Be the difference in schools today

Be the difference in schools today

This is an edited version of an email I sent out to administrators of our schools. I will leave out which district is currently ours and instead show comparisons from around the United States. This isn’t hard research. This is simply using Google to help our family decide where our children will fit most. If you have a bullied child, have you researched other schools, other districts, or helped your school to stand up and stand out amongst the crowd?

Our local high school has lost yet another student who may have passed through your doors at one point to suicide. Recently in a local K-8 school, a child brought a knife to school and threatened another student with words I can’t imagine my children hearing in even a fictional setting just yet. As I understand it, this child was given three days suspension. The message here, over and over, is kids can abuse rules and their consequences will be minimal. The silent message is consequences will vary from case to case and students don’t know common sense rules around cruelty, nor do they know definitive consequences. As a parent, I just learned this year the police can create no contact contracts and ticket offending students. As a parent, I’m very upset I didn’t know this before. Maybe these three boys who have violated my daughter over and over again could have been dealt with sooner. Maybe my daughter could have been helped sooner. Maybe the children who have decided to end their own lives could have known there are answers out there in the real world. Maybe they’d still be here if they knew they could keep other students away from them. I’m truly at the point where I no longer truly care if you read what I’ve written below, but I will share it with you in case you’d like to be the start of change.

 

Be the change your school district needs.

We are moving after the end of the school year. I have to give my daughter a chance to survive. I have to put her in a place where pro-active is the norm rather than being in a reactive school. Two of our local schools have shown us the support we never had at our first school. But this problem of bullying and teasing and intolerance within schools is so much larger than you or your school. In middle school this year, our daughter has been teased more because there are families from her first elementary school who just joined public schools for middle school. She’s been told the kids “know” she was expelled from in 4th grade. As a good student and a great kid, our daughter didn’t even know what the word expelled meant. And it’s certainly not true. We left by choice after she was punched in the mouth by a student who had bullied her all year. The decision to leave followed the school’s decision to dish out zero consequences time after time with this student and their decision to continue to keep them in the same classroom. In middle school, I’ve had to explain to my very innocent daughter what a blow job is because kids were teasing her when she was eating a carrot. The school’s response was to suggest I cut her carrots so she wasn’t eating a whole carrot. If someone had called and said, “Look, eating a whole carrot is loud, distracting, and bothersome to some people, could you cut them into bite sized pieces for her,” I’d have been happy to oblige. But instead, the school reacted to poor behavior of others by asking us to change her eating habits. This is a problem we’ve faced time after time; adults reacting instead of taking a proactive approach to bullying, teasing, and intolerance. She was pushed over and over into a science lab table and the consequence was for you to move her to a new locker in a different room. She was violated at the school bus and sexually harassed on the school bus, with video proof, and the only thing left for me to do was to drive her to school myself to keep her safe. Last year in 5th grade, she was kicked by three boys in the head, in the chest, and on her legs. These same boys threw ice at her in the winter months. They talked to her about their penises and her vagina on the school playground. The only thing I know these boys had to do was write an essay as a result of kicking her.

This past year, two eleven year old students committed suicide in Fort Collins, Colorado. Their reason? Bullying. They didn’t belong. They didn’t fit in. They didn’t see a way out. Our district almost lost an eleven year old this year as well to suicide due to incessant bullying. His mother reached out to social media and to the news stations. The district did nothing. We tend to react for a quick moment and move on quickly to the next state testing forum or the next big sporting event. But we don’t actually deal with this problem. My daughter is slated to go to our local high school in two years where we lost four students to suicide in one year. Can you imagine the fear I have for my daughter in a place where the care for these kids is only localized to their issue once they are gone?

