“Why don’t more kids stand up to the bullies?”

Every time I read a post about mean kids and bullies I want to proudly declare my kids always stand up to the mean kids. But always isn’t accurate. And frankly, it’s not realistic.

I realize that statement sounds horrific and half of you stopped reading (and likely started irately commenting) but hear me out. Because none of us have a perfect kindness record.

While I want my girls to always do the right thing, even when the right thing is the hard thing, sometimes they choose not to. And I get it.

Yes, I get it.

Because I was a kid once.  While I had a strong desire to be kind, my 13-year old self had a stronger desire to fit in. The author of Wonder (must read book) sums it up perfectly:

What character do you identify with the most or is the most like you?
I wish I could say I was most like Summer, but that wouldn’t be true. I try to be more like her every day, though. ..But the character I identify the most with as a girl, or who represents what I might have been like if a kid like Auggie came to my school, is Charlotte. I think a lot of kids can relate to Charlotte. She’s nice enough, but she never really goes out of her way to be kind to Auggie. She’ll wave hello from a distance, but she never sits down with him. She helps Jack behind the scenes, but she never openly sides with him. She’s a good girl, but she’s not quite brave enough to act on her good instincts. That kind of bravery sometimes doesn’t come until you’re older, and sometimes doesn’t come at all. She represents the difference between simply being nice, and choosing to be kind, which is a main theme of the book. She’s the classic bystander, though I think by the end of the book she’s become aware of this. Her precept shows this. I think in the sixth grade, she’ll be an upstander, not a bystander.

 In 7th grade my “friends” had an amazing (sarcasm) game of social isolation where every week someone in the group was iced out. Somehow I was the person that was most frequently iced out.  So you’d think when it was someone else’s turn I would speak out or at least go hang out with the friend that was being isolated.

But I didn’t. Because it was freaking SCARY.

Here’s another thing I inwardly retaliate against: the idea that all rude, mean, and bullying behavior (do you know the difference?) starts at home. Whenever I read a post that includes some form of “well she learned it somewhere, must have started at home” I think that maybe it didn’t.

You read that right: I don’t believe that all bullying starts at home. I also don’t dare to utter those words out loud, or even more daring, print them in response to a FB post (yep, still trying to fit in).

How could I think such a thing? I try to assume some positive intent, especially when kids are involved. Sometimes the meanness is superficial oversight. Sometimes it’s a momentary lack of empathy. Sometimes people make a bad on-the-spot-decision. Yet other times the person is simply an asshole.

It’s really hard to know what motivated the behavior or where it was learned so I don’t want to pass judgment (which doesn’t mean I don’t pass judgment, just that I try not to!). And I especially want to be fair because I’d want that treatment if it were my girls accused of bullying.

Which could happen as accounted for in this powerful narrative of a kind, thoughtful mom who discovered her worst nightmare: it was her kid that was the bully.

Which is all to say, again, I get it when kids are bystanders instead of upstanders.

When I talk to my kids about another kid who is left out, picked on, called names, or worse, I understand when they respond with hesitation. I coach them, guide them, and question them…using all of my best techniques to get them to stand up to that mean kid but in the end I know I made the same choice over and over again.

Even as an adult I sometimes slip into this old habit. I get caught up in the scene, worry that I’ll make waves, and watch someone else’s misery unfold. A friend of mine summed it up perfectly, “we have too many bystanders, myself included. I speak out, but not too loudly because I just want to exist in peace.”

(BTW, this statement is hilarious because one of the things I admire most about this friend is that she seems to always speak out, loudly, without a care of who disagrees, at the most meaningful moments.)

There are certain situations I expect any human being to get involved in no matter their age. If anyone witnesses another person being taunted, harassed, isolated, discriminated against or pushed around, they should help. Period. If my girls told me they saw this behavior and said nothing I would be so vocal you might even hear me from wherever you live.

What I really want to figure out is how to help my kids feel comfortable standing up for themselves and others. How to do this in a way that is authentic to them. How to acknowledge their discomfort and help them work through it. How to help them be kind and confident in their response. How to get them to do what’s right more often and more vocally. How to teach them without telling them so it becomes instinct.

Back to the original question, “Why don’t more kids stand up to bullies?” My answer stands: there are a lot of reasons. Let’s take time to understand the reasons so we can guide our kids more often for better results. Let’s be realistic about what’s possible, when.

