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How Reading Counters Meanness

I have a story for you.  It’s a story about a little girl who loved to read.  When she was very young, she saw all of her family–mother, father, brother–always immersed in books.  Her father and brother read wonderful stories to her from those books.  She begged to be taught to read herself and finally her brother taught her because she couldn’t wait until she was in school to get to read stories herself.

austen reading by the window

Years passed.  Friends came into her life.  They laughed at the books she always carried, but they also asked what each story was about.  The girl began to write stories of her own, trying to match the wonder she found in Raggedy Ann stories and Nancy Drew mysteries.  She never stopped writing stories or reading books.  In high school, all her teachers encouraged her to become a writer.  With knowing smiles, they allowed her to read her own book when she should have been paying attention in class.  She discovered new authors without assistance–Charles Dickens, Alexandre Dumas, Jane Austen.  She began to understand history in a way she wouldn’t have otherwise.  When stress or meanness came into her life, she had a place to go, always.  She always had a book.

Last week, my beautiful husband was sick.  He had bronchitis, sinusitus, and an upper respiratory infection.  He was not feeling well at all, and he stayed home from work the whole week.  This meant I ran more than usual, hopping into the car to go to the store and pick up this or that for him.  Apparently it was a bad week for everyone around here, because about 80% of the people with whom I came into contact were grumpy and mean.  Or condescending and mean.  Or annoyed and mean.

high five

If you’ve been reading me for any length of time, then you know that I believe that the most important human trait is kindness and that I practice it every moment.  When people are mean to me, I have to admit,  I get confused.  If I am being polite, friendly, kind… why the hell are people responding to me this way?  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t take a lot of guff, and when a situation calls for strength, I find it.  But if the cashier at the gas station stares a hole through me because I’m taking too long to put my change away, am I supposed to stare back?  Attack her, either verbally or physically?  Well, no, the situation calls for none of those things.  I don’t know what’s going on in her life to make her so impatient–I don’t even know her name–so why would I pull out my cranky card?

get well card

After one particular similar situation, I left the store and climbed into my car.  My brain was still trying to assess the event and I was feeling confused and a little hurt and a little offended and a little like, “Why the f— did I come out in public again?”  I put the keys in the ignition and looked down at the console.  There sat my Kindle.  Ready to be turned on, the text-to-speech option almost blinking at me with its serenity.  And I smiled.  And I forgot the meanness inside the store as I remembered I had a beautiful story to listen to on the way home, and I didn’t know that woman.  She didn’t even know my name.  In an hour she will have forgotten me.  In 2 minutes, I would forget her.  I turned on my Kindle, put the car in reverse, and smiled as that wonderful robotic voice began to read to me.

I had a book.  I always have a book.

This.  This is why we want to engender a love of reading in our children.  Sure, there are other reasons–to promote literacy and good speech, to help them learn about the world, to give them knowledge.  But the single best thing about a book is that it takes you away.  I’ve said it before, but I fully believe that teaching our littles to love reading gives them a healthy form of escapism and could save them from trying other, more dangerous ways to escape.  Sure, I could have come straight home and poured a stiff drink to shake off that incident.  It probably would have relaxed me.  But by the time I got home I would have been stewing in it for 15 minutes, blowing it up in my head, letting my feelings hurt even more.  I might have needed 2 drinks at that point. haha

reading escape

 

Instead, I had immediate succor.  Something that relaxed me and made the incident seem as trivial as it really was.  We want that for our kids, don’t we?  Because no matter how much we want to and how hard we try, we can’t protect them from all the mean people in the world or all the temporarily mean moods.

There is nothing more relaxing than falling into a good story and staying there until your brain is ready to deal with your problems.  So read to your littles.  Read in front of your littles.  Have your littles read to you.  Read, read, read.

Some day, when they’re pulling away from the store with an oncoming headache, they will thank you.

Love wins,

KT

Random Acts Should Not Be Random

be kind

Can I tell you something?  Random Acts of Kindness Day burns me up.  It’s all over the ol’ interweb this week, and every time I see the words, I fume.

