Everyone seems to struggle with the hand they were dealt at some point in life. Hopefully it is a quick phase that leads to self-acceptance, but for some people, it is not that easy. I am fortunate enough to have a supportive family who continues to stand up for and with me any time I feel let down. They are always my strength. Because of them, I have learned the importance of keeping an open mind and welcoming the opportunity to grow and learn. This wisdom to know and accept yourself allows for peace, inside and out, and now, I am proud to observe my brother and sister-in-law instill this sense of stability and strength in their own growing family.
My niece is the best little girl I know. At just a few months old, she was diagnosed with a severe to profound hearing loss in both ears. This was obviously a difficult time for my family, but as always, we stood together and supported each other. When it came time to get my niece molded for her hearing aids, the question of color choice came up. Some people choose a skin-toned mold in hopes of disguising the aid, but my sister-in-law declared that this was a part of my niece, so why not make it cute, and opted for pink.
Now, as a three year old, my niece wears pink hearing aids with star decals and sparkly, pink molds. She has grown up and will continue to with this hearing disability just being another part of her, nothing that has ever been stigmatized by our family. She is smart, sweet, and so funny, and I believe that she will continue to be strong and confident because of the loving parents she is fortunate to have and I am lucky to call my family. I borrow from this model in my own classroom in the hopes of helping my students who may not have yet found peace inside and out.
It is difficult for people to get the best of you if you are content with the life you were given. I try to convey this lesson to my students. On the first day of school, in an effort to break the ice and give an example of adjectives that describe me, I often add the word “short.” I do it because I know my students will make a height joke at some point, considering that at five feet tall, most of them tower over me. I am comfortable with who I am, so I have never thought much of it.
A former student of mine, Mark, was one of those boys who just did not hit his growth spurt in middle school. Middle school students are pretty relentless and unbeknownst to me, he was often the subject of scrutiny. In an end of the year reflection, Mark wrote, “Ms. Hudak helped me get over the fact that height shouldn’t bother you; all that matters is that you have friends and family that appreciate you for you who are.” Without knowing it, I had helped this student make peace with himself inside, which allowed him to hold his head up and know peace on the outside. You truly never know when someone is learning from the strength you model for them.
Sometimes it can be more directly addressed, like in the case of my former student, Kevin. One day, in the middle of my lesson, Kevin interrupted the class to tell me that my face was red. I brushed it off and kept talking, but he would not back down and said it again. I finished what I was teaching, got students into their group work for the period, and asked Kevin to meet me in the hallway. I told him frankly that I have rosacea and explained the condition to him. He looked mortified and quickly apologized. I told him it was something I was comfortable with, but took the teachable moment to explain to him that he will come across people with conditions they may not have yet made peace with and to think twice before drawing attention to them. I can only hope that he has remembered this exchange as he continues to interact with people dealing with struggles that they may or may not accept as a part of them.
Fostering peace inside and out takes continuous work. Obstacles will come up for even the strongest person. It is important to provide each other with strength and support – to be the safety net and help each other in times of need. If we can all stand together, we will know what it means to feel accepted and be able to stand tall.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.