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A Shift to Compassion, Care, and Connection

Every child needs to belong, to be loved, to be seen as capable, to be respected, and valued. These remain essential emotional needs of every human being.

Both my parents died this last year within six months of each other. My sister kindly and generously gathered together and mailed me two boxes of photos and memorabilia from my parents’ house that I began sorting through yesterday. I found a book of writing that I had gifted my mother.

Here is one of the notes I shared with my mother:

“Mom, thank you for being a ‘Mrs. Thompson’ in so many children’s lives.”

Then in my handwriting, I had written her this story that I had heard shared by Dr. Wayne Dyer.

The Teddy Story

There is a story many years ago of an elementary school teacher. Her name was Mrs. Thompson. As she stood in front of her 5th-grade class on the first day of school she told the children a lie. Like most schoolteachers, she looked at her students and said she loved them all the same. But that was impossible because there in the front row slumped in his seat was a little boy named Teddy Stoddard.

Mrs. Thompson had watched Teddy the year before and noticed that he didn’t play well with the other children, that his clothes were messy, and he constantly needed a bath. Teddy could be unpleasant, and it got to the point where Mrs. Thompson would take delight in marking his papers with a broad red pen putting a big “F” at the top of his papers.

At the school where Mrs. Thompson taught was required to review each child’s past records and she put Teddy’s off until last. However, when she reviewed his file she was in for a surprise. Teddy’s first-grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is a bright child with a ready laugh. He does his work neatly, has good manners. He is a joy to be around.”  His 2nd-grade teacher wrote. “Teddy is an excellent student, well-liked by his classmates, but he is troubled because his mother has a terminal illness, and life at home must be a struggle.”

His 3rd-grade teacher wrote, “His mother’s death has been hard on him. He tries to do his best, but his father doesn’t show much interest and his home life will soon affect him if steps aren’t taken.” Teddy’s 4th-grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is withdrawn and doesn’t show much interest in school. He doesn’t have many friends and sometimes he even sleeps in class.”

By now Mrs. Thompson realized the problem and was ashamed of herself. She felt even worse when her students brought her Christmas packages wrapped in beautiful ribbons and bright paper except for Teddy’s. His present was clumsily wrapped in heavy brown paper that he got from the grocery bag. Mrs. Thompson took pains to open it in the middle of the other presents. Some of the children started to laugh when she found a rhinestone bracelet with some of the stones missing and a bottle, a quarter full of perfume, but she stifled the children’s laughter when she exclaimed how pretty the bracelet was as she put it on and dabbed some of the perfume on her wrist. Teddy Stoddard stayed after school that day just long enough to say, “Mrs. Thompson, you smelled just like my mom used to!” After the children left, she cried for almost an hour.

On that very day, she quit teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic, and instead she began teaching children. Mrs. Thompson paid particular attention to Teddy as she worked with him and his mind seemed to come alive. The more she encouraged him the faster he responded. By the end of the year Teddy had become one of the smartest children in the class and despite her lie became one of her beloved students. A year later she found a note under the door from Teddy telling her she was the best teacher he had ever had in his life.

Four years after that she got another letter saying that while things had been tough at times, he stayed in school and stuck with it and would soon graduate from college with the highest honors. He assured Mrs. Thompson that she was still the best and most favorite teacher he ever had in his whole life.

Then four more years passed and yet another letter came. This time he explained that after he got his bachelor’s degree, he decided to go a little further. The letter explained that she was still the best and most favorite teacher he had, but now his name was a little longer. It was signed, “Theodore F. Stoddard, M.D.”

But the story doesn’t end there. You see there was yet another letter that spring. Teddy said he had met this girl and was going to be married. He explained that his father had died a couple of years ago and was wondering if Mrs. Thompson might agree to sit in the place at the wedding that was usually reserved for the mother of the groom. Of course, Mrs. Thompson did and guess what? She wore that bracelet with several rhinestones missing and she made sure she wore the perfume Teddy remembered his mom wearing on their last Christmas together. They hugged each other and Dr. Stoddard whispered in Mrs. Thompson’s ear, “Thank you so much for making me feel important and showing me that I could make a difference.” Mrs. Thompson came with tears in her eyes and whispered back, “Teddy, you have it all wrong. You were the one who taught me that I could make a difference. I didn’t know how to teach till I met you.”
____________________

I know my mother struggled in her interactions with me in countless ways, but I also know she passionately cared about her students in much the same way that Mrs. Thompson did. Being able to see another human being through eyes of compassion and a breadth of understanding remains such an important, essential gift of being a human being, of becoming the love we want to experience in our world.

