December 14, 2012

Applaud Courage and Messes

We get pretty committed to fear in our culture.
I don't know if you've noticed this, but I did yesterday.
I was out on recess duty and one of my Kindergartners had climbed up the Superdome. (That's what we call this baby)

Photo Credit: Pacific Domes Int'l
It's awesome.
I've watched my little guy climb up almost every day and cling to that very top triangle calling out to all his friends to come help him down because he's too scared. Then I watch every day as Ella, Ryder, Romi, Holden, all of them come and give him pointers. They climb up next to him, stand under him, coaxing, directing, and encouraging until finally, he slides his feet through the hole and drops to the ground 3 feet below or slithers back down the way he came up. It happens almost every day. It's their thing, and I enjoy the empathy and problem solving I see in my kids. Then there was yesterday.

Yesterday the bars were a little icy and this time he couldn't overcome the way his shoes seemed to slip on the bars. The little friends kept running over to me to tell me he was stuck. I assured them he wasn't, reminded them he does this everyday. Well...the bell eventually rang and there he was still clinging, in tears now. The distance to the ground was his height plus about 6 inches so he could have simply hung himself down and made a tiny drop (like every other day), but yesterday, peering from that top bar, he had himself convinced it was the Empire State Building, that his doom was certain.

I didn't pull him off.

I've heard fear described as a monster 20 feet tall and paper thin. As soon as you get a side view of it, you realize you could totally rip that monster in two with your bare hands. I've crumpled and tossed out hundreds of fear monsters this way, and I guess I want my kids to know about this little "turn it sideways" trick. So I stood there, (close enough to intervene if I had to) and insisted he find a way down himself. For sure, I looked like the meanest teacher ever! He kept telling me to go get the other teacher to help him. I kept refusing and asking him to put his foot "there" and then "there". When it was all said and done, it took a grand total of 3 careful steps before we were face to face. I asked him to stop for a second and look where he was. He reached to wrap himself around me but I took his hands instead. "No, wait," I said. "Look where you are, and feel how you feel. Do you feel how brave you are? I didn't help you. That was all you! Do you feel the brave?"

His response? "No! I just feel really glad somebody helped me!"

Oh my.  Yes, you precious little soul! Courage is good, but so is helping each other.

At any rate, it all made me notice how we've ingrained fear into everything we say and do. We've made it our mantra and playground game. We don't have to, you know. I was in a very crowded coffee shop the other day and a gentleman came all the way across the large room, carrying about 4 full coffee cups. He stood there looking all awkward and waiting for me to pull out my little earbuds just so he could tell me, "that's a really nice coat." I thanked him just as awkwardly and then promptly posted to my facebook status that I was debating about whether to be flattered or totally creeped out.

Geez! Me--that was the response from the girl who knows ALL about the 20 foot fear monster he'd had to crumple up in order to extend kind words to a perfect stranger. Why didn't I bow to his courage? Only because my culture has taught me I'm supposed to be "creeped out" by such things.

I don't have to fit myself into that cultural paradigm. Just because other people are creeped out by brave things other people do doesn't mean I have to be.

What if we actually made it culturally appropriate to applaud courage? Oh don't get crazy there. Then so many people would try so many things and it would get all crazy up in here. Mistakes would be made, messes would be made, we wouldn't have control.

Yeah. I suppose this is why I love Kindergarten. In Kindergarten we're still allowed to expect bravery and messes.

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