It happened months ago and yet it's had a profound effect on me, my writing and my understanding. It was an innocent moment that touched me deeply. Ruby, now nearly four, was with us and in our care. She was trying to do something in the front room and she got frustrated. She said to herself, 'I'm just so stupid.' I was instantly upset and called her over to me. She came, being a fairly obedient child, with lip trembling with frustration. I took her by her shoulders and looked her in the eye. She knew this was serious. I said, 'You will never say anything about Ruby like that again, not here with me.' She said, with not a little bit of defiance, 'Why not?' I said, 'Because I love Ruby and no-one says anything bad about little girls that I love.' She reached up and gave me a big hug and was soon back at play.
Later on, she got frustrated again, this time she looked over at me and then a big grin spread over her face. Nothing was said but a lot was communicated.
This incident stayed in my mind. Germinating. When working with the self-esteem team at Vita on an article that is being written for Exceptional Family a Canadian magazine for parents, family and other care providers as part of a 2 year series on teaching children with disabilities skills to live in the real world, the idea made it's way in. Not just to the article but to our teaching as well. I mean why would you let your child say something about themselves that you'd not let a neighbour say, that you'd get litigious over a teacher saying? Why do they get a free pass for verbal abuse? It's not OK to demean someone I care about, and I care about you, so STOP IT.
From there, it's made it's way into my teaching. The first time I told the story of Ruby's frustration and our little confrontation, I saw eyes well up with tears in the audience. I'm thinking that this idea is way more revolutionary than I first thought. I wonder how many of those listening regularly verbally attack themselves, verbally harass and harangue their very being. I know I do. Regularly. Less regularly now. Less regularly since I had a conversation with a little girl.
I have worked really hard for many years towards the idea of safe places and safe harbours, of sanctuary. But what good is a safe place without when there isn't a safe place within? We live in the real world with real people, we are brought up with real parents with who have both skills and failings, we begin to take judgement from without and become judgemental within. Judge not lest ye also be judged may not be about eternal judgement but internal judgement. We may live a life in hell simply because we are not fit to care for ourselves, simply because we do not have the controls within that we try to exercise without. Perhaps we need to learn to treat ourselves with kindness - that is not to say that we should not have expectations of ourselves and engage in honest self evaluation. But who says that self evaluation need be cruel. Why can't failure lead to learning not lashing?
Ruby knows I love her and she knows that I will not allow her to badmouth herself. She's only 4 and at 40 she may not remember that moment and she may not remember me. But I hope she remembers the lesson and when she gets frustrated, I hope, really hope, she takes a break and then ... smiles.