Sharing just for ‘cuteness-sake’…
Here’s a future guardian, sitting pretty, starting young …
Take some time to be quiet.
Quietude. Do you remember what it is?
“Impossible,” some say. “Unrealistic.”
“Maybe the next time I am on vacation,” others lament wistfully, “… don’t know when … maybe next year. If I can manage it. Somehow.”
In this world of ours, it may be difficult to imagine taking time for quiet. Maybe harder still to figure out how. Logistics, you know. The noise of churning plans.
If you must, make a quiet-date with yourself. And keep it. But if you can let yourself release a moment of control and grab a quiet moment, do so. Today. Now.
Just do it.
Take a minute. Take two breaths. Take five minutes if you can. A half-hour if you’re extra-lucky and the stars align. A few hours if you’ve won the My-Time-Lottery …
Find a bit of quietude. This day.
A bit tomorrow, when you can.
And the next …
Whatever brief respite you clear up in your mind–take it. Make it yours. Be quiet in it. This is worth it for you, but will also pricelessly teach others who need knowing, who forgot the way to be quiet, who maybe had never learned how.
Little ones, too, need quiet time.
Some of them do not know, either. About silence. Constant beeping, typing, video, screen time, phone time, entertainment, play-dates, lessons, coaching, characters and things that move and ping and chime and replay high-pitch recordings.
Brains need quiet like they need oxygen. Like they need love. Like they need soul.
Show them you believe that quietude is important. Show them you know how … begin now …
Oh, I know it is a rare thing; silence.
In this busy, hustle-bustle, to-do lists and beeping phones, email, texts, chats, calls, meetings, reports, social obligations, family events, work mingling, and information pouring in through every moment, every pore … there is noise just about everywhere. A hiss, a buzz, a murmur, background hum of electronics, cars, people, needs, demands, small children, needy neighbors, ailing parents, crises calls …
It is because of all of that that it is all the more important to take time for quiet.
To re-align your center. To restore the foundation of yourself–of who you are and where you’re going and what makes you who you are and what calms your body why and how. Yes, all that in a moment of quietude. For once not in words, but silence.
Take time for quiet.
Let quiet in. Allow it home, again.
Take time for a calm, clear breath and momentarily emptied mind.
A pause for calibrating a brief neutral.
Be silent. Lower volume on your inner critics (they can use a moment of silence, too!).
Just take a moment. Listen to nothing but the beating of your heart, the music of your soul, the nothingness that holds the breath of life around you.
The pulse of nature.
The space between the spaces.
Silent. Powerful. Whole.
The pre-teen shows up to session looking distracted.
She is usually beaming and rearing to tell me about small successes and upcoming weekend fun. When I ask her if everything is alright, she just nods absentmindedly (and not too convincingly) and bites her lips in indecision. I give her a moment, busying myself with some papers in her work-file that don’t quite need sorting but keep my gaze elsewhere.
“Can someone be your friend and not your friend at the same time?” she finally asks.
“I guess it depends. Be your friend and not your friend at the same time, how?” I respond, not wanting to assume I understood what she was referring to and preferring to give her the opportunity to explain.
“Hmm …” she nods, pauses. “I mean, like if your friend is, like, sometimes behaving like your best friend and all and you hang out together and all that and sometimes she’s mean or just ignores you or, like, goes with other people, or says things about you that are secret. Stuff like that.” Color rises in her cheeks and her eyes get bright with unshed tears.
“That is a tough one.” I state gently. “I guess I’d try to have a heart-to-heart conversation with that friend, to see what is going on.”
The girl looks startled. “But what if she never wants to be my friend anymore?” she blurts.
“Well …,” I pause, “if it were you, would you want a friend to tell you if she felt that there was something wrong between you two?”
“Yeah, but …” she begins, hesitates, “… she’s not like that.”
“How is she, then?”
“She … she’s real popular …” blush rises higher. “She’s really pretty and smart and everyone wants to be her friend …” she looks down.
