Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Conclusion of Eminem and My Old Student T

This whole tangent about Eminem and my old student T is inspired partly by my 9-year-old, Daisy. She’s having a hard time – some of it is normal growing up stuff, but there are a couple things that worry me, the kind of worry that feels like weak knees.

There is social awkwardness, which I would assume is typical for 4th grade. However, she’s too easily defeated by the smart ass kids around her. We’re practicing her comebacks at home. She’s got to work on pushing back a little at a time instead of internalizing or taking it out on her sister and me.

Daisy is creative, and schoolwork hasn't been a cake walk for her so far. As her teacher pointed out, she’s unenthused by the standard assignments. She rushes through or spins out in frustration yet somehow she can spend hours on her own projects.

This is behavior I associate with some of my old students like T. It didn't matter what class it was, T would hear a word and get absorbed into it, sometimes asking someone to repeat the word for him and spell it. He’d ask someone to hand him a dictionary. As he flipped through pages, he might stop on several words that caught his eye, announcing a word here and there with a big grin on his face to neighboring students. T would have no idea what was going on in class by the time he shut his notebook filled with lyrics, phrases, and newly acquired words, but I believe in getting out of a kid’s way when s/he has a purpose. If it weren't for his own writing, T wouldn't have cared so much about words.

Which brings me back to. (The boxes of writing just kill me.)

Daisy came out of her bedroom when I was at her dad’s house recently, after she was supposed to be asleep, announcing before dissolving into tears, “I feel like my childhood’s passing me by, and I’m not happy about my . . . .”

I welcomed Daisy to being a human alive on the planet. She came over for me to hold her, and words leapt out of my mouth like fire. I've spent too many years feeling less-than to stand around passively watching my kids do the same. It’s such a waste of time. In a big voice, as her dad looked on with surprise, I told her there are plenty of people who will see your faults; we all have them. All of us.  So you have to learn to notice the good things about yourself because it’s silly not to. And be open to the people who don’t make you feel bad about yourself. Remember, when someone’s mean, it’s not about you – it’s really about them. And, being mean back doesn't help. You have to learn how to give it back just enough to show your boundary and before you get really angry and explode . . .”

Eventually, the stream of fire that came out of my mouth stopped. Phew. Daisy was smiling on her way back to bed.

Would art even exist without pain? I’m trying to help Daisy consciously use her creative outlets to avoid self destructive habits. Daisy told me the boys at school talk about Eminem. At this age, they’re not really allowed to listen to him, so his music is a secret passed around on the playground. I’m a believer in taking the exotic out of the forbidden in these situations, so I found a few Eminem songs she could listen to with me. We talked about the songs being exaggerated stories to be drama and also how he got really hurt by his daddy and mommy when he was a kid, which is why he felt so mad.

Daisy often dismisses my mama wisdom these days but this time I had her full attention. Her favorites are Not Afraid, which I just happen to turn down at the same spot every time Daisy hears it, and The Real Slim Shady. I explained the concept of an alter ego and her face lit up, “Yes! Mom, Eminem has an angry side of himself that makes him want to do bad things? I have that too!”

There may be parents who would be horrified to hear those words, but I know what separates healthy and unhealthy families is all in the communication.

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