When I was pregnant with Kenia, I still had no idea of what type of mother I would be, but I knew exactly what type of mother I didn’t want to be, what types of things I wanted my child to learn, what type of human being I wanted her to be able to mirror from me.
Havana was extremely tired that day. She was overactive and cranky and her overactiveness and crankiness blossomed as the afternoon hours turned into evening. We still don’t know what caused it; the outburst probably had no other real cause other than pure exhaustion. However, all of a sudden Havana went completely berserk. Screaming and crying and total hysteria flew all over our 200 square foot log cabin. After words and hugs failed us, we sent her outside alone to breathe. A few minutes later, when our attention had already passed on to the next ‘task’ at hand, we heard the sound of a soft voice floating in from behind the front door…
Breathing In, Breathing Out, Breathing In, Breathing Out…I am blooming as a flower, I am fresh as the dew, I am solid as a mountain, I am firm as the Earth*…
We peeked outside. Kenia, just 9 at the time, was standing in front of her little sister. They were holding hands as Kenia sang her this song. Havana was smiling. Her breathe was once again peaceful and calm. The naturalness of Kenia’s ‘simple’ gesture taught us about the importance of empathy and patience.
KINDNESS, LOVE and GENEROSITY is our religion.
Can a person actually be too sweet?
Can one be taught to show too much love?
Some may say that I am raising push overs. Kenia and Havana are worldly for their ages, but they are also extremely sweet. Neither one of my daughters is the type of girl that outspokenly sticks up for herself. At times, their suffering is big, but fortunately like most kids, their memory is short. They still don’t understand that not everybody knows how to be a kind person; not everybody sees love and truth in their homes… this type of closeness can be scary to somebody that doesn’t know. They just don’t know this yet. However, I choose not to overprotect them. Part of their education is learning how to fall:
Several years ago, Havana was pushed down by some mean girls while trying to learn to rollerblade at the park near our home in Italy; they ran into her with their bikes while their moms watched and gossiped on the sidelines; they didn’t budge an inch, continuing to flip through a copy of Glamour magazine while my daughter, surrounded by 4 little girls, cried. I felt the urge to protect: defend Havana’s frozen, 4 and a half year old body.
But, I didn’t.
Although I remember pettily thinking: look at this group of small, closed minded, provincial girls who have never left the town where they were born (all straight ‘A’, third graders, by the way), I didn’t interfere and I didn’t unveil my very un-Zen like thoughts to my daughters. I waited and watched and once it was over I chose to talk to them about what I refer to as the ‘small dog’ syndrome:
“Small dogs always bark real loud… don’t they? They bark for apparently no reason and this is because they are afraid. They are intimidated. The same thing goes with people. Don’t back away, but don’t bark back either. Stand up for yourself, but do it with a soft voice. They will never expect this. With persistence and kindness they may even become your friends… or maybe they won’t. Either way never, ever allow them to convince you that you should change you.”.
I used to be angry with the mean girls and their uncaring mothers. I felt the urge to be mean right back. Now, I know how to hate the crime, without hating the criminal. They are merely other human beings in need of love and attention. This is what I want my daughters to learn. This is what I teach them. This is what I want them to remind me when I forget to spread my kindness:
When Havana wants to give away a brand new book or doll, I still have the instinct to stop her; I have the instinct to say:
“Havi, you can’t give that away. It is brand new.”…
but before I stop her, I now stop myself. I allow her to remind me how important generosity is in this ‘gotta get mine’ culture. My daughters are intelligent in so many ways: creative, practical, social. However, emotional intelligence is the one I am most proud of because this is the type of intelligence that is most lacking in this world.
Whether it is about grades or friends, the way to utilize their time or how attracted they are to the technological toys that frequently pass through their hands, I have learned that when I am able to trust in their ability to find balance, to find their own path and meaning, they learn to trust in themselves as well.
We all learn so much more.
We live in this big, complicated world together… kids problems are no longer kid friendly or fit to size. Growing insecurity about who they are and who they should be are making kids tougher and tougher on the outside, less trusting of their own instincts on the inside. Dependence on smartphones, tablets and videogames are alienating them, changing the way they interact with others, their family members, themselves. They perfectly reflect the world around them. When we were growing up, problems were less global in every sense. Nowadays, kids are on the defense 24/7 : at home, in school, on the web. They have lost their freedom to act like kids (What exactly does it mean to act like a kid these days?) They no longer know whom they can trust and as a consequence they no longer trust in themselves.
My daughters have changed school 5 times. They have been to big schools and very small schools. They have been homeschooled and unschooled. They have studied in Italian, Spanish and English. They are very much advanced in certain subjects, very much behind in others. However, regardless of where or how they learn I know that my daughters need to figure out how to answer universal questions about life, materialism and relationships. Each new encounter, each new set of friends, each new environment challenges them to think about who they are and what kind of human beings they want to be… and, as all of us, they need to be able to develop many different types of intelligence in order to find the answers:
What makes a real friend? Who can I trust? How do I determine my limits? Where can I improve? When I fail will I have the strength to pick myself back up? What do I want? Am I going to follow or am I going to lead? Is it ok to be myself? Who am I?
Not always easy, not even for us adults.
Gretel is one of those friends forever. Meme and Celeste are as close as brothers; a friend like Brittany or Tania – who likes me one day and the next day less – maybe not…
Kenia and Havana are learning about relationships, honesty and loyalty. They are learning that not everyone has the same concept of real friendship. That friendship isn’t based on how near or far one is. That it is much better to give than to take. They are learning to treat others the way they themselves want to be treated. They are learning not to judge a book by its cover and to give everyone the same chance no matter what their color, shape or size, no matter how simple their house is. With their true friends they may fight, but through understanding and communication they will always make up. There is kindness, empathy and love. And, even though these qualities may not be clearly defined in their brains yet, they can feel the realness. They are learning that statements such as ‘what I am wearing’, ‘who has the coolest smartphone’ or ‘what I will give or do for you today to get on your friendship list’ have nothing to do with Friendship or Forever.
