An embarrassing admission

 I looked the other way once. 

There were two girls in a reading class I taught who really got to each other. No matter what I tried, they found their way to each other and it always ended up badly.  After some tough negotiations, I thought the matter was settled until I received a startling visit from one of the girl's parents.  Apparently all was not well, and I felt chastised and humiliated to know that one of my students felt unsafe, not cared for, and scared to be in my classroom.

How did this happen?

There are no good excuses to offer up. I failed, but I was lucky because a knowing parent did not give up.

A few days ago, my son was called a wimp by someone he considers a friend. He was hurt and mad so we talked about it. The other kid's parents talked to both of the boys about it and we were lucky to be able to handle it right then and there out in the open.  This was an ideal situation if name calling is ever ideal, but this is where it starts. 

One day later I listened to one of my college students tell harrowing tales of bullies in a persuasive speech meant to encourage us to be observant and active in our awareness of how kids from elementary school to college treat each other. "Believe me," he said, "I am gay. I know."

Two days later my sister-in-law shared that a neighboring 14 year old boy took his own life because he felt bullied after telling people he was gay.  Reports indicated that the signs of bullying were there. Teachers and friends and his own parents felt concern but no one understood the depths of his despair.

How many lives will it take? 

There is no magic number.  We can't wait for the next life to be the one that wakes us up. I just think we have to do the hard work.  I think we have to own up to the fact that we are failing and go for it with the same gusto bullies seem to have. 

Second graders in Winona, MN are taught to say, "I don't like what you are doing and I want you to stop." It's direct and simple. They are then taught to find a big person if the bullying continues.

But we big people can't be the weak link in this chain.  We can't take anything for granted. We can't assume, hope for the best, pray, and worst of all, let kids be kids. Kids have pure hearts and open minds and they learn what they are taught.

So this begs the question that we must be willing to ask:  what are we really teaching them?

Ain't it a trip where heroes come from?

The world has it wrong, or at least the media does. It seems we have no real shortage of heroes--we are just looking in the wrong places.  Try walking the halls of a middle school anywhere.  In every single school you will see a jumble of whacky hormones that make some kids look like they need to head back to elementary school while others appear as if they could get their high school diploma tomorrow. It is a weird place full of little people with brains and bodies in flux doing the best they can to get through each day feeling worthy.  In my recent visit, I found twenty-two soldiers who were preparing for a different sort of battle- the one in which you attempt to beat the demon of fear. These kids, young man-boys and women-girls, were willingly putting their talents on display and this, I think, is a profile in courage that many of us overlook.

Three weeks ago, Thing 1 came home excited and eager to participate in the middle school talent show. This is a girl who has been singing since.....well, I can't remember a time when she hasn't been singing. In the bathroom, in her room, at the breakfast table. She sings incessantly and much to her brother's annoyance. But this talent show would be different.  It's usually a packed house of mostly peers, which makes it all the more terrifying if you ask me. I asked her about performing on stage in front of such an audience. "Well," she said, "I want to do it more than I am nervous." And off we went downloading instrumental music to "Rolling in the Deep" because Thing 1 sets her sights high.  Loving parents were suggesting age-appropriate things like songs from the newest Muppet Movie. What I can tell you about that conversation is that eye rolling, when timed and executed with finesse, sends a CLEAR message. 

This talent show had a preliminary round. This year, there were 18 singing acts and only 5-8 would move on.  And so I sat with 10 other parents and 200 students, through a wide range of singing abilities. I expected many things but I did not expect to cry. The first brave soul was a young man decked out in a black suit jacket, white shirt and tie. He stepped up to microphone before singing to provide us with some background with his song choice, "Memory" from the musical Cats.  He was right in doing so because his audience did not appear to be a Cats sort of crowd.  His gestures were emphatic, his performance was carefully thought-out and what he lacked in musicality he made up for with the passion so clearly on display. I was in awe of this boy's courage for which he received a standing ovation. It made me wonder what each one of could do if we had just an ounce of that. 

I was reminded of a children's book that explained how courage is doing something even when you are scared.  All the way through the show I just kept thinking, "How courageous you are."

My own baby doll had nerves. Bad. I could tell by the way she was licking her lips and wringing her fingers. I knew she was mentally adapting her performance with every singer that went by. She was noting what worked and what didn't and I hoped she didn't try to do too much and stay true to how she has been practicing all along.

And so, there are many lyrics in "Rolling in the Deep ". The pace and tempo change several times.  These complexities aren't noticed within the comfort of your own headphones, home, or car, and nor are they really appreciated unless you are the one singing in front of 200 people with an unfiltered spotlight that makes you sweat in a way you aren't used to.  I can say with complete conviction that she was fantastic. As simplistic as this might sound, she sang on key the whole time. She did lose her place in the lyrics once, but rather than mewl like a sick cat and slink off the stage as I WOULD HAVE DONE, she stayed with it, jumped back in ON KEY, and found it within herself to have a bit of fun. She finished strong.  I have no musical bone in my body, but as avid American Idol fan and as the biased mother that I am, my overwhelming thought was that she did it! She sounded good and she persevered. The crowd was kind and I could care less about whether or not she moves on. 

And she isn't. Her wavering voice full of disappointment called to confirm the end of this talent show run. We talked about what an accomplishment this has been. She has done something not many people can do. She listened politely as I said some comforting words while she started making plans for next year.

And this is why kids, and mine in particular, are so great. They are resilient and determined and courageous. Sometimes just walking in the door of a place where there are hundreds of other uncertain misfits is an act of courage. And sometimes, standing in the spotlight with your passion on display shows others, your mom included, that you have it all right now. You have everything it takes to make any dream you want to come true.

Later tonight I will tuck baby doll in to bed. She will be sad, but I know she will still be singing. Not much keeps her from singing.  I will whisper, "Keep it up, baby doll. Keep it up."