challenges, dare to be different

Don’t Say Gay

“I am not gay!”

…the cry came from behind the swings. Then the young man came streaking across the playground toward the tall trees. “I am NOT gay! I AM NOT GAY!” Screamed with the terror of trying to outrun the boogie man, a cloud of cooties, a wild black bear and the abominable snowman all at once.

This summer, I am teaching third grade students. They are 9 or 10 years old. This is one interaction I witnessed this week on the playground.

I started the calm walk over to talk with him and the other boys who had been taunting him.

“What is going on?” I asked them. The conversation quietly began. One sheepishly admitted to calling another one gay. The one who used the word hung his head as he fessed up.

I hear over and over again that if we talk about gay families or students in elementary school, we are exposing them to this content way too early. Here’s the thing this playground taunt reminded me: THIS SO-CALLED “MATURE CONTENT” IS ALREADY THERE. It is already in our schools.

Some of our students have same-sex parents. They have siblings who are part of the LGBTQIA+ community, not to mention aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Then there are relationships they see in the media. Some of our elementary students even know they are in one of these groups, even if they don’t have the words for it yet. The vast majority of kids in our schools already know about this through observation and experience, just as they know about heterosexual relationships from a huge variety of sources.

Here’s what I know: if adult professionals in schools avoid talking about this topic at all, it is allowed to run rampant with misconceptions and ignorance. When I told these young men (really, they are boys) that being gay is not an awful thing, it’s just how some people are, their eyes popped and their jaws dropped. I could tell they had not heard that before.

I can’t allow students to run around on playgrounds and call people gay as if that is the worst thing they could be. How would a gay classmate feel, or a classmate with same sex parents?

Is it any wonder the rate of suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts is higher among LGBTQ young people if their identity is used as an insult? And adults just stand by and watch it happen?

I get it…It’s not always easy to talk about for people of many ages. One of my daughter’s friends who came out in the past couple of years saw me at a party recently. She said “Miss Beth, you forgot to wish me a Happy Pride Month!” I hugged her and wished her Happy Pride Month with a smile. I love seeing her come into her own and embrace her truth.

Then I showed her my watch face, which made her eyes light up. I have my Apple Watch set on one of the new Pride faces. It may seem little, but even small signals to young people that they are seen, accepted, and embraced for who they are matter. And I will continue to say it and show it in whatever ways I can.

friendship, mental health

I Heard the Whisper

I don’t have any friends.

Silence.

I don’t have any friends said the social teen girl. Pause. Reflect. Think.

The beautiful girl is right. She has acquaintances. She has teammates. She has adults that are supportive. She has siblings. Unfortunately she is missing the friends piece of the equation. True friends.

The bestie or group of pals that come over to hang out. The girls that go to the movies. The inner circle of sorts. What could have happened to this social butterfly.

One word sums it up: corona.

Corona has taken away spontaneous trips to the mall. Quarantine has limited gatherings at other homes. Fear has lurked in every home limiting activities. The list goes on and on.

In this community two teens have died by suicide in the last 10 days. I can’t ignore that. I can’t understand a day in the life of these teens. Their desire to end their lives is the solution to their perceived problems at that time. We have to listen to these cries even if they are masked.

So many no you can’t. So much time alone. So many milestones and memories being missed in isolation. So much time is solitude in their room. Many sleep it off. Many struggle for daily motivation.

Who does the cheerleader role fall on when parents work? What if the teen is an only child? Is the school talking about this subject with this vulnerable age?  Are they offering parents solutions? Why no they are talking about tests scores and must complete your assignments or even pick your schedule for next year.

Do administrators even consider what a day in the life of a teen is like in isolation? They lost their friends. They lost their home away from home that is school. They lost competition in the classroom. The lost giggles in the hallway. They even lost their imagery. Always covered in a mask. Gasping for air. The image of themselves in a super cute outfit on the first day of school. Shopping for a prom dress. So many important things for a girl in her formative years.

Instead they get to go to the drive thru with their parents. Maybe a Netflix movie in the same place they eat, sleep, socialize, go to school, etc. (their house). Maybe weekends of extra homework because they lack the motivation to do it on day 1 when it was due. The list of blah goes on and on.

I see this cycle repeated. I try to engage my teen to give her fulfillment in the tiny box that is currently around her. It’s by no means perfect but it’s what I can offer today.

I often wonder if she drove and had a car if it would be different. Would being mobile allow her to wave at friends from the curb but allow her time to smile away from the homestead. I don’t have these answers. I may never have them.

