He has been well loved in the year he has spent with them, and he grieves deeply for months after he comes home with us. We understand his pain. We take turns holding him through his sorrow and love him into this new family.

Are you keeping count? Yes. Four children so far.

We are content with our big, diverse family. Sewn together through serendipity and love. I am 45 years old. I settle into the parenting role I always wanted, all those years ago when I thought it would never happen. My children are 18, 14, 6 and 3 years old.

Then one night, on a solitary weekend retreat, I dream again. This time it’s about beets. I dream my body needs iron, craves it. In my dream, I am feeding something inside of me that is ravenous for beets.  All through that surprise pregnancy, I crave beets. Our daughter is born just three months shy of my 46th birthday. A second miracle by all common-sense standards. She is funny, outgoing and bright, and a never ending source of quotable conversation. One day she is playing at the toy kitchen in my home office on the porch. She has her apron on, and a doll on her hip as she says in an exasperated tone, “I should not have married Justin Bieber, he never does any work around the house!” Another morning I wake to her standing next to my bed, staring straight into my bleary eyes. “I think heaven is different for everyone,” she whispers, “For some people it’s like a beautiful meadow, or like Candyland. For me it would be just like my life, right now, here with my family.”

Yes. Heaven on earth. Happy Mother’s Day.

Mammaste~Divinity in the Everyday.

An Open Apology To My Eldest Daughter

There is a sweet little drawing of a smiling face scribbled on the wall next to my bed. The artist is my youngest child when she was about three years old. At the time I calmly told her that walls are not for drawing, and then complimented her on her artwork.  I left her original graffiti there on my wall because it is beautiful, and because it reminds me of the lessons I’ve learned since being a new mother of one child, to a seasoned mother of five children–a span of 19 years between the oldest and youngest.

When my oldest daughter first drew on a wall, first cut her own hair, first filled the toilet with non-toilet items, first lied to me, I did not yet know that all children do these things (or some facsimile). I did not realize then, as I do now, it’s part of growing up; of curiosity, testing, exploring, imitating or avoiding. I was harder on her because I was young and didn’t know better. Her actions were not personal, but in my own immaturity as a parent I perceived them as direct affronts. I would overreact and make a big deal out of ‘bad’ behavior by shaming or lecturing her at length for what I perceived as big infractions. By the second, third, fourth and now fifth child I know better as a mother. I don’t claim to know best, it’s just that I know better the mother I choose to be.

As I sat on the edge of my bed looking at the smiling graffiti, I was thinking how much I wished I could change the parent I sometimes was to my oldest child. Then the phone rang and there she was, on the other end of the line.

I shared with her all I had been thinking about. I told her I was sorry that when I was raising her I wasn’t as calm or as mature or as wise as I am now. I told her I wished I could talk to the mother I was then and tell myself all that I have learned so I could do better. I apologized. She laughed and acknowledged having to “pave the way” for her siblings and she told me I was forgiven. In turn she apologized to me for her teen years. We laughed together about pay-back. I loved her for the grace of absolution she blessed me with so easily.

I can’t go back in time and give myself the wisdom of mothering that I have now, but I can share it with you. (Lucky you!)
First: It’s not always about us. Our children are growing, stretching, testing. We can love, guide, offer reasonable consequences and did I mention; love, love, love them? But there is no need to bully, shame or just generally freak-out. Second: If we do freak-out or overreact (because we all do) it’s okay to forgive ourselves and do better when we know better. Third: It’s less okay when we know better, and we don’t do better. That’s when we rationalize, make excuses for ourselves or place the blame on our children for how we choose to react. We’ve all been there, let’s just choose not to live there.

My oldest and me on her wedding day!

My oldest and me on her wedding day!

And lastly: There is great courage and love in risking vulnerability and humility. There is no shame in admitting fault. Fallibility is an inherent quality of the human condition, especially in parenting. Instead of defending our less flattering behavior to suit our need to see ourselves in a better light, admitting our mistakes as parents is important in validating what our children experience, of honoring their truth.

A close friend said to me after I told her this story, “Do you know how many adults would love to hear; ‘I’m sorry,’ from a parent? It would heal so much for them.”

Wise words from another seasoned mother.

Mammaste~
There is so much divinity in the everyday.

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