DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET The Comfort of Little Things An Educator’s Guide to Second Chances Holly Elissa Bruno COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET The Comfort of Little Things Running Foot  i COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Other Redleaf Press Books coauthored by Holly Elissa Bruno Managing Legal Risks in Early Childhood Programs, with Tom Copeland Learning from the Bumps in the Road, with Debra Ren-Etta Sullivan, Janet Gonzalez-Mena, and Luis Antonio Hernandez COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET The Comfort of Little Things   An Educator’s Guide to Second Chances     HO LL Y E LISSA BRU N O COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Published by Redleaf Press 10 Yorkton Court St. Paul, MN 55117 © 2015 by Holly Elissa Bruno All rights reserved. Unless otherwise noted on a specific page, no portion of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or capturing on any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a critical article or review to be printed in a magazine or newspaper, or electronically transmitted on radio, television, or the Internet. First edition 2015 Cover design by Erin New Cover illustrations © Vectoronly | Interior design by Erin Kirk New Typeset in Century Old Style Printed in the United States of America 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 22 21 20 19 18 17 16 15 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Bruno, Holly Elissa. The comfort of little things : an educator’s guide to second chances / by Holly Elissa Bruno. -- First edition. pages cm Includes bibliographical references. ISBN 978-1-60554-409-0 1. Teachers--Psychology. 2. Motivation in education. I. Title. LB2840.B78 2015 370.15’4--dc23 2014046433 Printed on acid-free paper COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET For Marina: despite every setback, you find courage to seek your heart’s home. And for you, Bernie, for helping me remember the choice is mine. COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET vi  Chapter X COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Contents Preface ix Acknowledgments xi Part I An Invitation to the World of Second Chances  1 Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Part II A Year of Second Chances: When a Second Chance Calls, Will You Answer?  3 Why Create a Culture of Second Chances?  12 Finding Comfort in Little Things: The Promise of This Moment  22 Facing Up to Our Stumbling Blocks: The Bully of Fear and the Most Alluring of Distractions  31 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Squaring Off against the Bully of Fear  33 Acknowledging Attractive Distractions  57 Partnering with (vs. Avoiding) Change 70 Part III Staking Claim to Our Birthright for Joy  81 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 The Climb to Transcendence  83 Failure, the Crucible for Second Chances: It’s Not What You Did to Fail, It’s What You Do Next  95 Second Chance Denied: When the Door Is Slammed in Your Face, Where Can You Turn?  109 When We Think We Can’t, We Can 121 Part IV Creating a Culture of Second Chances  139 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Offering Second Chances to Others: “Paying It Forward” without Demanding Payback  141 Capitalizing on Our Brain’s Evolution toward Second Chances  153 Resources 167 References 171 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Preface One year ago on New Year’s Eve, which is also my birthday, I made a pow- erful decision: to deepen my spirituality and live a truer life. What I could see about my life in that moment was this: I could see that I was repeating patterns and feeling ho-hum about rela- tionships that by all rights should be life-giving. I could see that I wanted to reclaim the promise of my life and discover how to live more deeply, meaningfully and, above all, spiritually. What I could not see was the path ahead. Yes, I had a happy and fulfilling life. But something was missing. Some- thing was amiss. Something awaited me that I could not see. That something was a second chance. It was, in fact, a life of second chances. And so I stepped away from the known (a well-tended home by the lake, a fifteen-year relationship, my ebullient perennial gardens, my beloved yellow lab, my easy and predictable patterns) to risk the unknown. The life that awaited me included a journey literally around the world (Boston to London to New Delhi to Jaipur to Udaipur to Mumbai to Kath- mandu to Hong Kong to this day and this place). And now I have ridden the back of an elephant up a mountainside without fear. I have ended untrue relationships. I have been measured for dazzling and sparkling saris. I have moved into a house built in 1890 with pocket doors, patterned hardwood floors, and stained glass. I have regained the courage to hear and tell the truth. And I have written a book about second chances. I had no idea where my quest would take me. But I knew I had to choose freedom over security, learning over repeating, and love over all substitutes. You have had these moments, these opportunities for second chances. You offer these moments to others every day; you bear witness to a child’s COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL ix DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET wonder and in so doing, open the way for a lifetime of learning. You listen to a person’s struggle and hear the dream beneath the suffering. You