Friday, November 19, 2010

Oysters and Pearls

I pick Graham up after school every day, and I've always loved that luxury. I get to hear about the day while it's still fresh in his mind.

Yesterday he was upset, because his classmates and teacher were angry at him in math class. During an electronic math game, he didn't work his math problems quickly enough, and so his class didn't beat the other class. The electronic nature of the game meant Graham's answers could have remained anonymous, but the teacher indicated it was Graham and then called him a name. Graham became teary while telling me the story, and then I did, too.

I mulled it over last night, and remembered what it was like to get in trouble in school (especially in front of my peers). I was an excellent student, but took any mistake of mine and brooded on it, often for years.

In third grade, I accidentally tripped my teacher Mrs. Stern (yes, her real name.) We were walking to gym class, and I was first in line behind the teacher. The girl next in line bumped into me, and I tripped forward, causing the 70-something-year-old Mrs. Stern to go crashing down onto the linoleum. She didn't get hurt, but I quickly went from being Teacher's Pet to Enemy Number One. She stood by my desk that afternoon, tapping on it with her long fingers, saying she had told us many times not to walk so close behind her. I felt completely ashamed, and after that, she was wary of me.

That quarter, I got an S-minus in "Listens to and follows directions."

I never told anyone at home about it, but this was one of those moments that burrowed into my head and didn't come out for years. I watered and cared for a few other similar situations to punish myself with whenever I was feeling anxious or sad. At the time, it made me feel like I was probably a bad person.

So this morning on the way to school, I said: Graham, let me tell you something.

A teacher's job is very difficult and stressful. And I would guess most teachers go into teaching to help all of the students, not just the ones for whom school is easy. When you were having trouble in math yesterday, your class was frustrated, and so was your teacher. But she should not have done what she did. Everybody makes mistakes, even teachers, and she made one yesterday. You need to forgive her for that.

Don't let what happened continue to bother you anymore. I used to beat myself up over little things I did wrong, for years. For years, Graham. And that's ridiculous. You're going to make mistakes, just like I did. Just like everyone does, and you have to let them go.

I've come to think of it like this, Graham. Do you know what an oyster does when it gets a little piece of sand inside?

"Yeah," he said. "It makes a pearl."

Well, I said, it does make a pearl. But instead of spitting that piece of sand out, an oyster keeps the sand, and adds to it, and adds to it, trying to make it smoother and feel better. In reality, it just keeps making it bigger and bigger. And we do that, too, with worries. We keep them inside and work on them, and they get bigger than they need to be. Just spit them out, Graham. Does that make sense?

He thought a moment. "You know," he said, "that's a very good analogy."

Do you feel better? I asked.

"A little," he said.

I still have times where I let myself or someone else down. I'm not perfect. But I know those moments don't define me. And instead of sucking on those moments, I just forgive myself. Then I spit them out.


Anonymous said...

Chin up Graham, thanks for sharing this powerful message, I believe it is our nature to hoard our 'low moments', finding true happiness and self worth is learning when to 'spit'.

Hug him everyday!

Simple blessings,

Annie said...

I have so much elementary school baggage running around in this old head! I totally get that.

Still, it wasn't very nice of that teacher to single Graham out that way. You are very mature to handle it the way you did.

Sharon Crescent said...

you're a very good mommy xoox

Unknown said...

Very well put, Theresa...Graham, you are a lucky young man to have such a wise and loving mother!


Casa Pearl said...

Excellent, excellent wisdom. thank you for sharing it with this "worrier". I will do my best to remember it and act on it.

Casa Pearl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nancy said...

Wonderful thought for all of us to remember...and shame on that teacher for being so hurtful, hope she realizes what she did and apologizes to Graham.

Graham is lucky to have you for a mom!

Diana said...

Thanks for sharing these thoughts with us as well as with Graham.

Terri said...

Thanks for sharing this Theresa. I really needed this. Hugs to Graham. And don't worry I wasn't good in math in the beginning either but that changed. Keep practicing

Vonna Pfeiffer said...

THAT is a wonderful, wonderful moment to share with us. THANK YOU! I too worry and worry about stuff...random stuff that happened a long time ago and I always think forget about it. Next time, I'll remember your pearl analogy and spit it out. We all make mistakes, I bet Graham is glad he has a wise Mamma :)

Terri said...

Oh, Theresa! This was such perfect timing for me. Graham is such a lucky little boy to have such a wise mom. Hugs to you both.


Jacqueline Korteland Boller said...

Great advise! My kids had a bad teacher or two, but I told them that it just prepares them for Life!! It's better to develop coping skills...ones I wish I had sometimes!!:)

(wow...word verification wants me to type "perli." How strange is that?)

Catherine said...

I love your advice! I am so going to use this for my own three boys!!

Anonymous said...

What a truly heartening story (and fabulous analogy) to share with your son and your readers! I do hope Graham's teacher offers an apology to him for his/her behavior.

Robin in Virginia

Sherry :o) said...

well said!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your blog on this. I lost my job in February and constantly berate myself, to the point where I know think I can't do anything. Your writing hit me at exactly the right time, so thank you for that. And you did the right thing as a Mom - your boy is lucky to have you.


Anonymous said...

I will be 53 in December and you just taught me something wonderful. You are a great Mom. God bless you

Unknown said...

Well said! I used to and still do the same thing - any little mistake and I worry over it and beat myself up.

I hope that Graham's teacher also offers him an apology. What a great teaching moment and you definitely taught well.

Star said...

Like Graham, I would have have been very bothered by this.
Poor kid. You said the right thing and I'll bet he's still mulling over your words.

Debs said...

Like your son said, that was an excellent analogy! First teacher conference for my first grader son, his teacher told me that he would never be anything but a dumb jock. He had a new teacher the next day--and gee, he's a math whiz! Some teachers just shouldn't teach while most are wonderful. You were a very good Mom telling him that.

Sherre said...

Theresa, what a great gift you have given your son! Not only did you help him thru this negative experience, you also gave him a coping skill to carry with him thru life. Your story touched my heart. Thank you for sharing it with us. Blessings to you!

Melissa said...

Theresa, this is such a beautiful post. Thank you so much for sharing this, and I will be taking your analogy to heart. I can definitely do a better job of letting things go and not letting them define me.