Last month I wrote a letter to the fallen teachers of Sandy Hook in Connecticut. I was deeply moved after learning about their last acts of selflessness. I viewed my teaching colleagues with new eyes, and my perception of bravery is forever changed.
Later that morning, I was contacted by a producer at the Megyn Kelly show to do an interview. I ran to the special education office, plugged in my computer, and was interviewed live via Skype. Both Megyn and I were close to tears as we recounted the heroism of the brave teachers who lost their lives protecting their students.
I’ve been touched by the many teachers who found this letter inspiring and comforting. In small and big ways, we need to lift each other up, to change the perceptions of teaching as a career, and work together to protect children from harm.
A main focus of this parenting blog is keeping kids safe. In effect, it is what do every single day, every moment in caring for our children. From the day we are first pregnant, we fret about what to eat, how much to exercise, our prenatal care, and plan for how we will best care for our babies. We worry about how and what we will feed them, then as they learn to move, we protect them from dangers in our home, and hold their hands as they learn to walk.
One painful reality we all learn quickly is that we can’t protect our kids from every hurt, pain, or heartbreak. There are lessons in skinned knees, hurt feelings, and disappointments.
This week is different. We need to question what children need to know about the tragic shootings in Newton. We have been reminded how even in our schools, where countless people surround our beautiful children with love, support and safety, unspeakable horror can happen. It has rattled us to the core. We mourn with the parents who are facing the loss of their most precious, deepest love. As we hug our children, we mourn for the loss of those who can hug their children no longer.
It’s that busy time of year in the Northeast when teachers are in countless meetings, trainings, and in-sevice days, and in between setting up and cleaning their classrooms to get ready for students. In my own classroom, the nametags are on the hooks, the mailboxes and cubbies are labeled, and a hand-written welcome note, a bookmark, and a new pencil sits on each child’s desk.
As a teacher and a parent, I get a bird’s eye view of how teachers and parents can team up to provide the best education possible for a child. Here are a few things I think most teachers would want parents to know as the school year begins.
1. Share what you know! You are your child’s first and best teacher. You know what excites, frustrates, and inspires your child. Fill out any surveys sent home, and send in insights about your child via email or notes, or even a quick hallway chat. Teachers want to learn quickly how to best reach and teach your child.
2. We are on the same team in the best interest of the child. I know it seems obvious, but starting conversations from the perspective of how we can best work together can be very powerful and productive. Amazing things can happen when parents and teachers team up. I’ve seen children make tremendous progress, gain confidence, and take on new challenges when teachers and parents communicate frequently and team up to support each other. Sometimes, we may have different perspectives and opinions, but teachers (like parents) want what is best for the child both emotionally and academically, and will work tirelessly for it.
It’s hard to understand how profound the Penn State child abuse scandal is unless you live or lived in State College.
Unless you grew up in a town where on Saturdays every living soul was either heading to the game, was already at a tailgate, or was already in their seat in bleachers of Beaver stadium.
Unless every Saturday your family spent together—either meeting up with family friends at a tailgate, eating cheesy, saucy foods in sweaters and Penn State sweatshirts, tossing footballs, goofing around, and looking for players. Checking in about lives, laughing, and talking about how Penn State could win.
Unless you sat in the stands, layered up against the sub zero cold, cheek to cheek with your brother and parents, screaming and yelling and cheering, hair covered with flecks of snow.
Unless you watched the exuberance of the sport, for years, and the community building effect it had on students, children and adults alike. Collective, soul rousing cheers–raising your voice with thousands of people. White outs. The Nittany lion’s endless antics. The shirtless, painted, screaming fans. The thumping band, echoing in your chest. Eating stadium food in all of its salty, unhealthy glory.
Unless one of the first songs you learned as a toddler was Fight on State, and the song is as familiar as Mary had a little lamb.
Unless you grew up beside Joe Paterno’s and Jerry Sandusky’ children. Knew them, went to classes with them, knew Joe’s house, even partied in Sunset park behind it, and kissed a boy in his backyard.