Children know that wanting to be liked by popular classmates is not the best friendship seeking reason to admit to adults … However, the reality remains that popularity matters, and that especially at that age the social hierarchy easily translates into all manners of self-acceptability and relative self-worth. Whether one follows the ‘most popular’ crowd or not, it is difficult to not yearn to be among the ‘chosen few’ of the perceived best clique and the popularity it bestows.
“… you see, she doesn’t need me to be her friend. I just try to ignore it if she’s mean because if I told her it was not okay or to not share private stuff and such, she’d just like, walk away and not be my friend anymore … and her friends won’t either …”
“I see,” I note. “This does feel like it would be a tough spot. Though it does make me wonder what kind of a friendship it is if someone ignores you if you tell them what you think or feel.”
She nods, picks at a chipped piece of nail-polish on her ring finger. It is dark blue, not the usual pastels that this girl seems to prefer. I have a guess why this color now, but I keep it to myself. I give her another moment. Kids need time to formulate their feelings into thoughts, let alone to get their courage up to share what may bring critic from adults or have them feel vulnerable.
“She likes dark blue, you know,” she adds, quietly picking at the nail-polish. “She said that all her friends like it, too, because it is the coolest …”
“Hmmm… ” I offer, my hunch confirmed.
“I don’t think she’s a very good friend,” the girl whispers, then looks up at me, confused by her own words and their implications. “But … but how can she not be a good friend and be so popular? I mean, everyone wants to be with her and get invited to her sleepovers or stuff so doesn’t this mean she is nice?”
“Good question,” I respond. “There are all kinds of reasons people can be popular and why others want to be close to them: sometimes it really is because they are nice and fun to be with, and other times it may be because they are famous, or rich, or can get them things, or it makes those who are allowed to be with them feel important …”
“She’s the prettiest girl in the whole grade!” she interrupts me, “… she has the coolest clothes and a whole walk-in closet in her own suite at home and they even have a movie room with a popcorn machine in it.” She blushes again. “She’s really pretty,” she adds quietly, “but I don’t think I actually like her … it is just … that it feels nice to be in the popular group and have other girls know you are cool and stuff …”
She looks up at me then, decisive. “Maybe I don’t need to be her friend,” she says. “I mean, I don’t hate her or anything, she’s not like, horrible. She can be nice sometimes … but sometimes she doesn’t care … and she tells secrets like they are jokes and it’s not really funny. I don’t like that. My friend Brianna is different. We always have fun and I can tell her things and she won’t tell on me. I think Brianna is a good friend for real.”
She smiles back, then spreads her hands on the table and looks at her dark blue fingernails. “And you know what? I don’t like this stupid dark blue color, either. It is nice on Alison, but my hands like light purple better …”
Just for fun, now that the weather is working on being presentable and the outdoors will call with sun and blue sky: a little look on how people got going in such times gone by.
Here is the family circa 1910 and out for a ride… (she with ‘side-saddle’ seat, of course, lest propriety be harmed …)–and then there’s the ‘baby carrier’ all snug as bug in a rug in the back … (complete with pergola to keep out the sun but not much in the way of keeping the babe in if the bike goes down …)
Prefer to go ‘natural’? There’s an option for that … Just not sure you will get very far or too fast before you’re in the dust …
Think a bike is too risky and skirts may snag up to reveal an ankle or (gasp) a well stockinged calf? No worries–there’s technology to harness, 1916 a cutting edge craft.
Hail a cab? Not a problem. London upped its own game, and in 1907, taxies happily came.
Want to live on the road? Sure–that’s swell. Mobil home to the rescue, chimney and awning as well.
Fast forward a bit. It’s the 1950 and the family’s grown … There are three now to take along … (okay, it is not the same family, but the concept is shown …). Big improvement from high-wheels, better balance on bikes and no more side-saddle for mom (Victorians would blanch at the thighs on display, but how they paddled one legged puzzles me to this day …).
So … by bike (or an ostrich?), by scooter or bus, by taxi or stroller or RV or a hike–get your gear up and ready and plan some fun routes: there’s a world worth exploring, and many venues to use …
Think outside the box!
