There she is, a child laughing, sugar her best friend. There she is, dreaming, wanting more than this. Her transformation moved quickly then slowed then sped up again.
She found her voice in comedy as she explored the world of acting, becoming herself on MADtv, Reno 911, and too many other projects to name. Most recently, she wrote, produced, and starred in This is Meg, based on her wild ride called life. Soon she’ll be releasing her one-woman show.
In between, the laughter came tears and growth. She left the sugar behind, finding the thrill of exercise instead, finding herself on a spiritual journey as well.
As her older sister, I see her as a child at the same time that I see the transformation. When she came to us, she brought so much joy and happiness and now she shares it with the world.
Changing the way your child thinks about school is already a daunting task, so don’t expect miracles or overnight success.
It is school after all.
This isn’t a checklist or advice that works on cue. These are segments of living that should be worked into conversations and issues and built upon as you move throughout the school year.
Because I’ve spent the last week preparing my classroom for the school year, I’ve been thinking not just about curriculum but about the little human beings who will walk through the door come Monday. If you’ve been reading my posts, then you know I have a gift. And, like all gifts or anything powerful for that matter, there are good and bad sides to it.
The gift I’m talking about is the ability to see things from a teacher’s point of view and a parent’s point of view. You see why I say it has a good and bad side?
So, when I tell you how to change the way your child thinks about school, I’m considering both the teacher’s and the parent’s perspectives in a very realistic, practical view.
Now, when you read through the following points, the emphasis is on SHOW and Tell not just tell.
Show and tell your child that he or she is smart.
Don’t say this in a condescending way, you know, with that high pitched voice that makes your child feel even more uncomfortable with what you’re about to say. I just got into a fight with one of my own about intelligence. I more often than not do the same with my students.
Parent: “You are so smart and you know this.”
Child: No I’m not. So many kids are smarter than I am.
Parent: What are you talking about? Since when have you used that excuse?
Child: Excuse for what?
Parent: For not believing in yourself….
Child: (Rolls eyes.) God, give me a break. YOU only think I’m smart.
Parent: (Rolls eyes.) Give ME a break. I tell you when I think you’re doing something stupid don’t I? I’m talking about what I see, really. I see you create incredible work. I hear you answer questions with such unique answers, I sometimes wonder if you’re part alien. And, if I’m stuck on a problem, I know that if I talk to you that you’ll help me turn it into a solution.
Child: (Half-smiles as the conversation continues.)
Kids are smarter than ever, contrary to what popular statistics often emphasize. I remember asking my six-year-old nephew how to find several different things on my cell phone. He was quicker and more pleasant to talk to than any IT guy I’ve tried to communicate with.
Show and tell your child you’ll help him or her through difficulties.
Whether in elementary, middle, or high school, your child needs to know that you’re there to help no matter what, that you’ll help them through anything especially if they ask you.
Parent: How was your day?
Child: Mm, long.
Parent: Funniest thing that happened?
Parent: Listen, even if you don’t want to talk right now, I’m here for you, okay kid? You hear me?
Child: Yeah, thanks.
Kids, especially teenagers, might not want to talk right away, but they do need to know that you’re available. You need to make it clear sometimes, especially when you can tell they haven’t had such a good day.
Show it by going out of your way to pick them up and ask questions about their day. Play a game with them. Ask them questions. Pay attention to them.
Show your child that you listen.
Sometimes, every once in awhile, parents just don’t want to listen. I get it. But, listening to your child express his or her anger, grief, drudgery in life, and happiness, among other things, gives him or her a chance to not only vent but to realize that age-old line, “I’m here for you kid.”
In other words, you need to prove that you really are there for him or her on a daily basis, no matter how tired or stressed you are.
The chatter can be endless, but those of you with moody teenagers know that when the chatter starts, you listen.
If you can’t get them to talk, take them to a restaurant or do something with them that they really like to do. In the process, you might hear something like the following.
Child: I had the longest most irritating day. You know that girl I told you about? Mean girls, you know. She tore me down little by little and had everyone ignore me all day. Can you believe what followers they are? Really! What a bunch of losers. I feel like….
Parent listens. Child texts.
Child: Oh my God, Kathy just texted me that she hates her. Ha! I can’t believe she hates her.
Parent says nothing for now.
Child: Thanks for taking me to get those shoes I wanted.
Parent: You’re very welcome.
Your own excursion might take longer and the chatter may not make much sense, but the time that your child spends with you does matter. He or she will remember it even if you think it didn’t make a difference.
Show and tell stories to make a point.
Please please please don’t start it with, “When I was a kid….”
Do start with something like, “This kid with super straight blond hair used to point and laugh at me all the time. I really hated that kid. I ignored him all the time but he never stopped pointing and laughing at me. I don’t know what I did to him but apparently I was really funny to him. Then halfway into the school year he fell on his face in front of everyone. I saw the whole thing happen. He tripped over nothing. Everyone laughed at him and I actually felt bad for him as a little girl tried to help him get up.”
