“And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed.”
I think 61,173,739 Americans agree with him.
I always share this quote with my eighth and ninth grade students at the beginning of each school year. In August, they’re filled with promise, with messages of hope and faith from their parents, and confidence that this will be their year. That change will happen.
Progress grades after four weeks usually show improvement. They can commit to change, and are seeing results. They are starting to feel good. Their parents are proud.
Four more weeks go by. Tests, projects, essays, and life start to blur their focus. They’re not getting enough sleep, and it’s hard to see the end of the quarter. October is a hard month.
Eight weeks later, when quarter grades come out, their little balloons burst. Some have slipped back into old habits. Their calendars are sparse, their backpacks stuffed with paper, unfinished assignments, and smelly gym clothes. parents have begun to nag, panic, and in desperation, sometimes blame the teachers.
It’s my job to pick up the pieces. Rebuild their shattered hopes, and cheer them towards the finish line. You can do it! Look at your progress in the long run! You’ve come so far! Don’t let that one test/paper/homework/detention slow you down!
I often wonder what really holds kids back. Is it the fear of success? Are they more comfortable in that middle place of a “C” or “D” grade, when they’re still passing but no one puts too much pressure on them to be ‘perfect’? Is it a lack of trust that what teachers and adults are suggesting will really work? Or maybe it’s all a natural developmental phase; kids trying things their way, regrouping, and trying again?
Is school really getting that much harder? Or are we just approaching it differently? Are the stakes raised for kids, families, teachers, and colleges? What exactly are we expecting from our children?
Finding a balance for teachers and parents is tricky. We want to hold up high expectations, knowing that they have ‘potential’. We want them to strive to do better, work harder, and get into a ‘good’ college. We hire help – economics tutors, SAT prep, math courses, and whatever we can do to say we’ve done our best.
I always come back to the kid, and that intangible, unteachable asset that seems to mark those that make it through the bumps, hurdles, and hard times of middle school: intrinsic motivation. I saw it during my trip to Indonesia last summer – those kids wanted nothing more than to learn English and make it to the U.S. for college. They understood, “No Pain, No Gain” like many of my students cannot. They couldn’t afford tutors-they just had to work hard.
The bottom line is, the kid has to want it. They need to have a supportive base, caring people who will encourage and not accept responsibility for their actions. They need to have people who are firm, consistent, and unconditionally love them. They need to celebrate the small victories and regroup after the defeats. They need to see the glimmers of hope for their future – to see who and what they can be when, diploma in hand, they walk into adulthood.
It’s too early in the school year to be doing this. To be tying a knot, night after night, hoping to strengthen my line. Willing myself to lengthen my line, to make myself a better person. A better teacher. Friend. Wife. Mother.
To push myself to grow, to learn, to excel, to serve.
To not let go. To not listen to them. Knot by knot.
Twenty-four days into the vastness of it all. One hundred fifty-six more to go. Knot after knot after knot. Tears. Smiles. Laughter. Success. Setbacks. I will myself upward.
The rope strengthens as I work through it, as I twist and turn and weave new fibers in. The knots unravel, slowly, and I pull harder and harder, determined they will hold. Determined that I will not be broken. I will not fall. I will not get to the end alone. I will not. let. go.
I will not let you down. I will use all my strength, pull myself up, twist it, squeeze my eyes shut and will myself higher. I will slide, slowly, my skin burning as I go down and then – SNAP!
I hover, suspended mid-air, forced to decide the next direction. I move up, sometimes slowly, sometimes strengthened by the boost of another. Knot after knot, I grip, grasp, groan my way upwards.
I’m almost there.
I can see the end of the rope.
I will hang on.
Have you ever picked up a book, not knowing a thing about it, and then found yourself mesmerized? Have you found yourself astonished at the writer’s ability to know exactly what you are thinking? This was my experience with Brene Brown’s latest book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.
Having been a faithful reader of Dr. Brown’s blog, Ordinary Courage, I was familiar with Brene’s straight forward, insightful writing style. I knew I often connected with her posts, and found myself commenting often. It wasn’t until I came up for air after blazing through the first two chapters, “Scarcity: Looking Inside the Culture of ‘Never Enough’” and “Debunking the Vulnerabilty Myths” that I realized how aligned my heart and brain really were with hers.
Brene is not only a prolific writer, researcher and professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social work, she is also a wife and mother. For me, this just added to her genuineness and made her words golden. Basing her book and research on Roosevelt’s speech ‘The Man in the Arena’ of 1910, she establishes the position that to live “wholeheartedly”, one must “engage in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”
Daring Greatly is not a touchy-feely-I’m-going-to-fix-your-poor-pathetic-soul kind of book; in fact, that would go directly against Brene’s beliefs. She doesn’t assume to have all the answers, but what she does do is ground her theories in hard research and personal life experiences. That’s what made this book so real for me.
The first chapter on scarcity spoke right to me. “We all want to be brave,” she states in the introduction. In my forties, I’ve found this to be oh-so true. Past the stage of wondering how I could ever be ‘enough’ as a working mom, I realize now that bravery, in many forms, is how I grow as a mom and woman. Living life with a lens of scarcity, that we are never good enough, perfect enough, successful enough, or safe enough, gives us exactly what we wish for. Not enough. Like Brene, these are questions my husband and I have to confront all the time. How much do we stand up for what’s right, what we believe in, even when no one is watching. Brene says, “We’re called to ‘dare greatly’ every time we make choices that challenge the social climate of scarcity.” And that’s how we grow.
Throughout the book, Brene works through the concepts of vulnerability, shame, change, engagement, and wholehearted parenting. This last chapter, “Daring to Be the Adults We Want Our Children to Be”, brought all her concepts full circle. Motherhood is my most vulnerable position. It is much easier to take the easy route of parenting, to not confront what is hard or awkward. It is much simpler and more pleasant to look past how we wish our children would be, instead of push forward through the muck and towards what they could be. When I read her chapter, I realized this is my greatest challenge and my place of deepest bravery. If I want for my children as Brene does, to ‘live and love with their whole hearts”, then I must be courageous and model this.
At the end of her book, I found my eyes welling with tears as I read her “Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto” and the words, “Above all else, I want you to know that you are loved and lovable…I will not teach or love or show you anything perfectly, but I will let you see me, and I will always hold sacred the gift of seeing you. Truly, deeply, seeing you.” I realized that shared experience of motherhood connects us, that why I get up each day, push myself to grow, learn, and experience things that make me uneasy, is really for this. For my children to see me, their mother, and learn if I dare to live greatly, they can, too.
This is a paid review for Blog Her Book Club, but the opinions expressed are my own.