“That’s racism.”

This week’s topic in our ‘leadership’ classes was good citizenship. That’s an easy pillar of character to tie into the history of Martin Luther King Jr. We began by looking at simple examples of actions good citizens would or would not practice. If it’s an action good citizens would do, the children move the snowflake and positive action onto the winter tree. Examples include: loving animals and people, caring for the earth, and loves learning.  (Wouldn’t it be nice if most adults practiced good citizenship!?)

Then, we listened to Martin’s famous, ‘I have a dream’ speech. I gave a short explanation into segregation and the civil rights’ movement as an introduction. Let me tell you the perplexed looks on their little colorful faces! They were confused and also disturbed to hear that 55 years ago, they wouldn’t be sitting next to each other in class or attending the same school. They wouldn’t be sitting together on a bus. And, they wouldn’t be allowed to drink from the same water fountain. In fact, they wouldn’t have been allowed to play together or be friends. They were blown away! Unfathomable!

When I explained that some people used to believe that white people were better than any other people of another race, one little adorable, smart Middle Eastern boy said, “That is racism.” Yes, yes it is. Then, we looked around our melting-pot-of-a-class with around half of the students being caucasian and took a moment to shake hands or give a high-five to someone with a different shade of skin. This is the kind of world I want to live in. And, this is our little reality at Bearden Elementary School.

Even with leaders in this country who are racist and still living in the past, I have hope with the children I work with. When a colorful group of 6 years olds get it and are appalled to think or live otherwise,  I know there is hope in this country. I see these little ‘good citizens’ and know they are wiser than many adults because they aren’t  seeing the color of one’s skin.Today, we honor and celebrate you Dr. King. And, many little souls honor and get it too. Thank you.

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Watch your words, boy!

My children, 2 years apart, are always so encouraging, complimentary, and helpful towards each other. They don’t argue or fight. They point out the positive. They never get revenge. And, they truly enjoy each other’s company.

If I am describing your life, congratulations, but all of the above is a big, fat LIE! In fact, I’d have to say today is opposite day if I were to convince you of such non-sense! While it seems unfair to blame one child, in this case, it really is my eldest who does 90% of the instigating! And he’s played the ‘Anna’s-your-favorite’-card, I would have to agree to her behavior is usually my favorite. That’s fair.

Action-reaction.

Yes, many times she does react but it’s Brody’s put-downs that really must stop. So, last night at dinner when he gave yet another insult, I told him there’s a new deal around here. For every put-down, there must be a compliment. Humans mostly hear and remember negative comments anyway .I think you’re supposed to give 7 positive comments for every negative just to break even. (Brody has a deficient too!).  He has a lot of making to do!

Bo agreed that he was sick of it and upon hearing Brody’s sarcastic tone when he did say Anna ‘is good at soccer’ (she did smile by the way!), he added on. Now, not only does he have to give a compliment but he also has a chore to do. Now, that sure got his attention! He did one after dinner. And today, he’s done two.

It’s become such a habit that it’s a natural part of his vocabulary. And while it is normal, makes him feel a little better about himself, and it does toughen her up a little, it still gets old. And, it’s become more frequent than acceptable. So, “you’ve got rocks in your head” earned him vacuuming the hallway upstairs. Then, the “baby” got him another room! Many times, he’s not even mad so he’s tried  the ole’ “just kidding” card. (Oh no you don’t , with this School Counselor mom. Nice try!)

At this house, we believe in consequences. Consequences are what children need to learn. However, sadly, we are moving away from consequences in public schools. There is a push towards positive reinforcement and planned ignoring. We don’t want to suspend kids, much less send them ot the office. Punish at the last resort. And while I am the first to believe in relationship-building and mutual respect, the idea that we can teach children without consequnces doesn’t prepare them for the real world.

When teachers are expected to praise Johnny for keeping his clothes on, not biting, hitting or yelling every 5 minutes on his cute behavior chart, Johnny has learned to work the system. Johnny hasn’t learned that his actions impact others. Johnny doesn’t learn to think about others. Johnny hears a lot of false praise. And, Johnny doesn’t miraculously transform into an empathetic human. Johnny is a jerk, and Johnny needs to understand he’s being a jerk and get a consequence or reaction that matches his action.