I implore you to be the schools who start change within your district. A proactive program could create a school which feels safer from the get go for these students who face hatred and intolerance each day. As a parent, it took me a long time to realize reaction is not what we need. We left our first school with the hope that our new school would react better than the staff before had reacted. We were right. The team reacted in ways we’d never seen before. We were happy. The students had simple consequences if they harmed or were cruel to my daughter. This was new to us. Before, we were told our eight year old needed to assert herself more. We went from the bullying our daughter faced being her fault to a kind staff who cared about her, her feelings, and her safety. It was a world of change for us. Positive change. But after two more years, it’s not enough. It just isn’t. We can’t only react and expect students to know what our expectations of them are. In PE and Health classes this year, she was pushed into walls during a game several times day after day. The students used the game as an excuse to harm her. Each day she would tell the teacher, and each day these students were told to be more careful or simply that it was mean. Each day these students knew the teacher would only react with a verbal consequence and a simple reminder of their behavior being unkind. But that was all. There seemed to never be any set expectations that such behavior wouldn’t be tolerated. These kids did this day after day for nine weeks. The nine weeks prior, she was shamed in the locker room for not needing a bra at the age of eleven. Imagine being naked in a room full of peers and hearing body shaming because you are who you are.

This year I decided schools in general need to be proactive. For years, I’ve called the district over and over to get a definitive plan to tackle bullying in schools. For years, I’ve been told it’s up to the schools themselves to set a plan and put in place a program. Each school is different. Each school is responsible for creating a program or having a plan according to the district.

Here is a cut screenshot of our district. I was going to post other Colorado school districts to show zero results, but from Denver all the way up to Fort Collins and all in between, this was the only one I found with zero results. I’ll keep the district name private in hopes they won’t be the sole site with zero results much longer. Trust it is a school district’s site. And all others I search locally had at least government resources or community organizations.

sd0

I encourage you to search your district’s website.

There are zero resources available for parents or for students. Imagine being a student with the technology the district offers, an iPad or a Chromebook, and looking for help from the district. This is what they would find. Oddly enough, I was prepared to share the one document the district provided when I began my searches months ago, but it is no longer there. This search used to yield one link to one document which was 1.5 pages and titled, Code of Conduct. It was a document of rules, expectations of conduct for students on school grounds or at school events. It didn’t address kindness, only events such as property damage, substance abuse, and weapons on school grounds. For whatever reason, with several weeks of school left for kids who are looking for help, even those expectations are no longer available. I even searched ‘code of conduct’ with zero results.

In comparison, look at this screenshot when I type bullying into a search bar on a different district’s site:

Screenshot (1)
1870 results for bullying when searched on a district site

There are over ten pages of links, almost 1900 results in that search for one district. Some of these links go to teacher pages. Some go to individual schools. Some go to government sites such as Stopbullying.gov. Some of those ten pages of links don’t actually address bullying at all but might link to a teacher who addresses bullying on their page.

If you follow some Arizona districts, you’ll see they teach zero tolerance in their curriculum. I know our middle school does peer mediation. But I only know because my daughter has done it and told me about it. I didn’t find any resources about it on any website. I know our elementary school has a focus on character traits. But I never know what trait is the focus for each month. The last tweet from each school was fairly recent and usually only about evacuation drills, weather conditions, and honor roll. But often times, communication is left to a weekly newsletter with one or two focus points, usually academic. For a child who is struggling in today’s social world with the technology at hand, they have no tweets, no Facebook posts, no newsletters, and no websites that represent them and their struggles. There is virtually zero communication on tolerance and acceptance, yet every school seems to want to connect to parents and students with the convenience of social media. Utilize it.

There are simple things your schools can do to assist parents who are struggling with this horrible epidemic in schools. There are websites available to you, to students, and to parents. Here’s how one district shares some of their resources outside of the ten pages of links when one simply searches the word bullying on their site.