KT, you might be thinking, this should be your favorite day of the year.  You’re always talking about being kind.

Yep yep.  I sure am.  Always.  We are a species that has the capability and forethought to be kind.  We should not need a specific day to prompt us to be so.  Listen, it takes no effort At All to be kind to others All The Time.  I mean, it might take a moment to breathe through a prickly situation, but that’s about it.

Every day, be kind.  When you go to a store or a restaurant, read the name tag of the person helping you and address them by name.  If you’ve ever worked with the public in any capacity, you know how you can start to feel invisible, like you’re just a drone and people aren’t even noticing you’re really human.  Using a cashier, server, or bank teller’s name affirms his or her humanity, reminds her there are reasons to love her job, and makes his day a little brighter.  I have Never not gotten a good response from it, but I don’t do it for me.  I do it for the person across from me.  It is not random.  I do it every time I come into contact with a person wearing a name tag, even if I’m just saying, “Excuse me.”  It’s such a simple thing to do.  Also, always thank them, and thank them by name.  Yeah, they’re getting paid to do their job, but sometimes that’s not enough, is it?

Also, any time you’re interacting with another person, try to see things from their point of view.  That’s not so hard.  Be empathetic, be sympathetic, Be Kind.  I feel like I’m kind of lecturing here, but that’s not what I’m trying to do.  I just disagree with only doing these things because some Hallmark random day tells you to do them.  You know that aunt/sister/parent/brother/grandparent who talks too much and mostly about himself?  They might be lonely.  Roll your inner eyes if you have to, but be patient with them.  Give them a few minutes of your time.

That person who is taking up the whole aisle at the grocery store, staring at the soup cans, talking on her phone, reconnecting with an old friend?  Are you really in too big a hurry to smile and wait?  Okay, that one can be hard, but I force myself to do it.  I literally ask myself why it’s so important for me to get down the aisle in three seconds and remind myself that sometimes I get caught up in the soup cans, too, or can’t find what I’m looking for.  We all get so involved in our own thoughts that we don’t realize other people need to get around us.  I find the humor, I smile, I wait.  Even at Christmas time.  Maybe especially at Christmas time.

If someone needs something from you, and you don’t really feel like doing it but there’s no valid reason you shouldn’t, do it.  Not because they might owe you something in return one day, but because it’s the kind thing to do.  We are social animals, and refusing to help others cuts us off from social opportunities.  In fact, volunteer somewhere, even if it’s just to take a friend’s kids for a day and let her have some time to reboot.  Hell, take my kids for a day.  I’ll be your best friend.

Rather than celebrating Random Acts of Kindness Day, let’s make a pact to be kind every day.  To find simple ways to make other people smile.  Let’s teach our littles to be those people by setting an example.  Cheesy as it is, we could truly change the world.

I’m in if you are.

Love wins,

KT

Practicing Patience in Your Homeschool

I have a confession to make.  I am not a very patient person.  I want long to be.  It would really help my kids out.  I get annoyed about ridiculous things.  If I ask you to do something and you take a millisecond longer than I think you should, I get annoyed.  If I explain something to you in small words and you don’t get it, I get annoyed.  If you ask me to remind you of something and I do and you still forget, I get annoyed.  If you talk to me before my first cup of coffee, I am likely to get mildly homicidal.  If you are late, if you make me late… It could get ugly.  At least inside my head.  A snappish ogre takes over me.  I see red.  It’s so… ugh! ridiculous.

Image from battlereporter.blogspot.com

Image from battlereporter.blogspot.com

I have to work at being patient and I do, all day every day.  I have to remind myself that kids are just little, that people are just people, that I am not the Master of the Timetable.  Doesn’t matter.  I have to literally stop myself from speaking, like reaching out with both fists to grab the speech-producing part of my brain and wrestling it down before I stamp on my tongue with one foot.  Most people have No Idea how impatient I am and absolutely No One knows how often I am impatient.  In fact, when I am feeling that ogre start to take over, I often talk more sweetly than normal, just counter her evil spell.  But not always.  Sometimes she wins.  People flinch away from her.  They run screaming in the streets.  The National Guard is called in. It’s pretty bad.