create classrooms everywhere: on a field trip to the fire station, in the moment a child is about to strike another child, when a burdened parent walks through your door, when things don’t turn out as you had planned, when you listen to your own true voice. This is the territory of second chances. I wrote this book, The Comfort of Little Things: An Educator’s Guide to Second Chances, for you, for me, and for every person who touches the lives of others. We deserve that second chance. We deserve • the comfort of being unburdened; • the encouragement to make the difference only we can; • to loosen the limits we put on ourselves; • to appreciate the complex marvel that we are; • the relief in learning from our mistakes and failure; • the comfort that flows from acceptance; • the freedom that comes from no longer harshly judging ourselves and others; and • to be honored and protected and soothed. As you let yourself find the second chance in each moment, especially in those anxious moments, you model hope for others. You model compassion. You model forgiveness. You model how to learn. And yes, you model how to laugh at yourself, get over yourself, and grow. If we let go of the life we have planned, we regain the life we are meant to live. Each of us each day, each moment, has a choice: give ourselves and others a second chance or turn away. We can be expert at keeping busy, looking out for others and neglecting ourselves. Yet we can likewise become gifted at not only offering but also accepting the wonder of a second chance. We educators open the world to our students. Isn’t it time that we open the world to ourselves as well? Join me in a quest to discover the life that awaits you if you decide that yes, you are worthy of a second chance. May this book befriend and support you along the way. x Preface COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Acknowledgments To Kyra Ostendorf and David Heath at Redleaf Press for reminding me that truth-telling is compelling. To my virtual assistant, Janelle Brandon, in Canada, who, in minutes, resolves technological issues and unknots details that could have stressed me for hours. To Dr. Paula Jorde Bloom for setting and living the highest standard of profession- alism in the field of early childhood. To each person who responded to my Share Your Stories blog; your stories have painted vibrant colors onto the pages that follow. To my Twelve-Step fellow travelers for having the courage to change the things we can and for the wisdom of letting go. To Dr. Michael Gonta, who read each of his students and teachers as insightfully and lovingly as he read his favorite books. To Errol Smith of BAM radio network, who takes on the impossible, trusting that all good things will prevail. To Dr. Kay Albrecht for being my fellow traveler in Chiang Mai, Bangkok, and Angkor Wat, and for memorable mornings with schoolchildren in Thailand and Myanmar. To Ann Terrell, who persists in saying yes to advancing the rights of children, especially when she is told no and no again. To Rich J., who views his stroke as a gift of clarity about what matters. To my fellow educators, emotionally intelligent geniuses, who daily kick the label of “glorified babysitter” to the curb. To you, my reader, for making a difference in children’s lives, one second chance at a time. To Simon, Shelby, and all service dogs who comfort wounded spirits. Thank you. COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL xi DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Part I An Invitation to the World of Second Chances Running Foot  xiii COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET xiv  Chapter X COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Chapter 1 A Year of Second Chances When a Second Chance Calls, Will You Answer? If you are waiting for anything in order to live and love without holding back, then you suffer.—David Deida Unburdening Life’s too short to do anything but enjoy it daily. As hardworking educators dedicated to making a difference, we, however, are easily weighed down with work and worry. Burdened with the weight of too many responsibilities, we sometimes have trouble looking up. Being burdened, we can forget what it originally meant to educate: To draw out that which lies within (Latin, educare). What lies within is our birthright to joy. This book is about unburdening. It’s about looking up. It’s about choos- ing to take (and offer) as many second chances as our hearts can bear. It’s about reclaiming the joy and humor and passion that are rightfully ours, especially when our joy, humor, and passion are under threat. It’s about drawing out the promise that lies within you, me, and each person we touch. As we do this, we find and share in all the little comforts awaiting us in our everyday lives. COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL 3 DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET What Is a Second Chance? Through courage we do not reduce our fear, we go beyond it. —Chögyam Trungpa A second chance is the opportunity to come alive in the moment with the wonder of a child, witnessing people and situations as if for the first time. A second chance is an unexpected gift that takes our breath away. A second chance is a direct pathway to a grateful heart and an astonished mind. A second chance is a sacred glimpse at what is timeless and matters most. When I ease up on my need to control outcomes and judge myself and others, I free myself to marvel. What