The Princess Problem, Officially Solved!

Perhaps I am thinking a little too far ahead on this one. The Peanut has yet to reach her second birthday, and the only thing the Rooster currently wants to do with sparkly pink shoes is gnaw on them. (Seriously, Elvis the Elephant, Eddie-Frogruerro, tossed aside in favor of shoes that are occasionally still on your feet. Mmmm.) But I have three nieces and a not so secret feminist agenda. (I have a recurring conversation with one of my students where he continually calls me “one of those people” and I tell him the word he is looking for is feminist, it isn’t an insult and my hair cut has very little to do with my ideas about gender-roles.) The princess thing makes me nervous and I haven’t even read Cinderella Ate My Daughter yet.

My sister Emily does a good job at her house, of allowing her girls to be whoever they might be, which means the Star gets to be a S-T-A-R in all of her glitz and glamour and show-boating glory. The Scientist will join in, but she also is allowed to take apart the fish tank and see if the addition of play dough will contribute or hinder the filter mechanism of the tank. (Well, perhaps not all of the Scientist’s experiments are explicitly sanctioned.) The third kid (who I have yet to name on here. I am open to S suggestions, Seer? Sage? I don’t know help me out here family!) is pretty much just interested in being with Mama. But the point is that Em doesn’t monitor the amount of pink plastic versus the amount of red plastic in her house like I do. She doesn’t fret over the implications of her daughters liking nail polish. (which duh I currently have a fascination with the Sally Hansen nail stickers so couldn’t it just be that nail art, like all art, is super fun and colors are pretty. Or perhaps, I want to be like Mommy. I am clearly over-thinking this bit.)

She doesn’t worry about any of that, and Em’s kids are fine. All kinds of girls are encouraged to be just the kind of girl who God made them. My nieces are healthy and happy and I don’t think anyone is worried that they are not empowered to feel like they can make their own choices. Some days I bet Emily is looking for the book on how to un-empower your girls so that they will just do what you want and not question you this one time for Pete’s sake we are late to church! I know I am.

Maybe I am over thinking it, and watching Em parent makes me confident I am. But first I get nervous when the Peanut develops a fascination for my make-up and then think that is stupid because it is my make up after all and what am I trying to say I don’t want her to be like me? Then I think about how make-up is essentially getting to draw on your own face and the Peanut is way into that. The other day she went at it with red and brown washable marker and she looked like she had been in a fight. She managed to color red up all visible parts of both nostrils. And yet, I still worry

Basically the whole princess thing boils down to this. If I get past all of my issues with the pink, glittery, plastic stuff. I have one concern remaining: I don’t want my girls to think that they are incomplete without a man, that they are not fully whole until they get married. (If they even want to get married. I believe the Apostle Paul when he said singleness is a gift from God.) I want my girls to believe that God thinks they are incredibly value just for being them, and not only in the role of  wife or mother.

I want my girls to grow up believing in their own white horse, hitched to a carriage with the Holy Spirit driving. And if God has it for them, I want another rider, with a white horse of his own, together they would choose to ride into the sunset, because they believe that God has for them an amazing adventure and a partner in crime. But no one has written that story book, and Disney hasn’t picked it up. There is no two-hour movie complete with happy meal toys to tell it. The Princess Problem indeed.

But today I read a blog post and something happened in real-life that I have only dreamed about Julie Andrews solved my problem. Julie Andrews, just like when she played Mary Poppins, swooped in and told me which spoonful of sugar I could utilize to make the whole princess thing go down smoothly with me. Real Princesses. They speak foreign languages, they dress beautifully and modestly and sometimes funkily (give it up for those crazy hats!) they stump for good causes and make sick people feel better. They are the light of the world and they sit up straight.

Yes ma’am you can wear that tiara. Now tell me, which foreign language will we be learning today? What worthy cause would you like to shed light on? Sign me up for this tea party. One lump, or two?

Bullies and the Hands and Feet of Jesus

The movie Bully is coming out in theatres everywhere tomorrow. It has been creating a lot of press, and I am intrigued. The movie follows the lives of kids who are currently being bullied, and also the stories of a student who committed suicide and a young girl who brought a gun on her school bus in response to the people bullying her.

