Why I Don’t Tell My Children to “Be Nice”

Be sure to say thank you.

Share with your sister.

Take turns.

Make wise choices.

Be kind to your brother.

Act like you are somebody.

You don’t always have to be first in line.

Be a good friend.

Let it go.

I say all of these things and many, many more to one or another of my crew at least once a day and then some.  But there’s one thing that I used to say that I found myself almost saying today that I will be very careful about ever saying again.

Be nice.

Cooter had one of his activities today.  After he finished I asked him how it had gone.  He shrugged.  This is one of the very few times he’s not outnumbered by all the estrogen in the room, and I know he can get rowdy along with the best of them–all those boys.  Whew.

“I was good.  I tried.  It was just hard.”

I asked him how.  He proceeded to call one of the others “creepy” and I corrected him.  No name-calling.  That is not okay.

“Well, it is, Mama.  He wants to hug me all the time.  It creeps me out.”

And there it was.  On the tip of my tongue.

Be.  Nice.

Only I caught myself just in time.  A glance in the rearview mirror assured me that he was serious.

Okay.

It’s been a little over a year since I had the conversation with my oldest where she shared what she had read–that we shouldn’t tease anyone about someone being mean because they have a crush on them.  We don’t want anyone to equate meanness or cruel words or hurtful actions with affection.  Not when they’re little.  Not ever.

And this takes it one step further.  If I were to tell Cooter, now be nice, he just wants to hug you, that means he wants to be your friend, imagine how that could mess him up later on.  Sure, this is all innocent–a boy who is younger than him, wanting to hug it out because he wants to be friends.  Just a year ago, that was very likely how Cooter was with his older friend there.  But what if?  What if later on someone else’s “touch” gives him the “creeps,” and I’ve set the precedent of ignoring those feelings, not giving them validation, and told him to “be nice,” that they just want to be his friend. I have to show him I trust him now, that I respect his “creepy” feelings if I want him to continue sharing these things with me and be able to stand up for himself.

It’s a scary and wonderful world we live in.  And as I’ve said before, this raising of the children is not for the faint of heart.  These children with their precious little selves, always listening and watching and paying attention and not always when you really want or need them to, they are so fragile and strong.  So vulnerable and wise.  So innocent and knowing.  All of that.  I don’t want to mess this up.

It’s so hard to know what’s right, you know?  It is so instinctual for me to want my children to be kind, to be polite, and to be respectful.  It was on the very tip of my tongue to correct my boy, to crush any hope of him talking about this kind of thing to me again–all with those two simple words.  Be. Nice.

Instead I gathered my thoughts, and told him that I could appreciate how that made him feel uncomfortable.  I suggested that next time, if it happens again, he should step back and put his hand up and say, “Hey, I can be your friend, but I don’t want to be hugged.”  And if the little guy doesn’t stop, he should go and let a grownup know that he doesn’t care to be hugged.

I don’t know.  It’s so hard to know, isn’t it?  All I can do, as my Mama often said, is the best I can do with what I have now.  And right now, I think the most important thing is for each of my children to feel heard and know that they can bring any story, anything at all, home for me to hear.  I can’t promise not to flip out–it’s kind of my thing (yes, another thing)–but I can promise I won’t leave their side.  Not even once.

"Stickered" by my little guy.  Not a prouder Mama anywhere around.  Love that boy.

“Stickered” by my little guy. Not a prouder Mama anywhere around. Love that boy.

I guess I must have done okay because Cooter gave me his sticker from today.  He smiled so brightly (oh how I love that toothless grin) and seemed plum tickled with himself over it.  I wore it proudly all afternoon and evening.  Let folks stare.  My baby boy thinks I’m awesome.

And tonight I’m thankful for that.  And so much more.

Love to all.

 

 

The Guy, The Fella, and Where the Healing Begins

So I heard this story about a guy who was disabled.  He couldn’t get up and move around on his own.  He lay there for a long time, not far from what was a known cure.  Years and years.  He would start to move towards the cure, but by the time he got there, someone else was already being treated, and apparently it was a “one at a time–first come, first served” kind of thing.  So he stayed put.  In that same spot.

Then one day this fella who was becoming more well known in the area came along and asked the guy, “Do you want to get well?”

Whoa.  That’s kind of a personal question, right?  I mean, this fella is all in his chili.

True to form (for so many of us), the guy started listing the reasons (ahem-excuses?) as to why he hadn’t made it to the point of getting better.  No one had stopped to help him, he couldn’t do it on his own, someone else was always already there so he hung back.

The fella all but holds up his hand to stop the flow of excuses and says, “Never mind all that.  Get up, pick up your stuff, and walk.  You’re good to go now.”

What?

Yep.  It happened.  And the guy got up and took his stuff and walked away.

Cool, right?