I then see is marvelous, regardless of (or perhaps because of ) how challenging it can be. Second chances appear like a gift left at our doorstep. When we answer the door, we notice the gift and may never know who left it. Other second chances come from letting go of what holds us back. These second chances take work. But fear not, the work is always rewarded. Choosing to be open to as many second chances as your heart can bear changes everything. Your Brain on Second Chances Research on the adult brain illuminates the pages of this book. Without saying so directly, neuroscientists are helping us see what second chances are all about. New studies, released daily, debunk or clarify old understandings. Just when we thought we knew something for sure, we read that neuroscientists are spilling out new information to challenge the old. I find this more liberating than threatening. The landscape of the brain is not flat. It’s as complex and full of mysteries as each one of us. Turns out our brains are wired to both avoid and embrace second chances. Turns out our twenty-first-century brains are enticed away from second chances by the allure of streaming, unprioritized information. Turns out we can make choices to find second chances both within and outside of that endless stream. 4  Chapter 1 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Stepping into the Unknown: Not Your Average New Year’s Resolution Perhaps because my birthday is on New Year’s Eve, I’m inclined to take New Year’s resolutions to heart. I don’t have a choice about getting older, but I can aim to be older and wiser. I have known for a while that I can allow habits to elbow out creativity. Old patterns of behavior are like old friends. By relying on what I know, I can be comfortable in my ways. I know what to expect. I don’t have to devote all that energy to starting over. Okay, so life might not be as passionate or as fresh as it was when I was a wet-behind-the-ears teacher learning everything on the job or one of the small percentage of attorneys who were women in 1973. But a steady life is a predictable life. Forsythia and lilacs bloom each spring; my dog greets me with adoration at the door. My work is rewarding. My son, Nick, and I talk every evening. My friends are steady and loving. Why would I think there is more? Isn’t this enough? Sure, life as we know it is enough. But life as we don’t know it? That’s where the magic awaits. That’s where second chances abound. As I contemplated my New Year’s resolution for 2014, I recalled in a deeper way that life is gloriously enlightening when I summon the cour- age to walk where I have not walked. Perhaps the time had come for this teacher to surrender to being taught in ways that I could not foresee. The time had also come for this attorney to trust the fluidly evolving spirit of the law more than the predictable letter of the law. And that is why I decided to dedicate a year to my quest to understand second chances. Along the way, I hoped to answer the following questions: • What is a second chance? • Where do second chances originate? • Do we earn second chances? Do they fall into our laps, or both? • Can we create second chances for ourselves? For others? • Is giving someone a second chance ever “wrong”? • What are the spiritual principles behind second chances? • Why are second chances essential for educators and the children whose lives we touch? A Year of Second Chances  5 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET I knew I would have a truckload of work in front of me, but I decided to be okay with that. Let the wild quest rumpus begin! Where the Magic Awaits: The Worst Becomes the Absolute Best Give Yourself a Break If you were to make one change that would improve your life, what would that one change be? Surrendering to the unknown can be hard, if not impossible, for me. Oh sure, I’m a free spirit. I break into song. I get a groove on when Motown pops into my head in the middle of a keynote to five hundred people. I travel the world. I meet new people to love every day. It’s a good life. And it’s a complex life. We all have pain. We all have sor- row. You have your challenges. I have mine: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). My nervous system craves safety and stability. My early years were a Molotov cocktail of beatings, neglect, household mental illness, and blame: “You ought to be ashamed of yourself” is one phrase I heard often that still echoes in my head sometimes. I am not the only one with this history. Abuse and neglect are endured by more children than anyone wants to imagine. According to the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2010), 29.1 percent of adults grew up with a substance-abusing household member; 25.9 percent were verbally abused (1611). Even one abused child is one too many. I have taken this early unhappiness and reconstructed my life into a blessing, thanks in large part to the kindness of so many loving fellow trav- elers. