Blog Posts

Hey Tough Guy

“Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.” – Sigmund Freud

Hey tough guy, you say you don’t cry?

But when your mom leaves without giving you a hug,

I still see that water well up in your eyes.

Hey tough guy, you say you don’t care?

But the way your body shakes when you are worrying about your friends,

It seems like you do.

Hey tough guy, you say you don’t need help?

But I remember you crying out for help when you fell and scraped your knee,

You needed me to know.

Hey tough guy, you say you don’t need anyone?

But when you grip my hand that tight when we talk,

I feel like you don’t want me to go.

Hey tough guy, you say you are okay?

But when you cross your arms and turn away

It looks like there’s still more you need to say.

Hey tough guy, you say you aren’t scared?

But when you hide your feelings aren’t you scared of being vulnerable?

Hey tough guy, you say you are strong?

But would you still feel strong if you took off that mask of masculinity?

Hey tough guy, you say that these things make you weak?

But does avoiding them really make you feel stronger?

Hey tough guy, I know the world has a lot to say.

They put the burden all on you.

They say you have to be brave.

And to keep everything inside, even if you don’t want to.

Hey tough guy, I know they tell you “you’re okay”.

They want you to brush it off, be a man, put up those walls.

The world has put too much pressure on you.

To be something that isn’t real, that isn’t natural

Hey tough guy, I know people will tell you to be a certain way

And it won’t be easy to tell them no.

But I am here to remind you…

That it’s okay to be sad, scared, angry, and worried too.

Even the toughest guys have emotions.

That it’s okay to open up to people.

Even the toughest guys have to let it out sometimes.

That it’s okay to have challenges.

Even the toughest guys have to overcome difficult things in their lives.

That it’s okay to be honest about who you are and what you feel.

Even the toughest guys aren’t tough all the time.

So release the burdens of the world,

Let those walls they’ve created fall down.

Speak from your heart.

And be true to yourself.

Because tough guy,

The thing I love about you most

is that you are so much more than just a tough guy.

A Mother’s Love

“We are born of love; love is our mother.” – Rumi

Standing right next to our big wooden swing in the backyard I watched as F slowly rocked back and forth, her head hanging down in sadness. She had been sitting with these feelings for a while now after saying goodbye to her mom early that morning. Like all the other mornings before, this one had been hard and I could feel that sadness still weighing down on her.

Seeing her in that moment it was hard not to feel drawn to her, the strings of my heart pulling me closer and closer until I was right there leaning in, asking about all the emotions moving through her in that moment. With tears in her eyes she looked up at me and opened up about how much she missed her grandma and how sad she was that she wasn’t at her house.

Remembering what her mom and dad had told me about the time she spent with her grandma before coming to school with us, my own memories came flooding back reminding me of a time when I am sure I would have felt the same. Seeing a connection that the two of us shared, I told her about my own grandma and the special moments we had on a swing very similar to the one she was rocking on now.

Her eyes now shining through her tears, a small smile appeared as she shared with me that her and her grandma would sit together on a swing like that too. Together the two of reminisced about our grandmas and the way they would help us sleep by tickling our backs, how they would sing us songs and tell us stories, and how much love we felt from them when our moms were not around to give theirs. Together the two of us bonded over the love that we shared for people we knew who weren’t our mothers but who cared for and loved us as though they were.

Looking back on this moment a couple years later and thinking about all the other people I know who share stories similar to ours, I realize how special relationships like these are to children and the adults they will later become. For me this love that I got not just from my grandma but so many other incredible “motherly figures” in my life (including my actual mother) is what helped me to feel confident in myself and my dreams; what gave me strength when things in my life felt hard, and what inspired me to be a more loving person myself. Having those incredible people in my life is what made me who I am today and for that I am forever grateful.

So when you think about the people to celebrate on days like today, remember its not just the ones who share your DNA that deserve that appreciation but all the people who inspired you, who shaped you, who guided you, and who loved you. Because being a mother, father, etc. doesn’t necessarily mean sharing blood. It means making memories, doing things to show you care and being someone people can count on. It is through those deeper relationships with the people in our lives that our image of mothers, fathers, etc. are opened to mean so much more. Having those relationships is what helps us grow into people who are able to give that same kind of love ourselves. The kind of love that creates more adults like ones that inspired and guided us.

It’s Who You Are

“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” – Fredrich Nietzsche

If I asked you right now to tell me about yourself, how do you think you would respond? Would you tell me about your job, your family, your home, your appearance? Or would you think to dive deeper into the depths of your heart and answer me with what you are feeling, what you are thinking, your beliefs, your hopes, your dreams.

