“You’re imperfect, and you’re wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.” ~ Brene Brown.
I have always admired poetry. If I were a poet I would choose my words with care, then slice and dice and splice lines together so clean and pretty it would take your breath away. Those words would roll off your tongue after you savored the flavor, inhaled the aroma and exhaled the experience. If I were a sculptor my hands would caress and mold the clay, creating the most stunning tactile items that everyone would have to touch. If I were an artist I would paint mountains and waterfalls and clouds and scenes so lifelike you would gaze at the colors, feel the cold water splash you, shiver in the morning breeze, let the sunlight dapple through leaves onto your face.
The other day the word ‘handkerchief’ came up in a conversation, and I remembered very clearly my first lesson in ironing. I was entrusted with the handkerchiefs (handkerchieves?). My mother would leave them for me after she had tackled those pesky shirts with their sleeves and collars; those dresses with pleats and darts. Back before man-made materials made tumble-dried clothes ready-to-wear, clothes dried on the line and were stiff and unfriendly, having to be tamed with sprays of water. And (in Jamaica) they could be further stiffened by being soaked in starch, to keep them smart and shiny when they were ‘pressed’. But handkerchiefs were friendly and square, not too big (even the man-sized ones), just right for a beginner. Learning to respect the iron, the potential for a triangular shaped burn (did that once when pregnant and had underestimated the size of my belly!), was part of the lesson.
The first dish I learned to cook was scrambled eggs. Another safe dish – hard to get wrong! But lovely and messy for a kid – breaking the shell (and of course getting shell in the mix); stirring and stirring so it wouldn’t stick to the pan (before non-stick pans of course), the sense of accomplishment was real. And again, I learned the need to respect the stove, the fire, the heat.
The other day I heard a new expression: ‘anti-fragility’. The man who was being interviewed was discussing the fact that in our desire to ensure that our children are safe and protected, we are preventing them from developing the skills necessary to cope with adversity. He likened it to our immune system. We develop immunity by being exposed to pathogenic organisms, whether by contracting an infectious disease (like chicken pox), or being vaccinated. These exposures may be unpleasant, we may have a fever, but that is how our body responds and creates anti-bodies to protect us in the future.
Social confrontations with unpleasant kids can also cause pain for our children. Disappointing test results, or playing sports on a team which is regularly beaten can be hard to live with. But it is often the failures that teach the best lessons. Figuring out how to do better, to play harder, to keep smiling, these are important life lessons. So once we accept that we are not fragile, that human beings are in fact from birth ‘anti-fragile’ allows us to be more adventurous and trusting in the process. When we play it safe we miss out on opportunities to grow. When we challenge our kids and ourselves to do that which scares us the most – the possibilities are endless!
But over-protecting children is a first world problem, a problem of socio-economic privilege. In Jamaica I learned that childhood ended early. Kids took care of babies; kids went to the street to buy necessities (often in glass bottles!); kids had chores to do before school and after school. In the country many kids only went to school four days a week. On Fridays they had to help get the ‘ground provisions’ ready for market. When they helped with the cooking it was over a wood stove. Clothes were pressed with a heavy non-electric iron (made of iron) which had to be scoured of rust before it was put on the coals to heat up. It is no wonder that in a society were fragility was a luxury, Jamaican children grew up to be conquerors of the world, showing up on the stage as champion runners, politicians, scientists and more. Just this week I read the story of a young woman who grew up taking ‘river baths’ in the country in Jamaica who is now an MD/PhD research scientist.
One of the challenges of being a teacher is helping students learn how to learn. Most students assume there is a short cut to learning that will take away the need for all this stuff, these exercises, this homework, this reading, this… (fill in the expletive). They love to accuse us of giving them ‘busy work’ not understanding that knowledge is not delivered whole and complete in a package. It is natural to be impatient, to want to get there, to flip to the end of the book to find out how it works out. But as teachers we have to help students recognize that it is when they put in the effort, when they own the information, when they first tackle the handkerchiefs and scrambled eggs and get burnt in the process, that is when the concepts stick.
If I were a poet, I would have said this all in sixteen lines or less. And perhaps one day if I am brave enough, I will! When we allow ourselves to mess up, to be imperfect and embrace our flaws we learn from them and life opens up to us in ways we could never imagine.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!