Only Bullies Give Wedgies

Declan is fighting me. I’m supposed to be the bad guy from a show he loves. He has it choreographed to the last detail.

“Side kick me, Mommy.” That’s something you don’t hear a six-year old say often. I aim for the stomach.

“Woosh,” he says. He angles. Pretty impressive.

“Kick me again.” I try. He angles. I’m getting real-person impressed, having flashbacks to learning to angle and evade in my martial arts studies, back when I discovered martial arts wasn’t really about kicking and breaking stuff, it was about avoiding the fight completely. And doing peaceful things, like meditating and arranging flowers.

Eventually, he breaks through, and starts punching me for real, because that’s what good guys do. I throw a knee. He punches it. He punches my arm. That little kid hurts. I explain, “We’re playing. Mommy doesn’t want to hurt you. We’re not really punching.”

“Throw me across the room, Mommy.” I pick him up a little and put him straight down. He throws himself ten feet–a Hollywood stunt man.

He gets up, “You can’t defeat me that easy!” Who’s trying to defeat anyone? I’m just trying to drink my tea. In a superhero flurry, he races over and punches me again.

“Punch me, Mommy! In the stomach. Like this!” It’s a good punch. I lose a little bit of breath.

“You don’t have to show me. I told you, we’re not really punching people.”

“It’s what the bad guy does!” I can take no more.

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 5.32.30 AM“Does the bad guy do THIS?” I pick him up and give him a very big wedgie.

He laughs. Then he stops.

He looks at me. Deeply. Like I’ve made a mama joke or insulted his dog.

“Mommy. You can’t do that. You can’t give wedgies. That…is bullying.”

I kneel down. “What do you mean?”

“Bullies give wedgies. You can’t do that. Bullying is mean. You shouldn’t be a bully.”

“Where did you learn that?” I ask.

“School. Bullies are bad.” He holds my gaze. He is teaching me.

I want to explain bullies don’t usually give wedgies. To tell him bullies sometimes punch and hit, but more often they’re subtle, insidious, hard to recognize until they’ve already infiltrated the soul, done their psychological damage. Made us feel we have little value. And because of that, we need to be strong. To know our own self-worth, and to refuse to let the outside world hit us with the resistance that makes us believe what they say–makes us stop short of being great.

I want to teach him that bullies can be people we don’t know on the schoolyard, but more often they’re people in our inner circles. People we thought were on our side. And most of all, they can be ourselves. We hit ourselves the hardest. That’s the truth.

But I don’t teach that lesson, because he breaks the gaze. With a flurry of activity, he’s a superhero again. I don’t give any more wedgies. I throw him across the room, as he requests, and to drink my tea. That’s what bad guys do when they lose.

[image: simsonswiki.com]

 

I’ll Never Be Beautiful

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 5.39.36 AMI’m looking at everyone’s profile pictures. They’re all rock stars with awesome pictures–pictures of hair blowing in slow-mo, light hitting unblemished faces in just the right way. Pictures of scaling Mount Everest. Pictures of scuba diving, standing in front of race cars, meeting Clint Eastwood…

My picture, for years, was me on a rock wall with Declan. I didn’t have a rock star picture, so I picked a picture of a Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 5.45.50 AMrock instead. One that looked intentional, like I left my rock star picture at home because I was cool.  It was far enough away to hide my imperfections–slightly bigger than a spec, yet not big enough to pick me out of a police lineup. Certainly not big enough to see that don’t photograph well. That I wasn’t beautiful.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m okay with average. I have redeeming qualities even if my picture isn’t beautiful. Even if I don’t radiate “superstar.” I’m an okay human being. A human being, however, who really did need a better profile picture.

“Please send a professional head shot…” I guess The Rock didn’t work. Try hard to look passable at least, professional at best if supermodel’s off the table. I picked a happy day. I smiled at my iPhone. Click. Done.

It’s me. And it’s real.

The other day, my students hijacked my class for their Genius Hour project. It’s a Design Your Own Project that connects their passions with a spirit of entrepreneurship and a quest to save the world. These students transformed a buzzword–bullying– into a multimedia presentation that gave me goosebumps. At the end, I thought, “How can we let what another says define us? Why am I not “beautiful?” Because someone told me in high school? Because they nicknamed me ‘Ultragorgon’ after our unit on Greek mythology, wrote it in my yearbook, weren’t nice, and a quarter century later I like myself just fine but the idea that I could be beautiful never crossed my mind? Why does a fifteen-year old girl feel like a slut because someone said she was on Facebook or Twitter? Why would a kid shut down in the face of taunting rather than say “I’m awesome,” and walk on by? Transcend? Why would a teen say, “My life has no value? I want to die.”

