I am a big “visual” kind of guy. If you want to teach, explain, reach, inspire, or change me…eventually you are going to need to show it to me. For every presentation I made in my grad program, I spent more time researching images than I did articles. When I don’t know what to say to a friend or when I want to bring someone a smile, it’s a click, type, and scroll away on Google images (and yes, of course, I only use images that are “labeled for reuse”…don’t you? WordPress blogs especially). So in preparation for this post, I found the following images for “Full Plate:”
YES!!! These were perfect! These images both singularly and collectively represent the major theme of my day: we all have our full plates.
Fade in to this morning…what a glorious beginning. After my friend from yesterday had cleared up my gray sky, I was ready to spread sunshine all over the place. But then, a little into the morning, I received a text message.
Whoa…I know what you are thinking. Umm, Pittman, aren’t you a teacher? Why are you getting texts? Don’t worry, I keep my phone on silent…but its also on vibrate. Now in a room full of noisy fifth graders, the one noise that can still make it through is the quaint vibration of a 3.5 inch phone.
“Mr. Pittman, you have a text!”
Thanks, Izzy. I just wish my principal was in here…so she could see how you are making that inference!
This set off a chain of events in which I re-realized that all human beings have full plates via picture 1. We all have a variety of items that we carry around and if you’ve ever been to a buffet (especially with this guy), you know that you can put as much or as little as you want. No one’s plates is empty…even a kid without a care in the world still has to put a big scoop of imaginative play on her plate to pass the time. But sometimes, well, oftentimes, we are just full, and have a little splotch of bbq sauce on our shirt. That’s when we need to scrape off a bit.
There’s the rub (no, not the dry rub, the Hamlet rub). Where do we scrape off our plate? Where do we empty it?
So that text I mentioned earlier was a close friend who had just had just had someone scrape their plate right smack onto hers. And if you’ve ever cleaned up plates after said buffet, you know there is nothing worse than a plate full of mixed up food. Which brings me to the second plate, full plate armor. Honestly, none of us have a full set of knight’s armor, though, oh my goodness do I want one! But even if we did literally or metaphorically, we would walk through the day all clunky and stiff. It would be so useful though when someone wants to chuck a plate full of emotional spaghetti. So being one of good fashion and taste, my friend was unfortunately not in her Michael Kors chest plate but instead a sweater and scarf. As teachers…and I do NOT want to wax on and bemoan being a teacher, I love being one…but as teachers part of our job description is piling on the scraps and leftovers of children, parents, and a variety of others whose plates are also full of responsibilities, frustrations and a big ol’ heaping of life’s unexpected and unspoken problems. But this was one of the those moments when we are at the table, feeling like we can just about take a bite when, plop, out of nowhere a big round ball of ground meat falls smack in the middle of your salad like a scene from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. And instead of taking out a paper towel and smoothly wiping the marina from your wrought iron chain mail, you are now akin to some modern art exhibit featuring tomato sauce on cotton.
It’s at times like these, though, that you see a wonderful phenomenon occur. Those around you, start scooching their food to make room for yours. Little by little they pick up the pieces. I’m sure this occurs in other places than schools, but I don’t hear about it often. Maybe its because teachers are in the business of helping young ones or we’re all a bunch of armor-less softies, but when you have a strong school community its akin to a big family dinner. Everyone doing their job. Sometimes looking up from your own plate can help empty another’s. It might take a while to work that stain from the fibers and to scrape the emotional meat from your baby spinach, but with a few helping hands you can get there.
But sometimes its you, too, who is the culprit.
I realized this as I rushed in the door to start dinner, reply to five emails from parents whose little angels didn’t remember what they were supposed to do even though they had an example both in their notebooks and online, and to top it all off, company was at the door. I thought my plate was sooooo brimming, as my boys’ grandmother entered. There I was, sputtering around and apologizing while half-complaining about my full plate and lack of armor. “I’m sorry I don’t have dinner ready just yet. I had to stop at the store to get a couple of extra things and in the middle of it my phone started blasting with emails from frustrated parents and they boys were playing demolition derby with those little carts at Trader Joe’s and to top it all off I have to be off-script tonight at my rehearsal for the play coming up in two weeks…” It was a run-on sentence kind of moment.
“Well, at least your mother isn’t dying…”
Record scratch, ears suddenly deaf and that pit of realization that you are now the one piling your scraps onto someones already massively overflowing plate hits you like the aforementioned flying spaghetti train. Ouch.
I had already known. It wasn’t like the big reveal at the start of a book. I had just forgotten. I had forgotten what she was going through. Double ouch.
See, here’s the other piece of it. I learned back in my restaurant serving days that the best way to make sure you don’t spill a tray of drinks is to look where you are going, not at the tray your holding. When you do that, when you focus on what you have instead of what’s in front of you, you over adjust, predicting that you are going to spill. The same goes for your plate as you walk away from that big life buffet. So many times we focus entirely on our plate. What we don’t see is all the other people desperately trying to find a seat as well. Add in the full plate of armor and we’re clunking around bouncing into each other spilling our plates everywhere.
Eventually, I recovered from my shock and though at the time still couldn’t find a zen moment of calm, I slowed my roll as to what I thought was truly important to talk about. As the night went on and I began to check items off of my list, this exchange began to highlight more and more the kind of day it had been. We are all in this together and it doesn’t behoove any of us to become the center of our own tragedy. We all have the same plate and in the end you can’t go around comparing who has a skimpy salad or a full slab of ribs. What you can do, is sit down at the table together, share your stories and little by little, the plates clear, scraped into the compost pile of yesterday, which eventually become the fertilizer for tomorrow’s blooms.