I have yet to see this movie, but the morning radio show that I listen to ran a segment on it. The main radio personality took his nine-year-old to see the movie and they taped the conversation that they had after the movie. (FYI: Said personality says that nine is too young and only reccomends this movie for those thirteen and up.) Parents and kids who have been dealing with bullying called into the show. If I hadn’t have been driving, it would have brought me to my knees.

As a High School teacher I see the way that kids can be, the cruelty is not often in my presence, but it can be brutal. I do the best I can to keep a positive tone in my room. My general rule in my classroom is that we are going to be nice. Period. But it is hard sometimes even for me to figure out if the joking is all in good fun, or if it is something that has been going on for years and everyone is just used to it.

Every adult I know can name the names of the people who were mercilessly picked on for years. Bullying is not a new problem. But like most things, new media has made things easier to do and harder to catch. As a teacher there is nothing I can do to alter a kids Facebook page and Twitter feed. I can’t police the bathrooms and hallways all the time. But I see what the torment can do to the students and I remember some of my friends from High school and Middle school being tormented at my own school.

I was in the middle school cafeteria when the Holy Spirit broke through the chatter so clearly it was almost audible. “Abby, go sit by that kid.” I didn’t want to. I only had a few friends myself and I feared alienating them. But God would not leave me alone. So I did. I moved my lunch three tables down and sat by a kid who regularly got his head slammed into lockers. The next day or maybe a few days after that, that kid showed me the imprint of the belt he had wrapped around his neck in an effort to make it all go away.

I don’t tell this story to make you impressed with me. It was not my idea to be looking out for anyone but myself.  Now, I am very grateful that the Lord broke through that day. At the time, I was mad. I can honestly say that I was Jesus to that kid, if only for a moment in the school cafeteria. It is a testament to the few friends that I did have that they invited that kid to sit with us. I can’t say that we were truly friends with him, but we were friendly. We at least provided him a safe place to sit and eat his lunch but we did not invite him places with us. He still had it hard when we got to high school. The bullies nominated him for turn about king as a joke and then mocked his reaction to the situation they put him in.

I was reminded of this story as I listened to the radio. Listening to a mother cry as she explains what it feels like forcing her son to go to school every day, like she is sendng him off to be tortured made me ask myself this question: Lord, where are you? Where is Jesus in this mess? Why don’t you do something already?

But I already knew the answer. You are the answer, I am the answer. The church is the body of Christ, and we need to get up off the couch and do something. One of the reasons the movie Bully is so controversial, is because the camera crew (adults) just stood by and filmed while these kids were abused. They didn’t participate in the ridicule, but they certainly did not help the situation. They simply stood by, watched.

I can’t help but wonder where the classmates are who confess to knowing Jesus Christ. Sometimes I wonder that in my own classroom and school. Why are the Christian kids just standing by? Maybe it is too much to ask a 15-year-old to stand up to all of his friends and the kids who are bigger than him in defense of a kid he doesn’t even like. Maybe I am expecting too much spiritual maturity to hear and heed that call, the one to serve, and identify with the least of these. Maybe, but probably not.

One of the reasons I enjoy my job, is because of the amazing things I see my kids do every day. I know that they are capable of thinking big thoughts and backing those thoughts with honest intentional outcome. These are just every day kids. Imagine the possibility of spirit-filled kids.

At another local school there is a student who got removed as student council president because (he claims) he introduced a bill that would allow for two students of the same gender be made prom kings or queens if the student body so chose. It made national news because he is suing the school. His attorney has come out recently with a statement claiming the kid is being attacked at school, in the hallways between classes.

I don’t know anything else about the situation, but I began wondering out loud what it would look like if the Fellowship of Christian Athletes said “enough.” What if they arranged to have two kids escort this kid between classes? What if they treated that kid with the humanity he deserves even if they disagreed with him? What would that look like to that kid, the other high school students, the world?

I think it would look like Jesus. Jesus stopping the stoning of the woman, Jesus advocating for the poor, the widowed, the outcasts. If the christian teens at high schools would literally stand in solidarity against the bullying, they might lose friends. They might lose popularity. They might get bullied too. After all, I have already admitted there isn’t anything I can do sometimes. But they might just get to experience what it is to be the hands and feet of Jesus. And that might be completely worth it.