http://www.lesd.k12.az.us/academicresources.cfm?subpage=1409434

http://www.lesd.k12.az.us/academicresources.cfm?subpage=1408270

http://www.lesd.k12.az.us/academicresources.cfm?subpage=1408482

Another district:

https://www.dysart.org/sites/default.aspx?pgid=404

Go above and beyond. Look at these PDFs from one district. Not only are they pretty and colorful, but they are long and informative. From a family who has felt totally and completely alone for years, I cried when I saw these documents. I didn’t learn anything new. I didn’t feel relief from change. But for the first time, my daughter was truly validated. Not only does someone in this district care, as I know you all do, but they created an environment which shows they care enough to offer resources to parents and to children. The number one issue with a bullied child is often that they feel alone. I see these PDFs and know my daughter could feel as if there is hope; there is someone out there with a plan. I’ve always said I can’t control how parents treat or parent their children at home. Many of these kids won’t change. It’s what they know. It’s what they are taught. But we can give them expectations while they are under our care in schools. And we can hope they will take those teachings with them to their homes and throughout their lives. We are not completely helpless because a child has a different upbringing. If someone came into my home, I have every right to ask them not to stand on my couch or not to swing from my ceiling fans. You and schools and districts have every right to lay out your expectations with your students as well as their parents. You have every right to demand a cruelty free and respecting, tolerant environment within your walls. It needs to start with communications home to all families. It can carry on with constant communications via social media, email blasts for older students, and resources such as the ones I have shared so no child feels left in the dark by their schools.

For families:

http://www.dvusd.org/cms/lib011/AZ01901092/Centricity/Domain/3686/FAMILY%20GUIDE.pdf

http://www.dvusd.org/cms/lib011/AZ01901092/Centricity/Domain/3686/English%20FAMILY%20NEWSLETTERS%20%20.pdf

For teachers: http://www.dvusd.org/cms/lib011/AZ01901092/Centricity/Domain/3686/TEACHER%20GUIDE.pdf

Get on your school’s website and search some key words like bullying and suicide. For my district, there is nothing….nothing….there. No school needs to own the responsibility of a child suicide. But as a school or district, is it really that hard to offer links for children and parent to visit when they feel so alone?

https://www.stopbullying.gov/index.html

http://www.thebullyproject.com/

http://www.pacer.org/bullying/resources/info-facts.asp

Pacer does a walk each year in October, I think. You can get students and parents involved. You can raise funds for an anti-bullying program in your school with a simple 5K walk/run. They sell T-shirts for the event on their page. You can sell them in your school and ask kids to wear them to recognize the larger issue at hand in every school.

http://www.pacerkidsagainstbullying.org/kab/

Would it be so hard to make these resources available to the families in the district or in your schools? For my daughter, for my family…please make a proactive change. I never thought I’d have to talk to my eleven year old about suicide. I never thought suicide would be something that would affect middle schoolers. I wonder if the two families in Fort Collins thought the same thing before they buried their children. In fairness, here is the link to the bullying search Poudre Valley offers since I’ve only offered Arizona school links so far. They also have about ten pages of links when I typed in the word bullying. This is a district in Northern Colorado.

https://www.psdschools.org/search/site/bullying

Another Colorado district…

http://www.sd27j.org/site/Default.aspx?PageType=6&SiteID=4&SearchString=bullying

And another…

JeffCo

Large school districts around the country:

Newark, NJ 35K students

Fairfax, VA 183K students

Portland, OR 512 results

LA, CA over 650K students, over 3500 results

If you simply clicked, I hope you see the big difference between our district which has zero results when I typed in the word bullying and even just one resource for a child or a parent. It doesn’t cost anything to link. It doesn’t take any administrative time to show our children how much we support every stage they are in while in school.

What does your school district show when you type in the word bullying into their search bar?

We are not coming back to this school district. I owe my daughter a chance. And I know despite the fact that she’s been punched in the mouth, kicked in the head and chest, pushed into walls and down stairs, teased, told she doesn’t belong, reminded how much she’s hated….I know she doesn’t have it as bad as others. I know it can be so much worse. But I owe her a chance to be a survivor. I owe her a place where they not only care but are proactive in caring. I’m not naïve enough to think she won’t be teased or even bullied. My kids will be the new kids again. They will face struggles wherever they go, and it’s my job to teach them to cope. But without schools who have resources known to parents and students, without a proactive plan in place to stop this horrid behavior, nothing in her life will change. I don’t know what we will face in our future. But we are lucky enough to be able to live anywhere we’d like.

