OK – this has nothing to do with divorce – or maybe it does. Valentine’s Day. Yes, I know, it was two weeks ago. And for people going through divorce, Valentine’s Day was perhaps just another day. On the other hand, if you have young children, they exude an energy on Valentine’s Day that helps remind us of the deep and unconditional love we feel for our kids. This year, I can’t help but think about the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. Going forward, what will Valentine’s Day mean to THEM? Will it be a reminder of the terror, shock, and incredibly grief they experienced? And for the parents of the victims, what will the day represent? Locally, and just one week after the Florida incident, Orono High School was on lock-down due to a threat from a student who is on the autism spectrum. Minnesotans are educated and smart and we know that kids with ASD are not dangerous. The community of Orono responded in a very Minnesotan way: a GoFundMe page was created for the family of the child who made the threat. Unfortunately, the boy is sitting in Hennepin County Juvenile Detention Center where a kid with ASD absolutely does NOT belong. Some kids on the spectrum may be impulsive and may not understand how their actions can impact others. They can’t always articulate how and what they feel, so they may not feel heard or understood and may respond in an extreme manner. They aren’t trying to be difficult or make inappropriate choices. But they can’t always discern socially acceptable behavior. The agony this poor boy and his family must feeling! This might be the first time where the perspective of the “actor” in a school down is illustrated, and more empathy and compassion are generated. I feel for ALL the families involved. School lock downs are now a reality for any parent with school-aged children. It makes my heart ache. And so many hearts were truly shattered this Valentine’s Day. Yet here we are, a week later, and a family’s heart is breaking in Orono. It’s overwhelming to see a community embrace this child and his family. But then again, it DOES take a village. So let’s take better care of our village. Let’s take better care of our kids…ALL our kids. Let’s embrace the big and small. Athletic and musical. Quiet and loud. Different and unique. All kids with all abilities. We can do this if we: put down our devices and listen, really LISTEN to our kids. Listen to our neighbors’ kids. Play hide and seek. Yes, I’m serious. It’s fun! Play Chutes and Ladders…again (ok, not so fun). Read Captain Underpants for the umpteenth time. And laugh – genuinely laugh! Your kids will love you for it! And…reduce kids’ screen time and get them the heck off social media. They don’t need it. They WANT it, but their brains just…can’t…handle it. And to be perfectly honest, maybe our grown-up brains can’t either. Instead, dust off your old copies of Charlotte’s Web, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, and Harry Potter. Have your older kids read to you. You’d be surprised what you might learn this time around.
Making online connections is easier than ever with modern social media apps. It is not necessary to know someone at all, let alone to know them well, in order to see their profiles and get an idea of who they are and what kind of life they lead. In times before this technology, community life and networking were very different. Getting to know someone happened face to face, and gossip was spread by word of mouth. With everyone having technology in their pockets these days, deciding who is relevant to your life seems like an easy task. The everyday interactions we have with people while out and about are often with perfect strangers, and not many of us put much effort into these encounters. Treating any person you meet with respect and dignity is a basic human courtesy, but in the midst of our busy schedules, we often forget this. In All I really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarden, author Robert Fulghum sums up relationships in communities like this:
“Without realizing it, we fill important places in each other’s lives. It’s that way with the guy at the corner grocery, the mechanic at the local garage, the family doctor, teachers, neighbors, coworkers. Good people who are always “there,” who can be relied upon in small, important ways…. And, of course, we fill that role ourselves. There are those who depend on us, watch us, learn from us, take from us. And we never know.”If you assume your neighbor is not relevant to you, you may never realize who they actually are. Paying attention to the real people that live down the street is just as important – more important – as curating an impressive list of LinkedIn connections or Facebook friends. Consider making a connection with the person behind the online profile.