Monday, February 16, 2015

The First Law of the Wilderness

My cousins, the Larkins, had a cabin a little ways up a dirt road from our cabin. One evening I was up playing with Janie Larkin while my dad and other family members were down at our end of the property working on projects and getting ready to go for a horseback ride.

As it got later in the evening the Larkins were ready to go. On their way home they drove me down the road to our cabin, where I hopped out of the car, and then they continued on their way.

But when I looked around I couldn’t find anyone! I went to the barn and I could tell that Dad and the others had gone on the horses.  My seven years of life hadn’t prepared me to be alone in the mountains and I was scared to death! I took off running down the road screaming and bawling like a wild child.  I thought maybe my dad had gone to George Handy’s, his friend who had a cabin not too far away. When I got to his property I charged down his dirt road howling hysterically for my Dad.

Lucky for my sake, Dad was there. He immediately got off his horse and hugged me while I cried and cried. Once I settled down he got back on his horse and put me in front of him, straddling the saddle’s biscuit.  Then he proceeded to tell me that the first law of the wilderness is don’t panic. 

We rode all the way home with him saying, “What is the first law of the wilderness?” and me replying back, between deep, shaky, post-hysteria breaths, “Don’t panic.” This exchange happened at least ten times as I sat on the back of a horse in the safety of my dad’s arms. 

I learned my lesson well and it has served me ever since. There have been many times (for example a major earthquake, losing my six-year-old at a water park, our Christmas tree falling over a few hours before a party, and a mountain bike accident that put my husband in the hospital for seven days) when most people around me were freaking out while I was calm and collected. I was prepared to do what needed to be done with a clear mind. I instinctively knew that adding more frenzy to an already tumultuous situation wouldn’t help anyone.

I attribute the quality I possess of composure amidst turbulence directly to this experience with my dad. I am so fortunate to have been schooled in the laws of the wilderness, on the back of a horse, by Jack Shaw.

It just doesn’t get better than that!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Bitten by Forgiveness

In my first year as a preschool teacher there was an incident where one child, Brett, was biting his friend Ryan almost every day. I did everything I could think of to get him to stop. My “time outs” and his mother working with him at home helped temporarily, but invariably, Ryan would again fall prey to Brett’s teeth. 

I focused a lot on working with Brett to change his behavior. But I didn’t realize I was only dealing with half the problem until Ryan’s mother came to me and told me she didn’t feel good about leaving her son at school when he came home with teeth marks adorning his arm day after day. I was so focused on Brett and teaching appropriate behavior that I was oblivious to the pain Ryan was tolerating every time Brett sank his teeth into Ryan’s flesh.

As soon as my eyes were open to Ryan’s plight, Brett was asked to leave the program. It was tough for everyone, but it was obvious that one child’s learning couldn’t override the safety of others. I learned that there is a point where a classroom management issue becomes a safety issue. Ryan and Brett taught me where that line is.

Ryan’s mom came to me to find out what she needed to do to make sure her son was protected while he was at school. Her purpose was not to let me know that I was a horrible teacher, even though her son was not being taken care of properly while he was in my care. 

Because of her kindness, I was left with my self-worth and confidence still intact as I learned my lesson. As painful as it was, this incident made me a much better and empathetic teacher for every child I taught from that time forward. I’m sorry I had to learn my lesson at Ryan’s expense.

I saw Ryan’s mom again nine years later. She was happy to see me and was surprised that I remembered her. The truth is, I think of her every time I hear someone badmouth a teacher.  I’ll never forget the generosity and kindness she displayed when the interaction could have been so hostile.

We all make mistakes that affect those around us.  What a blessing it was for me that day to have forgiveness offered to me instead of condemnation. Ryan’s mother showed me that seeing people through eyes of love and innocence is one of the most humane gifts we can give another person, whether it is a member of our family, a complete stranger or someone in-between.