I share this information with you in hopes that other kids in any district, some I know are fighting the same struggles, can find the hope they need. I hope you can see the huge differences between what I, a parent, can find in our district, a big fat ‘Your Search Yielded No Results,’ and pages and pages of options. I hope it angers you that the district you represent cares so little they offer zero solutions or resources for parents or students.

When life falls apart at home for a child – a death, a divorce, a deployment of a parent, abuse- often times the only stability that child might have is at school. And if they are different or depressed and not fitting in, they look to you all who might help them at the level you can. But if they are lying in their bed at night crying, searching your school website or the district website for help, for a light, for anything….they are only reminded that no one cares for them. True or untrue, it’s the message that is sent from a district with zero results. And it’s heartbreaking.

I hope to never read about bullying or suicides because of school bullying again. I hope you can force simple but impactful changes. In any district across this great nation, be the school who forces great change. Just start somewhere.

Stella Samuel

May 2016

 

Please Remember

Please Remember

I write a lot of things. I share many but not all. I’m a writer. As an author, I imagined my website to be about writing. My process, my fails, my gains. I want to share more about publishing. But the past six months of my writing time has been spent fighting the same fight we’ve fought each school year. I research laws. I research girl power. I research how to build self-confidence in children. I try to build up other parents going through the same challenges we are. I try to tell as many children as I can how much they matter. To me, to my daughter, to their families, to this fight.

Yesterday I learned someone stopped fighting.

My heart is broken again.

We are going on six years now of my oldest daughter dealing with cruelty on school grounds. Threats, teasing, unkind words, gossip, violence against her, complete intolerance of who she is, and schools turning heads, forcing changes upon innocent children instead of pushing real consequences to offenders. It’s a non-stop circle. And I know, as I’ve known for years, we are not the only ones going through this.

I learned yesterday of a young boy in a different state. His parents will be burying him soon. I sat at my window a looked at the spring snow falling from the Colorado sky and wondered if the storm hovering over my roof would be over theirs on the day they bury their son. Would they have rain? Would they have snow? Would dark skies cover their world, matching the feelings of their sunken hearts? I don’t know this boy. I don’t know his parents. But I breathe for all of them today. I stood in my daughter’s bedroom last night and touched her forehead. I rubbed scar she is teased about. I felt the warmth of her skin. I watched her chest rise and fall with each breath she took. Gratitude washed over me. She is two years younger than this boy.

Outside appearances tell me this boy came from a loving family. He was a good looking young man. He played sports. All the comments I see about him are kind. He was liked. He was loved. I can’t ever expect to know any more about him. But I can believe no one who mattered to him wanted to live days like today; waking without him. Missing his morning routine. His morning grumbles about getting up and moving. His morning smiles. Maybe he was a joker, making members of his family laugh during breakfast. Maybe he was like my daughter, silly, dancing whenever he felt movement enter his body. I wonder if the kids at his school all cried. I wondered if some laughed. I wondered if the cruel people in his community, even if they are few, knew how difficult they made his life. Do they know today the words they spoke to him, to lift themselves up for a brief moment, to get a laugh from others, to bring him down, are the same words which killed him? Will they think twice before speaking cruel words to someone else?

I ask in his honor, today, you remind your children, yourself, your friends and family to be kind. It isn’t hard at all. Keep the mean thoughts you have for someone to yourself. Better yet, ask yourself why you feel they need to hear why you think they aren’t worth walking on Earth any more than you do. My daughter hears things like, “You suck because you’re short.” “You have Ebola.” “Ewww, gross, it’s you.” “You know you don’t belong here….in this class, in this school, in this world. You know that don’t you?” Those are just a small sampling of things she’s heard, things she hears every day. Class after class. Many days, several times a day.

How many years does a child need to hear these things? A recent bus chant about my daughter involved several children replying to one boy saying her name and the word ‘likes.’ The other children would then reply to him with words like penises, vaginas, butt holes. For twenty minutes on the bus, she had to listen to several kids chat things about her that were not only untrue but also vulgar. There were also several kids on the bus who said nothing. Kids who didn’t participant in the chant but who also didn’t speak up to tell others to stop being cruel.