For today I will enjoy the time I have. Tomorrow is not guaranteed for anyone. Memories last forever. Today I will make memories with her.

Parents don’t forget to look around you. Right in front of you. Listen. Spot the abnormalities and take action. Any action that lets them notice you see them. You hear them. You want to be with them. They need you. They don’t always feel like they have anyone left. Corona has taken much from many.

Don’t let environmental conditions take away another bright future.

This post was sparked by the song Pink just released with her daughter Willow, Cover Me in Sunshine. Pink noted they sang the song because it makes them happy and they wanted to share it to make others happy. They did it together. Today I will cover those around me in sunshine for no other reason than to make them happy.

Enjoy today. No matter how shitty things may be tomorrow. Every day is a new day to get covered in sunshine.

challenges

The S Word

What word(s) am I referring to?

Sex

Shame

Suicide

The three S words noted above are tricky words in a way. They can somewhat be connected. They are also difficult for many to talk openly about.

I took a poll online of some acquaintances. Different genders. Different generations. Different lifestyles. Different life exposures. It was interesting to review the responses.

Sex is hard to talk about for some due to their upbringing. Some find it tricky due to their personal choices. Others find the word only challenging if the audience was an elder. 

Suicide was next up on the list. The ones I thought could speak openly about it found it difficult. The ones that had exposure in the past were okay to talk about it but not secure or confident by any means. Others just saw it as taboo.

Shame brought up a mixed bag of reactions. Especially if shame was linked to either of the other S words. So much to think about.

At the end of the day I challenge you to think about these words in isolation. How comfortable are you opening up a discussion on the word itself or how would you react if one asked you to talk about it?

Sex – a parent has to be prepared for this conversation. A friend may need to counsel a friend on sexual orientation. A grandparent may need to offer support in an abusive situation. Don’t be afraid of this S word. Instead think about how you can prepare yourself to converse about it no matter what the circumstances.

Suicide – everyone should say the word out loud. Everyone should be comfortable asking a friend, family member, coworker or close connection if they are feeling so bad they thought about harming themselves. If the answer is yes, one should probe and actually use the S word to see if that person needs help. Today’s world is challenging for many. Being available to a person struggling may be lifesaving. Practice the word. It’s an important word to have in your vocabulary.

Shame – one can feel shame over the the littlest things. What’s a mole hill to you is a mountain to others. Understanding how a person can feel shame may help you be a better person. This S word can be tough depending on the circumstances. Keep the word in the back of your mind. Be kind to others. 

My S word project was a little random but it was very thought provoking. I hope just the sharing of the words and the brief content of this blog may make you think before you speak. Think before you act. Think before you type. Words are powerful but can also be dangerous. Use your words wisely. Cherish those around you and look to share kind words with others when you can.

Our world has enough hate today. Let’s focus on kindness and shift the S words to promote positive thoughts:

Sunshine

Smile

Supportive

Sweet

Social

Soothe

Success

The above words are a few that come to mind for me. Write your list of a words today. Practice using them in 2021. Focus on the positives but be ready to talk when somebody needs you to cover the other S words! Today’s thought post is aimed at helping others. Do what you can to be prepared to help somebody when the need arises. 

Happy January!

awareness

Listen Again

Sometimes KT writes a line that really sticks with me. To be clear, many of her posts make me think differently and many prompt me to make a change in how I approach life or how I act. This is a little different…here’s my take on her recent post about listening and what a gift it is.

Here’s the line (and I encourage you to read the whole post): Listening is the greatest gift you can give to another human.

Being a more intentional listener found its way into my goals this year. A series of conversations made me realize that I don’t sincerely listen to people as often as I should. I reflected on the fact that although people ask me all the time “how are you?” and I answer, I don’t often ask them how they are. I’m often so caught up in what I’m doing I don’t even look up. I may make a brief comment but not much else.

What am I telling people as I just let them walk by? I don’t look them in the eye. Sometimes I don’t look up from what I am doing. Sometimes I probably seem annoyed at the interruption.

I’ve been trying to reverse since since it caught my attention. When I think about it, I take the time to put down what I am doing and ask the person how they are. And then follow up with another question.

What I have noticed is that more people than I realized are hungry to share. Excited to connect. They want to tell me a bit about how they are.

I thought I was a decent listener. Now I see that I need work. The invitations to listen are everywhere. How many have I blown off because I didn’t make time or was just too into what I was doing to notice them? From my friends, my co-workers, members of my family?

