theorangeinkblot

Looking at life through orange colored glasses…

Being Temporarily Abled

My vision without my glasses is pretty bad.  My own hand in front of my face is blurry and even though I would probably be able to identify a large object that is ten to twenty feet away (something the size of a car or larger) I can’t see smaller objects or read any lettering or signs.  Anything further away then twenty feet is just a fuzzy blob of shape and color.

About twenty years ago, I went to a ‘Lenscrafters’ in a shopping mall in suburban New York. The frames to my glasses had bent but could be repaired while I waited (in about an hour!).   I sat down in a chair in the waiting area and picked up a magazine which I quickly realized I couldn’t read unless I held it about three inches from my face and even then it was tricky.  I put the magazine down and just sat there for a minute or two and then I thought of my friend who is has a visual disability and has used both a cane and a guide dog to assist her over the years.

I decided that instead of sitting in that chair for an hour staring at a fuzzy wall, I would use the time as an opportunity to try to gain even the smallest glimmer of understanding of what it would be like if my ability to see without glasses was the best that I could expect.  I assigned myself a task to find a coffee shop, buy a cup of coffee and then find my way back to ‘Lenscrafters’.

I was able to complete my self assigned tasks but not without asking for help.  Being unfamiliar with the mall I had to ask someone to help me find the coffee shop and then I had to ask the coffee shop employee to tell me what kind of specialty drinks they had and how much they cost.  I had to hold my money pretty close to my face to make sure I was paying with the correct bill.  I had to navigate getting on and off the escalator with limited vision.  By the time I returned to Lenscrafters,  I was grateful to be reunited with my glasses and my ability to see.

It was an interesting experiment which definitely required me to step out of my comfort zone. I felt vulnerable and a little uncomfortable having to ask strangers for help. But let’s be honest, any discomfort or vulnerability I felt was tempered by the knowledge that it was temporary.   Still, when I told my friend who is blind what I had done, she was touched.  She said very few people would even try to take it upon themselves to understand what it is like to be a person with a disability.  She also said that most able bodied people take for granted that they will always be able bodied, when in fact, at any time, any one of us could be faced with an illness or injury that leaves us with chronic pain, mobility issues, or an inability to see, hear, speak or think the way we used to.  Any one of us able bodied people could very well be so temporarily.

Why am I telling you all this?  I have a good friend who deals with chronic pain on a daily basis. She has recently had two major surgeries and hospitalizations but sadly has had no relief.  In addition, she is now facing mobility issues and finds herself needing to use a wheelchair to travel any significant distance.  To add insult to injury, as she has reached out to her friends and community for help and support, she has found that many people are shutting her out.  Some people have just stop taking her calls altogether.  Others have told her that her level of illness makes them uncomfortable or that they are not comfortable having a friend who uses a wheelchair.

I have two lines of thought about these feelings of discomfort:

1.) I understand that feeling uncomfortable feels, well, uncomfortable.  Anytime we are faced with a situation that is unfamiliar or new or in which we don’t know what to do or say, the temptation can be to avoid the situation altogether and shut down that uncomfortable feeling.  This can apply to visiting or supporting our friends when they are sick or injured or any other plethora of new or scary situations.  But before moving into avoidance and denial consider that the feeling of discomfort is also signaling an opportunity for personal growth.

By being willing to sit with that feeling of discomfort, we give our brain the opportunity to confront and resolve the cognitive dissonance between how we are actually feeling, and the guilt or shame we may feel for feeling that way.  Then, we can find our courage, lean in, and access feelings of empathy and compassion instead of succumbing to fear.  We may find that we are awkward and clumsy in our attempts to reach out in these situations- but at least it is authentic. And the more we are willing to try, the less awkward and clumsy it becomes.

2.) Consider the idea that your able-bodiedness may be temporary.  How would you feel if tomorrow you found yourself unable to use your body in the way you are used to using it.   Scared? Confused? Frustrated? Angry? Sad? Now imagine that feeling all of those feelings you reach out to people – who have been your friends for years – for emotional support or assistance and their response is that due to your not being able to use your body in the same way you used to they are no longer comfortable being your friend.  How devastating would that be?

It’s okay- normal even- to feel uncomfortable.  Imagine though, how that discomfort can be transformed into something so much more powerful if we are willing acknowledge that we can simultaneously feel uncomfortable and also make an effort to be empathetic and compassionate.  Can we find the courage to say, “I’m feeling uncomfortable with what you are going through but I’m working on it and want to find some way to try to be supportive.”

We don’t have to make a commitment to “fixing” whatever our friend is going through- there may not even be a viable solution.  And it is totally healthy to set boundaries.  I am not suggesting that it is required or even appropriate to be available to someone 24 hours a day.  I would say to try, for a moment, to put yourself in that person’s shoes and think about how you might feel if you were going through what they are going through.  Remind yourself that at any moment on any day your world might be completely turned upside down.  Imagine what it might be like if you needed to learn to navigate the world in an entirely different way.  And then choose your actions based on how you would hope your friends would respond to you.

