Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Two little girls and their concepts of what is possible

In Tony Morrison's The Bluest Eye, a  young black(that's the word used in the book) girl, Picola Breedlove,is growing up in a house (not a home)  full of resentment and strife. Her mother is resentful of the white family for whom she works as a housekeeper, and she takes that resentment out on her family with cruelty.  The father is an alcoholic who is unreliable in every way. The time period is the 1940s.

Picola  escapes her reality by dreaming of having the blue eyes of America's little beauty at the time, Shirley Temple.  If you've read even snippets of S.T.'s biography, you know her world was not ideal. However, Piccola is sure her world will change into the wonderful life she longs for, if she just had blue eyes.

The book is disturbing.  Picola's father rapes her.  She is conned by a "spiritualist' into thinking he's changed her eyes to blue. She believes that since she now has the bluest eyes in the world, everyone will love her. Of course, that doesn't happen--neither her eyes turning blue or everyone loving her. Eventually she descends into insanity.

 The book was part of a course called Women's Lit  that I took in college.  I took as many literature classes as I could, and I particularly liked Dr. Michelle.  Her curriculum consisted of books of which I had never heard.  She wanted to expose us to the real world---that world outside the safe small college campus set in a small town in rural Ohio.  Perhaps she didn't realize that no place is exempt from the reality of cruelty or she wanted to make sure we realized it.  I don't know--I never asked.

I was married with two children.  I was trying my best to be happy.   I understood how someone's world could look ideal to someone else.  I have said in describing  that time in my life, and particularly my marriage, that "an ivory tower may be beautiful, but it's still a prison."

 My first husband came from a wealthy family.  My life was viewed by many as perfect.  I helped maintain that lie because of my children and quite frankly, my fear of being on my own without a college degree or any marketable skills.  We did an outstanding job at pretense because the "community"--even some close friends---were shocked when the marriage dissolved.

Ego   Some folks assumed I was a snob because of my married name.  But if they permitted themselves to get to know me, they discovered I was just an ordinary person who didn't think I was  better than anyone else and who actually had a lot of insecurities.  I wasn't egotistical---I was shy and wary and just trying to "keep it together."

I had and still have zero patience with egotistical people who think a name or some other ridiculous characteristic or aspect of their lives make them above others.   As a preacher's kid, I especially struggle with the 'holier than thou' folks who conveniently forget God's Word about judging others.

As a teacher, each year I have at least one Picola and one Shirley Temple ( and sometimes a 'holier than thou'). Sometimes the Shirley Temple is maintaining a facade, but sometimes her actions clearly point to a belief that she is truly better.  I'm using the female gender, but both types are found in male students also.

 I had a group this year that oozed entitlement.  There was one boy in particular.  He was a  freshmen and already a star athlete.  He was good-looking, charismatic, and fairly smart. He dressed well and had a circle of friends who doted on him and even covered for him.  From that vantage point he stepped on many kids.  He also challenged teachers when he didn't get his way. He looked a teacher in the eyes and insisted he hadn't cheated even though she had watched him do it.

By late winter/early spring, he and I were on a collision course because of his treatment of others and me.  Then one day he said some cruel words to a girl with  very low self-esteem who several of us teachers were daily working on keeping in school (she was a senior and wanting to drop out). Her mother was fighting cancer and the home life situation wasn't good. He hit her with the cruel words when she was already on the ground.  I had worked with this girl for four years.  I "saw red" as the expression goes. 

This isn't the time to give the details except to say I followed the rules of our district.  I had been documenting other incidents and had spoken to the boy as had another teacher.  I went further---I called both his parents and spoke to them  not only as a teacher but as one parent to another.   I did care about the boy and I didn't want his ego to eventually destroy him any more than I wanted it to destroy another student. There is a lot of good in this kid, but his ego and sense of entitlement is mind-boggling.  The Picolas in this world are to him  just balls meant to be kicked.

Ego-- it can destroy us and others.

Now, let me introduce you to another little girl-- my wee Irish lass.  She's three and the youngest of my son's four children.  She loves everything having to do with princesses.  She dresses up in the princess dresses and the plastic heels.  She picked out a Princess plate, bowl, and a fork and spoon set at Walmart.  She ate all her meals and snacks with those.  I had her for four days.  I learned a lot in that short time.  I mentioned one of those 'facts' in my previous blog.

That fact? Cinderella has bright purplish pink hair. The markers in the Princess coloring book packet did not have a true red.  There was yellow, and in another set there were brown and black markers, but Addy was adamant that none of these be used on Cinderella's hair.  The purplish pink marker was the closest to red.  The Irish lass has red hair.  So Cinderella has red hair.  It's as simple as that.  Addy doesn't see why the girl in the story has to have blonde hair.  The girl could have any color, but in Addy's world, it's red.

 I'm not surmising that Addy thinks a prince will come along on a white horse and 'save' her.  She's only three--she has no concept of that yet, and considering the strong women who have a hand in raising her, I doubt that she will buy into that fairy tale.  No Addy just sees that she can be whoever she wants to be --even Cinderella.  And if any boy tries to tell her differently in the future with cruel words meant to cripple her, I pray she will stand her ground and set him straight.

He who is greatest among you shall be your servant.  Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be raised to honor.     Matthew 23: 11, 12

The following is a prayer from a book I use every night before turning off the light.  It's called A Book of Prayer by Stormie Martian.

Lord, help me be a person who speaks words that build up and not tear down. Help me to speak life into the situations and people around me, and not death.  Fill my heart afresh each day with Your Holy Spirit so that Your love and goodness overflow from my heart and my mouth.  Holy Spirit of truth, guide me in all truth.   Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer (Psalm 19:14).  May every word I speak reflect Your purity and love.

For more on ego, drop in at Bridget Chumbley's blog carnival-one word at a time.


  1. A post likes this one comes right out of life, experience, pain and compassion. It's a beautiful thing you've written here.

  2. You have so many experiences for others to learn from.

  3. So very much here. Can I start from the bottom and work up?

    I love (and prayed) that prayer. Might have to get that book.

    Your "Irish Lass" is so obviously loved. No wonder she knows she is as beautiful as Cinderella. May she ALWAYS know love.

    I think your students are very lucky to have you in their corner.

    Thanks for so eloquently sharing your life. It's true that perfect on the outside can often conceal real pain on the inside. We need the love of God, I think, to see beyond the obvious and into the real. He did that. I pray that I can see people like He did.

  4. I like the tiara and the princess dress!

  5. I appreciate your interest in your students and your willingness to go the extra mile with them.

  6. you are right about when the "i" focus gets carried away, the "we" and "other" gets a little blurry.

    i am thankful for the Love and time that you spend with your family and students.

  7. You must be a very caring, observant teacher, one who looks beyond the masks and the facades and sees the deep needs of students. You can do that because of life lessons learned in your past - and because God uses your sensitive spirit. May God bless you as you continue to reach out to others!

  8. Lots to consider in your examples. Thanks so much for sharing this with us.

  9. Did his parents... or others ... turn this around a bit? It's so hard to watch people who have been sucked into their "selves" to the extent that there is/won't be any support when "self" is left to carry all the weight of life.


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