Does this sound harsh? Maybe…but my job as a mother (and a School Counselor) is to help children grow into responsible, empathetic, kind human beings. We aren’t doing kids any favors when we deny the truth, when we avoid consequences.  That’s not how life works.

There is a reasonable middle-of-the-road. While I would never tell Anna to call Brody something mean back to make things even or tell the teacher to bite Johnny back, I do think that we help children (and adults for that matter) when there are consequences for actions. Call them punishments. Call them making-them-do-something-they-don’t-want-to-do! If punishments are reasonable and fair, then they work. Brody hates chores (who doesn’t?!) so giving extra chores on top of having him practice complimenting his sister is a WIN for all.

So while I do not agree with beating your kids or sending them to bed without supper, I do think reasonable consequences are healthy for all. I think working and chores are more than reasonable; they help everyone. It’s easy to get lazy. Take away their gaming system. Have them clean. Write an apology letter. Do something that takes times to think and reflect. Tough love it where it’s at, people!

How many chores do you think he’ll ‘earn’ tomorrow!?

 

Courage

Every day, we have a choice. We can be depressed about all the tragedies, disparities, and unfair circumstances that plague our world and, sometimes, even our own lives. Or, we can take unfortunate situations and use them to drive us. It’s easier said than done, yes. But, there are silver linings everywhere.

This fall, we were sitting at dinner and Brody defined “courage”. I think it was a dinner question. Or, maybe it was a sidenote of another brain tumor talk. Regardless, I loved his definition so much that I jotted it down and there it’s sat until I recently straightened up a little for Christmas decorating. Here it is:

courage

“Courage is the will and the wanting and the motivation to get through.”

Courage doesn’t always feel brave. Courage isn’t always obvious and loud. Courage pushes us on in the face of circumstances that we didn’t choose or that are less than ideal.

Today, I started to write all about the messy details of a sweet, little boy who asked to see me this week but his story is just too personal. Sometimes people, young and old, get more than their fair share of challenges. So, let me just summarize a few situations I heard about this week that would have caused a lot of adults to give up.

  • a boy goes home to domestic violence every day and has nowhere to hide in their one-bedroom apartment
  • a boy lives with his alcoholic mother during the week, while longing for the weekend when he’ll get to be with his best friend and the man who raised him, his Popaw
  • a girl comes to my small group and shares that this group makes her feel “happy” because now she feels like she’s not the only kid not living with her mother and father
  • a new child in Knoxville is diagnosed with a brain tumor and undergoes emergency surgery
  • my own son goes to his check-up at the hospital, a now routine MRI to check on his brain tumor

These are only a few tragedies, and I know there are far worse. And, sometimes it’s just sad. It’s easy to just sit with sadness. And, it would be easy to feel depressed when faced with any of the above. But, while it’s ok to feel sadness or anger , it’s not helpful to stay there and not push on.

I share just a few of these ‘sad’ situations not to be depressing , but because children are inspiring. Kids can accept hard truths and press on in the face of adversary. Children can take challenges and ‘get through’ because as Brody articulately put it, it’s “the will and the wanting and the motivation to get through”. 

Whatever is ailing you this week, this time of year, or this moment, have courage. Be child-like and live in the moment instead of the future or the past. Push forward. Someone is facing way worse. And, celebrate the silver linings in your life.

 

Chistmas Wish List

As you all know, I am a local elementary School Counselor in Knox County.  Most of you know that I work in two very diverse, little schools. One of my schools is a low-income school with many needs. Fortunately, many of the student needs are met at school because we are a Community School. In fact, we were the first Community School in Knox County. This means that many, almost one-third of our students, may stay after school until after dinner for free.

Students participate in clubs, meet with Big Sisters, have special programs and visitors, get to participate in activities like circus (walking on stilts, doing acrobatics, and cool tricks) and tennis for the first time. Then, they eat a warm meal before their parents pick them up. Parents can eat dinner with them, as well as take advantage of many life-skills opportunities like resume-building workshops and English class. The University is heavily involved and brings a lot to this program. So, it’s a great wonderful, life-changing program.

