Think What You Want

A strongly held opinion is not something we arrive at lightly.  Normally it is born of life experience, and grows over time to be reinforced, eventually becoming crystallized into a foundational structure for every action we take on a daily basis.  The belief has become so ingrained we operate within it, without even understanding why.

We arrive at adulthood early in life, but from the day we leave our parents until the day we die, we operate within the life structure provided to us during our formative years.  For this reason, the study of early childhood development has always fascinated me.  When I observe a “dysfunctional” adult, I immediately see a child who has had some kind of early childhood life trauma.  One can only imagine.

I  had to stop trying to do interventions on these people.  They are already lost.  Though this seems a harsh stance, it has saved me from disaster more than a few times.  I am now using my personal energy and resources to assist young families with the arduous task of rearing healthy adults who will eventually do the same when their turns come.  As a mother who has completed the cycle of launching three daughters, I have enjoyed observing them “getting it right” even among huge piles of laundry, and supper boiling over on the stove.  Their children absolutely glow.  And they have friends with kids just like them, which gives me great optimism about the future of this world.

Mom was a school teacher, one of those very gifted and energetic individuals who could bring talent from nearly any child.  When she retired she said sadly, “Give me a child five years old, and I will tell you whether he will succeed or fail in life.”  WHAT?!!  She went on to explain her opinion.  “By age five, the foundation for the rest of his life has been set.  His love of learning, his courage, his willingness to cooperate within a group, and many other things are already in place.  When he arrives in the classroom devoid of good experiences it is nearly impossible to reverse the damage.”

Wow.  This was a very heavy thought for me as a young mother.  I played devil’s advocate, sounding the depths of her position to be sure she had said something she could defend, because if it were true, it meant parents play a critical role in the general health of our entire society.  Before we finished she had explained it has nothing much to do with religion, political views, or even the public schools.  Great kids and bad come from homes.  HOMES.

Now I am a “wisdom carrier” myself, one of the “elders” who observe from the sidelines, watching  young families struggle with decisions that could break a heart, yet still must be made.  They consult me daily, looking for some hint, a clue, some guidance in the process.

A little known secret of the elders is never spoken.  I will take the risk here.  The secret is simply this:  There is no escape.  None.  You must do the work of LOVE, and it takes a lifetime to understand all that this implies.  Ironically, it is what any newborn knows from its first moments.  We are born with every tool, every willingness to learn, every good intention, and too much trust.

All we can do as parents is preserve this or mess it up.  By age five, the windows are closed.  The child enters the larger world with the evidence of our choices.  The most important work we can do in life is to rear children with their tools, their willingness to learn, and their love and trust intact.  If we get even close to right, we have made an impact on the world at large.

When you have time, watch a large group of young children at play, and without a doubt, you will be able to spot a child who glows and a child whose light has been diminished.  One will graduate with honors, and the other one will have a criminal record later in life.  Sound extreme?  Think what you want to.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are  created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable  rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  Thomas Jefferson was referring to men all over the world.  For us to return to sanity in America, we must, MUST extend these tenets to include our children at the earliest formative stages.

Be a light carrier, for the days are dark ahead.  We must martial ever resource, and this includes our foundation, the children.  They are the real wisdom carriers. If you doubt it, sit down and talk to one of them.


I Produced a Play, Accidentally

The faces in the crowd swirled into a colorful mass, and I felt great trepidation.   I could not see her, but I listened for her.  Her distinctive dry cough was always a great comfort to me in crowds.  That involuntary sound was discernible to me and meant nothing to anyone else.  From the presence of my mother I knew everything would be all right.  She’s here.  I can do this.  I am so happy this is real.

I had written a play.  In my room upstairs, all alone, I’d had an idea for a take-off on “The Night Before Christmas” and wrote it up, working late into the night.  The next day, I presented it to my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Carpenter.  He was busy, but he took it and when the school day was over, asked me to remain after class.

He asked me a few questions about why I wrote it, and what I thought should be done.  I came to life, explaining how every single person in our class could have a role, and it came to a point when he said, “That’s type-casting,” and he laughed.  I had to ask him what type-casting was, and he explained it.  My response was, “It makes it easier, as the kids will not really be acting.”  He laughed again, yet I did not really see the humor.

“If I can get permission”, he continued, “would you allow it to be put on for the school?”
“All right, then.  You go on home and I will see what I can do.”  He gathered my pages into a stack, giving them a straightening bump, and I left, completely unaware of what it all meant.  In my imagination, I could see the entire play completed.  I can do this.  I am so happy this is real.

I told my mother about it after school, and she looked very pleased, interested, and asked a few questions, probing for more.  There was no more. 

The next morning, Mr. Carpenter opened the day with my pages in his hand, and announced, “Tandy has written a play, and I have permission to put it on for the other 6th grade classes.  Would everyone like to participate?  We only have a month to get ready, and it will be a lot of work, but everyone will have a part.”

