Article

Criticism

One of the amazing letters Hank is lucky to receive from my dad, Grandpa Snitch, that help lift him up.

One of the amazing letters Hank is lucky to receive from my dad, Grandpa Snitch, that help lift him up.

 

Me: Hank! Dinner!

Pai: Amália Sofia, you sit with us at the table or you play with your toys quietly. This is our dinner time and just because you’ve eaten already doesn’t mean you get to interrupt us every 13 seconds because you want something not on the table or you want to leave. What is your choice?

Molly: What you eating?

Me: Soup and grilled cheese.

Molly: I no like it.

Pai: (Chef of the soup) Hey!

Me: (Chef of the grilled cheese) There is a better way to turn down a kind offer of nice food.

Molly: No, thank you. I no like it.

Me: (giggling to myself)

Pai: More for me then!

Hank: (dragging himself to the table)

Pai: How is the studying going?

Hank: (sigh) Good.

Me: You have been working very hard lately. Thank you for doing your best.

Hank: Once this test is over I am going to work harder to learn how to take criticism.

Me: Were you given a critique today at school?

Pai: (eyebrow raised)

Hank: It’s just, when we were studying for the test today in class my friend and I answered a question wrong and we were the only two that answered wrong, so my teacher called us, “palerma (idiot),” in front of the whole class.

Me: (suddenly seething with anger)

Pai: Palerma (idiot), that was the word she used? That isn’t criticism, Hank. That was an unfortunate choice of words.

Hank: She is always saying she has been teaching for 40 years and we need to listen to her and I do, but…

Me: (shelving my anger for the moment) Buddy, I agree with your papa. That was not criticism. You remember what your Grandpa Snitch said in his letter to you about criticism?

Hank: I remember the letter, but not the right words.

Me: He said, “ Good criticism is instructive and constructive and bad criticism is destructive – always!”

Pai: What was her mood? Was she having a bad day and took it out on you and your friend?

Hank: She was laughing.

Me: There are two types of people in this world: those who educate by lifting you up and those who educate by tearing you down, by bullying, by using what is called “tough love.” You’re papa and I believe that it is better to educate by lifting up a student, but in this world you won’t always meet people who agree with us.

Pai: It is unfortunate that was her choice.

Me: You’re lucky, Hank, because you have someone at your school you can go and speak to about this anonymously and with no consequence to you or the relationship you have with that teacher. At the parent teacher conference your Director de Turma (homeroom teacher) explained to us that if there was ever a moment when you or one of your classmates or one of us parents have a differing opinion or a disagreement or felt upset or were being hurt in some way by a teacher we could go to her, that she would listen and then address the issue for us. She encouraged us that was exactly what she was there for and always has time on Thursdays during lunch.  If you choose, if you need to talk to someone about this other than us, she is always there and I know your Director de Turma is a teacher who chooses to educate by lifting up a student and not by tearing them down. Please go and speak to her if you need someone to talk to.

Hank: (pushing soup around his plate)

Pai: I am sure it was embarrassing for her to call you both that in front of the class.

Hank: (nodding)

Me: And I am sure she has no idea how hard you have been working to improve in her class, but I do, we do. You are doing your best and your best is enough. I have been telling you since the day you were born that, “no one ever called you dumb, not one day,” and no one had until now. I wouldn’t lie to you; I am far to busy and important to lie. I know you aren’t a palerma (idiot) and I hope you know you aren’t and won’t let that destructive criticism ruin all the hard work you have been doing.

Hank: (soup finished, heavy dark circles under his eyes) Is it okay of I just go to sleep? I read that the best thing to do after studying is to go to sleep and let your brain take all the information and put it into categories which will help you remember better.

Pai: That is true! I am impressed you know this and that is a great idea.

Hank: (getting up from the table)

Me: Love you, buddy.

Hank: (leaves room) Love you, too.

Pai: (once he’s out of ear shot, whispers) Deep breath, Hanford.

Me: (whisper screaming) I could give two shits about 40 years experience that fucking teacher in one flippant soul crushing moment undermined my entire parenting ethos for the past ten years! WHAT DO I ALWAYS SAY TO HIM?!