There are so many opportunities to insert really great stories into the simplest conversations. Yes, I know, most of us don’t want to even think about our school days, but when you have children, that’s all you do if you care even just a little bit about helping them get through some of the tougher obstacles in life.
Depending on the grade level, you can think of many times when you had to overcome similar difficulties.
Ultimately, be real with your children.
No, please don’t always tell them the truth. Sometimes, the truth is just depressing, but be real. After you’ve been listening to them, you know how to be realistic while still motivating them.
Child: God, I hate school.
Parent: Why, what happened?
Child: The stupid teacher yelled at me then made fun of me in front of the whole class.
Parent: Which class?
Parent: What’d she do?
Child: She freakin’ saw me talking to this kid, but I was just telling the kid to leave me alone ‘cause he wouldn’t stop asking me how to do problems. She just assumed it was my fault. God, I hate her.
Parent: Did you talk to her?
Child: NO! Really?! God!
Parent: That stinks. I’m so sorry that happened. I’ll talk to the teacher for you.
Child: NO! I’ll do it.
Parent: Okay, okay, I understand. You can also ask to be moved.
Parent: I know teachers can be unfair but if you give them a chance…you know, kinda like when you give me a chance, like when I just assume the fights with your brother are your fault…
Now, you’ve got the attention of your child. You give them something realistic to latch onto and there’s a willingness to listen and change where there wasn’t that before.
Successful communication between parents and children changes daily and by the minute. Sometimes the best communication means not saying one word, not even giving them a hug, but allowing them to be alone and telling them when they’re ready to talk you’ll be there for them.
One of the beauties of being married to a Hispanic man is that I’ve gotten to learn about his culture through his eyes.
I had grown up in Miami before I met him so Spanish was all around me. Many of my friends were Cuban, but they wanted to be “American” and most of them were already losing their handle on their language, creating what we know now as Spanglish.
He, on the other hand, came from Venezuela, which at the time was nothing like what you see on the news now, but there was enough violence that moving to the United States was a dream come true for his family who had seen victims of shootings on the street and who had been robbed of their gifts for Christmas.
His father is a journalist and was offered a job with a major news organization so they took the opportunity and ended up in New York.
I met him after he’d moved to Miami because his father was working at El Nuevo Herald by then.
And, after all of the years of living in Miami, studying Spanish and hearing Spanish, I couldn’t speak it.
But, he introduced me to the Telenovela: A wickedly colorful version of what we “Americans” call Soap Operas.
I had seen my friend’s grandparents watching them but the crying and screaming freaked me out.
Until he showed me “Carrusel de Ninos,” a telenovela about children who attend school and their relationships with each other. It was the children’s carousel.
It was simple enough that I could understand what was happening and hear the Spanish language delivered by children.
Within the confines of this little school, you would laugh and cry and the language would live and breathe inside of you.
There were the rich and the poor. There were the outcasts and the popular kids. There were the mean and the nice kids. Everything related to you and yet you learned about their culture also.
My husband, who was my boyfriend at the time, showed me it because it was a good show, not because he wanted me to learn the language.
I watched it for the same reason.
So, when the thought occurred to me that I could actually learn how to speak Spanish from this, it didn’t feel like I had to work very hard at it.
The children expressed themselves with their bodies and expressions as much as through the language itself.
How Did It Change My Approach to Spanish?
When I ordered food, I would ask for the item in Spanish more often.
“Dos empanadas de carne por favor.”
When I listened to Spanish I understood more.
Sientete aqui really became Sit here but I didn’t need to stop and translate it into English like so many have to do.
Mostly, though, I just felt at ease with the language.
Por qué siempre hacemos aprendizaje tan difícil.
So, I ask you: Why do we make learning so difficult?
Yesterday, that grit that has kept me trekking through some of my longest struggles abandoned me and left me panicking.
I’m the one with the fight. Everyone expects it.
But, sometimes, I just fail at what’s expected of me.
When I got the call, I just started breathing these long, deep breaths from the gut. Meditate. That’s it.
Then, it all just hit me in the gut.
The grit was gone.
A heavy pounding pumped my chest and I knew the only way to survive this one was to cry. We’ve been so worried about this happening that the moment it happened, it felt like I’d used up all my grit just holding on to nothing.
My husband lost his job, not because he’s a terrible employee, but because the company was bought out by another company who wants to streamline things. You can fill in the blanks for the rest of that story.
But, don’t worry I’m still working. I don’t make much money because, well, I’m a teacher. Need I say more?
He, however, is in the news business, an online producer, social media specialist, you name it. He has an immaculate background that includes loyaltyand hard work, but sometimes I wonder if that’s what employers even want anymore. I mean, doesn’t it just come down to who will work for the least amount of money, at least in the online news business?
