Heroes

An Iron Whisper

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For years, I knew that pit in the stomach every morning before school. Like so many others, I was bullied as a kid. A lot.

The first bout began in fourth grade under bright autumn leaves and continued until green buds returned. Three boys a year older than me decided they would make it their almost-daily task to DSC09712meet me at the same place and beat me up. Thing is, I could have avoided them, as I walked home every day and there were multiple ways to leave. I knew this. Yet. Every single day, I would show up. I’d put down my stuff. And…I’d try to win.

It was the 70’s. We didn’t tell. We were raised to believe that it was “part of growing up.” And, at that time, it really was. Some of my peer struggles were pretty extreme. In the sixth grade, I landed in the emergency room for stitches, but lucky that I didn’t lose my left eye. (I don’t think the other kid intended such an extreme result, but…)

It wasn’t just physical. For three years, there were some girls that used to share their opinions of me every day. Which was worse than a fight. Was I afraid of the bullying? I was. Did I hate it? I did. But, I reacted to mistreatment with a stubborn passion that I am forever grateful to my Mum for. When others would say and do things that were unkind, a message would meander through my head. Like an iron whisper. “They’re wrong.”

This was a gift. I know that. And I know that not everyone can react this way. But I do believe a reaction like this can be learned–for self talk is so powerful. When someone else tries to drag us down, most of us react in one of two ways: The first is “I don’t deserve that” which lights a fire inside—the kind of fire that fuels determination and success. The kind of thing that helps people rise above their circumstances. Turns victims into conquerors.

The second reaction is, “They’re right.” A deflation of the spirit. It’s an understandable reaction but one we must all fight to eradicate in the children/teens we know. Actually, in anyone we know.

For me, resilience was honed by being resilient. I have achieved things I never thought I would because I pushed through fear, dismissed the naysayers, and plugged away. There is no doubt that my struggles and heartbreak as a kid have aided in my success along the way. Although, a bit ironic, I think.

I recall when the anti-bullying campaigns were introduced to schools over a decade ago. Being good to each other is a great message, of course. But, with the seemingly constant reports of childhood despair because of bullying by peers…well, I have wondered why we don’t have more calls for resilience as well. A reminder to play the “I don’t deserve this” message rather than giving in to feeling ashamed about labels that someone else pins to us–which are probably inaccurate. After all, a bully’s actions/words have more to do with him/her than their target.

I’ll be honest. I’ve sat and long-stared at victims’ pictures—kids bright-eyed and beautiful and looking like they’ll take on the world when they grow up. Kids who’ve had supportive parents, people who love them…and yet…they end their lives because of bullying. The word, heartbreaking, doesn’t nearly cover it.

I love the “It Gets Better” campaign. It’s gone a long way in showing gay teens that they are not alone and that it really does get better.  Also, there is a wonderful video below done by Megan Kelley Hall, one of the editors of Dear Bully. (The other Dear Bully editor is Carrie Jones) We need more and varied messages like this for kids–and we need to introduce resilience earlier. When I visit schools, I discuss the phrase, “Be someone’s hero.” I touch upon being good to each other, of course. But I also point out that this phrase means being a hero to yourself as well. Knowing that just because someone says something doesn’t make it true. And every time. Every school. I see some faces of kids who I suspect have not heard this before.

Teaching kindness is a such a human thing to do. It’s because we’re protective. It represents our wish for peace and mutual understanding. Our desire to toss out the things about humanity we know don’t shine. It is a lesson we need to continue to teach–and model. I have seen wonderful changes in schools since the anti-bullying campaigns began. Sadly, though, there will be kids who are still unkind. Regardless of these lessons.

So, my hope is that we are spending some time teaching kids to stand tall as well. To be brave. Value who they are—for we all have gifts to offer the world. Know that others’ opinions are not necessarily facts. Self esteem doesn’t come from others; it comes from impressing ourselves. And how do we do that?

Stand strong. Seek out what makes you happy. Shake off the bad stuff and look for the good, because there’s plenty of it. Seek out the people who do care–because they are there. You can succeed. Be happy. Chase down any dream you wish. Make any life you want. Regardless of having been bullied.

Because you are worthy.

Of everything wonderful.

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Categories: Be Someone's Hero, courage, Heroes, inspiring, writing | Tags: , , , , , , | 42 Comments

Domino Pushers

I sometimes wonder if the truly invested teachers and librarians out there ever take the time to think about the impact they have on the world. The impact on individuals that they meet along the way. And how their reaching out to elevate the spirit a child is like knocking down a winding path of dominoes. Dominoes that can fall for years to come.
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I wonder if teachers and librarians like this ever stop to think how they change the world within the walls of their classrooms and libraries. How paying attention to the quiet child who could slip under the radar can change a kid’s perception of themselves. Change their internal compass. How realizing that sometimes the kid who creates the biggest commotion is asking for help in the only way he knows how.
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I just read a comment from a librarian who spent her vacation reading five middle grade books and couldn’t wait to get back to school with them because she knew the exact students she would share them with. She was not patting herself on the back. She was not boastful.
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She is a hero.
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Today, I am thinking of the teachers and librarians who are quietly going about their day just as they always do. Saving children. With the right book. Or a hand on a kid’s shoulder. A knowing glance or nod. Some acknowledgment of understanding. A recess period of one-on-one help. Whether it be academic or otherwise.
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And, I’m thinking of one child who desperately needs one of these heroes.

