Can you think back to your elementary school friendships? Perhaps some of these people are still some of your closest friends. Perhaps you can also remember bumps in the road with these friends as you learned about making and keeping friends.
I enjoy watching the interactions of children during my rotations of recess duty, and I am often reminded of my own childhood. Three of my very closest friends lived on my block. We walked to school each day, home for lunch each day, participated in sports and after school activities each day, and spent all of our free time together. As you can imagine, four girls who all wanted to be the boss, made for interesting situations. We had lemonade stands and toy sales, we caught lightning bugs and played kickball. We traded things that we did not want for things we were seeking from our friends. Sometimes these “trades” ended successfully, other times they ended in World War II. We suffered heart breaks over sleepovers and playdates, often when one or two were not included. We had hurt feelings over gossip when we were not always getting along. We wrote long letters of apology, and our problems would go away, only to resurfaced when we faced the next conflict. We solved things on our own, mostly, not letting teachers or parents know when we were in a fight. We could not always hide it, though, especially when one cut off an 18 in long pig-tale of another (leaving the other pig-tale in place) or another traded something valuable that the mom noticed was missing. Sometime adult intervention came our way. We usually did not like what the adults had to say, so we tried to avoid it the next time and find a solution on our own.
On Friday at recess, I happened to walk back to school with a 1st grader who is wearing a boot on her foot due to an injury. On the walk back, she fell a bit behind her peers. Another student noticed and dropped back her pace to walk with her friend. The girls immediately held hands and chatted the entire way back. I wondered if their friendship had always been so natural. Had they ever had to work through conflict? I think of the many children in our school that have worked through conflict with peers on their own, or with the support of a teacher or our school counselor, Mrs. Alexander. And as I took a quick walk down memory lane, listening to the real friendship of these two first grade girls, I was reminded that early friendships play a vital role in teaching children how to accept and resolve conflict that will always be a part of life. Perhaps it is the beginning of the development of a growth mindset. Perhaps it is the beginning of the development of a forgiving heart. Perhaps, as hard as these conflicts seem in the moment, they are essential parts of growing up.
Have you ever felt invisible? Perhaps you have felt as if your children were tuning you out at some point. Perhaps you were at a social event, having a hard time finding someone to talk to. Perhaps you’ve felt your hard work was not being recognized in your professional life. Or perhaps you’ve felt as if your spouse or another family member was so wrapped up in his/her work or volunteering that they had little time to connect with you.
I suspect that we have all felt invisible at one time or another in our lives. I remember vividly one such example. I was in first grade, Miss Nowakowski’s class to be exact. Many of my friends had been arriving early at school to present various works of art to our principal, Sr. Lydia Mary. They were in the cloak room discussing her large candy jar and showing off their rewards for presenting their artwork. I longed to be part of that conversation, but I could not break into it. I did not receive the reward, and I had not done the work to “earn” it. This group of girls stuck together all day. During lunch, recess, and choice time. They talked about their next pieces of artwork and what they would choose from the candy jar the next time. When I tried to get close enough to see what they chose, backs were turned and body language told me, “You are not part of this club.” This was confusing, as these were my best friends. I was learning the reality of life that year in the first grade. Sometimes people are invisible, or excluded. Sometimes life was cruel.
I decided that I was going to fix this. These were my best friends and I wanted back in. I went home and spent hours making the most detailed picture of my view of heaven for Sr. Lydia Mary. I used every colored pencil in my zippered vinyl pouch. The creation more than met my teacher’s five color expectation! That night, I had trouble falling asleep as the excitement grew. I would be back in the group and I would receive recognition from my principal. It would be the best Friday ever.
I awoke early, got dressed and had my mom put pig tales in my hair. I had to get to school early, as Miss Nowakowski never let anyone leave the classroom once the bell rang. However, I encountered a major roadblock. My older brother was not as quick to get out of bed and had no interest in arriving early to school. Despite a great deal of pleading, we were not as early for school as I had envisioned—and not early enough to visit Sr. Lydia Mary. As I headed to the cloak room, I showed my friends the picture I had created. However, it was apparent I was still not back in the group until the picture was hanging on the office wall and I had my prize in hand. It was at this juncture that I decided to make a very bad choice.
As Mrs. Nowakowski took attendance, I slipped out the back door of Room 1B. My guilt left as I stepped into the principal’s office. Sr. Lydia Mary made such a fuss over each child that came to visit her that it was impossible to recall your sins in her presence. She pointed out each color, each cloud, and each angel. Then she took out the tape and asked me where I would like to place it on her wall. Naturally, I placed it on the wall near those created by my friends. Then, the candy jar came down. It looked like something out of Willy Wonka’s Candy Factory. I carefully chose a rainbow colored lollipop and headed back to class, and I could feel a smile of pride stretch across my face like a piece of elastic. It was Friday, I had been fussed over by the principal, I had received a prize from her candy jar, and most importantly, I would be back “in” with my friends. Instead, however, my life almost came to an end in the primary hallway that day.
As I rounded the corner, Miss Nowakowski was standing outside of her room, left hand on hip and right hand pointing at me. My smile must have turned to a look of terror, for in Ms. Nowakowski’s presence, one was very easily reminded of their wrongdoings! Perhaps this is why this particular memory stays with me.
The feeling of being invisible. It makes us feel uncomfortable, unwelcome and perhaps even causes us to behave in ways not typical of us. Most of us can recall a time when we had to navigate a situation of feeling invisible. I recently read the book, The Invisible Boy by Patrice Barton to our students. I challenged them to look at themselves and to reflect on how they treat others-do they make all friends feel welcome, or do they turn their backs and say, “You cannot be in this group.” Can they empathize with the feelings of others? Do they read body language and listen to words of friends and adults? Do they treat others the way they want to be treated? Do they stand up for others when they are witness to something that is not right? Can they leave their comfort zone to interact with someone this is different from them?