How much can one child endure? As I rub the scar on my daughter’s head, I will away her pain. I pray she will come home from school the next day with the strength to do it all again. Each day she comes home sad because of what children are saying about her, to her. I try to remind her of how wonderful I know she is. I try to pull her thoughts into a place where she is reminded of our love for her. Reminded of her friends. She does have them. She’s in a good little group of kids who love her and support her. They laugh with her, they appreciate her silly antics. They don’t have fear of being who they are. And many of them have their own stories of not being accepted by others. I’m happy she has that. I’m certain most children who are bullied have friends. I’m sure they have families who love them. What they don’t often have is that light at the end of the tunnel. I often don’t see that light myself. As an adult, I know my daughter can get through this. I know these kids won’t matter in her life when she’s in college. When she’s an adult working on her career, having a family, loving her own children. But I also know the pain she feels each day will be with her. Always. The hurtful words, the unnecessary teasing, the feelings of being not worthy of living, the reminders that she was not only disliked, but truly hated for no reason will live in her heart and in her mind forever. As parents, we can support, love, offer ideas and reminders, and hope our children will always be here to fight another day.

This boy I know about gave up his fight this week.

I also know of a girl in our own community who gave up her fight this school year. She was my daughter’s age.

Every day my inbox is filled with the pain of others. Parents asking the world to support their children via social media. Many of the stories are eerily familiar. Earlier this week, I read about a girl who had switched schools once already, was smaller than her peers, had red hair and freckles, and was teased relentlessly with both schools doing nothing. One school’s response was that it was not gbullying she was dealing with, it was just kids being kids. Kids being mean.

When did boys will be boys and kids being kids begin to mean simply deal with it, they aren’t bullying, they are simply being mean. When did meanness become acceptable in an environment such as school where adults are abundant? Which adults are accepting simply being mean as something our children should endure? I wouldn’t allow someone to be mean within my own home. I wouldn’t have to tolerate it if I were in a grocery store or at a public park. Why do our children have to endure kids who are mean? Why aren’t the adults surrounding these children teaching expectations of kindness? Why aren’t schools following the same social expectations we expect within our communities? Within our homes?

I’ve researched several states and their Boards of Education websites lately. I live in the state of Colorado. The state site basically lays out the definition of bullying and supplies the ACT the state wrote offering grants to districts who apply for anti-bullying education. I’m not a lawyer, but what I read I understood to mean the district must apply, and to be granted, they must have valid and good reason to apply. With or without the anti-bullying grant money, the districts need to form policies which follow the law of ensuring schools don’t allow bullying as defined by the law. I’ve gone around in circles reading this, and as a parent, an author, a non-lawyer, I took it all to mean the state has defined bullying and expects districts to not allow bullying within their schools. Districts then take the definition of bullying and expect their schools to create a school-wide policy and procedure as it pertains to the state’s definition of bullying. The buck is passed from state to district to school. Meaning, each school is responsible for how seriously they will take this serious problem within our schools across our nation. One school may include anti-bullying within their curriculum. One school may only react to each case as they arise. One school may have high expectations, one may not. It seems to be luck of the draw. Within the state and within the district. Other state sites, like Hawaii and New Jersey, seem to have a better display, at least, of their expectations as well as resources for parents and for children. I believe both of these state also include specific bullying such as LGBT students. New Jersey has a detailed plan, a task force, case studies, and more available to the public on their site. Arizona has expectations, laws, and student/parent resources listed on their Department of Education website. New Jersey and Arizona are the most inclusive state sites I’ve seen. I’ve also found at least two districts within Arizona who include anti-bullying as a curriculum within classrooms.

I understand why each state is a bit different. It’s one of the great things about our country. I may even begin to understand why districts might differ. Cultures across a state might differ, but the expectations should always remain the same. This starts with people. What I fail to understand is why school policies might differ within a district. Why would one school tolerate something another school mere miles away works very hard to prevent?

It comes down to people. The responsible adults we leave in charge of our children while we are away. The adults who need to begin teaching simple values which may not be taught at home. I hate to put parenting in charge of teachers and staff at schools. I’ve said for years the one thing we cannot control is how people parent their children.