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Categories: Be Someone's Hero, courage, Heroes, inspiring, middle-grade, writing | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Boston, You’re my Home. Sort of.

As a kid, when asked, “If you had three wishes…” one of those wishes was always to live in Boston.

On the way back home to CT from Boston family gatherings, I would practice my Boston accentwelcome to mass (which sounded more like a rogue pirate than a Bostonian). I wanted a poster of Larry Bird in those too-short seventies shorts even though I was not a basketball fan. Why? Because of the Boston Shamrock on his jacket. Even now, the “Welcome to Massachusetts” sign feels like a return home.

I have a blessed life, but at the end of it all I will regret one thing. That I never actually lived in Boston.

The events of the Boston Marathon break my heart.

Whenever things get rough—when life hands me cards I’d rather not hold—I come to whatever it is from a place of gratitude. This is one of my best qualities, I think. It has literally saved me.

The events in Boston are still weighing heavily on me, and so I look for the good. Looking for the helpers (as Mr. Rogers used to say) and there are many. I am grateful that the many people I love who were at the marathon were uninjured—even the ones that stood at the finish line and witnessed the blasts. I am grateful that others that I love were spared seeing it at all. I cry for the losses and I cry for the triumphs. And there are so many of both.

I love the phrase, “Boston strong” because it fits—-man, is Boston full of a bunch of scrappy we’re-not-taking-this kind of people; I’ve always loved that about the city. I love how everyone around you in Fenway is your best friend for the day. I love the history of Boston and how the fighting spirit of being free from tyranny was born on its street and on its fields. I love the beauty and the humor and the energy of the city. I love how I feel like I’m part of something special when I’m there. Some of my favorite movies are set in Boston: Good Will Hunting, Fever Pitch, and Far and Away. Heck, I even wrote a whole novel with a beloved Boston theme. Why? Because if you’re going to convey emotion, I believe that your story has to have threads of things you really love.

And, I love Boston.

In the midst of all of this, I am prouder to be a New Englander and an American than ever. But, as an American and a mom and a wife and a sister and a daughter, I mourn too. I will for a long while. I have no doubt, though, that the Boston Marathon will draw record numbers next year and I plan to be there to cheer on the runners. Bostonians—and others from around the world–will stand. And run. With pride and with grit.

I may not have your zip code, Boston, but I have your back. My heart is with you. Just as it’s always been.

Categories: Be Someone's Hero, courage, Heroes | Tags: , | 32 Comments

Anything and Everything — Sandy Hook

“Sad” is a thin word for how I’ve been feeling.

In making a comment on Facebook about raising kids, I said that “they are worth anything and everything.” And then my warmth and love tilted toward the sad as I, once again, thought of Sandy Hook.  For this community and those sweet children, and those heroic teachers and all those left to grieve have never been far from my thoughts.

I’ve analyzed and tried to process what has happened there. But how does a person ever process a tragedy like this? I’m supposed to be good with words, but I have had so much trouble finding them. While taking care of the everyday details of life, I am distracted. I am experiencing sadness and shock and awe. Optimism and hope. Loss and empathy. And longing. Lots of longing. All twisted together like the threads of a rope. 

Between teaching and volunteering, I have spent about 24 years in elementary schools and so my mind has shown me time and again how this may have played out. As a mother and teacher and human being, it will haunt me for a long while. All I want to do is hug those children and the teachers who protected them.

I am grateful to have my oldest home from college. I am remembering what is important. And I am crying. Still. For those mothers and fathers. Brothers and sisters. All those sweet faces—all that they undoubtedly offered the world in the short time that they were here. And all that the world has lost. And, my chest aches every time I think of their parents. How they probably think that their children are worth anything and everything, too.

I do see people pulling together, though. Reaching out. Opening their eyes and paying attention. I, too, have done these things. It is easy to get lost in the details of everyday life. Since December 14th, I have worked less and listened more. I have taken less for granted. I’ve made some overdue calls and will make more. The things that have been on my mind and have worried me, now worry me far less. And I have witnessed time and again how our humanity seems to flow in the face of events that are so inexplicable.

Late last night, my train from NY rolled into the station. There was a teenage girl who struggled with a large suitcase and so I offered to help her with it. A short time later, she waited in the station lobby holding a cell phone and I asked her if she was okay. If she had a ride. It was nothing—in fact, I almost didn’t ask at all—hesitating because I wondered what she’d think of a stranger asking her if she was okay (I am such an over-thinker.). I ended up asking only because she called after me to thank me for helping with her bag.

It was nothing. Seriously. But it seemed to make such an impression on her. And I began to think of all the little things people think to do—the kindnesses they almost extend and then don’t for some reason. Whether it be worry or overthinking or embarrassment.

I hope that we will all be kinder–strive to be someone’s hero. Not necessarily the kinds of heroes we hear about in Sandy Hook. Just regular, everyday heroes. Offering a smile or a kind word. Inviting someone over for tea who is lonely. For these small kindnesses may have a profound impact. I have been impacted by small gestures, and it makes sense that others would be, too. No more overthinking for me.

This tragedy has been a reality check for a lot of people. A lot of good has followed this horrible event. How it saddens me, though, that our world will go on without those 26 angels.

Drawing done by 7th grader, Connor, from Lousiana (used with permission)

Drawing done by 7th grader, Connor, from Lousiana (used with permission)

Categories: Be Someone's Hero, courage, grief, Heroes, parenting | 9 Comments

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