Life’s too short to be too serious.
Be playful. Find a point of laughter. Create smiles.
Even the most functional place can tolerate some spunk, a bit of daring, a little imaginary pun.
Forget the ‘way it has to be done’–there are all manners of possibilities to explore, to reach the goal, to make it work–the journey’s just began!
How many times have you been tempted to point out what needs fixing? Wanted to highlight what is wrong, what “can use a tune-up”, what one should be doing differently, or more of, or with less drama, or with more oomph, more boldness, better self-image, assertion, courage, ease?
We have all been there, prodding someone along with good intentions (and other times with a bit of righteous indignation of “I told you so” and “no wonder you are as you are, if only …”). We see someone stuck, repeating old mistakes, mired in old pattern and fogged-up insight recognition … and we point it out–not to hurt, oh, no–only as an intended kindness. We hope a kick in the right region will do the trick this time.
We mean well, but we forget the price of shaming. We underestimate or look away from the price of boring holes in someone for the sake of our sense of having done something ‘for them’ (when we did it for our own need maybe just as much if not more). Shame stilts. It burrows. It slips whatever good intentions into the cracks between what already feels broken and has it ooze away into the void. It makes the distance from targets loom larger and comparisons ache harder.
Almost no one gets criticized as much as children do. Children bear the brunt of much correction. Often. And in what should be counter-intuitive, the very kids who struggle most with getting something right, are the ones to get the most critic for once again doing it imperfectly, for again being wrong. For not following the directions. Again. For missing something. For not listening well enough, not trying hard enough, not having the right attitude.
When criticizing them, we certainly do teach the children something: we show them we are focused on their errors, not their strengths; on the target, not the path; on the final product, no matter the effort or progress. Critic chips another bit of self-esteem and makes exuberance too pricey to risk finding. It does not build. It hollows out.
Showing the way works better. Breaking down a task to smaller steps aids faster. Pointing out what worked as a path to follow gets farther. Encouragement helps more.
Encouragement does not equal the blind empty phrasing for a mediocre effort with: “this is a masterpiece and you are always the most amazing child ever born and all you do is perfect”–kids smell the shallowness of that a mile away. Praising indiscriminately is as irrelevant as constant criticism. It is white noise. It does not help the child see where her effort mattered not lets her trust that you see a difference and even care to note the true wheat effort from off-handed chaff.
Encouraging means giving balanced credit for an honest effort. It means a fair praise that matches the magnitude of accomplishment for that child at that moment, while still providing firm support when efforts fail. It means letting the child know that you notice. That you see THEM and not only their ability relative to others, even as you help them find a better way to measure up.
Children meet plenty of critic without what we might think we ‘owe’ them as a way of caregiving. They don’t need more people holding mirrors to their flaws. The world will quite surely provide enough of that. Encourage. I’ve never met a child who cannot use a little more.
Some equate critic with being honest. With “saying like it is” and “facing reality” and “toughening up.” This is not honesty. It is boot-camp. Actual honest critic is only one that comes when the words one says (one’s tone, one’s posture–critic is communicated in much more than words), flow from a well of true encouraging. It is so only if the message is imparted with sensitivity and care that ensures it builds, rather than tears down, puts down, whittles, or compares. Only if on the heels of pointing out a place for improvement, there is the vista of all the effort put forth already, a detailing of the next step–and a helping hand.
A rule of thumb: critics abound out there already. Least of them being the inner critic that you’ll instill within a child with alarming speed. Be an encourager. An honest buddy offering support along the roughest patches and a ‘that-a-girl’ when each are overcome.
Encourage. It is nourishment for growing. It is like water on parched land.
She’s a dark-haired gal with doe eyes and willowy body. All arms and legs that find corners and bump into tables and spill things and break stuff and mess up what appear to be the most child-proof settings. She doesn’t want to be clumsy. It is just that her body is full of angles that don’t quite plan their movements and her brain does not quite catch up to what’s happening until it is a moment too late and the damage done.