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, a principal from Christchurch, New Zealand, reminded me as he described the deafening earthquake that flattened his school and annihilated all records and resources. With the help of his teachers, that man picked up the pieces and created a new school that is even more effective. I trust my life is far richer and my spirit is more resilient than they ever would have been if I had enjoyed an easy beginning. Little things delight me. I have a deep capacity for joy that balances my early experiences with sadness. Today I am grateful for all of it. I believe I am meant to be an explorer every day of my life. Children surrounding me learn rapaciously. I learn with a similar hunger. In fact, each time I let go of thinking I have the answer, I end up loving my job as an explorer. My brain creates new pathways, and my heart opens just that much more. 6  Chapter 1 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET So, I made my resolution to be open to a year of second chances, even if it meant I had to let go of my life preservers. Sink or swim? Okay, I would swim, even in cold, choppy waters. Robert Frost reminds me in his poem “A Servant to Servants” that “the best way out is always through.” Don’t get me wrong, I love my life. But I know there’s more to it. I committed this year to honoring my resolution. So began my treasure hunt for second chances. Along the way, I encoun- tered additional questions, like these below. If any or all of these questions touch something in you, I invite you to join me in the quest for a second chance. What would it take to: • change your expectation of the way people should be, and find a way to enjoy them for who they are? • forgive a person who has hurt you? • forgive yourself when you make a mistake or fail at something that matters to you? • flip your emotional switch to “off” when someone is pushing your buttons? • accept that you might not be letting yourself live the life you are meant to live? • let go of believing your solution to a problem is the only workable solution (and of course, the wisest solution)? • be the first to wave a white flag and set aside your ego to end a standoff? • release a resentment you have held for so long it feels as if it is a part of you? • look around and within you to discover something lovely waiting to be noticed? • work through your grief when you are denied a second chance in order to create your own second chance? • wake up looking forward to each day? • in a heartbeat, call upon humor to bring a healing perspective and lighten everyone’s load? A Year of Second Chances  7 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Some people think second chances are rare and therefore precious. When a child becomes ill and then recovers, we feel like we are given a sec- ond chance to love and appreciate the child even more deeply. This is also valid: there is no moment on earth that does not hold a second chance. All we need to do is look up, notice where we are, and be open to the possibility of wonder. Why Bother? Our beloved world isn’t always a pretty place, and some people are mean-spirited. Grave injustice still pains us. Why bother to put yourself through all the work of seeing the world anew? Gandhi knew that “we must be the change we wish to see in the world.” If I want the world to become more humane, especially to children, I need to begin by changing myself. What choices can I make in the moment to be open to making changes for the better, regardless of my internal resistance? Facing Up to the “Little Stuff ” Can Reveal the Bigger Issues For 2014 I decided to make a life-changing resolution that I would keep. I became willing to unclutter myself of the confining behaviors to discover more of what really matters. What I wanted more than anything was to deepen my spiritual path. By spiritual, I mean our human desire to live a deeper, more meaningful life. For me, being spiritual isn’t the same as being religious; I respect each person’s choice to follow a religion’s path or not. Educators are spiritual beings—we are on earth to make a difference. We read between the lines, read people as well as we read books, and make choices that might not make sense to other people. Don’t we take the “vow of poverty,” for example? Instead of material riches, we choose work that will make the world better, one child at a time. As a director from Roxbury, Massachusetts, once told me: “I make decisions each day so I can fall asleep without regret each night.” I wanted to develop a closer, deeper, and more real relationship with a higher power of my understanding. In short, I wanted to stand firmly on 8  Chapter 1 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET holy ground without running away. I knew there was something spiritual about second chances, and I made a promise to myself to find out exactly what it was. How could I do that? I established a daily practice. Again, I made a checklist: • Begin each day by reading and reflecting on a quote or inspirational message. • Dedicate time each week for heart-to-heart conversations with true friends and fellow seekers. • Participate in at least one Twelve-Step meeting each week, wherever on earth I might be. • Explore a new part of the world (India and Nepal). • Listen to music that soothes my soul (Brahms to Smokey Robinson). • Pray and meditate. • Ask for help when I need it. • Be present and open to the deeper possibilities inherent in each moment. • Oh yes, write a book and blog about second chances. So at sixty-eight years old, with this list in mind, I smiled, crossed my fingers, and stepped into the New Year, ready to unclutter my life in order to see what treasures and life lessons awaited me. Remarkably, one of my best friends, Marina, who had been a child care professional for more than thirty years, made a similar resolution. We decided to begin our New Year by participating in a spiritual retreat on the topic of letting