Every time I read this post from almost two years ago and your comments of encouragement to our little girl, I want the whole world to read it.
I want individuality and creativity to rule and kids like Ella to keep on with their original outfits and ways that don’t make sense to others. It’s the willingness to do things a bit differently that keeps this whole darn experience interesting. I am grateful to my husband, Karl, for being the daddy he is, and for my dear Ella, who is one of my greatest teachers, and for all the students I’ve had in the classroom who share their struggles with me–I wish you a life of creative freedom!
April 29, 2012
Last week, I got a text from Karl with a picture of Ella dressed in one of her amazing fashion creations. “Best one yet,” the text read. I was already at school (work) and wondered if he actually put her on the bus in that outfit. I knew he most likely did, as he has been great at encouraging Ella to be herself and not worry about what other people think. I tell her that too, but my actions say otherwise. Maybe because I know what happens at school. I don’t think I would have let her wear that outfit to school. I guess it’s a good thing I am not home for the morning routine right now. But, I got the aftermath.
She got off the bus crying. A second grader on the bus called her a hippie. She got weird looks all day. She told me she wasn’t so sure she should have worn the outfit in the first place, and I asked her why she did. “Because Daddy was so proud of me. He even took a picture of me. I wanted to change at school, but I thought I couldn’t change in the middle of the day, that would just show them I care. People who do big things with their lives don’t care what other people think.” WOW! I knew I had to tread carefully, because this was a big moment for her.
It’s the first time I’ve seen her devastated by peer pressure. She’s in third grade. She’s kind, smart, creative and full of personality. I cringe at the thought of her having to endure the level of peer pressure at the middle school where I teach. It concerns me that the clever, creative children in our society are often forced into conformity. We live in a tiny house, people know that. We pack healthy lunches and the other kids at lunch ask “What is that?” As Ella eats a homemade burrito. I want my kids to keep their individuality, but not at the expense of their confidence and sense of belonging.
When I think about what has been the biggest concern in our drastic downsizing and debt-free lifestyle, it has been that the kids know why we are doing this and that they feel happy and secure knowing we are living a great life. I don’t want them to feel poor because our house is so small. I want them to feel rich, because all of our needs are met and we have each other. I know they know these things, but when they are criticized because they are different from others, I worry that they may equate different with wrong.
So, I said “Ella, you have two choices. You can either not wear those types of outfits to school, or you can continue wearing them and pay no attention to what other people say or think.” If it were me, I would never wear that outfit or anything like it again, I know it. Somehow, I have a feeling Ella will make it more dramatic next time.
I want to be her when I grow up!
A note to teachers,
Please be inflexible on this rule: Be kind. Enforce it not only within the four walls of your classroom, but on the entire campus.
It can be hard to notice when the kids slip in their mean words/name calling. It happens when we’re not looking–in the hallways, and the bathrooms and at recess. If you hear these words on your way to the teacher’s lounge, please stop and use this most important moment to teach kindness. The kids who do the name calling need kindness modeled, and they need to know they are wonderful, too. As teachers, these moments are when we do our most important work. It means stopping and listening to both kids and asking questions like,
Our important work happens in the hallways two students at a time.
Thank you for showing up everyday to be a role model for our children. Thank you, thank you, thank you!