I can hear birds chirping out front and I can see bits of green and tiny flower buds on trees. Spring (you can call February "Spring" in California) is a time to feel fresh and aware and open to growth.
A time to be kind to struggling new flowers who are just learning what it means to find their place in the sun, so they can grow strong and steady and ready to stand up to the rains that eventually - inevitably - come upon them.
And if those flowers are our children, and we know that the storms will eventually come to rain down on them, much like they rained down on us as we grew up, then shouldn't we try to keep them in the sun as much as possible right now?
Nine is having a tough go. She's trying to navigate school, which has gotten much harder this year. She's trying to understand that as the school work gets harder, she needs to work harder. Success in school has come easily to date, so when it doesn't, it creates a valley of uncertainty and scaling the mountains to get back up to the top seems impossible. She needs to absorb my words when I tell her that things get harder for everyone. That as she grows, so will the challenges she faces. It doesn't mean she can't overcome them, it just means that she's going to have to dig deep for what she needs to help her do it. All the equipment is in there, she's just got to be able to find it.
God willing, finding that will be easier than finding her shoes when Seven and I are standing by the front door, toes tapping, keys jingling nervously because we're seconds away from being late to school (again).
Apart from school, which is partly cloudy this Spring, she's navigating the whipping social winds of third grade. I know from experience that girls can be mean. I'm pretty sure all of us girls know from experience that girls can be mean, otherwise Tina Fey wouldn't have written a movie called "Mean Girls" and it wouldn't have been as successful as it was, or as funny. It's easy now to laugh about it, but I remember my best friend suddenly and without warning, decidedly unfriending me in Junior High. I was DEVASTATED. Not to mention confused and embarrassed and racking my little hormonal brain trying to figure out what on earth I'd done to deserve it. Of course, I'd done nothing. It was her, not me. Even if I had seen it coming, I couldn't stop it any more than you can stop the rain from getting you wet when you try to run for cover in a barn with no roof.
I'm afraid this unfriending, uncomfortable, unwelcome storm is coming earlier now. The words that are said are cruel. The looks that these little girls give feel like a hailstorm, biting and sharp. I've seen it happen and I've heard the stories. I've also seen Nine's big brown eyes, with her long lashes that look like mink, well up with tears as she shares with me the fact that this is yet one more thing she can't understand.
We teach in our house that you look into someone's heart to find their beauty. That beautiful people have a happy heart and that heart can beat within bodies of all sizes, shapes and colors. When they are kind to one another or to friends, I say to them "I see such a beautiful, happy heart in what you just did.".
So it's tough to fathom mean, especially when it comes out of a seemingly clear, blue sky. We try to explain that people who act mean are unhappy, and that the nasty things they say have less to do with the person they say them to, and more to do with themselves and their own sadness. And when someone lashes out for no reason, the best thing to do is to remember first that it's not about you. The next best thing to do is to realize that whatever they are saying or doing is coming from a dark heart. Mean people aren't mean to you because you're doing it wrong, they're mean because they hurt. Maybe someone is mean to them. Maybe they watch Mom and Dad be mean to each other. I don't think an unhappy heart is necessarily born, I think it's learned through painful process. And that pain has to come out somehow.
Sometimes it comes out on a sweet, naive, unsuspecting third grader in the form of a turquoise post-it note with "I hate you" written on it. Sometimes the note says "You're stupid". Sometimes it's a sideways glance and a comment under the breath meant to intimidate. (And it does.)
I wonder if unleashing that storm feels good to a kid who is full of thunder and lightening. I wonder if it helps it move through them so they can find some sunshine too, or if it's just how they are and will be, with gray clouds in their eyes and hate in their mouths. Maybe instead of holding hands with their girlfriends, and feeling the shared joy of innocence, they will grip and twist and pull to ensure that someone else feels just as bad as they do.
My task as I see it is to teach a combination of compassion and confidence, because I can't (unfortunately) put my kids in a safety bubble for the next 80 years. It's okay to feel bad because of a mean girl, and it's okay to feel bad for a mean girl. But it's not okay to let the grip of one bring you to your knees. Hopefully Nine (and Seven) will grow so strong in the sunshine of our love that they will never be broken by wind or rain or hateful post-its from silly, sad girls. Hopefully they will grow so strong that their appreciation for self and others will protect them from what's to come, and what's already happened.
Hopefully they will learn that they can also give sunshine to help someone else's seed of happiness grow, and they can do this without becoming cold themselves. I myself am learning how and when to let go just enough. It's scary for all of us and one more reason why my middle name is Worry. But I am grateful to be on this tireless journey of teaching and loving and protecting. Sometimes it makes me want to curl up around the puppy and sleep for hours. Other times I want to - work with me here - just stuff the kids back up into my womb and fight their fights for them again.
Instead, I will keep pointing out pretty clouds and beautiful hearts and reasons to laugh, and hope that this fortifies them enough to weather any storm.
I may also steal all the post-its from the classroom, but you didn't hear it from me.