Unless you spent away games dressed in your Penn State clothes, eating tailgate food in your house, gathered around the TV. Mom cheering at the screen, my dad ironing, looking up, eager to find for the score. The landscape of your weekend, the planets in your family constellation.
You really can’t imagine.
The trouble with pedestals is that it is a long fall down. And a community, a university, and a family falls along.
One of the intricacies of youth is the ability to idolize, and place upon a pedestals, our parents, our leaders, our heroes. It is dangerous, reckless, and damaging when we see them fall—when we learn that people aren’t perfect, that indeed people we believe in so much, and have watched for so long, can fail.
It takes your breath away, and leaves you wondering about your own life, your own potential failings, and the indelible and oppressive vulnerability that haunts us all.
I’ve seen this in my life—I know the familiar let down, the hollowness and the sense of becoming unmoored. Growing up, I saw it my one of my coaches, and in my own family. I carry these disappointments deep in my adult self, under layers.
But it doesn’t make it hurt less now.
It only reminds me how fragile this life is and how easily things are taken away– how every single decision we make can change our lives forever.
And none of it really matters, even how my own childhood, the fabric of my upbringing, was centered around this mythic sport and coach. What matters are the relationships, not the vehicles, necessarily, or the traditions that surrounded them.
Because in this instance, what matters most is that children were hurt. They were abused, horribly and irrevocably hurt and victimized and no one stopped it. Not even the one who saw it, or our beloved Joepa.
That is our biggest tragedy.
And no matter who is fired, or how many students turn over cars, or who might pine for the simple glory days of a Penn State youth, it doesn’t change this.
We mourn for the children first, for what they lost. We hope in our hearts for their recovery, for healing, for justice.
Second, our childhood, and our family traditions, have been altered forever, but what remains is what always mattered most. Love of community, family, friends, and sport.
This will rise again in Happy Valley. But yes, we have lost our innocence, and another hero.
Hello, dear readers out there. The ones who post comments, and the ones who do not. I am so happy you take time in your busy schedule to visit Non-Toxic Kids.
I have created a place for you all to carry on the conversations started here, or to start new ones, and to feel the support and guidance of a collective group of parents. I was looking for a way for readers to connect, discuss, and share beyond comments, and I hope I have found it!
When you click over to the community page, you will now see where you can enter the conversation. You have to log in with BlogFrog (you can use Facebook or Twitter), a group that helps blogs build community. Once you have created a profile (don’t worry, it’s not hard and you don’t have to reveal anything you don’t want to), you can start posting questions, participating in live discussions, and responding to comments.
Please (pretty please?) come on over and check it out. Post any feedback you have here or over in the community. Infinitely bright readers, I know you have lots to share. I can’t wait to read your thoughts and learn from you.
Driving from New England to the mid-Atlantic states with two young children is fraught with challenges. One of them is that you have to deal with the New York Thruway, and the
Northway where the only places to stop are the highway rest areas with a few fast food choices at each. At least they moved from a Bob’s Big Boy to a Quizzno’s and Sbarro, but still. The choices are bleak for someone trying to travel green and healthy.
I try to pack. But packing three meals for a 10 hour driving day, and all the stuff the kids need for the trip, and everything I need– well, it is overwhelming for someone who despises packing as much as I do. And we have some challenges such as one severe nut allergy, 3 vegetarians, and a guy who would love to eat sausage, egg and cheese sandwiches everyday.
But what happens when we stop for food on the road, from chain fast food restuarants, or even “healthy” fast food? This kind of eating has consequences:
“According to her study, for children to develop the math skills they’ll need later on in school, it is essential that parents spend time teaching their children the value of numbers by using concrete examples — instead of just repeating them out loud.”
One of my favorite ornaments for the Christmas tree is a somewhat ugly god’s eye that my brother made when he was 5. I fondly remember it decorating every tree of my childhood. This ornament became part of our family story.
It struck me the other day that making a god’s eye would a sweet holiday craft that my girls could do and give as gifts. Not many materials needed, no plastic, not much crafting skill, and not too hard.
Perfect! Especially for a not so crafty, not so patient person like myself.