“The holidays can be sad.”
So started the creative writing project displayed on the school’s wall. Each child wrote thoughtful ideas of how they could spread a little happiness among those who are sad.
Their teacher talked with them about people who have lost loved ones — or those in poverty. Each child wrote ways they could donate — or give hugs — or send cards — to offer a piece of joy to someone who is hurting. It was a deep topic for little minds. But little does not equal shallow.
On Friday, I thought about the kids’ project again, as the reality of the tragedy was broadcast, ugly and painful. The loss of children and teachers in Newtown, Conn., became a nation’s loss.
Debates were spurred. Is the answer gun control? Or is it mental health care? Or is our best bet to move to a deserted island?
I’m devastated, as is everyone, but it’s not my problem to solve, is it? Except, as I contemplated, I began to think that it actually is my problem to solve. And maybe yours, too. Because I think that a big part of the answer is hanging on the wall outside my daughter’s classroom. We all have to get outside of our own little worlds and make bold, compassionate acts to support those who need it.
Here is the truth that’s been hardest for me to swallow. The volatile minds who snap and commit these violent crimes — they’re young adults, practically kids. They’re set free into the world, emotions still raw years of feeling different, feeling alienated by other kids.
It starts early. A kid is different, and other kids notice. Maybe they get angry and explosive. Other kids back off. The mama and papa bears protect their own from the child who may now be labeled a “bully.” Or just “difficult.” No harm is meant, they’re just protecting their own children.
It’s a wrenching problem to face. A bullied child can self-destruct. A hurting child is an easy target — or they can become a bully themselves. Parents must protect their kids. But we also have to take responsibility for the fact that our kids’ actions when they’re young forms the adults of the future. The schools are serious about bullying — but they can’t force kindness.
If we encourage the friendship, tell our kids to show compassion — you know what we’re doing? We’re setting our own kid up to be a target. When kids stand up for the outcast, chances are good they’ll be picked on — rejected, even — by association.
We have to teach our kids to be kind — even when it comes with a social price tag. You know what would be better? If all kids could work together to be kind. If every single parent who heard a complaint about “mean little Johnny” responded with, “Tomorrow, I want to hear what extra nice thing you did for Johnny.” Could that make this world different? Don’t you think maybe it could?
Frank Bailey of Springfield, Mo., shared an account on Facebook of his high school experience with Asperger’s. It was a long, painful tale of being different, feeling odd. It described being alienated and picked-on, leading to anger and loneliness. It concluded with this:
Tomorrow will do the same thing. Lonely life. Barely feel human. Wondered what it would be like to be one of these people since time out of memory. Always outside of them. Sadness overwhelms. Where did it begin? Their cruelty? My weirdness? Chicken? Egg? Doesn’t matter. Nothing changes. Nothing ever changes. Head hits pillow. Dreams follow. Superpowers. Loyal friends. A time and place where dreams survive.
This holiday, we’re all feeling the sadness.
Is it just me, or is anyone else feeling the responsibility?
Overland Park mom and 913 freelancer Emily Parnell blogs at mom2momkc.com.