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Live United: Children absorb what they witness in adults around them

Live United by Erin Haag

Erin Haag


I’m fortunate to have friends who are willing to share their knowledge. My friends have taught me the difference between male and female butterflies, how to identify a baby grackle, how to split hostas and how to use a convection oven. I’ve sampled their baking, admired their artwork and overall can-do-it attitude. My children thrive on this type of learning. This past winter, my children and their daddy tromped through the fields at The Evergreens Tree Farm learning all about conifers. For weeks, they pointed out the different conifers as we drove around town. When they learned how to identify a willow tree, it quickly became the mantra in the car. “Look! A willow!” In our woods of walnut, ash and maple, they would love to have a willow tree to admire. That wish is right up there with a new puppy and/or kitten. Along with the realities of training puppies and kittens, they have not quite grasped the concept of how long it takes for a tree to grow into the full-size draping ones they so admire.

As we move closer to finding out what school will look like this fall, I use these reminders of everyday lessons to reassure myself that as a society, there are ways to impart knowledge to the future generation. More than ever, it is essential for us to find ways to support our community of educators and learners — supporting the families that make the choices that are right for their families. There’s no secret of the strong opinions out there. I hold some strong opinions myself — and yes, my mother is smirking to herself as she reads this article. It’s been difficult to wait to hear from schools what the plan is, and to imagine what our year will look like. There is a grieving process as well. No matter what we choose, things will be different. The trick is how we handle that grieving process, and how we support each other. Now is the time to teach our children resilience.

Setting aside my grief, my worries and my initial reactions, here is my strong opinion. We cannot control what happens in the world around us, but we can control how we respond to it. That is resilience. This is the time to stand united as a community, to cheer each other on and to support each other. Issues are complex, layered and look different for everyone. Grief is abundant right now, and that grief can quickly look like anger, which breeds more anger. Our children are listening. Our children are feeling. Our children are absorbing and reflecting the way they see adults behave. I’m not perfect at this by any means. This article is as much as a reminder to myself as it is an appeal to our community. It’s a reminder to slow down, to take advantage of the lessons of every day and to look for ways to support your community in whatever way is right for you.

This morning, I saw a monarch butterfly freshly emerged from the chrysalis. It was so new, I could still see the goo dripping off the wings. I recently learned that to become a butterfly, a caterpillar has to digest itself — creating a pile of goo. The process of this metamorphosis is a whole lot less picturesque than Eric Carle illustrates.

I often hear it said that we shouldn’t return to normal. We should look for the breaks in our society and find ways to transform the way we interact. Our world is forever changed by this year. Be gentle with yourself. Be gentle with the world. The world is a pile of goo right now. Perhaps, if we can be gentle and not disturb the chrysalis, we’ll witness a transformation. In the midst of my confusion, my anger, my worry, my grief, my hope is abundant that we’ll witness a resurgence of how to build resilience in ourselves, in our children, in our communities. We’ll learn how to stand strong together: no matter what that looks like for each of us.

Erin Haag is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.