The wonder and joy of being a child’s important adult is so fragile. Our buckets of energy, patience and empathy get emptied by the demands of hectic schedules and societal pressures. We have many layers of responsibilities – financial, relationship, career – and while we may find joy from what we do and the people around us, they all deplete our resources. We need to take time to refill our buckets. We need to consciously, purposely and proactively restore our joy. When we are not remembering to see the world through eyes of wonder, we are harming the children around us.
Unintended lessons can come from our experiences and this year has been my year of incidental learning about the bucket that some people call the soul and others call the human spirit. This has been my Inner City Consulting Year. I am honored and humbled each time I am hired to work in communities with at-risk children who live in poverty or have specials needs including the need for more love. I am interacting with 3 and 4-year-old children who face hunger and hopelessness every day. Their stories break my heart. If I can have an impact on the joy and learning that they get from being in their safe preschool environment, I will be so grateful. The work exhausts my soul. I sing with them, laugh with them and hug them. I revel in their laughter. I advise their teachers and administrators who are some of the most compassionate people I have ever known. I come home empty.
That exhaustion and emptiness of soul is a vaguely familiar feeling. I remember sitting in the rocking chair with my own sick child and wanting to cry from the fatigue of sleepless nights filled with monitoring his fevers that tended to suddenly spike. I remember teaching in a classroom with 15 toddlers and feeling like all I did was change diapers. I know that my bucket has needed refilling before, maybe not to this degree, but still it was depleted. I wish I knew then what I have learned now. It isn’t so hard to regain the joy and wonder.
Today is my refilling day. I cannot seem to shake and move on from interactions I have had this week. I can still feel the strong hug from the 3-year-old boy who had only met me once before but is in so much need of kind human contact. I keep thinking about the little girl who only draws pictures of sad faces and her friend who puts food in her pockets for the long ride back to the shelter. I have had challenging exchanges with adults this week. I would be wrong to let myself remain depleted because I am a parent and a teacher. The children in my life deserve my best.
I share with you what I have learned this year about finding my equilibrium and remembering to keep the children at the center of my concerns rather than my own loop of pressure, frustrations and demands.
- Stop to Listen to the Sounds – Some people stop to smell the roses. I stop to listen to the sounds. I am in my living room listening to the howling wind during a blizzard that is interrupting the usual schedules of the people who live in the Northeastern United States. I hear my son walking in his bedroom and the clock ticking. The sounds bring me to the present moment so I can pull my brain out of yesterday’s challenges or tomorrow’s worries. If I am very still, I can still hear the sounds of my boys laughing together that have been a mainstay in these four walls. Stop to listen to the sounds – the sounds that ground you in this exact moment and recall the sounds of joyful children.
- Close Your Eyes to See More Clearly – When I close my eyes, I search for the pictures in my mind of that best day – the day when I was a child’s hero because I fixed a broken wheel on a toy truck or the day when a crying child smiled at me through tears. I use those pictures to remember that what seem like small moments are actually the big ones. I never know when I could have a positive impact and I am reminded that I don’t want an opportunity to give the best of myself to pass.
- Breath in New, Pure Air – Take 6 deep breaths and with each breath, exhale the anxiety, sadness, frustration and need for power. Inhale kindness, understanding and patience. Breath in through your nose and out through your mouth as you exchange the challenging conversations, the work drama and the negative emotions. Literally breath in the new, untainted air that is filled with a refreshed outlook.
- Take a Moment to Remember Yourself as a Child – When I quiet my adult thought loop, close my eyes and breathe deeply, I can remember that little girl who preferred giggling over tears and kindness over grown-ups in bad moods. I remember only wanting that mean teacher to be fair to me because she isn’t perfect either. I remember the joy of being unconditionally loved and applauded for singing that was undoubtedly off key, praised for barely recognizable drawings and the feeling of both physical and emotional hugs. I am a parent and a teacher so I know that one of my life purposes is to help children to know that they are enough. They don’t need to be anywhere near perfect. They are enough for this world. It is all that little girl in me wanted to be.
- Honor the Impact You Have on The Lives of the Children – It isn’t true that children in a classroom move to the next teacher and it is as if you never existed. You leave your mark. What do you want that mark to be? It isn’t true that children will only remember the good about their parents. When we die, our children may prefer the conscious memory of the good but the effects of worst in people remain in the subconscious and impact their lives. We all make mistakes. I want my mistakes when I am in the presence of children to be minor. Never forget that everything you say and the way you say it, every physical interaction and its gentleness or roughness, every look of approval or disapproval leaves a mark in their soul.
The only thing in this whole world that you can control is your own actions and reactions. You get to choose to model the best or the worst in people. Take time out of your busy schedule to refill your bucket and recharge your soul. The children in your life deserve your best. My next visit to an at-risk community is in two weeks. I am sure I will have other stresses in my life by then. I will need to take the only type of time out that is good for us – a time out to restore the joy, kindness and patience that children deserve from me. I will block off time on my calendar to listen, close my eyes, breath and remember so I can have the impact that I choose…
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