I can remember it like it was yesterday. One of the most meaningful and influential memories of my childhood. A moment in my life that not only changed the way I saw myself at the time but that shaped who I would become as an adult. It was fifth grade. My teacher was Mrs. Lopez. One day she asked all of us to take out a blank sheet of paper. On the top of our papers we were asked to write our names. Then she explained that we were going to be passing the papers around and writing down one positive word that described the person's name at the top of the paper. We would pass the papers until ours came back to us. Before starting the activity, Mrs. Lopez helped us brainstorm a list of words that we might want to draw from. We all took turns raising our hands and coming up with words that a fifth grader would like to be seen as:
Normal words. Bland. Nothing special in the big world of words but they were a big deal to us. I can still remember how excited I was to see what my classmates thought of me. I knew we weren't allowed to write anything negative so all the words on my paper would be good words. Words some of us needed to hear. I wasn't alone in my excitement and anticipation. With each pass of the papers, there was an exchange of whispers about who had what paper even though the activity was supposed to be done in silence.
With each new paper I got, I tried hard to come up with the perfect word for that person. The more POSITIVES I gave out, the better I felt about ME. It was an activity that created so much happiness and good feelings. With each "Pretty" or "Beautiful" I wrote down, I wished for someone to write the same about me. The other words mattered too but I heard many of them often enough. Smart. Funny. Creative. I knew I'd get plenty of these words. Not so much with Pretty. I didn't think of myself as Pretty. Certainly not Beautiful. And this probably affected how I felt about myself on the inside too. Everyone needs someone in their life that tells them that they are beautiful (certainly not referring to only physical beauty). It surely meant a lot to me in my awkward fifth grade world.
Once the papers were almost around, our teacher collected them early. WHAT?! I didn't even get to see my paper. The class broke out into a string of sighs. Our disappointment palpable. We were incredibly eager to know what our papers said. Mrs. Lopez assured us that we would see them soon.
It wasn't more than a day before we saw them. There they were. All lined up outside our classroom wall. Each kid had a piece of tagboard with their school picture on the middle of it. Around the picture, Mrs. Lopez had written down all of the words that described us.
It was a struggle to get close enough to the bulletin board to see our words but everyone happily waited their turn while trying to sneak a peak at THEIR SPECIAL WORDS. Then I saw mine. So many wonderful things.
Even though the words were probably similar for each person, they were still OURS. These were words that described us! Words that said what our peers thought of us. And then I saw them....
For every year of the eight years that I taught before staying home with my kids, I always did this activity. And every year I recognized the same excitement and wide-eyed anticipation in my students that I had when I did this activity. I knew that there were some student that would need this more than others, but without a doubt, I believed every. single. student would be given a gift when they received "Their Words". And yes, I took the papers early and wrote them down on a special piece of paper. I'd be lying if I said that I didn't add a word or two on my own but they never had to know that. I remembered how important it was for me to see
And how it made my heart fly when I did see those words. Who knows if my teacher wrote down some of the words on her own or if they were all from my classmates. It doesn't matter. What matters is that it changed the way I saw myself.
I began to blossom in a way I had never done before. I saw myself differently. I had a new sense of confidence.
Words continue to hold such power in my life. Really, words are powerful in all of our lives. The words we think. The words we write and speak. They hold power. I was reminded of this again today as I found myself in GRUMPY MOM MODE where I was muttering under my breath and thinking to myself what a little brat my son was being. There was a storm of words running through my head:
Then I caught myself. Wow! If I'm thinking all of these words about him, he's got to be FEELING these things. And then giving me more of what I'm already labeling him to be. So, before I went about my "To-Do"s, I stopped myself, grabbed some sticky notes and scribbled down some positive words about my sweet boy. I instantly felt more positive about him and myself. While I was at it, I scribbled some words about everyone else in my family and then made a sticky note for myself. This was just a sloppy jotting down of words but I did go back later and add to them once I realized how many meaningful words I could think about each of my kids and my husband. Perhaps I'll write them down for them to have in their rooms or do something else with them. In the meantime, they are in the kitchen for me to see.
Words truly do hold power.
The words we tell ourselves about US.
The words we communicate to others. They matter.
The words we think about life, what we are doing, who we are, what life has in store, our goals, the people around us.
I whole heartedly believe that if we choose to be more conscious of and intentional with the WORDS we use with ourselves and others, we have the power to make amazing things happen
So. Much. More.
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