This is the story that was shared in Evening Prayer on Sunday evening.  It’s from the Good Book.  After reading the story aloud, my pastorfriend asked a series of questions that we were to discuss at our tables.  She asked interesting questions about what would healing look like for each one of us?  What did it mean for this guy?

But she didn’t ask the one question I was expecting, the one question I kept thinking about as she read the verses from John 5.  I was expecting the hard question that she has asked us about other stories we’ve read–

Who are you in this story?

I’d like to answer, oh yes, I’m the paralytic, laying there, can’t get up.  Or won’t.  Sometimes there’s not much difference.  And yes, I have been that person.  So comfortable in my misery, in my paralyzing fear that I don’t move and take a step towards healing–yep.  I’ve been there.  The struggle is real.  That struggle to not have my identity be that of the “victim,” but instead to put the past behind me and move on.  Move towards the healing waters.  Move towards a new way of living, without all the pain from the past dragging me down.  It’s hard, and sometimes it’s a daily conscious choice I make to leave it all behind, if only just for today.  And then the next day.  And the next.  It takes work.  No wonder the guy was still lying there after all those years.

But as I was listening, I felt my heart skip a beat, as I realized who I really identified with in the story.  Not willingly, but I saw me there.  And it hurt.  Far worse than the pain of lying in my own story.  I have been the person who has walked on by someone in need, not noticing the guy who might need help getting to a healing spot.  I have been too busy or too self-involved to notice.  Or worse, I’ve noticed, and–this hurts to admit it, but there it is staring me in the face–I’ve walked on by anyway.  After all, I have things to get done, places to be, no time no time no time.

Whew.  That glimpse really hurt me.

As we talked about the story at our table, someone wondered aloud what happened after the guy got up and took his stuff (bedroll) with him.  We continued reading.  Turns out the guy ran into some Jewish leaders.  Their immediate reaction was–Why are you carrying your stuff?  Who told you to do that?  It’s the Sabbath, you are not supposed to carry your bedroll on the Sabbath!

Wow.  We found it surprising that no one acknowledged that this guy who had been over by the water, unable to walk for 38 years, was walking!  You know folks knew who he was, right?  I mean even if he was referred to as “Guy who hasn’t moved in years” or “Guy who won’t get up” or “That poor guy by the water,” folks had to recognize who he was.

And yet, instead of seeing the miracle right in front of them, all they could do is be judicial.  They didn’t celebrate at all.  Not a bit.  They pointed fingers and accused and sounded quite unpleasant to be honest.  What you’re doing is against the law and just who exactly told you to do it, because this is so not okay.

Oh y’all.

Today when I thought back over the story and that part in particular, I began to grieve.  Far too often I am like the Jewish leaders.  There, I’ve admitted it. Too often I look right past the amazing things in life and go straight to critical.

When Cooter shows me a Lego contraption he’s built, and I quickly say, “Oh yes, that’s nice” but more quickly move into the “Why are these Legos all over the floor? You have got to pick these up!”  Or his sister wants to tell me about a story she read, and I’m pushing her to finish unloading the dishwasher so we can get the thing loaded up again.  Or when my oldest tells me about an event she’s excited about being a part of and I’m giving her my recommended do’s and don’ts and safety guidelines, rather than sharing in her joy.

The miracle–I just pass on by it like it’s nothing–and move straight into the criticism and legalistic commentary.

Oh me.

This breaks my heart.

Something else breaks my heart.

The world is mourning today a great entertainer.  Someone who touched so many lives.  All day folks sharing their own stories, their own connections with him as though they knew him.  And I suppose in a way we did.  Only we didn’t know about the struggles.  We didn’t know he could use a helping hand.  Or a listening ear. 

And this part of his story and the story from Sunday night have intertwined in my heart and made me aware–of my shortcomings and how I need to work to see the folks around me.  Really see them.  Take time to listen.  To hug.  To tell folks what they mean to me.  Take time to hear what they really need and not just make assumptions.  I need to stop judging and start embracing, loving, caring.  Who knows what difference one moment of caring and loving and compassion can do?

I know of one moment that made a huge difference.  It’s not my story to tell, so I won’t, but I will share this.  It was because of someone who opened her eyes and saw another hurting so badly he was moving away from the healing fast, it was because of her caring and noticing and taking a moment–because of her, someone I care about very much is alive and well and loving on other folks this very day.  And making such a difference in this world. 

Because she noticed.

I think that may be where the healing begins.

It is with my whole heart tonight, that I think on this and make a promise to myself to notice.  To slow down and take time for what really matters.  I need to let go of things that are superficial and dig deep.  And love. 

May we make each day a day of noticing.  Imagine all the good that could do. 

Love to all. 

 

Still afraid of the dark

Growing up I was afraid of the dark.

It was bad.

