A Small Bewitching

She came up the stairs dragging a very sorry looking mop.

To my raised eyebrow, she smiled, “it’s a secret,” and said no more. She placed the mop in a corner (head double tied in a plastic bag per my insistence), and sat down to work. Once in a while she lifted her face to look at the mop’s handle with a little “I know something that you don’t but this is working really well so far” grin.

I was of course dying of curiosity but had to admire her resoluteness to not spill the beans. This was no easy feat for a girl who would usually share just about any tiny detail she could think of.

Not this time.

This cat, I could see, was not being let out of the bag. How apt, when we have been working on symbolic language, and how she adored the image of that specific idiom. Thought it was the funniest thing after being “all ears.”

When the mother came to pick her up at end of session, a storm paced near.

“What’s this?” The parent curled a lip.

“From outside,” the child replied regally and more than a little challenging.

The mother shook her head at the mop. (My thoughts exactly … from OUTSIDE? Who knew what peed on this, or worse, and why someone decided to toss out the scraggly mess! She brought this in here from OUTSIDE?!)

The child remain stoic. “I told you I’d figure it out,” she said cryptically.

“But …”

“And you said that if I found a way then I could AND that this can be a secret until Halloween! So you can’t say anything or you’ll tell!” the girl jumped in rapidly before the mother said something that would reveal what was to be kept hidden (and … I think, to prevent any conversation from putting her at a disadvantage …).

The mother looked at me helplessly but all that I could do was shrug slightly and observe. This was better than TV, definitely. I did not have a clue what was going on, but the child’s delight was fun to see. I did have to hand it to the gal: she clearly made a point and seemed to be driving it home (hopefully not literally … I could not see any cab driver happy to see this in the taxi … and was already thinking how there’d be some disinfecting on my end once this thing left my floor, plastic bag or not …).

A long moment ticked. Another.

“Okay!” the mother sighed. The girl’s grin was humongous.

“Okay?!” I could not help it. The girl picked this up from the garbage and it was okay?? This was not a woman who collected toss-out stuff from pavements, and I could not see her letting this into her house. I could barely believe I let it into mine …

“Oh, she means she’ll get me one!” the girl explained. Victorious. “She didn’t want to but I told her that I will find one myself … though,” she turned to her mother, all nectar and loving sweetness, “it WILL be so much nicer to have a new clean one to use …”

The girl grinned at my bewilderment and left hopping down the stairs. Her mother–I am not sure quite as relieved–carried the offensive mop between two careful fingers (“So it does not smear who knows on each of your steps,” the parent shuddered, keeping the bagged mop head well above the ground.)

Neither mother nor child offered explanation for the girl’s newly found interest in housekeeping. It remained a mystery to me.

Until today.

(Picture of an unrelated child in a similar costume …)

Little Witch via Karen Perry

The Shame Game

Last year, a preteen I worked with told me about a child in her class who began cutting herself. The classmate showed this child the  scars but swore her to secrecy.

We discussed the kinds of secrets that one should not keep (the ones that feel ‘too big’ to keep, or are about someone being hurt, or feel wrong to keep, or come from shame or guilt), who to tell (a parent, a teacher, a trusted adult, even the school nurse), and how. The girl was relieved to know that she did not have to keep this scary secret (“I get worried that maybe she’ll like, bleed to death or something and then she’ll die and it will be my fault for not telling anyone …”).

In our conversation, the reasons children self-harm also came up: to deal with difficult feelings, to express pain they don’t know how to verbalize, to feel alive, to feel numb, to ‘try and see how it feels’, to be noticed … And what to do if she ever felt the urge to hurt herself (thankfully, she said she never did feel that way, but it never hurts to give some options just in case …).

Relieved though this girl was to know she could share this secret with someone, the preteen was also worried that it will somehow become known to the other children and how it will make things worse. “Kids are already like, making fun of her for everything …” she fretted, “so, if they found out she’s like, cutting … they’d be all like, joking about it and texting and stuff ….”

Apparently the self-harming classmate–not the most attractive by other students’ standards (directly derived from society’s harsh shaming of anyone who does not adhere to a very narrow range of ‘acceptable’) was found to have confessed a crush on a boy in a higher grade … Someone found the note where it had fallen from the girl’s pocket, ‘kindly’ photographed it, and circulated it in among the students, along with some choice words about the girl’s morality (you can insert your own words here, copied from the shaming terminology of grownups toward women and girls: ugly hurtful words that are meant to cut to the core). A cascade of comments and ugliness ensued, along with catcalls, leering, and whispered words.

“Some kids even say that she’s like, you know … the ‘c’ word …”, the girl blushed in embarrassment and indignation. “She didn’t even kiss him or anything …” she said, then added urgently, “not that it would even be okay if she did let him kiss her … or, you know, stuff …”

The “if she did let him” did not escape me … nor did the outright meanness of exposing vulnerability and turning it onto some way to cause harm. The backbone of bullying.

Bullying is a very real issue, and not only in children and teens. The culture of putting down others for real or perceived differences and flaws is disturbing, and for those caught in it, it is often shattering. Bullying thrives on shaming, and shaming reflects a void of compassion and empathy. It is especially apparent on websites, news media, twitter, Facebook, and many online blogs: people behaves in ways that are purposely hurtful, narrow minded, and outright cruel; and it is somehow seen as witty and cool.

It is not cool.

It is not witty.

It is cowardly and it is heartless.

It is, really, a form of terror. Insidious and sneaky, but no less meant to cause helplessness and pain.