It’s easy really- treat others the way you would want to be treated.  Even if it makes you feel a little uncomfortable.

 

The End of An Era…

When I dropped off my daughter at school this morning I let out a breath I didn’t realize I had been holding.  Today is her last day of Middle School.  I feel like I should bake her a “you survived middle school” cake.   My daughter had a very mixed middle school experience which (like many others) included mean kids who said mean things sprinkled with an abundance of early teen drama.  But when I look at the kid who entered seventh grade compared to the one who is today finishing eighth I can tell you, she’s come a long way.

Even though I’m frustrated about some of the more negative aspects of her middle school experience, today, I primarily find myself feeling grateful. Education happens as much out of the classroom as it happens inside of it.  Part of the benefit of having forty minutes twice a day in the car with my daughter is that we have had a lot of time to talk.

Here are some of the important lessons my daughter has learned in middle school.

When you set a goal of learning how to “deal with difficult people” (as my daughter did this year) the universe sends you a lot of “difficult” people to practice on.  She is still practicing.  However, she is learning that sometimes it is important to call people out on their words and behaviors and other times it makes more sense to let it go and walk away. She has learned that sometimes people are “difficult” because they are hurting and others are just mean. She has learned that her choices go beyond making friends or enemies.  It is okay to have neutral relationships.

She has learned that sometimes when you tell the truth people will try to quiet you.  Tell the truth anyway.  My daughter was criticized quite a bit in middle school for her “radical honesty.” When I pressed the administration for more information they said that she wasn’t being mean or saying anything that was untrue but expressing honest thoughts that were making other people feel uncomfortable. One example of her radical honesty turned out to be telling visiting students the truth about her experience at the small private school which meant she had perhaps become a bit of a marketing problem. My daughter has learned that she has no obligation to make herself smaller or to lie to make others feel more comfortable.  She has some pretty important things to say.  Good luck trying to stop her.

 

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Going out in style on the last day of Middle School.

Finally, she has learned, when you have a group of loyal friends who have your back, you can survive almost anything that middle school will throw at you. I am so grateful that my daughter found a group of friends who have really stood by her.  They have shut down gossip about her on days she was absent and they have stood up for each other, particularly when some of the boys have made mean or inappropriate comments.

My favorite story she has come home with is this one:

One of the boys in my daughter’s class told her friend that her bra strap was showing and it was “distracting” him. The four girls, in unison, said, “So, don’t look.” So, the boy tried to explain: this girl was more attractive, more developed than the other girls in the class and so he felt it was beyond his control to not look and therefore he was “distracted.” My daughter, in all of her radically honesty, called the boy out.  “Is it more or less distracting” she asked, “then when you and the other boys stick your hands down your pants during class to shift your private parts?” (Drops mic, walks away.)

I used to worry about my daughter.  I mean, she’s my daughter so I’ll always worry about her to some extent.  But I don’t worry about her the way I used to. She is gaining self-confidence, finding her voice, and figuring out how to put herself out in the world in a way that is authentic to her.  She has learned that she can endure but that she can also set her own boundaries. She is learning that she has the same right to exist as everybody else and she won’t apologize for taking up her space on this planet.

If you ask my daughter about her middle school experience, she will probably focus on some of the more negative experiences she has had.  I am writing this so when she looks back later I can remind her of how much she grew as a person during these tumultuous two years and because I have never been so proud of all she has accomplished.

 

 

Please Stop Expressing your Condolences that I have a Teenage Daughter.

I met a new neighbor yesterday.  Upon hearing that I have a teenage daughter, she replied, “I’m sorry.”

This happens quite frequently.  Someone asks me how old my children are and when I mention my teenage daughter the response is often, “My condolences,” or “I’m sorry,” or “Can I get you a glass of wine?”

I’m writing this today to ask of you: please stop expressing your condolences that I have a teenage daughter. I’m not the least bit sorry or upset about it.

Yes, she sometimes rolls her eyes or uses “that tone.” Occasionally, when I ask her to help me to unload the dishwasher she replies, “No thanks, I’m good.” My daughter some times does these things, but these things do not define her. Look past the occasional eye rolls, dramatic interludes, and the ear buds that seem to have taken up permanent residence in her ears and you will see that my teenage daughter is not someone who needs apologizing for.  She is, in fact, nothing short of amazing.

Diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in first grade, my now 14-year-old is one of the bravest and strongest people I know.  Every morning, she gets out of bed knowing that at some point during the day she will need to battle an inner demon and she knows there is a chance she won’t win.  Yet, every morning, she gathers her courage, puts on her emotional armor, and goes to school.  Do you remember middle school? Not exactly a nurturing haven of emotional safety nets (even at her tiny private school there is a fair amount of middle school drama and kids who say mean things).  Nevertheless, she persists.