If it was my turn to feed the cats after dark, I was a nervous wreck, certain that someONE or someTHING was out there waiting to “get” me.  Even the flashlight did not ease my worries.  As I got a little older I grew to appreciate the moon and stars and enjoyed gazing, but I still didn’t venture too far from the back stoop, within an easy dash to safety.  And my Daddy, whom I was sure could take care of anything that came along.

So it was ironic that I roomed with my sister who loved the dark.  We’re talking pitch black.  If I even tried reading with a flashlight under the covers, she was not happy.  I could not relax in the dark enough to go to sleep, so I would beg her to let me leave the hall light on and crack our door.  Mama and Daddy would turn off the lights when they went to bed anyway.  She usually put her foot down, but there were nights she’d be so tired, she’d acquiesce and I could fall asleep in peace.

Oh the nights when Mama and Daddy turned in early and they turned off all the lights in the house.  Those were hard.  The darkness held an unknown factor in it, and that is what I was afraid of.  What I didn’t know.  What could be out there. What might be.  My mind would crank up, and some nights it was hard to shut it down.

I don’t remember when things changed, but now I find it hard to sleep if there are any lights on in my room.  There can be an extraneous light from the kitchen or living room that might send a ray or two into the room and I will probably  be okay.  But if there is a lamp or booklight or phone lit up, I find it difficult to sleep.  Wouldn’t Sister find that poetic justice?  I haven’t had the nerve to tell her, after the hard time I gave her all those years.

So yes, I like to sleep in a dark room.  Winter or summer, air conditioning or heat, it seems to me  if a light is on in a room, it is hot.  I find comfort sleeping in the dark.

But I am still afraid of the dark.

This occurred to me early in the wee hours of this morning.  Miss Sophie had her “female” surgery yesterday, and I stayed up with her making sure she was comfortable and could sleep.  While we cuddled, I read a few stories on the internet, and it hit me as I settled down for the night about 2:00 a.m., I am still very much afraid of the darkness.

First I read the article about the shooting in the FedEx in Atlanta yesterday morning.  And I did what I do when faced with the Darkness.  It’s automatically what I do for comfort, like my nephew who rubs a corner of his shirt or my niece who sucks her thumb.

I immediately went through a checklist in my mind–how can I be sure not to be caught in this Darkness?  How can I keep this from happening to me?  How far removed am I from what happened?

I know.  Sad, right?

I mean, my heart goes out to those affected.  And I want to cry.  But then those old anxieties at the unknown and uncertainties kick in and I’m trying to make sure somehow that I won’t be caught out in the dark.

Then later I came across this article.

“After Two Weeks, 234 Nigerian Schoolgirls Are Still Missing: A terrorist group opposed to education is thought to be behind the kidnappings”

What?!  Two weeks?  How had I missed this story?  Was it not getting coverage?  Or was I just in my own little world?

Oh the tears.  Those poor young women.  Seeking an education.  A different way of life.

And it hit me–

How is it possible that we, these young women and I, are living on the same planet?  This past Saturday while I celebrated with other women who attended our all women’s college and honored our heritage–one that began in 1836–these young women were going through unknown terrors at the hands of their enemies in a land far away.

And yet not so far away really.

It makes me think again, wondering how I wound up here and they wound up there.  There are no words, no explanations.

And through my tears, I realized that I am still very much afraid of the Dark.  The Darkness in this world that is responsible for things like this happening.

As I went to my old soothing standby to calm my anxiety–my running through my checklist of–can this happen to me?  Or, am I safe from this?–I realized it has happened to me.  All of these things of the darkness, they are happening to me. To all of us.

I’ve shared this one before, but it came to my mind and heart again this morning.

Another version of the "Many leaves, one tree" line that's been running through my mind.  So true--we're all in this together, aren't we?

And the words of Tayari A. Jones, author of Silver Sparrow and other novels, also spoke to me:

This is very important.

I am not sure what we can do to help, but you have to at least care.

234 girls, stolen from their families, all because they went to school.

She is right.  We have to care.  I may be afraid of the dark, but I cannot continue separating myself from what is happening to cope, to soothe my anxieties.  The truth is that the shooting in Atlanta, the young women kidnapped and reportedly being married off to their captors, my friends who are sleeping on the dock to stay out of the terrible storms of the past two days, the children across town who are hungry, the college student who doesn’t have a stable family to go home to over summer break–they all matter and it all affects me.  Affects all of us.  In this world so filled with darkness, even if we are unsure of what to do, we can begin by caring.

I remember a book I read years ago.  I ordered it off my Scholastic book order form.  I was allowed to spend a dollar occasionally on those book forms, so when I found a 95 cent book, I was excited.  It was Light a Single Candle by Beverly Butler.  I remember how much I loved that book.  But tonight I’m remembering a quote from the beginning of the book–the first time I ever heard these words (which have been attributed to Adlai Stevenson, Eleanor Roosevelt, W. L. Watkinson and a Chinese proverb):

It is better to light a single candle

than to sit and curse the darkness. 