Without these opportunities, these pivotal years may look a little different for many of these students who have limited transportation and resources outside of school. Many of our students are ‘disadvantaged’ or ‘at-risk’. Many live in single-parent homes. Many have an incarcerated parent. Many depend on the free lunches and breakfast to provide 2 meals for their child. Many families take home free, supplemental food on the weekend. It’s not unusual for a DCS worker to come check in on a student. And, we have many community agencies and churches donate shoes, coats, backpacks, and necessary basic items to our children.

But, what does all of this have to do with Christmas? Well, like the need mentioned above, the school is also helping with Christmas. So, in early November, I checked my box at school. There was a Christmas application that our neediest families received to ask for Christmas help. Local community groups such as churches have committed to helping serve these families at Christmas time. Like many schools, we have our own Angel tree at school. On this simple form, parents select 2 needs and 2 wants. Then, shoppers will choose one of these wants and one of these needs. One family returned the form immediately. As I picked up the simple application, I read this:

2 needs:      backpack /   jacket

2 wants:      a Christmas sweater /   shoes

It’s moments like this, when I see such simple wants and true needs, that I realize that Christmas is meant to be simple. My friends reading this live a privileged lifestyle. We may not feel like we do, but stop and think about your children’s Christmas wishes. Are they wants or needs? Will they be asking for a backpack for Christmas? Is a new Christmas sweater going to blow their mind? We are so blessed but all should remember the true meaning of the season. Count your blessings and rejoice. Simple gifts are everywhere.

Siblings

In my daughter’s eyes, there is no boy on earth that is as funny and as cool as her brother. As far off as that may be, in her mind, he’s the king. Nothing makes her happier than for the rare moments that he gives her attention. When he says, “let’s play dawg”, which is code for wrestling, she’s pumped. If he elbows in her in her eye, like last night, she is quick to forgive and wants to go again tonight!

Every night she says, “I love you, Brody. Good night” before bed. If she’s lucky, he will say I love you too, but that’s not common either. He rarely compliments her but is quick to put her down. Most days lately, he’s just plain mean! Yet, she still worships him. And, deep down, he loves her too. Life just wouldn’t be the same without their bickering, tattling, and put-downs! And, that’s ok because there are moments like these:

thankful

I didn’t see this paper until this slacker-mom checked her backpack Sunday night. Inside, I found this treasure. Two and a half years later, it still makes me do a double-take when reading these words.

“I am also thankful for my brother to live because he had a brain tumor and we were very thankful that he’s alive. “

(Amen, sister! Isn’t that the truth!?) This is our truth, and we are ok with this truth. In fact, we are thankful with this truth. As a parent and a counselor, I want my children to stay positive, show gratitude, and be mindful. Are they always? No way. But, moments like these make me recognize that we are teaching them to rejoice in the triumphs instead of wallow in what’s history.

When Brody read this tonight, he didn’t say a word but his face lit up. He immediately asked her to go play ‘dawg’ (code- I think you’re pretty cool!).

The last sentence that runs onto the back of the page is the simple summary:

There is so many things that I am thankful for.

Yes, yes indeed.

 

 

Home for the Holidays

When I reflect back as my week as a School Counselor, I barely know where to begin. Our weeks aren’t all fun, guidance classes and simple friendship issues. What stands out most this week? Is it the 2 suicide assessments I conducted, the DCS referral, the allegations of inappropriate touching, the conflicts, the panic attack, or the tearful 3rd grade girl who feels abandoned? Honestly, they all hurt to hear about but usually I am able to separate and sleep at night because I am truly exhausted.

This morning as I sit here in the comfort of my home with both of my precious kids awake and awaiting a breakfast menu they will choose, a moment keeps coming back to me. It’s a sad moment that brought tears to my eyes, which is unusual. It’s a sad situation with a good lesson, though, so this morning I want to tell you a little about a girl my own daughter’s age. She’s precious and usually wears a sweet smile on her face while facing a painful reality day to day.