My teenage daughter is fierce.  She is a self-proclaimed feminist and social justice warrior who is forging her own path in the world.  She has relevant and informed opinions about issues impacting our town, our country, and our planet. She will stand up for people if she thinks they are being treated unfairly – even if they are someone my daughter considers to be, in her words, “a butt.”

My teenage daughter is developing a strong sense of self. She has no interest in wearing something because someone else is wearing it and, so far, she thinks peer pressure is “stupid.” She is authentic and real and won’t apologize for being an independent thinker or outspoken young lady.  She is unapologetically her own person and we encourage her to be just that.

My teenage daughter is interesting.  She reads books and asks questions and is curious about the world.  And yes, occasionally, halfway through my answer to a question she has just posed to me she will completely stop listening. She is, after all, still a teenager.  She is still learning.  But I’m an adult and I’m still learning too.  Sometimes, I roll my eyes and use “that tone,” and overreact to a frustrating but inconsequential situation.  Where do you suppose they learn that behavior to begin with?

It seems to me that women already apologize far more than necessary, sometimes, merely for existing.  Do we really need to exacerbate that problem by apologizing for teenage girls even being a thing? Again, I can’t speak for anybody else’s teenage daughter but I suspect that if you look past the eye rolls, and the obnoxious tone of voice and the drama that sometimes accompanies them you will find that there is a lot of complex, beautiful, and amazing stuff going on right under the surface.

So, if I mention that I have a teenage daughter, ask me how she’s doing or what she’s involved with or what her opinion is on a $15 minimum wage (she does actually have an opinion on that) but please, do not apologize.

 

I am light.

I will be completely honest.  When I woke up yesterday morning and confirmed the election results, I had a moment where I wished I could be my dog; blissfully ignorant and content with digging holes in the backyard and receiving the occasional belly rub. Like many parents, I struggled with how to tell my kids that our candidate had lost.  Like many of my friends, I was worried about what this election means for our country.  And like many people I have spoken to and read about, I have shed some tears.

I have stopped reading the articles that try to articulate how we got here because the fact of the matter is this is where we have landed.  We need to decide how we are going to move forward and in doing that, each of us has a decision to make about how we are going to put ourselves out into the world from here on out.  The great thing is, that with so much work to do, there are many roles to play.  So how I decide to put myself out there doesn’t have to look exactly how you decide to put yourself out there.  The important thing is, we have to put ourselves out there.

Yesterday, my daughter, who is an 8th grader, texted me a selfie of herself and her good friend Lubabah.  To see this beautiful picture of my Jewish daughter with her Muslim friend reminded me of why we must continue to do meaningful work to affect change and why we must refuse to be silenced.

I woke up this morning with great clarity of my purpose in this world. As I drove home after dropping my daughter off at school, these were the words that were streaming through my head:

I am light.

I am peace.

I am love.

I am calm.

I am listening.

I am a beacon in the storm.

I am a safe harbor.

I am gratitude.

I am powerful.

I am kindness.

I have clarity.

I  have purpose.

I have vision.

I have been practicing for this moment in time for my whole life.

I am a soul.

I AM LIGHT!

I am shining.

I am unafraid.

I am unstoppable.

 

This is how I am choosing to put myself out in the world.  Every day. I will make a difference by putting myself out into the world as the best version of me that I know how to be.  I am excited to see how all of you put yourselves out there too.  With every great challenge comes great opportunities.  Go be the best you.  Only you can make your contribution.

Accountability. Kindness. Forgiveness.

I was driving my 13 year old to school this morning and I may or may not have committed a minor traffic violation.  Without going into too much detail, I allegedly made a left turn at a four way intersection at a time when I apparently was not supposed to make a left turn.

There was a woman in her car, stopped at a stop sign at this intersection who started honking and yelling  at me as I made the left turn.  I didn’t realize at first why she was yelling so when I cleared the intersection I stopped my car and rolled down my window.  To say that the woman was unhappy with me was an understatement.  Her window was rolled down as well. She was screaming quite loudly, waving her arms, and pointing out my apparent error.  She was angry, really angry.

Once it sunk in that in this woman’s mind (and very possibly in reality) I had done something that had triggered this response I had to figure out how to respond.   A few thoughts went through my head:

  1. My 13 year old was in the car with me and I wanted to set a positive example.
  2. If there was even a possibility that I had, in fact, screwed up I should take responsibility and apologize.
  3. It didn’t matter in that moment whether or not I felt like the woman’s reaction was out of proportion to the situation.
  4. It was not my place to  judge that woman or her reaction to my error.

For a few seconds I sat there and just listened to her yell.  Then, when she paused, I said, “I am sorry.  I guess I wasn’t paying enough attention and I made a mistake.  Thank you for letting me know.”

