Claire: Show, Don’t Tell

Today, I’ve taken a sick day to attack the pile of grading I wrote about last time. Something has to give in my attempt to balance work with the rest of my life, so I’m trying to put away my fear of becoming one of those teachers who takes sick days all the time so I can just get this shit done and go back to work (and the rest of my life). Spending less time feeling guilty about taking the day is the first step–and maybe it’ll even lead me to be less judgmental of those others.

The papers I’m grading are creative vignettes, and I know that I will spend much of this day writing different versions of “show, don’t tell” in loopy little red comments that many of my students won’t even read. (Sigh.) No matter how many ways I say it, model it, or encourage it, it will still be something that a lot of them won’t be able to put into practice.

It’s my job to keep trying to teach them, but it’s a lesson I’m struggling to put into practice myself in my role as a parent.

I recently read this great post by mmtread  on how to get your children to appreciate what they have, how to remain aware of our own privilege and share that awareness with our kids.

mmtread writes:

“I’m not completely sure how to achieve this. I think it takes constantly reminding them – and yourself – to be grateful for what you already have, and not to expect and demand always better, bigger, more. Not to automatically give in when your kids ask for something as small as an extra piece of chocolate after dinner or as big as the new tidbit of technology that everyone else has, just because you want them to like you. To risk the tears and tantrums that denial sometimes brings. To talk about how lucky we are, how blessed by circumstance and situation, and to get them actively involved in giving, sharing, and spreading their good fortune to those not so favored.”

I feel this to be a most important task as a parent, and I find it very hard to do well. Lately, when I’m setting any limits at all with Free, my eight year old, I find myself saying things like “this is not a hardship” in response to her resisting me “bossing her around.” Whether it’s a reminder that it’s time to take her bath, do her reading, or pick up after herself, a tantrum often results. I know it’s just another variation of the usual testing kids do with parents, but it’s striking to me that Free has no perspective here; she really feels that it is a hardship to have to restrict her desires in these tiny yet necessary ways.

My question is this: how do I show her, now and in the future, rather than just tell her, how lucky she is and how important it is that she appreciate what she has, be less demanding and less impatient with limits, and to be more generous in her treatment of others, me included?

I like the idea of not always just giving in to what she asks for, but Free is not a materialistic kid. She routinely turns down offers for treats when we’re out shopping and every once in a while, she independently cleans out her toys and gives things away to friends or to the thrift store. She has her moments of griping about friends’ possessions, but what bothers her is the friends who constantly brag about them; she’s not that interested in getting those things herself. To her credit, when she notes differences between her life with her father and what she has with me, it doesn’t usually involve requests, such as when she pointed out that “I like dad’s car because he gets all the kids’ radio stations.” Perhaps it’s because she knows that I’m not going to get something just because she asked or perhaps it’s because she’s weighing what really matters to her before she asks, but she generally seems less interested in what she owns and more invested in what she is allowed to do, which brings me back to the issue of how to show her that even in this department, she has it pretty damn good.

I grew up with seven siblings, sharing a bedroom, clothes, toys, and more often than not, a bath. It goes without saying that I had to share airtime and facetime with my parents, but I never felt like I wasn’t getting enough. The fact that I still help Free wash and rinse her hair and dry off after her bath and snuggle with her in bed at night makes me want to laugh when she refuses to take a bath and complains that I never sleep with her. To dismiss, ignore, or roughly shut down her silliness, however, (as Newman suggests I do), would only make a tantrum worse. I know she simply has no perspective, but I’m not sure how to help her gain it other than to launch into the “when I was your age I had to walk three miles in the snow” kind of storytelling that only taught me how to roll my eyes when I was a pre-teen.

None of this is a big deal; these are “first world” or “white woman’s” problems, after all 🙂 It just happens to be what I’m thinking about today.

Any moment now, I’m going to get out of bed and get started on that pile of stories that are in various states of not showing or not telling. Even as I brace myself for the not showing, I know there are more than a few students who can show, naturally and gracefully, and they will help remind me of my real role: to be a good reader who can appreciate and hear what it is each of them wants to say.