So, what does it mean to be a straight ‘A’ human being?…
More importantly, does this even have any value in a society that seems to care more about clothing, cars and control than values like kindness, conversation and unconditional respect?
Today’s kids are being trained for the current world in which we live…
Big. Complex. On defense.
…but, somebody please tell me:
Who is thinking for our children’s tomorrow?
My husband often mistrusts his desire to teach our girls to appreciate and respect Nature. He sadly admits that that there may not be any Nature left when they grow up and that he could actually be setting them up for a greater kind of suffering.
Could this be the same for unrestricted love and kindness?
Could we be preparing our daughters all wrong…teaching them something that will have no value in life…that will not at all help them to survive in the future?
Jouranl Entry, Tilaran, Costa Rica, March 5, 2015
She comes home from an average day at school. Her expression isn’t right. She is irritable and un-talkative. Like so many times before, I just knew. It took her a bit before blurting out what happened in the middle of a sea of wails and tears. A boy named Jose’ David pulled out the chair from under her and everybody laughed. Her entire class. This would be traumatic for any 10 year old, let alone the ‘new, Italo-Americana’. Her words were broken up by more tears as she said, “and I held back my tears Mommy. I was strong. I pretended to have fun. I pretended it was funny, but it was so difficult. I laughed, but I really wanted to cry”. I let her settle down a bit. We laid on the bed hugging each other for dear life. I waited. I kissed her. I just wanted to protect her, strip her of all that embarrassment and hurt…
as I thought about the red haired girl that smelled like egg salad and all the other kids my ‘sometimes nasty’ friends and I teased…
I remembered how difficult it was for all us kids tripping over our mistakes, so young and insecure and nobody teaching us about compassion.
I thought about all the episodes that I regretted, all the times I followed others instead of following my heart, too fearful of becoming the victim rather than finding the courage to stick up for the weak.
And, I thought of what I could offer my distraught daughter – always the new girl in town, part of that nomadic, vegan, technology-limited family, but also the mysterious, exotic one
…to soothe her pain, to guide her towards her strength, to help her to cultivate her humaneness:
“You know Kenia, I think that boy Jose’ David must really like you. Young boys always do that to girls they really like. They play practical jokes so that no one will suspect, most of all, ‘the girl’, that behind all that mistreatment is admiration and a whole bunch of liking. You did right to laugh. Next time, try not to feel so bad. It is important to know how to laugh at oneself. I bet all the kids really like you. You are different, but in an incredible way. They may be a bit intimidated at times… like the small dogs. Remember this feeling the next time you find yourself in a situation where someone else is being made fun of.”
She paused… and then she reshowed me an understanding grin: You know, I think he does like me mom. No,… I think that he may LOVE me. Now that I think about it he is always looking at me and when I am near him, he doesn’t say a word. He is just like that waitress at that caffe in Italy… Dobbiaco! She was kinda mean to you. You continued to be nice and smile and then after a couple of months she started being nice right back. Remember?
(Yes, I do remember.)
Tomorrow, I am going to give him a great big smile. I am going to tell him that I like his new haircut and how he brings his dog to school. “Thanks mom. I am so glad you are always here reminding me how important it is to be kind no matter what.”
I can’t predict what the future will bring, but I feel quite strongly that when our world finally does rebel. When Mother Nature can lovingly resist no more. When all the stuff we have won’t mean a thing without fresh air and clean water. When we finally wake up and realize that money can’t buy us a new planet, that technology was part of the cause and not the savior… I hope that we will turn to love. That we will finally understand that all we really have left is each other, one big community helping, sharing, caring…
my daughters included.
Journal Entry, September 30, 2015 (while I was writing this post), Fano, Italy
Today was Kenia’s time to go crazy. A preteen’s need for privacy in 200 square feet. She locked herself into the minuscule room she recently seized as her own. Havana and I just let her be. We sat and waited for her to calm down and come out. Havana started coloring on the couch. I returned to my computer in my bedroom. And then there it was…
empathy and compassion from a little sister:
Kenia, Knock, Knock…
Do you wanna build a snowman?
Come on lets go and play
I never see you anymore
Come out the door
It’s like you’ve gone away-
We used to be best buddies
And now we’re not
I wish you would tell me why!-
Do you wanna build a snowman?
It doesn’t have to be a snowman….
I heard the door open. I felt my daughters’ embrace through the sweaty wooden wall that separated us. Yes, there it sure was …
an explosion of intelligence and my happy tears. I felt so proud:
Straight A’s all the way!
Wising you all a wonderful and relaxed school year and so much more!
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* We learned this song during a family retreat at Camaldoli, Italy, one year prior to this incident. For information about family retreats throughout the world: https://www.schumachercollege.org.uk/about/kaira-jewel-lingo. To listen to the entire song Breathing In, Breathing Out by Thich Nhat Hanh (world famous Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Monk), go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPSJrUmOXDc
Further reading: (for parenting with love and awareness)
HOW CHILDREN LEARN by John Holt: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/573003.How_Children_Learn?from_search=true&search_version=service
PLANTING SEEDS by Thich Nhat Hanh and Sister Jewel: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/planting-seeds-thich-nhat-hanh/1101237419?ean=9781935209805
EDUCATION FOR LIFE (Living Wisdom School): https://livingwisdomschool.org/education-for-life-the-book/