Having lived in a number of corrupt countries, I have been provided with the character building opportunities of interacting with some truly shady individuals, many of whom are in leadership roles that impact my work environment. As a result, I have been thinking about what creates these sorts of people, and how we can teach children different ways of being. In my reflections, I started to think about how I learned about character, and realized that it was through little lessons along the way.
When I was in my rebellious youth phase of life, there was a trend amongst my fellow rebellious youthers to wear bowling shoes as some sort of statement. These mismatched shoes were an outward sign that one did not kowtow to the name-brand nonsense that was meant to give you some value, some sense of "fitting-in." On a bigger level, they declared to the popular crowd: I am not like you, and I don't want to be.
The shoes were also a small badge of accomplishment, because to attain them, one had to go bowling and sneak the shoes out of the establishment. The really sly were able to get their personal shoes back- the ones you had to hand in so that you could have a pair of Bowl-O-Rama shoes in the first place. The less talented shoe swappers just wore a pair of shoes they were ready to depart with, making a sort of swapping deal without the consent of Bowl-O-Rama management.
I was one of the sly ones. No one suspected that I was capable of a covert bowling shoe operation, and so I pretty much went unnoticed by the Bowl-O-rama people. I was proud of the badges I wore on my feet, until my Dad took notice.
When he saw that I was wearing shoes I did not acquire honestly, the immense look of disappointment on my father's face was a warm-up for the lesson I was about to learn. He sat me down and calmly, quietly explained that I needed to think about the impact of my actions. He talked me through the perspective of the owner of the bowling alley, a man who worked hard to have what he had. He helped me to see that, by taking these bowling shoes, I was impacting this business man's ability to be as successful as he should be, perhaps even impacting his ability to employ people who truly needed work. My seemingly small actions were put into a larger perspective, and I could see how my one small deed had a negative ripple effect.
My father also went on to explain the importance of character; how I could be one who goes along with what others were doing (by participating, or by just quietly standing by) or how I could speak out when I saw that something not right was happening. He helped me to see that I had to make these choices every single day, sometimes in little and sometimes in big ways. "You are a natural leader," he said to me, "you can choose to lead in a powerful and positive way, or you can lead in a way that has negative ripple effects on your community. You can have the choice."
After our talk, he guided me towards returning the shoes to the owner. My belly was in knots as my father drove up to the front of the building, slowing at the entrance so that I could go in solo. (A quiet gesture of trust) The shoe return could have gone two ways: I could have quietly dropped the shoes at the counter, or I could have handed them over explaining what I did wrong, and then apologize. I chose to speak the words, and take ownership of my actions. In all honesty, I did that so I could regain some respect from my father, and somehow make him proud. He wouldn't have known either way which action I chose; he was in the car waiting, trusting that I would do the right thing.
As I handed the shoes over, the Bowl-O-Rama manager's response was a big relief: he smiled wide, shook my hand, and said he was amazed at how big and brave I was, for such a small person. "No one has ever done that before," he said, "you must be a girl with a lot of integrity." (Integrity? Me? I stole the shoes!) "No," I meekly responded, "I'm just a girl with a really smart dad."
Edem often delays our departures in the morning. He has a long arsenal of stall tactics: he has to switch to a different pair of underwear; he wants a different uniform shirt (they are all the same); OOPS! he forgot to eat! This despite my constant urging and his reply of: "I am not hungry!"; his imaginary pet shark is lonely/hungry/out of the pool; the stuffed dolphin might miss him... The list is long, and the range of tactics grows more and more clever as the week wears on. My patience, on the other hand, grows shorter.
There is one thing that Edem does every morning that I was seeing as another way to delay the start of our day, (Making me late for work) and this is picking flowers for me to wear in my hair. He gives them to me every single morning. Most days, I am too exasperated and frazzled by the point of delivery to appreciate his little gesture.
My gratitude practice has, as I previously mentioned, forced me to slow down a bit and take notice of the little wonderful things in my days. Today, I truly took notice of Edem's love of flowers and his even greater love of giving them to me for my hair. Unlike most frazzledy days, today I took the time to look at the flower with him, smelling it and commenting on the texture. We looked at the stunning yellowy-orange stamen and the ruffly edges of the bright red hibiscus petals, and we wondered what it would be like if flowers could be used like crayons to color the world around us.
I was late for work, by about 3 minutes, but we were happy the whole ride there. Edem was thrilled to tell anyone within ear-shot that his mommy was wearing his flower in her hair. 3 minutes; that is all it really took to stop and appreciate the lovely gesture handed over by my son.