Pai: I know, but it was bound to happen someday, you know that.

Me: I am at desk flipping levels over this.

Pai: I have already begun composing the email to his Director de Turma (homeroom teacher) in my brain. Her office hours are on Thursday. We will be there.

Me: (whisper raging) You better take the lead on this one, S’Tôr (slang for Senhor Douctor (Mr. Doctor) which is the formal way to address a professor in Portugal), and ooze DOCTOR of cognitive science and brains and developmental psychological citations allllllll over this conversation or I swear on all that is good and holy that I will leave all manor of decorum at the door and Mama Bear that school to the ground.

Pai: I am glad I have you in my corner, but I am confident I can argue our case. Even if you sit saying nothing and only have that expression on your face it will be enough to communicate the seriousness of our side of the debate.

Me: (head in my hands) He has been working so hard! He already has to punch his lying, irrational thoughts in the face every day single day to do his best. HE DIDN’T NEED THIS!

Pai: I know.

Me:

Pai:

Me:

Pai:

Me: (emotional) He’s going to bed at 8:30pm (an hour early). His soul is crushed.

Pai: He is going to bed at 8:30pm because he is tired and needs to rest and because you taught him how to take care of himself.

Me:

Pai:

Me:

Pai:

Article

Stressed by the Stress of Stress

Photo Credit: Hank

Photo Credit: Hank

 

Me: (reading before bed, door opens)

Hank: Mama?

Me: What is it, buddy?

Hank: I am too stressed to sleep.

Me: Climb up into this big bed and lets talk about that.

Hank: (leaps and bounds onto his pai’s (dad’s) side of the bed)

Me: (gaze fixed on the ceiling, book tented on my chest) You were very stressed this evening. Can you tell me why?

Hank: I don’t know.

Me:

Hank:

Me: Can I give you my theory?

Hank:

Me: Are you interested in my ideas or would you rather I listen? I am here for you however you need.

Hank: I don’t know what is wrong with me, mom, so please tell me.

Me: (deep cleansing breath) There is nothing wrong with you. You are stressed by the stress of stress.

Hank: (nervous laughing)

Me: (dead serious) It’s true. I know you.

Hank: You know me better than anyone.

Me: And I am blessed to know you so well. What I am about to say I don’t want you to allow to hurt your feelings. I want you to listen and know I am speaking from love and as kindly as I can.

Hank:

Me: You live you best life when you’re prepared.

Hank:

Me: You live at your maximum capacity of happiness when you have your school bag packed, when you have your gym bag packed, when your clothes are picked out the night before school, your alarm set and you wake up an hour and a half earlier than you peers so you have plenty of time to get dressed, eat breakfast, relax and get to school early enough to fill up your lunch debit, say hello to friends and be at your desk before anyone else arranging your pencil case and your notebooks for the day. You make your bed every morning, in the dark as to not wake up you sister, ensuring you can flop on it comfortably the minute you return home after a long day. You thrive when you have a plan, regardless if that plan is 3 hour driving tour of the Aldeias de Minho (small towns of the region) or staying in your pajamas all day. Do you agree?

Hank: I agree. 100%.

Me: Homework is never an issue for you. You know exactly what you have to do and you come home and do it that way you can spend the evening relaxing, plus you know if you don’t do your best you know there is time for correction, but when it comes to studying for exams you buckle.

Hank:

Me: The closer you get to an exam the more you spiral into a panic and the less you study or let us help you.

Hank:

Me: Today, we set a time to study for your upcoming exam thinking that would help you prepare. At 5:30 you were going to work with your pai (dad) to review your math unit and prep for Wednesday, just like you had done last Thursday and last Friday, but the closer and closer it got to 5:30 the more and more you let stress and fear eat away at you until you were so upset you sabotaged the whole evening.

Hank: I know, I’m sorry, what is my punishment?

Me: Oh, I don’t have to punish you! You’ve already punished yourself. Notice how your pai (dad) and I backed off and gave you space. We reassured you we were right here, ready to help and support you, but you went into the dark place and let fear and stress and your lying brain gain control. We have talked about this; there is no reason for us to punish you any more than you are already punishing yourself, but what I would appreciate is more trust.