We will call her J. I see both J. and her brother once a week. They ask to see me every time I am there. Why? Because they’ve been removed from their home. Just this summer when they were going into 3rd and 4th grade, the court decided to take away their parent’s rights. I don’t even know what happened as I serve as a support and not a nosey-body.; I’ve never asked and they’ve never told me. I assume it was drugs but they are still living with aunt and uncle now, months later. And, that isn’t the worst thing in the world.

Unlike many other children I know, they aren’t living with complete strangers. They have 2 caring adults who are taking care of their needs. Sure, they lost the comfort of their familiar surroundings and now are dealing with sharing space, time, and conflicts with their cousins. That’s a challenging shift but one I listen to them vent about. They are the fortunate ones who have adults actively caring for them. I always notice how pretty J.’s hair looks when her aunt french braids it.

To see these kids in class, you probably wouldn’t guess they’ve been through this recent trauma. They are the UNusual suspects, not acting out and often flying under the radar. But, deep down when I visit with the kids, I feel their hurt. The very first time the boy, just a little bit younger than my son, asked to see me, he burst into tears and sobbed about missing his mom. We sat on a bench in the garden while I rubbed his back.

Yesterday when J. asked to see me, we talked about her week as usual. No friendship problems and everything is normal, except that it was the family Thanksgiving lunch at school. This is when many parents and grandparents come to eat Thanksgiving dinner with their child. Those who don’t have a family member coming eat in the classroom with their teacher. J. seemed sad yesterday before lunch and I knew why. I felt why. As she got teary so did I because she has a right to feel sad . So, we sat in the hallway with this feeling for a moment and accepted it.

Just last week, there was a court date. She had talked about it in our small group of girls. They were choosing pictures with various emotions and sharing an example in which they experience that emotion. J. drew the card “HOPEFUL”. She was hopeful that her parents would get weekend visits with her. She went to school on the day of court (can you imagine sitting in class, being expected to stay on task and learn, while a judge is making decisions about who you’ll live with!?)….The parents “didn’t show up”. She told me yesterday with tears brimming that maybe mom is out of the state. Neither mom nor dad showed up so there is no change in custody or visitation.

On a day when children are all hyped up because they’re eating with their mom in the cafeteria and then going to the book fair, J. and many other children will think about their parents, not knowing where they are.

The holidays are a joyous time for many of us…but not all. The holiday season with time off from school and work can be extremely lonely , unsettling, and disappointing for some. While the moral of this story may seem sad at first, I’d want you to know that these kids are resilient. They are cute, thoughtful, and normal kids on the outside. They put a smile on their face and remain hopeful in the face of a tough reality. That is inspiring. If you are fortunate to be able to spend time with family over the holidays, be grateful. Others are craving that one simple thing.

And also, these kids remind me something else. Don’t judge from the outside. Many children and adults may look like things are perfectly normal. They may wear smiles and pretty hair styles on the outside but be hurting on the inside. It reminds me to treat everyone with empathy and kindness because you never know what’s going on in their home and in their lives.

And lastly, and always, it reminds me to be grateful for what I have. Instead of thinking about what we don’t have, we should count our blessings, for they are many. It’s sweet children like these whom remind me to give thanks for those around me every day.

Hope SHINES

It’s been awhile, my friends. As I warn against, this past month has been a whirlwind and I felt like my head was barely above water for a couple days there leaving me less time than I like to pause. But now that the Starry Night race is over, I can take a minute to reflect and give thanks for all the good in the world.

grateful heart

Many of you were there with your children, spouses, and friends so you know what it felt like. There were around 75 more registered runners than last year, including the fun run. There were more spectators, more brain tumor survivors, and more buzz than last year. This event is definitely growing, along with an energy that is contagious.

Because of this event, we are making new friends and reaching new families. It both amazes and inspires me to see strangers show up with no personal connection to brain tumors, yet genuinely wanting to help. If you give people a chance to be good, they are good. This community is generous, loving, and supportive. Whether is was being a sponsor, donating money, registering for the race, taking pictures, working a table, or buying a t-shirt, you showed up. (And, are still showing up.)