The moment the words, “I’m sorry” came out of my mouth the woman’s whole face changed.  The anger disappeared. Then she looked confused for a moment.  Then she gave a small nod, quietly said, “okay” and then she drove away.  The whole interaction probably took less than 30 seconds.

My daughter and I were both quiet for a minute.  Then my daughter said, “that woman was really mad at you.”

I replied, “yes, she was.  But that’s okay.  She was allowed to be angry at me.”

My daughter asked me, “did you make the mistake she said you made?”

“Maybe,” I said, “I’m not actually 100% sure.  But I don’t really think it matters either way.”

“But she YELLED at you,” my daughter said.

“She was upset.  Or, maybe she yelled because she thought I was going to yell back,” I responded.

In those moments, it was not about who was right and who was wrong.  It was about how I thought I could best diffuse the situation; and I followed my gut instinct.

Just driving off did not seem like the right choice in this particular scenario.  I did not feel at all threatened.  I had (inadvertently) caused someone distress.  Becoming defensive and yelling back would have only escalated the situation. As soon as I apologized and saw the woman’s face completely change I knew that I had made the right choice in this situation.

Sometimes, even when we suspect we bear at least some responsibility for a situation, but especially if we suspect we don’t- and especially if someone is screaming at us, there is a temptation to flee or to fight.  If we can take a moment and take a step back, sometimes there is a third option.  Accountability, Kindness, Forgiveness.  I was completely sincere in everything I said to the woman but the look on her face suggested that she wasn’t expecting that response from me.  She looked confused, shocked, and then having had her feelings validated, and without the need to continue to yell, she left.

I don’t know if I handled this situation correctly.  Someone I shared this story with earlier today expressed concern that my safety may have been in jeopardy if the woman had possessed a weapon or been mentally unbalanced.  Perhaps.  But I also wonder how much power each of us have to diffuse a potentially negative or even violent situation if we can put our egos and fears aside and just treat each other like human beings.

It’s likely that when the woman got wherever she was going, she told somone this story.  It’s likely, that the story started by pointing out something stupid I had done.  But maybe, by choosing to apologize and be accountable, I was able to rewrite the ending of the story and she was able to choose forgiveness instead of carrying that anger around all day .  All I know is that with so much judgement and negativity in the world right now, I didn’t want to add to it.

We are human.  Sometimes we are the person making the illegal left turns.   Sometimes we are the person who yells at the person who just screwed up.  Today I decided to be the person who stopped, listened, apologized, took responsibility, forgave, and let go.

 

 

 

 

I’m shocked that they’re shocked.

I was listening to the radio in the car this morning and heard spokespeople for both the democratic and the republican parties be interviewed in response to Super Tuesday election coverage.  The spokesperson for the democrats said he was “shocked” that Donald Trump was leading the pack of Republican nominees.  The Republican spokesperson said it was “shocking” that a “socialist” should have any influence at all over the Democratic party.   My response?  I’m shocked that they’re shocked.

For at least the past two or three decades, our two party political system has been  breaking down.  Our democracy is supposed to be a government “for the people, by the people” but the deeper we look into both major parties, the more it looks like a government for the corporations, banks, and lobbyists by the politicians who are completely out of touch with their actual constituencies.

Most of what we have heard from our elected leaders has been fear based rhetoric designed to convince Americans that whatever hardship has befallen them is the fault of the “other” party.  Politicians on both sides have lied, cheated, broken the law, manipulated the American people, filibustered, held secret meetings designed to keep their opponents in the dark, been obstructionist, and even shut down the government in the name of “protecting” the American people.

They are caught having affairs as they preach family values, their own teens have gotten pregnant as they pour millions of dollars into abstinence only education.  Our schools and education system have not gotten better, despite spending more per student that most countries in the world.  We are seeing increasing numbers of Americans suffering from decreasing levels of mental health with little to no money being designated to  mental health services for those who cannot afford private treatment.

At the hands of political hypocrisy and power plays we have watched thousands of American soldiers die; hundreds, if not thousands; of American children be poisoned with lead laden water;  and mass shootings happen on an almost daily basis all because politicians are more concerned with towing the party line and catering to the corporations and lobby groups that line their pockets than they actually are with speaking up for what they believe in and trying to address the issues at hand.

With each passing election, more voters have become more disenfranchised and feel less represented by their representatives.  For years, American citizens seemed content to play the blame game and just argue with each other. It seems, though, between wall street and bank bailouts, the government shutdown a few years ago (which nobody benefitted from), the non-stop arguing and tantrums of our congresspeople, and the current attempt to block the supreme court vacancy (and yes, the democrats have done the same thing),  our current politicians have pretty much shown that they do not have the best interests of Americans at heart and they are incapable of actually doing the job they were elected to do.

