This funny thing happens when you leave a place for good: you really look back at what you’re leaving, and realize how much time and energy you spent on stupid things.
I guess it’s also happening when you look forward to the future. As I prepare to meet this new tiny human and step (read: crash ungracefully) into the role of motherhood I realize that, while I want her and I to be completely perfect, we simply cannot do and be everything. Concessions must be made. Some focus must be chosen. I don’t make the rules, but those are them.
I’m sitting at my kitchen table writing this, as my kids leave first period and head to second. I’m not there. I didn’t cry on my last day, and I’m not crying now, surprisingly. I know that the decision I made was the right one – I realize it more and more as each day passes. However, I did come home with 2 oversized Thank You cards signed by all my kids, multiple notes from individual students, gifts and Hallmark cards from my coworkers and, most memorable, the kind words said between handshakes and hugs during those last few hours at the school. (Also some hilarious responses on the posters I hung around the room – post of those final #jrhighprobs coming soon!) All of these got me right in the feels.
I did get some “I love the way you teach!” or “You made History actually cool!” and “You have great classroom management and rapport with the students” so I think I was at least partially professionally good. Those were nice to hear.
But the phrases that are still tumbling around my head and heart are the ones about ME. Yes, the people who said I was funny or witty definitely got a smile out of me. The most important, though, were the people who said I made their lives better, or that I was nice, or that they knew I cared about them or that I was their FRIEND.
There were a few of those, but there probably should have been more.
On my last day I gave the kids a little speech, not unlike the blog post I wrote, urging them to try hard and stay away from drugs and graduate and all that jazz. The part that I got the most into, and not coincidentally held their attention the strongest, was when I talked to them about kindness. I mean, obviously they’re teenagers and they think everyone is mean to them and their lives are so traumatic and hard, so it resonated I guess.
Most of them see me as this loud, confident, goofy adult woman. And I am. I’m pretty secure and stable. Emotionally sound. So many of them looked confused when I told them about the time I was having a really rough day walking around the grocery store. I felt big and gross and tired and worthless and like I was trying way too hard at way too many things and failing at basically all of them. I was standing there, just looking into the frozen dinner section absent-mindedly in an emo, existential way when a girl walks right up to me and says
I’m sorry you are just the cutest pregnant lady ever. Congratulations!
and then she just walked away. As I’m telling my kids I pretend to burst into happy tears at this point, to break the awkward silence and make them laugh. But then I asked them – “How much time and effort did that take her?” Some responded that it might have taken some bravery, but most agreed that it didn’t take very much at all.
I explained that it made my day. My week, even. Here I am still talking about it with my kids! We talked about bullying and kindness. The intense lasting impact of each. The potential each have for turning us 180 degrees from whichever direction we’re heading.
I read Wonder back in December. It’s been on the back burner ever since. It was real, pure, direct and meaningful. I highly recommend it to everyone. It’s a very fast read. It’s funny, poignant, heartbreaking, inspiring, crushing and eye-opening. Auggie has a pretty crazy facial deformity and it impacts his entire life in ways we’d never comprehend. I was wracked with guilt when I realized how many people couldn’t look away from him in public, realizing I’d probably be one of those people. I cried when his mother showed weakness and concern, empathizing and scared out of my wits about these facets of motherhood I hadn’t considered. I laughed when his family and friends did goofy things for Auggie, when he cracked a joke or responded perfectly to a rude or insensitive person. I cringed at the adults in the story who handled things terribly, understanding why they handled it that way and fearing I’ll make the same mistakes.
Act a little kinder than is necessary.
Even the “good” characters make rude mistakes. I think what makes us truly good is doing MORE. Being MORE kind than is expected. Kindness might have been that girl just giving me a brief smile or “hi!” in the aisle of that grocery store. But she did MORE. Kindness was Julian or Jack or his teachers smiling at him and showing him around and praising him for his work. MORE was Summer sitting with him every day. Jack standing up for him. The teachers and principal changing their routines to make Auggie’s life better. It stuck with me. And I wanted to leave that with my kids.
There’s so many things we can BE. Smart. Strong. Funny. Cool. Thoughtful. Attractive. Bright. Curious. Kind. Laid-back. Energetic. Creative. Careful. Compassionate. Fierce. Optimistic. Realistic. Hardworking. Sensitive. Brave. Humble.
We can get into a chicken-or-the-egg debate about Nature vs. Nurture, of course. But I don’t want to do that. As The Beard and I talk about this little nugget we’re about to meet, we wonder about her. What will she BE? What do we want her to BE? I believe in nuture to a degree, and I believe that nurturing starts early. We wanted to start out with a clear vision of what we want her to BE, with specific focus so we can help her grow into it from a babe. All of those qualities above are important and admirable. Hopefully she’ll have many of them. But we came up with three.
Smart. Brave. Kind.
I don’t want to blame this 100% on Wonder, because we’re both smart adults who value intelligence as one of our dominant traits. We’ve both alternated between bravery and cowardice in our lives and seen the effects that it has had on ourselves and others. And we are both people who are probably not often kinder than necessary. But Auggie? Auggie was all three to me. And I hope our girl will be, too.
It is absolutely critical to us that this little girl be smart. We’ll bend over backwards to make sure that happens. I believe it is usually nature, but can be a HUGE accomplishment of parental involvement and dedication – i.e. NURTURE. And we’re committed.
We want her to be brave. We want her to stand up for herself. For others. For what she believes in. To live solidly in this ever-compromising world of sin and wickedness and sadness and fear, knowing what she knows and holding fast to it. We want her to live unparalyzed by fear or uncertainty. We want her to lead and try and fail and get back up.
But what I realized as I left SRMS. As I spend more and more time with my amazing friends and family. As I get to know my ward members better and interact with all types of insurance people, medical professionals, store clerks, service industry technicians and stylists and artists… What really matters in this world, and especially the next, is being KIND. Being nice to others. Doing MORE than is expected.
The mark I left on those kids and coworkers, and the marks that are left on me, are not always the job descriptions we’re paid for or the expectations that can easily be met and quickly forgotten.
I want her to be KIND. Kindness lasts. Kindness nourishes. Kindness takes NOTHING and is worth EVERYTHING. It’s easy. There’s no expiration date on a compliment. There’s no limit to the number of times a Thank You card can be read. There’s no instrument to measure the warmth and love plant when we say something nice or do something extra for someone. Smart is good. Brave is important. Kindness is more than necessary.
So go read Wonder. And wish me luck teaching a little nugget how to be nice when I can’t stop cussing out the stupid mom in her Sequoia swerving all over the lanes and screaming at her kids in the backseat while a low-rider truck full of illegal immigrants is driving 25 MPH in front of me and refusing to change lanes.
Lord beer me strength. And kindness.