This is such invaluable lesson for our children, giving back whether it directly impacts you or not. We best teach empathy when we SHOW empathy. When we are true friends, we show our children what friendship looks like. When we volunteer, we show our children the power of doing. When we give encouraging words, we show our children that words matter. When we push on even when we hurt, we show our children that we can all do hard things with the power of love.

A mother named Lisa contacted me months before the race. She reached out because she lost her son, Cody at age 13, to brain cancer. She wanted to not only run in his honor but also to help. You may have seen her dressed in a super man costume because he loved super heroes. She had his picture on his cape. From the moment, she emailed me, I felt a connection. From the moment I met and hugged her, I felt her energy… loving, good energy. Strong energy. Courageous energy. Her son lost his battle on earth. If only the outcome had been different and he had more time. Yet,  she’s still showing up and keeping him alive. Love doesn’t end. lisa

Neither does hope. My hope is that we can prevent other mothers from losing their children to this deadly disease. When we take a tough situation and make something good out of it, that’s hope. There’s hope in knowing that we can still do good in face of something horrible and hard.

When I last blogged before the race and envisioned something I feel so passionately about, I pictured these signs. I passed the torch to Bo and he designed them. They were better than I had imagined and tears welled in my eyes when I first saw them. This is what it’s all about, pressing on for those kids who are still fighting the fight. Continuing to remember and love those who have not been so fortunate. Those children are the reason we ran. And after the race, many, many runners commented on those real faces of children we now know. Real kids who didn’t sign up for this race and some who truly cannot run but they are the warriors fighting on.

survivors.jpg

As I went to Ijams on my day off after race-day, I went on yet another run to collect any remaining signs and thoughts. Like before the race, I was alone but with music as I reflected on what the race had meant this year. As I got right to the end of the trail at the turn-around for the 8.5k, I approached a steep hill (that I know runners cuss me for) and this song came on when I saw the sign above. (I encourage you to listen below as you read and think about what difference you are making.) Again, tears rolling down my face.

You are my brothers and sisters. We are in this life together, and TOGETHER we do make a difference. Many families and individuals made a point to say thank you and offer encouraging words. I cannot say thank you enough for fighting for Brody and all those children you now may have seen and met. Or, even for those we haven’t met. This is love.

There’s nothing in this world I wouldn’t do.

For as many evil, unhappy, or unkind people and diseases there are in the world, there is still more good. Hope shines through even the darkest of times. Thank you for giving us hope.

My #1

1Every child deserves to someone’s number one. Every child needs to hear they are loved, feel adored, and be given hugs before bed. Every child deserves to have someone read them a bedtime story. Every child wants to hear they are good at something. Every child not only wants these things; they need it. It’s something many of us take for grated. It’s something many of us do for our children without thought.

“You’re my favorite boy in the world. You’re so smart. You’re such a good girl. You are so responsible. I love you…..”

These are things I say to my children every day because I mean it, and they need to hear it. They need to feel it. And, many, many children are not feeling like they are anyone’s number one.

The list of children that I spent time with this week is long. And when I think of a commonalities, there is one depressing theme. Many, if not most, of the children who had angry outbursts, who had a conflict or made a bad choice, or asked to spend time with me are lacking one or both parents. They are abandoned and feel unwanted. Their parents have different priorities.

They’re in jail. They’re on drugs. They have a new boyfriend. I’ve even had children tell me that they have new kids now. They have a new family. How does that make a child feel to have their parent care about something or someone more than them? It leaves a void. They feel incomplete. They feel insecure. And, they are longing for attention.

And, they look for attention wherever they can find it. In PAC (in-school suspension), in conflicts, in rebellion, and even within themselves. I had a boy tell me at the end of the day that “he would never earn a reward from me” when he saw another girl picking her toy from my ‘joy jar’. “I’m stupid and I never do anything right.” This is not how children are supposed to feel when they are nine.

But, when your mom has left you, you rarely see your dad, and you’re scared of your caretaker, you feel lost. When your mom tells you that you won’t be seeing your dad anymore, you feel sad. When your dad is in jail and you haven’t seen him since you were three, you feel disappointed. When your mother chose drugs over you, you feel angry. Children are hurting everywhere.

