The See-Saw of Life
When I was little, there used to be see-saws in the school playground. I haven’t seen many of them lately. I’m sure it’s an insurance risk of some sort. They still have them in some public parks. Maybe some of you remember see-saws and being little and being on the up-side of the see-saw while someone big was on the down-side of the see-saw, grinning up at you. Someone who wouldn’t let you down, just because they were heavier, usually your big brother, maybe your big sister, but always someone looking for a reaction from you. Someone who knew this was a good way to get your full attention.
“Hey! C’mon! Let me down!”
“You want me to let you down?”
“Yeah! C’mon this is no fun! Let me down!”
“You really want me to let you down?”
“I’m gonna tell Mom if you don’t!”
“How’re you gonna tell her if you can’t get down?”
“Cut it out! You’re teasing!”
“Cut it out! You’re teasing!”
“See! You’re doing it again! I’m telling!”
“Okay! I’ll let you down, ... you ready?”
“NOT TOO FAST!”
“Guess you want to stay up there then!”
“MAAAAAAAAAAAAMMMM! Donald’s teasing!!”
SLAM!! We never knew when they would let us down, ..., or how fast!
Those of us who work with kids, musically or otherwise, know what it’s like to be on the “upside” of the see-saw. We try to stay on the "down side"; to stay in control of things, but sometimes working with kids, we don’t always get what we expect! We’re constantly reminded that we’re not really in charge.
On the upside of the see-saw, legs dangling in the air, we feel unsure of ourselves, uncertain as to what the future will bring, and faced with some difficult choices. Should we struggle to get off, or will we get hurt if we try a leap to freedom? Will someone call us a “chicken” or a “little cry baby” if we get down? I soon learned to “size up” my prospective partner before I got on the see-saw. I’d look for weight differences, and examine our past history together, searching my memory for any recent incidents between us that might generate a hidden reprisal. I'd look deep into their eyes to see if there was some sort of hidden agenda lurking beneath the carefree childlike exterior of my see-saw mate.
I also cringe to remember that on some occasions, I was the kid on the downside of the see-saw. With my feet on the ground, it felt like I was in charge! On the downside, we feel like we're in control, because what happens next, is up to us. But there are risks to being on the downside too. I mean, we’re in control, but maybe it’s only the "illusion" of control. Can we really “jump off” when we want? We could get smacked by the see-saw as our partner plummets to the ground. What if the upside person actually gets hurt? We will get blamed! We be the one in trouble! Basically, if I want to ride the see-saw, I’m going to have to trust someone else. I’m gonna have to take the risk and hope for the best. I've got to believe this is going to be a worthwhile ride. Life is meant to be lived!
The week after September 11th, 2001 happened, I was training teachers at an elementary school in Windom, Minnesota. I asked if they had spoken to the kids about the World Trade Center tragedy. After a moment of silence, someone said
“We figured if the kids wanted to talk about it, they would bring it up.”
“Besides, we haven’t been trained to teach about stuff like that,” someone else said, “It’s uncomfortable stuff to talk about.”
“You’re on the upside of the see-saw.” I said.
All of us parents, teachers and grown-ups learn important life-lessons from the children with whom we work. If we can remember what was going on when we learned that lesson, we’d see that it happens most often when we are not entirely “in charge”; when we’re on the upside of the see-saw. Some adults have a higher tolerance for chaos, so the normal hectic "bouncing around" ambiance of a room full of kids doesn’t feel as out-of-control for us as it does for others. We see it as a chance to "play"; an opportunity to see what will come out of the group. But this tolerance for chaos is an attitude that can actually be learned! We don’t need to feel “stuck” up in the air anymore.
Being “stuck” is a very spiritual place to be. Being “stuck” means we don’t want to go on doing things the way we’ve been doing them, but we don’t know exactly how to proceed yet. We’re on the upside of the see-saw! It’s a great place for Divine intervention! From up here we can look around and see what other options are available, even if we’re not sure where they’re coming from! It’s the "readiness" that counts. The value lies in embracing "the process", not just achieving results.
Kids are used to being on the upside with adults holding control on the downside. They know when something’s “going on”, but the adults aren’t talking. Kids need adults in their lives who are willing to be uncomfortable with them; adults who can be a “safe place” to go to when something’s “going on”. So that night, during my concert, I found an opportunity to address the subject. I used the last line of my “I Am A Pizza” song, when the pizza flips upside down on the floor and we sing “now I’m a mess!” I asked the kids a question.
“Did you kids ever have a day when you felt like you were a ‘mess’?”
“Yes”, they said.
“Me too! You remember what happened at The World Trade Center?” They all got real quiet and nodded their heads. I said “I felt really afraid when that happened, would you raise your hand if you felt afraid too?” Most of the hands in the audience went up, including the parents. “I also felt angry! Would you raise your hand if you felt angry?” Many of the same hands went up again. “Raise your hand if you felt scared and angry at the same time” More hands. “Can you have two feelings at the same time?”
“Yes”, their heads nodded.
“How many of you felt sad?” More hands went up. “Raise your hand if you felt sad and scared and angry all at the same time!” Lots of hands. “Yeah,” I said. “I know. When I have lots of upset feelings at the same time , it really helps me to talk to someone about it. Listen, you parents and teachers, if one of these kids needed to talk to you about their upset feelings, would you raise your hand if that would be okay with you?” All the adult hands went up.
“And we don’t need to have all the answers do we?”
“No”, they said together.
Then I did a song about feeling angry. I think it was “Bigger, Bigger, Bigger Than Me". The song wasn’t about terrorism, but I had spoken to them about the “unspeakable”, and the kids knew they could bring their feelings to me if they wanted to do so. The parent’s understood that they didn’t have to solve the problem, just show up for their kids, and the kids saw that their parents would be there for them.
Being out of balance is not something I strive for, ... it happens naturally, and systems also naturally try to rebalance. When someone hits someone else, the system gets out of balance. Maybe they have their way in the present, but eventually the “hittee” becomes a “hitter”, and the system teeters and swings.
When we write songs; when we perform or play music with kids and families, we have a chance to go to places that may feel uncomfortable, where we are unsure of ourselves, but it’s being on the upside of the see saw. It’s part of the risky process of living and learning, and doors open for other options to come in, ... solutions and joys that we can’t see, ... yet!
WE CAN BOUNCE
A see-saw can be out of balance
When the big person runs the whole show
If the big person wants to stay down all the time
Then the see-saw has no where to go
And if you're stuck high on the upside
You have to stay calm and alert
Cause if that big person's wants to
They could drop you so fast you'd get hurt!
And everyone's life is a see-saw
We have our ups and our downs
Just remember, we all ride together
And if sometimes we crash, ... we can bounce!
Cho: We can bounce! We can bounce!
We can ba-ba-ba-bounce!
We can bounce! We can bounce!
We can bounce!
(repeat with joy!)
Written by Peter Alsop, ©2002, Moose School Music