By Nicki Salcedo, contributor
The classroom buzzed with the noise of 3rd graders. The voices became one sound. The sound of explosive laughter and strange soliloquies and the complaints of being a kid. So many complaints.
He looked at my paper.
She touched my chair.
The good teacher knew the voices spoke of unspoken things.
I didn’t get enough sleep last night.
I need to be outside in the fresh air.
The teacher pointed to the Tattle Tale Book. “If you need to tattle, put it in the book. Write it down. I’ll write a response to you.” There were some good lessons there.
Decide what matters.
Document the problem.
Tell your teacher.
She will listen.
Somehow over the years things change. No one listens anymore.
The boy who grabbed my breast in 8th grade was a smart kid, a nice kid, who never caused trouble. Thirty years later, I still make excuses for his bad behavior and cannot explain my silence. Thirty years later, I wrote down the details of his violation for the first time.
It was, even by own recollection, a minor thing. I never told my teachers. I didn’t want to cause him any trouble. No big deal, right?
It was, even by my own recollection, a pivotal moment. I let him know never look at me again and never speak to me again. He tried to repair our friendship after the incident. He did this for four more years until our senior year. It didn’t work. The damage was done.
Good thing he wasn’t my teacher or my boss or my doctor. Good thing I was able to stand up for myself.
Since I left the 8th grade, I’ve had many opportunities for people to tell me my feelings aren’t valid.
When I was overwhelmed in college I heard about the “Freshman Fifteen,” the weight you gain when you are depressed. They told me about “Sophomore Slump,” the feeling you have when you’ve failed organic chemistry for the second time.
I was told these things were normal.
When someone bullied me at work, I stayed silent. Because bullying was okay, but speaking up was wrong.
When my father died, I grieved. But I was told time would fix grief. I was told there is a deadline on sadness. I know now that time will fix grief the same way it fixes a broken egg. Eventually you will get used to being a new person, a shattered broken mess. But you will never be fixed.
When I was in third grade there was a book to write down how I was feeling, but as I grew up they took the book away. I should have thought of this before I became a mom.
I read everything I could on parenting. The different parenting methods sounded a lot like a class of 3rd graders. Laughter, long soliloquys, complaints. I read one thing that struck me as valid. It was one of the few pieces of parenting advice I took to heart. It went something like this.
When you greet your child at the end of the day, don’t be distracted. Get down on eye level with your kid and say hello. Look them in the eye and tell them you are happy to see them. Apparently babies and pets take direct eye contact and focused attention as a sign that they are loved and valued. It doesn’t matter if you hug or say I love you. All you have to do is look and focus your attention on them.
When your child gets hurt, you look them in the eye and tell them, “I know that hurts.” You can give a hug or kiss their boo boos but that doesn’t matter as much. What matters, even in the smallest child, is the validation of their feelings. I decided to try it.
My medicine cabinet has so many boxes of Band-Aids. Some are a decade old. Better than an adhesive bandage is my attention and the acknowledgement of their pain. It’s like the tattle tale book. There are ways we can help our kids.
It is important that they know they can trust us. All of us.
The method of listening works on an 8-year-old, a 19-year-old, or a 42-year-old. Now the trick is getting my kids to talk when the issues are more dramatic than a boo boo.
Everything is not worth complaining about. Unfair treatment happens. Some people are jerks and bullies. Other people are perpetrators and manipulators. How can we teach our kids the difference when we don’t always know the difference ourselves?
I watch kids. I know a lot of kids. I look them in the eye. When they don’t look back at me, when they are distracted, maybe it isn’t important to them. Maybe it isn’t the truth. That’s rare.
Other times their eyes are steady and sad and sure. I don’t break the stare. I take a breath and ask what happened. I focus my eyes on them and listen. And listen. And listen to the tales they tell.