Moments Matter

First Bullies: A Lesson in Forgiveness

The bus parking lot drop-off area was adjacent to the school on a hillside covered with patches of yellow daisies. A long sloping hill and a winding pathway lead to the school. I stared blankly at the sterile looking school buildings and could hear the sounds of balls bouncing and children playing.

My first week of kindergarten - 1970s.

My first week of kindergarten – 1970s.

It was my first day of kindergarten.

With a mix of fear, excitement and curiosity, I was escorted to the kindergarten classroom, which was connected to a smaller, enclosed play area that was separate from the “big” kids playground.

I enjoyed playing and the fun arts and crafts activities in kindergarten. I thought that maybe this wasn’t so bad. I wish I could say that I had a wonderful, inspirational first teacher, but frankly I don’t recall. The days of kindergarten and the bus rides from our commune farm into town blurred one into the next. Until, of course, I had my first run in with a bully – Angie Magnella.

Angie was a bigger, older kid, who decided the blonde-haired little kindergartner needed to be picked on. After exiting the bus, Angie grabbed me and pushed me into the bee-covered hillside. I cried and I wanted my mom, but no one was there to help protect, or defend me. The bully had all the power. Over the years, I cowered and hid whenever she came even remotely close to me.

Looking back at my first bullying experience, I can’t help but think of my daughter, who has felt the helplessness and frustration of being bullied. As a parent, the pain and hurt is deep and undeniable. You feel every heartache and tear. You want to scoop your child up, and scream at that ‘mean’ kid: ”Leave her alone!”

But you can’t always be there.

In my own first bullying experience, coincidentally, a few years later, I became friends with Angie’s younger brother, Justin, who lived a few blocks from my house. After school we would play prison dodge ball and handball. He was a shorter boy with black wavy hair, dark eyes and sprinkles of dark brown freckles on his nose and walked on the balls of his feet.

I have fond memories of Justin as a fun, rough n’ tumble playmate. Of course, I made a mental note to steer clear of his older sister – until one day we had another run in. I was playing at Justin’s house when Angie strutted out of her room. She was trying to act all mature and wore lip-gloss. She asked if I wanted to see some new outfits in her closet. The overwhelming kindness she showed to me was almost as if to say: “Hey, I’m sorry.”

It was then, I decided to forgive Angie for being my first bully.

imagesAnd now, following my own daughter’s experience with a bully, she is re-building her strength and confidence – first and foremost.  We are also doing our best to be her parental voice, unwavering confidant and advocate.

However, I would also hope that she could someday find a sense of forgiveness for the bully. I know that may sound unusual. But, I firmly believe if we hold anger and resentment it only turns us into bitter human beings. (Like those mean people at the mall.) The unfortunate fact is that there will always be bullies of some kind. But, it is how we respond that is most important.

I know my daughter may not find forgiveness today, or tomorrow – or ever – when it comes to her bully. But, you never know, perhaps that bully could turn into a friend. Or, at least a person she could forgive.

Now, that’s power.

Who was your first bully? How did you handle it? Forgiveness is hard. What was the most challenging act of forgiveness you’ve experienced? How did you feel after forgiving that person?

As a contributor at OC Mom Blog, check out Part 1: Bullying 101 for Parents  (two-part series) that discusses bullying – and what you can do as a parent to protect your child or teen.

 

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The True Meaning of Summer

“Scrambled eggs are all I got. Eat up. Then get your suits on,” I barked.

My two younger sisters and I  spending some time playing on our Grandpa's organ in the early 1980s.

My two younger sisters and I spending some time playing on our Grandpa’s organ in the early 1980s.

“But, I want cereal!” my little sister demanded.

I scooped the eggs from the skillet to the plate, while dropping a few stragglers to the floor. “Stop fussing,” I scolded.

Throwing on our suits, grabbing our flip flops, change of clothes and towels, we meandered down the hill of our street, and walked five (felt like endless) blocks to the town’s community pool. After quickly storing our belongings in a green net bag in the women’s locker room, I made a beeline to the high dive.