So should we really be “shocked” that we see a large percentage of voters gravitating away from the establishment candidates who will simply maintain the status quo and moving towards candidates that are at least laying their cards out on the table?  If our political leaders are truly shocked by this then they should really let it be a wake up call that the current system is not working because the current system, IS NOT WORKING!!!

I am not at all shocked that we have found ourselves where we are.  I am sad, disappointed, angry, and frustrated.  But I am not shocked.

Prayer as Action

In the wake of the terrorist attack in Paris this past weekend the twittersphere blew up with the hashtag #prayforparis.  This was quickly followed up by requests that people also #prayforlebanon, #prayforhumanity, and #prayfortheworld.  I saw other people posting messages of a different nature saying, “Paris doesn’t need your prayers;” “France doesn’t need more religion;” and “Don’t just pray- actually do something.”

I both identify and struggle with both sentiments.  As a fairly secular Jew, prayer, in the traditional sense, is not typically my ‘go-to’ reaction.  However, as someone who does lay claim to the Jewish faith, belongs to an organized congregation, and feels like it is important to recognize that there are forces at work in the universe that reach beyond my comprehension, I can understand why some people immediately turn to their higher power in times of darkness.

Within my internal struggle comes a rejection of the idea that to pray is to do nothing.  This rings especially true for me if I broaden the definition of what it means to “pray.”  Traditionally, prayer is generally defined as a direct communication between a person and their deity, and that can be a truly beautiful thing.  But, I think that prayer can be broadened beyond that definition. As I contemplate the events of the past week here is how I am defining and practicing prayer:

Self Reflection as Prayer

I am fairly vague when it comes to my own definition of a “higher power.”  However, I do have a very strong “G-d Voice.”  My “G-d Voice” is that little voice inside of me that speaks up when I feel very strongly about something.  It guides me in my daily decision making, parenting choices, and choosing how to put myself out in the world.  This past week, I have found myself asking my inner voice some important questions:

What kind of American do I choose to be?

I choose to be an American who remembers that our country is a country of immigrants; that we are the protectors of democracy and freedom.  I choose to be an American who knows that our diversity only serves to make us stronger.  I choose to have the courage to approach those who are different than myself with curiosity instead of fear. I choose to seek out factual information and not buy into media hype.

What kind of Jew do I choose to be?

I choose to be a Jew who remembers that our collective history is laden with our people being forced from our homes, cities, and nations at the hands of extremists and bigots.  It was not so long ago that Jews trying to flee the Nazi Regime were turned away at every border.  Brave souls who stood up to the extremists of that time were hard to find and propaganda was easy to buy into.  I choose to be a Jew who stands up for innocent people suffering at the hands of extremists, and who knows that the only way to fight the dark is to spread light.

What kind of human do I choose to be?

I was telling someone recently about the nice Muslim family who lives down the street from me.  My daughter plays regularly with their daughter in both of our homes or at our neighborhood park.  The person to whom I was speaking with wanted to know- how did I know that this family wasn’t just being nice to my face while they were actually thinking, “we hate Jews.”

I guess we can’t ever really know what people are thinking but I choose to be a human being that evaluates people based on their words and actions and not on what they might be (but most likely are not) thinking.  I choose to be a human being who tries really hard to not make fear-based, media inspired decisions.  I choose to be a human being who believes that our best chance at peace is to look deep within ourselves and identify and then work on our own fears and biases.

Right Action as Prayer

Nothing makes that little voice inside me sing louder than when I do something to help make someone else’s world a little brighter.  Doing a good deed- whether it is donating money, standing up for someone who doesn’t have a voice, or collecting food or needed resources for people in need, is for me, as close as I get to feeling like a spiritual being.

My daughter, who suffers from separation anxiety, likes to say, “mommy is a lighthouse,” in emphasis of the idea that a lighthouse can protect and guide surrounding ships from a distance.  I love this analogy and choose to take it one step further.  We can all choose to be a lighthouse- a beacon of light, calm, and dependability- helping to steer each other through stormy waters.

Gratitude as Prayer

For me, there is no better way to pray than by practicing gratitude.  If you are currently reading this, you are likely doing so on an electronic device that you are thankful to own, in a house you are thankful to live in, or at a job that you are thankful to have.  Life is not perfect.  We live in an increasingly scary world.  It is easy to focus on the negative, the scary, the unknown.  But I am trying to see the world, each day, through grateful eyes.

I am grateful for love, for stability, for peace everyday we have it.  I am grateful for the courage to write all of this knowing that there are many people out there who will disagree very strongly with what I have written and may have less than kind words for me.  I am grateful that I live in a country where people have the freedom to disagree with what I have written without fear of persecution.  I am grateful for the voices that are different than mine because they allow me to look within and clarify my own system of values and beliefs and to broaden my scope of understanding of the world in which we live.

