Gracious but I was a pill sometimes.
I watch my son’s squirrely-ness in the outfield in the context of how I played right field as a child. One time I got so bored, I just walked home.
Living kitty-cornered to the school came in handy. I’ve recently verified with grade school friends that yes, at least once, when I raised my hand to ask to go to the bathroom, I went home to use that bathroom. And watch a little TV.
“No one could find you,” my lifelong friend Cindy said. “Finally someone called your house.”
“And I answered the phone?” Apparently I did, and then casually went back to school.
I don’t recall getting in trouble for that, and here’s probably why. When I was in the sixth grade, I had spinal surgery, fusion for severe scoliosis. I wore a neck-to-hips cast for three months, then a slightly smaller cast for another three months, then what was called a Milwaukee brace for six months.
Overall, I was a very well-behaved child, and remember my glory moments of audacious youth fondly because they were few and far between. And because when I got caught, I didn’t get in trouble much.
Allowances were made.
Paul Tough’s terrific book, How Children Succeed, discusses a study and method of measuring childhood stress and trauma called ACE, for Adverse Childhood Experiences. The more adversity, the more likely a child is to struggle in school. One major factor that helps such a child thrive in spite of adversity (whether it’s violence or poverty, or, I would guess, major surgery), is good, solid, attachment parenting. Which I got.
Thus my son’s traumatic trips to the emergency room because of severe food allergy reactions—we can buffer those experiences so he’s not doomed.
And when I’m volunteering at his school, and one of his classmates is just being a total pill, I have to acknowledge that I don’t know their home situation. I don’t know what they had to maneuver as they made it to bed the night before, or whether someone was there to feed them in the morning, or, even if they have all the material goods they could ever wish for, someone is consistently mean to them.
Viewing people with compassion—that really is what it’s all about.
I don’t do it perfectly, but it’s something I tend to do well as a professor.
I tell my students that our time together as members of the class is such a small fraction of our lives. If it’s all we know about each other, it’s really not much.
I picture them as icebergs, not because I’m a ship and they’re dangerous obstacles, but because I’m seeing just the tip of who they are and what they’re capable of.
I do try, year after year, to maintain appropriately high standards, but ultimately I’m more interested in clarity of instruction and high levels of support.
In other words, I make allowances.
(This column originally appeared in Voice of the River Valley.)