But, we can’t give up. We have to be the ones to love them. Maybe they aren’t our number one, but we can try to find them a number one. Today I checked in with a friend who is being raised by her aunt and uncle. She’s been with them for years now while some of her other many siblings are living with a drug-addicted mom and other family members. In fact, one of her brothers now attends the same school yet lives with step-mom and father. He was born addicted to drugs and the impact is huge. He is so delayed and almost incapable of functioning in school. Today, he didn’t want to leave his sister when he saw her this morning. Since they don’t live together and hardly see each other, he gets so excited to see her. He became so upset upon her leaving for class that he began screaming, “I want to kill myself” over and over and over again down the hallway. It was a blood-curdling scream. It was so painful to listen to so I cannot imagine how he feels. He’s in first grade.

But, this girl who shares the same mother and doesn’t have a relationship with a different father is doing great. It was her birthday today. And while she was understandably upset by the morning incident, her ‘Big Sister’ from the Big Brothers Big Sister’s program surprised her for her birthday. She’s been matched with this girl since first grade. Her Big Sister comes to eat lunch with her often. She takes her to do fun things outside of school. And, she delivers wonderful, fancy birthday presents to this one girl. She has made her her number one! She even asked her ‘little’ to be in her wedding this winter!

So when there are children who have had bad luck and received the short-end-of-the-stick, we have to find them a number one. A mentor, a school friend, a family member who steps in….someone who will treat them like they are the most important thing in the world. And even if we can’t actually find them a mentor, we make the time we spend with ‘our’ kids meaningful. When I spend time with a child, even if it’s 5 minutes, I really try to make them feel loved. They aren’t always the most loving kids but they can be when we show them how to.

At the end of the day today, I invited a boy who’s been abandoned by his mother to come help me with my kindergarten leadership class. I had to conduct a suicide assessment on him yesterday. But today, he wanted to come with me as I taught the sweet kindergarten students about ‘filling buckets’. He was so well-behaved in this class as he served as my assistant. A boy who is desperate to be loved and is feeling really depressed chose to spend his afternoon explaining to other children how to fill buckets and make other people feel loved.

Fill someone’s bucket today, and make a child feel loved. They all deserve it.

 

HERO

When you hear the word hero, what do think? What comes to mind? Often children have a vision of a superhero like Batman, or even their favorite pro football player or pop-star. Sure, they have fame and fortune. Maybe they do have super hero powers or a magic that children want to capture.

But, let me tell you about my hero. He’s 11. He’s just faced his fear of needles again and he’s having an MRI under sedation with contrast as we speak. He’s aware that he has something in his head that other friends do not. He’s living with a brain tumor.

So while his sister and friends were waking at 7 to go to school ,  we arrived at the hospital at 6 am for the first appointment. After the routine paperwork, we have to wait in the same radiology waiting room where Brody was first diagnosed, an eerie feeling to say the least. He gets the numbing cream and then we wait. There was an emergency MRI so we wait a little longer, me imagining why that poor child that bumped us is in there.

We get into the room after 7 to check blood pressure and get the IV. We wait some more. Then comes the dreaded time when we know he’s going under. Brody doesn’t say a word but his heart is racing as we hold his hand and tell him it’s going to ok. The hospital bed waits in the hall right outside the MRI machine that’s been buzzing from the last patient.

Brody sheds no tears, takes some deep breathes and quickly closes his eyes. It’s a scary feeling every time, to watch your child’s eyes robotically close before you. It’s a harsh reminder of a surgery no child or parent ever wants to face. It’s flashbacks and unknowns. It’s letting go.

He will awake and he knows that they are checking for regrowth. He’s old enough to be aware, and knows the magnitude of what regrowth means.

Yet, he faces every day like an ordinary boy while also wearing his super powers inside. He chooses to have an amazing attitude and live like he’s any other boy, knowing he still has a growth inside his brain. That amazes me every day.

A hero is someone who inspires. A hero helps others…Brody helps me stay strong, have faith, and be brave when I don’t want to be. A hero is someone who helps others. He helps me see the light every day as he soars through life with soaring colors.

Keep the faith, little hero. You sure help me to!

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