When we are homeschooling, I have to be even more careful.  See, my littles are here to learn from me.  The reason I decided to do this thing was to provide them a better learning environment.  So if I’m snapping at them all morning for not finding their pencils quickly enough, not understanding simple math, or not remembering the vocabulary word we Just Learned Yesterday, well, I am not giving them a good learning environment.  Ever literally bit your tongue to keep the words in?  I have.  Because, for me, that learning time is the golden time, the time we are all focused on each other, when our minds are expanding and the depths are being explored.  It is sacred.  And it should feel that way to all of us.

How do we practice patience in our homeschool when we have none?  I have some suggestions.

Know Your Triggers

I’ve already listed some of mine.  I know the others.  That’s the first step in practicing patience: recognizing it when it hits.  Know that your anger is arising from your own response rather than what others are doing.  If you are suffering from impatience as a homeschool teacher, sit down and make a list of the things that set you off.  It’s usually when something isn’t meeting your expectations or going your way, but a million things can stem from those two categories.  So make a list. This will make it easier to practice the other steps.

Recognize When It Takes You Over

Before wrestling the ogre, I have to realize it’s her I’m dealing with.  You might be telling yourself you’re angry for a reason.  Stop and think about it.  Is it a good reason?  If not so much, then you are simply being impatient.  And that is not the world’s problem.  It’s certainly not your littles’ problem.  It’s yours.  Just knowing how to recognize the signs in yourself is a big step toward controlling it.

Gauge How Your Reaction Will Affect the Situation

This is where the practice comes in.  Your child can’t find his supplies again?  Didn’t he just have All Of Them at the end of lessons yesterday?  Take a deep breath.  Psychology Today suggests that patience is an act of self-compassion.  You are empathizing with your feelings and treating them kindly.  It’s also (as we all know) a form of outward compassion.  Your kiddo didn’t lose his supplies on purpose.  Is your response going to make matters worse or better?  If you snap or lecture, your child is likely to get his feelings hurt or feel a little rebellious.  So that reaction is only going to make matters worse.  If you breathe, give yourself and your child a little love, then commence helping him look for the supplies, things are going to get better.  If your reaction is going to make things worse, and you feel out of control, walk away for a minute.  Give yourself time to think it out.  And try to keep the storm off your brow as you leave.  When you are back in control, go deal with the situation.

Make a Conscious Effort to Think Before You Speak

Once you’ve recognized that one of your triggers has set you off and given yourself time to think about it, put serious thought into what you are going to say in response.  In the above situation, snapping, “How do you manage to do this Every Day?  Can’t you learn to take care of your stuff?” is probably not the best thing to say, no matter how much you might want to say it.  Instead, try something like, “Well, let’s find your scissors then.  Maybe after class we can make you a new caddy to put everything in with a special place for your scissors.  Would that help you keep track of them better?”  See how much nicer that is?  Your little will respond to it better, and having him help find a solution will give him a sense of empowerment.  The other way?  He’ll feel belittled and small.  And you never want to be the cause of that feeling in your child, do you?

Change Your Perspective

One of the best tools I have for stemming impatience is to stop and look at the situation from the point of view of whomever I’m dealing with.  In this case, the little knows he should have put his scissors up yesterday before he went to have lunch or play.  He is already frustrated with himself for having lost them and he wants to get on with class as much as you do, and  to do that cool craft that requires scissors even more.  When you see things from his perspective instead of your own, it truly helps you let go of the ogre and respond with kindness.  And your day brightens.  And his day brightens.  And all manner of things will be well.

Remember Who You Love

Listen, there are always going to be times when impatience wins.  But here’s the thing.  Nothing is more precious than those littles you’re raising.  Nothing on this planet, in this universe, means as much to you.  They are the bright spark in your life, the joy in your laughter, the reason you breathe and never give up.  And sometimes impatience and a snap reaction makes you meaner than anything else can.  So remember who you’re dealing with.  Remember the learning environment you want for them.  And bite your tongue.  Literally, if you have to.

Love (and patience?) wins,

KT