When I was a child I used to play “teacher.” I had a big chalkboard on my bedroom wall, boxes of chalk, an over-sized hand me down desk that my mother had furnished with note pads, a stapler, whole punch, binders, etc. My mother even took me to a store that sold classroom supplies for teachers and bought me a wooden ruler designed, post-it note holder, matching pencil holder with a tiny apple as the knob to open it and a chalk holder and eraser. I set up my bedroom like a classroom and could not be more excited to pretend play all of the things I had experienced in class that week. I would line up all of my stuffed animals and pretend they were my students. I planned out my lessons and even graded fake papers while I kept record of all of my stuffed animal’s grades, just like my teacher would at school. My Aunt and Uncle were elementary school teachers. To me, they might as well have been astronauts going on once in a lifetime missions to space — Because in my eyes they had the most exciting job in the world! Growing up my family and I were always at their house and it was my most favorite time. They had a sitting room with a wall lined in fully stocked book shelves, a room dedicated to all things comics and little animals they would bring home to care for as part of their classrooms. When we would visit I would sit and flip through their teacher lesson books and think about how awesome it would be to have a book like that. What’s funny is, I never even thought about the fact that having a book with answers to questions in it meant that I could cheat from it. I just thought it amazing to have a book with all of the answers to the very questions that bewildered me in school.
On the weekends my room doubled as a medical clinic for all of my baby dolls. Equipped with a folding rolling cart that I took from my parents and turned into an exam table topped with my own pillow, and I always had a steady line of dolls that were in need of medical care. I created a chart for each one of my patients and made sure to keep good records as to help me remember what the last time my cabbage patch doll came in to see me for. I practiced as a doctor only on the weekends though. Monday through Friday, I was the teacher and this room was my classroom.
It didn’t dawn on me until last night that my whole childhood I was pretending to be a grown up. I spent my entire adolescence preparing to be an adult and then suddenly I was one, having not too many memories of just playing a child.
At seventeen years old I then became a wife and shortly after, a mother. Not only a new mother, but a mother to a terminally ill child. Within moments, I had become a full time nurse to my child with zero experience for the role as either nurse, or mother. My son’s condition persisted until he passed on nearly three years later, and soon after, my second child was born. Eleven years later and she had a major medical issue and I was back to role of full-time nurse, again. When she was still recovering I played teacher to her, helping her to get her back to where she was pre-injury. While simultaneously caring for her then one year old baby sister. I stayed home with my son his entire life, teaching him sign language and providing his at home behavioral and cognitive therapies each day. I stayed home with my older daughter for the first three years of her life, teaching her everything we parents do as they transition from babies to toddlers to children. And I’ve been home with my four year old for all of her life, doing the same. I’ve been raising kids for more years than not.
As I thought about it, I realized that as I was a child playing teacher and healer — I was preparing myself for the exact roles that I would later play as an adult. I didn’t know when I was a child why I had such a hungering to care for people and to teach — I just knew that they were my two favorite roles to play! As a parent, I have been in the constant role of teacher since I was seventeen years old and in the role of home doctor for the same amount of time. I was being prepared. I had a certain kind of destiny inside of me that could only come through having to experience those two aspects of teaching and healing.
Have you ever spent most of your life being faced with the same roles to play and not understanding why it is always the same thing? Someone is always sick in your life, or someone is always facing a crisis of sorts? And you wonder why it seems to be consistently more of the same thing, every which way you turn? Until one day when the outward crisis you were perpetually having to help someone else through, takes place in your own home? Sickness comes to visit you or your closest loved ones? Do you ever stop to think that all you have spent so much time on helping someone else out with, was to prepare you for your own obstacle? Maybe you have spent a lot of your time providing a listening ear to your friends or loved ones, only to wind up being the one who needs that same listening ear. Or you’ve helped out others in times of crisis, to be eventually faced with a crisis of your own and needing help. Maybe you’re the fixer who tries to solve everyone else’s problems and then you’re faced with problems of your own and looking for wisdom on how to fix it?
Thinking on this last night, I kept thinking about how I was strategically being prepared for what I would face ahead in my life, as a child. Of course being a child I didn’t understand this, but as an adult I can see the striking similarities to what I once pretended to be, and what I am now. It was the act of preparation through repetition that allowed me to be ready for the real thing, once I got older.
