Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Adult in Charge

As I’ve said many times before: I may have written eight acclaimed books, one a “best-seller” in the Orff world, taught in 45 countries worldwide, been awarded a few prizes, given a couple of thousand workshops and generally climbed to the top of the ladder in my chosen profession, but when it comes down to it, the kids don’t care. They’re not impressed. They’re perfectly happy to talk while I’m talking, listen to my directions and do the opposite, get way off task and show no interest in my reminders to re-focus, try to have fun by making fun of the activity at hand. In short, contrary to my impressive speech I give at workshops about how my goal is to leave class happier than when I walked in—and for the kids to do the same— neither was true with one particular class yesterday.

So now my choices as to how to think about what happened and how to respond. The first impulse are thoughts like these:

• Kids today have no respect. 
• They’re totally unable to focus and pay attention to the tasks at hand.
• They’re horrible at listening.
• They’re rude and lack even the most basic etiquettes.
• Their parents spoil them. 
• They’re way too entitled.
• All those damn screens are destroying even the most basic social/emotional skills.
• If only so-and-so wasn’t in the class, it would be much better. 
• I’m getting too old for this crap.
• Hey, I’m not having fun and I have retirement options.


It’s entirely unproductive to entertain thoughts like these. But hey, I did it anyway. As would we all.

But here’s the difference. I gave myself about a minute to go through the list and then reminded myself, “I’m the adult in the situation. Not that the kids don’t have responsibilities, but it’s my responsibility to lead them to theirs.”

And so the next day, I began class with a calm statement of my displeasure with yesterday’s behavior, a clear summary of what was unacceptable and what the consequences would be if it happened again today. Setting clear limits and expectations and consequences is part of what it means to be an adult.

And then, with a smile, I proceeded to lead a class that I knew they would love, one that unleashes their imagination, gives permission to their humor, gets their mind thinking in coordination with an expressive body, gets them working, playing and creating together in a kid-friendly way and has a mild competitive element where judges choose them if they do something well (and by the end, each team is invariably chosen). Everyone was thoroughly engaged, with the program, having a great deal of fun and we all left the class happier than when we walked in.

If I reacted only as a child, I would have stuck with all those first-impulse complaints. If I reacted only as an adult, I would have punished them in some ways, shamed them, had them pay lip-service to promising to be more respectful. The true adult is one who carries the child within and is in conversation with the best part of the child-mind— the curious, funny, imaginative, joyful one, not the needy, whiny, self-centered part. The true adult also carries the adult within, the one able to step back, analyze, respond thoughtfully and compassionately and renew one’s determination to create an atmosphere that brings forth our best selves, no matter what age of people are in the room. 

Every day in the news, we see either whiny children in adult bodies or fossilized adults who have shut down their joyful childlike self. Not a lot of positive models out there. But again, the true adult complains with a purpose and then moves on to create a healing antidote, a positively constructed way to be just a bit better than we were yesterday. It has taken me a long time to grow up, but experiences like yesterday’s difficult class and today’s joyful one have helped me get closer to that elusive being called an adult. 

I often quote Tom Robbins: “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.” But I think I need an addendum: “It’s never too late to become a functioning adult.” Congress, take note!

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