Wednesday, May 8, 2013

It's Safe Here (I think)

"Your mouth is going to get you in trouble."

I've said this to my oldest daughter about 83 gazillion times. At 7-years-old the child has an astounding vocabulary and is quick on her feet. She can argue with the best of them. While I used to consider myself a part of that club, I have quickly realized she's gonna give me a run for my money. To the point where, at times, I simply have to pull rank and end the "discussion" with, "Because I said so." After which I mumble to myself, "I have two bachelors degrees, I'm a grad student, I daily teach teenagers how to write and speak articulately. I can handle a 7-year-old." (Then I go hide in the pantry where I may or may not eat myself into oblivion with a jar of Nutella and a butter knife.)

Yet I'm finding that more and more kids are never taught to control their mouths. They say whatever comes into their heads, and deal with the consequences later--if consequences come at all. On Twitter, I was following a young sibling of a former student (did you follow that?) and finally "unfollowed" the kid because I couldn't stand to read the vulgarity spewing from his manically tweeting fingers. 

As a teacher I've had kids in class who continue conversations despite an authority figure in the front calling for quiet, giving directions, or offering instruction. They carry on as though I should wait until they've satisfactorily wrapped up their dialogue about hair products or how "lame" their mom is being about the whole room-cleaning thing. (Like, for real?)

And now in the news I'm reading that an Oklahoma man was jailed because he wouldn't keep his mouth shut in front of a judge in court--this was a juror, not a defendant, who twice showed up late for jury duty! (Dude, everyone knows you don't sass a judge.)

Yet, how many times do I find myself saying too much. As a story-teller there are times when my drive to tell a story overrides the warning bells that clang about the approaching "line", which I cross heedlessly. Until afterwards when I think, "I really shouldn't have said that." I do the same with my kids. With my husband. My mouth gets me in trouble. And then I hear my dad's voice in my head telling me as a child, "You need to know when to keep your mouth shut."


Believe it or not, I don't, in fact, need the last word. I don't have to always be right. The world will still revolve even if I don't win every argument or if I refrain from sending that final zinger that I know will make the pot boil over. Because words can carry some serious intensity. The wise King Solomon said, "The tongue has the power of life and death." Dang, them are powerful words. 

It reminds me of a little 6-year-old I knew years ago when I worked at a residential facility. He had been severely abused and was, consequently, lashing out. That's how he ended up with us. I worked evening shift and would put him to bed each night. After several months with us, the Powers-That-Be informed him that he was to be transferred to a longer-term facility. The night before he left he started to cry. I sat on his bed and tried to comfort him. "It will be okay," I said. "This new place is wonderful, the people are very kind."

And he looked up with big, tearful eyes and said, "But it's safe here."

Even now, thinking of that little guy and his words, makes my eyes fill. All he wanted was a safe place. I think that's all anyone wants. And no home, no person, is safe when words are being thrown around thoughtlessly. I want to be a safe place for my family, for my friends, for anyone with whom I come in contact.

So I suppose my dad must be right, I do need to learn how to recognize those moments when my mouth needs to stay closed. When the words in my head need to just stay there. And I need to somehow teach that to a 7-year-old. Because, Lord help me, no child of mine will be in the news for back-talking a judge. 

PS: This is my 50th blog post! Who knew I had that much to say!

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  1. This was really wonderful. I've been astounded by the vitriol and venom being spewed all over the Twittersphere, particularly when it follows closely on the heels of tragedy. I do not believe in censorship, nor do I relief in revoking anyone's rights to free speech. But I do believe in courtesy and common decency. And I believe that sometimes, adhering to the "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all" policy is a good idea. Words have immense power, to build and to destroy. And I think that the world would be a better place if we were more conscience to use them for the former. Great post, Anna!

    1. Thanks, Kate - I agree. I firmly believe in our 1st amendment rights. However, rights should also evoke a sense of responsibility. Otherwise freedom simply runs amuck--and, as you mentioned, we see it daily on Twitter (among other places).

  2. Ah, a kindred spirit. I loved this post from beginning to end.

    Sometimes I feel like wearing a sandwich board inscribed with a disclaimer. :-)

    1. Yes! Those sandwich boards would be so handy! My sandwich board would probably have something along the lines of an apology, mostly because that's what I feel like I'm constantly having to do.

      Thanks, Tabitha :)


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