Hank: (questioning eyebrows)

Me: You have a problem trusting me and trusting your pai (dad).

Hank: (highly questioning eyebrows)

Me: You always have.

Hank: (extremely questioning eyebrows)

Me: You don’t trust me to know when it is safe to cross the street even when there are no cars.

Hank: But…

Me: (interrupting) And we say that is because you are a rule follower and obey the pedestrian lights or the traffic laws, but really it is because you don’t trust me.

Hank:

Me: You set a second alarm on my phone the day before returning to school after holiday break.

Hank: I was…

Me: (interrupting) You were nervous and didn’t fully trust me to get up at YOUR appropriate time to see you out the door to school.

Hank:

Me: When we have to catch a train you insist we arrive at the station as early as you can get away with, regardless of our justifications for not needing to arrive at the station until 5-10 minutes of the train’s departure.

Hank: I just…

Me: You just can’t deal with the stress of what might happen?

Hank: (sigh of relief) Yes!

Me: I understand, I love you, I know you and I support you, but my heart breaks now that you are adding exams to your list of insurmountable stress, because this is only the beginning for your academic career and you have everything in your power to punch fear in the face and prepare for your exams!

Hank: (back to the questioning eyebrows)

Me: You THRIVE on preparedness! You simply have to tell your lying, anxious brain to SHUT UP and make the choice to have everything ready to succeed, just like you choose to wake up early, prepare your bags the night before, pick out your outfit, remind me to buy Nesquik when we’re running low and give yourself a level of calm preparedness in the morning so you leave the house ready for the day and not rushed. The way you are fighting preparing for exams sabotages your chances to feel calm and you thrive when you’re groomed and polished and packed and ready to go.  Accepting help, working smarter and not harder, trusting us will best prepare you for your exams.  I mean, you could teach a class on preparedness! Who in this house packs the day before a trip?

Hank: Me.

Me: And which people in this house, who have the ability to pack, pack the day we’re leaving?

Hank: You and papa.

Me: And who is the calm rational one when we’re running about waiting until the last minute to gather everything we need?

Hank:

Me: You are. It is my great hope that you decide to apply your preparedness skills to studying for exams therefore eliminating this evil stress that consumes you until you surrender unprepared and living in panic until the test is over.

Hank:

Me: I know how you feel. I know what it feels like to be crippled with test anxiety and I want more for you, but I can’t help you with this more than to say I hear you, I understand and your pai (dad) and I are here to help. You have to decide to accept our help, because at this point if you want to improve you need to decide to let us assist you. You are the best at doing homework and organizing for group projects, but studying for exams is new and you are still learning your best way of doing that. Continue everything you are doing in regard to homework, but for exams, it is my hope you decide to accept help, because today you didn’t make that decision and instead punished yourself WHEN I KNOW, because I know you, that if you had punched your lying brain in the face and worked for an hour, just a single hour, with your pai (dad) you would be sleeping soundly right now and not being tortured by this stress.

Hank:

Me:

Hank:

Me: Thoughts?

Hank: It is my decision?

Me: Yes, truly. I would not lie to you. You have the power to give yourself what you need to feel better. Whatever you decide your pai (dad) and I will love you no matter what. This isn’t about grades, do not mistake our concern, this is about you and living your best life and managing your stress levels so that when there is a crisis in life you will rise to the challenge and not be defeated by it. You know all these conversations we have been having about becoming more resilient?

Hank: Yes.

Me: This is also a big part of that conversation. You cannot be resilient without reaching out and accepting help, you can’t be fully resilient all on your own, resiliency is also about being brave enough to grow and evolve, and you most certainly cannot be resilient when you are allowing the panic and fear that stress causes to sabotage improving your chances at success.

Hank:

Me: I can honestly say that if someone had this conversation with me when I was ten my life would have been very different. I didn’t learn this lesson until… um, well to be honest, YOU are teaching me this lesson and I thank you for that.

Hank: Mom, how can I be teaching you when I am doing everything wrong and ruining everything?