go. Letting go of expectations and opening to unseen and unfamiliar possibilities, Marina and I were reminded, is a prerequisite to uncovering second chances. Have you ever made a decision that sounded good at the time but then led to unanticipated results? One example would be the decision to give birth to, adopt, or foster a child. We can never fully predict how profoundly our lives will change when we welcome a child into our family. In fact, what I needed as a parent of young children was exactly what I would need this year: an open heart, a sense of humor, an adventuresome spirit, and courage. I had no idea how much I would need courage. I now see that changing without courage is an ornery thing. Letting go requires A Year of Second Chances  9 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL Comfort in Little Things Recall your favorite teacher or someone who “got” you when you were young. Find out how to contact that person. Write, call, or show up to say thank you. Savor the moment. DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET trust. I was going to learn a lot about trust too. Learning to trust what we cannot see is another prerequisite to discovering a second chance. Once in a Lifetime: A Year of Second Chances So, this has become my Year of Second Chances. Each day I was presented with a chance to change my behavior, say good-bye to old habits, and make choices to walk into the unknown. My year has not been easy, but I would not change a thing. Each day and sometimes many times a day, we are given a second chance to live in the world anew and to appreciate life on life’s terms. To take that second chance, we need to notice where we are and be open to the possibility of growing. Come On, Join Me. You Can Do This! So what have you got to lose? Wouldn’t just one second chance sparkle up your days? Imagine a whole year of second chances. Imagine being happier. Imagine inspiring everyone around you. Imagine accepting more beauty. Imagine not only making a difference to others but making a difference to yourself as well. Come on. Life’s too short to do anything but enjoy it daily. Find com- fort in little things and joy in unexpected moments. In the words of Robert Frost’s poem “The Pasture”, I’m going out to clean the pasture spring; I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away (And wait to watch the water clear, I may): I sha’n’t be gone long. —You come too. 10  Chapter 1 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET This Book Is “Alive” with Readers’ Stories of Second Chances This book is a living invitation to you to experience your old world as the new world it is. I say “living” because this book is a constantly evolving partnership with you, my readers. At any time I invite you to visit Click on Redleaf Press Blog in the middle of the right-hand column to find blog entries for this book. Share your story. Give me permission to include your comments, and you may find your words on the pages of the sequel to this book! Just sayin’. . . At the very least, the blog allows us to have a con- tinuous back-and-forth conversation in real time. I look forward to reading your comments! Join me! As I glance back over my shoulder at this year, I hear the gur- gle of so many springs, once clogged, now gushing freely. I see paths once tangled, now cleared. I see dreams deferred, now unfolding into the path ahead. You come too. A Year of Second Chances  11 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET Leadership/Professional Development Every day is an opportunity for a second chance In The Comfort of Little Things, Holly Elissa Bruno shares her personal story, the advice of practitioners in the fields of neuroscience and education, and stories from other educators —to create this inspiring guide. Vulnerability, perspective, and forgiveness take practice, Bruno tells us, and this book is full of her insights and inspiration for offering-and accepting-the gift of second chances. The stories, ideas grounded in research, examples, and reflection questions help you: • gain perspective and work through dilemmas • practice letting go and moving on with dignity • learn when and how to authentically apologize • practice vulnerability and self-disclosure for growth • trust yourself and others in order to live a more fulfilling life When you allow yourself comfort, encouragement, and freedom, you can provide the same to the children in your care. This book is your guide to creating a culture of second chances and living a richer, more fulfilling life as an educator. “The Comfort of Little Things is a true gem! Weaving together findings from neuroscience, anecdotes from practitioners in the field, sage advice from her Heart to Heart radio guests, and lessons learned from her own emotional journey of second chances, Holly Elissa Bruno presents the fundamental truths for how to live more deeply, meaningfully, and spiritually.” -Paula Jorde Bloom, PhD, Founder, McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership Holly Elissa Bruno, MA, JD , is an author, attorney, professor, acclaimed keynote speaker, and host of an online radio program. Find out more about her amazing career at Bruno is also the author of What You Need to Lead an Early Childhood Program and coauthor of Managing Legal Risks in Early Childhood Programs and Learning from the Bumps in the Road: Insights from Early Childhood Leaders. ISBN 978-1-60554-409-0 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL $24.95