I realize, as I write this, that my son is not going to be jumping at the opportunity to gift me with flowers for my hair forever. At some point, he will be the one racing out the door, trying to get to one place or another. Now is the time to slow down, to accept his offerings, and build on the little special moments that make motherhood so special. Not only am I grateful for his gifts, I am also grateful for the opportunity to slow down and receive them. I am grateful that I have seen, before it is too late, how precious these moments are.
We are lucky: we live in a time when people are studying happiness and trying to uncover the secrets to obtaining it, and then sharing their findings with the rest of us. My life has been made better by the sharing of these pursuits. Here are just a few sites that I am grateful for, and would like to share with you. If you are on a quest for eking as much joy and happiness out of your life as possible, you might find some inspiration in these wonderful little gems.
1. TUT: I get wonderful little "notes from the universe" from this site. Every morning for seven years, they have come into my inbox, and every time they do, I giggle with delight at their wonderfulness. Sweet little notes from the universe in your inbox, how great is that?
2. Positively Positive: This started out as a FB page hoping to get 1,000 Likers. I started to follow it back when I was sick of only hearing the negative in the world. Now t has grown into a wonderful site filled with excellent blogs to help keep you moving in a positive direction.
3.The Daily Love: Mastin Kip is a fabulous life coach and spreader of Love. Check it out.
4. Thank A Day: This one is new to me; it came by a suggestion as a comment in myHuffington Post piece on gratitude. Seems like a great way to get a gratitude practice off the ground.
5. Upworthy: These kind folks send articles from news sources around the globe. Their mission is to spread the "upworthy" news. Weekly, I get an email spreading the news.
6.The Happiness Project: Gretchin Rubin would be my coffee friend if we were neighbors, whether she is happy about that or not. Read the book. :-)
7.Happy, the Movie: If you want to see a fabulous movie on the science of happiness, run to your Itunes account and purchase this worthwhile flick.
I hope that you enjoy these resources; I am grateful for the goodness they have brought into my world. Do you have any sites that you follow that help spread the good stuff? Share them here and I will check them out!
Have a gratitude worthy day!
I woke up at 4:30 this morning. I couldn't get back to sleep, so I just went with it. I am glad I did. It gave me the opportunity to sit and enjoy this beautiful morning serenade.
I've been thinking a lot these last few days about how much I have grown since arriving in Bali. In some very clear ways, I think I have worked through some clutter and arrived on the other side a much stronger woman.
Today's list is one of reflection and of taking note of the ways that I have grown.
1. I have learned to recognize my self worth, and understand that I am a very valuable human being. We all are; we just don't all yet know it.
2. I grew a back bone and learned to stand up for myself. I have always been a warrior for the underdog, my friends, my family, my son. Now, I am a warrior for me.
3. I listen to, and act upon, my gut instinct. In the past, I acknowledged my gut instinct, often muzzled it, and then did what was best for others. I paid the price. Now I tune in, listen, and take action.
4. I have learned that I have to do what is right for Edem and I above all else.
5. I have embraced my inner human-being; I have learned to be more open and talk about my fears and moments of failure. It feels great to get it out there, and others tend to open up more when I do.
6. I have accepted the fact that I am not capable of wearing a super hero cape all the time. Even Superman takes his off now and again.
7. I have learned the importance of ME time, and valuing that as equally as the time that I invest in my work. You know what? The world doesn't fall apart when I don't get everything on my To-Do list accomplished, but I do fall apart when I don't make time for self care.
8. When adventure calls, I jump. Saying YES to life is awesome.
9. Hearing "NO" is ok.
10. The most valuable lesson I have learned is that we teach others how to treat us; If someone is constantly treating you with less love, respect, and honor than you deserve, it is ultimately because you have given them permission to do so. Take that permission away; sometimes that means you have to walk away. It isn't easy, but baby, YOU ARE WORTH IT. (See 1-9)
How about you? What valuable lessons have you learned this year? Share them; I am sure we can all learn from each other.
The Not--a-Superhero Learning Machine.
Today I took note of the fact that I am starting to slow down a bit, to linger on the good moments and to allow a breath or two to pass before moving forward. For me, this is a new practice. When something great comes along, or when something goes right, I often let it glide by, taking for granted the good stuff, and then take a breath and stew when something goes wrong. With my gratitude goggles on, I notice, and take a minute to appreciate, a lot of little little things that deserve a spot on a gratitude list. So, here goes: Day Seven, a list of the little greatnesses.