I was eager to be a kid after caring for my two sisters. I was tired of playing mother, sister, referee, cook, cleaner, teacher, transporter…

Sitting poolside on a plastic elevated chair was my favorite lifeguard with her yellow-green sun-bleached hair. I was ready to put on my usual summer show: the splits off the high dive.

Climbing the metal ladder, I reached the top of the platform. Butterflies flew – even though I had performed this jump countless of times. Standing on the end of the high dive there was no looking down – just being in the here and now – eyes forward.

I lightly bounced a few times while sucking my stomach in, and jumped out, extending my legs like a pair of scissors, and then gracefully closing them before reaching the water. And, that my friends, is the perfect ‘split jump’ off the high dive. Bobbing my head out of the water, I could hear the cheer from the lifeguards.

That was a fairly typical summer day at age 10. During several summers, I was the caretaker for my two younger sisters, ages seven and three. I coordinated crafts, taught math and reading lessons, led excursions to the local pool, recreation center, library and parks. Not to mention prepared meals, cleaned, dishes and laundry. Looking back now, the responsibility was tremendous for a young girl.

Our summer bucket list.

Our summer bucket list.

My childhood care-taking memories came flying back to me a few days ago when I walked into our garage to find my two daughters building a robot out of a large leftover cardboard box. I flashed to the summers with my sisters. I thought of how important summers are to me. As a work-at-home mom, I want my kids to just be kids during the summer.

Don’t get me wrong, our children should have a certain amount of structure, but they should also have those lazy, stay-at-home days. They should have time to free play, chase butterflies, construct a playdough pizza, costume dress up, blow bubbles…

I know my Mom didn’t have a plethora of choices when it came to childcare options back then. For years, I carried resentment. However, when I became a mom, I realized there was a lesson to be learned.

The girls take an impromptu trip to the library.

My girls take an impromptu trip to the library.

Taking on the role of caretaker taught me so much about myself. I honed and tested my leadership abilities. It also tested my patience. It improved my organization and negotiation skills. It showed me who I didn’t want to be. Most importantly, it helped prepare me for playing my biggest role. And, for that, I will be forever grateful.

But now I want to be the Mom that is there for my kids during our summers together. Time with our children on Earth is finite. Before you know it, they’ll be off building their own lives. I am soaking in the make-believes, library trips, wish lists, sidewalk chalk…

I want to be here for the present – looking straight ahead – embracing the role I was always meant to have – as ‘mom.’

What are your fondest memories of summer as a child? How are/were you involved with your children during summertime? Do you have lazy days of summer? If so, what are some of your favorite things to do? What’s in your summer bucket list?

The Importance Play!
A recent report by the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a report entitled “The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds.” The report cites that play protects children’s emotional development, a loss of free time in combination with a hurried lifestyle can be a source of stress, anxiety and may even contribute to depression for many children.

 

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Remembering My Roots

I stepped into the elevator ready for my first day in the corporate world. Wearing my black Jones of New York suit and patent leather shoes, I felt ready for anything.

A shopping trip back with my younger sister. I was donning my 90s business apparel.

A shopping trip with my younger sister. I was donning my 90s business apparel. Yes, those are nylons!

But I wasn’t quite ready for what was about to happen. They say the moments you are least prepared for are the ones you learn the most.

As the elevator whisked me towards the 27th floor, I noticed a man standing in the corner holding a briefcase to his chest.

Turning without hesitation, I said, “Hi!” His mouth gaping open, he said, “Did you just say hi to me?” “Uh, yes, I did. Was that wrong?” I said, now even more nervous. In my head, I berated myself for messing up on the first day of my corporate job before I even arrived at my desk.

Catching a glance of the elevator numbers climbing 20, 21, 22 23… I flashed to the “most modern” building in my small hometown. The slow, rickety elevator would crawl to floor two of our local Masonic Lodge. The elevator doors opening only to unveil a thick shag burgundy-colored carpet and the pungent smell of drugstore perfume.