I Got to Be There

One of my students worked really hard to memorize a poem. This is not something that comes easily for him. He recited that whole poem. Every word. He even volunteered to go. And at the end of the poem he was so proud he shouted the last line. Jenny Kissed Me I don’t know if he will remember that poem for the rest of his life, but he will surely remember that moment. And I got to be there.

A week ago a student was called down to the Principal’s office to see his dad for the first time in 6 years. He came back to my classroom tears streaming down his face. The full-grown body that houses his 16-year-old soul visibly shaking with emotion. And I got to be there. I got to tell him how proud of him his dad must be. I got to be there.

I got to be there when a student came into my room under the guise of asking about an assignment. Really she just needed to talk to someone about the fact that she was seeing a therapist, and it was helping. She didn’t know what to think about it. I got to tell her that I saw a therapist in high school, that by the time she is thirty at least half her friends will have seen one at one time or another. She was just getting her issues worked out early, ahead of the curve. But mostly, I got to be there.

I showed a student an article that my friend had posted on Facebook. He actually read the entire thing. Then he looked me straight in the face and told me, “If I could write things like this I would be a journalist.” Later that week his study hall teacher gave him her copy of the magazine that article was in. When I asked him about it the next day he pulled out the magazine and told me about the whole thing. Not only did I get to be there. I got to help.

The coming and going of days, the terrible commute. It is exhausting some days. But it is important to remember, that it is a privilege, getting to be there. Watching students grow into their best selves. It is a beautiful thing to watch.

Everyone Wants to Be a Tim Tebow Christian

I talk to parents. It is part of my job. When people find out I teach High school (and like it) they sometimes talk to me about their kids. Tim Tebow has come up a surprising number of times. It seems everyone’s kid has Tebow potential.

Disclaimer: I’ve never spoken a word to Tim Tebow. From what I can gather based on the person that he presents himself to be, he seems legit to me. I hope that God is doing a great work in him for all the world to see. That would be wonderful. I don’t really have anything bad to say about him. I would however like it on record that I would love to see him do a really crazy thing like drive a used car, live on $100,000 a year (which is way over the average family income of $46,000 and change) and give the rest to charity. I know that may be a little much to ask, but a girl can dream.

Everyone wants to be a Tim Tebow christian. To live a big life in front of millions of people all for the glory of the Lord. We want a big car and pool and a compelling story. We want to be a football star for the gospel, a quarterback for Christ. We want to call the shots and save the game with millions of people screaming our name….for Jesus of course. We want a chance to proclaim on ESPN that it really isn’t about me, but my savior. As our name scrolls happily across the bottom of the screen. I know I do.

Everyone wants to parent the next Tim Tebow. To watch their kid succeed on the football field or the stage. To be succesful in front of a huge crowd. Everyone wants to cheer in the stands as their kid proves to the world, the haters, themselves that God made them special. Everyone wants their kid to be the one that is the light to the world in the most obvious of ways, with Jesus written on their state champion tennis shoes. Or perhaps as the child thanks God (then the parents) from behind the podium in their valedictory address on commencement day.

We know that Jesus said we would be persecuted. That our children might be as well. We would like that persecution to come in the form of some eye-rolls and being the butt of Jay Leno’s jokes. That’s the kind of persecution we can get behind. The one that comes with the fame enough to be mentioned on a late night show and everyone in America gets the joke.

Even if we can accept the fact that we are not a Tim Tebow Christian, what parent doesn’t desire the very best for their children

A Tim Tebow kind of life: fame. fortune, friends, all to the glory of God. Yes please, sign me up for that faith and I will take one for the kids. The one where God calls them to do something extraordinary that society values. And for some this is where he calls them, but for most this is not where the narrow path leads.

If Jesus thought that the Roman empire was rough, He should try choosing a seat in the average High School cafeteria. I am grappling with the fact already that there is a distinct possibility that God’s best for my child will not be very popular, will not make them very popular. What if my kid goes and sits next to the weird smelly kid (provided they are not the weird smelly kid) and then no one else wants to be their friend? How will that not be hard for me as well? It seems like in that moment I would wish for them to be the popular kid for Jesus.

There are a few of those in the Bible, but mostly not so much.  The Bible doesn’t give us instructions based on getting people to like us. It gives us instructions to abandon all that popularity and take up our cross. Rarely does this happen on television. Mostly we are called to serve quietly and humbly. (I have heard Tebow does this quite well, but we never hear about it because, you know, he is quiet and humble about it.) Most of us will never make it to the front page for the good works that we do. And that is hard for me, and perhaps you to be reminded that mostly the Christian life isn’t about us, but Christ.

