Tag Archives: compassion

Banana slug lessons (Wednesday’s Wisdom)

This is not "the" banana slug mentioned below. Image courtesy of Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Banana_slug_at_UCSC.jpg

In response to a “lessons” post last month on Renée Schuls-Jacobson’s blog, I wrote about the wisdom I learned on a field trip:

I was in fourth grade, on a field trip in the mountains with our class. My mom was one of the parent chaperones. I didn’t want her there–only the “dorks” had their parents there. It was an embarrassing day made worse when the “popular boy” intentionally stepped on a banana slug in front of my mom. She had a strict “no kill unless you are going to eat it” policy in life. (Whenever possible (which was most of the time), she trapped the mice/bugs/snakes/etc. in the house and released them in the field out back.) I was standing next to my mom when the conversation went down…

Mom: Why did you just do that?

Boy: I don’t know.

Mom: You don’t know, but you did it anyway? Would you like me to come into your home and squash you?

Boy: No, I suppose not.

Mom: I didn’t think so. That was senseless and unkind. We are in their home and the creatures that live here have every right to be left alone to live as they choose, don’t you think? Since they can’t speak for themselves, I’m doing it for them. I assume I won’t see anything like that again today.

Boy: (eyes downward cast, but mocking me, I was certain!) Yes, mam.

I never heard a peep from the other kids about it, but I felt humiliated by my mom’s scolding of this boy–the boy who I dreamed about. My future as Mrs. Popular was lost, but the lesson I learned that day wasn’t: Speak up for those that can’t speak up for themselves.

(Anyone who would squash a bug just for fun probably wasn’t who I wanted to spend my life with anyways.)

via Thanks For Reaming Me Out: A #LessonLearned by Ermine Cunningham « Lessons From Teachers and Twits.

I’ve written often about the lessons I’ve learned from my mom, but it wasn’t until I read this guest post on Renée’s blog that I thought about the day I learned, really learned, to speak up for those that can’t speak for themselves. I was grateful for the chance to revisit this memory, not just for the trip down memory lane, but for the “gut check” it offered.

Though not perfect (because no one is), my mom was an amazingly compassionate soul and particularly protective of the weak. She was a stay-at-home mom with a kitchen window that provided her the perfect vantage point to see almost all the way down the block. If there was “bullying” or unkindness of any kind going on, she knew about it and she stepped in, whether or not her kid was the perpetrator. And, the part about rescuing and releasing critters above–gospel truth. Over the years, I watched her quietly and humbly give of herself and her money, and all the while teach by example.

I’d like to hope I’ve done the same with my kids, and I’m well aware I have kids that were blessed with huge hearts that have nothing to do with me or my teaching. I think about my older daughter, C, who, at the age of 4, would immediately stop her play and greet any child that entered the McDonald’s play area to invite them to join her “so they didn’t feel left out.” Or the time when A, at the ripe age of 10, stood up alone to a table full of kids who had been teasing another group of kids in front of her. I think of the courage it took to offer those gestures, to the be the hand that reached out to help someone else and I fill with pride for my girls and am humbled by their examples of compassion.

Since the day I wrote my comment on Renée’s blog, I’ve been searching the corners of my soul, asking, “Am I helping those that have no voice when presented with the opportunity? Am I continuing to teach by example? Or, do I stand silent, grateful it’s not my problem?” I’ve noticed more often the acts of others, of my children and husband as they help those in need. I’ve pondered the actions I’ve taken to help others and wondered if there was more I could/should do. I reminded myself to always be on the look out to “practice random acts of kindness.”

My mother taught me compassion with her words and her example (with the help of a banana slug.) She was ever grateful for the life she had, and she inspired me to be a better person. I have been blessed often and inspired by the generosity and  kindness of family, friends, and strangers who have helped me up more than once with an outstretched hand. I’ve been inspired by my children who have stood in defense of the bullied and the lonely. I’ve been motivated to do more by the writers I have come to know through this blog. And, I’ve been blessed by the opportunities I’ve had to help others. It feels good to help, to speak up for those that can’t speak up for themselves, to be the light in someone’s darkness. Acts of compassion truly offer their own rewards.

There are many opportunities to help those that are in need and either can’t or won’t speak up for themselves. One need only look at the headline news to read the stories of child mercenaries in Uganda or of the unemployed in our own backyards. Perhaps, there is a friend who needs groceries but can’t get out to the store, or a stranger whose path you cross on social media in need of encouragement and hope, or an in-law you lovingly welcome into your home, in spite of “the history”. Reaching out, speaking up, offering hope, are all ways we can be the voice for another in need.

Tomorrow, I will share the story of 3 fellow bloggers and their selfless gift to those with the smallest voices. In light of so much negativity on the news, it is good to be reminded of the goodness of others. I hope you’ll read.

Until then, what or who has inspired you to be a better person?

There are no unlovables.

I used to pray for the patience of Mother Teresa. She loved the “unlovables,” society’s discards. She looked past the filth and disease and saw into the very soul of a person. Her smile and her love brought light into darkness. She made a difference in this world through love and continues to do so long after her death.  I wish I had her heart for compassion. I wish I had her faith. If I did, I would undoubtedly be a better human being. If I had even a smidgen of her essence, I know I would be a better mother.

