Show What You Know

One day I picked up a stormcloud from school along with my two boys. I could tell before she even got in the car that this was going to be one harrowing car ride; usually she’s hungry and grumpy at 3:00, but this was extreme. Before we’d even pulled away from the curb, she had yelled at one brother and snapped at the other after pushing her way past them into the car. I told her firmly that I wanted her to try to be more patient and kind, so she yelled at me and practically lay down in her seat. I said that she needed to sit up because it wasn’t safe to sit in such a way that the shoulder belt wrapped around her clavicle. She refused. I told her I would have to pull over until she was ready to sit safely, and I offered her some food. She refused the snack and sat up slightly, arms crossed, eyes angry, lips pouting in a decidedly uncomely configuration. Then I finally understood that this wasn’t just hunger; there was something else going on. I said that she seemed very upset and wondered aloud if something had happened at school that was affecting her feelings. That’s when she started sobbing.

I pulled into a parking lot and came around to her side to hear the story. In short, she was the only one in her class who had misspelled every word on her spelling list during the in-class Writing Workshop assessment (“Show What You Know (SWYK)”). After discussing it thoroughly, we tried to isolate her feelings, which were only about herself (no one else had said or done anything hurtful, which was one relief!). We continued the discussion at home and found words to describe all of the reasons she was upset: disappointment, surprise, frustration, embarrassment, sadness. Next we began troubleshooting ways she could work toward transforming these feelings into positive ones, eventually landing on the idea that learning how to spell all of the words correctly would make her feel proud and accomplished and cheerful. We decided that I would help her practice them until that point, but she neither remembered the word list nor did she know where it could be found. She liked my suggestion that she email her teacher to ask, so we planned to do it that evening before bed.

When it came time to write the email, she asked me what she should write, and because by then she was pretty exhausted in every way, I knew it wasn’t the time to push her too hard, so I explained the way that I would go about it as an example of a place to start: tell her how you feel about what happened, what your plan is going forward, and that you would like her to send the list of words, please, so you can practice them until satisfaction is achieved. Summerly sat down at my computer and got as far as the salutation before the tears began again. She said that she didn’t want to write about her feelings; she just wanted to ask for the word list. Oh, boy. Here’s what I said, basically: “You don’t have to share your feelings just because I would or because I think you should. But think about this: when you tell people how you feel, it’s kind of like a compliment. It’s kind of like you’re saying, ‘I trust you’ and ‘I respect you’ because you’re being vulnerable and honest with them. I can’t think of many compliments greater than those. When you tell people how you feel, not only does it help them understand the situation better and communicate more effectively, it helps them to know you better and also know how to help you better. And it shows them how brave you are.” She took that in, and I’ll be damned if that little girl didn’t wipe her eyes with the back of her hand the way you see in the movies then start typing with a resoluteness that can only have come from dropping a bucket into the deepest depths of her emotional well.

You guys, this next generation: they’re not just going to inherit the earth. They’re going to change the world.

Yes, I helped with her spelling, but the content is 100% hers.

Postscript: These events occurred on 11/20/2020, and I composed this post, as is true for most of what goes live here, a month or so ahead of publication date. I wrote this one the morning of 1/20/2021, exactly two months after the occasion it discusses, hours before watching the inauguration and hearing Amanda Gorman read her poem. Needless to say, this speaks to that and that speaks to this. Go get ’em, kids. The world is your oyster as long as you’re strong enough to open it. There are pearls there if you know how to find them. And if you can’t find them, make them.

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