I called home after work the other day. I asked Lorelei, “How’s it going?”
She answered, “It’s fine,” followed by, “we’re just trying to find the source of the poop smell.”
We do have a puppy and twelve shoes between us.
In this case, someone literally smelled poop. In that moment Lorelei and kids were actually searching the house for poop so they could clean it up.
Even so, the phrase landed on me with a figurative connection to the reality of parenting, education and daily human life.
My roles as an educator and a parent are both incredibly joyful. Congruently, they both also occasionally come with dizzying challenges. Not the least of which is repeatedly finding myself faced with the task of “trying to find the source of the poop smell,” in one way or another.
It comes in multiple forms.
Sometime I smell it, by which I mean sometimes I’m aware a challenge exists: the demands of putting forward a rigorous curriculum while simultaneously fostering classroom and community cultures focused on relationships, connections and social-emotional well-being, nuanced and complex human interactions that inadvertently lead to miscommunication and strain at work and at home, the heavy lifting of seeking to understand functions of behaviors that can confuse and distract us, and so on.
Sometimes I don’t smell it, by which I mean there are times when others have challenges I struggle to understand and/or recognize. My struggle to understand and/or recognize the challenges in those situations doesn’t tend to make them disappear. Contrarily, a failure to understand and/or recognize challenges faced by those around me can exacerbate the challenges. Perception is reality. A challenge is a challenge, regardless of my fallibility in any given moment.
When someone is struggling in ways I don’t understand, my ability to empathize and respond with compassion is occasionally impeded. I’m working, in part, through a study of contemplative practices such as mindfulness, meditation and flow-inducing activities (like exercise and art) to address that roadblock. It feels like I’m headed in the right direction. Still, I have a long way to go.
Sometime “the poop smell” is coming from me. I’ve stepped in it, so to speak. During times of heightened stress I occasionally even find myself manufacturing challenges that might otherwise not exist. I occasionally smell “poop” I never end up finding. Positive progress happens when I muster the strength to let it go and move on during those times (often by making use of the contemplative practices mentioned above).
We all have challenges. In fact, problem finding and problem solving are arguably what it’s all about. Through a parenting and education lens it’s important to both recognize when challenges present themselves and to find pathways toward solutions.
Ignoring the “poop smell” can cause unhealthy circumstances, both for individuals and for the community. Ruminating on the “poop smell” for too long without being able to identify it’s source or find a remedy can do the same.
When it comes to “trying to find the source of the poop smell” I believe we need to take a balanced approach. Trust your own senses, believe and support those around you, make genuine efforts to create healthy, safe spaces for all to move around in, and always remember that there is a positive way forward.
Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.