Prayer is many things to many people and it is completely optional.  But I don’t think that prayer is akin to “doing nothing.”  If we pray in a way that leads us to a place of greater peace, self awareness, gratitude, and right action, then it impacts the way we put ourselves out in the world and better allows us to shine our own lights.

Until next time, I will be praying in my own way for peace, love, and stability for the world.

My Children May Not Be “Gifted” but They are Truly Gifts. I am so okay with that.

Yesterday, while waiting for an oil change at my car dealership I overheard a cell phone conversation between the mom of a second grader and her school’s principal. The mom was inquiring as to why her daughter, who is “very, very smart”, was not asked to be part of the Advanced Academic Program (AAP) which starts in 3rd grade.  After all, the mom said multiple times, her daughter is very, very smart.

The mom was quite worked up on the phone.  The standardized test (that all second graders are required to take), she said, did not accurately represent her daughter’s abilities- and now- because of this test, she was going to miss out on this important opportunity. I couldn’t hear what the principal was saying in response, but I didn’t envy her position.  My father, a former teacher and elementary school administrator, told me that he used to find himself on the receiving end of these phone calls quite often and that they were never fun.

On the other hand, to some degree, I can emphasize with the mom.  It is possible that she is right about her very, very smart daughter.  Standardized test scores do not tell the whole story.  I know several kids who did not score high enough to automatically place into the AAP program but were encouraged by their teachers to go and have done very well.

We live in a very competitive area and there is far more emphasis placed on the AAP program (mostly by a select group of very vocal parents and their very vocal children) than there needs to be.  I have been pulled aside in the school hallways and been the recipient of phone calls from moms that I would call acquaintances so they can ask what my children scored on the test, and what percentile they placed in.   Several times, I have had parents approach me assuming (for whatever reason) that my children had been accepted and wanting to know if I was going to send them.  There is definitely a perceived association of higher status among some parents whose children are part of the AAP program.

You can tell who those parents-mostly moms- are fairly easily because they are the ones that find a way to work into every conversation you have with them that their child is gifted.  They are the ones who wear their child’s test score like a designer purse.  What’s the point in owning a designer purse if people never see it hanging from your arm?  This small, but loud, group of moms need for everyone to know their child is among the smartest.

I, myself, finally found a way to answer these moms when they pry about my own child’s (above average but not gifted) test scores.  I say that my daughter did very well and that we are very proud of her.  This true statement tends to leave the mom not knowing quite what to say next because I have not given them the specific answer they are looking for and they still lack the information they need to compare my child to theirs- which is really what they want to do, anyway.

Early this week, a boy stood up in my daughter’s second grade class and shared that he was going into the AAP program (which due to space issues is at a neighboring school) for third grade next year.  Other kids joined in that they were also going, because (in their words) they are “smart.”  The teacher, shut down the conversation without discussion saying that she was sure their parents did not want them discussing this.  It was inevitable that some kids ended up going home and inquiring to their parents if they were not “smart” because they were not invited into the AAP program.

Honestly, I’ve heard worse.  A few years back there was a mom at our school who told her son he was going into third and a half grade because of how advanced he was.  The son shared that little gem with everyone at the bus stop.  I’ve also heard of parents who have kids in the AAP program who they say are miserable because of how much work they are expected to do.  It’s her son’s own fault for being unhappy, one of these moms was heard saying, he is simply too lazy.

My children are smart.  I don’t need for them to take standardized tests for me to know this.  I think there was a point where I cared about the test scores and what other people thought about them.  That changed when I really took the time to think about all the reasons my very bright children would not benefit from a more competitive, faster paced, homework intensive academic experience, even if it was filled with all sorts of enriching opportunities that they might not get at their current school.  My children would be miserable.  That is more than enough reason for me to not worry about what other kids are doing or how their test scores compared.  After all, if I have no intention of sending them even if they score high enough, then who cares how they score.

I am also well aware that my children’s level of education, success, and happiness that will be achieved in the future are in no way related to whether or not they participate in the AAP program in elementary school (or even middle or high school for that matter).

In fact, while I do tell my kids that they are smart, I don’t spend a lot of time harping on it.  I emphasize how hard they work; how kind they are; how much joy they bring to our family; how privileged I am to be their mom.  I want them to do well in school but I never want them to define themselves by the grades they receive or the scores they get on some standardized test.  I wanted to tell the mom at the car dealership not to worry so much- that her very, very smart daughter was going to be just fine without the AAP program.  Maybe she is even better off without it.

Pulling A Sadie

(Note: All names have been changed in order to maintain confidentiality.)

My mother in law recently told me a story about a situation that a friend of hers, Millie, has been dealing with for quite some time.  The situation began about ten years ago when Millie attended her 50 year high school reunion and reconnected with a childhood friend named Sadie.  Millie and Sadie had been the best of friends in high school but had lost touch over the years.  They were excited to reconnect at the reunion and although one lived in New York and the other lived in Florida they began to speak regularly by phone.