May you discover the courage to set aside poisonous righteousness about another human being and become curious to understand the behaviors, unspoken commitments, heartbreaks, and sometimes disguised skills or talents of another person. May you know you are valued, loved, respected, capable, and that you matter to our world.

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Laura Staley
Laura Staleyhttp://www.cherishyourworld.com
The founder of Cherish Your World, Laura Staley passionately helps people thrive by guiding them to a holistic transformation of space, heart, mind, body, and soul. Laura knows that there’s a relationship between the conditions of our homes or workplaces and the quality of our lives. Trained and certified with the Western School of Feng Shui and seasoned by almost two decades of working with a variety of clients, Laura uses her intuition and expertise to empower her clients to produce remarkable results in their lives. Her trifecta of serving people includes speaking, writing, and compassionate listening. As a columnist, Laura writes personal essays focused on self-discovery, feng shui, emotional health, and transformations from the inside out. Laura is the published author of three books: Live Inspired, Let Go Courageously and Live with Love: Transform Your Life with Feng Shui, and the Cherish Your World Gift Book of 100 Tips to Enhance Your Home and Life. Prior to creating her company, Laura worked as a fulltime parent and an assistant professor at Ohio Wesleyan University. She earned a Ph.D. in political science from The Ohio State University. Her joys in life include laughing with loved ones, dancing, reading, meditating, running, being in nature, and listening to music she loves. She resides in Black Mountain, NC with lovable dog, Layla. Laura is a contributing author to the inspiring book Crappy to Happy: Sacred Stories of Transformational Joy

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7 CONVERSATIONS

  1. Oh Laura, this one brought me to tears. I was reading the Attachment chapter in The Developing Mind by Daniel Siegel last night and it speaks to this exact sentiment. Our brains crave healthy attachment to grow properly and have the chance to thrive. I may not be attached to my parents, but I have always sought out connecting in other adults. Some helped, others didn’t.

    When I read the part of your comment that your mother had split you “all bad”, I cried again. I know that feeling. And while we could have let that belief run our lives – we didn’t. We transcended instead, in spite of our hard upbringings and harsh experiences (maybe even because of them). The part of the book that got me last night was this quote, “The attachment of children to parents in the “earned” and “continuous” secure/autonomous categories appear to be indistinguishable. When parent-child interactions were assessed, even under conditions of significant stress, these two groups were indistinguishable from each other.” In other words, by learning about ourselves and understanding our stories, we change the course of our children’s lives. We are part of the “earned” group. The “continuous” group learned this from their parents (our children.) Being the child of an unattached parent doesn’t have to make us unattached parents. We can do the work and change the outcome. And our entire lineage will benefit from it. It may seem selfish at first because it feels so good to let go of all the past misconceptions and to learn to love and appreciate ourselves. But while it may be good for us, its even better for every person that comes after us. We break the generational trauma and unhealthy ways of thinking.

    Thanks for being a fellow black sheep, scapegoat, and the “all bad” one. We are the ones blessed with the opportunity to change the world.