In the end, that’s probably all I have to keep in mind with Free too. My primary job as a mom is not to talk but to listen, and to choose my words carefully in response when she is looking for an answer. The rest of the time, I will just have to try to model all the things I want her to be: kind, generous, loving, joyous, silly, self-aware, and honest, among other things.

*****

Update on the March food and workout challenges:

My week without candy or chocolate treats went well, with only a couple of hard moments when work events served up some free desserts that I had to pass on. The week went by quickly, and since then I’ve been thinking twice about chocolate and really focusing on enjoying a piece if I do decide I need/want it. I’m well into week 2 without alcohol; last night was the first time it felt really hard as Newman had wine with dinner, and it looked so good. I almost flaked out, convincing myself that wine was good for me, but in the end I stuck to it and didn’t have any consolation chocolate either. As Newman said, “it’s good to test your discipline once in a while.” (This was after he tried to coax me to share his wine, bad man.)

The workouts are harder for me as they’re taking too much time, and it makes me want to skip them. I’m still doing them, but I think I’ll split them into two parts and do them every day. I have only ever found success being regular with working out when it doesn’t take too long, which is why I stick with my 5k running route. I’ve also been trying to do arms and leg lifts too, so I may stop doing the lunges, which are killing my knees.

How are your own challenges or journeys going?

˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚KHP Art Below˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚˚

KHP - Textures off the water tower

KHP – Textures off the water tower

KHP - The old water tower in Scotland, PA:)

KHP – The old water tower in Scotland, PA:)

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4 Responses to Claire: Show, Don’t Tell

  1. khpixler says:

    This is something that I worry a lot about with my girls. I have 6 siblings and we had everything that we needed but we did not have a house exploding in toys. My girls have so much and often get wrapped up in wanting more. We struggle with teaching them how to appreciate what they have and understand that it is not a “hardship” as you said. I feel as if we a losing the battle somedays and others I see that how little they care about things deep down. I do find myself telling her stories of walking through 2 feet of snow for 10 miles to make the point but I want to smack myself afterwards.
    I am having a very difficult time with my March challenges. I decided to hold off on the Gluten Free month, my schedule needs to thin out so I have time to prepare and research. The next 6 weeks are going to be my crux and then I will be free again. I am getting my runs, yoga and art in so I am proud of that!

  2. wwwmama says:

    We have to do what we can and sometimes we have to re-evaluate the goals/challenges. I’m going to go dairy-free at some point to figure out if my ongoing digestive problems are just lactose related, but I just can’t conceive of giving up cheese right now! I love the water-tower pics. I want to see where you live!

    • Kristen R. says:

      What a timely post — both in mentioning kids (“show, don’t tell” is the perfect metaphor) and the workouts.

      As far as kids, we’ve been struggling with this a lot lately. It feels like the Bean has been really emotional and a “no” to anything has her in fits. It’s not so much in a spoiled way as it is a dramatic meltdown way. It’s exhausting, but is getting better. She was sick and really tired, so I think that’s what was going on. I’m happy that it seems to have run it’s course… for now.

      As far as the march challenges go, the workout has been time consuming for me, too. The wine/no eating after 7 is no biggie, though. Claire, i actually started breaking up between days earlier this week. If I ran at night, that workout would add a lot more time and I’ve felt so tired the last week or so; because of that, I’ve been breaking it up. I also must admit that I liked the ab challenge better. It made me feel stronger and I feel like I saw/felt more results. This one makes me tired — so maybe it’s doing more? 🙂 I’m thinking that starting Monday, I might add the 3xday workout to the mornings and see if that’s better.

      Next month, I think I’m going to do a plank-a-day challenge. I need some sort of food goal in April, too, so I need to figure that out. Nothing anyone has to join me in doing, though. I just know I need it.

      I wonder if April could include some sort of group post idea — like we each leave a question for the person writing the next day…? Not sure, but food for thought. Low-carb, non-processed food. 🙂

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