It did not take long for an unpleasant pattern to develop.  Sadie would call and within a few minutes would shift the conversation to a topic (frequently politics) on which she held a very strong opinion.  Sadie would rant, barely allowing Millie to respond.  When Millie was able to get a word in edgewise, Sadie would immediately tell Millie she was wrong and list all the reasons why.

Eventually, Millie started to dread receiving these phone calls from Sadie.  Feeling badly that a relationship she had once treasured was becoming burdensome, she tried whatever she could think of to change the dynamics of the conversations.  Millie tried changing the subject; she tried telling Sadie that she wished their conversations weren’t so confrontational.  Millie even suggested that perhaps instead of their regular phone calls they should instead begin communicating via email.  Sadie would not be deterred.  Finally, out of desperation, Millie simply stopped answering the phone when Sadie called.  She assumed, that eventually, Sadie would get the hint and stop calling.

That was more than five years ago, and Sadie has not given up.  Sometimes she calls and just hangs up when the answering machine comes on.  Other times she leaves angry messages telling Millie that she is a terrible person.  Sadie even called Millie’s daughter in law to inquire why Millie wasn’t calling her back and expressing outrage that Millie would suggest that they communicate by email since this would require Sadie going to the library to use a public computer.

I am fascinated by Sadie’s behavior.  Clearly, by now, she must know that Millie does not want to talk to her and is not going to answer the phone.  I would imagine that this takes a lot of energy on Sadie’s part.  Not only does she take the time to make these phone calls, she is emotionally invested every time, despite being able to predict what the outcome will be.  To me, this sounds emotionally exhausting.  It begs the question- why can’t Sadie just let it go and stop calling.

The only thing I can come up with is this: as long as Sadie keeps calling and Millie continues to not answer, Sadie can justify being angry at Millie.  She can put herself in the position of being a victim – after all, she is the one being ignored for seemingly no reason.  If Sadie were to give up (or let go) and stop calling, she would no longer be able to comfort herself with the argument that she has been wronged and use it to absolve herself of any of the responsibility she may have had in causing the reasons that Millie did not want to speak to her in the first place.

In my mind, I can picture Sadie going to her weekly Mah Jong game and complaining about Millie- how once again she had called and once again Millie had not answered.  I can picture Sadie’s friends’ tutting about how rude it is that Millie has completely shut Sadie out.

As ridiculous as this behavior seems, I see variations of it all the time and I have coined it “pulling a Sadie.”  Pulling a Sadie is when someone repeatedly puts themselves in a situation that they know will have an upsetting or undesired outcome and yet they continue to put themselves in that situation and let those negative feelings fester. Or, they spend countless hours complaining about how unfair and upsetting it is that they are in that situation.  Perhaps, they continue to put themselves in that situation so they CAN complain about how unfair it is and how they have been wronged.

If I am to be completely honest then I have to admit that I have at some point or another in my life “pulled a Sadie.”  It is easy to get sucked into the drama that a Sadie situation creates and with so many emotions involved it can be difficult to see how we share the blame for that situation.  But as I have gotten older I have realized that sometimes all I can do is recognize a pattern for what it is so I do not fall into the same trap again and then do my best to just walk away.

When my mother in law told me this story, I wondered if Millie could have done more to diffuse the situation.  For example, would it have helped Sadie to get closure if Millie had written Sadie a brief letter explaining why she had decided to end their relationship? I suspect, however, that Sadie would have called repeatedly anyway, being unable to let the situation go.  Ultimately, I don’t think Millie had any other choice.  By repeatedly picking up the phone and conversing with Sadie she was continuously finding herself feeling upset and angry.  Millie walked away because she didn’t want to pull a Sadie.

Maybe it’s time to coin a new phrase- to describe someone who recognizes a negative pattern in their life and decides to break it.  I think we should call it, “pulling a Millie.” The next time you find yourself complaining about the same situation or person for the third, fourth, or tenth time take a step back and look for a pattern in the situation.  Then decide- would you rather be a Sadie or a Millie?

It’s Not About You

To my daughter’s teacher,

I was very upset after our meeting yesterday.  I tried not to show it because I don’t want to undermine your authority in front of my daughter, but I was, and remain, very upset.  This is the third time I have come to you this year sharing with you that my eleven year old daughter, who struggles with anxiety and depression, is not getting the emotional support she needs in your classroom.  It is the third time I have come to you and it is the third time I have been met with defensiveness, excuses, and what feels like a complete lack of empathy on your part.

