Life Lessons on the Playground

The topic of “love” is current in our house again.  You may remember last year when the boys were starting school in the Fall that marriage and friendship were topics of conversation.  Throughout the year, we have continued to talk about what makes someone an attractive partner; whether it is more important for a friend to be kind, play with you at outdoor time, or laugh at all your jokes.  A first kiss has transpired.  You will be happy to know that no official proposals have been made though.  The kids have continued to get to know one another and the families are being introduced at this point.  Thankfully, Sam took my advice that no quick decisions needed to be made in the area of marriage.  But, there is a new twist on “love” that has gotten me thinking again.

The singer, P!nk, has come out with a new song called “Just Give Me a Reason”.  Side note:  You should know, I am a enamored with P!nk.  I love that she exudes female strength and many of her songs speak to confidence and self respect (and she is currently my favorite artist to run to).  “Just Give Me a Reason” is a song that I enjoy and happily the Top 40 radio stations agree with me, as they play it all the time.  I’ll let you in on a little secret, when we are driving around, and need a break from Caspar Babypants, the kids and I sing along to popular hits.  Historically, it is the random lyric that makes my eldest ask a question regarding the meaning of a particular song (but it doesn’t happen all that often).  The other day Sam said to me, “What does that mean?  Why are they learning to love again?”  At first, I had no idea what he was talking about, but then I realized his question was tied to this particular song.  Concurrently, I realized that this will be a new concept for him.  The idea that love might not last forever and that it might also cause hurt and pain.  For adults, this reality stares us in the face all the time, but for my children this tough lesson has yet to be learned.  A fact I am pretty darn happy about.  I told him I would have to think about how to answer his question and began puzzling over how to explain this concept to a 5-year old.

My son has tried the monkey bars at different points in his short life and they have always been appropriately tough.  After attempting those vexing bars at the park, we typically move on to playing on the slide, climbing, or trying the swings.  Then, one day I got a call.  Sam had successfully traversed the monkey bars!  He was with his grandmother and his voice was bursting with pride – like riding a bike with no training wheels kind of pride!  He was so excited.  On the next sunny day, he couldn’t wait to show off his new skill, but sadly, that day, it didn’t work.  Whether he was tired, the bars were slippery, or the moon was in the wrong phase…who knows why, he couldn’t do it again.  He tried, and tried, and tried.  In one of his failed attempts, Sam even fell and hurt his knee.  But, he got up and tried again.  He has a scar that will stay with him for awhile from all his repeated efforts.  At the time he was pretty distraught, but as we left the park that day, he told us that he had done it before and would try again.  As a parent, that is when I felt proud.  Not after his success (although I was happy for him), but after he failed and knew he would try again.  To this day I have not seen him successfully get across those darn monkey bars, but I remember the happiness in his voice after that first time.

The lyrics of “Just Give Me a Reason” go like this:

Just give me a reason
Just a little bit’s enough
Just a second we’re not broken just bent
And we can learn to love again
It’s in the stars
It’s been written in the scars on our hearts
We’re not broken just bent
And we can learn to love again

Continue reading http://www.songonlyrics.com/pink-just-give-me-a-reason-lyrics#ixzz2UE103xHG

The fact that we all have scars is universal.  The fact that we can choose to “try again” is what is so beautiful to me in this song.  We’re not broken, just bent.  We have all been hurt by things, whether it is a broken heart from love, or from attempting the monkey bars.  To have been hurt by something, and to be willing to try again is what makes us illogically human.  To hold the hope that the next time we might experience a different result… Someday, I hope to be lucky enough to watch my kids get their hearts broken by love.  Obviously their hurt is not something I will relish, but the knowledge that they are putting themselves out in the world to be vulnerable to life is what I look forward to witnessing.  I hope to teach them that risks are worth taking and to know that some of the time they will succeed in finding what they are striving for.

Summer is coming and we will have plenty of sunny days to visit the park practice and our monkey bar skills.  There may be some skinned knees along the way, but I am confident that by September, this will be a skill that Sam can feel proud of and he will have the scars to prove it.