1. Edem got up and dressed and then fed himself before I even realized that he was awake.
2. There was little traffic on the way to work, and I seemed to get only green lights.
3. My students surprised me by organizing themselves and getting started right away with morning routines.
4. One of my students, who has been really struggling, gave me a hug today and thanked me for the extra time that I give to her. "I know I am getting smarter, "she said, "And soon you can give your time to someone else!"
5. I had two wonderful opportunities/possibilities come my way. (To be shared soon!)
6. I saw a truly stunning lotus opening in a garden.
7. I am working on a committee with a woman whose insights taught me a few great things about design and sourcing.
8.Just as I turned the car on, a song I love started on the radio.
9. I had alone time in the car on the way home from work.
10. Edem squeeled with delight and ran to hug me when I walked through the door. Yeah for feeling loved!
I woke up this morning, feeling well rested, to find a quiet day ready to unfold before me. Blue skies dimpled with delicate clouds, sun peeking through the Royal palm to present streaks of lavender. Quiet time. Alone time. Space to think and marvel, reflect and wonder. Time for a cup of coffee before growing feet patters hit the floor. When the owner of these tiny feet finally awoke, it was with a smile and arms stretched wide, waiting for a hug. There was time for snuggle, opportunity for tickles, and plenty of laughter to follow. A perfect morning, as mornings go.
Edem and I readied ourselves for Sunday shopping; just as we were heading out to make our day one we could declare productive, a phone call came. The beloved friend's voice extended an invitation to brunch followed by the beach. Bali family time was on the invite, and we graciously accepted.
The remainder of our day was filled with sunny perfection. The only difficult choices in front of me came when I needed to decide between a dip in the pool or a dip in the ocean. The decision was made over and over again. Pool. Ocean. Ocean. Pool. Edem even found a friend to occupy his time and fill his afternoon with giggles and sand castles.
Time. Gorgeously spent. A perfect day.
It was only a week ago that I stepped back into a practice of mindfully recording that for which I feel grateful. One week ago, I was having one of the worst days possible, and was then catapulted back to reality: I have it pretty good. I needed to remember that fact, and take stock of all that I have before me. Each day since has presented itself with more and more opportunities to take note of the wonderfulness that is in my life.
Some people say that a practice of gratitude increases your returns- when you are grateful, more good will come your way. I believe this. And I also believe that we see what we open our eyes to, receive what we seek. If it is ugliness goggles that I wear, it is ugliness that I will see. If we believe in a world of deception and mistrust, we will be deceived, and betrayed. Because that is what we look for. That is what we draw to ourselves.
This week has reminded me of something: I live in a wonderful world, filled with ups and downs, opportunities to grow and learn. I can choose to live in gratitude, and receive more of the goodness that is up for offer, or I can choose something else. Gratitude feels good. It feels great to be drawing strength and beauty my way, opportunity and grace. And so, that is the direction I want to go in. I want to cultivate more of this good stuff. I want to choose happiness. And so I am consciously choosing to stay in gratitude.
For this lesson, for this week, for this day, I am eternally grateful.
How has your week gone? Are you finding the good in each day, and giving thanks?
Bali has been a great gift for us. I am incredibly, endlessly grateful to have been welcomed in and embraced so fully. This is a magical island, one that teaches and pushes, nurtures and guides. I give thanks each day, every time I see the sunrise and set, the moon wax and wane. I give thanks with the sight of offerings being made and the reminder that we must take a moment to express our gratitude and show humility. Bali has etched her beauty into my heart and I have been chiseled into a better person.
I have been granted with one of the greatest gifts in the world, and his name is Edem James Threlfall Kwashie. He is head strong, curious, loving, brazen, bold, independent, challenging, thought provoking, out- spoken, creative, smart, loud, brave, and a handful. And I am thankful for all of it. (Ok, OK, there are moments when I wouldn't mind a less headstrong and independent son under my charge...)
I am also incredibly thankful for all of the people who are helping me to nurture this gift from above, guiding him towards being the best that he can be. Edem is a force to be reckoned with, and I couldn't do it alone. I am filled with gratitude that I don't have to.
Here is a little clip of Edem reading, evidence that his teachers are doing a fabulous job. It is also evidence of Edem's creative spirit; this recording was his idea. He directed every bit of it, including my part in this "Story Time with Edem" blue feature. He dedicated it to Memo and Bampa, whom he wishes were here to read him a bedtime story.
Erin and Edem
Erin Michelle Threlfall
Theatre Artist, Activist, and Educator, Erin is the mother of a budding genius in his 7th year of study. Erin and her little man, Edem, have a plan to investigate world theatre and influence education one continent at a time. Ghana, South Korea, Togo and Bali have been checked off the list of places to live; these days they call Brooklyn home.