We don’t need to teach all values at school. One family may have different values they’d like their children to follow and practice in their lives. But basic kindness shouldn’t have to be taught with ferocity at a middle school age. These are the kids who have been taught basic kindness. They know what is right and what is wrong. They know saying cruel things about someone or to someone is wrong. They are at an age where making the correct choice isn’t always easy for them. This is where they need the guidance most. These kids need to understand how their cruel behaviors affect children, their peers, for years to come.

Years many kids don’t even get to face. I started this out by talking about this beautiful young soul who took his life earlier this week. The pressures of unkindness were too much for him. It is often too much for many. My own daughter has been told she doesn’t belong…not only in her classroom, where she is legally welcome but also in this world according to this girl who greets my daughter each day with this sentiment. How many more times before my daughter begins to believe it? How many times, days, weeks, or years did this young man have to listen to words like that before he no longer believed he belonged anywhere?

Don’t give up.

Be kind.

It matters.

Be the reason someone smiles today.

Be a reason someone is reminded they are wonderful.

Children and kindness in school

Children and kindness in school

My daughter has been bullied for years. Starting in first grade, the word ‘bully’ started circling through conversations with parents and teachers. I refused to use it until two years later. Our goal at home was to teach our daughter to cope. We wanted her to know the difference between someone not liking her shoes, not liking her, and taunting her. I could share almost endless stories of violence other kids inflicted upon her, from being punched in the mouth, to being pinned down in the dark by boys much older, and being kicked in the head and chest. But that’s not really my goal. We know these things happen. Many that know us might be surprised to know she was kicked in the head and chest. We’ve told very few. I could talk for days about the hurtful words that are thrown at her everyday, whether because of what she brings to school, her height, or her energy. But that’s never really my goal either.

We’ve spent years trying to teach her to cope. To know the difference when someone is bullying and when someone is simply being unkind. Instead of giving her examples of each over and over, we started giving her ideas of how to react in any situation with kindness. It’s working.

Five days into the new school year, and friends have already teased her about bringing a stuffed animal to school. Her response is usually something like, “I’m good with it.” Or, “Would you like to give it a hug?” Instead of reacting out of the overwhelming feeling of defense, she offers kindness in return. She’s still hurt by the mean words. She’s still hurt because some of these kids are friends and lack support in her decisions. But she’s coping.

Each day we talk about our kind actions throughout our days, and I always like to ask if someone did something kind for my children. These make for fun dinnertime conversations.

Yesterday she told me she was shoved, probably lost in a crowd rather than something violent, and fell down a few stairs and dropped all of her papers and notebooks on the floor. In the rush to get to classes on time, all the kids nearby stepped on her and her papers while passing by. No one stopped. No one helped. She told me she stopped the tears from coming out of her eyes. Her reasoning was because she didn’t want her contacts to fall out. I’m sure she also didn’t want anyone to see her pain either.

After the next class, another little girl was pushed in the crowd and fell down four steps, dropping all of her belongings. Students stepping all over her papers, and she rushed to clear the papers before they were ruined in the crowd. My daughter saw her. And stopped. She helped this other girl pick up her papers and offered to help organize her backpack again during lunch.

After hearing both stories at dinner, I asked my daughter which one she thought she’d remember most tomorrow or in a week. She told me she’d remember stopping to help someone else. But she’ll always know no one stopped to help her. Until someone does.

All I asked of her at the end of that conversation was, always be the person that stops.

I love her energy. She is high energy in a world where the kids her age think it’s only appropriate to stand around and talk about shoes and make-up. I love the bond she has with her stuffed animal. And I’m happy to report she is not changing that because kids, friends even, can be cruel enough to let her know they think she’s immature for bringing it hidden in her backpack where she knows it keeps a smile saved just for her.

And, finally, I’m proud to know that when I’m not around, she’ll be the kid that stops to help.

Kindness matters.

Please share your stories of kindness. And continue to be kind.