And let’s keep talking about it. Right here. Right now.

 

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My Path is Different

I’m living in the decade my mom didn’t survive.

I just got here yet I’ll be here for a while. I wonder if that’s what my mom thought when she entered her 40s. Surely she didn’t think, “this is the decade I am going to die.”

Yet I fear just that.

Today I see all that she left behind. All that she might have seen. If only she were here.

My path is different.

I want to watch my kids grow up. To be part of their lives and their kids’ lives. I want to love them and hug them and smile at them and yell at them and fight with them and hold them close and let them go. I want to be their mom for a long, long time.

My path is different.

I want to grow old with Josh. To hold hands, have adventures, explore new places, discover new interests.  I want to reminisce about our life. Create new memories to reflect on. To watch our children become independent. Together.

My path is different.

I feel more love and gratitude than ever before yet I crave more. I feel confident yet inadequate. I feel like I am giving so much yet it’s never enough. I feel like I am surrounded by family and friends yet I am alone. I feel like I know myself better than ever yet there is so much more to discover.

My path is different.

I know the age of her death is arbitrary. I know the chance that I will follow in her footsteps of early demise is unlikely. Yet I can’t shake it. The closer I get to the age she died the more I feel like there is a shadow cast upon my soul.

My path is different. But only if I make it so.

This decade I will love more. Laugh more. Smile more. Feel more gratitude. Experience more joy.

Happy birthday, Mom.

3 things people will say to Amy Mitchell that will drive her crazy (and how to avoid saying these things yourself)

You know that scene in Bad Moms when Amy Mitchell runs for PTA President on a platform of “vote for me if you want to do less”?

She rallied an entire school community to have less fundraisers, less policy, and less judgement. And yet, those same people who support and appreciate her are going to innocently (and regularly) say three things that will drive her crazy.

Here’s what they are and strategies to avoid them yourself.

  1. I don’t know how you do it.

Gwendolyn says this to Amy in the opening scene – before she is even president. Which makes you wonder: how will Amy successfully juggle work, family, her new boyfriend, and the PTA? Amy’s secret (like all the other people who find time to “do so many things!” is to choose the things that make her happy, and say no – or delegate – the rest.

Amy will quickly wish that people will STOP saying, “I don’t know how you do it”.

If you find these words rising to your lips when you talk to any volunteer, instead say:

  • “Thank you so much” followed by:
  • “How do you balance work, family, and…?”
  • “What happens when work needs you and the [fill in other thing] needs you?”

Here’s the trick: Be genuine. Be curious. Be appreciative. Both in your words and your body language.

  1. I can’t help. I work full time.

As soon as Amy officially becomes PTA president people will quickly let her know, “I think what you’re doing is great. I don’t know how you find time for it all. And by the way, I can’t help because I work full time.”

Any Amy will think, “Ohhhh…you work full time. Guess what? So.Do.I.”

And so do most of the other volunteers that find time to help out.

“I work full time” is an unintentionally – yet totally insulting – response to someone who asks you for – or clearly needs – your help. I know, I know, when asked for help you think, “is this bitch crazy? I don’t have time to help. I DON’T HAVE TIME TO DO ANYTHING.” Instead say:

  • “I appreciate all you do.” Followed by:
  • “My schedule is full right now. I can’t help out.”
  • “I can help out for [amount of time] during [period of time].”
  • “I’d love to help with…
  • “I give my time to…that’s the cause I am supporting right now.”

And remember, it’s OK to say no. I repeat: IT IS OK TO SAY NO. Just say it in a more supportive way.

  1. You should…

By the time Amy runs her first PTA event someone – many someones – will give her feedback. They’ll tell her “you should” a thousand times and she’ll likely think, “sure I should but can I? Can I do that thing and still have time for everything else.” Likely those “shoulds” will come from people who have lots of ideas and no time to actually help her.

Let’s all stop sharing ideas with each other as if they “should” have been thought of already. Instead say:

  • “Thank you so much for [be specific]”… followed by…
  • “Next time you do … could I help by …”
  • “I have an idea about … what’s the best way to share my feedback?”
  • “This might not be possible, but I have an idea to…”

Here’s the trick: lead with gratitude (see the theme here) and offer your idea graciously.