We use the Second Step Social Emotional Curriculum in all classrooms at Faith Hope to teach empathy, emotion recognition and management, communication, impulse control, self-management, self-awareness, social awareness, relationships skills, and responsible decision making and anti-bullying. These are important life skills that as parents, we want our children to bring into the world with them. We recognize parents are primary teachers of their children expect them to reinforce these skills at home. Please mark your calendar to join us on the evening of March 19th as we host the presentation Ryan’s Story, by John Halligan, father of a middle school boy from Vermont who took his life after enduring bullying both in person and via social media. This powerful story will remind us how important teaching and reinforcing these social-emotional skills are in today’s society.
Thank you for partnering with our teaching staff to support these necessary social skills so that no one at Faith Hope School feels invisible!
This holiday season, we are thankful for the abundant gifts we have received. While the tangible ones were plentiful, it is the intangible ones that really have made the most impact and helped shape us into better people–breaks in routine from busy schedules, time spent with family and friends, and a chance to reset and define new goals.
While for many the month of December represented a catch your breath, busy bustling schedule, the activities dictating those schedule are so very important. Despite the pace, we were modeling for our children the importance of conversation and personal connection, the act of giving and putting others first, and the importance of tradition, whatever that looked like during your holiday season.
As we ring in the New Year, our minds are swimming with ideas of how to better ourselves and our families during the upcoming year. As part of these resolutions, gym memberships increase, diets cookbooks fly off the shelves, new organizational systems are being implemented at home and work, new morning and bedtime routines are being developed for making these transitions run smoothly, and many promises are made to continue to make the time for others that was so important to us during our holiday celebrations. Many of these resolutions will last, but others will pass as quickly as the ball drop in Times Square.
If we allow ourselves to step back in time, we will see that what our children might really need is the gift of time–our time. They likely have never heard of Leave it to Beaver or Happy Days, but secretly they long for a piece of the family life portrayed in these television shows of yesterday. Children learn from the adults in their lives, and this teaching takes time. Family dinners teach values, respect, turn taking conversation skills and conflict resolution. Time spent enjoying a television show together, building a puzzle, and playing board games allows for conversation around these same values while also allowing for undivided time to really get to know one another. Reading together allows us to get to know our children on a different level–to really hear their thoughts and understanding of how they process the meaning of life.
Those tangible holiday gifts will soon be packed away, broken or lost, or their novelty will wear off. What our children will really take out into the world is the gift of time shared with them and the lessons they have learned from this time spent with us. This time is important, not just during the holiday season, but all throughout the year.
In our quest to give our children our best–to give them a childhood better than the ones we’ve lived, have we taken away something valuable-the gift of our time? Have we replaced that time with modern day gadgets, that if not monitored, begin to replace human interactions? Have we replaced the gift of time with schedules packed full of extracurricular activities at the expense of missing out on a deeper relationship during their most formidable years? Have we lost sense of the time to teach our children to worship and pray-to really allow them to see that there is something greater than themselves? Will they take a faith that they are forming now out into their future world?
Teachers across the country have spent the last number of years adjusting their teaching, firming up their routines and classroom management, and wondering what has changed in the classroom over time. Veteran staff members will likely tell you that many children are not walking through doors of school with the same motivation, drive and interpersonal skills. The research is plentiful, as are the teaching and parenting resources on developing motivation and grit, listening skills and cooperation, respect and empathy. Many classrooms have implemented Morning Meetings and Social-Emotional programs to help students navigate and develop these skills. These programs may help fill a need, but can never do it as completely as the gift of family time devoted to our children.
It seems as if only yesterday my two oldest were strapped into car seats in the back of a minivan. During these times, going to the grocery store to pick up a gallon of milk was an hour-long process. With each additional child, there was extreme joy sometimes tainted with the thought that I might never survive. As quick as the recent passing of 2017 to 2018, my oldest two have spread their wings and flown off to new adventures as college students. My middle child is beginning his college search, the twins are navigating their way through their first year apart at different high schools, and my youngest is getting ready to make his first reconciliation. Thankfully, he says sorry freely, but I’ll hold my breath and hope that his first confession does not center around stealing a classmate’s lunch! When I think about all of these changes and the passing of time in my family life, I often find myself reflecting and wondering if I have given each of them the necessary tools–did I give them the gift of my time so desperately needed to make them the people they need to be in order to navigate this new life? While raising children can seem a daunting task when stuck in the doldrums of any undesirable stage, we must always remember that each stage is short-lived and so, too, is our time with them.
This year, I am going to give my children one more gift of the season. I am going to extend the gift of my time and try to be more aware of the time they each need from me. I know this will not always be an easy task with multiple children and a full-time job. I will likely fail on many days, as I know I did last year, but I am motivated to become creative and resourceful. Perhaps if quality time on a particular day involves hours spent carpooling, I will turn off the radio and ask that they disconnect from their phones so we can have a real conversation. Perhaps I will learn to carve out a lunch hour (or ½ hour), to make a call to the college kids to check in on their day.
When each of my children were newborns, I would often find myself gazing at them as they slept peacefully. I was reminded of the blessings they were in my life and completely filled with hopes and dreams for each of their futures. If I want each of them to go out and live that life I have imagined for them, my time is of the essence. This, I know, and I pray I can successfully give them all the time they need.
Time well spent, forming our children, is a gift that continues to give for many generations to come. This time will shape not only our family relationships, but our future world, as well. Happy New Year! May you all find yourselves on both the giving and receiving end of the gift of time