Kindness Matters

Kindness Matters

I was humbled a couple of weeks ago when a friend, editor and teacher extraordinaire, I might add, took my novel, stayed up with it all night at emailed me her copy edits at 5am the following morning.

Talk about kindness.

Last week, I had the opportunity to do the same with another friend’s novel. It just landed in my lap, (Okay, he may have thrown it my way, but my lap caught it), and I sent in my copy edits for his review. I didn’t feel special. I didn’t feel amazing. I didn’t feel like I had gone out of my way, doing something I enjoy doing for someone I like and respect. But I knew how it felt to be on the receiving end, and I knew that author may have been humbled as well, thinking the simple words, thank you, might not be enough. They are, of course.

On the other side of my world, my children started school last week. On the first day, they were excited to be in new schools, with old teachers, meet new friends, have new schedules, new clothes, contacts for one, new reading glasses for another….their positive list was endless. I was amazed.

I had one rule for them, and I begged them to follow it.

Be kind.

No matter how you feel, how your day is going, what you are going through, be kind.

Do you wish to make new friends? Be kind.

Do you wish to meet new people? Be kind.

Do you want to heal old relationships? Be kind.

Would you like to get to know someone better? Be kind.

Did someone say something mean to you? Be kind. (And know you are worth more than hurtful words)

No one is perfect. But we can all be humble. I encourage my children to lift up their peers. I encourage my children to help people feel good about themselves. Many of us know how it feels to be hurt by someone’s actions or someone’s words. It can ruin a day. I ask my children to be the person that makes someone smile when they feel a frown taking over their beautiful face.

Last Friday, after three days of parties, hugs, laughter, and lots of first week of school smiles, one of my kids came home and told me something another child had said sometime during the day. It was hurtful. It was painful. It was personal. It was something I tried all weekend to let go. But I struggled. This isn’t the first time this particular child has said something hurtful to my child. No parent wants to see their child hurting.

As adults, we have to deal with stresses each day we decide, or have, to enter the world. As parents, we often expect we will send out children out into a place where dangers are prevalent, but we know they will be protected. Either by adults around them, children who adore them, or our love that will be with them when they are away from us. As children, they often expect to head out into a big world of joy, rainbows, and beautiful sunsets. A world where we all feel the same, and we only want to exist – together – in a place of joy.

It’s heartbreaking when a child climbs into a parent’s car with a somber look and sad eyes, only to say, ‘Someone hurt my feelings today.’ Sticks and stones hurt. Words will never hurt me? That couldn’t be more wrong. I sat on this one hurtful thing all weekend, thinking of the joy I’d had with the child that said this over the years. Thinking of the joy I’d given to my child. And wondering where I’d failed if I’d let something so menial bother me so much.

Bother me, it did.

My response to my child was, “What did you say?”

Be kind.

“You told me to be kind, so I said, ‘That’s sad. But okay.'”

It was sad. My child didn’t argue, didn’t fight back with another hurtful sentence, didn’t take the pain experienced and throw it back into someone else’s court.

It was sad this child felt the need to say this to my child. It was sad this child learned this was an acceptable thing to do. It was sad to know a friendship was broken – again.

But my child was humbled.

It wasn’t the first time.

Last week, when someone offered kindness with nothing expected in return, certainly wasn’t my first humbling experience either.

But both experiences reminded us the connection being humble and being kind have with one another. One exists because of the other. The other exists because there is a new view because of the other.

Kindness matters. I hope we can all make it our choice. I’m proud to say, though we are not perfect, my family, my children, will grow knowing, and maybe learning more along the way than knowing all the time, to be humble and to be kind. No matter what might be thrown at them.

Kindness matter.

Be at least a reason for someone’s smile today.

Summer Sunshine

Summer

What do you feel when you are outside in the summer sunshine?

Sit outside and feel the warmth on your face. What does it give to you?

Do you feel more positive? Blissful? Does your energy increase? Or do you feel like you could finally relax for a moment in the middle of a busy day?

Take some time today and pause in the sunshine. Let it fill you with warm, positive energy. And then…

go do something with that new found greatness.

