I’ve mentioned before that my daughter is my greatest teacher. She has taught me more about love, life, compassion and gentleness in 14 months than I’ve learned in the 30 years I lived before she came into my life. Tonight, as I sat here humbled by your kindness and comments filled with grace, I realized you were teaching me something my daughter has also done, that we all need encouragement. I grew up in a family that was about achievement and aspirations. Yes, I am a serious let-down. My mother doesn’t even know what I do for a living (she doesn’t want to know) because in her opinion working for a charity is no better than working at a coffee shop and my career and decision not to go to medical school, or Julliard, will always remind her of what I didn’t achieve, so she really doesn’t want to hear the details. My mother’s first reaction if she was told I either did something wrong, or didn’t achieve to the level she thought I was capable of was anger, criticism and punishment. I came in second in a violin concert. I was punished. She was told I had purposely criticized another child and I was punished even though it was actually a mistake, which she later found out. I don’t hold this against my mother, I think she was doing the very best she could, in sometimes very challenging circumstances. But I guess I never felt like I had an advocate, an encourager. I fell into this trap last year with my own daughter, giving her teacher too much air time for criticism, when much of what she said really was as a result of the fact that she didn’t like my daughter (which she admitted to me) and couldn’t understand her, or more specifically, her trauma. You see, when you’ve come from abuse and neglect, when you have a language processing disorder, a learning difficulty, memory issues due to being born with drugs in your system, you’ve had broken vertebrae, had a minimum of 10 homes, two previous adoptive families and never been read to, taken on vacation with your family, or cared for in an attachment-enhancing way, you have trauma and you are different, and that manifests itself in different ways. My daughters fear behaviour is to lie. If you take away the fear and remind her she is safe, she will willingly tell you the truth. Her teacher’s natural propensity to raise her voice and very stern style is challenging for my daughter. Tonight she sobbed and sobbed because her teacher called her a liar in front of the class and made her sit on her own on the stairs outside the classroom (for a child that was left alone, this is scary stuff). She sobbed that she didn’t lie and she couldn’t understand what her teacher was angry about (language processing disorder and stress = she can’t process what is being said). I asked her what she needed from me and she wanted me to believe she didn’t lie, tell her it was OK to feel sad, tell her something I love about her and give her a hug and I did just that. After snuggling on the couch past her bedtime, I tucked her in and will spend a few moments writing a letter to her teacher. What my daughter needed was support. Not someone to tell her to focus on the good. Not someone to tell her she was wrong. Not someone to side with the teacher (there are no sides, but there is a teacher who struggles to understand my girl). She needed validating, encouragement and a safe place to express how she felt and be exactly who she is in that moment. Without pushing change.
Reflecting on this tonight, I thought about the post I wrote earlier today. The grace-filled, kind comments which have stayed with me all day – thank you. Somewhere in there someone asked if I ever get negative comments (I can’t find that comment now, perhaps I’m tired lol). And yes, I certainly do. Though I’m very pleased to say as I’ve journeyed and grown, and the blog has changed into something more simple, it has become a place where gentleness and kindness seems to reside. And for that, I’m thankful.
Every now and then during the honest posts, I get comments like “buck up”, “be stronger”, “stop feeling sorry for yourself”, “go out and do more and fix things” and I’ve come to see that that attitude is damaging. It is the same attitude I grew up with. Suppress your emotions. Turn them off. Work harder. Be more ambitious. Criticize yourself. Two years ago, those comments would eat away at me. I recognized them. They spoke to the huge self-doubt that resides in me. But now, as a parent, I see another way, a more gentle, loving, kind way to be. I see that it is OK to say when things are tough, to admit needs, to reach out to others so it isn’t your own echo you hear. I never knew about gentleness until a new friend and my daughter introduced me. And now, now it is the thing I crave, for me, my children, my friends, my community, the world.
Are there times we need to focus on the positive? Yes. It can be as simple as what I did today, listening to a beautiful African song while looking at the leaves driving home with my children. But I don’t think the second we experience a struggle we need to force those feelings out. Because I think I’ve learned from my daughter that they manifest somewhere. And maybe, creep out when you least expect it.
So tonight as I sit by dim light, with two little ones tucked up in their beds above me, with the murmur of the radio on, I’m here to say thank-you to you all for your kindness and to reflect on a new-found acceptance of needs, a committment not to see them as a weakness, but as a strength. My daughter crying tonight demonstrates strength and courage. Her ability to share how she was feeling and tell me what she needed tells me she figured out in her short childhood more than many an adult. She understands emotional health and connection. She knows what it is to build up, rather than tear down.
To all of you who do the same, in the cyber-world and in real life, know that you are changing lives. You are helping people to believe in themselves, the power of good and the light. You are changing the world, one kind thought/word/deed at a time. Thank you.