Teens say adults say, “Don’t worry about it, ignore them.” Then we, the adults, go about our real adult business, stressing because people aren’t nice to us, office politics stabs us in the back, or the clerk at the grocery store gave us The Eye. And that sets the tone for our day. But that’s different. We are in the real world where life really matters.

Head Shot for BioI tell the teens they’re amazing, and I’m sorry that every individual in the universe doesn’t always agree, but they have this group of friends right here, now, and they must first love themselves regardless of what the world thinks. They must learn to deal with “crappy people.” They must know they are great.

These are important lessons to preach. And even more important to practice. After watching their presentation, I decided I’m pretty darned good at the preaching part, but the practice…I’ll improve.

Oh, and by the way, I really like my picture. It is, indeed, beautiful.

Don’t Ban Dodgeball–Ban Life: Why Banning Everything Is Just Plain Silly

Screen Shot 2013-03-28 at 5.53.52 PM“Quick, come here,” my husband said. I thought there was an emergency.

“They’re banning dodgeball.”

“That’s not new,” I replied. “A school in Massachusetts did it last year or the year before. ‘Hurts self-esteem.'”

“No, they say it’s because of bullying,” he said.  I am struggling with this. I’m struggling with the resurgence of the attacks on dodgeball under the guise of bullying. We are going too far.

I struggle with banning dodgeball because I, myself, was bullied playing basketball. There were a couple of girls in particular who were very mean–always told me to get the water, advised me that I’d never get off the bench, and never ceased to find an opportunity to make me look bad in front of the team. No one has ever banned basketball. My self-esteem was deeply wounded, but I plugged on, learning valuable skills like dedication, team building, strategy, and empathy. My skills in coaching–and even teaching, I suspect–trace back to these episodes. I learned to keep moving forward in spite of obstacles, and I learned that it wasn’t the talent or the prodigy I wanted on my team or in my classroom–it was the plugger. The one who would do anything to succeed.

Maybe that approach was wrong. In retrospect, I should have started a campaign to ban basketball–being picked last, having to endure bullies, and having to get the water–all hurtful. And yet I played.

Better than banning basketball and dodgeball, I’m wondering if it might be more feasible to ban all situations where bullies lurk.

First off, I’d like to ban work. I’ve worked in several jobs in three careers and only one where there was no bully. In fact, adults in the world of work are some of the most vicious bullies around. The world of education is not excluded.

After we ban work, let’s ban all competitions where someone has the potential to be picked last or lose. The nerd always gets picked last, and that’s psychological bullying. Losing repetitively at athletics–that’s no good either. I’m not going to watch the beginning of The Bad News Bears anymore. All high school and college sports with cuts will be on my list have banned…anyone who has ever been cut from a team has felt the deep pain of cuts. Sometimes, they never recover.

If if the issue isn’t bullying but “unsafe sports” or “sports with human targets” we should eliminate baseball, most definitely. I’m trying to mentally count the number of balls and bats with which I’ve been hit as a batter and a catcher. If we ban sports where there is risk of injury, lets add on all martial arts, football, basketball, and soccer, too.. If we ban games that aren’t politically correct or hurt self-esteem, add chess to that list–how can we allow people to lose constantly while they are having their men killed? We have a zero-tolerance for violence–heck, my friend’s son got the Army men confiscated from his birthday cupcakes at school just the other day.

While we’re on the subject, I think dating should go–every second someone cooler than you is getting the girl or guy, and getting dumped hurts. It really affects self-esteem.

The bottom line?

Why this singling out of dodgeball under parameters that would ban most life activities were they applied equitably across the board?

I never stand for bullying, but if we ban every location and situation where we might be bullied the nation would shut down. If we really think this through, we’ll find that it’s our views on education, creating a positive climate, and encouraging a healthy competitive environment that must evolve. Banning things never teaches the true lessons that need to be taught. It’s the easy way out.

Let’s rethink–not only dodgeball–but how we approach creating a positive climate for ourselves, our students, and our communities. Let’s stop indicting our schools, because schools are not where the majority of bullies lie. They lie in life. If we ban everything, the bullies win. Let’s start with our own inner circles–work, families, communities, churches, and get rid of the word “bullying,” replacing it with “creating a positive climate.” If we do, I’ll bet we won’t need to ban dodgeball, basketball, chess, work, or any activity. We will be too focused on making the world a better place.

[image: fecrecpark.com]

The Reason for Low Test Scores is Teacher Clothes

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If you have followed my writings, you know that I struggle with fashion. I hate it, as a matter of fact, though with proper guidance I clean up well.  But I think I’m in a better place now than I was in September when I prayed for Carson Kressley to come and take me to 5th Avenue even if it meant that someone on reality TV got to laugh at my transformation.