For those Amy Mitchell’s out there

For those of us who give our time generously to organizations – PTA and otherwise – we have a role to play in this too. Instead of feeling frustrated and wishing more people would do more and say less, help these well intentioned people who say the right things in the wrong way.

  • Thank each person for something they have done, no matter how little. The advice to lead with gratitude goes both ways.
  • Infuse some empathy into the conversation. Deeply listen to what the other person is saying (without thinking I AM BUSY TOO). Experience what they are feeling. Say thank you, acknowledge their feelings, then hit ‘em with some knowledge*.
  • Know when to roll your eyes and move along. Some people are truly Essentialists who are incredibly mindful of their time (R-E-S-P-E-C-T to this crowd). Others are simply assholes who aren’t worth your time and energy. But most are somewhere in between – they’re the ones who need a little extra attention and education.

* This is particularly easy if you’ve actually experienced both sides of the situation. For example, being a parent and being part of the PTA.

To Amy Mitchell and all the other Bad Moms out there

Keep it up, girlfriends!

 

How to answer the toughest questions kids ask

My kids are curious about the most uncomfortable topics. It’s like they have a boomerang of questions  around money, sex, God, death, relationships, and body parts.  I resist my urge to cringe, fold my arms, roll my eyes, and run away when they ask:

Mommy, when will I get boobs and how will I get them?

Why did your mom die? Will you die when I’m a kid?

How come so-and-so believes in God but you don’t? Wait, do you believe in God?

How much money do you make?

Why are there so many rainbow flags hanging and what do they mean?

Why is that girl a boy?

These are real questions from my girls. Whether you’re giggling or cringing, you’re likely wondering how the heck I answered them! Here are my strategies. And some examples.

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Best.Quotes.Ever. (other inspirations too)

I’ve got a thing for anything that inspires me or makes me laugh. I bet you do too. Otherwise you wouldn’t have clicked on a post titled “Best.Quotes.Ever.” Here are the best quotes, poems, and other inspirations from my “collection” (an old, faded, stained book with scribbled quotes).

These are in no particular order. They aren’t grouped by category or theme (shocking! I know) except that I moved a few of my absolute favorites to the beginning. Otherwise these are listed simply in the order I captured them starting in 1992.

Share your favorites in the comments. Better: share your own.

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How we live our days

Is how we live our lives.

~ Annie Dillard

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Every day do something that will inch you closer to a better tomorrow. ~ Doug Firebaugh

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Wherever you go, you take yourself with you.  ~ Abraham

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What you believe is what you create. ~Abraham

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The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me. ~Ayn Rand

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Masquerading as a normal person day after day is exhausting.  ~ Arlene Storeby

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“All times are beautiful for those who maintain joy within them”

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You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, “I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along” you must do the thing you think you cannot do. ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

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Sometimes being a friend means mastering the art of timing

There is a time for silence, a time to let go and allow people to hurt themselves into their own destiny

And a time to prepare to pick up the pieces when it’s all over

~ G. Naylor

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An expectation is a premeditated resentment.

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The Ship

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength. I stand and watch her until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then someone at my side says: “There, she is gone!”

“Gone where?”

Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her detained port.

Her diminished size is in me, not in her. And just at the moment when someone at my side says: “There, she is gone!” there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the glad shout: “Here she comes!”

And that is dying.

~Henry van Dyke

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I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. ~ Maya Angelou

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Two Things My Dad Taught Me Without Telling Me

My dad’s wisdom is 1950’s-meets-Emily-Post.  Be kind. Be thoughtful. Be proper. Do the right thing.  Family first. He never said any of these words. He just showed me what he expected.

 Dad

“Be safe”

Since I was four (likely earlier but who remembers) my dad has been sternly cautioning me to “be safe” and “don’t do anything stupid”. These statements don’t have any qualifiers or explanations. When I was 10 “be safe” meant “don’t ride your bike in the middle of the street”. I assume now at 40 he means “don’t drive your car on the sidewalk” but who knows, he never actually defined safety.

When I was young he showed me how to be safe by:

  • Sitting in the car for extended periods of time until I figured out to buckle up.
  • Standing on the side of the road for minutes until I figured out to look both ways.
  • Lightly smacking my hand when I tried to touch anything hot or sharp.