She wants to be an acrobat or a ballerina. The graceful movement, the delicate balance, the painstaking patience–they are to her the incarnation of what she would want to be and all that she finds terribly difficult. She would do better at hip-hop, her caregiver thought at some point, only to find out that a child who cannot quite catch a ball or toss it without hitting someone or breaking a window, cannot quite coordinate her movements in an elaborately sequenced dance. The teacher all but fired her after one class. Literally too many toes stepped on.
Still, the girl dreams.
She adores delicate, filmy, whispery clothing. Her caregiver thinks it would be more practical to put her in iron-knees pants and canvas but had resigned herself to letting this elephant-in-china-shop gal wear tights and lace-edged shirts. It is an act of faith, as they last about five minutes before they don a massive stain or spring a hole (which, perhaps thankfully, the child rarely seems to notice).
This little girl is a life on steroids. A roller coaster of emotions–she is either elated or devastated, overawed or broken-hearted, eager or despairing. She tries so hard. She keeps failing, falling, disappointing. Adults frown. Teachers scold. Caregivers sigh and try to keep a restraining hand nearby.
It is difficult to make friends, or rather, to keep them. Oh, she’s never mean; in fact, she is quite sensitive at reading others’ emotions and wants to take care of their needs, real or perceived. It is just that she pulls too hard when she holds hands, she pushes when she only wants to touch lightly to call someone’s attention, she messes stuff up and breaks things, she barges into conversations, she speaks too loud.
Her official diagnoses are all kinds. Some of you who recognize the symptoms may have an idea what those could be. Some of you would know why in my work with her, we tackle symbolic language, idioms and stories, auditory memory and following directions. Why we talk about social situations and solutions, practice narrative and inferences, work with predictions, and rephrasing, identifying context clues and finding the main idea in what to her is a soup of details. Why we make charts, write bullets, jot lists, follow steps, check items one by one.
She’s a bundle of everything–stories, anecdotes, questions, observations, feelings spilling over, hands tapping, legs wagging, hair twisting, lip biting, noise making.
I love working with her.
Oh, she’s a handful–in more way than one–but that’s okay. I work with many kids who struggle with managing incoming information, who need help regulating what their body senses and require direction to make sense. Fidgety bodies don’t faze me. Nor do spilled water cups, sticky fingers, rocking on chairs or crumpled papers full of holes from erasing too hard.
What fazes me more is how some of those kids who have an alphabet soup of diagnoses and a history of testing enough to fill a filing cabinet, have internalized that something in them is somehow eternally broken or ill-fitting. How all too often adults around them have come to believe this, too. I absolutely see the places needing tending, but along with the fizzy energy, there is all too often an untapped possibility, just waiting to be helped along through less correction and more connection and an ample dose of calm.
This one? She fiddles with a top while we’re working. When she’s thirsty, I offer her a water bottle (I’m super fast at twisting on a cap …). I corral pencils, crayons, papers, tape, bits of this or that. She hums and makes popping noises while she’s writing–I don’t mind. There is enough control to manage while at school, where it can bother others. With me she can just be and is exactly and perfectly good enough. Indeed she is. She’s working hard. She’s trying even harder. She’s making small but certain steps to a less chaotic path.
And she gives great hugs. They go straight to the heart.
She asks to give one, at the start and end of every session. She wraps her arms around me and leans her head against me as we stand side-by-side. She breathes. Through my hand resting lightly on her shoulder, I can feel her body slow down some.
The other day before she left, arms still around me, she said: “You make my head feel more quiet. You don’t get mad or yell and I can think.” Then she looked up at me sideways, doe eyes filled with wisdom of those whose knowledge is hard-earned and dog-eared with practice. Her arms tightened around my midriff and she sighed: “My quiet place is right here, inside your hug. Sometimes I think about it when other people look at me mad and it helps me not feel I am bad.”
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Steve's body of work spans conflicts, vanishing cultures, ancient traditions and contemporary culture alike - yet always retains the human element. www.stevemccurry.com
Speech Language Pathologist for Adults and Children, Manhattan, New York
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