“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”Gilda Radner

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Building People

Noah has decided to be in charge.

I'm not sure where this comes from, because I certainly don't foster a household that would leave any child to believe they're in control. In fact, it has been said that the children in my house are actually out of control. (haha, I laugh at my own joke)

But I find myself reflecting on the age in which I grew up, what I was taught, and the sorts of children I see out in the world now. Not the littler ones, but the ones I teach in middle school and who are fast growing up and believing themselves to be the next world leaders. It's unavoidable I suppose, but frightening just the same. Because we all are victims of this ridiculous thing called self-esteem.

It only affected me peripherally, as its real age was only up and coming while I grew up. But I caught wind of it here and there. "Believe in yourself, because you are special." I say this to my children, too, but as Noah was storming in my kitchen and declaring himself dictator of our household, I had to add to it. And it's this that I think the new generations are missing.

"You are special, Noah, and I love you, but you are not more special or more important than anyone else in this house."

I really believe this is where the self-esteem preachers went wrong. It is important to teach children their value and a sense of self-worth, but it went to such an extreme that they actually began to believe they were better than any others, more deserving than the rest. But how can that be? In a world of billions, I do not want my children believing that anything is owed to them simply because they are who they are. I believe they are unique and have outstanding qualities, but that their value will come as they contribute to what goes on around them.

So I added in my statement to Noah, "This family is a team, and our job is take care of each other."

Separate from any sort of self-esteem issues, I also have to add things like, "There is only one mommy, and TWO boys. I can only take care of one of you at a time, so somebody has to wait." I know it might seem hokey and time-consuming to some, but I like to take the time, if I can (like if no one is on fire or bleeding), to analyze each person's situation. "Noah is hurt and crying. Joey wants a snack. Who needs Mommy more right now?" They don't like it, and they always (hear me, always) want to turn it into a case of "Who Does Mommy Love Best?" This only branches into deeper conversation as I strive to make them see the point. I've found it's very hard for children to ever see the point if they aren't it.

Which brings me back to the self-esteem thing. I've come to believe as a teacher and a parent that children naturally see themselves as the center of the world. It isn't even wrong exactly, because their worlds are small and limited to what they know. At young ages, generally, the world begins with themselves and having their own needs met. What becomes our job is making sure to meet their basic needs (not iPhones and video games and the Internet, btw), and then that they understand how to identify what is unique in themselves, and how to apply it in a valuable way to the world in which they live. This may be their home, as in my case with Joey and Noah, or their classroom at school, or at the playground. Wherever they are, they are meant to make it better. We all are.

Does this always work? Not for me, no. The other day, the game was played--or I was played, really--where Joey needed clothes and Noah needed a playmate. I'm sure we can all logically see the easiest way for this to work out. Clothe Joey and he can be Noah's playmate. But no. Joey in his underpants danced around in circles while Noah shouted, "Nobody loves me! You hate me! All I wanted was someone to play with me!" and I was buried in a pile of laundry trying to figure out how it happens that all the jeans in one basket could all be Noah's and never Joey's. The chaos escalated, I extracted myself from the mountain of clothes that had tumbled all around me, tripping and sliding over stray socks and underwear, and found myself crying out, "I really don't like ANY of you very much right now!"

How's that for building self-esteem?

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