Tag Archives: forgiveness

Mr. Boomsma, I really love you!

There are some self-appointed experts out there (I might be considered one depending in the topic) who really don’t get it right. They remind me of Lucy of the Peanuts comic strip once who once declared, “If you can’t be right, be wrong loudlyl”

I’ve been frustrated ever since reading a column by a minister (his emphasis, not mine) who seems to think he’s got raising kids figured out. As is often the case these days, his solution is one-dimensional. He thinks kids need love; parents need respect and therein lies the tension in child rearing. His recommendation is to make certain our children feel loved when we discipline—that way they’ll be more likely to respect us. You’ve heard it before. Maybe you’ve used it before. “I’m only doing this because I love you.”

balance love respectOf course he’s not wrong—unless you consider only dealing with half the equation correct. In my work with the kids I’ve found that kids need (and deserve) respect just as much as adults. What successes I’ve had includes dishing out lots of both love and respect.

There’s a young lady at school who is beginning to figure this out. When she needs redirecting and correcting she will come over to me, grab me around the legs for a hug and say, “Mr. Boomsma, I really love you.” It’s an interesting coping mechanism on her part and was initially very disarming. Assuring me she really loves me could, after all, make me melt into submission. “It’s okay. All is forgiven”.

This is not just about love and forgiveness, so  I will respond by affirming that I love her as well but we also have to respect each other so together we can accomplish our work for the day. One of Mr. Boomsma’s rules is “follow directions quickly” and her love for me doesn’t negate the rule. She gets assurance that I also don’t feel any less loved when she doesn’t quite measure up.  But this is also about demonstrating respect for each other.

My best day with her recently was when she kept saying she needed to tell me something. Unfortunately this came at the busiest time of the day and it was necessary to ask her to wait until things were settled so I could pay attention better to a girl who is easy to ignore; she’s pretty high maintenance. (But what five-year old isn’t? If you don’t figure out how to get the kids to help you prioritize, the school day can be long and arduous with nineteen little voices calling your name.)

When we’d achieved order, I walked over and knelt down beside her. I immediately noticed she had tears on her cheeks. When I asked what was wrong she replied, “Mr. Boomsma, I’m really sorry my behavior wasn’t very good today.”

So it was my turn to tell her I really love her. I don’t think she noticed the tear in the corner of my eye as I thanked her for trying that day. I felt loved and respected by her acknowledgement. She is accepting responsibility for her behavior as well as her love.  I think we might be onto something.

“I’m sorry I’m not better at this…”

During a recent visit to a third grade art class a budding young artist finished her assigned work before the class was over. Since project work is often finished at different paces, students who complete their assignment with the teacher’s approval are then allowed to “play” individually with other projects of their chosing. This young lady requested that I sit across from her “So I can draw a picture of you.”

This process involved a number of different colored crayons and certainly included some artistic license. I am wearing glasses in the result, but my clothing was adapted to include a turtleneck shirt. “I’m not really very good at drawing necks,” was the explanation. I chuckled at the thought of the mall artists who will do sketches will you wait. They usually work in silence with a small audience behind them and you get to watch the audience’s reactions as the image forms.

In this cause the artist’s reactions were apparent because she kept a running commentary going. Much of it was actually a series of apologies over the parts she had trouble with or the goofs she made.  “I’m sorry but I can’t draw hands very good.” (My hands are raised as if I’m being held up, but I think I’m actually supposed to be waving.) I would have to say that I look much more muscular than I realized and have very square shoulders. Of course I countered her continued self-deprecation with gentle compliments and made sure she knew I was approving of her efforts. She was, after all, being quite professional–studying me with a trained eye, then attempting to record what she saw with blunted crayons.

I admired her courage. 

But I also felt a deep sadness because she keep repeating her sense that her work wasn’t good. Or at least not good enough. I suppose that makes her an achiever, but at what point will she give up and decide she isn’t an artist? I know I learned long ago that I’m not “artistic.” I’m sure I would not be able to draw a very good picture of her–at least that’s true  if “good” means “accurate.”

As a student of education and learning, I long ago became an opponent of the popular “self esteem” movement that suggests education is all about making kids feel good about themselves. It’s not that I’m against kids developing self-worth. But as my experience with this artist demonstrates, when we try to hand it to them, we actually are taking it away. They want to earn it.

I don’t think we should deprive them of that opportunity. Somewhere between giving all positive messages and constant criticism there’s a balance. That it’s hard to find doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try–any more than the fact that my little friend “can’t draw hands” means she shouldn’t try. We can learn a lot from her. If I’d tried to convince her she’d drawn great hands, she’d have known I was not being honest.

Can we agree with her that my hands “don’t look right” without making her feel like she’s a failure?

Perhaps more to the point, can we face our own errors without considering ourselves a failure? I usually find one student in my adult classes that I refer to affectionately as “my little over-achiever.” Math anxiety and test anxiety have their roots in the fact that we are not taught how to fail. Somewhere along the way we forget there’s process.

Let’s not be afraid to value process and effort. They are as much a part of our self-worth as are our accomplishments.

One of the things I’ve had to learn about working with kids is that it’s best not to read too much into what they say and do. It’s tempting, but I really think she just wanted to draw me–that was her goal and the desired result. She gave the drawing to me when it was finished. I approved it, but I’m not even sure my approval was important to her.

But that drawing is very important to me. And it’s hanging where I have to pass it every day because I want to be reminded of these many things. I’m not ready to start drawing portraits, but if she can try things, so can I. Getting results is great, but enjoying the process is pretty awesome too.

Oh, I also kinda like that the final touch to her masterpiece is the angel she drew sitting on my shoulder.

He Done Me Wrong!

Getting a fresh start sometimes means letting go of a grudge. I recall watching a friend’s relationship with his daughter-in-law go bad. Of course I only heard one side of the story so I was spared the agony of arbitrating and allowed to focus on how my friend was coping with the situation.

At one point he admitted that several people suggested he should apologize in an attempt to diffuse the anger and tension. He said, “I can’t do that. It would be like the victim apologizing to the mugger.” In his opinion, he’d been tragically wronged and it just didn’t make sense to do anything except be hurt and angry.

His analogy of being mugged intrigued me since I was mugged at gunpoint Continue reading He Done Me Wrong!