There’s punchline in here somewhere.
I guess I’m the punchline because he just went to the bedroom and shut the door. He started looking for work immediately. I, on the other hand, turned on Spotify and listened to Prince songs (“Let’s Go Crazy” was the first song to play), randomly freaked out my kids with wild screeching noises, watched a couple of old episodes of Modern Family, drank three espressos, went running in the middle of the hottest time of the day in Miami, then told him to get ready because we needed to go to Happy Hour somewhere.
If you rewind through that list of crazy, seemingly random activities, you’ll see how I got my grit back or even better my grit turned to grace.
A good cry gets rid of unwanted crap.
Prince has grit, in death and life.
Singing liberates you, even if you can’t carry a tune.
Laughing about problems grounds you.
Espressos fuel you.
Exercise refreshes you.
Sweating cleanses you.
And, Happy Hour reminds you that life’s supposed to be fun and crazy.
At Happy Hour we played with a link on Facebook that morphs you into an old Hollywood star. He became Clark Gable and I turned into Grace Kelly.
We remembered that we were once just kids and we’re somehow still in love despite some really scary moments in life. We’ve done a pretty good job at making a life for ourselves and our kids and, frankly my dear, there are worse problems than this. Grit
There I was, the one who had a different opinion, the one who didn’t talk, the one who stood out. I was perfect for their names. It was an introduction to learning to laugh at yourself.
It was high school, and it is life.
I had curly dark hair then. Sometimes wisps would create a halo that looked like the sun, at least that’s what I told myself when I rationalized my “nickname.” It’s just that when they said it, it sounded like, “Heeeeyyyyy, Sunshiiiiine!” The sound of giggling afterward quickly sharpened the tone as if to say, This isn’t a nickname stupid! This is a game. They’re gonna have their fun with you.
I’d turn away and pretend I was only temporarily occupying this body. I threw myself into an alternate world while still walking the tan corridors leading to my next class. It kept me walking.
Later, it wasn’t until I started teaching that someone said that to me again. I didn’t even flinch. I didn’t turn away. I didn’t feel bad. I didn’t even remember those moments when that group of girls chose me for their weekly victim until they could find a better one, which they did.
I just looked at the person and smiled. I also felt sorry for her. I wondered if someone had done that to her. Wasn’t she too old to be doing this? She made it a thing too. She started saying it all the time as if trying to create her own group, no one joined it, but she still said it until she stopped.
Somewhere along the way, between the high schooler turned writer turned graphic artist turned editor who becomes teacher, I traveled to The Keys, stopped at a shop along the narrow road, and spent a scorching amount of time staring at an enormous, ceramic sun.
Relationships grow, crumble, fade, part, and regenerate. It’s when they’re quiet that you know you’ve done something right. It’s the kind of quiet where neither one of you needs to talk. You don’t need to ogle each other like teenagers or stare lovingly into each other’s eyes like you desperately can’t live without the other person.
You just move quietly together allowing the other to be, to exist without you, with you, it really doesn’t matter.
My husband and I have had these moments and I’ve thought, well, we’ve finally arrived. We’ve made it. We really just don’t need to talk.
We can just float together.
But, he doesn’t see it that way. He wants to talk, as if there’s something wrong with me for not joining in the sea of incessant chatter that bulks up the world around us. I know it’s not all just him. I know that between his coworkers burping on about how people should “talk” and the mounds of general media telling us we need to talk more, he’s bound to agree with them.
Couples must communicate, yes. I do this and that’s when he decides that he’s too busy to talk, which is completely different from what I’m talking about here.
On vacation, he pointed out an older couple who read the newspaper, looked up to check a noise or just enjoy their whereabouts, and ate quietly together, barely talking. He scoffed sarcastically, “You think that’ll be us someday?”
I thought, I hope so.
He said, “They haven’t said a word to each other,” and he said this bitterly. I then realized he needed to talk right now so that he knows that I love him so I tried. I still try. I try to do a lot of listening more than anything. It’s rough because I prefer silence. He doesn’t understand it but he does know how I feel. At least I think he does.
So much of my life consists of talking that I cherish the quiet space between it all. I literally gulp, choking up when I hear the blowing wind against the palms of trees.
Tears build, fall, and drop when I see clouds swirl and that beat that blends with the flap of a bird’s wings. Silence seems to slip through my fingers like water running through the tap. So when I’m wrapped in it, when it surrounds me, I warm myself with it.
It’s not the same as people who stare at the glare of their smart phones and just ignore each other.
Two people appreciating silence seals their bond as if sitting together in a temple or a church. Only, there’s nothing to worship or think about because you’re already there…in heaven.
There’s that breathing, the heavy kind. The kind that you hear right before you fade into each other.