Words that have stayed with me all these years and came home to roost this afternoon.

I am still afraid of the Darkness.  After all the years.  Of that someTHING or someONE who might be out there full of evil intent.

But I can no longer sit and figure out my six or twelve or twenty degrees of separation to bring me comfort.  Life is too short and the world is too small.  What is happening right now affects us all, no matter how scary it is.

And so tonight, as I tuck Miss Sophie in for a good night’s rest and I crawl into my bed on clean sheets in my home where the sidewalks seem safe and the birds sing in the trees behind my house, I will cry over a part of me that is broken.  The part that is connected to those immediately in the line of the Darkness.  The river flows and touches all of us.  Their brokenness is a part of me and always will be.  I cannot live in peace until we are all at peace.

And for tonight, that’s where I’m at.  Tearful, broken, but caring and hopeful.

A veritable paradox.

Love and caring to all.  It’s a start.

After Two Weeks, 234 Abducted Nigerian Schoolgirls Are Still Missing

A terrorist group opposed to western education is thought to be behind the kidnappings

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/two-weeks-234-abducted-nigerian-schoolgirls-are-still-missing-180951236/#0dBcu2vogr1T2shs.99
Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12! http://bit.ly/1cGUiGv
Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter

After Two Weeks, 234 Abducted Nigerian Schoolgirls Are Still Missing

A terrorist group opposed to western education is thought to be behind the kidnappings

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/two-weeks-234-abducted-nigerian-schoolgirls-are-still-missing-180951236/#0dBcu2vogr1T2shs.99
Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12! http://bit.ly/1cGUiGv
Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter

I Do Not Think That Word Means What You Think It Means

Ahem.

I’m going to try to handle this one delicately.

Bear with me please.

Lately I’ve seen folks using a word more and more in a way that it was not meant to be used.

And to be perfectly honest, I’m offended.

And pained.

Because this stuff brings people down.  It can tear apart families, relationships, lives.  And it can destroy those involved in it–some by no choice of their own.

The word is pornography.

More and more I see other words attached to the shortened form of this word.  “Porn.”

*shaking my head*

I just don’t get it.

If you are not on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others like them) you might not be aware of this.  But people are actually taking pictures of beautiful plates of food and calling it “food porn.”  I saw a lovely photo of nature and it was labeled “tree porn.”  My oldest came home from college today and informed me that you can look up just about any kind of something and find that word attached to it.

Say what?

My Daddy used to shake his head sometimes and say, “I think I’ve just lived too long.”

I hear you, Daddy.  I get it.

The thing is, it’s not even a correct use of the word.  According to Oxford Dictionaries, the word is derived from the Greek words:

mid 19th century: from Greek pornographos  ‘writing about prostitutes’, from pornē  ‘prostitute’ + graphein  ‘write’

The more appropriate part of the word to use with the food and nature photos and all of the other pictures would be the “graph” part.

But I guess that just doesn’t turn people’s heads like “porn” does, huh?

This has been on my mind and heart and has bothered me for quite some time.  But yesterday I learned that Saturday, January 11 is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day.  I decided I couldn’t sit on my opinions or hold my tongue any longer.

Y’all.

Folks, real people, are affected by this.  Each and every day.  All over the world.  And in this country as well.  Land of the Free just doesn’t exist for some.   Nor does it, I guess, for any of us.  Not really.

pic of mlk quote

There are more slaves in the world today than ever before.

I’m not judging folks who use pornography.  Not today.

But if you tell yourself that pornography and human trafficking are not related, you are kidding yourself.

Sorry.  Facts are facts.  And I’ve read enough to know that many of the human beings used in this industry are a part of this against their will.  People just like you and me–except many are much, much younger.  Some are children. They never asked for this, and they are being FORCED to produce it.

Not all, some might say.

Maybe not, but how would you know which ones aren’t?

It all just makes me sick.  And mad.  This is something we have to say no to.  Human trafficking–in this day and age?  With all the advances we’ve supposedly made?  It seems unfathomable, and yet organizations like Love 146 (read their story–you can’t do it with dry eyes, I promise), International Justice Mission, and Not For Sale say differently.  It is very real.

What can we do?

Perhaps we can begin by not taking a word that refers to something that can be demeaning and damaging and can destroy lives and using it as a light-hearted description of something that is beautiful.

Yeah, that could be a start.

###############

I give thanks tonight for my daughter Aub who introduced me to the story of Love 146 back six years ago.  I listened and I read, and I was humbled by the heart of a young person who saw it as a problem and wanted to be a part of changing the world.  I have a long way to go, but thanks for getting me started, baby girl. 

(More information about the organizations listed above can be found by clicking on their names, which will take you to their websites.  Thanks for reading.)