crushed hats


A few years ago, my brother wrote to me, “Sorry I missed your birthday. I hope you had a good day. You always seem to make the best of any situation.” I was surprised by his words. It's always enlightening to learn how others view you, isn't it? Especially those who have known you for a long time. One of my first thoughts was I hope he doesn’t think this comes easy to me.

I’ve had to struggle to maintain a sense of peace, groundedness and forgiveness. But it does become easier. I think. Everyone has been waist deep in the sewage that is their lives but those who have seemed to wade through it have always fascinated me. After awhile I began to notice a difference between the complainers and those who shrug it off.

There was a cartoon strip that I once saw in reference to the different temperaments: choleric, melancholic, sanguine, and phlegmatic. It showed a guy who had accidentally sat on his hat on a park bench. One reaction was of the guy getting angry, another was tears, the other reaction was laughter and finally there was a picture of him completely indifferent to the crushed hat. I tried to think what my reaction would be in that situation. I wanted to be the guy who laughed.

When I was a teacher I watched my children, a lot, probably more than I realized. I think this has made me a better teacher because it is a habit I still practice today. As a result I saw behavior that made me take two sometimes three, on a number of occasions. In particular, I watched one of the more volatile boys accidentally brush, push, and plow his way against everyone in the classroom. (acorn #8)

There was another acorn (I'm sure you can guess), that had the most amazing temperament when it came to #8's lack of situational awareness. Her face got a little scrunched up when he jolted her, and then the lines went away as quickly as it had arrived.

Not too long after that I watched #8 in his carelessness to finish his assignment come close to hitting another girl – arms flailing recklesslessly. This girl immediately looked up at me and complained, “Number eight hit me!”

Another time, this same acorn, who every adult saw as a sweetheart on a bed of daisys, bumped into him and then she immediately started crying, “Hey! Watch where you are going!”

I was shocked. Not like Peter Jennings shocked, but like when you discover you've been wrong in your assumptions. She deliberately bumped into him! Was anyone else watching? Witnessing? I don’t think she liked it when I called her bluff either. I mean I caught her doing it – on more than one occasion. She looked very guilty when her eyes met mine.

According to Freakonomics what makes a good parent is already determined, for the most part, before a child is even born. In other words it's genetic. I'm thinking this smells awfully like karma.

How could one girl be so nonchalant about a boy who had run into her while the other one was ready to scream, God save the Queen? Was she just born that way? Or did her parents raise her this way?

We’ve all seen a child fall down. (and snickered) But how a mother reacts is what I watch. Some will simply brush off the child, give them a hug and basically send them off to play. Then we’ve all seen the opposite – the parent who does make a big to-do about it, “Oh! You poor thing! Are you okay? Did you fall down and hurt yourself? Does it hurt? Where does it hurt?” The child not so surprisingly starts crying harder and she picks him up and scoops him away.

Of course it is vital that we do not get into extreme thinking but what then are parents supposed to do? If what they do makes little difference in a child's personality, should they be relieved? Is this one of those philosophical life lessons in just going with the undertow? Or an opportunty for pre-natal books to make some serious money?

I'd like to think I have some say in the kind of person I am. Although I think we are made towards a certain tendency and parenting can exacerbate or quell traits and quirks. I think studies in happiness have also found that we tend to hover around the same range of happiness.

For the classroom, this just made me think that maybe, just maybe, we take things entirely too seriously. I started to realize that the kids were going to be just fine. In spite of what we did to them. I started to think about my childhood and education (or lack thereof) and how I turned out.

I think I turned out okay. Anyone could take a look at my upbringing and easily conclude I was now some sort of sorry muck up with an xyz addiction problem. Raised by a single immigrant mom with an average of 5 years primary education, dad dead at a young age, very little adult supervision, mom's passing through military boyfriends, abuse, bad grades, whatever. Really, I have a myrid of excuses to play and tamper with and I've said no thank you to them all.

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