I love to sit outside and write. I watch my children play. I listen to the sounds of laughter fill the air. It does wonders for my mood.

Today my kids have friends over. I set up some great backyard water play for them. I looked forward to sitting outside editing, while they play. I couldn’t wait to hear the squeals of laughter as they ran through running water. Lemonade awaits them at our outdoor bar. The ceiling fans are cooling our patio, waiting to blow my hair as I sit and edit to the sounds of children playing.

Our friends got here just about thirty minutes ago.

Three kids are in the basement playing Minecraft. Two are in an upstairs bathroom doing their nails.

It’s clear to me now.

I had a plan. It involved all the beauty of warm summer air.

They need the sunshine I planned to give them!

Parenting Challenges, Life Challenges

Parents are challenged everyday by their children. If you’re a parent, you know this is constant with children and truly the first thing with which they are consistent. One day you’re an adult living the life, sleeping when you can or maybe even when you want, then, bam, you are up all night watching someone just breathe. Wait, is she breathing? Maybe I’d better put my hand on her chest ever so slightly just to make sure. Now of course the ever so slightly doesn’t matter much if she isn’t breathing, right, so somewhere deep inside your hibernating new parent brain you know you’re making your touch as light as possible because you know she’s breathing. If you thought she weren’t you’d be pulling her tiny body out of that crib forcing the breath of life into her. But when you become a parent and are faced with so many new challenges, the first thing to leave your body after the baby leaves is rationality. Once you’ve checked her for airflow, you manage to head back to your bed that has lost the gentle form of your body because you no longer visit it as you used to, and try to sleep. Then she wakes screaming. She can’t speak yet, so your new challenge is to find out why the hell she’s awake at this precise moment and fix it. Now!

They grow, babies do, and they grow quickly. Parenting challenges only grow from here. Toddlers fall. Do I save her, run to her, make sure she’s not broken or do I just laugh it off and pretend it didn’t happen? Relaxed parents often do the latter, learning quickly that if toddler thinks you didn’t see it happen then it must not have happened and therefore there is no pain involved. Unless. Unless there’s actually pain involved. Then you are challenged with the parent guilt that comes with why the hell did I just stand there and do nothing while my little person fought with gravity?

Challenges continue to grow. Mommy, can I have dinner? Can I have a snack? Daddy, give me! No! I can’t. I don’t want to. No, I don’t want to. Can I have it? I have it! Mine! No. Mine. Don’t wanna! Emma Noma Pee! I want toepees! Want toepees! Mommy. I want to carry you!

These challenges are cute. And then bam! Just like that they are no longer cute. The kids often remain cute, even with snaggle teeth they want to show you every moment of each day. Even with purple stained smiles and chocolate cheeks, they are still cute kids. But their challenges go from cute to…well challenging. Homework is introduced. Tests, social interactions, and rigid schedules. They begin to see that life isn’t easy, one cannot just say mine and no and make it so. And they get pissed!

This year has been a tough one for our family. We were faced with bullying at school, untrained staff at school, no policy in a no tolerance state and heads that turned every which way but ours. We switch schools with five weeks left in the school year. Talk about a challenge! We found out our children were behind academically, socially and they were facing new challenges on every level.

One teacher emailed me this week. She assured me our children are not as behind as we thought. Actually one is two grade levels ahead in a few areas, on par in others and only has a few ‘holes.’ She ended her email with, “You honestly are raising a very successful, intelligent, capable, and talented daughter.  Enjoy it.”

So today I walk into the world, I push my children out there, knowing we are challenged every day in life. But we are still doing it, and as long as we are doing it, we are okay. Enjoy it! That note from a teacher we’ve only known for a few weeks brought tears to my eyes and took me back to when parenting challenges were fun. Like playing a game rather than trying to solve world hunger with one burger. To her, I bow down and say thank you. To you, I say Enjoy It! Nothing lasts forever, babyhood, toddlerhood, even elementary school will end one day. Slow down, breathe in and breathe out. Give hugs, take hugs when offered and enjoy it.

Make today a great day, and make note of one challenge and how you managed it.

Stella