Me: Good question, but you’re not doing everything wrong or ruining anything you can’t fix, be kind to yourself! Listen, You’re suffering with school stress much the same way I did, and because I am compassionately listening and identify with you. By listening and helping you I am also helping myself in the process. I can’t tell you to do something I am not willing to also try therefore you’re teaching me to do better, too! I never confronted these feelings you’re having, I was never that brave, I merely survived them and in merely surviving I spent my whole life feeling stupid, and behind and incapable. I don’t want that for you because you are none of those things, so no, I am not going to punish you, I am not going to scream, I am not focused on grades or performance, I am focused on you, my favorite boy, who can’t sleep because he is so stressed out and I am going to say to you that I hear you, I understand and I am here to help, your pai (dad) is here to help, but you have to decide to let us.

Hank: (slowly scooting off my bed)

Me:

Hank: (standing to leave)

Me:

Hank: (walking out the door)

Me:

Hank: (pauses for a moment with his back to me so I cannot see his face) Thank you for the talk, mama, it was very motivational.

Me: Are you being sincere or sarcastic? I can’t tell.

Hank: I mean it. It was very motivational. Good night.

Me: Good night, Hank.

Epilogue: I am grateful to report Hank has made the decision to accept help and is punching fear and stress in the face everyday thus far leading up to his exam. His stress and anxiety is greatly reduced and we are grateful to be of help to him.)

Article

Crying an Ocean of Tears In Her Ears

Backstory: When we encounter a stream or a good fountain it is Pai (Hank and Molly's dad's) job to make us paper boats to sail and at restaurants it is my job to turn our paper napkins into lotus flowers.

Backstory: When we encounter a stream or a good fountain it is Pai’s (Hank and Molly’s dad’s) job to make us paper boats to sail and at restaurants or cafés it is my job to turn our paper napkins into lotus flowers.

 

Molly: (overly tired, crying in her bed)

Hank: (in bed, asleep, wearing ear plugs and a sleep mask because no one ever called him dumb, not one day)

Me: Hey now, hey now, little darlin’. What is it we say every night? No more crying, time for sleeping.

Molly: (unaffected)

Me: (kneeling by her bed) Hush now, little chicken. What has you so upset?

Molly: (in between tears) I… Don’t… Want… Go to bed!

Me: I know, lovie. It’s hard to stop the day, but it’s time for dreaming.

Molly: No. (tears streaming down her cheeks)

Me: Instead of crying let’s play a little game, shall we? (laying my head on her chest) You be Totoro and I will be May.

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Molly: (wants to stop crying, but doesn’t want to give up the fight)

Me: Who are you?

Molly: (sniffling)

Me: And this is where you say (whisper roar), “To-To-ROOOOO!”

Molly: (giggling)

Me: (pretending to be a three year old girl) Are you a Totoro?

Molly: (giggling, nodding)

Me: And then I lay on your big belly, because I am suddenly very, very tired and we go to sleep. (laying my head back down on her chest)

Molly: Mama, sleep with me?

Me: I can’t sleep with you, MaGoo! Your bed is much too small for me, but your bed is just right for you. I sleep just across the hall. I am always here.

Molly: Oh! (hand to her ears) I all wet!

Me: (brushing tears from her face) You cried an ocean of tears into your ears, silly chicken.

Molly: Ocean in my ears?

Me: Tears are salty like the sea.

Molly: (serious) Ocean in my ears?!

Me: Yes, and now that it is time for sleeping, why don’t we imagine that you have a real ocean inside your ears full of…

Molly: Fish!

Me: Yes and coral and sea weed and…

Molly: Seals!

Me: Yes and what else?

Molly: And… um…  And paper boats! Papa make paper boats? Paper boats for my ocean?

Me: Of course! Your papa always makes the paper boats and we will sail them on the ocean of tears in your ears.

Molly: Papa make paper boats and mama makes flowers.

Me: I do, don’t I?

Molly: Yah, mama makes flowers and papa boats and Mano (brother) is my best friend. (eyes getting heavy)

Me: Sounds perfect.

Molly: Yah. I all better. I on a paper boat. On a paper boat in my ear in ocean in my ear.

Me: (whispering) What a perfect place to be! (smiling while combing her hair from her eyes until soon she drifts off to sleep)