Newsflash of the year, we know.
By: Lauren Webber
I have spent a large majority of my life around children.
As a kid, I embodied the personality of a 45-year-old and carried a keen set of leadership skills, a combination that prompted me into the role of “mom” during each game of “house.” When the neighborhood crew got together for our latest session of pretend school, guess who was the make-believe teacher? (Hint: me.) I began babysitting at age nine, precisely one year before I became a first-time aunt. Throughout college, I held myriad nanny jobs, and shortly after graduation, I became a ninth-grade English teacher. I may not currently have any biological children of my own, but I do have more than one hundred babies, if you know what I mean. And these babies catapulted me into adulthood when I foolishly thought I was already there.
“These babies catapulted me into adulthood when
I foolishly thought I was already there.”
During the first quarter of my first year teaching high school, I found myself unbearably overwhelmed. I was 25 years old and crumbling under the weight of too many “first times” taking place at once– my first time making a career transition, my first time teaching high school, my first time moving to a different state and away from my family– it all seemed too daunting to handle. By September, I scurried around the building, constantly in an anxious shuffle, noticeably flustered, and audibly losing to the stressors my set of firsts provided.
“I can’t TAKE IT ANYMORE!” I bellowed, slamming my fists down on the copier that was jammed for the billionth time.
But then something strange, yet beautiful happened. You know when you are so furious that you begin to laugh? When you have grown so exhausted, you catch a second wind? It was sort of like that. Suddenly, I found myself so exasperated that I gained a new wave of positivity and motivation. No longer would I focus on perfection for each miniscule to-do item. Instead, I would focus on what mattered most– on my reason for getting up in the morning– my kids. In that moment, I decided that nothing else mattered if my students were learning and growing every day while having fun.
In an instant, I felt better. As soon as the next morning, my mood was elevated and my focus was clear. I was determined to present the best version of myself to my children at every moment. I would not succumb to the temptations of self-pity, doubt, and negativity. I wore over one hundred pairs of eyes each day, five days a week; I knew that my students and the opportunity I had to influence them were far more important than my immature attempts to feel sorry for myself and sulk in misery. During this rollercoaster of a year, I was currently gliding across the peak of the ride’s largest loop. The revelation that my children provided awakened a new spirit in me; I felt older, wiser, more mature, and capable, for once, of seeing beyond myself.
“Wow, I thought, I’m like a real adult now”
Wow, I thought, I’m like a real adult now. The only problem was that I still considered myself a victim of my circumstances, an underdog living beneath a perpetual rain cloud, choosing to fight for the kids and against everything else.
About two months into living life as a full-blown grown up, one of my scholars unknowingly provided me with another reality check. This particular student’s name was Jacob*, but I secretly nicknamed him Romeo. As you might guess, this kid wore his (bleeding) heart on his sleeve, and sought the dramatics of love, romance, and heartbreak at every opportunity. Jacob and his girlfriend were infamous around school for their record of breaking up and getting back together, and today, they were adding to their already-impressive list. The word in the hallway was that Amber* had broken up with Jacob yet again, and he wasn’t handling the news too well. I would have Jacob in class later that day, and I was ready to use my new and improved adult personality to handle the situation.
Fourth period began, and Jacob was unraveling. He refused to do the bell-ringer; he sank into his chair instead. During my lesson, it was clear his mind was elsewhere. When we began our practice, he failed to lift his head, pick up a pencil, or even pretend like he was considering attempting the work. I knew I needed to intervene, and I asked Jacob to accompany me into the hallway for a chat. While we walked out of the classroom, I envisioned myself bestowing some wisdom onto Jacob and instantaneously solving his problems.
“The world is not out to get you, and at the same time,
you don’t get a free pass to skip the difficult parts. The real life lesson comes from
how you respond to the painful cards you are dealt.”
“Listen,” I began, “I know what happened between you and Amber. And I’ve seen you moping around school all day. I know you are hurt and that you want everyone else to know that you’re hurt. You care deeply about everything, which is a good thing, but it’s also why you feel have such a big reaction to anything. I know this because I was the same way when I was your age. But you must be mature and realize how you are contributing to your own misery by being so negative. Have you ever heard the expression, ‘Life may hand you a cactus, but you don’t have to sit on it’? It’s like that. Everyone faces difficulties, Jacob. Everyone gets their heart broken. The world is not out to get you, and at the same time, you don’t get a free pass to skip the difficult parts. The real life lesson comes from how you respond to the painful cards you are dealt. ‘Let life make you better, not bitter‘– I’m sure you’ve heard that one, right? The best people in this world do not feel sorry for themselves when the going gets tough…”
I trailed off as I finally began to hear myself aloud and realize what I was saying.
“…The best people in this world are the ones who defy the odds, even in times of struggle.”
I paused for a second, caught in some surreal reality of teaching myself through teaching a child. Somehow, perhaps because I cared so deeply about my student and his well-being, I delivered the advice that I needed to hear and follow all-along. I glanced at Jacob, who seemed to be following my musings.
“Don’t you want to be one of the best people in this world, Jacob?” I said with a smile.
He agreed. Me too, I thought to myself as we reentered the classroom.
My pep-talk with Jacob/myself turned out to be just one of many instances in the year during which my kids launched me into adulthood– so much so that I began to wonder how many life lessons children presented to me in my past that were overseen or ignored. Maybe it was because I was 25, and my brain finally reached its full development. Maybe it was because I was simply fortunate enough to be surrounded by scholars who were especially gifted, special, and insightful for their ages. Whatever the reason, there are 103 teenagers out there in the world who taught me more authentic life lessons than most of the adults I have met… and something tells me this pattern will continue with my own children one day.
*Names have been changed for confidentiality purposes