I’m grateful, in part, to the lady at Banana Republic who took my coupons and came back with clothes. I’m not saying this was easy—I refused to let her put me in the size that she said fit, if only because it gave me an atomic wedgie of the proportion reserved for 80’s movies where the nerd got skewered on the flagpole. We don’t allow atomic wedgies these days—zero tolerance for bullying. As such, I refuse to be bullied by my own clothes—I’ll wear them slightly oversized.

I have improved in my ability to look at fashion. I’m in a place where I can now look in the mirror and determine if an outfit works or not even though I really don’t match colors well. I can’t, on a good day, place salmon in the color wheel and when called upon to choose colors for my bathroom, I redecorated using the colors of nature—yellow and green. It looked nothing like nature—it looked like it was a hangover job done by the marketing guy from Sprite.

So, I plagiarize a lot.  I’m not above looking at someone’s well put together purple sweater, realizing that I have a purple sweater sitting in a bin that could well see the light of day.  In fact, that’s how I chose my outfit today. And I seem to be getting by.

But there’s a larger disruption going on in the field of education today, something very wrong indeed. It’s lowering test scores and distracting students…It might be too late to save us, in which case we should just pack it up and declare Finland the winner in all things education. The problem, in my mind, isn’t the achievement gap. It’s…

Teacher clothes.

They’re horrible. If I think teacher clothes are an issue–zero fashion me–then there must be a disturbance in the force. When fashion is so…unique…that even I am distracted, I can say with data correlation that it most definitely affects student achievement. I couldn’t do a math paper if I had the opportunity to stare at my instructor’s Rudolph Christmas tie with the LED blinking nose.

I went to a conference recently. My favorite thing to do at teacher conferences is to look at teacher clothes.  It makes it tough to learn about, say, vocabulary or classroom management when there are so many bright and shiny things to capture my attention.

Teacher clothes have been the subject of jokes for 50 years.  The schoolmarm in the a-line skirt brandishing a ruler over the cowering students image that won’t go away. Every time I look around a room full of teachers, I see the following:

  • Power suits.  These are cool.  I suspect teachers with power suits came over from Corporate America seeking to change the world or work fewer hours. Since teaching is actually a 24/7 job, they probably suspect they made a mistake, but still believe in world-changing, so they hang on. That is, until their first second-grader sneaks his second chocolate milk and barfs all over the power suit. That’s $800 down the drain.
  • Cardigans.  These can be done well, but more often than not, they represent the repeat syndrome.  Most teachers have one or two sweaters that they drape over the back of their chairs for the three coldest months of the year when the heating system malfunctions.  It’s like hiking Everest. You have to have layers.
  • Vintage clothes.  I respect teachers with experience, and I, too, have been guilty of wearing vintage clothes. I tried to rebrand it as Zen. I don’t need to be materialistic and buy hundreds of dollars worth of new clothing just because the runway season changed. But there’s something to be said for ditching the powder blue leisure suit, too. “Vintage,” only goes so far.
  • Holiday-themed sweaters.  Yes, the dreaded embroidered Christmas sweater. The only excuse EVER for wearing such an item is for making fun of someone who wears such items. In the case of humor, satire, and practical jokes, a holiday sweater can be worn if the wearer can keep a straight face. Holiday socks are okay, however.
  • Clothes that don’t match with the decade in which the wearer was born. This one is tough. I’m 41. There is no reason on earth that I should be stuffing myself in things from the Junior section. Even though it would fit, it would be wrong. Not allowed.
  • Bangles.  This is a personal issue—I don’t own or wear a lot of jewelry. Some people wear it in style.  But in any case, it shouldn’t be worn all at once like a Mr. T revival.  At many teacher conventions, I see so many layers of beads, bangles, and bracelets, I wonder if I’m in the wind chime aisle at my local garden superstore.
  •  The scarves—oh, the scarves!!  Teachers love scarves. They wear them indoors. I wear scarves, too, but usually just when my heat doesn’t work or when I go hiking.  I can’t figure out scarves. Too close to macrame or hojojitsu (the samurai art of knot tying).  For the brief time I lived in Russia, I associated scarves with old ladies. The word for scarf in Russian is, in fact, babushka, which also means “grandmother.” I don’t want to be an old lady. No scarf for me.

As I get older and confront my own mortality, I have to address the subject of teacher clothes in my own life. In 20 years if I’m still in the classroom, I think I’ll be the hippie crunchy teacher—the one with the silver braid, hiking boots, and Irish cable knit sweater playing music from two decades ago.  But that’s a long way off. In the mean time, I’ll keep bringing my coupon to the girl at the store that tells me what to wear. And I won’t wear teacher clothes.

 

[image: nothingbutdollsonstrings.com]