Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Lost Boys and Peter Pans

My four year old's current favorite song is Lost Boys by Ruth B. She's obsessed. If she has her way we could listen to it on repeat for a full hour. (Eventually I cut her off after 4 repetitions, which is still more than anyone should ever listen to a song).

So, needless to say, these lyrics have been running through my head on repeat these last few weeks. I admit, I love the song too (although not after I've heard it four times in a row). People usually think of Peter Pan as a story about a boy who doesn't want to grow up, and he's often used as a reference for a longing for a prolonged childhood. Yet the more I listen to the song, I realize it draws us into the another side of the Peter Pan story- the sense of belonging Peter Pan offers these lost children.

If you interpret the lyrics in an unsettling way, you realize the Peter Pan story creepier than before. It tells the story of an unhappy, depressed child "in a town that never loved" him. The lyrics go...

"Then one night, as I closed my eyes,
I saw a shadow flying high
He came to me with the sweetest smile
Told me he wanted to talk for awhile
He said, "Peter Pan. That's what they call me.
I promise that you'll never be lonely."
And ever since that day..."
Remove the image of Peter Pan and insert anything else we worry about influencing our teenagers - ISIS recruiters, drug dealers, even strange religious cults. Maybe the ISIS online recruitment has been on my mind after listening to this podcast, but some days that's all I can hear when I listen to the song.

Peter Pan represents a promise. A promise of a place to belong, a family one never had, a safe space to be ones self. That promise is something we are all seeking, what most of us want out of life.

Our students want this too, and as they get older they can find it in different places. Will they find it in school, in an after school club, on a sports team, or through a mentor? Or will they find it elsewhere? What Peter Pan forces are out there for them?

There is one little boy I've found myself thinking about a lot this summer. He's incredibly bright, creative, and inquisitive. In just one conversation with him you can quickly realize he has the power to go far in life with his people skills and his intelligence. But he also has ADHD, which makes school difficult for him. How long before he decides everyone hates him? He can be successful at whatever he chooses in life, and we can only hope he'll choose to use his powers for good and not evil. I worry about high school with its drug dealers and gangs and the pull they could have on him. How long before he finds a place to belong with older boys who realize what a good salesman he is?

We can prevent that, I know we can. It's not easy. It's far quicker to get angry with his impulsivity, banish him from the classroom, or punish him by taking away recess or sending him to the principal's office. It's easy to think he can't learn, or won't learn, and that he's too much of a distraction to other students. But it's all of those actions that tell him he doesn't belong here with us.

We have to take a step back and teach him how to learn. We have to help him manage his impulsivity, teach him how to regulate himself. We have to put structures in place for him to learn without making him feel like it is him vs us. Because there are Peter Pans out there who will lead him away, with nothing more than a promise of a place to belong.

How can we set up places for these students so that they find belonging in school and not on the streets? How can we be the pull on these lost boys/students so that they can stand strong against negative Peter Pan influences?

Friday, July 1, 2016

Body Image, Weight and Little Girls

Warning: This isn't so much an education post as it is a mommy revelation post. It is also probably more than you want or need to know about me. But these thoughts have been running through my head for awhile and once a post has formed I can't move on until I've written it.

~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  ~~  My bubbly four year old danced around her sister's bedroom to a song in her own head. It was morning, before school, and she was supposed to be getting ready. Instead, she was rocking out and decidedly NOT brushing her teeth.

Suddenly she stopped her dance moves and looked at me. "I have a big bottom," she said, matter-of-factly. "Not like yours."

I froze. Time stopped. Four? This is when this conversation starts? Now?

First of all, she doesn't have a big bottom. She's four. Have you ever seen a four year old with a big bottom? Is it possible? She's perfect. PERFECT!

Ever since she was born I made a conscious decision to not talk about my weight in front of her. It was hard, especially when I was trying to lose the pregnancy weight after my second child. But anytime any negative thought about my own body came into my head I swallowed it. (Funny thing, the more I didn't acknowledge these thoughts the less they came. I mean, I don't look in the mirror and think "My thighs rock!" but I don't look in the mirror and groan or see all the work I need to do. In just not verbalizing these thoughts my body became just a thing instead of NOT PERFECT.)

I even snapped at my brother one day when he made an off hand comment about his weight in front of my daughters. "We don't talk about weight in this house!" I haughtily announced, in one of my snottiest parenting moments. I was immediately embarrassed, as though I was one of those parents who announces they don't let their child eat any processed food or believes Melissa and Doug toys are too commercial.

In our house the scale is for celebrating how big and strong you are. (Actually my two year old thinks it is a step stool. She calls it mommy's stool. I'm not sure why she thinks I have a three inch stool in the closet, but I'm not going to correct her.)

Yet despite carefully laying the groundwork for protecting my child from negative body image thoughts, there was my four year old, examining her behind, comparing it to mine, and announcing hers was bigger.

Now, it should be noted that she didn't add any negative connotations to this observation. Perhaps, in her four year old mind she was noting that her behind was big and beautiful and mine was not. Maybe her preschool friends have taught her to appreciate her curves.

I muttered something about her being perfect and then changed the subject, but my heart was breaking. Why is a four year old talking about her body? All About the Bass is one of her favorite songs.

But what hit me the most was that she compared her body to mine. I suddenly did not just see my body as my own weight-struggle symbol. Instead it became what it represented to my daughters about what healthy weight.

I am one of those insanely lucky people who sheds pounds by breast feeding. It is ridiculous. It didn't come off overnight, but after a year I was down to my high school weight with both of my girls. Best diet ever. It honestly crossed my mind that maybe I should have another child to get off the five pounds I recently gained. Instead, I've mentally planned a diet and exercise routine to maintain this high school weight. The thoughts in my head tell me that I can't let myself get back up to where I was before pregnancy. That would be lazy and unfortunately, and...

And what? Why? Why is it so important that I weigh what I weighed when I was 17 and had little else to do but study, hang out with friends, and run 5-8 miles a day. Two kids, a masters degree, and a career later, I don't think I should still hang on to my 17 year old self. But isn't that what we all do? As women we want to freeze our bodies as though we haven't experienced our life. There isn't much I want to go back in time for, and you could not pay me enough to go back to high school. So why would I want my high school body?

My daughter's off-hand bottom comparison left me with a stark reality. If I want her to have a healthy body image I need to have a healthy body image. Even if I'm not talking about how much weight I need to lose she is going to be looking at me (at least until she becomes a tween and hates me) as an image of what it means to be a woman. Do I want her to think being a woman is staying thin? Can I be comfortable with gaining the 5-10 pounds that are going to come naturally as I get older, so that I can model what it means to be a woman who is comfortable with her body?