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Choose Kindness

A small gift from one friend to another...
A small gift from one friend to another…

Is my preoccupation with the idea of kindness because I am adjusting to the fact that my oldest will be starting elementary school in the fall?  Is it that I am around the 5-&-under set all day long and witness both trivial and monumental disputes on an hourly basis?  Is it possible that R. J. Palacio’s book, Wonder, has entered my consciousness in ways I am still trying to figure out?  Yes, on all accounts.

My husband and friends can attest to the fact that I am someone who is highly sensitive to the media that surrounds me.  Books, song lyrics, and television all touch me in ways that can alter my outlook for weeks at a time.  Because of this “media sensitivity”, we just do not watch scary movies in our home.  Then, there was that time that I was reading The Black Dahlia and Gone Girl in book club, and I was sure my husband was evil.  Believe me, he isn’t, but I think I slept with one eye open for a full week… You can imagine how much he loved that phase.  Well, the opposite is true too.  When I have been positively touched by a book, that sentiment stays with me as well and for a time becomes the lens with which I view the world.

Wonder, is that kind of book.

August Pullman was born with a facial deformity that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting fifth grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face… In a world where bullying among young people is an epidemic, this is a refreshing new narrative full of heart and hope. R. J. Palacio has called her debut novel “a meditation on kindness”—indeed, every reader will come away with a greater appreciation for the simple courage of friendship.  (from http://choosekind.tumblr.com/)

Each day we have the option to “choose kindness” in big and small ways that can have huge meaning to those around us.  When we are in line for a cup of coffee, do you greet the barista with a smile, or feel annoyed that you had to wait?  When you see that other preschool mom that never smiles, do you say “hello” anyway?  When you fix yourself a cup of water, do you get one for your partner?  When you are sitting at the lunch table are you the person that scoots over to make room for someone new?  Or, do you look away?  Whether out of fear, insecurity, and shyness over the years, I can think of too many examples where I have been one to look away.  But… I’d like to be the person who moves over and makes room for one more.  The one that smiles and says hello.  A person who actively chooses kindness.

Recently, another preschool mom remarked that she enjoyed a post I wrote about struggling with friendships that are in transition (click here to read, In Between).  She voiced that lately she felt as though she is “back in high school”.  I think that what she meant by this is she feels the constant effort of trying to make new friends and find one’s place.  We can all relate to this universal struggle.  Yet it is see easy to see peers acting critically of one another, casting judgement without empathy.  Aren’t parents (and women specifically) known for this frustrating behavior?  In Wonder, there is a quote that states, “If every person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary – the world really would be a better place.”  I feel like it all boils down to that.  Being kinder than is necessary.  Whether you are a child entering elementary school, a teenager searching for acceptance, or an adult still looking for your place, we can all choose kindness as a place to start.  That much is within our power.  If I could pass just one lesson onto my children, I believe this might be it.  I think that these small acts can move mountains.

Wonder has started a national movement that I wasn’t aware of as I began writing this post.  Kids are reading Wonder and realizing how important these acts of kindness are in our relationships.  There is even a CHOOSE KIND pledge.  There have been so many examples of hate and cruelty around us lately, it is possible to wonder if there is any good left in the world?  But here is an example of love and grace.  People are signing this pledge and believing in kindness (I think I am number 11,331)!  Whether you sign the pledge or not, I hope that next time (and every time after that) you choose to be “kinder than is necessary”.

In Between

There is a phase in friendship where all feels natural and wonderfully close, but there is a phase right before all that loveliness that feels like a lot of work.  As thirty-somethings with three kids, there is not the abundance of time that we once had during college days to forge friendships – through all night gab sessions over beer and mediocre pizza.  Most recently we were making baby friends.  This is a special phase where new parents support one another with bleary-eyed conversation fueled by coffee and wine, all while googling over our new little lovelies.  But time goes on, and relationships shift.  Families begin to reallocate time and energy resources to the school community.  It makes sense, I get it.  We’ll be there soon.  With Sam starting kindergarten this fall, I am really looking forward to settling into that new community and being a part of things too.

But right now, this minute, we are in a funny place.  We have friends, lots of great friends – some near and some far.  Yet, I see that we (and they) are all in transition.  Everyone is so damn busy!  It is tough to actually carve out time to see one another.  People talk about the times in one’s life when close friends are made: early childhood, high school, college, post-college work, when babies are born, and when those babies start elementary school and you meet those kids’ parents… The cycle goes on and on.  Plus, add to that the many geographical moves that take us away from loved ones, and there you have it.  We’re currently in between.  It feels like we are starting over (again).