Among the other unfolding lessons, the pandemic has taught me that people matter more than pretty much anything else. We can’t replace people or the opportunities we have to share with them. I have missed many, but I am committed to doing better moving forward.

I’m also on the lookout for the people who are dropping out of sight. Who haven’t I heard from in a while? Different schedules and limited opportunities to be out and about make those happenstance meetings less frequent. Who is telling me through their silence that they may need a friend? Who can I text to check in with? Who can I lift up with a funny post, a quote, a kind word? Who can I (re)start a conversation with? As KT often says, hope is free.

The motto of the StoryCorps podcast is: listening is an act of love. Who can I love today by listening to them? Who can you?

inspire

Choose Joy Today

I understand Corona is getting the best or worst of many these days. It’s been a month since official lockdown has shut many operations down.

With that being said the news gets uglier everyday. Talk of death, sadness, disease, shortages and so on. I choose not to watch because it sucks the life out of me.

On the same track social media is equally disgusting. Most days there are posts from those crying poor me, giving political rants, or worse slamming others because of their own personal dissatisfaction of circumstances. Most days I have to mute social media outlets because it can be draining.

What’s crazy is some people post away without thinking of who they may offend. If you are a business owner it could be a returning client you isolate. If you are a parent it could be your school teacher neighbor you anger. If you’re tired of being cooped up and give a medical rant you might be pissing off that very important healthcare worker that is in your network.

The value of social media can be far reaching but so can its hurt. Most people learn as adults to cool off before you type your feelings in an email or online. Right now this is an important lesson many may need to hear more than once.

Guess what people. I’m choosing joy. I’m choosing to tune out the negative news, negative people and negative ranters online. Bye. Gone. Ghosted. Just like that. My mental health doesn’t need your toxicity.

I clearly don’t need negative when I open my mail and see happy mail. Cards, letters, postcards or even porch drops of sweetness. I had the best homemade salsa delivered by a pal to my surprise. I had many lift-me-up note cards in the mail like the one below. All with uplifting messages. The one below is from an amazing healthcare worker on the front line. She has taken the time to send out hope cards to her friends. The world needs more of this and less negativity.

We are all in this Corona mess together. Everyone has limited opportunities yet we all have the opportunity to choose joy over hatred or sorrow. There are already impacts near and far. Healthcare workers and caregivers are getting sick or dying. This is real people. It’s not a conspiracy theory to shut your business down.

About a month ago I posted about what was taken away. The separation of my dad and mom at their age due to visitation restrictions. The loss of connection. This will last well past when most get off stay-at-home orders due to the risk category elderly fall into.

I can’t fix those circumstances but I had opportunities to offer hope and positivity in out of the box ways. I mailed a care package filled with his favorite candies to my dad so he would know people outside were thinking about him. We integrated Facetime visits whenever possible and that in itself can be challenging for those in their 80s. I designed a cool shirt for my mom and dad’s 59th anniversary that will most likely be spent apart. Not ideal situations but we are coping with the options afforded us. At the same time appreciating the lockdown to keep him and others safe within his facility.

As shown on the news, the elderly can be wiped out fast if this virus hits an assisted living place with common living areas much like a cruise ship. It’s messages like this on the news that can rattle one’s cage. I know this when I see my mom worrying about my dad after a news segment. Choosing the joy in the situation can overshadow the negative if you choose.

Crazy to think about but staying home can help if you think about the big picture. The keepsake below will help my folks ring in 59 years apart this year. It is their only anniversary apart to date but they still have each other and that a blessing. Choose joy everyone. Corona can’t take that away from you.

Speaking of time, it’s so precious. As I write this heartbreak has hit close by. A loss of a bright young soul to suicide. Yes this is real. As humans we are social. When people are confined to their homes others can’t see those suffering signs. Some will choose the only solution they see viable to their perceived problems. It’s sad but I know more will follow. Suicide, PTSD, substance abuse and depression are current issues impacting many. That’s not a conspiracy theory.

I watched my sister work in her garden in the past few days. Lettuce, tomatoes and other veggies are starting to blossom. We as a community will blossom and rise just like a new garden. Some years are more fruitful than others but if you work hard all can sprout.

Times of struggle are upon us all. How we react to this pandemic will show what we are made of and who we are as people. Check on those who seem distant. Be kind. Look beyond you to help others. I can’t emphasize this enough. Make your own garden sprout. A little sunshine, a little hard work, and a little hope will go a long way.