Trayvon Martin and Identifying My Own Racist Thoughts.

In my first weeks of my first year of teaching, when I was still adjusting to being the only white lady in the room, I asked the kids to get out a pencil. A boy in front, so dark that the students around him referred to him as “Black” as though it were his name, with thin, chin length locks bouncing around his head, stooped down to his backpack.

In that split second my heart began to race and my palms began to sweat, as though someone were coming after me or my not yet born baby girls. “He has a gun” I thought. “He is reaching for his gun.” I calculated how many steps it would take to get to the emergency button…too many. “What are you doing?” I snapped, saying his name sharp and loud like the gunshot I feared.

“I thought you told us to take out a pencil,” he replied showing me his brand new mechanical pencil in his favorite color. A splurge for the beginning of the school year.

I am sure my face turned red. I learned that semester that blushing is a hazard when you are the only white girl in the room. My shame crawled onto my face, hot and sticky.

In the spring of that year I heard the tale of an older brother being shot for making the mistake of reaching for his vibrating cell phone out of habit. The assumption was he was reaching for the gun he did not carry. He died in the arms of his little sister, the white dress she wore to school for her seventeenth birthday stained with the memory of her brother’s death. I know because she was in my poetry club. She wrote about it. That story never made the national news; no newspaper in the country was interested in the tale. So I keep the story in my filing cabinet. I want to make sure that someone remembers.

Two years later, between my second and third years, I found out when checking my email a few days before school started that one of my former students had been shot and killed over the summer. Wrong place, wrong time, wrong skin color. His death hadn’t even made the local news. My principal had to email me about it, just in case I cared.

Trayvon Martin is not the first young black man to be shot simply because of the way he appears. And sadly, he won’t be the last. Everyone keeps asking, “How could something like this happen?” But sometimes not only does this happen, it doesn’t even make the news.

I am a woman who wanted to teach in an all black school. I chose it. I was raised by parents who didn’t blink an eye when my sister started dating a black man. Uncle Calvin is one of my daughter’s very favorite people.  I would never hesitate to ask him to watch my girls. Yet, when a certain type of student, classified that way simply by his dark skin color his hair and his propensity for saggy pants, reached into his bag I assumed he was reaching for his weapon. Even when I had instructed him to get a pencil.

My parents did not teach me to think that way. I didn’t even know I did think that way until I had the thought. No one in my college classes suggested to me that I needed to fear my black male students. And yet, I did. Where did that come from?

Everyone wants to talk about how horrible George Zimmerman is (and he is) and how terrible his actions were (and they were). But not very many people are talking about how we live in a society that teaches us to fear black men. Not even men, any black kid over the age of 10 or so could be a threat. If we look into our own selves we can identify just an inkling of the thoughts that sparked George Zimmerman’s behavior.

We live in a society that perpetuates thoughts. The things that I have watched and listened to my whole life have encouraged my mind to think one way. The wrong way. I don’t like admitting that I have racist thoughts, but the only way to get rid of them is to identify them. Once those thoughts are identified, we can start calling other people out on them. We can refuse to watch things that perpetuate those stereotypes. We can begin to call things as we seem them. As unacceptable.

I would like to believe that Trayvon Martin’s murder is just the case of one crazy vigilante. It would be easier for me to see it that way. But I would really like for this to never happen again. That has to happen one person at a time, one mind readjustment and I am starting with me. And I am coming after you next.

I still need to grow up

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This pretty much sums up my maturity level by seventh period....

We were teaching limmericks. And there was a kid who kept suggesting names that would get me into trouble. Like “there once was a young boy named chuck, how about itch Ms. Norman,” then he would start cracking up so I would start cracking up.

And my 6th period class came up with this as a class that I wrote on the board:

There once was a doctor named Bill
Who wrote a prescription for Jill
She only missed one
And she now has a son
She now always remembers that pill.

One of my students misspelled the word tests. I laughed until I cried when he asked me to proofread his poem “Girls are like school, you have to study before they put you to the testes.” I didn’t recover for the rest of the day.

I love Freshmen. Probably because I am one.