Our weather has been beautiful lately, which means that I can be an outdoor runner again. God, I love running. As in “Thank God I can run all of this out.”
This week my heart felt very,very heavy. I have kids I work with every day who, in a very real sense, I am raising for a year, and they have a LOT of junk right now: wrestling with family imprisonments, mourning the loss of a lice infested house via fire, possible removal from mothers… JUNK. It manifests itself in various, unbecoming ways in the classroom and GOD (!) it is exhausting in every sense of the word. I cry out all day in my head, and sometimes audibly, GOD! JESUS!, because I don’t know what else to do and I’ve been in this gig long enough to know that the cycle just repeats year after year after year after year… The effort seems so futile. (This is why teachers need breaks and the inner city sees so much burnout. It takes a LOT of effort to continue to look for the small victories among the massive breakdown fallout.)
I just read a fantastic book called How Children Succeed by Paul Tough. He breaks down studies and research showing that IQ actually has less to do with lifelong success than having a secure set of character strengths, namely things such as: grit, self-control, zest, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism, and curiosity. A majority of my students have… NONE OF THESE. (Not uncommon in children growing up in stressful/traumatic households, particularly within the culture of poverty.) Tough shows ways that these can actually be taught; the part of the brain that houses these traits is malleable, whereas IQ is generally believed to be nonmalleable. The entire book was like an enormous relieved sigh for me, as I have believed this for years and felt a smirk of contentment that someone has actually done the legwork to show what I already felt to be true. It was an incredibly reassuring and hopeful book- I highly recommend it- but it doesn’t detract from the fact that American public schools are not convinced of this and so I am stuck trying to figure out ways to instill these traits amidst test prep and cram, cram, cramming book knowledge into my kids who are primarily focused on hoarding the leftover snacks to take home.
Suffice it to say, my brain was on overdrive this week, (Saturday we also had a play date with Isaac’s bio family after a 6 month break so THAT did the opposite of decreasing anxiety), and I was near a breaking point after coping all of the broken families around me every day. Running is my drug of choice in this state. Merlot is a solid, reliable, faithful option, but feels more like a brain pause. Running is like a temporary brain transplant. It is taxing enough that I honestly feel like I can turn off my entire emotional brain and concentrate solely on the primal need to focus on muscle control and telling which body parts to move where and at what speed. Yoga is on a related plane, but reaches a similar place through strategically calming my body down. When I feel anxiety laced with the anger developed through an utter sense of hopelessness however, running allows me to be furious while simultaneously dispelling it by pushing myself harder – faster. I ran to Travie McCoy, Matisyahu, Purity Ring, and internalized music to accomplish the satisfying burnout of a hard, angry run on a seemingly contradictory beautiful Spring evening.
Our play date went unexpectedly smoothly and, come Monday, I will head into my classroom full of my other ‘babies’ and be refreshed just enough to try to find more ways to show love amidst their trauma manifestations of kicking furniture and authority defiance and fighting. I will recall the run I had Saturday morning and, like a hit of an illicit drug, I will remember that it IS possible to get outside of myself when things seem hopeless. When I again begin to feel like I may explode with the weight of the ways we are failing our kids, I can run it out enough to uncover at least enough optimism for a few more small successes.