When you ask children questions about who they are their answers are often so much deeper than what we would expect. Where we might have an easier time sharing the things that lie on the surface, the things that people can discover simply by scrolling through our Instagrams and Facebooks, for children its what they feel inside that seems to speak to them most. They share what they think and what they feel. They share their happiest moments and their biggest disappoints. They share about what they love, what they hope, and what they need. Just in giving children the same few questions we might give to an adult, for some reason we can learn so much more.

So why is it that children are so much more willing to open themselves up to others? What makes them so capable of showing who they truly are to the world?

In working with children one of my greatest joys has been to see the way that they embrace who they are so fully and honestly everyday. In my time as a teacher there has yet to be a day where I don’t see a child running around in their underwear with dirt smeared across their chest or a child crawling on all fours meowing or attempting to lick their friend holding an imaginary leash. In fact, I don’t think I could count on both hands the amount of times I’ve had to tell a child “It might not work to be a cat, dog, goat (etc.) right now.”

Every day I come to work I am inspired by these children because in spite of how odd we may see these things through our adult eyes, or how surprising we may think it is to see a child hiding under a table with their underwear on their head, the still embrace that beauty of childhood-the permission to be who you want, when you want, regardless of what anyone else things about it.

When I watch children live this truth I am always in awe at the confidence they display and unwavering faith in embracing all the things that connect to their souls. They lean in to life and in doing so live in the most authentic way. But at the same time there’s also this sense of envy that creeps in as my nostalgia reminds me of what it was like to be that carefree, unburdened by the stress and responsibility that so often plagues our adults lives. As I watch the children embracing themselves I start to miss the days when I too could live that way.

But why can’t we still live life this way? What keeps us as adults from living as openly and wholeheartedly as children do?

Once I let my nostalgia pass and ground myself back into reality it’s easy to start to understand why this is. Ideally it would be incredible to be able to live so carefree, unafraid of judgement or criticism, comfortable in our own skin. And while running around in your underwear may be pushing it (although some people may argue that even that’s still okay), why can’t we still embody the same confidence that children at my school display from the minute they walk through our doors?

Unfortunately the answer to that I think is one we are all familiar with, and one that likely poses many barriers to our own authenticity; societies expectations of us. One thing that I realize that stops me when I start to imagine myself letting go and embracing life the way children often do, is the image that might create for me in the context of society as a whole. I mean if we think about it, its much harder to be out-of-the-ordinary when we are constantly being fed the idea that we need to fit into a certain type of mold. Through society, social media, advertising, (etc.) this idea is being reinforced that there is one way act, one way to be, one way to live. And how much harder is it to take risks, open up, and be yourself in a world that tells you people will judge you for that.

We are adults, we are professionals, we are parents, teachers, and on an on. All of these labels being used against us as reasons why not instead of a foundation upon which we are encouraged to figure out how to.

But how do we change this image and make space for ourselves to live with that same freedom?

The great Beyonce once said, “Your self-worth is determined by you. You don’t have to depend on someone telling you who you are.” This is the beauty of what children have and what we as adults need. It’s not necessarily about changing other people’s image of you, its about not waiting for permission. It’s embracing who you are in the moment regardless of the pushback you may get. It’s about finding the best possible spaces, people, and outlets for you to express that person inside of you. Its about you channeling the confidence and self-love of your inner child and allowing yourself to be a little “weird” in pursuit of being you. It’s about simply being yourself, always, and never apologizing. Because it is who you are and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Are You Okay With That?

“Most of us are afraid of being human, afraid of being vulnerable, afraid of exposing our own beauty, afraid of being naked, afraid of shedding our masks off, afraid of relinquishing our defenses, afraid of the only thing that can set us free.” – Daniel Saint

It hit me like a ton of bricks…well actually, it was more like a big red ball. Standing in the yard I hadn’t even seen it coming, a big red blur moving through the yard headed straight at me. That’s when I felt it smack against the side of my head, my hand immediately reaching up to feel the spot where the rubber hit. Momentarily stunned by the bump to my head I looked down to see E’s eyes looking back up at me, her small hand clenching mine a little tighter. With concern in her eyes she asked me, “Are you okay with that?”

That’s when it really hit me, not another ball but the realization that I never had asked myself that question before. It’s something we ask the children at my work all the time. Five simple words that usually act as the foundation through which our children begin to advocate for themselves. Five simple words that allow them to express how they feel, acknowledge their struggles, and move forward with whatever boundaries or changes might help them and those around them grow. Just five simple words.

But for me those words didn’t feel so simple. In fact, when E first asked me this I didn’t really know what to say. For a few seconds I remember standing there looking at her before spitting out an almost robotic “I’m fine” and moving on. Of course E saw right through that and turning away gave me one more small reassurance saying, “That looked like it hurt.”