When I was a teenager his safety lessons were more of an interrogation:

  • Who are you going out with?
  • Will parents be there?
  • What will you do if someone you don’t know offers you a ride home?

Fun fact: when my first date picked me up to go out my dad snuck out of the house and wrote down the guy’s license plate number.

When I moved out of the house his safety lessons evolved into observational questions:

  • When I traveled, particularly to a city he had been to, “do you know which streets to avoid?”
  • When I moved into my own home, “do you check to see if everything looks ‘right’ before you go in?”

My dad’s prompts led me to seek out information on how to be safe in every situation. And insist my kids do the same. As my kids leave the house I call after them, “BE SAFE! I mean, look both ways before you cross the street…if you get lost, ask a mom for help…” My kids are long gone before I finish my list.

Perhaps my dad was on to something. “Be Safe” is vague but succinct.

 

It’s the little things we remember forever

When I was little I chanted, “It’s so nice to have a daddy around the house” (which I’m sure was a line fed to me by my dad but it was true so I happily sang it). And now? I still call on him to:

  • Remove dead birds from my door step.
  • Find someone to snowplow my driveway.
  • Remove hornets from my house.
  • Take the kids to various inconvenient places at inconvenient times.
  • Fix things around my house and/or supervise electricians and plumbers.
  • Rescue me when I lock myself out of my house.

Whether I ask or not, my dad:

  • Checks the tires of all cars in my driveway. Even guests. If your car is parked in my driveways, he is making sure it’s safe
  • Monitors all doors to make sure they are locked (see “be safe” above)
  • Brings me half-moons from my favorite bakery
  • Opens every door for me (chivalrous, charming, and completely annoying but I love it)
  • Insists we drive as many places together as possible even when it completely inconveniences him
  • Reminds me about upcoming birthdays, anniversaries, and milestones

My dad never sat me down to say, “make sure you do a lot of little things for people you love. They might not thank you until they are 40. They might not notice in the moment. But over time all of these little things add up to a lot of love.”

 

A bonus lesson: gratitude

Brene Brown (must.watch.ted.talk.) recently said the emotion people have the most difficulty feeling is joy. And people who are able to experience joy the most deeply — and without remorse — have one thing in common.

Gratitude.

The most important lesson my dad showed me was that:

People who are grateful feel more joy.

People who are grateful feel more joy.

I am grateful for the countless things my dad is teaching me. And even more grateful that he is still teaching me.

 

What’s it all about?

There’s so much to think about.

 Why do smoke detector batteries begin chirping alerts in the middle of the night? Do they sense I am sleeping? Why do my kids litter in my house? Being KIND trumps being nice. It doesn’t matter how many years I parent, I am always learning something new. And I always feel a little bit behind. Being a mom without a mom is repetitively heartbreaking. Dog greeting = daily reminder that simple things make me happy. What is BEEPING? Did the smoke detectors conspire with some other technology in my house? Not everyone is meant to be my friend forever. Conversely, everyone that enters my life has a purpose. Holy shit, I am doing what I said I want to be when I grow up. Mom is the title I’m most proud to have. Choosing to be happy is freaking hard. But totally worth it. I don’t need someone to say “I’m sorry” to forgive them. Mean girls suck. Mosquitos too. Equal and fair aren’t the same thing. Bacon makes everything better. Kittens too. Grief doesn’t last a lifetime but it always lasts a year. The things I dislike about others are often the things I dislike about myself. Hair color is meant to be changed. It’s ok to splurge on coffee, mascara, yarn, and books (not necessarily in that order). Self-reflection isn’t the same as self-awareness. Dogs are boys; cats are girls. Hand-written thank you cards are lovely. Care packages too. The best compliment ever is “your kids are kind”. Whoa. I’m not the youngest person in the room anymore. “How we live our days is how we live our lives,” thanks Annie Dillard for these wise words. Begin with the end in mind. Always. My calm exterior isn’t always reflective of the chaos in my mind (as this blog clearly reflects). My four core values are be kind, be happy, be grateful, be truthful. It’s ok to say “no” but learn how to do it graciously. Often making things right is more important than being right. The hardest lessons to learn are also the hardest lessons to teach. Sometimes the journey is more fulfilling than the ending. Yada yada yada…this is what it’s all about:

 

 

family4

Family. That’s what it’s all about. Predictable yet true.