Thursday, February 3, 2011

Walking Backwards

At our Teaching Your Middle Schooler conference last summer, the keynote speaker said that one reason that middle schoolers have gotten such a bad rep is that, since they are figuring themselves out and their bodies are going through so many changes during that period, that they can change so much from day to day, and that is difficult for those of us with our plans about how to educate them and parent them and coach them, etc., to deal with.  And I see how that can be frustrating.

But at our spiritual center, we study the writings of a woman named Byron Katie, whose most famous book is called Loving What Is.  Katie argues that the suffering in our life comes from us resisting the things that show up in our lives, or fighting against "what is."  That is to say, there are things in our lives that we might not like and want to work to change, and that is fine.  But we spend so much time fussing about the fact that they are in our lives, and they SHOULDN'T be in our lives, and we DON'T WANT THEM in our lives, and so on, that we have no energy left to deal with them.

And I think that is a great insight to bring to dealing with our middle schoolers.  Of course,  when we've set up our schedules to get them to the classes or activities that they LOVE, except that now they can't stand them, or (this happens in my house all the time) have bought a huge bunch of bananas because for three weeks we've run out of bananas about every second or third day and I get complaints about not having any, except this week no one will touch bananas with a ten foot pole and they rot...well, yes, that can be annoying and waste money and all that.  But it makes it easier if we understand that this sort of thing is what children are SUPPOSED to be doing, according to developmental theory.

So what if we took the position that the conflicts that arise in these situations are not the children's fault, but our fault for resisting what is our current reality.  Or how about if we not only stopped resisting these changes, but embraced them.

This just came up today because we went for a hike at our local nature center, Hemlock Bluffs.  My son and I go hiking there A LOT, and have for his whole lifetime; I was figuring out today that we must have hiked the looped trails at Hemlock Bluffs EASILY over 250 times in his life.  The trails have numbered stations with educational materials, but we have done them so often that we no longer stop and read the information.  But they are trails that we've done over and over in all seasons and all sorts of weather, sometimes in the format of formal classes offered at the center, and sometimes with friends, but usually just on our own.

Anyway, we went on the trail today, and we were the ONLY PEOPLE there besides the staff.  It was funny, because it seemed cold because yesterday the temperature was nearly 70, but today the temperature dropped 25 degrees to the mid-40's.  So it seemed cold, but it was actually slightly warmer than the average temperature for Cary in February.  Another great illustration about how much and how quickly our physical environment can change, and how our perception is based on comparison to what we experienced the day before, not the reality of what we should expect for this time of year.

So we were going on our hike, and my son said, "Let's walk the trail backwards.''  So he headed off in the direction from the bigger numbers of the educational stations to the smaller ones.  I, having been raised to "do things the right way," had a slight pang of guilt, but followed his lead.  And we had a lovely walk, pretty much in silence since we weren't talking (he tends to run ahead, so we can't really talk when he is 50 yards in front of me) and we didn't pass anyone else to exchange pleasantries.

But I realized that by walking backwards, I noticed all these things about this familiar route that I don't usually notice.  I was seeing the opposite side of the trees and the bridge and the steps and all the sites I know so well, and it all looked so different.  It was amazing--and quite inspiring.  It reminds me of how much of my life I walk through without really noticing or experiencing, because I am expecting today to be pretty much like it was yesterday.

So I'm thinking now that maybe that is something we all need to do more of in our life--walk through it backwards.  Take a different route, re-order our routine, see things from a different angle.  Just wake up to our own lives and to experiencing all the little things that make up its magnificence.  And if that is your goal, then our wonderful middle schoolers with their ever-changing opinions and desires and demands are a gift, not a problem.  Because whatever you want to say about early adolescents, they aren't the ones who are stuck in a rut.

So let's take an opportunity to thank our middle schoolers for the blessing they bring to our lives by shaking them up.  All too soon, their lives may be as settled and uni-directional as ours are.  Let's all rejoice in the times we can share in walking backwards in our lives.

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