“My favorite part of my body is my mouth. It helps me eat and smile when I’m happy, and frown when I am sad. It shows my expression, to let people know how I’m feeling.”
These are some of the words that were a part of an assignment for my 4th grader. They were to write about their favorite part of themselves and a teacher’s assistant took the photograph that accompanied it. It’s a cool exercise at this age… before they have internalized the messages from the media… before they’ve adjusted to the conformity of a middle school community… but in the midst of a moment that could be momentous. Because every moment that affirms “good” in your head, especially about your body, builds an immune system that will help keep the “bad” at bay.
My heart is as lit up as this smile because she is embracing her “imperfect” as “favorite”. In this moment, she feels good about this mouth full of permanent, prominent teeth, even though she knows she needs braces. In this smile and in these words, I see that she is already using an internal structure that will brace her for what could someday break her. In this world, in which, literally, we hold ourselves at arms length to fill a phone with selfies, shouldn’t we focus, instead, on holding close what we hold dear to fill our hearts with self ease?
“It shows my expression, to let people know how I’m feeling. It helps me laugh and smile for picture day. It helps me chew food when I am hungry.”
Easing into what we are comfortable with in ourselves, let alone choosing as favorite, is a solid foundational place to start for those of us on “this side” of growing up. Phrasing it, the way she has, in small descriptive form-and-function words, gives us a glimpse of big gratitude. She likes to eat and this mouth and these teeth are the vehicles for what, literally, keeps her going. It delivers fuel for her body, and in relishing that, she is delivering — for herself, fuel for her soul, because of what it does FOR her. It is the device that communicates the essence of herself. IT IS THE DEVICE FOR SELF EASE . It is her voice and it will affect her choice of how she uses the device in her hand.
Until recently, I had never taken a selfie. I did not want to document the lines on my face or the worry behind my eyes. I can remember trying, once, at the beginning of the “year of our unraveling”. I should have been at the height of happy because I was doing something I loved. I was helping friends with their wedding… decorating a barn, making things beautiful and bringing together dreams and hopes and plans and, yet, I could not make my face match the words that were coming out of my mouth. My best friend was helping me do this for and with other friends and when I tried to capture it all in a photo all I could think of when I looked at it was “when did I forget how to smile?” The selfie from the device in my hand held the message that I had tried to NOT focus on… that when life gets hard, we must strive to, at the very least, go easy on ourselves. Self forgiveness and self love and self compassion are words that float from self help books and therapists but having one more thing that seems hard to grasp does little to brace against the storm that is a device designed to break us. Divorce breaks us. In two. Into pieces. Pieces that have to function until they can find a new form.
“It helps me talk to let people know important information.”
This form, for me, has been about finding balance between what I allow in to my life, as fuel, and what I put out – knowing that it might be fuel for others – especially for my children. My dad was an accountant and one of those awful body function jokes that sticks out from my childhood was “What did the accountant do about his constipation problem?…. He worked it out with his pencil?” Every time I was stuck, throughout my life, I worked it out with my pencil. Writing. Even though no one would read it. Especially, if no one should read it. Embracing what is prominent and imperfect was the perfect place to start and what always stuck out for me was my words.
This morning I had the pleasure of attending the 4th grade poetry reading. I know what you’re thinking…. Yikes…. an entire class of voices rhyming and forced timing. But it was wonderful. Enlightening, even. I can see why there is not just ease, but confidence, in this young voice of my daughters. Because 16 children stood, individually, and read 2 pieces, each, from a BOOK of poetry they had, each, written. Their teacher had given them the structure for the poems – Haikus and acrostics and alliterations abounded – but then she just let them do it. She let them be. She let them be themselves through a device, that by it’s nature, communicates with feeling and profound precision what cannot be captured without words. They were verbal selfies. One young man was reciting his Alphabet Alliteration and when he got to the letter “V” he said “Vicious Vampires Vote” and the gathering of parents chuckled softly, as we sit in the midst of a political tsunami. But what came after the “W” and “X” answered the “Y” in why, for me…. He said “Young Yoda’s Yodeling”. A picture may be worth a thousand words but the combination of those 3 words paints a picture that I cannot wait to see.
These children are at the forefront of understanding their own wisdom and willing to cast their voices across the mountaintops and we, their audience, did the best thing a community can do, we not only listened to their words, we heard them. They have the capacity to ease us into the future by appeasing OUR fear with THEIR creativity. I applaud those present in the room for not doing anything to crush the fragile nature of the spirit expressed within the strength of that structure and I thank that teacher for building a classroom environment with “grow room”. More importantly, these children applauded each other. They thanked each other. They are building the structure-within-the-structure that will have to stand on its own when the exoskeleton scaffolding of systems come off. Our job, as parents and educators, is to make sure they have the confidence to stand and stay true when the braces come off.
The word “brace” is defined as “a device that clamps things tightly together or that gives support, in particular” and the systems that we have in place for our children should ensure that they are held together or held up, particularly, to foster growth. Be it a family structure or a school system, we must be vigilant that the device that we have put in place around them isn’t actually molding them into a shape that serves our egos but will not serve their future. Their future WILL be different than our ideas that are designed from innovations past. And so we must pass on phrases like “glass ceiling” that put a lid on a structure that hasn’t even been built to hold what they are going to be. And so, instead, we must pass along to them the listening skills for an inner voice that is, right now, coming easy to them. And so, perhaps, we need to stop and listen to what they already know before guiding them with what we think we know.
I know how easy it is to lose the sound of those young voices in the chaos around us. I know how hard it is to envision change. But I also know that the phone in my hand came from the evolution of innovations on systems that used to be as big as 7-Elevens. I hear those who blame the devices in-hand for the lack of connection and empathy that they believe exists in communities today, but I don’t buy it. Blame is a device for disconnection, not the phone. They are just devices for the voices. They are a world to escape into when the structure they find themselves in isn’t big enough so by virtue of virtuality, they can grow. Devices are the crack in the system pavement and selfies are the language for an SOS message we don’t want to hear and the cacophony of them is the auctioneering of individuality for societal self ease. Brace yourself for the solution, it may be as simple as giving yourself a break. Because the only change you can make is within you, to make, and for that, there are no words.
“I love that I have a mouth to smile.”
From the inside, out, to let the insight out. Hear, here.