The truth is that bullying is not ‘fun’ or ‘funny.’ Cruelty of words is especially cowardly, and cyber-bullying is uniquely hurtful in that it can easily seem like the whole world is (and indeed can be) laughing at one’s misery. Many would cringe at the sight of someone literally cutting another person or kicking them in the groin, yet somehow cyber-bullying has become a culturally accepted means of expressing disdain and showcasing ignorance. Meanness is not frowned upon, but adopted and propagated. It should not be so. It can and must be stopped.

Some of the things people (children, but not only children) write:

“Why don’t you just kill yourself so we can be rid of you?”

“You are so ugly that you shouldn’t have been born.”

“Everyone hates you. Just go jump from a bridge or something.”

How have we let it come to that?

The conversation I had with the preteen was not unique–bullying often occupies children’s conversations. However, I was reminded of the one I had with this particular preteen as I watched Monica Lewinsky break her silence and deliver an outstandingly candid and important speech–her first public talk in 16 years. Lewinsky calls out the shame culture that allowed (and cultivated) the ugliness toward her in the late 90s, and which is all too alive and well today and still takes lives–figuratively or literally.

Monica Lewinsky survived it, but not without immense cost, and she would not have survived it had it not been for the compassion and empathy of family and friends who held her close through the awfulness.

Not everyone has people to hold them through bullying, and not everyone survives it. Even in those who do, the price is often very high.

Watch this video, and pass it along. It is important. It is worth the time.

Because the Shame Game can only be played if we perpetuate and feed it, and it will cease if enough of us practice compassion and empathy. Like the preteen who turned to me, and would not be a silent witness to pain or bullying, let us all become ambassadors for compassion and ending shaming.

Let there be no more casualties of shame, no more shattering of souls. Let us not be instruments of despair–directly or by our silence.

Make a Splash!

Photo from: secretdreamlife.tumblr.com

Don’t you be shy, now.

Make a splash.

Laugh out loud, do not abash.

Hug a friend, tickle puppies,

Lick a lolly, share small folly.

Cook surprises, throw a party,

Make some stew, and make it hearty.

Come on now,

Seize the moment!

Put your boots on,

Make a splash.

Do not hold back.

Grin toothy joy

Into the puddle,

And let the


Do the flash.

Find Your Pace


“I think life is moving too fast. I can’t keep up.”

My friend’s face on the chat’s screen was drawn. She has been through some hectic times. Her father fell and broke his hip two weeks before, cascading into issues that required not only the logistical reorganization of everyday life from an independent elder to someone who would not be likely to return to his home of 60 years; but also the emotional and psychological support for both herself and her father at this sudden change. An active retiree, her father was usually out and about, fishing, carpentering, flirting with a few old ladies at the retiree club he frequented. My friend lived only 15 minutes away, and visited often, but he rarely asked for her help. When he did, she suspected it was more as a point of connection and to let her “feel needed” than due to actual need for her assistance.

One burnt light-bulb later, and it all changed.

Life’s pace for both of them shifted. Her father’s life turned mostly idle, his days passing with him sedately in his bed, or at most in a wheelchair. Where he had counted months and weeks and days in plans and projects; he now counts hours as he waits for meals, physical therapy, and his daughter’s calls and visits. For my friend, life sped to calculating minutes into which to fit things. She juggles her job and two children, her home and preparing it for winter, the recent flooding of her basement, coordinating the care for her father, orthodontist appointments for one son, college applications for another, all while trying to manage the stress and grief and worry without losing so much sleep that she is no good in the morning.

Things do not let up. Her father is to be discharged from the nursing home very soon, and he will need a long term placement where he could continue to get care now that other systems in his body have decided to give in to old age. To top things off, she just found out there is a problem with her car that will require her to leave it for repairs for several days. The logistics of a simple car rental outdid her just the night before.

“I can’t keep up,” she stated, sadly shaking her head.

“Maybe you don’t need to–or at least, not with everything,” I suggested.

She glared at me a moment. Then her eyes softened–she knows I understand a bit about overwhelm. “How?” she asked, voice shaking now, maybe with just a hint of hope that there can be a way off of the roller-coaster and into calmer rides. “How, when it all needs to get done …”

We brainstormed, and she realized that she had accumulated quite a few vacation days. The original plan was to use the lot for a cross-country trip with her kids–and her father–but these plans may  well change some anyway. It could do more good to take some of those days now. Even three days off would give her time to check out retirement-homes in the area without the stress of rushing from work to try and get catch administrators before they left for the day. It would allow her to learn more about the financial and logistical burdens her father will now face and what support can be made available. No less importantly–a few days off will give her just a bit of time for herself.

She decided to take four, luxuriating in the concept of creating time.

The realities to juggle did not change but her pace did. She found a way to slow it just a tad to give herself some sense of traction. Renting that car no longer seemed so daunting. She laughed that she would see if they had one in red, just because she always wanted do drive one that color. She friend relaxed just knowing there’d be an opportunity to catch up, pay bills, cook everyone’s favorite fall stew, drink her coffee sitting down, take a bubble bath.

“I forget,” she noted before we hung up our Skype connection. “I think so much about making sure everyone else has time to decompress, that I get squashed and do not notice until I am frantic.”

“So many of us do,” I told her. “I think this is where we can hold a mirror for one another and remind each other how to find a better pace.”

I am no longer worried about my friend. She found her balance, as she had helped me find my own once in a while. We do that for each other, calibrating pace.

Life rushes. We all rush on, attempting to catch up … But for today, may you find your best pace. A place to pause, a breather in the midst of life’s amazing and yet often tiring long race.

Rest your mind, calm your heart