I yearn to jump forward to a place with a cozy group of friends that feels comfortable, like your favorite hoodie.  The one you reach for when you just want to be yourself, to be known.  Lately, as we meet new folks and try to find our way, it feels like wearing beautiful heels all the time.  The ones that you take off the minute you walk through your front door… And maybe that’s the problem.  Eureka!  Maybe I have solved it after all!  We need to go out into the world with a big smile and favorite-sweatshirt-attitude versus a high-heels-attitude.  We’re nice people.  Yes, a bit sleep deprived, but we try not to let this fact get us down.  Our favorite shows are: Parenthood (well, obviously) and Mentalist (Simon Baker, enough said).  We’re semi-sporty.  We enjoy long walks and great conversation.  We’re perfecting our creme brulee recipe in hopes of wooing you and yours.  Just FYI… we’re looking for some new friends and you might be next on our list.  Watch out.

I know that this bit of discomfort will pass.  Like everything else, it will shift and change.  In a few weeks, or months, or years (please god, no), we will nudge each other and say… “Wow!  Look at this group of friends we are a part of!  I don’t even remember a time when George, and Sally, and Sue weren’t around!”  Its probably just around the corner…

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A Meditation on Friendship

Watching my five- and three-year-old sons navigate a new preschool has made me look at the idea of friendship in a new light.  I see courage in my little ones, as they approach someone new, asking them to play – asking for friendship.  Already in their young lives, they know that the answer might be yes and it might be no.  I want to make this journey easier for my children, but know that I cannot.  Lately, my older son has been talking of “marriage” with a few of his new friends.  I try to encourage him to wait to make any proposals.  Telling him that he really does not need to make a decision of such importance for some time.  Yet, I see that what he yearns for is connection and a promise.  A promise that this trusted friend will be there tomorrow, just as excited to play with him as he / she is today.  I wish it were that simple.  Maybe in the best circumstances it is.

Wikipedia defines friendship as, “…a relationship between two people who hold mutual affection for each other.”  

“The value of friendship is often the result of friends consistently demonstrating the following:

  • The tendency to desire what is best for the other
  • Sympathy and empathy
  • Honesty, even in situations where it may be difficult for others to speak the truth
  • Mutual understanding and compassion; ability to go to each other for emotional support
  • Enjoyment of each other’s company
  • Trust in one another
  • Positively strong, deep, close reciprocitymutuality—equal give-and-take between the two parties
  • The ability to be oneself, express one’s feelings and make mistakes without fear of judgement.”

Wikipedia goes on to say that the American Sociological Review found that the quality and quantity of close friendships in America has been on the decline over the past thirty years.  “The study states that 25% of Americans have no close confidants and that the average total number of confidants per person has dropped from four to two.”  How sad is this?

Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner, is a modern piece of literature that focuses on the theme of friendship.  There is something timeless about this novel that makes me want to revisit its message again and again as I move through my life.  It is a thoughtful, quiet work that meditates on the half-century long relationship between two couples.  Stegner looks at what it is like to truly feel known by other people.  Throughout this book, it is clear how much these relationships have shaped each character’s life and been a touchstone for important moments of growth and change.  I see this to be true in my own life.

Friendship is unlike marriage, where although it is not always lasting, there is a contract and a stated commitment.  There are rarely formal contracts in friendship.  Parties take part for as long as it satisfies a need.  Individuals are free to come and go.  But don’t we have a commitment to one another?

Where I land on this topic is I expect my friends to stick around.  As in the Wikipedia definition, I expect there to be a level of trust and mutual respect.  In the best scenarios, friends can become the family we choose.  These important relationships can be a thing that helps to define our lives.  Connection is important.  I believe that people with connection live longer, more fulfilled lives.  This is what I wish for myself and my family, a life filled with connection and community.  As we move towards this season of giving thanks, I find I am thankful for my friends.  I am thankful for how many of you have defined portions of my life and helped to shape the person I am.  You have allowed my family to become a part of yours.

“There it was, there it is, the place where during the best time of our lives friendship had its home and happiness its headquarters.”

― Wallace StegnerCrossing to Safety

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