To my shock, every hand in the room went up, waving wildly, generating a palpable wave of enthusiasm.
Even then I was unaware of anything unusual occurring.  I was confident of my ability to lead the play into production.

“If she is willing, Tandy will be the director.  This means each of you will listen to her, and do what she says.”
All eyes shifted to me, and I smiled back, never doubting they would gladly follow.  Oh, for that blissful innocence of knowing one is omnipotent, and will never die or be disappointed.  I was twelve.  Immediately I assigned myself the “lead” part, and one by one, everyone in class eagerly approached me to learn what parts I would assign for them.  It was easy and gratifying.  I felt important.

Each step of the process, from costumes, to selection of music, to individual consultations with various actors, and rehearsals was given to me, and I “just did it.”  We were all having fun, and Mr. Carpenter must have been a brilliant teacher because we barely felt his supervision.  He met with each of us privately, reminding us of gaps that needed filling, and phone calls from actors and dancers each evening were all part of it.  The mother of the “dog” even called me to ask what could be done to transform her son into a dog.  I was pretty surprised a grown up would seek me out for advice, but I cheerfully told her how to do it, and went on with my life.

Mr. Carpenter called our class to order one day with an announcement.  “We are going to have a dress rehearsal” he claimed and explained it would be like any other rehearsal, but it would be in full costume, and there would be no interruptions.  It would be just like the real thing, only the audience would be limited to “just the administration.”  He told us there would be “no messing around” and put a special glare onto a couple of boys in the back.  “The Principal will be there,” was his final threat.

Oh, man!  I cannot tell you how excited we were to be opening our play, finally.  I put on my “old lady” costume, and took a seat at the edge of the stage.  I was the “moderator” who was reading the actual unadulterated lines of “The Night Before Christmas” to the audience, as various crazy scenes would erupt onstage, just out of my line of sight.  I did not need to see it.  It was all in my head anyway.  I was the ultimate straight man.  How did I know just when to read and when to stop for each scene?  The actors had no lines.  It was all broad comedy.  I reveled in the fact I was writer, director, and playing the lead, yet I had no idea of my own narcissism, and nobody called me on it.

The play ended, and the small audience had about died laughing.  I was happy and surprised by the jolly face on the principal as he congratulated me.  “I will be at every performance,” he declared and walked away.
Mr. Carpenter was glowing and gave everyone his best congratulations on a great dress rehearsal.  It was then it happened.

The metal folding chair I was seated in had worked its way to the edge of the stairs, and one of the legs went off, tumbling me head over heels all the way down the steps and onto the floor.  I sat up in my long dress, my old lady glasses half off, and my old lady wig beside me.  The entire class erupted into laughter, and so did I, but Mr. Carpenter helped me to my feet, and hugged me, and admonished the class for their insensitivity.  “She could have been hurt!” he thundered.  “Every single one of you owes her an apology.  She has done all of this for you!”  I was stunned.  I was not hurt, and it had been hilarious.  I even thought of adding it to the play, but was too embarrassed my dress might fly up again.

We did the play for the sixty 6th graders the next day and they laughed at all the points they should have.  At the end, they were on their feet, clapping and yelling.  Well, that’s done.  It was fun.  Back to class.  They filed out, and we began to organize clean up.

Mr. Carpenter was talking to the principal, and the two of them approached me to ask a question.  “Since it went so well for the sixth grade classes, would you be willing to do it for the entire school tomorrow?”
We all looked at one another thinking the same thing.  If we can get out of class to put it on again, we will.  Duh.

Parents were invited, and every class from first to sixth attended.  The auditorium was packed.  We  felt even more secure the next day, and the actors laid it on real thick.   In the end, the entire audience was on its feet, clapping and cheering.  Mr. Carpenter made me go to center stage and take credit.  We all lined up and bowed and they went on clapping.  There were announcements, and credit given, and it was done.  I felt really happy about it all.

Later, at home, Mom said, “I can’t believe you got three standing ovations!”  I was perplexed.  “What’s a standing ovation?”  She explained, and I felt pretty humble about it.  I said, “I thought they were just standing up to leave, and clapping on their way out.”

“No,” she said.  They were telling you ‘thank you’ for the play.”

As I sit typing today, I think back to Mr. Carpenter, and how amazing he really was to allow it to happen.  Those ovations really belonged to him.  He is long dead, and life has gone on for us all.  In our minds, we were just playing around, not really working.  We had no idea at all how much we were learning.  We had no idea how much we were loved.

To this day, whenever I hear “The Nutcracker Suite” I see two ballerinas dancing while a boy dressed like a dog with paper ears and brown pajamas nips at their feet.  One was actually a great dancer, and one was not.  The one who was not very good concentrated on the music and dance staring seriously into the audience completely oblivious to the counterpoint of her graceful partner kicking at the dog.  The paper ears flapped up and down and the boy transformedplayed his part brilliantly.  He chased them off the stage, barking furiously.