Floor two.

Interrupting my thoughts, the man, who finally released the clutch of his briefcase, explained he had been riding this elevator for the last five years. During that time, no one had ever said hello to him.

Ever.

I smiled at the stranger. I had done something right. When arriving at his floor, he called, “Have a great day. Thanks again!” At that moment, I promised myself to never forget my roots from the small town I grew up in the first 22 years of my life. I would hold close to my heart the friendly smiles, non-challant conversations, and green, rolling hills that wrapped around my home. I would embed in my mind the crackling of the old wood burning stove, juicy apricots dangling from the trees, and the braying of my donkey, Geraldine.

During a recent summer excursion, I shared the story with my daughters about the man in the elevator while driving past my old skyscraper office. “Wow, Mom, that is such a big building!” my five-year-old daughter commented. “Weren’t you scared to go that high?” she asked. I told her that God followed me (and still does) wherever I go, and the love of my family back at home made me brave.

I never forgot my roots – at any level along my journey.

The next time you’re in an elevator, I challenge you to say hello to a stranger. You might be surprised. Do you have any memorable first-time job stories you’d like to share? Or was there an experience that drew you back to your roots? I’d love to hear.

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His Brothers

The sun had been out for hours, and he was still asleep.Screen-shot-2010-08-05-at-6.13.48-PM

Breakfast and lunch had passed.

Dinner was just around the corner.

Poking at my mom, I asked, “Is he ever going to wake up?”  There was a long pause – as I had asked her for the umpteenth time.

“He pulled a long shift. Being a firefighter is hard work,” she said.

It suffices to say that firefighting has been an integral part of our family for generations. My father had a short stint as a firefighter when he returned from the Vietnam War. When growing weary of his law enforcement job, he would regretfully comment about how he “should have stayed a firefighter in his younger days.” My brother (half brother from my Mom’s first marriage), and many of his uncles and cousins are highly regarded firefighters.

But most importantly, they are heroes.

Being 10 years younger than my brother, I could not grasp the concept of heroism. My brother understood the dangerous nature of his job. Firefighting was in his blood. I cringed when overhearing tales of the “burn” films that were shown during his training. The concept of burning alive turned my stomach into knots.

I remember my brother showing me sketches of his invention concept – a special protective suit that could withstand high-degree temperatures, and special firefighter functional features. He wanted to save them, his brothers.

Not much has changed from 30 years ago.

During the past several years, my brother has owned and operated a water tanker company that supplies water during fire outbreaks in Arizona and surrounding states in the United States. He’s also had the opportunity to train many young, up-and-coming firefighters, including many of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, who perished during the Yarnell Fire in Prescott Arizona less than a week ago.

The devastation for the families is unfathomable. The 19 firefighters killed in Arizona is among the worst firefighting tragedies in American history and the most since 9/11. These young men were in the prime of their lives. Seeing the images flash of these young families who are without their husband, father, son, brother, uncle, cousin, nephew is heartbreaking.

Tragically, no suit, or safety measure could protect them. They are in heaven with their Creator.

My eldest daughter working the Candy Bar on Fourth of July in honor of our fallen heroes.

My eldest daughter working the Candy Bar on Fourth of July in honor of our fallen heroes.

Thousands of miles away in California, we felt the heartache and helplessness. What could we do to possibly help?

With Fourth of July just days away, it seemed like an ideal opportunity to support our fallen heroes. Our neighborhood holds an annual bike parade and other festivities, so our family held a “Candy Bar Fundraiser” to benefit the Hotshots’ Families.

Our friends gave generously while satisfying their sweet tooth. The donations will go directly to the Granite Mountain Hotshots’ Families. If you’re interested in making a contribution, click here. You can also visit the Prescott Granite Mountain Hotshots Facebook Page to learn more about these brave men.IMG_3712

The donations will not bring these heroes back. But, I do know in my heart that my brother will be proud we were able to give back to his fallen brothers.

God bless the Granite Mountain Hotshots and their Families.

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