Almost five years ago, my new baby girl, (two months old) was admitted to the hospital between Christmas and New Year's for a weeklong stay of wondering, wishing, and praying that the mysterious tumorous mass in her tiny abdomen was just some benign oddity of cell division gone wild, or pretty much anything else besides what so many minds thought it might be.
During that week, I hardly talked to anyone. I didn't want to hear the worries of others, because I was way too busy pushing any negative thoughts out of my mind and I didn't want to be responsible for struggling against anyone elses negative thoughts on top of that. For days it was mostly just me and her and an irregular parade of doctors, nurses, and almost doctors, so it was easy in a way to just focus on her little old soul of a baby self and all the prayers and positive thoughts so many people sent our way and I let the rest go. Importantly, I felt like if I protected myself and my baby from the negative words, there was a chance, a little bitty chance, that they would not become a reality.
That plan almost worked till my actual people showed up the day she was headed to the operating room and the mere sight of them all made all that holding and pushing away feel impossible. Down came the weight and tears and fears like a wool blanket, heavy and scratchy, hot and uncomfortable and there was no shoving it off.
When the news came to us that the "unknown mass" really was benign we just kept asking. . "You mean benign, as in not cancerous? Are you sure? Are you really sure? You mean we really won't be getting well acquainted with the oncologist who has already been in to meet our dear, sweet baby girl? You mean it is the ‘ok to tell our people’ kind of sure? . ."
Once home it often felt as if we had suffered through a nightmare and awoke with all the world still as it was, having no idea that we had dreamt this crazy, surreal, horrific thing. Acquaintances or parents from our boys' school asked "How was your Christmas break?", My thought bubble: "Well actually we spent the week in a whirlwind of Doctors, Nurses, a variety of ineffective blood pressure cuffs, a tumor that weighed almost as much as my baby and topped it off with a happy ending/ beginning the new year, how was your's?"
It wasn't long after that my oldest kiddo began showing some serious difficulties in school, and looking back on that year, I realize that when it comes to positive thinking, I am a sprinter. With intent focus and solitude I could carry a mountain of doubt and worry for days, never allowing those negative thoughts to penetrate my mind and heart. Unfortunately, the long haul is a different story. That year of kindergarten, the negativity was persistent for the long haul. It was here at home and flooding from the school and it persisted through the middle of third grade. There was no escaping the weight of it all, because it built up slowly over time with hardly a notice, like a pile of leaves that is light as air in the fall, but damned if you can lift them off the lawn come mud season. As a result I became aware of how susceptible my son was/is to the negativity of others, and of course through our children we come to understand ourselves. How easy it is to slide back into that complaining, discontented angry mindset when surrounded by the like.
Today, I was thinking about an important discussion lead by a principal I respect. Staff was asked to consider what measures we take as people, educators and a school to create a positive environment for ourselves to work in and for our children to learn in, and what kinds of things hinder our efforts to keep a positive mindset. The answers were many, as you can imagine, but common themes recurred. Feeling that one must carry the weight of the negativity of others was definitely a hindrance, as was feeling unheard or unappreciated. Feeling like a welcome member of the learning community alternately was key to well being, as was the use of humor, and a feeling of understanding from others.
It occurs to me now that there will never be a complete lack of frustrations in the world of education. (A revelation, I know! :)) Really though, some schools are struggling with a mountain of negativity traveling into the schools on the backs of educators who are feeling unheard, disrespected, and overworked. Staffs where a simple "hello", a word of welcome, or any form of helpfulness are foregone only to be buried under the weight of a critical eye, harsh word, or blatant lack of trust. I know for my self, I cannot sustain a positive attitude under such long haul conditions, when each morning begins with a new version of “What is wrong with this place. . .” I am a sprinter, or actually a walker who stops for water breaks often ;-) My drink of choice is a friendly greeting, a word of appreciation, or a request for help from another (which is high complement really, to be trusted to carry some weight for another).
My wish is that all administrators from the Superintendents and school committee on down, could see, or would look at the Mountains of negativity forming on the shoulders of the teachers and support staff in many schools, because this is important to acknowledge. Like it or not those mountains slowly or sometimes not so slowly erode and the only place for them to land in school is on the students or each other. I wish they would see the way that the slide of many mountains near each other can be catastrophic to educating our children. Running a marathon with no one cheering you on, or handing you water? I don’t think it can be done.
Sometimes, simply acknowledging a heavy load is enough to lighten it. Notice those for the good they contribute, the hard work they put in and help them see the positive impact of their work. Remind them of the small accomplishments, the baby steps, that make educating our children worth their effort. Help us all to see the babies within the children, tweens and teens. Help us see them because they need our care, compassion, wisdom, and respect and humor in tact in order to learn from us. They need us to feel positive that we can teach them. Remember that holding off one’s negative thoughts is hard work and holding back the negativity rolling off of many is nearly impossible, it is a marathon with no water. Imagine being at the bottom of that mountain. Begin with one positive thought. Today I am posting a statement for my colleagues, "You do hard things. Thank you." tomorrow I will post another. . .