And you know what, it really did hurt. In fact the more I thought about E’s question the more I wondered why I didn’t just say that, why I couldn’t seem to acknowledge something as simple as being hurt. Every day I watch children share these feelings verbally and non-verbally with each other. Every day I watch them open up, let others in and allow themselves to be seen even when it’s hard and even when it requires our guidance. Almost every day I guide children through this process; so why in that moment couldn’t I advocate for my own feelings?

Something I’ve realized the more I’ve reflected on my own personal journey, is that as adults we don’t always feel safe to share what’s really going on inside. Instead of being open and honest about our feelings in the way that we encourage children to be, we tend to bottle them up or brush them to the side, avoiding any opportunities for other peoples input and the judgement and criticism that may invite.

What’s sad is that these feelings are often based on the true reality how vulnerability is viewed for adults. As we get older I think we are trained to see struggle (both internal and external) as a lack of capability. If we are struggling emotionally we are stigmatized as being weak or defective, making things like therapy or any form of seeking help difficult and terrifying. And if we are struggling with things outside of ourselves like our work we are seen as not being “good enough,” making us work harder for that outside validation instead of actually focusing on the things we need.

With this being the primary input that is received each time we are challenged, it’s no wonder we often shy away from any sort of vulnerability. Think about how much harder it must be to admit you are struggling, let alone ask for help, when you don’t trust that your vulnerability will be met with the empathy and understanding it deserves.

The problem with this is that by avoiding that vulnerability and closing ourselves off from the input and support of anyone else, we are actually stunting our own growth. When we build walls around our feelings we isolate ourselves, not allowing all of who we are to seen by anyone including us. It’s not until we break down those walls and start to invite others in that our struggles really become clear.

Instead of just seeing things from our own perspective we start to see who we are and what we are experiencing reflected back to us through the eyes of the people supporting us. This is what helps us acknowledge our feelings and accept our imperfections. It is what helps us start to set boundaries and make moves to push ourselves forward into true honest growth.

But how do we take that leap into vulnerability? How do we find the courage to allow ourselves to truly be seen?

The answer to this I think was best said by author and speaker Brene Brown who shared that “courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”

One of the biggest worries when we consider leaning in to that vulnerability is that it puts the spotlight on us. It highlights for everyone not just on the things that are joyful or pleasant but the things that are hard. It separates us, puts us in the hot seat, and leaves us open to so many things that are entirely out of our control. But when we lean in and put our true selves out there (even just a little bit), it is that very spotlight that also gives us courage. The courage to acknowledge our feelings even when its hard, to speak up for ourselves and advocate for our needs, to say we are not okay and ask for help, and to open ourselves up to connection, understanding and growth.

And while this may look different for each person, it is essential to all of us. It can be putting yourself out there by sharing more with friends or co-workers, being more open and honest about your feelings, or simply saying “that was hard” from time to time. What’s important to remember is that however you take the leap, and whatever support you need to get there, you are helping yourself grow.

So as hard as it may be to take that first step try not to be afraid, because that vulnerability is what keeps moving us forward. It is what reminds all of us that we are in this together and that struggling is part of the human experience. It is what grounds us and what helps us develop empathy and compassion for other people’s challenges. It is through leaning in to that vulnerability that we change how people see struggle and model for others that it’s perfectly normal to say “i’m not okay” sometimes.


To All the Sensitive Children…

To all the sensitive children, I see you. When you cry out in sadness, anger and frustration, I see you. When your face turns red and hot, your eyes start filling with tears, and your voice shakes, I still see you.

I see you because I was you. A child who wore their heart on their sleeve and who felt things deep in their soul. A child who sometimes cried for no reason, who couldn’t always explain what I was feeling and why. A child who was told “you’re fine” more than “it’s okay to cry.”

I was like you, but we were a little different. Because unlike you I was not as strong and fearless. In fact, I was not nearly as comfortable with my emotions as you are now. I watch you express yourself and wonder what would have happened if I had done the same; if I had been free and open with my emotions even when people told me not to be. I wish I had embraced my emotions the way you do. I wish I had realized that being sensitive was a gift rather than a burden.

While it can be loud and at times unrelenting, it is also powerful. That emotion inside of you is what will connect you to yourself and to others; it is what will help you open your mind. Through feeling that emotion you will move closer to mastering empathy, love and compassion. Through that emotion you will model for other people (adults and children) that sometimes it’s okay to not be okay.

When I see you expressing those things deep inside I think about how much I wish I had done the same. Instead of letting my emotions flow, I questioned the meaning of my tears. I allowed others to define what I was feeling and when I was allowed to feel that way. Instead of using my voice and speaking my truth, I pushed it deep inside and held those feelings tight.

I wasn’t brave like you then. I let my fear of what other people would say or do get in the way of being who I truly am. I let the pressure of other voices prevent me from embracing my true self.

But when I look at you now I see it, that strength, reflected back to me. Through you I see why it’s okay to cry and why we all must sit with our emotions from time to time. Through you I see that these feelings each of us has, the ones that are so raw when we are young and so often subdued when we grow older, are actually beautiful and necessary parts of this life.