    • Oh, your words and reflections have poured right into my heart, soul, and mind, JoAnna! Thank you!!! Yes! We broke the ancestral cycle of abuse and continue to create lives worth living, lives worth loving, and relationships we can cherish, nurture, and celebrate for a lifetime. I know in my bones that my two children’s lives are lightyears apart from my own. While I was an imperfect parent, I knew even before my children were born, to seek guidance, professional support. After my second child was born I knew I had to do the deep work of healing the traumas I had endured, to do the deep body work, emotional work, mental work to become as healthy as I possible could become for the sake of my children’s lives (I eventually chose to continue my work on self-discovery for me-knew that I was worth it-sometimes you’ve got to start where you start…) What’s amazing to me-and maybe I just came into this life “hardwired” is that I’ve always had this immense capacity to love-to look beyond the dysfunction and see if there was something else inside of a person. I notice “packaging” and then consistently track behaviors of a person-looking for the “contents of character.” Learning to move away from the tortured souls and towards healthy people continues to be brave work. Self-care no longer feels selfish-it remains Essential. Thank you ever so much for all you’ve shared. That book will likely be very helpful to me, as well. Thank you for being you. Thank you for all the profound reflections you’ve shared from the book and your life journey. Your last lines brought tears to my eyes–“We are the ones blessed with the opportunity to change the world.” Yes, indeed. We have become the love and value that we want to see in our world!!!

      • We are all imperfect parents! And if we can realize that, we are blessed. This was another quote I recently read,
        “All parents damage their children. It cannot be helped. Youth, like pristine glass, absorbs the prints of its handlers. Some parents smudge, others crack, a few shatter childhoods completely into jagged little pieces, beyond repair.”
        ― Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven

        My second child was my catalyst to change as well. While my daughter has experienced more trauma and adverse experiences than I’d have preferred, I know she’s better off now that she can have a healthy mom. I wish I could’ve been a healthier person for her since birth, but I cannot go back in time. And if I could, I’d likely not have my son. And they are both such a blessing, I’d never want to change a thing.

        Self-care is not selfish. You are right. It’s essential. And its a concept I’ve slowly wrapped my head around. Life is a learning process. It’s a journey. If we are this far in our journey, aging seems nothing more than exciting. What will I learn in ten years? Who will I be in 20 years? I can’t wait to find out!!

  2. What a lovely story dear Laura! Thank you for sharing it. We human beings are quite complicated and have many parts to us. Sometimes it is easier to connect with those less intimate to us for a variety of reasons. We do not always know. What I do believe is that your parents are smiling from afar as they watch their beautiful bud continue to create glorious blooms.💖

    • Thank you so much, Darlene! Yes, my mother was quite complicated in her abilities to shape-shift–that with others she clearly possessed this ability (seemingly from inside of her and not just a manipulation tactic) to be loving, caring, and compassionate. This made my life experiences with her so confusing and perplexing-for had she been cruel to most everyone she met, then I might have not taken her abuse of me so personally. For far too long I really, deeply believed I was utterly flawed-and all the other cruel things she said about me. For those who have a rich understanding of Borderline Personality Disorder-it really helps-because that shape-shifting into the “hermit” “waif” “queen” and “witch” all begins to make some sense. I do believe somewhere-from heaven-or where ever souls go-that both my parents are watching me, maybe even loving and celebrating me. I will never know, but I can imagine that to be a possibility. I appreciate the chance to share, to open up about what could be so difficult to share. Thank you for being you, for all your support and kindness!!!

  3. Oh Laura! This is just more evidence of how remarkable you are. Since I’ve read (still reading) your books I know what a complicated relationship you had with your mother and your ability to see her beauty and heart through the fog of your own experience is absolutely inspirational. You teach me every day, friend.

    • Thank you for your kind words, Kimberly. Yes, I had a very difficult relationship with my mother, but I witnessed her with other people, with the children who would run up to her at the county fair to hug their beloved teacher, Mrs. Staley. I think this is what makes the darkness of our relationship so painful, utterly confusing and something that I took so personally for years (like most children I 200 percent believed I was the problem-the source of her rage, bitterness, cruel words). The countless efforts to win her affection, approval, love, acceptance failed utterly. Had she been mean and unpleasant to most everyone I probably wouldn’t have taken her words and behaviors so personally. My deeper understandings of her struggles have shed much light on the simple fact that she split me “all bad.” For those who haven’t lived through these experiences, it can be incredibly difficult to wrap your brain around all of it. What I know for certain is I came into the world with an immense capacity to love, to cultivate compassion and courage, to heal and grow beyond the limiting beliefs of my own mother. May one of my contributions to our world continue to be the ability to see people through eyes of compassion, with love, to listen for the whole story and the context in which the story took place—to discover the deeper truths, and sometimes from a great distance.

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