I’m not exaggerating here, but I find airports and train stations to be some of the most fascinating places on Earth. Airport terminals, especially, are like Petrie dishes of human emotion and behavior.
Simply stated, when you travel as much as I do it all gets to be one big flying circus.
Like I’ll never forget the time I saw a guy at LAX, (Terminal 5, Gate 52A to be exact), sit down a few seats next to me, take out a toothpick and scrape on every piece of enamel in his mouth like a guy trying to escape Shawshank.
I’m on a plane this very moment, trying to write this latest installment of The Better Than Good Blog, and the woman next to me - she’s sporting what looks to be an 80’s Rod Stewart wig (but it’s real) - decides to whip out a slab of the most pungent beef jerky known to man. I’m not even sure how she got this thing through Customs! It’s about the size of an old Datsun radiator grill, except it’s strangely shaped like the state of Tennessee.
People start to cough at the smell. Heads begin turning in our direction. “What the hell?” someone wonders aloud. She might as well have microwaved a fish.
Of course, Rod Stewart is oblivious; she merely sits back in her middle row seat with her eyes closed, as if caught in the throws of something spiritual...
Did I mention we’re headed to South Carolina?
In all seriousness, life, in general, is a lot like traveling because no matter where we’re going, we’re all carrying baggage of some kind. I mean, it's hard enough to navigate through life's ups, downs, curveballs and lemons (to mix a few proverbial phrases). It get's significantly harder when we carry the extra baggage that we tend to pack along our life journeys. From mental or emotional stresses to home troubles and financial anguish, there's a different size of bag or suitcase to carry our problems in.
They make kid-size suitcases, too, you know.
Maybe that's a nice way of saying that we're kidding ourselves if we think that that adults are the only ones carrying various types of baggage around with us. Our students take their worries with them wherever they go, from Pre-K to the 12th grade; the playground to the graduation stage.
Part 1 of this post was about living in the moment, the now, and not looking ahead. It was about enjoying the process rather than looking too far ahead to the end result of what we envision our lives to be. Part 2 is about letting the past stay in the rear-view mirror. For many of us this is a lot harder to accomplish - and this includes the very students that walk into our our classrooms.
In my book, The Happy Manifesto - Three Rules For Happier Students, I talk about the little boy in El Paso, Texas that started me on this journey into Social Emotional Learning, and happy, more confident 21st century students. He approached me after I finished speaking to a group of kids at his school and he wanted to know if I, too, was bullied in my earlier years.
His blue-grey eyes pierced right through me, a stare I'll never forget. He was a kid that had it tough, a boy that was used to welfare checks from social service agencies stopping by his home from time to time. I talk about the kid's dingy clothes that looked like they had been taken from the hamper.
The truth is, not every student is going to look like they're in trouble. Some kids have learned to hide the baggage they carry. If every child has a story, some of them have experienced more than we can ever fathom; the stories they can tell would make us want to cry.
Take the family in San Elizario, Texas that I came across one year while serving as spokesman for the school district. Custodial staff at the high school had to let the children into the building well before they were allowed to technically open the school each day so that they could take clean showers and be presentable for the school day ahead. Their home was nothing more than an old bus driven into the side of a desert hill with no electricity or water in sight.
How important is algebra when you don't now where your next meal is going to come from?
The entire campus ecosystem, from administrators on down, were not hired to solve the social problems and challenges plaguing the communities that they live in. But it just so happens that we find ourselves trying to do it anyway, one child at a time.
This is why I feel that our teachers deserve so much credit. People can measure performance, student achievement, development hours, training and other key areas to the profession, but when it comes to the impact they make on a kid's life, this is absolutely immeasurable - and so often taken for granted.
Simply put, they take on more baggage and are willing to carry more emotional weight so that our kids will have less of it in their lives.
So what can we do to help them as parents?
1. Lighten their loads - Obviously we need to make sure that our kids are traveling light when we take them to school - and I'm not talking about the weight of their backpacks. Whatever we can do to keep their minds at ease before they leave the house and set foot on a bus or on campus, we owe it to them to do it. Our kids are more observant and sensitive than we realize - I am always reminded of this - and what might seem like a tiny bump in the road for us adults is pretty much Everest to them. There's a saying that couples should never go to bed angry and I think that rule should extend to the next morning when our kids go to school. If there's some kind of family trauma, an argument between mom and dad (or worse) or a disagreement between siblings, our kids need to go to school thinking that everything is going to be ok. There's nothing worse for kids than going to school not sure of what they're going to encounter when you get home (On the flip side, there's nothing worse for students than leaving the house not sure of what they're going to encounter when they arrive at school.).
2. Enhance our awareness - "How was your day?" is nearly always answered with the same response: "Good." The same scenario can play out over the next several days or even weeks. Why? Because for kids, for all of us, it's just easier to communicate this way rather than go deep. For kids it's even harder. I wish I could remember where I heard this phrase, but someone once said that children aren't going to approach us and ask,"Mom, dad, can I talk to you about something that's really bothering me right now?" They are more than likely going to ask, "Daddy, do you want to play with me?"
Our 10-year-old wears her emotions on her sleeve, so it's clear as day when something is bothering her. My 8-year-old, well, it's a little more cloudy. She's such a happy kid that I take it for granted that everything is ok in her world. I've also realized that she is pretty good at hiding it when, in fact, something could be bothering her. Teachers know that many of the kids in their classrooms know how to put on a bright face even when it's a little dark in their lives. I am making a conscientious effort into becoming more aware and recognizing red flags so that I can take meaningful action.
3. Apologies vs Forgiveness - This one is huge. I was having a conversation with a friend of mine a few months back about apologies. She told me of a person she knew that found it very difficult to apologize. As parents we teach our kids to apologize when they are wrong. It's an important step in the healing process. But that's only half the equation. You see, it's one thing to apologize, it's another to actually forgive. The latter part of this equation takes time, it's not automatic. Apologies do not always equal forgiveness.
Here's why we need to spend more time on the forgiveness aspect: When we forgive, truly forgive, we are helping two people carry less baggage in their lives - the person saying I'm sorry and the person who says I forgive you. Imagine how different the school environment would be if our kids took this lesson with them there?
4. Enjoy The Moment - As I mentioned in Part 1 of this two-part post, it's all about living in the moment. When we look back, carry grudges, dwell, etc. our bags start getting heavier and heavier as we go through this thing called "Life." And as parents and teachers, we shouldn't want this type of burden for our kids.
Maybe we need to learn to have short memories sometimes? A kid might have gotten in trouble yesterday; he could be the model citizen today - and that's what we need to celebrate.
Living in the moment takes a lot of pressure off of all of us, especially students, when we let go of the past and travel with less baggage. It makes for a smoother, less turbulent-filled life on the journey ahead.
For more information on easy strategies that we can employ to help our kids succeed inside and out of the classroom, check out the book, TheHappyManifesto – Three Rules For Happier Students. It’s an easier-than-easy-to-read resource designed to help us parents and teachers navigate a world in which we were given no instruction manuals.