When I say my daughter needs more emotional support it means I need you to provide an environment that is nurturing and safe.  An environment in which she does not feel judged or punished for behavior that is often outside of her control.  My daughter has an emotional disability.  She will sometimes have outbursts, tantrums, or cry when she is feeling frustrated.  She may stamp her feet or exhibit other behaviors that seem inappropriate for a sixth grader.  Yesterday, at our meeting I watched you firmly point your finger into the table and tell her that stamping her feet in your classroom is not okay.  That her behavior is not appropriate for a sixth grader.  Your response did not feel safe or nurturing. It felt punitive.

My daughter is not a typical sixth grader.  Her brain works differently than that of a typical sixth grader.  Why do you think it is realistic to to expect her to act like a typical sixth grader.  My daughter is bright and capable but often lacks the emotional maturity to take a step back from her anxiety and frustration to choose an appropriate behavior to deal with those feelings.  Perhaps, in your role as teacher, instead of slamming your finger into the table and telling her how inappropriate her behavior is, you could instead validate that she is feeling anxious and frustrated and help guide her to a more appropriate response.  You say that my daughter knows the resources that are available to her and only has to ask to be able to use them.  I am telling you that she sometimes lacks the capacity to ask and needs additional support and help to find her way.

I feel like we would not be having this conversation if my child had a physical disability like the student you had last year who was visually impaired.  I’m sure you had to make some adjustments to the way you taught and presented material to compensate for the student not being able to see.  I’m sure you didn’t call that student up to the front of the class and ask her to point out the blue line indicating the Mississippi River on a U.S. map.  I’m guessing you made adjustments to your expectations and had no problems modifying assignments for that student so that her disability could be accommodated.  I am guessing that if her parents came to you frustrated about something that had happened during their daughter’s school day that you didn’t tell them that you have 22 other kids in your class to worry about like you repeatedly told me at our meeting yesterday.

My daughter’s disability is not that different from a physical disability.  Her disability sometimes requires that you provide additional support, flexibility, and modification of assignments or a change in your teaching or disciplinary style to meet her needs.  She is not trying to be difficult or get away with not doing work.  She is easily overwhelmed and has trouble asking for what she needs so while she learns how to do that I’m asking you to meet her part way and proactively provide her with a little more structure and support even when it’s not obvious to you that she’s struggling because sometimes her disability is invisible.

You said it’s hard for you to not take it personally when my daughter announces as she approaches the classroom in the morning that she does not want to shake your hand, as you ask each student to do each day.  I’m asking you to try to not take it personally.  It’s not about you.  It is about what my daughter needs to do to feel like she has some control over her day.

I watched you argue back and forth with my daughter yesterday about how many feet she was from your classroom door when she said she didn’t want to shake your hand.  Why does it matter?  Is it so important for you to be right? What I am trying to help you understand is that my child is trying to advocate for herself and tell you that she is uncomfortable shaking your hand.  She is still learning the most appropriate way to do that and you have an opportunity to help her with that goal.  Arguing with her about whether or not she yelled it from ten feet down the hallway or at the classroom door does not move her forward in that area.

I keep coming back to my daughter needing to feel more emotionally supported in your classroom.  Here’s what she really needs from you.  She needs for you to wake up tomorrow morning and imagine what it would feel like to start your day feeling completely terrified that something awful is going to happen to your wife and baby while you are at work.  Imagine that you believed in your heart of hearts that in order for them to be safe you had to stay home but because you have to provide for your family, staying home is not an option.  Imagine that it takes so much energy and courage every morning just to get in your car and drive to work that by the time you get there you are completely exhausted on top of still being terrified.  Now imagine that you go to one of your colleagues and confide in them how you are feeling and your colleague tells you that you are not acting like a teacher should act and that you need to just pull it together which makes you feel even worse.  Imagine that at some point during the day you sneak a minute to call your wife because you need to feel reassured that she is okay.  Imagine that people tell you that if you just tried harder you could stop these behaviors. Imagine that you just don’t know how you will make it through another minute of feeling this way.  Imagine that this is only a small part of the anxiety you feel every day.

Now imagine you have to handle all of this emotional turmoil as an eleven year old who does not have the emotional maturity to deal with all of these feelings, even on medication.  How would you want your teacher to talk to you if you were my daughter?  Would you want your teacher to pound his finger into the table and tell you that you are not acting like a normal eleven year old?  My daughter is not a “normal” eleven year old and that’s what we need  you to understand.  She needs you to be empathetic and kind and to help provide the structure and guidance she needs on the days that she simply cannot get there herself.

I know your job is hard.  I know you have 23 students who all require your attention.  I know that you cannot stop everything and only focus on my child.  I am not asking you to do that.  I am asking you to think about the words you use when you speak to her because she is using those words to judge whether or not you are a safe person for her.  I am asking you to put yourself in her shoes and imagine how you would want your teacher to respond to you.  I am asking you to put your ego aside, let your defenses down and consider how you can best support my child.  It’s not about you.

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