I love my children, and there are those times when…. Fill in your own answer. I’m pretty sure all mothers have felt this way at some point. Children don’t come with instruction manuals, “off buttons”, or return policies. Yes, the rewards are great, but some days the length of the day far exceeds the rewards. I can’t count the number of times I’ve put myself in a “Mommy Time-Out” over the years; those times when I knew I needed to walk away or risk saying something hurtful. Or worse, scarring.

In a recent edition of Parade Magazine, Matt Damon said, “When I became a parent, my heart grew five times.” I understand his statement completely. I love my children more than I could have ever imagined.  We’ve often played the “I love you more” game, and I tell them that God reserved a special part of my heart that wasn’t open until they arrived. When each little bundle of joy was placed in my arms for the first time, it was unimaginable to think I could feel anything other than pure love for that tiny, vulnerable little person. And, everyday, I love my children “more, times infinity.” But, in all honesty, I’ve often fallen short in loving them as I should.

When my first arrived, I was nervous and excited. My hopes were high and I saw perfection when I looked in her eyes. With a little lactation coaching, she nursed well, she slept well, she played well, and she smiled constantly. She rarely threw tantrums and she had no “terrible two’s.” “Three’s” were trying, and “four’s” were far from fun as she grew in her independence. Nonetheless, she was a “pleaser” and desperately sought approval; my first-born was my “easy baby”

Her sister came into this world fighting. Because she was “failing to thrive,” she was induced almost a month early. And, though we had been prepared to expect she would be underdeveloped and whisked away to the neo-natal ICU, she arrived healthy and very angry. I credit that spirit for her survival; the cord was wrapped around her neck three times. Two days later, we brought home a Tasmanian Devil dressed in the pink and white sleeper given to her by her grandma.

Our first five years together vacillated between serenity and chaos. She nursed well, but due to gastrointestinal problems, was on a very restricted diet when she switched to solid foods. She had no activity restrictions but was under the care of a cardiologist (for minor concerns) until the age of three. She fought the quarterly EKG’s like a prize-fighter.  Unlike the two-hour naps I enjoyed with her sister, my second born’s naps often lasted far less than an hour and bedtimes were fitful. Her tantrums were explosive and unpredictable. She was extremely sensitive to textures and other sensory stimulation. Nonetheless, she loved to snuggle. The closer, the tighter, the better. She was my exhausting baby.

When she was a small toddler, I remember lamenting to my mom about her behavior and her exhausting spirit. Ironically, my mom, who had once said my second born was “everything she had ever wished for me,” loved A’s feisty spirit. She said it reminded her of me, and then she advised me to “train her spirit, don’t try to break her spirit” after confessing she had tried to break mine. I’ve carried that piece of advice with me since and, more than once, it has reminded me to guide her through the rough times and to love her at all times.

A few years later, we found another source of support: The Children’s Hospital. When my older daughter, C, was around 8,  we were referred to the hospital for evaluation of toe-walking, a common symptom of cerebral palsy and something she had done since her first steps. Though she didn’t have CP, she was diagnosed with Sensory Integration Disorder (SI). While there, I began speaking with the therapists about her sister, A, whose explosive tantrums often ruled our world. After an afternoon of testing, it was confirmed that she, too, had SI and a course of treatment was set for each girl. For almost two years, both A & C spent a weekly hour with their occupational therapist learning how to modulate their responses to the sensory information that often overloaded them. Additionally, C worked with a physical therapist and wore a series of casts on both legs to correct shortened leg muscles and tendons. They showed such courage. And, I learned how to better love my children when the world seemed “too much to process.”

I wept when they were diagnosed. I didn’t understand the gifts we had been given. I blamed myself for their SI. I blamed the fertility drugs. I blamed God. I felt guilty over my lack of gratitude for my two healthy children. Though not the devastating diagnosis faced by many families, it frequently dictated the events of our days. Activities were carefully selected based on the risks of sensory overload. Mealtimes easily turned into battle grounds. Clothing was carefully evaluated and shoe shopping was less desirable than alligator wrestling. Many of my evenings ended in a silent whisper, “Forgive me, God, for losing my patience and not loving them as well as I should. Please help me to love like Mother Teresa.”

Both girls “graduated” from therapy many years ago, and, for the most part, their struggles with SI are behind them. Each has matured and developed effective coping skills.  Along with our children, my husband and I developed the parenting skills necessary to communicate love, especially during the rough patches. I saw past a diagnosis, and I saw into the souls of my babies. I learned to love them just as they are because they were God’s children before they were mine, and I believe God doesn’t make mistakes. Our journey has helped me become a better mother and helped my girls grow into the creative, compassionate, loving young women they are with eyes that can see into the souls of others. And, for that, I am especially grateful.

My children have never been unlovable. No one is. Not the homeless person on the corner, the cranky clerk at the store, or the prickly, angry family member, be they a toddler, a sibling, or a parent. We are all simply doing the best we can with the tools we have. I am blessed to call two amazing young women my daughters and to love them  for who they are, just as they are, which takes more than just saying the words, “I love you more, times infinity.” Through them, I have learned about patience, compassion and faith. They taught me how to see past the surface and to look into the soul of another. I’ve never walked the streets of Calcutta, and though I still pray for the heart of Mother Teresa, I am grateful to my children who taught me how to love and reminded me everyone deserves to be loved, just as they are.

Have you opened your heart to “the unlovable”?

An update: This is a post I accidentally published and removed last week while my girls considered the content. I publish it today with permission and gratitude to both of my girls for their courage and willingness to share their stories in the hopes it may help another.