I find it kind of comical how we are being prepared for our lives at such an early age and when we get older, we search outwardly for the answers to our dilemmas. We wait for someone else to come along and tell us how to do something that we have been in preparation for facing our entire lives, by the roles that we stepped into for others. The answer is within the preparation. If you were the one always consoling your friends in their own times of need and you wind up needing consolation yourself, then your answer lies within the preparation. In what it was that you practiced giving to someone else. If you spent your life giving sound advice to others and are then faced with needing sound advice for yourself, it lies within your preparation. If you were the friend who could make your loved ones laugh through their sadness, then whenever you face your own sadness, the counter-part to that need is within your preparation.
Our problem is that we doubt our abilities when it comes time to use them for ourselves. When you’re able to offer wisdom when it comes to other people’s problems, but you cannot advise yourself – It is self-doubt that stops you from doing what was effective for them, for you. But when you believe in your own capabilities, and realize that that role you effortlessly became for others, is the same role that you now need to step into for you, then you don’t have to sit helplessly waiting for someone to come rescue you. The service that you provided for others, is what is also needed for your own life and you were being prepared.
Sure I didn’t have the medical knowledge at the time of my childhood to care for my dolls, but I had the basic fundamentals of caring for sickness down. I knew to be kind, to be thoughtful, caring, to help. When my own child was born ill, the medical knowledge had to be learned, but how to comfort him was already there. Doctors are taught to know what they know, but you cannot teach someone to be feeling. To be caring and compassionate. You cannot teach someone the overwhelming desire to help others. That answer was within me. My son didn’t care or even understand what medical terminologies I knew and the order of how to treat his illness at home. He never looked up at me and said, “Hey Mom, you’re doing it all wrong.” He knew that he was being cared for by the compassion that I showed for him. By the act of me caring for him. Teachers are taught the academic knowledge that they then give to their students, but you can’t teach someone how to have a passion for learning. That answer lies within that teacher’s own zeal to learn. That student is more inclined to listen and get equally excited about learning because of the care and excitement for learning that that teacher shows. The answer lies within your own preparation.
Doubt is something that shouldn’t play a part in it, though it almost always does. Somehow what we give to others, seems so impossible to give to ourselves. My friend calls me to say that she is in pain or sick and I beg of her to please rest, stay hydrated and let her body decompress — Before she decides to run errands, go the gym, or take her child everywhere under the sun – While her own energy is being depleted. But when I am sick or in pain, I don’t know what to do. I need a doctor or a loved one to tell me the very same things that I told my friend the day before. The answer lies within my preparation, but doubt keeps me from seeing it.
I can tell someone dealing with a difficult co-worker how to smother them with kindness and concern in order to defuse the situation, but when I am faced with a difficult person – I’m looking for someone else to tell me what to do. The answer lies within that which was preparing me to face that situation. All of the times that I gave advice to others was preparing me for the time when I would need that same wisdom given to me. All of the times that I was caring for someone, gave me the tools to better care for myself. The process begins in the preparation, and the answers lie within that preparation. We can give advice, but we can’t take our own advice as easily as we gave it. When we gave it, we were certain. We knew that THIS was how to solve that problem… For the other person. But when that same problem is now ours, we doubt everything that we were so certain about just moments before. The answer is in the preparation.
For a teacher with a book of answers, it would probably be the easier to shove the answers to the questions down the minds of the students. But then teachers wouldn’t need to go to school for years to learn what it is that they will be teaching. They had to be taught the process first in order to prepare the students to understand why the answer is what it is and how to come to that conclusion on their own. They could easily say, “The answer to this question is blah blah blah,” and have their students repeat it like trained seals until it became muscle memory, but those students would be none the wiser on how they came to that answer. The answer lies within the preparation.
Maybe you’re struggling with finding your own way. Maybe you’ve been everything to everyone and now you’re facing something similar and need someone else to be everything for you. Maybe your stuck looking up, down and around for an answer to a dilemma that you have offered assistance to others with, in their time of need. Or maybe you just haven’t realized that everything you need, was already being formed and prepared inside of you as you remained a steady help to someone else. Your answers lay within your preparation.