So the next time you cry don’t listen to the people who tell you not to. Don’t let anyone quiet your voice out of their own discomfort. And next time you need to yell out to the world yell with purpose because soon you will need that voice to fight for what you believe in and to remind others that they too can express themselves freely and openly. Next time someone says you are “too sensitive” or “too emotional,” just remember there is no such thing. Because you are a deeply feeling person and that is something you can’t and shouldn’t change.

And as you grow and realize that there are people struggling with their emotions, with that expression that comes so naturally to you, remember that you have the power to help them find their voice. So when you meet those people throughout your journey embrace them, let them know you see them too. Remind them that you’ve been there, that we all have, because feeling is human.

Expectation vs. Reality

“The field of creativity that exists within each individual is freed by moving out of ideas of wrong-doing or right-doing.” – Angeles Arrien

“I made a juice box,” J said as he shared with the class his memories of our time together. I giggled at his response and the reactions of the people around who were clearly very curious and confused about how this related to the mural project he had been asked about.

Just the day before in our team meeting I had shared with my co-teachers my plan to create a mural with the children that depicted some of the things they wish could be part of our outside community. I remember very passionately describing some of the visions I already had for what ideas the children would share, the discussion we could have about connecting our ideas, and the deep meaning this mural would hold for the children and our school. The vision, for that moment at least, was bright and beautiful in my mind.

Still sitting with J and the rest of the children, I laughed a little more when other children from my group excitedly shared that they made a juice box too. Memories of our whole group started to flood my mind. I could still see them all sitting so focused on the floor, inspired not by my words but by what seemed like such a random and silly idea from one of their peers. A room full of juice boxes; who would’ve thought that’s where our planning would go.

The question I had asked them was what they thought a community mural might be about, and what we wanted our mural to do for the people seeing it. We had talked just minutes before about some of the murals around Long Beach and how murals like those could make people laugh, feel happy, remember something important, or see something beautiful. Naturally I expected the children to follow my lead on this and start to share similar intentions for their own mural, but working with children is always full of surprises.

At first I was met with “bring people together” a beautiful sentiment that was right on track with what I had hoped for the group. Feeling a little giddy that they had picked up on things so quick I asked the next child to share their idea. “Flamingos!” she exclaimed, clearly passionate about this original vision. “Princesses!” said another child before I could even call her, and “Batman!” yelled another. My face started to scrunch as I thought about how I could possibly shift things back to the intention and vision I had entered the space with. Then another child shared, “Whales. It should be about whales!”

Remembering this moment I almost laughed out loud. Our ideas had moved so far from my original vision to the point where I just had to accept defeat, pass out paper and pens, and let the children’s ideas flow. I had tried a couple times to bring us back to the original question I had in mind but we were already in too deep with their ideas about animals, swirls, and the infamous juice boxes to return. I was forced, as much as tried to fight it, to let things go and to completely follow the lead of the children.

But was that a bad thing?

Sitting on the rug with my group, I looked around at all the children’s faces and smiled as they looked at me with joy in their eyes. It’s was a different joy than I think I had imagined we’d feel but it was joy nonetheless. Just seconds before when my co-teacher asked all the children how they felt about the plans they had done, my heart skipped as everyone in my group put a thumbs up some of them even putting two. They had enjoyed the plan we had done, they had enjoyed their time together, and they enjoyed collaborating even if it was in their own way.

As I reflected on the reality of this plan, and how different it was from my expectation, I realized that the joy these children felt was really what was important. In coming to this plan with my own vision, I almost missed a perfect opportunity not just to let the children be children but also to enjoy that feeling with them. If they had allowed me to do this I realize I would have missed all their quirky ideas, the passion in their voices, and the closeness that I felt between us as we worked and laughed together.

Looking back I am so happy that my expectation wasn’t our reality. It is easy to want to put those expectations on to children (in more ways than one), especially as adults. We have a lot of our own ideas, usually accompanied by a need for control or predictability, but what does that really mean for the children? When I took a step back to look at this process and what it would have done to their children’s flow I realized that our experience would have looked less engaging and a lot less genuine.

Because the children were too passionate about their ideas to let me sway them, they had created something that was about their vision instead of my own. They had explored their imagination, sparked each other’s curiosity, and inspired each other in the most wonderful ways. They had formed ideas that were completely out of the box and started to build an idea that was unlike any I had ever seen before.

So what does that mean for us moving forward?

Well, what I can guarantee as we move forward is that the vision we follow will be one created through all of our ideas and passions. It will be created through laughter, through challenges, and hopefully through joy. But most importantly, it will be one that is uniquely ours; a mural that comes from the children because that is what its about, the children…and juice boxes too, of course.