What If Everything’s Not OK?

If you’re a parent, and specifically a parent in our school district, you were pumped on Tuesday when the kids went back to school. I know we love our kids and all but damn, that was a long break.

Two and a half weeks felt like two and a half months.

I’m sure all homes were crazy during that stretch, but adding 5 extra humans to the mix for an extra 8 hours a day is a lot.

We expected the transition back to be a little bumpy. Well, we expect everything to be a little bumpy, it’s life.

The first day though, went pretty smooth.

Until bedtime.

That seems to be about when the fronts start falling, the emotions start showing themselves and the conversations start brewing.

Many of you know our kids, so I’ll spare the specifics but one of our girls was pretty upset the first night back.

Some math issues, some teacher frustrations, some peer pressure, some “popular girls” vs. “the rest of the girls” drama.

Same stuff kids have been going through forever. But it doesn’t make it less painful when it’s your own kid going through it.

The weird thing is after school, that evening, through dinner and up until bedtime, you would have thought everything was OK with her.

Doing her homework, smiling, picking on her siblings, watching YouTube videos on her phone, being a kid.

But when she felt safe, she told us it wasn’t all OK. That she was scared. That she was sad.

We were proud of her for that. Getting that stuff out is important. That certainly wasn’t how I operated for decades.

I told a story to my mom several weeks ago, over some mediocre coffee but good eggs and bacon. I’ve told it to Brooke many times. And our counselor a few.

When I was in 5th grade, my world was coming unglued. My parents are my favorite people in the world, but they were going through some struggles and like 50+% of American marriages, they divorced.

Over and over and over, each of them reminded me it wasn’t my fault. That they still loved me. That it was safe to talk to them. That it was safe to talk to anyone.

Given the circumstances, they handled it beautifully.

But unlike our daughter last night, I chose the “It’s all going to be OK” card from the deck. And I played it repeatedly, every chance I got.

The story goes that as I walked to recess one day (I don’t recall if it was spring or fall but I remember it was chilly because I had a jacket on), my 5th grade teacher grabbed me by the arm.

“Hey Justin, is everything OK at home?”

“Yeah, it’s great…” (It wasn’t.)

“Are you sure?”

“Uh-huh…” (I wasn’t.)

“Would you be open to going with me to talk to the counselor here at the school?”

“I’m good, everything’s OK…” (As I pulled my arm away and ran off to play kickball.)

I look back on that one conversation often.

What if I would have let her in?

What if I would have walked to the counselor with her?

What if I would have broken down and told her it’s not OK at all actually?

What if I would have let my mom and dad know how scared I was? And sad? Like they asked me for 1,000 times.

But I didn’t. I said it was all OK.

Even when it was far from it.

What would have changed? What would have been different?

Maybe nothing. Maybe everything.

Here’s the thing.

This isn’t a sob story, many have way more painful pasts.

Or a way to dig up old wounds, bringing them to light is the only way to begin healing them.

Or an attempt to beat myself up for not being vulnerable at 11 years old, hell, I wasn’t even willing to walk into those waters at 36, I had to get thrown into them (and still do my best attempt at getting out of them whenever I can).

But I think the older I get, and the more I see reality, the more I appreciate that teacher’s literal reach out to me that day all those years ago.

She knew I wasn’t OK. She asked as many times and as many ways as she could. She cared deeply, even when I didn’t care to engage.

When push came to shove, I didn’t let her in.

The real truth, I think anyway, is that no one is OK. We’re all a question or two away from full tears and terrifying fears.

Maybe a brave step would be to tell someone safe that something’s not OK. That it’s painful, scary or sad.

Or maybe like me at 5th grade and all the way until my life flipped on me, you can keep on pretending it’s OK.

But in the quiet, you know it’s far from it.

That quiet will eventually become a deafening noise you can’t silence any longer.

And when you start letting others hear the noise by saying “I’m not OK”, an entire army of people will rush to your side and say, “I’m not either.”

And that’s more than OK, it’s beautiful.

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